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Fiction

New(clear) Reality
Ashley Grinstead

It was yet another long day in the lab. My team and I were coming extremely close to

finishing the construction of a new type of nuclear reactor; for the past thirty years, we

had been researching a way that used the fission of the element thorium instead of

uranium to produce nuclear energy. And we found one. We only had one more test left

to do to before we could launch the first redesigned nuclear power plant in the world.

I sat down at my desk, letting my body be absorbed by the cushions of my rolling chair. I

was on break, and for the first time since I began my research, I developed a feeling of

uneasiness about this project. What if something goes wrong? I thought, what if this

turns into a disaster like Fukushima?

What happened at the Fukushima-Daiichi plant in 2011 was the last known major

nuclear disaster that caused worldwide outrage. Four of the reactors exploded due to

flooding from a tsunami that was caused by a high magnitude earthquake. Most nuclear

power plants were shut down after that incident because the general public’s opinion

changed in a negative way against nuclear technology; people were afraid. But

Fukushima happened forty years ago; technology has changed since then and the

research on this project was extensive. “Everything should be fine,” I told myself. Formatted: Font: Not Italic
Formatted: Font: Not Italic
I let my gaze shift to my chemical engineering diplomas I received from MIT and

CalTech that I so proudly displayed on the walls and reassured myself. How could

anything go wrong if you and numerous others dedicated your entire lives to nuclear

research?

I was immediately pulled out of my thoughts when Dr. Jerry Farrow, my fellow

employee and one of the smartest people I know, barged into my office.

“Hey Dr. Davis, sorry for disturbing you, but this is slightly urgent—do you happen to

know where we keep the heavy water?”

I quickly sat up. “I think it’s in Storage Room 18, why? Did something happen to the

reactor?” My mind was racing; were my intuitions correct?

“No, no everything is fine. Dr. Bratten accidentally spilled some heavy water on one of

the outside receptacles, but according to my calculations, that shouldn’t change

anything.”

I sunk back down into my chair and let out a sigh of relief. If Jerry says the reactor

would be fine, the reactor would be fine. Afterall, h e is one of my best and smartest

employees.

Jerry noticed my exasperation and chuckled, “Nervous for tomorrow?”


Tomorrow is the day of our Big Reveal; I was to publish the final report to the public. My

biggest fear was that people would react negatively and view this project as a threat to

the environment.

“I wasn’t until about five minutes ago. I just got lost in my thoughts, had one of those

‘what if’ moments, and started overthinking things that shouldn’t be a problem.”

“Ah, I see. Well, your break is almost over, so you won’t have to stare into the void much

longer,” he joked. “I’m going to head out and refill the heavy water, I’ll see you in a bit

for our final test run!”

As I watched him leave, I wondered how someone could be so lighthearted and calm

about something so extravaganthuge.

“Alright, everyone,” I announced, “For our final test, we’re going to shut down the

reactor to see if the emergency cooling generators do what they are supposed to do. We

are also testing to see if anything leaks into the wet-well suppression pool. If you see

anything wrong, report it immediately! If everything works out like it should, then I

want to congratulate you all on all your hard work that was put into this development;

you all have changed the future of energy.”


There was a small round of applause, and looking around the room, I felt like a proud

mom watching her child walk across the stage at their graduation. I waved off the

applause and motioned for everyone to get into position.

“Okay, forced shutdown in three, two, one—forced shutdown active. Remember, if

something looks off, report it—” I was cut off when it suddenly became pitch black.

There was a loud whirring noise.

Someone screamed.

Then there was a loud BOOM, as if a bomb was set off in the control room. A bright light

that washed over the room. It was almost as if we were staring into the Sun. What’s

happening? I thought as white faded into black.

When I finally regained consciousness, I felt numb. I couldn’t feel any part of my body at

all. I was lying on a cot in a square room that was around six eight feet wide and eight

feet long. The walls were a striking white and had nothing on them; the floor was a white

tile. There was one square window on the wall opposite to me, but when I tried to get up

to look through it, I felt a tremendous ache make its way throughout my body and

immediately laid back down. Tthere was an intense burning sensation that followed the
ache andand I felt like my entire body was on fire. Huh, I guess if I move I can feel my

body again, I analyzed, but I only can feel it with the worst pain possible. I tried to lift

my right arm up, but it felt as if there was an outside force refraining me to move it at

all. I tried to lift it again, but this time with more force and power. That made my arm

uncontrollably swing out and hit the white wall beside me.

“Holy shit OW,” I yelped. As soon as I said that, a door appeared where the small

window was, almost as if it was being laser cut, and a person dressed in an outfit that

looked like a spacesuit walked in. The person was pushing a cart that rattled as the

wheels rolled over the indents of the tiled groundthe tile.

For a second, I forgot about the pain because I wanted answers, so I immediately tried

to bombarded him with questions. “Who are you? Where is my team? Where am I?

What happened to the reactor? How long was I out for?”

The spacesuit person pressed a button on the side of their bulky helmet and revealed his

face. He was fairly young, probably in his thirties, and his faced had a looked of both

surprised and pitystartled..

The look on his face made me wonder how long I was out for. I noticed he was looking

examiningat my body and taking notes, as if there was something wrong with it, so

immediately I grew curious and lifted my head to look at what he was staring atfollow

his gaze.
I couldn’t believe what I saw.

I was naked, and there were deep, open wounds covering my body. It looked like chunks

of my body had bites taken out of it; there was a massive crater on my left calf. As I

focused on a sore that was on my stomach, it almost looked as if it was slowly getting

bigger. My body looked as if it was decaying right under my eyes.

I couldn’t look anymore. I put my head back down on the pillow it was resting on so

innocently earlier and looked at the man with horrifieddisturbed eyes.

“Please tell me what happened,” I beggedmanaged to gasp.

The man stopped writing reluctantly pushed and held down a button on his wrist aand

asked, “Do you remember anything?”

“Uh, I remember I ordered a forced shutdown of the reactor and then everything turned

black…I don’t really remember anything after that. What went wrong?”

“Well,” he said, “There was an explosion in your lab. During your emergency test run,

one of the outside receptacles that was supposed to generate the flow of cool water

malfunctioned due to water damage. This, causinged the core to overheat and
immediately melt whatever metal that was containing it. The radiation pressure was

quick to build up, causing an explosion, and decimating your entire crew,.”

I was appalled and angry at Dr. Farrow. Did he underestimate how much water was

spilled? Did he not realize that a small mistake like that is critical? Why wasn’t I more

concerned? As these questions entered my mind, I realized they weren’t important

anymore. My whole crew was dead. I was dying Radiation was eating me alive by the

second. My curiosity felt pointless.

The man apparently didn’t see the look of horror on my face because he continued, he

sighed, and the look of pity washed over his face again. “I’m surprised that you were

able to survive, considering the state you’re in now, with the extreme radiation eating

away at your skin..” As you can tell, we’re making sure you’re quarantined and as far

away from humanity as possible. The radiation from the explosion has already spread

around California and into the surrounding states, killing several million and making

this environment inhabitable. There were only a few people who lived close to this plant

that survived the explosion, but they’re currently being quarantined in the rooms next to

you” The man let go of the button and started to move things around on his cart.

I was appalled and angry at Dr. Farrow. Did he underestimate how much water was

spilled? Did he not realize that a small mistake like that is critical? Why wasn’t I more

concerned? As these questions entered my mind, I realized they weren’t important

anymore. My whole crew was dead. I was dying by the second. My curiosity felt

pointless.
“Why did you keep me alive? I feel like I’m being punished for a reason I can’t

comprehend,” I croaked out.

The man stopped rummaging around in his cart and paused. “Well, in all honesty, we

never thought you would wake up. But the head doctor wanted to…run some tests on

you, so we kept you alive.”the main reason why I came in here was to euthanize you. You

were in a coma for around six months, and nobody thought you would ever wake up. I

was given the okay to go ahead and put you out of your misery. But now that you’re

awake, you can make that decision. So, with that in mind, do you want to live or die?”

Run tests?? I had to know. “Was the radiation the cause of my fucked-up body, or was it Formatted: Font: Not Italic

you people?”

He hesitated. “Well…look, I’m not the bad guy here, alright? I actually came in to save

you.”

I was shocked. “What are you talking about?”

“I don’t have much time to explain. I’ve just seen what the doctor has done to you and I

can’t let him do that to you anymore, especially now that you’re awake.” He quickly

grabbed a syringe off his cart and ran over to me.

“HEY—WOAH! What are you doing???” I tried to move but couldn’t.


“I have to kill you, I have to put you out of your misery! The doctor is on break right now

and he’ll be back any minute so would you please sit still and—” He stabbed a needle

into my arm. “—die.”

I knew my answer immediately. The warm fluid of pentobarbital flowed through my

body as I laid there while I had this feeling of familiarity as my surroundings slowly

faded to black.