I am part of this great beast’s immune system. I walk with on other, our plated boots clanking a mismatched rhythm on the aged perforated metal catwalk. We breathe heavily. Not from running. One cannot run in the burning iron miasma of the factory. From the climb up the ladder, nine floors of rungs slick with condensation. And from the heat. It’s so intense, we don’t need our electric torches to see. The angry glow from the smelters below ripples on wavering air through the holes in the decking, casting its red light up along the pipes and railings ahead.
There are no systems in place to direct us toward the problem, though plenty in place to alert us to it. Our ears throb with the siren’s ringing, even after another team gets it shut off to spare us all. But we have been at this long enough that we can follow instinct, and the humidity, and the god-awful angry hiss of a burst pipe.
The air is thick. Our goggles fog, and the skin beneath our leather protective suits is slick.
Of course it had to be a burst pipe on the upper catwalks, which sway beneath our opposing gaits until my partners realizes and matches her steps to mine. Up here, the steam gets what it wants – escape upward. The flow beyond stopped almost completely, halting everything on the work floor below as the pressure downpipe plummets to near nothing.
We’ve got only minutes. The crew bringing a replacement pipe better be moving with as much haste as we are.
Valves resist turning, but we’re armed with reinforced crossbars for such things. The hissing subsides. We’ve choked off its escape.
The air clears, and we survey the damage. The pockmarked edges where the metal peels back from the ruined pipe. The ironeaters have been at it again. They nibbled a hole large enough to put my gloved fist through, and the furious steam did the rest.
We unclip the flaps securing our weapons in their holsters, and tilt our heads to listen for the sound of a swarm.
Author’s Note: These snippets are unedited free-writing exercises that I use as a way to shift my brain into a creative state. I use Lynda Barry’s What It Is YouTube timed exercises (usually 9 minutes worth of writing) for these. They are handwritten in a composition notebook and then typed up here. As I transcribe them, I make minor grammar and spelling corrections, but the overall “clarity” (if you can call it that) of the exercise is left as-is.