The lights dimmed. Rothball Hazard quickly unzipped the bag. Marley perceived a faint, slightly furry body. Nono attached its limbs to the hooks and wrapped chains around its torso. Marley’s suspicions increased when three chains were fastened to twisty spikes jutting from the head. They could only be antlers. Zorgon antlers!
“I know what you’re thinking,” said Hazard. “It is not a Zorgon. Not a real Zorgon. We merely obtained a piece of them. And from that, behold my creation. A masterpiece of robotic and genetic engineering.”
The low hum of a generator accompanied a steady vibration, felt in the pit of the stomach. Gaston Dimble could not look. He held the flablet directly in front of him and watched the recording screen, only one eye open every second second. The lights blacked out. Marley focused on the long, laboured breaths of Frint Nono and the pants of Hazard. Taps on a keyboard terminal. The mellow tone of the generator rising in pitch.
A blinding flash briefly illuminated the synthetic Zorgon, tied to hooks and chains. It twitched. Intermittent flashes lit the room.
Nono tapped at the terminal with one hand, the other adjusted levers like a cybernetic DJ. The electric motor fed energy bolts through the chains. The being’s arms and legs tensed and shimmered after each flash of light. The limbs were stretched. More bolts arced through the chains. The Zorgon squirmed. Then it opened its eyes.
It looked directly at Marley.
Such strange eyes they were, staring at him mechanically. They glowed and didn’t blink. Why did the scientists wish to replicate a creature they despised? As the flashes grew more frequent, intense purpose formed behind the stare.
Nono revelled in his task, his lumbering body eagerly bent over the control panel.
Marley shouted over the whine of the motor, “You’re trying to imbue this with life?”
There was so much fire in Hazard’s eyes that his brows began to singe. “It will be a first for technology. We thought we had discovered everything. Now we have the power to bring life, artificially created life, into the world.”
Professor Dimble spoke into his flablet: “Scientist with enormous ego. Enormous scientist. Both with a Frankenstein complex.” He gathered the courage to speak aloud. “How will this be any different from your regular cyborg or artificial intelligence?”
Hazard did not turn around. “Because we have the key. The Zorgons may be underwhelming, but they have an artefact that has absorbed generations of primal consciousness. I…We have borrowed it for use with our generator. When focused, it reconstructs the essence of whatever its energy is fed to.”
Nono said deeply, “No vital signs detected.”
“Apply more power,” Hazard stuck his head forward.
Nono pushed a lever. Electric bolts shimmied through the chains, the lightness of the room pulsed strobe-like.
Marley wondered whether the artefact Hazard had borrowed…could this be linked to the commotion he witnessed from the hovercab? How did the scientists obtain the Antlers of Amplitude (if that’s what was focusing the current)? However, Marley could already see why Hazard still wouldn’t return them, despite the unrest on Zorge.
The red dust induced Rothball Hazard’s villainous mad scientist archetype. “Apply more power,” he said.
Nono tensed his shoulder and heaved at the levers. The frequency of electric bolts lit the chamber like permanent sheet lightning..
The whine of the motor increased, the chains rattled. The limbs of the test subject jerked.
“It’s not fluid enough – too mechanical.” Marley said. Perhaps by goading Hazard he could persuade him to overload the system. “It doesn’t look lifelike enough.”
Nono pushed the lever practically out of its socket. The motor increased to fever pitch, the test subject convulsed, its hairs stood on end.
Hazard noticed the power dial. It was now firmly in the red zone, the zone with the big black block letters marked, ‘DANGEROUS’. He tried to shout above the whine of the motor: “Stop! Stop now. Halt!”
Nono fervently manipulated the controls. He didn’t hear his colleague above the rattling of chains and shriek of the motor.
“Stop! I demand it! Nono no, come to your senses!” Even if Nono could hear Hazard he would not have responded. He was in his element. Hazard stumbled towards him and began pounding his back. Nono turned around and slowly emerged from his trance-like state. But it was too late.
The motor reached ear-splitting pitch. The Zorgon model shook, its eyes rapidly blinked. Its limbs were abnormally stretched. Its antlers came loose and bounced off the walls, landing next to Hazard.
The machine overheated and ground to a halt. The lights blacked out. The eyes of the pseudo-Zorgon closed. Hyper-electric bolts glimmered on the chains.
Rothball Hazard fainted, either from over-exertion or the come-down effects of red dust. Marley felt the laboured steps of Frint Nono as he lumbered towards him. Dimble was stunned. Marley managed to find him in the darkness and grabbed him. They hastened out the lab and up the corridor.
The power surge affected the entire complex. Incandescent backup lights were activated. Where these were not installed Marley and Dimble felt their way along the walls. As they navigated the corridor, a figure with closely set eyes approached under a backup lamp. He was followed by three mice roped together, all led by an overhanging piece of cheese.
“I am Incipien Rooney, make way.” He passed by without further acknowledgement. The three mice squeaked and scurried after.
Marley and Dimble marched across the tarmac. The power surge had disabled the tesla coils. Nexus and Plexus lay snoring, knocked out by the radiation burst.
Nexus briefly woke and sniffed the Professor. Gaston gave him a feeble pat.