A flash of lightning illuminated the basement through the windows, bringing light to many of the dark shadows for a few moments. He rubbed his hands together, his assistant nervously counting the seconds, before a distant rumble grew louder, rattling the windows.
“It’s almost time,” he said.
His hands crawled up the white bed sheet, two fingers on each hand finally finding the top edge. Pinching, he waited.
Another flash of lighting. Another clap of thunder.
“Are you sure this is such a good idea?” His assistant pushed his glasses up. “I mean…” The assistant’s eyes glanced towards the staircase.
He merely waived his hand, and his assistant’s concern faded.
Placing his hand back on the white bed sheet, he ripped the sheet off cleanly. There, on the laboratory table, lay a silver robot, its arms and legs still, its various buttons and access pads dark.
He rushed to the wall adjacent to the table, flipping on switches and pushing buttons, on the various computers and monitors on the wall. Monitors flickered to life, computers started their boot-up sequences; the sounds of hard drives whizzing into action, the lights of various buttons blinking on and off, filled the once-dark basement.
His hand pointed towards the jumper cables, motioning for his hesitant assistant to do his duty. “Attach the clips to the bolts either side of the robot’s head.” His voice sounded full of authority and confidence.
The assistant followed his orders, slightly shaking as he attached the first alligator clip. His hand wobbling, he dropped the second alligator clip, stumbling to the floor to recover it. On his knees, the assistant stretched his neck to see the bolt and extended his arm to hook the second clip onto it.
“Now,” he smiled, reflections of the various button lights and monitors dancing in his eyes. “Now, plug the interface in, and stand back.”
A large electrical connector protruded from the lower wall, adjacent to the computer banks. The assistant grabbed the thick black power cable spilling from the slab the robot lay dormant on and thrust the plug end of it into the connector. Several buttons and switches hummed to life on the table, causing the assistant to jump back quickly.
He pushed the assistant back as he approached the table. Glancing at the monitors again, watching the various graphs and measurements repeating on them, his hand moved to a large instrument panel located beside the slab.
Lightning illuminated the room, and again, the thunder nearly deafeningly sounding only moments later.
He flicked the switch.
A bright light filled the room, accompanied by a loud boom, and the assistant found he couldn’t see, his ears ringing from the loud noise. He blinked a few times before his vision returned.
And before him stood the robot, dials and buttons and switches illuminated, its eyes glowing red.
It turned to look at the assistant. Slowly, deliberately, its head moved to look at its creator.
He jumped on the robot’s back as quick as he could, the robot’s arms flailing and knocking over various pieces of equipment as the wheels for feet moved the robot back and forth in jerking, inconsistent movements. The assistant ducked as one of the arms nearly hit his head, his hair moving as the arm flew overhead.
“The plug,” the robot’s creator motioned towards the wall, desperately trying to hold on. “Remove the plug!”
The assistant looked down at the connector, then leapt towards it, narrowly avoiding being run over by the robot. He rolled again as the robot tried to ram him, ending up sitting right in front of the plug. Planting one foot against the wall, his hands wrapped around the cord, and he gave an almighty yank.
The plug came out, and the robot’s limbs went limp. The robot’s lights and eyes dimmed then went black.
* * * *
Noel and I sat with my brother Brian’s bandmate Mike in the backseat of Brian’s car. Brian drove as his then-girlfriend Darcie tried to break the ice. “Tell me a story about when you guys were kids.”
It was the first time either Noel or I had met Darcie. Having arrived in the USA the day before, we were jetlagged, and thinking wasn’t really on the cards. All we’d wanted was to go play a nice mind-numbingly fun game of mini-golf so we could be in the fresh summer air and try to stay awake so our bodies adjusted to Chicago’s time zone.
“Uh, I can’t think of any off the top of my head. Brian?”
“I dunno.” His eyes looked at me via the rear-view mirror.
Darcie hit Brian on the shoulder. “Oh, I know. What about the time Brian built the robot?”
I laughed and glanced at Darcie. “Robot… What robot?” My eyes returned to meet Brian’s via the rear view mirror.
“You know… In the basement. Something about you calling upstairs to your Mom…” Darcie’s smile was on full-beam.
I squinted. Robot… Robot… Robot?
And then the thought came to me. “You mean the piece of balsa wood with a light switch attached to it?”
“What?” Darcie shook her head at Brian.
“That wasn’t a robot, right?”
“It was supposed to be,” Brian countered.
“That? Was a robot? A piece of balsa wood. With a light switch screwed on to it. With a plug wired on to it…?”
Mike rubbed his hands together. “This sounds good.”
“Yeah, I was building a robot.” Brian’s knuckles were getting whiter.
“No, I was making a model for my train set, and you took a piece of balsa wood, screwed a light switch on to it, wired it to a plug, and you made me plug it into the wall.”
Noel, Mike, and Darcie erupted into laughter. Darcie, covering her mouth with her hand, managed to say, “Tell us what really happened…”
* * * *
“Hey Scott,” came Brian’s voice from behind me.
“Can you come here a second?”
I put the rubberband around the model building I was working on, pushed the metal folding chair back, and moved towards Brian, standing with something in his hands at my model train table.
He nodded at the plug dangling over the table’s edge. It was a non-standard plug with two thin dirty white wires attached to it. Following the wires up, it met a small metal frame with a dirty white plastic light switch, the frame screwed into a small piece of balsa wood. “Could you plug that in for me?”
I figured Brian knew what he was doing, so I grabbed the plastic plug casing and pushed it into the wall socket.
Sparks flew from the socket, and I jumped back as a puff of black smoke rose from the plug.
Brian dropped the balsa wood and quickly yanked the plug from the wall. His wide eyes met mine, and we both turned to look at the smoke detector hanging over the doorway. “I’m too short to reach it,” Brian muttered as we both thought the same thing.
I dashed over the smoke detector, trying desperately to get the cover open, but it wouldn’t budge. Exasperated as the smell of smoke rose in my nostrils, I cleared my throat and tried to sound as convincingly calm as I yelled, “Mom? How do you turn off the smoke detector?”