Short Circuit

A blast of roiling heat momentarily fogged up the outside of Sri’s visor, and even through her suit’s insulation the flash caused sweat to bead up on the nape of her neck and roll down her spine. She glided into the engine compartment of the Khamseen and pulled the hatch shut behind her, sliding the mechanical lock into place. It wouldn’t take them ten minutes to blast out the bolts, but she only had two minutes before they reached Sol anyway.

She had to stop it.

Sri wiped her visor with a gloved hand and marveled at the engine’s interior; it was like being inside a nuclear powered wristwatch. The compartment was a 30-meter sphere packed full with superconducting concentric rings that rotated on complicated tracks as they revolved around each other. Bright globes crisscrossed the gearworks on tight gossamer tethers. There was so much motion, and it was too fast. Sri had to get clear across the chamber to reach the controls, and she didn’t see a catwalk or any direct path other than jumping straight across—it would be like falling through a hundred sliding guillotines. It would never—

A pulse of pressure from the core knocked her against the bulkhead; they were preparing to slip out of FTL. Forget the controls. She squatted low and launched herself at the engine’s glowing epicenter.

Sri pulled herself into a tight ball to avoid losing her limbs. Supercharged coils and buzzing discs swiped at her, but she slid along her vector unchallenged. She was going to make it. Four more meters. Three. The core pulsed again and pushed her against one of the globes. Her back was pressed against it and her frame of reference flipped dramatically; Sri suddenly felt like she was lying still on her back with the gearworks flying around her in all directions. For a moment it was absolute terror, but she focused on the core and found that from this new perspective it appeared to hover directly overhead, just two meters out. She could almost reach it.

But she didn’t need to reach it; she needed to stop it.

She hadn’t had time yet to figure out how she would stop it, but her time was up. Sri decided to use the only conductor she had: herself. She pulled the globe up its gossamer like a dumbwaiter until she was close enough, and then got to her feet. She closed her eyes and jammed her fists into the core as deep as she could.

Sri popped out of the machinery like a blown fuse and the Khamseen fell out of FTL within Sol’s heliopause. Just in time—she did it.

She should have been dead. Instead, her troubles were just beginning.

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