Trumpkin;Doctor Who;Jo Grant;Katy Manning;Third Doctor;Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart;Jon Pertwee;Jeri Massi
The night passed in silence. At about 5:30 a.m., Jamie and his wife came out to the kitchen to begin preparations for breakfast,, Stehart and Rogers, who had bunked in the front room in blankets on the floor, rose and were just stretching and inspecting the day outside while pulling out their pipes when Jo Grant rushed into the front room, clad in her bathrobe but barefooted.
"Oh, there's something terrible in the bathroom!" she exclaimed. "I think it's something that's been radiated!"
Both men hurried down the hall and burst into the bathroom. Stehart was first, and he caught back a grin as he saw the invader in the bath tub. "No, Miss Grant. That feller just come up the drain like his kind do. He won't hurt you!"
"It's so big!" Jo exclaimed. "Oh, it's horrible! It's like a giant cockroach!"
"Gimme a strip of toilet paper," Stehart said, and as Rogers handed over a wad of the requested material, Stehart made an expert lunge, missed the reddish black monstrosity as it scuttled away, and made a second grab into the tub. He caught it and crushed it. "There y'are. Them's Palmetto bugs." He dropped the wad into the toilet and flushed it. "They lays eggs when they die, and half the time they ain't really dead anyway. So don't thow 'em in the trash. It's best to flush 'em away."
"Or grind 'em up good with your heel," Rogers observed. "But that ain't good for the bath tub."
"Are there many of them about?" she asked. "Why, I'm sure it was nearly three inches long!"
Rogers shot her a look of slow surprise. "Why, Miss Grant, after dark, every hedge is just---"
"Heck no, not many!" Stehart said quickly. He shot a glare at his partner. Rogers caught the look and subsided. Stehart became reassuring. "That there was just a granddaddy, I suppose. You run the water, and nothin' will come up the drain."
They left her to it. She nervously closed the door and prepared for the fastest shower of her life. Out in the hall, as they heard the water hiss from the shower head, Rogers said in a low voice, "Gosh, she's just as pretty when she first gets up!"
Stehart moaned. "Oh don't start, boy! When she come runnin' up that hall in just that robe I nearly swallowed my pipe. Let's go have a smoke!" They went out to the porch and smoked agitatedly for several minutes until the others came downstairs.
An excellent breakfast was served to them in the long dining room next to the front room. As though by consent, nobody spoke about events from the night before. The police had been notified, and Rogers and Stehart had stayed over partly to keep a watch while the others caught up on sleep. Now, at the start of their first full day at the scene, the UNIT team from London was ready to get things done.
"The important thing is not to shoot at another intruder," the Doctor said. "We want to ask questions, not threaten or intimidate anybody, especially anybody who is good at controlling deadly radiation."
"You think somebody's deliberately making the radiation go up and down like that?" Stehart asked.
"Doctor, such a thing is not even possible," Cornwallis objected. "Radiation possesses a lengthy half-life, sir, as you well know. Once an area has been radiated, it should remain radioactive for years. Possibly centuries."
"Even mankind has some remedies against radiation," the Doctor said.
Stehart reached for the coffee pot. "Sure, to coat over radioactive surfaces with layers of lead paint, but even then it's got to be low-level radiation. Otherwise, we end up enclosing radioactive things in lead, concrete, or earth."
The Doctor looked thoughtful. "You see, you're looking at this from a biological perspective, a material perspective. Let me ask you this, can a fish live above the water? Can it breathe the air?"
Jo cocked her head and offered a slight smile. "Come on, you know the answer to that," she said. "Of course not. That's what makes it a fish. It has to stay in the water."
"But why not use its hands to build itself something to take water with it where ever it goes?" he asked back, smiling at her.
She played along. "Fish don't have hands!"
"Ah!" He looked very knowing and mysterious. "But why not?"
"Hands aren't efficient in a world made of water," Yates told him. "Fish evolved to swim and to swim more efficiently."
"Evolved!" Stehart said with a snort. "Fish don't have hands because God in His wisdom didn't give 'em hands!"
Cornwallis inclined his head slightly. "Stehart has voiced my opinion for me." Jo saw the look of surprise flash across Stehart's face as he realized that his black compatriot shared his views on creation.
The Doctor lifted his hands. "All right, all right! Let's agree with both points of view. We can very simply conclude that fish are not equipped to deal with a dry world, a world bounded by air and not water."
Jo voiced the obvious question. "What's this got to do with radiation?"
"Well, think of us like fish, Jo," he said. "We are not equipped to deal with radiation. Our design equipped us to deal with a material environment, an environment where we interact much more with matter than energy. For us, energy must come in low levels at low doses." He glanced around at them. "But our limits do not indicate that all creatures are so limited. It is conceivable that there are other beings who can interact with radiation---and other forms of energy---as easily and as naturally as we deal with air and matter. They may ingest it, excrete, swim in it for all we know!"
"You mean you think we're dealing with outer space creatures?" Stehart asked. "Radiation monsters?"
the Doctor lifted an eyebrow. "Hardly monsters."
Stehart's jaw dropped. "A man is dead, Doc."
"A man who fired first," the Doctor pointed out. "What would you do if you were on a strange planet and one of the natives introduced himself by shooting at you?"
"That was his duty!"
"But the creature he fired at may not have known that!"
Rogers at last spoke up, though only to voice his disagreement. "What kind of outer space creature steals a radiation suit right from SRP itself?" he asked. "That was an SRP suit the trespasser was wearin'!"
"What kind indeed?" the Doctor looked thoughtful but not doubtful.
Not wanting to be disloyal, Sgt. Benton regretfully shook his head. "I can't see it either, Doctor. If something came down from space and went wandering around the swamps, it would surely have the equipment necessary to go out and explore. It wouldn't have to steal a suit."
Yates raised a new possibility. "Perhaps it crashed into the swamp. So maybe it wasn't really prepared to go out but was forced to?"
"So it stole a suit and then came back to the swamp and wandered around?" Benton asked. "If it needed a suit to survive, then how did it get out of its ship to steal one?"
"Oh it's all eggs in moonshine!" Stehart exclaimed.
"Their theories, yes," the Doctor said.
Stehart became annoyed. "We called ya'll out here to help us, not make up stories!"
"All right, then here are some facts," the Doctor told him. "The bullet fired by the Wackenhut soldier was vaporized inside the helmet of the suit. That's why there was no exit hole, and that's why there was no blood. It's also why the inside of the helmet is coated with fine dust. It's all that remains of the bullet."
He stood up, mildly offended with all of them for not following his reasoning. "Perhaps, Corporal Stehart, when you have served with UNIT a little longer, you will discover that the universe is not bounded by swamps and tobacco! And you, Captain Yates and Sgt. Benton, have learned nearly nothing after all your experiences! Space ship indeed! Crashing into the swamp! What utter nonsense."
Controlling his own temper with difficulty, Yates spoke. "Well Doctor, what would you suggest we do to either prove your theories or come up with one of our own?"
"What we must do is obvious. We must get to the reactors at SRP and take measurements. It is in a reactor core that we should find signs of irregular behavior."
"Look, gettin' in to the water circulation swamps is one thing," Stehart said. "Getting' close to the core of a reactor is something else. Those reactor zones are gold security clearance only. And even people with gold clearance need special authorization. I can't get you into the reactor buildings. I don't have gold clearance."
"My friend, Sanchez Emil may be able to help," Cornwallis said.
"All right," the Doctor glanced at Yates. "Meanwhile, I brought along some special equipment. It needs to be set up along the outer sections of the swamp, well out of the danger zones. It can give us readouts on the direction from which the radiation strikes and leaves the areas." He turned to Yates. "Captain Yates, you, Benton, Rogers, and Miss Grant may see to that. I'll go with Corporal Stehart and Cornwallis to see Sanchez Emil."
"Can't I come with you, Doctor?" Jo asked.
"No!" he snapped. "For once you'll do as your told! I need those detection pieces set up! Now let's get to work!" He strode out. But then he poked his head back inside the doorway. "And stay out of the swamps! Confine your activities to the perimeters!"
"Sure is a gruff old fella'" Stehart muttered, pulling out his pipe. "Well let's go, then."
* * * *
Getting the Doctor's detection equipment set up around the swamp but not in the swamp took some planning. Long after the Doctor, Stehart and Cornwallis had gone to the main entrance of SRP, the others sat in the front room, crowded around a map that Rogers produced for them from the glove compartment of the UNIT jeep. There were four small detection stations to set up, and the Doctor's only stipulation was that each must be set up at least three feet off the ground, and they should be as equidistant from each other as possible.
There were bogs to avoid, and grasslands that offered no trees to which they could affix the stations. Furthermore, the devices would have to be read by radio contact, and so they had to be set up to avoid radio shadows and interference.
An hour's study and consultation at last produced four sites around the swamp that they thought would be workable.
"We can pick up walkie talkies at our little HQ," Rogers said, running a long, thin hand through his white-blond hair. "One person drop everybody off at different spots and then go 'round and pick 'em all up again. That'll be the best way." He glanced at their footwear. "Y'better make it long pants and boots for rough ground," he said. "We don't want no snake bite or tick fever."
As they went back through the front room to get boots, Jo said wryly, "No, we don't want no snake bite or tick fever. Honestly! Why would anybody live in America?"
Benton grinned. "This is just a small part of it," he reminded her. "They put these nuclear sites in wilderness settings. Makes for a natural defense."
"Well it works for me! I wish I'd never seen this place!"
* * * *
Emil had been helpful in getting the Doctor out of trouble, but he was equally unwilling to bring the stranger into the heart of Savannah River Plant. He met the three UNIT people in his spacious, many windowed office in the administrative building in the 700 area, a strip of land not far from the gate onto 125.
"Look," he said. "I've read your papers and have the greatest respect for you, Doctor Smith, but quite frankly I am not enthusiastic about having our reactors critiqued once again. Every time it happens, we get bad press, and people like Morgan clamp down even harder to suppress information." He sank back into his chair and gestured for them to sit in the expensive leather chairs that faced his vast desk. "If we're to get anything done in this place, we must be allowed to work without raising the paranoia of DOE and other elements. Subtlety is crucial."
"Mr. Emil, I promise you that I have not come here to publish any findings," the Doctor told him. "What I am concerned about has nothing to do with the structure of the reactors, nor with the shut down processes that you employ. I am concerned about---about an anomaly within the radiation itself."
The heavy eyebrows lifted. "Anomaly? What kind of anomaly?"
"Fluctuations in radiation levels," the Doctor said.
Concern passed across Emil's face. "What kind of fluctuations?"
The Doctor hesitated. Clearly, this hard bitten but fair minded man was not going to believe his theories. But for a moment he was caught out on having to think up a plausible story.
Cornwallis effortlessly spoke up, "Elements in the welds may act as minute reflectors, sir," he said. "We are not concerned with high fluctuations but rather that low fluctuations may be mis-read by some radiation sensors if they have been placed too close to the piping where it is welded. If you let us check the readings now and do some comparisons from out normative tests on similar reactors, we may be able to save you the embarrassment of a false radiation alarm several months down the road." He opened his hands in a gesture of surrendering all the truth to Emil. "At most, we will recommend that you move the sensors further from the pipes where they are welded."
Understanding dawned on Emil's face. "Prevent a false alert, ey? Well, that's worth a visit to the reactors, then. Wait right here. I'll get you badges, but I'll have to accompany you."
He walked out.
"What the heck did you say?" Stehart muttered.
The Doctor turned to Cornwallis. "Yes, I'd like to know what that was all about. Reflective welds?"
Cornwallis grinned at them. "Savannah River Site was built by the DuPont Company, a chemical company. They made the welding materials for the piping without taking into account the bombardment that the welds would receive from nuclear material, so now---twenty years later---the welds are always cracking and letting radiation escape a small bit at a time."
"But what's that got to do with radiation sensors?" the Doctor asked.
I knew that if I told Mr. Emil there was a problem in the welds, he would tend to believe me. The experienced nuclear hands here distrust DuPont's welds and will believe anything bad about them." Cornwallis looked from the Doctor to Stehart. Neither of them seemed especially impressed. "It got us in the door!" Cornwallis exclaimed. "Far more quickly than stories about creatures from space would have done!"
"No argument there," Stehart muttered.
* * * *
Rogers drove his three passengers into SRP via the main artery of 125. He first stopped in the administrative area to make photocopies of the map with the markings on it. They then hastened to the primitive UNIT barracks to pick up additional equipment for the expedition: gum boots for Jo, who had no boots of her own, compasses, binder twine, and plastic sheeting. Rogers also found a spare pocket knife for Jo. Walkie talkies were also passed around. There were just enough if the person in the jeep used the battery operated radio. Rogers took a great green can that looked like a gasoline can but had the words WATER spray painted onto the side. He stowed this in the back of the jeep, made sure the first aid kit was in good condition, and then climbed back into the drivers seat. The others climbed aboard. It was already nearly noon, and the glare had settled down over everything with its oppressive heat.
With expert familiarity, Rogers directed the four wheel drive vehicle down numerous narrow paved roads and at last onto a dirt track. Only Yates had the presence of mind to keep an eye on his photocopied section of map, tracking their progress as the vehicle bounced along. They passed burned out places and occasional pools of standing water on their left. "Right!" Yates exclaimed as the American pulled to a stop. "First out! That's you, Jo. Stay on this side of the dirt track and try to find a sturdy, stable place for that thing." He pointed off to his right.
She nodded and climbed out. Benton passed the box-like detector to her, along with a swath of the plastic sheeting and a roll of twine. "Stay in contact!" Yates called as they pulled away.
The jeep quickly bounced and lurched out of sight. Jo sighed and steeled herself. She had already made contact with one brand of South Carolina wildlife that morning, and she didn't fancy this trek through the woods alone. But she took a deep breath and plunged in to the scrub forest across the road. She carried most of her load in her right hand and under her arm and kept one eye on the map in her left hand. She actually had about a half mile hike to the ideal spot that they had marked on the map.
* * * *
The first reactor that had seen service for the US military, the C reactor, was now "mothballed," as Sanchez Emil called it. But though the reactor was officially shut down, the building was still manned by a skeleton crew, and the disused core was still under maintenance care. Unless a shut down reactor core were filled with concrete, it could never be left unattended. In the cramped control room, the Doctor quickly checked controls and readouts while his team waited in respectful silence. But the time lord stepped back and shook his head. "All normal," he said.
"I wish somebody would explain to me how this works," Stehart complained as they left the C reactor and came back into the glare of the bright, hot afternoon sun. "I mean, I know about radiation emergencies and all that, but what goes on in these things?"
"Simply put, Stehart, very excitable radioactive pellets are loaded into a straight rod with little beads between them," Cornwallis told him. "The beads prevent the pellets from getting too close to each other within the rod. A group of rods makes up the core. They are housed underwater in a deep pit, and more rods are slowly lowered into this core. You probably know from physics that when enough highly energized radioactive materials are put together, they will create a nuclear reaction. You just need enough of a mass of the materials all together. Well, as the rods are brought closer together, finally there are enough of them within that space to equal the mass necessary for a nuclear reaction. That is called the critical mass. They are brought together, but before they can build up enough energy for a real explosion, they are pulled apart again. So instead of exploding, they are made to give off great amounts of energy."
"And that gives us nukular energy?" Stehart asked. "Like for power and such?"
"It would if you Americans would put it to good use!" the Doctor snapped.
Sanchez Emil was leading them to the waiting Plant car, a midnight blue four-door sedan. Except for two that had been built within view of each other, the reactors were miles apart from each other. This inspection---even if all went well---would take all day and perhaps part of the next.
Emil glanced at Cpl. Stehart. "At SRP, the reactors are used only to manufacture very highly refined nuclear materials for warheads. We make tritium here. Tritium facilitates the efficiency of nuclear bombardment. It acts as a trigger on a warhead." The Doctor snorted.
They climbed into the car. Emil started up and turned the air on full blast.
"So if there was a danger of an explosion," Stehart began. "Like if somethin' was to go wrong in the core, y'just pull them rods apart?"
"Yes, instantly," Emil told him. "But boron acts as an incredible dampener to nuclear excitement. There's a huge clutch of boron rods suspended over every reactor core. At the push of a button, those rods drop into the core and dampen everything. They would bring any reaction to a complete halt."
"That is called 'scramming' the reactor," Cornwallis said with a smile. "The first people to work with nuclear materials kept boron suspended over their experiments. If things got out of hand, they would cut the ropes suspending the boron and then run like mad---or scram---to get away. The name stuck."
* * * *
"Hound Dog One from the kennel," Rogers voice called over the radio at Jo's belt. "Hound Dog One, how you doin' out there?"
With her hands full of plastic sheeting that she was desperately trying to wrap around the detecting box---which was now crammed into the fork of a low tree--- Jo knew she had to choose between starting all over again if she answered the radio or just letting Rogers worry for a few minutes more. It had taken her twenty minutes to locate the hillock that was the ideal place for her box, and another twenty minutes to find a secure place to put it. She had already fished a spider out of her hair, slapped away more mosquitoes and gnats than she could count, and had felt something decidedly reptilian scuttle over the toes of her enormous borrowed gum boots. She was not going to be interrupted in getting the blasted box waterproofed and secured.
"Just hold your horses," she muttered. At last the sheeting was arranged to shed water off of the machine. She pulled out the binder twine. The radio crackled and Yates' voice spoke: "Kennel, this is Hound Dog Three. I'm ready. Hound dog one may not have her radio on."
Her temper flared on this, and she seriously considered dropping everything to make a cutting reply. It was obvious, in spite of her experience with UNIT, that Yates still considered her a new recruit. But she rejected the temptation to make a retort. The only thing she really wanted to do was to get out of these woods and out of this heat and out of these boots that were way too big for her.
"What's your twenty, Hound Dog Three?" Rogers' voice asked.
"My what?" Mike asked. Oh great, Jo thought, American police ten codes. Just like in the movies. I gotta ten eighteen out here with a ten forty six, and he's about to ten ninety six me in the---
"Your location, Hound Dog Three!"
"About twenty paces beyond the bend where you left me off," Yates said.
"Ten-four. I'm ten-five."
"Does that mean you're coming?" Yates asked.
Rogers clicked off. Jo breathed a sigh of relief. The detection box was now mummified in binder twine, cocooned to the tree. She pulled the plastic sheeting out in folds to make sure it would shed the rain rather than collect it.
At last she collected her materials and raised the walkie talkie to her mouth. Not very far from her, something big crashed through the undergrowth. She dropped down. Somebody had said something about panthers in these woods.
Pushing its way towards her, a figure in a silvery and white radiation suit was approaching. But instead of the clear plastic visor of a standard radiation suit helmet, this person was wearing a thick, dense helmet, rather like a motorcycle crash helmet, its heavily tinted visor obscuring the person's face.
Jo stayed low in a crouch, watching. Whoever it was, he was coming towards the box. Keeping very low, she edged away from the box and crept into the scrub all around. These woods were not the aged forests of high trees she knew from England. Rather, the terrain was dotted with pine trees, but saw grass, Palmetto trees, and spindly, unthrifty trees that Jo did not recognize made this a woodland that was more foliage than anything else. If she broke and ran, he would surely see her, and if he had a gun, it was very possible that he would not miss her if he shot at her.
She decided to edge away as quickly as she could without straightening up. She covered some distance this way and then sprang up into a full run. She still had the radio in her hand.
"Mayday! Mayday! This is Hound Dog One, I've got an intruder! I'm running for the pickup point!"
The reply was instant. "Hound dog one! This is the kennel. We're on our way. We estimate five minutes to your location!"
She looked back. Five minutes was an eternity when there was a dangerous intruder thirty seconds behind you. But it seemed that he had not seen her. She pushed through the branches and undergrowth and made for the dirt track at a good pace. Jo was pretty long winded, especially when she was frightened. She dodged under branches and boughs and high stepped through the stiff grasses. Up ahead, she saw the fringe of rough shrubbery that lined the road. She pushed through it, hands in front of her, and felt her hands hit something as solid as rock. And then she was face to face with the man in the silvery suit, his helmet looking down at her. This wasn't the road at all, but a small clearing. She screamed and darted back into the brush.
Before she could even get tot he radio, it spoke: "Hound Dog One! We're at the pick up point!"
"I've lost it!" she exclaimed into the radio. "I'm lost from the road! And he's after me! A man in a helmet and radiation suit!"
Benton's voice came over, strong and sure. "This is Hound Dog Two. I'm coming up on foot to find you. Hound Dog Three will be coming in from another angle. Keep moving down hill!"
She had lost sight of her pursuer. She had no idea how he had gotten in front of her, and she wondered if she had gotten turned around somehow on the hill and had accidentally circled back to him.
After more running and sliding and ducking than she thought she could endure, she did break through to the dirt road, but it was an unfamiliar stretch. There was no sign of the jeep. From behind her, she heard somebody moving through the brush. Something silvery glimmered through the leaves.
"I'm on the road! He's found me!" she exclaimed. "I'm crossing the road!" She ran across the road and ducked into the underbrush. Instantly, soft earth squelched under her boots. She pushed herself further, but it was very difficult to make progress on such soft terrain. This was the edge of the swamp, she realized. The radiation suit had looked heavy. It had sounded heavy from the way the man had been crashing about. The realization gave her hope. Clad in the weighty suit, he would have a very difficult time on boggy ground. She decided to make a wide curve inward and then come out again on the road.
* * * *
"Three down, three to go!" the Doctor exclaimed with satisfaction. He seemed to be coming into a better humor. This improvement in his mood probably had something to do with the fact that Sanchez Emil introduced him to each control room team as an eminent international specialist on nuclear reactors and nuclear radiation. The engineers tried to engage him into useful bits of conversation and were clearly deferential to him. Receptions such as these tended to put the Doctor into a good humor.
They parked in the small reserved K reactor lot and walked up to the high gray structure. The reactor buildings at SRP looked very much like enormous concrete blocks. They were gray and thick-walled.
As the four of them approached, two armed Wackenhut guards came out of the small guard room adjacent to the doors of the building. All Wackenhut guards carried impressive .44s in their holsters, but these unsmiling men were carrying automatic rifles. They held them diagonally across themselves, but the guns were ready to be lowered and aimed.
"What's wrong?" Emil asked when he saw them. "What's going on?"
"Nobody is allowed in the building, sir," one of them said. "The entire reactor is on emergency drill."
"We had no drill scheduled today!" Emil burst out. The guard dropped a heavy hand onto the administrator's shoulder. "You'll have to leave, sir. Orders of Alfred Morgan."
"I am Sanchez Emil!" Emil barked. "Get out of my way!"
Both guards began a tad more subservient. "Mr. Morgan said---"
Emil showed them his badge. "I want you with me," he told them. "This drill is a serious breach of plant security policy. All drills must be cleared through the administration. Come with me."
The confrontation was over that quickly. Whatever else it lacked, SRP had very clear cut rules on the chain of command and the procedures for every situation. Emil led all of them past the guard house and into the building.
In the control room, alarms were flashing on the control panels, and men were racing from readout to readout.
"They entered just in time to hear Morgan exclaim, "We'll have to scram the reactor. Get the cooling pump valves ready!"
"Don't scram it!" the Doctor shouted.
"Get that man out of here!" Morgan shouted. "Shoot him if you have to!"
"Nobody shoots anybody. Don't touch those controls!" Emil shouted. But he cast a hurried look at the Doctor. The room was a small, claustrophobic place, crowded with men and control panels that were filled with analog dials. The Doctor glanced at the readouts. Radiation was higher than normal, and the energy levels were fluctuating, but not wildly.
"There's no danger," he said. "Not if the automatic controls are working properly. Things are going to be a bit rocky, but there won't be a runaway reaction."
"Is this that reflection phenomenon you mentioned earlier?" Emil asked.
The Doctor hesitated and looked guilty for a moment, and then he said, "Mr. Emil, we at the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce have reason to believe that a highly radioactive creature has taken up residence in the reactor core. If you scram the reactor, you will cause him to leave, and that is actually the most dangerous situation of all."
The control room went silent for just a split second, and then Morgan shouted again, "Get him out of here! He's utterly insane!"
"It's true!" Cornwallis shouted back. "Or," he added. "It could be true! Look at your readings! There is no reason you should be seeing these outputs, but you are. And with outputs like this, you should be on the verge of meltdown, and yet you are not! Can you explain it?"
The Doctor nodded at the control room's reinforced glass window that looked out over the reactor pool. "The creature itself is regulating the reactor core to make itself comfortable. But every time you flood the reactor or reduce critical mass, you upset its environment and it goes out wandering again." He looked sharply at Morgan. "This isn't the first time this has happened, is it?"
Morgan turned to Emil. "The man is a lunatic!"
But Emil was in doubt. "Have you been getting anomalies in other reactors?"
"No!" Morgan exclaimed.
"Yes!" one of the engineers said suddenly. "We have. But we avoided an incident by retracting the rods."
"The effect must have been spectacular," the Doctor guessed. "A sudden and complete return to normal."
The engineer nodded and then turned away from Morgan.
"Why wasn't I informed?" Emil asked.
"We never reached alert status!" Morgan exclaimed. "Technically, there was nothing wrong!"
"Yes, the standard refrain of SRP," the Doctor said. "Technically, there was nothing wrong."
"Get ready to scram," Emil ordered. As the Doctor's face fell, the man added, "I'm sorry. I cannot allow this on a mere hunch. Are emergency procedures in place?"
"Yes," one of the engineers said.
"Scram the reactor. Open the valves."
The Doctor looked grim but not defeated. "It will only move to another reactor core, and you'd better hope it does do without wandering around."
There was a moment's frantic work, and then an operator said, "Reactor shut down. No readings."
* * * *
Jo was about a quarter mile deep into the swamp when the light, like the clear light from an ethanol flame, flashed around her. Her TLD badge emitted one single shrill. The flash was painless for an instant, and then suddenly sharp arrows went through her midsection. Her throat went completely dry. She fell over and barely had the strength to get the radio to her mouth. "I'm hit," she gasped. "I'm shot. Help me!" She dropped the radio as a wave of pain and weakness went through her. "Help me!" she exclaimed. "Help me! Mike!"
But though her allies were searching for her quickly and efficiently, it took some time to find her track in the boggy ground. When he did, Rogers did not lose it, and he led the others two men directly to her. By then she was unconscious, her face twisted into a grimace of pain, but also marked with something else.
"Is she bleeding?" Benton asked. He had the first aid kit. Jo, like the others, wore a TLD that was now dormant. Face grim and suddenly seeming much older than his years, Rogers peered at her, grasped her wrist, and then squinted hard at her face.
"Is she alive?" Yates asked, alarmed.
"Yeah, but---" He framed her face in his hands. "She's not radioactive now, but she should be. Look at her skin. Do you see it?"
Jo's smooth complexion was now altered to the consistency on the thin, papery husks on new corn. The change was not well defined yet, but was visible.
"She's been exposed to radiation," Rogers said. "To a fatal dose. It usually takes two or three days after exposure for a person's skin to go this way. But it's like she stood in the center of a nukular explosion. There wasn't no heat, but she took in all the radiation."
"But she's not radioactive!" Yates exclaimed.
"I know, but she's been radiated! Gamma and x-ray radiation ain't got no mass," Rogers told them. "It goes right through a person and changes their chemical make-up. That's what happened to her. She stood too close to something and it's changed her insides. Help me. She'll be in a lotta' pain when she wakes up. We gotta get her to a hospital."
"Doctors can help her!" Benton exclaimed. Rogers lifted her with great care. But she groaned at the shifting of her own weight. "There ain't no help," he whispered. "Nuthin' changes the chemicals back. The body don't have its own building blocks to work with no more, and it can't take in new ones. She's dyin'. It'll take two or three days."
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