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Ivory Raynor looked down into the walrus' cage. The creature lay almost unmoving on one of the artificial ice floes, quivering slightly and making low moaning noises. "How long has it been like this?" she asked.

Tamara Ramsbottom said, "Trixine, the new janitor, found it like this about five this morning, when she was cleaning up in this area. She called me first, and I called you. I also called Dr. Butcher, who should be here momentarily. And Mrs. Lombardi would've told me last night if there had been anything this bad wrong then."

"This is just like what the gnu came down with yesterday. It's showing the same symptoms, at least. But why the hell should the walrus be getting it? Why not some of the other ungulates, or the cats in the nearer cages? Why the walrus, at the other end of the zoo?"

Tamara looked over Ivory's shoulder. "Hello, Dr. Butcher," she said. Ivory jumped and turned to see Waldorf Butcher about ten feet away, striding briskly towards them. She'd never get used to Dr. Butcher and his silent approaches.

Dr. Butcher nodded at Tamara, murmured a "Good morning" to Ivory, and then proceeded to examine the walrus cursorily from the rail. Several times, he counted silently to himself as he watched the walrus, once using his watch for extra accuracy. Then he turned to the other two and said, "It's the same thing the gnu has. Even allowing for the difference in species."

Ivory reiterated her protests. "Why the walrus, though?"

Dr. Butcher shrugged. "There must be some kind of vector, that we haven't taken into account yet. Obviously, this disease is quite virulent, and doesn't take much account of species. So we can't take any chances with it. It can't be an airborne vector, or else the animals in nearby cages would've started to come down with it. So it's probably transmitted by contact, by some item..." he trailed off, lost in thought.

Then Tamara pointed down into the water below. "What's that?" Ivory looked. There was a small whitish-gray object at the edge of the water.

Tamara got one of the long hooks and snagged the object. It was some kind of cloth, soaked through. "Don't bring it too close," Dr. Butcher said. "It's probably very contagious."

Tamara very carefully brought it close enough that they all could see it clearly. Then Ivory snorted. "One of Mrs. Lombardi's cleaning rags. Probably got gnu hair all over it. Well, I guess we know why she called in sick today."

Based on the words: Gnu Rag Succumb Walrus

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The Den of Ubiquity/ Aaron V. Humphrey / alfvaen@gmail.com