“Where are we and what in the name of all that’s sacred is that?” I asked my driver.
It was the beginning of the third week of the four-week grand tour my folks had given me as my coming-of-age gift.
The first week was spent in the Mars settlement known throughout the world as Trump’s folly, in the early part of the twenty-second century. It wasn’t named after the one who briefly held the office of President of what was the United States of America, but after one of his grandsons, who had the brilliant idea of seeding Mars with wildlife, genetically engineered to survive on the red planet and to be targets for wealthy idiots who derive pleasure from killing defenceless animals in the name of ‘sport’. The settlement was designed in the form of a luxury hotel (what else?) whose only purpose was to pander to its fiscally rich but morally bankrupt guests. Why folly? Not as a nod to the ornamental but worthless buildings so beloved of the rich Victorians – although that does work – but in recognition of the sheer stupidity of the project. You see, although the animals could survive the rigours of life on Mars, they were, every one of them, infertile. As if the losses to the high-powered laser weapons used by the clients wasn’t enough to devastate their numbers, an ancient virus was unearthed, or should I say unmarsed when five ‘hunters’ simultaneously fired their weapons at a single animal. That the ‘animal’ turned out to be a rock was a comment on the skillset of the participants. The rock’s destruction released a long-dormant pathogen which tore through what was left of the herds in a matter of weeks.
For my second week, I was the house-guest of an ageing Charles Darwin. What a fascinating week that was! We spent our evenings together relaxing in front of the fire in his lounge – it was the winter season at the time – where he explained to me everything he had learned during his voyages and subsequent studies. For my part, I passed on to him some of the results of more recent research which should have led him to modify some of his theory. Quite rightly, in my view, he chose to keep to himself what I had told him, reasoning that if he were to modify his writings, then the research of which I had spoken to him might never happen. He seemed to have a grasp of the concept of time paradox even then, in the middle of the nineteenth century – a full thirty years before HG Wells’ Time Machine was published.
The driver of the vehicle in which I just found myself handed me an envelope and sat in silence whilst I opened it and read its contents.
Headed ‘Week Three‘, it simply said ‘Location: East Africa, Earth. Time period: Third quarter, twentieth century. Enjoy.‘
“East Africa?” I asked.
“Yes, Sir. Tanzania, Serengeti,” the driver replied, “I am Desmond.”
“Desmond? That doesn’t sound African.”
“No, Sir. When I became Christian, I was able to leave my tribal name behind and choose my own name to reflect my new faith. I chose Desmond.”
“Why did you choose Desmond?”
“I thought to myself that if it is good enough for Archbishop Tutu, then it is good enough for me.”
“Fair enough, Desmond. You can call me—”
“Barry. Yes, I know. It is written on my instruction sheet.”
“What is the animal? I don’t recall seeing anything like that before.”
“It is a Black Rhinoceros.”
“A black rhino? Wow. I thought they were extinct.”
“No, Sir, Mr Barry. The whites are in severe decline everywhere, but the blacks are doing okay so far.”
“Should I be worried?”
“Not with me here. I know this one. He has charged many times, but always turns away before hitting anything.”
“That is true. But I think I would see in his eyes if he was about to attack.”
“Okay, I’ll trust you, Desmond. But how dangerous is it? Do they ever kill? I mean, it’s big – and that front horn looks serious.”
“It is, but this one is okay. I wouldn’t try to upset him, though. If he’s annoyed, he can turn very quickly and, even though he weighs about a ton and a quarter, he can run at up to thirty miles an hour for a short time.”
“And how fast can this thing go?” I asked, referring to the vehicle around us.
“This old bus? Faster than that,” he said with a chuckle as he started the engine and pulled gently away.
This was written in response to Kreative Kue 280 published on this site.