In the story SecureMax is the place where they lock up a prisoner and throw away the key. Nikaela and the skalde visit a prisoner there and try to recruit him as a double agent.
To my knowledge, there is no prison facility on Kirtland Air Force Base, let alone one like SecureMax. But the base is enormous, occupying about 40 square miles of the high New Mexico desert just outside Albuquerque. Because of the dangers presented by the weapons-grade laser on the ALL, the aircraft was housed and maintained at a separate hangar far from anything else on the base. It was not completely out of sight of the main facilities, but far enough away that no one needed to concern themselves with the danger of pieces of exploding airplane rocketing their way. But the base is large enough that you can drive to locations where nothing is visible but empty prairie, though one is not allowed to simply do that on a whim—that’s a good way to lose base privileges. And that was my inspiration for Erikdeg Base in the book.
Kirtland’s history is rather interesting. Originally established as a U.S. Army airfield in 1941, it trained pilots for World War II. But much of that changed in 1944 because Kirtland was the closest major airport and military base to Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory, which was the heart of the Manhattan Project, and the top secret location responsible for design of the first atomic bombs. Since then, Kirtland has played a major role in our nuclear arsenal. One of Kirtland’s long-standing responsibilities has been flight testing atomic weapons.
I haven’t been on the base for about twenty years, and the whole ALL program has long since been shut down. But in the 1980s there was a two-lane paved road that led from the main Kirtland facilities to the remote ALL hangar. Not far from the hangar the paved road intersected a gravel-strewn dirt road. At that point there were railroad-like barriers that could be lowered to stop traffic on the paved road from crossing the dirt road, though it was remote enough that I don’t ever recall actually encountering another vehicle on that road. Interestingly enough, while there were railroad barriers present, there were no railroad tracks, just that dirt road, but we all knew what that road was for.
During newbie orientation to Kirtland, we were all warned that if those barriers blocked the road, you should not even consider going around them, even though, like most railroad barriers, they didn’t completely block the road, and one could easily get around them if one wanted to. We were warned that the penalty for that could be swift and immediate execution. If you saw a truck on that dirt road accompanied by a couple of jeeps with armed guards, if those barriers were down, the weapons the guards carried were locked and loaded, and the guards had orders to shoot on-sight if anyone trespassed on the dirt road. I never heard any official word on what the truck contained, but it was common knowledge that that dirt road was used for only one purpose: to transport nuclear weapons from storage to the airfield—the air force guys we worked with confirmed that on the quiet. Lesson #1: when the nukes are out and about, duck and run for cover.
I suspect those trucks didn’t carry actual nuclear warheads with fissionable material, though for all I know they may have. I don’t believe Kirtland has ever been a Strategic Air Command Base in the Cold War sense of fielding actual nuclear warheads. It is home to the Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center, which is “responsible for testing, under operationally realistic conditions, new systems being developed for Air Force and multi-service use.” Now regardless of whether a device is conventional or nuclear, one thing bomb makers must do is make sure that when a plane drops a bomb, it actually drops, as opposed to being swept up by the aerodynamic forces surrounding the aircraft and then slammed back into the plane itself. They have to test for a lot of other things beyond just that, but that can cause unpleasant ramifications for the crew of the plane. So I wouldn’t be surprised if, more often than not, the devices on that truck were dummies intended to test the release aerodynamics. Or perhaps they needed to test fuses, timing mechanisms, and other “non-nuclear components associated with nuclear bombs.” But all of that would still be ultra-top secret.
So there you have it. When I wanted to come up with a remote military base to house SecureMax, Kirtland immediately came to mind. Since it’s next door to Albuquerque it isn’t as remote as Erikdeg, but if you approach it in an airplane from the south, it looks quite desolate and remote. On the other hand, the very existence of SecureMax is top secret, so if it actually existed there, I wouldn’t know it.
J. L. Doty is a science fiction and fantasy writer, scientist and laser geek, and a former running-dog-lackey for the bourgeois capitalist establishment. He is the author of the Blacksword Regiment Series. Follow him on BookBub.