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Novels Science Fiction The Banshee

The Banshee: Chapter 22

Getting the lights back on takes more than a kind word.

“Dawn, I need you in the breaker room. Jo, you too. You’ve got the only working light. Everyone else, take some of this wood with you, find a place to build a small fire, and try to give these people some hope while we get the lights back on.” 

Jo came close to Erik. “Erik, we need know what happened.” 

“I know,” he replied. “Do you think we need a couple of more eyes?”

“You know what Rich would be saying right now,” she said. 

“Bob!” called Erik. “And Phil! I need the both of you, too.” The two men stopped the exit and returned, everyone huddled in. “I need two things done. First, we need to find out — quickly — how Rich got electrocuted. We can’t be exhaustive, so I want anything that stands out, called out. Once we’ve got a decent idea, we can worry about rewiring.” 

“Does Francis have any more of that wiring?” Jo asked Dawn.

“I took the last spool of the heavy gauge,” said Dawn. 

“We’ve got some in the emergency supply,” said Bob. 

“You’ve got an ‘emergency supply’?” asked Erik. “Why the hell don’t I know about this?” 

“There hasn’t been an emergency,” shrugged Phil. 

Erik refrained an outburst. “Bob, go get that wire, please?” asked Erik. “Take a torch. We’ll meet you in the breaker room.” 

Tormented souls had filled the inside of the ARCH in the time it had taken to dig Batesworth’s grave and bury him. Howls, shrieks, moans, and inhuman wailing leaked from the darkness, even though the doors and walls that separated the Engineers from everyone else. The sound came from every direction, seeping through the walls, floors, ceiling, railings, doors, sockets, and fixtures in a auditory ooze. Jo’s skin crawled the entire walk back to the breaker room. The banshee had found company with the ARCH’s inhabitants and taught them well.

Erik, Dawn, Phil, and Jo started where they had found Batesworth. His hand print — and a bit of his skin — remained on the railing. His other hand had been pressed onto a breaker box on the wall. They looked around the box, seeing burned wire casing, signs of melting and arcing. The box was nearly welded shut from the amperage that had coursed through it, and opened only with considerable protest. The inside was a mess of blackened plastic and half-melted metals, nearly unrecognizable from its original state. 

“Holy cats,” Dawn breathed. “I thought this was bad the last time. How the hell did this happen? You’d need to have had … do we even generate this much juice?” 

“The wind’s blowing hard,” said Phil. “The turbines could’ve hit their max…”

“There’s breakers to prevent that,” Dawn countered quickly. “The only way this could have happened is if…” Dawn turned to Jo. “This was the same box we worked on last time, right?” 

Jo suddenly felt very defensive. “Yes, but—“

“We tested it, I know,” said Dawn. She turned back to the box. “And we still goofed. I nearly killed you, remember?” Phil looked surprised. “We doubled a wire by mistake.” 

“And I’m fine, thank you,” added Jo. “We fixed this. We went over it two more times before we turned it all on again.”  

“So where’s the fault, Dawn?” asked Erik. 

Phil leaned in close and looked closely. “Someone shorted the breakers. They wanted as many amps as they could get. Whatever they were doing, it was intense.” 

“Yup,” Dawn nodded. 

“Who needs that much power?” asked Jo. 

“Francis,” said Phil and Jo simultaneously. Dawn continued: “His smelter is electric. That’s why the lights dim when he turns it on.”

“Has it been on a lot lately?” asked Erik. 

Dawn shrugged her shoulders. “I don’t know, Erik. I’ve been in those stupid tunnels.” 

“Phil?” 

Phil shook his head. “Yeah, a lot. I … I think he’s tried to run it hotter to everything done. He’s been complaining that it was too cold. I don’t know for sure, I’ve been running stuff between the shop and the tunnels.” 

“Another accident,” Erik muttered. “Okay, what do we do? I want a longer investigation, but we need the lights back on.” 

“We have to replace this panel,” said Dawn, whacking it with her hand. “Everything’s shot. And unless you got one hiding in your pants, we’re going to have to steal someone else’s.” 

“How many breaker panels do we have?” asked Erik. 

“Four,” said Dawn, jerking her thumb further into the room, past the wiring racks. “Two of them deal with all the lights, one handles the kitchen. The fourth is unused; we disconnected it when we reduced the number of lights. And before you say anything, that one is too small to handle all of this. We’ll need a second one.”

“Or we rewire all the panels to free up a bigger one,” suggested Erik. 

Jo tried to offer an idea. “So what—“

“We build a bridge out of scrap metal, isolate it, and hardwire one of the light panels using it. It means that those lights won’t be on breakers, but unless someone does something monumentally stupid, it’ll do.” Dawn stood with her arms crossed, daring a challenge. She didn’t receive one. 

Bob burst in the breaker room, a large hand-wound spool of thick wire slung over his shoulder. “Got the wire!” he smiled. 

“How much grief did Francis put up over that?” asked Erik cautiously. 

“None,” said Bob. “He wasn’t there.” 

“Good,” said Dawn, taking the wire from Bob. “Then he won’t know we’re using it. Any chance you grabbed side cutters?” 

“Yep!” Bob beamed, pulling out a well-used pair from his back pocket. “And these!” He pulled out a heavy cable cutter, the sort of tool that made everyone want to tuck their fingers away for safety. 

“You’re the man, Bob!” Dawn cried, wielding the cable cutter like a broadsword. “Jo, shine that light over here?” 

Dawn started cutting all the larger wires, freeing the box from its confinement on the wall. It had barely hit the floor when Phil scooped it up and hauled it away for recycling. Bob started unspooling the new wire and separating the old wiring to accommodate two panels. Dawn and Jo went towards the back of the room to free up one of the two lighting panels, while Erik and Phil hacked together a metal frame that would support the electrical distribution for the lights. 

Jo’s wrist had started to hurt considerably after winding the light for an hour. They tapped the next Engineer foolish enough to walk by to take over, while Jo lent her hand helping Dawn set up the new panels. They took a break only when Erik and Phil were ready to wire up the frame for the lights. 

The power had been off for close to six hours before Dawn was finally happy with their new configuration to brave turning the power back on. She checked the breakers, carefully marked with Dymo embossed labels (from an embossing tool kept in the breaker room that was self-labelled as: “Remove under penalty of death”), took a deep breath, and muttered: “Hold onto your butts.” 

There were a series of loud clunks as the electrical connections were made to the turbines on the roof, and to the battery bank that provided light for the few times the wind didn’t blow, and the lights flickered back into being. 

The cheer started low, then began to grow, until it was a thunderous revelation akin to a Hollywood moment when the world was saved from imminent devastation. None of the people in the room celebrated, instead staring at all the new wiring, separated boxes, and the new hard-wired frame that gave all of them more than a few worries. No smoke appeared, and at a hand’s span away, nothing was emitting enough heat to worry anyone. 

“This sucks,” said Dawn, staring at her work, and the rest of the room. “What I wouldn’t give to rip this room out and redo it.” 

“It just has to last until we get into the tunnels, Dawn,” Jo reminded her. “Then you can gut this place.” 

“I still want to know what happened,” said Erik. “Let’s remember that Rich died in here.” 

“We all want to know,” said Jo. 

“Bob, I want you and Phil looking this over in detail. All of it. Dawn and Donner’s tribunal will take place tomorrow, and we need evidence.” 

Donner?!” Jo blurted. 

ME?!” added Dawn.

“Why the hell are you putting them on trial?!” demanded Jo.

Erik looked hard at Jo and avoided Dawn. “You think I want to? You know the rules, Jo. You know—“ 

“You can’t do this! You have no proof it was them! They were fixing—“ 

“Rich is dead, Jo!” Erik sounded more like was pleading than being forceful. “We have to investigate. We have to have an answer for what happened. And at the moment, the last people known to have touched all this are Dawn and Donner. You witnessed that, right?” Jo offered nothing in response. “Let Bob and Phil do their job, and maybe they’ll be able to determine what actually happened.” 

“You’re putting an innocent people on the firing line,” Jo protested. 

“If they’re innocent, then nothing will happen and we move forward. But if there is something — even if it’s a mistake — we still have to understand what happened,” Erik persisted. 

Jo pressed close to Erik and spoke low. “I don’t trust Bob and you know it. Don’t them scapegoat anyone. Don’t make me regret holding out for you.” She turned and left the room, leaving a very puzzled Erik behind.