It is at first Sellurt’s assumption that Noah is exaggerating regarding the number of animals stored on the Ark.
He can hear them, of course. There are always sounds. There is trumpeting and barking and buzzing and keening and at night there is a thin distant wailing that merges with the creaking and shifting and croaking of the wood.
And he sees no small number of them—the zebras, the antelope, the ostriches, the platypuses, and the lions, of course, the lions, more than two of them, more than seven of them, more than he can count, their great padded feet always stalking through the decks.
There is impressive biodiversity on the Ark.
But Sellurt has studied the Earth. He knows how many species there are.
They cannot all be on the Ark.
They are too many.
They are endless.
Mehanem—or Noah, as everyone calls him—is always busy. He does not have time to meet with Sellurt and Morgan. Thus it is that the two visitors from the Galactic Confederacy are abandoned there to the depths below deck, to watch through the portholes the endless dreary rain and listen to the skittering and scratching in the walls. Sometimes Sellurt’s eyes will close and he will wake up to the feather-soft touch of a spider or mosquito crawling across his leg; and each time, he observes with interested horror, it is a different species than he has ever seen before.
“It doesn’t matter,” says Morgan, after a while.
Morgan is sitting at the window, dropping coins from the porthole, watching for and failing to see that moment when they strike the water and vanish into the immensity of the deep.
“It doesn’t matter?” Sellurt asks.
“I mean,” Morgan says, “humans can’t breathe water, right?”
In Sellurt’s mind there is a momentary fantasy of drowning one of Mehanem’s sons, the human’s arms and legs flailing, his face slowly turning blue, his animal noises grinding to a halt.
Then Sellurt shakes his head.
“No,” he agrees. “They can’t.”
“Then their civilization is dead. It doesn’t matter that we’re not able to invite them to join the Galactic Confederacy. They’re dead. It’s over.”
It has been seven days now and the rain has not ceased to fall.
“Surely it’s just this subcontinent,” says Sellurt.
Morgan looks out.
“A whole world can’t die to rain,” Sellurt says.
“It’s surprising,” says Morgan. “How many animals there are. Whether or not he really got them all. Where do you think they go, when we can’t see them?”
On the ninth day, when Sellurt goes to the hatch that leads to the upper levels, he finds two lions there. They are between him and the hatch. They have gingivitis, thanks to their poor dental hygiene, and their maws are dripping blood.
“You’ll have to let me by,” says Sellurt.
But the male lion yawns, with its great yellow teeth, and its breath is rank.
“God,” mutters Sellurt.
He backs away.
There is the sound of hooves on the deck beside him, the heat of fur in the air, the whining of a fly, but when he turns to track the beast’s location with his eyes he cannot see anything but the wooden halls.
Sellurt finds a place where he can hear human footsteps, endless human footsteps, pacing on the decks above. He hammers on the ceiling. He shouts. He is dignified at first but then he screams until he’s hoarse, until he cannot breathe, until he falls and curls upon himself below.
The air is thick and fuzzy and he is sure he is surrounded by the beasts, but when he opens his eyes they are not there.
“Are you okay?” Morgan says, when he finds him.
“I’m fine,” Sellurt says.
“I’m fine,” Sellurt repeats, and then he says: “This is intolerable.”
A koala shares their evening meal that day. It is the first time that either of the aliens have ever seen one, and the last they ever will.
When Sellurt checks the hatch again, the lions are still there.
Every time he checks the hatch, the lions are still there.
The humans are beyond Sellurt and Morgan’s reach.
“It must be Noah,” Sellurt tells Morgan. “The humans are more advanced than we believed.”
“The rain. This isn’t natural rain. It’s something they’re doing. They have a machine. Noah is doing it. He has a machine.”
“Why would they kill everyone off?”
“Why aren’t there more of them on the boat?” Sellurt says. “Why were they all left to drown? There’s plenty of room. They could fit twenty, thirty more families in here. But the lions kept them away. The lions stood outside the Ark and kept them away. He wanted them to die.”
“Don’t obsess,” Morgan says.
“We’re an advanced galactic species,” says Morgan. “I’m sure we can figure out some way to deal with lions, if we have to. We could use our stunners. Or some kind of telepathic mind control. The options,” and he gestures extravagantly, “are endless.”
Sellurt sits down heavily.
“Yes,” he says, bitterly. “I’m sure we could.”
There is a great long-legged bug probing at his hand. He’s not sure where it came from. It wasn’t there when he sat down.
He will not shudder, Sellurt decides. He is a citizen of the Galactic Confederacy. He is above such distress.
His meeting with Noah will wait.
On the eighteenth day, Morgan observes, “There are too many animals.”
There is a distant sound of slithering. It is very dark and the damp seeps in through the wood.
“They are endless,” says Morgan. “Never mind what Noah claims. There are too many different animals, just the ones we’ve seen. They can’t all fit in here, not with this much free space.”
The rats stare at him from the rafters, their red eyes glowing. There is the dry scraping noise of scales on wood. There is a peculiar, choking cough.
“They have to fit,” Sellurt says. “They’re here, aren’t they?”
“There’s no room.”
Sellurt leans back. His eyes are blank and white. He is thinking. He is counting, in his head.
“There’s no room,” he agrees.
The air is hot. It is the steam of a zoo, of a kennel, of a hundred thousand bodies pumping warmth and stench into the air.
Sellurt swats at his arm.
“Why,” he asks plaintively, “did Noah save the wasps?”
There is silence for a time.
“We’ll go,” says Morgan. “We’ll go. We’ll deal with the lions. We’ll face them down.”
“Yes,” says Sellurt.
Something clammy brushes against Morgan’s face. He waves his hand at it but it is gone.
“Stupid frogs,” Morgan adds.
They walk in the direction of the hatch.
“Don’t stop,” Sellurt says. “We have to get out of here. We have to get to the hatch. I think we will go mad, Morgan, if we stay.”
Morgan is staring at the air, with his head tilted to one side, a peculiar expression on his face.
“We have walked the length of the Ark,” Morgan says. “And more. And still there is no hatch.”
“Ridiculous,” says Sellurt.
And there in the dimness and in no specific direction: not east, not north, not south, not west, Sellurt can make out a shaft that rises through the levels of the ship, above and below, through more floors and spaces than he can count.
“Don’t you see?” Morgan says, his voice immensely small and tiny in the emptiness of the Ark.
“No,” protests Sellurt. “No. I don’t.”
Sellurt can feel the breath of the lions at his back, and there is everywhere to run.