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7.


Percival Lowell, Presidential Quarters. 4:17 P.M.

Kerr gave him the news. Charlie's eyes closed and he fought to contain his rage. He was beginning to suspect there was a malevolent force loose, a white whale determined to bring everything down. "They can't repair it?" he demanded.

"Not in twelve hours."

"Then we need to find another one. There must be one squirreled away somewhere. How about the manufacturers? Goddammit, Al, somebody must have one."

"We've been looking. Allied has two of them on display in Paris and Berlin, but neither one can be gotten ready to fly in time."

"You're sure?"

"Yes, I'm sure, Charlie. Hell, they couldn't even get them to the airport by tomorrow morning."

Charlie wanted to sit down, but wasn't able to make himself comfortable in the zero-g. He'd come to hate the weightless environment. It seemed to him that nothing had gone well since his stomach tried to crawl up his esophagus right after he left Washington last week. "All right, Al," he said.

"What do you mean, 'All right, Al'? Do you want to cancel Rainbow?"

"Cancel it? It's all we have."

"No, it isn't all we have. We've still got the nukes."

The nukes. Here, as always, they were the weapon you didn't dare use. "All right," he said. "Do this: Have them target the damned thing. Be ready to fire on my command. But we aren't going to use them except as a last resort."

"Charlie, I think that's where we are now."

"No," he said. "Not yet."



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