Episode 29


Gary heard someone coming down the stairs, and the operator re?appeared just as Tama finished emptying the first bucket of oil into the low?slung STurDI-1 tank and tossed the container aside with a clunk. “Another,” Gary said, handing over the second bucket.

“How long?” the operator asked. “They want it bad--”

“Hang on and I'll tell you!” Gary snapped as he watched the angle of the bucket rise.

“Done.” Tama chucked the container against the wall and slid the hatch cover back in place. He smeared his hands across his blue jeans, grabbed a bolt, and began screwing it in.

Gary joined his partner, leaning across the front of the tank, the startup oil pump pressed against his leg. “Get the cover on, and we’re ready,” he said for the benefit of the operator. Then we'll roll.

The two mechanics quickly had half the bolts inserted. Gary handed his wrench to Tama, slithered off the tank and took another wrench from the tool rack on the wall. He knelt and tightened two more bolts. Almost there. Don’t need ‘em all. Gary looked at the operator. “Okay,” he said, while Tama worked feverishly behind him, “tell’em to start it up in one minute. I'm countin’ now. Got it?”

“Got it!” The operator disappeared.

“One thousand one! One thousand two!” Gary began.

Tama joined in. “One thousand five! One thousand six!”


Wendell stood beside the radio, fidgeting with his collar. Come on. Anytime. Nearby, Cervantes was listening to a report from the Emergency center. The pen kept twirling in his hand. At the STurDI?1 controls, the chief operator stood ready, with Fleck beside him. The assistant operator was monitoring reactor level, while further along the curving panel, another man was also on duty.

Wendell checked his wristwatch in the dim light. It had been four minutes since the last report. Come on ... “Level?” he said.

“Minus 32.”

“Control!” A voice shot out of the speaker.

Yes. “Control,” Wendell said.

“This is Baker.” The operator was breathing hard. “STurDI?1 will be ready in 45 seconds! .... Repeat: 45 seconds! .... They were counting it off. You ready?”

Wendell looked to Fleck, who nodded. “We're ready,” he said.


“One thousand thirty?seven! One thousand thirty?eight!” Gary chanted along with his partner. He turned a final bolt, then squirmed off the tank. Tama continued working.

“One thousand forty! One thousand forty?one!

Peering over his shoulder, Gary lined himself up with the startup oil pump, which rested just off the floor in front of the tank. Carefully, he squatted onto the bread?loaf sized machine, letting his legs sprawl out in front as he shifted to keep from sliding off the pump’s smooth, oil?splattered surface. He tried not to disturb the repaired line running up the left side of the tank with its damaged coupling patched by tape and copper tubing. Just behind him were several pipe supports, and he wiped his hands on his shirt and grabbed on.

“One thousand forty?seven! One thousand forty?eight!”

“Done!” Tama announced.

“On my lap!” Gary said. “The weight'll help.” Besides being slippery, the oil pump was too small to make a good seat, and Gary gripped the supports tighter as Tama sat down on top of him. “One thousand fifty?eight!” Gary chanted, his heart pounding. I'm not gonna let this goddamn pump fly around. This is gonna work!


Steve’s ear was pressed to the phone, as was Tarelli’s at the next desk. The rest of the emergency center had also grown quiet. This time....


His skin sticky and moist, Gary labored to suck in the hot air as Tama’s weight pressed hard against his thighs and chest. They had stopping counting.

“Let’s go!” Tama said.

In the stillness, Gary heard a jingling of keys, and operator reappeared. “They're gonna start it!” he yelled, as he examined the two mechanics. “What the hell are you doing?”

“Holding the pump down!” Gary said from behind Tama's shoulder. “Grab the outlet line and try to steady it, just in case,”

“Got it!” The operator knelt to the left of the two men and gripped the thin pipe near the repairs. His hard hat began to slip forward, and he tossed it over his shoulder. “Ready!”


The control room was quiet. Wendell’s eyes were fixed on his watch.

“Minus 34 inches,” the assistant operator said. He yanked off his glasses and wiped a shirt sleeve across his eyes

Wendell saw the last seconds tick away. Finally. “Forty?five seconds is up, “ he announced. He looked toward Cervantes.

“Give them a few more,” the operations supervisor said, his eyes narrowed, his face set in a tense gaze. The chief operator waited at the STurDI-1 controls, with Fleck hovering nearby. The additional staff had gathered in a semi?circle a few paces back. Cervantes took a deep breath. “Do it,” he ordered. “Start STurDI-1.”

“Starting STurDI?1!” the chief operator said as he flipped a switch. “Startup oil pump is ... on!”



“Now!” Gary felt the pump beneath him whir to life. It promptly jerked up and to the left. “It's fightin’ us!” he said, trying to hold the machine down by pulling at the pipe supports behind him. Tama’s back pressed into his face, while Gary could just see the operator grimly hanging on to the outlet pipe. With luck, oil pressure was building, and soon the steam inlet valve would be forced open and the STurDI-1 turbine would begin to roll.

The pump bucked again, harder this time, and Gary summoned every ounce of strength in his muscled arms to pin the small motor to its concrete base. “Son of a bitch!” he forced out between clenched teeth. Shit!

“Hang on!” Tama yelled.


“The oil pump is running!” the chief operator said.

Come on! Wendell could just see the indication for the STurDI?1 steam inlet valve. Green. The valve was still closed. Come on! Red! An open valve would allow steam into the STurDI?1 turbine, and then it’s attached pump would begin putting water back in the vessel.

Come on!


Gary continued to fight the jerking, mis?aligned pump. His shoulders ached as he pulled the supports, and he could feel the heat beneath him from the electric motor. Gary’s seat tried to move yet again, and on his lap, Tama shifted to compensate. Open up, you fucking valve! Gary demanded.

There! Over his shoulder, at the limit of his vision, Gary saw a puff of white steam and heard a hiss.

“It's going!” Tama shouted.

First came a groan and a shudder, then a low rumble. His arms begging for relief, Gary sensed that the turbine wheel behind him was beginning to turn. Move, you son of a bitch!


THERE! Wendell saw it. The red light was on.

“Steam valve coming open!” the chief operator said. “... Turbine R.P.M. up! Pump pressure up! ... Inject valve opening ... WE HAVE FLOW! WE HAVE FLOW!”

“Level drop to minus 45!” the assistant operator said. The chilled water STurDI was now pouring into the vessel had quenched the boiling froth surrounding the fuel.

Wendell’s hands balled into fists. Come on!

“Minus 48 ....slowing!...”

“Back up,” Fleck ordered the water level.

Up! Wendell urged. Up!

“... Slowing ...minus fifty!” the assistant operator continued.

Wendell squeezed his fists even tighter. Turn around! ... Come on, turn!

“... Wait! ...” the assistant operator said, “.... going ... up .... Level's going up! Here it comes! ... 49! ..... 48! ..... minus 45!”

Jesus, Wendell sighed. He unclenched his fingers. Thank you.


Hold...Hold...Hold! His eyes squeezed shut, Gary fought the startup oil pump. A stinging sensation crept its way into his compressed buttocks, and he caught a whiff of acrid, metallic smoke.

“It’s running ...!” the operator yelled over the pervasive roar now filling the room.

The pump bucked yet again, and Gary’s arms spasmed in pain. Crap! Then, suddenly, the forceful movement beneath him stopped. It was over. Gary let his arms go slack, his muscles crying out at the release, his numbed fingers still wrapped around the pipe supports. “It stopped!” he said in Tama's ear. “It stopped! Get off! “

Tama pitched himself onto the oil?smeared floor and carefully climbed to his feet while the nearby operator released his grip on the outlet pipe. Gary tried to push himself upright, but his arms were useless. Focusing his attention, he coaxed the thick fingers on his right hand from around the steel beam. With a grimace he reached out and Tama yanked him off the pump and onto his knees. Immediately, Gary swung his aching frame around. Tama crouched down with a flashlight, and together they inspected the makeshift joint in the oil piping. It had held.

The operator had stepped behind the turbine to read some gauges on the far wall, and he came back wearing a smile of relief. “It's okay!” he yelled in Gary’s ear as the mechanic rose to his feet. Gary could hardly hear the man. The operator patted the walkie?talkie on his belt. “... upstairs! ... Control!” His arms limp at his sides, Gary watched as the operator disappeared out the door.

Tama leaned closer. “Fucking great!”

Gary nodded.


It was quiet at the site boundary. A light breeze drifted in from the direction of the plant, a few hundred yards distant, and there was only an occasional click from the geiger counter on Carol's lap. The radio carried some brief traffic as the second offsite team got their own truck into position further downwind.

“Marty, what time did we pull up?” Carol asked.

“About five minutes ago.” The driver peeled back his rubber glove to check his watch. “We left around 3:50.”

“Fine. Thanks.’ Carol continued to stare towards the darkness of Fairview Station, wishing she knew what was happening. Where was Gary? She tried not to worry, but with nothing to keep her occupied, it was hard. He's doing his job, she reminded herself, just like me. The thought didn’t help.

“Team One, Team Two, this is Offsite Leader,” the radio said.

Carol picked up the mike. “Team One.”

“We are now currently in a General Emergency, two mile evacuation, shelter to five downwind, animals on stored feed.”


“No release in progress,” the report continued. “Hold position.”

“Man, it doesn't sound too hot,” Marty said.

“No,” Carol agreed. Lord, they're at a General. She struggled not to let concern overwhelm her. “At least nothing's gotten out,” she said. “That's good news.”

“If something does happen, you think they'll have us take some of those pills?” Included with the truck's supplies were potassium iodide tablets.

“Not unless it looks really bad. They can make you sick.”

“This whole thing's making me sick already,” Marty said.

Figure A (MAP)


“Do you know anything more?” a deputy inquired over the radio. “People are asking.”

“Nothing new,” Phyllis replied from her post at the sheriff's office. “The evacuation is a precaution.” The patrol car was near Fairview Station. “What's it like out there?” Phyllis asked. “Can you see anything?” Maybe a fire? A glow?

“It’s dark at the plant. But I can hear the sirens. Traffic's been steady, and folks are scared.”

As she signed off, Phyllis saw the blinking light for the line to Civil Defense headquarters. “Phyllis, we’ve got a big change,” the sheriff said in his rough voice. “No radiation yet, but C.D. has decided to go to a ten mile evacuation zone. Sectors D, E, and F. That's downwind.”

Phyllis looked at the county map. Brixton.


Vitaly pressed on the gas as the car headed up the incline towards the end of the cul?de?sac. He felt proud, and strong. In this, the most difficult challenge of his life, everything had gone according to plan. Vitaly Kruchinkin had succeeded in his mission.

Still several houses away, Vitaly turned off his headlights, and punched the button for his garage door. Guiding his car by the glow from a streetlight, he cruised inside and closed the door behind him.

Across the street, in a darkened sedan, there was movement. Taylor Winn had something to report.


“Level is still rising! Minus 33!” the assistant operator said.

“Torus temperature now 132,” the chief operator added. Steam from the STurDI-1 turbine was heating up the water in the big tank.

Looking good. Wendell stood back, watching the three men at the panels. At 3500 gallons a minute, the reactor vessel would soon be refilled.

“We've got high rads in the torus!” the third operator reported. “700 R!”

“Well,” Fleck said, “we cracked up some fuel.”

“Steve, bad news,” Cervantes said into the phone.


“Damn,” Steve murmured as he heard the report. Gas from cracked fuel rods was now passing through the STurDI?1 turbine and down into the torus. Radiation levels in the huge tank had risen to a hundred times normal. Steve looked over at Tarelli, who was shaking his head in disappointment.

“Didn't get lucky,” Tarelli said.

“As long as it stays where it is,” Steve replied, “I won't complain.”


Gary stood beside the rumbling STurDI?1 turbine, his buttocks still feeling the heat of the pump. He sniffed at the air, which carried a hint of singed insulation and electrical smoke. Burnt out the pump, but we got the turbine running. Tama tapped him on the shoulder. The thunderous noise made conversation almost impossible, and in the dim light, the mechanic held up a wrench and motioned toward the oil tank.

Finish tightening the tank cover. Gary nodded. Can't hurt. He knelt beside the startup oil pump and grabbed a flashlight and wrench. Gary played the beam across his taped?up handiwork, then began tracing the rest of the oil piping, which was still needed to keep STurDI running. Hold it! … He flinched as the light caught a glimmer and some movement. Crap! A short distance beyond the first repair there was more pipe damage. He hadn't noticed it before. The line was bent slightly, and to his horror, Gary could see it was rapidly working itself loose from a coupling. Oil was starting to spray from the joint.

STurDI?1 was in trouble again.


End Post 29



“Torus rad levels still going up.”


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