Not Like The Movies

Not Like The Movies

Explosions disrupt a nuclear fusion testing facility, with surprising consequences.

I sometimes thought they’d forgotten about us. Never the resources to fix the place up, and good god I wished the old man would just retire already.

Piotr was always crashing about, hammering at the coolant pipes, or the reactor valves. I didn’t doubt the work – nuclear fusion was still our last, best hope for clean power – and we were so close. Its remoteness, just in case, made the old man territorial. Get off his lawn, and all that.

I was in the kitchen, fighting with a can of beans: beans 1, can opener nil. We’d put one on this month’s supply docket but no dice. Also, none of the old man’s cigars, so he was going to be extra cheerful.

Grinding away at the can, I frowned as the lighted dimmed and glowed red. The emergency lighting again, third time this month. Either the internal generator was out ag—

“Warning: energy overload.” The electronic voice, repeating itself, was battling with the alarm.

I began sprinting for the control room. What the hell had Piotr done?

“Warning: energy overload. Over safety margin by 50%.”

50% over margin? I picked up the pace.

“Can you shut that damned alarm off already? It’s giving me a headache.” Cigar propped in the corner of his mouth like this was no big thing.

“What the hell’s going on?”

“The alarm, eh, it’s just broken again. Turn the damn thing off, it’s never been any use to anyone.” Somehow the cigar stayed in place even with the old man’s temper.

“The alarm’s not like everything else around here!”

“Yes it is! It’s just as old and broken as everything else!” He waved his wrench threateningly as if to ward off the noise all by itself. His point was punctuated by the sound of a small muffled explosion from a couple of corridors away. Sort of like a circuit breaker but much bigger. I frowned, that wasn’t a good sign.

“Warning: energy overload. Over safety margin by 75%.”

Uh huh, that was the secondary adjunct circuit breaker. Something really had gone haywire around here, and we’d been too busy just trying to patch the place up. You’d think something as dangerous as what we did here, we’d be better resourced and not just jury-rigging everything.

The next explosion was nearer. That had to be the primary adjunct.

“Don’t just stand there, boy, shut that alarm off!”

On cue, the alarm joined in. “Warning: energy overload. Over safety margin by 125%.”

Who programs in 125% as a warning?

I sat at a computer, pointing at the screen. The power readouts made no sense. “Have you looked at this?”


“This! The energy’s off the charts!”

“What? Impossible!”

Another minor explosion. All the major circuit breaker relays had now blown. They were the ones to go in the event of major power issues, so the reactor wasn’t in danger yet.

“Jesus, what was that?”

“The adjunct relays! They’re all gone!”

I didn’t quite catch the next word. It was definitely a profanity but I didn’t recognize it.

“So, boy,” he yelled, trying to be heard over the alarm. “What now?” He waved his wrench again, threateningly.

I tried to think, but the sirens blaring and that damned computer voice made it hard to. If I was going to do something clever, it had to be now, and I was pretty sure it wasn’t going to be like the movies where I typed frantically at the keyboard to save it just in the nick of time.

No amount of mechanic mayhem was going to work on this, either. It wasn’t a case of the old man banging the pipes together, much as I’m sure he’d love to hear it. We usually did…

Piotr grinned, a slightly manic grin. “Shut it down, shut it all down! Hopefully it won’t just explode on us!”

He had, in truth, never been a fan of the work – he was an old school sort of engineer, the kind that believed in percussive maintenance, and was dangerously ill-equipped for the work we actually did here. He mostly treated it as an exercise in advanced plumbing, with the pipework being essentially a giant water-cooling system. It gave him something to bang his wrench on, anyway.

But shutting it down wasn’t exactly an option. There was a massive backflow of power through the primary circuit – it had already taken the outer circuit breakers. There was a lot of power coursing through the system, as though the reactor were actually… working?

Another explosion, louder this time, though not closer. I could only guess where that one was. The computer in front of me didn’t seem to register.

But the power levels were climbing, off the charts. If I didn’t do something about that, everything would probably vaporize the entire facility. It would probably be quick though.

All that remained was whether I could get the computer to redirect the power somewhere else before it all exploded.

Now I come to tell the story, I don’t really remember what I did, but I think it did involve a flurry of typing at the keyboard. It had some of Piotr yelling. It was pretty tense, actually.

I’m sure it was just like in the movies. It felt like something out of a movie, if nothing else, but that’s mostly because I just don’t have the words to tell it otherwise. I could hear my heart beating in the back of my head, I could feel the butterflies… though no flash of my life before my eyes. I’d often thought that was just a story. Maybe I knew it wasn’t my time?

But I rerouted the power a few times, let the thing slowly power down safely.

Then I needed a long, slow drink of Piotr’s paint-thinner vodka. Somehow we’d gone and done it, and nearly blew ourselves up in the process, and we’d… somehow managed not to. But understanding could wait until I was safely sober after the celebration.


Contest Entry

NYC Midnight Flash Fiction 2023 (Challenge #2)
Originally written
July 29, 2023
Story prompt
Genre - action/adventure, location - a nuclear testing site, object - a can opener
1000 words, in 48 hours starting midnight on Saturday, July 29
Other notes
Challenge 2 was open to everyone regardless of placement in challenge 1. Did not reach top 15 in group.

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