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Chapter 36: Going home
Schmidt


“This is Major Langley calling anyone on the AMC’s frequency. Is anyone receiving, over?”

The sudden sound of the radio caught Daniel by surprise, and it seemed like the same was true for Riley. He quickly reached for the terminal attached to his radio pack while Daniel and North walked up to him.

“McConnel here! What’s going on, Major?”

He could hear Langley sighing on the other side. “Thank the skies you’re still in one piece!” she said afterwards. “Listen, I don’t know where you are, but we need to leave now. All of us.”

Riley looked at Daniel with a raised eyebrow. Langley knew that they were planning to disable the reactor. What changed now? “Major we’re in the middle of the Steelhorn powerplant that’s about to meltdown. I kind of want to shut it down before we leave...”

Daniel heard someone shuffle over to Langley on the other side. “McConnel, listen,” said Master Sergeant Dresden. “We’ve picked up the signatures of four attack helicopters around Blackfortress, and Agent Simmons confirmed that they were Esmosian aircraft. If that wasn’t enough, we’ve seen a convoy of Berkies rolling into the city’s outskirts.”

Daniel stepped over to Riley and borrowed the radio. “Yeah, we’ve found two of their Legionnaires here as well.”

“…that confirms it then,” Dresden said after a sigh. “Gentlemen, I believe the Esmosian sneak attack that Thompson was so afraid of is here.”

“…and from the looks of things, they’re shooting at everything and everyone,” finished Langley.

Daniel groaned up and grabbed his forehead. As if things weren’t bad enough, now they had the Esmosian Defense Legion knocking on their door as well. He was about to ask Riley for the radio again when he gripped it.

“Major, do you know if there are any ICN towers or large transmitters around here that we can tap into?”

A bit of silence followed as Langley thought of an answer. “One of the ICN transmitter towers is set up at the roof of the plant. Why do you ask?”

“Because I’m going to send another message. This time to the whole planet.”

Daniel raised his head, along with the others in the squad. “Riley that’s a horrible idea!” he said immediately “You’re going to draw every remaining hostile here on us if you do that, not to mention–”

“If Ashen gets the word that the Esmosians attacked Blackfortress what do you think will happen?”

Daniel stared at Riley for a bit as he thought of an answer, but it was Nick who spoke up first. “Another war probably.”

“Yes but think about this whole occupation,” Riley said. “…and what an actual Esmosian attack would mean.”

Nick just stared at Riley with a shrug, but Daniel on the other hand had a pretty good guess of what Riley was aiming at. “You’re thinking they’ll blame the whole occupation on Esmos?”

“Oh for…” Nick groaned as he finally understood the problem. “…this whole day makes so much more sense now. They’re gonna use this attack as a cover for themselves, won’t they?”

“It would make sense.” Daniel continued. “The Federation arrived here in secret to take the drive and the civvies they came for, and then they were planning on slipping out without anyone the wiser, all the while Esmos and their mercenaries would be blamed by every other nation for the attack. And who would believe them if their government said otherwise? They have a history of attacking Paks.”

Riley nodded. “Precisely. I bet that these helicopters are manned by NAF pilots too and that this is their backup plan since the missile didn’t work.”

North, who was silent all this time, stepped forward. “Then send your message. Dan and I will make sure the reactor plays nice and then he’ll meet you there.”

Daniel heard a groan from the radio that sounded a lot like Langley. “Just hurry up! We’ve spent far too much time in this fucking city!”

“Will do. Rhino out,” said Riley as he turned the radio off. “Come on Nick, we’ve gotta get to the roof!”

Nick nodded and followed Riley, but not before he turned back to give one last salute to North. He returned it, after which he looked at Daniel.

“Now where’s the hatch to that thing?”


* * *

“Right this way!” said Daniel as he began running towards the other door out of the control room. North followed him without question, all the while trying to prepare himself mentally for what was about to come. Daniel once told him about radiation sickness and burns when Patterson took them to a tour on the decommissioned nuclear submarine in Blegodon some years back, and he remembered the gory details quite well. He wasn’t sure how much radiation had leaked into the reactor room, but he knew that his trip was going to hurt. A lot.

The other thing he knew quite well was that he just signed his death warrant by volunteering for this, but strangely enough, he wasn’t too phased by it. After he heard about the massacre at the GCSA tower he started to accept the fact that he wasn’t going to go back home, which in hindsight was probably why he volunteered to trek back to the powerplant in the first place. Him actually making out of this place the first time was a pleasant surprise, but now he was back for the third time today, and by now he was seriously tired of this place.

Quite frankly the fact that he was going to die here bothered him more than death itself.

He and Daniel ran down a long hallway from the control room which was littered with biohazard signs. The corridor led to a double door after they went down a couple of stars. They opened the doors as soon as they arrived, and North saw a small room littered with lockers and toolboxes. Either a maintenance room or some storage. North quickly checked a few of the lockers while Daniel looked at the tools.

“No hazmat suits here,” he said after a bit “…but there’s a Geiger counter at least.”

He passed it to North, who had absolutely no idea how it worked. Daniel helped him turn it on, after which it immediately started making screeching sounds.

“…uhh”

“Yeah that’s how it’s supposed to work,” reassured Daniel.

North couldn’t exactly figure out what the dials were supposed to mean, but the mechanical indicator was dancing in the yellow zone, and as he stepped closer to the door at the other end of the room, it went even higher. Daniel saw the concerned look on his face and grabbed his shoulder. “Look if you don’t want to do this, I’m here.”

North shook his head. “I know but… this is my responsibility. I have to do this.”

He turned to Daniel, and the two pulled each other in for one last brotherly hug. “Take care of yourself alright? And get the others home.” North said, doing his best to not tear up.

“I will buddy, I will…”

North gave Daniel one last pat on the shoulder and then walked over to the door.

He knew what to do. He had to go into the room, take a right out through the door, get to the eastern side of the reactor room while avoiding the coolant puddles, and then initiate the shutdown sequence. And if that failed, because everything did today, then he could manually start pulling out the rods, though that would likely fry his hands off.

He took a deep breath and pocketed the Geiger-counter, and when Daniel stepped out of the room, he opened the doors.

Immediately he was hit by a wave of heat and what felt like something more… sinister. The counter pretty much screamed as North stepped through the doorway.

The reactor room was gigantic and there was a lot of empty space around, and North was quite certain it was to get a better airflow into the room. The reactor core itself was inside the floor in the center of the room in a pool of sorts, with the pully on the top of the control rods sticking out. He also noticed that one of the rods was halfway out of its slot and even had a crack in its side, which he guessed was responsible for the radiation inside the room.

As for the coolant tanks, they were lined up on both sides of the room, with a bunch of them leaking toxic coolant onto the floor, and as he noticed, next to the shutdown terminal as well. If that wasn’t enough, the room was also littered with metal debris and broken pipes that were leaking emperor knows what into the air.

In simpler words, the place was a fucking mess.

North strode forward into the room, taking the stairs down from the utility section that he came from. As he hopped down to the floor, he fell to his knees right away, with the Geiger-counter screeching even louder. He already felt horribly sick, but he didn’t expect to be this weak this quick.

He mustered up all of his strength after a quick breather and stood back up and continued going towards the other end of the room as fast as he could. After a bit of walking, he decided that he might as well run, on the off chance that he can actually get this shit done before he fried his organs.

He hopped over a few broken structural beams as he ran, eventually reaching the first obstacle in his way in the form of a coolant pool. The light blue liquid was taking up about a seven-meter wide area, and the only way around it was to either go all the way back to the entrance or take a shortcut on top of the reactor rods, and neither of those seemed like good options.

North looked left and right to find a way across, and from the sudden movement he felt something move in his stomach, and before he could do anything, he threw up on the floor in front of him. It was a mix of his food and blood, but instead of staring at it, North decided it was time to move. Not wanting to waste more time than necessary he took a few steps back and then did a running leap towards the coolant pool. He landed pretty much right in the middle of it, and while it was only ankle height, he immediately felt a burning sensation in his feet. He did his best to just hop through the damn pool but by the fifth jump, he couldn’t keep his balance anymore and fell flat onto his face.

His lower torso fell into the pool of coolant, and though he dragged himself out quickly, his legs felt like they were on fire from the sudden freeze.

“Come on… you… fat… fuck…” he scowled as he tried to get up, but between his exhaustion, his burned legs, and the radiation poisoning he no longer had the strength for it. He got onto his knees, trying to stand up as slowly as he could, but he still fell down to the ground after a few steps. He tried dragging himself, pulling himself forward inch by inch but he couldn’t keep it up. Not anymore.

As he laid on the floor, with his legs and body burned, ready to puke his guts out, he turned towards the control room, in hopes of seeing… something. Anything. Something that could get him to move, or at least his friend so that he wouldn’t have to die alone. Using the remainder of his strength he turned around.

And saw Daniel staring at him from the window.

And at that moment, a memory came back to him. The image of him sitting with his back to a container, surrounded by bullet holes, blood, and dead bodies. The sound of the footsteps, followed by the image of a man staring through the warehouse’s doorway, wielding a handgun with a smoking barrel. The feeling of desperation inside himself, the wanting to die.

And then the image of Daniel going over to him and getting him onto his feet.

North spent the last ten years of his life atoning for what he did on that day, but if it hadn’t been for Daniel arriving, he would have probably shot himself. He was eternally grateful for that intervention, and as he looked at his friend staring at him through the window as he was dying, he finally managed to get the push he needed.

This was his chance to repay him.

North clenched his teeth and fists, and with all of his strength he pushed himself off from the ground. Every bone in his body screamed up in pain as he did, but all that did was launch the much-needed adrenaline surge.

Corporal Thomas Norton stood back up to his feet and took a step forward.

And then another.

And another, much faster this time.

He ran forward as his body was falling apart in every possible way, but while his body had given up on him his spirit was more intact than ever. He ran all the way to the eastern side of the reactor room, running through another coolant pool while he did, and it was only at the last few meters when his legs finally gave out, but it didn’t stop him.

He crawled, he hopped, he hurled his dying ass over to the console, and with the last bits of his human spirit, he pushed himself off the ground one final time, grabbing onto the console’s screen while doing so, and turning it on.

He could barely see from all the tears and blood that had formed on his face by now, but in spite of everything that the world was throwing at him he was going to shut that damn reactor down. He quickly navigated to the emergency measures section, and with his remaining energy, he slammed the off button.

Steam and air blew out from numerous pipes as he slid off from the console, his body landing with a loud thud on the ground. He stared at all the machinery that came to life, and a second later a trio of robotic arms rose out from the ground next to the reactor pool. As they started slowly unscrewing the control rods, pulling them out one by one, he felt a smile on his face.

As Corporal Thomas Norton closed his eyes finally, he heard one last sentence before he fell asleep for good.

Shutdown sequence completed.


* * *

Shutdown sequence completed said the computer.

Daniel took his hands off from the glass of the observation window and wiped away the tears from his eyes, his body still shaking from what he just saw. He shook his head and then gave one last salute to Thomas, before turning his attention to the status console.

While the temperature of the core was still way above the safe levels, without the control rods there wouldn’t be a nuclear reaction, and thus, no explosion. At the cost of his best friend’s life, Blackfortress was saved from a nuclear catastrophe. Now all he had to do was get Riley and Nick out of here and then this horrible day would be over finally, and he could go home to Blegodon city.

Without Cole and North.

As much as he wanted to wallow in the utter hopelessness he felt, he was quite honestly too fucking tired by now. The only thing he wanted now was to go home and forget about the world, and that’s what he was going to do. He took one last look at the now stabilized reactor and nodded at it. You better not blow up after what he just did. The console beeped once, which Daniel’s tired mind interpreted as an answer to his thought.

And with that, he turned around, and dashed out of the control room, heading straight for the roof. He fished his radio out of his vest as he ran into the intersection they came from before.

“Riley, Nick, you there?”

He heard gunshots from the other side.

“Nick here, I got Riley’s goddamn rifle working!” he exclaimed, firing off another burst afterwards, which sounded like nothing that Daniel had ever heard before. “We were also engaged by the remaining NAF personnel, so we could use the help!”

Daniel’s first question was why the hell was that rifle stored in a working condition, followed by how did Nick manage to fix it, but they both were quickly replaced by something else. “I’m on my way. North is… well, he did what he had to… the reactor is stable.”

“Fuck…” sighed Nick. “…I’m sorry Dan.”

“Yeah… but look, focus on staying alive until I get there.”

He put his radio away and then continued sprinting through the corridors. With North dead, only three members of Rhino-1 were remaining, and Daniel was going to do everything to get them out of this cursed hellhole of a city.

When Rhino and Bull squads arrived here yesterday early morning in the morning, Daniel was confident that even in spite of their crash-landing, they could still complete the mission and then have a celebration party back at their base. But as he was running through the shot-up corridors of the Steelhorn powerplant after one of his best friends got literally cooked alive, mere hours after his other friend fell out of a cargo plane into his death, he finally gave up the hope.

Everything was fucked, but he was going to keep on fighting despite that. Not because of the foolish hope that they would get out of this safe, but because if he managed to get his hide out of here by some miracle, then he could finally clear North’s name.

And then get himself discharged. For good.

All he had to do was make it out of this damned powerplant alive…

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About the author

Commander DuctTape

  • Hungary

Bio: I'm just an average dude from Hungary who has way too much time on his hands. I started writing a couple years ago as a hobby, partly because I wanted to practice and improve my English, and partly because there's just something amazing about inventing new worlds and people from scratch and then writing about their deeds and adventures.

At this point I honestly can't imagine myself putting down my writing pen ever again, and I would like to wish lots of luck to every other writer out there with their projects!

Favorite genres: Science Fiction, Adventure, Military

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