Like a Mouse
The government might have acted differently if it hadn't been on worldwide television; we'll never know. In the end, they declared sentient rodents a sovereign nation living within other nations everywhere. They were given rights. Laws were made. It was the most monumental, fantastic thing to happen since the discovery that the planet was round. Pet stores stopped selling animals. Mice and rats were sold in the few weeks before the laws were enacted for thousands of dollars. Suddenly, every time someone saw a mouse or rat, they talked to it. Tried to feed it. Wished it would hop into their hand.
Trust does not come back overnight. Most of the rodents remained untrusting and frightened of humans. Five thousand years of history. Can we blame them? And not everyone changed. Companies that sold rodent poison and traps refused to go out of business, and within weeks were bought out or shut down by 'unknown' sources. Not everything changed because of that day. But most things did. Yes. Most things.
Steve Stafford was now the wealthiest man in the world, literally. With the billion plus dollars the rodents gave him to buy all the stock of Warcom Industries, he bought every last unit. He owned it completely. So after that afternoon when Kippy made his speech, and the stock shot upward to thousands of times what it was worth before, he was personally worth more than 800 billion dollars. The company was worth much, much more. Overnight it became the most powerful economic factor to ever touch ground on Wall Street. Truce inc. bought every research lab in the country, and some in other countries. It seemed surreal and dreamlike to Steve, who simply took the advice of his board of directors and signed what they asked him to sign. His company was still dedicated to research. And it involved rodents. Willing ones. Rodents who were sick, and healthy, in all manner of science. Often, the rodents had degrees themselves. It was a rat that ran his main laboratory, named Doctor Fur. Greg and the other techs that had slaved under Warcom were kept on, and paid twenty times what they had been, and did not mind listening to Dr. Fur at all. In fact, they found him to be a wonderful chap - given to funny jokes and late night Star Trek sessions with pizza and beer. But never again was a rodent subjected to any amount of suffering against their will.
Much later on, long after this story finishes, it was rodents that discovered the cures for cancer. Developed cold fusion to produce free energy for the world (the oil companies had to be discombobulated first, but the 'unknown sources' saw to that). They worked out treaties by which the world would compete in war games for territory, resources, and power - all a version of "bite the rump" as they called it. Sometimes people even died, but not often. Birth rates were controlled world wide, both in humanity and in rodents. The world population actually began declining, and people found that there was food, shelter, and medicine enough for all. Poverty eventually vanished. Governments that ran on corruption and greed were replaced by people inspired by the nobility and the honor of their furry neighbors. They wanted the old world back again - the world of magic, faith, and honesty. The mice and rats gave that to them. They gave them that and more. The downward spiral of the planet earth had been reversed. But all of that took many years. No Knight in this story lived to see it, but it did happen. And if we believe the field mice, they were there anyway, just wearing different bodies. Every one of them.
Shiva and Thor became huge celebrities. On the internet and on the silver screen they were gods. They commanded a minimum of 30 million dollars to do a picture. They did commercials, and eventually designed their own products for rodents, and even some for people, like a collar that electrified someone if they weren't watching where they walked. They became the most famous rats in history. Children learned of them in schools, and pretended they were them on playgrounds. There were dolls, TV shows, and an endless line of books called "Rat Stories" that followed a similar line for the mice called "Stories from the Round Table." Every one of them a best seller. Shiva had a silver horn replace his missing ear, and a diamond for his missing eye. Behind the scenes, they used much of their fortune to build rodent cities, rodent shelters, and (just in case), rodent armies. Those armies were saluted by human soldiers and authorities, who genuinely hoped they never had to fight them. And they didn't. Branch moved in with the rat brothers, much to their horror, and tempered their fire with wisdom. Before they passed on, Shiva and Thor were doing book readings before huge audiences of humans, and loving every minute of it.
Percival and his inner circle became the leaders of rodentkind throughout the world, and their children, and their children's children... down through the many years.
But for now, let us go back to the present. For our story is not yet finished.
The mice, rats, and many other animals met back at the RMC house after the meeting. They told the world to hold onto its questions for just one day, and then everything would be worked out. There were things that still had to be worked out among themselves.
Steve, Jim, and the RMC members sat in the crowded living room and watched the floor move with lovely murine grace.
"We need a bigger house," Mary commented to nowhere.
"Done," Steve said. "How big?"
Mary looked at him as though he'd grown another head.
"50 rooms," Kristin said, laughing. "With all kinds of rodent toys, houses, and no way for them to hurt themselves."
"Done," Steve said, serious, and sat back into the old couch.
Jim chuckled. "Hey Mr. Rich. How about the shelter house?"
"Oh, don't worry about that," Steve grinned. "I bought the entire field."
Jim gaped. "But it's huge!"
"Over 90 thousand acres if you count all of it," Steve said. "And it hits national forest. But I bought everything I could."
"Squibble would have been very proud of you, Steve," said Kippy, who sat on Steve's leg.
Knifey and Feeder sat below them, Knifey happily perched upon Stompy's broad shoulders and Feeder laying comfortably on Mandallo's forehead. Percival sat on Steve's other leg, along with Branch and Squibbette.
"Kippy," asked Squibbette, "Where would you like us to make our headquarters? In the new Truce Building, the new RMC house, or the new shelter house?" All ears rotated like radar dishes and listened.
Kippy preened himself and then sighed. He had hoped this moment wouldn't come so soon. But it had.
"Why do you ask?" he said.
"King Kippy," she answered with a salute.
"I don't want to be King," he said.
Gasps and astonishment filled the room. Percival smiled briefly. He had expected it. Kippy looked up at Steve then around to everyone.
"You did all of this," Stompy exclaimed. "You're our savior, Kippy. Spritely reborn. You're a legend."
Kippy snaffed a little. "Only when I'm hypnotized," he said. "Listen. I love all of you, but I don't want to be a legend. I only did what I had to. I am not a savior. I'm a mouse."
The room became quiet. Mandallo shifted his head to look at Kippy. Everyone sensed the feelings of urgency flowing from Kippy. It was the sword he still wore. Its power always answered to the white mouse. Realizing this, he took it off. He jumped over to Steve's other leg and handed it to Percival.
"Here," he said. "I think you all know what this is used for now." Percival accepted it and bowed to Kippy. Kippy spoke softly, and his words now without the empathic power of the sword only reached the inner circle of Knights, his old friends, who clambered up the legs to sit around him. Soon he was with all of them in a tight bundle.
"I want to live in the field," he said in mouse. He looked up at Steve, knowing the human would be sad to hear it, but it had to be so. He looked back to the mice. "I just want to be a mouse. I miss my family! And they have no one to represent them now. I must go back in Fleeter's place."
"Is that the only reason you're going?" Percival asked.
Kippy peered at the wise Knight. "No," he answered. He shifted uncomfortably. It was hard to say. He knew it would be. Days and long hours of thought had not given him the right thing to say.
"You won't have the protection of the Knights," Stompy said. "You won't have anything. Technology. Food, water, shelter! You could be eaten by any old owl or snake. And you're still a white mouse, boy."
"I know," Kippy said. "But I want to go home. I want to live... like a mouse."
There was a pause as the mice took it all in. Breath was drawn in to argue...
"We're going to miss you," Squibbette said. At first everyone looked at her as if she had tossed in the towel for them all - lost the fight. But she and Percival knew Kippy would do as he wished, and there was no talking him out of it. The mice fell silent, and one by one, without the sword's magical help, felt Kippy's words with empathy. To live as a truly free mouse. In the old way. It was their dream - every one of them dreamt like that. Free. In the wild. Living... and dying, like a mouse. Someday the frontier would be gone, and all mice would be domestic. That day wasn't far ahead as human years went. Kippy wanted to live it the way he had been raised to.
Their faces told Kippy his friends understood.
Kippy shrugged. "All this... it's too much for me. I'm just a kid. A young field mouse. Nothing more. And I don't want to be anything more." He smiled, though it was a sad expression. "I just want to be happy again. I was happy in the field."
Percival nodded. One by one, everyone did except Knifey, who sat on Stompy's shoulders looking stunned and horrified.
"Who will be King?" Branch asked.
Kippy grinned. "Why, Feeder of course."
Everybody did a double take and turned to stare at Feeder who was behind them, standing on Mandallo's head - at knee level with the rest of them.
"What?" Stompy gagged.
Now once, Feeder would have shrunk back and said "W..who... ME?" but now he was a different mouse. All fear was gone from him. His posture was strong and confident. He no longer hunched his back and shook as if he would vanish like the wind at any sudden noise. He was a completely new mouse now, and when the inner circle looked at him, he smiled. They all saw then what Kippy had been able to see all along.
"That okay with you, Feeder?" Kippy asked his friend.
Stunned faces nodded and eventually turned to smiles and delight at beholding the rock-hard strength in their new King. Feeder smiled back. So did Mandallo, who looked every bit the majestic steed under the mouse.
"But the name has got to go," Kippy said. Everybody, especially Stompy, nodded vigorously.
"What should it be?" Feeder asked Kippy.
"How about Arthur?" Kippy said. "After another very great King who was once just a frightened boy."
Feeder nodded in satisfaction. "Arthur," he said. It sounded grand.
"Arthur, friend to Dragons," Kippy said.
"Artie," Percival said, and clapped Arthur on the back.
"Perky," Artie said, and threw his arm around Perky's shoulders.
They laughed together. It was infectious, and soon the group was laughing at the awesome transformation a mouse was capable of.
The laughter stopped when Branch said to Kippy, "You can always come back."
Kippy looked wet-eyed at the sage and said, "I don't think I will, but thank you."
Knifey had heard too much. Tiny, pathetic squeaks came out of his wet face as he scampered off of Stompy, dropping his forgotten knives to the floor, and clung to Kippy's leg as though it were the only driftwood in his ocean. Nobody moved, so sacred and tender was the moment.
"Daddy," said Knifey.
He put his head against Kippy's hip.
Stompy began to cry.
Kippy leaned down and pulled the little mouse up to cradle him like he did when they first met.
"Ohh, Knifey," Kippy told him, "I'll always love you." Knifey looked into his eyes with adoration and deep fear of loss. "They will take good care of you here. No one will get you. They love you too."
"I have to go, little one. Where I am going you wouldn't last a day, even with two knives. But I will think of you every day."
The tiny mouse buried his head in Kippy's fur and hid. Kippy let him stay there a good five minutes, then nodded gently to the group. It took Stompy and two others to pry him loose. He didn't squeak, or attack anyone. He just cried and finally let go. He would not take his eyes off of Kippy.
"How about a momma?" Stompy told the tearful mouse. "Would a momma be okay?" Knifey inched over to take hold of Stompy's armored thigh, but his eyes never changed their gaze.
"Your momma is as big and as strong as your dad was," Kippy said, feeling guilty. "She'll protect you better than any mouse can."
"He'll probably protect me," Stompy said, stroking Knifey's fur. "I've seen how he fights. Tommy's son. Who would have known."
Steve had heard none of the conversation. He didn't speak mouse. But when Kippy looked up at him he knew. He knew their time was over. His eyes filled with tears.
"Already?" he asked the mouse.
So Steve rose, knowing that if he hesitated, he would never be able to do it. The other mice climbed down off his pants and to the ground.
The other RMC members and Jim looked at Steve, who was obviously disturbed.
"I'm going to go take Kippy back home," he said. He could barely get the words out. His throat felt so tight. "I'll see you all tomorrow."
Sympathy and sadness filled the room. The sword let them all share the moment of their hearts together one last time. Kippy knew how much he was loved. In that last moment, he knew.
And that, he decided, was about as much as a mouse would ever get.
It was late winter in the field. The sun was going down in a beautiful, pastel colored sky. The clouds were lit on one side by fires and frozen on the other side by blues and purples. Snow lay in scattered patches over the ground. There was new grass growing, and old, tall grass dying. Spring would come soon. Winter was almost over.
The truck was parked offroad in the hills far outside the city. It was the closest point Kippy could guess to where his tribe had lived. They had walked the last few miles, and had come from the other side of the shelter house to be sure of not crushing any relatives under the tires by accident. Steve held Kippy in the palm of his hand and pleaded with the mouse. His eyes were wet and his face sad. Kippy was adorned in armor and wore a blue plastic sword at his hip. The mice had insisted, and wouldn't take no for an answer.
"Kippy, you're famous now. You can have anything in the world you want. You could start a mouse rescue shelter with millions of dollars behind it."
"You know what I want, Steve."
"What about the shelter? It's a great idea."
"Yeah. I'm sure the RMC is already on it. Giving them lots of money couldn't hurt."
"I know you made a promise to your village. But you could come back after. I'll take you there myself."
"That's not why."
"Kippy, sweetie, you could be eaten by a hawk, or freeze to death. Anything could happen. It's so dangerous."
"It's what I want, Steve."
"Oh, my little friend, I've grown so attached to you. Please don't go," he begged.
Kippy smiled. His cheeks puffed out enormously when he did that; he knew Steve adored it. Steve smiled back and laughed as best he could. His heart felt as heavy as a wrecking ball.
"I wasn't meant for the domestic life," Kippy said softly to his friend. "I was raised a wild mouse. This is what I know. I belong here, Steve."
Steve couldn't argue with that. Whatever domestic desires Kippy had when he was born they had been purged from him in the lab by cages and captivity. Kippy wanted only freedom, and anyone who loved him would surely give him that, even if it broke their heart.
"I'll wonder about you every night," Steve sobbed. "And probably every day as well."
"Think of me free and happy," Kippy said, as Steve lowered his hand reluctantly to the ground. "Whenever you think of terrible, scary things, stop worrying and think of me free and happy. Surrounded by my family."
"Mice are so fragile."
"I am a mouse," Kippy said, and hopped from the hand onto the earth. (It felt so good!) "I lived as one. I will die as one. It's the way of things, my human. We had our season in the sun. I loved it. Enjoy every moment of your precious life, Steve. It ends someday, as all good stories do. This is the end of our story. Let's treasure it."
Steve remained still but his face betrayed his feelings.
"I won't ever see you again."
"No. Probably not."
"Will you think of me, Kippy?"
"Yes, Steve. Always. I will tell my kids about the heroic human who risked his very living for a tiny mouse, and ended up saving millions. You'll be as legendary in the mouse world as I am in the human world."
"I guess you couldn't write from time to time. Its not like the field has an internet."
"Oh yes it does," Kippy said. "Whenever you see a tiny mouse dashing across your floor, it might likely be one that came all the way from the field to see you. To get a glimpse of the human who knew me. When you see that mouse, or a rat eating out of a dumpster, or any animal at all, Steve, treat them as you've treated me. It will get back to me. That's the internet of nature."
Steve was out of words. He felt desperate. His adrenaline caused his heart to race though he wished it would just stop entirely. He couldn't stand the thought of losing his irreplaceable friend. What could he possibly say in such a moment as this?
"I love you, Kippy. Thank you."
Kippy smiled again one last time for his human. "I love you too, Steve. Come down here. I have one last thing for you before we part ways."
Steve knelt down and when that wasn't enough, lay down next to Kippy so their faces were almost touching.
Kippy drew his sword and touched the side of Steve's nose.
"Percival taught me how this goes." He raised his furry white chin. "In the name of Spritely, Squibble, and all mousekind, Steve, I make you a Knight. Rise, Sir Stafford. You are worthy. And you have my favor for always."
The tears that he had held back ran freely down his face and soaked into the earth. He found the strength somewhere to sit up. Kippy left the sword, the armor, and all that he carried on him at Steve's feet and transformed himself into an ordinary mouse again. He gazed up at the human that loved him so. They remained looking into one another's eyes for an eternal moment. Finally, Kippy said, "Goodbye, Steve."
Kippy tore his eyes away and slowly crawled into the shallow grass, leaving the world he had come to understand behind, and, he had to admit, part of himself with it. Steve watched him go, feeling every step the mouse took, watching his beautiful tail and sleek fur vanishing in and out of the terrain.
Once, four yards away, just before the tall grass, Kippy looked back.
Then he was gone.