Swiss Professor Robinson III

The room, my office, was moving!

I could feel it sliding out of its place in the building. The rails hadn’t been cleaned in all the years I had been in this office. I could smell the friction heated dust. At this rate I would tip out of the side of the building and splash right into the lake by the engineering building.

I hated the idea of water that I couldn’t see in. Eutrophicated and murky water filled our little pond and I’m told water snakes and snapping turtles as well. Duckweed to get tangled in if you dived into it. Some student (possibly under an influence?) almost drowned about a decade ago by doing that. There was a fountain in the middle of the lake too (not a big thing, just something to keep the water from breeding moskitoes). I had a deep fear of being sucked into the intake of that. I also wasn’t sure if there was an intake to something else down there. In short, I would rather have took my chances with the blasting steam out in the hall than the cold water of the Sunless Sea below.

The motion of the room was slow enough that I wasn’t panicked yet, although I wasn’t sure how to escape this. I couldn’t jump from the third story down, that I knew. Ever since a desperate mech. eng. student killed himself that way, we always made the freshmen calculate the amount of force that would produce on them if they did it, the compressive strength of tissue, cost of pallative care if they survived, etc. etc.

I knew the steam jet in the hall would burn me to death almost instantaneously. At that temperature it would be well over scalding temperatures and I couldn’t get out of range of it before I fainted from the heat.

The office itself was self-contained, so I couldn’t pop a cieling tile and climb out that way. If I could throw a line across the water to the trees on the other side I might have enough time to—

The office shuddered and jerked out by a fraction of a step. A few papers slid off my plastic desk. I remembered looking in the plenum space once and seeing… two handles on either side: brakes!

At once the idea occurred to me. If I released the brakes at the same time, the steam would force the office off the rails and across the lake. I would have to take my chances falling down, but the woods were thick and I should be able to shelter in place somewhere. Then, even if the office landed on the door, I could make shift to escape and then get whatever help I needed.

Looking around, I decided to use the copious amounts of student papers as cushioning under my desk, so I threw them on the floor and pulled them off shelves to make two mounds on either side where the hard mental drawers formed the sides of the little crawlspace I would use.

Cieling tiles! I could use them too. I climbed up a bookcase and started popping them and pitching them down to the floor. I got as many as I could and was quite dusty quite quickly. The steam was making the inner wall burning hot to touch. I was partially afraid it would set fire to the dust or some papers that I knew must have fallen down behind the bookcase.

Balancing on the frame that supported the tiles, I crawled over to the corner that had one of the brake handles. It was a plastic handle like you would see on a playground. You know the ones where you have to haul yourself hand over hand? It was that kind of handle. I took it and pulled down. No movement.

Was it stuck that badly? I pulled away from the wall to see if that would budge it. Nothing. I tried to calm myself and think, but the heat was seriously affecting me. I pulled desperately in every direction, but it felt like it was welded to the wall. The wall had yellow and black on it, like a warning label. A… warning label?

I had been staring at the wall with my eyes about to come out of my head from the straining, but hadn’t actually parsed it. There was a faded warning sticker: “INSERT PINS AFTER INSTALLATION”

Pins? Wasn’t I trying to remove them?

I wish I could explain how my mind went from being confused to being sure that the pins were safety catches on the brakes. I just happened that I went from not knowing to being sure. I felt along the space between the brake rod and (smoking) wall and found a little dowel like affair. On the other side of the rod was a little loop. I pulled on it and it drew out. The plastic that formed it was starting to deteriorate from the heat. Did the maintenance crew not hear the massive noise it was making?

I pulled the handle down and it instantly released. The entire office shook a little. There was just the one on the other side. I should tie a string to it so I could take cover and release it from there.

Thinking about this in the dim past, I have to wonder how I managed to do all this as fast as I did. I’ve estimated the amount of time it would take that much steam to completely cook the office and its contents and concluded fear must have given me more adrenaline in those narrow minutes that I had gotten during the term of my life to date. Somehow I swarmed up the bookcase, threw down all the tiles, fought with the one brake, set up the other one, climbed down, and walled myself into my desk-fort before I would have been heat-struck.

I pulled pulled the string as hard as I could and felt the brake release.

POP is the only onomatopoeia I can think of that describes the sound I felt as the office let loose. The gushing steam in the background died away within seconds. The unaerodynamic outside of the modular office set up a horrible spin. The room fell end over end at what felt like 15 RPM. In other words, a complete spin every 4 seconds. Fortunately I hadn’t eaten my lunch or I would have lost it. I have only the vaguest memory of being curled in a ball with my eyes shut and moaning.

That memory doesn’t feel like it happened between ejection and landing though. My memory arranged itself so that instantly after I loosed the brake, I woke up.


Note to readers from the author: I will continue this later, but the last sentence does not mean this was all a dream. The story will directly continue from this point.

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