A single corridor ran the entire circumference of the Alpha Bio Labs main building with signposts at regular intervals to each of the enclosures. Bing marched in the direction of Enclosure E with Alpha in tow. The robot kept falling behind, stopping from time to time and staring at the floor.
"Alpha, what is it? We need to get moving."
"It's nothing, well... no, nothing."
Bing sighed and clenched his eyes. "Come on, out with it, tell me what's wrong."
"It's just... the doggie back there. He was nice. I'd like to have a doggie, but I don't think I'm allowed."
"There's no law against a robot owning a dog. You can buy one as long as you take care of it," he said, totally sidestepping the fact that the creature she had been petting before had not been a dog. He would leave that particular awkward conversation for the pet store owner.
Alpha’s posture straightened, and her voice lost its ‘child who dropped her ice cream cone’ quality. She was much happier to keep up with Bing as he continued along the corridor. The door to Enclosure E was much the same as had been the door to Enclosure A. Alpha approached it to be scanned, but the light atop the scanner remained red. She stepped back and tried again, but it was no use. Bing hammered loudly on the door with his fist.
"Don't move dirt bag!" Whispered Ivan Gunderson to the scientist in enclosure A, whilst jamming the barrel of his gun into the small of the man's back. He had gotten bored of waiting for Bing to text him to make his entrance, and it had been twenty whole minutes. Anything could happen in twenty minutes, especially the kind of thing that required the presence of a man with a big gun and the skill to use it. The fact that the radio in the partrol car was broken had had nothing to do with his decision at all.
The scientist yelped a little and thrust his hands into the air. "Who are you? How did you get in here? Are you with the tour?"
"Stop talking!" Ivan surveyed the interior of the enclosure and noted the groups of lions and jackals sleeping under the trees. "You're in a whole heap of trouble pal. One of your pets has mauled one of the ship's citizens. You'll be lucky if they don't toss you out of an airlock for this."
The scientist began to whimper.
"Don't you have anything to say for yourself? Murderer."
"You told me to stop talking."
"Well... start talking. Tell me what I want to know. Then stop talking again."
"What do you want to know?"
"My partner, well, not my official partner, but the person I'm working with for the specific purpose of this investigation, came into this building twenty minutes ago and never came back out. What happened to him? Feed him to the lions too?"
"N-no. I haven't fed anyone to anything. A man came through here about ten minutes ago. He was asking a lot of questions. Is that him?"
"What'd he look like?” Demanded Gunderson, forcing the gun even harder into the scientist’s right kidney.
"Short guy. Not a lot of hair. Well dressed and well spoken. Late forties? I'm quite a skilled artist, I could draw you a picture if you want."
Gunderson spun him around and pressed the gun into his chest. "This isn't arts and crafts class. Tell me where he went or so help me..."
The scientist waited for Gunderson to finish the sentence, but when it became clear that he had no intention of doing so he told the chief that the well-spoken man who had been here previously left after the scientist had mentioned Enclosure E, and that's where he was likely going next. Gunderson holstered his weapon, leaving the scientists with the parting words: "Don't you dare leave this room. I'll be back with more questions for you later.”
The doors to Enclosure E clicked and slid open. Standing inside was a dishevelled scientist wearing a long, buttoned-up lab coat, and quite possibly nothing else. His hairy legs stuck out the bottom of the coat and he had no shoes on; Bing readied himself to avert his eyes at a moment’s notice should this turn into a flashing incident.
“Whaddaya want?” said the scientist, who appeared to be in the grey area between drunk and hungover.
Bing took a moment to consider the form of his response, “I’m coming in to take a look around, the robot will explain why,” he said, stepping past the scientist, who offered no resistance.
The scientist turned to Alpha: “well? What’s the explanation?” The relative brightness of the corridor was causing him significant discomfort.
“He’s taking a tour of the facility.”
“I didn’t know we did tours.”
While the robot and the drunk scientist carried on their thrilling conversation, Bing scouted the enclosure. Enclosure E had a narrow, glass walkway that ran from the door of the room to some form of control tower in the middle. The room was very dim; the fabric walls and ceiling were either very dark blue or black, and much thicker in this enclosure than in Enclosure A. Bing could only make out the general shapes of things in the twilight. He looked down at the enclosure floor about three metres below him. The vegetation had been allowed to grow thick, like an overgrown and weed-blighted hedge maze. A giant water tank ran all the way around the outside of the enclosure, like a walk-through tunnel found in aquariums, but with the water on the inside. He could see large, torpedo-like shapes gliding eerily through the water.
The door to the control tower was unlocked and Bing let himself in. There was an overpowering chemical smell which hit Bing like an ocean of ice cold expresso. It wasn’t entirely unpleasant at first, but after a few seconds Bing developed a sharp headache; his brain began to feel hot, and for a moment he had the nagging feeling that all the computers in the room were judging him. He threw the door wide open to let some fresh air in, which definitely helped. Inside the room were a pair of scientists - Bing assumed, although they might have been homeless stowaways judging by their appearance and smell. They paid Bing no attention, and continued to stare at their monitors, which showed a feed of somewhere green and sunny. To the left was a poster-sized diagram, a blueprint, but the design was of something biological that made Bing want to wet himself a little.
“Magnificent, isn’t it?” said a scientist from a dark corner of the room that Bing hadn’t noticed before.
“Not the word I would use. What the hell is it?”
The scientist grinned at Bing like a crazy man about to stab and rob him. “We call it Selachimorpha Terrenum.”
Bing ventured into the dusty corridors of his memory where he kept the remnants of knowledge from his high-school latin classes. He’d heard these words before, but never together. “Land shark?” he asked the scientist.
A broadening of the scientist’s grin was the response. Bing looked back to the blueprint. The beast had the body of a shark, and four legs from some sort of lizard. Annotations seemed to suggest that in addition to its gills, the landshark also had lungs, and was no less toothy than its seaborne counterpart.
“This is a gag, right? You haven’t actually created one of these creatures?”
“One? Of course not, don’t be silly. What a waste of our scientific genius and resources that would be. We have twelve or so.”
Bing’s brain shuddered. At that point he noticed Ivan Gunderson standing in the doorway. The security chief’s eyes flicked down momentarily to a tiny device pinned to his chest, like half of a black pearl. Bing noted the camera, and hoped that the chief had remembered to turn the microphone on this time. He turned back to the scientist: “What do you mean ‘or so’?”
“The creatures are hard to keep track of. They also breed quite a lot. And we can’t be expected to monitor them twenty four hours a day, can we?”
“Well, yes you can. The other enclosures seem to be doing ok to monitor their animals. Why can’t you?”
“Oh, of course we can monitor the animals we have in the enclosure. That bit’s easy. It’s the free range landsharks that we have trouble keeping track of.”
Bing had heard many combinations of words in his life that shook him to his very core. “You’re fired,” “I think I’m pregnant,” and “I want a divorce” were just some examples. But in the context that they lived on a giant spaceship, the words “free range landsharks”, as it turned out, was the most unsettling thing Bing had ever heard. He turned to Gunderson, who was fiddling with the buttons on his tazer trying to see if it could be set to a higher power setting than ‘maximum’. Bing knew he had limited time to finish his questioning before Gunderson decided he’d heard enough.
“So where exactly do your landsharks range?”
“Mainly in the Einstein Recreational Area, but we can’t say for certain. Some come and go. We saw one with a car tyre in its mouth once. Goodness knows where he got that.” He chuckled to himself. Bing felt a little bit of vomit creeping up his throat. The scientist’s chuckle abruptly stopped as the prongs from Ivan Gunderson’s tazer delivered thousands of volts of electricity into his abdomen.
Bing took that as his cue to exit. He closed the door behind him when he left to let Ivan Gunderson get on with his police work in peace. The scientist he’d left speaking to Alpha was lying handcuffed on the floor. A large red mark on his neck suggested that he’d been pistol whipped by an unidentified assailant.
It occurred to Bing that under normal circumstances he would be offering to sue the ship’s police force on behalf of the scientists. On this occasion however, he decided that he could live with Chief Gunderson’s actions. Alpha herself was nowhere to be seen.