10.30 G.M.T.

Moscow: 1.30 p.m., Washington: 5.30 a.m.

CLINT BROWN checked: his flight instruments again. He had been checking them every thirty or forty seconds for the last ten minutes. At the moment he had very little to do, and so his mind prompted him to look for work, to do anything that which would push the thought of Seattle and his fiancée into the background. It did not help that the rest of the crew were quiet and subdued. They too, he knew, would be finding it was not easy to put away unwelcome thoughts. A man can conquer his fear for himself more easily than his fear for those he loves. There was nothing to be done about it. He glanced at his wrist watch, checked the instruments again, looked out past the distant tip of the port wing into the icy blackness beyond. The hands on his watch moved round with agonising slowness to 10.31. He forced himself to wait until the exact second, then said, "O.K. Herman, you can arm up the hornets now."

"Roger," Goldsmith replied. He sounded eager, anxious to begin work. Brown eased himself out of his seat and stood aside to let the engineer, Federov, climb into his place. It was normal practice for Federov to sit at the controls while the command pilot moved about the cabin.

Brown leaned over Stan Andersen's chart table, watching the navigator's busy fingers as he plotted information from the machines on to his chart, and fed back further information from the chart to the machines. Andersen looked up at Brown, smiled briefly. His face was set and drawn, but he at least was busy. "Still estimating 10.41, Stan?" Brown asked.

"Still 10.41. This wind's working out pretty good."

"Fine." Brown straightened up, went past Mellows, the radioman, who was sitting tense at his silent set. He gave Mellows a smile, and a friendly pat on the shoulder as he went past. He was only a kid, Brown thought. But maybe that helped. Maybe he didn't grasp the full implications of what was happening.

As a matter of fact, Brown was wrong. Mellows realised quite well that by now the States had been hit. He was an only child, and his parents lived in Washington D.C. In his mind he knew that they were gone. All right, that was it, they were gone. It would be nice to be able to give way to his grief, but that was out. Right now he had the chance to avenge them, simply by doing his job. He would. He fondled the tune control of his radio, watched Brown stop by Goldsmith's fire control panel. He concentrated with all his determination on the set.

Goldsmith looked up at Brown. He nodded an acknowledgment of Brown's presence, then went't back to his work. He had already pulled down each of the ten big switches ranged in banks of five at the top of the panel. Five weapons for the port firing tube five for the starboard. Beneath each of the switches a red light glowed. As Brown watched intently the red lights flickered out one by one, and below them green lights flashed on in their place. The weapons were armed.

Goldsmith's hand now went to another row of switches, halfway down the panel. He selected the left hand switch of the port bank, and the left hand switch of the starboard. Again a red light glowed beneath each of the two switches. In the rear of the fuselage two slim rockets, five feet long, slid quietly from a storage rack into a polished metal chute. Mechanical clamps pushed them smoothly along the chute to a point six feet short of the tail. Here the chute became a tube. The rockets vanished into the tube, leaving only the twelve firing ports of their motors in sight. Two hinged arms linked to the top of each tube slowly straightened. The tubes moved downwards, through an aperture formed by the sideways sliding of sections of the flooring. The rockets in their tubes hung a foot below the fuselage of Alabama Angel, vibrating slightly in the furious air blast, lethal now that the two safety plugs had been pulled out of warhead and motor as they dropped into firing position. On Goldsmith's panel the two red lights winked out and were replaced by green. The two missiles were primed and ready for firing.

Goldsmith looked up at Brown, said laconically, "Numbers one and six ready to go. Hope we don't need 'em." Then he turned to the radarscope that was linked in with the fire control system, adjusting the brilliance of the centre sweep.

Brown nodded. "Hope not," he agreed, and began to make his way back to his seat. On the way he passed Garcia and Minter, the ordnance experts. Garcia looked worried, he noted, but Minter was his usual calm, unimaginative self.

He tapped Federov on the shoulder, took the engineer's place at the controls. A swift check of the dials showed every thing normal, everything functioning smoothly. Glancing at his watch he saw that in another four minutes they would be turning on to the attack leg. In four minutes they would be sixty thousand feet above the imaginary dot on the Barents Sea which was exactly seventy-five degrees north, forty-five degrees east. From that point the bomber's track would be a straight line almost due south in heading, eight hundred and-fifty nautical miles long, to the primary target. Brown wondered where along that line they would meet trouble–if they met it at all. And whether, if they met it, the defence systems built into the 52K's would take them safely through.

The modern bomber is an infinitely more complex machine than the crude Fortresses and Lancasters of World War II. It flies more than twice as fast and twice as high. With mid air refuelling its range is virtually unlimited. But as the complexity and performance of the bomber have increased, so has the ability of its enemies to track it down and destroy it.

The 52K's were the last of their line. Their defence systems were the result of a triple alliance between the Boeing designers at Seattle, the weapons experts at Wright Field, and a specially formed electronics company in which both General, Electric and Westinghouse had joined forces. Between them, they had made the 52K as nearly invulnerable to attack as any bomber could be.

The two main enemies of the bomber were guided missiles, whether launched from the ground or from another plane, and missiles fired from a supersonic fighter which were unguided but usually fired in salvoes to increase the chances of a hit.

Against the first of these enemies, the guided missile, the 52K deployed a whole battery of electronic counter-measures. As far as was known, the Russian missiles relied on radar in some form or other for their guidance systems. No doubt they were developing other forms of guidance, like the American and British infra-red missiles which homed on the radiation given off from jet engines. But it was thought that all operational missiles relied on radar.

The electronics company, on information supplied by the weapons teams at Wright Field, had designed a big electronic brain which would automatically sense the presence of a missile from its radar pulses. It would then determine the exact frequency of those pulses, assess the speed and track of the missile and beam out a series of pulses of its own. These would supply the enemy missile with false information, confuse its guidance system, and divert it from its target. In certain cases it would have the effect of causing the weapon to explode prematurely, in others of turning it back in its own track. In a whole series of tests against missiles of the same type the Russians were thought to be using, the brain had never failed to sense, and then to divert, an oncoming missile.

The Boeing people had looked at the size and weight of the electronic brain and its associated radar, shaken their
heads, and declared it impossible to fit into the B-52. Then they had gone ahead and fitted it. The result was the 52K.

At the same time the electronic brain was being built into the 52, the conventional tail armament was removed. It no
longer had the range for dealing with the second of the bomber's enemies–the supersonic fighter which would approach from the rear and loose off a salvo of rockets. These rockets were of the unguided type, and therefore impossible to divert electronically. If they were aimed right, nothing would stop them once they were launched. The solution was obvious. Kill the rocket carrying fighter before it could launch them.

The Air Force asked for, and got, a weapon which would do this. It had a long and involved set of initials for its name, but among SAC crews it was known as a hornet. The name was apt. A hornet sting is about as bad as you can get. A sting from the nuclear warhead–no bigger than a large grapefruit–of this hornet, would destroy anything within five hundred yards of the burst.

The hornet missiles were controlled initially by radar from the fire control system which Goldsmith operated. They were let slip as soon as a hostile fighter came within five miles range. In the first part of their flight they rode a beam from the bomber. At a range of a mile from the target their own infra-red guidance systems took over and homed them in. They were proximity fused to explode as soon as they were within two hundred yards of their targets. A series of tests had shown, that when the missiles were released against a fighter five miles away, it was destroyed before it had penetrated to within two miles of the bomber. This was true even of fighters capable of twice the speed of sound in level flight.

So there it was, Brown thought. The two threats, the two counters. Now it remained to be seen just how the theory would work out in practice.

Andersen's voice broke in on him. "Two minutes to point A, captain. New course one seven eight. Estimating 12.05 at the primary."

"O.K. Setting it up now. What's the mid-point of our bomb time, Stan?"

"That's it, captain. Five after twelve. The earliest and latest times are one after and nine after."

"Right. Engineer, I'll want a fuel check after this turn. Work out the endurance from point A at this height and speed. Also at this height' and twenty less speed. Give it to me in air miles."

"Right," Federov said. He took out his fuel analysis logs and his reckoner tables, and began to make the preliminary entries.

Brown opened his folder of orders again. "Radar?"

"Captain?" Lieutenant Owens spoke up clearly and confidently.

"Switch the brain to fully automatic as soon as we turn. Report to me when it's warmed up and functioning. I'll check the frequency search bands with you then. Stan, will the long range search help you on this leg?"

"Well," Andersen said, "we're a bit far away for the first fifteen minutes or so. Then we'll start picking up the southern half of Novaya Zemlya. You should be able to pick out Moller Bay a hundred and forty miles to port, Bill. About fifteen minutes after turning. After that I'll be interested in Kolguev Island and the Kanin Peninsula. Check with me when Moller Bay shows, huh?"

"Sure," Owens said. He turned to his main search radar, tuned it for maximum range, and selected the one hundred to two hundred mile range band. The radar would now concentrate exclusively on the area between two concentric circles, one a hundred and the other two hundred miles from their centre, which was Alabama Angel.

"Time to turn, Captain," Andersen's voice piped up.

"O.K. Stan, turning now." Brown watched as the port wing rose slowly, held its position steadily through the turn, and then dropped again. He checked the gyro heading, and said, "On course. Time to run to target?"

"Eighty-four minutes," Andersen said crisply.

"O.K." Brown leaned forward and turned the face of a count-down clock until the figure eight-four showed in the boldly framed datum window. He pressed the start button. and the clock began to tick away the remaining seconds and
minutes. He watched it until the eight-four had clicked out of view and-eighty-three had replaced it.

One minute gone on the attack leg. Eighty-three to go. Eighty-three more minutes of waiting and wondering. After the attack it would be a little easier, perhaps. They could break radio silence to request instructions what base they were to head for. Those instructions might give a clue what sort of damage the States had taken. Might. Of course, the instructions would possibly be sent without any request, as general instructions to the wing. There might even be a recall. He forced the thought away from him, rejecting it as utterly impossible. They were committed now. Some of the wing–those with targets assigned to them deep inside central Russia–were over Russian territory already. There would be no recall.

He ran over in his mind what he had done already, what remained to do. Lieutenant Owens, the radar office, said, "Captain, she's warmed up now, everything functioning. I'm ready to set up the frequency bands."

"O.K. Bill. You call them as you set them. I'll check with my list" Brown turned the pages of the folder until he reached the sheet that detailed the frequency bands to be set up on the electronic brain for this target and route. He checked off the bands as Owens called them, then said finally, "Right. Let me know, immediately if you suspect any malfunctioning. if I'm speaking break in on me. You understand?"

"Sure," Owens said. "I'll do that."

Brown turned to the very last page in the folder. He looked at the count-down clock for a moment. God, had only two more minutes gone by?' How long were the other, eighty-one going to seem? He thought back rapidly to the checks he had made. Gunnery, navigation, radar, fuel. Fuel?

"Any idea on endurance yet, Federov?"

"I have the answer at this height grid speed, Captain. Gives you five thousand two hundred from the A point. I'm still
working on the other one."

"Thanks, Federov." Brown, relaxed. He was two hundred over the safety limit for this particular target. Allowing for adverse winds, and extra fuel used in changes of altitude which might be forced on a bomber for tactical reasons as it approached its target, plan R called for Alabama Angel to have the equivalent of five thousand air miles in the tanks at the A point. He had a small margin to play with.

He glanced again at the count-down clock. It was showing eighty. Perhaps he thought, even now, there would be something, which would....The eighty clicked implacably into seventy-nine. He said,"Garcia, Minter."

The two of them replied together, Garcia's voice blending with the deeper notes of Minter's.

Brown took a deep breath. "Lets get to work," he said. "Number one first. Arm and fuse for air burst at twenty thousand. I'll check the stages with you."

Garcia said quietly, "Request release trigger for number one."

"Releasing." Brown jerked down a switch on the instrument panel, held it down while he thumbed a button on the left side of the panel with his other hand.

"I have it," Garcia said.

Brown let the switch flip up, took his thumb from the button. The crew listened quietly to the preparations. And Alabama Angel continued to push ten effortless miles behind her each minute on the way to the primary target.

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