Azalea Sterling squinted her brown eyes in concentration and wiped her forehead on her sleeve. Her movements were limited by the cramped space and further hampered by the fact that there was almost no gravity this close to the center of the ship. It was hot too. But someone has to keep this ship going.
One of the wastewater pipes needed sealing. That’s why she and Linx were jammed into this access tube. She cut away foam insulation from around the pipe so she could get at the leak. Thankfully, it was just gray water so the smell wasn’t too bad. A strand of her light brown hair floated in front of her face. She pulled it back into her ponytail.
Linx, the lead programmer, waited just behind her in the tight space of the maintenance shaft. Pipes and wire conduits lined the rounded walls. Linx was quiet, which was out of character for him, but welcome for the moment, as she needed to concentrate.
Azalea was the lead fixer. Ultimately, she was responsible for the lives of the 2046 people on board. It was a heavy responsibility for someone who was only twenty-four. She wiped her face again and went at the problem with renewed energy.
She promised herself that she’d go swimming in the recreation area, when she got off shift today. But she’d wait until nine so most of the children would have gone to bed. She liked children but in controlled doses. Maybe she’d invite Linx along. Nah, they weren’t kids anymore. And things had gotten a little awkward between them. A silver cross floated up into her vision. It was her necklace. She grabbed the pendant and tucked it down under her shirt, out of the way.
She often used nano tech for fixes like this. That’s why Linx was here. Linx had programmed the nanos to do the task of applying the sealant to the hard-to-reach area on the backside of the pipe. The nanos were one of the best things that their ancestors had taken from earth 700 years ago. Without the nanos, Azalea was pretty sure that the ship would have been space debris by now.
The sealer they were going to use was one of her own improvisations. She had designed this sealant, years ago, from the Hevea brasiliensis tree growing in the tropical arboretum. It was one of her many inventions and improvements that had propelled her to the position of lead fixer. Azalea pulled back and surveyed her handiwork. The pipes were now exposed, ready for the sealant.
“Okay, it’s ready for the nanos.”
Linx handed her the metal canister. “Here, just open this to release the nanos and we’ll be good. I still don’t understand why I had to come down here with you.”
She turned to take the container from him. Linx had darker skin than most of those aboard the Reliance. His ancestors were from Canada and, further back, from Trinidad. He was skinny, had a mass of fuzzy brown hair and currently sported a wild look. But he was kind of a crazy programmer dude. So it suited him.
“Stop complaining. At least I didn’t send you down here alone. Last time I brought your nanos down here, they erased themselves and proved worthless. I had to spend twenty minutes plucking their useless metal husks out of crevices.”
“You know you couldn’t send me down here alone. No one can find their way around the maintenance area except you.” He glanced about furtively as if he thought something else could be down there with them. The inner area of the ship always freaked him out a little.
“Maybe I just wanted your company.” She smiled at him but then regretted the words as he smiled back, the tension fading from his face. She sighed. It was nice to see him smile but she shouldn’t send him mixed signals, especially since he’d been flirting with her more lately. “I enjoy your company as a friend,” she clarified, trying to smile in a friendly way. Why do people relationships have to be so complicated? Fixing the ship was easy compared to dealing with people.
He smiled tightly but said nothing. She felt a little sick at hurting his feelings like that but tried to put it out of her mind as she turned back to select the best spot to dump the nanos.
A loud chime rang out.
“What’s that?” asked Linx.
The chime sounded again. “Trouble. That’s an alarm. Back up! We need to get to the junction interface to see why the alarm is sounding.”
“Yes, unless you can turn around in this shaft?”
“Scoot back, quick!”
Linx awkwardly pushed himself backwards in the low grav. Thankfully, they were only a few lengths away from the control panel where a red light was flashing and the alarm was sounding from a speaker there. When they reached it, Azalea tapped deftly at the screen, bringing up the cause for the alarm.
“It’s at the other end of the ship, at the core.” She gasped. “The nuclear reactor! Quick, we need to get out of this access tube to one of the maintenance corridors.” She scooted away from him, pushing along the walls to help move herself forwards. Linx’s scuffling became more distant. He was falling behind but she couldn’t stop. She could come back for him later if he didn’t find his way out.
It was her worst nightmare. They couldn’t lose the reactor! She reached the round, heavy, metal access hatch and flung it open. Leaning back, she shouted to Linx, “Close this hatch when you get out!” Then she took off, propelling herself down the corridor in the low gravity. She executed each stride so that her bound would carry her forward rather than straight up towards the ceiling. She heard the hatch bang behind her. Linx must be catching up. One less thing to worry about. She turned her mind to the problem of the reactor.
When she reached the nuclear reactor, she stopped and stared, horrified at the display panel there. It was too late. The reactor had already gone critical. There was no way to pull it back. It had to be ejected in less than four minutes or the explosion would destroy the ship. But if the reactor were ejected, they would die. In less than three days, everyone on the ship would be dead. It was her worst fear come true, just what she had warned Dietrich and Camden about.
Linx careened to a stop just behind her. “What is it?”
“The reactor’s gone critical! It’s going to blow. There’s no way to stop the reaction.”
“Can’t you eject it?” He put a hand on her forearm.
She turned to look at him. “Linx, you know this is our last reactor. We used up our second last one when the rebels attacked us last time. If we eject it, our ship will die. If the lights go out, the plants will die. We’ll run out of oxygen. But we’ll probably freeze to death first.”
The whites of his eyes stood out against his dark skin. “What are you going to do?”
“There’s nothing I can do! There’s no way I’m ejecting this core. We need it!” Anger and fear pounded in her heart. She bowed her head and closed her eyes to calm herself. Then she reached out to God in prayer. A feeling of hope flooded her being. She opened her eyes and smiled. “Everything is not lost. God can save us! He can do miracles.” She put her hand against the control panel where she should be frantically tapping to eject the core. But instead, she just rested her palm there.
“What are you doing?” he asked, panic making his voice crack.
“Shh…close your eyes and pray with me…God, you hold all things in your hands. You see the situation we’re in now. This isn’t a surprise to you. Nothing is. There are very few left of the human race, just us and the rebels. You know that not everyone aboard is following you. So, if they die now, they won’t come to heaven. And I just didn’t see us ending this way. Please Lord…Please give us more time. Please fix what has broken inside the reactor because there’s nothing I can do for it. But I know that you can.” She continued to hold her hand on the panel as tears rolled down her cheeks. “God, please save us.”
“It stopped. The alarm stopped ringing,” said Linx.
Azalea opened her eyes and looked up at him. He was right! Silence now surrounded them. She grinned. “That’s a good sign.” She tapped on the console to check the various systems and components.
“Wait… it worked!? What?! Just praying actually worked?!” asked Linx.
“Of course it did. I thought you were a Believer, a Christian?”
“Well I am… I mean, Jesus has had my allegiance ever since I was young. You know that. But I’ve never…seen…a miracle before. That was a real miracle, wasn’t it?”
Azalea tapped at the screen, checking on the current status of the reactor. “Must have been. And that’s not the first time either. When I can’t fix something, I always ask for help. More often than not… Oh!!”
“What?” Linx crowded in to see what she was looking at on the display.
“The reactor, according to these readings… it’s…”
“It’s what?” he practically shouted, leaning over her shoulder to see.
“It’s like new. It’s like a new reactor! I haven’t seen numbers this good, not even when I was just an apprentice, over ten years ago! Nothing even close.” She turned to look at him, her eyes wide with amazement.
“It’s a miracle!” shouted Linx.
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