« Peacemaker », Chapter Twenty   

Chapter Twenty

MIZINSKY – Theodore L., Age 51, of Cedar Grove, NJ, on February 4, 2012. Beloved husband of Deborah Mizinsky, devoted father of Judith and William Mizinsky. Died of injuries sustained in an automobile accident. Funeral services will be held February 7 at 10 am in the Donovan Funeral Home in Cedar Grove.

----from the New York Times Obituaries, February 6, 2012

 

First Anniversary of PeaceMaker Attack
Candlelight Marches Held Worldwide

---- The Wall Street Journal headlines, January 29, 2013

 

5 pm Sunday afternoon, January 29, 2012

Leon woke up and stretched his arms. He was pleased the next seat was empty, providing a little extra room to stretch out. Checking his watch, Leon saw it was just a little after 5 pm Eastern. He figured they were flying over Western Pennsylvania or maybe Ohio.

He looked out his window as the last glow of the sunset faded into an early-arriving winter night. Far below, Leon could see the glimmering lights of small towns. In the distance, the bright lights of a city dominated the night. He wondered what it would be like to live out in the rural countryside. The pace would be slower. He wouldn’t have to contend with all the people, but Leon was a city boy. He grew up in Philadelphia, and he still loved the city, even with all the hassles. The culture was outstanding, and he had a great time taking his son to see the Phillies. He smiled. Mike was becoming a fan just like him.

Leon looked back past the tail of the plane. Suddenly, all the lights below him began to go out; a black wave swept across the ground at an incredible rate, leaving only darkness in its wake. Towns that had been brightly lit just a moment before were now dark. He watched the darkness sweep in from the west, behind the plane, and flow toward the east. The black line swiftly passed beneath the plane and disappeared over the horizon, leaving a murky void. The sparkling civilization below had disappeared in a dark tidal wave.

Leon pressed his face against the window and looked in every direction. Nothing. He strained to see out the windows across the aisle. No lights anywhere. He couldn’t believe it. There was a complete power failure across a huge area. People were buzzing all over the plane, reassuring each other with uneasy words.

“This is your captain speaking.” Abruptly, the plane was quiet. “As you may have noticed, there’s a complete blackout below us. I don’t know how wide it is, but I suspect it’s quite extensive. I have been unable to contact air control in Philadelphia.

“I want to emphasize we are in no danger at the present time. The plane is working perfectly, and we have a clear path into Philadelphia. Hopefully, power and communications will be restored before we reach the airport, so we can make a normal landing. If not, I can land the plane using instruments.

“I want everyone to relax. I have asked the flight attendants to complete the dinner service as quickly as possible. Because of the situation, we will not be serving any liquor. I’ll get back to you as soon as I learn anything new.”

Face still pressed against the window, Leon stared into the darkness below. He had a nagging feeling in his gut that this would be a bad night. He hoped Sabrina and the kids weren’t out on the road shopping or running errands. They’re probably all at home, he tried to assure himself.

*

Mary Stuart finished adjusting the external heart pacer for her patient, Albert Montemuro. She walked over to the nurse’s station and dictated her observations into the patient records system. Two young nurses were sitting on the other side of the room smiling and talking. Probably gossip, Mary thought. Time better spent with patients.

Her back was bothering her again. The four-day week sounds good, but she was beginning to regret signing up for it. The ten hour shift was just too much for her back. Plus, the drive home from Schenectady to Albany was smack in the middle of rush hour traffic. She’d have to talk to someone about going back to a five-day week.

Before Mary was able to complete her dictation, the system went dead. She pressed the power button, but the display panel remained dark. Annoyed, she decided to call the technical support line. Suddenly, the power blinked and went out. Rapidly advancing late afternoon shadows gave the floor an eerie, dreamlike quality. The hospital was quiet for a moment, and then people began shouting. The spell was broken suddenly.

My patients!

Mary rushed into Montemuro’s room and found him thrashing about the bed. He was holding his chest and trying to scream, but only low gasps were coming out. A quick glance at the pacing machine confirmed the worst. All the indicators were dark. Where was the backup power supply? Montemuro lapsed into unconsciousness before Mary could help him. She began CPR, without effect.

Suddenly, the room was bright; the backup power was on. Thank God! Mary scrambled over the bed to get to the pacing machine. The indicators were still dark. She pushed the power button – nothing. Come on, damn you! She punched the power button hard a couple of additional times with no result. She dropped to her knees to check the power cord. It was plugged in. Driven by a sense of desperation, Mary shook the heart pacer with both hands, but it was completely dead.

She had to calm down. The machine wasn’t working. Mary looked at Mr. Montemuro’s gray face. He wasn’t thrashing about anymore. She scrambled out the door. She had other patients.

*

Laura was alone in the convenience store when the lights went out. One minute it was bright and familiar, the next dark and strange. Laura pulled a flashlight out of a drawer and went to the window. All the lights were out – streetlights, traffic lights, store lights – everything. Only the headlights of passing cars occasionally pierced the darkness. The street was sprinkled with people, but they all seemed to be walking with a purpose; nobody was just hanging around.

Laura realized it must be a massive power failure. She stepped outside and looked down South Orange Avenue in each direction, but she couldn’t see any lights except for the cars. The winter evening was chilly, so she went back inside the store, locking the front entrance.

She decided to wait for a few minutes to see if the power would come back. After about twenty minutes, she noticed the store was becoming unpleasantly cool. She bent down to examine a heating vent, which felt cold to the touch. That’s it. Time to go home. Laura picked up the netphone to call her manager but could not get a dial tone. The phones were out, too.

Laura put on her coat and walked to the front door. Using the flashlight, she scanned the aisles to make sure everything looked okay. After zipping up her coat, she hooked her purse over her shoulder, locked up the store, and hurried toward the bus stop, which was only a block away. It was cold, but the snow had been shoveled off the sidewalks this morning, so the walking was easy. Laura noticed there were few people on the street. Not many cars going by, either. She reached the bus stop in a few minutes, but the bus was not in sight.

Ten minutes went by. Where is that bus? The night was cold, even with a warm coat. Laura decided to start walking home, since her apartment was only about fifteen blocks away. Besides, there was a bus stop every couple of blocks. If the bus came, she would be able to catch it.

Laura began to walk home along South Orange Avenue. The avenue was old and run down, but it was the centerpiece of the western section of Newark. Usually, lots of people would be shopping or just walking around, but tonight the streets were deserted. She looked back over her shoulder for the bus, but nothing was coming.

An occasional car drove by, its lights providing a brief respite from the darkness. The buildings were no longer familiar, no longer friendly. She thought about walking back to the store, but it was too far. Besides, staying the night in there wouldn’t be safe. She shivered as a gust of wind penetrated her coat. The community seemed to be receding as the darkness pushed in.

Laura began to walk faster.

*

“Mom, can you fix the TV? It just went out!”

Nancy Brown shouted from the kitchen, “I know, Brian. It’s a power failure. I’m coming up.”

Nancy trudged up the stairs in the fading light of the late afternoon. Brian was waiting for her at the top of the stairs. “It’s creepy, Mom. Nothing works. When will the power come back?”

“I’m sure the power company will fix it soon.”

Nancy shouted in the direction of David’s room, “David, honey, are you working in the dark with your wallet computer?”

No answer. Nancy walked to David’s room, where as usual, the door was closed. “David, what are you doing in there?”

When he didn’t answer, she pushed open the door and stepped inside. David was slumped over, eyes closed, with his face pressed at an awkward angle against the computer. Panic froze her briefly, and she rushed up to him and pulled him off the display.

“David!” she screamed, but he didn’t respond. He was unconscious, but she didn’t see any injuries. His breathing was shallow, almost nonexistent. Pressing an ear against his chest, Nancy picked up a faint heartbeat. She shook his shoulders and screamed his name again, but he didn’t respond.

Clearly terrified by her screams, Brian ran into the room and stared at his brother. “What’s wrong with David?”

“I don’t know,” Nancy cried as she grabbed David’s netphone off the desk. She shouted, “9-1-1,” but the phone remained quiet. She tried a second time, with no result.

Knowing her son’s life depended on fast action, Nancy said, “We have to take David to the emergency room. Grab his feet.” Nancy lifted his head and shoulders while Brian held his feet. Struggling with David’s weight, they carried him out the door.

*

Dr. Maureen Young was sitting at a console talking to Brett and her deputy, Harold Tabnik, when the siren went off. She realized immediately the main power was lost and the backup power system had cut in. She heard the control rods drop into the core as the reactor scrammed in an automated effort to shut down. A quick glance around the room showed that all the displays were blank.

The blare of the alarm made it difficult to concentrate.

“Someone turn off the warning siren!” Maureen shouted.

Suddenly, it was very quiet.

Maureen’s footsteps on the cement floor echoed through the room as she walked to the primary operations console. Staring at the dark display, Maureen said, “Sentry, start up.”

Nothing.

“Sentry, start up.”

The display remained dark.

Brett pushed the power button on the workstation, but the machine remained silent. Maureen felt fear begin to overrun the control room.

“Harold, is your console working?” she shouted.

“No, everything’s down,” Harold hollered back. “I can’t get anything to work.”

Another engineer shouted across the room to her, “The netphone is out. I can’t reach the NRC or anyone else.”

Maureen felt the tension invade her body. Without the computer, she was flying blind. She didn’t know what was happening in the core, and there was no way to control the reactor. Anything could happen, but her worst fear was a meltdown. If the pumps shut down – even slow down – the cooling water could not drain all the heat from the reactor. The core would melt down and explode. Not a nuclear explosion, but one forceful enough to blast nuclear materials and radiation across a wide area. Everyone within hundreds of miles would be contaminated. Everyone in the control room would be dead.

Maureen listened to the hum of the pumps and felt the familiar, tingling vibration through the balls of her feet. The backup power was keeping the reactor under control. Everything felt normal now, but that could change rapidly.

“I want everyone to listen to me,” Maureen said. “Everyone remain calm. We have a power failure, and we are now operating on backup power. The power will last for twelve hours, more than enough time to shut down the reactor safely. I heard the reactor scram, so shutdown is already underway. However, these workstations are not responding, so we need to move to the backup facility. I want everyone to get over there now but without panicking or hurting yourself. Let’s go.”

The technicians hurried to the door and waited impatiently for it to slide open. Moments went by without any movement. One of the technicians kicked the door in desperation.

It remained locked.

They began to kick it, pull it, push it, but nothing worked.

Brett pushed his way through the crowd to the door, carrying a heavy metal wrench. He crashed the wrench against the glass window but barely nicked it. Sweating heavily, Brett hit it a second time, with the same result. He cursed and swung the wrench a third time, but it bounced off the glass. Harold grabbed the wrench and swung with all his strength, but he, too, was unable to dent the glass.

Pushing back her fear, Maureen shouted, “Give me your attention.” As they turned to her, she said, “We’re going to split into two groups.” She looked at Harold, a tall, graying man with dark-rimmed glasses. “Harold is in charge of the group that will figure out how to get us out of the control room. I don’t care what you have to destroy, just get it done.” She picked two technicians to work with Harold, then said, “Get started now.”

Maureen turned to the rest of the group. “We are going to get these computers working again. Brett, you go through the specs to see if anything in the software could have caused this. The rest of us are going to pull the wall panels and check the wiring. We know the backup power is working fine, so there must be a disconnect somewhere in the trunk. Let’s go.”

Maureen and her team removed wall panels and began to examine the wiring. A few minutes later she heard a quiet voice call her name and felt someone tug on her arm. She turned to see Brett’s worried face. Her stomach knotted when he said, “Come with me. I need to show you something.”

Brett led her to the far wall. She was elated to see the indicators had moved on the antique devices. At least we can get some basic information. Brett pointed to a circular gauge that measured reactor coolant temperature. The position indicator was in the yellow zone, meaning the water temperature was pretty hot. It was still far from the red zone, so the core was in no danger of meltdown. She quickly checked the other indicators, which were okay.

“Well, the reactor coolant is hotter than it should be, but everything else looks normal,” she said. “Keep your eye on the temperature while I get back to the wiring.”

“Don’t you see, there’s something wrong,” Brett said. “Why are these antiques working? If there’s a problem with the trunk, they would be out, too.”

As Maureen thought about Brett’s observation, she noticed the indicator move slightly closer to the red zone. She looked at Brett, who whispered, “The coolant is getting hotter.”

Maureen forced herself to remain calm. “The problem could be in the software or it could be a break after the antiques tie into the trunk.”

She saw it – a sudden movement of an indicator. The pressure jumped in containment. “Steam has escaped into containment! Christ, we have a leak somewhere!”

Grim-faced, Brett asked, “Any way to tell if the leak is from the primary or secondary coolant loop?”

“Not without the computer! But I can tell you one thing. It’s radioactive.”

“Containment will hold it, won’t it?”

Maureen realized everyone had stopped to listen to them. The idiots! She screamed, “Everyone get back to work! We have big problems here. Work like your life depends on it!”

As the technicians jumped back to work, Brett whispered, “Maureen, are you okay?”

“I’m fine! If there is a problem with the software, you have to find it.”

Maureen rushed over to Harold, whose head was in a hole in the wall near the door. She knew they had to escape from this room. Harold was talking with one of the engineers, trying to understand the wiring around the door. She sat down next to him and peered in the wall. “What’s the story with the door, Harold?”

“With the computer down, we can’t get at the specs, so we don’t really know what the hell we’re doing.” Harold pulled his head out of the wall and said to her, “Not that it matters, since we don’t have much in the way of tools. Aside from that, things are great.”

And I’m depending on this idiot to get us out of here. I’ve been thinking about removing him for some time – why didn’t I do it?

“We don’t get along,” she said, “but I never thought you were a quitter.”

“Don’t ever call me a quitter!” Harold shouted, red-faced. “Just stay out of my way, and I’ll get this door open.” He pushed his head back in the wall, nicking his forehead on its edge.

Maureen stood up and looked around. With papers spread all over his desk, Brett was searching for a problem in the software. Most of the panels were off the wall as the technicians looked for a problem among hundreds of miles of wires. Harold and his team were trying to figure out the door. She didn’t have confidence in any of them, but her life depended upon someone coming through.

She walked back to the antique instruments. The coolant temperature was moving toward the red zone, and the pressure in containment was close to the design limit. Maureen laughed bitterly. Either the core would melt down or containment would explode. It wasn’t her fault, but she was going to die anyway.

*

Ray stared at the code in frustration. Another false trail. The Domain had planted several false trails, and he was running out of time. Goldman’s soldiers might discover him before they found the answer. In addition, the longer it took them to figure out how to kill the virus, the more damage it would do, and the more lives that would be lost. Tidesco was working in the other room, and he shouted out the door, “Any luck, Linda?”

Her tired voice came back to him. “Nothing. I’m beginning to wonder if they hid the authorization sequence in the code, after all.”

“It’s there. They wouldn’t have planted all these false trails if it weren’t there. Keep looking.”

Ray hoped he sounded more confident than he felt. Dianne’s agents were sure to search this room before long. If they didn’t find the authorization code pretty soon …

He started to pull up another code section, but his stomach rumbled, reminding him that he had not eaten since yesterday. Since Tidesco had moved into someone’s apartment, Ray thought he might find a snack in the small kitchen just outside the bedroom.

Ray plodded into the kitchen and spotted a compact refrigerator in the corner. He pulled on the handle and was stunned by what he saw as the door opened; the top shelf of the refrigerator was filled with at least a dozen bottles of wine and beer.

Just a drink or two to get rid of the tension, he thought as his thirst surged. I could still find the virus. Hell, I’d be better if I were relaxed.

His fingertips touched a cold bottle of wine, but he pulled his hand back as if struck by an electric shock. I’m a great developer, sober or drunk. I proved that. But I wouldn’t get drunk. Not even high. Just relaxed.

Leaving the refrigerator open, Ray reached up and pulled a glass out of the cabinet. He was sweating as he put the glass down on the counter. He reached into the ice cube tray and dropped two cubes into his glass. Ray bent down and looked into the refrigerator again.

He could feel the power of the enemy. His mouth was dry. Just reach in and get a bottle. Ray knew exactly how it would be. The warmth would spread through his body, and for a moment, he would be free.

Yeah, free to be a drunk. Free to be captured or killed. Free to see that fucking virus use my software to kill thousands of people.

Angrily, he reached in – past the bottles, past his enemy. His hand tightened around a bottle, and he lifted it out. Ray slammed shut the refrigerator door and poured a glass of Coke.