Halloween Surprise (pt. 30/30)

At Home

“Fifteen minutes,” Joe said tersely into his satellite phone’s hands-free earpiece. He clicked the off button and put his full focus into driving, slewing across the snow to narrowly miss a huge clump of ice that had fallen off some vehicle’s undercarriage.

Lila dozed, her head hitting against the window with a clunk each time they drove over a bump, which was unfortunately almost all the time. At this final swerve, the side of her head thunked hard against the glass, waking her. “Ouch!” she exclaimed, rubbing her palms across her face. She yawned until her jaw cracked. “How long was I asleep?”

“An hour and half,” Ian replied and turned to look back at her critically, “You look like shit.”

“That’s just what every woman wants to hear,” Lila laughed and returned the perusal. “You’re looking pretty tired yourself. I can’t believe you and Joe haven’t fallen asleep.”

Ian rubbed his eyes. “I’m not sure if Joe has been staying awake. All that swerving makes it hard to tell. I know I’ve been drifting off,”

Joe glanced back at Lila. “Fifteen minutes out from the airport. Get ready.”

“Get ready for what?” Lila mumbled. She scrabbled around in her backpack and pulled out what appeared to be a lipstick container. “I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” she said shaking her head.

“So you’re gonna do what, put on lipstick?” Joe asked jokingly, glancing in the rear view mirror at the object Lila held.

“No, I’m going to stun anyone who tries to stop me from getting on that plane.”

She pulled off the case top and pressed a button. A jolt of electrical current arced across the top of the gadget.

“Sounds like a giant mosquito,” Ian commented. “Probably feels like one biting you too.”

“Shall we try it out?” Lila asked him challengingly and reached the stun gun toward him.

“Children, children,” Joe said teasingly, but with an undercurrent of tension. “Get your gear together. We’re almost there.”

Lila strapped on her backpack and Ian pulled his bag tightly across his shoulders.

Joe sped up and pulled the wheel hard left to skid into a position paralleling a small plane. Even though the plane was only a car’s width away, Lila had to squint to make out its shape in the near pitch darkness.

The three of them launched from their respective car doors, Joe taking time to nostalgically pat the car on the hood before running to catch up. They raced toward the plane, its engines already running.

A man with an AK-47 stepped around the side. “Please, don’t be in such a hurry,” he said in a thick Russian accent.

Lila grabbed Ian to keep from skidding across the snow and smacking into the man as she came to an abrupt stop. Joe almost created a domino effect by crashing into them.

“Uh, that’s our plane,” Lila said weakly.

“Not anymore,” the man “Charlie,” as she dubbed him, said villainously.

“Oh, yeah?” Lila couldn’t think of anything smart to say and looked to Ian. “Do something,” she muttered.

“What? He has a gun,” Ian replied in a low voice.

Joe pushed past the two of them and appeared to trip directly into Charlie, knocking the man’s AK-47 to the side. “Oops,” Joe said, slamming his elbow into the man’s nose, causing it to spurt blood like a faucet. Charlie dropped his rifle, clamping both hands to his nose, eyes streaming with tears. Joe took advantage of the man’s position to kick him in the head with his heavy boot. The man dropped like a rock.

Ian picked up the AK-47, removed the magazine and then ejected the already chambered round. Throwing the AK-47 as far as he could to the left, he then pitched the magazine and round off into the distance to the right.

“All right then,” Lila said, a little shocked. “Who’s going to fly the plane? I hope that wasn’t the pilot.” She gestured to the man lying on the ground and oozing blood.

“You do realize that Joe and I are pilots,” Ian said as they clambered on board the plane.

“Helicopter pilots. Even I know it’s not the same thing,” Lila said sarcastically.

Lila nearly fell headlong as her foot caught on an object on the floor. A man lay bound and gagged. “I’m assuming this is the pilot?” She asked hand braced above him.  The man nodded.

The plane was already taxiing down the runway with Ian and Joe at the controls, when Lila helped the pilot sit up and climb into one of the passenger seats where he could take a moment to regain his composure.

Joe contacted what passed for a control tower and then cut the radio as a series of shouts in Russian could be heard squawking from the headphones. “Can’t hear you!” Joe yelled before pulling off the headset.

“Whew, glad to be in the air,” he said.

“What if they did something to the plane?” Lila asked worriedly.

“Then it will be a short flight,” Ian said mildly.

“Doesn’t anything ever worry you?”

“Not really. If it’s good, it’s good. If not, we’ll deal.”


They arrived safely in Magadan, and caught their onward flights. Almost thirty-six hours later, the taxi pulled up in front of their place and Ian and Lila crawled stiffly out.

“What a journey,” Lila groaned. “I think I need a bath.”

“I think you do too,” Ian agreed.

Lila rolled her eyes, too tired to respond.

As she unlocked the door, she could hear imperious meows emanating from behind it.

“Pearson!” she called out happily, carefully opening the door to keep from squishing him behind it.


Ian and Lila stretched out on the couch, Pearson nestled in beside them purring. Lila idly petted his fur. “I’m glad that the cat sitter left us a pumpkin, that was really nice of her.”

“Very seasonal,” Ian concurred sleepily, his eyes half shut and the reflected light from the candles burning inside the pumpkin dancing across his face.

Lila turned her head to gaze at him. “Happy Halloween.”

“To you too.” He smiled.

Lila snuggled in to enjoy the glow from the pumpkin. “It’s nice to be home.”

Halloween Surprise (pt. 29/30)

Looking for the lights of home

“So what do we do?” Joe asked.

Lila shrugged. “We push it back into normal mode. I want to be gone long before this whole thing gets discovered. I mean someone’s gonna show up when there’s no boom. But I also don’t want something really bad to happen because the procedure wasn’t done right. I had a year internship at San Onofre nuclear power plant before they decommissioned it. I know that even though shutdown is automated, there are certain functions that need to be shepherded.”

Lila pointed to a section on the instrument panel. “This area shows the reactor targets: the pressure, temperatures and flow rate.” She tapped another section. “Over here is the manual override, which is basically what we did to stop the self destruct sequence.”

She shook her head. “There’s a whole series of procedures to follow and if it’s an emergency shutdown, at some point you hit this SCRAM button,” she pointed to the button in the middle. “This will shove the control rods into the reactor in four seconds.”

Clicking through the computer menu options, Lila mumbled, “Okay, where’s the ‘return to normal’ sequence in all this.” She raised her head to look over at Ian. “You’ve been awfully quiet.”

“I figure, unless I can add something good to the situation to keep quiet,” Ian said.

“Good policy, “ Lila approved. “Wait, I think… yeah, this is it.” She quickly punched in a set of instructions. “I’m just guessing on most of this, but what else is new.”

For several minutes Lila peered closely at the control panel, watching the reactor target gauge to make sure levels didn’t rise dangerously. She breathed a sigh of relief. “I think it’s done. Yay, us,” she said tiredly, the previous adrenaline rushes leaving her drained and shaky now the crisis seemed to be over.

At that moment they heard the outer door’s deadbolt turn. The three of them froze, their eyes meeting before they frantically looked around the room for a place to take cover. There was nothing, not even a table under which to hide.

“Shit,” Lila mouthed silently.

Joe motioned toward the inner door and punched his hand into his fist indicating they should take out whomever it was before that person could raise the alarm. He moved up to stand next to the side where the door opened, taking up an attack position and resting his hand on the door handle. Ian and Lila hung back, letting Joe take the lead on beating up the unfortunate individual on the other side of the door.

As soon as the door handle started to move downward, Joe yanked the door inward as hard as he could with his left hand, pulling the other person’s head into his right fist. Lila winced as the person went down with a muffled grunt. Joe dragged the body completely across the threshold. “Let’s go,” he said in a low voice.

Ian and Lila followed him out the door, nearly stumbling across the person lying prone on the floor. They rapidly exited the outer door and edged their way beneath the tarp to the other side of the RV, feeling their way carefully to their original entrance point and keeping the flashlight off to avoid giving away their position.

Lila slid down the RV’s cold metal surface to lie flat on the frozen ground, peering out from under the canvas covering. Seeing no one outside, she tugged on Ian’s pant leg to let him know it was safe to exit.

She slid out from under the tarp, followed shortly by Ian and Joe, and they took off in headlong rush to the Lada guided only by the tiny sliver of moonlight illuminating their path.

They reached the Lada in record time, piling in as soon as the doors were unlocked. Joe revved up the engine and they bumped their way down the road.

No one said anything for several minutes as they tried to catch their breath.

Lila leaned her head against the back seat and yawned hugely. “I gotta say, Joe, you give a hell of a tour.”

Joe grinned. “I do, don’t I?”

Ian tapped the door handle. “So where are we headed?”

“Back to the airport. I’ve got a charter plane on standby. Figured we might need a quick pickup.”

“Let’s just hope there’s not a welcoming committee to greet us,” Lila said grimly.

Halloween Surprise (pt. 28/30)

“Okay, let’s do this,” Lila said determinedly.

She read the number-letter combination out loud in a slow methodical voice, while Ian held the flashlight as close as he could to the text so she could better see the handwritten code.

As Joe and Lila finished keying in the code, Lila called out quietly to Joe, “On the count of one.” She paused briefly. “One!” Together they hit the enter key.

The countdown clock stopped, but the RV began to vibrate lightly and a loud humming noise started at the bottom of the enormous vehicle, which quickly spread.

Lila scanned the monitor in front of her. “Auto shutdown sequence?” she said in disbelief. “This thing should come with an instruction manual.”

“It did,” said Ian wryly, “that’s what we’re using.”

“Great, just great,” Lila griped. “We stopped the imminent self destruct, only to kick start an auto shutdown procedure.”

“And what’s so bad about that?’ Joe asked.

“Nothing potentially, except that the workers who would ordinarily oversee the whole business aren’t here.”

Halloween Surprise (pt. 27/30)

After sunset

Lila reached for the logbook at the same time as Joe. Their hands collided and they fought over the document.

Finally Ian reached between them and grabbed the thin book. “Let’s put it here on the counter where we call all have a look.”

“But you don’t even read Russian,” Lila said incredulously.

“Doesn’t matter,” Ian admonished. “Maybe I’ll see something you miss.”

Lila ran her hand across the cover, smoothing the wrinkled paper. “Let’s start with the front. This looks like some sort of code. I’m hoping for this.” She swept her hands to include the whole setup around them.

Joe picked up from where she left off. “It took Ian going through two locks to get to it, so obviously it’s important. Maybe it’s a disarming sequence.” He looked around for anywhere they could input the numbers. There were two keyboards, one on each side of the vehicle.

Joe quickly walked to one of the keyboards and Lila assumed the ready position by the other one.

“Joe,” Lila called out quietly, “do you see where it says alternate monitor on the screen area? Click into that area and open up an interface.” Joe rapidly did as she said. Lila mumbled to herself as she searched through the system for the right computer program.

Joe motioned toward them. “I’ve found it. Go in through the internal dialogue box where it says system functions.”

“I don’t see it,” Lila said in frustrated tones. “Oh, wait, I got it. Now what?”

“There’s a place on the left hand side to enter letters, and digits on the right. Do you see it?” Joe asked Lila. He glanced at his watch. “And I hope you see it really quickly as we have less than 15 minutes to get this done.” Lila grunted in frustration as she scrolled through screens and received error messages, but she finally managed to access the menu.

“I’m guessing we have to enter everything at the same time. Joe, do you see the little lock icon on the top right of the final square?”

“Yep,” Joe said calmly. “Wait for me at the end and we’ll press enter together.”

“I’ll read out the code,” Lila offered. Ian took up a position beside her and aimed the flashlight at the cover, holding it up in front of Lila. She began to read aloud the series of number and letters. “S, no С. Wait.” She rubbed her eyes briefly. “I’m mixing my languages. Maybe Joe should do this.”

“Steady,” Ian told her, “Take a breath and focus.”

Lila took a deep breath and began once again:

С Р Н П 2 Х З 8 7 Ц Ю 9 Ш Б 2 4.” 

With a coordinated tap on the keyboard, Joe and Lila entered the last digit simultaneously.

“Ready?” Lila asked Joe.

“Ready,” he replied softly. “On the count of one press enter. One!”

They hit enter at the same moment.

There was a pause in the countdown, but then they heard a beeping noise.

“Shit. Error.” Lila’s eyebrows drew together and she pulled the cover closer. “Ian shine the light right… there. Yes, that’s it.” She studied it for a moment. “Crap, it’s Щ not Ш.”

She wiped the moisture from her forehead, perspiring heavily in spite of the rapidly dropping nighttime temperatures.

“It says that we get one more chance,” Joe pointed to the blinking message line on the right side of the screen.

Halloween Surprise (pt. 26/30)

Step by step

They scarcely breathed as the door budged ever so slightly. Lila studied Joe as he placed his eye against the miniscule crack. He scrutinized the area for a moment before slowly widening the gap and cautiously walking into the control room. No one appeared to be inside.

Water abruptly gurgled through pipes directly over their heads startling everyone.

Scanning the instruments for clues, Lila observed a dial on the control panel that roughly translated to coolant cycle. The countdown clock had restarted only seconds ago, so she estimated that could have been the sound that they heard.

She breathed out in relief, thinking that she had never been so frightened of rushing water.

Ian motioned for her to come closer to where he was. On the panel in front of him another countdown clock ran. This one said САМОУНИЧМОЖЕНИЕ [SELF DESTRUCT].

“Shit,” said Lila worriedly. “This is no good.”

“No kidding,” Ian agreed sarcastically.

“Actually it wouldn’t matter except that, as you can see, the light is flashing and it appears to be counting down,” she pointed out.

“Never a good sign,” Ian murmured. “So what do we do?”

“We’ve got to stop it,” Lila said determinedly.

Joe walked up behind them and they nearly jumped out of their skins as he breathed down their necks. “What’s up?” he asked quietly.

“’Houston, we have a problem,’” Ian announced quietly.

“This mining town, Karalveem, is about to go nuclear,” replied Lila tensely. “Some nutjob wants to put the Romanovs or Soviets back in power, and decided to make a big point of it.”

Joe screwed up his face in concern. “How long do we have?”

Lila eyed the control panel. “Half an hour, give or take twenty seconds.”

The three of them looked at each other. Ian was the first to break the silence. “So how are we supposed to stop this?”

“There must be a way,” Lila mused, “or I wouldn’t have been sent here.” She quickly began scanning each of the instrument panels.

“Joe, your Russian is almost as good as mine. Look for something that looks like a set of instructions for this thing.” She gestured at the control panel.

“My Russian is every bit as good as yours,” Joe teased, trying to break the tension as he methodically pulled open drawers and searched around the seating area. He tried to wrench open a locked drawer. “Ian, can you open this?”

Ian quickly performed his patented unlocking maneuver and Lila rushed over to see what was in the drawer. A log sat on top with a series of codes written on it.

Halloween Surprise (pt. 25/30)

Shadows on the wall

It was dark and spooky beneath the tarp, with a deadened feel in the air. Lila crept over to the closest window and stood on tiptoes to peer inside the vehicle. Shining the red light from her flashlight through the glass, she had a feeling that at any moment she was about to see a horde of shambling zombies lunging toward her from inside the RV. Lila shivered.

“Creepy much,” she whispered.

Lila felt Ian slide in beside her to peer through the window.

“Wow.” He whistled almost silently.

The interior of the RV looked almost exactly like the control room of the Bilibino nuclear power plant that they had just toured, except everything was compacted into about a third of the space. The room was slightly illuminated by the flickering lights on the instrument panel. From what she could see of the space, there didn’t appear to be anyone currently in the vehicle.

Joe was acutely aware of how the canvas covering would move around them as they repositioned themselves. He pushed his hands against Ian’s and Lila’s shoulders, warning them to stay tightly pressed against the vehicle’s surface. “Slide,” he breathed into their ears.

One at a time, with Lila in the lead, they edged their way around the vehicle until they reached its door. Trying to find a joint or handhold, Lila ran her fingers carefully across the icy metal surface. She gave up in frustration after a couple of minutes and moved to the other side of the door to aim the flashlight at the door’s surface.

Ian moved in front of the door and identified what appeared to be a locking mechanism. He withdrew a fancy looking 3-in-1 tool from his pocket, from which he removed a finger-length piece of metal. He inserted the metal tip into the lock and pulled a clamp connected by a wire from the other side of the tool, which he fastened to the edge of the lock.

Pushing a button on the main body of the device, there was a brief surge of current and a spark emitted from the lock, after which Lila heard a smooth click. The door popped open so quickly it nearly brained Ian, and it was only Joe’s quick reflexes pulling him out of the way that kept him from being hurt.

They looked at each other apprehensively, and then Lila reached her foot up onto the first step and started climbing into the RV, taking hold of the railing alongside the short staircase to maintain her balance. She cautiously climbed the steps, keeping her flashlight trained on the area directly in front of her feet. As Lila reached the main level, she could see a closed and presumably locked door in front of her. She leaned down to wave Ian and Joe forward, waiting for them to reach the area next to her before continuing to the door.

Ian knelt down to study the door’s dead bolt before going through the same unlocking procedure with his device. He stretched out his hand, gently pulling downward on the European style handle. At that same moment they heard what sounded like a toilet flushing.

Lila blanched, her eyes huge. Scarcely daring to breathe, Ian released the door handle in slow increments and backed toward the bus entrance. Joe stopped Ian’s and Lila’s backward movement by the simple expedient of placing a hand on each of their backs. He gestured for them to stay in position, and they stood there for a few minutes until there was no further noise. At that point, Joe edged forward to once again open the door in front of them.

Halloween Surprise (pt. 24/30)

Watch the lights…

Joe steered through yet another long glide across the frozen earth as Lila clung to the door handle to keep from sliding across the seat. Looking out the window, her eyes viewed the rocky surface covered in snow.

“Not the best area in which to be driving,” she commented.

“Nope,” Joe said curtly.

“Wonder if they’ve got snow tires on here.”

“Yep,” Joe replied shortly.

“Kind of tense,” Lila said with a small grin.

Joe made a growling noise in his throat.

Ian, who had remained quiet up to this point, cleared his throat. “I think we’re getting close.”

“Why do you say that?” Lila asked skeptically.

“Because we’ve been on the road almost 40 minutes and since we’re going in the right direction, I figure we should be there any minute.” Ian checked his wrist watch GPS to confirm. “Yep, almost there.” He scanned the horizon.

Joe continued driving slowly along the dirt track, which paralleled a wide river. Ian shook his head in amazement at the difficult driving conditions. “I can see why they use ice roads here. This weather is no joke.”

“Yeah, driving on permafrost takes special skills,” Lila added.

The Lada inched its way into the mining town as it was getting dark in the early twilight of the far north.

Car headlights aglow, they drove directly toward the mine, Ian navigating with his GPS. “Straight ahead,” he muttered. “There! On the right.”

Joe pulled into a portion of the road where the snow had been cleared away. The three of them got out of the car quickly and hiked toward the mine entrance.

A slow trickle of workers made their way from the mine, walking slowly down the path. The trio felt conspicuous in their outdoor gear in comparison to the miners, who wore red and white helmets with mounted headlamps, and gray, blue and camouflage jackets, some with reflective strips circling their arms and chests.

Keeping their heads down, Ian, Lila and Joe trekked up toward the mine works, scanning for anything resembling a nuclear recreational vehicle.

“Nothing yet,” Lila mumbled. “Keep an eye out for a brown RV that looks like something your parents would be vacationing in if they were Russian nuclear scientists.”

“Ha ha,” Joe said sarcastically. “I can’t picture my parents having anything to do with an RV, even if they were nuclear scientists, which they definitely aren’t.”

“Well, how do you know what they would be like then? I mean, if they were interested in having their own mobile nuclear power plant, they’d be very forward thinking. After all, they’d never have to think about another power bill,” Lila said thoughtfully.

“Just a sudden meltdown or other hazards,” Joe pointed out in an offhanded manner.

“Well, there’s always a downside to everything,” Lila quipped.

“Some more serious than others,” Ian agreed.

They walked over a ridge and saw the entrance to the main mineshaft, which appeared to be supported by sections of corrugated steel.

“Fancy,” Lila remarked.

“Indeed,” Ian said wryly. “Decorated à la corrugation. Are you sure we actually have to go into the mine to find this thing? Is it supposed to be buried inside or sitting around waiting to be found outside?”

“I’m not sure,” Lila said meditatively. “Look over on that side,” she motioned to the side of the entrance, “and let’s see if anything looks out of place.”

They walked around the side and then crawled up to the top of the hill, keeping a close eye out for anything that looked large and nuclear.

“Over there,” Lila said quietly, and motioned subtly toward what looked to be a large rectangular box covered by dark brown squares of canvas. They looked cautiously about, but no one seemed to be in this area.

The sun had almost completely set, and Ian pulled out a small red light LED flashlight. “Keep what vision we’ve got,” he explained softly.

They crept to the side of the tented object and the three of them lifted up the edge of the tarpaulin. Lila reached for Ian’s flashlight and ducked underneath.

Halloween Surprise (pt. 23/30)

The mystery begins to unfurl…

Lila found herself whisked into a large cavern where people walked through her and around her like wraiths. Only she had the feeling that she was actually the visiting ghost.

She felt herself drawn to the back of the tunnel and appeared in front of a group of similar looking people to those she had seen in the area beneath Griffith Park before they began this journey.

“Welcome,” a multi-tone voice seemed to come from all areas of the cave.

“Uh, Thanks,” Lila answered hesitantly.

“You have been successful so far in following the traces we have set for you, but there is still one more challenge.”

“Really?” Lila asked curiously. “Don’t you think that saving the world was big enough?”

“Your task is not done yet,” the voice said in serious accents. “There is grave danger still to come from another source in this area.”

“Oh, great,” Lila said flippantly.

“This is a very serious issue!” the voice said scoldingly.

“Um, sorry.” Lila grimaced. “Not so good with the serious thing.”

“You’re doing fine,” the voice said reassuringly.

“What’s your name?” Lila asked.

“It is not important. The only meaningful thing for you to know is that your task is to identify this vehicle.” A photo was holographically displayed for Lila of what appeared to be a much-updated mobile nuclear power plant. It looked more like an RV, but Lila could see through the vehicle’s outline to the equipment inside.”

“Holy shit!” Lila exclaimed. “I mean that’s awful. Where is it?”

“We believe it is 20 kilometers west of your current location. As we are not corporeal we cannot do anything to stop its current movements.”

“But you brought me here—” Lila started to say before being interrupted.

“It is not the same thing. You have a high vibration of light energy with which we find easy to interact.”

“Ha,” Lila joked, “here I am always thinking I need to lose weight.”

It was dead silent.

“So, not really jokers,” Lila responded awkwardly. “I get the point. I’m supposed to get Ian and Joe– ”

“No, just you.”

“Oh, hell no! I am no way gonna be the only one on the quest for the holy mobile grail,” Lila retorted.

The voice relented. “Very well, if you think it will be expedient to have your friends along, then they may accompany you.”

“How generous,” Lila replied mockingly.

“It is. Now go back to where you were.” A being near the front of the group waved his arm and again Lila felt herself drawn backward to where she was before.

As she came to, she felt Ian patting her cheeks gently and his worried voice in her ear.

“Lila come back to us. You all right?”

Lila’s eyes fluttered open and she stared directly into Ian’s concerned expression.

Clearing her throat, she slowly sat upright and looked out the window. They hadn’t moved an inch from the parking lot where they were during her last conscious moment.

Joe’s left hand tapped the steering wheel impatiently or nervously, she couldn’t tell which, but thankfully he had the heat cranked on and it felt glorious on her chilled skin.

“I… I saw the people again.” Lila nearly stumbled over the words, feeling foolish.

“What people?” Ian looked as though he might doubt her sanity.

“The same people we saw in Griffith Park.”

Ian’s eyes widened. “Them?”

“Yes, them.” Lila’s eyes twinkled. “If you knew how funny you look saying that.” She smirked a bit.

“Glad that you’re feeling better,” Ian said in annoyed tones as he pulled his arm from around her and leaned back into the opposite corner of the back seat.

“I’ve received a mission,” Lila announced grandiosely.

“Oh, really,” Joe said deprecatingly.

“Yes,” Lila said importantly. “We’re to find the mobile nuclear power plant that is at this very moment moving 20 kilometers west of us. By the way,” she asked Joe, “what’s located 20 km west of here?”

Joe looked confused. “Nothing, at least… Wait, there’s a working gold mine over there.”

“That’s it!” Lila said triumphantly. “A gold mine! That would explain all the people running around, and moving to the back, and, and, everything!” She stuttered to a halt.

Ian looked bewildered by her incoherent outburst. “Okay,” he said soothingly, “I’m sure it was emotional seeing those people again.”

“No, really.” Lila put out her hand in a stop gesture. “I was pulled into what looked like a mine and I’m sure, well, I think I’m sure that it was that! You know, the gold mine.”

“Why wouldn’t they just tell you that?” Ian asked critically. “Seems like a lot of work to send you back here only to have you drive back again.”

“I said I wanted you two to help.” Lila’s voice thinned out as they both turned to look at her with equally stormy visages.

“I thought you’d want to help me,” she said in a small voice.

“Yes, but it would have been nice to be asked before being sent on a quest for the Holy Grail.”

“That’s exactly what I said!” Lila said excitedly. “It’s like a quest. Well, isn’t it?” she demanded.

“Okay,” Ian gave in somewhat gracefully. “Let’s head out.” He turned to Joe. “You said this vehicle could go through some serious stuff. Guess you’re going to get a chance to test her.”

Joe’s eyes sparkled. “I’ve no doubt she’ll make it.” He gunned the car engine and fishtailed his way out of the parking lot.

“Tally-ho!” cried Lila.

Ian gave her a disgusted look. “That should be ‘I hate snakes.’”

Lila grinned. “Indiana Jones! Perfect.” She began humming the theme song and hitting the back of Joe’s headrest in time to the music.

“Knock it off,” Joe grumbled.

“I’m trying,” Lila smirked.

”Off to see the wizard.” Joe mumbled.

Lila laughed, and then quickly sobered. “Let’s just hope the Wicked Witch of the West isn’t there to greet us when we get there.”

Halloween Surprise (pt. 22/30)

Is it real, or just a shadow?

Warning signs covered the door in front of them, which included signs with an exclamation point forbidding entrance into the room without a helmet. A yellow triangular sign cautioned about a working crane inside and yet another sign appeared to ban ringing cell phones.

Lila, Joe and Ian put on the helmets and long sleeved white outfits provided by their hosts and began a circuitous tour of the reactor building. “I look like a chef,” Lila murmured to Ian.

“As long as we’re not the ones cooking in there,” Ian said a bit sarcastically.

The company guide gave them a warning look and Ian and Lila subsided into silence. Apparently they weren’t taking the tour seriously enough. A little levity was always a good thing when dealing with Armageddon, Lila thought.

They entered a cavernous multilevel space filled with yellow and white painted rounded objects and followed their guide down to the control room in which two men, wearing the ubiquitous white outfits, reclined in cushy chairs in front of an entire wall covered in monitoring equipment.

As their small group filed past, the worker on the left reached for the telephone situated next to his elbow, and Lila heard him speaking softly into the microphone. “Да,они здесь.Я недумаю, что онизаметили.” [“Yes, they’re here. I don’t know if they noticed.”] The man’s eyes followed them closely as they walked toward a door posted with even more warnings, this time in yellow lettering on a black background. They finally made their way into the Central Hall, an area at the heart of the reactor.

They walked toward a section demarcated with bright yellow and red radiation symbols posted on floor signs, wound around with white and red caution tape.

Joe gestured effusively to the open pool in which they could see the submerged rods. “Very safe, as you see,” he said in cheery tones. Pulling out a pocket Geiger counter, Joe showed Ian and Lila the numbers registering. “Only 2.67 sieverts. That’s a little more than half of what you’d get from a dental X-ray.”

“Um, great?” Lila responded.

“That is!” Joe continued enthusiastically. “You may not know this, but in the early 1960s Russia designed a couple of mobile nuclear power plants to provide energy to remote areas like this. There were two versions, one on tank treads and one on regular wheels. Pretty nifty, as it’s tricky to transport fuel to isolated areas.  The mobile versions could even power themselves to get places using Radioisotope Thermal Generators, the same power source used by deep space probes. Unfortunately, after Chernobyl, Moscow scrapped the whole program.”

“I saw a photo of the mobile versions in a museum,” Lila interjected. “The wheel variety looked like a semi truck, and the tread type reminded me of a tank made into a school bus. Pretty interesting.”

“This power station was planned back in 1965 and finished in 1976. Quite a marvel.” Joe pointed to the area from which Lila could see protruding rods. “Look closely at this section.”

Lila focused on the area toward which he gestured. She could see something that appeared to be steam rising, which then turned into fantastical shapes that coalesced into… Sergey.” She heard his voice inside her mind.

Look over toward that nearby section of the wall.

Lila saw piping running in vertical lines across the wall. A green haze began to appear over the left section and she could see a crack forming. She thought a question toward Sergey: Is that real?

No, but it soon could be. Mention it to your host.

Lila turned to the man monitoring them on their tour and waved toward the problematic piping. “So, this part over here. What does that do?”

“It’s part of the cooling system. This is the only nuclear power plant in operation that still has ordinary water cooled graphite as a neutron moderator, which is what preserves the nuclear chain reaction.”

“So what would happen if those pipes cracked and burst?”

The man spontaneously began to sweat. “It would be a very bad thing. Of course, this will not happen,” he hurried to reassure her.

“How often are those checked?” Lila asked carefully.

He looked at her suspiciously.

“Just curious.” Lila shrugged. “I imagine it’s a lot of work keeping up on everything here,” she said in her best dumb girl voice.

“We manage,” the man said gruffly.

“Still, do you mind if I take a closer look? I’ve never seen so many pipes in one place.” Lila batted her eyelashes at him.

“You may, but be cautious.”

Ian walked next to Lila as she stepped closer until she was directly in front of the section that Sergey had indicated. “Is it supposed to look like this?” She pointed to a pipe that had glowed the brightest green in her vision.

“Like what?” Their host stepped toward the piping and peered closely. He blanched white and quickly told her, “There is nothing here. It looks fine. Please continue your tour. There is much to see in our city.”

Lila’s raised her eyebrows in disbelief and looked over at Ian, who nodded almost imperceptibly at her.

“Yeah, let’s go,” she said to Ian, who waved Joe over to them.

“Is the tour over?” Lila asked Joe.

“This was the last part on it. Ready?” Joe asked them offhandedly.

“I think so,” Ian replied. Lila nodded her agreement.

They exited from the building after walking through what appeared to be another set of metal detectors.

Walking briskly to the car, Lila asked Ian. “Mission accomplished?”

“I guess we’ll find out,” he said quietly.

Joe unlocked the car doors and they all climbed in, shivering from the cold air outside.

“Turn on the heat!” Lila called out to Joe, rubbing her hands together and blowing on them.

Suddenly a yellow light filled up the car and Lila felt herself drifting through space, sound echoing in her ears as though she was underwater.