Commonwealth, XVIII: Water Tunnel No. 3

Commonwealth, XVIII: Water Tunnel No. 3 January 17, 2020

Commonwealth: A Novel of Utopia, part 1, chapter 5

Author’s Note: This is an excerpt from my novel Commonwealth. The rest of today’s installment is free, but only on my Patreon site. If you want to read the next part today, it’s already up on Patreon as well. You can sign up for as little as $1/month. There’s also a table of contents for all published chapters.

The four of them walked through a rough tunnel lit by distant white floodlights. Workers were laying track along the tunnel floor, their shadows huge and distorted on the walls. Water vapor swirled like steam in the light and condensed on the stone.

“After the morning briefing, Curt stormed off,” O’Connor said. “I didn’t hear from him for about an hour.”

“Walked off the job, huh?” Rae said, not quite under her breath. “Good riddance.”

“I didn’t disturb him at first. I figured he needed time to cool down. Finally, I called him on the radio to ask what he was doing. He said he was going to check on that AC plant malfunction.”

“It’s just a faulty temperature sensor, isn’t it? He’s a big boy. I’m sure he can handle it himself.”

“That’s what we thought,” John Butler said. “But we rechecked and found that the temperature had spiked again and stayed high.”

“We started to think it wasn’t a sensor malfunction,” Vargas added.

Rae had a sudden intimation of where this was going.

“Then we got a second alarm for the same AC plant,” O’Connor said. “A smoke alarm. I called Curt and told him to get back up here. He said he was taking care of it and he didn’t need help. That was fifteen minutes ago. Now he’s not answering his radio.”

“Well, color me unsurprised,” Rae said flatly. “If he got himself into trouble, it’s no more than he deserves.”

Then the message of their awkwardly averted gazes sank in.

“Don’t tell me you’re blaming me for this!” she erupted. “We all know the regs say at least two people have to check out a possible fire. Just because Curt is a hothead who can’t handle being told off—”

“No one is blaming you,” O’Connor said, but too quickly, in a way that made her certain it had occurred to him. “That’s not why we came. We came because we need your help.”

Rae stopped dead. The rest of them went on a few steps before they noticed and turned back to her.

“There’s a chance he’s alive,” he appealed to her, “and you’re the only one who—”

“Goddamn it!” she yelled. “Goddamn it, goddamn it!”

“Are you refusing?” O’Connor said. “Look, I know there’s bad blood between you…”

“No,” she said through gritted teeth. “I see where this is going. If he’s hurt or dead, we can’t replace him because of the hiring freeze, and we need every man we can get. We can’t afford to lose anyone, not even him. That’s what you were going to say, right?”

“Yes,” he said reluctantly.

“Well, I know it as well as you do. But damn him for making me save his sorry ass. Now tell me – what is it we have to do?”

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