02.55 G.M.T.

Moscow: 3.15 p.m., Washington: 7.15 a.m.

"I AM INFORMED the bomber which we reported as still heading in towards Kotlass has made its attack. An explosion has occurred." Zorubin translated smoothly and fluently, transmuting the harsh sounds from the speaker into precise, diplomatic English. "Does the President stand by his agreement that' one of his cities shall now be destroyed?"

The President closed his eyes for a moment. Well, this was it. He had given his word, and now he must stand by it. "Yes," he said curtly, "I do."

"Very well then, let us set a time. I propose fifteen minutes from now. That will be at 7.30 your time."

The President nodded absently. He became aware of Steele waving a hand in sudden agitation. Fifteen minutes from now. Fifteen minutes! There was some mistake. The evacuation of Atlantic City would not be anywhere near complete. "You have made a mistake in time, he said. "The staffs have agreed that your bomber cannot be in position much before ten o'clock our time."

Thirty seconds went by while the President's words were translated in the Kremlin. Then the speakers began to crackle again. Zorubin translated quickly and continuously as the message came over. "I have overruled the staff proposals. Atlantic City will not be destroyed by bomber. It will be destroyed by a missile from a submarine which is lying four hundred miles off your coast. Orders have been given to the submarine commander he is to fire his missile at 7.25 your time. It will take about five minutes to reach its target. Zorubin's voice was flat. He appreciated exactly the significance of the message. In something under fifteen minutes at least fifty thousand people would die in Atlantic City.

The President swayed. For a moment he felt the onset of actual physical nausea. He fought it down and clutched at the table in front of him to steady himself. He looked across at Admiral Maclellan. "Well?" he asked. His face was white.

Maclellan said quietly, "It could be, sir. They usually have one or two subs lying off four hundred or so miles out. The missiles they carry have that much range."

"And accuracy?"

Maclellan frowned. "At four hundred miles not good. Between five and ten miles."

"I see." The President signalled for the radio link to be opened. "The Marshal's proposal is unacceptable," he said quietly. "Atlantic City has not yet been evacuated.

The reply came quickly. "Neither had the city of Kotlass."

"'It is not solely for that reason the proposal is unacceptable," the President said. "I am informed the missiles carried by Russian submarines are not sufficiently accurate to guarantee a hit on target at four hundred miles. The agreement was that Atlantic City should be hit and nowhere else. I must ask the Marshal to suggest an alternative method"

Again the reply was quick. "They are sufficiently accurate." There was a short pause, and when the next sentence was spoken there was no mistaking the bitterness and determination of the voice. "I will not consider any alternative. The missile will be fired seven minutes from now."

"Zorubin, the President said quietly, "I have been trapped. You realise what it will mean if the missile is fired?"

"I do. Zorubin's voice was low. "And I am sorry. But it seems his mind is made up. I can tell."

The President thought for a moment of the SAC wings which were still airborne, of the bombers of the 843rd which, many of them, were still over Russian territory. It would be so easy for him to threaten action. And so futile. The position had not changed in the last hour or so. The ultimate threat still lay beneath the Urals, ready at any moment to poison the world. He thought too, after all a Russian city had been destroyed. If it had been his own decision he would not have insisted on a meaningless reprisal. But it was not his decision, and perhaps too the man in the Kremlin it was not meaningless. He waved a hand for the radio link to he opened.

"Wait" General Steele's voice was loud and sharp. "Mr. President, wait a minute."

The President looked at him. Steele held a message form in his hand. "Well, Steele" he asked.

"Kotlass was not destroyed, Mr. President. Neither the city nor the I. C. B. M. base. This message is from a SAC crew who actually saw the explosion, as they were heading out after recall. They state definitely the explosion occurred fifteen miles south-east of the city of Kotlass, in an entirely uninhabited area. They further state the explosion was a small one, in the kiloton rather than megaton range." "I don't understand," the President said slowly. "They were carrying the normal weapons, I take it?"

"They were, sir. This is just guesswork, but I'd say what happened was this. We know the particular bomber was hit, and we know from what the Russians told us it was flying at a very low level. It could well have suffered damage to some of the bomb release mechanisms and carried the bomb on past the target. Then, when the bomb dropped, it may not have had time to stabilise itself in flight, and perhaps hit the ground in such a way the primer exploded but not the main charge. That would cause an explosion in the kiloton range. Say between one and two hundred kilotons."

"And that is technically possible?"

"It is," Steel said. "What the report means, Mr. President, is that no city has been destroyed, and no military base. The actual explosion probably caused no casualties at all. There'll be a fall out hazard, of course, but nothing compared with an H-bomb explosion. If they get to work quickly they should be able to evacuate in plenty of time to avoid radiation casualties.

"Has the report been confirmed?"

"It has sir."

"Very well." The President's voice was full of new hope. He glanced at the clock. Six minutes to go before the missile was fired. There was time. He saw the green light wink on to indicate the opening of the link for him.

"I have just received a report," he said, "which enables me to request the Marshal to cancel his orders to the submarine. I suggest this be done as a matter of urgency. The report gives the news that the town of Kotlass was quite untouched by the explosion. Further, the explosion itself was a comparatively small one, of the kind usually associated with atomic rather than hydrogen weapons. I am sure the Marshal will join me in expressing satisfaction that Kotlass has been spared, and Atlantic City can be spared too."

"I know nothing of that. The missile will be fired," the reply said flatly.

"But Kotlass was unharmed," the President said quickly.

"I know nothing of that. Your bomber dropped its bomb. My submarine will fire its missile."

The President turned away abruptly. He was fighting to control himself, to hold back the bitter words which were shaping themselves on his tongue. "It had better not," he said at last. His voice was calm, but it had in it a note of bitterness which had never been there before. "I gave my word that I would give a city for the one destroyed. Your city has not been destroyed. And so I will not accept the destruction of Atlantic City. That is all I have to say."

Zorubin looked carefully at the President. He realised instantly that the President had reached the brink. He could be pushed no further. Zorubin sensed that in the final analysis the President would not now hesitate to take action. Once
again, the fate of the world was trembling in the balance. But did the Marshal know that? Or was he merely playing
a cynical game of bluff, under the impression the President was bluffing too? Zorubin made up his mind.

He stepped forward "Excuse me, Mr. President," he said formally. "I wish to speak to the Marshal direct." He flicked his fingers for the opening of the link. The green light winked on. Before anyone in the room could recover from the surprise of his action, Zoruibin was speaking in Russian.

He spoke fast but clearly, pausing twice to allow questions to be put from Moscow. For nearly two minutes the
conversation continued. Zorubin finished with a long burst of speech followed by a single sentence whose intonation
made it clear he was asking a question, He waited impassively for the answer. Finally it came,- sharp monosyllable.

Zorubin turned to the President. His forehead was glistening with perspiration. But he was smiling. "The missile will not be fired, Mr. President. The Marshal states he had no real intention of firing it. He merely wished to make sure you and your staff knew what it was to see a city of yours in immediate danger of destruction."

"I see," the President said thoughtfully. "I must thank you, Your Excellency, for your good offices."

Zorubin formally bowed his appreciation. It had been very close, he thought. Only the trust which his old friend placed in his evaluation of the situation had enabled him to obtain the cancellation of the firing order. The Marshal had been quite sure the President would do no more than protest the action. Zorubin had assured him differently. And fortunately the Marshal had believed him.

"Now," the President said. "We must take steps immediately to see this does not happengain, Steele."


"Plan R must be abolished. See to that immediately."

Steele shrugged. He would carry out the President's order, but he felt compelled to point out the removal of plan R would leave a gap in the defences. He did so.

The President heard him out. Then he said, "I think not. I venture to think the events of the last two hours have shown that a Russian attack on this country will not now take place. Not in our time, at least."

Zorubin looked at him sharply. He thought that the President had probably assessed the situation correctly. He wondered just how he had arrived at his conclusion.

"The Russians have a lead with the I.C.B.M.," the President said slowly. "We will need six months or so before our Minuteman sites will be ready, so that retaliation would become inevitable and infallible. On that day, I believe, war will not only become impossible but will be recognised by both sides as such."

"That is in six months," Steele said stiffly. "For at least four months of that period they will have their long range missiles ready and we will not. They know that."

"Yes, but they know other things too. Or at least," the President turned and looked at Zorubin, "they will know. For example, they already know they cannot stop the 52.K's with their radar guided missiles. I would not think they could replace their radar missiles inside a period of six months with missiles which are still experimental."

Zorubin's eyes flickered for just a moment. He was conscious of the President's keenly assessing gaze. He smiled. "The President had spotted the obvious flaw in the Russian position.

"Then again," the President continued, "they know the second wing of K's become operational this month, and a third next month. They will also know, as soon as His Excellency's report reaches them, that from now until the time our Minuteman sites are operational, I am ordering a force of at least twenty bombers of the K type to be airborne twenty-four hours of each day, fully armed. They will not head for their X points, but remain in the refuelling areas. They will be under my direct control. They will guarantee the peace, until the Minuteman sites make peace inevitable. And peace, gentlemen, I am determined to create."

Zorubin's voice was quiet as he said, "The President is correct. Once both sides have missiles which will automatically retaliate, war becomes profitless. If it is profitless, it will not be fought." He shrugged. "Ideological differences are not so sharply defined as the line between life and death. We may have to learn how to differ. But better that than having to learn how to die."

"Exactly," the President" said. "And now gentlemen, I wish to speak privately with the Russian Ambassador and the Secretary of State. I have promised compensation for any damage caused. I shall probably go to Moscow to discuss details with the Marshal. The Ambassador and I will make arrangements with him immediately. Thank you all for your help."

Zorubin watched the service officers and aides file out of the room. He thought this could well be the beginning of a new era. On both sides, Russian and American, the men who counted had lived through two hours of fear. It had not been theoretical fear, the kind of fear any sane man felt when he contemplated the destruction potential of the two opposing camps. It had been genuine, inescapable fear of the logical end to a course of events which they had seemed powerless to prevent. No one, on either side, could live through a time like that and ever again seek war.

"You know," the President said, "the general who actually launched the attack did so because he was convinced it was the only way to secure peace on earth."

Zorubin considered' the President's words for a moment. "Well," he said, "his attack failed. But I'm not sure it hasn't resulted in securing peace on earth just the same."

"Let's hope so." The President sank into the seat he had used during the action. He was very weary, but he felt that his biggest effort was still to come. Yet he looked forward to it. He felt, like Zorubin, that no one who had lived through that time could ever again take any action which might lead to war. "Let's make it so," he said determinedly. He signalled for the link to be opened, and began to talk to the Marshal.

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