The Last Battle
In private, Kippy asked to speak to Mandallo. The pair of them went to the back room of the RMC house and had it all to themselves. Kippy hung on to the crushed body of his brother and refused to part with it, threatening the rodents who had tried to take it from him. It should be buried with other Knights, they said - it was a place of great honor. Kippy had simply refused, and there was no one present who could take it from him - they all knew that. Percival told the mice to stop trying and let Kippy have his brother. Outside the quiet room where snake and mouse met, a service was being held for Nemo, who had passed away fighting the Shade, away from the house and all the evil influence it brought with it. The living room was without an inch to spare. The humans and the rodents that hadn't been at the battle of the lab had almost lost their calm when they saw a nine foot King Cobra come home with Jim, Steve, and the Army of Percival. It was quickly explained to the humans, through a talking mouse, that the snake had vowed peace with all and would harm no one. He could not be sent back to his home country of India. No one would let him on a plane.
"What will you do now?" Kippy asked him.
Mandallo rested his head on the edge of the pillow he was curled up on. "I don't know," he said. "Humans will hate me and try to destroy me wherever I go. Still, it's better than slavery."
"I hear that," Kippy said. The little mouse crawled up onto the pillow, lugging his dead brother's corpse with him, and sat an inch from the great serpent's head. They both gazed out the slightly open door into the living room where the ceremony was being held. Percival was saying the eulogy. Jim held Nemo's body gently in a blanket. Tears streamed down the human's face. Nemo had been his first pet.
"There's plenty of space in the field," Kippy said. "A snake might do well there."
Mandallo turned one eye to peer at the mouse. "You would welcome me to your home? Me, a rodent eater?"
"How many mice did Warcom shove down your throat?" Kippy asked.
Mandallo felt bile rise in his stomach at the thought. "Truly, I don't think I will ever eat mice again. They are too small anyway."
"Could you do with eating dead mice?" Kippy said.
Mandallo paused, then slowly nodded. "Yes, I think I could. Or fish, or rabbits, or whatever."
"My people... they are field mice. You know the law of nature?"
Mandallo nodded again.
"In return for your protection, we could find you food. And our dead that did not pass on naturally would be brought to you also. You would be doing us a great service. No one would be rejected by nature, and everybody would be able to come back."
"I will think on it, little mouse. I think I may end up back in my homeland after all, but your offer is generous. Maybe someday I will come."
Kippy nodded. "For now, would you be kind and send my brother back to nature, great one?"
Mandallo looked at Fleeter's body. "Is this your request?"
Kippy looked sadly down at his brother's silent face. He petted the brown fur. Then he looked up at Mandallo. "He was afraid to die in the city," Kippy said. "I know it."
"The other mice would not understand," Mandallo said.
"No they wouldn't. They'd think it was horrible, but field mice believe the opposite." He looked into Mandallo's giant eye. "Would you do him and I the honor?" He was crying. "I want my brother back someday. It pains me to think of his spirit wandering lost in that dark lab."
Mandallo took the offering held by Kippy, and swallowed Fleeter's empty shell. No one ever saw Fleeter again, at least not in that body. Kippy felt a great relief at this, though it tore at his heart strings to see his brother's body vanish from his embrace. He knew he had to let go. Of a great many things.
The pair went outside and joined the ceremony to pay tribute to Nemo and the others who lost their lives in the battle. Kippy noticed that Feeder came over and sat right down on Mandallo's head without fear. The once timid mouse was even smiling. Knifey was being held in the lap of Stompy, who had taken to the little tike and seemed bent on adopting him, for she had been close friends with Tommy. Percival's arms would heal, and Branch had his hands full tending wounds. Squibbette was doing math with Steve on the couch. The Rat Knight brothers had vanished. The bees and ants had been returned to the field. Kippy sighed. It was almost over.
The board meeting did happen. The day came, and Steve announced to the world that the company previously known as Warcom Industries would, in fact, go public, and that everyone was invited to attend the first board meeting. He also said they had solved the Mouse Knight question. He asked anyone who wanted to hear the answer to come to the meeting.
Unknown to Steve, the mass media, several branches and agencies of the government, and about a thousand other people of importance had gotten notes. Some left on their bedroom dresser, some taped to their TV, some on the steering wheels of their cars. But most had been served in person these notes, given to the humans in the tiny jaws of a timid mouse who dared to approach a giant when the outcome was unknown.
The notes read: "Give us a Chance." It was signed The Mouse Knights.
Percival had taken a gamble. He thought most would not take the notes seriously. Orders had been: wherever possible, the mice were to deliver the notes in person. That would give them cause to wonder, and come to this meeting. The whole thing might have been dismissed as a hoax, except for the number of notes delivered all at once, and the messengers themselves. Percival's gamble had paid off.
The meeting was advertised on the six o'clock news, on almost every channel.
Thus it was that on a Friday at noon, many thousands of people showed up for the opening meeting of the new company called "Truce Incorporated," which had once been Warcom Industries.
In the meeting room was a long table. Cameras, microphones, and people filled the room. The number of people who had wanted to be there was enormous, so Steve had limited it to only a few dozen. The United States government was there - the Department of Defense, the FBI, Fish and Game, and every other department having to do with wildlife. The Environmental Protection Agency had been invited, the owners of huge pet store chains sat in the same room with the PETA president. Media reporters and camera operators, and a few high ranking military men in uniforms. Three men from the science boards had drawn the lucky lots out of hundreds who had wanted to document the Mouse Knight phenomenon. There was even a representative from the Catholic Church - sent straight from Rome. The messenger mice had traveled far. They had done well, and they were indeed named - each and every one of them.
The meeting commenced at precisely 12:35, as soon as everybody important was there. The cameras would be live. 99% of everyone believed there was a perfectly rational explanation for mice that could read. Heck - most people didn't believe the whole thing was anything but a hoax - but it was news. And just in case - just in case - there really was something to it, the cameras were on. Steve and the board meeting were being watched by a world on the edge of their seat, expecting an answer as monumental as the question of extraterrestrial life. There was too much evidence to dismiss it as fiction now.
"Good day, ladies and gentlemen," Steve said, adjusting his suit. "Welcome to the opening day of our new company, Truce. I know you are all expecting a very good explanation today. The answers to the questions we were hired to solve. You won't be disappointed. I only hope you have open minds."
Deep in the ratcave, Thor and Shiva were surrounded by heavy machinery and humming noise. Thor's monitor still displayed the launch code for their Armageddon plan. The enter key remained untouched, but his paw sat beside it. Their faces were blank, like Samurai ready to perish in battle. Shiva sat beside his brother. They were both watching Steve on channel 5. Something stirred behind them in the darkness.
"Smelled you come in, Branch," Shiva said. "You can't stop us."
Branch shuffled into the light of the screens.
"I don't intend to," he said. "Simply came to watch the outcome."
"The outcome," Thor said through closed teeth, "will be war on mankind - from every animal sharing this planet - if Squibble's plan is rejected by the humans."
"I suspected as much from the start," Branch said, sitting down as if to watch a cheap movie. He was calm as could be.
"You could have told someone," Shiva said, never taking his last good eye from the TV.
"Yes, I could have."
"Not like you to keep something like the end of the world to yourself," Thor told the wizard.
Branch shrugged. "All things end."
The brothers nodded, understanding.
"You didn't want to be in the thick of it?" Thor asked without turning his head.
Branch pursed his lips. "No. I did not want to see our kind humans killed, animals slaughtered by the millions, or the tears of people when they realized what was happening. Nor the faithful pets protecting their humans who would be ripped apart by other animals who called them traitors. Or the humans who would shoot each other for killing their pets. It is an ugly, terrible end you've planned for us all, boys. No, I did not want to be there for it."
"They have it coming," Thor said bitterly.
Branch nodded, as an old monk might, simply as if to say I hear you, but may not agree.
"The world is going to pay its tab now," Shiva said. "Like it or not."
"Of course," said Branch as if discussing the weather, "if Squibble's plan works..."
"We won't push the button," Shiva said.
"Ever?" Branch asked.
"Nice try, sage. The humans have their security, and now we have ours. We will always have it."
"Frightening," Branch commented.
"You bet your furry ass," Thor said without humor.
"Allow me, please," said Steve, "to introduce you to the members of the board." He waved his hand and an adjacent door opened into the meeting room.
Out came six mice. They walked up a ramp to the table and stood in front of the microphones. Three wore armor. All of them bore crests upon tunics. One of them, a small white one, wore a shiny metal sword buckled on his hip.
Everyone in the room broke out in laughter.
Steve smiled down at Kippy. Kippy smiled back and stepped forward to the microphones.
"Order, please," he said.
The room went silent as a tomb.
"Thank you," the mouse said. "I'm not actually a member of the board, but was invited by the owner and chairman, Mr. Stafford, to speak a few words."
Stompy, Squibbette, Percival, Feeder, and Knifey all held their stances of attention. But Stompy grinned as the humans faces went pale. She grinned just a little, and couldn't help it.
"It's a trick," someone whispered.
"Trained mice..." someone else said.
"I assure you this is no trick," Kippy said into the microphones. He looked right into the cameras. "We asked the government specifically to bring equipment that would rule that out."
One of the generals nodded to the room.
And that was it. Kippy had the attention of the entire world. News channels broke in on regular programs. Commercials were canceled. Within a few minutes of important people issuing orders, there was a speaking mouse on every channel in the world.
Kippy put his hand on the handle of the sword at his side without thinking about it. Percival doubted the mouse even knew that he had done it. The room began to fill with an invisible, potent energy. The sword began to glow as the mouse spoke.
"I'm not very good at this sort of thing," Kippy said to the world. "But I was asked to do this, and so I will. I have some things to say to all of you. They may be hard to swallow, so open your minds. Do not fear."
Branch smiled and his eyes lit up with excitement. Even on the TV, he could feel the energy. He could see the sword casting light on the entire room, as if it were a thousand golden candles.
"What's going on?" Shiva squinted at the screen.
"He's using the sword as it was meant to be used," Branch said in delight. "Squibble's plan is working."
Kippy leaned into the microphone and his wee voice was heard clearly by all.
"We want peace with the human race."
In Washington D.C., someone sat the President of the United States down and turned on a TV for him.
"We think. We read. We speak. We laugh, we cry, and we feel pain. Maybe we don't show it as you do exactly, but we do. All animals do."
At the RMC house, every eye was glued - every ear frozen - not a single tail twitched.
"We have lived with you for more than five thousand years, and you have yet to accept us. You are no longer, nor were you ever, the most intelligent species on the planet earth. As if that gives one race more rights than others. No one has more or less, except in a world where barbarism and anarchy rule - where might makes right. It's time for us to grow past that now. We are all equal."
People stopped on the streets and crowded into department store windows to watch. In a living room across the city, seven girls crowded around the television and gaped. One of them held a photograph of Kippy and his two squires, waving.
Kippy motioned with his paw in an eerie, human-like gesture. "You've known for years that you're headed in a downward spiral. Ruining the environment, using up your resources, putting millions and millions of animals, even people, out of homes. Most of your young people have given up - taken it for granted. Stopped caring. Your race is in more trouble than ours!"
In poor reaches of the world, radios were turned on. In deep Africa, the mice lurking in the bushes stopped to listen. In the homes of more than one billion people, household pets stepped forward to watch the TV with their humans.
"We have all the same problems you do on a smaller scale. Disease, famine, poverty, even war. Our secret is out, and now you know about us. Now you know about everything."
Humans world wide looked across their living rooms at their pets. The pets looked back.
"You should hear what the animals say behind your backs to each other," Kippy exclaimed. "So many things! But one thing mainly. 'Why?'" He shook his paw. "Why do they do that!" He tilted his head. Then he lowered it.
Across the world, so did the people.
"How many of you have owned a pet that you loved with all your heart?" Kippy paused as he watched the faces change around him. The general smiled fondly. A camera man looked as though he might cry. "Remember how much they meant to you? There are people who value mice and rats that much. People you know. More than you think. What makes a cat or a dog worth a much needed visit to the vet, and not a mouse? Why won't people cherish us? We are cute, loving, grateful, smart, and harmless. We love being held. We love being with our people. We love what other pets love. And we give back just as much, but we are fragile. We don't live very long. We're small and many. Why should that lower our worth? We're every bit as valuable as a dog, a cat, or a thousand dollar bird. We're alive! That's what matters. When people take on pets, it's sad how many of them aren't ready for the responsibility. My own mother was abandoned in a field because someone didn't want her anymore. My entire family died because someone didn't want us." Kippy looked down at the ground. He felt his chest ache with the thought. He missed his family - the ones he knew, and the ones he never had. He looked up at the camera, his eyes glistening. In a whisper the microphones barely heard, he said, "In your own phonebook... pest comes right before pet.
"I just got out of a lab where a drug was injected into my brain!" Kippy's face was full of emotion now, and the sword's light pulsed with his voice. "It hurt so badly! I got terribly sick. I almost died. I watched many other mice die. For what. So you could find out what we could have told you if you'd just asked. Yes. We can read. So what. So what!" He jumped up on the central microphone and spread his arms. "It doesn't matter if we can read or talk! We have souls!" he yelled. "We want to live - just like you! We want to sleep in warm places, and eat good food, and have clean water. We want to love, and have children, and watch them grow up safe and sound, like you do. Do you think that because we don't all speak or read that we don't feel pain when our own flesh and blood are taken from us? When our families are put into labs, sold as food for snakes, or treated as though we were worth ninety-nine cents?" He hopped down to the table and turned around dramatically. "How much do you think you're worth? Nature, fate, death, and life - all value us just as much as you. You're the only ones who think that equation ever changed. It didn't. You die just like we do."
In labs all over the country, and all over the world, scientists turned around to see all the rodents in their cages - every one of them - staring at the TV, not moving a whisker.
"We die of cancer. We die of loneliness. We die of starvation and injury. Our hearts break when family dies. But we can't tell you! And you wouldn't listen. Well, we are telling you now. So please. Please... Listen.
"You aren't the only ones with technology anymore. The earth wants to be united. We can solve our problems together. We have ways of dealing with things that you've never even considered. You have technology - we have magic." He drew the sword. It lit the room and reflected in the eyes of astounded onlookers. "In the end, it's the same thing. Just a means to an end. Spirit is the only thing that matters. Our souls are all part of one creation. When any of us suffer, we all suffer. If you blow yourselves up, we will likely go with you. And if we go, watch how many others go after us. You've poisoned us, burned us, experimented on us, taken our families, sold us as food in concentration-camp like conditions. If we chose to, we could do the same to you. We are equal, whether you see it, believe it, or even acknowledge it. Next time you look at a mouse, try not to see a dumb animal. That would mean you were a dumb human, and I know that's not so. I know you can rise above all this. We all can. We can live together."
He strode into the middle of the table. People struggled to surround him with microphones, and in an instant he was encircled with them. His guardians raced to stand with him. People actually backed the microphones off several inches. Kippy sheathed the sword, but the light in the room stayed.
Kippy looked up at the generals. "We have waited thousands of years to say it." He extended a paw. "We want peace."
Shiva and Thor tensed. Branch leaned forward. This was it.
Steve looked around the room. Their faces told him the impact had been made. He cleared his throat. Now he would buy them time to decide.
"There are currently over six billion people in the world," Steve said, reading his notes. "There are at least that many mice and rats. Humankind has been responsible for the extinction of thousands of species, animal and plant. I have seen mice use technology, and more. I have seen them use power I cannot explain with all the resources science offers. But all this aside, I have met a mouse that I came to know as a friend." He took off his glasses and made himself face the world through different lenses. "Three months ago I was a sleeping human. I thought we were the only intelligent species on earth. I thought we had the right to take what we wanted, when we wanted, from whatever we wanted. As it turns out, nature gave me a second chance. It was not drugs that caused Kippy to talk. I have that proof right here," he shook a handful of paper. "Kippy was just the first one. There will be more. We haven't given these animals any choice but to evolve. And now they have. There are at least a thousand Mouse Knights world wide, in just three years time. Maybe even ten or a hundred times that number.
"We have all been given a second chance, right now, as you hear this, as you read it in the papers. To turn things around and make it right. To do the right thing." He looked down at Kippy. Kippy smiled at his friend.
Thor slowly edged his finger over the enter key. Branch turned his head to peer at the rat. They locked eyes. Branch's eyes warned Thor. Wait, they said. Wait.
Phones rang worldwide. One phone in particular, belonging to the general at the meeting, made its noise and broke the silence. The general looked at it and answered.
"Sir," he said.
"No sir, we had no idea. No one did."
"Yes, sir. I'll tell him."
You could have heard a mouse sneeze in that room. The world hung in the balance of that moment. The cameras focused on the general and the mouse.
The general extended his hand to Kippy.
"On behalf of the President of the United States, Sir, and with the heartfelt agreement of the entire US government, we would like to apologize for our misconduct of the past. And start over right away."
Kippy stepped forward slowly, like a timid mouse... and took the general's index finger in both paws.
The room broke into cheers and clapping.
So did the world.
Branch took Thor's giant paw in his tiny mouse hand and guided it away from the enter key. The rats stared at the television, wide eyed and silent.
"Oh, ye of little faith," said the mouse.