10.55 G.M.T.

Moscow: 1.55 p.m., Washington: 5.55 a.m.

"THAT DOES IT, Captain. Check main switch off." " Garcia's voice indicated satisfaction and relief.

"Main switch off."

"Check bomb release link switch off."

"Bomb release link switch off," Lieutenant Engelbach said.

Brown looked at his watch. The first of thee weapons had been armed in a little under nine minutes. Pretty good. The best time they had recorded in the synthetic trainer back at Sonora was eight minutes three seconds. But that was in a trainer, running the drill on a dummy bomb. It made a difference, a hole heap of difference, when the bomb was real and you were arming it for a real attack.

Brown thought he could use a cup of coffee. The arming up had been a big strain. There was no possibility of accidental detonation in the bomb bay. But there was a real possibility the bomb would not detonate at all when it was dropped if they slipped up on the drill. They had not slipped up. All the circuits glowed green. When the time came, the first weapon was ready.
He decided a cup of coffee would have to wait until the second bomb had been armed. "O. K., Garcia, what do you say. Let's get the time down on this one, huh? Then maybe a cup of coffee."

"Sure thing, Captain." Garcia sounded confident and cheerful. That was natural enough. He and Minter had just performed their duty competently and well. No matter just what the duty was, they had the satisfaction which comes to any man who has done a good job.

"Right. Number two, then. Arm and fuse for air burst at twenty-five thousand.

"Air burst, twenty-five. Release trigger primer for number two."

"Releasing." Again the drill with the switch on the right side of the panel, the button pressed simultaneously on the left side. Both controls had to be operated, and at the same time. If they were not, the trigger primer remained locked in its insulated steel container.

"I have it," Garcia said. Very delicately he removed the device from the container, whose side door had slid open when Brown operated the two controls. Minter bent over Garcia, and accepted the device from him.

The trigger primer contained no sort of nuclear charge. It was simply a number of high explosive cartridges, wired in series for electric detonation. Its function was to hurl a certain mass of plutonium down a tube rather like a gun barrel into another mass. On their own, the two masses, were harmless. When flung violently together an uncontrolled reaction took place and an atomic explosion occurred. The plutonium triggers of the bombs carried by Alabama Angel were themselves several times as powerful as the atomic weapons which wrecked Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Surrounding the atomic trigger was a core of tritium, hydrogen of triple weight, which when ignited by the atomic explosion burned hot enough and long enough to detonate the main charge of the bomb, made of deuterium. The deuterium charge gave each bomb the equivalent power of fifteen million tons of T.N.T.

The bombs were fifteen feet long and about six feet across at their widest part. They were roughly cylindrical in shape, with a short, blunt nose and stubby tail fins. They were not very good ballistically, but could be dropped with an average error of between a half and two thirds of a mile. Since everything within ten miles of ground zero would certainly be destroyed by the heat and blast effects alone, inaccuracies of that degree were quite acceptable.

Garcia slid back the cover of a fat steel tube. Minter very carefully fitted the primer into the tube, sliding the four raised flanges on its sides into the grooves cut for them on the inside of the tube. He pushed the device home, stood away, and let Garcia slide back and screw down the cover.

"Trigger primer in contact tube. Cover secured," Garcia reported.

"O.K.," Brown said. "Let her down." He glanced at his watch. Under three minutes so far. The boys were on the ball.

Minter pressed a button built into the side of the tube. The primer began its slow journey down the tube, the flanges sliding smoothly in the four grooves. When it reached the level of the cabin floor the thick lead wall at the bottom of the tube slid back, a tell tale indicator showing its movement to Garcia and Minter. The primer went down past the protective wall, which slid back into place as soon as it had passed. Ten seconds later, a green light on the arming panel, showed that it was securely in position within the bomb.

Garcia said, "Primer in position. Contact tube sealed."

"O.K. Good going fellows. Check circuits."

Garcia and Minter worked rapidly, not getting in each other's way. They tested each of the sixteen leads to the firing cartridges. Then they checked bomb release leads, emergency circuit leads, radar altimeter and barometric fuse circuits. All were in order. They made the final formal check for cabin radiation. "Main switch off, Captain," Garcia said.

"Main switch off." Brown looked at his watch again as Garcia checked the bomb release link switch with Engelbach. Exactly eight minutes. "Men, you've earned some coffee. Eight minutes flat." He sounded very pleased.

Garcia grinned. Minter managed a fleeting, economical smile. "Coffee coming right up," Garcia said.

Brown looked at his count-down clock. Fifty-nine minutes to go. He accepted a cup of coffee from Garcia, sipped it. It was good and hot. "How long before we cross in, Stan?

" We should cross in at eleven twenty-two. Sixteen minutes from now."

"O.K." Brown finished his coffee. "Speed working out all right?"

"I think so. Let you know a little later."

"All right, men. Combat ready. Have the pressurisation and emergency oxygen ready and set for full, Federov."

"Set for full, Captain."

"O.K. Everyone make sure your oxygen supply is linked to emergency as well as normal." Brown checked that his own
supply was doubly connected. He wasn't anticipating trouble
yet. That would come later, when the coastal radar had identified them as hostile and the defences had been alerted. He felt sure from what he knew about the Russian radar net on this coast they hadn't even picked up Alabama Angel yet. But it never hurt to be prepared. Maybe nothing would get through to hit the bomber. But if it did, and if the pressure cabin was perforated, then the emergency oxygen and the pressure breathing system linked to it would enable the crew to live while he took the bomber down below forty-six thousand feet, where breathing was possible without pressure systems.

Lieutenant Owens, radar officer, said, "You see Kolguev Island yet, Stan?"

I don't think so, Andersen replied. He adjusted, the brilliance control of his radarscope, which was a repeater fed from Owens' scope.

"11 o'clock, about a hundred and thirty,' Owens' attention was suddenly drawn to his other scope. Two flashes of light had appeared where no flashes should be. There they were again; "Holy cowl" he yelled. "Missiles, captain. Sixty miles off, heading in fast from twelve o'clock. Steady track, they look like beam riders.

"Roger, keep watching them." Brown's voice' was calm and assured. Well, they'd soon know if the Wright Field boys had been on the ball. He reached forward and took the controls out of auto-pilot. Strangely, he felt not in the least scared. They were committed. The missiles were on their way. Maybe the brain could divert them, maybe not. There was nothing he could do about it.

"Forty-five," Owens said. His voice was higher pitched than usual, but he was not conscious of that. "Still coming straight and fast."

"Any idea on speed?"

"Between two and three thousand."

"Keep watching. Call them every five miles."

"Roger. Thirty-five. Still straight."

The crew waited silently. They too accepted the fact there was nothing they could do. Goldsmith's hornets were no use against things travelling at that speed. They would have to sweat it out. Mellows concentrated on his set. Federov made a few meaningless notations on his fuel analysis sheet. Minter was apparently unmoved, but Garcia found himself repeating words he had not used since he was a boy. He was unaware that it was a simple prayer.

"Thirty. Still twelve o'clock. Speed around two thousand six hundred."

Brown became conscious he was tightening his grip on the controls. He eased it off. The palms of his hand were wet and cold.

"Twenty-five. Still straight."

Stan Andersen completed another series of calculations. They were starting to run behind time. He heard Owens call the missiles at twenty miles. They'd have to beef up the power a little, Another two or three hundred revolutions would be enough. But that could wait until after. After? He shrugged, and returned to the private world of abstruse calculations and meticulously accurate plotting that was his own.

"Fifteen. Still straight."

Brown felt a sudden irritation on his forearms, the kind of irritation that comes with a bad dose of prickly heat. It had to be soon now. One way ór the other.

"Ten miles, still heading straight. Hey, wait a minute, they're splitting up. One's showing ten o'clock now, going away. That won't hit us. The other's coming into five. Five now, still coming. Still twelve o'clock, maybe a little to starboard, it's swinging away. Four miles, two o'clock, three miles, three o'clock, it's going past to the starboard. They've gone, Captain, both of them."

Brown grinned. He had caught a glimpse of the missile that passed them to starboard, seen it momentarily as a bright red streak across the sky. "Well, fellows, that's it. Let's not relax, but I guess we can all feel a little happier. The brain works, he said.

"Man, I would like to do something for the guy that dreamed up that brain. For him I would do anything. But anything." Goldsmith's voice was happy and relieved.

Even make him a present of your little black book, hey Herman?" Andersen asked quietly.

"Well, maybe not quite that much. But.

Owens broke in on Goldsmith. "Two more, Captain. Coming in from twelve o'clock like the last pair. Same speed. And a third, ten miles behind the other two. Fainter blip, probably a bit smaller. Not so fast, either."

"O.K Call them." Brown wondered why they were meeting missiles so far out. He shrugged. It didn't matter much so long as they weren't hitting.

The crew listened to Owens call the ranges and bearings. But this time the tension was gone. They had seen that the brain worked and they had faith in it now.

Andersen requested and got an engine adjustment to push up the speed another ten. He began to work on a new series of calculations. He heard Owens call the two missiles in to ten miles, and again they were diverted, both of them to port.

The third missile was slower than the other two. It was still fast, of course, but under two thousand. Owens found he had plenty of time to compute its speed. He worked it out at eighteen hundred and fifty, and passed the information to Brown,

Brown said, "O.K. Call it at ten."

"Coming up to ten now. Wonder which way this one will go. Eight miles now, still coming steady. Six, no change.

There she goes, out to two o'clock now. Four miles. Four o'clock, three miles. Three miles Captain," his voice was loud and high, "this one's turning in on us. Five o'clock, two miles. Six o'clock, one mile. My God, it's . . . "

Brown never heard the rest of the message. It was drowned out by the explosion.

Back to Main Menu