Texas Authors 1st Place Award

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Excerpt from The Second Law

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A high-pressure alarm on a nearby pump blared, sounding like the earlier one.

Lynn looked around for what might have triggered the alarm. False again? Shirley’s right. Easy to stop reacting to alarms when they’re so frequent.

Zhang shook his head and pointed to the concrete building they’d just left.

Lynn shouted over the alarm. “Back to the control room, everyone. Let’s move!”

Zhang led, followed by the others.

Shirley hung back, looking for anyone who might be lingering.

Lynn yelled as the alarm kept wailing, “Shirley, you can’t save anyone else if you don’t save yourself.

C’mon!”

The air above her head felt cooler, then warmer, as she ran through shadow stripes from pipe racks five feet over her head.

They heard a distant explosion, as if a vessel or pump had ruptured. Her stomach dropped. She knew all the normal rumbles and rushing sounds a refinery made. This wasn’t one. A split-open vessel meant the worst kind of trouble.

“Run!” Shirley shouted.

“You, too!” Lynn replied, waving Shirley forward.

Although they wouldn’t be able to see any invisible hydrocarbon gases, leakages could explode once they crossed an ignition source, or even just heat from an engine exhaust.

Lynn looked back and caught a whiff of rotten eggs. Hydrogen sulfide! This could be as bad as the Centennial accident. Over a year ago, finding the cause for a gas leak that had killed four people led her to an international plot to sabotage Houston refineries.

The shaft of a big gray pump nearby whined as the pump spun out of control. Its bearing housing started to knock so hard the pump shook. Bolts loosened on the casing as the pump increased rotation speed. Finally, the automatic shutoff triggered.

But the pump’s silence didn’t mean safety. She knew extra friction from the pump grinding out of alignment had caused its metallic parts to overheat well above their already-hot temperature of three hundred and fifty degrees. Despite its safety design the pump’s cooling fins might not dissipate the heat fast enough. Forty yards behind her, Shirley grabbed the shirts of two men who seemed to think they were hearing another false alarm.

They’re too close to that overheated pump! “Run!” Lynn shouted.

I enjoyed reading this exciting story and was fully involved in the build-up to the final conclusion.”--John Buissink


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