Moonraker Page 34

“… through the sound barrier. Travelling perfectly right in the centre of the radar screen. A perfect launching. Afraid you couldn’t hear anything because of the noise. Terrific. First of all the great sheet of flame coming out of the cliff from the exhaust pit and then you should have seen the nose slowly creep up out of the dome. And there she was like a great silver pencil. Standing upright on this huge column of flame and slowly climbing into the air and the flame splashing for hundreds of yards over the concrete. The howl of the thing must have nearly burst our microphones. Great bits have fallen off the cliff and the concrete looks like a spider’s web. Terrible vibration. And then she was climbing faster and faster. A hundred miles an hour. A thousand. And,” he broke off, “what’s that you say? Really! And now she’s travelling at over ten thousand miles an hour! She’s three hundred miles up. Can’t hear her any more, of course. We could only see her flame for a few seconds. Like a star. Sir Hugo must be a proud man. He’s out there in the Channel now. The submarine went off like a rocket, haha, must be doing more than thirty knots. Throwing up a huge wake. Off the East Goodwins now. Travelling north. She’ll soon be up with the patrol ships. They’ll have a view of the launching and of the landing. Quite a. surprise trip that. No one here had an inkling. Even the naval authorities seem a bit mystified. C-in-G Nore has been on the telephone. But now that’s all I can tell you from here and I’ll hand you over to Peter Trimble on board HMS Merganzer somewhere off the East Coast.”

Nothing but the pumping lungs showed that the two limp bodies in the creeping pool of water on the floor were still alive, but their battered ear-drums were desperately clinging to the crackle of static that came briefly from the blistered metal cabinet. Now for the verdict on their work.

“And this is Peter Trimble speaking. It’s a beautiful morning, I mean-er-afternoon here. Just north of the Good win Sands. Calm as a millpond. No wind. Bright sunshine. And the target area is reported clear of shipping. Is that right, Commander Edwards? Yes, the Captain says it’s quite clear. Nothing on the radar screens yet. I’m not allowed to tell you the range we shall pick her up at. Security and all that. But we shall only catch the rocket for a split second. Isn’t that right, Captain? But the target’s just showing on the screen. Out of sight from the bridge, of course. Must be seventy miles north of here. We could see the Moonraker going up. Terrific sight. Noise like thunder. Long flame coming out of the tail. Must have been ten miles away but you couldn’t miss the light. Yes, Captain? Oh yes, I see. Well, that’s very interesting. Big submarine coming up fast. Only about a mile away. Suppose it’s the one they say Sir Hugo’s aboard with his men. None of us here were told anything about her. Captain Edwards says she doesn’t answer the Aldis lamp. Not flying colours. Very mysterious. I’ve got her now. Quite clear in my glasses. We’ve changed course to intercept her. Captain says she isn’t one of ours. Thinks she must be a foreigner. Hullo! She’s broken out her colours. What’s that? Good heavens. The Captain says she’s a Russian. I say! And now she’s hauled down her colours and she’s submerging. Bang. Did you hear that? We fired a shot across her bows. But she’s disappeared. What’s that? The asdic operator says she’s going even faster under water. Twenty-five knots. Terrific. Well, she can’t see much under water. But she’s right in the target area now. Twelve minutes past noon. The Moonraker must have turned and be on her way down. A thousand miles up. Coming down at ten thousand miles an hour. She’ll be here any second now. Hope there’s not going to be a tragedy. The Russian’s well inside the danger zone. The radar operator’s holding up his hand. That means she’s due. She’s coming. She’s COMING…. Whew!

Not even a whisper. GOD! What’s that? Look out! Look out! Terrific explosion. Black cloud going up into the air. There’s a tidal wave coming at us. Great wall of water tearing down. There goes the submarine. God! Thrown out of the water upside down. It’s coming. It’s COMING…”



“… TWO HUNDRED dead so far and about the same number missing,” said M. “Reports still coming in from the East Coast and there’s bad news from Holland. Breached miles of their sea defences. Most of our losses were among the patrol craft. Two of them capsized, including the Merganzer. Commanding Officer missing. And that BBC chap. Goodwin Lightships broke their moorings. No news from Belgium or France yet. There are going to be some pretty heavy bills to pay when everything gets sorted out.”

It was the next afternoon and Bond, a rubber-tipped stick beside his chair, was back where he had started-across the desk from the quiet man with the cold grey eyes who had invited him to dinner and a game of cards a hundred years ago.

Under his clothes Bond was latticed with surgical tape. Pain burned up his legs whenever he moved his feet. There was a vivid red streak across his left cheek and the bridge of his nose, and the tannic ointment dressing glinted in the light from the window. He held a cigarette clumsily in one gloved hand. Incredibly M. had invited him to smoke.

“Any news of the submarine, sir?” he asked.

“They’ve located her,” said M. with satisfaction. “Lying on her side in about thirty fathoms. The salvage ship that was to look after the remains of the rocket is over her now. The divers have been down and there’s no answer to signals against her hull. The Soviet Ambassador has been round at the Foreign Office this morning. I gather he says a salvage ship is on her way down from the Baltic, but we’ve said that we can’t wait as the wreck’s a danger to navigation.” M. chuckled. “So she would be I dare say if anyone happened to be navigating at thirty fathoms in the Channel. But I’m glad I’m not a member of the Cabinet,” he added drily. “They’ve been in session on and off since the end of the broadcast. Vallance got hold of those Edinburgh solicitors before they’d opened Drax’s message to the world. I gather it’s a terrific document. Reads as if it had been written by Jehovah. Vallance took it to the Cabinet last night and stayed at No. 10 to fill in the blanks.”

“I know,” said Bond. “He kept on telephoning me at the hospital for details until after midnight. I could hardly think straight for all the dope they’d pushed into me. What’s going to happen?”

“They’re going to try the biggest cover-up job in history,” said M. “A lot of scientific twaddle about the fuel having been only half used up. Unexpectedly powerful explosion on impact. Full compensation will be paid. Tragic loss of Sir Hugo Drax and his team. Great patriot. Tragic loss of one of HM submarines. Latest experimental model. Orders misunderstood. Very sad. Fortunately only a skeleton crew. Next of kin will be informed. Tragic loss of BBC man. Unaccountable error in mistaking White Ensign for Soviet naval colours. Very similar design. White Ensign recovered from the wreck.”

“But what about the atomic explosion?” asked Bond. “Radiation and atomic dust and all that. The famous mushroom-shaped cloud. Surely that’s going to be a bit of a problem.”

“Apparently it’s not worrying them too much,” said M. “The cloud is going to be passed off as the normal formation after an explosion of that size. The Ministry of Supply know the whole story. Had to be told. Their men were down on the East Coast all last night with Geiger counters and there’s not been a positive report yet.” M. smiled coldly. “The cloud’s got to come down somewhere, of course, but by a happy chance such wind as there is is drifting it up north. Back home, as you might say.”

Bond smiled painfully. “I see,” he said. “How very appropriate.”

“Of course,” continued M., picking up his pipe and starting to fill it, “there are going to be some nasty rumours. They’ve begun already. A lot of people saw you and Miss Brand being brought out of the site on stretchers. Then there’s the Bowaters’ case against Drax for the loss of all that newsprint. There’ll be the inquest on the young man who was killed in the Alfa Romeo. And somebody’s got to explain away the remains of your car, amongst which,” he looked accusingly at Bond, “a long-barrel Colt was found. And then there’s the Ministry of Supply. Vallance had to call some of their men yesterday to help clean out that house in Ebury Street. But those people are trained to keep secrets. You won’t get a leak there. Naturally it’s going to be a risky business. The big lie always is. But what’s the alternative? Trouble with Germany? War with Russia? Lots of people on both sides of the Atlantic would be only too glad of an excuse.”

M. paused and put a match to his pipe. “If the story holds,” he continued reflectively, “we shan’t come out of this too badly. We’ve wanted one of their high-speed U-boats and we’ll be glad of the clues we can pick up about their atom bombs. The Russians know that we know that their gamble failed. Malenkov’s none too firmly in the saddle and this may mean another Kremlin revolt. As for the Germans. Well, we all knew there was plenty of Nazism left and this will make the Cabinet go just a bit more carefully on German rearmament. And, as a very minor consequence,” he gave a wry smile, “it will make Vallance’s security job, and mine for the matter of that, just a little bit easier in the future. These politicians can’t see that the atomic age has created the most deadly saboteur in the history of the world-the little man with the heavy suitcase.”

“Will the Press wear the story?” asked Bond dubiously.

M. shrugged his shoulders. “The Prime Minister saw the editors this morning,” he said, putting another match to his pipe, “and I gather he’s got away with it so far. If the rumours get bad later on, he’ll probably have to see them again and tell them some of the truth. Then they’ll play all right. They always do when it’s important enough. The main thing is to gain time and stave off the firebrands. For the moment everyone’s so proud of the Moonraker that they’re not inquiring too closely into what went wrong.”

There was a soft burr from the intercom, on M.’s desk and a ruby light winked on and off. M. picked up the single earphone and leant towards it. “Yes?” he said. There was a pause. “I’ll take it on the Cabinet line.” He picked up the white receiver from the bank of four telephones.

“Yes,” said M. “Speaking.” There was a pause. “Yes, sir? Over.” M. pressed down the button of his scrambler. He held the receiver close to his ear and not a sound from it reached Bond. There was a long pause during which M. puffed occasionally at the pipe in his left hand. He took it out of his mouth. “I agree, sir.” Another pause. “I know my man would have been very proud, sir. But of course it’s a rule here.” M. frowned. “If you will allow me to say so, sir, I think it would be very unwise.” A pause, then M.’s face cleared. “Thank you, sir. And of course Vallance has not got the same problem. And it would be the least she deserves.” Another pause. “I understand. That will be done.” Another pause. “That’s very kind of you, sir.”

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