Into the Jaws of Death
In the dark, Squibble saw a rat and a mouse in his cage. The rat had a beautiful white coat, with a golden hood covering its shoulders and head. Its eyes shone like rubies and about its edges was a pearly glow. The mouse was gigantic and fat, and sat on its mammoth behind in a Buddha-like fashion. He, too, had the pearly glow, and lights floated over his head. They were watching him. He could not rise. His breathing came in ragged gasps. The rat was smiling as a family member might when they had been reunited after many years.
"Hello, Squibble," said Michael Mousefriend.
"Hey kid," said Bigfat.
Squibble craned his head to look at them. He had to jerk his body painfully upright to do it.
"Mike... Bigfat..." he croaked. He smiled painfully. "My dear friends..." Then he remembered. "I cannot go yet."
"We know, kid," said Bigfat. "We're just here to give you strength. You're going to need it."
"What for?" said Squibble. He felt like a young mouse again, on his first adventure with the rat, the big mouse, an his beloved master, Spritely. He managed a cute smile.
"To die a hero's death," Mike said, and looked straight into Squibble's eyes.
Squibble's strength almost failed him then, but he smiled even wider. "Just as I have always wanted," he said. "Thank you my friends. I feared I would die just another mouse in a cage."
"Not while we're here," said Bigfat, whiskers wriggling.
"Where is my master?" Squibble asked softly.
"He is coming," Mike said. "So gird yourself up, mighty Knight. He is not the only one."
The room went cold then, falling twenty degrees.
Squibble focused his legendary willpower and rose, showing no pain except through his eyes. He stood straight. "I am ready," he said to the darkness.
Kippy ran along the gutter with his two faithful companions until he could run no longer.
"It's no use," he said. "The lab's too far! We need help."
They climbed up to the roof of a building to get a better view. They saw the street stretch away out of their view in both directions. Frustrated, Kippy hopped about.
"Knifey?" Knifey asked.
"No, Knifey, we can't stab them all," Kippy said. "There's a better way than violence. You ought to learn that, you know."
Knifey snaffed and blew his nose in response. He seemed perturbed.
"What are we gonna do?" Feeder asked, shaking.
Kippy looked at his anxious friend. "What would you do, Feeder?"
"Ummm...Umm... I'd get a human. Cause the...evil mouse had one...maybe several...and...and...we need one."
"Yeah. Good choice, buddy," Kippy said. "You'll make a great Mouse Knight someday. End up being called Snake Slayer!" Feeder beamed. Kippy had a way of lighting souls up like stars.
Looking around from the roof desperately, he saw a bookstore across the street and he smiled. "Come on!"
They ran across the street praying that no cars would end their journey prematurely. They got lucky. Kippy grabbed a piece of newspaper from the gutter and wrapped it around himself in what he hoped looked like a cloak, scaled the curb and raced into the store on the heels of some patrons who had opened the door.
The mice ran up and down the aisles, to the dismay and shock of customers, until Kippy saw the display he sought. People started following the mice, but out of fear no one would touch them.
"They're diseased!" someone said.
"They're dirty little animals," a lady accused.
Kippy climbed up onto the cardboard bookrack containing many copies of The Mouse Knight. He threw back his newspaper cloak and assumed a heroic stance.
"It's a real Mouse Knight!" cried one customer. A crowd gathered from all corners of the store. In minutes people were trying to come in from outside, but were blocked by the masses. Whispers and sounds of astonishment filled the place.
Kippy eyeballed the group. He picked a group of young people. One of them had the very book in their hands. It looked well read. She had a name tag. She worked at the store. Excellent.
"You there," Kippy spoke.
Everyone dropped jaws and put hands to their faces. Gasps of stunned shock came from enchanted faces. They had just seen a legend appear before them, and speak!
"Yes, I am a Mouse Knight," Kippy lied. "And I need a favor to save thousands - maybe millions of tiny lives!" He stared at the fans. "Me and my men need a ride." He sniffed at the crowd. "And by the way, we're a lot cleaner that you are, so back off on the rabies thing, eh?" He smiled then, his award winning, cheeky grin, and batted his adorable eyes at the people. "Now who wants to give a brave Knight and his squires a lift?"
A girl fainted. The rest volunteered.
Shiva and Thor opened the computer-controlled lock to their lab and turned on the equipment. They set their weapons against the wall and sat in their nest box with their custom keyboard and computer monitor. Shiva flipped several switches and the entire cave lit up with colored lights and bars. Electronic sounds echoed down the depths of the lair. The computer came online and the monitor drew a picture of a big red button.
Shiva and Thor looked at each other seriously. Thor held his paw over the return key on his keyboard.
"Do it, bro," Shiva said. "They deserve it. Start the war."
And Thor would have done so that very instant, but the phone rang. Thor squinted at Shiva and answered it.
"Kippy defeated BJ," came Branch's voice. "We are all headed to the lab to free the animals or die trying."
"We need you," Branch pleaded.
Shiva, who could hear Branch as well, nodded to Thor gravely.
"We'll be there," Thor said, and hung up. Armageddon would have to wait. They grabbed their weapons and stuffed their belts full of explosives. They took two extra packs - large and dangerous looking. As they headed out the door, Thor finished, "But this time I'm gonna kill somebody."
At the RMC house, the Feds had suddenly pulled out. One minute the club members were solidly trapped, and the next, the black cars, the vans, the men in suits - all gone. Tracy was let out of her handcuffs and the agents simply left.
The house was still a moment before everyone rushed to Nemo.
The chinchilla was dead.
Frantically, a Mouse Knight named Friendly begged for a pencil and paper. Heide grabbed a tiny pencil and a notepad and put it before him.
He died fighting the black mouse, said the note.
"What black mouse?" Amanda asked.
The mice and rats squeaked at each other rapidly and Friendly wrote, The shade. The tall black man that came in - it was a duel of wills!
"There was no tall man - no black mouse," Tracy said. The humans were confused.
The mice looked at each other in alarm.
He bought us time and our lives with his - we need to get to the lab this very minute!
"That we can do," said Mary, and they raced to their cars at once, waiting only for the very last rodent to climb aboard.
Rats and mice poured out of the hotel basement by the thousands. Humans everywhere shrieked and retreated. Some fainted. The rodents ran right over them, adding to the scene that most would consider horrifying. Jim laughed as he ran, ahead of the army. On his shoulders and in his arms were the inner circle of the Knights. They ran out the front door, a moving carpet of fur. Jim tried to hail a taxi. Suddenly none were to be found. He asked people for a ride. The people vanished too. So the rodent army and their human walked two blocks to the bus station.
The bus driver, pale and thin, said in a choked whisper, "No... animals on the bus."
Jim leaned into the aisle and read the bus number. He had gotten the right bus. He frowned at the driver and leaned in close. Close enough that the man could see the mice were frowning also.
"Shiva and Thor told me you might say that," Jim said.
The bus driver ignored sweat trickling down his face and switched the sign that said "downtown" to "charter".
"Everyone off the bus, please," he announced. "We're out of service."
"Good boy," Jim said, smirking. "You'll get a Pop Tart for this for sure."
The driver winced and tried to smile. Jim leaned out the door and whistled.
With eyes agape, the driver watched as the entire bus was filled to its limit with rodents.
Jim told him where to go, and he drove.
Warcom sat in the dark of his office after hours and read the letter again. He read it with his glasses on and off. He read it ten times. His face was crunched into a mess of anxiety and rage.
Dear Mr. Warcom of Warcom Industries,
It is with regret that we must inform you your grant for the Mouse Knight project has been revoked, effective immediately. We have come across evidence that indicates several crimes are being committed at your institution, including, but certainly not limited to, animal abuse and cruelty - which was prohibited by our contract. Please cease your operation at once and return the animals to where they came from unharmed.
Incidentally, Mr. Warcom, keeping an endangered species on your premises (i.e., one King Cobra) is a Federal crime. Get rid of it at once or face prosecution.
Warcom glanced over to the starving snake in its small cage. "Damn you, you reptile," he said. Mandallo coiled up in fear at smelling his master's anger.
"Ah, you deserve it all you cheap villain," said Steve, who was bound to a chair in front of Warcom's desk. "This company was sunk the moment you took over." The guards standing on either side of Steve, one with a broken leg (yes, Warcom made him stand) and one with a broken face, backed up a step from the prisoner, faces aghast.
Warcom leered at Steve with eyes of mean fire. Then his face relaxed, as if all emotion had suddenly drained out of it.
"Uh oh." Steve said.
Steve tried to back his chair up using his feet but tipped over instead as the man behind the desk rose. As Steve's chair hit the ground he heard a crack, but lay there anyway.
Warcom glanced with an icy stare at the guards. "You may go," he said. "Wait outside."
They departed immediately.
Warcom strode over to Mandallo's cage and reached behind it. He withdrew a snake stick - a device with a noose at one end which one can tighten from the other end. Mandallo hated the thing, and tried to bunch himself into a corner. Warcom smiled at Steve. He stuck the stick into the cage and fished around, smacking the snake in the head several times as he missed until he trapped the animal into the noose and tightened it mercilessly. He pulled the cobra out with both hands at the end of the six foot pole. He was grinning like a bad child with a gun.
"I am not easily beaten, Steve," he explained as he dangled the lethal creature above the scientist. Steve's eyes were bulging out as he writhed and twisted to dislodge his bindings. Warcom shoved the snake into Steve's face. "And you will find that I am not a good loser."
Mandallo hissed and bared its long fangs inches from Steve's throat. Steve froze and did his level best to calm his nerves. He knew the snake was already terrified, and it would smell his fear. He tried all his Zen meditation tricks to not be afraid. He slowed his breathing. He thought of happy things. He thought of Kippy, free and clear of this sad place and this evil man. He opened his eyes and saw the snake as another victim of Warcom's cruelty. Mandallo returned the stare. They understood one another.
"Damn wretch!" Warcom bellowed, and slammed Mandallo into the wall. The stunned snake twisted and struggled madly, desperate to be free of the painful coil about its neck. It was not lost on the animal that this is something like what the mice must have felt when he squeezed them (he only did that for his master, who loved it - normally he would just poison them and be done with it).
The snake would not bite Steve. Even in agony, even in madness, it held back. This drove Warcom over the edge.
"You won't get out of this, Mr. Stafford," he exclaimed. As he went for the door, he added, "And neither will your friends!"
Steve felt a shock of adrenaline race down his spine as he realized Warcom was going for the lab.
Above the city, the storm gathered its mass. The first lightning bolt fell without a sound.