Tessa swam back to consciousness. She ached, her face felt two sizes two big for her head and she still couldn’t see very well. Wherever she was, her glasses weren’t and that wasn’t a good sign. She tried to move and found that she was bound in place. Struggling against the cables that tied her made her feel the aches and pains in her body afresh and she let out a groan, squinting as she tried to see, one eye swollen shut, the other fuzzy.
“Ah… you’re awake.” Werner’s voice. This did not bode well.
“Barely,” Tessa mumbled past her swollen lips. “Why did you leave me alive?”
“I don’t mean to kill if I don’t have to.” She could barely see him, moving around, an indistinct blob of pink and blue, overalls she thought. Squinting harder, forcing him into focus from sheer force of will. He still wasn’t clear but she could make out his mad eyes staring out of his pockmarked face. They were surrounded by old lights, incandescent bulbs on low power, casting shadows around it was they were, one or two flickering on and off with an electric buzz. Behind the madman was an offset plus symbol, bolted to the wall and there was something more in front of that.
“So what are you going to do? Dribble on me?”
He snarled and slapped her, fortunately not on her swollen cheek. “Watch your filthy mouth, sinne!.” She jerked in the seat and twisted her face back. With him that close she could make him out now and what she saw worried her. He was clearly, unutterably insane. What the hell had happened to him?
“What happened to you Werner? What happened out there?” She jerked her head, she had no idea which way was out, where they were in relation to the dome, but everyone knew that gesture.
“REVELATION!” He thundered and she rocked back on her seat, the shout was like being caught in the teeth of a gale.
“You’re a scientist, you know that’s no basis for anything.” She flinched as his hand raised again, but it did not fall against her face this time.
“Things have changed. God found me in the wasteland and took me to his bosom,” Werner paced restlessly as he spoke, working himself into a deeper frenzy. “Everyone else died in that church but I survived. The townsfolk didn’t take to us, didn’t like being studied. They made us undertake their rituals and my team died writhing in agony but I was spared! The serpent struck me again and again and I DID NOT DIE!” He was grinning now, ear to ear with ecstatic glee. “More, now I could hear the choir of angels, singing in my head!”
“Oh dear… neurotoxin. How did we miss that when you came back in?”
He didn’t hear her, he was well into his rant.
“Pastor Scull helped me understand, helped me recover, explained the voices of the angels to me and what they wanted. To send me forth to bring the judgement that has fallen upon the rest of the world upon this place, this last testament to man’s arrogant belief that he can defy God or his own sinful nature!”
Tessa startled slightly, something cold was creeping up the back of her leg, some sort of icy, spidery thing creeping against her skin. Werner was quoting from some ancient myth now, shouting numbers, thees and thous as though it meant anything to her, so she risked a glance down. Seeing the elbow joint of a familiar looking robotic arm vanishing up her trouser leg.
Tessa squinted hard again as Werner went on and on about seals and demons, the resurrected dead, plagues, floods, famines and fire. Across the way she saw her pistol laid out on a table, the shape familiar enough for her to make out despite her short-sightedness. The other thing that she saw was Robur’s head, a grisly trophy, leaking oil and voltaic fluid, the eyes staring as blank as ever at her, but one still flickered, fitfully and each time it glowed the arm creeped higher up her leg.
She twisted her hands behind her, trying to reach her TeleBand without Werner noticing, fingers stretching, twisting in the cables, wishing she didn’t bite her nails as she fumbled blindly at the controls. At the same time she set her one good eye on Werner, pretending to pay attention. If she could just humour him long enough she might have a chance.
“So!” He shouted returning to her. “I offer you a chance Miss Coyle, join my holy cause or be sent to your eternal judgement.”
“How would I join, exactly?” She grunted, fumbling again for the TeleBand. He noticed, frowning, leaning around her and then laughing.
“We’re deep down here Tessa, your band won’t reach the surface, so fiddle all you want. Nobody will hear you whether you scream or whether you transmit. I can see you would say anything to me, you’re just humouring me.” He gripped her chin and tilted her head up, making her hiss with pain through her swollen lips. “Well then, we shall leave the decision to The Almighty.” He turned away, marching to his makeshift altar while Tessa scrambled with her fingers for the band, hoping she’d got it right as she tuned it through the frequencies.
Werner was moving differently now, slowly, reverently even. In his hands he held a great jar with a massive lid, holes bored through it. Tessa could see something coiled, green, lurking in the bottom of the jar and as he slowly paced even closer it resolved itself. A thick rope of scaled muscle, lurid green, a quivering rattle upon its tail sounding like a maraca as the snake grew agitated and worked its fangs against the side of the glass.
“What… is it?” Tessa swallowed nervously, but as her finger slipped against the dial on the TeleBand she suddenly felt the cold metal of the arm straighten and move with greater strength and purpose.
“They call them ‘radlers’. They’re native to the gorges around the Pastor’s home town. A unique creature born of radiation and the desert and granted a gift from God, redeeming the serpent by becoming a crucible in which a man’s faith can be tested and confirmed.” Werner set the jar down next to Robur’s head and unscrewed the lid, thrusting his hand down inside, the radler striking and striking, sinking its fangs into his arm repeatedly, but he barely flinched, grasping it firm behind its head and drawing it forth.
“A remarkable creature Officer Coyle, a survivor. A nocturnal hunter that imitates a cicada or a cricket, that uses its glowing body to draw and hypnotise its prey. A creature so visible that it needs a venom stronger than any other to keep away even greater predators. If you survive… it awakens you to the heavens, the spirit… IF you survive.” He stepped closer still, holding the writhing serpent before him, swaying and waving it, imitating its motions.
Tessa could feel the hand yanking, pulling, scraping at the cables that bound her, she just needed another moment and she could be free. “ROBUR! NOW!” She shouted, giving it all the force and emotion she could. Werner turned, eyebrows shooting up his forehead in surprise. Robur’s eyes lit up and from his damaged vox he began to emit a series of beeps, starting slow and getting faster and faster.
The cable came loose, her wrists were free, she grasped hold of Robur’s disembodied arm just as Robur’s bluff was detected and Werner turned back around.
Adrenalin was a good substitute for caffeine pills, she surged up out of the seat with Robur’s arm raised high and brought it crashing across Werner’s head as his eyes met hers. He fell like a stone, the radler spilled from his grasp, striking him three times and slithering away with a derogatory swish of its tail, vanishing into the ducts.
Tessa grabbed her belt from the table and cuffed Werner, fumbling to press her glasses back onto her swollen face, leaving him laying there, bleeding from the scalp while she picked up Robur’s battered head.
“Maam,” he fizzed and crackled, sparks falling from his jagged neck stump. “I think you may have bent my arm striking the miscreant.”
Tessa laughed and then gasped, clutching her face with her free hand. “That’s the least of your problems I think Officer Robur. To think they say you Metalmen don’t have a sense of humour.”
“I was merely making an observation maam.”
“Let’s find our way out of this hole and contact the precinct.”
“I concur maam. At least it’s over.”
Tessa staggered unsteadily up the stairs, cradling Robur’s head against her chest. “I’m not sure that it is.”
“That town, they know all about us, they hate us, there’s no telling what Werner told them. I’m betting we haven’t heard the last of this ‘Pastor Scull’ and his merry band.”
“Ah. Well. All the more reason to get me repaired then maam. Turn left up here.”
“Have a little faith Robur, have a little faith…”