The First Rodent Army
The drugs began working almost immediately. I felt better. I could relieve myself, eat and drink again. My body felt as though it had been through a mouse grinder, but I was alive.
I had to know how Shiva and Thor got here. I had to get out of this stupid place. The cage latches were mouse proof...much too difficult for one of us to unlock if it was fastened tight. One of us maybe not, but a rat, especially a big one (or two)...
The next day the white coat guy came again and gave me more injections. I had my speech all prepared to the boys.
"Okay boys, answer quick. I won't be here long. Are you okay?"
"Hell no," Thor said. "They feed us weird stuff and stick needles in us! Of course we're not 'okay!'"
Shiva slapped Thor. "Respect Uncle Squibble!" he barked.
Thor lowered his head. "Sorry, Uncle."
"S'okay," I said rapidly. "Can you get out?"
"No," Shiva said.
Thor snaffed. "That was a stupid question! Don't you think we'd be out of here if we could?!" Shiva shot him a look and he said, "Sorry, Uncle."
"It's the drugs," Shiva said.
"What are they trying to do?" I said as a needle penetrated my tented skin and I felt cold liquid ooze down my spine.
"They're running an experiment," Shiva said, "trying to make rodents smarter."
I scoffed. "Too late," I said.
"Yeah, we mess with 'em!" Thor snickered. "We run the maze really good sometimes and really bad other times. Sometimes we just sit there on our butts. We've got all the other rats doing the same thing. He he heee!"
"We have to escape!" I said. "I have to deliver a warning to the safe house! It's life or death!"
Shiva looked at Thor. "We'll work on it," they said together.
Then I was taken back to my cage.
Another day passed. I kept feeling better, but I had a long way to go. I began scarfing the stupid food they provided like it was yummy, trying to build strength. The man took me out for my shot at the same time as the day before.
"I've got a plan," I told the rats.
"It'd better be good," Shiva said. "The rats in the cage next to us died last night after their injection. The ones down the line from them, the day before. We're next."
"Then it has to be tonight," I said as the needle went into my skin. "And we have to take everyone with us."
They looked at each other. "Heck, yeah!" Thor said, and pounded his fist against the metal bars.
The man looked up, puzzled. Shiva and Thor made ridiculous faces at the man, but of course, he couldn't tell. They just looked like rats to him.
"You know, sometimes I'd swear these rats know what we're doing," the man said to his colleague.
"Well, we've seen a lot of weird stuff," his friend said. "Maybe they do. After all, that's what we're trying to do, isn't it? Make them smart."
"What if they're smart already?"
"Well, then they wouldn't need our help," the man at the computer said. "And why would they stay here? It's not exactly the Ritz."
He finished with me and went to put me back in my cage. I'd have to be fast now. Broken leg or no.
The moment I touched ground, I raced to the back of my cage and dug up my crutch. I raced back to the front of the cage just as quick and, after making sure he wasn't looking, stuck my crutch in the latch as he closed it. It stuck halfway open as I had hoped, and he was none the wiser. He must have closed millions of latches in his lifetime. He never checked them anymore. He he he. He went back to work and I smiled.
That night, in the dark, I opened my cage. I put on all my gear, loaded up all my paper and drugs, and my side pouch. Then I scrabbled up to the mouse above me.
"Hey," I said.
He had a bruised head and his eyes were bugged out. His nose was bleeding. He looked at me like he was stunned, eyes not quite focusing.
"What are you doing?" I asked.
"Running into things," he said sadly.
I cocked my head at him. "Why?"
"Nothing else to do. Lack of stimulation. Boredom. Insanity. I hate being in this tiny, empty cage. All the mice do this. We go stir crazy."
"And hurt yourselves?"
"Sometimes. Some mice do backflips all night long, one long repetitious, mind-numbing wait for death. Some spin in circles. Some gnaw their fur off. Some even come to look forward to the painful experiments the humans perform on them. At least it's an end to the monotony."
My heart went out to these poor victims. "That's sad," I said.
"Well, no more. If you can all handle it, we're getting out of here."
The mouse perked up immediately. His ears went stiff and he looked excited for the first time in his miserable life. "Really!?" he chirped. "It is true? Oh, Sir, we are so at your service!"
"That's good," I said, "because I am going to collect. Now get everyone ready."
I scrabbled down to the cold floor. Once there, I stopped without knowing why. Just a bad feeling or something. Suddenly a chill crept through my bones. The place was all dark. Sterile. Dead. The only noises were those of deranged, sick animals. This place was wrongness. Then I remembered.
This was where the black mouse had been born.
My flesh crawled instantly, like when you realize that the monster is in the same house with you...that the terrifying phone call came from your own number...you hear the harsh snap of a twig right behind you in a dark forest at night. I suddenly felt terror. What if it was still here!?
I rushed as fast as I could with a broken limb up the computer table to the top and then over to the metal shelf where the rats were, trying really hard to forget my last horrifying thought.
"Uncle! You got out!" Shiva exclaimed.
"You're the shit!" Thor said.
"What?" I chirped as I studied the latch. "Don't offend my mousey dignity, boys!"
"It's TV slang," Shiva said. "It means you're way cool!"
"Oh," I said. "Okay then."
Their latch was different. It was made against smart rats. I wouldn't be able to open it with the crutch. But the lab men didn't count on a mouse who had some small knowledge of physics, nosirreebob. So I went and got one of the long pokey metal things they use to probe rodents with (ewww) and levered the latch open with the help of the twins. Shiva and Thor bounded out, covering me with licks and hugs. It felt good. I handed the sharp pointy probe thing to Shiva.
"Here. Take this, and Thor, you get one too, and go open every cage there is!"
The boys were covered in bruises, scabs, and abuse. I gawked at them for a second before whispering, "How did this happen to you?"
Thor, frowning, growled, "Humans."
I turned to Shiva, who had always been the more intelligent of the two, though both were geniuses. He was scowling as well.
"The humans who adopted us moved," he said. "They gave us up to another set of humans, who, in turn, decided they didn't like how playful and friendly we were. They didn't really want to play with their pets. They just wanted us to amuse them with antics from our cage. They never let us out. They often forgot to feed us. We got sick of it, and started escaping to get food and water. Hey, it was that or die. They didn't like that, and they gave us up to a shelter. Things were much worse there. I won't go into it, but the horrors were...terrible." He had a haunted look in his eye. So did his brother.
"We were abused on a regular basis. Tortured. Made to do awful things," Thor continued. "They teased us by putting us in the cat cage for minutes at a time. They tried it with every animal in the kennel. Even a snake. It was made very clear that our end was to be soon - they were going to 'put us to sleep' if no one came to adopt us. What a joke. No one was going to adopt rats, and they were going to execute us for existing."
I was mortified. It had never happened that the kind human had misjudged an adopting family. There must have been a mistake. My heart was heavy for my boys. They had been through too much. It showed on their faces. They were no longer kids. They had been forced to grow up.
"What did you do?" I asked, stunned.
"We tried to do what we thought you'd do," Shiva said. "We kept trying to be friendly, to be loved, to be accepted. We tried to believe the best of everyone, hoping we might get adopted. We talked our way out of most fights with the animals, even the cats, and we did tricks for the humans who ran the place, even though we hated them. We thought if we tried long enough, someone would love us and take us home."
"We tried, Uncle," said Thor. He fixed a scary gaze on me. It had fire in it. "We really did."
"I believe you," I said. "What happened then?"
"We came up against an animal we couldn't reason with. He was an insane killer, straight from the street. We couldn't talk our way out of it. He hurt us both badly. We would have died."
I swallowed. "So...?"
"We killed him," Thor said, deadpan. There was no emotion in his face at all. Shiva showed a similar coldness. My gut felt like it was sinking. My boys had been hurt. On the inside.
"It was a dog," Shiva said. "A big one."
"We blinded him first, then took him apart at the neck."
"We used every nasty trick BJ ever taught us, and then invented some of our own."
They both looked at me as if standing before their judge. "We had no choice, Uncle," said Shiva. "The fight took hours."
A moment passed before I could answer. "Boys..." I choked on my words and recovered. "You did what you had to do. Like knights."
I saw a hint of a smile in Thor's eye.
"After that we had to take out others," Shiva said. "The entire place went apeshit on us. Everyone thought we would murder them. They thought we were monsters. The cats came to take us out."
"But we took them out," Thor said menacingly. "Other animals hid and some fled, but all the cages came open. As if something just let everybody out. It was freaky. Half the animals there acted suddenly possessed, like the dog. Insane. Gone mad."
I immediately thought of the black mouse.
"We fought all night," Shiva went on. "We fought all over that place, we busted it up good. We fought to our rodent limits, and well beyond. We went into a fighting trace, a berserker rage. Some of those animals didn't quit even when they looked dead. No normal creatures would have kept fighting with the punishment we dealt out. Nothing would have. Then a fire started out of nowhere. It was surreal, Uncle." He looked away - into the grim past. "Like fighting in Hell."
"Yeah," I said, thinking about my dreams. Fires. There had been fires in my dreams.
"The humans came...they took everybody away. We ended up here."
"It's been a month," Shiva said.
Had I really been gone that long? Probably twice that, at least.
I remembered something my master once told me.
"Be careful when you fight monsters," he had said. "Lest a monster you become."
But his favorite quote of all time, the one he infused into my very soul, the one he lived by...
"Boys," I said, "my master said 'do right, and fear not.' And that is what I intend to do here. Are you with me?"
"Oh, hell yeah!" they both said together.
Thor got a pointy probe spear and looked admiringly at it. It was all metal, with wicked twin forked ends, each bladed on the inside.
"This has potential," he said.
Shiva nodded. "I've had it with plastic weapons. We need the real thing."
"We need guns," Thor said.
"We need to free all the animals," I said. "Let's get busy."
We freed the other rats first, after they agreed to not eat any mice and to obey the sons of Michael Mousefriend. Everyone knew who Michael was, apparently. His name went far in that place. Good ol' Mike.
The rats, armed with tools, freed the mice, starting with my upstairs neighbor and his two brothers. Over a thousand mice and a hundred rats lined up on the floor. I addressed them from atop Shiva.
"You have all said you would be in debt to me for freeing you. If you still feel that way, say so now."
The mice and rats cheered and chirped. They were gladly in my debt.
"Very good," I said. I felt like a hero. It was the high moment of my entire pilgrimage. "Me and my friends need to get home. We need two things from you, one now, one later."
"Name it!" cried the mouse who had the cage above mine.
"First, we need you to all spread out, all over the city, and look for a corner street with an art school on it." I described the pickup point that the kind human visited every night after work and school. "We need to know where it is, and how to get there. We need a network of mice and rats working to this goal, because we need to achieve it quickly."
The rodents all cried their support.
"Then, once that is done, I need something else. Something that may seem strange to you, but I have a plan. It's a grand plan, and it's just begun in my head, but if it works, we might...I say might... just never have to worry about humans again. We might have our chance at freedom once and for all time. Are you with me?"
Cheers went up loud enough to wake the dead. I hoped they wouldn't, and I hoped the humans couldn't see this. What would they think? Well, I knew what they'd think.
"I need all of you, your friends, your family, and every rodent you can pass this holy charge on to, to collect money."
The room went silent. Puzzled faces looked back at me from the crowd.
"Green, paper money of the humans, coins, gems, jewels, sparkly things. Any kind of money you can get. Any way you can get it," I said with authority. "I will tell you where to send it, what to do with it."
After a long pause, the mouse I had befriended said, "Why?"
I puffed my chest out as much as I could. "Because it's needed," I said. "Humans value it, and it can lend us power."
"But...you need a human to spend money," a rat said. Shiva chuckled. So did Thor.
"What you're suggesting is huge," a mouse said. "Use money to aid our cause? Get the help of humans? Only one mouse has ever tried anything like that, and he never came back!" Murmurs of agreement came from the crowd.
I lifted my chin. "Indeed? And do you know why?" I asked them.
"Because he made it!" I exclaimed. "He achieved his holy crusade, and found the kind human. I know, for I was his squire!"
The crowd gasped and recoiled in awe. Like one huge wave, they fell backward and let their mouths hang open.
Shiva stepped forward, stood up to his impressive rat-height, and held a hand out. In a deep voice, he loudly announced, "Ladies and gentlemen, I give you...Sir Squibble, the Mouse Knight! "
The group stayed perfectly still one moment longer wearing faces of awe, then went crazy. They hopped, chirped, and spun around. They leapt upon each other and did little dances. The mice hugged rats, the rats groomed mice. After a time, they were before me, all standing up straight, all at attention like soldiers. They had heard the legend. They knew who my master was.
"Will you follow me?" I said.
They cheered. The floor shook with their stamping feet.
"I name you the first rodent army," I yelled across the room. "I name you...the Legion of Miracles!"
More cheering. More stamping. More hope.
I turned to the mouse who had been trapped above me all his life. He was standing with two other mice. His brothers.
"I need a Captain and two lieutenants," I said. The three mice stood at attention and saluted. I nodded. "Very well. Your names will be Sneaky," I pointed at the thin, dexterous looking one, "Squeaky," I pointed at him because he had been squeaking non stop since he got out of his cage, "And...Clyde," I put my paw on my friend. "Do you accept your names and titles?"
They vigorously nodded. All the rodents cheered the naming. It was my second time. Fred had been the first.
"Let's get out of here and stir up the city," I said.
They charged the door immediately and it did not stand up to the determined teeth of so many rodents. The first rodent army, the Legion of Miracles, was free.
Riding on the back of Shiva, in front of a gigantic horde of loyal followers, I felt like a real knight for the first time in my life.