Human Error: pt 2 Don’t Panic

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Amy Severson was about thirteen when she learned that the only thing more fun that reading science fiction and horror was writing it herself. Her work has been featured in various on-line magazines and one horror short story, “The Box,” was published this year in 100 Doors to Madness by Forgotten Tomb Press. Amy recently finished her first novel, a sci-fi comedy about monsters, and is trying to find an agent who loves it as much as she does.

 

Don’t Panic
A slab of plaster broke free from the ceiling and crashed to the floor behind Sarah and the Professor as another explosion rocked the building. They scrambled down the hallway, dodging falling debris and climbing over toppled furniture. The air was thick with dust, but through a broken window Sarah could see flaming boulders, some the size of Mini Coopers, falling from the sky and slamming into the south wing of the building and the surrounding campus grounds. Insanely, she found herself trying to remember if they were called meteors or meteorites once they hit the Earth. But once an impact tremor almost knocked her off her feet, all she could think about was keeping up with the Professor.
They reached the end of the hall and half fell/half ran down the emergency stairwell to the garage level. From there they felt their way through the rubble and smoke until they reached the fortified bunker that housed some of the Professor’s more sensitive experiments. After heaving the thick metal door closed, the sounds of explosions were muffled, but Sarah could still feel the vibrations through the floor and walls. Thankfully, the emergency generators had kicked in, so the lights worked, although the assault outside caused them to flicker.
“Sarah, help me with this!” The professor waved her over to a tarp-covered form in the middle of the lab.
She ran over to him and raised an eyebrow as the tarp fell away to reveal a squat, gray robot with stocky arms and legs, and a wide, rectangular head. “What does this do?” she asked him.
“It’s designed to emit ultra-sonic frequencies,” said the professor as he pushed a few buttons on the robot’s front panel. “Anything will disintegrate under the right frequency.” He turned to Sarah and grabbed her shoulder. His white hair was tinted brown with dust, making him appear years younger. “I told those bastards in D.C. that this was coming, but they didn’t listen to me.”
A particularly large meteorite–that’s what they’re called after they hit the ground, she’d remembered–must have landed nearly on top of them, because the whole lab shifted two feet to the left. Sarah was thrown against a nearby desk, which she clutched like a life raft, while watching the lights flash and bits of the ceiling rain down. “Professor?”
His head popped into view from behind the robot’s right shoulder. “I’ve got it all warmed up. All I have to do is push this red button back here and it’ll calibrate the frequency needed to blast the meteors into sand before they hit the ground.” He pushed the button and took a step back with an expectant grin.
The robot’s optical sensors glowed bright blue and a screen across its front panel flashed with indicator bars of different colors.  To Sarah, it looked like a slot machine from the future.  Then the metal beast released a squelch of feedback and fell over flat on what could be considered its face. The Professor and Sarah stood over the prone robot and watched, stunned, as its head and limbs retreated within the body like a mechanical turtle. All its lights and indicators then switched off and the machine just lay there, dark and silent.
Sarah turned to the Professor for some sort of explanation, but he only scratched his head, dust falling from his hair. She stepped closer to the robot and tried to ignore the lab trembling around her. From this new angle, she could see two words printed below a large red circle on the robot’s back: PANIC BUTTON.
Turning to the Professor, she said, “Was it supposed to take the command literally?”

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