Outskirts of Tehran
June 16, 3:04 a.m.
We had a quick strategy session during which Lilith told Church that he could have Arklight teams to assist with the refinery raids. He accepted without hesitation. While they began working out the details, I moved outside, needing some space to process everything.
Violin found me in the shadows outside of the warehouse. We stood together looking at the stars. Then she said, “This must be so hard for you. So strange. You, an American soldier… fighting monsters.”
“Since I joined the DMS last year, nothing has been normal. I’m not sure I even believe in that concept anymore.”
“This is normal for me,” she said. “This is all I’ve ever known. I was born into this world.”
“No. It is what it is. Perhaps someday I’ll find another kind of normal.”
“Maybe I can help you look.”
“Maybe you could.”
“About the Sabbatarians,” I said. “You guys seem to hate each other worse than the Dodgers and the Giants. But you’re both kind of on the same side, right? So what gives?”
“‘Same side’?” she snorted. “Hardly. They know that most of us were either breeding stock for the Upierczi or born from those forced matings. The Sabbatarians, in their great Christian mercy, consider us Satan’s whores. The dhampyri doubly so.”
“They long ago named us enemies of God and marked us for extermination.” She shrugged. “We have responded in kind.”
“Then I’m glad we put a bunch of those assholes down.”
Violin nodded but said nothing.
Above, the Milky Way pivoted around us.
“You know, one of the things that’s eating at me here,” I admitted, “is Nicodemus. Who the hell is he?”
A haunted look flashed through Violin’s eyes. “As long as there has been a Red Order there has been a Father Nicodemus associated with it. My mother thinks it is the same man, but I don’t believe that. I don’t believe in ghosts or demons; I think it’s part of the propaganda the Red Order has always used. Besides, it’s probably a title passed down from one person to another, much in the same way that ‘Scriptor’ is passed down through the LaRoques.”
“Don’t priests sometimes take new names when they take holy orders?” I asked. “Biblical names?”
“Not as frequently these days,” said Violin, “but yes.”
I pulled my cell and called Bug and told him to hack the Vatican or whoever certifies priests. “If these Nicodemus guys are legitimate clerics,” I told him, “then there should be records in the registry of holy orders. Find out.”
I slipped the cell back into my pocket.
“Nicodemus is a strange man,” said Violin. “I saw him a few times when I was a little girl down in the Shadow Kingdom.” She cut me a look. “That’s what they call it.”
“Yes, very dramatic,” I said sourly. “Can you give me a physical description of Nicodemus?” She did, and I felt my skin crawl. “Okay, that’s a step over the line into weirdsville. That description exactly matches the inmate.”
“What happened to him?” asked Violin.
“How did he escape?”
“I didn’t say he escaped,” I said. “He vanished from his cell. No evidence at all of a jailbreak. Security cameras went haywire, guards saw nothing, and then he dropped completely off the radar. I was there when it happened. Thoroughly creepy and borderline impossible the way it happened. But even so, it couldn’t be the same man. Could it?”
Before she could reply Church appeared in the doorway and snapped his fingers for us, and we hurried over. Lilith was with him. “Circe,” he said into the phone, “you’re on speaker. Repeat what you just told me.”
“When Rasouli gave the flash drive to Joe, he mentioned the Book of Shadows. When Lilith sent us her scan she included a note saying that Arklight believes that the Book is the secret history of the Red Order and the Holy Agreement. It’s in ciphertext, however, and it’s unreadable. Arklight had it for years and couldn’t crack it. The same ciphertext is used in a book called the Voynich manuscript, which is in a library at Yale. We now have both complete texts, and the language is the same. With me so far?”
She didn’t wait for an answer and instead plunged ahead.
“Rasouli also mentioned the Saladin Codex, which is a text on mathematics. MindReader pulled multiple translations of it and just finished a comparative analysis. The Codex is a work of minor importance and one with a number of flaws. Now, from a distance, we have two unreadable books and one that is readable but seems to be entirely unrelated to this matter.”
“That’s from a distance,” I said. “How about close up?”
“Well… Rudy and I may have made a little progress,” continued Circe. “First, you have to understand that ciphertext isn’t a code. It’s mathematical. However, even when using MindReader to analyze the Codex for a key to the cipher we came up dry. But here’s the thing, and this changes everything… this is where the Voynich manuscript comes in.”
I looked at Church and saw him stiffen. Lilith, too. You could feel the tension crackling all around us.
“We think the Voynich manuscript was allowed to be found by the Order. It puts it out there so that anyone can find it and read it. Every page is on the Net. They don’t care if the average person finds it-it’s gibberish to them. However, if you have that as a reference, and you have access to the other two books, then you can read them all.”
“How do you know?” I asked.
“Because,” said Circe, “we found the key to the cipher.”
“ What? ” demanded Lilith, almost in a shriek.
“At least we think we’ve found it. Bug is programming it into MindReader right now. He says that we should have a full translation within hours.”
Lilith shook her head. “We’ve spent years trying to make sense of it, and we have looked at the Codex as well. There is no key to the ciphertext.”
“There is,” insisted Circe, “and it’s in the Voynich manuscript. Rudy figured it out. Or, he kicked off the line of thinking that’s brought us to this point. He said that we’re overthinking this. You see, if the Book is the history of the Agreement, then the Red Order and the Tariqa want their members to be able to read it. Otherwise… why write it down?”
“Makes sense,” I said. “How does it help us, though?”
“Well, we backed up and looked at the issues of translation from the perspective of two ideologies, two cultures who are effectively at war on a permanent basis. They have different customs, different languages, different points of reference on virtually everything… except one. There is one area in which all advanced cultures can agree, language differences aside.”
I had no idea where she was going with this, but Church and Lilith said it at the same time.
“Math,” agreed Circe. “The Voynich manuscript and the Book of Shadows are written in an invented language that has order and structure to it. Therefore it has mathematical predictability as long as anyone who tries to read it has a set of precise, immutable guidelines.”
“Such as a ciphertext,” I said.
“Yes. And the third book in our mix, the Saladin Codex is a book on understanding the science and functions of math.”