Fragment 5 - Power at all Costs

"Great," she muttered, "just great."

She stripped off her shirt and bunched it up, hoping the material would be enough to protect her from the heat. Enough time or enough heat, she knew, and it would catch fire. Still, she had to try.

She quickly grabbed the metal and pulled herself up, careful not to touch her bare skin against it. The air was sweltering in here and the machine hum sounded immense and overbearing. She felt it beating against her eardrums. It was sauna hot, at least two hundred degrees, probably more.

She stepped onto the metal walkway and could smell the rubber soles of her shoes burning. She wouldn't have a lot of time.  

After only a few steps she realized she wouldn't be able to last long. It already felt like her lungs were burning and her entire body was covered in a sheen of sweat. Her shoes stuck to the floor where she stepped and she went as fast as she could to the controls. There were two valves she was looking for, one to release the pressure and one to stop the flow of the supercritical carbon dioxide into the system.

She found the pressure valve and used her unburnt hand and the shirt to grab hold and turn it. She could feel how hot it was even through the bunched up shirt, and after a few turns she smelled the fabric burning. By the time she was done she could hear the huge sound of steam being released above her. It was venting up into the atmosphere and would keep the system from overloading.

That meant it wouldn't explode, but it would still cook her. She stumbled her way to the other valve, feeling her body giving out from the intense heat. There was a banging sound above her, though she might have been imagining it.

Using the shirt, she started turning the other valve. The humming sound decreased with every turn, but it was hard to get it to move. The shirt got hotter, started burning again, suddenly caught fire. She threw the shirt to the ground, cursing, and looked back at the valve. It was mostly closed, but not completely. Until it was closed, she couldn't open the door and escape.

With a groan of frustration, she closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and then grabbed the valve. She screamed in pain as it torched her skin, but she managed to turn it all the way closed. When she pulled her hand back, she felt the metal cling to her and kept screaming as the pain intensified. 

The ground fell silent, and the only sound was her screaming and the steam being vented overhead. Suddenly, there was another enormous crashing sound and she saw light from above. Aaron jumped into the hole, carrying a fire protective blanket, and he quickly wrapped it around her. He led her to the exit, and she saw Fred standing there. 

The ladder was still hot, but with fresh air things cooled off fairly quickly. They hid under the blanket and gradually he helped her out of the hole. She heard sirens in the distance and figured they were for her.

"That was crazy," Aaron said, wrapping her in a hug as the ambulance loaded her up on a gurney.  They hooked her to an IV and started pumping her full of drugs. She felt better almost immediately. "You shouldn't have risked yourself like that."

She smiled at him, loopy with the pain medication.  "No risk at all when you're the best damn engineer out here."