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Ceren shook her head as she looked at her tablet. “I don’t know how we’re going to keep up. I’ll talk to the daycare tomorrow, see if I can get more hours.”
Another caw. Tom scraped his shoe against the blackened brick wall and continued his pursuit. “How about keeping up with me tonight, eh baby?”
“Are you seriously thinking about sex? We’re ass-deep in bills. Don’t even get me started on the utilities.”
“Sorry babe, you lost me at ass-deep,” Tom chuckled. He passed through the tunnel and into another corridor. In the distance he caught a glimpse of a shadow. He was within sight.
“Unbelievable,” Ceren blushed. “You’re ridiculous you know that?”
Tom slowed down. The cawing reached a fever pitch.
“I need to go now babe, I’ll call you back.”
“Don’t keep me waiting, I’m hungry,” Ceren smiled.
“Ten four.” Tom hung up and pocketed his phone. He turned a corner and there it was. A creation centuries in the making. The dodo scampered about at a dead end. A pile of garbage and neglected compost lay before it. The creature scoured the decrepit pile for food, tapping for scraps with its prominent beak. Tom slowly entered the corridor.
They weren’t kidding back at the lab. The accelerated cell technology (AC-CELL they called it) had led to a fully formed dodo bird within a matter of weeks. Tom couldn’t help but be impressed. He remembered the words of Alastair Campbell, his boss and leader of what had become known as the Dodo Initiative.
“Can you imagine what bringing back the dodo will mean?” Tom heard Campbell tell a company scientist a few months back. “This will prove to be an exotic and expansive business venture. We can open up the first restaurant that serves dodo meat. We can reignite an interest in glamorous hides. This could trigger new trade and fashion trends. And of course we’ll manufacture a few birds to keep for ourselves once we complete the extension to the zoo.” Campbell had purchased the zoo from the city three years prior.
Recalling the boss’s words, Tom suddenly felt sickened. He considered abandoning this quest and forging a lie, saying he failed to find the escaped creature. But then what about what Ceren had said? It was the fourth time this year the rent had gone up. Living expenses were out of sight. If Campbell were to find out that Tom had lied...
Tom shook his head. Working for a wealthy and influential business man such as Campbell was an honour and privilege. He couldn’t afford to throw that away.
The dodo’s bushy tail stuck in the air as it managed to secure some traces of food on the tar-coloured floor. Tom studied the bird as it ate. He pulled a tranquilizer gun from his holster. “Sorry, buddy,” he whispered to the flightless bird as he eased towards it.
At that moment the dodo turned and looked at Tom. Tom froze. The dodo bellowed and Tom floundered backwards onto the ground. The bird turned and made for the corridor. Tom grasped his gun and aimed at the bird as it bolted past.
“Stop! Sit!” Tom had no idea how to domesticate a dodo. The bird brushed by and bit Tom’s right hand with its powerful beak.
“Christ!” A tranquilizer dart shot into the air. Tom managed to avoid it as it plunged back down, but he tripped again and fell onto the heap of garbage. The dodo shuffled off, its grey plumage disappearing into the forbidding darkness.
Embarrassed, but also relieved, Tom got to his feet and dusted his clothes. His right hand was throbbing, there was a red welt where the dodo had pecked it. Tom examined his necklaces which had come loose from within his shirt. The one with the turtle carving stood for Turtle Island. Tom was half Anishinaabe on his mother’s side. He used to love hearing stories about the Mississaugas, his mother’s people. The other pendant, the nazar amulet, had been a gift from Ceren. Some mysterious fluid had been smeared over them as the dodo passed. Tom wiped them clean with his sleeve. He adjusted them around his neck and grabbed the trank gun once again.
Navigating through the tunnel, he found that the cawing noises had ceased. He checked his hand, which was now warm and sticky. Blood had started to flow. “Damn it.” He shook the blood away. He undid his uniform and tore off a piece of his shirt to wrap around the bite. He figured he was the first person to receive a dodo bite in centuries.
He retraced his footsteps and came across the bird’s tracks on a nearby patch of grimy brickwork. The tracks led to a tunnel adjacent to the dead end Tom had just left. No cawing still. But this was a start. Tom followed the tracks. They led to a small brick ramp that ended at a ladder which stretched up to the surface. The sewer grate at the top had been removed.
“No way.” Tom re-checked everything. The bird tracks stopped right at the ladder.
“For the love of…”
Tom rolled up his sleeves and climbed the ladder. “They created a damn dodo that can climb. What else can it do?”
Tom never signed up for this when he was promoted to Alistair Campbell’s security squad.