Survival Fiction: The Last Emergency, Part 5

The flat was just as disheveled and dilapidated inside, as the rest of the building. Dark and damp, it smelled of urine and rotten food. Piles of empty pizza boxes and discarded energy drink cans littered the place. All the furniture had been piled in a corner, along with a massive pile of refuse. Lawn chairs and card tables were arranged as workspaces. They were covered in chip crumbs and neglected pizza toppings.
“Aw, it smells like student digs,” Warren said.
“Quite seedy,” said Martin. He held a flashlight in his left hand, and retractable pointer in the other. He intended to use it to probe at evidence.
Clearly, the occupants had wanted a workspace and little else. The small kitchen was filled with all manner opened shipping boxes full of medical and scientific equipment – beakers and microscopes, he recognized, but some of it was quite esoteric stuff. He walked over to one microwave-sized device on the kitchen table and motioned to it with his pointer.
Warren approached, and then turned to him with a sparkle in her eyes and said, “It’s a homemade PCR machine. Fascinating.”
Martin shrugged and Warren hurriedly added, “It’s a device for copying DNA. These used to be very expensive machines – university or major hospitals only. But these days the open source movement has made it possible to produce them from off-the-shelf components.”
Warren was peering at the device as she spoke, but then she stopped and looked at him. “You can buy the parts to make them on Ebay, detective. I know graduate students who could throw one together in a weekend.”
“That’s all very good, but why in the devil would you want one?” Martin said with a hint of impatience in his voice.
She walked over to the counter and picked up a power drill. “This drill, for instance. See they’ve replaced the bit with a kit-bashed beaker holder. This is now,” she said, barely pressing the trigger and watching the beakers slowly spin, “a centrifuge.”
She put the device back down. “These people, whoever they are, have spent a lot of time putting together a biological research lab on the cheap – and completely off the grid. Only a few items are traceable through official channels. Most of its homemade kit.”
They left the small kitchen and living area and went into the hall, which was covered with a drape. When Martin pushed it aside it was heavier than he expected and didn’t budge. He started to force it firmly back, and then thought otherwise. He peeled the curtain down from the ceiling and it revealed a heavy barrier of plastic sheeting sealed to the wall with duct tape. He could see through it where more sheeting was visible over other doorways down the hall.
“Careful there, detective. It’s a sealed space.”
Martin stepped back and gave her glance. He’d suddenly caught up with what he was encountering, and he did not like it a bit. “Is that what I think it is?”
Warren nodded.  “Yes, I think it’s as far as we go. They did not want whatever testing they were doing back there to get out. Who knows what’s back there, honestly. We’d been better off in Level As, I think. And we need to decontaminate.”
Martin nodded, and then cursed to himself. They probably should have put on a “Level A” hermetically sealed hazardous material suit in the first place, instead of wearing evidence collection suits, which provided only a small measure of protection. Nothing like a full Level A suit, of course. But, they had entered the flat with no real idea what they were about to encounter. It was too late now.
They backed up to the door and Martin, a dozen serious firefights behind, a veteran of the Royal Marines and something of a serious risk taker, both on and off the job, was feeling a bit panicked. His breathing became rapid and his chose felt constricted. “Now what, doctor?”
“We sit tight.” she said tersely. She then reached into her suit and produced her cell. "I’ll call for help.”
As Martin stood there looking uneasily around the flat, and feeling completely useless and exposed, she made the call. In a calm professional voice she explained the situation briefly and requested a full “biological response team.” He winced when she repeated that she and a Met detective were possibly exposed. Clearly, his day was not going to get any better.
She ended the call, and he gave her a grave look. “What are they doing here, doctor? Is this what I think it is?” He asked the question, but suspected he already knew the answer.
She cocked her head and he could see the corners of her eyes crinkle, indicating she was smiling behind the face mask. She must have been enjoying seeing him start a bit, but her body language and voice were surprisingly cheery. She had a hint of impatience in her voice, as if the answer were obvious.
“Well, Detective Rowley, judging by this equipment, the efforts to act clandestinely, and the plastic sheeting in the hall there, my first guess is that ‘they,’ whomever that may be, are in the business of developing some sort of biological weapon.”

*    *    *
                Mike Harris rubbed a hand over his short cropped hair as he looked through the Plexiglas windows of the powerhouse control room for the Wolf Creek dam. All he could see inside the powerhouse was a burning, smoky, mangled mess. The dam’s six generators had destroyed themselves. He had not seen it himself, but Jim Potter and the control room operators had described a great shuddering and screeching sound and then a series of crashes as each of the gigantic 45 megawatt generators spun itself apart. The powerhouse was now in shambles. Two operators were missing, presumed dead.
                Jim Potter stood beside Mike. He was hearty man in his late sixties, massive arms, thick neck, a Vietnam Vet, and an expert in the civil engineering business. He’d worked on Wolf Creek as a young man and had come back to  Kentucky a few years back to retire after decades of overseas engineering experience. He was now semi-retired; Mike had instinctively realized the leadership and cool-headedness in Jim when they’d met at a local football game, and had put him on the clock as much as Jim (and his wife, Marlene) would tolerate.
He looked over at Mike and said, “What just happened here, Mike? What the hell is happening?” Jim suddenly looked gray and exhausted, not like the tenacious former triathlon competitor Mike had come to respect.
Mike just shrugged. He’d read the warnings. The Department of Homeland Security had conducted a test called Project Aurora a few years back. It had showed that if a generator on a load somehow got out of sync with the grid – somehow left the 60 hertz timing – that it could be made to destroy itself. It was much like throwing a car into reverse while driving on the highway at 70 miles per hour. The sudden braking torque would just rip a generator to shreds. He’d seen a film of the test, which showed a diesel generator which had been hacked into getting out of phase doing just that. It had blown itself up. Just like all six gens at Wolf Creek. He was looking at the most successful infrastructure attack to date, and he was afraid, according to Bill Nudally, that more were coming.
No matter. His whole region was now without power and the electrical grid for the Midwest and Northeast was going to be under a tremendous strain just to balance the load across the rest of the country. Mike shook his head. He was just as much in shock as everyone else.
“They got through somehow, Jim. We’d been talking about this for several years, even taken steps to prevent it. An Aurora attack, they call it. We were warned that if the generators were forced out of phase that the power grid itself would put tremendous mechanical pressure on the generators, enough to cause serious damage. We thought it might damage them, maybe cause one or two to go offline. No one expected all six generators in a dam to . . . just . . . disintegrate.”
“Why couldn’t we have noticed that?” Jim said. “We were monitoring the systems the whole time. Nothing spiked. There was no warning. No heat. No gauges moved. No alarms. Just a sudden screeching sound and in a few seconds . . . WHUMP, WHUMP, WHUMP. BAM! They just blew apart.”
“We were concentrating on getting the gates up,” Mike said. “Not on the penstock inlets, the generators, or turbines. I suspect they created a crisis to coincide with the attempt to put the generators out of phase.” He looked over at Jim and with an air of respect in his voice that surprised even himself, he said “It worked. They nailed us.”
Jim snorted. “It’ll be six months to a year before she’ll be generating again. We’ll have to dismantle the powerhouse, get a crane in here, and replace every one of those gens. What a nightmare. I bet we're looking at a quarter to half billion dollars damage, plus other losses. They could not have done a better job if they’d flown a cruise missile up the Cumberland.”
Mike nodded. That’s exactly what they intended. They had targeted the dam and struck it with extreme precision. They just used computer programs instead of smart bombs.

Go on to part six.

Thank you for reading. If you will indulge me, I ask a favor or two. Please Like my page using the Like button at the upper left. Follow me on Twitter at @liamkfisher. I would also love to hear your comments, if you are in a chatty mood. Please post them below!

3 comments:

  1. PCR is a polimerase chain reaction, you probably meant a PCR machine. Funnily enough, my debut novel is also on a bioterrorism ))

    Nice story so far ))

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  2. Oops . . . I updated the typo. Thanks! That's especially nice coming from someone who's also writing on the same topic. Is yours out yet?

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  3. Though I prefer reading hard copy, this was intriguing enough to keep my attention. If I were a terrorist, this is one of three scenarios I would have at the top of my list for initiating mayhem.
    Hope you find a good publisher and/or begin selling it via Amazon and other sites.

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