The shock waves of the blast chose the path of least resistance, the doorway where Derek was standing. It easily lifted him up and sent him flying. He landed heavily on the catwalk, the impact sending out a loud clang. Momentum carried him into the safety rail, and it's cheap iron construction broke when he hit it. He would have rolled off into the cavern below if his right hand hadn't shot out and grabbed the edge. He was left dangling by one arm above a two-hundred foot fall.
They say in these situations the worst thing you can do in these situations is look down. Naturally, it was the first thing Derek did. “Holy...” was all he could mutter.
If you've ever had a dream of falling into hell, this was it. Most of the air below was pitch dark but was punctuated with vats of boiling steel that looked like pools a hot lava. Endless bangs and crashes echoed up from below, somehow seeming louder then normal. Derek caught a glimpse of the broken safety rail falling into the dark abyss.
It took Derek about three seconds to regain his senses. It was then he realized his arm was on fire. The fire had yet to burn through his thick work jacket, but it was spreading, heading up towards his hand. His brought his left arm up to beat at the flames. It took a few moments of desperate beating, he was able to put it out.
The moment he did he brought his left hand up to help his right. Stabilized, he reached further with his right and clawed his way back on to the catwalk, pain shooting through his body every time his right arm touched the walk. His overworked, aching muscles had to fight for every inch. Gravity seemed determined to kill him. But after about a minute of struggling, he was safely back on the catwalk.
He sat on his hands and knees for a few moments, breathing heavily and swearing. It was the first time he'd ever come so close to death in The Great Foundry. He'd had a few close calls sure, but nothing like that. “Figures this would happen on my first day,” he muttered as he got to his feet and had a look around.
The crane was still swinging dangerously fast. And it was getting faster. Small drops of magma was spilling out, creating a light rain of the stuff. The cockpit of the crane was shaken by the explosion, but there seemed to be little external damage. Without thinking, Derek ran for it. Almost everyone in the level was evacuated, he was the only one who could stop the crane before it spilled it's deadly contents entirely.
When he rang back into the cockpit he was greeted by the smell of burned flesh. The remains of the pilot, his face blackened by the explosion, had been hurtled to the corner of the room. Thick smoke filled the air, carrying the stench. Derek held his breath as he ran to the control panel. Blown out equipment lined each side of the room.
The controls were utterly devastated. One of the panels had blown out entirely, and the others were completely unresponsive. When Derek tried to move the main control stick, it snapped off and sparks flew everywhere.
He swore some more and looked for a way to shut down the crane entirely. All the controls inside the cockpit were fried. That left only one solution. The default.
The default control was a emergency control that was to be used in situations exactly like these. It was a universal “stop” button, and when hit it would lock down the crane and reject commands from the main controls. It entire mechanism was completely separate from the main system, and would thus be unaffected by whatever was making the crane go haywire. It was only to be used as a last resort however, as the process was difficult to reverse. And of course, there was it's unfortunate placing. The button was halfway up the crane, to prevent sabotage and because of numerous electrical issues. It had the side benefit of ensuring no one tried to use it unless they really needed to.
Derek knew he had to use it, but they were placed about fifty feet above the ground. And that was when the crane wasn't swinging over the drop he had only just avoided. And there was a more immediate problem. The inch-thick bullet-proof glass window had been unfazed by the explosion.
Derek didn't know what the glass was made of, but it must have been tough. The explosion only caused a few scratches on the surface.
Still swearing, Derek looked for something strong enough to shatter it. His eyes fell on a fire ax on the wall. It was in a heavy metal casing, and it looked undamaged. He ran over and forced it open, setting off a blaring fire alarm throughout the level.
He supposed the ax was heavy, but Derek's arms had been carrying shell casings all day and the ax seemed light by comparison. He hoped it had enough weight behind it to damage the glass.
His first blow bounced off, making a horrible glass on metal screech. If second blow yielded the same result. He realized brute force would be useless, and tried hitting right on one of the scratches. The blow was the same as the other two.
Derek stood back, and tried to look a the situation as a hole. He saw his opening. On his next blow the ax came down lengthways on the near invisible slit where the glass fitted in to the metal wall. He pushed with all his considerable might against the ax handle. His muscles still ached from the day's work, but under the strain, the thin layer of metal bent. He was still pushing when the ax blade came free, and his momentum nearly carried him into the wall. But when he inspected his work, he saw the small sliver of glass embedded in the wall was now exposed. He grinned, and replicated the process on another section of the wall. It was tiring work, but quick, and soon the all the glass within the wall was exposed.
Derek faced the glass window like it was his mortal enemy. He grasped the ax with both hands, let out a blood-curdling scream, and charged the window. The ax came smashing down in the dead center of it.
Now, anyone who knows something about physics knows that when force is delivered to an object, the object would absorb as much of it as possible before delivering it back in the direction it came from. In Derek's previous hits to the glass, the redelivered force had been absorbed by the metal wall around the glass. But now there was no metal wall. The glass popped neatly out of it's frame, falling to the floor as Derek backpedaled to avoid it.
Derek pumped his fist with victory, but then remembered he still had to reach the default. He climbed out onto the nose of the cockpit. He looked at the crane swing around in front of him. It was wide enough that you could walk up it and get to the default, although not very much. And there was no guardrail, so one wrong step could send him down crashing to the ground. In fact, the only time it would be reasonably safe to hit the default would be when the crane was not moving and it would be useless anyway.
Cursing the bad design, Derek took a tentative step onto the crane. It shifted under him, throwing him off balance. He almost fell into the black and red abyss below, balancing himself at the last moment. The shifting would only get worse as he went farther up.
He took another step, again being thrown off balance. It was harsher this time, and for a moment he was flailing on the edge, about to be thrown off. He leaned forward and stopped himself, if only barely. Still swearing, he proceeded upwards.
Each step was a test. In incline of the crane was steep, and Derek could swear it was steeper with each step. Gravity seemed so much stronger when he was fighting against it. The harsh noise and suffocating heat of The Great Foundry attacked his tired mind, throwing his balance off. His feet hurt from standing all day, and his back ached from carrying the heavy casings. Dozens of itches popped up all over his body, the way they do when you know you can't scratch. But he gritted his teeth and kept going.
By the time he was near the top, even standing was close to impossible, let alone taking steps. The crane swung back and forth at insane speeds, shaking him like a rag doll. His feet finally gave out, and he slipped off. His chin smashed into the crane as he fell, but his exhausted arms managed reach out to save him once again. He tasted blood in his mouth.
He almost gave up then. He almost let himself fall two-hundred feet to the fourteenth level. Maybe he would survive. People had survived worse. But he would still have to avoid the collapse of level fifteen. And a few hundred people would die.
But then he looked up the crane and saw the default, a simple red button, waiting for him. I'm here, he thought. Might as well do it. A new strength surged through him, and he began shimming along the crane, heading toward the default inch by inch.
It was like the crane knew he was close. It swung around, bashing Derek's rib cage, then abruptly started in the other direction, almost pulling his hands away. And then it did it again.
Maybe it was Derek's tired mind, but he somehow felt like the crane was one of the civilization hating savages on the propaganda poster. It was wild and out of control. It was going to do horrid damage to civilization if he let it.
His thoughts were broken when the crane smashed his body yet again. He heard a sickening crack and a fierce pain shot through his chest. He screamed a curse to the world, and kept on going.
He finally reached what he judged was arms length from the default, and reached out to press it. His gloved hands slapped the big red button.
“No, no, no!” Derek screamed at the world. The crane was still moving, smashing into his ribs once more. The magma was still spilling, now in larger globs that hissed when they hit the catwalks.
Derek's mind worked feverishly. What was wrong? Was it the circuitry? Was it the damage in the cockpit? Was it whatever malfunction had started this in the first place?
Then, to his horror, Derek realized the crane's movement was shifting. It was becoming even faster, and it's main body was leveling out to about eye level to anyone on the catwalks. He glanced behind him, and his worst fears were confirmed. In thirty seconds, the heavy vat of magma would plow strait into the catwalks. It would do ten times the damage that simple magma spillage would do.
Derek immediately decided that the problem had to do with the circuitry to the button, simply because it was the only thing that he had time to try.
After crawling a bit closer to the default, he grasped the casing of the entire default, and worked his muscles to rip it off. It did not part from the main crane easily, but it eventually gave in a tore off in a shower of sparks.
When he was the inner wiring of the default the problem was immediately evident. The main wiring's connection had been cut. It had to be a deliberate act of sabotage.
A glance over his shoulder told Derek he didn't have time to wonder about who might have done it. It couldn't be more then ten seconds before the vat of boiling steel collided with the catwalks.
He turned back around, counting off the seconds in his head. There had to be an alternate connection. He tried one of the wires, touching it to the main wire. Nothing happened. Seven seconds... He pulled another wire to connect with the main, but still nothing happened. Five seconds... Sweat stung his eyes as he moved another wire with no reaction. Two seconds...
Then he saw it. The blue wire. The one that was always the backup. He moved it down, and connected it to the main at the last possible moment.
The effect was immediate. The crane stopped abruptly in it's path, throwing Derek off of it's side. For a moment, he was suspended in midair. He watched, as if in slow motion, the vast vat of molten steel be carried by momentum into the catwalk. And then, he watched it bounce off without the cranes engine to support it.
He landed heavily on his back, and went sliding along the walkway, barely stopping himself from falling over the edge for the second time in as many minuets.
He slowly, jerkily, got to his feet. He took a long look at the crane that would've destroyed the entire level, if he hadn't stopped it. Eventually, a grin came to his face. “What!” he yelled, issuing a challenge to the crane. He jumped up and down, taunting it. “You got nothin'! You got nothin'! Just try doing that again!” his voice was hoarse, but his sheer exhilaration made up for his exhausted throat. “Why don't you try it again, huh! You got...”
Suddenly his voice refused to come. His vision went blurry. His knees gave out. And collapsed onto the catwalk, unconscious.