|They were running out of time. With every second that passed, their feelings of claustrophobia increased. They could feel the air getting stale as they remained entombed in the bunker, trapped by lead-lined, cinderblock walls.
There were only three of them left. Five if you counted the two bodies that had been pushed into the corner and covered up... but it was unclear whether they were alive or dead, and nobody wanted to check.
"How did this happen?"
The one who spoke was younger, with curly red hair and freckles. She looked scared.
"We weren't careful," another replied. "We should have been more careful."
The man who spoke was tall and gaunt. The middle-aged woman next to him rolled over, coughing and struggling to breathe. He placed a gentle hand on her shoulder.
"There was no way to anticipate that kind of reaction," she said.
Both the man and the young woman looked at her with concern. She was already showing the initial signs. Her skin was sallow and her hair was beginning to fall out. She looked sick.
"You shouldn't have gone in there," the man reprimanded, knowing full well that if she hadn't, they would all be dead.
The three of them sat in silence for a long time, reflecting on the events that had transpired.
The experiment should have been successful.
There should have been more safeguards.
This shouldn't have happened.
The minute the reactor core casing had ruptured, they should have pulled the plug. But they convinced each other that the damage was within acceptable limits. It was their fault, all of it. They caused this horror, which had sent radioactive dust particles into the air... into the ventilation system.
Without a thought of self-preservation, the older woman had run into the ventilation control room and closed off the exhausts leading outside. She got a lungful of radioactive particles for her trouble, but if she hadn't done it, there's no telling how many civilians would have died once the vapors had reached the air outside and been dispersed by the winds.
As it was, the two technicians in the corner suffered the worst exposure, being inside the core when it happened. None of the other three were willing to look under the coverings, for fear of seeing the charred, decomposing flesh that once comprised the faces of friends and colleagues. And from her rapid decline, the woman with them was next.
She was nearing the end, but struggled to speak.
"Get out," she warned. "When the vents are closed, the air re-circulates every six hours."
The man quickly did the math in his head. The explosion happened at least a few hours ago. There was no clock in the room and they had since lost all track of time.
Then, with a mechanical clicking and a loud hum, the three of them felt the breeze emanating from the vents. And that's when they knew... they were out of time.
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