The Bubble Chamber
by Duncan Johnson
The chassis of the Plymouth convertible rattled as it bounced over the uneven road surface. The car was well passed its prime, but John Spence was stuck with it. A new vehicle was out of the question on a university salary. He was alone on the road this morning and he switched on the radio for some company.
'...summit is still intended to go ahead despite the shooting down of Captain Gary Powers on May the first by the Soviet Union. Despite President Eisenhower's continued requests for the pilot's safe return, President Khrushchev insists that he must be detained pending further...'
Spence turned the dial, not wanting to spoil an otherwise beautiful morning with politics and before long the voice of Bobby Darin was wafting back to him from the radio's speaker.
* * *
Bobby Darin's voice also echoed around the console room of the TARDIS. The Doctor snapped his fingers in time to the strains of Mack the Knife while adjusting the controls with his free hand.
'Rose!' he yelled. 'What's keeping you?'
The interior door burst open as Rose bounded into the room.
'Well?' She executed a twirl, showing off her new dress, the swing skirt billowing around her.
'Very period,' the Doctor remarked.
'But how do I look?'
'What's the word?' The Doctor's eyes sparkled. 'Groovy.'
'Hold on tight, Rose,' the Doctor said as he returned his attention to the console. 'Fifties America here we come.'
The TARDIS shook as it began to materialise.
* * *
''We are so close to the summit and to peace. I am ready to accept that this was a cruel and terrible provocation made by others without the knowledge of the American President.'
'So said President Khrushchev following the downing of a plane near Sverdlovsk in the Soviet Union. President Eisenhower has stated that the plane was a civilian weather research aircraft that accidentally crossed into Soviet airspace, but the Russians claim that it was a military spy plane and that they have recovered both the pilot and the remains of the aircraft. The Soviet president has demanded that President Eisenhower apologise for the flight and to fire those men responsible, among them CIA director Allen Dulles.
'The continuing controversy is seen as a major threat to the success of the upcoming Paris Summit, where Presidents Eisenhower and Khrushchev will be joined by both President de Gaulle of France and Prime Minister Macmillan of Great Britain. There had been talk in some quarters that the summit might mark the beginning of the end of the so-called Cold War...'
General Daniel Hoffman reached for the radio and silenced it.
'I was listening to that,' his son, Mike, protested from where he was lying on the couch.
'Well, I wasn't,' the general – retired – snapped. He opened a bottle of scotch and half-filled a glass tumbler.
'Isn't it a little early?' his son said.
'It's not of your damn business.' The general drained the glass. 'Damn pilot should have destroyed that plane soon as he was shot at. Should have known better than to let himself be taken alive. Man's a disgrace to his uniform.'
'He's a disgrace,' his son mocked, 'but those guys who decided to send up a spy plane and maybe turn this Cold War into a hot one, they were just doing their duty I suppose.'
'I don't expect you to understand.' General Hoffman poured himself another drink. 'Tim would have understood.'
Mike threw up his hands in despair. 'My dear saintly brother. I wondered how long it was going to be before you worked him into the conversation.'
'Watch your mouth, young man! Your brother was a hero. He died for this country. He understood his duty.'
'Explain it to me again, Dad: how is murdering some Koreans halfway around the world serving our country?'
'Why you...' General Hoffman raised a hand as if to strike his son, but then recovered his composure. 'You young people nowadays, you don't understand the threat. You don't see what we're fighting against. I'm surprised you're not picketing in front of City Hall right now.'
'Believe me, if I wasn't needed in the lab then I'd be there protesting with the best of them. These hearings are a sham. Do you know they've subpoenaed students from the university, even some of the professors?'
'They're just doing their duty,' General Hoffman insisted. 'If those communists get a foothold inside our schools, corrupting our youth... Why, you're already starting to sound like one.'
'Because I speak my mind instead of spouting the same tired old rhetoric as you, Dad. I'll take that as a compliment.' Mike got up off of the couch and retrieved his jacket. 'I'm needed at the university.'
He could here his father's curses behind him as he slammed the door closed. There was a piece of paper in his jacket pocket and he slowly unfolded it. For a long moment he just stared at the number written on it, considering. Then he went in search of a telephone.
* * *
'Morning, Professor.' The woman behind the counter reached for the coffee pot as John Spence entered the diner.
'Morning, Elspeth,' Spence replied, settling on a stool opposite her and removing his hat, 'and it's doctor, not professor. Not yet, anyway.'
'Sure thing... Professor.'
Spence rolled his eyes. They had played this game before.
'Your usual?' Elspeth asked, already sliding a cup of black coffee towards him.
'You're an angel,' Spence replied, accepting it gratefully.
He took a moment to study his surroundings. Elspeth ran a scrupulously clean shop, with nary a crumb out of place. The red and white décor glowed in the sunlight streaming through the large front windows. Overhead, a large fan lazily rotated, it's rhythmic beat mixing with the sounds of Elvis coming from the wireless set at the far end of the counter. Rather than continuing in the military once his national service was up, the boy had gone straight back to his music. He had chosen personal gratification over serving his country; Spence could understand it, but that did not mean he approved.
In one of the booths a couple were arguing. Spence could not make out their words, but given the map spread out on the table amidst the remains of their meal, it did not take a genius to figure out what the problem was. In another booth, near the door, a man was reading a copy of the San Francisco Chronicle. Spence recognised him from the university and nodded an acknowledgement in his direction. The man did not return the gesture. Instead, he folded his paper and rose to leave.
The door swung open and two more people entered, one a blonde girl in a bright dress, the other a dark-haired man in a leather jacket.
'See, Rose, genuine American culture,' the man w as saying. 'They've even got Elvis on the radio.'
'Just like back home, then, Doctor,' the girl - Rose - replied. 'I still don't understand why we had to land in the middle of nowhere.'
'You know, some people might be grateful that I'd brought them all this way...' The Doctor tailed off as he took in his surroundings. 'Excuse me, mate, have you finished with that?' he asked the man with the newspaper, who handed it over without a fuss before making his exit.
The Doctor flopped down in the vacated booth and began to read while his companion approached the counter.
'Two teas, please.'
'You're English, ain't you?' Elspeth asked.
'We've only got coffee.'
The girl shrugged. 'Whatever. Coffee'll be fine. And what have you got in the way of food? I feel like I haven't eaten in years.'
The Doctor grunted.
'It says here,' he called, 'that it's Thursday the twelfth of May, 1960.'
'What of it?' Elspeth asked.
'You missed,' Rose said.
'I'd like to see you do better,' the Doctor replied.
'Maybe I will.'
Spence checked his watch and drained his coffee cup. Enjoyable as this was to watch, he had to be getting on.
'Be seeing you, Elspeth,' he said as he put his hat back on his head.
'Same time tomorrow, Professor?' she called back.
'Professor?' The Doctor was on his feet. 'Are you on your way to the university? Any chance of a lift?'
The Doctor grinned and Spence felt his control of the situation dribble away.
'Rose, we're leaving.'
'But what about your coffees?' Elspeth asked.
The Doctor dashed over to the counter and produced a handful of coins.
'Keep the change,' he said before racing out of the door, leaving a very bemused waitress behind him.
* * *
'So what are you a professor of?' Rose asked. She was wedged in between Spence and her companion in the open-topped Plymouth, the wind tugging at her hair.
'I'm not a professor,' Spence replied.
'But that waitress said...'
'I know what she said. That's just her way. I'm just a doctor. Dr John Spence.
'And your friend?'
The Doctor was sitting silently in the front passenger's seat, staring off into the distance.
'He's just a doctor too,' Rose said, wishing she had thought to prepare a better answer. 'So what are you a doctor of then?'
'I'm a physicist,' Spence replied.
'And I'm part of a team working with what we call a bubble chamber. We're analysing the tracks of charged atomic particles... and you don't have to pretend to be interested just to humour me, you know.'
'I'm not,' Rose insisted. 'It's just a bit over my head, that's all.'
'I'm not surprised,' Spence said. 'You've seen the trails airplanes leave I the sky, haven't you? Well, the bubble chambers kind of like that. We use an atom smasher to fire atomic particles through it and then analyse the trails they leave behind.'
'You're working with Donald Glaser, right?' The Doctor was still staring off into the distance.
'That's right. Do you know him?'
'I know of him. Has he won the Nobel Prize yet, or are we a bit early for that?' Spence opened his mouth to respond, but the Doctor was still talking. 'The idea isn't new, Rose. It dates back to a guy called Wilson who created the cloud chamber. Didn't he win the Nobel Prize too? Some time in the twenties?'
'1927,' Spence supplied. 'You're well-read, Doctor?'
'I get about. Now, our guy Wilson fired his particles into a box of supersaturated air and the particles left trails of condensed water behind them. The thing is, you have to be really fast if you want to photograph these trails before they disappear and the really high energy particles, those that can really move, well they're across the chamber and away before you've even started.'
'Hence the bubble chamber.'
'Hence the bubble chamber, right,' the Doctor agreed. 'Glaser's genius was to change the medium. Don't look at trails of liquid through a gas, look at trails of gas bubbles in a liquid.'
'I don't want to sound thick, but that helps how exactly?'
'It slows the particles down,' Spence explained, 'long enough for us to get pictures of even those high energy trails.'
'I see,' Rose said. 'I think.'
'I've got a question.' The Doctor, grinning widely, turned to face Spence. 'When do we get to see it?'
* * *
'What do you mean we can't go in?'
Cassie and Josh were standing at the foot of the steps leading up to City Hall. A long queue stretched out behind them and beyond that was the picket line were more students were protesting against the HUAC hearings going on inside. Police officers were stationed in front of the building, denying access to those in the queue.
'I mean I can't let you inside, sir.' The officer addressed his response to Josh although Cassie had asked the question.
'But what about them?' Josh asked, pointing to a couple who were ascending the steps. 'We've been here for hours, but they've only just got here. How come they get preferential treatment?'
'They had a ticket,' the officer explained. 'If there are any seats left once all the ticket holders have arrived then I can let you in.'
'Is that likely?'
'Not really, sir, no,' the officer replied, 'but you're welcome to wait as long as you like.'
'How can we get a ticket?' Cassie asked.
'Well, the tickets are issued by the Committee,' the officer explained.
'And only to those people who support them, I'll bet,' Josh said.
'So much for a fair trial,' Cassie remarked.
* * *
It was a box. The Doctor and Spence seemed to think it was something special and maybe it was, but all Rose could see was a dull metal box, a couple of metres long and maybe half a metre tall.
'That's this bubble chamber?' she asked.
The Doctor nodded. 'Isn't it great?'
'If you like that sort of thing, I suppose.' She shivered. It was cold in the laboratory and her new dress left her arms bare.
'What's not to like? With this you can take something like an atom – a discreet unit in its own right, you might think – and show that it's really made up of even smaller particles all behaving and interacting in different ways.' The Doctor turned to Spence. 'What's the medium?'
'Liquid hydrogen,' Spence replied. He had exchanged his sports jacket for a lab coat. 'We try to keep it as close to absolute zero as possible.'
The Doctor nodded and pointed to something else. 'Electromagnet. Am I right or am I right?'
'Indeed you are.' Spence smiled at the Doctor's enthusiasm then beckoned to a young man with a clipboard. 'Hoffman, could you come here for a moment.'
'The Doctor here is keen to see or experiment, but I'm not sure that his, er...' Spence looked from Rose to the Doctor and back again, unsure of their relationship.
'I'm Rose.' Rose extended her hand to the newcomer.
'Mike,' he replied.
'Yes, er, Rose,' Spence continued. 'I don't think Rose is as interested in our work here as the Doctor and I was hoping you would show her around the campus. That is, if that's what you'd prefer, Miss Tyler.'
'Sounds great.' Rose thought it sounded awful, but it was still a step up from hanging around a cold laboratory like a spare part.
'If you're sure you don't need me, Doctor,' Mike said.
'You're good, but you're not indispensable.' Dr Spence took the clipboard from him. 'Have fun.'
* * *
'What sphinx of cement and aluminum bashed open their skulls and ate up their brains and imagination?
'Moloch! Solitude! Filth! Ugliness! Ashcans and unobtainable dollars! Children screaming under the stairways! Boys sobbing in armies! Old men weeping in the parks!
'Moloch! Moloch! Nightmare of Moloch! Moloch the loveless! Mental Moloch! Moloch the heavy judger of men!'
Jazz underscored the poet's words as Rose, Mike and a crowd of others listened inside a North Beach coffee house. Mike had given her the tour of the UC Berkeley campus and Rose had commented that there did not seem to be very many students around.
'They're all studying for mid-terms,' Mike had explained, 'or protesting against the HUAC hearings.'
'The House Un-American Activities Committee,' Mike replied, giving her an odd look. 'You must have heard of it.'
'I'm from England and the Doctor and I only just got here,' Rose said giving Mike the edited highlights version of her travels. 'I don't know much about what's going on here. So what's an Un-American activity when it's at home?'
'Being a communist, or so they say. Really it's just an excuse to round up anyone who doesn't agree with what our government is doing.'
'Trying to get us all killed. You know about this summit in Paris, right?'
Rose did not known how much ignorance she could get away with before it became suspicious so she just nodded and hoped for the best.
'They were going to talk about disarmament. They was a chance, a real chance they would get rid of the bombs once and for all. So what do we do? We send a spy plane over Russia of all the stupid... Do you think they'll want to negotiate with us now?'
Rose shook her head.
'Of course not. Which means more kids are going to die. Like Tim.'
'Tim?' Rose asked.
'It was years ago. In Korea.' Mike took a deep breath. 'Listen to me. I should be apologising for even bringing it up. What do you say we get out of here and head into town.'
'Why not,' Rose said. 'I've never been to San Francisco before.'
So they had hopped on a bus heading west over the Oakland Bay Bridge and ended up in a small café on Columbus Avenue where they were served coffee by a short Italian and regaled by raw, angry poetry. Rose had also been introduced to two of Mike's fellow students, Cassie Wheeler and Josh Graham, who had tried to attend the HUAC hearings at City Hall.
'They wouldn't let us in,' Cassie was saying. 'Only with a ticket, they said.'
'And the Committee decide who gets the tickets.'
'Guess they thought stacking the hall with supporters would mean there wouldn't be any trouble,' Josh said.
'Fat chance,' Cassie said. 'One of the witnesses had to be physically thrown out.'
'And it's only going to get worse,' Josh said. 'They've got Bill Mandel on the witness list for tomorrow. He'll give 'em what for.'
'Who's Bill Mandel?' Rose asked.
'He's a broadcaster on KPFA,' Cassie explained. 'He's got his own TV show too. The man's not afraid to speak his mind. People in charge don't like that, but I reckon if they don't like the criticism then they should put their own house in order instead of taking it out on the critics.'
'There's going to be another demonstration tomorrow,' Josh said, 'even bigger than today's. You'll be there, won't you, Mike?'
'What's the point,' Mike asked, swirling the dregs of his coffee around his cup. 'Do you really think they're going to take any notice of a bunch of students waving placards?'
'We've got to do something,' Josh said. 'We can't just bury our heads in the sand and hope it all goes away.'
'Oh, I agree with that. I just wish we could make a bigger statement, that's all. Something the powers-that-be couldn't ignore.' Mike tipped back his head and drained his cup. 'Ignore me. I had another fight with my Dad this morning.'
'At least your dad still talks to you,' Josh said. 'The last time I went home, my parents nearly forced me to get my head examined.'
Rose's eyes widened. 'You're kidding.'
'Nope. They had a psychoanalyst waiting for me in the living-room and everything.'
'Because I've clearly been brainwashed by the Reds that run UC Berkeley.'
'Based on what?'
'Based on him being sweet on me, that's what,' Cassie replied.
Rose frowned. 'I don't follow.'
'Oh come on, a white guy in love with a black girl and you don't think that's kind of strange?'
'Why should I? I mean my own boyfriend's black and it's like a non-issue,' Rose replied.
Cassie grinned and turned to Mike. 'I don't know where you found this one, but can we keep her?'
'So, Rose, what do you think of this place,' Josh asked, nodding towards the poet.
'It's okay, I guess.' Rose shrugged. 'Poetry's not really my thing.'
'But Mike dragged you all the way out here anyway,' Cassie said. 'That sounds just like him. He and Josh are really into this stuff. I'm just here because the coffee's cheap.'
'Cassie,' Josh protested.
'What? It is.' Cassie turned back to Rose. 'So, if you're not into poetry, what are you into?'
'Well, I was promised Rock and Roll when I got here,' Rose confessed, 'but so far that's been in short supply.'
'You should have spoken up sooner, honey,' Cassie said. 'I know just the place.'
* * *
'Is it all arranged?' General Hoffman asked.
He was standing at the edge of the bay, staring out at the dull grey battleship at one of the piers stretch out from the Hunter's Point Naval Shipyard.
'It's going ahead tonight.' The speaker was seated in a black sedan with the window wound down. He had close-cropped blond, almost white hair and wore dark glasses over his eyes.
'I still wish it didn't have to be him,' the general said. 'He's a good boy, despite his faults.'
'It's his faults that make him so perfect,' the man in the car replied. 'He's practically falling over himself to do this for his cause.'
'And all the time he's really helping us bury his cause once and for all,' the general mused.
'America needs a wake-up call. These protests at City Hall. You know, there are even senators who are calling for the president to agree to disarmament with Khrushchev next week. Don't they realise that that will put us just were the Russians want us?'
'You think I don't know that,' General Hoffman snapped. 'It's a new generation. They haven't seen the things we've seen. Haven't made our sacrifices.'
The general's voice shook as he spoke the last few words.
'Your son would have been proud of you, General,' the man in the car assured him. 'What you do today you do for your country?'
'Do you really think so?' The general stood a little straighter. 'I just hope that Michael will come to see it that way one day.
* * *
Longshoreman's Hall was full to bursting with young people out to have a good time.
'Now this is more like it,' Rose had said as the band on stage had struck up a tune and Mike had spun her out onto the dance floor. She did not know any of the dance steps, but it soon became apparent that everyone else was making it up based on what they had seen on TV just as much as she was. The important thing was to have fun and Rose was all for that. She threw herself into it with spirit, encouraged by Mike, and soon Josh and Cassie were applauding the couple's performance with relish.
After three dances, Mike excused himself. Josh had no complaints at being left to entertain both girls until Cassie pointedly reminded him which girl he was going out with.
'I was just being a good host,' he insisted, nursing his bruised ribs.
When Mike eventually returned, he dragged Josh off to one side, leaving the girl's on the dance floor.
'What have they got going on?' Rose asked Cassie.
'Mike's probably scheming again,' Cassie said. 'He keeps coming up with these plans to get the government to notice us and Josh, bless him, keeps on humouring him.'
'I'm knackered,' Rose said. 'I think I'll sit this one out.'
Before Cassie could reply, she darted off into the throng, heading in the direction Mike and Josh had disappeared in. She spotted them, in the corner near the bar.
'Mind if I cut in,' she said, sidling between one girl and her partner. She could practically feel the girl glaring daggers into her back, while the guy just looked bemused. Still, here at least she was close enough to eavesdrop on Mike and Josh's conversation. She hated spying on her new friends, but some gut instinct told her that this was important.
'Are you sure about this?' Josh was saying.
'My source says he can get us inside,' Mike replied eagerly. 'Don't you see, Josh? After this they'll have to take the threat seriously.'
'I don't know, Mike.' Josh sounded sceptical. 'You're talking about breaking into Hunter's Point...'
'Keep your voice down,' Mike hissed.
His eyes darted from side to side, looking for anyone spying on him and Rose made sure her new dancing partner was blocking his view of her.
'Let's take this outside,' Mike said to Josh and led him away.
'Thanks for the dance, stud,' Rose said to her confused partner. She turned to the girl she had cut in on. 'He's got some good moves. I'd hang onto him if I were you.'
The girl harrumphed loudly, but Rose was already hurrying away. She found Cassie standing on the sidelines, gossiping with a couple of fellow students.
'Hey yourself, Rose. Where'd you wander off to?'
'Doesn't matter.' Rose brushed the question aside. 'You ever heard of somewhere called Hunter's Point?'
'Sure, it's a naval base. Why do you...'
But Rose was already racing away. She burst out of the hall, the cool evening air raising goosebumps on her bare skin. Of Mike and Josh there was no sign.
* * *
'So where do you get the stuff for your experiments?'
The Doctor was poring over a number of photographs showing trails through the bubble chamber. There were the strong, straight lines of alpha rays, the gently curving trails of beta rays and the faint random patterns left by gamma rays, among others.
'We have an arrangement with Hunter's Point,' Spence told him. 'They decontaminate any ships involved in nuclear weapons tests and they're carrying out studies on the long-term effects of radiation exposure. They fund our research here.'
'Why am I not surprised,' the Doctor replied. 'I imagine the military are very interested in what you're doing here.'
'And what's your excuse, Doctor?'
'Oh, I'm just naturally curious. Nosy, that's me.'
'Naturally curious about all scientific research or just atomic research specifically? You know, Doctor, you still haven't told me your name.'
The Doctor rubbed the back of his neck with his right hand. 'Yes, well, it's not like it would mean anything to you.'
Spence began to count off points on his fingers. 'Let's see, you turn up out of the blue and just happen to bump into an atomic scientist. It's just a coincidence that your yourself have an interest in atomic research and I suppose there's a really good explanation as to why you won't reveal your real name.'
'Well, since you come to mention it...'
'You know, Doctor,' Spence went on, 'a lesser man might start to get suspicious at this point.'
'Doctor!' Rose burst into the laboratory.
'Rose, what is it? What's wrong?'
'It's Mike,' Rose replied, breathlessly. 'He's on his way to somewhere called Hunter's Point. I think he's going to do something really stupid.'
'Guess we'll have to continue our chat another day, Doctor,' the Doctor told Spence as he bounded towards the door. He paused on the threshold. 'You don't mind if we borrow your car, do you?'
* * *
A cloud scudded across the face of the moon as two black-clad figures darted across the grounds of the Hunter's Point Naval Shipyard. The first figure made it to the shadow of the far building without incident, but the trailing figure tripped over something unseen in the dark and ended up sprawled face down in the centre of the courtyard.
'Josh,' Mike hissed. 'Josh, are you okay?'
'I'm fine,' Josh replied, slowly and painfully clambering to his feet before limping over to join Mike.
'This isn't a game,' Mike scolded him.
'You think I don't know that? Do you know what they'll do to us if we get caught?'
'They'll probably lock you up and throw away the key,' a third voice said.
Josh's heart leaped into his mouth.
'Don't worry, Mr Graham, ' the newcomer continued, stepping into the light. He was a tall, thin man with close-cropped blond hair. He was wearing sunglasses even at night. 'You're not going to get caught. That's why I'm here.'
Realisation hit Josh like a cold shower.
'This is your contact?' he asked Mike.
Mike nodded. 'Where is it?'
'This way.' He strode off leaving the others no choice but to follow. 'The next patrol isn't due for another ten minutes, but we should still hurry.'
He paused by a squat building with an arched roof.
'You,' he said to Josh, 'keep watch. You,' – this to Mike – 'come with me.'
Josh waited anxiously while Mike and his contact disappeared inside the building. An owl hooted and he nearly jumped out of his skin. Mike's contact had said that the next patrol was due in ten minutes so he looked at his watch. Unfortunately for Josh, the moonlight was not bright enough for him to read the dial.
Then he heard voices.
'Looks like they came through here.' Was that an English accent? Josh wasn't sure.
'You figured that out just by looking at the gaping hole in the fence. You're brilliant you are.' Surely that couldn't be Rose?
But it was. Josh could see her now, hurrying in his direction with a dark-haired man in tow.
'Rose, what are you doing here?' he hissed.
'I could ask you the same,' she snapped. 'What do you think you're playing at? We're in the middle of a military base. All someone has to do is spot that great big hole you left in the fence and...'
A wailing alarm blared into life.
'Well, that's that then,' Rose's companion remarked.
'What's going on out here?' Mike's contact was emerging from the building. He and Mike were struggling to manhandle a large crate out with them.
'Rose? Doctor?' Mike was so shocked he nearly dropped the box. 'What are you doing here?'
'Is there an echo here or what?' the Doctor asked.
'You can't just steal stuff from a naval base, Mike,' Rose protested.
Mike looked torn, but his contact piped up. 'Ignore her. Help me get this into the truck. You can still get away with it.'
'You might want to tell them that,' the Doctor said as Mike and his contact loaded the crate into the back of a waiting truck.
The thumping of booted feet on tarmac announced the approach of roused guards.
'Here are the keys.' Mike's contact forced them into Mike's hand. 'Now get out of here.'
'But what about you?'
'I'm supposed to be here, remember. Now go.'
Mike clambered up into the driver's seat of the truck without any further prompting and turned the keys in the ignition. Josh climbed up beside him as the engine gunned into life.
'Go with them Rose,' the Doctor said. 'I'll buy you some time to get clear.'
'I won't leave you,' Rose protested.
'You're no good to me here,' the Doctor replied. 'Trust me, I've talked my way out of worse scrapes.'
'Rose, get a move on,' Josh called, holding the door open for her. The truck was already starting to pull away.
'I'll meet you back at the university.'
Rose was torn. The Doctor waved her away, imploring her to go with his eyes.
'Rose!' Josh called.
'Stay safe,' Rose said.
'I'm in the heart of a US military base. I'd say that's a pretty safe place to be, wouldn't you?' The Doctor offered her his trademark grin. 'Go, please. You stay safe, you hear.'
There was a tear in Rose's eye as she jumped into the truck and slammed the door closed behind her.
Mike slammed his foot down on the pedal and the vehicle lurched towards the fence. A gunshot rang out and both Rose and Josh yelped. Mike knuckled down and focussed on his objective.
'We're not going to make it,' Josh said.
'Oh yes we are,' Mike insisted as they ploughed straight into the fence. The metal groaned and twisted and then, suddenly, snapped. The occupants let out a whoop of joy as the truck burst free of her confines and sped out onto the open road leaving the soldiers far behind her.
* * *
The Doctor raised his hands as the soldiers approached.
'Now I know this looks bad,' he said, 'but I'm sure you'll find there's a perfectly rational explanation for all of it.'
'I look forward to hearing it, Doctor,' Mike's contact said as he pressed the barrel of a gun to the Doctor's temple. 'You're under arrest.'
* * *
'So what's in the crate,' Rose asked.
Josh looked at Mike, but he remained focused on his driving.
'Come on,' Rose pressed. 'I think I've a right to know why they were shooting at us.'
'It's a bomb,' Josh confessed.
'Can't keep your mouth shut, can you,' Mike muttered darkly.
'A bomb? What kind of a bomb?'
'Hunter's Point houses the Naval Radiological Defense Laboratory,' Mike told her. 'You figure it out.'
'You're kidding, right? You're not kidding.' Rose shook her head incredulously. 'You're off your head, you are. Tell him he's off his head, Josh. Tell him.'
Mike cut him off. 'We had to do something to get them to stand up and take notice.'
'Stealing an atom bomb will make them notice you all right,' Rose said.
'I knew you wouldn't understand,' Mike said. 'That's why I didn't tell you.'
'Too right I don't understand.' Rose took a deep breath to calm herself. 'Look, I'm here now, aren't I? You might as well try and explain it to me.'
'Fine.' Mike hunched over the steering wheel. 'Do you know how much damage one of those things can do? My dad told me about a test they did on an island in the Pacific Ocean. The island isn't there anymore. It's just gone.'
'They can't have just vaporised a whole island,' Rose protested.
'They can and they did. And do you know what they called the bomb? Mike.' He was silent for some time before continuing. 'This country is terrified. Look at what's going on a City Hall. The Red Scare they call it. Everyone's on the lookout for communist spies because they're the new enemy, more frightening than the Nazis ever were. We went to war in Korea to stop the spread of communism. Now they're talking about doing the same thing in Vietnam, wherever that is. How long do you think it'll be before they decide that the A-bomb? And when they do, do you think the Russians aren't going to do the same to us? How many people are going to have to die? How many more people are going to have to lose their brothers?'
'So your big solution is to blow up a bomb in San Francisco?' Rose demanded.
'I'm not going to use it,' Mike insisted. 'What do you think I am?'
'I'm not sure anymore.'
'It's enough that we've stolen it,' Mike continued, 'and that we could use it, if we wanted to. When people wake up to just how dangerous these things really are then they'll have to disarm.'
'It's a nice idea, but...' Rose trailed off. What was she supposed to tell him? That his plan would not work. That it could not work because she had seen the future and new that in her time there were enough bombs to destroy the planet several times over.
The truck pulled to a halt.
'This is your stop,' Mike said to Rose and Josh. 'I'll going to put this somewhere safe.'
'You sure you'll be okay with that?' Josh asked as he climbed down from the truck's cab.
'I've got a place already set up,' Mike replied, 'and I don't plan on letting this thing out of my sight. It's only for one night. After that, it's not going to matter anymore.'
* * *
'Isn't anyone even going to talk to me?' the Doctor demanded.
He was sitting on a rickety wooden chair in one corner of a square office, the walls of which were painted a dark green. He wrists were cuffed behind him through the back of the chair, which was not the most comfortable position to be in.
'I've been interrogated by experts, you know,' he called out to the armed guard at the door. 'Do you want to know what their secret was? They asked questions. That's what an interrogator does.'
The guard ignored him and the Doctor slumped back dejectedly. Then a commotion outside the door caught his interest and he leaned forward again. The door opened and a man in a tweed sports jacket stepped into the room.
'Dr Spence! What are you doing here?'
The Doctor rose to his feet, taking the chair with him, and the guard started forward. Spence waved him back.
'The Doctor isn't going to give us any trouble, are you, Doctor?'
'Like I keep trying to tell these people, this is all a big misunderstanding,' the Doctor said, sitting back down.
'Well I promise you I'll be more than happy to hear all about it.'
Spence gestured to the guard who stepped forward and unlocked the handcuffs.
'On your feet,' he ordered the Doctor, who was massaging his wrists. When he was upright, the guard cuffed his hands again.
'There's really no need for this,' the Doctor protested.
'I think you'll find there is, Doctor,' Spence said.
'Can I ask a question?' the Doctor said, as the guard manhandled him out of the room.
'I thought I was asking the questions here,' Spence replied.
'Yeah, that's what I can't figure out,' the Doctor continued. 'Why would a university lecturer be questioning a suspect in a military investigation unless... You're not a university man at all, are you? I bet your name isn't even John Spence.'
'Very clever, Doctor,' Spence replied. 'You're right, of course. Dr John Spence doesn't even exist. I'm Agent James Stirling of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Now I think it's high time you told me your real name.'
* * *
Mike carefully reversed the truck into the lock-up his contact had provided for him. Turning off the engine and switching on a torch, he hoped down from the cab and pulled the swing door closed. It was cold and dark in here and the place smelled funny, but Mike kept telling himself that it was only for one night. He had stashed a sleeping bag in one corner of the lock-up and, as he unrolled it, he wondered if he should turn the engine back on for extra warmth or would the noise attract unwanted attention.
'Did you get it?'
Mike jumped at the sudden voice. 'Who's there?' He played the beam of his torch around the lock-up and it alighted on a figure sitting calmly in a folding chair. 'Dad?'
'Of course you got it,' General Hoffman said. 'There's enough of your brother in you for that.'
While Mike stared at him, slack-jawed, the general strode over to the truck, pulled back the tarpaulin at the back and examined the crate inside.
'What are you doing here, Dad?' Mike said, forcing his mouth to work.
'I came to collect this.'
'But how did you even know it would be here?'
'I'd have thought you would have figured it out for yourself by now, son. I didn't raise an idiot.' The general looked away. 'A commie, maybe, but not an idiot. Did you really think you could sneak onto a US Naval base without help?'
'You? You helped us? But why?'
'Because I've got a better use for this than you could possibly imagine.' General Hoffman gently caressed the top of the crate.
'You're going to blow it up,' Mike deduced. His father's silence was all the confirmation he needed. 'I can't let you do that.'
'You can't stop me.' Mike had not even seen his father draw the pistol that was now levelled at his chest.
'You won't shoot me, Dad,' Mike said. 'Not your son. Your only son.'
'I'll do my duty,' the general replied hoarsely before pulling the trigger.
* * *
Rose groaned as she woke up. She had spent the night on the floor of Cassie's room in the halls of residence, having nowhere else to go. It had taken her forever to drift off to sleep as her mind raced through all the possibilities of what might be happening to the Doctor without her. Now that she had managed to get some rest, her back was killing her.
'Rise and shine, sleepyhead,' Cassie said, forcing a mug of steaming coffee into her hands.
'Thanks. I think I need this this morning.'
Cassie sat down on the edge of her bed and sipped at her own coffee while she examined the calendar.
'Friday the thirteenth. You're not superstitious, are you, Rose?'
'What can go wrong that hasn't already?' Rose replied.
'Talk like that's just asking for trouble,' Cassie said. 'Josh and I are heading into town to join the protest against the hearings later. You're welcome to join us, if you want.'
'Why not,' Rose said. After all, what else could she do?
* * *
Agent Stirling – formerly Dr Spence – had brought the Doctor to the San Francisco office of the FBI. His own office was no larger than the last one the Doctor had been held in, but the presence of a desk and a metal filing cabinet made it seem confining. Stirling sat on one side of the desk, the Doctor on the other.
'So what's an FBI agent doing impersonating a doctor of physics anyway,' the Doctor asked.
'You're here to answer my questions,' Stirling pointed out.
Stirling shrugged. He opened a drawer and pulled out a manila folder. He pushed a sheet of paper across the desk towards the Doctor.
'Read what it says halfway down the page.'
''What are the dangers to a democracy of a national police organization, like the FBI, which operates secretly and is unresponsive to public criticism?'' the Doctor read aloud.
'That's from an aptitude test for high school students wanting to enter the university,' Stirling explained. 'Director Hoover was not amused.'
The Doctor grinned. 'I bet he wasn't.'
'This is a serious business, Doctor,' Stirling insisted. 'The staff of UC Berkeley are actively encouraging young people to question the authority of the United States government.'
'They're encouraging them to think for themselves,' the Doctor countered. 'I don't see a problem with that.'
'I don't suppose you would, Doctor.'
The Doctor looked out of the window at the grey sky.
'Is that why you helped Mike break into Hunter's Point?'
'How did you..?'
'He couldn't have got in there without help,' the Doctor said, 'but I didn't know whose. Until now.'
Stirling scowled, but said nothing.
'I don't get why, though,' the Doctor admitted.
'So we can disgrace UC Berkeley and all her student protestors,' Stirling explained, 'and expose them for the terrorists they really are.'
'By giving them an atom bomb? Seems a bit careless if you ask me.'
'It was supposed to be a fake,' Stirling snapped.
'Supposed to be.' The Doctor placed his hands, palm down, on top of the desk and leaned forward. 'Something went wrong, didn't it? What was it?'
Stirling matched his stare. 'I was hoping you would tell me.'
* * *
Rose thought that there must have been hundreds of students crowded in behind the picket line in Civic Center Plaza. Some waved placards and banners, some chanted and a few hurled abuse at the police officers standing outside City Hall, once again preventing the entry of anyone without a white ticket. Cassie, Rose and Josh had got here early, hours before the hearings were due to start. Rose's feet ached from standing around for so long and her mind wandered while she waited for something – anything – to happen. She kept telling herself that she was here in a good cause, but having fought aliens and saved planets she was having trouble wrapping her head around the idea that standing in a crowd was a way to change the world.
Most of the attention was centred on the front of City Hall, but as Rose's eyes searched for something of interest, she spotted a truck pulling up in McAllister Street. A large man in a military uniform got out and started barking instructions to his subordinates.
'Cassie?' Rose grabbed her friend's arm to attract her attention. 'Do you know who that is?'
Cassie raised a hand to her eyes and squinted. 'Josh, is that Mike's dad?'
'Looks like him,' Josh agreed. 'What do you reckon he's doing here?'
As the trio watched, two of General Hoffman's assistants removed a crate from the back of the truck and carried it inside through one of the side entrances to City Hall.
Rose's mind was racing. It was probably just coincidence, but...
'Have either of you spoken to Mike today?' she asked Cassie and Josh.
On the steps leading up to the main entrance, one of the police officers had opened up the central barrier to let ticket holders inside. The crowd of students began to press forward. The barricade began to shift beneath their weight and police had to press against it to hold it in place.
'Hold it!' Someone cried. 'Stop pushing!'
'I've got a white ticket,' one student yelled and vaulted the barrier.
As the officers grabbed at him, more students forced their way past and soon the whole crowd was in motion. Rose found herself carried along with the students and, not about to miss this opportunity, she allowed the wave of bodies to drive her into City Hall. Once inside, however, she did not make for the hearing rooms, but instead slipped away from the crowd and went in search of General Hoffman and his crate.
* * *
Stirling slammed the telephone receiver down in frustration.
'Bad news?' the Doctor asked.
'They found the truck,' Stirling replied.
'But not the bomb.'
'Not the bomb.' Stirling swore. 'It could be anywhere by now.'
'Maybe,' the Doctor said, 'but lets assume it's still in the city for now. If you were going to make some kind of statement, what would you blow up?'
'How should I know?'
'Think, man, think! Lives depend on it.'
Stirling cradled his head in his hands. Then it hit him. 'The HUAC hearings. They're getting national media coverage.'
The Doctor was on his feet. 'We need to get over there. Right now.'
Stirling lifted the telephone receiver again. 'I'll get us a chopper.'
* * *
The students were sitting on the floor outside the Board of Supervisors' room within which the hearings were being held. They were singing and laughing, celebrating their victory. Their 'victory' lasted for four minutes.
The police had unrolled fire hoses and one of the officers started to open the hydrant. A trickle of water escaped the nozzle, then the hose stiffened and the full pressure of the water blaster out and struck into the heart of the demonstrating students. Another blast of water joined it as students ran, screaming from the walls of spray ricocheting off of the granite pillars.
'Cassie!' Josh yelled as a high pressure yet forced him up against a wall and away from his girlfriend. He struggled to regain his breath as he fought his way through the panicked crowd in search of her.
Those members of the police not wielding hoses had drawn batons and were striking down students as they fled down the marble staircase. Was Cassie one of them? Josh pressed onwards to find out. Then someone cracked him over the skull and everything went black.
* * *
'Can I borrow a radio?' the Doctor asked over the thundering noise of the helicopter's beating rotor-blades. It was waiting for them on the other side of street from the FBI building.
'What do you need it for?' Stirling asked even as he handed it over.
The Doctor opened up the back of the device and began fiddling with the wring.
'To warn Rose,' he replied, 'for all the good it will do.'
* * *
Rose slowly descended the staircase, wishing she had thought to wear soft-soled trainers instead of these dress shoes. They might be in keeping with the period, but they seemed to make a frightening amount of nose on the stone steps.
The staircase opened out into a circular chamber. In the centre of the chamber, the general was opening the wooden crate. It confirmed Rose's worst fears. Inside the box was the bomb that Mike had stolen.
Rose's mobile phone rang.
* * *
'Come on, Rose,' the Doctor hissed into the radio. 'Pick up the phone.'
* * *
'Who's there,' the general demanded, drawing his pistol.
Rose pressed herself against the wall, frantically trying to silence her phone's ringtone. Finally, it stopped, but it was too late. General Hoffman was towering over her. He grabbed her by the hair and dragged her out of hiding.
'What are you doing here?' he asked. 'Spying on me?'
'At least I'm not trying to blow the place up,' Rose retorted.
'I'm just trying to do my duty.'
The general got a faraway look in his blue eyes. 'We're at war, you know, but people forget that because there aren't any great battles, no great military campaigns to fight. Those communist bastards are trying to take away our freedom and we have to stand up to them. Yet all these people are saying nowadays that we want to be friends with them. How can we make friends with them after what they did?'
Rose saw a tear roll down the general's cheek.
'Our own president, damn him, is on his way to Paris to apologise to the Russians for spying on them. We are going to apologise for trying to protect ourselves. Does that make any sense to you?' The general did not wait for an answer. 'They need to be reminded how dangerous the enemy is, that there's still a war to be fought and when the communists blow an American city off of the map, then they'll fight, by God. Then they'll fight.'
'But it won't be the communists, will it,' Rose said softly. 'It will be you.'
'What I do now I do for my country.' The general stood proud and tall, though his face was contorted by emotion. 'And I do it for my son, so that his death won't be in vain. I'm sorry, but I can't let you stop me.'
He raised his pistol.
Then he collapsed unconscious to the floor as Mike struck him around the back of the head with a wrench.
'He didn't die in vain,' Mike told his oblivious father. 'He died so that we could have peace.'
'Mike, what are you doing here?' Rose asked. 'Not that I'm not glad to see you.'
'He shot me in the leg,' Mike said, pointing to the makeshift tourniquet around his thigh. 'He thought that'd stop me following him, but I guess I inherited some on the Hoffman stubbornness after all. Come on, let's get out of here.'
'There's no point.' Rose was examining the bomb. 'The countdown's already started. We'd never get to safety in time.' Her mobile phone rang again. 'What?'
'Rose?' It was the Doctor's voice. 'Rose, there's an atomic bomb somewhere in the city. You've got to get back to the TARDIS. If the bomb goes off, you'll be safe in there.'
'I know there's a bomb, Doctor,' Rose said. 'I'm standing right next to it.'
'Well get out of there then!'
'Doctor, the countdown's already started. We've got less than five minutes before this place goes sky-high.'
There was a long moment of silence.
'Doctor? Doctor, are you there?'
'Rose,' the Doctor said, 'have you ever defused an atomic bomb before.'
'What kind of question is that?'
'Then it's time you learned.'
* * *
'Now there should be two wires leading to the timer,' the Doctor was saying into the radio. He was still standing by the helicopter and the wind raised by its rotors lifted his leather jacket.
'I see them, Doctor,' Rose's voice crackled back to him. 'There's a red one and a white one.'
The Doctor licked his lips. 'We're nearly there, Rose. This is the last step.'
'Then can we get a move on? We're running out of time here.'
The Doctor grinned in spite of everything. 'Same old Rose.'
'Doctor,' Stirling called from inside the helicopter.
'In a minute.' The Doctor turned his attention back to the radio. 'Cut one of those wires and you'll stop the countdown, cut the other and you'll set off the bomb.'
'Well which is it?' Rose asked.
'Think faster.' There was an edge of hysteria creeping into Rose's voice.
'Doctor,' Stirling said, 'get a move on. We've got to go.'
'What's the point,' the Doctor shot back. 'We'll never get there in time.'
'No, you won't.' Another FBI agent was walking towards them. He had close-cropped blond hair, glasses and a gun trained on the Doctor.
'You again.' The Doctor recognised him as Mike's contact at Hunter's Point.
'Agent Downs?' Stirling asked. 'What's the meaning of this?'
'This is the man who swapped the bombs, Agent Stirling,' the Doctor explained. 'You gave Mike the real one instead of the fake, isn't that right, Agent Downs?'
'Why?' Agent Downs asked. 'You want to know why? Your plan had potential, but it didn't go far enough. When that bomb goes off those communist sympathisers won't just be disgraced, they'll be obliterated.'
'Along with everyone else in the city,' the Doctor protested.
Downs shrugged. 'There are always casualties in war. Now put the radio down. We don't have long to wait now.'
* * *
'What's happened?' Mike asked.
'I don't know,' Rose replied. 'He's not answering.'
'So what do we do now?'
The countdown had reached thirty
'I'm thinking!' Rose stared at the partially disassembled bomb. 'One of these wires stops it. The other sets it off.'
The countdown hit twenty-two.
'Red or white?' Rose asked.
'We have to pick a wire. Red or white?'
'How should I know?'
'We have to choose.'
'But what if we choose the wrong one?'
'Then it's not going to matter anymore,' Rose pointed out.
'Wish me luck.' She reached into the bombs workings and yanked on a wire.
The countdown stopped at one... and did not go any further.
'You did it!' Mike yelled, punching the air with delight.
'I think I need to lie down,' Rose said before collapsing on the floor.
* * *
'Is it me or have we been waiting a long time for a big bang?' the Doctor asked as the minutes dragged by.
'I...' Downs glanced at his watch and in that moment his eyes were off of the Doctor, the Doctor bowled into him, knocking him to the floor and sending the gun spiralling away. Downs was on his feet in moments, but by the Stirling had his own gun trained on him.
'It's over, Downs,' he said.
The Doctor snatched up the radio. 'Rose? Rose, can you hear me? Are you all right?'
'No thanks to you,' Rose replied. 'What kept you?'
* * *
Inside the Board of Supervisors' room, the hearings continued oblivious as to how close everyone had just come to destruction. William Marx Mandel, broadcaster and activist, was giving evidence before the committee. His attorney, not permitted to address the committee himself, sat on his right. At the start of his testimony, Mandel had insisted that the lights in the hall be turned right up. He wanted the television cameras to be able to show exactly what was going on inside the hall.
'Honourable beaters of children,' Mandel was saying, 'sadists, uniformed and in plain clothes, distinguished Dixiecrat wearing the clothing of a gentleman, eminent Republican who opposes an accommodation with the one country with which we must live at peace in order for us and all our children to survive. My boy of fifteen left this room a few minutes ago in sound health and not jailed, solely because I asked him to be in here to learn something about the procedures of the United States government and one of its committees. Had he been outside where a son of a friend of mine had his head split by these goons operating under your orders, my boy today might have paid the penalty of permanent injury or a police record for desiring to come here and hear how this committee operates.
If you think that I am going to cooperate with this collection of Judases, of men who sit there in violation of the United States Constitution, if you think I will cooperate with you in any way, you are insane!'
The hall erupted with cheering and applause.
* * *
On Saturday, the final day of HUAC hearings, five thousand demonstrators turned up at City Hall to protest both against the Committee's activities and the previous day's violence. Mike, Cassie, Josh and Rose were not among them, however. They had played their part.
Instead, they were taking a leisurely walk through the green UC Berkeley campus, strolling slowly so that Mike could keep up on his crutches. Josh had a bandage round his head, but the Doctor's said he would soon make a full recovery and Cassie had come through the riot unscathed.
'Well, I guess this is goodbye then,' Rose said at last.
Cassie gave her a hug.
'I'm going to miss you,' she said. 'Say Hi to your boyfriend for me.'
'So, is it back to England for you?' Josh asked.
Rose shrugged and looked at the Doctor. 'Who knows?'
'I still can't believe they're not going to press charges after... well, after everything I did,' Mike said. 'Thanks for that Doctor.'
'Nothing to do with me,' the Doctor replied. 'I think the powers-that-be are as keen to sweep this whole sorry mess under the carpet as you are. So long as you keep quiet, they'll leave you be.'
Rose and the Doctor made their final goodbyes and then headed off in search of transport back to the TARDIS.
'It's weird,' Rose remarked.
'Oh? Weird how?'
'Just the way all these people react differently to the same circumstances.'
The Doctor considered. 'Well, I suppose you could say it's like the bubble chamber. You start with this seemingly simple object or idea and then you break it down and see that it's really made up of all these different components that all behave in their own unique way. Things are always more complicated once you start digging below the surface.'
'I guess.' Rose paused, staring out across the bay towards the city. 'And to think how close we came to losing all this and no one will ever know.'
'And they would have got away with it too,' the Doctor quipped, 'if it wasn't for those meddling kids.'
Rose cringed. 'Did you have to?'
'Nope,' the Doctor replied with a grin, 'but it's a free country. Thank goodness.'
* * *
Sixty-eight people were arrested during the riot at City Hall. The charges against all but one of these were dropped. The one was subsequently acquitted by a jury.
The House Un-American Activities Committee labelled those who took part in the riot communist dupes and produced a documentary film, Operation Abolition, to support their case. The film was released nationwide in August 1960.
A week after he testified before the Committee, William Mandel was fired from his TV show on Channel 9.
President Eisenhower refused to apologise to President Khrushchev for the use of a U-2 spy-plane Puppy 68 in photographing Soviet military installations. As a result, Khrushchev walked out of the Paris Summit before it had even begun and no agreement could be reached. Whether or not an opportunity to end the Cold War decades early was lost is something we may never know..
* * *
Next year, a friend of mine will be walking the Great Wall of China in aid of the British Heart Foundation. If you've enjoyed the above story, it would mean a lot to me if you would consider showing your appreciation by sponsoring Heather and supporting what is a very worthy cause. You can find links to Heather's blog, to the website of the British Heart Foundation and to where you can sponsor Heather on my profile page. Any support you can give would be greatly appreciated.
Thanks for your help.