“Watch and know.”
The source of this voice was not Rothball Hazard, Acting Chief Scientist, Head of Roboto-Genetic-Engineering, madman and pantomime villain…
It came from within, and Marley immediately guessed its meaning. His intuition activated at just the right moment, knowing what he should watch, what he should know. Actually, it was what he should not watch.
He kept his eyes fastened slightly to the left of Hazard so he could see him in the corner of his eye without being affected by the Antlers.
Slowly he took a step forward, his arms outstretched, flowing up and down in supplication. He pretended to worship, to bow down before the White God of the Lab Coat. He took another step forward, rolling his head, keeping Hazard just out of his direct field of view.
“Yes. Yes! Bow down before me.”
Marley took another step. He bent over like a hunchback, arms on the ground.
Marley stopped. He dropped to his hands and knees but didn’t dare look directly at Hazard. He tried not to even think of him, of the aura. Crawling onward, he focused on the bushy bristling eyebrows.
Marley raised his hands, palms outward, like he used to do at school when pretending to be a flower. He never liked being a flower. In elementary school his teacher made the whole class sing ‘All things bright and beautiful’ while forcing the boys to be lilies. Little did he know then that being lily had prepared him for this day.
Marley worshipped Hazard like a lily begging the sun not to scorch its petals. With every waving gesture he inched his way forward.
Only five minutes to go before total annihilation!
Marley continued to watch, knowing he was only inches away from his only chance. Soon he would be close enough. He wormed his way along the ground, almost imperceptibly.
“Stop! I didn’t tell you to move.” The flashing lights on the consoles behind illuminated Hazard, while the rising hum of machinery almost blotted out his voice. “You came from nothing, you are nothing. Now you are going back to nothing!”
“But you know this room is protected,” Marley pleaded. “We will survive the annihilation.”
“No. You won’t. I have programmed the photon annihilator to destroy everything: outside, inside, even itself.”
“After all your work you want to kill yourself?”
“I won’t die. I am wearing the Antlers of Amplitude!”
Marley doubted the Antlers would protect Hazard from an amplified discharge of antimatter, or whatever it was photons did when intimately smashed together. How could the forgers of this relic have had any knowledge of quantum physics and the tearing apart of space-time? He would never know the answer to that if he didn’t take action now.
In one fluid motion, he drew forth the can of beta-forex. He sprayed. He held the button for as long as he could, without wavering or changing direction, maintaining faith in his peripheral vision.
The spray exhausted itself. For a moment Marley saw nothing but a cloud of misty dew obscuring everything before him. There was no sight, no sound, no Rothball Hazard.
Then a hideous laughing erupted. Not the faux-evil laugh of before, but the laughter of a thousand monkeys, who having been ordered to type out the complete works of Shakespeare, had swapped every ‘thou’ with ‘bananas’.
Marley bellowed beneath his breath: “Thranganis! This was supposed to be itchy gas, not happy gas!”
The laughter continued. The thousand monkeys became a thousand devilish imps.
Then he realised it was not laughter he was hearing, but yelping.
He dragged himself on his elbows as the fog began to dissipate, peering through the receding mist towards the control platform.
He just made out the figure of the Acting Chief Scientist, dancing about to the throbbing of machines and the thudding of techno drums accompanied by 1940s jazz, immersed in the smoky glow of a thousand liquid crystal displays, a whirling dervish surrounded by disco lights. The yelping was now a thousand monkeys with one banana dangling before them. The figure on the platform: a baboon in heat denied its pleasure, thrashing about madly, knocking at controls, banging its wrists against the railing.
In sheer desperation the baboon yanked off the Antlers, then his lab coat, then his shirt. His hands scratched every bit of bare flesh. His nails tore red welts up and down his arms. He ripped chunks of hair from his chest and threw them in every direction.
In his frantic scratching and wailing he kicked the Antlers off the platform. They landed inches to the left of Marley. He dare not touch them lest he too succumb to the effects of beta-forex.
At last, in agony of itchiness, Hazard threw himself off the dais. Not even the hair remaining on his back could cushion him from an unsightly landing. He thudded onto the steel floor, bounced half a foot in the air then banged his head on a jutting pipe. The Acting Chief Scientist was no longer acting. He was no longer moving.
Marley walked over and prodded Hazard with his foot.
Without his lab coat, without his shirt, without the Antlers, Hazard was far from magisterial. He was a bundle of hairy arms, his legs contorted beneath him like a gyromagnetic gymnast of Khanaklooose in the finishing pose.
Suddenly the eyes opened. Beneath the grisly brows the eyes flashed anger and defiance. He emitted a bearish growl and seized Marley’s right leg.
The Acting Scientist had been acting, dead.
Marley just managed to retain his balance. He did what he never thought he could do. He braced his right leg on the floor, and with his left, he kicked at Hazard’s grisly visage, aiming squarely for the nose.
Hazard’s head snapped back and struck the pipe once more. This time he was out. Forever.
Marley suppressed his desire to pirouette, pump his fists or throw up. He ran towards the control platform. Using all his strength, he wrenched the lever that Hazard had indicated would halt the terrible machine. Nothing happened.
Then a hideous laugh – the awkwardly evil laugh of the late mad scientist – emanated from the ceiling speakers: “This lever does nothing! Haha ha! Ah.” Even in death, his sick sense of humour lingered on.