BERKLEY BOOKS, NEW YORK
The author would like to thank the following for permission to reprint selections: Mayday Music/Benny Bird Music for excerpts from "American Pie" by Don McLean, copyright ? 1971, all rights reserved. Colgems-EMI Music Inc. for the lyrics from "If' by David Gates, copyright ? 1971 by Colgems-EMI Music Inc., all rights reserved. Warner Bros. Music for lyrics from "Red Neckin' Love Makin' Night" by Troy Seals and Max D. Barnes, copyright ? 1981 by Wamer-Tamerlane Publishing Corp., Face the Music, Blue Lake Music & Plum Creek.
G. P. Putnam's Sons edition/October 1983
Berkley edition/April 1985
To my beloved daughters,
Monica, Anna, and Jenny,
To whom I wish I could have presented
A more hopeful world.
The characters in this book are fictitious, as are the events. Little else is. To believe that 0600 Zulu could not be the next tick on our clocks is to continue to be what we have been: a collection of fools.
I The Zulu Minutes
One felt as if he had been privileged to witness the birth of the world, to be present at the moment of creation when the Lord said: Let there be light.
—William Laurence, the only authorized journalist at Trinity, the first explosion of an atomic bomb
• 0600 Zulu
In Colorado stands a mountain called Cheyenne. The dark crag juts out of a high plateau in the shadow of Pike's Peak, where the Rockies break off abruptly into the endlessly flat expanse of the Great Plains.
In the late nineteenth century a schoolteacher and minor poet named Katherine Lee Bates traveled to the fourteen-thousand-foot summit of Pike's Peak, gazing out across the incredible array of jagged crests and down across Cheyenne Mountain and the plateau into the bountiful plains. Her poet's eye saw purple-mountained majesties stretching endlessly in one direction, fruited plains reaching forever in the other. Her vision absorbed it all and more, seeing the manifest destiny of a young nation stretching from sea to shining sea. To Katherine Bates it was everything that made her America great, made her America the Beautiful, and so she wrote it.
Others came later and saw more. In the middle of the twentieth century, when America was at its most powerful and most afraid, others saw the Rockies the way the French saw the Maginot line—as an impenetrable
fortress. They were equally patriotic if less poetic than Katherine Bates. So they dug deeply into the bowels of Cheyenne Mountain, hollowed out her granite innards, and lived there. They stayed for decades, watching and waiting.
Over the years, the world inside the mountain took on a life all its own. Entrance was gained through a dank quarter-mile tunnel. At the inner end of the tunnel, twenty-five-ton vault doors were engineered so perfectly that a single man could swing them closed in less than a minute, shutting off the outside. The raw black rock surrounding the city seemed to weep moisture, rainwater and melted snow from the mountaintop taking exactly two weeks to seep through the four thousand feet of granite separating the dark cavern from Cheyenne's summit. The men of the city said that was ideal, two weeks being the time it would take to cleanse the air and water outside in the event of an exchange. The city itself, of course, was protected from the dankness. Barbers and teachers and generals and psychiatrists lived there. More important, so did computers. Computers need clean, moisture-controlled air. They also need stability. So the city was built on shock absorbers as tall as a man.
In the lee of Cheyenne Mountain, the little town of Colorado Springs
thrived, such business being good for business. One of the nation's great golf courses stood on the plateau at the edge of Cheyenne. In 1959, as the hollowing began, a young man named Jack Nicklaus won the national amateur golf tournament there, driving little balls prodigious distances, sometimes four hundred yards, in the rarefied atmosphere of the high plateau. At nineteen, he became an American hero, and his career spanned the time that other men of his generation lived inside the mountain.
The people of Colorado Springs built one of the nation's great zoos on the side of Cheyenne. They had a joke about the zoo, being vaguely aware of Cheyenne's meaning. When the animals come marching out two by two, they said to each other, we'll know we're in trouble. But for decades, when the downtown sirens sounded in Colorado Springs, the people looked for tornadoes, not the animals.
Now, in this cold winter in the 1980's, night skiers were on the mountain, schussing unknowingly over the men in the nether regions. Far beneath the carefree skiers, the watchers were vigilant as always. On the inner walls of their Stygian city they had many clocks, so they could track the time simply in many other cities and places—Moscow, Omaha,
Washington, Plesetsk, Tyuratam, Kapustin Yar, and, of course, the universal time of Zulu. The Zulu clock, showing Greenwich mean time, stood at 0600 exactly. Near it a sign asked: Are You EWO Ready? Near the sign hung an alert-status board, its unlighted codes reading, in order of readiness:
Men with pearl-handled pistols guarded other men whose vigilance was tuned to computers with green screens, to printouts with endless sequences of numbers. The screens were tuned to orbiting satellites. The satellites were tuned to silos in far-off steppes, as well as to the oceans where Yankee-class Soviet submarines had been tracked to their silent runs much nearer to the shores of all of America's shining seas.
A general, the head of the North American Aerospace Defense Command, stood on a balcony above the watchers, watching. He was not always there, but these had not been easy days.
Below him, a Royal Canadian Air Force officer fiddled with a screen that had boxed the rough location of a submarine that had gone silent days earlier 175 miles off the Pacific coastline at Neah Bay, Washington.
Early that morning, as a dull gray false dawn melded without shadows into the winter-white nowhere of the highlands outside Spokane, Washington, a dark jeep ripped through the featureless landscape to the whine of third gear at eighty miles an hour. The jeep, not quite standard issue, being Darth Vader black with a roll bar and metallic gold lettering stripped across the chassis to spell out the word "RENEGADE," left the vision of a charcoal smudge against the snow banked along the highway. Moreau was early for work. The Washington State patrolman, who intentionally stationed himself along the highway every third Thursday morning, understood that. He stopped Moreau anyway.
"Strategic alert?" he asked, familiar sarcasm but no intimidation in his voice.
"Strategic alert," Moreau replied coolly but not coldly.
The patrolman stared into the souped-up civilian jeep, his eyes first catching the spit-polish black jack boots, moving slowly up legs covered in fireproofed flight-suit khaki, hovering briefly on a chest neutered by a flight jacket emblazoned with lightning bolts clasped in a mailed fist, and settling finally on the face inside a white moon-man's helmet. The eyes blazed in blue almost too fiery for the dull gray morning. One shock of hair, shining as black as the polished finish of the jeep, sprouted from the corner of the helmet.
"World War III has waited for forty years, captain," the patrolman said as always. "It'll wait a few more minutes."
Then he waved her on, no more than ten seconds elapsing before he heard the Renegade whine past sixty on its way to Fairchild Air Force Base. At the gate Moreau did a snap salute to the young airman guard, his beret providing no protection against the subzero dawn air, his desperately suppressed smile no protection against the strange woman
who flew strategic bombers and raced open black jeeps through mornings this cold. She glared at him because he did not play the game as well as the civilian cop.
Moreau took one last look over her shoulder at the sign which told visitors they were leaving the isolated nuclear base with its weapons that could vaporize most of the world's great cities, "CAUTION," the sign said. "You Are Now Entering the Most Dangerous Area in the World—the
American Highway." She had grown up with those signs, loving them even more as she began to understand their subtle double meaning and crude rationalizing. Just like the public-service radio commercials which, as a child, had stimulated her more than the music they interrupted. "K-a-a-wack!" her favorite began with a thunderous sonic boom. "That," a stentorian voice followed, attempting to mollify angry citizens with cracked plaster, "is the sound of security."
It was 7:15 a.m., Spokane time, Moreau being the usual forty-five minutes early for the beginning of a week of round-the-clock duty at the Alert Facility. She cruised the base slowly, past rows of barrackslike buildings that remained World War II Air Corps nostalgic on the outside, turned computerized high tech with green screens and red screens and blipping targets inside. She took the Renegade up along a ridge above the flight line. Stretched out below her were long rows of the disarmed B-52's she used for low-level, radar-spoofing training missions. The Buffs, they called them, for Big Ugly Fat Fellows, although she saw them as anything but that. She had copiloted Buffs now for six months and, this early in the morning, they sat bathed in surreal pea-soup yellow from the arc lamps that illuminated them against intruders in the night. The KC-135 tankers, with which her B-52's mated during midair refuelings, stood in another long line. They were squat and fat compared to the bombers—and much more deserving, she thought, of an unflattering nickname.
Then, finally, she went to work, parking the black jeep far down the flight line from the alert bunker. As a woman in the Strategic Air Command, Moreau had learned long ago that she could exploit the other side of the double standard that forced her to be better than almost anyone else. But Moreau also knew that not even she could get her Renegade jeep near the bunker.
She walked the last mile, luxuriating in the deep cold breaths she would miss for a week during the confinement of alert duty. Then she approached the barbed wire, the Cyclone fencing, the super sensors and the hidden SWAT teams that surrounded the half-buried home in which she would spend
the next seven days and nights. At the first door, where galvanized steel webbing interlaced with scythe-hooked barbed wire, a sign read: "Deadly Force Authorized." Inside the door, she was trapped momentarily. The steel wire and webbing closed behind her, leaving her in a pen in which the second door would not open until she had been scrutinized further, cameras probing, sensors sensing, slit eyes peering through the guardhouse beyond her reach.
The second door opened, a guard materializing in front of her. He, too, wore a beret despite the cold. But he suppressed no smile. An automatic rifle, quite efficient at spraying deadly force, hung deceptively loose in his arms. A pearl-handled pistol jutted open-holstered from his hip. She moved past him, after he ran a metal detector up and down the inside of her legs in one of the few totally sexless acts she encountered in a job in which women did not report sexual harassment.
Off to her left, six jungle-camouflaged B-52's stood in an alert line, ice mist wisping off their long, drooping wings. These were armed, their bombs and warheads measured in both kilotons and megatons. White-tipped SRAM missiles protruded from the wings of two planes, including hers. Gravity bombs were tucked into the bomb bays. The four others had cruise missiles hidden in the bays. The planes were ready to go at a moment's notice. But they didn't fly. If SAC called for practice alerts, and Moreau could expect at least two during the week, she would race from the bunker, clamber up the hatch in her B-52's belly, scramble into the right-hand seat in the cockpit, help start the engines, check the codes, and turn off the engines. Such was life in the intensified cold war of the eighties. At one time, until the first stage of the cold war began to taper off in the late sixties and seventies, the B-52's had been kept armed and flying at all times. But fuel was too expensive now, and the planes too old, to keep the B-52's on airborne alert. So, two weeks out of three, the crews flew their practice missions unarmed. Then they came here for seven awful days, the sitting and waiting interrupted only by the howling klaxons signaling a practice footrace to armed bombers ready for the real thing that never came. Moreau walked up the ramp into the blockhouse—the ramp being inclined upward so the
race out would be downward—and in to her day's work.
The day had gone well—first the routine crew transfer, the prisoner exchange, they called it; the usual briefing next, then three hours of target planning, and finally the late-evening down time in which the crews were on their own to study, to read, to think, to play games. It was during the down time—late, almost ten o'clock local time, 0600 on the clocks that read Zulu in her bunker—that Kazakhs penetrated her
personally well-constructed defenses.
The general inside Cheyenne waited calmly, out of ingrained habit. His predecessors had had trouble with radar reflections off the moon, even flocks of geese over Labrador. Back in the early days, the geese had set off a full-scale alert, appearing to be a fleet of invading Soviet bombers. His troubles, he thought, were much more perplexing. His computers malfunctioned randomly. They didn't need moon reflections or migrating fowl. They blipped when they shouldn't blip, for no apparent reason at all. He often wondered if they would not blip when they should blip. He wasn't sure which would be worse, given the trouble the blipping had caused throughout his tenure inside the mountain. It made his few superiors in the Air Force very unhappy, irritated the President of the United States, and invariably caused a handful of senators to grumble on Capitol Hill until he went to Washington to let them tattoo his hide in secret hearings.
It also made the Soviets quite nervous and angry, but that didn't bother him. The senators bothered him.
By now he had his response down pat. Computers will be computers, he told them, like a father telling angry neighbors that children will be children. His computers had been sitting inside the mountain a long time, and in a way, the outside world had passed them by. If the senators wanted to do something about it, and it surely was their patriotic obligation, he testified, they would supply him with a new generation of computers the way any good insurance company would upgrade its equipment in the interest of efficiency and better business. When he told them the cost, with a flair that covered up his own sense of slight intellectual dishonesty accompanying all such testimony, the hearing quickly came to an end and he was allowed to return to his mountain.
So he waited.
Below him, the Canadian tapped at his green screen in agitation. In rapid order his screen flared with more activity, all from the same zone off Neah Bay and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Blip. Blip. Blip.
Kazakhs was down to green out. He liked it there, down where the tension was greatest, the skills most needed. His mind was blank, his various other worlds excluded. He did not see the sign above that asked if he was EWO ready. He did not see the warning klaxons or the semihidden cameras. He did not see Moreau watching him with an ill-disguised mixture of disdain and exasperation. He did not see Halupalai, first staring
blankly at the window's painted desert vista and then focusing sharply on Moreau and him.
Left five, fire. Blip. Left five, fire. Blip.
Essential to have a mind like his now. No room to fuck up. No room to think. Thinking caused fuck-ups. So his mind sent instant signals, unimpeded by the sludge of doubt, unsullied by love or hate, by good or bad, to the rawboned fingers that were so adept at so many tasks. Thinking would tell him that his adversaries were pulling him left, hard left, up against the wall, the canyon wall, where the odds were all on their side, not his, from which escape was possible but random. And unlikely. Thinking would tell him that now it was him or them, perhaps even bring in the emotion of fear. So his mind sent light-speed signals, ruling out thought about what training long ago had taught him.
Left five, fire; left five, fire. Blip. Blip.
The fingers deftly followed each command. They ignored the wall, ignored the known that his adversaries, desperate in their extremis, raced faster now—subsonically, supersoni-cally, accelerating their offense, accelerating their defense, luring him toward the wall. Left ten, fire. Blip. One more now, streaking, drawing him along, his crew's fate, Moreau's fate, Halupalai's fate, Tyler's and Radnor's and O'Toole's, the world's, riding with him.
Left ten. His left index finger responded.
Fire. His right forefinger responded.
It was good. So clean. So professional. He relaxed, ever so briefly. His taut shoulders sank, the fireproofed flight suit sinking with them. The double white bars of his Air Force captain's shoulder patch drooped, as did the lightning bolt, the eagle's talons, and the olive branch of the emblem on his right arm. He would not relax long, because they'd be back, a full squadron, and the chase would begin anew. He had accepted the inevitability of that long ago, just as he accepted the inevitability of succumbing. He was good, very good. He had to be. But he could not win. He could extend the period of survival. He could take far more of them than they could of him. His scores, indeed, often ran up toward 100,000, he was so good. The ultimate, he knew, was in the range of 1,000,000, in a far-off city on the shore of the deepest lake in the
world. But he could not survive, not taking 100,000, not taking 1,000,000. In the end he lost, and he always would. Such was the system, and he accepted it. He was EWO ready.
Kazakhs felt so good, having survived green out flawlessly, that he began whistling exuberantly as he paused. O beautiful, for spacious skies... The tension oozed out, bringing the dull throb of a hangover just above the level of consciousness, reminding him also that he had played early into the dawn after the two-A.M. closing of the Boom-Boom Room in the High Pine Lounge near his isolated place of work. His fingers, as usual, had been quite adept at the after-hours play, too. He continued whistling at the brief intrusion of the thought ...for amber waves of grain...
Behind him, Moreau muttered audibly. Halupalai had fixed his eyes on the window vista again.
Kazakhs was aware of neither. The tension began to surge back, the silver captain's bars rising, the Strategic Air Command's lightning bolt stretching into an attack poise. The hangover ebbed, leaving him with a fleeting thought about the irritations of the PRP regulations. Officially, with the Personnel Reliability Program taken
literally—which it was, being the regulation governing the fitness of those, like him, with hands on nuclear weapons—he was not EWO ready.
He dismissed the thought. He was the best they had. They knew it; he knew it. He had just performed perfectly. On green out. Which was low level. Which was where he was supreme. Which was what it was all about, taking his big lumbering B-52 down on ground-hugging nuclear-bombing practice missions.
In his most recent practice run, Kazakhs had commanded his Buff for eight hours on night low-level, the ultimate test. He had gone out with the same slight nag, the Jack Daniel's gone from his system but his system not quite having forgotten the Jack Daniel's. He had flown after the same kind of mostly sleepless night with one of Spokane's awe-struck lovelies, different girl that time, but the fingers and other gear working just as deftly. He had found the target precisely, evaded the computer-simulated SAM missiles expertly. He had come back exhilarated. It had been his brain, sending those light-speed signals to his fingers, that moved his huge craft ten degrees left, five degrees right; moved the great plaything of his B-52 around western buttes and mesas and down long, narrow gorges that remained inky black until the moon peeped briefly over a ridge and glittered spookily off the snow below. Three hundred feet below, racing past at five hundred miles an hour. The moon
also glittered off the canyon walls just beyond his wing-tip. The walls flashed up above him, closed off in front. High terrain at twelve o'clock, Tyler radioed from below. The radio voice crackled. Ten degrees left, careening over the frozen riverbed, the moon gone now, the wall ahead disappearing into the black night, only the dim red glow of his radar screen telling Kazakhs it still was there, giving way to the safe tunnel of the river gorge that his brain told his fingers to follow. Red screens in darkness, better for night vision; green screens in daylight.
The screen was green now, the pause over, the garishly yellow computer letters disappearing, a formation of adversaries lining up, eleven across and five deep, moving to a hum-dum-a-dum narcotic beat.
Kazakhs came to full alert, although it took added effort. This part was tedious, just like the duty he had begun today. Dull. Sit and wait. Howling klaxons, the top-speed sprint to his nuclear-armed plane. Engines on. Sit and wait. Engines off. Just to show the Russians they were ready. Always. Then back to the alert bunker and wait. He wasn't in it for this. He was in it for low level and the sheer flier's joy of snaking the biggest bomber in the American Air Force down western canyons, granite just off his wingtips, his mind transforming the American deserts into the steppes of Russia, his imagination making the Missouri River the Volga or the Lena.
His fingers moved automatically, this being a trip of his trained mind, too—blip, blip, blip—carving out one row of adversaries, then another. Kazakhs long ago had broken down the adversaries' computer program, learned the secret of the count, filed away the pattern of their attack and all its variations. He had done this exactly as his SAC colleagues had broken down the computer programs of the heat-seeking SAM missiles that would come up at him, just as they had cracked the secrets of the MIG's he could expect north of the Beaufort Sea, just as they had probed and adjusted for the radar defenses he could expect near the entry point over the Arctic islands, Novosibir-skie Ostrava. Exactly as the Russians, after more than thirty years, had learned and adjusted for every secret of the B-52. But he would never see the entry point, never see the deep lake so far inside Siberia. Not even if he went there, went for a million.
He was on the count, ready for the bonus shot at the command ship, when Moreau brushed past him. The distraction was minor, but fatal. Instead of the bonus shot, a lone adversary caught him just as his brain frantically signaled hard right. The explosion resounded through the computer screen.