Philo's Stories

Untitled Airship Story

the engineer walks down the airship's central corridor with a big wrench swinging in her hand in time with her stride
her job is to keep the airship's reactor running, and nobody gets in her way if she's in a hurry; nobody wants to mess with her *or* the reactor

today, she isn't running; her jumpsuit is half off, revealing her tank top, and her goggles are on her forehead, not her eyes

she takes her girlfriend to a place deep within the reactor and engine where nobody'd walk in on them

on a chain around her neck is a small fragment of twisted, pockmarked metal, part of the containment vessel of the first zeppelin reactor - the one that exploded
it's a constant reminder of the seriousness of her role as engineer

she pulls her bra off, revealing a tattoo of the decay chain of the particular isotope of plutonium used in the reactor on her breast
"you absolute dork" her girlfriend says, leaning in for a kiss, their breasts pressing together

they're in a part of the engines right underneath the balloon, making out on a stolen foam pad on the catwalk above the containment vessel, which rumbles softly with the airship's giant propellers
a geiger counter hangs from her belt, occasionally clicking softly

the radiation levels there are no higher than elsewhere on the ship, thanks to the heavy lead shielding of the containment vessel

she giggles a bit as her girlfriend runs her fingers along the shaved side of her head
"you like that~?" she asks

"I love that as much as I love you" the engineer replies, grabbing at her girlfriend's body

a few days after her tryst above the containment vessel, the engineer, like everyone else on the airship, is on high alert

even though this is far from the first battle she's fought from the engine room, she's still nervous

the engine order telegraph turns towards the center and then slams back down at the "full speed ahead" edge

she knows what this means and pushes the button to pull the control rods out to the maximum safe level
the telegraph keeps slamming and she picks up the bridge phone
"can we get any more power out of the reactor?" the captain asks, the desperation clear in her voice

the engineer thinks for a moment
"I can get you three minutes at a third more output, but I'll have to hard SCRAM it"
"a lot can happen in 3 minutes. send it!"
"aye aye, captain!" she says, slamming the phone down and grabbing the control rod hand crank

the crank was supposed to be used only if the motor failed, but she pulls on it and forces the rods past the designed limit, her arms straining with the effort
she watches the reactor's gauges with one hand on the crank and the other on the SCRAM button

as the seconds tick by, she wonders what's happening and whether the explosions she's hearing are good or bad
the airship swings around and rocks from the howitzers firing

the seconds tick by: thirty, sixty, ninety, one twenty

one fourty: the reactor is most of the way to the melting point of the containment vessel
one sixty: maybe 30°F away; she'll cut it at 10°
at one sixty two, the telegraph clangs back to stand by

she cranks the control rods as fast as she can, knowing that her adrenaline-soaked muscles can go faster than the motor (but not as fast as the SCRAM mechanism), stopping just short of killing the reaction

as the reactor cools back to safe levels, she takes a deep breath and hopes that nothing melted too badly and that what she did was worth it

the airship base is in a river gorge, the sides increasingly hollowed out for the base's sprawling infrastructure, yet still with space for greenery

for maximum readiness, the airship backs into the gorge, moving slowly and dropping steel cables from winches that haul heavy chains back up from the tugs on the ground
the tugs roll down their tracks, pulling the ship up the gorge towards a waterfall

there's a rushing sound as lifting gases move down tubes hauled up with the chains and the airship's massive balloon partially deflates
whenever possible, the fleet reuses lifting gases and refuses to senselessly waste them just for a relatively short stop

to reduce the risk of interception, the fleet prefers to communicate by lights, nautical flags, and heliographs
the ship's main communication mechanism is a ten foot long laser tube that's aimed using a series of mirrors and lenses at a periscope-like tower on top of a mountain

as it gets ready to dock, the ship is practically aglow with mirrors and lights flashing out innumerable messages

at the top of the waterfall stand a set of cranes and gantries and what might be the strongest hydraulic lift system in the world aligned with the rear of the ship

the engineer looks down from the rearmost catwalk, spyglass in one hand and mirror in the other, a green flag (ready to receive) clipped to the railing next to her
she pans her spyglass towards the base of the lift and sees flashing in the familiar "fist" of her friend at base

to aid in conversation, sailors in the fleet have a wide variety of abbreviations and codes for commonly used words, which are expanded here in {curly braces}
"{hey} {hey} {hey} I {heard} YR STUNT W {reactor}" his flashing pauses for a moment, waiting for her reply

"{balls} OF {steel} {lol}" he continues (of course sailors have a code for "balls")
"{not} SINCE ORCHI {lol} -- WANT THEM?"
she sees his face through the spyglass and sees that he's laughing too hard to hold his mirror straight

"{lift} {ready}?"

"{yeah} {go} {go} {go}" he replies, clipping his harness to the seat (a ladder rung that sticks out further than the others) on one of the four hydraulic pillars, which begin to rise

as he rises on the hydraulic lift, she makes sure the reactor is fully shut down and that shore power is connected
with the second-largest ratchet in her toolbox, she unscrews the massive electrical connector from the containment vessel and levers it out

by the time she's done disconnecting it, he's arrived

a chunk of twisted metal similar to hers hangs from a chain around his neck and rests on his bare chest
"looks like your top surgery's healing up nicely"
"yeah. it feels so good to get that weight off my chest"

they both laugh a bit at that

"so, off to business?" he asks, setting a bag of giant nuts and bolts down with a clang
"let's go"

the purpose of the giant bolts is to secure the reactor to the lift, at which point the bolts holding it to the frame of the airship can be removed and it can be carefully lowered back to the ground and bolted onto a train car

this calls for her biggest ratchet, largest wrench, and both of their strength

they were in the same class at the academy and had watched each other transition and blossom
they're best friends and have each other's backs no matter what

she climbs onto the seat on another pillar and clips in as it descends, carrying two friends and a couple tons of reactor


thank you to @mutabletuple for inspiring this story and @l1lyposting for help editing it