12.00 G.M.T.

Moscow: 3 p.m., Washington: 7 a.m.

"THAT DOES IT," General Franklin said. He had marked the last of the acknowledgements on the list. Only three bombers now remained unaccounted for. They were the two definitely reported as destroyed, and the third hit over the Barents Sea. Obviously that one had been destroyed too. Probably it had crashed into the sea somewhere, and no trace of it would ever be found.
The President was in the middle of a conversation with the Marshal. Franklin wrote a message on a sheet of paper to the effect that twenty-nine bombers. had acknowledged, and three had been destroyed. The whole wing was accounted for. He placed the paper in front of the President who nodded and scanned it quickly. Franklin went out of the room to ensure fueling rendezvous areas had been fixed for the homecoming wing. He had decided to bring them on back to the States. Another wing could rotate overseas in their place.

Naturally, we will pay compensation for any damage we have caused, "the President said. "We will pay for physical damage to Russian property, and we will pay any reasonable compensation for the dependents of those who have lost their lives. Finally, we will take steps to see this can never happen again."

The reply was definite. "It must not happen again. The offer of compensation is accepted."

"If it is within our power to control it, then it will not happen again," the President said firmly.' "But I must remind the Marshal we have shown good faith throughout this unfortunate occurrence. Tragedy has only just been averted. We must now make sure it does not occur again, not just by exercising a tighter control on our weapons and commanders, but by removing the root cause from which these incidents may arise. Between us we must reduce international tension. There is no other way. And I repeat, we on our side have already shown good faith.

The reply came almost immediately. "Words are cheap. To pay compensation is easy."

We are ready to prove our intentions with deeds," the President said quietly. "In fact, I consider we have already done so in the last two hours."

Again the reply was almost immediate. "I wish to ask the President a question. Suppose one of our cities had been destroyed. Would his good faith, his readiness to prove peaceable intentions by deeds, have then been so firm he would have allowed one of my bombers free access to a city of his, in fair reprisal for the one the American bomber had destroyed?"

The President pondered. He looked quickly at Zorubin, but the Russian would not meet his glance; "If I considered the peace of the world depended on making that sacrifice, yes I would have allowed it."

"Again I would remind the President that words are cheap."

"My words are never cheap," the President said angrily.

There was silence for all of thirty seconds. Then the Marshal's voice came from the speakers again. The President saw Zorubm blanch as he listened to the harsh but quietly spoken sounds.

Speaking woodenly, and looking straight in front of him, Zorubin said, "The President has stated his words are never cheap. He will now have a chance to show that. Contrary to his assurances, his bombers have not all turned back. One of them is still flying south over Russian territory. We assume its target is the peaceful city of Kotlass. If it hits that city, then I shall ask the President to show that his words are truthful. I shall demand an American city in reprisal."

The President was very pale. "Does he mean it?" be asked Zorubin.

The Russian ambassador said slowly, "Mr. President, I fear so. You must appreciate the Russian system of government. So long as the people see that the Marshal is all powerful, then he is in no danger. But if a Russian city should be destroyed, and he was not able to say: "There you are. They destroyed one of our cities,' and because I am a man of peace I destroyed one of theirs rather than destroying their whole country. Just to teach them a lesson," then he would be in danger of being deposed. You must remember we are a semi-Asiatic country. Face does not matter to us so much as it does to the Chinese. But it still matters more than it does to you. I am sure he means it."

"The bombers target isn't the city of Kotlass," General Steele interposed. "It's the I.C.B.M. base outside."

"How far outside?"

"Six miles, Mr. President."

"And the city will be destroyed?"

"If the bomb is within a couple of miles of the aiming point, yes it will be destroyed,"

The President drummed his fingers on the table. He saw General Franklin come back into the room and he saw that Franklin had something important to say. "Yes Franklin?"

"Mr. President, the Distant Early Warning stations are reporting Russian bombers. Not many of them, about a dozen. They're holding their position four hundred miles off."

The President frowned. "Zorubin," he said, "If I refuse, what would happen?"

Zorubin shrugged. "It depends. Your bombers are on their way home. He may be tempted to launch an attack to destroy one or two of your cities regardless of your permission. It would probably be a minor attack, no more than a dozen or so bombers. No doubt those General Franklin has mentioned would be employed."

The President made his decision: "I'll give him a city," he said. "But it shall be a city of my choosing, Further than that I will not go. Franklin, with the state of the prevailing wind, and roughly equating the size of a city to Kotlass, what's the answer?"

Franklin said, "The wind's due west, and likely to stay that way for some time. Mr. President, I'd say Atlantic City. There aren't any visitors this time of year. There are good highways in and out. The population could be evacuated quickly, and any fall-out would be taken away out to sea. If we have to give them a city, then that's the best, but . . . "

"It's my decision, Franklin."

"Yes, sir."


"Mr. President."

"I want Atlantic City evacuated right away. I declare martial law in the city, and for an area fifteen miles radius around it. You will take personal charge of the evacuation, and you will act in my name without reference to me. I trust your judgement sufficiently to say here and now I will back any action you take without question."

"Very good, Mr. President." Keppler rose to his feet, a tall, bulky, competent looking man. "One point, sir. Am I to evacuate everyone within the radius of the area you've proclaimed martial law?"

The President looked at the SAC commander. "You're the expert, Franklin. What do you think?"

"It should b enough," Franklin said slowly. "Without looking at the terrain, I couldn't say positively." He paused. "Maybe I should go along with General Keppler. If that is, the general, if he . . . " Franklin came to an embarrassed halt.

"Be glad to have you along," Keppler said warmly. "Don't know anything about these contraptions. Don't want to, either.
"All right then," the President said. "Both of you go. I take it 'your deputy at Omaha will handle SAC affairs, General Franklin?"

"He's handling them right now, sir.

"All right. Get moving." The President watched Keppler and Franklin leave. He had noted earlier on how Keppler had reacted when Franklin had aligned himself with him during the altercation with Zorubin. If be could do anything to promote good feeling between Army and Air Force generals he felt he should, if only to cut down the number of squabbles he had to umpire in the future.

Now it was time to let the Marshal know his decision. The big wall clock was showing six minutes after twelve. "This is the President," he said quietly. "I wish to inform the Marshal I understand his position if a city of his is destroyed. I consider the peace of the world to be more important than a city on each side. Therefore I am prepared to give one of his bombers free access to an American City of comparable size. I have selected for this purpose Atlantic City. In the event of a Russian city being taken out, one Russian bomber will be permitted to destroy Atlantic City. But I must point out to the Marshal, in that case there would be no question of compensation for the Russian city destroyed. That would be paid for by the death of an American City. It is for him to choose.

The reply took only a few seconds to come. "The President's offer is unacceptable. The American bomber has chosen its target. We wish to choose ours"

"No." The President's tone was unequivocal. "I will not accept that. My offer is final and I will not argue about it. I am ready to go so far to preserve peace. I will not be pushed further."

The men round the table sat very quietly as they waited for the reply. It seemed an age in coming, but in reality it was only a minute or so. "The President's offer is accepted. Can the details be left to the staffs?"

"They can," the President replied shortly. ""But it must be understood my permission is conditional on Kotlass being destroyed."

"That is understood."

"Then for the moment there is nothing more to be said." The President relaxed in his chair. The wall clock was showing seven minutes after twelve. One way or another, they would soon know now.

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