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Paul and Mae were alone.

About to drop a nuke on America.

Mae fought back tears as she entered information into the computer.

A B61 Model 4 tactical nuclear warhead is a kiloton-range weapon with a “dial-a-yield” feature. Dial-a-yield allows aircraft crews to change the B61’s output while in midflight. As ordered, Mae set in a yield of ten kilotons. She set the detonation point at one thousand feet, armed the weapon, then told Paul that it was ready to fire.



He flipped open the covering plate on the nuke trigger. He thought of his three sons back at Mountain Home Air Force Base in Idaho, wondered how many sons like them were down there in Detroit, how many daughters, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, nephews, nieces and cousins. And dogs. How many dogs were down there?

His finger gripped the trigger. His hand felt weak. He hoped that maybe, just maybe, he’d have an unexpected stroke and lose the ability to squeeze it.

Mae said, “Do it, Paul.”

He squeezed.

He didn’t have a stroke.

The trigger clicked home.

The twelve-foot-long B61 rocket fired, launching away from the F-15E at 750 miles per hour. As the bomb streaked toward the target, Paul went full throttle and shot away from Detroit at supersonic speed.

The seven-hundred-pound B61 dropped toward the city. The guidance computer tracked a signal emitting from near the corner of Franklin and Riopelle. The B61 wouldn’t actually hit the ground, but if it had, it would have landed only twenty feet away from the satphone in Perry Dawsey’s hand.

At twelve hundred feet, a gas generator fired, ejecting a twenty-four-foot nylon/Kevlar-29 ribbon parachute. In just three seconds, the B61 slowed from 750 miles an hour to 35.

It drifted down until it hit eleven hundred feet, where barometric pressure activated a firing mechanism that began a nuclear chain reaction.

Detonation.

In a millionth of a second, a fireball formed and heated the air to 18,000,000 degrees Fahrenheit, nearly twice as hot as the surface of the sun. This heat radiated outward at the speed of light, expanding and dissipating. Dissipating being a relative term, however, as the heat caused instant first-degree burns as far as two miles away. The closer to the detonation, the worse the burns. Inside a quarter mile of the blast, flesh simply vaporized.

Every spore within a mile of the detonation point died instantly. Those between one and two miles out lived for as long as two seconds before they burned up in infinitesimally small puffs of smoke. The five-mile-per-hour wind had carried some lucky spores as far as two and a half miles away—those took almost five seconds to cook, but they cooked just the same.

The plasma ball was really the whole point of the nuke, to create instant, scorching temperatures that would kill every spore, and it worked like a charm.

The rest of the nuke’s effects were a bit of unavoidable overkill.

The Renaissance Center stood less than a mile from the detonation point. Star-hot heat radiated down, turning metal, gla.s.s and plastic into boiling liquid. Some of these liquids evaporated instantly, but the building didn’t have time to completely melt and burn.

The shock wave came next.

The explosion’s power pushed the air around it outward in a pressure wave moving at 780 miles an hour, just a touch over the speed of sound and twice the speed of an F-5 tornado, the most powerful wind force on Earth. The wave smashed into the melting gla.s.s, metal and plastic of the RenCen, thirty-five pounds per square inch of overpressure splas.h.i.+ng the molten liquid away in a giant wave and shattering the still-solid parts like a sledgehammer slamming through a toothpick house.

The RenCen’s main tower had seventy-three stories, the four surrounding towers thirty-nine stories each. Less than three seconds after detonation, all of it was gone.

The shock wave rolled out at the speed of sound, losing energy as it moved. It shattered Comerica Park, home of the Tigers, ripping the concrete stands to pieces and hurling chunks of them for miles. In the days that followed, three seats from Section 219, half melted but still bolted to their concrete footings, would be found in the parking lot of Big Sammy’s Bar in Westland, twenty miles away. The curved white roof of Ford Field, home of the Detroit Lions, caved in like an eggsh.e.l.l stomped by a fat man.

A mile outward from the detonation point, the pressure wave smashed any building smaller than ten stories, broken pieces flying farther outward in a lethal, hurricane-cla.s.s shrapnel cloud of brick and wood and metal and gla.s.s.

That same pressure wave picked up cars and flung them like Matchbox toys, spinning them through crumbling buildings, each Ford or Toyota or Chrysler its own whirling missile of death. As far as a mile away, the blast knocked burning cars onto their sides and roofs.

Detroit wasn’t the only city to feel the effects. Across the river the fireball scorched most of Windsor. The shock wave tore through the city, leveling houses as far as a mile from the sh.o.r.eline.

Everywhere people died. The lucky ones, close to the detonation point, evaporated in the initial flash, their shadows instantly burned onto sidewalks and walls. One woman was in the middle of drinking a c.o.ke—the flash vaporized her, leaving a perfect silhouette with arm bent, head tilted back, can in hand. Farther out from the detonation point, you didn’t vaporize; your skin just bubbled as the sudden heat caused the fluid in each cell to boil, expand and burst the cell membranes. Survivors would later describe the feeling as being dunked deep into a vat of boiling water. Most of those who lived through the initial fireball effects died from the pressure wave or were killed by building wreckage and various car parts traveling at five hundred miles an hour.

If you lived through all that, you had to deal with second-and third-degree burns, burning buildings and dead as far as the eye could see.

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