A Eureka Moment In Time

Chapter 20

Deputy Andy was almost sleeping in the back room of the sheriff's station when he heard Atom's voice in the back of his head. "Andy, come quick to the power plant. We NEED you!"

"Is that you Atom?" Andy telepath'ed back. "I thought you were gone from Tobio."

"I was never really gone, just sorta sleeping. I'm awake now!" Atom's voice in Andy's head replied.

"OK, I'm on my way! I'll meet you there!" Andy answered back.

Andy got up and quickly slipped his boots on. Looking in the mirror, he saw he was only wearing his skin tight black undies, but he had a feeling that if he tried flying in his uniform it would only rip off in flight anyway. Well, if it was good enough for Atom …. Andy was in such a hurry that he forgot what he was doing and blasted skyward, right though the skylight in the roof! He made it to the power plant in less than a minute.

It was still dark, sunrise was still about an hour off and the inside of the building was dark. The front door was locked and Andy simply ripped the door off of its hinges to gain entry. Once inside he saw Dr. Tenma and Dr. Deacon tied up back to back against an upright column. Andy quickly untied them. Henry was just starting to come out of his stupor when he saw the Deputies face.

"Oh my Gawd!"

"Don't worry Henry, it's me Andy. Atom called me telepathically and told me you guys were in trouble."

Henry slowly got up and tried to clear his head. He slowly remembered what had happened and tried to shake Dr. Tenma awake. Uma opened his eyes slowly.
"Damn! That Chloroform was strong stuff. My head is pounding!"

"Quick, Dr. Tenma. We've got to stop whatever Dr. Lamp did to the system. Go check the computer with me." Henry said.

The two engineers quickly typed away at the terminals. Tenma quickly found an extra daemon running in the background with a timer thread set to go off in a matter of minutes. He killed the processes and continued checking for more damage.

Henry ran a compete systems check. Tenma turned to look at how he was doing and saw a look of panic on the doctor's face.

"There was a time bomb about to go off that I just defused with minutes to spare. Are we safe?" Uma asked.

"You defused the 'Coup de grâce' program, so we have some time. Unfortunately though, it looks like the runaway train has left the station." Henry said.

"What do you mean?" Tenma asked.

Andy moved closer. Maybe there would be something he could do.

"I don't have time to give you a complete lecture in nuclear reactors, so here's the short version. Inside of the reactor are thin metal pipe rods containing the nuclear fuel. Each rod is shielded from the rest by control rods that absorb free neutrons. With all of the control rods in the down position almost all free neutrons given off by the radioactive fuel are absorbed and only background fission occurs. As the rods are pulled out of the fuel bundle more free neutrons are allowed access to the fuel, and we have a controlled amount of fission. The reactor is at full power with the rods in the complete upright position. That is exactly where they are now. The problem is that the control program has tried to scram the reactor, that is to drop the control rods to the full down position all at once, and it didn't happen. I've been looking through the reactor plans on line, I bet Lamp sabotaged the control linkages to those rods. The only way to scram the reactor now, would be to open up an access plate and yank out the linkages."

Tenma slowly thought about that and replied.
"I take it that is something that would not be safe for a person to attempt."

"Correct, the RAD exposure would be fatal, even if you were wearing a Hasmat suit, which we don't seem to have. Besides we have a second problem. The turbines are now running at full power to absorb the heat from the reactor. The excess electric power has to go somewhere, it appears that the state power grid is absorbing that at the moment. However the heat exchanger in the turbine room can't handle it all, the excess heat has to go somewhere. There is a secondary heat exchanger in this room, those pipes overhead siphon the excess heat from the coolant to it. It seems there is a valve stuck in those pipes, we need to free it." Henry said.

Tenma's eyes followed the pipeline to the back of the room where two large round valve handles hung from the pipes. "Over there?" he asked.

"Right!" Dr. Deacon ran over to the valves and attempted to turn the control wheels.

"Damn! He's welded them shut!" Henry yelled.

"I'll take care of that!" Andy said, walking over to the valves.

Andy used a finger tip laser to soften the beads of the welds. He then grabbed the control wheel and pulled with all his might. The valves slowly responded to his brute strength and opened.

"That did it, the core temperature is dropping. We still have to scram the reactor though. It's been weakened from running this long at full power so it can't safely run at that power level very much longer without damage, even with the cooling mostly restored." Henry said.

"Show me what to do" Andy said. "I can yank out the control linkage with you two safely behind the shielded glass walls."

"No Andy, you are not RAD hardened. I don't know what would happen to your systems." Tenma said. "Atom IS RAD hardened, but he isn't here."

"We don't have time to wait for him." Henry said. "The core temperature is slowly climbing. If the weakened inner containment vessel cracks from the heat, the reactor will start to melt down."

"Are you sure you want to do this Andy?" Tenma asked.

"Yes, I guess I have to" Andy responded.

"OK then Andy." Henry explained. "You need to use a wrench to remove the bolts holding the access cover to gain access to the inner containment vessel. Then there is another cover that needs to be removed to gain access to the reactor's core vessel. On top of that is the master linkage to the control rods. Two bolts hold that in place. Once the final bolt is removed the rods will fall down into place. Once you remove the second plate you will be exposed to radiation from the reactor. Try to do this as quickly as possible, and then put both access covers back. There is an anti-radiation shower in the back of the room. The liquid in there will absorb the radiation to cleanse you off. If you work quickly, you may be all right."

Dr. Tenam and Dr. Deacon walked out of the glass shielded portion of the reactor room and watched through the clear lead glass panels as Andy removed the outer access cover. He then reached inside the outer vessel of the reactor with the tools to remove the inner access cover. Radiation warning alarms sounded inside of the room.

Andy's vision blurred. His eyes were not designed to work under the bombardment of the high energy particles pouring out of the reactor. He used his sense of touch to locate the two bolts holding the linkage between the rods and the sabotaged control unit. He felt like he was blanking out as he pulled the last bolt free. Andy heard and felt the control rods fall in mass. The reactor shut down just as Andy landed on the floor, unconscious.

Atom landed just outside of the power plant. Lamp had driven him a good 75 miles out of town when he had escaped from the trunk of his car in the crusher. Tobio's clothes had been burned and torn off during his flight to freedom. He hoped that Andy had beat him here and had been able to help. As he ran into the building he saw Dr. Tenma and Dr. Deacon standing outside the glass shielding walls surrounding the reactor. Andy lay on the ground next to the reactor.

"What happened to him?" Atom asked.

"He unjammed the linkage to the control rods to scram the reactor. He had to open the reactor's containment shielding to do that and he was exposed to the radiation. It seems that he was even more sensitive to that than we thought." Henry said.

"We need to get him out of there, and to close up the reactor. Andy wasn't RAD hardened. YOU are!" Tenma said.

"You should have waited for me then!" Atom said.

"We didn't think we could, and Andy insisted on doing the job." Henry said.

"Alright, let me in there and I will finish the job and get Andy out of there!" Atom said.

Uma and Henry left the building and Atom quickly opened the shielded door into the glass walled area, and shut it behind him. He pulled the Deputy over to the radiation cleanup shower and turned it on. Atom then went back to the reactor to close up the access panels. He wasn't quite tall enough to reach, so he hovered next to it using his jets. Once the panels were closed the radiation count inside the shielded part of the room began to drop. When it fell below the danger zone, Atom dragged a soaking wet Andy out of the shielded part of the room.

Henry double checked the deputy with a Geiger counter and nodded.
"He's clean." he said.

"Let's get him back to my laboratory. I hope I can revive him." Dr. Tenma said.

Andy was laid down on the same operating table that Tobio had been on not that long ago. Henry called Jo Lupo and Sheriff Carter on the phone and brought them up to date on Dr. Lamp and what nearly happened at the power plant. While Tenma was working on Andy; Jo Lupo, Jack Carter, and Dr. Allison Blake entered the lab.

"I told you all along I was right about Dr. Lamp!" Henry told Jo. "If we had done a reverse lookup on the DOJ records we would have found him out sooner."

"Except for the fact that those records are sealed and I would have needed either an act of congress or a low friend in a high place to access them." Jo said.

"Well I had one of the latter," Henry replied with a smirk on his face.

Atom filled them in on what he remembered happening at the power plant, including Lamp's murder of Zachary Smith. "I think I can find my way back to the auto junk yard. I was in the trunk of Lamp's car during that trip and I didn't have a GPS fix on it until I broke free. unfortunately, I was more concerned with making my way back to Eureka than remembering where I'd been. It took me a while to get my bearings on the way back too. That's why I didn't make it in time to save Andy." he sobbed.

Carter took a good look at Atom and made a face.
"What is that slim all over the top of your head?"

Atom used his right hand to feel the top of his head and made a sour expression.
"Yuck. I remember hitting something when I escaped from the car crusher. I was a bit too busy after that to think about it." He said.

Allison Blake opened her purse and removed a small glass tube with a stopper. She used a small metal medical spatula to scrape a sample of the stuff off of Atom's head and deposited it into the tube, and corked it shut.
"I'll examine this in my lab later."

"It's almost daylight out now." Carter said. "I should get over to the junk yard where Atom escaped from the car and look for evidence. I'll put out an APB on Dr. Lamp. Atom, will you come with me in my Jeep and help me find that junk yard?"

"I could fly you there Sheriff." Atom said.

"No thanks. Speed isn't of the essence for this." Carter said.

"I'll come with you then." Lupo added.

It took them a little over an hour and a half to find the junk yard. It was outside of Carter and Lupo's jurisdiction, but they felt justified in checking it out.

The remains of the car crusher were scattered over a wide area. Lupo had a chemical test kit to identify blood. She found traces of it on some of the larger bits of metal that had once been an automobile.
"Here's proof there was a body in the car, probably Zachary Smith." she said.

Carter looked around. The junk yard was unpaved and the only fresh tire tracks were those of the automobile that Lamp had driven into the yard. There were no fresh tracks of any vehicle leaving. Parked not far from the car crusher, was a late model Ford that looked like it had been prepped for a quick getaway. The driver side door was unlocked, and Carter quickly found a set of keys hidden behind the sun visor.
"I don't think he left here, at least not by car. Let's look for footprints." Carter told Jo.

"AHHHHGGGG!" Atom screamed. "Over here!"

The boy robot had been walking along the road that entered the junk yard. A few hundred yards from where the car crusher had been, in a ditch by the side of the road, Atom stood in a trance. Carter and Lupo ran to where he stood, looking down. Staring up at them was Lamp's face. His head, neck, and shoulders were lying in the ditch.

"Oh my God! He looks like he was hit by a bomb." Carter gasped. "How the hell?"

Jo ran back to the junk yard and looked around. She found a pair of shoes in a tree, along with a human arm not far from the control panel of the car crusher.

"He's some more of him" she yelled.

Atom's face was white.
"I think I did this." he said. "I remember now. The instant I got free from out of the trunk of that car and the crusher, I hit something. I must have been going supersonic at the time. Damn it! If only I had my eyes open, but I was in so much pain."

Jack Carter took that moment to answer his ringing cell phone.

"Hello Allison, what's up" Carter said gloomily.

"I analyzed the stuff that I scrapped off Atom's head. It was human intestinal tissue. How did he get covered with that?" Dr. Blake asked.

"I think I know. Look I'll call you back later." Carter said.

Atom looked at the sheriff.
"I heard that. Look you guys go back to Eureka without me. I'll meet you back there later, I sorta need to be by myself for a while. I'll turn myself in when I get back, I promise." he said.

"What do you mean by 'turn your self in', Atom?" Jack asked.

"For murder of course. I took a human life. I don't think I can live with that."

Atom jumped skyward before anyone else could say anything. He flew in the general direction of Eureka and disappeared behind a cloud.

"I don't think he took that very well." Carter said.

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