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.