Here is the latest in the series of short stories written by members of the 390-strong Portsmouth Writers’ Hub
‘It is the most significant invention of the 21st century,’ said the representative of the Chinese government. ‘People all over China will be grateful to you and the energy it provides.’
Harry watched proudly as it was made ready. A nuclear reactor that was capable of delivering eight gigawatts yet no more than knee-high and covering less than a sheet of A4 paper.
Ten years of research, another 10 years of development and now he would accompany it to oversee the final stage – the removal and replacement of the plutonium that fuelled it.
‘You will be rewarded handsomely for this,’ continued the representative jealously. ‘You should be very proud. You will be allowed anything you require once it is commissioned.’
‘I won’t be allowed to leave China,’ thought Harry. The representative’s sing-song voice grated on him and he wished he could hear an English accent, preferably with the educated tone of Trinity College Cambridge, where he had learnt his trade.
‘Neither will the reactor, and that should benefit the world...’
Once again he feared the risk he was about to take and remembered those already taken when he had shown the Americans around, avoiding the reactor area as instructed, but talking to them at every opportunity about escape to the west.
‘It all depends on them watching the reactor rather than me,’ he thought.
‘Time for the train, sir,’ said the representative. ‘This is where I take my leave, but I’m sure the guards will take care of you.’
The reactor was being moved by forklift truck and he was just in time to see it loaded on to a flatbed wagon at the front of the train as he boarded his luxury carriage.
Two technicians and – as expected – three guards were already there. He noticed a CCTV camera move to cover him as he sat down. ‘Someone’s watching,’ he thought.
The train was headed for the coast where the reactor would be placed on a purpose-built ship. Once above a precise point in the South China Sea, the reactor’s plutonium would be inserted directly into a tectonic plate boundary to begin a 100,000 year journey to the earth’s core.
The reactor would be refuelled on return to the university and then feed China’s national grid. At this point mankind would be made aware of yet another technological leap by the nation that already led the world.
Harry settled in for the four-hour journey, listening to Mozart on his iPod. The music faded gently after two hours and, because he was expecting it, he kept his face passive.
‘All is in place,’ said a calm American voice. ‘No probs this end, Harry,’ and the Mozart resumed.
Two more hours passed, the guard caught his eye and he removed his earphones. ‘We shall be arriving in five minutes. After we inspect the ship, we’ll go up on deck to watch the transfer to the plutonium removal bay.’
Harry smiled his approval, put his iPod into his small rucksack, hefted it on to his back and made ready to leave.
The ship was just as Harry had seen on the plans, brightly lit and clinically efficient. He congratulated a proud Chinese captain on the state of his vessel and made his way up to the top deck.
‘This is it,’ he thought.
The tide was high and Harry had a grandstand view as the reactor was loaded on to the crane. The rigger made the universal horizontal circles hand-signal known to all crane drivers and walked calmly away.
Harry took a step backward and leaned on the rail as if to get a better view but noticed that all eyes were on the crane. Its load started to move off the train and towards the port side of the ship rising steadily to get level.
The crack as the rope snapped shocked everybody but Harry. In the confusion he turned on his heel and calmly leapt off the starboard side of the ship resisting, as he had been told to, all attempts to reach the surface as his rucksack dragged him down.
The small air breather was put in his mouth just as the panic was about to set in. Strong arms pulled him towards a soft blue light which soon enveloped him.
Once he was in the four-man submarine the engines started and he felt himself accelerating steadily away. Harry opened his eyes.
‘That went well,’ said his rescuer with a Texan drawl. ‘Have you got it?’
Harry reached into his rucksack and pulled out a metal object the size of a paperback book. ‘It should deliver between three and four gigawatts,’ he said. ‘All it needs is the plutonium.’
‘How long to repair?’ asked the chairman of the government committee, a man at the highest level of Chinese officialdom.
‘Repair not possible. Harry’s closest aides estimate five years before a replacement could be ready,’ said the man from the university, and then he added sadly. ‘Harry would have known that.’
‘And you believe he couldn’t face it and, in a moment of madness, jumped overboard?’
‘Yes. It was his life’s work after all...’
‘Hmm’ said the chairman, his natural Chinese suspicion showing through.
‘He had everything he required at the university, unlimited access to all departments, why would he want to defect? Especially without his reactor.’
Down the table a junior member of the committee kept a straight face, determined not to let his feelings show. He’d had an English public school education that included three years at Trinity studying psychology. He had often talked to Harry about old times.
‘Home,’ he thought, ‘He wanted home.’
David Dunford has been writing short stories for some time and is currently trying to convert some of them into podcasts. He shares many interests with his wife including travel, gardening and spending time with their five grandchildren
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