The Burning Time (Timeline 10/27/62 Book 5), страница 1
The Burning Time
By James Philip
Copyright © James P. Coldham writing as James Philip 2015. All rights reserved.
‘The Burning Time’ is Book 5 of the alternative history series Timeline 10/27/62.
It is February 1964 in a World in which the ‘swinging sixties’ never happened.
The atomic mushroom clouds over the Mediterranean have dispersed and now as the World teeters on the brink of a new thermonuclear war, it is dawning on the ‘victors’ that their ‘victory’, far from being absolute, was tragically pyrrhic.
In the uneasy half-peace the United States stirs from its post-Cuban Missiles War slumber. But will it awaken soon enough to overcome its own divisions to confront the new and terrible forces unleashed by Red Dawn’s first paroxysm of violence?
Now is a time for betrayal. Now is judgement day when all the mistakes of the months since the October War will come back to haunt the ‘victors’.
The Timeline 10/27/62 – Main Series is:
Book 1: Operation Anadyr
Book 2: Love is Strange
Book 3: The Pillars of Hercules
Book 4: Red Dawn
Book 5: The Burning Time
Book 6: Tales of Brave Ulysses (Available 1st January 2016)
Later in 2015 the first two books in the Timeline 10/27/62 – USA Series exploring the American experience of Armageddon from an entirely American point of view will be published:
Timeline 10/27/62 – USA Series:
Book 1: Aftermath (Available 27th October 2015)
Book 2: California Dreaming (Available 27th October 2015)
Book 3: The Great Society (Available 26th January 2016)
* * *
To the reader: firstly, thank you for reading this book; and secondly, please remember that this is a work of fiction. I made it up in my own head. None of the fictional characters in ‘The Burning Time – Book 5 of the ‘Timeline 10/27/62 Series’ - are based on real people I know of, or have ever met. Nor do the specific events described in ‘The Burning Time – Book 5 of the ‘Timeline 10/27/62 Series’ - have, to my knowledge, any basis in real events I know to have taken place. Any resemblance to real life people or events is, therefore, unintended and entirely coincidental.
The ‘Timeline 10/27/62 Series’ is an alternative history of the modern World and because of this real historical characters are referenced and in many cases their words and actions form significant parts of the narrative. I have no way of knowing if these real, historical figures would have spoken thus, or acted in the ways I depict them acting. Any word I place in the mouth of a real historical figure, and any action which I attribute to them after 27th October 1962 never actually happened. As I always say in my Author’s Notes to my readers, I made it all up in my own head.
The books of the Timeline 10/27/62 series are written as episodes; they are instalments in a contiguous narrative arc. The individual ‘episodes’ each explore a number of plot branches, and develop themes continuously from book to book. Inevitably, in any series some exposition and extemporization is unavoidable but I try – honestly, I do – to keep this to a minimum as it tends to slow down the flow of the stories I am telling.
In writing each successive addition to the Timeline 10/27/62 ‘verse’ it is my implicit assumption that my readers will have read the previous books in the series, and that my readers do not want their reading experience to be overly impacted by excessive re-hashing of the events in those previous books.
Humbly, I suggest that if you are ‘hooked’ by the Timeline 10/27/62 Series that reading the books in sequence will – most likely - enhance your enjoyment of the experience.
Other Books by James Philip
The Burning Time
[Book 5 of Timeline 10/27/62]
Monday 10th February 1964
Otopeni Air Force Base, People’s Republic of Romania
Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej had joined the Communist Party of Romania in 1930. At that time he had been an electrician on the railways with no inkling where that fateful decision would carry him in the following decades. He had made his mark in the Party during the Grivita Strike at the workshops of the Căile Ferate Române – The Romanian Railways - in February 1933. After the Army had ended the Grivita strike by killing seven of his fellow strikers; he became the leader of the influential ‘prison faction’ of the Party, was elected to its Central Committee in 1936 and began his inevitable rise. Under the regime of Ion Antonescu – a man no better than a Nazi lickspittle – he had spent most of the Second World War in detention at Târgu Jiu in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains, escaping shortly before the Soviet ‘liberators’ arrived. Although he had been General Secretary of the Party since 1944, in the beginning he had moved slowly, patiently to consolidate his power base, only purging his main opponents in the early 1950s.
Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej had understood that while Stalin lived his personal fate, and that of his country depended on towing the ‘Moscow line’; accordingly, he had forced King Michael of Romania to abdicate, literally at the barrel of a gun. Likewise, he had pursued unrelentingly repressive policies against his opponents, including counter-signing orders sending fellow Romanians to work, and invariably, die in the slave labour battalions building the Danube-Black Sea Canal. Iosif Vissarionovich’s favour had been everything in those desperate post-war years and Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej, the leader of the one former East European Soviet satellite which had – by some inexplicable oversight on the part of the Americans and the British – remained virtually unscathed by the Cuban Missiles War, was nothing if not a stony cold pragmatist.
There was a single black telephone on the table before him. It was connected direc
“Comrades,” he began in coarse, unadorned Russian. His protégé and deputy, Nicolae Ceaușescu – who sat behind him now taking notes – had convinced him that in the new ‘World Order’ it was imperative that their former masters continued to believe that their one-time clients still accepted their right to rule. At least for a few more minutes. The air of the deep concrete bunker buried just inside the fortified perimeter of Otopeni Air Force Base was thick with vile Russian and Turkish cigarette and pipe smoke. The walls were clammy because this ‘nuclear refuge’ had only been half-completed in late October 1962 and nobody had got around to installing integrated electrical services or a fully functioning, filtered air-conditioning system in the complex. There had been other more pressing priorities since October last year. “Comrades,” Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej, the balding sixty-two year old Dictator of Romania repeated, clearing his throat with a bronchial cough, “I formally welcome you to my country. As always, your presence is both an honour and a comfort to all Romanians.” The dull, expressionless eyes of the other men around the table viewed him coldly; but Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej did not take this lack of response personally, or read anything untoward into it. The long, poisonous shadow of Iosif Vissarionovich still lay across all their pasts like a curse. In Stalin’s time showing one’s true emotions was a death sentence and Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej had understood this as well as any man. He had been one of the old monster’s most adept disciples; in fact he had been so committed to the old ways that the reforms of the Khrushchev years had, at first, been deeply unsettling.
It was a great comfort when Nikita Sergeyevich had crushed the Hungarian uprising with a truly Stalinist iron fist and thus reassured, Gheorghiu-Dej had stamped down harder than ever on his own counter-revolutionary troublemakers and dissidents, turning a deaf ear to the pusillanimous mutterings of the West about ‘so-called’ human rights and civil liberties in his country. His Securitate – the General Directorate for the Security of the People – was free to go about its business untrammelled. If firm government required the widespread use of intimidation, torture and imprisonment without trial, so be it for that was a price worth paying. Notwithstanding, in the years before the October War, Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej’s government had pursued a tentative trade, diplomatic and political rapprochement with the West, slowly moving towards becoming a semi-detached member of the Warsaw Pact. The Romanian economy had grown, the Securitate had restricted its activities to within the borders of the nation, and Romania’s relations with the World’s richest and most powerful democracies had threatened to one day become the envy of many other impoverished Eastern Bloc countries. Inevitably, in Moscow, Krushchev’s people had begun to view the Romanian leader as a weak link, a possible Trojan horse within the body of the Marxist-Leninist polity. Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej had always known that there were limits to his freedom of manuever and been very careful never to push his Muscovite overseers too far.
Old habits die hard.
“I surrender the floor to the esteemed members of the Troika.”
The bunker was crowded; as many as twenty men standing or sitting, mostly around the walls, or just behind their principals. The majority of the men in the bunker were aides, bodyguards – each member of the Troika had at least two seconds, big men with badly fitting suits bulging where pistols or other murderous implements were deliberately poorly concealed – and there were half-a-dozen of Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej’s own people, ministers or representatives of the key departments of state. The ‘conference’ was a security nightmare, a rush job organised in a panic and no matter how calm the atmosphere, nobody in the bunker pretended that this was anything other than the darkest hour faced by the dysfunctional ad hoc alliance which had coalesced out of the ashes of the recent war.
Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej was genuinely curious to discover which member of the Troika would speak first and if the man who spoke first, actually spoke for the Troika as a whole. Up until now the Soviet response to the devastation of the October War had been on one level, utterly stoic and on another, insane. The Dictator of Romania had ‘called’ this conference to curb the insanity, without for a moment really believing that anybody was in a position to do anything about the chaos that was, sooner rather than later, going to consume them all. He had not expected the Troika to respond to his entreaties but, incredibly, here the three great men were, fulminating inscrutably behind clouds of evil tobacco smoke, less than forty-eight hours after he had ‘summoned them’.
He had these men in his power at last; he had honestly believed revenge would taste sweeter. Now all he tasted was bile.
Nothing happened in the smoky silence for perhaps thirty seconds.
A horrible stillness settled, stirred only by men breathing the foul air. Most of those present had bad chests, maladies associated with the bitter winter, and from living their lives in damp, claustrophobic, ill-lit subterranean rat holes like this bunker beneath an airfield less than twenty kilometres from the centre of Bucharest.
“There are too many people in this room,” Yuri Vladimirovich Andropov said, his voice deafening in the quietness.
“Far too fucking many,” agreed the gnarled older man in the uniform of a Red Army tank commander with the street-fighter’s face who sat on the left hand side of the third member of the Troika. There was gravel and a breathless huskiness born of a life smoking bad tobacco in that growling, bear like utterance.
The man sitting between the urbane, reptile-eyed Andropov and the grizzled, oddly cherubic brutal-featured soldier sighed and leaned forward a fraction in his seat.
“My comrades are right,” Alexei Nikolayevich Kosygin said mildly. He looked Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej in the eye with a sudden directness. “Your people do not need to be here.”
The dictator of Romania shrugged. He glanced over his shoulder at his most trusted lieutenant.
“Nicolae,” he reminded the room at large, “is the man whose work has made possible the restoration of a functioning command economy in the undamaged areas of our former Empire, and the restoration of communications with the surviving closed cities in the East. He needs to remain.”
Sixty-four year old Vasily Ivanovich Chuikov, Marshal of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics guffawed like an asthmatic Walrus with a two day old hangover.
“Sakharov ought to stay, too.”
Those who knew who Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov, the father of the Soviet hydrogen bomb was, and recognised him in the crowd glanced in the direction of the tall, aesthetic, rather diffident man lurking in the shadows. The nuclear scientist did not care for the sudden scrutiny and shrank as far back out of the loom of the lights as he could before he felt the moist concrete at his shoulder.
“We need at least one person in the room,” Chuikov, the most decorated Soviet soldier of his generation went on, his face cracking into what might have been a broad grin or a mask of contempt, “who knows what he’s talking about.”
“Everybody else should go,” Alexei Nikolayevich Kosygin suggested and the man to his right, Yuri Vladimirovich Andropov brusquely nodded his concurrence.
Instantly, the bunker began to clear.
Feet scraped and shuffled, nobody spoke.
Presently, the heavy blast doors clanged shut.
“Well, Gheorghe,” Kosygin asked sombrely, viewing the Romanian dictator with unafraid, curious eyes. He was a man who had lived in fear for his life when Stalin had ordered him to spy on and undermine the most senior members of the Party in the years after the Great Patriotic War. “We’re here. What do you plan to do next?”
Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej was genuinely put aback.
“What do I plan to do?” He retorted, his nostrils flaring with offence. After the events of the last few days he did not deserve to be mocked by men for whom he had risked everything since the war.
The Russians frown
“When I saw the reception committee on the runway I expected to be arrested, Comrade,” he admitted flatly.
Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej relaxed, allowed himself a glance at the phone on the table directly in front of his chair.
If he had ever been tempted to throw in his lot with the West it would have been on the day after the war. Now it was too late; and in retrospect it would have been too late by noon on the day after the war. Dozens of Soviet and other Warsaw Pact aircraft had landed on Romanian airfields, countless survivors from shattered Russian divisions had flooded across his borders, and then there had been the first civilian refugees, a bedraggled trickle, and shortly afterwards an irresistible flood that never seemed to end. Cruisers, destroyers and submarines of the Black Sea Fleet had anchored at Constanta. Within weeks the remnants of the Soviet High Command had made contact from their hideaways beyond the Urals. By then the bastards had already inflicted the bane of Krasnaya Zarya – Red Dawn - upon him and in the weeks and months that followed he had watched in horror as the monster devoured his country. If he had known then what he knew now he would have ordered the Securitate and the Army to liquidate Krasnaya Zarya, drown it in its own blood before it was too late. But everything had been a mess. Belorussia, the Ukraine, the Baltic States, Poland, East Germany, most of Hungary and Czechoslovakia, the Crimea and countless places north and east of the sea of rubble that had previously been Moscow were just, well, gone. Nobody had comprehended in those first days after the war that the USSR was so vast, and its peoples so dispersed that here and there whole cities and large sections of the empire’s military and industrial infrastructure had survived untouched, intact.