A Bike Ride Helps Almost Anything

My 2011 Triumph Bonneville
It plays a role in the story

Here’s a short story I wrote for my Fiction Fundamentals course. I incorporate my Triumph Bonneville in special parts of the story. While I wrote this for my class, I will periodically use a bike I see on other motorcycle websites or blogs and write short stories that incorporate that bike. Sound interesting? Come back often to read more.

Here’s the story.

Under Forty Feet of Earth

The gradient blue sky just above the horizon to the east pushed the black sky westward. The sun was making its way back to Montana. I woke early, thinking, Ten ICBMs capable of annihilation and I would be in charge of them. When I joined the Air Force, nine years earlier, I never imagined I would be selected for Officer Training School, let alone be in charge of such a deadly arsenal of weapons. I was excited as I got ready.

Lieutenant Ralph Jackson believed in the mission of deterrence. “I’m convinced no one will ever launch a nuclear attack against us,” he said during one of our training sessions, “when we have such a powerful retaliation capability.” He was third in his Air Force ROTC class at the University of Massachusetts and could’ve gone to pilot school. Instead he chose to be a missileer (what we called ourselves). He was a Distinguished Graduate from Undergraduate Missile Training and I was fortunate to have him as my deputy crew commander.

Our unit qualification training was flawless and we earned the coveted “Outstanding Performer” rating in our evaluation. Today we would team together at Oscar Launch Control Center– his first alert and my first as a commander.

With the warmer June weather, I rode my Bonneville to work. Slipping through the darkness at eighty miles per hour with the bike’s single headlight guiding me, I felt a euphoric sense of invincibility. It was six o’clock when I arrived at work. Lieutenant Jackson – he liked to be called R-J – was already in the squadron pre-departure room.

“Good morning, Sir,” he said.

“Good morning R-J.” We talked about the day and then attended Squadron and Wing pre-departure briefings. There were no problems in the field (consisting of twenty launch control centers and two hundred ICBMs). We drove the three hours to Oscar Launch Control Center where we’d spend twenty-four hours under forty feet of earth.

When we arrived, I authenticated with the FSC, “Lieutenant Crothers plus one.” We entered an ordinary looking, three-bedroom house, known as the missile alert facility, and spoke with the FSC. We gave our IDs and he let us into his room. “Sir I’m Sergeant Jolle your day Flight Security Controller. Sergeant Moore is your night FSC. The ART is currently en route to Oscar 6 for an O-Z security alarm. They should be there in thirty mikes,” he said. I thanked him and he let us down the elevator. The crew we replaced briefed us on the outer zone alarm at Oscar 6 and said everything else was quiet. We inventoried the classified documents, counted and verified the cookies – launch verification codes – and locked the cookies back into their red box with our two individual locks. R-J opened the blast door and the off-going crew left. Five minutes later the alert response team arrived at Oscar 6. The FSC called and told us the ART found a rabbit, shooed it away and reset the alarm. We verified the reset on the LSMIP – Launch Status Missile Indicator Panel. The ART headed back. The rest of the alert promised to be boring – if only it had been.

The FSC called at one-thirty, “The ART is back,” he said. While I was on the phone with him, CNN, on the twelve-inch TV mounted above the my console, reported that North Korea launched a tactical nuke at Camp Zama – the U. S. Army post forty kilometers southwest of Tokyo.

The boredom dissipated when the robotic voice came from the EAM speaker, “FOR ALERT FORCE, FOR ALERT FORCE … KLAXON, KLAXON, KLAXON.”

R-J and I looked at each other and grabbed our EAM checklists. I hung up on the FSC.

“Zulu, Tango, Six, Six, Foxtrot … I say again … Zulu, Tango, Six, Six, Foxtrot,” the voice said. We wrote quickly.

“… message follows … Zulu, Tango, Six, Six, Foxtrot, November, Bravo, Whiskey …” – all printers ejected paper replicating what the voice was saying – “… Oscar, Delta, Delta, Papa, Sierra, India, Echo, Alfa.” … “I say again, “Zulu, Tango …”

I have it copied, R-J said.

“Me too – start decoding.”

“You gotta be shittin me!” R-J said, “I have a two-delta-six.”

“I also have a two-delta-six – Nuclear Posture Alfa.”

R-J said, “I agree. Damn…”

“Let’s authenticate,” I said as we both moved to the red box.

R-J looked at me as he worked his lock combination. He said, “My hands are too sweaty!”

“It’s okay R-J, we’re good – take a breath.”

He wiped his hands, “got it,” he said.

“Me too. Grab your cookies and authenticate.”

“I authenticate …” R-J said, “… a two-delta-six.”

“I authenticate a two-delta-six,” I said.

The two-delta-six was a pre-launch posture message that told missileers to insert launch codes into the Launch Enable switches which meant we were only a key turn away from launching. We loaded the launch codes faster than anticipated. At UMT all missileers signed a document stating we had no moral or mental reservations about launching nuclear weapons. I pictured my signature and wondered about my decision.

R-J asked, “Don…” – we skipped military formalities – “can you really launch?” I didn’t have time to answer.

“FOR ALERT FORCE, FOR ALERT FORCE … KLAXON, KLAXON, KLAXON.”

“Alfa, Golf, Seven, Seven, Hotel, Uniform … I say again … Alfa, Golf, Seven, Seven, Hotel, Uniform.”

… “I have a six-romeo-foxtrot,” I said – in a voice I didn’t recognize.

“I have a six-romeo-foxtrot also,” R-J confirmed, “shit!”

“Let’s authenticate…”

“I authenticate a six-romeo-foxtrot,” R-J said.

“I agree, a six-romeo-foxtrot.” Run the EAM checklist,” I said, reading the steps out loud.

“Step 1 – Remove keys from safe.”

“Step 2 – Insert launch key in launch panel.”

“Step 3 – Insert co-op key in co-op switch.”

“Step 4 – Set Enable Switch to ‘Active’.”

“Step 5 – verify launch time.”

We looked at the clock, then each other and said nothing – 35 seconds until launch. At fifteen seconds out, I said, “Hands on keys…” seconds took hours, “… on my mark, turn keys. Three…two…one; Mark!” I turned my launch key (Pavlov would’ve been proud – UMT was very effective training) and watched in the mirror above my console as R-J turned his co-op key.

We never knew in advance what missiles launched for an EAM – Oscar 3, Oscar 4 and Oscar 9 started their launch sequence – no other missiles were launching. The running joke – which will never be funny again – was we could deliver ICBMs anywhere … in thirty minutes or less. The cone-shaped re-entry vehicles from our ICBMs impacted in twenty-two minutes, obliterating Pyongyang. Later we were told at least a million people died. Two months after our gallant effort in the face of grave danger – as the award citation read – R-J requested and was granted an honorable discharge.

Twenty years has passed; I lost touch with R-J. We were awarded the Silver Star for “preventing unfathomable deaths to United States citizens and its allies.” I have a million reasons why I refused that medal.

We still live in that farm house – I love its serenity. I’m watching my granddaughter who is sitting on my motorcycle, fumbling with the handlebars. It still runs and when I ride it, faster than advisable, I forget about that day.