The ark was far too large to be built on land and so Noah and his sons Shem, Ham and Japheth had built it directly in the water, right where the Tigris and Euphrates rivers met each other. Noah hurried along the deck, clutching a sheaf of papyrus documents and trying not to trip over the scavenging chickens that kept pecking at his toe nails. He was late for the weekly progress report meeting and time was precious.
The meeting room was on deck C, just across from the elephant enclosure. His sons were already there. Shem and Japheth were talking quietly together. Ham was sitting in a corner by himself poking moodily at the beads on his laptop abacus.
"Sorry I'm late," said Noah, "but the printer was playing up again. It took me ages to get the latest project plan printed out."
"What's wrong with the stupid thing?" asked Shem.
"It's a printer," said Noah. "That's what's wrong with it. They never work properly. The sooner we get the papyrusless office that they've been promising us for the last twenty years, the better I'll be pleased."
"Did you try running the spring down and then turning the crank to wind it up again?" asked Japheth.
"Of course I did," snapped Noah. He handed out some of the papyrus sheets. "Here's the latest Gantt Chart," he said. "We've got just over a year until Deluge Day, or D-Day as the CEO keeps calling it in his memos, and we've still got quite a lot of work ahead of us. If you look closely at the chart you'll see that we're falling behind on the critical path. The rate determining step is animal acquisition and we're doing really badly with it." He handed out some more sheets of papyrus. "Here's a list of outstanding animals. I'd like you all to get on to it right away."
Shem had been examining the animal list while his father was talking and he clearly wasn't happy with it. "Come on, dad," he said, "this is just silly. I simply don't believe that there's such an animal as a quokka."
"Quokka," murmured Ham, using his laptop abacus to interrogate the master database. "Here it is it's a small and rather ugly marsupial that lives only on Rottnest Island, just off the coast of West Australia."
"Australia!" exclaimed Shem. "No wonder we're falling behind schedule, dad. Have you any idea how long it takes to transport animals from Australia? Our shipping agent lives in Alice Springs and he's quite useless. These days he spends all his time at Uluru. Apparently his pet dingo ate somebody's baby."
"And where are we going to keep the quokkas, assuming we ever get any?" asked Japheth. "The marsupial deck is already full to overflowing with wombats. They breed like..." he struggled for a simile. "..like wombats," he finished lamely. "I'll swear every single one of them is born pregnant. We simply don't have any room for the quokkas."
"I'm sure you'll think of something," said Noah vaguely. "Ham, what have you got to report?"
"I'm not at all happy with my assignment," said Ham. "We're a very strict Jewish family, so I really can't think what possessed you to call me Ham in the first place. But giving me the pigs to look after on top of that is just adding insult to injury. It simply won't do."
"Take it up with your mother," said Noah vaguely. "It was all her idea."
"How can I?" asked Ham. "She's away in Thebes negotiating for aardvarks."
"Just try and make the best of it," said Noah. "You're much better at pigs than the rest of us." He consulted his papyrus sheets again. "Now," he said, "the next item on the agenda is a complaint we've received from the environment protection people. They tell us we're going to have to stop mucking the animals out directly into the river. It simply can't cope with the load. The water isn't swimmable any more. It isn't even wadeable. The country's clean, green image is looking a bit tarnished and er... brown."
"The water tastes rather funny when you drink it as well," said Shem. "And sometimes you have to spit out lumpy bits. But what other choice do we have? You can't stop animals from doing what comes naturally and when you've got as many animals as we have, there's an awful lot of it to get rid of."
"Perhaps we should invest in more dung beetles," suggested Japheth.
"Maybe we could send it all up river to Babylon," said Ham. "Nebuchadnezzar is constantly complaining about how much fertilizer the hanging gardens need."
"Good idea," said Noah, and he made a note. "OK, that's all I have to say. Let's call the meeting to a close so that we can all get on with our jobs."
They made their way back to the top deck of the ark. Shem was in the lead. He climbed out through the hatch on to the deck and then almost immediately he turned round and came back again. "Dad," he said, sounding a bit worried, "it's started to rain and it's coming down really heavily. Do you think that D-Day has come a bit earlier than planned?"
Noah stared at his Gantt Chart in consternation. "I hope not," he said. "That would throw everything completely off track."
Ham's laptop abacus began to make rapid clicking noises. "It's a memo from the CEO," said Ham. "He says not to worry, this is just a bit of a practice run. The number two reservoir was starting to overflow so the CEO is taking the opportunity to drain off the excess. It will only be a small deluge and we'll be OK. Atlantis is going to sink though."
"That's a shame," said Japheth. "I always liked Atlantis. Great beaches!"
"Well, look on the bright side," said Ham. "At least we can cross unicorns off the animal list."