The frantic beeps from a defunct printer woke me from a sleeping daze in my chair in the control room. My neck ached. I had a headache that rested behind my right eye. My vision blurred as I tried to focus on the beeping machine. Working the night shift has its perks, but not when a noisy machine rudely awakens you.

The thing had been on the fritz in the past weeks, always beeping and buzzing and spewing out strips of nonsense, but never with this frequency.

…. . .-.. .–. / ..- … .-.-.- / -.– — ..- .—-. …- . / –. — – / – — / … – — .–., read a strand of paper spit out by the machine. I kicked my legs off my desk and walked over to it just as it was spitting out another coded message.

.–. .-.. . .- … . / … – — .–. .-.-.- / — ..- .-. / ..-. .- — .. .-.. .. . … / .- .-. . / -.. -.– .. -. –.

I’d never read Morse code, or what I assumed was Morse code. Never cared to. For all I cared it was an outdated source of messaging in a world where text messages and instant messages ruled. Hell, as far as I was concerned, the machine tucked away in the corner of the control room—a room with hundreds of computer monitors lining the walls—was a piece of decoration.

That was until two weeks ago when it shot to life and started spitting out this garbage.

“Randy, I think you’re gonna wanna get in here. The machine is on the fritz again,” I called out to my supervisor in an adjacent room.

“Randy, ya hear me?”

If there’s anyone who slept more than me during the shift, it was my boss. I threw the incomprehensible pieces of paper in the trash and walked to Randy’s office.

He and I held down the fort at night while our team of scientists got little rest from the big experiment. The government tasked our agency, ClearSite, with … well we aren’t sure, exactly. The government was coy with what it said, only that this experiment was for research purposes and that we should test a number of ways in which the world could end. A General McKneel, a tall burly man with the biggest beard I’ve ever seen appeared to be the head of the experiment, was keen on using high-powered lasers secretly built on satellites already orbiting the Earth.

“There’s a small space rock, Planet EX17, approximately 300,000 miles from Earth, just past the moon, that we want to test the lasers on,” McKneel told us in a briefing before the experiment began. “Shoot the shit out of that motherfucker.”

We had some questions, of course. Is it just a space rock? Why hadn’t we heard about this before? There’s no possibility for human life there is there? In true military fashion, he told in his deep burly bearded man voice told us any additional information was top secret and to obey our orders, then he stormed out the door and that was the last we’ve heard of him.

So for the past six weeks, we’ve been lighting up that motherfucker just like he asked. Hey, when the government hands your company a $100 billion top-secret contract and tells you to keep your mouth shut and do as you’re told, you listen.

“Hey, Randy, you awake? Machine is on the fritz again,” I said, walking in his office.

“Huh…what?” he said, jerking his head forward and quickly leaning forward to his computer. “Machine again, you say.”

“Yeah. Damned thing is spitting out random gibberish all over again. C’mon, you’ve got to see this.”

“Just unplug it from the wall and throw it in the trash. Damn piece of crap. What’s it doing there, anyway?”

We walked into the control room to five more messages littering the speckled carpet.

“Dammit, Walt, throw these things in the trash and go sleep in another room. It’s 2 in the morning for God’s sake and the scientist will be back in two hours. We don’t need them worried about this mess,” Randy said, his voice more stern than ever.

He picked up the strips of paper and threw them in a trash bin near my chair.

“Night, Randy,” I said as he headed back to his office. He continued walking as if he didn’t hear me.

There was no way I was getting any sleep. I was too wired and the constant buzz and beeping of the machine every five minutes was sure to keep me awake. I grabbed one the strips Randy threw in the trash and typed the series of gibberish into our search engine.

-.– — ..- .—-. .-. . / –. — .. -. –. / – —

YOU’RE GOING TO

What? I hadn’t expected a result.

-.- .. .-.. .-.. / ..- … / .- .-.. .-..

KILL US ALL

“Kill us all?” I thought. “Kill who?” My heart began to beat faster as I typed in the rest of the coded message.

.. ..-. / -.– — ..- / -.. — -. .—-. –

IF YOU DON’T

… – — .–. / .– .. – …. / -.– — ..- .-. / … – .-. .. -.- . … / .. — — . -.. .. .- – . .-.. -.—

STOP WITH YOUR STRIKES IMMEDIATELY

My heart was beating so hard it felt as if it was going to explode out of my chest. I felt sweat begin to form on my right brow and my right leg was bouncing frantically as I read what was on my screen.

I stumbled out of my chair and dug for the other strips to decode those messages, too, piecemealing them together as I went along.

…. . .-.. .–. / ..- … .-.-.- / -.– — ..- …- . / –. — – / – — / … – — .–. / .–. .-.. . .- … . / … – — .–. .-.-.- / — ..- .-. / ..-. .- — .. .-.. .. . … / .- .-. . / -.. -.– .. -. –.

HELP US. YOU’VE GOT TO STOP … PLEASE STOP. OUR FAMILIES ARE DYING …

– …. . / -.. .- — .- –. . / .. … / -.. — -. . .-.-.- / — ..- .-. / .–. .-.. .- -. . – / .. … / .-. ..- .. -. . -.. / .- -. -.. / – …. . / . -. -.. / .. … / .. — — . -. -. – .-.-.- / -.– — ..- .-. … / .– .. .-.. .-.. / -… . / – — — / -… . ..-. — .-. . / .-.. — -. –. .-.-.-

THE DAMAGE IS DONE. OUR PLANET IS RUINED AND THE END IS IMMINENT. YOURS WILL BE TOO BEFORE LONG.

The machine spit out another message before the beeping and buzzing finally stopped.

— ..- .-. / ..-. .. -. .- .-.. / -.-. — .-. .-. . … .–. — -. -.. . -. -.-. . .-.-.- / — ..- .-. / .–. .-.. .- -. . – / .. … / -.-. .- …- .. -. –. .-.-.- / -.– — ..- .-. … / -. . -..- – .-.-.-

OUR FINAL CORRESPONDENCE. OUR PLANET IS CAVING. YOURS NEXT.

I crumbled the paper and threw it in the trash. I could hardly focus, hardly breathe, hardly think. My headache intensified behind both eyes. I rubbed my eyes and strained to read the paper in front of me. Surely it was all a big joke played by the scientists, right?

An emergency monitor hanging on the wall began flashing a bright red warning: WARNING: MOON HIT, WARNING: MOON HIT! The monitor was there as a safeguard in case our lasers got too close to the moon, but we hadn’t shot a laser in over two hours.

I ran to our master computer and pulled up our map that showed the lasers’ coordinates. EX17 was gone and from it an immense starry blue mass was growing, engulfing the moon and rapidly approaching Earth. More computer monitors flashed bright red with emergency warnings.

I pressed the red emergency button next to the keyboard; red lights and sirens echoed through the building.

“Oh, shit. What have we done?”

Editor’s Note: This short story was based off a writing prompt in Reddit’s /r/writingprompts.