Anoop Sarkar SFU Computer Science

The ideal meeting

The following excerpt is from In the First Circle: The First Uncensored Edition by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.

The scene is set in Sharashka Marfino, a secret research and development laboratory. It was part of the Soviet Gulag labor camp system. Professor Chelnov, an inmate at Marfino, has been working on a system to encrypt speech so that it could not be deciphered by an eavesdropper when delivered over the phone. Sologdin is a young inmate working with him on this problem and the text is written from his point of view.

This excerpt starts on page 220 or location 5201 in the Kindle edition.

It was a cozy little room with a single window giving a view of the prisoners’ exercise yard and the clump of secular elms that fate had ruthlessly annexed to the zone guarded by machine-gun fire. The towering treetops were still lavishly frosted.

A dirty white sky hung over the earth.

To the left of the limes, outside the camp area, a house could be seen, gray with age but now also frost whitened, an old two-story house with a boat-shaped roof. It had been the home of the bishop who had once lived near the seminary, which was why the road leading to this place was called Bishop’s Road. Farther on, the village roofs of little Marfino peeped out. Beyond that there was open field, and farther away still on the railway line, bright silvery steam from the Leningrad-Moscow train could be seen rising through the murk.

But Sologdin did not even glance through the window. Ignoring an invitation to sit down, feeling his legs firm and youthful beneath him, he leaned against the window frame and fastened his eyes on the roll of papers lying on Chelnov’s desk.

Chelnov asked him to open the ventilation pane, sat down on a hard chair with a high, straight back, straightened the shawl around his shoulders, opened the list of points for discussion that he had written on a page from a scratch pad, picked up a long, sharp-pointed pencil like a lance, looked hard at Sologdin, and suddenly the flippant tone of their recent conversation was no longer possible.

To Sologdin it was as though great wings were beating the air in that little room. Chelnov spoke for no more than two minutes but so concisely that there was no breathing space between his thoughts.

The gist of it was that he had done more than Sologdin had asked. He had produced estimates of the theoretical and mathematical feasibility of Sologdin’s design. The design, then, was promising, and close enough to what was required, at least until they could switch to purely electronic equipment. Sologdin must, however, find a way to make the device insensitive to low-energy impulses and determine the effect of the main inertial forces so as to ensure adequate flywheel momentum.

“And one thing more” — Chelnov’s bright gaze dwelled briefly on Sologdin — “one thing you mustn’t forget. Your encoding process is constructed on the random principle, and that’s good. But a random process fixed once and for all becomes a system. To make it absolutely secure, you must improve your process so that the random sequence changes randomly.”

Here the professor looked thoughtful, folded his sheet of paper in two, and fell silent. Sologdin lowered his eyelids as though dazzled and stood there unseeing.

With the professor’s first words a hot wave of emotion had welled up in him. Now he felt that if he did not press shoulder and ribs firmly against the window frame, he would soar exulting to the ceiling. Perhaps his life was approaching its zenith!