Recent Posts

Archive

Tags

No tags yet.

Earth Ark: Chapter Fifty


A One Way Mission

Koryak, Earth

Prior to the war Mother Olga had made sure that Koryak’s deep bunker had everything it needed to sustain life underground for years. An immense blast shield covered by several meters of dirt protected the main entrance. This led directly to the surface, and would be what the survivors would eventually use to escape their subterranean existence. But there were two mine entrances, and inside the other one she’d placed two large ATV’s with their own set of blast doors, along with huge tanks of fuel. These would now be used to save the enclave from a slow, but eventual death. Each ATV could carry a dozen people, a large amount of equipment, and towed a mobile tank carrying five cubic meters of diesel. It was in these heavily tracked vehicles that the team of eighteen engineers’, led by Boris, left Koryak for their journey to Vladivostok. The trip of almost 2800 kilometers would take them more than two weeks, and over some of the roughest terrain imaginable. Most of the road network had been rendered unusable by the war, but these transports didn’t need roads. They could travel anywhere, but were especially efficient over snow, and the nuclear winter that now shrouded the entire Earth meant that there was a lot of snow.

In spite of the benign scenery that freshly fallen snow always conveyed, this snow was deadly. Even though it had been years since WWX, and the radioactive fallout had greatly diminished, there was still much of it left in the upper atmosphere. It would take decades before it finally stopped.

The two teams were greeted by a frozen landscape buried under several meters of snow and ice as they left the safety of the mine. The snowfall in this region wasn’t as radioactive as they had expected, so the teams were able to take off the bulky HAZMAT suits. While this increased their morale, Boris knew that as soon as they left the mountains surrounding Koryak, the suits would be all that kept them alive for any length of time. He also knew that the closer they got to Vladivostok, the more radioactive it would be, and few, if any, team members would live long enough to make it back to Koryak. Everyone now aboard the ATV’s understood that this was probably a suicide mission. The only question was: could they live long enough to complete tying the two pipelines together, and bring the all important natural gas to ensure the survival of the enclave.

This mission meant life or death for thousands, and ultimately the eventual fate of mankind would be determined by its success, or failure.

The trip had been meticulously calculated so that they could maximize their fuel consumption. Even so, they had no idea what they’d run into, or more importantly, what they would have to go around once they crossed the Anadyr River, and left the relative protection of the Koryak Mountains.

After leaving the mountains it quickly became apparent that the radioactive hot zones were so wide spread that going around them wasn’t an option, and the HAZMAT suits were put back on. The teams drove into a lethal landscape, and the closer that got to Vladivostok the hotter it became. As soon as they passed Lake Artem the devastation of the oblast became oppressively apparent. It was as if they were crossing through an alien landscape, and they finally had to start going around the regions ruined infrastructure. Weaving their way around the destruction added precious kilometers to their trip, and their fuel consumption almost doubled.

When they were only fifty kilometers from their final destination there was nothing left except a few twisted ice encrusted skeletons of buildings, and a succession of blast craters. The region had been devastated beyond all recognition. It was a somber ride past what was once their motherland, as the teams were shocked into silence. After several hours of this Ivan approached the team leader with an ominous status report. “Boris, at our present fuel consumption we won’t have enough to get back home.”

Boris hung his head, and told his friend what he had always known about this mission. “I know,” he said, so that only Ivan could hear him, “but this was always a one way mission for us.”

"Of course," Ivan nodded in silent recognition, and asked. “So, do we even try to get back, or just die here?”

"I’m not sure, but we have to complete the mission,” he said solemnly, “and I have no idea what we’ll find once we get to the pipeline.”

“Or if it’s even still there.” Ivan added.

“It is, Ivan, “countered Boris, “or the children wouldn’t have seen it in their visions.”

“Bah, you put a lot of stock in the visions of children, my friend.”

“As did you, when you volunteered for this mission.” Said Boris. “As did every man and woman with us.”

Ivan’s skepticism was etched all over his face, as he grumbled. “Sometimes I wonder if we didn’t make a mistake listening to the words of kids. We could all die for nothing if those pipelines aren’t intact.”


***


By some miracle the pipelines were still intact. In spite of the destruction all around them, the pipelines themselves weren’t damaged, but they were empty. While this was good news for the water pipeline, it was crushing for the natural gas pipeline. It meant an unplanned trip to Sakhalin Island—a trip over water, and into even more atomic carnage.

It was understood that whoever made the trip would not come back, but all their lives were already forfeit. The trip to turn the gas back on would just be a quicker death. Boris decided to lead this new expedition.

After looking for over a day they finally found a boat seaworthy enough to make the trip, and filled it with only enough diesel to make a one-way trip. Just before setting off he told the other two other team leaders his plans. “Ivan, you and Ingra finish up tying in the two pipelines. It should take us a couple days to make the trip, and hopefully, no more than a couple more to get the gas flowing.”

“How will we know when you’ve turned it back on?” Asked Ingra.

“Keep the gas line valve shut on this end,” Boris solemnly answered her, “and watch the pressure gauge.” She gave him a questioning look as he explained. “If the pressure rises, then we’ve been successful.” He left the alternative unsaid.

Ivan wasn’t happy about this turn of events, and made it clear. “I don’t see why you have to be the one who goes.” He grumbled. “You’re our overall leader.”

“My friend,” Boris gently told him, “everyone here knows what must be done, and since this is my area of expertise, then who else is best suited to go?”

Ivan just shook his head, and then shook the other man’s hand. “Then this is goodbye, Boris.”

“We’ll all have to say our goodbyes soon enough.” With that said the small group boarded the boat, waved at those left behind, and sailed towards the unknown.

The small boat took two days to make the 1200-kilometer trip through the Sea of Othotsk to the eastern side of Sakhalin Island. The closer they got to the island the higher the rad’s became, and the crew stayed inside the small boats cabin wearing their HAZMAT suits trying to ward off the effects of radiation sickness, but it was a losing battle.

As they came within site of the Port of Nogliki, Boris shit a bloody mess inside his suit. Everyone had been vomiting for days, but this was the first sign of how bad they really were. Time was now crucial, and something that everyone knew they had very little of.

Approaching the docks they had to sail their way through the detritus left behind by huge oil tankers that now lay scattered and half sunk around the harbor. After making landfall they picked their way through the destroyed city to the pipeline pumping station. The building that once housed the pumps had been blown away, but the pumps were still intact. The crew was half dead, and they still had to figure out a way to start them, but there was no electricity. With his strength almost gone, Boris trudged through the snow. and began looking for a gas fueled generator.


***


“Ingra, it’s been ten days now, and the pressure is still zero. We’re all dying. What are we going to do?”

“I know all that, Ivan,” Ingra said as she wiped bile from her mouth, “and we wait.”

“Wait! Wait for what?” He demanded. “We’ve finished linking the two pipelines.”

“Until the pain becomes too much,” her voice began to break as blood ran freely out her nostrils, “and then we take the cyanide capsule that each of us carry, and wait twenty seconds more for the pain to end.”


***


“Mother Leka!” cried the enclave’s new chief engineer as she ran down the set of stairs leading to Leka’s office.

It had been two months since the teams had left the safety of the bunker, and one month over what had been planned for the operation to complete. Mother Leka had been living in despair for weeks. She was convinced that the teams had failed, and in their failure lay her own. She now felt she would witness the enclave entrusted to her care, slowly die out.

“Mother Leka!” came the call again as the engineer burst into her office.

“What is it Irina? What’s wrong?”

Irina fell to her knees, and slowly lifted her head towards the enclave’s leader. Her eyes were brimming with tears. “The pipeline pressure...it’s risen to almost sixteen bar.”


©2017 Tobin Marks. Proudly created with Wix.com