10. Basement Zoo

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After what seemed an unreasonably long time to be travelling directly downwards, the elevator shuddered to a halt

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After what seemed an unreasonably long time to be travelling directly downwards, the elevator shuddered to a halt. The doors opened to reveal a vast basement.

Fluorescent ceiling lights shone onto hundreds of steel cages hung by cables from above.

They followed the overseer as he walked through the hanging zoological garden, reading from a clipboard. Geoff looked into each cage as he passed. Most seemed to house cats or dogs. But some held intricate bird skeletons, hopping from one foot to the other, looking at their own skeleton faces in tiny mirrors.

A column of snake vertebrae reared up and hissed at Jamieson as they passed

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A column of snake vertebrae reared up and hissed at Jamieson as they passed. The air was full of meows, yips, howls and chattering. Some of the animals appeared to be sleeping. How they managed to do so amongst the cacophony was beyond Geoff.

He walked a little ways behind Naomi. He could see her movements, sharp and robotic.  Her hands were curled into fists at her side. He caught up to her and lay a hand against the small of her back. She didn't seem to notice.

He wanted so badly for them to arrive at the cage they were heading to and find Bernie waiting for them. He felt his own body tensing up in anticipation of the pain that Naomi would experience if Bernie wasn't there. Geoff didn't know if he could bear to walk through that much pain with her.

The overseer stopped and stood in front of one of the cages. He looked down at his clipboard.

"Yes, she should be here. Ah ha." He opened a small door in front of the cage, reached into it and pulled out one of the biggest cats, or at least the skeleton of it, that Geoff had ever seen.

"Is this Bernie?" Asked the overseer.

Naomi looked at the cat. Looked into its eye holes. She stepped forward and offered her hand for smelling. The giant kitty sniffed at her hand and bared its teeth, making a low hissing sound.

Bernie only ever hissed when they accidentally stepped on her tail. Even if somehow she had doubled in size, she would never have treated Naomi like that.

But even without the hissing, and the size, the shape of it was all wrong. This was clearly a big tomboy.

"That's not Bernie," Naomi said.

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