#41 Expeditions and interrogations: part 4
A day at the zoo
Previously: Detectives Clarke and Styles from London have travelled by portal to the city state of Bruglia, in the parallel dimension of Palinor. Such is the way stories go in the Triverse. Guests of Princess Daryla, they are in town to speak with a prisoner - a Mid-Earth citizen. On their way to where he’s being held, the Princess takes them on a slight detour via the city’s Museum of Zoology…
The Bruglia Museum of Zoology was less a collection of fossils and skeletons and more a menagerie of beasts the like of which Clarke had never seen, or barely imagined. The construction of the zoo reflected its occupants: there were cages suspended over pits, paddocks encircled by three layers of metal fencing, glass compartments big and small. Each housed a creature entirely unique. He remembered visiting zoos as a child, where half the animals would look largely the same - an entire row of various types of monkey, or an area dedicated to big cats, or a snake and reptile house - but on Palinor it seemed that creature diversity was off the scale.
He glanced over at Styles, who was walking as if she was navigating a lucid dream. They were due to be on Palinor for less than a week and he could already see that dragging her back to Earth was going to be a painful process. There was an inevitable end point, which Clarke wasn’t yet ready to consider.
Princess Daryla led them through the zoo complex, past horns and scales and feathers. After a while Clarke stopped looking into each of the cages and displays; much was the stuff of nightmares, and he valued his sleep more than his curiosity. Princess Daryla. A princess, albeit in a different sense of the word to what he was used to from the kingdom back home. This was no monarchy in the sense of the British Royal family - Daryla was part of the ruling house that occupied the seat of power in the city state of Bruglia. Power, to be sure, but of a different sort and scale. The Queen back home ruled over half of the planet; Daryla’s family influence lasted only to the city’s borders and some surrounding territory. In the context of Palinor, though, that meant a lot.
“I’m surprised you don’t have an entourage,” he said.
Daryla looked over her shoulder at him as she led them below an arch and into a new area: a wide passageway cut through the rock, with additional compartments dug into the sides to house animals. “I know my way around the city.”
“I don’t doubt it,” Clarke said, “but aren’t there security concerns?”
She smiled, though there was a disparaging edge to the curve of her lips. “I’m a fully trained micrologist, Detective Clarke. Top of my class.”
“So, what, that means you can move tiny things?”
“After a fashion, yes.”
Clarke looked at Styles, who grinned and raised her eyebrows expectantly, clearly having intention to help.
“OK, so how does that help if someone attacks you, or decided to kidnap you? You throw a pebble at them?”
“The most skilled micrologists can manipulate matter on a semi-molecular level,” she said. “It’s easy to focus on elemental magic, or visualisation, because they’re the most dramatic. Physology is notable because it appears to break our understanding of natural laws. Micrology is small, subtle, unseen. That’s its power.”
“I don’t quite understand.”
“If you or anyone else tried to attack me, I would gently pinch one of the carotid arteries that runs up your neck. It feeds blood to your brain. I could make you pass out, or have a stroke. Or simply kill you. It takes concentration, of course, and requires a power draw, but it’s entirely doable. My micrology skills are well known. And thus nobody would even think of attempting an assault on my person.”
Styles waved a hand. “What about another micrologist?”
Daryla paused, turned and put her hands on her hips. “Well,” she said, “then things would get interesting.”
“You must make for good assassins,” Clarke said.
She gave him a withering look. “That’s a common misconception. You don’t have to go far back in history to find a lot of distrust around the use of micrology, and some unpleasant incidents towards micrology wielders.”
Clarke grunted. “People get scared when you can kill them with a thought.”
“You’re a big man, detective. Strong, I’d wager. Especially in your youth. You could kill someone with a well-directed punch. Your hands could strangle someone without them being able to stop you.”
“Good job I’m a policeman and not a murderer, then.”
She raised an eyebrow. “Indeed.” Without another word, she continued walking.
Clarke exchanged glances with Styles, who frowned and gestured in exasperation.
“Are you trying to annoy her?” Styles sighed, then followed the princess.
The idea of going back through the portal and sitting at his desk in the SDC office was becoming ever more appealing.
“What am I looking at here?” Clarke stood at the entrance to the hollowed-out cave, illuminated only by sun glinting through a grille set into the ceiling. The space was large enough to hold a sizeable creature but was entirely empty, save for a metal box sat on the floor in the centre.
“This has been home to all manner of animals over the years,” Daryla said, walking around inside the cave. The walls are thick, the door is strong. It’s not for visitors - this is more of a holding area before animals are transferred to elsewhere in the zoo.”
Styles pointed. “What’s with the box?”
“The records show that two azzoca were put in here, at the end of Frostfield.” She moved towards it, then paused. “Oh, I think that would be February on your calendar.” She knelt on one knee in front of the box and held out a hand.
“Herbivores. Grazing animals, but endangered. There’s a breeding scheme at the museum.”
Clarke checked his watch. “This is fascinating, but we do have a Mid-Earth citizen to interview.”
“This box,” Daryla said, ignoring him, “is sealed with magic. It has a series of locks which are very difficult to open. Fortunately it’s not a problem for me.”
“What’s in the box? An egg?”
“Azzocas don’t lay eggs,” she said, as if he was an idiot.
She clenched her fist, turned it to one side, then reached out with her other hand and pulled at the handle on the front of the box. The small door swung open. Clarke half expected some sort of critter to scamper out but the box appeared to be empty. He bent over slightly, hands taking his weight on his knees. The interior of the box was dark. “What am I looking at here?”
Styles got in closer, knelt down next to the princess. “Oh my god, Yannick,” she said, “this is a portal tear.”
He took a step closer. “I’ve never seen one up close. It’s totally black, just like the big portal at the station.”
“It’s one and the same,” Daryla said, standing. “We monitor for tears just as you do on your side. As soon as one is identified we close them up, like this one. Except this wasn’t closed up. And there weren’t two azzocas in this habitat.”
She clearly enjoyed building up to a big reveal. Clarke crossed his arms, bracing himself. “What are you saying?”
“You won’t see it in the official reports. It’s been presented as an accident. But there was a newborn kengto in here, I’m sure of it. In this chamber, with a portal tear, just before one appeared in London and caused you a lot of trouble. According to the records it never happened.”
“Huh,” Clarke said, looking to Styles. “This trip just got a lot more interesting.”
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Thanks for reading. How’s your week been? I finally got out the other side of my lingering Covid-19 symptoms/exhaustion. June was not an easy month.
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