Fueling the Fire
by Stephen Shepperson



The minivan threads its way up the main lot of the 4th Street Power Station.  But as it reaches the gate, a security guard steps out of the booth and heads towards the driver's side window.

The driver rolls down his window, smiles, and says, "Hello. I'm Leonard Nestor of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. I'm here to inspect the site. I believe I'm expected."

The guard furrows his brow as he checks his sheet. "Ah, yes. Go right on in, Mr. Nestor. The director's expecting you. Follow the road to the second building."

The guard heads back to his booth and buzzes the driver in. A few moments later, he pulls his minvan up to the main office building where a man in a business suit and lab coat awaits outside, smiling. Mr. Nestor immediately recognizes the man as the director.  Mr. Nestor gets out of his vehicle and walks over to shake the man's hand.

"Mr. Lansbury?" Mr. Nestor asks, more as a polite introduction than an actual query.  "I'm Leonard Nestor."

"Yes, I talked to you on the phone about your visit. Now, will this be a formal inspection?"

"No, no -- just a random performance review."

"Let's take the cart to the power station," Lansbury says. With a smile, he adds, "That is unless you want to walk four city blocks."

Nestor shakes his head and snickers. "The cart it is then."

Lansbury and Nestor get aboard the cart and travel up the dirt road. The course is dotted with the odd outbuilding and utility shed, and men in hard hats immediately acknowledge Lansbury as the two roll by. Lansbury gives Nestor a security clearance badge and updates him on the facility's increased power output. As they get to the main station, Lansbury quickly points out the layout of the station on a detailed map, making note of its limited access.

As if on cue, a pair of guards step before the threshold of the station and quickly look over their priority clearance IDs. Nestor smiles, takes notes on his hand-held computer as he walks through the complex with Lansbury.  He occasionally questions the director on aspects of the site, noting where improvements were made in certain areas and where they could be made for future inspections.

Another pair of guards greet the two just before entering the control station. Permitted to pass, Nestor immediately checks the control board and makes note of certain gauges.

"Yes, very impressive numbers," Nestor says. "Very impressive indeed." He then asks a technician, "How is your containment facilities in case of a breach?"

"The core has the specified updates in radiation shielding. It's also placed deep into the containment module -- 100 feet deep. You can see the room here." The tech shows the monitor of the room.

"And if the power is disrupted here, how long would it take for your backup systems to take over?" Nestor asks.

"It would come online immediately after it detects the failure. At least three to four minutes."

"Very good. Okay then. I'm done here." Nestor walks out of the station room, Lansbury following.

"Well," Lansbury says, "What is your recommendation?"

"I think that when you get back online you will have an excellent working facility."

"Back online?" Lansbury says, perplexed. "What do you mean? I don't understa--" Lansbury suddenly notices Mr. Nestor heading straight for the stairwell to the containment unit. "You're heading for the power core. You can't enter there without a radiation suit!"

Nestor pulls off his clearance badge with one hand and  reaches for the armored door with the other. "I don't think that will be a problem," he sneers, flinging the badge at the director. Then he turns and continues to walk -- through the door!

Lansbury is dumbfounded. He can't believe what he just witnessed; he just saw a man pass through solid steel as if he was a ghost. He stands stunned for a few moments, only to get shocked into movement by the security alarm. Then he dashes to the thermonuclear control station.

Inside, the technicians are scrambling. One of them yells, "Rads are up fourteen percent! What the hell? I don't understand why it's doing this?"

Then another tech looks over the gauges, immediately turning to Director Lansbury. "That Commission guy is now in the power core!"

They all watch the screen as Nestor walks up to the cement well housing the nuclear core. Nestor shimmers, nebulous radiation seeping into his very pores. Instead burning to death, or instantly suffocating from the overdose of energy, Nestor moves onward. In fact, his very form begins to pulse and swell, shifting. Before the technicians can actually comprehend what is happening, Nestor hovers down into the core as a monstrous purplish-black man-shape.

Stunned, another tech finally looks down at the console and says, "Temperature's rising! But the power outage it's dropping!"

Lansbury goes over to him. "What do you mean dropping?"

"Just that, sir," the tech says, "Look at the gauges!"

They watch as the power levels start dropping dramatically and the radiation, which should be increasing, is also dropping. The lights flicker as the power in the complex also starts draining.

Lansbury says, "He's draining the core dry! Everybody evacuate -- Now! Open up the cooling chemicals into the room!"

Inside the core, the being formerly known as Mr. Nestor relishes the influx of power as he absorbs the radiation and energy from the nuclear core. But then a torrent of liquid chemicals spills from floodgates, and the creature screams in pain as the freezing properties pour over him and the fiery core. Enraged, the energy-man sends a wave of superheated ions at the door, melting it to slag. He moves out into the hall, floating just over the floor. He sees Lansbury running out of the control station with the last of the techs. He raises his hand as the floor under Lansbury and two of the fleeing techs turns to wet concrete. They fall to their hips in the stone quagmire and slowly sink. They struggle to get out as the creature looms over them.

"Lansbury," the creature says to the trapped director. "You should've let me alone to finish my feeding in peace. Now pay for your folly. No one does that to Plasm -- and lives!"

The purplish being now known as Plasm watches as floor ingest the director and the two technicians. With a wave of his hand, the concrete solidifies again, leaving nothing but the rictus visages of three terrified men.

Plasm makes his way through the complex and out into the open. Workers run as they see the energy being rising in the air. Security guards shoot at Plasm, but their gunfire is ineffective, bullets melting when they strike his heat shield.

Plasm yells, "You cannot stop me, cretins. I'm Power Incarnate -- a living Elemental Force! Your pitiful weapons are useless against me." In response, he throws out streaking jets of charged particles, scattering the people before he flies off laughing.

******

The real Mr. Nestor is found in his hotel, his hands and feet somehow imbedded into the wall and floor. It takes a few hours for a construction crew to free him from his prison. He tells a chilling tale of a ghostly creature of purple energy flying through his wall and imprisoning him, then taking on his form and leaving him defenseless.

The security cams catch the last moments of life of the director and the two techs. Three more lives are now attached to the monster known as Plasm.
 

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