In many places this weekend is a time for reflection. Today Lila has been thinking about people who are no longer here and sacrifices made. Raising a toast to their memory.
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.”
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.
Lila squelched the urge to look behind them. “What color car?”
Joe replied sarcastically, “There’s only one. It’s black.”
“Okay, so it’s easy to spot. I guess they don’t want us losing them.”
“I’m not about to lose them. They get very angry when spurned. I don’t much fancy walking out of the nuclear plant and seeing my lovely Lada keyed up with garbage thrown all over it.”
“Wow, they really don’t like to lose people,” Lila said amazed.
“Let’s just say I’ve heard it’s not a best practice,” Joe said dryly.
Lila snoozed in the backseat as Joe drove cautiously across the rough surface, while Ian kept a casual watch on the black car.
As they approached the city, Ian leaned back to tug on the hair that had fallen over Lila’s face. She waved his hand away and mumbled, before awakening in a rush. Her first view of Bilibino was less than inspiring. “Looks like a bunch of Legos put together into long barracks.”
“I’m guessing this isn’t a place where you want to go it alone in the tundra,” Joe remarked.
“Our friends are passing us,” Ian said quietly as the shiny black sedan zoomed past them and two men waved at them.
Lila’s jaw dropped. “Did you see that?”
“They want us to know that they know that we know,” Ian said tensely.
“They really stick out here,” Joe commented. “Can’t be good for their suspension – or paint job – to go that fast.”
“I think they’re making a point,” Lila said, “that their car has more get up and go than ours.”
“Not true.” Joe patted the steering wheel. “This girl’s got a lot of giddy up in her.”
“You sound like you’re talking about your girlfriend,” Lila said with amusement.
“I’ve always wanted to drive a Lada,” Joe admitted. “First times are always memorable.”
Ian snickered. “That’s too easy.”
Lila sighed. “Will you two give it up?”
Both men burst out laughing. Ian turned his head back to face Lila. “For you, darlin,’ anytime.”
“I can tell we’re all punchy from being tired,” Lila said. “Speaking of tired, where’s our hotel?”
“Oh, not yet,” Joe cautioned. “We still have an appointment at the nuclear plant. I got a business to run, and a tour to give.”
“How about you give it to yourself, Joe,” Lila advised.
Ian laughed out loud. “This just keeps getting better.”
The group drove slowly past four monolithic Cyrillic letters that identified this as БАЭС [BAES], the initials for Bilibino Nuclear Power Plant. Round twin-headed streetlamps lined the drive leading to a series of large square buildings separated into yellow and gray sections.
Hanging from the top of one of the buildings was an enormous white banner on which giant, black Cyrillic letters proclaimed the toughness of these northern dwellers: СЕВЕР-КРАЙ СИЛьНыХ [NORTHERN EDGE STRONG].
As they pulled into the parking area, Lila marveled at all the windows in the buildings. “I guess when you live somewhere as far north as this, you want to let in all the light possible.”
They entered the building, where Joe introduced them as the expected tour members, and they walked one at a time through the metal detector past guards wearing camouflage uniforms and caps.
As they neared the heavy, metal door marked Turbine Hall, Lila felt the hair on her arms rise.