Chapter 17: Reactor Control

I jogged ahead of Lindsi as we turned towards the stepped outer walls that cut this cavernous space off from the corridors outside. I couldn’t open the doors, but I could find them, and check what was on the other side. It took a little searching to reach the first one: double doors, actually, wide enough to get the lifter through. I guess they did have to get those in there somehow. I stepped through and looked back and forth along the corridor. Everything was weirdly quiet.

Come on! I’d leant back through the door to call to Lindsi, and she caught up quickly. There’s nobody out there. Not yet, anyway.

Her expression was set in that determined look I was starting to get familiar with as she punched in her auth code on the keypad, then rested her fingertips on the touchplate. I pulled my head back moments before the door obligingly opened. Maybe it couldn’t hurt me, but I really didn’t feel like taking the risk.

Like me, Lindsi stepped out, looking back and forth.

“Where now?” she whispered. I shrugged. Engineering wasn’t really my speciality, even though I’d spent most of my free time wandering the Ship, not old enough yet to take a work assignment. Sure, I’d been up here once or twice, but it wasn’t really familiar, not like my Dome was.

There must be a lift. Probably more than one. Do the ones we came up in stop at your floor?

Lindsi shook her head. “They go higher, but I don’t know how much higher.” She frowned. “I’ve still got the map, somehow. Let’s see.” She focused on the wall opposite, seeing something I couldn’t. I wondered what she was seeing, and then couldn’t help but wonder if she looked that way to other people when she looked at me, staring into space. “Okay, this way!” She took off down the corridor, and I ran after her.

We passed three doors on the outside wall before she stopped, glanced back and forth and turned a corner: left, and outwards. That made sense. The curve of the reactor continued out above us, so we’d have to get into an outer corridor if we wanted to go up past it. The top of the tower actually bulged out somewhat, housing both the Main Reactor and, at the very top, the powerful Main Drive. At least, it would be powerful if it was still working. The Main Drive had barely been activated since the Ship finished accelerating, generations and generations ago, and I had no idea if it would still work at all. At least, I figured, it wasn’t as if we needed it to. What we cared about was the main engineering decks, sandwiched between it and the Reactor, where Reactor Control was. Anything we could access up there might let us find out where all the power was being diverted to, maybe even put it back to the right levels for the Dome.

Lindsi stopped at the end of the corridor, which had run straight pretty much up to the outer hull of the Ship. A large door right in front of us had a standard elevator control pad, so Lindsi pressed the call button. The doors opened almost immediately — the lift must have been left on a floor nearby — and Lindsi stepped quickly in, glancing around. There was no-one in there but us, and it was a fairly big lift. It felt almost strange. She looked at the interior controls for a moment, then keyed in a number. I peered at the screen as it scrolled a new message across:

‘Enter auth code.’

Hesitantly, Lindsi reached out to it, leaving her fingers hovering above the keys for a moment. Her auth had been cleared to access the areas around the Main Reactor, but I didn’t know if it would let us get up past it or not, and using it would leave a trace in the systems. Then her expression firmed, and she entered it quickly, leaving herself no room to back out. The lift obediently closed its doors and began to ascend.

“Phew,” she said, running a hand through her hair. “I wasn’t sure that would work.”

Me neither. If she didn’t want to mention the risk of someone finding out she’d done this, I wasn’t going to either. We’re going just above the reactor, right?

“Yeah. I figured I’d see if I could get onto the lowest Engineering deck — my map isn’t going that far in.”

That surprised me less than it would have a few weeks — or a hundred years — ago. If everything else was shut off and locked down, of course the maps would be, too. Well, Reactor Control is a pretty central place. It’s on the first Engineering deck above the reactor.

“Oh good.” She sounded relieved, and still tense. The lift stopped before I could say anything else, doors opening automatically. There was no-one here, either, but I darted out in front of her to make sure, then beckoned. I was pretty sure I knew the rough way to Reactor Control. The Main Reactor kind of wears it like a hat. A really stupidly small hat. That said…

What do we do if someone’s still in Control? I asked as we jogged along a corridor.

“Run screaming,” Lindsi suggested dryly. “But they should’ve cleared out with everyone else, right, if the emergency response was automatic?”

I hope so.

“Maybe you should take a look when we get close.”

We hurried on, following the signs. Most of the main Ship corridors are wide enough and high enough to drive maintenance vehicles down, and this one was no exception. It was weirdly, echoingly empty with just us up here.

We made it to Reactor Control faster than I thought we would. There still wasn’t anyone nearby, but I’d have been surprised if people weren’t coming back up the lifts and starting to head in towards the centre to pick up whatever they’d been doing before. We probably didn’t have long. The moment we got there, I leant through the closed doors, looking around on the other side.

Nobody there.


I stepped through as Lindsi tried her access code on the door. It seemed smaller than I expected, somehow, even though the big column in the centre wasn’t half the size of the one in the centre of the Bridge. That one fits four high-speed lift shafts and the Intake, the big shaft running all the way up the centre of the Ship that feeds the Main Reactor its endless supplies of hydrogen, gathered up from empty space. This one would maybe fit one lift, but probably not a lot more. Shaking my head, I walked across to one of the consoles and looked at it as the door opened behind me. It was reporting on the status of the Reactor, and for once I saw a maintenance display that showed mostly green, with patches of yellow and occasionally orange that seemed to indicate components that were reaching the end of their usual lifespan. There was a green patch in the centre of a bunch of yellows, and I wondered if that was the repair Lindsi and I had made.

This one’s showing the repair status. I was whispering, although I wasn’t sure why. It wasn’t as if anyone could have heard me even if someone had been around to hear us. Lindsi looked up from another console.

“Same here, for power lines and that. Where’s one for the power output…”

I spun slowly on one foot, looking at the room. I had no idea, but… I almost kind of had a feeling. Stepping up to the central column, I looked at a terminal there.

Here! I’ve found it!

How I managed that so fast, I had no idea, but I was glad of it. Even if it was a little weird. Lindsi ran over to me right away, looking at the same screen I had, and sat in the chair without hesitation. A complex graph was up on the screen, bars filled with different colours, labelled with abbreviations. I recognised some of them, not others. Clicking about a bit, Lindsi got the system to display lines for ‘recommended’ and ‘threshold’ levels for the four Domes, and nodded to herself as they appeared.

“Look at this. All the Domes are down at this threshold level, even C.”

That’s probably the minimum amount of power they need to keep running at all, I said.

“Yeah, that’s what I figured.” Another few clicks, and she had the power usage up as a pie chart. There was an awful lot of power feeding into the categories ‘Miscellaneous’ and ‘Unspecified’. She tapped them with two deep blue fingers. “Any idea what these are?”

I shook my head. Nothing. Major systems ought to be named, I’m sure of it. I was leaning over the back of her chair almost as if I actually could touch it. That’s a lot of power to feed something ‘unspecified’. Maybe we can find some sort of routing diagram?

“Yeah, maybe.” But Lindsi didn’t move from the console, or enter any more commands, scowling at the screen.

What is it?

“I could change these settings right now,” she said. “I’m sure I could. But someone would just change them right back, unless we can find a way to lock them out somehow.”

I thought for a moment. She was right. Whatever we did up here, someone would change, unless they didn’t know we’d done it. But what could we do that would be useful without being obvious? Re-routing power wasn’t exactly subtle. The silence in Reactor Control stretched out, and I felt my skin prickling. I knew people had to be coming back here, soon. Then, suddenly, like a bolt of lightning, I had it. We didn’t need to lock people out — we needed to do the opposite!

Call up a command prompt!

“Okay.” Lindsi sounded a little bemused, but she did as I asked.

Now check the local permissions. Here, I’ll show you the command. I leant forwards over her shoulder and tried to type it out, which I couldn’t do, but Lindsi’s fingers were on the keyboard too and they followed mine, passing through me with an odd sort of sparkly warmth. Quicker than I expected, we were looking at the access permissions for this subsystem. I was glad whoever had abandoned this console had left themselves logged in.

That one! I said, pointing at the screen. Change that one! That’s the Ship. Give the Ship control of the power distribution, and it can take care of this without us even being here!

“What do you think it’ll do with it?” Lindsi asked, hesitating.

Nothing bad, I said, but I said it slowly. It used to adjust these things all the time back when… you know. It would tell people about it, I think, but it’d do it on its own. And I don’t think it’ll change anything fast. There are too many restrictions on it. It could get found out just like us, and the permissions reset.

She nodded. “I hope you’re right about this.” A deep breath. “All right. What’s the command?”

Setperm SHIP cmd. I typed it out as well, her fingers flying just behind mine. We looked at the screen for a long moment, and Lindsi seemed to hold her breath — then she pressed enter.

The result was decidedly anticlimactic, as the screen just went blank, then read

‘Enter security clearance for affirmation.’

Lindsi and I looked at each other.

Sandell’s auth code, I whispered, and she grinned at me.

“You’d better type it.”

I whispered in her ear as I typed, and together we got a long row of obscured characters up on the screen. This time, there was no pause — she hit enter rather twitchily.

‘Celia Sandell’, the screen read, and then ‘Authorisation accepted.’ Then it cleared the command prompt, as if nothing had ever happened.

Okay, let’s put this back how we found it and get out of here! I whispered. I was feeling more and more on edge — people had to be coming back here soon! And before they did, we had to find a way out!

< Chapter 16 | The Fused | Chapter 18 >

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The Fused by V. L. Bending is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

3 thoughts on “Chapter 17: Reactor Control”

  1. Whoo! We’re progressing at a good clip in this chapter! Anxious to see what the Ship has in store for repairs.

    And those ‘misc’ routings of power are Very Suspicious. Anxious to see where that goes, too!

  2. They are indeed managing to fix the things! Go you two!
    Regarding the “misc” and “unspecified”, I think it is likely that a nest of space ninja pirate creatures that feed on electrical power has developed on the Ship and that they are draining all this power for their growth…far-fetched you say?…. Yeah, probably. This power drain is very mysterious and intriguing!
    We also get little bits of information about our still very mysterious narrator… I have been wondering how much of its past life and personality is real…Has it been tampered with? If so, why?
    I look forward to the next chapter.

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