Even at 0700 hours, the air was stifling here at Camp Desert Rock, Nevada. A ceiling fan creaked impotently overhead in the dusty bunker. Beyond the small, thick windows, past the hardened concrete walls, lay an almost lunar landscape of dead stone and lifeless sand simmering in the morning sun. Stoic men clad in sweat-darkened khaki were saddling up in troop-carrying trucks, hefting packs and weapons, preparing for movement.
Standing to one side, Vining’s Executive Officer, Lt. Paul Simmons, remained silent, blank eyes set in an expressionless face as Mr. Barber, the intense little suit from the Atomic Energy Commission, stared first at Vining, then at Army Lt. General Bill Krought. Barber was a civilian, after all, and the giving and taking of orders was military business. Still, his eyes telegraphed a wordless message: mutiny is not acceptable.
Screwing his ruddy, weathered face into a frown, Krought shook his head. His white mustache, like his eyebrows and hair, gave him a wizened, almost grandfatherly look. “Neither you nor I have a choice here,” he said.
“You fought in the Pacific,” Vining said, studying the decorations on his uniform. “Isn’t that what Emperor Hirohito told his Kamikaze pilots?”
Krought smiled, but not much. “Why, I’ve been with this project since ’55. I’ve seen battalions—hell, divisions—come and go. Sure, a few men got sick, and we’re working on that. But the fact is most of our troops have come through these exercises with flying colors.”
Barber loosened his tie a bit, as much from nervousness as heat; direct confrontations rattled him. “Look, Captain, the Soviets are doing the same kinds of tests, and probably more of them. We have to keep up. Where we lack in quantity, we hope to make up for in quality. That’s where you come in. We desperately need the expertise of the 7437th Meteorological Detachment. If you don’t cooperate, much of the data we’re hoping to collect here will be lost.”