New East Side - Energy crisis


The next morning the entire group was able to conveniently have breakfast at a single table. The French couple finished dining in a hurry as they were both busy working on Gabrielle's upcoming article about the tour of Con County. Philippe was working on the illustration of a bear wielding a baseball bat, standing next to a man eating gyros. Gabrielle's draft was now fifty pages long and she looked like she had been working on it all night.

Larry made the astute observation that no journal would publish such a long article, to which Gabrielle gave the expected response that she would turn it into an article series. Larry, thus humbled, immediately suggested to set off for the day's scheduled destination which would provide her with even more material: the New East Side. "It will be the most exciting part of your tour," he claimed. The French couple failed to notice the sarcasm in his tone.

We took the subway train and surfaced in the central part of Con City's youngest district. The New East Side is primarily a residential district, with the occasional high-rise office buildings scattered here and there. It was built in the 90s as an extension of the city, at the same time when all the important business offices were moved from Oldtown, that is, the old Downtown, to the new Downtown. Incidentally, the creation of the New East Side had been a direct consequence of this move, as half of the new Downtown, that is, the old East Side, had been a residential area, which had to be moved somewhere to make space for new office buildings.

Hence the New East Side was built and all residents of the old East Side were given new homes there. At the time, many human rights activist criticized the City Council for this move, calling it a forced relocation scheme. The City Council argued that each of the apartments in the modern high-rise apartment buildings in the New East Side was "a steal" and that anyone fortunate enough to move into one during the relocation got a great new home "dirt cheap". In response to additional criticism that living costs were considerably higher in the new buildings, and that many families could not afford them and would therefore accumulate heavy debts, the City Council released the infamous "Luddites can kiss the Mayor's ass" press release.

The controversies died down a few years after the constructions and relocations were completed and the public lost interest in the district. The main reason for this was that the New East Side is the blandest region of Con City.

When we got off the subway train we got to experience this first hand. We surfaced to find a residential area dominated by high-rise apartment complexes. Three blocks to the south an office building stood, next to that was a supermarket. Beyond that, everything as far as we could see was a high-rise apartment building. We walked ten blocks, yet the view showed no signs of variety.

The French couple was most disappointed by the New East Side. They inquired Larry if there were any sights in the area. "The only thing worth seeing around here is near the city limits," the driver explained. Since Gabrielle and Philippe had no interest in spending a day staring at skyscrapers, we quickly got back on the subway and took it all the way to the only remarkable spectacle the New East Side had to offer: the Nuke Plant.





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The Con City Nuke Plant is a state-of-the-art nuclear power generating facility. Boasting thirteen cooling towers, responsible for the temperature moderation of no less than eight reactor blocks each (that is, a total of one hundred and four reactor blocks), the Nuke Plant stretches across the outskirts of the New East Side and dominates the landscape. It was built at the turn of the millennium, and was originally to be called the Millennium Nuke Plant, until concerned city officials decided that the name would date the plant and would lead to a poor public opinion by the end of the 21st century. By the time it was opened it had been rechristened as the Con City Nuke Plant.

The energy output of the plant is just shy of a hundred and twenty gigawatts, which is plenty to supply the entirety of Con County with electrical power. Some people believe that the immense power output of the nuke plant is far greater than the power consumption of the county which has led them to speculate that illegal experiments are being conducted in top secret facilities beneath the New East Side. Government officials vehemently deny such accusations and point to the irresponsible power usage habits of the county's population as the true cause of the seemingly excessive power consumption figures.

The extraordinary power output isn't the only source of controversy surrounding the Nuke Plant. While supporters of nuclear power praise it as a shining example of modern renewable energy, critics of the initiative call the plant "the next Chernobyl waiting to happen". In response to their criticism, the City Council has gone the extra mile with security measures of the facility, turning it into the single most heavily fortified structure in the world. Security is in fact so tight that the security personnel themselves are banned from entering numerous sectors of the plant.

Since no one can enter these high security areas of the facility under any circumstances, the only way to see any problems occurring inside them is via the installed security cameras. Some of these cameras have ceased to function over the years, which has led to serious public concerns. The plant's staff themselves are not worried. "Not being able to see if anything is wrong is not such a bad thing," the Nuke Plant's Head of Security once stated. "It's certainly better for morale than actually detecting a problem over the cameras. After all, no one has the security clearance to go in there to fix anything."





*



Gabrielle and Philippe gaped in awe at the sight of the Nuke Plant. Its sheer size told them the facility was worth an article of its own in Gabrielle's series. Hand in hand they walked up to the main entrance with happy smiles on their faces.

At the gates we were greeted by a contingent of eight security guards in full body armor, armed with fully automatic Hunterson MMM-4 Annihilator rifles, hand grenades, and single-shot rocket launchers. They aimed their machine guns directly at the still smiling French couple. Their ranking officer demanded an identification, and threatened to open fire if we would not comply within ten seconds. Larry handed him a Reaper Travels brochure, and the security guards immediately lowered their weapons.

"Right this way, please," one of the security guards said, pointing the way through a door that had a tourists only sign on it. "Please mind that you stay on the designated path. Don't wander off into the restricted areas. Laser guided missile launchers, ceiling mounted turrets, and wall mounted flame throwers eliminate unauthorized trespassers. Please don't take any pictures or we will have to shoot you as you leave and throw your bodies to the alligators. Enjoy your stay!"

The French couple nodded with great enthusiasm, not ceasing to smile even at the mention of the flame throwers. We all walked through the door which the security guards promptly closed behind us, leaving us alone. On our left stood a table with a dozen audio guides just waiting for tourists. Larry handed me one, but it did not work, so we simply followed the corridor. Colorful stripes were painted on the floor in yellow, green, red, and blue. At the first corner a sign stated that we should stay on the marked corridors. It also explained that the yellow path led to catering, the green to the control room, the red to the reactor, and the blue to the armory. Gabrielle and Philippe exchanged a glance and stormed off towards the reactor.


Several turns and a number of stairs later the red markings led us to a door labeled "reactor block 10G". Beyond the door we found a room the size of a kitchen. Its far wall was entirely made of glass and offered a view of the reactor chamber, which was a large hexagonal room bathed in blue light, with a tall and wide steel cylinder standing in its middle, and several ladders leading up to the cylinder's top. The smiles vanished from the faces of the French couple as they realized that we had been led to an observation room. Philippe whispered something to Gabrielle and the smiles quickly returned. Within five seconds they stormed out of the room.

Larry and I ran after them but they managed to keep almost ten yards ahead of us. We abruptly stopped when we saw the French couple step off the marked path and walk straight into a side corridor.

The turrets the security guards had warned about loomed threateningly on the walls and ceilings of the side corridor, yet we'd heard no sounds of gunfire. There was a security camera in the corner overlooking the corridor in question, but it had been covered by Philippe's jacket. When Larry noticed this, he went straight after the tourists, knowing that the turrets, which were guided by the cameras due to the lack of motion detectors, wouldn't trigger.

Long winding corridors followed with more cameras along the way, each covered up by pieces of clothing. By the time we reached the sign that said "reactor ahead", Larry was sure we would find the French couple in their undergarments.

Just around the corner we spotted the pair, in the state Larry had predicted, standing in front of a glass door leading straight into the reactor chamber. Philippe slid the door open and stepped inside, holding Gabrielle's hand. She hesitated only for a second, but that brief hesitation made all the difference in the world for what happened next.

As Philippe turned around and smiled at her, gently pulling her in his direction, a siren sounded and the glass door rapidly started closing. It sealed so fast that Gabrielle and Philippe had no choice but to let go of each other's hands. The door shut tight, locking Philippe into the reactor chamber alone.

"Warning: organic matter detected," a pleasant female voice said from hidden speakers within the walls. "Initiating decontamination sequence."





*



A little known fact about the Con City Nuke Plant is that its excessive security measures are not limited to banning security guards from entering high security areas. The designers of the plant believe that if a rat or a fly were to jump into the reactor core, the plant would go into meltdown due to the disruption caused by the introduction of what they dubbed "organic contaminants".

For this reason the reactor chambers are protected against organic materials. Since everything in the reactor chamber is composed of inorganic materials, organic matter such as rodents or insects can be easily identified by wall mounted organic matter sensors.

Once the organic contaminant has been identified, the reactor chamber is hermetically sealed and decontaminants are pumped into the chamber. For decontamination they use a simple colorless and odorless gas called carbon monoxide. The fact that this gas, according to the official Con County Chemistry Classification, is also an organic substance, does not seem to bother either the plant's designers or the organic matter sensors, probably because the former are physicists who don't know anything about chemistry and the latter have been programmed by the former.





*



"Decontamination in progress," the pleasant voice from the speakers said. Philippe took notice of the sound of gas being pumped into the reactor chamber. He looked around for the source of the gas, but could not find it. He was confused that he couldn't see, or smell any gas. His confusion only lasted until the pleasant voice announced: "carbon monoxide concentration at 0.10 percent".

Gabrielle's eyes went wide with panic and she started pounding on the glass door. Philippe tried forcing it open but it wouldn't budge. "Carbon monoxide concentration at 0.20 percent," the voice continued.

Gabrielle turned to Larry for help, pleading him to break the door down. Larry pointed out that the carbon monoxide would probably kill us all, and that he wasn't getting paid enough to risk that. Since I was there to be the objective outside observer, I could not interfere, either. Philippe of course tried, ramming into the door from the far side with all his strength, but the bulletproof and shatterproof glass held fast, as could be expected from the excessive security measures of the Nuke Plant.

"Carbon monoxide concentration at 0.60 percent," the pleasant female voice announced. By this point Philippe had difficulty breathing. He sat down by the glass door and pressed himself against it. Gabrielle sat down on her side of the glass and did the same.

The couple spent the remainder of Philippe's life, all five minutes of it, reenacting an iconic scene from a famous science fiction movie.





*



"Decontamination complete," the automated voice stated. "Beginning purging procedure." In the next few minutes the machinery pumped all the carbon monoxide out of the reactor chamber. Gabrielle couldn't take it any more and stood up. She headed back to the entrance with Larry, looking utterly crushed.

Before I turned to join them, a portion of the wall inside the reactor chamber slid open and a five foot tall robot with a smiling face rolled out of it. Moving on tank treads and pushing a metal plate akin to the blade of a bulldozer, the robot approached Philippe's body and pushed him away from the door. A trap door opened nearby revealing a pool of water in which alligators were swimming. The little robot diligently pushed Philippe's body over the edge of the pit.

I took a mental note never to visit the Con City Nuke Plant again.




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