Throwback Thursday!

Fracture 400
Xavier Soto knew something as wrong with the jack screws but he couldn’t get anyone to believe him. After a plane crashed and his supervisor fails to take Xavier’s concerns seriously, he flies to Ireland to talk to an investigator.

Brent Clery didn’t believe his caller right away. But upon further investigation he decides to look into Xavier’s concerns. When they uncover a conspiracy to hide the truth about the crash, they have to pool their skills to find out what happened.

Death stalks their investigation and if they’re not careful they’ll be the next ones to die.

Xavier Soto examined the material report. He ran the numbers again, but they still didn’t make sense. Damn it, what was he missing? No way would this make it all the way to testing if there were the major flaws Xavier was seeing. The other engineers would’ve caught it before then.

The jack screw material report had to be wrong; that was the only explanation. Otherwise, the numbers just didn’t add up. No way could the wing take that much pressure if the screws were weak. He tapped his pencil against the desk as he examined them for the tenth time. Maybe he’d messed up the calculations, or read it wrong? For the next hour, Xavier pulled up more documentation, searching desperately to find supporting facts to show he’d made an error.

His boss had given him the reports as practice. He wanted Xavier to understand how the company projects flowed from start to finish. As a junior engineer, Xavier still had a lot to learn, but he could run calculations like the best of them and these weren’t good no matter how he examined them. Doubts surfaced, cluttering his confidence like leaves on a pond and coating his conviction with a layer of debris.

“What the fuck am I supposed to do?” He clenched his fist around the pencil in his hand and heard it snap. Xavier groaned. Frustrated, he tossed both wooden halves. His listless gaze followed their bouncing progress as they ended up falling into the crevice between the desk and the wall.

He’d pick them up later, or the janitor would. Right then, he didn’t care which. His mother would’ve smacked him in the back of the head about then. She’d worked her fingers to the bone, cleaning homes and offices while raising her four children. To see Xavier tossing things on the floor would’ve gotten her Mexican temper up.

Sighing, Xavier leaned under the desk to fetch the broken pieces.

“Problem, Xavier?”

Xavier jerked. The back of his head smacked against the bottom of his desk. He bit back a curse. His manager might not know Spanish, but he could probably figure it out by Xavier’s tone.

Stay professional. He used that mantra whenever he had to deal with frustrations at work. Especially when the senior engineers discounted his ideas, like they were the formations of a dimwitted child and not the researched concepts of a well-educated man. Xavier had been first in his class when he graduated from college, which was why Helling Aeronatics had recruited him. Sadly, once they snatched him up from any other potential employers and moved him to England, they treated him like every other junior engineer who didn’t know the difference between a bolt and his asshole.

Xavier cleared his throat. “I dropped my pencil.”

Abandoning the search for the time being, he slid back into his chair, then spun to face his boss.

Frank Mann examined Xavier with a clear, intelligent gaze. “Having problems understanding the plans?” He settled on the corner of Xavier’s desk, eyeing him with a concerned expression. “You know I’m always happy to answer any questions. That’s why you’re here. To learn from the more experienced.”

Xavier nodded. He did know that. Even if the others treated him as that know-it-all American, Mann always treated him with respect. It didn’t help that sometimes Xavier found problems with the senior engineers’ work and wasn’t shy about pointing them out. Except now he had Mann bring them up in meetings after one engineer tried to strangle Xavier. If the idiot had put as much passion into his work as he did in trying to wrap his hands around Xavier’s throat, he’d be a better engineer.

Xavier sighed and lifted a corner of the paper. “This materials report you told me to look over. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong, but I keep coming up with the wrong figure for the jack screws. If this is right, then the metal we’re using isn’t strong enough to take the pressure during flight, and there isn’t enough grease being recommended for maintenance.”

According to his numbers, they should’ve been greasing about twice as often as listed and the metal didn’t have the proper strength to handle the wind forces it could possibly encounter during a bad storm.

Frank leaned over Xavier’s shoulder to follow where he pointed. He clapped Xavier on the back. “I see what you’re saying, but it’ll be fine, kid. They’re using a new kind of grease. There must be an updated report I didn’t download, just skip that part for now. The new stuff doesn’t need as much application because it stays on the metal longer.”

Relief swept through Xavier almost making him giddy. At least one problem had been address. “Okay, that makes sense. What about the jack screw material? Did they change that too? The stuff they’re using here; it’s not going to withstand all of the possible pressure.” He clicked over to show the numbers he’d reached. In every model he’d run, the screws broke when they reached high stress levels within the design parameter of a flight. If the jack screws broke, the pilot would lose control of the flaps and the plane could spiral out of control.

“See that’s where you went wrong. Those conditions will never exist in real life. You’ve applied too much pressure in your model.” He patted Xavier’s shoulder. “Don’t worry. With a little more experience, you’ll get to know all the tricks.”

Mann’s confidence swept away some of Xavier’s concerns, but a niggling sense of unease prodded him to continue. “I know you have a lot more experience and I don’t mean to keep contradicting you, but if there is a strong storm with high winds, these conditions could be met.” Despite Mann’s statement, Xavier had seen winds reach that velocity before. Besides, all parts should far exceed any possible incident, not scrape by. Mann had told him that last week.

“Don’t worry so much. All the tests and safety inspections for them came back just fine. You don’t need to worry.”

He must not have appeared convinced because Mann continued. “Tell you what. I’ll log your concerns into the report, and we’ll see what manufacturing says. I’ll let you know what they come back with. Sound good?”

Xavier nodded, but his gaze was drawn back to his numbers. To assume one set of variables would never happen was bad engineering. How had they passed the safety inspection? He bit his lip. Asking questions for clarification was one thing, challenging his boss another. He liked his job. He planned to keep it. “Also could you make sure they are using the right grease?”

Dangerously close to questioning his boss’s competence, Xavier tried to keep his tone as respectful as possible.

“Yes, Xavier. I’ll double check on the grease, but I’m telling you it’s fine.” Mann flipped through the pages Xavier had referred to, then stopped midway through to point out a piece of data. “See. Right there it says the jack screws did fine in testing. I appreciate you being thorough and double checking everything, but in this case, you can let it go.”

“If you say so.” Mann had decades more experience. If he said everything would be fine, it would have to be, wouldn’t it? Doubt trickled through Xavier’s head. Despite the numbers, he didn’t trust the report. Something seemed off. A niggling worry kept poking at him. His grandmother would call it the family foresight, but she probably should’ve been put in a nursing home years ago.

“You’ll learn more of the ins and outs of manufacturing when you get further experience. If there were truly an issue, I would let you know. I am glad to see you’re noticing all the details involved. Good eye.” Xavier ignored his boss’s patronizing tone and focused on his words.

“Why does it matter if it’s not a real issue?” He couldn’t help the sullen tone in his voice.

Mann grinned. “If you’re pointing out errors, it proves you’re paying attention, and I can trust you to catch the smallest detail. Good work.”

“Thank you, sir.” He tried to keep resentment out of his voice. His boss might smile often, but something in his eyes told Xavier not to push him too far.

“Now let this go and focus on the report I gave you yesterday to check over.”

Xavier nodded. “I’ll get right on that.”

Relief flashed across Mann’s face. Maybe he thought Xavier would continue to beat the issue to death. “I’ll check on you later and see how you’re doing. It might be time to get you on board with one of those new contracts we’re getting in.”

“Thank you, sir.” The company had recently signed an agreement with several airlines to manufacture new planes. With new orders came new customization. Xavier kept his eyes down, not wanting Mann to see his expression. He regretted bringing the matter up with Frank because, no matter what his boss said, it still struck Xavier as wrong. No matter how he looked at them, the numbers still didn’t add up.

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