Episode 18


Vitaly pulled out his radio, and the dispatch soon came in:

“. . . The Center has developed criteria under which the various versions of your plan, designated A6,B2,V3: Alpha-Six, Bridge-Two, Vector-Three, will be enacted. At such time as these criteria are met and the decision is made, you will be given instructions involving the location of the written plan and the items required for its completion. Until that time, you are not to attempt any enactment of the plan, nor maintain a copy. . . ”

So it‘s sitting in a file somewhere. And I‘m sitting here. How much longer? It‘s been nearly ten years. Vitaly stared at the wall. I wish they‘d tell me. It‘s just like what Father said about the War -- they never knew when they‘d go home… He refocused his attention. Finish the message. There might be a letter from Yelena. He was right:

“. . . I miss you dearly, my love, and wish you could be here to share this time with me. But I know you're doing a great service for our country, and you're probably sleeping better than you would here too, what with me tossing and turning, and getting up all the time! Mama and Papa pass along their best wishes for your success. Thanks to your work, I've been given a bonus week of vacation, and near the end of April we're going down to Kiev to visit some of my aunts and uncles, while I can still travel. I'm not looking forward to the train ride, but it will be nice to see them again. I hope you know how much I love you and await your safe return. When you come home you can hold our child in your arms. I hope he or she looks just like you!”

I Love You,


After burning the message, Vitaly sat for a long time, rocking back and forth in the old chair that took up a corner of his living room. It all hurt more that it used to. The first years had been difficult, but they were also filled with the excitement of a grand adventure. Then he had become somewhat hardened, and had allowed his job to fill the void. But now, with his family about to grow, there was sadness and regret at not being there.

Like the men in the muddy trenches, longing for home.


1986: Late April

Sergei smoothed out his shirt on the bed of the small guest apartment. The dinner was with plant officials welcoming his group of observers, and he wanted to look his best. Satisfied, he stepped out onto the balcony to have a smoke and look over Pripyat. A Ukrainian city of forty-five thousand, it was dotted with cement block apartment buildings, though twenty years before there had only been a few wooden huts in the forest beside the Pripyat River. Just three miles to the east was the reason for the new town -- the V.I. Lenin Nuclear Power Station. There were four reactors in operation there and a fifth under construction. Sergei could see the massive gray buildings and the tall, red and white ventilation stacks. When the facility was begun, the nearest town of any size was an ancient hamlet eighteen miles away. It was from that village that the atomic plant drew its more commonly used name -- Chernobyl.

During the eighty mile drive up from Kiev, Sergei had reviewed the design of the Chernobyl reactors. Most nuclear plants in the world were either pressurized or boiling water reactors, and his own country had over twenty P.W.R.s in operation. But the four units at Chernobyl were different. All were RMBKs, a type of reactor exclusive to the Soviet Union. While most plants kept their uranium immersed in water, the fuel in RMBK reactors remained dry. These tubes of uranium were surrounded by black graphite, which helped regulate the nuclear fission. Water was still used to keep the reactor cool and to generate steam, and it was pumped past the hot fuel through more than a thousand small pipes imbedded in the graphite. Control rods were also moved in and out of the solid mass. The RMBK was a design with a number of unique advantages, which Sergei would soon have the chance to see firsthand.


Finished in the control room, Sergei stepped into the long hallway that ran through Units Three and Four. A group of workers approached, each wearing the same white pants, shirt, smock and cap that Sergei had been issued. He gave them a nod, then climbed the steep stairs to the catwalk overlooking the refueling area. The floor of the cavernous room below was a checkerboard of gray and black metal squares. This was the top of the reactor. Each square was the end of a long column, at the bottom of which was either uranium fuel or a control rod. The column passed down through the lid of the reactor -- nearly thirty feet of concrete and steel -- before entering the graphite core. To Sergei’s right was the enormous refueling machine, all 350 tons of it, that ran along rails built into the walls. It could remove and replace a fuel bundle while the reactor remained in operation.

Sergei found the RMBK design intriguing. Because the water flowing past the fuel was contained within small pipes, there was no need for a huge steel reactor vessel. Plants in the United States, Sergei recalled, had both a vessel and a drywell shell. The architects of the RMBK had also sought to safely enclose the atomic core, using thick walls and water tanks to block the radiation, but they had not gone overboard like the Americans. Western plants also featured a more complex array of safety systems than the RMBK, and some nations even felt the need to provide all their workers with devices to read their radiation exposure.

Sergei’s next stop was the turbine building, but first, he thought, a little spring air and a smoke. Of course, the RMBK wasn’t perfect, he reflected as he strolled outside. In American plants, if water flow to the reactor were interrupted, the atomic reaction would slow down, while in the RMBK, less water meant more energy. The Soviet reactor was also harder to control, and power would shoot up when the control rods first began dropping into the core because their tips were made of graphite. But these were minor concerns. Sergei took a drag on his cigarette. Up ahead lay the huge pond that took the place of a cooling tower. The finger-shaped lake was a big hit with local fisherman.

His break over, Sergei stepped into the turbine hall, where a row of rumbling machines shared by Units Three and Four stretched in a line of more than a thousand feet. Sergei saw some workers nearby, including a friend of his; a fellow observer who was a specialist in turbines. Moving on, he considered his upcoming schedule. Toward the end of the week, Unit Four would begin shutting down for maintenance, and a special test was scheduled to see if the generators could provide emergency power as they were coasting to a halt. Sergei looked forward to watching the experiment.


The personnel manager laid an armful of folders on the table between Liz and Paul. “Here's the thirteen we came up with. Seven from Fairview, and six from Kittleburg.”

“Thanks.” Liz reached for the first file.

“If you need anything more, just ask,” the manager said. “I'll be around the corner.”

“Is there anything you'd like me to do?” Paul said.

“Well . . . perhaps you could skim through the files and get a feel for what these people do. That might help if I have any questions.”

Paul retrieved a folder. Inside was the complete employment record of a radwaste technician at Kittleburg.

Liz combed each of the files, picking out a few facts she could verify. She also asked Paul about the individual and their job.

“I think one more and then let’s take a lunch break. I'm supposed to meet with the local agents here in town.” Liz picked up another folder. “You know a John Donner?”

“I've talked to him a couple of times. He sort of saved the plant a few months back from having to shut down. That can cost a lot of money. I interviewed him and wrote a report.”

“He's a 'Licensed Reactor Operator’. What's that?”

“They’re the guys in the control room who run the plant day to day. Some of them also go out on rounds, checking up on equipment. They’re sort of the pilots of the ship.”

Liz studied John Donner’s record further. Born in New York, two year electronics degree. In 1981, he'd hired on with Hoosier Electric. Excellent work record. For closest living relative, Donner had listed an uncle in New Zealand. Liz jotted down a few details, then closed the file. “Lunch time.”


Liz was looking forward to another talk with Walt Kreveski, and walking into the local FBI office, she spied him behind a glass door. He waved her through. “Hi Walt. Ready for lunch?” She could see now that he was talking to a tall, much younger black man.

“Sure thing, Liz,” Kreveski smiled. “Let me introduce you to the other resident here. Liz Rezhnitsky, Taylor Winn.”

Privet kak della. Dobralsya bes problem,” the younger agent said, his thin lips parting in a smile.

Vsyo horosho. Spasibo,” Liz replied, surprised. “So how'd you know I speak Russian?”

“Walt told me,” Winn said. “Not much call for it here in South Bend, though.”

“Yeah, and all I speak is bad Polish,” Kreveski said.

“I don't get much chance to use mine either,” Liz said. “ I use tapes to keep myself fresh.”

“Same thing here,” Winn said. He looked at his partner: “Where we going for lunch? I'm starved.”

“Well, today,” Kreveski said, with a mischievous look, “I thought I'd treat Miss Rezhnitsky to a little genuine Polish cuisine.”

Winn looked toward the ceiling. “God have mercy.”


Paul cruised down the highway towards Brixton. As far as he knew, his role in the investigation was over. If something did turn up on the drug dealers, he’d probably read about it in the newspaper. And until he got the all-clear, he couldn’t even discuss the search. What if one of our people really is a fugitive? Paul found the idea hard to believe. Guess I‘ll find out.


End Post 18



“They’re turning off the emergency cooling system for the reactor,” Sergei said.


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