The sky is blue. Some clouds appear, rolling over the hills, where a large, ominous factory is situated. Inside, two scientists are discussing the atom. ‘The atom, General Meltdown, is the heart of the matter. Once, it was thought to be indestructible, immutable, eternal. We know better now. Or worse, depending on your point of view. We know now that atoms can be broken. Into fragments and energy’. Images of atoms appear on monitors, as General Meltdown tells the other man, Dr Neutron, that he knows all this. ‘Don’t you think we should –’ he begins, before Dr Neutron interrupts, declaring ‘Neutron bullets, General, are fired into uranium-235 and shatter the nuclei of individual atoms. The shattered nucleus breaks into pieces of caesium and strontium...and energy is released’ he explains, as the simulation on the monitor demonstrates, adding that it is a great deal of energy.
Dr Neutron continues, explaining that a moderator, in this instance a graphite drum, is used to slow the neutrons down, and boron steel control rods absorb some of the neutrons to regulate the speed of the reaction. Nuclear fission produces enough energy to power a submarine, to light a city...or to destroy a world, and Dr Neutron tells General Meltdown that the annual maintenance shutdown of the RBMK-1000 Reactor No 4 at the Chernobyl power station would be the perfect opportunity.
The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics; Chernobyl, on Friday, April 25, 1986 at 1:00 am, two men stand in the nuclear facility, as one asks ‘Are you sure our superiors got it right, Dimitri? Let me see those orders again’. Dimitri tells his colleague, Yuri, that he worries too much, that he is of the old school, and asks him to relax. ‘This is Glasnost! A time when thought and innovation will be rewarded. And we’ve got a serious power problem here’ Dimitri adds, both men illuminated by a yellow light inside the facility. Dimitri states that in 1982 and 1984, they found that if there were an accidental loss of steam to the turbines, there wouldn’t be enough power to operate the reactor’s safety systems until the emergency diesels cut in. ‘Which means in an emergency, we could be in big trouble! Yes, yes, I know that, but – ‘Yuri begins.
Dimitri points out that the new equipment is supposed to correct the problem, to which Yuri asks if it will do that. ‘That’s what we want to find out’ Dimitri tells him. Dimitri explains that they are shutting down the reactor for its annual maintenance check, which gives them the perfect opportunity to test the new system. Yuri asks if this has been cleared properly, and Dimitri assures him that they submitted the plans to the plant designers.
Elsewhere someone moves their first piece in a game of chess – a white pawn, as Dr Neutron tells General Meltdown that the plans were diverted, of course – a ridiculously small bribe to a minor official.
‘They never got back to us...and they didn’t say no’ Dimitri explains to Yuri, who examines something and replies ‘But you’ll answer for this if it fails!’ to which Dimitri adds ‘And get the credit if it succeeds, comrade?’ Yuri just grunts and mutters that they will get started then, before announcing that target output is 700 top 1000 megawatts thermal. Dimitri reports that the present output is 3200 megawatts, and initiates reduction procedure.
Friday, noon, April 26, 1986, another nuclear plant worker approaches Dimitri and Yuri, and asks how it is going. Dimitri replies that it is a piece of cake, that the reactor output is approaching 1600 megawatts, and suggests that they break for lunch. Two hours later, Dimitri reports that they are approaching the target output, and switches off the emergency core cooling system. He takes a phone call: ‘Yes Sir? How long, Sir? Yes Sir? Very well’, and orders the others to terminate the power reduction procedure, as that was the local power grid controller in Kiev, and he says they need electricity for a few more hours, and they have been ordered to supply it. Dimitri tells Yuri and the other man that this is annoying, as it means they will be working past midnight in order to complete the test. ‘Hot date, Dimitri? Tell her you’ll see her some other night, comrade. We have our orders!’ one of the other men replies. ‘Very well’ Dimitri mutters, before asking if they should restart the cooling system. ‘Why bother? It’ll only be a little while before we start to shut down again. And the more time we save, the sooner we’ll be home in bed’ Yuri points out.
At 11:10 pm, Dimitri is on the phone once again to Kiev, ‘All right. We’ll take care of it. Sure. No problem’ he tells the controller, before hanging up and muttering ‘Jerk’. He tells Yuri that Kiev are finished, and they can resume power reduction operations again. ‘And about time, too. It’s getting pretty damn late here, and Anastasia will wait for you only so long, eh?’ Yuri remarks.
The chess game continues, as General Meltdown tells Dr Neutron that it cost him merely the assurance that operator Yuri would be given preference for the next single family unit, to insure that the cooling system would remain shut off. He explains that Dimitri was less difficult, as it was his eagerness to spend that night with the beautiful Anastasia that proved his undoing. ‘You see, Neutron, what a greedy, lax, black-market society ours has become, riddled with decadent capitalist ideas. ‘Glasnost is the cause, Dr Neutron! It will be the ruination of Mother Russia!’ he exclaims. Dr Neutron points out that without Dimitri’s laxness, their plan would surely have failed, for as it was, a bottle of schnapps plus some simple conditioning, encouraged operator Alexi to set the regulator improperly – and the game was almost theirs. That was the crucial error.
At 12:28 AM now, on April 27, 1986, the Saturday, Dimitri suddenly notices something: ‘What the hell?’ he calls out, before shouting that the reactor is crashing, that power output is dropping off to almost nothing. ‘What? How can that be? What’s the reading?’ one of the others asks. ‘Thirty megawatts! We’ll never be able to test the emergency procedures now! They’ll have to wait till next year!’ the other explains. ‘We’ll be lucky not to be sent to the Gulag!’ he adds, while Yuri mutters that he told them they should have tried it. ‘I know who they’re going to blame’ he adds. One of the others declares that they have to increase the power output. ‘If we fail –’ he begins, to which Yuri tells him that if they fail, they won’t have to worry about Glasnost for a long, long time. ‘But if we remove the remaining control rods?’ one of the men asks, while another declares that the power levels are rising – 200 megawatts and climbing.
Dr Neutron points out that this type of reactor is very unstable at low power levels and that the gaseous bi-product it creates, xenon-135, isn’t a factor at normal operating levels, but that at low levels, the gas absorbs some of the neutrons that keep the reactor going, and it is very dangerous.
‘We still aren’t generating enough power to start the equipment!’ one of the men calls out urgently, suggesting that they will have to improvise. ‘Switch on the pumps to force more water through the core. That, at least, is part of the original plan for the experiment and will provide an additional margin of safety’ one of the other men points out. Someone shouts that they will have to make manual adjustments to main control of the reactor, and reports that he is getting an emergency shutdown signal from the reactor. ‘Turn it off! The computers simply don’t know how to read what we’re doing!’ another orders.
Dr Neutron tells General Meltdown that, of course the computers understood exactly what was happening, but, as planned, no one listened, and the additional water caused the ratio of steam and water within the reactor core to change with every passing moment, thus increasing the reactor’s instability. The operators having come so far, had little choice but to continue.
At 1:20 AM, Yuri informs Dimitri that the water level is below the emergency mark, and that he is getting a signal that the automatic shut-down system is about to kick in. ‘What should I do?’ he asks.
‘And then began the endgame’ Dr Neutron announces as he moves another chess piece.
‘Override it!’ Dimitri orders, but Yuri tells him that they still don’t have enough power to begin the experiment.
‘Check’ Dr Neutron declares as he moves a piece on the chess board.
At 1:23 AM, one of the plant operators announces that they are as close to ready as they can be. ‘If things go well, we should be able to complete our task tonight. Begin the experiment, Yuri’. Yuri replies ‘With pleasure’ and points out that the sooner they finish here, the happier he will be. ‘Just make certain the automatic trip is turned off so we don’t close things down by accident when the turbines shut down’ the other man declares.
‘And mate’ Dr Neutron adds as he moves his final piece.
‘Yuri! Something’s wrong. There’s too much steam! The water isn’t absorbing enough neutrons! Power’s surging!’ one of the operators exclaims, looking at some computer readings. ‘My God! Button AZ-5! Quickly! All control and scram rods into the core! Hurry!’ Yuri shouts. ‘They’re not going in all the way! They’re buckling with the heat!’ someone points out. ‘Disconnect them! Let them fall free!’ another shouts, clutching at his head, but someone else points out that it isn’t working.
‘Yes, Dr Neutron, the plan progressed like clockwork, each cog doing its bit. Only... it didn’t work. What precisely went wrong?’ General Meltdown enquires. Dr Neutron replies that, at this juncture, he suggested the reactor’s power output did rise to more than 100 times its normal level, and that part of the core went prompt critical immediately, equivalent to about half a ton of TNT exploding inside it. He continues, stating that the second explosion tore off the roof of the containment building. ‘1000 tons of reinforced concrete. You were very impressive general. And not even singed’ Dr Neutron points out. General Meltdown replies that it was certainly impressive, but that it didn’t work, he couldn’t help himself. Dr Neutron reminds the General that he did warn him, that he might not be able to maintain his control during such a strong power surge. ‘Stop calling me General, Dr Neutron! I was stripped of that rank before I was sent here! And the party’s inner circle is going to pay heavily of that’ he threatens.
General Meltdown continues, stating that even though their main goal failed, Gorbachev’s consolidation of power has been slowed by the public relations disaster of Chernobyl, so it is a start. He adds that the next time, they will strike hard enough to bring down this man and cripple his policies that threaten to reduce their nation to a peace-loving, second-rate power. ‘No doubt, General, when you are in charge, things will be different’ Dr Neutron replies, adding that they know now that this approach disperses the radiation too widely for direct absorption, so they will have to try something else – something with more finesse.
Meanwhile, in a small town on the gulf Coast of Mexico, where tourism isn’t a major industry, but residents manage to keep themselves amused. ‘So, gringo, you no like my sister?’ a rather large man in a tavern calls out. ‘How much you mother charge for her services?’ the large man, armed with a baseball bat, then asks. ‘Looks like your father... he been short-changed, Americano!’ another man, with a knife, declares. ‘Ain’t Americano, bub’ the subject of their attention replies as he picks up a barstool, and slams it against the large man’s head, telling him to keep his mother out of this. He then punches another man, asking him if he wants a piece of the action too, and suggests that he better use something larger than that letter opener. Crashes and punches can be heard outside the tavern, while a man sitting at the bar, drinking from a glass asks ‘Sure you don’t want to call of our bet?’
‘Nope’ comes the reply from the man facing off against the locals, as he slams a stool into another man’s face, adding that even if this was a serious exercise in international diplomacy, which it isn’t, he wouldn’t need claws to deal with these suckers. ‘No way I’m buying the drinks the rest of our vacation’ he adds as a broken bottle goes flying past the head of the man at the bar. ‘Whatever you say. It’s your fight. You started it. Enjoy yourself’ the man at the bar replies.
More punches are thrown, and one man is even tossed to the ceiling. ‘I started it? I started it? How d’you figure that?’ the lone man asks. ‘You shouldn’t have made that crack about his sister’ Alex “Havok” Summers, sitting at the bar replies casually, while reading a newspaper. ‘Traditional response, friend of mine. You got something against tradition?’ Wolverine a.k.a. Logan asks. Alex Summers looks around at the destruction in the bar and asks Wolverine if he is finished here. ‘In a minute’ Wolverine replies as he turns his attention to the large man from earlier, and tells him that if he refers to his mother as a “puta” again, he will slice his face off.
As the two friends leave the tavern, Alex points out that Logan doesn’t even know who his mother was. ‘No reason not to treat her with respect’ Logan replies, adding that it is the principle of the thing. They make their way along the sidewalk Logan remarks ‘Got the time-honored Mexican greeting to a gringo out here in the countryside. My duty ta give the time-honored reply’. Havok asks Logan what happens if it sets Mexican – American relations back fifty years. ‘Not my problem, eh? I’m Canadian’ Logan responds, before asking Alex if he has a match. Alex holds up a packet of matches, while Logan unsheathes one claw, which he uses to trim the end of his cigar and tells Alex that this doesn’t count as using his claws, as he didn’t use them in the fight – only used his fists until he could grab the chair. ‘And the barstools’ Alex points out. ‘Tough. Let ‘em off too easy. They shouldn’ta said that about my mother...’ Logan muses.
As he lights his cigar, Logan asks Alex how many days the bet has been on now. Hands in his jacket pockets, Alex replies that it has been three days, and that he is playing it safe, staying out of trouble. ‘This is one wager I’m not losing. The way you chug it down... I’d be broke’ Alex points out, adding that Logan’s cigars alone would kill a lesser man. Logan explains that he didn’t ask for a healing factor, and no matter what he does to it, his body just won’t quit. ‘Gives you an unfair advantage in the lethal consumables department’ Alex remarks. ‘Yup. Women’ll kill you faster’ Logan jokes. ‘No doubt about it’ Alex agrees, adding that picking the lethal ones has always been his speciality. Logan tells Alex to cheer up, and reminds him that he isn’t dead yet.
In a room on the first floor of the building which Logan and Alex are standing in front of, a voice can be heard: ‘I have the potential target under surveillance, and so far I’ve seen no evidence of target’s supposed powers. Are you certain our information about him was correct?’ the person asks. Via a telephone or communicator, another voice is heard, ‘That’s why you’re watching him, idiot. The administrator said to be sure’. The first voice states that they have watched him for three days, and nothing. ‘I was told there was some urgency’ they add. ‘There is. We will have to force the issue’ the second voice says, before being informed that the target is not alone. ‘We are prepared to deal with that contingency’ the second voice replies.
Hours later, in their motel room, Logan is a robe and enters the bathroom, while Alex sits up on one of the beds and asks ‘You sure it’s morning?’ Logan replies that he doesn’t know, as it could be afternoon by now. ‘Some night’ he adds. ‘Some fight’ Alex points out, before there is a knock at the door. Alex goes to answer it, but Logan tells him not to. ‘Scent tell me...’ Logan begins, but too late, as Alex opens the door, and finds the men from the bar, covered in bandages, and aiming guns at him.
Alex slams the door, as Logan concludes his sentence ‘...it ain’t room service’, as the men blast the front door down. Alex and Logan leap out the first story window, the men race to the window and fire at them. ‘I thought you said “your sister is a puta” was a traditional greeting?’ Alex asks. ‘Yup. It’s the prescribed return. Said so in the tourist phrase book’ Logan replies as they run towards a woman who is standing near a red convertible car.
‘Hey!’ the woman calls out, as bullets are fired around them. ‘Are you sure you read it right? These guys don’t seem to be taking it in the right spirit’ Alex tells Logan as they enter the car. ‘Nope. Maybe I oughta get a new phrase book’ Logan jokes. Alex takes the wheel and starts to drive away. ‘Hey!’ the woman exclaims. ‘Whups, looks like we forgot something’ Alex remarks. More bullets are fired. ‘Hey?’ the woman utters. ‘You’re kidding, right?’ Logan asks. Alex points out that they can’t just leave her to be shot. As he drives back around towards the woman, Alex adds that he thinks this is her car, and grabs her by her wrist, pulling her into the car as bullets land in a nearby stop sign. They speed off, and Logan points out that the shooting has stopped. ‘Yeah. Guess we distanced ‘em’ Alex suggests.
Out on open road now, Alex asks the woman what a nice girl like her is doing in a place like this. ‘Besides blocking the rear view mirror’ Logan mutters. ‘My lipstick’s smeared’ the woman replies. ‘You have been pulled out of the middle of a gunfight, had your car stolen, been kidnapped by two total strangers... and you’re worried about your appearance?’ Alex enquires. The woman tells him that in her business, a girl has to worry about it all the time. She looks into a small pocket mirror and re-applies her lipstick. ‘Yer a cool one, I’ll give you that’ Logan tells her, while Alex asks ‘What exactly is your line of business?’ Logan tells her that she is still blocking the rear view mirror.
Suddenly, a car approaches from behind, and slams into them. ‘What the heck?’ Alex calls out. Logan turns around to see the dark car behind them and remarks that that this is getting to be more than a friendly little altercation. ‘These guys want to create a full-fledged international incident!’ he exclaims.
Logan notes that the car behind them has a lot of speed for an old jalopy, and Alex decides that it looks like a professional job, before asking Logan if he can see who is inside. Logan asks Alex to slow up for a minute, as the other car has tinted windows. Logan does manage to see one of the men in the car, his face is disfigured and there appears to be a piece of metal attached to his face. ‘Huh. Definitely not one of the hombres we wrestled with back in the cantina’ Logan tells Alex as the black car pulls up alongside Alex and Logan, the strange-looking man leans out the window, and reveals a large weapon, which he points towards Alex and Logan, who supposes that the dudes back at the cantina set them up, and were probably well paid for their trouble. ‘Not that they wouldn’t have done it just for fun. What now?’ Alex asks.
Logan instructs Alex to brake and swing right, which Alex does without hesitating. The black car continues to speed on, while Alex, Logan and the woman start to careen down a slope. Alex tells Logan to keep in mind that this is not only not their car, but a vintage 1957 red thunderbird convertible. ‘So? I think it’s coming down to us or the car!’ Logan points out. The car lands on an evener road, and Alex declares that if it comes to that, then screw the car, before asking ‘We lose that sucker yet?’ Logan glances backwards, and sees that the black car has caught up to them again. ‘Nope’ he tells Alex. ‘Swell’ Alex mutters, while the woman asks them if they can drop her off somewhere. ‘You can keep the car’ she adds. Suddenly, there is a strange noise. ‘What now?’ Alex asks, before the woman tells him ‘Bad news, honey. Something’s poking through the top. I think it’s Darth Vader’, as the man with the disfigured face bursts trough the roof of the black car, and with his body half-out of the top of the car, he starts firing towards Alex and Logan once more. ‘He’s shooting at us!’ the woman gasps as she turns around. ‘Yup. Laser rifle’ Alex tells her as he notices the laser dart past them. ‘Swell! Who is that dude?’ Logan mutters.
Looking rather unimpressed, the woman asks ‘Lasers? Who are you guys? Luke Skywalker and Han Solo, before muttering ‘Oh, Maria...look! Peligro...means danger!’ Up ahead, they see a sign, “Peligro”, while the mysterious man from the car, and several others, all armed with weapons, stand nearby. ‘Oh, for crying out loud, we’re supposed to be on vacation’ Alex declares, while Logan remarks that they are well equipped, whoever they are. Alex drives into the sign, and asks Logan if he is ready to lose the bet. ‘Nope’ Logan replies. ‘Me neither!’ Alex tells him, so Wolverine suggests Alex “gun it”. Alex drives the car towards a rickety old swing bridge, ‘Not much of a bridge’ one of them points out. ‘Relax, it’s not much of a car’ another replies. The black car drives onto the bridge, and planks of wood start to collapse.
‘You see the other guy?’ Alex asks. ‘Must’ve fallen. Breaks my heart’ Logan replies. ‘No, he didn’t! Look!’ the woman exclaims as she stands up in the backseat and puts her hands on Alex’s shoulders, as they see the black car now flying above them. Alex starts to clench one of his hands into a fist, ‘All right. Enough already. You win. The drinks are on me!’ he tells Logan as he unleashes a powerful charge of plasma energy, which strikes the car up ahead.
Alex and Logan get out of the red car, while the woman reaches into her handbag and asks ‘You...you did that?’ ‘Yeah. Plasma bolt’ Alex explains. ‘Heck of a fall’ Wolverine points out as he peers over the edge of the cliff down to the canyon below. ‘But who was he working for... and why us?’ Alex wonders. Logan suggests they ought to ask the guys on the other side of the bridge, while the woman pulls a gun from her handbag. ‘Oh, you don’t have to worry about them... now that you’ve demonstrated that you are, in fact, who we thought you were’ she states as she fires the gun, and bullets land in Alex and Logan. Logan starts to get up, but the woman shoots him again.
There is darkness all around, before Logan comes to, and finds a doctor standing over him in a hospital room. ‘What…happened?’ Logan calls out. ‘Bubonic Plague. Exceptionally virulent strain’ the doctor replies. ‘My… friend? Mi… amigo?’ Logan asks. The doctor tells him that he is sorry, but his companion also had the plague and he was dead when Logan was found, and already been buried. ‘You understand…bodies of plague victims must be buried as soon as possible to avoid contagion’ the doctor explains. The doctor and other hospital staff exit the ward, as one of them remarks that it is a miracle this one is still alive. ‘He won’t be for long. He’ll be dead by morning’ another whispers.
‘Alex dead? No way! He can’t be’ Wolverine thinks to himself, wondering what the rest of the X-Men will say, and what Scott will say. ‘Goddamnit! What’s wrong with me? She shot us. So where’re the bullet wounds? Why the plague?’ Wolverine wonders. He decides that whatever the problem, his healing factor should have kicked in, so he ought to be well by now. ‘Ought to never’ve been sick’ he adds. Logan examines his skin, and uses a claw to pop out a bullet when he realizes that he has seen pellets like this before. He holds it up and tells himself that it is an assassination technique - quiet, deadly and if you’re not looking for it, almost undetectable. ‘Bubonic Plague. How many of these did she pump into me?’ Wolverine asks himself, knowing that one capsule would kill any ordinary human - including Alex. Logan then blacks out.
There were six capsules inside Logan - but even they weren’t enough. Logan makes his way through a town, ‘It was Alex they wanted. Wanted dead’ he thinks to himself. ‘Waited till he showed his power. Till they knew they had the right guy. But who knew about him? And why?’ Logan wonders, while he is being followed by someone who reports ‘It’s him, all right. Still alive’. Someone via communicator replies ‘Unbelievable. Quark pumped enough plague into him to kill thirty ordinary men. But this does confirm our identification’. The person tailing Wolverine listens as the person via communicator states that they have nothing on him in their computer banks, and precious little in hard copy, except that he was supposed to have died in Houston. ‘Looks like a hard guy to kill’ the person following Wolverine comments.
Via communicator, the voice explains that Wolverine’s senses are preternaturally sharp, animal senses. ‘Use extra care in following him’ they add. ‘I could be following in a Mack Truck for all the attention he’s paying now’ the person following Wolverine replies, adding that he won’t notice anything unless it gets in his way. ‘And I know better than that’. The voice on the radio asks where he is headed, and the person following Wolverine replies ‘The graveyard’. ‘Good. He’ll find the grave of his friend and that will be the end of it’ the voice suggests, while Wolverine carries on, stopping when he finds the marked grave that belongs to Havok. He drops down beside it as it starts to rain. He holds onto the headstone, ‘Alex!’ he calls out, before placing his nose against the headstone, he starts to sniff. He removes his sunglasses, and frowns. His frown turns into a growl as he tears the gravestone up out of the ground and roars in fury. He tosses it away. ‘Alex!’ Logan shouts, before unsheathing his claws, and starts to dig into the ground, sending dirt flying up around him.
Logan keeps digging furiously, ‘Urrrgg… Alex!’ he exclaims as he starts to pull the casket up from the ground. ‘Heavy sucker. Not empty. Somebody in here’ Logan decides. He stands over the wooden casket and tells himself that the scent is all wrong. He then slams his fists into the box, smashing the top of it. ‘What the hell?’ Logan calls out as he pulls from the coffin a dummy stuffed with rocks and a man sized piñata. ‘Ain’t Alex!’ Logan declares. ‘Ain’t even a family resemblance’ he jokes, knowing that this means Alex is alive and somebody has him. ‘Good! Because that means I can find him…and it’s gonna be a real pleasure forcing those suckers to give him back!’ the furious Wolverine vows….