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Novels Science Fiction The Banshee

The Banshee: Chapter 12

An electrical short brings down the lights in the greenhouse.

“Hola, Anita,” said Jo sadly. 

Anita saw Jo’s face and dropped her gardening tools. “¿Que pasó, chica?” She walked quickly to Jo and held her tight. “Es Roberto, ¿no es así?” 

The great concrete wall around Jo’s heart shattered. Her face contorted, her eyes swelled, her throat tightened. It was all she could do to not wail. Anita held onto her friend, and refused to let go until Jo had finally gasped air. 

“Estoy bien, estoy bien,” Jo gurgled. She coughed and ahemed a few times. “Estoy bien,” she repeated quietly. 

“No, no lo eres,” said Anita plainly. “Estás herido. Usted está en el dolor.” 

Jo took a great, shuddering breath. “Sí.” 

“Lo desterrados, ¿verdad?” asked Anita. Jo nodded slowly. “¡Esos gilipollos! ¿De dónde creen que obtienen el derecho de decidir quién vive y quién muere?” She looked at Jo. “Disculpame. No era mi intención—“

a“Tienes razón,” said Jo. “Soy una gilipolla. Yo no hago oír. No me detuve ellos. Yo no … Yo no salvarlo.”

“¿Podría usted los ha detenido? ¿Puede usted imaginarse lo que habrían hecho a usted, si hubieras intentado?” Anita asked softly. In the greenhouses, the wind was barely a whisper. “Si intenta salvar a todos, que va a terminar perdiendo a ti mismo.”

Jo sighed. “Odio esta lugar.” 

“Lo odiamos,” Anita smiled curtly and hugged her friend again. “Lo odiamos.” 

The lights flickered and the greenhouse was plunged into utter blackness. Annoyed murmurs from the various growers in the distance whittled up around the empty space, sounding like unseen skittering creatures. Jo gripped Anita tightly. 

“¡Jo! Demasiado fuerte!” grunted Anita and pulled an arm free. “¿Dónde está su luz?” 

With a shaking hand, Jo reached down into her pants and pulled out a small hand-cranked flashlight. The batteries, well-used, still offered enough charge to light up around her. Jo immediately felt less clingy. 

“Sorry,” Jo muttered. 

“No se preocupe de mí, ir a arreglar las luces,” said Anita. 

Jo walked quickly towards the stairs, before the batteries ran down. “You’ll be okay?” Jo asked, somewhat absently. 

“¡Es sólo la oscuridad!” laughed Anita as Jo disappeared into the stairwell. 

The main switch for the greenhouse lights was still engaged. Jo disengaged the switch, primed, and reengaged it. The darkness continued. The lights were on three upwards turns of the spiral staircase, which was moments before the batteries died on her flashlight. She went to the top, went out the door, and down the hallway to a heavy door with a large lock. She produced a set of keys from her pocket, and flicked through for the one marked with a lightning bolt. 

The breaker room was one of several oft-rebuilt things in the ARCH, having been moved four times from its original position in Block 1, and expanded countless times to manage the electrical input. It was easily the size of a delivery truck’s box and so heavily packed that only small people felt safe moving around inside. The room had metal grates for the floor and ceiling, relying on thermals to circulate air in the small space. 

The smell of ozone was thick in the air, along with the unmistakeable scent of burnt wire casing. Jo grabbed a small extinguisher from a bracket on the wall. She had no idea if the thing would even work anymore, or even if she needed it. As no flame presented itself, and the smoke started to clear out, she traced the thinning vapor back to the greenhouse circuit. It looked like someone had taken a flame thrower to part of it, the section melted out, with drips of cooling molten copper on a breaker box beneath it.

Jo reached to a small metal box on her belt and slid out a multitool. It could almost have passed for one of those commercially-available folding models that could turn into pliers, except it was a fair bit wider, and could separate into two major parts. She unfolded a long, thin tool that she had once been told was a fish scaler and hook remover; Jo used it to poke around in things when her fingers wouldn’t fit. She used it to pry loose some of the fused wires and cables, to get a clearer idea of what had happened. 

“Mierda,” she cursed. She traced up the wiring, looking for the input circuits, no small task in a room built from countless shards of salvaged electrical parts and just as many segments of mismatched wiring, put together by people who hadn’t seen the inside of the American Electricians’ Handbook, let alone had their ticket. The locus of the problem seemed to be nothing more remarkable than a short, albeit one that had fused nearly half a panel and burnt out most of the wiring attached to it. Jo scanned the panel labels and tried to line up the smouldering remains with what the previous crews’ had indicated. Jo grunted and headed out of the room to look for some help.

Jo nearly collided with “DONNER!” as she exited the room. She doubled over and breathed heavily. “Where did you come from?!” 

“I, uh, I was following you.” 

Jo looked at him curiously. “Why?”

“In case you needed help?” 

Jo smiled as broadly as she could muster with a startled, broken heart. “Thank you, Donner. Thank you.” She reached out and put her hand on his shoulder. “I wish I had a dozen of you right now.” 

Donner looked past Jo into the breaker room. He sniffed the air. “Is it bad?” 

“I’ve seen better,” said Jo. “We lost at least a couple feet of wiring, and the greenhouse has gone dark. We’ve got to get those lights back on, fast.” 

“Can I…?” he pointed into the room. 

“Cuidado, some of that stuff is still live.” 

Donner went into the room and inspected the damage. “Do we have wire?” Donner asked, with a notable excitement. 

“Guess,” smirked Jo. 

“We’re stealing again,” Donner concluded. “Who wired this with 10 gauge?! This should be at least 8.” 

“So you know a bit about electrical?” Jo asked. 

“My aunt was an electrician!” he beamed. “She taught me a lot. She’d be really ticked at whoever put this in.”

“Good,” said Jo, hovering at the door. “This repair is on you, then.” 

“Hey Jo!” said Dawn, suddenly appearing at Jo’s side. 

“¡Jesús María Madre de Dios en el cielo!” blurted Jo as she careened off the wall of the hallway. Dawn doubled over laughing. “Would you stop doing that!”

“Sorry!” she wheezed trying to catch her breath. “One moment!” She finally got to standing, and between the odd gasp, managed: “I heard the greenhouse had a blackout?”

“Puta,” muttered Jo. “Burnout in the breaker room, by the looks of it.” 

“Burnout??” Dawn poked her head through the open door and saw Donner negotiating a perfect distance from any electrical equipment. “Phew! That’s a lot of burned plastic.” 

“It’s got to be a short,” said Donner from inside the room. “This wiring is… what the hell is this?” 

“Ugly isn’t it?” Dawn said. “I installed about half of it, and who knows who changed what since then. The last time I looked in there, it looked like someone had rolled up my granny’s rag quilt.” 

“It’s worse than that,” said Donner. 

Dawn eyed the young man. “And you get to make comments about my electrical setup, because…?”  

“Because he’s a kid, didn’t know who he was speaking to, and frankly,” Jo tried to look apologetic, “he’s right. I dunno who’s been in there, but we’re going to have to tear out and redo most of the lines out to the lower levels. And some of the parts that haven’t melted out.” 

Melted?” squawked Dawn. “Why didn’t the breakers trip??” 

“Someone bypassed them on a few lines,” said Donner. “It looks like they wanted to run more amps than the breakers could handle.” 

“Lemme take a look,” said Dawn suspiciously and got into the room. She went to the panel Donner was inspecting and poked at it. “Ouch!” 

“Careful, it’s still hot,” said Donner. “I think there might still be a live wire in here somewhere.” 

“See that handle over there, the red one?” Dawn pointed to a large red handle on a box labeled ‘DANGER: DO NOT DISENGAGE’. “Pull the handle down.” 

“Um…,” Donner paused, looking at the sign. 

“I know,” said Dawn. “Just do it.” She looked at Jo. “We’re going to need your light, Jo.” Jo quickly pulled her portable light out and started cranking on the generator handle. The light spurted to life just as a loud clunk killed the remaining lights in the small room. Moments later, a multitude of cries could be heard. “Donner, the power is now off to this room, you can safely touch anything.” 

“You’re sure?” he asked, holding his hand back instinctively. 

Dawn reached past Donner’s hand and put hers right on bare copper. “I’m sure.” She looked at the wiring and snorted. “God, what a mess. I told them not to let anyone in here who didn’t know what they were doing. But noooooo let’s give every Engineer a key because they’re Engineers and they know how to wire a light socket.” Donner snickered. “I’m not kidding. There’s a lot of people who should have the keys taken away.” She stepped back and looked at the mass of melted metal and plastic. “Fuck this.” She started pulling out whatever wires were clearly no longer connected. “Jo, we’re going to need a lot of extra wire. And whatever fuses we can get.” 

“I have no idea where we’re going to find all that,” said Jo. “Not without knocking power out to other places.”

“Francis has a bunch of wire he’s been making for the tunnels. Can you go get a spool?” 

“Francis,” Jo repeated. “You want me to talk to your husband, who doesn’t like me, and tell him to give me something Batesworth said was for the tunnels.” 

Dawn stopped. “Shit. You had to piss him off, didn’t you?” She tapped her foot while she thought. “Screw it, I’ll have to go get it. Phil at least will listen to me. Donner!” 

“Yeah?” 

“While I’m gone,” Dawn pointed to the tangle of wires she’d pulled out, “get the rest of the junk unhooked so we can get this straightened out. Try to figure out where those high-amp lines are so we can regauge them properly. We’ll need … um … looks like eight, maybe ten bars to jump the lines. A couple dozen connectors. Wire cutters.” As Dawn headed out to the door, she stopped, placed her hands on Jo’s shoulders, and levelled a serious gaze. “Jo, keep the lights on!” 

“Muy divertido.”  

Dawn headed off down the hall, her hand on the wall just ahead of her, feeling for the next door out; her memory of the ARCH’s hallways were the only thing that would guide her out until lights had been restored. 

Jo cranked away at the hand-powered light while Donner pulled out the burned wiring. “I thought you were forceful,” Donner commented a few moments later. 

“Try being around two dozen know-it-alls all the time who think they know better than you,” Jo replied. She switched hands on the crank. “You don’t survive around here being muy tímida.” She cranked away as Donner ripped out a large chunk. “If you call this surviving.” 

“It could be worse,” said Donner. “Imagine being outside…” He stopped and dropped his head. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to—“ 

“Don’t,” Jo nearly snapped. “It wasn’t you. You were… No te preocupes.”

“Can I…?” 

Jo finished Donner’s question. “Why did we banish Robert?”

“Sorry,” Donner nodded. “I… I don’t understand.” 

“He was a … he was found guilty of a crime,” said Jo. “A bad one.”

“Did he … kill someone?” 

“No,” said Jo quietly. “Rape.” 

“Oh.” 

The next question didn’t come and filled the silence. “He was a good man. He … didn’t have to die.” Jo looked at Donner, who looked back, his hands still holding on to wiring. “I don’t know if he did it. I don’t want to believe he did. Robert was one of my friends. He was … he believed in this place. He wanted to do better. Someone like that doesn’t attack someone else. He never even raised his voice.” 

“I’m s—“ 

“Stop saying that you’re sorry!” snapped Jo. “Disculpame. It … there’s just so much wrong right now that I just want to scream.” 

“Okay,” Donner finally said. He turned back to the wiring. “Any chance you’ve got a screwdriver? I need to loosen some of these.” 

Jo thankfully stopped cranking the light. “Yeah,” and dug out her multitool. “Slot or Phillips?” She flipped out the slot bit. “It’s probably slot.” 

“How did you ever manage to get this place working?” 

“On a wing and a prayer.” 

“What’s with the lights?” came Erik’s voice from the door. He immediately saw the increasing pile of toasted wiring. “Oh boy, how bad?” 

“Bad,” both Jo and Donner answered. Jo continued: “Another overload. Dawn went to get some wire so we can fix this.” 

“What circuit blew?” asked Erik. 

“No se,” said Jo, holding the light for Donner. “But it took out the greenhouse.” 

“Any idea how long until the lights are back on?” 

There was a longer pause. “Well?” Jo asked. 

“Who, me?” asked Donner. “I’m not—“ 

“Remember what I said earlier?” asked Jo. “Let’s assume you’ve got the wiring. How long?” 

Donner uhh’ed for several moments. “A couple of hours?” he said wildly. 

“No offense — it’s ‘Donner’, right? — I’m tripling that estimate,” said Erik.

“I’m guessing a day,” said Jo. She leaned towards Donner and spoke lower: “A-plus for enthusiasm, C-minus for accuracy. This is going to be a lot of work.” 

Erik groaned. “I’ll let the Professor know.”

“If you want to be a real hero, cariño, make sure Dawn gets to stay in here. We’ll need her for this.”

“I’ll see what I can do.” Erik disappeared. 

“What if we can’t fix this?” asked Donner. 

“We’re Engineers, Donner. We don’t have a choice.”