Thursday, 19 July 2012

Alternate realities - Alan Turing

The raid was continuing without respite. 1940 was not a good year to be in London. Alan Turing knelt under the kitchen table continuing to work. The note books out in front of him he felt the ground shake and realized there was a strike nearby. With the failure at Dunkirk it was only a matter of time before the inevitable invasion. The only thing standing in the way was the air force at the moment; they numbered a few thousand men and the fighters they could get off the production line. He doubted they could save the nation without the hundred thousand troops captured in France. Regardless of the dire situation he had a responsibility and would bloody finish it regardless of the irritation of high explosives. Another explosion erupted.
‘Shit’ Alan fell flat and waited. The noises moved off. The bomber’s first strike obviously. He shone the flashlight at the kitchen, a few broken panes of glass and a mug he liked were in pieces, but the rest of the house seemed fine. He stayed put and continued to work. The numbers in the notebooks dancing in front of him. His mind whirred and he played with the possibilities of the codes and the codes within codes that could be the secret to unlocking the elements he had before him. He needed something more logical than his own brain to achieve this, and certainly something that did not react badly to being kept up at all hours by bomber plans or fear or an impatient Prime Minister. If only he had got the train when he could instead of waiting around to see that blasted lawyer. A sale of a house in war time should not be that much of a deal, it was no where the Germans would want to bomb, yet to sell he needed far too much approval, it seemed an honest waste of the lawyer’s brain power, his money and both men’s time.
Alan kept watch a short while before realising the ridiculousness of his vigil. He could see only the faintest glow of the fires through the blacked out, taped up windows. He switched the flashlight back to the papers he was working on and continued to cogitate. The bangs and thunder grew ever distant, from his flat in Westminster he felt the direction was to the East. The docks were getting a hammering again. The supplies being loaded in the Thames were minimal now but it was still a place of high population. The people there would be the ones to suffer. We could always build more boats, but not more people. That took a while.
He turned back to the numbers, irritated that his thoughts kept turning to the people, to the men and women, to the friends, although he had few, his manner and his shy approach to others kept people at arms length. He focused. He would get the numbers. But he would not get out from under this table. He rolled his jacket up and lay down; placing it under his head he held the notebook aloft, flashlight shining at it. He tried flashing the light on and off, moving the book, flicking the pages. He lay the book on his chest and switched off the light, trying to think. Fear of the dark, fear of the next bomb to drop made his heart race, but he scolded his brain and turned it back, working through the numbers in his mind, moving them, manipulating them, seeing the code. He pulled his pencil to the back page he knew was blank and in the dark wrote for three minutes before resting again and drifting off to the rumble in the distance.
Another Crash and a shriek. This time far too close.
Alan crawled from under the table to find the house keeper on all fours by his side. Tartan skirt rucked to her thighs and a bag of potatoes spilt and rolling across the floor.
‘What are you doing sir?’ she squawked, hurriedly rolling her skirts to cover the blotchy, limbs.
Alan helped the matron up. The short round woman looked cross for a minute before becoming a mother. She dusted him down before herself. She slapped the grime out of his lapels especially, before coming too close to his backside for comfort.
‘I’ll let you dust that down. Have you been under that damned table all night again sir?’ she enquired while finishing to brush the worst of the grime from her skirts.
‘Yes Mrs Havelock’ said Alan, ‘although I believe it has paid off this time.’
‘Jolly good sir’ she said, leaving her enquiry at that. A religious devotion to duty meant that Mrs Havelock had never asked a single question about Alan’s work, only that he worked for the Prime Minister and that if captured by Nazis she wanted no more information in her head than she needed. ‘I will not put you in danger by making conversation’ she had said.
Alan liked it this way, he was not able to speak with people easily and his nervousness at the ‘park’ had been treated as a sort of joke, despite his breakthroughs. When he did want to converse with his housekeeper in London he was only occasionally able to start conversations that did not fly in the face of Mrs Havelock’s national security rules and regulations.
He looked down in his hand at the notes he had made during the last few minutes of the night. The rest of numbers on the sheets no longer swam or moved. They were pinned between his own notes and figures, trapped in his mind by a set of rules that explained them, or at the very least allowed them to be explained. Maybe, just maybe they could start to pre-empt the raids, get the fighters in the air before they hit the Dover Cliffs. It would be the only way.
He turned to Mrs Havelock and started to ask a question, wanting to share his triumph in as low key way as he could, she waited expectantly, but he could not find the words, it was always the words that failed him.
He held up the red notebook like a referee sending off an unfortunate player and simply said, ‘Gotcha!’

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