Previous Story: 31. The Bunker
Walter awoke to the sound of Jugger’s roar. He swung down from the branch he’d been sleeping on and dropped to the ground. Even though he could now sleep anywhere in the zoo, he liked his old home in the ape house, especially the outside section. Looking at the sky, he reckoned the sun hadn’t been up long. He expected Jugger wanted him to do something; she usually did.
Grabbing two bananas from the pile of boxes, Walter chomped them down quickly but realized they were well past their best. He’d eaten dozens after finding a stash in the supply room but now knew he’d soon need another source of food. He was thinking about trying the human stuff; there was plenty left scattered around the zoo in storerooms and vending machines. Once through the gate and on the path, he heard another roar from Jugger and decided to speed up. Walter scratched his back; the material of the t-shirt was sometimes a bit itchy. He could tell that some of the other animals thought it strange that he’d decided to wear it. Walter didn’t care. He wanted to stand out and be memorable. He didn’t want to look like just any old chimp!
He found Jugger by the seal pool. The elephant was looking down at the seals, who were gathered on a ramp, most of them fully out of the water. Hearing a cry, Walter glanced up and saw Athena the eagle circling above. Howl the wolf was there too, standing beside Jugger. Jane the cat was sitting on the wall of the seal pool, licking herself, even though her body was all metal.
Once the zoo had housed thousands of animals, now there was only Walter and the other survivors. Hundreds had died; some had used the opportunity to escape.
What is it?
Jugger turned to him, one big, dark eye looking down. The seals. They’re starving. Howl thinks we should take the fish from the aquarium to feed them. But the fish deserve to live too. What do you think, Walter?
It was a difficult question. And Walter had found there were a lot of difficult questions since the Awakening. Life had been a lot simpler before – perhaps even better – but now he was part of something: a group of different animals who looked out for each other. It seemed the world had changed and Walter felt sure they were better off facing it together.
I don’t know. But the fish don’t communicate and the seals do. So perhaps we should save them.
Howl walked around Jugger’s enormous body and stared at Walter with his blue glowing eyes. Even though the wolf seemed friendly, Walter always felt a little scared of him, especially his big, sharp teeth.
The seals are like us. Part of our pack.
Athena swooped low over the others. Howl is right. We must do something.
Jane the cat jumped nimbly down off the wall. I would like to save the seals too but there is no way to take them out of here. We land animals can leave the zoo whenever we wish. They can’t.
Trunk swinging, Jugger turned to the feline. We might be able to move them to the ocean. We shouldn’t give up hope.
Maybe you want that fish, for yourself, Jane?
The cat didn’t seem to appreciate Walter’s question. She turned her back on him, tail curling.
Just joking. All right, let’s see what we can do. Where’s Bob?
Sleeping, answered Athena.
We can do this without him, said Walter. Jugger, we don’t have the key to get inside the seal pool. Can you make a hole? Jane, Howl, let’s go and get those fish.
Jugger nodded her great head then looked up at the sky. Athena, have a look around the grounds. We need to know if there are any more humans near – especially the strange ones.
The bald eagle swooped low again then flapped away.
An hour later, Walter sat by the largest pool in the aquarium. Jane and Howl were beside him, also looking down at the water. The tropical tank had the most fish but they also happened to be the most beautiful. Walter had a big net and a bucket but he hadn’t tried to catch anything yet.
What are we waiting for? asked Howl.
I don’t know, said Walter. I’m not sure this is the right thing to do.
Jane looked up at the wolf beside her. Walter’s not like us, Howl. He doesn’t know how to hunt and kill. His kind don’t even like meat that much.
But the seals are dying, said Howl, his upright ears twitching. I know they’re beautiful, Walter, but these fish are like we used to be. They probably don’t even know that they’re fish. The seals know what they are.
And they know that they’re dying, added Jane.
Walter knew they were right and gave a reluctant nod. Okay, go ahead.
Howl put his snout into a container of fish-food and took a mouthful. He then leant out over the pool and dropped it in. Within seconds, dozens of multi-coloured fish had swum to the side. Walter was quick with the net and caught four big fish immediately. He couldn’t bring himself to look at them as he dumped them in the bucket.
By the time they’d visited two more pools, the animals had filled four buckets with fish. Walter carried two while Howl and Jane each dragged one along by gripping the handles in their mouths. Despite her diminutive size, Jane’s adapted body gave her impressive strength.
Back at the seal pool, Jugger had trampled the fence down and was pulling sections of wire out of the way with her trunk. Walter was constantly amazed by the abilities of his new friends, though it would have been helpful to have a few more apes – even with their newfound intelligence, animals without hands could only do so much!
Once Jugger was finished; Walter, Howl and Jane dragged the buckets to the pool. Even the most tired of the seals summoned the strength to swim over as Walter emptied fish into the water. He admired the way Jane and Howl restrained themselves, delivering fish after fish to the starving seals without once taking a bite.
After they’d all had their fill, the seals thanked their new friends and one even leaped high out of the water in celebration.
Good work, said Jugger as Walter returned through the wrecked fence. But we’ve more to do. I just sent Athena to wake Bob – she spotted a group of humans climbing the wall over near the lake. They have weapons. They look dangerous.
Next Story: 33. Simple Business Meetings