10.00 G.M.T.

Moscow: 1.00 p.m., Washington: 5.00 a.m.

THE ORDER to hold at X point left the crew of Alabama Angel quiet and uneasy. Like Major Paul Howard, back at Sonora, they had known it happen before. But never quite so late, Usually the warning order was issued at least twenty minutes before X point. They told themselves this was just another exercise, another of the endless variety of surprises SAC kept dreaming up to ensure that, when the time really came, nothing could surprise them. But Goldsmith did not continue with his story. Garcia slowly screwed the top of a Thermos tight again, replaced it and its companion in the rack. Nobody said anything much, because nobody wanted to risk disturbing Sergeant Mellows, the radioman. Right then, Mellows was the most important man in the crew.

Clint Brown held the plane in a steady port orbit. As soon as Mellows had passed the word to hold at X point he had taken over manual control of Alabama Angel. There was no particular need for him to have done it. The autopilot could hold height, speed, and rate of turn, just as well as he could. Better in fact, he thought wryly, as he noticed he had lost a hundred or so feet since he took over. He made the small correction required, and wondered just why he had taken over. He thought it was almost certainly because, if the word came, he wanted at that particular moment to have the bomber under his control as well as his command. It occurred to him he had never felt that way before when the order had come to hold. He concentrated grimly on his instruments, waiting like the rest of the crew. But with a chill presentiment

Sergeant Mellows’ whole being was concentrated on the green flicker of his visual tune indicator. He was very conscious that for the moment he was the centre of attention. Later his role would probably be unimportant, but for now he was carrying the ball. His sensitive, technician’s fingers caressed the tune and gain controls of the receiver. For one long, frightening second he wondered whether he would suddenly forget all his training, forget his tune technique, even forget the morse code. He was the youngest of the crew, and the least experienced. He came very near to panic, until suddenly, magically, the first stammer of morse in his earphones was coming through clear and slow. He scribbled down the message letter by letter. No possibility of a mistake at that speed. He thought scornfully that the operator back at Sonora was pretty punk. He was not aware that SAC instructions limited the speed of attack orders to the equivalent of twelve words per minute. SAC did not intend to have a target spared because of an error in transmission or reception.

Mellows said, “Message from base, Captain. KNHF, AGRB.” His throat was dry, and he found it difficult to speak. “That decodes as Wing attack, plan R, sir.”

There was silence in the cabin for all of ten seconds. Goldsmith spoke first, but only because he was the first to be able to put thoughts into words. “My God no,” he said, and then, as realisation grew in him that the orders could only mean an attack on the States was under way, “Where have the bastards hit? What have they …”

“Shut up!” Brown’s voice cut through Goldsmith’s words with warning coldness. The message had not shocked Brown as much as the others, for his presentiment had warned him it was coming. Now he had to jump right in while they were still shocked, and lean on them with all the weight of his own authority and the authority behind him. He had to hit them with the single important fact that he was in command, and they obeyed him instantly, or else. That way, he would have a crew. Any other way he would have nothing but an unruly mob.

He picked on a name. Not because he expected any particular trouble from that man, in fact quite the reverse, but because it was he who had spoken first, and a specific warning to an individual is always more effective than a vague threat to a crowd. “Goldsmith,” he said, “if you speak once more before I give you leave, you’ll face a general court when we get back to the States.” His voice was cold, and precise. It left no room for any doubt he meant exactly what he said.

He waited just long enough to make sure his warning had sunk in. Then he continued, in the same cold voice. “That goes for everyone in the crew. Let’s not have it happen again.”


“I was out of line. Sorry.”

Brown grinned. He was grateful to Goldsmith. Quite unintentionally he had given Brown the chance to weld the crew into a tight combat team right at the start, to get them over the inevitable initial shock of the attack orders. Brown thought he could ease off now with perfect safety provided he got them busy right away on their combat duties.

He said, “That’s O.K., Herman. Forget it. Break out the orders, Stan. Garcia, you distribute them.”

Stan Andersen unlocked the metal drawer built in under his chart table. It contained half a dozen fifteen by ten envelopes exactly the same in appearance as th one Quinten had opened. Altogether SAC had twenty-one alternative plans, lettered from A through U. But of those, only six applied to the 843rd. Their targets were the vital ones, simply because they had the most modern, best defended bombers in the Command. If any bombers flying could fight their way through the supersonic fighters, the ground and air launched missiles, which the Russians had sited to defend those targets, the 52.K’s could. So naturally, the vital targets were theirs.

Andersen broke the seals on the envelope marked “R”. The others he had already replaced in the steel drawer. It contained an incendiary device which could be operated manually in event of emergency, and would be set off by an inertia switch in event of the bomber crashing.

Garcia distributed the individual folders. There was one each for radar and radio; one for the gunnery officer, the engineer, the bombardier. One for each of the two crew members whose duties would begin and end with twenty minutes’ work a few hundred miles from the target. And for the navigator and the captain, a copy each of a bulkier folder which included the orders for the other crew members as well as their own.

Brown glanced quickly at his orders, saw that he did not need to alter height or speed on the first leg, and said, “First course as soon as you like, Stan. Don’t wait to plot it, a rough heading will do.”

“Kay. Roughly zero seven five.”

“Zero seven five.” Brown glanced at his heading indicator. Two three zero. He increased the rate of port turn, the servo controls calling for no more effort from him to tilt the huge swept back wings than he could supply with the tip of a finger. He rounded out of the turn, made the inevitable small correction, and said, “Steady on zero seven five.”

Andersen noted the time, set his ground position indicator to the co-ordinates of Bear Island, and fed into the machine the wind velocity he had computed on the run up to the X point. The speed and height were already set. From now on the gadget would automatically compute his ground position, and display it in ever-changing co-ordinate figures. Provided of course, that the wind and speed Andersen fed in was accurate. A large provision at fifty-five thousand feet. His busy fingers moved rapidly over the chart, measured distances and angles, transmuted them into marks on a spherical slide rule, noted the resultant figures on his log. He had quite forgotten his girl in Klamath Falls, Oregon. It was not a likely target.

Brown’s girl lived in Seattle. He had met her when, with other 843rd pilots, he had gone to the Boeing plant for a three day conference on certain tricky points which had shown up after the 52.K’s had flown five or six training missions. She worked as a stenographer in the accounts offices there. A tall, lissom brunette, the girl he had planned to marry at the end of his next overseas duty. He tried to put out of his mind the knowledge that Seattle and the Boeing plant would certainly be a priority target. He succeeded, but only by plunging into the detailed check of crew assignments.

First communications. “Mellows, you got the acknowledgment off?”

“Yes, sir. Aircraft number and the second group. AGRB. Like we were briefed.”

“O.K. Check these points. Complete radio silence. Listen on what wavelength?”

“Nine two one five kay-cees, Captain. That’s a frequency, not a wavelength.”

Brown smiled. “Too technical for me. All right, code procedure?”

“I’ll read out what it says. To ensure the enemy cannot plant false transmissions and fake orders, once the attack orders have been passed and acknowledged the CRM 114 is to be switched into the receiver circuit. The three code letters of the period are to be set on the alphabet dials of the CRM 114, which will then block any transmissions other than those preceded by the set letters from being fed into the receiver. I’ve set up the CRM, Captain.”

“O.K., Mellows. Engineer?”

Master Sergeant Federov, three generations removed from the vast grain lands of the Ukraine, a taciturn, sturdy man whose only love was the smooth efficiency of Alabama Angel’s infinitely complex machinery, grunted his presence.

“No change yet. Check with me five minutes before point A. Bombardier?”

Lieutenant Harry Engelbach, not as taciturn as Federov, quiet in normal social intercourse because of an overwhelming shyness, had lost all trace of that reticence now. He said, “Primary target the I.C.B.M. base at Kotlass, Captain. One weapon, fused air burst at twenty thousand. Second weapon to be used if there’s any foul up with the first. Otherwise, the secondary target gets it. The supply centre for the Kotlass base just outside Archangel. Fused air burst at twenty five.”

“O.K. You have your target approach maps?”

“Yes. Approach and vicinity charts and transparencies for both. Kotlass should be easy, Captain. The aiming point is almost at the junction of the Dwina and Suchona rivers. They’ll show up real clear on the scope.”

“Let’s hope so. Gunnery?”

“Gunnery,” Goldsmith said. His voice was calm and steady, differing from normal in the absence of the flippant bantering note that usually was present.

“O.K. Herman, nothing for you yet. You can arm your hornets up ten minutes before A point. You happy about them?”

“I’m happy. I’d be happier if we could carry twice as many, but these ten beauties should do. I’ll check with you before I arm them.”

“O.K. Herman. Radar, you stay on search for now. You don’t begin counter measures until we turn in on the attack leg. We’ll check the counter-frequencies when I’ve altered course. How about it, Stan? You have that course for me?”

Andersen noted a final figure on his log, and said, “Zero eight one. Alter fifty seconds from now.”

“Roger.” Brown leaned forward to make the alterations on the gyro. There were only two of the crew he had to contact now; Garcia, and another sergeant named Minter. They had flown a lot with Alabama Angel, but neither of them had yet contributed anything more positive to the actual operation of the plane than serve coffee. Yet, without them, the present mission could not have been ordered.


“Sir?” It was Garcia who answered, as he always did. Garcia was the live wire of the pair, a girl chaser, a likeable, volatile man. But from past experience Brown knew that Minter would be listening, and would carefully carry out any orders he was given.

“As soon as the navigator comes up with an estimate for A point, I’ll let you know about your job.”

“Estimating 10.41 at A point,” Anderson broke in quickly.

“Give or take anything?” Brown asked lightly. There was an appreciative chuckle from the crew. Brown was pleased. This was the delicate part, the instructions which might trigger again the emotional disturbance which had threatened when the attack orders were received. He went on quickly, “Don’t answer that, Stan. Only kidding. All right, you two, you can begin to arm them up at 10.33. Number one for twenty thousand air burst, number two twenty-five air burst.” Now. It was said. Any comment from the crew? Five seconds went by. None. Brown smiled again. He thought a cup of coffee would be good right now. “How about some coffee, Garcia?”

“Right away, Captain.”

Minter said slowly, “Hey Garcia, Bim for twenty air and Bam for twenty-five air, that right?”

“Sure,” Garcia said, “that’s right.”

Brown was staggered. He could understand how the crews of previous wars had often chalked names on high explosive bombs. But to give names to these things? He started to ask a question, changed his mind before the words had left his mouth. The bombs were Garcia’s and Minter’s special charges. The two sergeants had to arm them, convert them from inert if highly expensive chunks of metal, into killers with a power potential capable of removing a city the size of New York from the face of the earth. If they liked to give the weapons names that was none of his business, so long as their job was efficiently done. He felt quite sure it would be.

Two minutes later, while the crew read carefully through their assignment sheets, Garcia served the coffee. But Goldsmith did not tell his story, and nobody invited him to tell it. There seemed to be a tacit agreement the story would not be at all funny. Not now.

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