Africa is a place of boundless mysteries. A wilderness that is unfit for civilized men. It balks at his alien presence and sends him nightmares to remind him of his place in the order of the things. I have heard learned men say that if the great Saurian creatures that turn up now and again in quarries and pictures of Scottish lakes are still alive anywhere, it is along the equator either in the New World, in India, or in the very region of Africa with which I am the most acquainted: the basin of the Congo River.
You see, the first real memory I recovered under the care of Billington was that of having spent the last year north of Leopoldstad, running expeditions for Belgian companies along the Congo . It is a treacherous land, populated by both flora and fauna of the gargantuan scale. The mighty python that hunts hippopotamus by the side of the river can grow to be some sixty feet long, I once saw a spider as big as a horse spinning a web in the jungle canopy far above us. I shudder at the thought of what such a monster ate to keep it alive. My nightmares are full of conjectures. And though I never saw the creature myself, the dark skinned natives of the place spoke of a great ape as tall as Midland Bank. I have heard it roar. I do not doubt its existence.
As the memories of Africa became clear to me through the pall of my injury, Billington began increasingly to press me for insights. At first, I believed it to be part of the treatment, but then I realized that his curiosity extended beyond his professional interest as a physician. Indeed, he showed a peculiar interest in a kind of monkey known by the jungle people as the Chim Ponzee. It is a name that means, “False Man” in Bantu, but it implies more, for it implies mockery.
Billington admitted to becoming first fascinated by the creature precisely because of his work with other animals. You may recall, for instance, that Billington began his research into memory with carrier pigeons. What most people don’t know is that his experimentation did not end with observation alone. He began, eventually, to manipulate memories as well. He had, for instance, under the advice of Lord Melbourne trained these same pigeons to carry explosives by manipulating their memories of their nests. The homers were to find a new home in the enemy’s ranks. I have never learned, one way or another, the outcome of that particular project.
As concerns the Chim Ponzee, Billington believed the animal to have the most developed sense of memory of any land dwelling mammal (he suspected the Right Whale of having the greatest memory in all of nature and lamented, on more than one occasion, that the size and scope of his laboratory was our of keeping for such a creature). Once Billington learned that I was somewhat of an expert on the habits of the Chim Ponzee, for I had seen them in their natural habitat, he grew ever more curious. He even went so far as to confess to me that the operation I had undergone had been work done by him on a voluntary basis, driven by his assumption that I might prove an asset to his studies should my memories of Africa return intact. So much for my theory of that wealthy dowager Aunt paying for the top tier of medical care; my operation had been charity. No more.
Here is the all of it: Billington planned on heading to Africa himself. He had studied the brains of Chims for long enough and felt that they were preeminent in their capacity to have their memories manipulated. Something about their being just this side of beast. He could, for instance, train up one chim, and by the process of sub-cranial operation and transplant, produce the same training in any number of other chims as well. He had heard, however, of an even more developed variety of the Ponzee, known now by many explorers as the legendary Bili Ape, named some years later after Billington himself. At the time, though, he referred to it as the Chom Ponzee. Billington believed that it was some sort of ancestral animal guessed at by the experts who had moved man’s anthropological birth place from the Teutonic regions to Sub-Saharan Africa.
The Chom Ponzee, according to Billington and others, was a missing link to man and would provide, for him, a needed answer as to the operation and limits of human memory. In any case, the Chom Ponzee was a trophy du jour of the British Naturalist Society and Billington wanted it for his ascension to the rank of President of that organization.
Billington had agreed to perform my operation as an act of charity because of a curious skull that was kept in the Society’s headquarters, brought there a year ago by a Dr. Nerman who had joined an expedition up the Congo, allegedly under my guidance. I was named as the creature’s hunter on the plaque below its final resting place, though I could not, myself, remember actually killing it.
“And so you see, you’ve already hunted this thing once. It should be nothing, really, to hunt it again. And besides all that, you speak Lingala, yes? How fortunate to have in my care one of the few people in the Isles who can speak the language of the Congo river people."