Castaway Odyssey – Chapter 05

Chapter 5.

“You sure it’s safe there, Sergeant?”

“Sure I’m sure,” he answered, focusing again at the indicator in his retinal display. “The 300M’s got real good shielding. Barely above background levels outside the shell, even when operating. Right now she’s down, so the only way it’d be dangerous is if I cracked the shell open and she was still hot inside. I only see about twenty-five service hours indicated on the system, so the lining’s probably still safe enough to use as dinnerware. Stop worrying.”

He was, of course, exaggerating a tad. After twenty-five hours of operating fusion under the Cavan-Ares design – derived from the original units found on Ceres, way back when – the interior of the fusion reactor was not going to be something you wanted to spend much time with, even with supposedly-aneutronic fusion going on. But the exterior was, indeed, just about stone-cold dead.

Tavana’s head appeared in the hatch above him. “You’ve got data from the system?”

“Don’t get excited yet, Tav. The exterior indicators and tracking recorders are about as dead-simple as anything gets. It’s the complex stuff we need to worry about.”

“And the simple things like the harvest-fusion loops.”

“And those, yeah, but I’m pretty hopeful they’re okay.”

He managed to keep from muttering “they’d better be”, but he was thinking it. The keys to the modern fusion reactor were the resonant magnetic loops that first generated a fusion reaction that then triggered a powerful magnetic surge that could be harvested as power – power sufficient to maintain the reaction AND provide external energy.

It was in a vague way analogous to the way an old diesel engine worked – mechanical movement compressing air-fuel mixture to explosive levels, causing the same mechanical components to move along constrained paths which allowed part of that mechanical energy to be sent off to do more useful work while the rest of it was devoted to triggering another explosion. Except that it was a lot more complicated than that, of course, and involved magnetic fields, electromagnetic power generation, and a hell of a lot of energy with very specific timing and conditions required.

Still, he was pretty sure the coils themselves should be okay. They were made to carry massive energies, so even the rad pulse shouldn’t have caused significant EMP from their point of view, and the shielding around the reactor should have minimized any chance for radiation of significant levels to reach the more delicate interior components.

That leaves the exterior control components. Sergeant Campbell inverted his body and managed, just barely, to squeeze in past a narrow-clearance bulkhead. The space beyond was none too large, but at least he could turn around in it. Set at the base of the large, steel-gray fluted sphere was a small, solid console. “Tavana, I’m at the built-in calibration and test panel.”

“Good. Any lights?”

“All red or dead black.”

Merde.” That seemed to be the boy’s favorite curse; he figured there could be worse.

“Don’t get discouraged yet. Lemme think a minute.” He went back through his memories to his prior work on the 300M. “Right, as I recall, this thing’s going to be pretty much dark unless it’s getting control signals from the outside, or unless I override it; this panel’s not supposed to be operational when the reactor’s installed.”

“So there’s a gap in the control signals from the main console or central computer to here?”

“Given that we haven’t managed to get the main systems back up yet, I’d say there’s a gap. But that means that this thing’s having something like the problem the airlock had; something didn’t shut down like normal, so the local panel still thinks it’s under shuttle control.”

“How’s the reserve restart coils, Sergeant?” asked Xander from somewhere up above.

“Can’t check that yet.”

“Without them we’re screwed, though.” Tavana’s voice was grim.

“Don’t go borrowing trouble from the future, son; it’ll get here on its own. Tavana, how the heck do I disconnect this bad boy? This thing’s linkages don’t look anything like the ones they used for the colony 300M I maintained.”

Tavana projected an animation of the disassembly. Oh, that’s gonna be fun. Here we are sailing the stars, and engineers still gotta put connectors where they’re gonna bash my knuckles trying to turn them. “How’s the inventory check goin’?” he asked as he got his Shapetool to configure into the right wrench design.

“Pretty good, Sergeant. The heavy equipment isn’t very exciting for us, but we’ve got a couple cases of field rations in assorted types, spare power packs in about five standard sizes, crates of hand tools – mostly for field work, not electronics or anything like that, though – those medical supplies that were part of Dr. Kimei’s shipment, hunting supplies, some camping or survival gear of assorted types, three big crates that I don’t recognize – they’re stamped ICS-GIS-S-C-178, though.”

Campbell managed to get the first connector turning, then felt a faint grin on his face. “Well, a lot of stuff Tantalus is gonna miss if we don’t get there, that’s for sure. Don’t know how much of it’s that useful for us sitting here in interstellar space. Those three crates… ow! Blasted stupid f…” he cut himself off before he started swearing, “f…reaking idiot designers… as I was saying, those three crates are comm satellites for idiots, so to speak – basically just kick ’em out the door and they do the rest, work with almost all omnis on the ground. Low orbit stuff, but still good. I’m most interested in the food and medical supplies. That’s what makes me happy.”

Xander pinged him privately. “Thinking of the Lieutenant, sir?”

He saw no reason to deny it. “I told her we’d pick her up if we could. Of course, first we gotta get this tub moving again.”

One off. Four more to go. The name “Kimei” reminded him of his youngest pupil; he wondered if Sakura was all right. He hoped so, but he remembered the flashes of light as the field instability had chewed up Outward Initiative‘s hab ring, and he thought the first loss might have been awfully close to LS-5, the Kimei’s assigned boat. God help them if they’re in the same fix we are. “Any electronics or optronics components?”

“None in the cargo, sir,” Maddox said cheerfully, “at least nothing marked that way. But I did get the rear service closet open and there’s a bunch of spare modules for various systems in there.”

“Excellent. Maybe we’ll be able to get through this after all.” It was going easier now that he’d figured out the technique; fasteners two and three were loose. “Well, I’m almost set with this interface. What’s the deal with the actual power junctions?”

“Standard, Sergeant,” Tav answered. “You’re not touching any major power stuff there, it’s all going out from the top or bottom of the main casing.”

“Good. While I’m doing these last couple, I want you and Franky –” a sound of protest from above. “Francisco to go pull every breaker unit you can. If we get a restart, we don’t know how the systems are going to react, and the last thing we need is something screwing up because it wasn’t ready for the power.”

“On it, Sergeant!”

Good kids. He could’ve gotten stuck with far worse, he mused as he managed to finally get the last fastener to let go. He checked the diagram again, undid the latches, then pulled.

The short cable slid out of its slot and away from the base of the console. Instantly Samuel Campbell saw several lights turn green. “That’s got it!”

“Can you restart?” Tavana’s voice was tense, and he could sense the others hanging on his words.

“Hold your horses, kids. First I want confirmation you’ve pulled all the breakers.”

“Almost done. The one for the pilot’s panel was hard to reach, but we’re… all right, that one’s up and locked.”

“Is everyone clear? I don’t expect any stupid Hollywood spark effects or anything, but I want you all clear of those areas anyway.”

“Hold on… come on, Francisco, over here… Yes, we’re all clear.”

He looked down at the panel. Under the circumstances, there wasn’t much to do. The bottom green light showed that the integrity of the restart coils was good and they were still holding the charge; to continue the shaky analogy, that meant that the starter motor was still there and hooked to the battery. The second green light showed that the fuel supply – purified boron-11 and pure hydrogen – was intact and ready.

The third indicated readiness for start; all of the internal circuitry, then, was okay – or thought it was okay. Given the way things had happened, he wasn’t sure he trusted that cheerful green glow, but on the other hand, what choice did he have? None of the heavy equipment stored in the hold was going to be running on a reactor – almost certainly all of it on superconductor storage batteries – and there weren’t any other alternative power sources.

“All right, everyone… cross everything you’ve got two of, I’m about to initiate restart.”

He unlocked the manual start control, poised his finger over it, and said a little prayer to whoever might be listening. Then his finger stabbed down.

Almost instantly a throbbing hum came from the casing – faint, almost subliminal, but definitely there – and the panel’s lights all came on. Two showed red – the external control connection and the disconnection through the breakers of all external systems – but everything else was a wonderful, wonderful green. “Restart successful! We have power, kids!”

The cheer that followed sounded like a lot more than just four boys, and he joined in. “Now no one touch the breakers yet. I want to do that in order. Tav, what do you think would happen if I hooked up the control harness now?”

Tav was silent for several minutes, but Campbell was patient. There was no reason to pressure anyone here and now.

“After looking at the manuals, I think the worst that would happen is that the reactor would think it still wasn’t connected – if none of the systems outside make contact. The control linkages don’t carry dangerous voltages so there shouldn’t be any major consequences even if the whole set of linkages is messed up.”

“All right, then, I’m going to hook that up first. If we can establish control or – if we’re lucky – trigger a restart in the core systems, we’ll be in a lot better condition.”

After a few minutes jockeying it back into its tight position, the control harness linkage slid suddenly into place and locked. “Okay, Tav, throw the connecting breaker for the controls up there at the pilot’s position. Let’s see what we’ve got.”

Lights suddenly appeared, not on the console, but in the air, projected by his omni through his retinal display. They weren’t all green – far, far from it – but they were status lights showing that the controls weren’t all dead. “We’re on!” he heard Francisco shout excitedly.

“Looks like we are, at that.” He put away his Shapetool. “Okay, kids, I’m getting out of this box and stretching for a few minutes. Then we’ll see if we can’t get everything else running and start heading for home!”