Monday, August 6, 2007

Robert Heinlein's "The Long Watch" aka "Rebellion on the Moon" (free): A military coup is foiled

This is actually quite a readable story - of a military colonel's attempt to capture political power. And a Lieutenant staking his life to stop it.

Story summary.
All the action happens on a military base on moon in late twentieth (or is it early twenty-first?) century. The base manages a good size stockpile of atom bombs.

Lieutenant Johnny Dahlquist is a "junior bomb officer" - some kind of an atom bomb maintenance specialist. Colonel Towers, the coup man, has already got the base Commanding Officer killed. He has been spying on Johnny, & is not completely sure which side he is likely to take.

So Towers has a talk with him, tells him the plans, & asks for his support. Plan involves dropping atom bombs on "an unimportant town or two" on earth - "just a psychological demonstration". A shocked Johnny wants some time to think it over.

As soon as he is out, Johnny heads for the "underground atom bomb armory" - bluffing a couple of sentries. Finally, he is in the single room that has all the bombs (is it realistic for all bombs to be in a single room?)

Anyway, he had forced entry past the last sentry, & the news of his break is now out.

His initial plan was just to lock himself in the bomb room, & hope to gain time. Then realizes they will simply blast through the door.

He then changes the objective: to wreck the electronics controlling detonation of each bomb (17 in all? or is it several dozen bombs? I forget). Midway through, realizes this won't do; there is enough electronics available at base to repair the damage.

Then rigs a bomb so he can manually trigger it. Uses this to hold off frantic calls & threats from Colonel. Realizes even this is not enough.

Then takes each bomb apart, & manually smashes the contact surfaces of two halves of each plutonium block in a bomb with a hammer - to render them completely useless.

Of course, this process exposes him to fatal radiation.

By the time coup leaders are disposed off & armory is broken in, he is dead in radiation chamber.

End is of his transport to earth in a lead coffin & his funeral on earth with state honors.

Fact sheet.
First published: American Legion Magazine, December 1949 (reference).
Download full text from Webscription.
Rating: B
Related: Stories of Robert Heinlein; fiction from 1940s.

Note: Moved here from original location on Aug 6, 2007. Reason.