10.40 G.M.T.

Moscow: 1.40 p.m., Washington: 5.40 a.m.

"SIT DOWN, Paul," Brigadier General Quinten said easily. He waved his hand to a comfortable chair in front of the desk.
Paul Howard looked carefully at the general as he satown. He noted the haggard face, and the small twitch in the cheek under the' right eye. But he also saw that the general's right hand was steady. And that was the hand holding the point four five pistol the general had produced, as if by magic, as soon as he heard Howard's first few words.

Quinten lit a cigarette. "So you've got on to it," he said. "How did you know?"

"Combination of things, Howard said slowly. "Mostly, the question of a bell ringing. It was there in back of my mind all the time, but it took a while to register. General, that red line phone makes a hell of a noise when it rings. Earlier on, when I came into this office and found you already speaking on that phone, I knew there was something missing. I didn't know just what. But a few minutes ago I realised it. I hadn't heard the bell. If it had rung, I'd have heard it for sure. So I began to get the idea you'd made the call to SAC yourself, strictly for my benefit." He paused, waiting for some positive reaction from Quinten.
But Quinten was not disturbed. "So far you're adding things up right," he said lightly. "I'm not going to quarrel with your conclusions. Go on from there."

"Well, sir, then I got to thinking about the second call, the one that came through while I was talking to you. You said something like, 'I hear you. All right.' Something like that. It was just what you would have said if you'd picked up the phone for the first call and asked the operator at SAC to check your line. Anyway, I switched my radio on. The miniature one I keep in my desk. All the stations were transmitting normally, even the small local outfits."

"So you'd said we were at warning red. That means air attack imminent. In that case all the small stations would have shut down. The networks would have shifted over to the Conelrad stations. That hadn't happened. It was then I realised."

"I see," Quinten murmured. "Paul, I was going to tell you anyway. I'd already told SAC, when I sent you to fetch the security officer, because it's too late for anyone to do anything about it now."

Howard lit a cigarette. He noticed the general had put the pistol down on the desk. But it was within easy reach of his right hand. He remembered one of the general's hobbies was pistol and small-bore rifle shooting. He relaxed. "I don't see how it's too late, SAC can recall the wing,"' he said.

"No, they can't. You weren't at the briefing, were you?"

"You know I wasn't.

"So you don't know the three letter group I gave the wing, for setting on the CRM 114 after they received their attack' orders?"

"No, I don't."

"Neither, Quinten said calmly, "does anyone at SAC."

"But the letters are pushed out' by SAC," Howard protested, his voice rising slightly. "They're bound to know."

Quinten shook his head. "Paul, there are some things about SAC operations you don't know, and neither does any officer under base commander or deputy commander level. SAC supplies the general code group, sure. But the group for plan R is originated by the base commander himself. There's a good reason for it. We've learned a lot about the nature of Communism and its adherents. We also know we are liable to be attacked at any time. All right, suppose a sudden attack knocked out all our bases except this one. Suppose someone in high places knows the generall code group of the day. Someone who is a Communist, or a fellow traveller."

"That isn't even a possibility," Howard said angrily.

"You're wrong, Paul. It is a possibility. In a world which can construct an H-bomb and put up its own artificial moons, even contemplate a break-out into space, nothing is impossible. Nothing. Oh, I agree the possibility is very slight, but it exists. Anyway, suppose things happened as I said, I get my planes into the air. But they aren't going to be much good if the enemy can get through to them and turn them back, or maybe divert them to a base where they can be caught on the ground a few minutes after landing. Plan R takes care of that. We've come a long way since Pearl Harbour. That taught us a lesson we've never forgotten, and the results of that lesson are written into plan R."

Howard shifted in his chair. Suddenly it was all very clear to him. He remembered how Majors Bailey and Hudson had asked permission to go on a hunting trip. The general had agreed immediately. Come to think, he was almost sure the general had suggested it. Bailey and Hudson had been at the briefing. Apart from the crews of the wing, and the general himself, they were the only officers who had.

"That's why you sent Bailey and Hudson off?" he asked.

Quinten frowned. For the past fifteen minutes the pain in his head had subsided to a dull throb. Now suddenly, it was again hot and active, clawing at his brain like a wild thing. He said quietly, "I don't know. Certainly, in the couple of minutes before the boys reached their X points, it was one of the the factors influenced me to send them on in. That, and the news about the I.C.B.M. site, and the fact we were running a NORAD exercise so I knew our defences would be alert. You were standing in as deputy, which helped a lot. Colonel England would have smelled a rat immediately I mentioned plan R."

"I don't see why."

"You're forgetting that plan R was drawn up to take account of special circumstances," Quinten said gently. "To enable a base commander to act when central command had gone. It would never have been pushed out by SAC."\

Howard stubbed out his cigarette in the ash receptacle built into the arm of the chair. "So now what happens?"

"Go and stand by the window, Paul. Listen very carefully."

Howard walked across to the window. He heard nothing. Then he pressed his ear against the thick glass, and felt it vibrating. Very faintly he heard a distant rumble, like thunder over the horizon of a summer's day.

"You hear anything?"

Howard turned to face him. "A low rumble," he said. "The kind of noise you hear when a wing goes off, if you're a long way away. That what you mean?

Quinten nodded. "Exactly. Does it answer your question?" Howard shook his head slowly. "I don't get it," he said."I just don't understand what's happening."

"Sit down again." Quinten held the pistol loosely while Howard walked across the room, then replaced it on the desk as Howard sank into a chair. "Take your time to think, about it, Paul. Tell me why you think a SAC wing is going off somewhere. You're graduated from the National War College, you know all the theory. Now work out the real thing."

Howard lit another cigarette. In the quiet lecture rooms of the War College it was easy. There was the problem, apply the tools of your training and natural brainpower to it, bingo–there was the solution. But that was when you were dealing with power in terms of paper symbols. The low rumble he had heard in the distance–was it from Sanderson? or Austin? or Uvalde?–was the real thing. It was power in terms of eight jet engines pushing out twelve thousand pounds óf thrust each. It was power in terms of bombs with an explosive potential equivalent to fifteen million tons of T.N.T. Real power. Naked, frightening, unimaginable power.

Well? Quinten asked.

"General, I just don't know. I can't seem to figure things out. You've told SAC what you've done. Let's start from that. Would they know you've used,plan R?"

"They'd know. Reception of the signals would tell them."

All right, then they know they can't stop the eight forty-third. That means an attack will be made on Russia. Obviously, there'll be a counter-blow. So they have to get the other wings off the ground to make sure they aren't destroyed."

"Why would they want to do that?" Quinten asked. His tone was deceptively mild,

"Well, obviously they wouldn't want them destroyed if they could help it."

"Why?" Quinten pursued the question inexorably. "Think it through, Paul. You know the answer all right."

And suddenly Howard did know. Suddenly he saw the logical end of Quinten's action. Why bother to preserve the SAC wings if they weren't going to be used? He said slowly, "General, it seems to me they're planningg to follow the eight forty-third in, Morally, we're already in the wrong, so therefore...."

Quinten broke in quickly. "I'd argue that. But let it go for the moment."

"Morally we're already in the wrong," Howard repeated stubbornly. "But are there degrees of morality in terms of the power locked up in those planes? Does it make any great deal of difference whether you kill thirty millions or sixty millions? Well, it seems to me it makes this difference. If they follow the eight forty-third in, they'll kill an extra thirty millions. I'm just guessing at the figures, of course. But that extra thirty millions will be in Russia. If they don't, then it's possible the Russians will kill thirty millions here in America. Because of your action, they're faced with a choice of killing an extra number of Russians or letting the Russians kill an equal number of Americans. They're realists, they're bound to choose the first alternative. And that's why the SAC wings are going off." Suddenly he pushed back his chair. His face was very white. "Why in hell did you do it?" he shouted. "Why? For God's sake, why?"

"Sit down, Paul." Quinten's voice cracked sharply across the rgom. He brought the pistol up until it pointed at Howard. "Sit-down, and cool off. I'm going to tell you why, later. I'm going to tell you what convinced me it was not only the expedient but also the moral thing to do. When you've heard me out, you'll be convinced too."

"No," Howard said firmly. "You may be able to convince me it was expedient. Never moral."

Quinten looked at him curiously. Howard's face was still a livid white, his fingers trembling as he crushed out his cigarette and immediately lit another. He was shocked, Quinten thought, by the sudden realisation. Yet he should not have, been. No one who had ever toted the actual bombs round the sky should have been shocked when he realised the bombs were going to be used. But undoubtedly Howard was shocked. Just as the crews of the bombers were shocked probably, when they received, the attack orders. It was another examplee of the way the mind will push the unpleasant things into the background. Like the envelope you fail to open because you know it contains a bill you can't really afford to pay. Like the politicians who manage to convince themselves during face-to-face meetings that the other man is friendly, when they know that yesterday he attacked them bitterly, and will probably do so again tomorrow. .

Howard's cheeks were slowly returning to their normal, healthy colour. Quinten wondered what it was like to feel young and strong, and free from pain. It had been so long, he had almost forgotten. He said, "Paul, you can think what you like of me, and so can the rest of the world. I know that what I've' done is right. Do you remember what Clemenceau once said about war?"'

"No, I don't." Howard's voice was almost normal again.

"He said war, was too important a matter to be left to generals. At the moment he said it, he was probably right. But now it's swung the other way. When a war can be won and lost an hour after it starts, then war is too Important to be left to politicians. The Russians know it. And they also, know we don't work things that way. That's why, in a couple of hours from now, they'll have lost. There'll be no more threats from them. In a few hours the whole shape of the world will be changed. Remember what they did to Hungary back in '56? They won't be able to do that again, not ever."

"That's expediency. Morally, what you've done is still wrong.,,

"Well," Quinten said, "Maybe." He suddenly felt very thirsty, He picked up the gun from the desk, walked over to the water cooler by the window, and drank two full cups of water. Then he went back to his desk.

"Paul," he said. "You're going to be a part of the new world. I'm not. I know quite well what history will have to say about my action. In two hundred years they'll have forgotten all about the menace of Communism. If you don't believe me, just think how soon we've forgotten what we once felt about Germany. And Japan. I'll just be remembered as a butcher, a man who wantonly slaughtered millions of innocent people. Tell me–do you really think I'm that kind of man? Do you really think I can take an action which will snuff out millions of lives with as little compunction as I'd squash a fly?

"Well, no I don't. At least," Howard paused and looked deliberately at Quinten, "I didn't up to now. Now I'm not sure.

"You can be," Quieten said quietly. "A few hours from now I'll be dead. I happen to believe in a life after this one, so I believe I will have to answer for what I've done. I think I can."

Howard looked at him with fresh interest. "I don't quite follow. If the rest of SAC are going in after the eight forty-third, we're bound to win. It's possible we won't be hit at all in this country. Why should you be dead?"

Quinten tapped a cigarette on the desk carefully, placed it between his lips, and struck a match. Then he blew the snatch out without lighting the cigarette. "Because if I let myself live it would be as a lunatic. The human mind could never withstand a traumatic experience as violent as the killing of all those millions of people. I'm going to tell you a little of why I did this. But first, let me ask you another question. When you heard that wing going off in the distance the sound was something monstrous, something inhuman and dreadful to you. Right?"


"No, Paul. There was nothing monstrous about it. You know what that sound meant? I'll tell you. It meant peace on earth."

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