11.45 G.M.T.

Moscow: 2.45 p.m., Washington: 6.45 a.m.

LIEUTENANT STAN ANDERSEN was satisfied. The new course was working out fine, taking them in a straight line to the target. He laid his pencil down and said, 'Clint."

"Yes, Stan?"

"How're you doing? Anything I can get you?

"I'm making out," Brown said quietly. "Don't worry about me, I'm not hit bad. The pain was less savage now, or maybe he was more used to it. It didn't worry him nearly so much as the numbness which was gradually moving up his back and into his shoulders. He knew he was getting weaker, that his reserves of strength were fast being expended. Well, in another half hour or so it wouldn't matter. Federov could take over, and he could sleep. He was be beginning to feel very tired.

"That's great," Andersen said. But he wasn't too sure. He'd seen the mess the fragment had made of Brown's clothing, and the wide area soaked with blood. He went on, "Shouldn't need any alteration in course now. Estimate twelve zero eight at target. We've been lucky, there's a dandy of a tail wind. Engelbach, you can take her in on-visual and target radar. We start climbing at twelve hundred exactly, so you'll have about five minutes after reaching height to pick up the aiming point and make corrections before you let her go. O.K.?"

"O.K., Stan;" Engelbach said., He arranged in order the series of strip maps prepared for just such an eventuality as a bomber having to run the last two hundred or so miles to target at low level, Ordinary maps were little use at this height. The low level strip maps showed' only the prominent landmarks, one every three minutes flight. From these the bombardier could make the small corrections which might be necessary to keep the bomber heading straight in. The first of the landmarks was the Pinega River as it flowed across the track from east to west, and the next the same river nearer its source flowing west to east. He looked out ahead into the white blur of the approaching landscape.

Ahead of Alabama Angel a dozen red flames appeared, coming down from above, getting further away and lower, moving much faster than the bomber. They exploded on the ground, a vivid cluster of brilliant flashes. Seconds later the bomber flew over the point where the explosions had occurred, and rocked in the violently, churning air they had left.

"Rockets," Brown said' quietly.

"There he goes, overshooting to port." Andersen, now he had finished navigating, had his head up in' the astrodome.

"Looks like a delta-wing type. See him; Clint?

Brown had caught' the merest glimpse of a slim delta-wing shape, black against the surrounding whiteness. "I think so," he said cautiously. "Think he's coming in again?"

"I lost him. He aimed off too high on that one."

"Yeah," Brown said. There was an intolerable itching in his left foot. He tried to wriggle the toes of the foot, and found he couldn't move then. Then he tried to move the whole foot. Again, no response. He realised his left leg had died on him, and he began to have an idea just how badly he'd been hit. He thought for a moment that he'd conceal it from the rest of the crew. But that was futile. If he passed out without warning at this height. they'd be into the deck in less than a second. He said, "Federov."


"Federov, I want you to stand by my seat. Keep watching me. If I look like going forward, haul her up higher fast until you can drag me out. You understand?"

"Sure," Federov said. He moved forward to stand beside Brown.

"Clint, you're hit bad. " Andersen's voice was urgent. "How do you feel?"

"I'll make it." With the assertion Brown's confidence returned. It had wavered for a few moments. Now it was strong again. He'd make it because he had to. He'd hit the target because the target just had to be hit. It was as easy as that.

"Fighter," Andersen shouted. He had picked out the dark blur as it dived, lost it momentarily, then seen the red flare as it fired its rockets. This cluster hit a half mile behind Alabama Angel. One or two strays carried further, but the nearest was two to three hundred yards behind the bomber. Seconds later the black delta shape flashed by above them.

My God," Engelbach said. "Solid wall of flak ahead. Maybe five miles. Man, it's solid: No space to squeeze through."

Brown looked out ahead, lifting his gaze from the point of ground a mile ahead of the bomber he had been concentrating on.

Englebach was right, he thought. It was a wall. As far as he could see ahead the sky was crisscrossed with arcing lines of tracer, laced with hundreds of small explosions. He looked quickly to port and starboard. The flak wall seemed to extend without limit in both directions.

Suddenly there was a bigger explosion among the lines of tracer. Something glowed showered out flame, dropped swiftly to earth and exploded. It could have been the fighter which had just made the attack. Brown thought. Pilot probably concentrating on instruments, never even saw it. He said quickly, "What do you make of it, Stan?"

"Looked like they hit an airplane. Maybe the same fighter just tried to take us out."

"Yeah," Brown said, "but I didn't mean that. You think we should go through. Or try to get round it. Or maybe go over the top?"

"I wouldn't think it was any use trying to go round it. They've probably got Kotlass ringed in. It's their number one target, the highest of all priority ones. To go over it is out. That's what it's there for, to force a low level attacker up where the fighters can get at him with a certain chance of hitting him."

"So we go through," Brown said calmly. He reached forward and adjusted his radio altimeter for two hundred feet. "I'm going right down on the deck. Anything gets us at two hundred feet will be a real lucky shot. Any more speed in hand, Federov?"

Federov shook his head no. "Nothing more," he said sourly. "Not a single, lousy knot. We're stretched out full now." "Yeah, I figured that." It was funny, Brown thought, the way the Russians could afford the number of guns to ring a place like Kotlass, still two hundred miles away. He began to figure out the number of guns it would require, then gave the effort up as useless. He only knew it was a hell of a lot.

"How far you make it now?" he asked.

"Guess I underestimated," Engelbach said. "Must have been more than five miles. The target radar shows the first concentration about two now."

"O.K." Brown said easily. He brought the big plane down to two hundred. Ten seconds to go. He hunched a little in his seat, purely instinctively. The movement brought a vicious, unexpected stab of pain. For a moment he almost wished the bomber would be caught right away in the flak. Then the pain would be over. But as it subsided into a heavy but bearable ache he forgot it and concentrated on the delicately precise job of flying the airplane at the ridiculous height of two hundred feet.

In the cold air the lazy arcs of tracer glowed with a white incandescence. They crossed and re-crossed in a graceful, lethal pattern. Here and there the sudden bright red eruptions of explosions were quickly born and as quickly died. Brown forgot his wound, the pain, the numbness which was penetrating inside his shoulder muscles now, in the determination to break through the wall. Maybe it was like the sonic barrier. Maybe, once it was broken, there was smooth air, and quiet, and easy passage. Or maybe it continued all the way to the target. Brown tapped his last reservoirs of energy, and poured his strength into the concentration needed to burst through the flak.

And Alabama Angel, so low as to be almost sliding along the ground, hurled herself at the last obstacle between her and her fulfillment, which was the I.C.B.M. base at Kotlass.

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