Hot Summer Read: 'The Burning Wire' by Tom Bower

The supervisor rubbed his beard and, after waiting, futilely, for another substation to come online, ordered his senior assistant, "Manually move supply from Q-Fourteen into the eastern service area of MH-Twelve." "Yessir."

After a moment the supervisor snapped, "No, now."

"Hm. I'm trying."

"Trying. What do you mean, trying?" The task involved simple key¬board strokes.

"The switchgear's not responding."

"Impossible!" The supervisor walked down several short steps to the technician's computer. He typed commands he knew in his sleep.

Nothing.

The voltage indicators were at the end of the green. Yellow loomed.

"This isn't good," somebody muttered. "This's a problem."

The supervisor ran back to his desk and dropped into his chair. His granola bar and Greek athlete cup fell to the floor.

And then another domino fell. A third red dot, like a bull's-eye on a target, began to throb, and in its aloof manner the SCADA computer reported:

Critical failure.

MH-17 offline.

"No, not another one!" somebody whispered.

And, as before, no other substation stepped up to help satisfy the vora¬cious demands of New Yorkers for energy. Two substations were doing the work of five. The temperature of the electric wires into and out of those stations was growing, and the voltage level bars on the big screen were well into the yellow.

MH-12 offline. NJ-18 offline. MH-17 offline. RR to affected service areas from MH-10, MH-13.

The supervisor snapped, "Get more supply into those areas. I don't care how you do it. Anywhere."

A woman at a nearby control booth sat up fast. "I've got forty K I'm running through feeder lines down from the Bronx."

Forty thousand volts wasn't much and it would be tricky to move it through feeder lines, which were meant for about a third that much voltage.

Somebody else was able to bring some juice down from Connecticut.

The voltage indicator bars continued to rise but more slowly now.

Maybe they had this under control. "More!"

But then the woman stealing power from the Bronx said in a choking voice, "Wait, the transmission's reduced itself to twenty thousand. I don't know why."

This was happening throughout the region. As soon as a tech was able to bring in a bit more current to relieve the pressure, the supply from another location dried up.

And all of this drama was unfolding at breathtaking speeds.

700 million miles an hour . . .

And then yet another red circle, another bullet wound.

Critical failure.

MH-13 offline.

A whisper: "This can't be happening."

MH-12 offline. NJ-18 offline. MH-17 offline. MH-13 offline. RR to affected service areas from MH-10.

This was the equivalent of a huge reservoir of water trying to shoot through a single tiny spigot, like the kind that squirts cold water out of a refrigerator door. The voltage surging into MH-10, located in an old building on West Fifty-seventh Street in the Clinton neighborhood of Manhattan, was four or five times normal load and growing. The circuit breakers would pop at any moment, averting an explosion and a fire, but returning a good portion of Midtown to colonial times.

"North seems to be working better. Try the north, get some juice from the north. Try Massachusetts."

"I've got some: fifty, sixty K. From Putnam."

"Good."

And then: "Oh, Jesus, Lord!" somebody cried.

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