Wayne English lives in Coventry,
Connecticut. His work has appeared in Link-Up, Closing the Gap,
Snapshot Magazine, Emergency Magazine, and Intercom, the Magazine
of the Society for Technical Communication. Wayne has worked at
Northeast Utilities for over 25 years in Electric Distribution, Nuclear
Engineering, and Information Technology.
Dark Planet is designed and edited
by Lucy A. Snyder. If
you spot any errors, or if you have any comments, please contact her at email@example.com.
All materials copyright 1996-2000 by their
respective creators. No stories, articles, poems or images from this
webzine may be posted or published without the written consent of their
by Wayne English
The old timers said the year was 2098. Nobody
knew for certain no more. Didn't matter. It was 22:00. Time to go to work.
Ten PM for them higher ups still allowed to talk that way. I could be out
on the street now. Any earlier and I'd get beat up by the damned second
shift patrols. Never could dodge 'em all. Too damned many of 'em. Too
damned many of everybody. Everywhere crowded, crowded all the
It was bitter a cold January night. Full
moon, not a cloud in the sky, and windy. Cold, bitter cold. I'd freeze
every step of the way to the powerhouse. Us third shifter's had no bus or
train, we had not much at all. Just a tiny room, lousy food and 12, or 14
hours a day of work. Every day.
keep me mind off the cold I thought about them folks at the powerhouse.
The only one who treated me good was Ted. He treated most every body good,
good as he could, real good when he was able. And he didn't need to
neither. He was a full fledged rotating shift worker. Damn! Imagine that!
Being needed and able to work any shift, any shift at all! And working 'em
all. To talk to whoever you want, get married even. I even heard tell he
was able to have kids. Always wondered if that was true. There's only so
much a body can believe.
Any shift, any shift at all! Can you imagine that? Being so
important, knowing so much that you are in demand on any and every shift!
Only the best can claim that. And not many of them.
Like other thirds, I'd been on third shift all my life. Born to
it, they say. Got assigned to the electric power. Most of them I had come
in with was dead, or so bad hurt they couldn't work no more. Don't
remember much before the government come for me. Not much at all. Don't
know where I come from or from who. They take care of that. You don't know
nothing after they get done with you. Least ways you ain't supposed to.
Me, I remember some. Can't say to nobody just what. They would just come
and get me again. Fix me good. Maybe even end me.
remember me mom and me dad. I do. Just a little. I used to come into the
kitchen and there they'd be hugging each other, they would. Me dad telling
her how much he loved her. I'd run in an he would scoop me up like I
didn't weigh nothing, nothing at all. Then we'd all hug each other. After
the government took me, well it took some time for the memory to come
back. I remember me dad's watch and its ticking and all. He would let me
hold it when I was going to sleep. I'd hold it close. I sure do miss him
and me mom. Got me a watch almost like it, can't tell you how though.
'Cause we ain't allowed to own nothing. Ticks real good it does. Makes me
cry to hear it at night cause I miss me mom and me dad. Miss 'em awful.
Wish they never took me from them, wish I was a first or a second shifter,
wish I wasn't so damn cold 'n hungry all the time. Wish a lot I do. Wish I
had me a friend, most of all. Got to get to work. Being late ain't
allowed. Ain't nothing allowed no more.
blast of cold air froze me to the bone. Me old jacket was about used
"Hey, Bub!" Ted said, as I came in half
"Good evening, sir." I said, 'cause I saw the
other supervisor, Two Face.
"Get your gear and see me on the operations deck," Ted continued,
"The Number Four circuit is out of service, locked out at the breaker.
We'll have your high voltage switching instructions ready shortly, mostly
done I hear. That right, Mr. Face?"
"That's right," Two Face said, all polite like.
Face was a bag of vomit. He was all polite but would talk Ted
down behind his back. Ted knew it, too; we all did.
"Yes sir," I says, "Number Four sir. I'll be there directly sir."
And Ted smiles at me and nods his head knowing that I won't give Face no
cause to cut my rations again.
"Bub, see that you have your cold weather gear in good order,"
Ted said, "See the storekeeper and draw replacements for anything that's
wore out. And see to your protective gear and tools as well."
I could have kissed his feet.
The powerhouse storeroom, like everything else, weren't never
Me getting new clothes and gear burned Face
bad, though he never showed it. He hated me, hated all third shifters.
Thought we weren't fit to live. Heard him say so myself. Truth be known
Face would have loved to write me up again. If he did it would cost me two
days rations and I would be moved farther from the powerhouse. Clear to
the edge of Town. That would be bad, terrible bad. But Ted had given me
what I needed most, a direct order to get new clothes, tools, and
protective gear. And right in front of Face. There was no way Face could
have the storekeeper cheat me. Face would never take Ted on direct. Face
didn't have the guts to take on Ted, wasn't his way no how. He was a back
stabber that one. Good at it too. He didn't come by the name 'Two Face'
The number Four was an old 23,000 volt circuit and pure misery to
work on because it had underground cable, overhead wire strung on poles,
and all kinds of automatic equipment. When it went out we needed people at
the power house to see to its breaker, underground crews, linemen to
patrol the overhead, and special trained technicians who could see to the
automatics. That's why it was left for Ted. No matter what shift he was
working he got the nasty stuff, and tonight, so did I. Me, 'cause a third
getting killed didn't mean nothing. Him, 'cause he knew the equipment
inside out. Lucky for me Ted was on tonight because he made sure nobody
got hurt. Working for Two Face on the Four was something you might not do
twice. If you take my meaning.
The electric industry was not what it used to be. That's why the
circuit could be left off for a day, two, or even longer. When the circuit
failed all the customers got their lights back in the blink of an eye as
the automatics plugged them into another source of power. Some customers
complained that their computers lost data I heard tell. So what? Who gives
a damn about them and their data when you're freezing in the dark on the
third, you got an empty belly, and 23,000 volts just a few feet away.
Besides they should have switched over to fuel cells like everyone
Damn those things! Damn fuel cells! Killing
my job! What will become of me without the electric power? I was barely
surviving as it was. Why, I hear tell there are crews out west actually
taking the electric system apart. No more need of it. No customers left.
Just fuel cells. The old timers say there was a time when the electric
system was everywhere. I don't believe it though. One of 'em says he heard
from his grand daddy that they used to be poles on every street with wires
attached bringing electricity to every house. Power plants were making
power and shipping it all over the world. And workers who worked cause
they wanted to. Nah, I don't believe it for a minute. Don't believe a word
of it, who would be stupid enough to believe that? Who would want
to work here?
"Come on in, Bub." Ted said. "No one here but me."
I entered the operations deck.
"You got some better clothes, I see."
do sir. Thank you."
never forgot that night, never forgot what Ted did for me. He treated me
good for no reason.
A couple of years later I was working with
Ted again. I had come to trust him. We were alone on the operations
"Ted, can I ask you some stuff?"
"Of course you can, anything Bub, I'd never rat you
"Is there any way for me to move over to the
second shift?" I blurted this out before I knew what I was saying. I could
be disciplined terrible for even thinking this.
knew you would ask me that sooner or later," Ted said. "There is only one
way I know of, cause I did it. Didn't know that did you? That's why I look
out for you thirds the way I do. Used to be one," He said, with a sad
"It's not much of a chance," he continued.
"But it's all you'll ever get. It takes guts, you got to know the electric
system, and you got to act when the time comes. Can't plan it, got to wait
for it, then act quick. If it never happens, or comes along when you are
not working, that's that. You're a third forever. Want to hear
I nodded, eyes wide, heart pounding.
"What I did was catch a supervisor about to make a
mistake. If we did what he wanted to do we would have cooked one of our
23,000 volt power transformers and killed some people."
"So the story is true?" I said.
"It's true." He said grimly. "It's true. I was on the operations
deck and the supervisor on duty was about to energize the substation
23,000 volt bus while grounds were being removed. He would have killed the
grounding crew. I jumped in, almost had to fight with the man. Right in
front of management, I didn't care, I wouldn't let him kill those people.
He got reassigned. I got promoted. The rest is history. And as a result
every supervisor in the company just can't wait to flush me down a rat
hole. Why do you think I have the reputation I do? One mistake and I'm
back on the third. Your friend, Mr. Face, you call him 'Two Face,' I
believe, is just waiting for me to make a mistake. He's got a long wait, I
do not make mistakes. And neither do you. If you did you would never have
lived this long. I've watched you run your crews. No body gets hurt when
you're on duty."
"Well, that's the only way I know." Ted said finally. "It's not
pretty, but that's how it lays out. Question is, do you have the guts to
take on supervision? You got to seize your chance with both hands. It's
all or nothing. You know the rules."
didn't say anything. My mouth was dry and my head hurt. It hurt a lot.
Just having this conversation was a violation of every rule, every
regulation, everything. It was punishable. Punishable! And yet Ted was
trusting me. Trusting me with his life.
"You need a couple of things to come together," I heard Ted say. "First,
you got to catch a supervisor in a mistake. Second, you need to have a
manager on deck or the situation must be so serious that you know a
manager will find out the truth. That means that some big piece of
equipment, or a lot of customers, or, better yet, a real important
customer has got to be involved so management will notice. That's
"That's it? That's it? I could be
disciplined, starved, killed even." I blurted. My eyes were bugging out of
"You want off the third or not? I never said it was easy. Takes
guts, technical savvy, and luck. Especially luck."
Later, in my cold little room, I watched some well fed fat man on
my favorite television show, "Government Knows Best," tell me how lucky we
were to live in our three shift society. I was wondering if he ever worked
23,000 volts in the freezing cold. And I knew. Knew I had to try. What did
I have to loose? I was smart enough to know no one retired from this sort
of life. Starting today I would watch, learn, and wait. I would find a
reason, any reason, to visit the operations deck every day. I needed to
know more, much more. If I could get access to the tech manuals I could
learn a lot fast. And the manuals were on the operations deck.
I now looked on me work with Ted differently. He never
did nothing wrong. So I would watch him, learn from him, and learn the
electric equipment. All of it. Not only the stuff I worked on but the
entire system, even the automatic stuff.
Over the next couple years Ted taught me plenty and not just the
technical stuff neither, but about management and the other supervisors
too. We even talked about personal things too. He even told me what
marriage was. I couldn't imagine living with a woman. Why, what would I
say to her? Me being so shy and all. The notion of having someone to talk
to was real nice though. I'd be real gentle with her like daddy was with
momma. I'd hug her every morning in the kitchen. Every morning, I would.
And wild flowers, why I'd bring 'em fresh every day, would pick 'em
myself. I would, honest. Ted didn't have any kids. The government
sterilized him when he was ten. Same as me.
learned, watched, and waited.
What else could I do?
One day I thought I had my chance. Two Face was on the operations
deck with Mr. Price, the company president, and Ted. I was looking for a
technical manual for some new automatic equipment and listening to every
word they said. Face was running his mouth and Ted and I both knew it. All
I had to do was speak up. Ted was real quiet leaving me an opening, but he
wouldn't let this go much longer. Now I knew what Ted meant when he said
it takes guts to go against management.
"No, Mr. Price, turning off those two big power transformers
won't save the company a cent. I wish it would." Face said, not knowing
"Pardon me, Mr. Price," I said. "But that ain't quite true. Mr.
Price, I'm Bub. Turning off two of the three transformers will save the
company money. And quite a bit. You see sir, these transformers are among
the largest we got and the excitation current used while they're working
could be saved, with a saving of money. These transformers are big sir.
I'd say you could save 3000 dollars a month for each transformer, sir.
That's a lot of money at the end of the year, sir."
"Is this true, Mr. Face?" Price asked, dollar signs in his
Now it was Ted's turn.
"Absolutely Mr. Price" Ted said, not giving Two Face a chance to
answer. "If you like I'll have Bub make some calculations. We can have
some accurate numbers for you by the end of the week."
"Excellent, Ted. Yes by all means make your calculations and give
me a written report." Price said, "And thank you Bub, I appreciate your
input. Keep up the good work." "You are very welcome sir, I'm right
pleased to help out." I said, with a smile.
Yes sir, Mr. Price you are very welcome, ain't every day I get to
make Two Face look stupid and make points with management.
We made our report. Ted got a real nice letter, and
me, I got nothing. What a surprise. I was still on the third, walking five
miles twice a day, and eating lousy food. Price, well I hear he made out
just fine. What a surprise.
Things went back to normal. The only good thing was that Face
stopped hounding me 'cause he had a new job. He got to calculate when to
turn off and on the 23,000 volt power transformers. It left him no time to
bother us thirds. And best of all his calculations had to be right 'cause
the billing department was watching. So Face left us alone. If he screwed
up he would be working third and he damn well knew it.
My chance would come later and Mr. Price known' me would
One night we lost the Four circuit supplying
23,000 volts to our biggest industrial customers. The automatics did not
work as they should have and our customers were totally out of power. I
mean totally. This had not happened in a long, long time. This was bad,
bad, incredibly bad. 'Cause when the power went out they were machining a
casting for a space station. A space station! And it was ruined. Ruined!
If that weren't bad enough they also lost power to a glass making furnace
that was curing the heat shield to some top secret government thing or
such. Them customers and the government was screaming mad. Which had all
our executives, especially Mr. Price, very, very, scared. Fuel cell
salesmen was climbing all over our customers. And for the first time our
customers was listening. If this wasn't bad enough Two Face was right in
the middle of it. Ted was not on the operations deck. Where was he? This
all happened just about 10 minutes before I walked in the door from what
my crews told me on the way to the operations deck.
Two Face was talking to Price. "This is the circuit we lost,"
Face was saying, as he pointed to the Four on the big wall map. "As you
can see it feeds the industrial section of Town."
Face was only here now cause he took the shift to cover for a
friend. Couldn't have happened to a nicer guy. I was only sorry that Ted
was his relief. Ted could handle this. Two Face knew this and was anxious
for Ted to show up. He was killing time, running his mouth and not getting
Yep, Two Face wanted to dump this on Ted so bad he could taste
"Yes, yes, but why did the automatics fail?"
Price asked, totally incredulous. "There must be a reason. Any chance this
can be traced back to us? Did we do something, anything, to cause this?"
He sounded scared. If this was our fault it could cost us our remaining
big customers and that would be the end of us as a producer of electric
power. Or, we would be forced to pay for their losses and that would be
the end of us. Then Price and all his first and second shift buddies, and
us thirds too, would have No Productive Work, and we all knew what the
government did to folks who had No Productive Work to do. We would all be
relocated as NPWs and nobody ever heard from nobody that ever got
relocated as an NPW. So Mr. Price was sweating plenty. 'Cause he weren't
hearing no way out.
"Well, this section of underground cable is old and engineering
refuses to replace it. They keep saying they're gonna eliminate the entire
circuit and don't want to spend the money to upgrade it. They been saying
that for years Mr. Price. It's energized at 23,000 volts and the
insulation weakens and finally fails. When the insulation fails the
circuit's protective equipment kills the power, else the failed cable
would destroy itself. As to the reason for the outage, we just don't know
where the fault is or what caused it." Face said, evading the question of
Face knew that talking to Price meant that he was not doing his
job. Operations was responsible for coordinating the overhead patrol,
getting the storeroom informed, moving the underground crews, and getting
the special trained folks into the field. When the operations deck don't
do its job, no one else does theirs. Operations makes the decisions,
directs the crews, coordinates everything. And right now everybody was
waiting for orders. Two Face kept talking and talking, but getting nothing
done. Where was Ted anyway? It was not like him to be late. It was not
allowed. No matter who you were. I kept my mouth shut and stood out of the
way. This was a bad situation rapidly getting worse and I wanted no part
Face was looking real nervous. The thought of
customers totally out of power power scared him plenty. The pressure was
tremendous and soon, real soon now, even that twit Price would realize
that his precious Mr. Face was not doing the job. I figured that Face had
a few more minutes before Price caught on. That's when Ted walked in. He
didn't look real good. I figured it was the pressure.
"What have we got, Mr. Face?" Ted got right to the point. He
could see we were in trouble and that nothing was being done.
"Four's locked out," Face said, "automatics failed,
the entire circuit is dead, customers totally out. We have not begun work
yet, of course, and don't know where the trouble is."
"OK, have you started an overhead patrol?" Ted asked.
"No, not yet." Face said, because it never occurred to
"Get that started." Ted said.
"Bub, is your underground crew ready?"
"Yes sir." I said. We was always ready. Didn't have no
choice. Ted knew that. What was he up to?
"OK, put on your grounds and then energize the cable."
"What!? We can't do that. You could kill somebody and
maybe destroy something. You don't mean that, Ted." I insisted, not
believing my ears.
"Do what you are told you damn third shift trash! Do it now!" Ted
"No sir, I won't. What's wrong with you Ted?"
I insisted, my blood turning to ice.
What was going on here? The best supervisor in the company giving
"What's the trouble here?" Price demanded.
"Ted is mistaken sir, he's telling' me to do stuff that's just
plain wrong. Wrong Mr. Price, and I won't do it. We could kill people and
wreck more equipment." I said, none to softly. I thought my heart was
going to blow right out of my chest. I had just refused a direct order. I
could be disciplined for that.
"Face is that right?" Priced demanded.
"Ugh... Ugh... yes, yes. It is sir." Face stammered, knowing he
would have to take over now.
"Face, you're in charge, Ted you're relieved. Please leave
quietly." Price said.
"Mr. Price, Bub here knows the underground let him help me
"Are you crazy? You want a third shifter to help you? You! A
fully qualified rotating shift supervisor?" Price said, with a look of
horror in his eyes.
"It's not that sir, Bub's a good man, third shifter or not. In
this situation he can do us more good here running the underground crews.
You do want the power back on don't you? Or would you rather we become
thirds shifters as well?"
Having Face state his worst fear shook Price to the bone. Having
me work with Face was nothing compared to Price losing his first shift
"Bub, you now work for Mr. Face." Price said with fear in his
voice now knowing Face couldn't cut it alone.
"OK, sir." I said, "Mr. Face, how about I get going on the
underground while you organize the overhead crews."
"Do it." Face said.
that's how it went. The overhead crews found the trouble right quick. A
tree limb came down on some 23,000 volt overhead wire shorting out the
circuit and causing the breaker to open. The crew removed the limb and
notified Face. Then Face had the breaker closed our customers had power
After the power was restored Face did not
need me so I checked the automatics to find out why they failed to work
right. The automatics had been sabotaged. They had, and that's for sure. I
found 'em turned off. That's right, intentionally disabled. There ain't
but a handful of people that could do that, you know. Those controls ain't
exactly simple. I turned 'em back on.
The next day we had a big meeting. My report was that the
automatics were found in perfect operating order, all switches on, with
the appearance of full functionality, as the engineers would say. I
recommended to management, and the engineers, that the controllers should
be changed out and tested. Nobody said anything different or even
questioned me. Everybody was off the hook.
Ted did not show up for work the next day so I went to see him at
"So you made the second shift," Ted said, as he invited me in. He
"Yeah. Why did you do it Ted? You know what they could do to
"We never had this conversation, Bub, if one
word gets out I'll call you a liar. Right to your face if need
"There's no need to talk to me like that Ted.
I'd never rat you out."
"Bub, Price is so happy he doesn't care what happened. And Face?
You saved his hide. Everything you needed was in place. A serious problem,
management, and you risked nothing. Face asked for your help and the
president of the company authorized it."
"But ..." I started to say.
"I'm dying Bub." Ted said, his back to me, pouring straight
whiskey. "My heart; nothing they can do. I've got a few weeks, maybe a
All I heard was that my friend, my only
friend, was dying. And in those words was the answer to my question. Ted
did it for me. To leave me better off after he was gone because he would
not be able to help me any more. Would not be able to protect me from the
likes of Face.
"So you're a second shifter; better food, a warm place to live,
maybe even a girl friend." Ted said, turning with the drinks.
Seeing the look on my face, the drinks forgotten, he
put his hand on my shoulder, saying, "It's OK, Bub. It's OK."