Table of Contents  Last Chapter  Next Chapter  Home Page
 Chapter 32

A Pleasant Fantasy and a Scare

They had only two days together, but they spent most of their time in Gorki Park, eating from the refreshment stands and feeding the birds. Sergei had been recalled to his tank unit, which was already en route to Berlin. He said to his wife,

"We're going to be stationed in Potsdam, the old training ground for the German army."

That had an ironic significance for both of them, but Svetlana asked,

"Have you any idea why?"

"There's another Berlin crisis in the making, but I don't think it'll amount to any more than the others, less probably."

Svetlana knew that it was Sergei's view that the Berlin crises were merely a charade which it was necessary for both sides to enact and re-enact every few years. As he now repeated,

"The Americans have only token forces there, and not much more in Europe as a whole. It takes two armies to have a battle."

Svetlana knew that, in his most recent appointment, Sergei had access to much more information than she did. But she also had to allow for his bouyant optimisim and his tendency to think that even the most obviously evil men would behave with decency in a moment of crisis.

Sergei was himself at his best in the gravest crises, but Svetlana knew very few others for whom she could say the same. Anyway, it was a beautiful day. They ran down a grassy slope toward the river, and then found a little patch of woods. It occurred to both of them at the same time that, in addition to the hotel rooms which they had always called home, they should have an outdoor place.

Although they had no tools, they constructed a little lean-to with dead branches propped against the long low branch of a large oak. Then, using Sergei's pocket knife, they cut a few live branches with leaves and laid them slant- ways across the structure. With bushes as protection on the other side, they then moved into their new home and celebrated by making love on a bed of leaves.

They had hardly finished when they heard a car coming along one of the paths, where motor vehicles weren't ordinarily allowed. This one had a loudspeaker, and, although they couldn't make out what the voice was saying, they dressed and went toward the clearing to hear. The message turned out to be for them. They were both wanted, Svetlana with great urgency.

Tom Williams went in to work the morning after Hal's death, but only Bruce was working as usual. There was, in fact, an odd and frustrating atmosphere. Everyone knew that great events were taking place, but, suddenly, DRI, with no director, had been taken out of the loop. According to General Edwards, the whole organization was to be given a new mission. But, at the moment, it wasn't even clear whether that mission would involve the further development of the red v. blue nuclear exchange model.

Despite what had happened, the War Gaming Room was still wired to the commands. Those persons who had the clearance tended to gather there in the hope of getting the news if and when it came in. At one point, General Edwards facetiously asked his assistant director, Colonel Murphy,

"What do we do, Murph, when there's no work to be done?"

The colonel replied immediately,

"We find work for the men, general. Polishing brass and waxing floors will always do."

Everyone but Goldstein laughed, and Tom suspected that the general and the colonel both had mental images of Goldstein disconsolately pushing a broom down a corridor. General Edwards did find an interim project for Complab, but, since Tom was returning to Michigan in a couple of weeks, he would hardly have a chance to get involved in it.

A little later, Tom met Sid in the corridor. She had heard about his friend's death and offered condolences. They went into the key punch room to have coffee, and she asked him,

"Have you talked with Elizaveta lately?"

"No. I've called, but there's no answer."

"Then I guess I have some more bad news for you. She's gone back to Russia with that man Kublaikov. She wanted me to tell you."

That silenced Tom for a little bit. He finally said,

"She wanted me to go to Mexico with her. I must have hesitated too long."

"People like Elizaveta are fascinating and exciting, but they aren't permanent. You can't live with them. She isn't even permanent for herself. She has to begin a new life every few years."

"I suppose she and Kublaikov will keep separating and coming back together, with other people in between."

"I think that probably is her pattern. I guess she's really fascinated with him."

"They are with each other. But he's arbitrary and cruel. He may also blow all of us away."

"How fascinating for you to have actually met the man who may manage to start world war three."

"I guess so. If he doesn't actually start it, it'll be an interesting memory. One for the grandchildren, if there are any."

"Elizaveta could be just as cruel and dangerous, given the power. He says he's going to marry her this time, so she may even have something to say about nuking."

"But Khruschev's wife is her best friend. She's for peace."

"Well, Elizaveta may twist one way and then the other, depending on all kinds of things. But that's good about Khruschev's wife. Another woman can have a great effect on Elizaveta. I almost convinced her not to go, but I couldn't quite do it."

Tom remembered Elizaveta and Kublaikov embracing and clawing hungrily at each other, and replied,

"I doubt that anyone could have stopped her. She would've run away from me in Mexico City and gone to the Soviet embassy."

Amid all his conflicting feelings, Tom was still pleased that he had something going with Elaine. He told Sid, and she replied,

"Anna told me that you seemed to have an understanding with her friend."

"She's practically my mother's age, but, when I'm actually with her, it doesn't bother me."

"You just don't like the idea of it when you're apart?"

"It sounds kind of weird."

"At times like these, the last thing I'd worry about is whether anything sounds or looks weird. Cliff is getting the kids off at the airport just about now. Sending your children to Mexico is also weird, but I don't have the least reservations about doing it."

Just after lunch, there was an alert. Sid said to Tom,

"My kids should be most of the way there by now."

She spoke with relief. Tom wondered how people could identify with their children to the extent of not worrying about themselves. And then, when they did, what happened if their children were killed, or if they killed themselves? Anyhow, as long as he stuck with Elaine, he could have sex without worrying about any such things.

As they went into the war gaming room, Tom noticed a difference of attitude from the last time. Then, the general assumption had been that it probably wasn't a real attack but that, if it was, they would all be destroyed. Since then, a number of things had happened.

Goldstein's report had indicated that, while the future looked bleak, the USAF had a definite present advantage over the VVS. And then there was also the matter that there were fewer Tu-20s than had been supposed. Thus, while the general background of crisis suggested that the attack might well be real, the whole enemy force might be knocked down before it got to Washington.

Everyone who had the clearance was in the room, and they crowded around the board to see the reports being posted. Then, instead of posting them, it was decided that Colonel Murphy, would announce them. He began by saying,

"The DEW line hasn't been triggered, but there have been sightings of large numbers of unknown aircraft over the Arctic, near the north pole. If it's an attack, it should reach our border soon after dark, which is presumably what they want."

Even with radar, good visibility made it much easier for fighters to shoot down bombers. Someone said,

"We should splash them now in the Arctic Ocean, before they can even get close."

It would be entirely illegal to attack Soviet aircraft before they had penetrated Canadian air space, but, if it really looked like a nuclear strike, it would be hard to wait that long. The decision would go to the president, and he might choose to issue a warning before letting the fighters go. Tom, in fact, had no idea where the fighters were, or how long it would be before they could get into position to attack. Before he could ask anyone, Goldstein handed him a sheet of paper which listed the fighter wings and said,

"Here's the scorecard."

It had always seemed to Tom that war was treated as a game at DRI, and he could see that it was now developing into a spectator sport. They both laughed, and Tom looked at the list. There were some eight hundred F-100D Super Sabres and about five hundred F102 Delta Daggers. Both fighters were capable of speeds over 800, and both were armed with guns and Falcon air-to-air missiles. Most important of all, both could be re-fuelled in the air, and their range was limited only by the pilot's endurance. In addition, as a last ditch back-up, there were some six hundred of the earlier versions of the F- 100, which were a hundred miles an hour slower and couldn't be refuelled in the air.

A little later, Colonel Murphy announced,

"There are now forty tankers in position in an east-west arc."

The converted bombers which served as aerial tankers were really the key to the situation, rather like aircraft carriers at sea. Each could keep a cloud of fighters in operation, and each would be replaced by another when it had finally given away its immense cargo of fuel.

There was then a cheer when the colonel announced that a large force comprising three wings of fighters were in position to intercept. This didn't mean that they were actually in contact with the enemy, but that they had altitude and could be vectored on to the strike, no matter what direction it took.

Tom could imagine the Soviet Tu-20s, cruising at around four hundred in the arctic twilight and trying to find a hole they could penetrate in the defence. But there would be no hole. The fighters, twice as fast, would be there. That meant hundreds of F-100Ds and F-102s diving at the Tu-20s and firing guns, cannon, and rockets. And then there was another nice surprise. Three squadrons of new F-101B Voodoos, hardly off the assembly line, had joined the defense. They were even faster, capable of over twelve hundred miles an hour, and could hit and keep hitting an enemy force with their powerful armament.

It seemed to Tom that everyone in the room was tired of living in ambiguity, and that they wanted a decision, right then and there. There was obviously an appreciable risk of being nuked, but the paradisical glimpse of a world in which there remained no powerful enemy seemed to justify it.

By this time, the B-47 forces based abroad were in the air and orbiting, and they could also be kept refuelled by tankers. However, since most of the B-52 and B-36 forces, were well on their way, they couldn't all be kept re-fuelled indefinitely by tankers.

In Goldstein's model, one of the more successful strategies for Red was to feint Blue into the air, and then run for home. The real Red strike would then occur when the Blue bombers, prematurely lured into the air, were either returning, low on fuel, or were on the ground being re- fuelled. Some Blue bombers might be able to take still another drink from the tankers, but the cohesion of the Blue attack would be destroyed.

Both SAC and the Air Defence Command were well aware of such a possibility. The reserves, of both fighters and bombers, would be launched as the forces presently in the air returned, landed, and then went up again. Unfortunately, the reserves were much less powerful than the main forces. If Red timed everything right, a great many attackers would get through.

In the circumstances, it wasn't necessarily good news that the VVS force sighted earlier had now disappeared from the screens.

Now, more than ever, the safest thing would be to strike. Tom knew that the decision would have to be made soon.

A half-hour later, it looked as if the VVS force must really have turned back. After another half-hour, it was certain that nothing was coming their way. Some of the SAC forces had almost reached the point of no return, but they, too, were coming back.

As they left the room, Goldstein said to Tom,

"Too bad they turned back. That was our best chance. The early sighting was pure luck, but it gave the interceptors an opportunity to get into perfect position."

Table of Contents  Last Chapter  Next Chapter  Home Page