Short Story: Panic Button

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The first sound Hanz was aware of was that of a high-pitched siren, blaring loudly around him. Cracking his eyes, he looked around slowly. The light was blindingly bright, and for some reason his head hurt. He tried remembering what he’d done the night before, but found it impossible to concentrate over the sounding of that infernal clamor.

The sound of the siren grew louder as Hanz struggled to sit up. At last, he wrangled his way into a sitting position. Taking in his surroundings, he realized he was in a hospital tent. Every cot was filled occupied by wounded soldiers, and nurses rushing around everywhere, aiding those in pain, and trying to assure everyone was as comfortable as possible, under the circumstances.

As he watched, a soldier dressed in standard-issue Army fatigues burst through the flap of the tent, breathing heavily. He had jet-black hair, damp with perspiration, and the front of his tunic was drenched in blood. He approached the nearest nurse and grabbed her roughly by the arm, to get her attention. “You’ve got wounded coming,” he told her.

Shrugging off the haze of unconsciousness, Hanz realized that the sirens he heard were air-raid klaxons. Listening more closely, he could hear the distant rumble of explosions growing closer. Hanz could feel the floor starting to rumble, and some of the medical equipment was rattling around in the trays, littered about the tent. As he viewed the escalating pandemonium, he remembered, with sudden clarity, the events before his awakening in this hospital.

 ***

 He had been out with his squad-mates at one of the local bars, getting hammered, when the bar was hit by an RPG. Apparently, one of the local terrorist cells had decided to responds to the recent bombings of their training camps in North Dakota. “Revenge is a bitch,” Hanz had said when he’d heard the reports himself.

The first few moments after the RPG exploded were the most chaotic. Debris rained down everywhere, and smoldering fires filled the air with dense black smoke, instantly stifling anyone still on their feet—or sitting down, for that matter.

Instinct alone had thrown Hanz to the floor, and he sheltered under the remainder of the counter-top of the bar. He heard the wails of injured patrons, and cries from several of the prostitutes, shocked and saddened by the sudden destruction of their livelihoods. He checked himself for injuries, taking inventory of any aches or pains he was experiencing. He seemed to be alright, only a shallow cut on his wrist indicated any source of injury, but the bleeding had already stopped, the blood clotted in the wound.
Eventually, the debris settled, and there seemed no further threat of violence. This was apparently a hit-and-run attack. Hanz emerged from his shelter and took in his surroundings.

There were easily fifty dead, including every last one of his fellow troopers. The twelve of them had been clustered around a table near the window, where the RPG entered and exploded. The only conclusion was that they were the target of the attack. Hanz had gone to the bar to order another round of drinks when the explosion occurred. He was fortunate not to be caught in the blast.

He picked his way through the rubble, heading for the door. In the distance, he heard the sirens of ambulances, fire trucks, and the police racing to the scene.

A groaning noise above him drew his attention, where he saw that the only thing still supporting the remainder of the wooden roof was a single pole, centered on what used to be the dance floor. A quick inspection of the pole revealed a huge crack. As he watched, the support snapped in half, bringing the roof down on Hanz, and plunging him into darkness.

***

Now, as he sat in the bewildering medical tent, he felt fine, his headache being the only exception. Being the seasoned soldier he was, his sense of duty told him to fight back against the unseen enemy, and protect his homeland from these insidious terrorists, intent on taking American lives, and destroying the American way of life. Hanz threw back the sheet, preparing to swing his legs out of bed, and place his feel on the floor, when he looked down and saw—

—His legs were missing. They had been removed. They must have been amputated during the roof collapse, or afterward, if they were too damaged to function. All he saw now were two small stumps, severed slightly below his torso. It explained his difficulty sitting up; he had nothing to balance his weight, with no base to rest on. He was top-heavy.

A nearby explosion shook him back to the present moment. The sounds of fighting had grown perilously nearby. It sounded as if gunfire emanated from just outside the tent. Suddenly, there were terrorists flooding through the flap, filling the rows between cots, methodically killing each person, wounded or not. The nurses and doctors pleaded—not for their own lives, but for those of their patients.

Though the scene was terrifying and horrible, Hanz wasn’t scared. He had faced death countless times—had even experienced it twice before. In the end, he knew he’d be back. He saw each soldier in the tent press their panic button and flop back, comatose, before their murderers performed their dreaded act. The purpose of that button was two-fold: it shut down the nervous system, preventing the victim from feeling pain upon death, regardless of the method used; It also downloaded their consciousness immediately into a quantum storage device, implanted within their body, undetectable without the proper equipment and access codes. Once this battle was over, no matter the outcome, the military would round up the bodies, locate the implants, and send them off to be processed, re-integrating their consciousness and memories into another copy of their body. Hanz had five copies left, so he could afford to lose this one.

As they approached his cot, he closed his eyes, savoring the last few moments of this life. He briefly wondered what it would be like to live without the use of his legs, but dismissed it as a useless muse. Science being what it was today, he would be grown new legs, anyway.

At last, the terrorists grew close enough to his cot, and he knew that his time was up. He reached down, seeking the panic button set into his chest, secure in the knowledge that he would never know how he had been killed. He pressed the button firmly—

—And the world went dark.

© 2007 Bradley K. Brown. All rights reserved
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