This is the latest installment in the Drowned Baby Timeline, an alternate history where Adolf Hitler drowned at birth and where the Holocaust and World War II never took place. In the absence of our timeline's Manhattan Project, nuclear weapons have been developed independently in Italy, France, Great Britain, and the Polish Commonwealth. To avoid a European nuclear arms race, the four nations join together in September 1946 to create the Atomic Control Commission, tasked with maintaining a global monopoly on nuclear weapons. Twenty years later, that mission continues . . .
"Lublin, I can't hold her, she's breaking up, she's breaking --"
A man barely alive.
"We can rebuild him," Dr. Mengele assured Director-General Clarke. "We can make him better than he was. Better . . . stronger . . . faster . . . "
Under African Skies
Somewhere in Transvaal, South Africa
16 September 1966
Dr. Werner Schwietzke's Ford Enterprise slowed to a halt, its driver unnerved by the glaring ex-rocketman who had held him by the throat for three full hours. In the darkness beyond the car's high beams, Enoch Powell could see the distant lights that might, or might not, mark the location of a secret atomic research facility.
Powell reached forward with his left hand and switched off the car's engine, pocketing the keys. Releasing Schwietzke's throat at last, he said, "Now then, Herr Doctor Professor, please get out of the car. I would advise you to make no attempt to escape. You couldn't possibly outrun me." His hands shaking, Schwietzke did as he was ordered. Powell followed him out of the car, then motioned him towards the back. Still watching Schwietzke, Powell fished the keys out of his shirt pocket and unlocked the car's boot.
"Thank you, Group Captain Powell, it was starting to get cramped in there," came a voice from within the boot. Surprised, Powell looked inside. Lying on his side, still wearing a prison uniform, Nelson Mandela grinned up at Powell before climbing out of the boot.
"Mandela, what on earth are you doing in there?" Powell demanded.
"After you broke me out, Group Captain, I decided I'd like to stay out," said Mandela, still smiling while flexing various muscles, an understandable response to three hours spent in a crouch. "I went to the car park and hid in the boot there."
"How did you come to choose Dr. Schwietzke's car?"
"The engine was still warm," said Mandela, "so I figured this car was most likely to be leaving soon."
Powell was astonished, for it was what he himself would have done in Mandela's situation. "Very well, Mr. Mandela, I'll fill you in on the situation. Dr. Schwietzke here has just led me to what he claims is a secret atomic research base, and I mean to have a look round. If Schwietzke has tried to mislead me, I'll soon learn the truth and return here within an hour to question him again. If this really is the atomic base, I won't be needing either Schwietzke or his car, and so I shan't be returning. So if I'm not back within one hour, both the car and Schwietzke are your concern."
"Got it, Group Captain," Mandela said with a nod.
"My God," Schwietzke protested in German-accented English, "you mean to leave me here at the mercy of this criminal, this terrorist, this, this keffir? What kind of a policeman are you?"
Powell looked at Schwietzke with disdain. "To the best of my knowledge, Dr. Schwietzke, Mr. Mandela here has never engaged in any illicit atomic research. Any other activities on his part are beyond my jurisdiction. Now, as soon as you're secured in the boot, I can be on my way."
After a certain amount of difficulty, Schwietzke had been bound and gagged and locked in the boot. Powell gave Mandela the car keys, then set out for the distant glow of the alleged research base.
The ocular prosthetic that had replaced Powell's right eye allowed him to use infrared to navigate through the dark veldt. Keeping his speed down to thirty miles per hour, Powell was able to reach the base's perimeter fence in ten minutes. Like the fence at the previous facility, this one was fifteen feet high, with an elaborate arrangement of barbed wire at the top. Powell jumped the fence, and cautiously made his way to a building constructed of plywood and corrugated metal, as Mandela's prison had been. Once more, Powell created an opening using his prosthetic right arm, and ducked in.
Instead of a bare prison cell, Powell found himself looking at a typically cluttered laboratory. Tables were scattered across a large room with lathes, centrifuges, motors, and other items of manufacturing equipment. Apparently he had been sufficiently persuasive with Dr. Schwietzke after all. He wondered idly where Mandela would go with Schwietzke's car, and what would become of the physicist, then dismissed the thought as irrelevant to the business at hand.
First he would have to discover if the South Africans had succeeded in building any atomic devices. If they had, he would have to locate and disable them, before escaping and reporting back to his superiors in Geneva. Presumably the facility's administrative center would have the answers he was seeking, so Powell ducked back out of the building he had broken into and began scouting his way through the facility, using infrared to avoid the occasional patrol.
Like the previous camp, the administrative building for this one was located near the front entrance. It was built of concrete cinder blocks and plaster rather than sheet metal and plywood. Powell was able to jump up to the roof of the three-story structure, and a methodical search turned up a trapdoor. Although locked shut, the trapdoor yielded to the pressure of Powell's bionic right arm, and he was able to climb down a ladder into a darkened service closet. Seeing no light coming from beneath the door, Powell eased it open and entered a corridor with bare plaster walls and a tile floor.
Powell came to a door labelled ACCOUNTING. It was locked, but a twist of his bionic hand opened the door. Not bothering with the lights, Powell closed the door and made his way to the file cabinets. They too were locked, but like the doors they too proved no match for Dr. Mengele's handiwork. A quick but thorough search of the accounting files soon provided Powell with a panoramic accountant's-eye view of Operation Gunstock, as the South African atom bomb project was known. He was quietly appalled to learn that Gunstock had recently acquired four surplus MiG-12 long-range bombers from the Russian Federation. President Gromyko was going to have to answer some pointed questions from Director Teller.
Powell's contemplation of financial records was ended by a rattling doorknob. There was no time to hide as the door to the office opened and the lights came on. Unfortunately, before Powell could rush him, the soldier had his pistol out and pointed at him.
"Don't move or I'll fire!" the soldier warned him.
Powell didn't move.