Pan Am 617 Heavy
by Sean Monaghan
Chapter 3: Particle Magnetron
part 2 of 2
Dominic and Keyshaa attempt to recover documents and cash from Miterall in a dieselpunk world of propellators and atom smashers.
Dominic heard the sound of the flare striking the concrete floor. He glanced back and could see the outline of the tunnel roof. The flare crackled as it lit, throwing light around them.
“Come on,” Keyshaa said. She ran off.
Dominic heard shouting and turned to follow her. She was way ahead, legs pounding. He accelerated after her. In the flare’s glow he could see the tunnel features. It was perhaps fifteen feet up to the highest point of its arc, the walls curving down and in to meet the flat floor.
No one was shooting at them. Dominic didn’t look back. Keyshaa kept moving and Dominic realized that the tunnel curved horizontally too. At some point they would be around the curve, out of sight of the bunker.
He heard a clunk, followed by a whirring. Both from the floor. Then he noticed the trench again. He’d seen it enough to register avoiding tripping in it, but now he saw it properly. He slowed a little.
It was a square notch in the middle of the floor, as wide as a grave, and curving around, staying in the middle of the floor. In the center of the trench was a thick iron pipe, with bolted joins every few yards. There were smaller pipes and cables leading from the big pipe.
“Here,” Keyshaa said. She ducked to one side, into a side passage, tossing the flare along the floor.
Dominic took a glance back then, seeing a flashlight flicker not far behind. He followed her into the passage.
Not a passage, he realized immediately. An alcove, barely deep enough to hide them both. Keyshaa was refilling the rifle’s magazine.
Dominic looked out at the trench again. With the flare on the ground, the pipe was in darkness. He heard the clunk and whir again.
“What’s the pipe?” he said.
“How far back do you think they are?”
“Eighty, ninety yards.”
“We shouldn’t shoot in here. That’s some kind of particle magnetron.”
“An atom smasher?”
“Something like that. Sounds too Popular Mechanics doesn’t it?”
The whirring continued and Dominic saw the pipe rising up above the lip of the trench. There were some tiny lights spaced along the top. “This can’t be good,” he said.
The men down the tunnel yelled at each other, but Dominic couldn’t make out what they were saying.
“We should keep moving,” Keyshaa said. “Got your breath back?”
“Probably in another couple of hundred yards we’ll be around the curve far enough to be out of sight.”
“Except they’ll just follow us.”
Keyshaa glanced out at the rising pipe. “You know, I don’t think so.”
Along the length of the pipe red flashing lights activated.
“What’s that?” Dominic said.
“We don’t have long.” Keyshaa burst from the alcove. She raced out and scooped up the flare.
Dominic looked back, then followed.
The curved metal pipe system continued to rise, and the whirring sound increased in pitch.
“Where is this leading?” Dominic called. He could see the red light curving away into the distance.
“To Miterall’s control room. We don’t have to go far.”
“This isn’t about the patents, is it?” he said.
Keyshaa ran on in silence. The pipe kept rising. Dominic had read about these things. The Swiss had experimented something in the early 1970s, trying to make energy from heavy elements like protactinium and thorium. Something about bombarding the metals with some kind of electron gun and they would break down to lighter elements, releasing energy. That was about all he understood.
The experiments had been abandoned, as he recalled, when parts of the Alps had been vaporized. If the experiments hadn’t gone so dramatically wrong then he never would have even known about them.
“And it’s not the money, either,” he called. She ran fast, gradually pulling away from him. Dominic’s ankle hurt, but he pushed on. He heard the pipe ring clicking and in the dim light he saw there was a series of actuators along the side. “If he can build something like this, then he’s not short of cash, is he?”
“Just help me find the point. It’s along here somewhere.”
“I never would have come if I known this was about radiative materials.” Dominic remembered pictures of burned scientists but especially remembered the stories of aid workers who’d gone to assist and got sick later. All of them had died of cancers. Dominic could almost feel it burning into his bones.
“That’s why we’ve got to shut it down.” Keyshaa stopped and let him catch up. “And that’s why I didn’t tell you.” She stood facing him, tilted her head a little as if to kiss him. “I’m very grateful for your help.”
Dominic pulled back. “He couldn’t build this kind of thing in the States. And an atoll is ideal, right? Already circular, easy to bore through if you have the right equipment.” Dominic imagined one of the big Canadian tunnel machines digging through the soft coral and lining the tunnel as it went. “No people here to bother.”
Keyshaa sighed. “He talked about it when we first came out here. It’s one of the reasons I didn’t stay.”
The actuators stopped, dropping them into silence. Dominic looked at the pipe. Thick oily hydraulics held it up above the floor.
“We can talk about all this later,” she said. “I didn’t think he was going to activate it. Especially after everything going on topside.”
“Perhaps that’s why.”
Keyshaa nodded. The flare spluttered and she dropped it. It rolled into the trench and touched a patch of oil which flamed then burned out, dousing the flare’s ember in heavy smoke. They were left with just the glow from the red warning lights.
“You know the whole layout of this don’t you?” Dominic pulled out the map of the compound and screwed it up, hurling it into the trench.
“Look, let me explain this later.”
“I don’t know if there will be enough time later.”
Keyshaa stared for a moment. She glanced over her shoulder down the tunnel. “We’ll be all right, you and me.” She put her hands together, twisting the ring.
“If we survive this.”
Behind he could hear sounds. The men retreating back up the ladder.
“Just along the tunnel,” she said. “Then we can get out of here.”
“We’re done then?”
The whine from the pipe kept getting louder. Keyshaa had to raise her voice. “I’ll plant the explosives, then we can go.” She glanced again. “Another hundred yards or so. Just along here.”
“What’s along there?” Dominic looked away from her, at the pipe. He put his hand out and could feel heat coming from it. “There’s nothing good about this, about any of this.”
“Just trust me a little longer.”
“Then what?” The red lights were flickering faster now. “Then I can stop trusting you? Seems I ought to have stopped that a while ago.”
“This was never about money, never about getting the jetellator back.”
“Jet,” she said. “And you’re right.”
“He didn’t even steal it, did he?”
She dropped her head. “No.”
“Something else, though?”
Keyshaa looked up. “Yes. Long ago.”
“Something to do with this?” Dominic pointed at the pipe. He saw that it was vibrating. They didn’t have long, if she was right about it being a problem.
“Yes. I never thought he’d get it built.”
Dominic looked at her eyes, stepped closer. Her eyes were clear, pupils dilated in the dim light. “How long do we have?”
She sniffed. “Couple of minutes.”
He moved past her. “Is there a specific spot?”
“Along here, there’s very little atoll wall. Close to the sea.”
“So we blow the wall and the sea rushes in?”
“Destroys the complex.”
“What if it doesn’t?”
“We’re below the water table. The island’s very porous. We just need to make a structural break in the tunnel wall, the water will do the rest.”
The pipe’s slight vibration had developed to a shudder.
“What’s he doing?”
“Making nuclear fuel.”
“You know this system then?” They were running now.
“A bit. It seems familiar from what he was talking about years ago.”
“How long until it’s too late?”
“Hard to tell.”
They ran on about another hundred yards, then Keyshaa began to slow. There were big numbers on the wall, they were coming up to a 15. “This will do,” she said.
The pipe was shuddering so hard now that some of the wires were slapping against the sides. Miterall must know what he was doing. Keyshaa leapt across to the inside wall near an alcove and shook the kit bag empty. A taped bundle of seven dynamite sticks fell out amongst the armament. The wicks were all twisted together.
“No detonator?” Dominic said.
“We’re going old-fashioned.” From the detritus she picked up a pack of matches. She put the dynamite into the alcove and pointed the wicks outwards.
Dominic watched as she struck a match.
“Get running.” she said.
He looked back down the tunnel. The pipe whined and shuddered.
“This will burn down in under a minute.”
“It will take longer than—”
“So get running.”
Dominic nodded. He hesitated a moment, then bent and kissed her.
“Huh,” she said when he broke away.
“See you in a minute.” He ran off down the tunnel, following the row of shaking lights. He thought he heard the sound of the wicks burning, but with all the other noise, that couldn’t be. He didn’t glance back.
The intensity of noise from the shaking pipe kept growing.
“We’ll get knocked off our feet,” Keyshaa shouted behind him. “The concussion will blast us along the tunnel. Protect your head.”
Save your breath for running, he thought. He could easily see ahead where the tunnel opened out into the bunker now. It was still going to take more than a minute. Why not bring longer wicks? She would probably tell him that she had and that they were on the bottom of the Pacific with the Boeing. He passed the point where she’d dropped the flare.
There was probably still another hundred yards to go when he saw a bright yellow flash from behind. A moment later, with the flash still echoing on his retinas, he heard the explosion.
To be continued...
Copyright © 2010 by Sean Monaghan