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New Dawn (Chapter 1)
“Sir, the seal's are holding but the fractures are spreading too quickly. We are running out of radiation plugs and the sealant itself is running low.
“How long?” Thomas Darke responded sharply, ducking beneath a overhanging pipe and walking quickly.
The portly man beside him huffed as his short legs pumped to keep up, sweat already pouring down his stress-lined forehead. “Perhaps ten minutes before our sealant supplies run out on the lower levels, critical failure could happen within fifteen minutes afterwards.”
“I need that number to be as exact as you can get it Phillip, men's lives are depending on it.” Three more people ran down the hallway, brushing past him in their futile run to the outside. “Why are they evacuating Phillip?”
“They think the entire thing is going to blow, Sir. They don't want to stay here if it is. The High-Borns have been alerted of the issue and are likely already evacuating.”
“If the Engine blows, then this entire city will sink within the hour. Even if there is extra room on those boats, the High-Borns won't let people like us on board.There is nowhere they can run. Tell the men to get back to work, and keep them working. I'll see what I can do.” Thomas walked away without another word, hurrying down the long maze like tunnels that surrounded the Engine.
Sparks ran out in small showers from broken wires all along the walls, and the lights flickered over head ominously. Stations where hundreds of men and women had once calmly worked were now deserted and left in disarray. He noticed all of this unconsciously and made special note to implement more drills in the future, if there was one anyways. If these people couldn't handle the fear of death, then there were a thousand more like them ready to take their place. Unskilled labor wasn't exactly difficult to find.
He walked into one of the terminals deep inside the engine, its screen the last one that he had seen working for the last three levels, but still flickering. The main burst in the engine was displayed in bright red, supposedly four levels down from him. But that one was not the problem from what he could tell, more of a side effect. There was something continually fracturing the hull from the inside.
What would Dad do? The answer came to him quickly but he just as quickly dismissed it. Twenty years and four hundred thousand kilograms of Tritium ago, shutting the engine down would have been feasible, but with the supplies so low, the outcome would be the same.
He rushed out of the room, grabbing a bag of tools from a passing workbench in the hallway and bolting down the hallway. He would just have to find a way.
Phillip came over the crackling intercom right as he reached the level with the breach. “Thom… Thomas..can you hear me?”
“Talk Phillip. Quickly.”
“We were right. The High-Borns have already begun to evacuate. The rest of us are stuck swimming if we can't get this fixed and quick. External diagnostics are showing a seven minutes and counting before the fractures outpace our ability to close them. We need to seal the main break quickly, but I can't figure out how to do it."
"What's the problem?"
"Problems Thomas. Falling debris from higher up nicked one of the radiation lines. It is alpha mostly, but there is enough beta in there that prolonged exposure would kill just about anyone. And even if we could get someone down there, the sensors are showing a near exponential growth rate for the offshoot fractures."
“Seven minutes isnt enough for that sort of breach Phillip, what can you do get me a couple more seconds.”
Phillip let off a nervous and confused sound over the intercom. "Ok, I can maybe slow down the Tritium flowing into the chamber enough that you can get a minute or two. Its not much."
“Better than nothing, but make sure you don't shut it all that way off. We don't have enough to get it started again."
“Got it boss. Oh and your Brother is coming. He is three minutes out.”
“Keep him up there with you. He’ll have ideas for how to give me more time.” He rounded the last corner and used his keycard to open up the containment door.
The breach was surrounded by people, some dead, and others getting there. The entire hallway leading up was pitch black, and he kept running into squishy forms, grunting in pain. But still he pressed on, until finally he came to the edge of the room. There were three people there, still working, but drenched in sweat and spit.
“Report.” Thomas yelled over the blaring alarm.
The three people turned around and he realized they were at the point of dead men walking. Their faces were thin and their eyes a blood red or crusty green. They might survive an hour if they were lucky.
One of the men tried to gurgle out a noise but bent over, hurling up his stomach contents. The woman bent over and tried to help him up but he waved her away, supporting himself on the desk. “The entire engine is about to collapse sir. Fractures are bursting around everywhere, but are spreading from this main crack. we can't stop the growth at this rate. We have enough sealant gel, but every crack we fill, four more pop up and spread. I've never seen anything like it.”
“No one has.” Thomas replied stepping forward and looking at the monitor. “Not in half a century at least. Look here.” he pointed to one of the flashing columns. “Now we burn Tritium here for nuclear power, but these reading say that the valve is malfunctioning and what is left is forming helium at the bottom of the engine. It is getting into the gas chamber through the fractures. Every second that thing is live, it is wreaking its own annihilation.”
“Can’t we shut it off?”
A new voice came over the intercom. “No, we cant. If we try to, the entire thing will collapse in on itself, and the stores of hydrogen will complete their half lives, making them effectively useless to us. No fuel means no way for the city to keep afloat, which means millions die on our watch.”
Thomas let off a sigh of relief. “Good to hear from you Xav. You have any ideas.”
“No good ideas, but i have a fix.” Xavier said grimly.
“Why do i get the feeling i not going to like this. What is it?”
“You dont like it because the last guy to try it died trying. You remember that engine feeding tube malfunction dad always talked about?”
“Building fell down and shattered the pipe. Dad and the others on the team had to make a patch tube while one of the guys held off the flow.”
“Yep. Broke both of his arms in four different places before basically melting.”
“I hate to be a pessimist, but are you really telling me we have to die to save it?" The woman asked.
“No. Have the others set up the radiation absorbers around the breach and try to seal the crack with the sealant. Reinforce the gel with some of the shielding. Then get below this thing and fix the drainage pipe for the gasses.
“That won't stop this thing from trying to burn helium. There is already some in the chamber.”
“I know, I know, but I can try to rework the pressure and heat gages to compensate for a time. We will have to drain the entire chamber of helium in one big burst, but it will keep the rest of the engine from falling apart if I can time it right. The smaller fractures can be taken care of relatively easily by the crews still here. I'm developing a schematic for them to fill the holes.”
“Alright.” Thomas turned to the others and looked them over. “Can you guys do all that?”
They nodded weakly and he had to hope that they could.
Three, burning hours later, Thomas collapsed to the floor. Sweat drenched his face and blood swirled across his vision from a cut above his eyebrow. His gasping breaths seemed to convey a sense of amusement at something, though what even he didn't know.
Phillip came around the corner, eyes wide in panic and excitement. "Sir, you did it. The seals are holding, the replacement tubes are secure, and the fractures have begun to slow their spread." He looked at Thomas. "Sir, we won."
Thomas shook his head. "No Phillip, we didn't. " He gestured at a control panel on the wall. "Those are the damage and current operations reports. We lost a fifth of the entire supply of Tritium with the helium. That is a fifth of everything that is keeping this city floating, and I just vented it out the airlock."
"To save the other four fifths and the engine itself. Surely they will see that." Phillip said hopefully.
"Maybe, but even then, look what happened today. We are working with a machine that is a hundred years old and is holding in a nuclear reactor. The reactor could hold for a millennia, but that engine won't last much longer as it is. Today is just a warning sign, of what is to come."
They sat in silence for a few moments before a slight cough came from down the hallway. Both of them looked up in surprise and listened again.
Thomas got up from his seat and walked back down the hallway, leaning heavily on the rails to each side. When he finally saw them, his eyes became as big as Phillip's.
The three people who he had seen below were up and walking, slowly but far more healthily than they should have been able to with all the radiation exposure. The man in the middle, who was completely bald and had thick bands of wrinkles covering his forehead, looked up to Thomas and said quietly. “Sir, i believe we need medical attention.” And collapsed against the man to his right, bringing the both down.
Thomas shook himself out of the surprise. “Xavier!” He yelled into the hallway. “We need a med team down here now, enough for three!”
“On their way now. And three? what has happened, are you alright?”
A wave of sleepiness rolled over him and his body finally caught up with itself, and he was extremely hungry and felt ready to vomit at the thought of food. His mind clouded over and he felt himself fall to the floor, and heard Phillip calling for a fourth team quick.