KJ slams the power cell back into the port she had just pulled it from. The alarm silences and the screen goes back to black.
“Well, that was fun,” Brooklyn says over the comm. “Did you guys see what was on the screen? It said something about a transfer. What does that mean?”
We are all afraid of touching anything again, which gives us time to talk out what we know—or think we know—so far. But at this point, we have more questions than answers.
We operate under the assumption that this is a bigger and better version of our Continuum. It’s clearly more advanced than the one we built, but that makes sense, considering that we in the future.
We ask ourselves, is there any significance to its location? What’s in Columbus, Ohio that anyone would want to set up such a massive time travel portal?
The machine is obviously on but in some sort of low power hibernation mode. We figure that when we removed the fuel cell there was no longer enough power to maintain hibernation and it needed to power down completely. But what does “transfer will be lost” mean?
As best we can figure, something is caught inside the portal, which highlights another distinct difference from our Continuum. We move from one side to the other just as if walking into another room. This machine seems to have some kind of delay between entry and exit.
“I say we find a way to get it back to full power. See if we can complete the transfer,” I tell them.
“How are you going to do that? Cleaner asks, “The fuel cells it needs haven’t been invented yet.”
“That’s the question that only science can solve,” I reply. “KJ, these are your fuel cells. What do you suggest?”
She purses her lips, thinking. “If I could remove one of the cells, I would be able to dissect it; see how it works. Might be able to reproduce it some other way.”
“Yeah, but let’s not forget that removing a cell is all sorts of bad,” Brooklyn says.
“Right. And even if you could do that, the chance of finding all the parts you need in the RV are slim to none,” Darwin adds.
“I thought she could MacGyver it with a rubber band and a paper clip,” Brooklyn quips.
“I have an idea,” KJ says. “It’s a long shot but might be worth trying. Between the RV and the tankcraft we have, what, a dozen REFC? We should be able to string them together and create some type of adapter to plug into one of the empty ports.”
Darwin considers this. “That math doesn’t add up. From what you told us, a dozen REFC won’t produce enough power to compensate for all the missing REFC^2 cells.”
Cleaner looks up at the empty cell ports. “Which leaves us, somewhere around a dozen and a half shy of a full load.”
“Something like that,” KJ replies. But it’s six more than it has now. It could be enough.”
“I’m feeling optimistic,” Darwin says. “If it worked for Horton it can work for us.”
Brooklyn asks, “Um… who’s Horton?”
I reply, “A famous scientist who discovered the Horton Principle. How small things can sometimes make a big difference. Don’t they still teach the Horton Principle in school?”
“Oh, Horton. Yeah, okay. I didn’t… I thought you were… Yeah, yeah, we learned about him.”
Darwin and KJ burst out laughing.
“What?” Brooklyn asks defensively.
“Okay, everyone,” I interject. “Let’s get to work on this. KJ, what do we do?”
Following KJ’s direction, we move into action. Darwin pulls ten REFCs out of the tankcraft and RV, leaving two in place to maintain power for life support, communications and other critical functions.
Without being able to look at one of the REFC^2, KJ had to study the empty ports to understand how to build an adapter. She tells us that they are similar to what she had envisioned but not exact. She and Brooklyn take the better part of an hour working that out.
Not wanting to risk overloading any individual port, they initially wanted to pair the REFC up, connecting two to a port. This would provide what she assumed is the correct amount of energy that each port was designed to handle. But with limited supplies on hand, creating a single adapter was a challenge enough, let alone building the five adapters we would need.
They settle for daisy-chaining the REFC together and plugging the entire string into a single port. We are crossing our fingers that the port can handle that much power flowing through it.
On schedule, Greaser opens up the comm lines to check in on us. We bring him and the team up to speed before Bellinger and I move off to a private channel to argue about the merits of what we are doing. She believes it’s too big of a risk and isn’t part of our core mission. I disagree.
“This is why we are here,” I tell her. “To find answers. And this, to me, is a really big question in need of answering.”
“You’re not going to find answers for what went wrong with the world here. Those are most likely in DC.”
“You don’t know that,” I counter. “Right now, we can’t afford not to seek answers for any unknown we encounter. For all we know, this could give us answers to questions we don’t even know to ask?”
“And what questions are those?”
“If I knew, I would be asking them,” I answer smartly. Lowering my tone, I continue. “You could be right, maybe there’s nothing here. Maybe DC has all the answers we need… or maybe it has none. My point is, we don’t want to walk away from something like this until we know one way or the other.”
“You’re putting the mission—and the lives of your team—in danger. And for what? Something completely unknown?”
“Yes!” I yell. “That is exactly what we are doing. That’s our whole mission here. Our lives are in danger and we have no idea if it’s worth it. But passing on this is just one more question that would remain needlessly unanswered.”
“Calm down, Camden,” she chastises me. “What about the missing power cells?”
“Good question. That might make this entire exercise moot. If we can’t power it up then we move on.”
“Assuming you don’t destroy your own power cells in the process?”
“We kept two. Worst-case scenario, that’s plenty to keep us alive and limping along. But we are doing everything we can to minimize any damage to the other cells.
“Alright, fine.” She finally concedes. “For the record, I’m against this, but I’m letting you make the field decision. God knows if I ordered you to stand down, you’d proceed with it anyway. Greaser will keep the portal open so we can monitor your progress.”
With that, she disappears.
KJ is ready to connect the fuel cells. We get our suits sealed back up and proceed out the airlock.
We need an open port near the ground but they’re all occupied. Cleaner pulls out a fuel cell from below the control panel and quickly moves it to one of the empty ports above, so as not to set the alarm off again.
The daisy chain of ten REFC lays on the ground near the now-empty port. At Cleaner’s insistence, Darwin rigged a series of switches that allow us to control power flow from the cells. We’ll flip the switches in succession, each one triggering power for two REFC. If we happen to damage our cells, only those we have already switched on will be affected. That’ll make it less likely that we lose all ten at once. Unless, of course, it’s flipping the last switch that fries everything.
KJ takes the adapter and places it into the port. She then connects a dozen wires from the adapter into connection terminals within the cell port. After securing those connections in place she takes a step back. “That’s it. We just need to start flipping switches.”
“Okay, everyone, stand back,” I tell them. “KJ, you too. I’m going to do this.”
“Let me, LT,” Cleaner says stepping up. We can’t afford to lose you if something happens.”
Arguing is pointless. I step back and join the rest of the group.
Kneeling in front of the first switch, Cleaner holds it in one hand and has his knuckle positioned to flip it with the other. “Here we go,” he says.
My heart pounds as I hear the snap of the switch moving into the on position. A light next to the switch glows green, indicating power is being transferred, but there is no other indication of any change with the machine.
Cleaner moves to the next switch, hesitates for a second, then flips it. Another green light appears indicating power is being transferred from the second set of REFCs. Still no change with the machine, but we can see the adapter faintly glow red from the darkness inside the port.
Cleaner moves to the next switch but looks to me for confirmation that he should continue. I, in turn, look at KJ.
“It’ll hold,” she says.
“Flip it,” I tell Cleaner.
As he does, I keep my eye in the port. Sparks fly out of the connectors inside. I see the plastic coating on the wires begin to melt. The adapter is glowing a brighter shade of red.
“Another?” Cleaner asks. Six REFC are passing power to the machine, with four more waiting to be added.
“No. No more. I’m calling it; can’t risk damaging our REFCs. Cleaner, shut’em off. KJ, run a diagnostic on the cells before we put them back where they were pulled from. I want to know if there’s any damage.”
“Hang on, Cleaner,” Darwin says, stopping him from turning off the power from the REFCs. Pointing at the screen he says, “LT, take a look.”
ABORT TRANSFER SHUTDOWN SYSTEM
I feel a deep “THUMP” in my chest, only realizing it wasn’t my heart when it’s followed by a familiar escalating hum.
The machine is coming out of hibernation mode.