"Wasn't that all any of them were? We made lots of experiments like this, back before
1969." The memories of all those other tests, each ending in an Everest-high mushroom
column, rose in his mind. And the end result—the United States and the Soviet Union
blasted to rubble, a whole hemisphere pushed back into the Dark Ages, a quarter of a
billion dead. Including a slim woman with graying blonde hair, and a little red dog, and a
girl from Odessa whom Alexis Pitov had been going to marry. "Forgive me, Alexis. I just
couldn't help remembering. I suppose it's this shot we're going to make, tonight. It's so
much like the other ones, before—" He hesitated slightly. "Before the Auburn Bomb."
There; he'd come out and said it. In all the years they'd worked together at the Instituto
Argentino de Ciencia Fisica, that had been unmentioned between them. The families of
hanged cutthroats avoid mention of ropes and knives. He thumbed the old-fashioned
American lighter and held it to his pipe. Across the veranda, in the darkness, he knew that
Pitov was looking intently at him.
"You've been thinking about that, lately, haven't you?" the Russian asked, and then,
timidly: "Was that what you were dreaming of?"
"Oh, no, thank heaven!"
"I think about it, too, always. I suppose—" He seemed relieved, now that it had been
brought out into the open and could be discussed. "You saw it fall, didn't you?"
"That's right. From about thirty miles away. A little closer than we'll be to this shot,
tonight. I was in charge of the investigation at Auburn, until we had New York and
Washington and Detroit and Mobile and San Francisco to worry about. Then what had
happened to Auburn wasn't important, any more. We were trying to get evidence to lay
before the United Nations. We kept at it for about twelve hours after the United Nations
had ceased to exist."
"I could never understand about that, Lee. I don't know what the truth is; I probably never
shall. But I know that my government did not launch that missile. During the first days
after yours began coming in, I talked to people who had been in the Kremlin at the time.
One had been in the presence of Klyzenko himself when the news of your bombardment
arrived. He said that Klyzenko was absolutely stunned. We always believed that your
government decided upon a preventive surprise attack, and picked out a town, Auburn,
New York, that had been hit by one of our first retaliation missiles, and claimed that it
had been hit first."
He shook his head. "Auburn was hit an hour before the first American missile was
launched. I know that to be a fact. We could never understand why you launched just that
one, and no more until after ours began landing on you; why you threw away the
advantage of surprise and priority of attack—"
"Because we didn't do it, Lee!" The Russian's voice trembled with earnestness. "You
believe me when I tell you that?"