The Greatest Power on Earth
is about to be
Stripped of its Defenses
Alpha Base. It's the home of America's nuclear stockpile, over 5,000 warheads protected by a formidable high-tech security system deep in the salt flats of Nevada.
If Alpha Base is ever penetrated, no one on earth will be safe….
From the heart of remote Africa, a terrorist army has launched a daring plot.
Their objective: seize Alpha and steal its deadly cache of superweapons.
Their allies: American scientist Dr. Anthony Harding and his lover Vikki Osborrn, self-styled revolutionaries who'll blast a pathway to the base from its own backyard.
Their adversary: Major William McGriffin, USAF; acting commander of the base.
Cut off from his command post, McGriffin must implement a surgically precise counterstrike to retake Alpha-knowing that if he makes one mistake, the entire world will pay.
IS THEIR BATTLEGROUND
DR. ANTHONY HARDING: The nuclear physicist was once an idealist who wanted to show the world right from wrong—but now his goals are money, power, and his own twisted glory…
VIKKI OSBORRN: She used all her feminine charms to help her team get inside Alpha Base. Now, with an innocent man's blood on her hands, there was no turning back…
COLONEL MACKLIN RENAULT: The mercenary knew that people killed for different reasons. His reason was simple, unsentimental, and very profitable…
MAJOR WILLIAM McGRIFFIN: As acting commander of Alpha Base, he missed the intoxicating freedom of flying jets. But recovering the hijacked nukes would be more exciting—and dangerous—than anything he'd ever known…
A retired colonel in the Air Force, Doug formerly served in the President's science office. He and I have also written numerous novels together. I read Assault on Alpha Base in its manuscript form, a terrific near-future thriller about terrorists in a nuclear weapons storage facility. One of his best books. – Kevin J. Anderson
Earlier the same day: Wednesday, I June, 0730 local
Wendover Air Force Base, Nevada
Major William McGriffin stopped before the command post. Set into the door, a one-way mirror reflected the major's image back to him. His blue eyes inspected his hair. He liked to keep his hair thick on the sides and long in back, but he had just plastered the locks down in anticipation of meeting his new boss, the Wendover base commander. He was pushing the weight limit for his height, but all cargo pilots seemed to be slightly pudgy. It was the twenty-hour flights to exotic places like Diego Garcia, Pusan, and Thule that gave him his padded frame.
But there were not going to be any more exotic places for McGriffin, at least for a while. He had just about accepted being yanked off his flying job and forced to work at Wendover AFB. Wendover was about as far away from a flying assignment as the Air Force could get him. It just didn't make sense: spend a million dollars to train a guy to fly, then send him to this desert hole in a nonflying job.
Sure, he knew the rationale: only a pilot could effectively run a base command post.
And only monkeys could effectively eat bananas, too.
Wendover AFB required a pilot in the command post as much as the Sahara needed sand. There just wasn't any need for it. If Wendover had a flying unit, it might make sense. The closest thing to flying Wendover had was the helicopter squadron—and they flew only to support Alpha Base security.
Helicopters. The word tasted bitter in McGriffin's mouth. Helicopter pilots went through a glorified six-month training course at Fort Rucker—an Army base—and called themselves pilots. They even wore the same wings as real pilots. McGriffin shook his head. Flying helicopters was as different from piloting a jet as driving a car.
The only consolation about this assignment was that he was away from Linda. When she had left him, it was hard enough having her move in with that aerospace contractor—a nonflyer to boot! And for him to run across her in Tacoma—every time he went into town he dreaded the possibility that he'd see her. He had even changed churches, fearful that he might catch a glimpse of her … her red hair, her laughing … there were too many memories.
At least here he'd have a chance to get over her. And from the looks of the sparse female population, he wasn't in any danger of latching on to someone while he was on the rebound.
Setting his jaw, he rang the buzzer on the door to the command post.
A disembodied voice came over a speaker. "Good morning, sir. Could you hold your CAC card up to the mirror?"
McGriffin pulled out his wallet. He held the white CAC card—a high-tech ID with a radio-frequency chip that held his personal information—up to the one-way mirror.
"Thank you, sir. Please step away from the door."
McGriffin took an awkward step back as a security policeman held the door open for him. "This way, Major." They walked down a narrow hallway to another barred door.
"Sir, Chief Zolley will escort you into the command post area."
Two airmen, resplendent in their Class A's, white gloves, and ascots, stood on either side of the causeway. McGriffin nodded as he passed. The guards stood mute.
A single enlisted man greeted him. The man appeared to be a few years older than he—close to forty—but even so, to have someone so young attain the highest enlisted rank impressed McGriffin. The man firmly shook hands with him.
"Major McGriffin, welcome to Wendover. I'm Chief Master Sergeant Zolley, NCO in charge of the command post. Colonel DeVries is waiting in the back. He'll call for you momentarily. Can I get you a cup of coffee?"
McGriffin shook his head. "No thank you, Chief. Caffeine makes me jumpy."
The senior enlisted man smiled. "How about a tour of the CP, then? It may be a few minutes until the colonel is ready."
"Great. Sounds good—especially if I'm going to be working here. Lead the way."
"This way, sir. But I'll need to have you stop off at the verification center."
Chief Zolley led McGriffin to the back of the command post. A black rectangular object resembling a microfiche reader sat on a desk. Zolley explained, "We need to get a picture of your retina for positive identification. It's an old system we're still using until we get the new genetic scanners in. No one can duplicate the pattern your blood vessels make in your eye. It's kind of like a fingerprint, except much more accurate."
Zolley held out a chair for him. "This will only take a second, sir. If you'll look into the goggles …"
Moving his head to the plate, McGriffin squinted into the blackness. As his eyes adjusted, he made out a narrow lens and what appeared to be a flashbulb—
"What!" The bulb went off, startling him. McGriffin pulled back from the device, rubbing his eyes.
"Sorry, sir. If I'd told you what to expect, you might have blinked." Chief Zolley punched buttons on the device and helped McGriffin out of his seat.
McGriffin squinted. Red, yellow, and green splotches filled the room.
As Zolley led McGriffin to the front of the command post, an airman removed a digitized image of his eye from the verification unit. Zolley noted McGriffin's wings. "I hear that you used to fly out of McChord, sir."
McGriffin rubbed his eye and blinked. Things began to swim back into view. "Best tour of my life. I flew 17's darn near everywhere they could go."
"I was a crew chief there for three years. Tacoma was quite a place." He led Major McGriffin into the command post area.
They squeezed in between an array of computer terminals and stopped before a huge screen depicting an aerial map of Wendover AFB. To the right a computerized board listed the various squadrons and tenant units on the Air Force base: 2021st Maintenance Group, 37th Airbase Wing, 1977th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron, and the Sixth Security Police Group.
Unit emblems decorated the wall behind him, barely visible in the low light. A row of five clocks lined the wall. To his right a status board listed twenty-five critical areas on the base. McGriffin noted that twenty of the areas were located inside of the Alpha Base complex.
From the aerial map, McGriffin picked out the town of Wendover, Nevada, lying northwest of the base. Dugway Proving Grounds was to the east, and, barely visible on the map, the Hill Air Force gunnery range. The crater containing Alpha Base showed up as a small spot on Wendover Air Force Base.
Chief Zolley stopped before a desk in front of the main board. Enlisted personnel worked quietly in the background, answering phones and updating information into their computer terminals. A green light burned softly over the status board. Chief Zolley noticed McGriffin lingering over the aerial map. "This part of the country is mostly a dried-out lake bed."
"I noticed. It looks like a beach on the Gulf of Mexico with all that white sand."
Chief Zolley grinned. "After a year here you'd wish you were there. If it wasn't for Salt Lake City being two hours away by interstate, we wouldn't have any visitors at all. Most of them drive from Salt Lake City to gamble in Nevada, so we get a bit of the spillover, that, and the Enola Gay Museum here on base … you know, the plane in World War Two that dropped the first atomic bomb? They actually trained here, so we get a fair amount of tourists."
A voice called out over the command post. "Major McGriffin, the base commander requests your presence."
McGriffin straightened and flashed Chief Zolley a quick smile. "I'm looking forward to working with you, Chief."
"So am I, sir."
McGriffin turned for the exit. An airman stood by the door. "This way, Major." The airman held out a white-gloved hand, directing McGriffin out of the command post area.
Ducking into a hallway, McGriffin strode past several doorways: communications, nest & broken arrow liaison, and base commander were posted on the walls. The enlisted guide stopped before the last door. He rapped sharply. When a voice answered, the guide nodded McGriffin in. "Major McGriffin, sir."
Colonel DeVries rocked back in his chair and surveyed McGriffin before answering. McGriffin noticed that the base commander was nonrated, a nonpilot. DeVries allowed a few unspoken moments to pass before he stood, leaving the chair bouncing in his wake. "Morning, Major. Welcome to Wendover." He extended a hand. "Charley DeVries."
"Thanks, sir. Bill McGriffin."
"Have a seat."
McGriffin pulled up a chair as DeVries walked behind his desk. "So you're from McChord. A C-17 driver?"
"We get quite a few 17's in here, carrying in nukes to store in Alpha Base. Ever been to Wendover, Bill?"
McGriffin turned in his chair. "No, sir. For the most part I just ferried trash across the pond."
DeVries smiled at McGriffin's nickname for the Pacific Ocean. "This will be a change of pace for you, then. We're a little different here from most bases you've been to. Wendover was used after World War Two as a test base—they used the salt flats and seclusion to practice taking off on short runways. In fact, we've got a war memorial here that's open to the public. As a result, there's a lot of tourists around, kind of unusual for our mission nowadays. The base was deactivated after the war, then reopened ten years ago when Alpha Base was built." He swiveled his chair around and pointed to a map of Wendover AFB hanging on the wall.
"Alpha Base was built to house America's stockpile of nuclear weapons. It's roughly seventy-five square miles of storage space, five miles due west of Wendover's main complex. Alpha Base is actually a base within a base, complete with its own security and barracks, taking up only a small fraction of Wendover's twenty thousand total square miles.
"The crater provides a way to keep watch on all the storage bunkers at once. All they had to do was to fence off the crater—the storage bunkers are burrowed into the crater's side. After the INF and strategic limitation agreements, Alpha Base was agreeable to the Russians as the place to house our weapons."
McGriffin frowned. "Agreeable to the Russians?"
"Their satellites fly overhead nearly once an hour, and with our good weather, they don't have to worry about clouds covering the storage sites—you know, so they can monitor activity here. It blows the dispersion policy for operational readiness all to pieces, but we have the same arrangement with the Russians at their storage site." McGriffin nodded as Colonel DeVries continued. "Over five thousand warheads are contained within Alpha Base's perimeter."
McGriffin whistled. "You must have some security detail guarding it."
"We do. It's a crackerjack outfit. In reality, there's so many checks to the high-tech security system, it's mostly a baby-sitting job."
DeVries turned back to his desk and scanned a sheet of paper. "You'll be rotating the command post duty with two other officers. Since you're the new kid on the block, I've assigned you to the night shift—1800 to 0200." He shoved the paper across the desk to McGriffin. "I hate to throw you right into the job, but we're low on help around here. Any problem starting your duty tonight?"
McGriffin's eyes widened. "No, sir. I guess not."
"Good." DeVries stood and extended his hand. "Glad to have you."
As McGriffin turned to leave, DeVries called after him. "Bill?"
DeVries nodded his head toward McGriffin. "Nice hairs—but they won't hack it at my base. You aren't flying trash haulers anymore."
"I was just going to get a haircut this afternoon, sir."
"That's what I like to hear." DeVries turned to a pile of paper on his desk.
Red-faced, McGriffin turned on his heel, executing the first perfect about-face he'd done since he was a dooley.