"Hey, boss, wake up."
Blinking sleep from his eyes, Bechtold saw only darkness. "Where are we?"
"I gotta hit the head. Now's the time to stretch your legs, if you want."
"How far are we?"
"About halfway. Half of the roads out here are goat trails."
"And the other half?"
"Not that good." Weathers opened his door but the car had no inside light; Bechtold fumbled for the handle for several seconds before finding it and letting himself out.
Outside, it was cold, as chilly now as the airfield had been hot in the late afternoon. Bechtold found it bracing, and he looked up at the sky.
Stars--more stars than he'd ever seen, more stars than he'd known existed. Born and raised on the east coast, Bechtold had always been a city boy, had never known a world without the electric light--and now he was better than ten miles from any artificial illumination at all, in a country that was purposely blocking uncontrolled emissions of light in order to frustrate any enemy bombers that might be on their way. The blacked-out cities were dark, but they were not this dark, and for a moment he could feel the infinite black of space pressing against the Earth.
Weathers snapped him out of it. "Boss? You want to drive the rest of the way? The foot bothers me a bit if I drive too long."
Shaking off the rest of his grogginess, Bechtold got into the driver's seat and started the car. "How long do I follow this road?"
"Another five miles. There'll be a turnoff, with a sign pointing towards the 'Los Alamos Ranch School'. That's where we're going. Then you're going to follow that road about eight, nine miles, turn left, and then we'll be on the road going right past the one to the base."
"All right." The government Ford was new enough that the clutch was stiff.
After they got going Weathers observed, "This car has a synchronized transmission. Ever drive one?"
"You can shift from first to second, and second to third, without double-clutching."
"Downshifting, too. You just can't do it from second to first, because first gear's not synchronized. Manual recommends coming to a complete stop to shift into first."
"I'll bear that in mind." Bechtold drove a 1931 Model A. "When I got my teaching job at the university, I was planning to buy a new car once I made tenure."
Weathers laughed. "And did you?"
"I became a tenured professor in June of 1942."
"Well, the good news is, you'll be able to buy that car once the war's over."
"You think so?"
"I know so." Weathers shrugged. "Call it a feeling. I get them, once in a while. A couple of times it saved my ass on Guadal."
The dossier on Weathers had not suggested he had...what? Some kind of precognition? Bechtold began to wonder what else was missing from those files.
Or perhaps Weathers was just talking about the hunches that a trained soldier got.
"Slow down, boss. We're almost at the turnoff."
Bechtold grunted, now seeing the sign pointing towards the ranch school for boys. The car skidded on the dirt road and after a few confused moments Bechtold realized that he'd overshot the road and killed the engine. Muttering, he shoved in the clutch and stepped on the starter; shortly he had the car pointing in the right direction.
"Easy to miss a turn out here. Easier to get lost. You could wander for days without a map; everything looks the same."
"Gotcha." Bechtold considered what he'd read in the files. "So...what can you tell me about the rest of the team?"
"Well--Rick's a genius. Any device or gewgaw you give him, he'll figure it out in no time. Stan--he's kind of an odd duck, but harmless, mostly. He's got something about him, though...."
"Well...I only saw it the one time, see? The scientists at the base, they had a problem they couldn't find an answer for. They were tearing their hair out over it, and one of them said doing the math for it would take centuries, right? So Stan asked me to help him. We went into his room and he spent three hours making a sand painting on the floor, doing an indian chant the whole time. He gave me this stick, and my job was just to flip it over every so often. When the painting was done, he started shaking his hand over it, like he'd suddenly got the palsy, and he kept mumbling something over and over again while he did it."
"And gave the scientists their answer?" Bechtold asked, unable to keep a note of skepticism out of his voice.
"Not the actual answer to their problem," Weathers said. "What he told them was how to use automatic calculating machines to calculate the answer quicker."
"Really. He's a radioman, though; maybe he knows something about that stuff, too?"
"Nope. Stan knows radios, but radios and tabulators are completely different animals. I didn't even know that myself until I saw the gear they ordered. Some IBM salesman got a big paycheck that month!"
"What about Mary Carter?"
"She's smart as a whip. She's been assisting the explosives boys on the project there. It's not just that stuff there; she developed a tank round that punches right through armor. 'Shaped charge', she called it. She explained it to me three times and I still didn't get it. Then she showed me: took a piece of C-2 the size of a golf ball, and set it up, and blew a hole right through a four-inch plate. Not a big hole, mind you, but a hole, and she said anyone standing behind that plate would have been wounded pretty badly, if not killed."
"Why's she on the team?"
"We may need someone to blow a safe, or get us past locked doors. I watched her blow the lock out of a security door with a piece of plastique that'd fit in a fountain pen. Hardly made any noise at all." Weathers nodded. "Stan's our corpsman; he was in medical school before he ended up being an honorary Navajo. And he's going to be our radioman, of course. And--well, you'll have to talk to him. And we have Rick along because like I said, he can figure out anything technological--anything. You know, he looked at the chemical formula of Sulfa and said it would be better if they added a--oh, hell, I don't remember what he said they should add to it, to make it more effective."
Bechtold didn't want to let it go, though. "Fine...but why a woman? It's going to be dangerous, isn't it? Our mission?"
"Not as dangerous as storming the beach will be, trust me. The one thing we absolutely must not do is slip into speaking English, but otherwise our cover is going to be pretty airtight. The one intrinsically dangerous thing we're doing is jumping in."
"Turn up there, boss."
"Cramer didn't tell you? That jerk. Yeah, we'll be bailing out of a C-47 over France, parachuting in. That's why they sent us out here, to practice jumping where no one would see us. Also because General Groves requested some help with a little problem he has."
That name again-- "Who is General Groves?"
"Eh? General Leslie Groves. He's head of the project."
"And what's the project?"
"Top Secret. They haven't told us much, because we're going into Europe. You can't help seeing things; anyway Rick doesn't give a crap--he thinks all the secrecy is nonsense--and told me what it was."
"And 'it' is...?"
"An atomic bomb." Weathers' voice quieted when he said it. "Supposedly, one bomb will be enough to ruin an entire city. Rick said it was obvious, the way they've collected explosives experts, and a bunch of eggheads he knows, some only by reputation.
"Rick pointed out some wop, a guy named Fermi, who first split the atom in Chicago in 1942, and said the only reason he'd be there was if they were building a bomb that, what the hell'd he say, 'uses atomic fission'."
"Is Dr. Einstein there?"
"He's practically the only one who ain't!" Weathers stopped himself. "Up there, see that fence? That's where we're going. Get out your papers; the guards will want to see them before they let us in."
"So what kind of problem does General Groves have?"
"We have a briefing scheduled for tomorrow. Don't worry about it. But Cramer said it'd be a good test for the team, see how we work together."
"With me coming in cold," Bechtold said with a sigh.