12.05 G.M.T.

Moscow: 3.5 p.m., Washington: 7.05 a.m.

AHEAD OF HIM, Clint Brown could see the lights of Kotlass. It was quite dark now at this latitude, but it didn't really matter. The lights were guiding him in. Suddenly as he watched them they went out. All at once, as though someone had operated a master switch and cut the electricity supply off clean at source. Within seconds he found he could still see the town, a vaguely dark mass against the white of the snow-covered plains. He continued to fly straight on, confident that the course he was holding would take him over the town and on to the I.C.B.M. base six miles beyond it.

"Time to open bomb doors," Engelbach said calmly.

"Right. Now." Brown thumbed the bomb door release button, while Errgelbach manipulated the opening lever. Both controls had to be operated together, otherwise the bomb doors would not open.

"There's something wrong with the circuit lights," Engelbach said urgently. "They haven't gone to green. Hell, they've gone out altogether."

Brown forced his tired mind to concentrate on what Engelbach had said. Something about circuit lights. What did lights matter anyway? He'd felt the slight shudder as the doors came open, and the speed of the plane had dropped off a point or so as it always did. "So the circuits are out. Forget it, Harry."

Brown watched the dark mass of Kotlass coming ever closer. Now it was time for the last routine drill, the one he'd hoped he'd never have to go through. "O.K. José, let's make her live."

"Opening firing circuit," Garcia said.

"Roger." Brown unlocked his master switch, and pulled down on the red lever. Immediately a harsh red light glowed at the top of the instrument panel. Brown mustered just enough strength to force one of his deadening hands to fumble with the rheostat and dim the glaring brightness of the light.

It was done. The bomb was live. Only one safety device now remained, in the shape of two slim steel pegs which connected the fuselage of the plane with two vital parts deep inside the bomb. When the bomb fell away, the two steel pegs would be left, and as they slid out of the falling bomb they would open the trigger primer circuits. Once that happened, the bomb would explode as soon as the pre-set height had been reached. For this particular bomb that meant forty seconds after being dropped, which was the maximum delay after the pre-set height, because it would be dropped near enough the pre-set height anyway.

Kotlass came closer, rushing towards them through the Arctic night. Dimly, Brown felt a vague pity for the people there who had only a few seconds more of life left to them. But he could not spare much thought for them. His hands were numb now, and his vision was becoming misty. It was an effort to say, "Bill, get the message out."

Owens applied himself to the unfamiliar task of radio transmission. He manipulated the key slowly and carefully. He felt confident he had not made a mistake. "I got it out, Clint," he said, just as the town of Kotlass rushed past beneath them.

Engelbach looked ahead. His target radar was indicating some obstruction five miles ahead and slightly off to starboard. He strained to pierce the darkness and identify it.

He checked his bomb release mechanisms, and found them working perfectly. Suddenly he saw the obstruction his radar indicated. It was a launching tower, reaching high in the air, its top lost in the darkness. Engelbach felt a surging elation. They'd made it. In five seconds he would bomb, and he'd guarantee he'd lay it within a half mile of the aiming point.

His hand went to the release switch. "Release switch, Clint," he said.

"Release switch." Brown summoned all his dying resolution. He had to lift his hand, and move it forward six inches. It was impossible. He lifted it. He could not move it forward, he simply could not. Inch by painful inch he moved it forward. Now, he was touching the switch. Pull it down. The cabin was filling with blackness, thick blackness in which he was swimming. He could not see the switch. He had forgotten what it was for. He knew only his life would have been futile unless he operated it. He pulled firmly down and slumped back in his seat, the hand which had pulled the switch hanging limply by his side.

A green light glowed in Engelbach's bomb release panel. He saw another launching tower away to port, and he knew he was almost at the aiming point. He pressed the bomb release button and said quietly, "Bomb gone."

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