Go to Cover Brian and Evan give Joshua the petition.Rom finds a possible mode of escape, and Elliot discovers a partially eaten body.The kids get bored and cranky.Jack is pleasantly surprised when Joshua announces he wants to end Operation Zoo,Joshua sets up the Pony Express, and decides to survive Armageddon.Fact: The heaviest snake is the South American Anaconda which can weigh up to 500 pounds.A civet cat, and a nandi catGo to chapter 25 in Joshua's ViewGo to chapter 27 in Joshua's View

Chapter 26 Wednesday, 1645 hours (4:45 PM)

Joshua put his talk with Brian out of his mind. He had work to do. First he had to attend to a second redefinition of the Ministry of Information. The jamming of the walkie-talkies had left them with nothing to do, especially now that the jamming was full time. Joshua wasn't particularly upset with the jamming. It was part of the game. He had done something the police didn’t like, the incident with the snake woman, and they had reciprocated with another petty harassment. The lack of communications between Calfers was an inconvenience in the 265 acre zoo, but the Ministry could handle it. Now they had a new function and a new name, The Pony Express.

Joshua handed his former ministers, now Pony Express riders, a zoo map marked with a roughly circular route. The Pony Express, Calfers in a maintenance cart, would continually ride the route stopping wherever there were Calfers. The tramway was an important part of that root, so important in fact that they would stop at both ends of it. They would pick up and deliver messages, and when their cart’s batteries started to run down, they would exchange for a fresh cart from the maintenance area. To prime the pump, Joshua gave them their first task; Spread the word everywhere that Jack is wanted back at Zoo Center.

When the door closed behind them, Joshua sat at his desk, preparing for the next telecast and negotiation session that was scheduled in just about an hour. He had just taken a fresh sheet of paper for notes when he was interrupted by a techie at the door. He had bad news. He had fired up the transmitter with a test pattern, and had tried to look at it with the broadcast monitor. There was nothing but snow. At first he thought it was a problem with the transmitter, but it wasn’t. Someone was jamming their signal.

"Couldn’t you use another frequency, another TV channel?" asked Joshua.

"No. It’s an old crystal controlled transmitter. We only have one crystal, for channel 58. We could try to jury rig something but it would take all night and it probably wouldn’t work anyway," answered the techie.

Joshua made light of the situation.

"Let the police have their fun. We’ll have the last laugh," he said as he put his arm around the techie’s shoulder and guided him out the door.

Joshua was furious. The broadcast was where he was in control, where he could show videos of what he had done. Not that he was planning to show the crocodile feeding. No, that might cause the police invasion to happen before he was ready. The snake woman footage was the scheduled fare for the evening. It would make the police angry, but not angry enough to change their plans. Joshua knew he’d still have to go ahead with the six o’clock phone call to the negotiator but now, without television, he knew he’d be at a disadvantage. The public would not see him, calm and collected, behind the desk with his winning smile and in full control of the event. He would also not have the pleasure of hearing George’s reaction to the snake woman video.

Joshua walked to the window and looked out at the sunset. It had special poignancy since he knew it was most likely his last sunset. Although it was sweet and honorable to die for one’s cause, the dying part was rather awkward. It would be nice, he thought, to be able to see the results of his handiwork, the flames, the desolation, his legacy.

What he needed now was a spectacular gesture, a horrible portent. He needed it to show the police that he and only he was in control. It was almost the time. He needed a taste of Armageddon. He had a rough idea of what the portent would be. Now he had to refine the idea and actually execute it.

His eye caught the movement of the aerial tram and it gave him an idea, the critical idea, the missing element. Looking at the tram moving high over the zoo, he thought his way through it. He went on to imagine the morning sunrise and the horror it would reveal. He had figured out how to get the police to attack, but not how to produce a frenzied assault. Now he had it. The horror would impel the police to attack without mercy. It would be a massacre.

Joshua went to his desk to plan it step by step. There were logistic problems since he had to do it alone. It would take some physical strength, but not an inordinate amount. He could manage it. He’d need Jack’s help to set it up though. Joshua went back to the window to watch the developing sunset.

He was startled by a knock at the door. It was Jack. He was wearing a backpack which, thought Joshua, perhaps explained why he looked uncharacteristically wholesome.

"Just the very person," said Joshua. He guided Jack to a chair.

"Sit down Jack," said Joshua warmly, "and take off that thing. What is it anyway?"

Jack unbuckled the heavy pack and let it thud heavily to the floor.

"a backpack. Oh you mean this?" said Jack pointing to the yellow and blue rubberized roll tied over the top. "It’s a one man inflatable raft. It’s probably the way that scout leader got back into the zoo."

Jack pulled up the chair and sat facing Joshua. Joshua leaned forward and said in a conspiratorial voice,

"Jack, I know you want to hold the zoo until the bitter end, but what would you say if I said I wanted to end Operation Zoo."

Jack was taken aback. "End it? Yeah, I think we’ve probably proven our point," he said.

"My thinking too," said Joshua. "I want to release another hostage, one who will tell our point of view. I’d like to start to pull back from our no compromise stance. No sense getting everyone killed. What would that prove?"

Joshua smiled inwardly at Jack's look of amazement.

"Why don’t we just release all the hostages now and be done with it. It might be hard under the circumstances," said Jack, "to find a hostage sympathetic to us."

"I know. But what about one of the kids?" asked Joshua. "Kids like animals. I’d like to talk to one of them, tell him about us, make friends. Then we’ll send him out. It’ll be a nice gesture. Then in the morning, we’ll release everyone else. We’ll get good press from the kid. It will make it easier and less dangerous for us when we hand back the zoo."

Jack nodded.

"We need a boy who can do this, someone who would not be afraid to talk to the police," said Joshua.

"I think I know the kid. He leads the pack. Kit, I think his name is," said Jack

"Great," said Joshua standing and thus bringing the meeting to an end. "Bring him here after the broadcast, about 6:30. OK?"

Joshua stood up, signaling an end to the conversation.

"OK," said Jack rising to leave. "Can I leave this here?" he asked pointing to the backpack.

"Of course," answered Joshua. "Wait a second," he went on, going to his desk and rummaging through a side drawer.

"Here. The keys to the leopard enclosure. Catch," said Joshua.

Joshua remained standing after Jack left. He was very impressed with himself, with his way with people. He had moved Jack from being absolutely ready to hold the zoo to the death, and had him at the end ready to hand over the zoo and send out the hostages. In fact it was amazing how easy it was to turn Jack around.

The sun was now below the hills and the room was darkening. Joshua looked at the backpack and thought about the raft and alternate futures. Joshua wanted his immortality but it was inconvenient that his death seemed the only way to achieve it. In his minds eye, he saw the fiery apocalypse of tomorrow’s dawn. He saw the mortars, the flame throwers, the flares, the automatic weapon fire, the death. Then he had another vision, of himself floating serenely down the Bronx River with flames roaring out of control on both banks, floating down the river, and out of the zoo.

Joshua continued speculating in the waning light. The police knew him by his broadcasts, but they only knew his first name. At least he thought he had never used his full name. Maybe they had no idea who he was. Maybe he could just go home, change his appearance perhaps, and be safe. But then maybe it didn’t matter. He was rich, very rich and great wealth makes for great mobility. He had after all, large amounts of money stashed for safety in a number of friendly countries. Maybe if he did things right he could have it all, life, immortality, as well as the godlike thrill of Armageddon.

As he envisioned the possibilities, the possibilities seemed to become reality, a scheme. He did not spend time dwelling on the difficulties of the scheme thinking that since providence was kind enough to provide him with a raft, who was he to question providence.

Joshua wove all this into a sort of plan before going out to the broadcast room for the next negotiation with George. He entered the details into his diary, left the room whistling, and took pains to greet everyone he met in the halls. He was beginning to feel immortal, especially with regard to the people he met in the halls.

Joshua went into the broadcast room and found that Brian and Evan were there too. Apparently no one had bothered to tell them that cameras weren’t needed anymore.

Joshua sat at his desk and picked up the phone, this time not waiting for the negotiator to initiate the call.

"Hello George," said Joshua.

"That was a pretty dirty trick, that business with the woman and the cobra," said George.

"Would you rather I’d killed her then?"

They negotiated without any real purpose. Joshua used the code phrase ‘We’ve all sacrificed much,’ again. By using the phrase Joshua sent the message of surrender, and assured that nothing unpleasant would by inflicted on them from outside before morning. The matter of CALF’s demands were not even brought up, nor for that matter, was the disposition of the hostages. All was calmness and tranquillity as they hung up.

When Joshua had put down the phone, Brian and Evan approached him.

"I’d like to talk to you," began Brian tentatively.

"Go on," said Joshua.

"Well, you see, we’ve had a petition made up, and," said Evan timidly.

"Brian, What’s this about?" asked Joshua.

"I’d like to read the petition," said Brian. Actually he was planning to read it on the air, but since there was no air to be on, he’d read it to Joshua. This was not an easy task since he, like practically everyone else, was scared of Joshua. Brian cleared his throat and began reading,

"Whereas: CALF has successfully taken over The Bronx Zoo in the cause of animal rights, and,

Whereas: CALF has successfully broadcast our philosophy out to the world over TV, and,

Whereas: Brian VanMeer has been removed from the CALF presidency, and,

Whereas: over sixty percent of the Operation Zoo CALF membership have petitioned to have Brian VanMeer restored to the presidency of CALF, and,"

"Is this going to take long?" asked Joshua.

"Uh, No, just a little longer please," answered Brian.

" and Whereas: the aforementioned sixty percent of the CALF membership do not believe in violence and object to the killing of Andrew Steiner and Reggie Foreman, and,

Whereas: the aforementioned sixty percent of the CALF membership believe it is time to end Operation Zoo,

Therefore Be it Resolved: that Brian VanMeer be restored to the presidency of CALF, and,

Brian VanMeer is directed to conduct negotiations with the authorities to immediately surrender the zoo, and,

that for the safety of all, all weapons be returned to safe keeping."

Brian looked firmly at Joshua.

"Here are the signatures," he said handing the document and a page of signatures to him.

"I hereby reaffirm my rights as President of CALF and ask you to step aside," he continued.

Joshua stared at Brian for a moment or two, then took the document from Brian’s outstretched hand.

"You morons," he said.

Joshua turned to his bodyguards.

"Take these guys next door and beat some sense into them, will you."

The two bodyguards came forward, AK-47s at the ready, and nudged Brian and Evan to move. They were guided into the adjacent office while Joshua turned away, crumpled up the document, and threw it on the floor.

Joshua left the broadcast room and made his way back to his war room to wait for Jack and that boy, Kit. On the way he stopped a Calfer asked that some items be brought to his office. He would need some rope, some cakes, sodas, and any other things that a kid might like to eat. Next he intercepted a Pony Express rider and had a message sent to the tramway sniper. He was to be relieved of duty. There was no need to have anyone spotting from the tram tonight.

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