A sort of a Zoo Tale

Returning to the Ankh-Morpork City Zoo, by a roundabout route

The even weirder fourth chapter. In which things start to get explained.

Student wizard Marcus Porringer awoke with a guilty start. He had been assigned by Doctor Berwin to keep station on the tank full of strange glowing oysters. Doc Bruce had cheerfully said it was an ideal place to catch up on his revision for his first year exams, away from the temptations of beer and women and the fleshpots of the City. All he had to do was to observe a tankful of bloody boring shellfish and fill in an hourly report on what they were, or more pertinently, were not, doing. Easier than pissing in a billabong, Doc Bruce had said. And if anything goes wrong, which I doubt, yell for a golem. There are regular patrols round the Zoo during the night. Golems are the least of it. Assassins do security patrols here too and you never see those bastards until they want you to see them, by which time it's usually too late, but don't worry, they'll know you're legit.

A chair and desk had been installed, and Marcus had wrapped himself in a cloak and dutifully tried to bone up on his Woddesley. At intervals he scribbled a report log:

12:30am. Oyssters still glowing blue. Large one in middle of Grouppe occasionally opens shell slightly and gloops. Bubbles observed. Electric-blue light remainnes Constant, handy to read and write by.

1:30am. Stylle glowing blue. Om, this is gettinge boring.

The semi-dark and blue light had begun to have a soporific effect on Marcus. His eyes had drooped. A Golem on night security patrol had kindly fetched him a cup of coffee. Marcus appreciated this. But...

He jerked into awareness. How long had he been asleep? With a red-faced sense of guilt, he checked the imp in his pocket-watch.

"Three-thirty, guv'nor."

He thanked the imp and quickly scribbled a brief retrospective report for two-thirty, adding one for three-thirty. It did not take long. Inexorably, he found himself nodding off again. His eyes flickered open and he saw...

Meanwhile, Constable Visit and Detective-Constable (Special) Smith-Rhodes were in one of those situations that any Watchman dreads. Howondalandian arguments tend to get very loud and very animated. Especially when members of at least three tribal clans and national groupings are involved. Add some of the few remaining white natives living in the street who had come out to protest about the bloody noise, and things were getting critical.

"Visit, do we need ess... assistance?" Johanna asked, trying to compensate for her Rimwards Howondalandian accent.

"The noise should draw other Watch patrols." Visit assured her. "The thing to do, miss, is to find somebody who isn't getting involved, somebody who looks like they're keeping their head, and ask them. Find out what the fight's about. Then you talk to people, politely but firmly. Just show them the uniform. That helps." He paused. "Sometimes."

"You had better do the talking." Johanna said. "I'm at a dised... disadvantage here."

Visit frowned, noting she was talking in a different way, trying to suppress her native accent. It was still obvious she wasn't local, though.

"Look, man. Helf the people here are bleddy Zulus!" she said, spelling it out. "En...And most of the rest are Matabele. People of my nationality are not popular people in those countries. How is it going to look if I step in end tell them to stop fighting, to disperse and go home? It is going to sound like the baas-lady laying down the law to the ka... the natives!"

Visit nodded, gloomily, seeing her point.

"And I tell you, Visit. The Matabele and the Zulu do not like each other very much. The Xhosa detest both. And that bloody idiot over there is waving a knobkerrie at the other idiot with the assegai, which thenk... thankfully... looks like a legacy weapon he has no idea how to use!"

"Oi, aren't you bloody Watch going to sort this out?" an affronted Ankh-Morporkian voice said. It belonged to a man in his thirties, who was wearing nightshirt and slippers. "Bleedin' Howondalandians, sleeping thirty to a bed, stinking the place out with their foreign cooking, noise at all hours, beatin' the bloody jungle drums. Old Mrs Jackson's cat went missin' last month! And we all know where it ended up, don't we."

"In their cooking pot!" a female voice added, darkly. "They call it bushmeat, don't they! I call it a disgrace! This used to be a good neighbourhood until all the nig-nogs started movin' in, forcin' out decent white people!"

"And there is your fourth problem." Johanna said, sighing. "The good old Ankh-Morporkian attitude of unjudgmental welcome to immigrents."

Visit had gone slightly pale. A few yards away, the combatants were squaring up to fight, spear and battle-club circling slowly. At least everybody else was watching and all other lesser arguments had ceased...

"Hey, love, I recognise you now!" the Ankh-Morporkian woman said, loudly. "You're that girl works up the Zoo, aren't you? We don't have problems with your sort of Howondalandian! Good decent white people, talk a civilised lingo, know how to behave."

"Kith and kin." said her husband, approvingly. "Not like these buggers! Tell you what, love, got your whip on you? You usually carry one. They shift right quick when you people get your whips out!"

A few black faces on the fringes were now turning to look at Johanna. Unfriendly faces. One big Zulu-looking man nudged another.

"Oh, kak!" Johanna cursed. She took stock of her permitted Watch weapons. One truncheon. One short sword. One crossbow. And the moment she reached for any of these, there'd be trouble and no more room for negotiations. If she had to fight, somebody was going to get inhumed. And it wouldn't look good in the Times. Mr Vimes would go bursar.

"Visit. How fest cen you run?" she asked, not bothering to try to conceal her accent any more.

"Nobody's caught me yet, miss." he replied. "Om grants me the speed of.."

"Good." said Johanna. She had decided discretion was going to be the better part of valour here. But as she poised to run, she spotted something on the other side of the fighting throng.

"We may not need to run. Look."

To her immense relief, two people, one of whom loomed, entered the fighting group, roughly pushing people aside. One of the thrown people tried to remonstrate with the non-loomer, but appeared to think better of it and fell back with what looked like a submissive cringe. The two newcomers moved in behind the duelling couple, each selecting a mark. And then the man with the assegai held high to stab found himself bodily lifted by the scruff of the neck, the spear dropping from his hand. A Watch truncheon cracked down on the knuckles of the man with the knobkerry, causing him to drop it and cry out. He turned with anger on his assailant, who pointed the night-stick at him and fired off a stream of commanding Zulu. Even though his assailant was smaller and slighter than he was, he backed off, holding his hands in a placatory way and stammering apologies.

"Isn't it nice to see friends?" Johanna said, relaxing.

The two newly-arrived Watchmen nodded to each other. The larger one, the one who loomed, addressed the crowd in a Howondalandian language. The slighter and more sinuous one took over when she finished. Her voice was the voice of one who expects to be obeyed. It had harmonics.

Visit looked at Johanna.

Precious Jolson hes told them to cease the foolishness, calm down, end quietly return home." she said. "Meanwhile my associate, Special Constable N'Kweze, repeated the same command to the Zulus present. She is now reminding them that while here she is a lowly Special Constable, et home she is a Paramount Princess end speaks with the voice of her father, the Paramount King. Who would punish such a disturbance in the Royal Kraal by staking the offenders out over an ant-hill. Or else tying them to a tre,e end smearing their bodies with honey for the buffalo and goats to lick."

Visit looked puzzled.

"The tongue of a buffalo is rough, Visit. The sensation soon becomes excruciatingly painful. End in Howondaland we elso have creatures called honey-badgers. Who like honey. End meat. Preferably together."

She listened to the discussion, and translated: "End now that big man is saying to Ruth N'Kweze, I am Matabele, I own no allegiance to the Paramount King of the Zulus, why should I obey a mere girl? End es you see, Precious has just hit him, end she hes said I am admittedly a mere girl too, but Matabele, end I am elso in the Watch, any more silly questions? End they ere dispersing, but not before Ruth end Precious speak to some of them. End I believe it may be safe for us to step forward."

"Hi, Johanna!" Ruth N'Kweze greeted her. Ruth was also a graduate Assassin who Vimes had accepted as a Special.

"I tell you what, love" the white neighbour said, appreciatively. "Some of 'em ain't too bad, I suppose. You employ those sort of Watchmen to deal with the blacks, do you?"

"Wetchmen – end wetchwomen – ere employed to deal with people, Mr..?

"Booth. Edward Booth. And my good wife Joan. At your service, miss!"

"Then, Mr Booth, you may wish to return home end resume your interrupted night's sleep?" Johanna said, meaningfully. "Let us deal with this."

"Come on, Eddie." one of the black men said. "Fun's over. Let's get home."

"OK, chocolate drop." Edward Booth said, grumpily.

"Our neighbours." Joan Booth explained. "Not a bad couple."

"Eddie's always like this." the black neighbour explained. "He calls me a nig-nog, I call him a honky. So it goes. Right now nobody wants to get arrested, so home, snowflake?"

"My bed is calling." Eddie Booth agreed. "We'll resume this discussion in the morning, Sambo." (1)

Johanna and Ruth shook their heads as the neighbours bickered their way back indoors.

"You get all kinds." said Ruth. She grinned. "I'm really glad you stayed out of that one, Johanna. It could have got really ugly!"

"Ag, you know where getting overconfident leads to." Johanna said. "End in ell the time you've known me, have you ever seen me being overconfident?"

"No..o..." Ruth said, crossing her fingers.

"It wouldn't have looked good." Precious Jolson said. "Trust me."

She turned and noticed a couple of late disputants sidling away, trying to look inconspicuous.

"Can I speak to you, please?" she called, beckoning them over. The man and the woman looked reluctant, but chose not to run from the Watch. They came over to Precious, who smiled amiably at them both. She spoke in Morporkian.

"I need to file a report later." she said. "It would save a lot of time if I knew what happened here to spark off a street fight. There's always a trigger for these things. Who was holding the crossbow? Mr Ibekwe?"

Mr and Mrs Ibekwe looked at each other. She nodded.

"Our son Ojibwe, a good boy, but headstrong. He was friends with the son of the Zulu family at number forty-three. Benjamin n'Dewayo. They have become involved with a religious cult. We dissaproved, but Ojibwe disobeyed us. He and Benjamin have run away together to this cult. The N'Dewayo parents had the nerve to blame our boy for leading Benjamin astray. But you are Matabele, what can you expect from those arrogant bloody Zulus, think they own Howondaland?"

"Excuse me..." Ruth said, glaring. Precious motioned her to silence.

"And that's how it began, is it?"

"Yes. We confronted the N'Dewayos. Others joined in. Sides formed. A debate began."

"And so Mr N'Dewayo went indoors to get his father's assegai, the one propped up in a corner of the front room which is there as a reminder of the old country. One which he has never touched or used in anger. And which house on this street is the shebeen?"

Johanna nodded appreciation. It would never have occurred to her to ask a question like that. She was certainly learning a lot about policing from street-experts.

Mr Ibekwe was reluctant to answer. Precious prodded him.

"An illegal bar, Mr Ibekwe. Serving spirits and beers distilled on the premises. Paying no City tax. No licence. I could follow the smell of fermenting grain as far as..." she sniffed. "Number Twenty-One, maybe."

Mr Ibekwe suddenly looked shifty and nervous.

"Everyone needs to relax after a hard day's work, miss..." he said.

"Oh, I agree, Mr Ibekwe. And as I might recommend to Mr Vimes if the subject ever comes up in conversation, some things are cultural and should therefore only be interfered with in extreme circumstances. And the shebeen is an old cultural tradition in both Matabele and Zulu communities. A meeting point, a place for relaxation, a community drop-in centre, you might say. But when people leave it and a fight begins shortly afterwards, causing a breach of the peace and Watch involvement, other Watch members lacking our mutual cultural background might just see a link and forcibly close the establishment. I'm sure you understand what I'm saying?"

Precious smiled amiably to allow the threat to sink in. It would be relayed up and down the street by morning.

"But we could be busy trying to track down your missing sons. Now did Ojibwe leave any clue as to where he was going, what this cult is and where it meets?"

She turned to Ruth.

"Special Constable N'Kweze, perhaps you might knock on the door of Number Forty-Three and ask the N'Dewayo family a few questions? It'd look better coming from you." She paused, and added "Your Royal Highness."

Marcus Porringer could not remember falling asleep again, but he wondered if he was dreaming. The white-robed figures seemed to be both insubstantial and far too real at the same time. His wizard senses, although muted, were twanging and telling him this was something meta-real, not a thing of everyday conscious life but something that overlapped it. The women seemed to be having an argument.

...so this is where she disappeared to!

...Bloody cheek. Putting her in a Zoo!

That was the short fat one with the slipped laurel wreath.

...oi, Diligence. Will you stop cleaning the glass on that blessed tank, put the cloth down, and listen!

The one who reminded him of the terrifying Mrs Whitlow scowled over at the others. She resumed her industrious polishing.

...Where did Fortitude bugger off to?

...She found some kitty-cats to play with upstairs, apparently. You know what she's like for cats.

...Just so long as she doesn't try to take one home with her. Remember the last time? Took it to the time-share in Dunmanifestin. They can't exactly have a no-pets rule – look at Patina swanning round with that smelly bloody penguin, and all them half-animal Godsn – but it still caused strife.

... You're telling me! Bast the Cat-Headed Goddess of Cats took a real interest, didn't she!

...So what do we do? We can't take her away, just like that. That'd be theft! For one thing, it's their tank and tell you what, the bloody Assassins own this place!

...Yeah. Teatime Prize and all that. You can't ignore them any more. What do you think, Silence?

...Oh, sorry. I was forgetting.

...Maybe we should convene? You know, ask for a truce, see if They have any bright ideas?

...ye Gods, Them?

...Well, Pride's not so bad, and I do think one day she could get to see our point of view.

...Shut up, Hope!

I can't stand Lust. She really takes things to extremes.

...And she thinks you creep her out, Chastity.

There was a pause.

...We leave her here, for now? She's safe and being looked after.

...What if They...

The group of spectral women suddenly looked at Porringer. Conversation ceased.

...you're meant to be asleep, my lad. You aren't meant to be seeing this!

As Marcus Porringer faded into sleep, he heard a low growl.

...Look what I found! Isn't he adorable!

...For goodness' sake, Fortitude! Put that right back where you found it, this instant!

...Biss, love? We'll be back soon. That's a promise!

Johanna waited discreetly in the street while Ruth spoke to the N'Dewayo parents. It was better that way, although she was sure she heard the words "What's the Boor woman here for? Thinks it's a tribal dispute in the township or something?" being spoken. An aura of menace still hung in the air, and she was keen to move on and get out of here. It felt, in a very real sense, like hostile territory where her presence had been noted and she was being allowed to remain, tolerated but not accepted – for now.

She was glad when Ruth N'Kweze came back with a handful of pamphlets and things that had been found at the Ibekwe house.

"Apparently they both left these behind." she said.

"Oh, the wiles and temptations of false religion... I may have a pamphlet..."

"Can it, Visit." said Precious.

"In the last days, there will be false prophets heralding the rise of the Anti-Om..."

"The Golden Dawn of the New Age! ! ! !" Johanna read. "Three exclemation marks, I note."

"They get up to six later on." Precious observed. "A true sign of a deranged mind."

"Do you long for a new Golden Age of the Discworld? An age where WRONGS are RIGHTED under the rule of a Goddess, WHO IS RETURNING! The SIGNS and PORTENTS of Her return are there to be seen1 But only those who have Eyes To See may see them! The Goddess has been asleep and lost to us for thousands of years.


"Will you be among the CHOSEN?

"Or will you be cast out in the wilderness, where there is wailing and gnashing of teeth! Where no parsnips grow! ! Where the empty forlorn dead shell closes on no Pearl, a failed oyster, barren and bereft?

"For further information, write to Brother Perlman or Brother Bouchard, c/o Royal Mail Post Office Box number 1277.

"PO Box 1277, your express service to a HEAVEN ON EARTH when SHE returns! ! !"

Johanna shook her head.

"Multiple exclamation marks. End itelics. End rendom cepital letters. There is insenity here, thet's for sure. Well, at least we've got a lead now." she said. "It mentions oysters!"

"And Mr Ibekwe last saw his son in a blue and brown robe." Precious added. "Like those nuts you see in the street."

"Woe! Woe unto the unbeliever, he who leads Om's children astray!" cried Visit. Adding, as he was a copper, "We'd better get this back to Mr Vimes, quickly!"

Johanna was called to the Zoo early the next morning. Golems never slept and never ceased working. During the day, they were indestructible zookeepers. At night, they walked the Zoo grounds as security guards. But sometimes not even Golems can prevent things from happening.

"So we hed a lion escape, Mr Schmendrick?"

The golem Schmendrick nodded, ponderously. She exhaled. This was going to be a tough morning. No sleep, and a fairly full day ahead.

"I Am Afraid So, Miss Smith-Rhodes. However, It Has Been Recaptured And Returned. It Was Found Stalking Up And Down The Main Concourse Looking Confused. "

"Care to tell me how it heppened?"

"We Are Not Certain, Miss Smith-Rhodes. My Colleague Tukhus Was Patrolling Around The Large Cats. There Was A Commotion And The Lions Were Agitated. Tukhus Says He Saw A Woman In The Enclosure."

Johanna sighed. Another one. Some people, usually female, were fatally drawn to the big cats and wanted to get into the enclosures for some hands-on petting. It usually ended in tears. In the sense of "great big rips".

"Go on."

"He Went Into The Enclosure. The Woman Had Disappeared. He Alerted Others. We Checked For A Body. There Was None. We Did Not Think To Head-Count The Animals. There Was No Blood On The Grass. We Resumed Normal Duties. Before opening To The Public This Morning, We Found The Stray Lion. It Was Unhappy. Chimpanzees Were Taunting It And Flinging Matter At At. We Returned It To its Enclosure."

"Eny idea how it got out?"

"The Mystery Woman May Have Assisted. We Are Reviewing Security At The Lion Enclosure."

"Thenk you, Mr Schmendrick. Could Mr Tukhus give a description of the woman? It would be helpful."

Johanna sat back and reviewed the situation. It could have been worse. No corpse in the lion enclosure. One lion escaped, but recaptured, at a time when no members of the public were on the premises. But how had it escaped and who was the mystery woman? And the golem Tukhus was regarded by other golems with a sort of benevolent despair. Schmendrick had once confided in her that he was thought of as a little bit "flaky", as if his chem had a spelling mistake or was otherwise slightly flawed.

And there was the monastic new religion, at PO Box 1277. She wondered at the symbolism. Many religions believed certain numbers were holy or symbolic. What did it mean? She shrugged. Mr Vimes would have people at the Post Office by now, tracking the number to a real person. Then they'd know more. She rummaged for the book the librarian had given her. What was there in Chaffinch that would shed some light on all this?

She opened at random and started reading.

"What's all this about, Mr Vimes?"

Fartmeister Carter shuffled nervously in his seat and looked worried. Either he had some sort of brand-new skin disease never before seen, or else he'd tried to paint his face. Unfortunately he'd used the sort of cheap gloss paint people buy for their front doors. And applied it with a three-inch brush. The fact he'd then tried to overlay it with what were meant to be mystic occult symbols, before the first coat was properly dried, only added to his woes. He looked like a badly graffiti'd wall.

Vimes studied the makeshift monastic robe spread out on the table. He very carefully tried not to touch it. Even though all the windows in the interview room were open, there was a very definite smell of old starch aided by digestion. And of Carter. Sergeant Angua had excused herself and left.

"It isn't illegal to have a religion." Vimes said. "And you're not under arrest for wanting to join one, Carter."

"So I can go, mr Vimes?"

"You'll go when I say you can go!" Vimes told him, firmly. "No, there's religious freedom in this town. The Patrician insists there should be. So do the priests. But speaking of the Patrician, one thing he does not like is a bunch of assorted Herberts dressing up in robes, meeting in secret, and chanting mysterious gnomic incantations."

Vimes leant closer, trying not to breathe in. He eyeballed Carter.

"Because the last time that happened, we ended up with an enormous sodding great dragon taking the city over. So. Again. Who is organising this. What is it for? What does your Religion hope to get out of this? Who is behind it? No hurry. In your own time."

Carter gulped. He looked around. Sergeant Pessimal, pad poised to take notes. Constable Flint, looking stony and impassive. He slumped in his seat.

"I took an oath." he gulped. A solemn oath. They'll get me if I tell you!"

Vimes shook his head, sadly.

"Well, I'll get you if you don't!"

He leant forward.

"And I'm nearer! So what's it going to be?"

And Strife and Discord entered into Dunmanifestin. (Even though she had been banished as a Troublemaker and her keys taken away, the Lady Errata knew full well there was a Service Entrance around the back, whence Ronnie Soak delivered the morning Ambrosia.)

And taking the form of a weasel so as to appear righteous in Her sight, she did whisper in the ear of the Lady Resonata, "Thou wilt never guess what that stuck-up cow Bissonomy said about thee."

Leaving the Lady of Mustelidae to guess at what had been said by the Lady Consort of the Great God Blind Io, Errata then caused mischief by rolling a golden potato under the feet of Epidity, lord of Tubers and Root Vegetables. Seeing it as his right, Epidity did take up the golden vegetable, only to see it turn in his hands into that substance to which fairy gold reverts at the first light of the Sun. Thus humiliated before the assembled Gods, Epidity waxed wroth and vowed vengeance. Looking up in shame and bespattered with fairy gold, he saw the Lady Bissonomy, consort of the Great God Blind Io, laughing harder than anyone. At this point a voice only he could hear spake from nearby, saying "O Lord Epidity, that gift of the Medium in which potatoes grow Bestte was granted thee by Bissonomy, Lady Patron of Parsnips. Long has she wished to usurp thee as Holder of the greatest and most popular root vegetable, and to take thy potato crown away from thee."

Know ye, o seeker after truth, that Errata, Our Lady of Strife, Discord, Misunderstanding and Only Getting Half Of The Story, was full sore at her expulsion from the realm of Dunmanifestin pursuant to that business with the Golden Apple and the Tsortean Falchion. It had been Lady Bissonomy, (who, formerly a Virtue, had been Elevated to Goddess stature by dint of the Lord Io choosing her as Consortte and not through the Usual Career Progression of amassing Believers), who had whispered unto the ear of Io that Errata shouldde be Banished from Dunmanifestin. She, and that Mate of Hers, Tubso, who had Seene that grafting away as a Virttue was a Mugge's Game, compared to getting into Dunmanifestin the Easy Way, as Lady-In-Waiting unto Bissonomy.

Errata also knew thatte other Goddesses had had their Noses put Outte of Jointe by Bissonomy's elevation. Mutterings there were, of Thatte Bittche Hath Slept Her Way To The Toppe, and Evidently Hard Work Counts no Longer, and It's Notte What you Knowwe, It's Who You Knowwe.

Thus, in full awareness thatte Bissonomy was not Popular amongst the Goddesses, and knowing allso that both she and Tubso hadde let their Duties as Virtues slip to the point that mortals were forgetting what virtues they represented, Errata spread whisper and rumour among the Goddes, until one day, Harmony threw up her hands in Desppair, and fled sobbing even unto the privy.

Argument took place among the Goddes.

Resonata cried in wrath: "Say that about me again, you Cow, and I swear to... to... Somebody, I will slap your stupid face in!"

"Oh yeah?" retorted Bissonomy. "You and whose Divine Legion?"

The Virtue Fortitude separated the pair by use of her mighty arms, ignoring the sniggers and snide comments about her Gender Preferences, and spake unto Tubso and Bissonomy that you've both had a good long holiday, but you know, be reasonable, there are six of us down here trying to do the job of eight, isn't it time you were both on the job again?

Then Epidity sought to Curry Favour with the Lady Resonata, by accusing Bissonomy of attempting to usurp him by taking Potatoes unto herself as well as Parsnippes. (For, on being elevated to Goddess, she hadde to be Goddess of something, purely for the Looke of the Thingge) This she hotly denied, pointing out that the burrowing Mole is enemy of both, and his Tunneles under the Earth cause all root vegetables to fail and rot. She then took the totem animal from the hands of the Mole God, Duncton, and lifted it aloft to prove her point, crying that all patron Gods of root vegetables must stand firm against the menace.

Unluckily for Bissonomy, the mole was Errata in animal guise, who bit her hand and then cunningly leapt for the Lady Resonata, making it look as if she had been thrown.

"Right! This just about bloody Soddynge well does it!" Epidity cried, waxing wroth. And at his words, the Lady Bissonomy was transformed in form into a shower of Oysteres, which flew up into the air and fell down upon the Game Board, disappearing into the mortal world.

"Oh, Shitte." Blind Io spake, doing the Thinnge with his Palm and his Forehead. Although Inne Hysse Mercy, he contrived to see that the oysters, formerly Our Lady Bissonomy, landed softly in a congenialle tidal estuary which Leggende Hath It is just off the Circle Sea, though no manne knows where. And they reside there to this day.

Tubso was also Sent Forth the to resume her work as Virrtue, although by then such time had Elapsed in the mortal World that none could recall her, nor what she hadde been Virtue of. And Errata did Giggle, her work done.

And Epidity knelt at the Throne of Blind Io, yea, even at the lowest step, and begged forgiveness for what he had done in wrath to the Lady Bissonomy. For he was but a mere God of staple root vegetables, and Blind Io was mighty and puissant and Lord of the Gods.

But Io smiled, and saith, get uppe, friend. I was honestly getting a bit bored and she was getting a bit clingy and possessive. You did me a favour there!

And he privilly thought, maybe one of the Vices next, they might be more fun.

And here endeth the tale of Bissonomy, a Virtue who fell from Grace.

Johanna groaned and fought back an uncharacteristic impulse to beat her head on the desk. She put the copy of Chaffinch's Mythology down. Now she knew what was going on, except, perhaps, for the secret of what Bissonomy and Tubso had actually been Virtues of. Great Offler, all I wanted to do was set up a Zoo and see it runs well, she thought. And now I have a Fallen Virtue, or possibly a Goddess, in residence. Who do I talk to about this?

"So. This mysterious Brother Bouchard, Call Me Albert, runs this little religious society." Vimes said, recapping. "With his mate Brother Sandford Perlman. You meet in a rented room above the Koom Valley Memorial Halls where the sound of chanting and praying is lost over the morris dancing going on downstairs. And these two holy idiots believe a long-lost Goddess has returned to Disc in the form of an oyster which is currently being exhibited at the Zoo."

"All the signs are there." said Fartmeister Carter, Brother Suck Bharma, as the Cult knew him. "The unearthly blue colour. The miraculous light. She just needs, wossname, Believers for her to grow. People who follow the Way."

Vimes' expression turned to one of distaste.

"And the Goddess evidently ordains a high-fibre diet."

"Oh, yes, sir! Parsnips are compulsory. And swede, turnip, carrot, celeriac... never had a problem with eating those, Mr Vimes!

"Yes." Vimes said, darkly. He tried not to sniff the air. "We know."

He turned to Carrot.

"Last time it was a bloody dragon." he said. "What sort of calamity could a massive bloody oyster cause if it suddenly made a bid to rule the City?"

Carrot frowned.

"Not sure what sort of edicts it would issue, sir. Or how it would communicate. Isn't there a Wizard at the University who does shellfish communication?"

Vimes considered.

"Yes, but he had a bad-breath problem. So they packed him off to Genua to do open-ended research. Get Ridcully to clacks him, would you?"

Carrot nodded.

"It occurs to me, sir, oysters normally live sixty or seventy feet underwater. If this is an oyster with god-like powers that these gentlemen are seeking to awaken, could it be it'll want the city to be flooded to its taste?"

Vimes stopped dead. "City-threatening emergency, Carrot?"

"Potentially so, sir." Carrot agreed.

They both turned to the hapless Carter.

"Brother Suck Bharma, aka Frank Nigel Carter, known as the Fartmeister. You are hereby charged with conspiracy to endanger the security and well-being of the Cities of Ankh and Morpork, along with persons, identity as yet unknown, collectively known as the Goddess Cult of the Blue Oyster. While you are in a cell here, for the wellbeing of EVERYONE, you will get hosed down in the showers whether you need it or not, we will issue a prison uniform and...er... process those clothes, and when Igor gives you the standard medical, I'll ask if he's got anything strong enough to get that bloody stuff off your face, as frankly, you look like a Zombie clown. Oh, and you're on a starch-free diet, as I've got the welfare of other prisoners to consider. Haul him off, Carrot. Then when you come back, we've got a raid to prepare."

(1) I know. I've borrowed the characters from controversial old sit-com Love Thy Neighbour, which was about war over the garden fence between a white racist and his West Indian neighbours. Could not resist translating this to Ankh-Morpork to see if it worked.

Also quite a few sideways references to Blue Öyster Cult songs and band members. Maybe only for the fans, though! I've tried to parody the style of Bulfinch's Mythology (ponderous 18th/19th century prose) with Discworldian optional spellings. irritatingly all the multiple exclamation marks were censored out of the original upload (FF does things like this) so I'm hoping they carry over this time.