The Reactor

This is a little something I wrote recently, and got shortlisted, for in the Brilliant Flash Fiction Magazine, January 2016 Edition

The reactor ran itself; that was the beauty of its design. It didn’t attempt to control the nuclear fusion reaction but merely utilised it. The reactor had enough fuel to burn in a stable state for at least another four billion years, but it wasn’t the fuel source which was the problem. The reactor had
been stable now for over four and a half billion years, yet they had run out of raw materials, resources that were sorely needed to maintain the one thing that kept them alive. The reactor covered every inch of the sky, its spherical network not only absorbed the energy needed to run the entire city but also protected its people from the nuclear reaction that continuously raged on the outside.

Kichu knew that its failure was not only inevitable but imminent. Everyone looked to him to come up with a solution, some way to save them all. Every time he saw that pleading look in their eyes all he could think about was his simulations, the ones that resulted in a critical failure no matter what he tried to do differently. Every simulation ends the same way; the reactors magnetic field fail and results in their instantaneous obliteration as the stars core envelops them. Briefly, he had contemplated alternative options for his people’s survival but there were none. There was no way to stop the reaction; it was so massive that 99.99999% of the energy it produced wasn’t even recoverable. Instead it was hurtled out through space, providing heat and light just like a naturally formed star. It was pointless to think it could be turned off but Kichu wished it anyway, dreaming of seeing for himself the empty void of space that lay on the other side.

His ancestors had understood exactly what they were doing. They had known that the nuclear reaction would allow their society to live for a far greater period of time than they previously had on their home planet. They had even understood that it would eventually come to an end. Yet for the guarantee of billions of years of survival, without having to fear external forces, they had deemed it worthwhile. After all, no asteroid can penetrate this deep into the reaction, no black hole, supernova or erratic orbit was likely to have any effect.

This solar system, which his ancestors had created, held more than one chance at life. All manner of simple organisms, hardy enough to survive the extreme void of space, had been seeded amongst the early planetary bodies. However, Kichu had poured over the calculations himself and the odds of an intelligent life form being able to survive and evolve were infinitesimal. Despite that he sometimes chose to ignore the odds, to instead follow the simulation to its most positive outcome. Where life not only thrived but had evolved intelligent beings that even resembled him. Yet this was not one of those times. Even if by some miracle other intelligent life did exist, it was little comfort to his people who were living out their last remaining hours already encased inside their own tomb.

Kichu chose to spend his final hours hooked up to the central computer. Becoming fully immersed within the virtual history lessons he had been taught as a child. Even though it had been hundreds of years ago he still remembered the lessons with great fondness. As a voice narrated, Kichu watched the universe come into being, as the first stars burst into light following the big bang and their home planet formed. What Kichu loved more than anything else was the feeling that he was floating in space as he watched. That he was out in the open, free to go anywhere, to do anything. As he watched his ancestors come close to extinction and begin constructing their greatest ever achievement, he pleaded that they would stop. Don’t do it, he begged. He cried as they journeyed into a barred spiral galaxy, into a newly born system that had enough gas and dust to be capable of forming a new star. He felt despair as the reactor first initiated, sealing the fate of the quintillion people who would come to live and die within it. For the last time he dared to dream what lay beyond, of the possibility that a planet, even now, revolved around them. A planet that thrived with life, taking sustenance from the very same reaction that was about to be the cause of his death.

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