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The Nuclear Catastrophe
A fiction novel of survival

The Nuclear Catastrophe

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#Betrayal

A nuclear fiction novel of survival

#Betrayal

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Nuclear Road Trip


Onward to Destruction

Nuclear Road Trip

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Fiction, Crime, TechnoThriller #1 Best Selling kindle science category Novels!

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The following is an excerpt of the prequel to the novel "#BETRAYAL"

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"The Nuclear Catastrophe", a fiction novel of survival


The day began like any of a thousand others, with Sara’s voice summoning him from bed, while she went about the preparation of breakfast.

Slowly, Ben slung his feet onto the floor, and walked across to the bathroom. His movements were sluggish, for the events at the plant on the previous day had drained his stamina. Bloodshot eyes stared back at him as he leaned toward the mirror and began the daily routine of shaving off the dark, thick bristles.

A mourning dove cooed to its mate in the canyon below the house. It was a soft, pleasing sound, one that was rapidly becoming an oddity in the heavily congested stretch of land that bordered on the Pacific, extending southward from Los Angeles. The gentle, sweet cooing had become such an integral part of the beginning of each morning that Ben had wondered about the eventual time when houses would be thrown up on the sides of the canyon, driving the birds away. When they moved, he and Sara would search for another quiet spot still near a natural habitat, unspoiled by giant earth-moving machines and the strange glass and wood affairs that were designed by eager, far-seeing architects.

A strong aroma of coffee drifted into his nostrils, luring him into the kitchen. “Ah, good morning, sweetheart.” He placed a kiss on his wife’s neck, lifting her long blond hair away.

The tall, lovely woman returned his show of affection by brushing his chin with her lips, while never taking her eyes off the omelet. She flashed him a tender look of concern. “You’re tired, dear. But, then, you didn’t rest well.”

“No. I had trouble unwinding after the staff meeting last night,” he said as he ambled toward the table.

“I’d wanted to wait up for you, but as it got closer to midnight, I finally had to go to bed. Suddenly I need so much sleep.”

“You shouldn’t have waited at all. I told you I’d be late.” He picked up his glass of juice and quickly drained it. Then he noticed the glass by her plate, and its burgundy colored liquid. With his back to her, and wondering about the unusual breakfast drink, he asked, “Did you go in for your examination yesterday?”

“Yes. I had a one o’clock appointment, remember?”

He vaguely recalled she had told him that, but the previous day was such a jumble of events that his wife’s visit to the physician had been pushed far aside in his mind. “Well?” he asked, as he turned to her. “What did he say?”

She lifted the omelet onto a dish and moved toward the table. “He said I shouldn’t have any trouble carrying this one if I’m careful.”

“Careful?” he asked quizzically. “What does that mean?”

“Follow his advice, I think,” she answered as she took a seat. He was still standing, absorbed in what she would say. “Did he have any advice about why you had the miscarriage?”

She shrugged, “He couldn’t know, Ben. He wasn’t the attending physician. Besides, he says there are dozens of reasons why pregnancies are naturally aborted.”

Ben lifted the glass of deep red fluid to his nostrils. The scent of wine wafted through the air. Puzzled, he asked, “Is this what you’re drinking for breakfast?”

She looked at him out of huge brown eyes, and smiled warmly, “Is there something wrong with it?”

Ben scrutinized the high cheek bones and the rich full lips of his wife. Her head was regally tilted to the side, letting the shining blond hair fall like a curtain behind her as she awaited his answer. “It doesn’t seem to me that drinking this stuff in the morning is going to help you with the baby one bit, Sara.”

That she had poured it at all was a shock to him. Sara was familiar with the best wines, the gourmet drinks, but she had never cultivated a taste for them. Ben recalled his first visit to the home of her parents. Her father possessed a lavishly-equipped wine cellar, the pride of the older man. Yet, Sara was totally unconcerned with its stock. “Is this a fetish or something—a craving that you suddenly have?” he asked as he set the glass down.

She took the glass and lifted it toward her mouth, paused, then returned it to the table. “It’s a foul-smelling substance,” she said. “No, Ben, as strange as it may sound, the doctor prescribed an alcoholic drink three times a day, so I thought wine would be the easiest to take this early in the morning.”

“He prescribed it for a woman during pregnancy? He must be insane, Sara. You’ll have to find another obstetrician,” Ben said. “You’ll never have a child if you listen to some nut like that.”

Sara reached out for his arm and pulled him toward his chair. “But you don’t understand, Ben. The doctor says that small amounts of alcohol will slow contractions of the uterus. He thinks premature contractions could be the reason why I lost the first one.”

“You’re only three months along—that seems pretty early to worry about contractions,” he said as he watched her pour the coffee. She did it gracefully, as she did everything.

Smiling, she pushed the toast toward him. “You wouldn’t allow the doctor to tell you how to run White Water, dear. I would imagine that your qualifications in medicine are as limited as his in nuclear energy. So perhaps it would be best if we did this his way.” Shifting the conversation, she asked, “What were your visitors like yesterday?”

“Who? The senators? They were all right, I suppose. One, the older fellow, a short, snoopy little guy, was kind of irritating. He came on fast—interrupting to ask something, then switching off to another interest of his—without waiting for the rest of the group. For a while I thought that he was being too curious, like he had some ulterior purpose for being there. But then I decided it was my imagination. The other one was a nice guy.”

“Did you find out why they were there?” she asked.

“Visiting—or at least that’s what I was told. You know how politicians are, always trying to get a finger in the pot.” He was reluctant to tell her about the flare up over the shutdown report, and about his earlier suspicion that the senators were inspecting the facility as a result of a request from the Southern California Society of Environmentalists.

“They must have been there quite a long while,” she said.

Ben knew that she had obliquely referred to his arriving home at a very late hour. “Actually, they weren’t. I had anticipated them spending much longer in the plant, but Senator McCauley seemed anxious to be on the way.”

She was silent, apparently waiting for him to explain his delay more fully.

“After the politicians left, Pettengill decided we should have one of his infamous meet and confer sessions. On the spur of the moment he decided on it. When I phoned you I had no idea of being as late as I was.”

Raising her eyes to his, she replied, “It must have been a very important meeting.”

He had no wish to assuage her curiosity by explaining that the S.C.S.E. letter had filtered down to Pettengill, and the long hours spent in conference were in regard to that. “Routine business, just routine,” he said off-handily.

“What are your plans for the day?” he asked. “A meeting of your sorority alumni club, isn’t it?”

“No, I’m not going to those gatherings anymore. Didn’t I tell you about the last one I attended?” she asked.

He shook his head, “I don’t recall. But you didn’t say you weren’t going back.”

“Well, no matter. I’m not. It’s vacationing all the time.’’

“Videos?”

“Yes, home made smart phone videos. Sue Anna’s vacation to Hawaii, and Joan’s last trip to Europe, and Debbie’s three children in their pool—and those because they haven’t been able to afford to go anywhere since they built it. It’s just all so inane.”

“You’re bored with them.”

“Yes, I suppose. But what I really would like is to find them on some subjects that are meaningful, instead of discussing the color of tea napkins. Just once.”

“Whatever you think, Hon. I’m sure you have every right to be bored with that group.” Having other things on his mind, he glanced at the clock above the sink. “I’ve got to go. Must get a backlog of paperwork done before this day ends.”

“So soon?” she asked wistfully.

“Maybe I’ll manage to be home early this evening. How about it?”

“I’d like that,” she answered softly.

For the briefest second they-stood close with their arms around each other. His very tall, lank frame dwarfed her as he held her to him. Her wan, porcelain skin was in marked contrast to his dark complexion. Releasing her, he turned and walked out the door.

It was a beautiful morning. Later, there would be smog creeping in to blanket the sky; but as yet, it was a day free of the troublesome, tainted air. Out to the right the ocean was clearly visible, a sailboat bobbed gently up and down on the calm blue water.

Edging the German-made sports car deftly into the parking slot, Ben grabbed his briefcase, and with a dozen long strides, stepped into his office in the front of the control room.

At 8:28 am the huge reactor was already underway, splitting the U235 atoms and producing tremendous amounts of heat. Ben smiled to himself, the self-satisfied smile of a man who had complete understanding of the complex working of this monstrous unit. It gave him a comfortable feeling to be in this dust-free room, with control boards and buttons, and with the ocean less than six-hundred feet away.

Donning his lab coat, he picked up a clipboard and began making his rounds as he routinely did each working day. This would be the last round he’d make for a month. His vacation began at the end of the day. He casually nodded to his colleagues as he checked his readings against previous records and dutifully noted them in the proper spaces. The main control center was a sterile, ultra-modern room, its control consoles in white and the men in white lab uniforms. All indicators, buttons, and levers for the normal and emergency operations of both the reactor and the generating plants were contained within these four, heavily-insulated walls. The plant represented the finest in engineering design, the ultimate in construction. The facility was built on the beach because of the need for vast amounts of cooling water for the reactor. No other spot had been feasible in arid southern California. The area was laced with old fault zones, the San Andreas fault itself being nearby, but the structures were created to withstand the most violent earthquake.

The reactor was housed apart from the control center. Dome covered, the reactor building was equally well constructed to take the shaking's from the earth without being split or damaged. Inside, the reactor core and its thousands of fuel rods were protected from the incoming coolant by metal jackets within their steel reactor vessel, which was completely encased by a thick, steel dry well.

It was an extremely efficient operation and Ben appreciated that efficiency as much as any physicist. He wasn’t blind to the potential dangers of nuclear energy, but he knew that so long as the machinery functioned properly, and there was no human error, and no accidents, then there was no way that the enormous quantities of radioactive poisons could escape into the environment. True, every two years the fuel rods would have to be removed and transported to a reprocessing plant for cleaning, removal of plutonium and burial of the remaining radioactive wastes; but again, it was simply a matter of everyone doing his job properly. It was over a year ago that White Water had been refueled last. Ben remembered getting a queasy sensation in his stomach as the diesel truck, groaning, had pulled onto the freeway with its heavy load of radioactive fuel rods en route to the reservation. But the two- year accumulation of radiation was well contained. Nothing short of sabotage could release its deadliness to the air.

Glancing at the clock Ben noticed that the time was 8:42 am. Precisely at that moment, the cement floor began to slide under his feet. His head snapped around in surprise as he instinctively reached out to steady himself, grasping onto the edge of a console. His feet were firmly planted on the floor, perhaps twenty-four inches apart, yet he felt like he was on a large skate board as his body was thrown first forward, then backward. Attempting to regain his balance, Ben dropped his papers and held firmly to the console with both hands.

Across the room, Michael Percy had been cast broadside into the front of the master control board. Scrambling to latch onto something stable, Mike’s hands frantically waved over the instrument panel. “Jesus Christ!” he yelled, “what’s happening?”

“Mike,” Ben shouted, “it’s an earthquake! But watch it! Get your hands away from that panel!”

He didn’t think Mike heard him. The man seemed to be yelling, his mouth wide open and his face contorted in shock.

Desmond Anderson, the third member of the crew was lying partially under a desk, his back and feet exposed, but his head securely protected.

In what seemed like minutes but was actually less than sixty seconds, the shaking ended. California experienced numerous earthquakes each year and, as would be later determined, this one was not particularly forceful. To the three men frozen in the control room, however, the trembling seemed quite intense. After all, this building had been especially constructed to withstand the most violent rigors, and yet their bodies had been flung about with the swaying motion like tiny rag dolls.

Finally tearing his hands loose, the knuckles as pale as the console to which they had been firmly attached, Ben switched on the scanning screen to the reactor building. No one was in sight. Strange, he thought, there should be someone down there. Snatching up the intercom speaker, he began calling, expecting any minute to see white coated figures moving about. Ben’s absorption in the eerily empty picture before him was interrupted by a shout from Mike.

“Ben! There’s something wrong! The reactor temperature’s rising!”

“Shut it off! Drop all the control rods.” Ben’s command was instinctive as he wheeled away from the screen and strode over to the master control board. He quickly checked the instruments for the cause of the problem, eying the temperature-gage needle. Mike was seated at the other end of the board intent on the switches in front of him. About to speak to him, Ben was distracted by the crackling sound of static from the intercom switching on. Then a voice came through the speaker, a voice filled with fear.

“A coolant pipe has cracked! We’re getting flooded with water over here!”

Ben spun toward the screen in time to see the floor of the reactor building take on a shiny, liquid glaze.

“That may be hot!” he bellowed, grabbing the microphone. “Get out of there!”

Turning aside, he roared, “Des, throw the emergency coolant switch! Fast, man!”

Without coolant, the interior of the reactor core would quickly become overheated. As the intense heat built up to a sufficient level, fuel rods would melt and the fission process would cease, with tremendous damage to the reactor. Theoretically.

Two orders had been issued by the supervisor, both of which should bring the problem under control.

“Done!” Des answered as his fist pushed the switch that shot the stand-by coolant into the superheated core.

“Ben, there’s something wrong! The control rods won’t go down!” cried Mike as he worked the release buttons. In response to Ben’s first command, he had quickly located the buttons that, when pressed, would lower all of the cadmium control rods into the reactor core. Those rods absorbed the excess neutrons and were the brakes for the fission process. Without them, the reaction within the core would continue unchecked, and an unchecked nuclear reaction would result in a great explosive force building up until it was released in a violent discharge.

“I don’t understand it! The red lights are on!” bellowed Mike. “And I can’t get these damned rods to drop,” he said as he feverishly alternated the buttons.

“What do you mean, they won’t go down? Why not? They’ve never failed to before!” Ben shouted.

“They won’t! They won’t. I think I may have accidentally hit a button during the quake and that raised the ones that had been down.”

“Do you mean there aren’t any controls in there? Jesus Christ! If we don’t get those rods to drop we’re going to have a blowout.” Red lights flashed all across the panel as Ben stood there frantically mashing buttons.

“Ben, the temperature is still rising in the core,” said Mike excitedly.

“What? Still rising? Isn’t the coolant...?”

“The emergency coolant must be evaporating,” Des yelled out. “The fuel rods can’t take too much more before they start melting, Ben!”

“At least the god damned reaction will stop once the fuel rods melt!” said Ben, reassuringly.

But the situation was becoming critical to the reactor. The men, relying on what they knew to be the best opinions of certain scientists, were convinced that a burn-out would destroy the reactor but would prevent a nuclear explosion. There was no reason not to believe this since a burn-out was commonly touted as a built-in safety factor with the reactor core. Still, a burn-out would be an extremely costly occurrence for the company.

“Des, keep an eye on the temperature gages! Mike, come with me,” snapped Ben.

Taking his assistant, Ben left the consoles and passed into a smaller, circular cubicle. “There’s one other chance for dropping those control rods.” By now they were in front of a gray metal console with the face closed off. “There’s a lever that’s used during refueling...maybe it’ll jar them loose.”

Instructing Mike to hold the door back, Ben reached inside, grasped the metal lever, and yanked. Nothing happened. The lever hadn’t budged. In surprise Ben hurriedly searched for the cause. To his dismay, the cabinet had become warped and its metal surface had squeezed the lever into an immobile position. The earthquake had done some damage.

More damage was done than was obvious to Ben, in fact. The sudden shifting of the earth beneath the plant had caused a hairline fracture to traverse the top of the reactor dome. This meant damage to the pressure suppression system.

“It’s no use,” Ben said dejectedly. “The damned thing is jammed.”

“Ben, what are we going to do? Without those rods...?”

Ben ignored the question and ran back into the master control room. Des looked up as he entered.

“It’s still going up, Ben! That core is an inferno!” said Des.

The scanning screen showed the reactor building to be empty of people. The crew working around the reactor had exited at Ben’s order. Now the scene was a flooded, innocent-appearing chamber with its gigantic steel reactor vessel and metal catwalks overhead. In the center of the vessel was the multi-ton core of radioactive fuel, and it was quickly, with deadly accuracy, speeding toward a monumental release of its immense powers.

Realizing that the members of the crew had escaped from the reactor area, Ben turned his attention to the board again. In the absence of liquid coolant, internal temperatures within the reactor continued to rise. Although the theory had never been tested, Ben just assumed that the very worst that could happen would be the melt-down of the overheated radioactive fuel rods. That would in turn shut down the chain reaction of splitting atoms.

Although some skeptical scientists had warned of the possibility of the melt-down actually resulting in a pooling of molten radioactive substances in the bottom of the reactor, the consensus from most nuclear physicists was that even with such a pooling, there would be insufficient fissionable matter present for the formation of a critical mass. Relying on these conclusions, Ben considered the danger of an explosion from the nuclear source to be almost non-existent.

Having exhausted his efforts at forcing the control rods to drop down inside the over-heating core, Ben returned to the temperature gauges. The needles were rapidly climbing to their limits on the dials, A melt-down would completely destroy the reactor, but at least the damage would be confined to that area, and the remainder of the plant would be spared.

Ben stood, watching the needles as he ground one fist against his other palm. Mike stood behind him, and together they heard Des throw the switch that would release the second stand-by emergency coolant. This was their last resort to forestall the meltdown.

“Is anything happening?” yelled Des from his console, hoping Ben would announce a temperature reduction, showing that coolant had entered the core.

“No!” shouted Ben as the needles continued their upward swing. It was apparent that the water which should cool the reactor was not getting to it.

Mike grabbed Ben’s arm. “Why hasn’t it burned out?” he asked as his fingers clamped into flesh. “That’s what it was supposed to do, wasn’t it, Ben? Melt, then die out?”

Ben nodded dumbly. “Yeah. But I don’t think it’s going to do that. Look at the Gage!” The needles had reached their limits. They could go no higher.

Des was suddenly behind them. “It’s not burning out!” he shouted. “The reaction isn’t stopping, Ben.”

Mike wheeled away from them and broke into a run toward the door yelling, “I’m getting out of here. This thing is going to blow!”

For a split second Ben took his eye off the dial to glance at the clock overhead. It was 8:46 am. In the next instant an unearthly hell exploded through White Water.

****

Ben thought he had been dreaming of the pain, but when he opened his eyes it became a reality. It seared his body, seeming to touch each nerve as it sliced through the tissues. And it worsened with each inhalation that was more than the briefest gasp, tearing at his lungs with every effort of breath. Slowly, carefully, he blinked, the dryness of his eyeballs causing a raspy sound that carried to his brain. It was funny that he should hear that when all else was quiet.

The sun neared its zenith—it was nearly noon. Ben tried moving his body but the slightest motion made the pain more acute. He lay back under the rubble, waiting. Surely a rescue squad would be here soon.

****

The next time he lifted his lids the sun had gone far past its zenith and was beginning its descent. Was this possible, that no one had attempted a rescue mission? Aware that the reactor had exploded sometime before nine o’clock and he had lain there for hours without anyone making an attempt to help, Ben was convinced that aid would never come.

Gazing overhead, he saw that the day had become smoggy. It was the kind of gray foggy haze that always accompanied a temperature inversion. A high pressure system had trapped the heat near the earth’s surface, forcing the industrial and auto wastes of smog to blend with whatever other particles might be present in the lower atmosphere. The pollutants, including the radioactive fallout, would hang suspended low over the area until winds blew them away, or rains carried them to the ground. An inversion was most deadly when confined by a natural basin, as in Los Angeles. Open to the sea on one side and closed off by mountains on the other, the Los Angeles basin was sure to lock in the poisoned clouds.

Tugging painfully, Ben began working his body from under the chunks of rubble. Discovering that his left arm was tightly wedged beneath a slab of building material, he concentrated on getting the limb free. At last it was exposed, and to his dismay he found that about midway between the elbow and wrist, the forearm had been turned around. The palm faced out instead of in. Grimacing, feeling jagged ends of bones scraping flesh, he gingerly lifted the wretched hand up and folded it into his shirt, close to his chest. Clearing the last of the rubble away from his legs, he cautiously tested each one and learned that they were capable of motion.

The stillness was a foreboding of things to come. Not even the slapping of ocean waves could be heard. The plant had been destroyed. Piles of metal and concrete littered the grounds. Warped, twisted bodies of automobiles were scattered over the land. The nine o’clock crew had been arriving at the moment of the explosion. Normally there would have been thirty-two people within the plant; now, Ben saw no one.

The stupendous release of energy had virtually flattened White Water Nuclear Power Plant. Its personnel were as ragged and ripped as its reactor. None escaped who were in their cars or defenselessly walking across the parking lot or on the grounds.

Disoriented, Ben pulled his painful body to its feet. It had become obvious that having alone miraculously survived the blast, he would have to try to help himself. He laboriously reached inside his jacket pocket for his smart phone. The screen was black. He punched the power button. It lit up. He dialed 911. Nothing. Nothing happened. He brought up the district office number. Nothing. There was no signal – not for sending or receiving.

Home. Home was his goal, but the direction to take was the problem. Spying the chain link fence in the distance, he started toward it in hopes that upon reaching it, he could continue eastward until reaching the freeway. Then, with luck, he would be picked up and carried home.

Once he was moving, the pain became less noticeable; not less intense, but less noticeable. Complete concentration was required to avoid the hunks of wreckage that lay in his path. Only strong- willed determination to live forced him to place one sluggish, bone-weary foot after the other.

The fence, the dully metallic, heavy wire wall that enclosed the White Water facility was still standing. He could see it more clearly as he lifted his glance. A huge dark blob seemed trapped in the mesh of wire a short distance above the ground. The blob became no more distinct, however, as he laboriously closed the distance between himself and the fence. Then finally he was there, directly abreast of the elongated mass. By now it assumed human characteristics. Two arms thrown back in surrender. It was Mike Percy.

Mike had evidently been running across the parking lot after dashing out of the control room. His body was horizontal to the ground and about two feet above it. He had been blown into the chain link fence with such force that the metal links had sunk deeply into his back, firmly attaching him by the meaty shoulders, buttocks, and thighs. The charred features were barely recognizable.

Ben stared in horror. Unwilling to leave the corpse grotesquely snagged by the fence, he determined to pull it loose until it could fall to the ground. Suppuration and body fluids had plastered the clothing to the body. Selecting a hem of the dead man’s shirt, Ben closed his fingers weakly around it. The fabric crumbled into ash. Steeling himself, he placed his hand behind the nape of the neck and gave a short tug. The skin slipped. Indeed, the skin and the prickly hairs at the base of the skull slipped off into his hand, adhering its wet, yellowish pink tissue to his own flesh. With revulsion, he disgustedly slung his hand, throwing the sticky mass aside. It was no use. He simply didn’t have the stomach to pull Mike free. The heat had literally cooked the body to the point where flesh was beginning to fall from the bone.

Ben wanted to be sick. He felt his intestines churning and a hot bile-tasting odor rose into his mouth, but for some reason nothing came up. His parched lips and throat desperately needed water—but vomiting would only dehydrate him that much more. It was just as well if the regurgitate would stay down.

Stumbling along the length of fence, nearly blind with pain and fatigue, he finally found the opening. The journey to the freeway, less than two hundred yards, seemed interminable. Yet somehow he made it. His reasoning faculty had not been functioning well, for he’d thought that once he made it out to the highway, he’d be picked up and carried to safety. Now the six lanes were before him, stretching endlessly in opposite directions. But there was not a single vehicle, not a single evidence of people, in sight. Nothing moved. There were no birds in the sky and no glittering reflections from airplanes up in the gray overhead. It was almost as if he were the last man on earth.

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Also published as a paperback under the title of:

"The Disquiet Survivors of the Nuclear Catastrophe”

 

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The following is an excerpt from the novel "#BETRAYAL"

PROLOGUE

The white walls and the white linens surrounded her. The bareness of the room was overwhelming, not cozy and comforting. For the moment she was alone. Sara watched the clock click away and wondered if these were the last moments of her life. She wanted some more morphine but was afraid if she increased the dosage she wouldn't wake up again. She fingered the pump. The pain hit her with an intense wave.

As the relaxing drug flooded her body she floated away. Help, she was too young for this! And she thought back......Sara thought back to her first baby that had been born after the devastating San Mirado nuclear catastrophe. When her child was delivered they had wrapped it in a towel and given it to her to hold. They thought she didn't notice. But she did – she could feel that it was too small and too thin. Ben's baby – their son. Delivered in the presence of Dr. Bernard Parsons.

It had been the nuclear catastrophe that could never happen. Her then husband, Ben, had been the supervisor of the local nuclear power plant. He never failed to assure her how safe the nuclear plants were, that they had thought of everything in the planning. They were fail safe. They had thought of everything except the earthquake that had frozen the control rods. The control rods that couldn't be lowered into the core of the nuclear reactor to slow down the speed of the atoms splitting. The control rods that were necessary to keep the reactor from overheating. The reaction kept increasing in speed, releasing more and more heat as more and more atoms split, until a terrible explosion of pent up energy and overheated gases blew the place apart, causing a meltdown and a tremendous release of radiation.

People panicked and drove in the wrong directions, clogging the streets, trying to flee. They couldn't believe that their precious phones no longer worked, that the bank automated teller wouldn't give them any money. The things they took for granted disappeared in an instant and they were not prepared.

And now years had passed. She was married to Dr. Bernard Parsons. And now they had Fukushima. The Fukushima nuclear catastrophe that everyone said could never happen. Just as it had been said that the nuclear catastrophe could never happen in San Mirado. Would they never learn?

CHAPTER ONE

Dr. Bernard Parsons sat at his desk in his suite of medical offices adjacent to the hospital. His white lab jacket hung open over his open collared dress shirt and neatly pressed pants. He was a handsome man, but the past years involving the San Mirado nuclear disaster had aged him somewhat. He had already done his morning rounds for his patients. He had visited with Sara, his wife, in her private hospital suite, and made sure she was as comfortable as possible. Once again he had been reassuring to her. He was hoping for a miracle. The phone rang several times before Bernard could reach it. It was his direct line that bypassed his secretary and receptionist. “Hello, Bernard Parsons here,” he spoke into the telephone.

“Bernard, how are you? Just calling to see what's happening?” Sam Baxter said. Sam, of Baxter Investments, was a successful businessman in the real estate and investments market. He was the 'go to' person for getting ahead with your money. He had five sons from his first wife, who were in business with him. His second wife, Elise, had no children. But that was because he was insistent about her not having a child. And secretly, just to make sure he had his way, he had, as insurance, had a vasectomy. That served two functions. One, he could cheat without the fear of getting stuck with one more kid, blackmail, and/or a divorce. And two, Elise – who was incapable of taking care of anything – was prevented from having the child she constantly talked about wanting. She worried obsessively about who was going to take care of her when she was older.

“You have over $50,000 cash in your investment account,” Sam said. “One of your bonds was called at par and you haven't been spending as much lately, so you should put this to work. We have a good bond, in-house from a trust. The kids who are now in control want to cash everything out now that the father has died. They will sell it below market. The smell of money is driving them to get this done quickly. You can buy it for eighty cents on the dollar – 50,000 in the block.”

“So who's behind the bond? What's it rated” asked Bernard.

“Oh, you know I'm going to go through all the particulars with you. Just wanted to let you stop me dead in the water if you had other plans for the cash,” Sam responded. “It's a bond for the Moorpark, Ca. school system, rated AA, and insured by Ambac. That’s a very upscale city, very healthy financially. Yield is 5% tax free.”

“As long as it's not Sacramento,” Bernard said. “Go ahead.” Then he paused slightly, not knowing whether he wanted to broach the subject or not. “How are the kids?”

With a sigh, Sam answered, “Doing well. I have to monitor their transactions and since there are five of them that takes a lot of time. They've brought in a lot of business, got to give them that. But they just don't believe that things can go wrong. And they resent my looking over their shoulder.”

“We will have to have dinner one of these evenings when things settle down at my house,” Bernard said.

“How is Sara doing?” Sam asked.

“Realistically, not so well. But I'm always hopeful for a remission or a miracle. Listen, gotta run, my nurse has buzzed me several times...patients are waiting. Thanks for calling, Sam.” Bernard hung up the phone and pressed his nurse's intercom button.

****

Fuji woke up hungry. The drab concrete block walls around him had no decoration and stared back at him silently. He blinked to clear out the sleep from his eyes. Other people were starting to move around, up from their cots. Soon the noise level would move to such high decibels people would gladly go outside to get away from it. But it was cold outside and almost as cold inside.

The government had been giving them rations since they had been evacuated from Fukushima, but they were hardly edible. First the authorities had said it was no problem for them to stay in the area. Then after two weeks they were told the area was very radioactive and there were mandatory orders to evacuate. He wondered how much radiation they had been exposed to.

Fuji thought about what he would do today. They needed a place to live. They had a home near Fukushima, Japan, but now they were no longer allowed to go there. They also needed clothes. Now he had no job. His wife and two children were alternately scared, hungry, bored, angry, and confused. They were sleeping on cots with hundreds of other families in a big warehouse. There were two bathrooms inside, outside were portable toilets, and one makeshift outside shower with only cold water.

“Fuji...,” his wife said, “are you awake? I'm going to get the children up and go stand in the food line.”

“Okay. I'm going to see if it is possible to shower.”

“Have you heard anything? About what's happening?” Shisa asked.

“I'll try and find out,” he replied. With that he slowly got off his cot in his rumpled, soiled clothes and began making his way to a door leading to the outside. A government agent would be there later he had heard. Possibly they would have some clothing to give out. That meant standing in line again for hours to take your turn. Some people had money or had relatives they could stay with. Fuji and his family were poor. They had no nearby relatives. They had no money. And now they had no possessions.

He stopped to piss on the way by closely hugging the wall and hoping no one would notice. At the shower there were only a few men as most people were in the food line. He took his place in line, hoping they wouldn't run out of soap in the dispenser, or the paper towels, before his turn came. He hoped the sun would warm the cold air. Maybe he could get an extra shirt since there were no coats.

“Did you hear anything?” he asked the man in front of him.

“No one seems to know anything except that we can't go back now. The earthquake and tidal wave wiped out most of the area, the radiation from nuclear plants contaminated the rest.”

“But we can go back?” Fuji said hopefully.

“Who knows? There's not a lot left there. Where did you work?”

“I worked at the power plant”, Fuji said.

“The nuclear plant? The one that blew up?”

“Yes, the Fukushima nuclear plant.”

The other man shook his head and left Fuji standing there as he walked quickly away.

****

Bernard was sitting in his offices after the last patient had left and the employees had gone. There was not much of a push to get home since Sara was in the hospital located beside his medical offices. He would go and get dinner from the hospital cafeteria and take it up to eat with her. It couldn't be any worse than what she was being served. Hospitals were famous for their bad food.

Bernard sat and looked over the latest offering from Sam's company. His kids were pushing second loans on houses secured by real estate. Supposedly it could never go wrong with real estate constantly pushing upward in price. He thought back to the last catastrophe, when the nuclear plant in San Mirado, California, had blown up. Real estate values went to nothing in that area after all the radiation contamination. Didn't make any difference whether you held the first loan or the second – you were out of luck. The lenders lost their money, the homeowners lost their houses. Insurance didn't cover radiation disasters.

But, as the kids pointed out, these weren't in Southern California, but in the suburbs outside San Francisco. He and Sara had moved there after getting married to start a new life together. And the government obviously believed that nuclear was clean, safe energy or they would have closed the plants down. Just because there had been an accident in Fukushima didn't affect the values here.

Bernard pondered whether he believed all this. He and Sara had been in the middle of the last disaster.

Bernard thought about the fact that the United States was recognized as a world leader, a world power, perhaps the strongest of all the nations with the most modern technologies. Yet, as a doctor he contemplated why the United States didn’t lead the world in having the lowest mortality rate among infants. And it wasn’t even a close race. With approximately 188 countries reporting, the US was only number 34. And a lot of the countries that were ahead of the US had no nuclear power.

In fact it had been theorized that the health of the United States population had been compromised by all the above ground nuclear testing starting in the 1940’s, then the underground tests that followed, and the massive leaks of radioactive material. Australia, with no nuclear industry, was ranked 18 in the report.

Interestingly, the Japanese, who had been subjected to two massive nuclear bombs and had 55 operating nuclear plants in a small country, was number 3 in lowest mortality rating. It would be revealing to see what happened to their rating over the next ten to twenty years after their massive Fukushima nuclear accident. But the documentation showed that the United States, in those years of testing nuclear bombs in the atmosphere and oceans, had detonated over one hundred million times the bombs that had been dropped on Japan. The US was first in the production of radioactive pollution.

****

Bernard opened the hospital room door softly, to see if Sara was awake. He hoped that she was, but if she were sleeping he would return later. Her eyes were closed. Even with no makeup she was still beautiful, her features perfect. She had naturally blond hair and big dark eyes. The lashes were heavily fringed and surrounded those eyes, giving her a dramatic look. Slowly they opened and a smile came to her face. She lifted her arms to him, to touch him. He bent over and kissed her cheek.

“I have good news, Sara,” he said quietly.

“And what is that?” she asked still smiling.

“Well, you have improved in how you are feeling, so we must assume the chemo and radiation have done some good. The tumor hasn’t grown. You could very well be in remission at the moment. But the tumor is inoperable and is still there in your brain. There is a new procedure that is experimental. A doctor with your same tumor tried it. He figured it was his only chance to survive. His tumor began to shrink. Duke University has begun a larger study with good results for these glioblastomas.

“Is it painful?” she asked.

“No, not really. It requires an injection into the tumor, but that's done with anesthesia. You would have some soreness in the scalp area after, but that's about it.”

“What is being injected?”

“Polio virus. They have shown in mice that the injection of the live virus into tumors shrinks them. First we would get your polio vaccination updated so you didn't get polio. Then we would do an injection of the live virus into the tumor in your brain. Hopefully it will work for you as well as it has for this doctor.”

“What kind of doctor is he?”

“Interestingly enough he is a cardiac surgeon. When he got this brain tumor and was diagnosed with only six months to live he started doing research. This guy wasn't a smoker; he only drank minimally and kept his health an important part of his life. So why did he get this tumor? He found a medical paper published wherein twenty-two doctors had all gotten this same type tumor in the same side of the head and the same placement. They were all doctors who had radiological studies going on while they were doing surgery.”

“That's rather scary, Bernard, you being a surgeon.”

“Does make you think. But anyway, he then found the study with the polio virus injection and decided to make a try. For him, it seems to be working.”

“Well, can I have a little break from the hospital before we try something else?”

“Why not. I'll ask your doctor to make a final determination and sign you out. I will discuss this with him and perhaps you can even leave today.”

Sara's eyes lit up and then tears formed in them. She squeezed Bernard's hand tightly. “I can't wait to get out of here.”

****

Sara stared out at the view from the back deck of their home. They lived high in the hills north of San Francisco. She had missed looking out at the bay, the boats coming and going, the sunrises and sunsets. Bernard was close enough to his hospital that commuting wasn't a problem. And there was no nuclear plant close to them. That had been a factor in their choice of where to live.

She also missed the activities she had shared with her friends. When she became ill, first with the headaches, then nausea, finally vomiting, Bernard had insisted she have a MRI. It had shown the tumor, an aggressive malignant type, located in her brain in an inoperable location. It was hard to talk with her friends about this.

They had called and she had simply chosen not to discuss it. “Let's not dwell on this,” she said. If Bernard wanted to tell them he could. But their questions were depressing, and certainly she had no answer to the one that was repeated over and over – what are you going to do? Even though the doctors said that radiation and chemotherapy had little effect on these tumors she and Bernard decided they would start with that route. Since his offices were at the hospital, it was easier to check in for a stay there while she received treatment. They had no children and had decided that they didn't want to take a chance on bringing a damaged child into the world after their radiation exposure from the San Mirado nuclear catastrophe that had occurred while they were living in Southern California. She thought about all those young Japanese women now heavily exposed to the radiation released when the Fukushima nuclear reactors melted down in 2011...and sighed heavily, thinking back on her own experiences.

But if she were going to continue her life, she had to rise above these thoughts and move on to what she enjoyed. She picked up her tablet and began to type an email to her friends. “I'm out of jail! I'm coming down to visit next week. Call me if you can go out to play. Sara”

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NUCLEAR ROAD TRIP - ONWARD to DESTRUCTION

PROLOGUE

THE FATUOUS BLOWHARD, Erich Schneider, was leaning over his desk, looking into a mirror placed directly in the center. He moved closer, and holding one nostril shut, sniffed deeply. The white powder on the mirror disappeared in a rush, hitting his brain with a jolt. He then inhaled through his other nostril; he loved the feeling of the jolt and the subsequent high.

He leaned back, thinking “aaahhhh,” when claxons began to reverberate loudly in his ears at monitor #3. “What the???” he thought, jumping up from his chair. He glanced at the #3 monitor and saw the message: radiation exceeding maximum levels of emissions from stack.

Nuclear Road Trip

He quickly scooped up the mirror, razor blade and the bag of white powder, folded a magazine around them, and put the magazine with its contents in a file marked, “Classified.” This he stuffed into a desk drawer which he quickly locked. It cost extra for the powdered form, but he could afford it. Erich certainly did not want to do the work himself. It was called being inherently lazy.

Going to the door, he slid the deadbolt open and rushed past his secretary. “No calls, Margaret, not until I make sure this is under control,” he called out as he continued walking.

“What is happening, Dr. Schneider?” she shouted anxiously, trying to be heard over the ear-splitting noise. Margaret had heard one too many alarms blaring since she began working for Erich. Each occurrence made her want to quit and move west where there would be far fewer nuclear plants surrounding her - in any direction. The Chicago area was rife with them.

“Nothing to be concerned about, Margaret; it is probably just a bad sensor. But I want those damned alarms shut off,” he said brusquely as he turned into the corridor and headed for the main control room. “God, I could use another hit; this place with its constant stress and pressure is getting to me,” he thought to himself.

An employee wearing a white lab coat was coming toward him. As they came abreast of one another, the employee did a tight one-eighty, quickly swinging into step with Erich. “We are lowering the control rods now, Dr. Schneider,” he said loudly, albeit in a reassuring tone, searching Schneider’s face.

“Do NOT patronize me, young man,” he stormed. “What is the chance it has a bad sensor?” Dr. Schneider snapped, continuing to make his way quickly to the control room.

“Not good. You know how it is: same thing, new day,” the employee answered.

“I do not know what they expect of this forty-four year old piece of crap. Can you believe they renewed its license to operate until 2028? I cannot. How stupid can they be?” Schneider’s face was red from the fast pace in tandem with his anger. The effects from the cocaine weighed in heavily.

The main control room was ahead and he jerked the door open. “Turn off that damned siren,” shouted Schneider. “We got the message already. There is a problem. Shut that damned thing off!”

The claxons were finally silenced. “Ah,” he sighed, and thought, “The sound of silence really can be wonderful.”

He looked around at the various employees, most in lab coats, in front of the computer banks, dials and gauges.

A young woman stepped forward and said quietly but firmly, “The rods are dropped, sir. We are going to have to shut it down, however.” Her voice sounded almost like a whisper after the noise of the warning horns.

Dr. Schneider looked apoplectic. “Pancorp is going to have a cow. A massive one which is going to dump all over me,” he exclaimed. “The bad publicity, the lost revenue from a shutdown, angry customers, and the cost of repairs are bad enough. But the board and the shareholders will be looking for someone to sacrifice. Are you certain?” he asked, a pleading look in his eyes.

"Sorry, Doctor, but once again, it is definitely a leak in the cooling pipes. They are old and have been patched in so many places already,” she shrugged. “A temporary patch simply will not do; it needs to be permanently repaired. We have to shut it down to remove the damaged section and weld a new pipe in its place. This time the hole is too large. We could replace all the piping, but that requires a permit. It would be really expensive, and the plant would probably be down for a year—at the very least.”

“Okay, okay,” he waved his arms in the air, declaring defeat. “No big deal; and we will not be down for a year replacing pipes. I will prepare yet another press release,” Erich looked up, a glare upon his face as he spoke to the gathered employees. “No one here is to say a word to the media. Not if you value you jobs,” he said, grim-faced. “In fact, no one, and I mean no one,” he practically growled, “discusses this with anyone outside this plant, including spouses, lovers - hell, even pets! Is that understood?” he demanded, staring in turn at each person in the room. “I am certain I can have you arrested for treason if you do,” he assured them. “And you can enjoy Guantanamo Bay for the rest of your measly little lives,” he turned on his heel and stomped back toward his office.

When Dr. Schneider returned to his office, Margaret was busy answering the plant's phones. She slid the microphone from her headset aside and said, “Reporters are calling; they want to know what has happened. The alarms can be heard outside the plant,” she told him. “And the General Director of Pancorp called. They are sending five evaluators who work for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to the plant. He said to make sure the leak is repaired by the time they arrive. Pancorp wants to look like they care, but in order to downplay the seriousness of the situation, the evaluators have been given two weeks to arrive; they were essentially put on vacation. The plant, however, is to remain closed until they have finished their evaluation; the employees who were told to stay home are on paid leave. And the rest of the employees will stay unless told otherwise.” Margaret moved toward the keyboard of her computer. “I will print the directive which just arrived by email.”

Dr. Schneider gazed blankly at Margaret for a moment, shaking his head in disbelief. “They are giving them a vacation when we are shut down? What the???” he thought to himself for the second time that morning. He entered his office and dug out his magazine. He really needed another hit. Maybe two.

JAKARTIAN SAT IN the Barnes and Noble Book Store in Joliet, Illinois, west and south of Chicago. He was sipping the cheapest and smallest coffee the store had to offer, which he had loaded with sugar and cream at their expense. He sat watching the doorway. His name was really Jakarta, but felt Jakartian sounded more sophisticated and Jakartian did not make him sound like a city. He, as much as any other person, desired respect.

A dark-skinned man entered and casually glanced around the room before proceeding to the order station. After a few minutes, he had a cup of something hot and walked out the door.

Jakartian casually stood up, and he too left the book store. He followed the dark-skinned man as he continued around a corner within the covered shopping mall, leading him to a more deserted section. There was a vacant unit next to a music store where the dark-skinned man stopped, looking through the glass at nothing.

Jakartian approached and said casually, “Have you decided?”

The man responded, “No. We are still looking at a dirty bomb, or infecting their software, or both.”

"You have the contact, though? That came through?” Jakartian asked softly, but firmly for assurance.

“Yes. We believe we have someone who will work with us. We have had many discussions.”

“Do I need to know who?” Jakartian asked.

“No. No names. No email. No phones. They are watching everything. We are contacting each other through drops, just as you were contacted.”

“But you can get the virus for the software prepared.” Jakartian made it a statement, not a question as he would not tolerate hesitation.

“Again, yes. We have hackers just as everyone else does.”

“You know they allow no strange personnel in these nuclear plants. They all have to have security clearances. And they cannot bring in portable devices either, as they are always searched.”

“Snowdon had security clearances. How much good did it do them? None. And he was not allowed portable devices either. Everyone thinks a rule makes it happen.”

“So what is next?” posed Jakartian.

“Look into the water supply for the nuclear plant. Check out how the pipes bring it in and from what source. And get drawings or photos of the blueprints. They are public record. Look for vulnerable areas outside the facility,” replied the man.

“All right. Give me a week. Check my drop for the signal telling you I have the material prepared.” Jakartian moved casually away, tossing his empty Barnes and Noble cup into the trash.

The dark-skinned man walked the other direction.

ONE: John and Aadhil on Vacation

WHAT DOES ROUTE 66 have to do with anything?” asked John (Rocky) Rockford, a trim, solidly built six foot, five inch, tall man who exuded strength, reliability and trustworthiness: a rock among men. “Nowadays, it is no longer traveled with any degree of frequency. It is not even on the maps anymore, although there is a movement to put it back,” John smiled. “Did you know that parts have been overtaken by Interstate 40?”

Lick, lick.

“Darn it, Bear, stop licking me!” John grumbled for the umpteenth time, wiping his face with a towel he kept at hand. “Remind me why we brought this dog again?” asked John, although it was a rhetorical question and treated as such by Aadhil, who just grinned at John. Bear licked only John; it was a game they played. Well, Bear played anyway. He licked. John complained. It worked. It was routine. It was funny.

“More than thirteen million people now travel Route 66 each year, so that is probably why it will go back on the maps,” responded Aadhil Nazir proudly.

“Over the years it has been called, the “Will Rogers Highway,” “The Mother Road” and the “Main Street of America,” continued John, ignoring Aadhil’s comments. “And it stood as a symbol of opportunity, adventure and exploration for all travelers. It represented the golden years, when the world was still fresh and new, possibilities were endless, and life was simpler. It was completed in 1926—about midway between WWI and WWII— but in 1985, Route 66 was officially decommissioned. The familiar highway markers came down, essentially closing the road. Oh, and it was also known for the song, “Get Your Kicks on Route Sixty-six” This was from the song, and the television show of the early 1960s, ‘Route 66’.” John was smiling with glee.

John was on a roll now. “Route 66 is a historical landmark. Its distance has changed over the years, from 2,448, in 1926 down to 2278 miles in 1947, running from Chicago, Illinois, to Santa Monica, California. It was the first cross-country road built and used extensively for travel, especially during the “dust bowl” years, which is somewhat ironic as it was initially a dusty, unpaved two-lane road. Parts of Interstate 40 eventually rolled right over it, so now there are bypasses and frontage roads. There are still many folks trying to make a living from Route 66 on those bypasses and frontage roads. Indeed, in a recent study done by the National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, more than $132,000,000 is spent per annum in communities along historic Route 66, shedding new light on the importance of preserving it. Money speaks,” he finished.

Route 66 was important to Aadhil Nazir. He wanted to better understand his country of choice, and Route 66 represented a major role in the making of the United States. He also wanted a much needed vacation, as did they all, so it had everything to do with him, and ultimately, with all of them.

“You have stolen my…my, I forget, but you have stolen it. Parade. That is it. Thief! How do you know so much about Route 66?” he demanded, now accusatory and suspicious. “You did not even want to come this way! Bear. Lick!” Bear obligingly licked John, who wiped the slobber from his face with the towel while glaring at Aadhil.

“Well,” replied John, “you have forced me to take a vacation and travel the dusty trails, so to speak. I, therefore, read a little about it.”

“Some people have all the nerves,” replied a disgruntled Aadhil. “But I bet that is all you know.”

“You have me there, Aadhil. I have given you everything I memorized from the guide book!”

“Good. Steal the parade from someone else in the future,” he blurted.

Aadhil Nazir was Muslim, still fighting for his place in the world. After twelve years of residency in the United States, he knew Muslims were largely disliked and automatically thought of as terrorists. Often he struggled with the concept of how to convey the reality that terrorists were a minority group, and not always Muslim.

Aadhil had very refined and pleasing features, with prominent cheekbones, black hair and nearly black, fathomless eyes. He was also a very good- natured, kind and gentle thirty-one year old man. Many of his colleagues considered him to be far too young to hold the degrees he had earned. Aadhil was a genius who achieved his Ph.D in nuclear engineering at the ripe old age of twenty-four. He accomplished this feat within a very suspicious country, in which he was only now a new citizen, even though he had moved here at nineteen. He was 5’9”, of average build, usually hiding his musculature under Muslim garments. Friends and strangers alike found he always had their backs for a good cause, because he was also a loyal and caring person. “This is my parade,” he declared, again wearing a determined look.

“Please stop the truck, John. Bear-Lee-a-Dog needs to take care of his business and have some water as he is thirsty,” Aadhil reached into the back seat to pet his yellow Labrador Retriever, who looked rather dashing in his red mesh ‘Service Dog’ harness.

“Did we not just do that?”

“Quit telling of the jokes, John. You know he has not done his business since before we left, and he must be thirsty as well. I know I am.”

Once they had stopped, Aadhil let Bear out the back door and they began walking a short distance from the road, with Bear glued to his side.

John watched them, smiling fondly. Aadhil’s doctor had suggested that a Service Dog might help Aadhil deal with the stresses of his job. The doctor had written a medical need letter after Bear had been adopted. The medical letter permitted Bear immediate access to any facility or building. But the dog had progressed with more training far beyond his initial service designations. He was, as far as John knew, the only dog allowed within the walls of any of the sacrosanct nuclear power plants in the entire world, making him quite unique.

Bear, beloved as he was, even had his own harnesses in a variety of colors, announcing he was a Service Dog and was entitled to be accepted within any establishment. Aadhil kept Bear’s paperwork in his wallet, just in case he was detained for any reason. Bear also had several sets of work clothes, each with its own lightweight cooling system so Bear’s core temperature could be maintained between 100 degrees and 102 degrees while inside any plant. The dog’s work clothes were emblazoned upon the sides with the words, ‘Service Dog’ as well and ‘Do Not Pet’. These work clothes met two important standards. First, Bear was clearly designated as a Service Dog, permitting him entry anywhere. And secondly, the dog had a sterile uniform which controlled his hair and dander while he was inside a nuclear power plant. The garment was made of a very lightweight mesh with such small holes it appeared to be a solid fabric. It was constructed somewhat like the pads available for human beds which kept the dust mites at bay, but was lighter. The material, which controlled his hair and dander, was developed specially for him, and for the other dogs that might follow in Bear’s footsteps. He had become quite the phenomenon within the nuclear industry.

John was very fond of Bear, but grumbled when the dog licked him, just because he could. And it gave Aadhil a kick. Aadhil was his friend whom he had sponsored for his American Citizenship. He was hoping the two other team members they would pick up in Albuquerque did not grumble about Bear when they saw a dog was traveling with them. Bear had earned his seat. Furthermore, as far as John was concerned, if either complained, that person could sit among the baggage for all he cared. When John died, he wanted to come back as Bear-Lee-a-Dog III, for someone as amazingly wonderful as Aadhil. Of course, at thirty-nine, John hoped to wait awhile.

BACK IN THE CAR John and Aadhil were continuing their conversation as they sped along Route 66. “What are you talking about Aadhil?” John grumbled. “Caribou in one sentence and the Morristown, Illinois, nuclear power plant in the next? What do Caribou have to do with Morristown?” John Rockford turned piercing blue eyes to the right, glancing at his passenger. “Caribou. Really. They are in Alaska, and we are on Route 66, which is not even in the general direction of Alaska. By the way, this is a really slow way to travel,” he sighed.

A nervous passenger, Aadhil Nazir, replied, “Please keep your eyes on the road, John. Yes. Caribou. You know what…2011,” he said.

“That was years ago—Know what?”

“Are you trying to be one of those that dismisses what happened in 2011?” asked Aadhil. He looked frustrated but slightly comical as the wind from the open window spiked his straight black hair.

“No, and you are aware I know the significance of 2011. The nuclear disaster in Fukushima was one of the major events of the twenty-first century, not to be dismissed lightly. But I am on vacation now, which is how I know you are not dressed appropriately,” John displayed an impish grin, dimples prominent as he baited his friend. “He is such an easy target,” he thought.

“What is wrong with how I dress?”

“Well, you are wearing a t-shirt instead of a Kurta. And jeans? Really? I like your Kurtas and white baggy pants; they look so comfortable.”

“I am on vacation, also, remember? And I am American Citizen now,” Aadhil proudly announced, a glint in his eyes. “So I will be wearing of the jeans anytime I want, and I want,” he retorted, with a curt nod. “And you are trying to change the subject, my friend. Again.”

“The Caribou population has been decimated, John. The herd normally declines an average of 3% per year, which is bad enough as it implies the herd die-off, and it has been declining for a very long time. But since 2011, it has dropped by 28%, for an overall decline of 52% in just eight years. The largest drop in the herd occurred during 2011 and 2012,” Aadhil informed him, with a look resembling horror upon his face. “This is why Caribou are important. They are very important to us right now because of Fukushima. Studies have shown the airborne radiation has increased from Fukushima,” Aadhil concluded.

“What importance does it have right now?” John asked, still confused.

“Because of Morristown. Because of its leak.”

John shook his head, frowning. “Well, that situation is under control at the moment. They have closed the plant and fixed the leak; I thought we were on vacation,” was John’s retort. “We are going to be very, very busy once we get there, so we really need this vacation. Now.”

“We are, but the Fukushima meltdown had a severe impact upon both sea life and of the wildlife along the Western Coast of the United States. Do you not ever wonder what it is doing to the people who live there?” he persisted. “And especially if they have been eating of the local seafood. Morristown uses the same Boiling Water Reactors as Fukushima, but Morristown is so much older,” he commented, “and it has the leaking of the radioactive particles and gases, which is why we are traveling there now, and why Caribou are important.”

Aadhil slapped his forehead. He was not to be deterred. “The Caribou are important, yes, but what about the children? Who is to think of the children?” he cried.

Aadhil was so upset John pulled off the road and stopped the car, giving him a questioning look.

“What about the children? What children? What are you talking about?” John could clearly see Aadhil was agitated and about to panic, so he reached behind the seat and unbuckled Bear, calling him to jump into the front seat. Aadhil promptly wrapped his arms around his dog-child.

“The children on the Western Coast, especially in Washington, and now even in Nevada. The Caribou and the children. In 2011, right after the Fukushima, there was a sudden and dramatic spike in the number of children born with the horrid birth defects; especially the babies born with only the partial brains, or none at all. And almost all died immediately, but the parents suffered.” Aadhil wore a horrified look with good cause.

John blanched. He was completely focused upon what Aadhil had to say now, while silently berating himself for getting sucked into this conversation. He was not ignorant of the impact Fukushima had upon the populace; it was not as if he did not work in the industry. But their colleagues, both in the United States and in Japan, were almost fanatical in not admitting anything was wrong after the Fukushima disaster. Their state of denial was thought to be an effort to protect their jobs. So much money had been invested in nuclear plants, the government was determined to continue their operation to generate profits. Somehow, various groups associated with nuclear had refused to see all this information while in pursuit of their own goals.

Aadhil continued, his face buried Bear’s in fur. “All this slowed down in 2012 but it is still happening.”

“I am so sorry, Aadhil, and you are right. It is catastrophic!” he exclaimed. “And Morristown, as you correctly pointed out, is a Boiling Water Reactor just like Fukushima. As old as it is, it probably should be permanently shut down.”

“Yes,” responded Aadhil tears streaming from his eyes, “and now, children in New Mexico are endangered because of the WIPP, the nuclear waste interment pilot project treatment plant that is leaking there.”

“Thanks. Aadhil. One of the primary reasons I enjoy our friendship is because you are such a caring person; your empathy is what caused me to want to be your friend. But this denial of consequences from nuclear accidents is a problem within our industry. It is good you have Bear. Perhaps, though, you should work on your emotions a little more, Aadhil. You store so much knowledge in your brain. You sometimes become hyper-focused. That is why I think you never want to forget the children. Not even for a moment,” John added, sympathy clearly displayed in his eyes, along with sadness for all those endangered children and their families.

John continued, “Bear has an innate sense for knowing when you need him. I will move his seat belt so he can stay up front with us for now. Of course, Bear seems to sense licking me will make you happy, so I will just...” John grunted while tugging the towel from beneath Bear, “hang on to this,” he smiled, dangling the towel in front of himself. As if on cue—lick, towel, sigh, and a chuckle or two ensued.

John moved Bear’s seat belt to the front and then restarted the SUV. They reentered traffic and proceeded along Route 66. “So, my friend, we must set these worries aside for now and move onward. Now, Morristown had a leak, which is very serious, as it released radioactive material into the air. So, yes, we need to discover how and why, and fix this situation. Permanently. What you may not know, since I have not mentioned it, is that Pancorp is putting me in charge. I have the authority to do whatever it takes to either fix the plant from head to toe or to shut it down permanently. This has been weighing heavily on my mind since we were ordered to Illinois by the NRC. We need to focus on Morristown, absolutely, and prevent more of the same.”

“But right here, right now, we enjoy our vacation and let work wait until we get there. Trust me,” John said, “it will still be there once we arrive,” John urged. “And they did give us this vacation time, and we have not had a vacation since I cannot even remember when. So we will use it as such. Then we will be relaxed and ready to hit it hard when we get to the Morristown nuclear power plant,” he said, a little more forcefully than intended. “You said this is a vacation, so vacation. And just think of poor Bear,” he gave Bear a sad look. “He has never been on vacation.” Lick. Sigh. Towel.

“This is true,” replied a guilty-looking Aadhil Nazir. “Eyes. Road. Thank you.” He gave Bear a big hug while Bear, never allowed to sit up front, enjoyed the sights.

“What did you want to stop and see?” John adroitly changed the subject. “Since this is a vacation, after all, and I can see you have been bursting with excitement all morning, where to McDuff?”

Aadhil looked very confused. “Who is McDuff, John?” Aadhil looked at John, a little worried about his sanity.

Small things made Aadhil happy, and John was willing to oblige. They were on Route 66 after all, which was certainly not his idea; he would have rather gone straight to Chicago to see the myriad of sites there. It would have been a much more relaxing and enjoyable vacation. Chicago was a thriving metropolis.

“Why, you are McDuff, Aadhil. It is a joke,” said John, realizing this joke, like so many others, flew right over Aadhil’s head.

“Ah. I see,” he said, although he really did not. But that was okay with him since John thought it was funny. They were back on track for now. “Well, when we go to Missouri, we need to stop in Fanning to see the “Route 66 Rocking Chair,” Aadhil responded excitedly. “It was completed on April Fool’s Day as a joke, and everyone thought it was funny because who would be looking for a rocking chair off Route 66?”

John could not help himself. “Okay, I’ll bite; what is so special about this rocking chair?” he asked. “They are a dime a dozen.”

“No, they are not,” he replied. Aadhil could be rather literal minded at times. “A good one is very expensive.”

Aadhil then looked at John, a huge grin forming upon his youthful face, an unmanly giggle escaping his lips and excitement glowing from his eyes. “This one is 42 feet 1 inch tall and 20 feet 3 inches wide, and weighs 27,500 pounds. It does the rocking, although they have to keep it tied down as it would be very dangerous if it begins to rock and falls over. It was completed on April 1, 2008. I saw it on an annoying food show where this man eats a ton of food,” he shuddered, “and looked it up. I have been waiting for this for a long while.”

John smiled, a big grin forming upon his face while shaking his head in amusement. “You sound as if you are quoting text, but you are a font of information, Aadhil. And are we planning to sit in this chair?” he asked.

“That fat annoying eating machine did, but they had to hoist him up, so I do not know yet. He is famous. We are not. I hope we can. I have my camera, and four of us will be there to see,” he noted. “And the owner said if anyone is to build a bigger one, so will he, and he will call it “Mama Bear,” and the original would be the “Baby Bear.”

That did make John laugh heartily. “More Bears! Will our Bear go to the top if they let us?” Even he was looking forward to seeing the behemoth with Bear sitting on the rocking chair.

“We must see first if it is safe for him to be up so far from the ground,” responded Aadhil.

“What other sights have you chosen for our vacation?” John asked, giving in to the inevitable. “Or will we be bored until then? And where did you hide your itinerary? I have yet to see one.”

Aadhil pointed at his head. “Here,” he smiled. “is where I keep all good things,” he winked at John. “No, of course we will not suffer boredom. Did you know the original Route 66 was unpaved?” he asked, reverting back to guide book mode. “And for your predilection,” he smiled broadly, “we have The Rock Cafe, halfway between Tulsa and Oklahoma City. The Rock Cafe had burned to the ground at one point, but it was re-built from sandstone which was removed as Route 66 was being constructed. It was completed the same time as Route 66 was finished in Santa Monica. Now it is historically significant,” he proudly informed John, “And do not forget most people call you Rocky, so you should be right at home there.”

“Ha! How many of these sights you have so carefully chosen are just places for you to eat to fill that bottomless pit you call a stomach?” laughed John.

Aadhil frowned at him. “None, but this one is important to Route 66 and just happens to be someplace where we can have an eat. It is a lucky happenstance, yes? As will be the others,” he gave John an impish grin. “How far have we traveled?” he asked.

“About 90 miles. Why?”

“Because the Petrified Forest is 120 miles from Flagstaff, right off Route 66. It should be our first stop because we need to take a break for Bear every two hours,” he pointed out. “We are very close. I hope the restaurant is tasty.”

“Really?” exclaimed John. “Are you planning on eating the restaurant, Aadhil?” he joked.

“I do not understand you John. Have you the crazies?”

John was chuckling. “No, Aadhil; I was joking because you said you hoped the restaurant is tasty, not the food at the restaurant.”

“It is very clear to me you are trying too hard to be funny, John.”

John was still chuckling, but Aadhil continued. “Yes. Well, it is 142 miles from Palo Verde to Route 66 by Flagstaff and another 120 miles to the Petrified Forest. Even you must be getting hungry, John.”

“Well, yes, but please do not tell my friend, Aadhil, or he will start teasing me.”

They both laughed and drove on in companionable silence. They had worked together for seven years and considered themselves close friends.

When they were almost to the desert area known as the Petrified Forest, they stopped at a local pub to enjoy cheeseburgers smothered with grilled onions surrounded by curly fries. John had a beer while Aadhil, as a Muslim, drank water. Of course, Bear-Lee-a-Dog ate his kibble and slurped his water with gusto. His water was bottled by a well-known U.S. manufacturer, and cases of it were packed for him when he traveled. His stomach, therefore, would not be exposed to possible upsets from local water sources. After getting a tiny bite of burger as a treat, the dog smiled and thought, “This vacation is pretty much fun.”

While they were eating, John mentioned his sister, Chloe, who had once asked about petrified wood. She wanted to know if it could be burned in the fireplace. “She was born late in my mother’s life and was only twelve at the time. She was so upset when I told her it really is not wood anymore, but rock. The striated colors come from the various iron and manganese compounds in the rock. On a sunny day these produce vibrant reds and oranges. The wood petrifies to become something else, while still maintaining the look of wood.”

“She gave me a look full of horror because she thought it was just really old wood which had dried out and become really hard over the millennia. I think it was a week before she would speak with me again,” he said. “Even now, she still gives me the stink eye as she states, “petrified wood.”

Aadhil looked appropriately sympathetic. Mostly. He could also see her side, and hers was the most charming concept.

They had a fun afternoon sightseeing through the National Monument with Bear. After they exited the park, Bear was allowed to go off leash so he could sniff everything around him, and there was a lot to be sniffed. Aadhil even allowed him to briefly chase a squirrel before returning to the truck.

As they both approached the truck, Aadhil attached Bear's leash, which Aadhil handed to John. “Will you put him in and get him settled, please? I have a quick phone call to make,” he said by way of explanation.

John nodded and proceeded to open the back door for Bear so he could jump into the truck. He was removing the leash when he noticed Aadhil had moved a short distance away. He could hear him speaking to someone. But the conversation was in a foreign language

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