by Frederick D. Rustam
|Table of Contents|
Part 7: B-61
“Yeeeehaw!” The four outriders shouted in triumph as they escorted the wagon into Hopeville, Colorado. Lying uneasily in it, along with two captives, was the B-61.
The militiamen pulled up in front of the town’s warehouse. The cloud that followed the wagon recoated every already dusty surface in sight, including the sign above the warehouse’s entrance that proclaimed it to be the “Museum Of Obsolescent Technology.”
Inside the building, Chief Warehouseman, Museum Curator, and Town Mayor, Nicholas Frompe, was slumped at his desk, surrounded by old documents and papers piled about him like the walls of a fort. He looked up from his dented laptop as militia Top Sergeant Marvin Myers threw open the front door and strutted in, looking like he’d just wiped out a nest of bandits.
“Drop yer docs and pull up yer socks, Chief. I’ve brought you somethin’ special, outside.”
Frompe’s arthritic joints asserted themselves painfully as he rose from his comfortable chair. “This better be good,” he grumbled as he shuffled to the door.
“This be real good, Chief. Maybe this be the town’s salvation.”
Outside, Frompe squinted at Skippy and Celia, who were sitting in the wagon’s bed, their hands tied behind their backs. “Who are these two?”
“Bartertown people. Their plane crash-landed east o’ here. The woman’s Governor Pendragon’s seventh wife — so we got somethin’ we kin sell, don’t we.” He flourished Skippy’s beloved Beretta M9. “An’ I got me a nice pistola, too.”
“Take them into the Museum. I’ll question them later.” As the militiamen unloaded the captives, Skippy attempted communication. “Sir, if I can just explain our situation...”
“Later,” Frompe replied, dismissively, as they were hustled inside the Museum. He peered over the side of the wagon at the town’s “salvation.” It was a gray cylinder a little more than a foot in diameter and about twelve feet long. Its nose was brought to a point. It looked heavy and dangerous. “What is it, Sarge?”
“It’s a bomb, Chief. A freakin’ big bomb.”
“Right. And it’s our freaking big problem, now. It’s a wonder the freaking thing didn’t explode while you were hauling it hell-for-leather down the North Road.”
The Sergeant wilted a little. “We was careful not to jiggle it too much.”
“Right. Help me up.” Frompe painfully climbed into the wagon. “You two get up here. We need to see if it’s got a label on it.”
Myers and his Corporal climbed into the wagon and waited while Frompe dirtied his clean fingernails by scraping dried soil from the bomb’s sides and upper surface. “Where did you find this thing, anyway?”
“Over at the old Air Force base. We was lookin’ fer somethin’ the scavengers might’a left behind in the dump, and Peedab pulled some junk outta the pile and scraped up some dirt, and then we saw it. They didn’t do a good job of buryin’ it.”
“Right. Roll it over so I can check its underside.” The militiamen grunted as they rolled the cylinder.
“It’s real heavy, Chief — lots’a good stuff inside to make grenades with, huh?”
Frompe’s scraping finally paid off. “There’s a decal here. It says... oh my god!” He backed off as far as he could.
Myers squatted and squinted at the yellow-and-black striped decal. “Mk/B-61 Mod-10” he quoted. “What’s that mean?”
“It means that you and your bumbling warriors may have brought Armageddon to this town.”
“I thought we’d survived the Big Fire, Sarge. But it looks like our End of Days might start right here.”
“You mean this old thing?” He pondered... and suddenly figured it out. “Tell me it ain’t whut I think it is?”
“It’s the unthinkable, Sarge. And you sure aren’t going to make any grenades out of its stuff, unless you want to glow in the dark afterward.”
“Its a atom bomb, then?”
Myers was beginning to regret digging up the device, but he wasn’t ready to admit that, yet. “Well ...uh... it’s obsolescent technology — ain’t it?”
“We say get rid of it!”
N. Ray “Enray” Watkins was the Chairman of the Town Council. He spoke mostly for the town’s merchants. They’d quickly figured the B-61 was something they didn’t need or want.
The meeting was being held at the end of the Museum where Frompe kept his precious archive of old papers and books about subjects that weren’t important, anymore. The cleaned-up B-61 lay on Calvin Moore’s worktable, which had been moved from his workshop in a corner of the building. Moore sat at the table, close to the device, as if to claim it for himself.... Still hog-tied and sitting up against a nearby packing crate, were the town’s two new captives.
The councilmen murmured in agreement with Watkins’ suggestion. “We should put it back where we found it,” he insisted.
“And let the Allen Gang find it? The hell with that,” replied Sgt. Myers. “I ain’t takin’ it back.”
“Let’s think about this, Enray,” said Parson Brown, the town’s spiritual advisor. “This bomb could be God’s gift to Hopeville. If the Allens know we have it, and they believe we can use it against them, maybe they’ll stay away.”
“How do you know what this thing really is, Frompe?” Irving Shanklin was the town undertaker. Stark reality was his business.
“It’s on the Web, Irv. There’s a page that lists all our old nukes — nuclearweaponarchive.org/Usa/Weapons/Allbombs.html.”
The Internet’s fat cables were mostly gone. It hadn’t been as survivable as it was believed to be. But a free People’s Medium was restored in North America on a satellite that formerly carried TV programs. Those who had SATV receivers and dish antennas could still communicate with each other and harvest useful information.
“If you’ll recall, our nukes and theirs nearly wiped out mankind.” declaimed Watkins.
“It was God’s will, Enray,” reminded the parson. “Don’t blame the bombs. Our sins ended the good life.”
Ignoring the sermonette, Watkins pointed at the B-61. “Does that webpage of yours say how we’re supposed to tame this bottled hellfire? I don’t think so.”
“Of course not,” replied the Curator. “But Calvin thinks he can learn to control it.”
“You can’t let Calvin fiddle with that bomb! I’m no expert, but I do know that nukes are made so that meddlers who don’t know their secrets end up dead.”
Frompe gestured to Moore. “Tell them, Calvin.”
The Museum’s resident technician was chock-full of self-confidence. “A nuke like the Mk/B-61 Mod-10 has a package of circuits that you have to know how to manipulate. It’s sealed into the bomb so nobody can pull it out and analyze it. There’s no keypad in that little compartment next to the decal, just a socket for plugging in an external control box — which we don’t have. But I might be able to figure it all out... if I’m careful.”
“And if you make a mistake, we’ll all end up in a mushroom cloud,” accused Shanklin.
“Huh-uh. If I do something wrong, a little charge destroys the bomb’s package and scrambles the works. The whole thing becomes inert.”
“And maybe you’ll become inert, too. Do you really think you’re smarter than the guys who designed this thing?”
Frompe intervened. “I’m not going to let Cal toy with the bomb’s guts. We’ll just put it on display in the Museum, so our people can see what one looks like.” Moore frowned at his boss’s decision.
After some discussion, the Council seemed satisfied that that the town wasn’t in any danger from the B-61. The meeting ended, the merchants returning to their unprosperous businesses.
Frompe had Sgt. Myers move Skippy and Celia to the table on which the B-61 rested. They stared uneasily at the device.
“What’s your story?”
The captives related an edited version of their situation in Bartertown and their flight west in the glider, Foxy Roxy, now broken on the short-grass plains east of town. “We’d like to make a new life here in Hopeville,” lied Skippy.
“You can stay, Mr. Melanowitz, but Mrs. Pendragon will have to return to Bartertown. It’s a long way off, but the Governor can make trouble if he wants to. We don’t want him or Boss Cad comming down on us.” Frompe figured that the pretty redhead would be missed by her husband, even though he had six other women in his collection. He also guessed that her powerful father had been quite annoyed by her escape from the man he’d given her to.
Celia flashed a magazine-cover smile. “I’d rather stay here in this lovely village, if it’s okay with you, Mr. Mayor.”
“She can stay with me,” blurted Sgt. Myers, who almost salivated at the prospect. “I’ve got plenty of room.”
“No way, Sarge. She’ll stay at The Roundup until someone from Bartertown arrives to take possession of her. Marge’ll treat her as a special guest.” The Roundup was the town’s brothel. Its namer had been inspired by Bartertown’s Roundhouse.
“What about me?” queried Skippy.
“You’ll work here in the Museum. We need an inventory of everything we have. We need to separate the exhibit items from the useful stuff stored here for the town. We need to build more shelves and bins. In short, we need to bring order out of chaos.”
“Sounds like fun,” remarked Skippy, dryly. “When do we start?”
“You start right now.”
Frompe felt poorly and retired to his home, leaving Skippy to begin the tedious inventory. After a few hours of work, he stopped at Calvin Moore’s worktable, where the technician was probing the B-61’s input-output socket.
“This is a lifetime job, Cal. It’ll take me weeks just to sort the scrap lumber you’ve accumulated.”
“Frompe likes order. ‘Order and Progress’ — that’s his motto. We ought to fly the Brazilian flag over this place. He’s been waitin’ for somebody with some ‘eddycation’ to put things right.”
“Yeah. I’m so lucky to have a good job in these hard times.... What’re you doing with that bomb? Frompe said you weren’t going to fool with it.”
“What Frompe doesn’t know won’t hurt him. I’m gonna figure out how this thing works.”
“Fooling with nukes is a bad business, Cal. They have sophisticated countermeasures built into them to prevent unauthorized people from using them.”
“I know what I’m doing. I want to understand this thing.”
“Right.” I’ve got to get out of here before that damn bomb punishes everyone in this damn town for digging it up. “Let me know before you drill into it, so I can run like hell.”
Enthusiasm and Despondence
“You won’t believe the things Frompe has collected, Ceelee — rare things from the good old days.” He fondled a 1930s Mixmaster, complete with a white glass bowl. “This classic kitchen mixer is waiting for Calvin to repair its motor.”
Celia airily waved a hand. “I’m glad you’re happy with your new job in this overheated dump. But I’ve got to get out of here before someone from Bartertown hauls me back to Walter.”
“How are things at The Roundup?”
“Okay. At least, I don’t have to work there. I’ve been giving Marge some ideas for improving the place. But I’m getting real antsy.”
“I don’t see how we can escape, Ceelee. The town’s horses and mules are guarded night and day. Colorado Springs is many dry miles away, and there aren’t any woods for us to hide in.”
“Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”
“We’ve got another problem, now, a 700-pound one.”
“Calvin Moore is working on the B-61. He’s determined to ‘understand’ it.”
“Oh, god. As if things weren’t bad enough in this awful place.”
An ambassador from Bartertown, Rendo Quime, arrived sooner than anyone expected. Frompe had Celia brought from The Roundup and handed over to Quime, who put her into Pendragon’s armored car. But before he could drive away with her, fate intervened. The Allen Gang raided Hopeville, again.
BAM!... BAM!... BAM! BAM!
“What’s happening?!” Quime shouted in alarm, as he and Frompe sought the safety of the Museum of Obsolescent Technology.
“Just a nuisance raid, Ambassador. We’ll be safe inside the Museum.”
Mounted bandits galloped down Main St., firing at shop windows and anyone unlucky enough to be outdoors. At the Museum, they fired in frustration at not being able to dismount and go shopping. Bullets ricocheted musically off the steel entrance door, prompting those inside to duck behind packing crates — except Skippy and Calvin Moore. The former stood by as the latter frantically resumed probing the B-61. Moore didn’t fear the bandits’ gunfire nearly so much as he feared that Frompe would sell the B-61 to Bartertown.
“Give up, Cal. It’s hopeless,” advised Skippy. “It’d probably be better if you zapped it and melted its innards.”
“Maybe you’re right... what the hell.” Moore guessed he could sterilize the bomb with a charge of high voltage. He ramped up the output of his DC power supply. “We can’t give Bartertown a working nuke. Who knows what they’d do with it?”
Fortunately for Hopeville, Moore’s HV zapping didn’t detonate the B-61 — or sterilize it, either. But something unanticipated did happen. A timer inside began to run. From its longest setting of several weeks, it began counting down to detonation time. All the anti-tampering features of the bomb’s advanced PAL-D system failed. That anyone might be stupid enough to jolt the bomb with high voltage hadn’t occurred to its designers.
* * *
“They’re gone now, Ambassador.”
After the raiders had been driven out of town by Sgt. Myers’s militiamen and armed civilians firing from windows and rooftops, Frompe resumed his accustomed place behind his desk and faced a shaken Rendo Quime.
“Would Bartertown be interested in purchasing a nuclear weapon?” He pointed to the gray cylinder lying on Calvin Moore’s worktable. Moore had left the scene in disgust at his inability to analyze the B-61. Frompe could see that Moore had been fooling with the bomb, and he wanted to get rid of it, quick.
“That thing’s a nuke?!” Quime considered running to his armored car and leaving Hopeville in his dust. “Where’d you get it?!”
“We found it buried at an old Air Force base. It’s a genuine Mk/B-61 Mod-10 variable-yield nuclear device, in good condition. We don’t really have a need for it. You can have it at a bargain price.”
Quime suspected that Frompe might be trying to sell him a pig in a poke. “Does it come with a manual?”
“Unfortunately not. The Air Force guys probably destroyed its secret documentation. But with some careful analysis, you should be able to make it operable. If not, you can use it to bluff your city’s enemies. You know, like, ‘Don’t fool with Bartertown. We’ve got a nuke.’”
Quime stroked his neat, gray beard. “Hmmmm, possibly. But we’re short on gold, right now. How’re you fixed for dope?”
Change of Plans
Skippy sat at Frompe’s desk, entering inventory data into the old boy’s laptop. The Curator was home, under the weather, and he’d left his young Assistant Curator in charge of the warehouse. Skippy had come to enjoy working in the place. Frompe had given him increasing responsibility for managing both the Museum exhibits and the warehouse’s stored goods. He expected to be appointed Frompe’s successor.
Celia had been returned to Bartertown, but she’d escaped again, this time to her hometown of Blue Springs, outside KC. Walter Pendragon had given up on her and had told her father, Boss Cadwalader, to keep her. Boss Cad had punished her by sending her Back East to the Sisters of Limited Charity, along with a generous contribution. There, she’d met Bonnie of Duketown, and the two had discovered that they had something in common.
“Let’s call it a day, Cal. It’s too hot,” advised Skippy. “Yeah. I hate August,” agreed Calvin.
Outside, Skippy locked the warehouse door, and he and Calvin sat on an old park bench that faced down Main St. to the east. In the twilight, only a few citizens were out and about. They included the town constables who patrolled the streets. From his post in a tall watchtower, a sleepy lookout scanned the horizon for bandits. In a side-street backyard, a dog barked to be let inside.
“I’m kinda glad I ended up here, even though this town seems like the end of the earth.”
“There’s worse places, Skippy.”
“You’re telling me? I’ve been there and done that in those places.”
Suddenly, a big flash of blue-white light from beyond the eastern horizon reflected off the overcast clouds and illuminated Hopeville, as if its picture was being taken.
“What was that?” Skippy knew what it was, even as he spoke. So did Moore.
“Maybe you shouldn’t have tried to sterilize the B-61, Cal.”
“You told me to do it!” They argued heatedly about the responsibility for a while before Skippy admitted, “We may have nuked Bartertown, Cal.”
“Could be we did.”
“I think I’ll move on. Warehousing is okay, but I’m getting restless.”
“Me too. I think I’ll try my luck in Vegas. They need techno-geeks like me. Where you gonna go?”
“I don’t know... maybe I’ll climb Pike’s Peak.”
“There’s a road that goes all the way to the top.”
“Oh. Maybe I’ll check out the Mormons.”
“Polygamy’s back, and it’s the law now.”
“Uh-oh. Maybe Hollywood, then. Are they still making movies?”
“Va-va-voom! Hey, can you picture me and that six-foot-three pornstar, Aurora Dawn, goin’ at it?”
“That’s too gruesome to contemplate, Skippy.”
Copyright © 2010 by Frederick D. Rustam