Author : Viktor Kuprin

October 30, 1961 – Five aircraft rose into the arctic sky from the Olyena airbase, headed northeast over the Barents Sea, towards the frozen wastes of Novaya Zemlya Island. The largest plane, a roaring turboprop Bear bomber, carried Vanya. The most beautiful, a silvery Tupolev-16 loaded with cameras and recording devices, followed the Bear. Americans called the Tu-16 “Badger”. Its Russian aircrew knew it simply as “Tupol.”

Inside the Tupol’s teardrop-shaped observation domes, Instrument Operators Pakulin and Kuchevsky tended their equipment and counted the minutes.

“Did you notice Pilot-Commander Strukov?” said Pakulin.

Kuchevsky nodded. “He wasn’t quite his giddy self, was he? An improvement, if you ask me. I think he’s looking forward to meeting Vanya.”

Pakulin stared out towards the blue sky and ice-strewn sea beyond the dome’s plexiglass. “Who isn’t?”

Strukov’s voice came over the intercom. “Attention. Approaching Zone C. Make all instruments ready,” he ordered.

“Da, Comrade Commander,” both men replied. The well-practiced sequence of toggling switches and closing circuits began. Pakulin could feel his heavy SMENA cine-camera hum as its film came up to speed. Kuchevsky prepared to trigger the banks of stop-motion cameras.

The Badger tracked north over the sea, while the Bear carried Vanya inland across the Sukhoi Nos, the “Dry Nose” Peninsula. Inside other aircraft, within bunkers and fortifications, behind walls of stone and rock, thousands waited for Vanya.

“Mark! Everyone, goggles on!” Strukov shouted. Miles away, Vanya fell free from the Bear bomber. The huge plane turned back toward the sea in a dash to safety. From Vanya’s flanks emerged a 54,000-square-foot parachute, to slow the descent enough so that the Bear would not be sacrificed.

Strukov counted down: “Pyat. Chetíreh. Tree. Dva. Odeen. NOL!”

Thirteen-thousand feet above the icy, stony plain, the largest thermonuclear device in the history of the world exploded. Four-thousand times more powerful than Hiroshima, the triple-layer fission-fusion-fusion reaction created a fireball over four miles in diameter. The flash of white light was visible 1600 miles away.

For Pakulin and Kuchevsky, for all aboard the Badger, it was the light from hell that would not stop. The entire horizon was a blinding wall of white heat.

The shock wave threw Pakulin forward, his oxygen mask smashing against the plexiglass dome. Spitting blood, vision blurred, he heard Kuchevsky screaming and felt the man’s hands slapping.

“Fire! I’m burning! Help me!”

The acintic glare of electricity arced from the floor. Pukulin instinctively kicked at the loose cables, his boots pushing them apart. He yanked a fire-extinguisher off the cabin wall, aiming its white spray at the wires and Kuchevsky’s still-smoking pant legs.

Kuchevsky sobbed, pointing toward the mushroom cloud risen seven times higher than Mount Everest.

“Look! They’ve killed the world!”

And yet, despite the nuclear scars inflicted by Vanya, remembered afterwards as the “Tsar Bomba,” life on Earth carried on.

But as the world healed, the bomb’s powerful X-ray pulse raced across the depths of space. Forty-six years later, in the star system called 26 Draconis, someone took notice.

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