Benjamin 2.0

This week’s Chuck Wendig challenge was called “Invasive Species” in honour of his new book called “Invasive.” You can read about the challenge here

Also, a big thank you to everyone who has read and liked or commented on my work so far. I will make the effort to keep going with these challenges as well as work on my own stuff (offline for now). I enjoy reading all of your work too – keep it up!

My story is a bit more serious this week. I hope you enjoy Benjamin 2.0

Ben wasn’t really a people person. He didn’t even think much of himself really. But he was good with animals. And so it was that he was charged with curating the zoo’s latest attraction. She was expected to draw visitors from all over the world, they said. And so she should, for her kind had not been exhibited in 80 years, and had been declared officially extinct for 30 years.

That’s longer than I’ve been alive, Ben thought. He’d observed Hope for the past three days in her enclosure, which had been painstakingly recreated in the likeness of a Tasmanian wilderness her kind were thought to be accustomed to. She had done little to investigate her surroundings – her activities were limited to pacing back and forth, sleeping, and devouring the raw chickens Ben brought to her twice a day. During feeding times, she had stayed well away from Ben, eyeing him warily.

Today, he would spend a little time in the enclosure with her. She was still a joey, after all. Officially, she had been found in far North Queensland and nursed back to health by zoo staff. Unofficially, Ben had stumbled upon the truth. She had been commissioned by the zoo and created in a laboratory, the product of genetic material gleaned from her ancestors and raised in a numbat surrogate with the aid of ectogenetic technology. Whatever the hell that means.

They were working on a mate for her, but that might take a few years. Officially, there were more of them out there, and it was just a matter of time before they captured a male and the zoo could start their conservation program.

He opened the gate to the enclosure and walked in. She was a bit bigger than Splinter, the Jack Russell that Ben had owned as a child. In many respects, she looked like a dog, except that she had a long thick tail which tapered to a point and hung down like a kangaroo’s, and a pouch, obviously. A line of faint black stripes ran horizontally down her back and gave her species its namesake, the Tasmanian tiger.

Hope. He called out softly. She darted into the bushland. Ben felt a surge of joy and disappointment. While he was delighted that she was finally exploring her habitat, he longed to pat a Tasmanian tiger just as much as everyone else. His boss also wanted Hope to become tame.

Imagine how much people will pay to take photos with her, he’d said. If she can warm up to anybody, it would be you.

Ben listened and surveyed the enclosure. Although he knew the terrain better than she did (he’d designed it), he had no chance of finding her amongst the burrows. He walked through the paths, looking left and right, but did not find her. She did not surface for dinner and his dread grew at the thought that the last Tasmanian tiger may have once again died in a zoo. And this time, he was responsible!

The following morning, the chicken was gone. Encouraged, Ben laid out some fresh chicken and waited. After 15 minutes, it seemed that Hope was not going to be lured, so he went into further into the bushland. He heard birds squawking and looked up to see feathers falling, and Hope, in a tree, a crow in her jaws. She was a larger than she had been yesterday, and the stripes on her back and tail were darker.

She was hunting! Ben did a little happy dance right there on the path. So little was known about the natural behaviour of this species, and yet here he was, the only person in the world to witness it first hand! I knew they could jump, but this is remarkable. But how could she have changed like that over night?

Hope’s sudden increase in size made him more than a little uneasy. And why would she hunt when there was food freely available. He watched her bite down on the crow. Weren’t their jaws supposed to be quite weak? She stared down at him. Ben backed away from her as though she was an aggressive dog. She jumped down from the tree and advanced a few steps towards him, then yawned, opening her jaws to 80 degrees.

That night, Ben couldn’t sleep. He thought about the footage he had watched on the last Tasmanian tigers in zoos. The creatures in those films were a pitiful sight to him, reminding him of Splinter standing at the fence as he left for school, or dogs in shelters waiting to be adopted. How they had paced back and forth, rested, and yawned over and over. At one point, he looked into their eyes cried and what humans and introduced species had done to them. Maybe it’s just the old zoo environment. Still, every time he rolled over that night he expected to see her face in a wide yawn.

That morning, his boss was waiting for him.
“Hey Ben, how’s things going with Hope?”
“She seems to be settling in ok but she’s strong and not as timid as I thought she’d be. I don’t know about parading her around for pats and photos.”
“In time I’m sure she’d be ok. Say, did you know that the last Tasmanian tiger was called Benjamin?”
“I know, spooky huh?”

Benjamin shook his head and took some chicken from the refrigerator and went to feed Hope. This morning, she was nowhere to be seen. He looked up in the trees and poked sticks into the bushes. Nothing. He took his torch and walked towards the burrows. There were three, and they were all connected at the back. They were just the right size for him to crawl into, but it was a tight fit. He stomped his foot outside.

“Hope.” He called, then “Hope,” again. He turned his torch on and put it in his mouth and began to crawl into one of the end burrows. They are supposed to be fearful creatures, and run at the sight of people. That’s why nobody has taken a clear photo in over 80 years. But then, this was no ordinary Tasmanian tiger. This one was grown in a lab, and made to look like a Tasmanian tiger. Who knew what it really was? Damn thing reminds me of something out of Silent Hill…

Then… HER FACE! She was in front of him, blocking his path. She was bigger… darker… than the day before. Her wide mouth opened, and Ben thought of sharks and crocodiles. Their jaws were weak… That’s part of the reason why they all died… He put his arm out, and Hope’s mouth chomped down hard. The pain, and the flowing blood seemed absurd to Ben, like silly streamers flying out of a magician’s sleeves. He tried to shuffle back, but he was so far in… Hope pulled on his arm, and he remembered playing tug of war as a boy with Splinter… Cut it out boy, that’s not funny. He drifted off, there in the burrows, and awoke several hours later.

The zoo staff found Ben’s torch and clothing abandoned in Hope’s enclosure the next day. They called the police, who were unable to solve the mystery of Ben’s disappearance. Unable to find any next of kin, Ben’s boss arranged to have his car towed away. Everything had gone according to plan – they had their male tiger now. Outside the enclosure, the zoo staff hung a sign: Meet our newest addition: Tasmanian Tigers Hope and Benjamin 2.0.

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