Flash! Friday 16

Prompt: http://flashfriday.wordpress.com/2013/03/22/flash-friday-16/

The handle turned slowly as usual, and I had to lean into it to get the latch to fully disengage. As it swung open, I could hear the rhythmic pulses of steam coming from the pressure relief valves, and I winced. I’d been here long enough that I could tell how the machinery was doing by the smallest of sounds, and those were new sounds, sounds a machine like this was never designed to make. The only comfort came from the sight of the ever-present fire that was the heart of the machine. Without that fire, it didn’t matter if this fix worked – we wouldn’t have enough power to keep running.

Clangs of metal on metal guided me to the worksite. An impossibly burly man was tightening a staggeringly large bolt with an even larger wrench. Pooled around his feet was some sort of viscous liquid which had leaked from the machine. Through the steam in the air, the ruddy glow of the firelight made the liquid look like blood, and I was shocked to see how much had spilled.

“There. All done. She’s good as new.” The workman stepped back, dropping his wrench into an open slot on his tool belt with a solid thwump.

“Good as new? You’ve disconnected the entire southeast quadrant! In nearly seventy three years, we’ve never disconnected an entire quadrant. Not once! Not even for maintenance.” I’d known what they were going to do, of course, but seeing it in person was unsettling.

“That quadrant was FUBAR. It’s been screwed up ever since this thing became operational, and it was threatening to take down the whole works. You’re going to need to re-route some systems, but she’ll hold together.” He grabbed a rag from his belt and wiped the sweat from his face. “Everyone reacts the same way at first, but I’ve done lots of these. Just be patient – everything will be up and running before you know it.”

I’d been looking at the floor as he talked, and I closed my eyes, gathering myself. “I know. It’s just -”

“You never think something like this could happen.”

“Exactly.”

“It’s not supposed to, but it does. Welp, I’m out of here.” He picked up his toolbox, slung his jacket over his shoulder, and smiled, holding out his free hand. I shook it, and smiled back, trying to show more confidence than I really felt.

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