A/N: Hmmm... there might be a slight logical flaw in this one... hmm...
"I for one don't understand why you're standing up for this guy," Juliet said. Juliet was the dog who'd initially declared her gender as female, though without much to go on. Dexi had shown her a great deal of media over the week they'd been languishing there in limbo, and something about the Shakespearean heroine had finally cemented her identity.
Dexi sighed. "He's not as bad as this makes him out to be."
She prodded at the tatty, many times folded sheet of white paper that was Patrick's Neuromax contract, which Haldane, when she’d finally let Dexi go, had told her to take back to the others as proof that Patrick was no saint. It stated clearly - well, the handwriting was terrible, but you could definitely make out the words - Patrick would be paid an enormous sum of money in the event that the animals could no longer understand basic sign language. That must have been a particular kick in the teeth for Chip, who could probably have managed that even before all of this.
Juliet, her glossy black labrador coat shimmering a little in the chamber's low light, raised an eyebrow ridge at Dexi. "So he wasn't trying to make you stupid?"
"For the last time," Dexi exclaimed, "I'm sorry for calling you stupid!"
But Juliet was grinning. Sue, the mouse, whose gender was more fluid but who for the most part identified as female, peeped her head out from behind Juliet's ears. She frowned at them both. "Would you two please stop arguing?"
"I agree," Chip said, pushing himself up from where he'd been leaning against the mirror window. "Patrick was our friend. He treated us well. I am sure there is some sort of explanation. Can we please, please not get into this for the sixth day in a row?"
"Seventh," Dexi admitted.
Juliet sighed. "Fine."
"So," said Henry, the rabbit who'd taken his name from the surprise source of Horrid Henry. Dexi still didn't really get that one, but to each their own. He must have felt some sort of connection to a character trapped in a world that doesn't understand him and wishes he would stop talking. He went on, "What are we going to do?"
Dexi bit her bottom lip, a mannerism she'd picked up from people with much less sharp teeth. She glanced at the tablet she'd spent the week showing the new arrivals movies and books on. Maybe they could find a way to communicate with Patrick, or the outside world. One of them just had to develop hacking skills so they could get round Neuromax's filters. Not being able to access tumblr was apparently killing Lisa, the young frog.
Still, they could get news in, even if they couldn't send it out, which was a small kindness for Haldane to afford them. Perhaps it was mostly because if they went mad in that little box they wouldn’t be any good for experimentation, but still. Dexi manoeuvred herself so that she was side on to the tablet, and refreshed the BBC News front page carefully with the tip of her snout. The results took a while to load on the chamber's shaky Wi-Fi, but bit by bit, a navy waistcoat loaded in strips from the bottom up. Dexi held her breath. She knew that waistcoat, she knew it. But it could be any waistcoat.
Then the chin, the wrinkles. The tired, but happy lines at the sides of his eyes. His greying hair that still flopped haplessly to the side. Patrick.
"I could have got that for you," Chip said, approaching her from the other side of the tablet and holding out an opposable thumb. His eyes widened as he saw her, a frown slowly starting to set in. "What's the matter?"
Chip dropped to all fours and turned the tablet around to face him.
Henry bounded over to them and brushed his soft, twitchy nose against Dexi's side. "I'm not really one for the reading yet. What's going on?"
Dexi didn't look at him, or around at the others. She especially couldn't have bared to see Gerry and Lisa at that moment. She didn't know them particularly well, but they loved Patrick as much as anyone else.
She took a deep breath and read out the headline. "The Secret of Tayburn Zoo: Rogue Scientist Fronts Biological Carnival."
"We have to get out of here," Dexi said. She looked up at Chip, whose face was expressionless as he stared at the tablet on the ground. "Chip, they're covering their tracks. We’re not worth the trouble any more and they want out, I know it. I'm sure the footage from our cameras is gone by now. Heck, who knows if they even still work, or ever did? There's no more chance, no more zoo. Next step is no more us, and you know it. We have to get out of here now!"
Dexi watched Chip continue to stare at the ground, and wished more than anything that Aurora wasn't still being kept in a separate chamber. Chip would have listened to her. Or really, it was more that Aurora actually knew what to say. Chip's eyes were bloodshot; Aurora would know what to say to someone who couldn't sleep at night.
He looked up a little from the tablet, which was all it took to lock eyes with her as she stared up at him. He just stood there for a moment, his eyes darting once over Dexi's shoulder, presumably at the other animals. Finally, he said, "How?"
"Tunnel," Sue said, from somewhere behind Dexi and to her right.
Chip frowned and looked over at her, with Dexi slowly turning in a circle to also look at the young mouse.
"Tunnel?" Dexi asked.
Sue nodded, and darted over to the wall just above the area where Chip slept. There was a great deal of cotton bedding, which Dexi had never paid much attention to but now she saw was little more than a pile of cotton wool. Sue ran back and forth nudging strands of it aside. Chip crossed the room, dragging his feet past Dexi and the others. He brushed aside the rest of the cotton wool that Sue was attacking. His body went still and he crouched down, looking at something low to the ground.
Finally, his eyes bugged just a little out the sockets. "How long has this been here for?"
"What is it?" Dexi asked.
Chip beckoned for her to edge a little closer, but there wasn't much to see. There was a slightly darker patch, which Sue obscured almost the entire area of as she stepped in front. Then suddenly she disappeared into the black until she was little more than a patch of light brown in the dark. Chip immediately shifted so that he was sitting in front of the area, glancing up at the camera, but the truth was clear. Sue had made a mousehole.
Gerry's wings beat in a frenzy but he flew over at a more leisurely pace, sliding smoothly to a stop at the side of the hole and sitting down next to Chip, as if to chat with him. He said, again as if to Chip, "And how have you done that? I thought the wall was solid metal."
Sue stayed inside the hole, presumably the easiest way to evade CCTV detection. She called, "Not the whole thing. The skirting at the bottom, you'll barely have noticed it. It's wooden!"
Gerry and Chip simultaneously glanced down, then looked back up at each other. Dexi screwed her eyes up and moved her lips as if she was adding something to the conversation. Looking at the bottom of the wall properly for the first time, she saw it was barely skirting, more like joining, but there was a definite strip of about five centimetres stretching along at least the wall they were looking at. It was the exact colour of the wall, however, and in the dim light of the room it was true that Dexi had never noticed it.
There was a flash of brown as Sue darted into the gap between Chip and the wall, then a moment later she appeared on his shoulder, a space she often occupied. She raised her front paw as if to interject in the conversation, and started to explain.
"So, I sort of chewed through this. Not, like, eating it or anything." Sue had been glancing between the gazes of each of them, but at this her eyes dropped to the ground. Nobody liked to be reminded of their animal days. She cleared her throat and went on, "I just hacked at it with my teeth and then spat it out into the bedding. Chip, sorry, but that's why you've not been sleeping as well."
Chip smiled with one side of his mouth. "I don't think you could have saved me from that."
Sue nodded. "Yes, indeed, probably. Well, anyway, they haven't started experiments on me yet, or Juliet, or Henry. I'm not sure why."
Dexi gulped. She hadn't told them about the animals in the room next door, the ones that were truly fascinating to Haldane. Sue would probably be sleeping as little as Chip if she knew there was another mouse through there keeping them busy.
"Point is," Sue said, "they haven't noticed from my memories or anything, so I don't think they know. So then I took a chicken bone from your food, Dexi, and started prying away the metal from inside the hole. Sorry I didn't tell any of you... I just, I didn't know whose memories they would read when."
Dexi desperately wished to brush her nose against Sue, but she knew it would scare her. The cameras would probably be curious about that too anyway. Instead, she said softly, "You are a brave, brave mouse."
Sue grinned, her own teeth poking out a little. "Thank you!"
Lisa hopped forward and climbed up onto Chip's other shoulder. She leaned forward and looked round at Sue. "So how do we get it big enough for these giants?"
Dexi giggled. Lisa didn't talk that often, but when she did it almost always made her laugh.
Sue shrugged. "I keep prying away at the metal, I guess. Unless Chip, they give you cutlery, don't they? Because you can use it? Well, if I could get a knife... but then I guess that would be in your memories... Oh no."
Dexi's bottom jaw dropped, and thwacked against the floor. She looked from Chip and Lisa to Gerry. It was a bit late to be worried about what would be in their memories.