“We’ll be reaching the old Durrell Zoo pretty soon,” said the Navy Seal, “That’s where we’re based. Best drive straight up ter the entrance. The perimeter’s heavily booby-trapped, lay-holes, pitfalls and the like.”
“Stop the bus,” Boz called through to Phoebles in the driver’s cab. “Me and Phoebles will go in on foot with Nimitta. Ginsbergbear, Ferdy, get this charabang off the road and behind a hedge or something. Stay hidden. If you don’t hear from us in the next twenty-four hours call up Rotskagg and mount a rescue.”
The walk was considerably further than Boz had expected, but at least Ferdy and Ginsbergbear were a safe distance away. At the unguarded main gate a sign began ‘Welcome to’, but ‘Jersey Zoo’ had been scored through in blood-red paint and overwritten with ‘RAGNARÖK’. Nimitta ushered them quickly past the derelict visitors’ centre. All the buildings they could see were in ruins, enclosures broken open and everywhere forest was reclaiming the park. Hideous corpse like shapes dangled in the trees. Dark smoke hung above the camp, illuminated from below by the menacing ochre glow of numerous, unseen fires.
Small groups of clustering humanity began to emerge. Few at first but growing in number until a horde of savages surrounded them. Many wore tattered vestiges of uniform, some had not bothered, all were tattooed and armed with assault rifles and machetes. They hemmed in on all sides. Boz and Phoebles were pushed and pummelled. As they were bound and dragged the pair realised, with mounting dread, that Nimitta Matram had drifted away. He was not to be seen anywhere.
Frogmarched towards a row of animal enclosures they were tossed into a big-cat cage and the gate was slammed shut behind them, with a decisive clang. Happily the big-cat was long gone.
“I don’t think this lot are going to respond to reason,” said Phoebles.
“We demand to be taken to your leader,” shouted Boz to the scoffing, receding crowd. He turned to Phoebles. “It’ll be all right. When we don’t reappear Ginsbergbear will call up Rotskagg.”
There are times when an excess of optimism is taken as a challenge by the fates. The crowd returned and opened the cage door. In they pushed the trussed and helpless Ginsbergbear, followed by Ferdy.
“About to go extinct for a second time, eh, Mr Dodo?” leered a particularly unsavoury captor with ‘Who Dares Dies’ freshly carved and oozing blood across his barrel chest.
“Bugger!” said Boz.
Nimitta appeared early next morning,
“HE will see them now,” he addressed an anorexic urchin who had been standing watch since first light, “just the cats. The others stay here.”
Unbound, but roughly handled by the mob Boz and Phoebles were goaded towards Durrell’s old residence. Les Augrès Manor was more or less intact. A pair of dodo statues, chipped, weathered and stained, yet still noble survivors, flanked the approach.
“Ferdy would like them,” observed Phoebles.
An aye-aye squatted near the front door watching them suspiciously. While Nimitta marched them up the front steps the crowd hung back in awe. The interior was squalid and dark. It took several minutes of adapting to the gloom before the cats could make out any detail at all.
“I have brought them as you required, sir,” said the Petty Officer, apparently to an empty, echoing void. A momentary draught through an unglazed window lifted the tattered sacking that did service as a drawn curtain and a shaft of bilious light illuminated the far corners of the room.
Capitáno Tierrasmedias was slouched on a threadbare sofa facing the gutted carcass of a Sony KV-1320UB Trinitron TV set. His emaciated body, naked but for a filthy pair of boxer shorts, appeared barely capable of supporting his ravaged skull. He clutched a tin of Tennent’s in one hand and a sturdy iron chain in the other. The chain snaked down to a spiked collar which restrained the attentive Komodo Dragon reclined at his feet. He did not look at the new arrivals.
“Mr Boz, you came, as I knew you would.” There was a pause while the captain’s laboured breathing rattled around the room. “Omniscience is a terrible burden.”