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Science Fiction Suspense Funny

A black and blue-striped muscle car sped down the city’s main, six-lane boulevard, red and blue lights flashing, horn blaring along the nearly deserted highway. The lights reflected off the top of the city dome in the late morning light. The bold white letters on the sides of the car glistened in the early morning light – New Anchorage Police Department. 

New Anchorage, the proverbial shining city on a hill of five and a half million residents, was situated in Palmer Land of the Antarctic Peninsula, on the far side of Angle Peak near the Weddell Sea. As an American initiative much of the place was overseen by the United States government but to help with the funding the project was opened to any well-meaning nation or group capable of funding their own way. This, along with the location, also help prevent the utter mediocrity of the U.S. bureaucracy from hindering development. 

The New Anchorage project was an attempt to build a self-sustaining city based on integrated infrastructure monitored and controlled by an advanced, centralized supercomputer. Utilities, power, garbage disposal, and even small things like the preferred intensity of lighting in an individual’s abode was monitored by the computer. All of this powered by three state-of-the-art fusion plants buried deep in the glacier. 

The dome was just a necessity of the location, but also opened partnerships with the European and Chinese space agencies as well as NASA. A massive undertaking of the better part of a century and truly a wonder of the world, the final testing of the supercomputer finished last night and went live at midnight. Then all hell broke loose. 

The police cruiser turned off the city-bisecting highway hard and drifted onto the side street before rapidly accelerating again. Three massive transport trucks carrying citizens and supplies raced past heading for one of the dome’s exits as the cruiser made one more hard turn, swerving around discarded luggage and personal items before screeching to a halt next to a barricade of identical vehicles and command trucks jamming the air with ten antennas apiece. 

Agents Kraus and Foster of the New Anchorage Counter Terrorism and Insurgency Task Force stepped out, removing their sunglasses. The wailing of sirens and klaxons throughout the city assaulted their ears for the millionth time as they looked for the Chief of Police, Chief Diaz. They spotted each other simultaneously. The two agents moved to the main command vehicle as the Chief signaled an assistant over. 

“Got word from Task Force Paris. I’m assuming you found no different?” asked the Chief. 

Kraus took a cup of coffee from the assistant before answering, “Exactly. Every substation locked tight, zero tampering and nothing amiss.”

“Just like the air purification plant, water reserve, hydroponics, temperature hub, and power plant,” Foster injected before polishing off her bottle of water in two gulps. 

Kraus did the same to the coffee, “Are the dignitaries evacuated yet?”

Diaz huffed, “let me worry about ‘el Presidente’ and the congressional bigwigs.”

“Sir, if this is a meltdown they need to leave now,” stated Foster.

“Plenty of time left, besides evac is taking longer than anticipated. Less than half the populace made it out so far and the protection detail wants the dignitary aircraft waiting outside rather than the opposite.”

“That’s still dicey,” Kraus sighed.

“We have them safely tucked away in our building. I’ll drag them to the ice sheet myself if I must,” Diaz paused to survey the scene, then addressed the duo, “Baccay is confident it’s a system issue, but we still can’t rule out bad actors. I need you two to escort him to the Nexus interior. Task Force Iowa will back you up but only as far as the main lift.”

Kraus drained another cup of coffee and spat, “Alrighty. Foster, go grab the programmer, I’ll chat with Iowa.”

The three gave each other curt nods and went about their tasks, Foster running off into the mass of police and agents, the Chief picking up a radio and issuing orders. Kraus found the seven members of Task Force Iowa shortly after. Dressed in tactical regalia with all sorts of equipment hanging off them they were easy enough to spot. Kraus had worked with them before and in no time, they had a plan for entering the Nexus. 

The tactical team moved out and headed for the four-door wide entrance to the supercomputer’s building. Foster found him not long after the task force moved out, a beleaguered man in an orange and white jumpsuit with triple bags under his eyes following behind. 

“How’s it looking Baccay?” Kraus addressed the newcomer. 

“I’m still searching,” Baccay trailed off, staring a thousand yards away. He was a younger man, mid-twenties, from Manila, though the past ten hours aged him a few decades. His usually neat hair was a crazed nest sticking out under his helmet, plastered with sweat. Baccay was one of the lead programmers of the supercomputer and specifically worked on the power and energy portion of the project, which meant he was the main lead going through the entire code to find out what was causing the fusion reactors to meltdown. 

Kraus nodded gently but said firmly, “Baccay, based on your estimate we have about an hour,” he paused for the other man to refocus on the here and now, “you, need, to find the reason for all these master caution alarms.”

The programming engineer nodded slowly. Ten hours ago, as soon as the supercomputer went live, every alarm in the city started shrieking. The only lead was “Master Caution, General” on every access terminal. The symptoms pointed to a fusion reactor going critical. The thing was, no additional information could be found and nothing in the systems or the accessible physical infrastructure displayed tampering or damage. 

The whole of the city’s emergency services was scrambling to find the issue before the city became an irradiated crater in the glacier. 

Foster nudged Baccay, who started at the touch, “I’m…I’” Baccay swallowed, “there’s over eight billion lines of code…”

When he didn’t speak again Foster simply encouraged him to keep trying. Kraus grunted in agreement and filled them in on the plan. Baccay tightened his two-armed grip on a laptop he held like a life preserver in a raging storm. Not long after Task Force Iowa radioed the all clear message.

* * *

The trio now moved thought the chrome and light blue interior of the Nexus, the building that housed the supercomputer mainframe and the connection point for every service and utility in the city. Earlier the entire place had been headquarters central, but when a klaxon was mistaken for a chemical attack warning, the place was evacuated. The decontamination team cleared the building but with all available bodies spread thin with outstations and evacuation support it took quite a bit of time to prep a team to physically securing the building. Precious time they needed and didn’t have.  

Kraus practically sprinted for the elevator to the machine’s control room. Foster followed close behind, practically dragging Baccay behind her. The leader of Task Force Iowa held the elevator door open for them. The briefest of exchanges occurred and the lift was descending. 

The doors opened to an empty room of alarms screaming for attention. When the agents were satisfied the room was safe, they holstered their weapons and brought Baccay to the main console. 

“I can search faster plugged in here,” he tried jamming a USB cord into the console’s port and after the third failed attempt turned the end upside down and finally seated it. 

Foster sat at a second station and started navigating through its command prompt, “I’m no engineer but software and programming forensics was my secondary track at the academy. I’ll help with what I can.”  

Baccay uttered a sound that was half thanks and half sob, “Agent Kraus, please stand by the ejection station,” he pointed at the far wall where several switches were positioned at chest height under multiple “how to” and “in case of emergency” signage.

“What do I need to do?” he asked.

Baccay swallowed hard, “the third from the left, it activates the shunt to dump the cores into the ocean. That’s the only part that’s manual and if I say pull it, you pull it.”

Kraus moved over to the identified switch and waited, silently praying. 

Every second felt like an eternity, and if Baccay’s estimate was accurate, they had just one hour before the meltdown was irreversible. Foster and Baccay worked quick, sharing information in short, clipped statements. 

“I don’t get it, I just don’t get it!” stammered Baccay.

The two agents asked him what’s wrong in unison. 

“The heat index in the core is well within tolerance. In fact every readout says we’re at max efficiency but the coolant pumps keep upping the pressure.”

“Maybe the sensors were damaged,” suggested Foster. 

Baccay shrugged, his hands pressing against his temples. 

Kraus was about to direct him to keep working when a shrill, soul shuddering klaxon cut through the room. At the same time their radios blared to life with Diaz saying time was up and they needed to leave. A low rumble that gradually increased in intensity shook chairs and rattled windows. Lights flickers ominously as pipes along the ceiling and walls creaked and groaned in protest.

“Oh geez. Oh geez. Coolant pressure just spiked! We’re going to die!” Baccay screamed.

“If dump the cores will we be safe?” shouted Kraus.

“I don’t know!”

“Keep it together. How long do we have to get clear,” yelled Kraus over the sirens. 

“Not enough…” cried Baccay as he manically typed commands intro his computer. 

Kraus turned and grabbed the switch. He hesitated. The shunt shaft lead to the sea but the evacuation route went that way as well. If he pulled it now, they would lose power and their escape route from the city may be destroyed. Not to mention those already on the way to the emergency shelters would be directly impacted. Most of the citizenry was still stuck in the dome though.

However, if he waited any longer the cores would meltdown under the city causing fires and sympathetic explosions plus radiation exposure. Unpleasant but most of the city was already moved to evacuation points. Leaving the cores where they were would allow the mass evacuation to continue and the fires, more than likely, would spread slowly when the air circulation system shut down.

Kraus slowly, reluctantly, lowered his hands and turned to the other two.

“We’re not going to make it, this is it isn’t it,” stated Foster. She stood from the computer and stared at the mainframe, her gaze pained and lost. Baccay continued to feverishly hammer the keys on his station. 

Kraus looked at Foster, then Baccay, then turned back to the wailing central chamber, “I’m sorry…”

The alarms faded to the background as he thought of his family and if they had made it out of the city in time when Baccay screamed like he won the lottery. 

“I FOUND THE CODE!” 

The two agents looked at the programmer sharply, holding their breath. 

Baccay’s face shifted from panicked excitement to utter confusion, “wait, what – waste treatment–” 

* * *

Any additional musings or information was lost in an ungodly explosion of horror and madness as every valve and outlet city wide opened in an emergency purge of wastewater, sewage, and decades old excrement from every septic, purification, and composting tank available. The city’s power plant wasn’t overloading and about to exploded like the computer believed, no it was just fine. In fact, just about everything was working as intended except for the 7G Wi-Fi running at 4G, just because, and Macdaniel's Bar and Grill auto fry cook since the owner ignored the installation instructions and just plugged wires where they “looked good”. 

No, the reactors were fine. But, as a single line of code, out of eight billion and some, had one decimal two spaces away from the correct position, the mainframe misread several inputs believing the sewage system was the powerplant coolant system and the coolant system was the sewage treatment system. The confused inputs led to a surge in coolant to the power plant, but the surge occurred in the wrong pipes and systems. Instead of pumping more coolant into the fusion cores, the sewage system underwent extreme pressurization. 

As the reactors’ temperature remained steady, in other words normal, the system reacted as if the surge was ineffective and continued increasing pressure in the incorrect system. Finally, the continued failure triggered the final countermeasure. The computer would flush the coolant systems and dump the cores into the near freezing ocean. Unfortunately, the wrong system was dumped. Baccay corrected this error after retching for the eight time and the emergency lights and sirens finally cut out.

The trio walked out of the mainframe hub station back into the domed city. The time of day was around noon, but the amount of daylight was more appropriate for dusk. The sunlight that could make it through was tinged a yellow-brown and faded into the once pristine city scape now colored with odd streaks and blotches of yellow-brown and black matter. Kraus would have emptied his stomach again at the sight of it all but was pretty sure he had nothing left at this point. 

The three stood in shocked silence, taking in a scene that would never come close to anyone’s worst nightmares. The President and the group of congressional dignitaries shuffled out of the police headquarters building, moving as if in a daze. A few on the protection detail seemed unaffected, however. That oddity was lost to all, though, considering current events. 

Kraus looked for the police chief and finally spotted a grayish brown blob with its head in its hands, sitting on what looked like a park bench, a muck covered police cap discarded on the ground nearby. He thought about moving over to the chief but decided to hell with it considering it had literally hit the fan. And the walls. And the ceiling. Anyway, not much he could do anymore. 

After ten hours of blaring sirens and announcements the silence was nice, and things really couldn’t get much worse. With a shaky hand he pulled out a pack of cigarettes, letting gravity open the top flap, careful to avoid touching the tops with anything but his lips, and lifted one out. He crushed the pack and tossed it away, as he carefully lit the cigarette. Foster turned and spoke for the first time since… since this. 

“You know, I keep telling you, those things will kill you,” she droned halfheartedly. 

Kraus turned his head to look at her, found her emerald eyes, and watched, along with Baccay, as a large chunky blob of unidentifiable matter half slid half rolled down her cheek, along her jaw, dropped then bounced off her coat lapel to finally fall to the ground with an audible plop. 

Kraus looked away, back to what was now the butt of the worst joke in the world and inhaled deeply on the cigarette before slowly releasing the smoke. 

“What a load of crap” he muttered. 

February 07, 2023 23:15

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5 comments

Tamarin Butcher
17:54 Feb 16, 2023

Lol! I loved this, very funny! I'm going to share it with my coder husband, I'll be able to hear his laughter across the city!

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Shane Murray
18:47 Feb 16, 2023

Thank you, glad you enjoyed it! Tech is great when it works but when it doesn't...those can be rough days. Hope your husband gets a good laugh!

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Wendy Kaminski
15:17 Feb 12, 2023

Hilarious, Shane! Really excellent action in this, good tech coverage, loved the concept of a domed planned city... "then Baccay corrected this error after retching for the eight time". LOL! I can only conclude that decimals cause vomiting. Science!! :D Great story, and welcome to Reedsy!

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Shane Murray
17:23 Feb 12, 2023

Thanks for the welcome and thank you so much for the feedback! I'm glad you enjoyed the story. I had just read yours the night before and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Most of the comments covered it already but I really enjoy the humor that takes mundane to the extreme. Also, a big history nerd and I enjoyed learning about Oregon's stranger history.

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Wendy Kaminski
17:25 Feb 12, 2023

Thank you! :)

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We made a writing app for you

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