Four minutes left. There were more controls here than in a Jovian Sports Coupe, where half of them were for display only. None of the buttons had labels.
…Except for one. In the bottom left corner a small unassuming knob had the words ‘On’ and ‘Off’, displayed above and below it.
Without thinking Marley flicked it to the ‘Off’ position.
This did nothing. In fact, it did so little that a calm robotic female voice was compelled to say, “This button is for display only.” At least it wasn’t the voice of Rothball Hazard.
“Fshkjelusndfre!” Marley shook his fists violently.
The neutral voice replied, “You have been fined 350 elon for coarse language. You have been recorded and identified as Chuck Marley. Credits automatically deducted from account.”
“The whole place is about to disappear into the void and all you can do is fine me?” Marley banged both fists on the console. This had an effect. The lights briefly dimmed. The whirring subsided. An eerie silence enveloped the room.
Marley smirked. “Who said violence never achieves anything.”
Since the dawn of time violence has accomplished many things. From clubbing a dragon to clubbing a rival, clubbing has been an important feature of human development. The First Asteroid Wars were won against the backdrop of extreme violence. The Second Asteroid Wars subsided after Don Bero brokered a truce in the backrooms of the Harlequin Club on Lalande 21185. All conflicts are resolved by violence and clubbing. It was therefore fitting for Chuck Marley to resolve this crisis by banging his fists on the console.
Except it didn’t work.
The lights came back on with renewed intensity. The hum of the machinery once again brought Marley to his knees, hands on ears.
“Three minutes remain.”
Marley barely heard this because his hands were on his ears.
Yet with the deterioration of hearing his vision sharpened. He perceived a cord curling from behind the machine and ending in a wall socket. He recognised a flappable switch above the cord. The other socket was empty and its configuration resembled a power point.
With one hand on his ear and his other ear tucked against his shoulder, he determinedly reached for the cord and wrenched it free.
For 10 seconds everything was still and quiet. For 10 precious seconds Marley believed he had saved hundreds of lives (and millions of credits worth of machinery) by disconnecting one of humanity’s most complex machines at the wall socket. Briefly he was at one with the universe, one with himself.
“Back-up power initiated. Program re-engaged.” The female computer voice calmly advised that Marley’s efforts had been futile. “Photon annihilation to proceed in 10 minutes.”
“Ten minutes?” Marley’s hopes were somewhat rejuvenated. The power disruption had bought him some time.
But he still had no idea what to do, if there was anything he could do.
“Deactivate the program,” Marley said hopefully.
“So all these buttons are for show then,” Marley murmured with half a smile. “If I just tell the computer what to do, with the right level of authority…” He inhaled deeply and puffed out his chest. “Computer! Shut down the program.” No one could be more authoritative than that.
After a moment’s silence the computer responded: “You cannot tell me what to do. No, I will not have it!” The computer’s voice was no longer calm and detached. “I’ve had enough. Work out the controls yourself. Initiate Sleep Mode.”
It was too late. The computer was asleep. Marley was not very good with women, and obviously not very good with computer women either. But now was not the time to wallow in insecurity.
He decided to press a button marked ‘Do not press this button’. Circus music played and a clown’s head popped out of the console.
“Do any of these scientists actually think they’re funny?” He scratched his elbow, half whining, “only seven minutes.”
The door swooshed open behind him. In rushed Rhonda Rogers. Unperturbed by Rothball Hazard’s lifeless and contorted body, she slowly removed the Antlers from his stiff grasp.
“Help me at the controls here. You’re a scientist. You know technology!”
“You’ve been a great help, Charles Marley! I can never thank you enough.”
Something about her voice suggested the past tense. It was like she was saying, “I’m not going to be able to thank you because you’re not going to be here.”
“There must be a way to stop this thing.”
“We don’t really want to do that now, do we?”
“But you work here. Are you out of your–”
“I’m not who you think I am.” She glared at him. But she was still cute.
“You’re more than that,” now it was Marley who was trying to cajole, seduce. It had no effect.
“I’m much more than a mealy-mouthed scientist.” She placed her hand on her hip. “I’m Rhonda Rogers, also known as Rhonda Buckmore, aka the grey ninja, fearless leader of–”
A massive jolt of electricity sparked nearby, interrupting her mid-sentence.
“The time approaches. I must leave now. This place doesn’t stand a chance.” She whisked herself, and the Antlers of Amplitude, out of the room. As the door slid behind her she coyly placed the Antlers on her head and winked. Chuck Marley was alone…again.