Excerpt of Turing's Delirium by Edmundo Paz Soldan
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As soon as you turn your back on the uncertain sunrise and enter your office
building, you cease to be Miguel Sáenz, the civil servant discernible behind
the wrinkled gray suit, round, wire-rimmed glasses, and fearful gaze, and
become Turing, decipherer of secrets, relentless pursuer of encoded
messages, the pride of the Black Chamber.
You insert your electronic ID card into a slot. You are prompted
for your password and type ruth1. The metal door opens and the world you
unknowingly dreamed of as a child awaits you. Slowly, with measured steps,
you enter a vaulted glass enclosure. Two policemen greet you formally. They
see the color of your card green, meaning Beyond Top Secret without
looking at it. It was all so much easier during Alberts time, when there were
only two colors, yellow (Secret) and green. Then that smug Ramírez-Graham
arrived (you had once called him Mr. Ramírez and he had corrected
you: Ramírez-Graham, please), and card colors soon began to multiply. In
less than a year, red (Top Secret), white (Not at All Secret), blue (Ultra), and
orange (Ultra Priority) cards appeared. The color of your card indicates which
parts of the building you have access to. Ramírez-Graham has the only
purple card in existence, Ultra High Priority. In theory, there is only one area
in the seven-story building for which the purple card is required: the Archive of
Archives, a small section in the heart of the archives. Such proliferation is
laughable. But you are not laughing; you are still offended that some of your
colleagues have Ultra and Ultra Priority cards and can go where you cannot.
Always so early, Mr. Sáenz.
For as long as the old body holds out, captain.
The policemen know who you are; they have heard the stories
about you. They dont understand what you do or how you do it, but still they
respect you. Or perhaps they respect you because they dont understand
what you do or how you do it.
You walk next to the wall where the great emblem of the Black
Chamber hangs. It is a resplendent aluminum disk encircling a man bent over
a desk, trying to decipher a message, and a condor holding a ribbon in its
claws that bears the motto Logic and Intuition
in Morse code. True, both are needed to penetrate the crypt of
secret codes, but they arent used in equal proportions. For you, at least,
intuition is what lights the way, but the hard work is done by reason.
They dont understand what you do or how you do it, but still they
respect you. What you do? Is it correct still to speak in the present tense?
Your glory days, you have to admit, begin to fade in the expanse of time. For
example, December 6, 1974, when you detected a cell of leftists who used
phrases from Che Guevaras diary to encode messages; or September 17,
1976, when you were able to warn President Montenegro that an insurrection
was brewing in the Cochabamba and Santa Cruz regiments; or December 25,
1981, when you deciphered messages from the Chilean government to its
chargé daffaires regarding water that was being diverted from a river along the
border. There are many, many more, but since then your successes have
been sporadic. Ramírez- Graham reassigned you, and although at first it
seemed that your new job was a promotion, it actually distanced you from
the action. As head of the Black Chambers general archives, you have
become a cryptanalyst who no longer analyzes codes.
Your steps echo down the hallway. You rub your hands together,
trying to warm them. The countrys return to democracy in the early 1980s
didnt end the work that was done in this building, but it did minimize it. At
first messages between unionists were intercepted, and then later on
between drug traffickers, careless people who spoke on easily traceable
radio frequencies and didnt even bother to code their messages. The 1990s
brought sporadic work listening to opposition politicians on bugged
Spanish edition copyright © 2003 by Edmundo Paz Soldán, English
translation copyright © 2006 by Lisa Carter. Reprinted with permission by
Houghton Mifflin Company.