WW 3.1. A sneak peek at the new Axis of Time novel.

A little later this year the Axis of Time series will restart with World War 3.1, picking up where Stalin’s Hammer left our heroes and villains - with a massive Soviet assault into alternate Europe in 1955.

Below is the merest smidgen, of a sample, of a tiny taste of the prologue.

The email arrived on the President’s iPhone, early on the evening of 21 June, 1955. A pleasant chime sounded to alert Dwight Eisenhower that he had received an encrypted personal message from his Vice President, Phillip Kolhammer, who was then somewhere in Paris. Eisenhower did not hear the chime or even notice the buzzing of the phone in his pocket. He was busy hurrying down a corridor in the West Wing, all but running towards the South Lawn where Marine One thundered in the warm, summer twilight, waiting to evacuate him. A phalanx of Secret Service men surrounded him, almost carrying the former general forward in their grip, so insistent were they that he move at their speed.

And they were moving quickly.

Everything was moving quickly.

America’s thirty-fourth president had been enjoying a light supper with the golfers Sam Snead and Peter Thomson. The Australian, Thomson, had been in fine form, regaling them all with the story of his win in the British Open, when Bobby Cutler, Eisenhower’s National Security Advisor, had barged into the Old Family Dining Room, closely followed by a flying wedge of Secret Service agents. One of the agents pulled away from the main group to usher Snead and Thomson away through a side door. He was courteous, but insistent. The team leader of Eisenhower’s security detail, a blocky, shaven-headed Hoosier called Mike Curtain, took Eisenhower’s coffee cup right out of his hand, uttered a softly spoken apology and actually lifted the president by the elbow from the chair in which he’d been seated, enjoying Thomson’s gentle teasing of Snead’s double bogey on the final nine at St. Andrews.

“Excuse me Mister President, but we have to go. The First Lady is enroute and will meet us at the checkpoint. If you wouldn’t mind, sir?”

It hardly mattered whether Eisenhower minded. He was already moving across the room, propelled by the half a dozen hard-faced men with headsets and handguns who surrounded him. The President tried to apologise to Snead and Thomson but he was already enclosed by this human shield wall and the last he saw of his guests was a couple of very confused looking golfers, Snead still holding a half-eaten cookie, as they were bustled out of the dining room by the corner door under the stern gaze of John Quincy Adams’ portrait.

“Mister President, I’m sorry sir,” Bobby Cutler said, as he jogged to keep up with the bodyguards, “the Soviets have launched a massive attack out of the frontline Eastern Bloc states. Red Army tanks and mechanised infantry are pouring into western Europe. They used some sort of space-based weapon to destroy most of our forces in Germany.”

“Wait, they used atomics?” Eisenhower asked, finding his feet and increasing his own pace to keep up. He looked around for Captain Chandler. The USAF officer who carried the Football.

Chandler, a young black man, was keeping up with the detail. He looked like he could run for hours.

“No sir,” Cutler said as they turned a corner. “Something almost as powerful, but no atomic or hydrogen warheads. First intelligence suggests satellite launched kinetic impactors, sir. Very hard to defend against once they’re launched. And very powerful, very destructive when they hit. Like a nuke, but without the radiation and fallout.”

They moved quickly through the White House, which had earlier been quiet as the long summer day wound down into a pleasant evening. Now it heaved with frenetic activity. Staffers and military personnel and people he’d never seen before hurried and hastened and sometimes even ran through the hallways, but Ike the former military commander could see that it was purposeful, directed chaos. They all had jobs to do and no time to waste in dawdling. And they all deferred to the dark arrowhead of Secret Service agents flying down the hallways with the president at its centre.

“Where are the Joint Chiefs?” Eisenhower asked, his casual demeanour sloughing away in the rush of the moment.

“Admiral Burke and General Taylor are enroute from the Pentagon, sir. General Twining was in California for the F-15 ceremony with Secretary Trippe. They are in flight to Colorado. Secretary Dulles is in London of course.”

“Probably the best place for him,” Ike puffed. It had been many years since he’d been required to pass the Army physical, and nine holes of golf every couple of weekends had not kept him in martial trim. Even so, they were running now, actually running out of a pair of French doors held wide open by two marines, and across the South Lawn to where the helicopter waited, ready for take off. Ike felt the whipping blast of the rotor wash at the same time as Agent Curtain firmly placed a calloused hand on his neck to keep him moving forward, but bent over. All nine men advanced in such a fashion, at a run, under the blades of the big, augmented Davidson Aerospace chopper.

There was no ceremony to the departure. Just haste and confusion.

Where did they say Mamie was?

What about John and Barbara and their kids?

The Cabinet?

Congress?

Ike knew better than to slow everything down by asking. There were emergency protocols. Procedures for all this. There were no missiles inbound. He was sure of that. It was the first thing Bobby Cutler would have told him, and they’d be headed down, deep underground, not up into the sky where hundreds of Russian nukes would be certain to find them.

The Russians and their allies in the far east had not enjoyed the free world’s giant leaps in computers and electronic technology since the end of the war, but as old Joe Stalin liked to say, quantity still had a quality all of its own. If your crude but powerful ICBM was likely to miss a whole city by fifty miles, or get plucked out of the stratosphere by satellite beam weapons or an anti-missile rocket, well… why not shoot off a hundred of them? Some were bound to get through.

Agent Curtain almost lifted the president up the folding metal staircase into the main passenger cabin of the DA2 Condor, before strapping Ike into his seat. The urge to slap his hands away and tell him to stop fussing was strong, but Ike resisted it. Instead he spoke around the agent and over the uproar of the big, twin engined bird.

“Bobby, tell me about this space weapon they used. What do we know?”

“Not much, sir,” Cutler shouted back as he strapped himself in and the security detail took to their own seats. The main door slid shut automatically, cutting the outside noise dramatically. “The Brits sent Langley and Defense a big data packet. They’d had their own people on it, they say.”

“They could have said earlier,” Ike groused.

Cutler gestured helplessly.

“They raised it with our station chief in Rome a few weeks back, but this took them by surprise too.”

Eisenhower waved away the excuse.

“It’s too late for what ifs, Bobby. Just tell me what I’m actually dealing with.”

The National Security Advisor took a deep breath and started his briefing as the pilot fed power into the blades and the big, heavy-lift transporter climbed free of the South Lawn. Ike felt himself pushed into the plush leather cushion of his seat. Cutler took a piece of paper from his suit pocket, scanning the closely printed blocks of text on it.

“The communist first strike punched a hole in NATO ground and Air defenses in the Frankfurt Main Fulda Wurzburg Triangle,” he said. “US 5th army has been annihilated. Pentagon estimates that it has been reduced to well below ten percent of its combat strength, with just a few survivors, all of them rear echelon, scrambling to retreat to the Rhine. Estimated casualties are 240 000 US troops, 300 000 dependents and 360 000 German civilians.”

He paused to let the carnage sink in.

“Good God,” Ike said quietly. So quietly nobody heard him over the noise of the flight.

The chopper banked over sharply and he braced in his seat.

The Washington Monument shone with spectral beauty in the window to his left.

Cutler resumed.

“The Eastern Bloc air forces have scrambled. Squadrons from the Polish, East German, Czech and Hungarian air forces swept in immediately after the strike. Red Army Air Force wings staging out of forward bases in the east followed them five minutes later.”

“Did we get anything up?”

Cutler nodded, but it was a grim expression.

“NATO quick reaction forces scrambled just over 50 aircraft, including two AWACS, to intercept. They shot down 209 Pact fighters and fighter bombers. Confirmed kills by hard data. But Moscow has still has a 5:1 advantage in aircraft.”

President Eisenhower felt dizzy. His vision was blurring at the edges and he wasn’t sure it was from the quick take off.

“And on the ground?” he asked.

Cutler consulted his notes again, but he never answered.

He died while he was reading the brief.

Three Type 93 surface-to-air missiles, two of them shoulder-launched from the roof of a hotel on 15th Street, and the third from the back of a flat bed pick up on Constitution Avenue, streaked up through the deepening twilight, homing on in the Condor’s image profile, written to the silicon in their image-seeking guidance chips. The Type 93, an uptime Japanese-designed weapons system, ignored all of the Condor’s automated defenses, cutting through chaff and smoke and electronic countermeasures. All three warheads intercepted the president’s flight.

One failed to detonate.

Two did not.

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