Author's Acknowledgements: I’d like to thank Thinkmeat for his editorial and creative advice on this story. It really helped. I'd also like to thank my pal and writing mentor Indy for the second round of editing.
Part 1 - Transformations
Dr. George Yardley sat in his office looking out the window at some birds in a tree, wondering what was going on in their minds, wondering what they were plotting. He glanced at the empty chair that was on the other side of his desk, a chair where his friend and drinking buddy Dr. Julie Kemerer had sat. A few months ago she had just up and walked out the door, never to be seen again. Now he was alone, even though his lab was as active as ever. No one else on Earth knew what he knew and no one else could share in the pain. No one else knew, except the rats...
The last few months since the nightmare came to a head had been pretty good, much to his surprise. He’d had time to think and ponder the place fate left him. He had been thinking about the rats a lot lately. Dante’s assurances that they were not stalking him had been very comforting. It seemed they were not the monsters he had feared they were. That revelation brought strange and frightening possibilities to mind.
“Man, I hate being sober,” he murmured as he watched the birds fly off.
For days now he had been practically living in his office, struggling to make a very important decision. He would from time to time look at his computer and reach for the keyboard, but then he’d draw back, terrified of what might happen if he did what he planned.
He opened a drawer on his desk and drew out his last bottle of scotch, pouring himself a shot and downing it in one fluid motion. Then he sat in front of the computer and wrote an email.
I hope things are going well with you and your friends. I would like you to set up another meeting like the one we had before. I wish to speak to the leader(s) of your community, I have something very important to discuss. It is not in regard to your safety or security, but it is important nonetheless.
George sat around his office for the rest of the day, waiting. When night came he greeted the security guard that did the rounds. He locked his door and put his head on his hands and was soon asleep.
“Uncle George,” Dante said. George quickly lifted his head and sat up in his chair and looked around.
Dante waved his arms and George looked down at the collection of rodents on his desk. He rolled his chair away from the desk in alarm.
“Uncle George, it’s me, Dante. You said you wanted to speak to the leader of the community, here he is, President Justin,” he said, gesturing to Justin. “This is Vice President Timothy,” he said and indicated to Timothy. “This is Jonathan. You sort of met him the last time we spoke.”
After a few moments of panic George rolled his chair back to the desk, he hesitantly leaned forward to get a closer look.
“Amazing,” he said and looked closely at them. George could sense the fear of those present, even though they knew this was a dream and they couldn’t be harmed, just being in his presence was frightening to them, even Timothy who only knew George through reputation. "I recognize you and you, Justin and Jonathan, but who is this?” he asked, peering at Timothy. George noted that the mouse had the look of a deer caught in the headlights of a speeding car, but he quickly regained his composure. Timothy quickly recovered and met George’s gaze defiantly.
“I’m Jonathan’s son”.
George recoiled in shock. “It’s hereditary,” he said in despair, banging his head on the desk, causing everyone to jump in alarm.
“Neither of us wants to be here, George. What is this important matter you wish to discuss?” Justin asked. George lifted his head and sat up.
“I recently got out of the hospital. I learned something while there: if your doctor uses profanity when reviewing the results of your blood tests, it’s generally a bad thing. He told me to give up booze. Now that I have been almost sober for the last few months I have had lots of time to do something that I used to do years ago, think. I have been thinking a great deal lately, about all of you. I have thought much about what Dante said to me the last time we spoke and the part about second chances and new beginnings keeps echoing in my ears. Then I had a thought that both frightened and thrilled me at the same time."
George paused, trying to keep his thoughts together despite the effects of the intoxicant in his system. “I want to tell you something. I surrender. I am sick of all this--the fear, the despair, the nightmares. Sick of looking over my shoulder every time I hear a noise in a quiet room. I wish to join you.”
Before they could react, George continued, desperation marking his words. “I realize that I’m asking for the moon and stars, but frankly as I sit here amidst the ruins of my life I realized that without Julie, Rita and Dante life is kind of lonely. The only company I have now are my old friends, Jack Daniels and Jim Bean. So what have I got to lose by asking?”
George moved his face closer, his voice becoming stronger and more demanding. “I know all about you. What’s left of my abilities I offer to you. If you even want me for a prisoner, so be it. Fair’s fair--you were ours. I’m sick of all of this. Whatever you would do with me is better than what I have now.”
Timothy looked back, suspicion clouding his vision. “And what guarantee do we have that you won’t start up the experiments again? What possible reason can you give us to trust you?”
“The last thing on earth that I want to do is to revive the monster that was this project. I wish it dead and buried, but preferably not with me. I just want to start over, like Dante or the rest of you for that matter. If you refuse, and I certainly couldn’t blame you, there will be no retaliation or anything like that. Believe me, the irony of what I’m asking isn’t lost on me--the creator begging to become one of the created. Also remember that it was Dr. Schultz who was your pursuer all these years. My only contribution to the search consisted of looking behind a filing cabinet at the lab.”
“Jonathan and Justin looked at each other. “Are you joking?” Justin asked. George looked back at them gravely. “Project Titan took my dignity, my career, my hope, my sanity, my friends and family, my self-respect and my future. I was not exaggerating when I said I have nothing to lose by asking.”
“Some of what you said has merit,” Justin said, “but this is not something that can be decided here and now I may be president, but I would not presume to make such a decision without consulting others,” Justin said and thought for a few moments. “I will state these conditions now, if the others agree you must abide by these rules. If they decide to allow you to join us, as one of us , you will stay forever You can never go back,”
“Go back to what?” George asked, covering his face with his hands. Justin crouched down and had a whispered conversation with Jonathan. George leaned close to Timothy again. “Can you really speak or is it something to do with this dream?” he asked.
“We can speak,” Timothy said. George closed his eyes and groaned again. “That’s impossible, it’s just completely impossible, but so is everything else you can do,” Dante cleared his throat. “Uncle George, have you heard anything from Julie lately?”
George looked sadly at him. “Not a peep. She doesn’t answer her phone, e-mail or pager and hasn’t been to her apartment for months. It’s like she fell off the face of the earth. I’m very worried about her.” George sighed and looked out the window for a moment, then took a sip from the bottle in front of him. He forced a small smile and looked down at Dante. “So Dante, how are things going in your world?” George asked.
“Things are great. I’m settled in now. I have a job and a place of my own. Life has never been better,” Dante said.
“I guess the only escape is to stop running and face the music,” George said.
“Dr. George, we are not pursuing you. We never have. How could our mere existence have such a devastating effect on your life?” Timothy asked.
George just looked at him with an emotionless expression. “Don’t you get it? As I said, you can’t possibly exist, not even theoretically. You walk, talk and have magical powers even! You’re simply not within the realm of scientific possibility. In reality, there are certain immutable rules--you and your people exist in direct violation of those rules. We crossed a line that should never have been crossed and I’m partly responsible for your creation. That’s what haunts me day and night. I just can’t take it anymore!” he said and drank from a bottle of scotch. “I should’ve listened to my father and become a welder,” he muttered.
Justin stood up and turned to George.
“The time has come to end this. I will take your request to the remaining members of the 28. If the vote is unanimous agreement, then we will allow you to join us. If even one objects you will be left to suffer the fate you brought on yourself,” Justin said sternly. George looked indifferent.
“Agreed,” he replied.
“Goodbye, Uncle George, I hope to see you soon,” Dante said as they faded away.
George was in a state of nervous anticipation for the next few days, checking his email every few minutes. Finally, the reply arrived.
Offer accepted. Be ready at any time. Pack light.
He quickly typed a reply.
My heartfelt gratitude to you and your friends. I’ll be ready.
George leaned back in his chair and smiled. After a few moments he turned to his office safe. He opened the safe and with trembling hands removed the items inside--a revolver, shoebox, a thick folder and a spool of thread. He put the folder in the duffle bag and he opened a drawer on his desk and withdrew a shoulder holster for the revolver. Once the shoulder holster and revolver were securely hidden under his jacket, he picked up the bag and the shoebox and headed for the large garbage compactor behind the lab. When the coast was clear, he threw the box in and with great delight ran the machine through three crushing cycles to make sure the box and its contents were completely destroyed.
Over the next few days he oversaw the transfer of his company to a few trusted friends. As he was shuffling papers in his office, a message came over the intercom.
“Dr. Yardley, Dante Shultz and a guest are here to see you.”
“Excellent, send them in, right away!”
He couldn’t guess as to whom the guest was, but at this point he didn’t care. Shortly the office door opened and Dante and a short, young man with seemingly premature gray hair entered. When they entered the office George noticed Dante do a particular thing: rather than just closing the door behind him as he entered, Dante distinctly turned to fully face the door before closing it. George waited until he turned back around then rushed up and hugged him.
“Boy, it’s good to see you again!”
“Thanks, Uncle George. I’ve really missed you too. You look good. Off the sauce now?”
“I haven’t had a drop in days. So, who’s your friend here?” George said, offering his hand to the other man. The man looked at the hand for a moment and then shook it. Then his eyes returned to George’s face. “I’ll give you a hint: squeak, squeak.”
George gasped as he realized who it was. The human smiled. “That’s right, George, the transformations work both ways!” Dante decided to try to calm the situation and his uncle. “Uh, Uncle George, you remember Jonathan Brisby.”
George’s eyes went wide with alarm. “This is...this is monstrous.”
Are you ready to go, Uncle George?” Dante asked, trying to snap him back to reality.
“Yes,” George said, wishing he hadn’t given up drinking quite so soon. “Just give me a few moments to get my head in order.” He walked over to the coffee machine and selected the blackest choice on the menu. Dante joined him for a cup.
“Ah, to return to the land of dairy products again...oh, how are you feeling, Uncle George?” Dante asked.
“Dante, I haven’t felt this good in years. This last week has been the best week since this ordeal began. I’ve had days of nightmare-free sleep,” George said, taking another sip of his mug.
“You act as though you were positive we would accept you. We could have easily said no,” Jonathan said.
“I didn’t believe for a second that they would have declined,” George replied.
“And why is that?” Jonathan asked.
“You’re not stupid. You were always one step ahead of us the whole time, in the lab and on the run. You want security and I want escape. It’s a perfect bargain,” George said with a satisfied smile. “I’ve been preparing for this trip since I woke from our last meeting. I got my affairs in order, I have left the company in capable hands, and you can continue to use the Internet account and the cell phone hook up. I buried the expense deep in the paperwork, so it won’t be noticed for a long time. I have mine set up the same way. I also took care of your debts so no one should come looking for you anytime soon. I tried one last time to get in touch with Julie, but no luck.”
Dante stepped between Jonathan and George. “Okay, that’s a good idea, thanks. We should think about leaving soon. It’s strange, I don’t feel comfortable here anymore.”
“Really? That’s fascinating. Do you think it’s an outgrowth of your feelings of isolation as a child or a wariness of humankind that you’ve picked up?” George asked.
“I don’t know,” Dante replied.
“And I noticed that when you came in you turned to face the door before closing it, I’ve never observed you doing that before,” George said. Dante smiled and leaned close to George. “When you have a tail, you learn very quickly not to close a door before you’re all the way through.”
George looked away in realization. It hadn’t occurred to him that the animal instinct would’ve accounted for that. “I am a scientist remember. I once had a curious and inquisitive mind. That’s slowly been coming back since our first meeting after you left. Going with you will be like going to a whole other world. I can’t wait!” he said.
“Just be ready to go when I say,” Jonathan said.
“I’m ready now. Just say the word.”
Dante started for the door. “Uncle George, I need to stop by the house and get some of my stuff before we go. Then we’re free to hit the open road.”
“Sounds good. I have my stuff here in the office.”
Dante picked up the suitcase, but George wouldn’t let him touch the duffle bag.
George followed them out to the parking lot and was amazed to see Dr. Shultz’s old Cadillac, now almost completely restored. “It still runs?”
“Yeah, like a dream. There are some good mechanics back home who’ve taken a liking to her,” Dante said with a smile. Dante took the driver’s seat and Jonathan took the passenger seat, leaving George to cram himself in the back seat. It was a bit cramped, as there were numerous boxes and bags in the car.
“Doing a bit of shopping?” George asked.
“Yeah, it’s nice to be able to visit stores again.”
On the trip to the house, George tried to draw them into conversation, only Dante would speak, but would say nothing about the rats or his new home. Jonathan wouldn’t say a word; he just kept intently studying his surroundings.
George leaned forward so he could talk to Jonathan. “It must be pretty strange, being able to move freely in the human world. Does it excite you, knowing you can move among us with impunity?”
“Frankly, it is strange,” Jonathon said. “Very strange. The first time I went into a crowded store, I was treated just as rude as everyone else. It was exciting in a way, having an incredible secret and none of them aware of what walked among them. My first taste of the human world as a human was very different from what I expected.”
“We also stopped at a Waffle House in Maryland to celebrate Jonathan’s first time in human form,” Dante said. Jonathan grimaced at the memory. “Yes, that was very, very strange. I had my first encounter with the human delicacy of ‘grits’.”
Shortly they arrived at the house and when they exited the car, a stray cat hissed at them. George watched in amazement as Dante instantly reached over his shoulder as though for a weapon and more alarmingly, Jonathan’s eyes and hands glowed. Jonathan uttered a few words to the cat and the unexpected effect of those words allowed George the rare opportunity of watching a cat faint. Its eyes went wide and then it just collapsed.
“Well, that cat wasn’t quite expecting that. I think he’ll be more wary of humans and mice from now on,” Jonathan said and walked on.
“As you can guess, cats aren’t our favorite animals,” Dante said as he unlocked the door.
“I guess cats must be huge compared to your regular forms.”
“Uncle George, you’ve seen ‘Jurassic Park’. It’s like trying to run from a T-Rex. They’re huge and they’re very hungry and can swallow you in one bite.”
George winced at that notion. A large pile of mail had accumulated under the door’s mail slot. Dante quickly shuffled through it and then tossed it back on the floor. “Won’t have to worry about any of that where we’re going.”
George put a hand on Dante’s shoulder. “Dante, on the bed in your room is a box that belonged to your father. I found it in his safety deposit box. I thought you’d want to have the stuff if you ever returned.”
Dante raced up the stairs and came back shortly with the cigar box in his hands. The box had been wrapped in duct tape, but was now cut open. Dante sat on the couch and went through the stuff. Mostly it was photographs of him and his parents--one was of George, Julie and his father--and even some of his grandparents. An antique gold pocket watch, his mother’s engagement ring and few love letters that his parents had written to each other in their youth.
George and Jonathan sat quietly by as Dante looked over the items and after a few moments of silence he composed himself and smiled. “Thanks, Uncle George. It’s nice to finally have something of his that isn’t insane or evil.”
Dante began searching the house for anything he wanted to take with him. Jonathan sat and just glared at George the whole time. George paced nervously under Jonathan’s scrutiny. Soon, Dante returned and again stepped between them. “Okay, I got what I need. Jonathan came to help you get acclimated to your new form before we get home,” Dante said.
“Are you ready to say goodbye to all of this, George?” Jonathan asked.
George chewed on his lower lip, thinking a moment or two before he replied. “It’s strange; I have many different feelings and emotions about this situation. On the one hand I feel like Neil Armstrong about to land on the moon and on the other hand I feel like Adolph Eichman on his way to Israel. For better or worse this nightmare is over and I can finally have some peace.”
“I think your reception will be somewhere between those two extremes, George,” Jonathan said.
“Let’s hope that’s the case. I’ve squandered my days and I would love the chance to do something meaningful with the rest of my life.”
“I must warn you, George, it’s going to be rough sailing for you. We like to think of ourselves as an open-minded and forgiving people, but you are going to be pushing the envelope of tolerance for us,” Jonathan said seriously. “And something else I’ll warn you about. Your transformation, it’s going to be rough. Dante’s was easier because he knew what to expect, so after a short time he grew accustomed to his new form. But with you I don’t know if it would be better to do everything at once or go with small size and then shape change, either way its going to be very difficult for you. Something for you to think about also is what you want to be and what color,” Jonathan added.
“I hadn’t even thought of that, actually,” George said, reflecting. “What do I want to spend the rest of my life looking like...”
“Well, for pure convenience sake, a rat would be better. The community was initially built for rats and had to be retro-fitted for the mice,” Dante offered.
“How do you like your form?” George asked.
“I love it. There isn’t any species intolerance. The collective history of both people is too closely tied together and it has shown on numerous occasions that each kind is invaluable in certain situations,” Dante replied. Jonathon thumbed at himself. “If it hadn’t been for me, we never would have escaped from NIMH. I was the only one small enough to fit through the grate over the air-conditioning vent on the roof.”
“Do you have any regrets, Dante?” George asked.
“None whatsoever,” Dante replied.
George sighed. “I have many regrets even now. I have no one to blame but myself for them, so there is nothing more to say.”
“George, there are worse fates than the one you’re getting. Imagine what would have become of you if you had never sent that message to Dante,” Jonathan said.
“I would've drank myself to death in another year or so.”
“I’m very glad you’ll be joining us, Uncle George. It really killed me to see you destroying yourself all these years. I was wrong, there is one regret: I wish Julie could be here with us.”
“I think we all wish that,” George said, looking at Jonathan.
“Indeed,” Jonathan said.
George grimaced, and brought the group back to reality. “Well, there’s no use delaying this any longer than necessary. Jonathan, do what you have to do. I’m ready,” George said.
“Lie down on the floor and close your eyes,” Jonathon said. “This is going to be very disturbing. I will first just make you small.” Jonathon's eyes glowed bright and George closed his eyes. He felt strange--it was uncomfortable but not painful, and he felt like he was being pulled along the carpet.
“Now prepare yourself, George, and then open your eyes.”
He hesitantly opened his eyes. He was now only about four inches high. To his surprise he wasn’t really afraid. He looked up at the towering forms of Jonathan and Dante, and Jonathan placed his hand on the ground, palm up. George knew immediately what it implied; it was a test. He hesitantly stepped into the hand and Jonathan raised him, slowly closing his fingers around George, causing him to quickly grow alarmed.
“How does it feel being on the other end, George?” Jonathan asked, a hint of hostility in his voice.
“Jonathan!” Dante said sharply. Jonathan placed George back on the floor. “Sorry, I got carried away. How does it feel, George?” Jonathan asked.
“Strange, to say the least. Frightening, definitely.”
“I’ll let you get used to that size before I go to the next step.”
Over the next hour George grew accustomed to his new size, strangely, he didn’t find it as terrible as he had expected. “I see why your people choose to live away from human kind. Its sucks being so small in a human world,” George said.
“You have no idea, George,” Jonathan replied. “Comfortable enough to go to the next step?”
“As ready as I’ll ever be.”
“Have you decided what you want to be?”
“Yes, a rat, battleship gray.”
“Very well, lie down again. This is really going to be bad and I’m not exaggerating. Your mind is going to be overloaded with a sudden flood of unfamiliar instincts, and you’re going to be very afraid. Dante recovered the first time in about fifteen minutes, but with you it may be much worse,” Jonathan said seriously.
Dante knelt down by his uncle. “He’s right, it’s going to be nasty, but when it’s all over it’s actually pretty neat. Jonathan, change me over. I think it might help if I’m down there with him, rather than towering over him.” Jonathan nodded and George watched in astonishment as Dante transformed into a white mouse.
“Ready?” he asked.
“Ready.” he replied.
“Close your eyes, George,” Jonathan said.
He did so, and George could feel his body change again. He felt like he was growing, his entire body beginning to hurt, especially his spine. The pain quickly faded, to be replaced by fear--terrible, all-consuming fear. He curled up into a ball and lay there, trembling.
Jonathan returned to his normal size and shape and also sat by George. Dante spoke comfortingly to him. George was in a haze of panic bordering seemingly on madness. He had no idea how long it would last, when his senses slowly began returning to him.
“That was terrible,” he mumbled.
“Told you,” Jonathan said.
“The worst is over. Soon you’ll be able to enjoy your new form,” Dante said.
“How long has it been?”
“You’ve spent nearly two hours curled up like this.” Dante patted George on the shoulder comfortingly. “But at least the worst is over.”
After a short rest, Jonathan and Dante helped George to his feet. The first thing he did was grab his muzzle. “This is going to be annoying,” he said, then grabbed a whisker. “And these are going to be really annoying too.” He looked himself over and realized that his human clothes had adjusted themselves to his new body shape. He took a few hesitant steps and then looked at his tail. “That’s going to take some getting used to. Dante, how long did it take to for you to grow accustomed to these things?” he asked.
“Not long, you get used to them fast; they’re part of your body now, after all.”
They gave George a few hours more to adjust to his new body before they prepared to leave. Jonathan returned Dante to his normal size so he could gather his personal belongings. Dante was packing stuff in the car when Jonathan, still in rodent form, joined George in the living room.
“George, this is it. I’ll give you one last chance to back out. Beyond this point there is no turning back.”
George's reply was certain. “Jonathan, I am ready to begin my new life.”
“Are you really that excited to be going, George?” Jonathan asked.
“I’ve been waiting for this escape since the day you escaped! The human world holds nothing for me now.”
“I agree with you, Uncle George,” Dante said from the doorway. “I now feel that way more than ever. I can’t wait to get home again,” Dante said, entering the room.
“Hopefully, this will be the last time any of us ever have to be in the human world ever again,” Jonathan said. Dante gently placed Jonathan and George in his hand and carried them to the car.
Jonathan chose to sleep under the passenger seat to build his strength and George sat on the floor with a bath towel nearby so he could use if for cover if there was an emergency.
“Get comfortable, Uncle George, this is going to be a long trip,” Dante warned him. It was indeed a long trip, interrupted only by stops for gas and food. At each stop, Dante would go on a buying frenzy of candy and other luxury goods that didn’t exist at Thorn Valley. George also noticed that Dante always had an open carton of milk nearby, and would drink right out of it.
Only now did George begin to feel nervous. It was finally sinking in that he was leaving the human world behind. Everything he was accustomed to and almost everyone he knew was being left behind and he was heading to a world that was filled with people who might hate him. He pushed those thoughts aside and tried to focus on the fact that at last he was past his own past.
As day turned to night, George laid back on the floor and stared up at the stars in the sky. He looked at his hands, hands that had once held Jonathan and the others. Hands that had given them the injections that had caused these unbelievable mutations, and these awesome powers. He thought about the experiment and about Julie and felt depressed; this was certainly not the way he had imagined his life would turn out.
When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.
George had been sleeping soundly when Dante announced they had arrived. The car was still moving and George rubbed his eyes to see that it was still night. He looked under the seat and saw Jonathan still sleeping. “Hey, Jonathan, Dante said we’re here.” Jonathan stirred and soon emerged from under the seat, inhaling deeply. “Thorn Valley at last.”
George hadn't realized the place had a name. “Thorn Valley? That has a nice ring to it.” A short time later they pulled into the empty rest area. Dante stopped the car and flashed the headlights several times, and from the woods a tiny dot of light flashed several times in reply.
“All clear,” Dante announced and picked up Jonathan and George, placing them on the pavement.
“What do we do with the car?” George asked. Jonathan smiled.
“The same thing I did to you and Dante, make it small,” Jonathan replied and showed George the small box that the car would be kept in.
“Before you do that, there is something in there that I would prefer to carry with me rather than leave it,” George said, and had Dante retrieve a duffel bag from the back seat. Dante also took one of his own before Jonathan changed him over. George just stood in amazement at that and moreso when Jonathan shrank the car.
“I just can’t believe you can do that! It’s just impossible!” George said. Jonathan just smiled as he picked up the tiny car, putting it in its box, and tucked it in his pocket. “Nothing like a compact car.”
Moments later they heard the sound of the guards approaching. “Brutus?” Dante called out.
“Yes,” was the reply. Suddenly about a dozen rats appeared from the grass and joined them on the pavement. To George’s amazement the rats were wielding flashlights and muskets, and all were wearing camouflage fatigues. George tried to disappear into the background, and Jonathan noticed this.
“Come on, George. This is what you wanted,” he said. The rats were talking with Dante, but when George walked forward they all fell silent. He could sense a wave of hostility flow through the group.
“My friends, I would like you to meet my Uncle George,” Dante said, then introduced by name all the guards. George and the guards remained silent, and it was Jonathon who broke the ice. “Have you guys made food yet? I’m starving.”
Brutus nodded. “Yes,” he replied and the group, thankful for a break in the tension, followed him off the pavement. George stuck close by Dante the whole time.
“Well, that went well,” George said sarcastically.
“You’re going to have to grow a thick skin very quickly here, George,” Jonathan warned. Brutus led them to a large cluster of rocks. In a large open area inside the cluster there were several tents set up and in the middle was a camp fire. Dante led George to one of the tents.
“Its probably best if you stay out of sight. I’ll talk to them and try to cool them down,” Dante said and handed George his duffel bag.
“Is my being here really that big a deal? They must be second or even third generation,” George said.
“Uncle George, from the time they were all little they have heard the stories of NIMH and of the escape. They know it all by heart. It’s their history,” Dante said. Jonathan appeared at the tent flap, a smirk on his face. “‘Jonathan Brisby made possible the rats’ escape from the terrible cruelty of NIMH’, as the Book of Nicodemus reads,” Jonathan said. George looked angry and opened his mouth to say something, but held his tongue.
Dante knew his uncle’s feelings, and gave him an out. “Uncle George, just stay here. I’ll bring some food for you. Jonathan, come with me.” A short time later Dante returned with some food and a cup of coffee.
“Dig in, Uncle George,” Dante said and handed the plate to George. George took it and examined its contents; it appeared to be lobster tail and salad. George looked at Dante.
“Its crayfish,” Dante said. George looked relieved. “I guess you eat weird things out here.”
“Actually, we don’t eat much out of the ordinary. We raise crops here, so our diet is fairly standard. But being omnivorous makes us kind of curious as to what everything tastes like. Roasting over the fire as we speak are grilled salamanders with barbecue sauce. I thought about bringing you some, but I figured it would be best to keep the menu to things you could recognize by sight,” Dante said.
“That is much appreciated, thank you,” George said and tasted the crayfish. It was remarkably good.
Dante grinned at his uncle’s reaction. “I’ll check in with you a little later and I’ll bunk with you tonight. Tomorrow morning we head for the valley. We’ll be there by nightfall.”
Dante left him to eat, and after he had finished George got his laptop out of his duffle bag. Upon opening the computer, the first thing he noticed was his reflection on the screen. It suddenly occurred to him that he had not even bothered to see what his new appearance was like. He studied his rodent features closely, feeling a sudden surge of panic as he looked upon his face with new eyes. It really began to sink in what he had done.
I’m not human anymore. I will never be human again. I’m going to look like this for the rest of my life and I’ll die like this, like an animal. If NIMH or anyone else ever finds us I’ll be put in a cage and treated no better than any of them. What have I done? What on earth was I thinking when I agreed to do this!
He sat there silently clutching the computer to his chest, his last link with the world he was forever leaving behind. Dante came back to check on him one more time before retiring, finding his uncle in that peculiar state.
“Uncle George, are you okay?” the youngster asked.
“What have I done!” George said, looking again at the strange being in the laptop. Dante cocked his head, confused. “What do you mean?”
“Look at them, Dante!” George said, pointing through the tent's flap. “They were just animals once, and now look at them! Look at me, and you. What in heaven’s name have I done!” Dante grabbed George by the shoulders and shook him. “Uncle George, get a hold of yourself! You know exactly what you did. You helped create a new life form. Don’t get cold feet now. It’s too late for that. You asked to be here, so sit back and enjoy the ride. Now get ready. We have an all day march to the valley ahead of us.”
“I’m sorry, Dante,” George said. “This is just turning out to be a harder transition than I expected. I thought I was so cynical and jaded that there was nothing left that could shock or surprise me. I even thought I could do this easily. I was wrong--I’m scared of what I am now and of what they’ll do to me when we get to the valley. It seems that all I did was trade one set of worries and fears for another.”
“Uncle George, I know this is tough. They are not going to kill you, but don’t expect the red carpet, either. They are reasonable, intelligent people, they’re not...well, animals...anymore. I talked to the others outside and calmed them down, plus passing around a bag of Oreo cookies worked wonders too.”
George had little to say after that. He put his laptop down, doused his light, and never dared to sleep. When morning came he stretched, the grogginess telling on him, and made his way outside the tent. Again he was greeted with the silent treatment he had gotten the day before. They ate a quick breakfast and the guards quickly packed up the camp and they began their march to the valley. George and Dante stayed at the back, Jonathan shortly falling back to join them.
“How did you sleep, George?” Jonathan asked. George grimaced.
“Horrible. I’ll just be glad when we get there.” The new rat rubbed the sleep from his eyes as he walked. Dante easily kept pace with the larger rat. “I wish I could give you an idea as to how long it will take you to get adjusted to your new body, but we are the first two humans to ever have to deal with this and in a sense I was already accustomed to this size and shape, so it was as easy for me.”
“I’m sure I can do it. It’s just that it’s such a dramatic change. It’s the same world and yet it’s not the same world.”
They would have been making good time except for George, who had to stop frequently to rest. Dante even ended up carrying George’s duffel bag to make the trip more bearable for him.
George was grateful that Jonathan was willing to at least talk to him, even though his comments occasionally took on a biting edge. It was obvious to him that the mouse was trying to be civil. The guards, on the other hand still would not even make eye contact with him. George had managed to briefly exchange glances with Brutus and had been startled to see those eyes take on a fiery glow. He quickly fell back with Jonathan and Dante again.
“I really don’t see what the big deal is,” George quietly muttered as they walked.
“What!” Jonathan sputtered and at Jonathan’s exclamation the group came to a stop. Jonathon pointed an angry finger in his face. “George, you took us from our homes and families, kept us prisoner for years and mutated us into a different animal and then when we escaped we were hunted and faced with death or a return to the lab. You put us through hell!”
Jonathon took a moment to calm himself, realizing the guards might take his ire as a signal to kill George. “I had a mate and children back in New York, many years ago. They’re long gone. I’ve been separated from two families and have had more pain than one mouse should have to endure. Don’t look to me for sympathy.”
Jonathan stomped angrily past George and the rats followed him. George was left with only Dante, who crossed his arms. “I said it wouldn’t be easy, Uncle George.”
It was well after dark when they reached the guard post at the rim of the valley. A message was sent to the communication center at the colony telling them to be ready. The guards at the post just stared at George with a mixture of fear and amazement, but remained silent. George looked around in wonder as they walked down the wide path that had been cut into the side of the cliff face. When they reached the bottom they walked across an open plain toward a wide bell shaped opening in the side of the cliff, at its end was a ramp leading up to an illuminated doorway.
George saw a small group of rats and mice standing there waiting, but he only recognized Justin. George was stunned when he saw the luminescent glow of electric lights. When they got to the base of the ramp, Dante suddenly rushed up the ramp and into the arms of a female mouse in a green dress.
“Dante, I was so worried about you and dad! I missed you both so much. I’m glad you’ve both returned safe!”
Dante held her close. “I missed you so much, Cynthia. As soon as Uncle George gets settled in I need to talk to you about something very special,” Dante said, and then they kissed. George just stood there, shocked and appalled.
Justin shifted his attention. “George, welcome to Thorn Valley.” The rat extended his hand to him, and George hesitantly shook it. “Thank you, Justin. I’m grateful that you let me come here.” Justin fell into a matter-of-fact conversation with him. “I hope your transformation wasn’t too difficult.”
“It’s going to be a while till I can say I’m comfortable with anything. The physical transformation was easy, but mentally adjusting to the transformation is going to be the hard part.” He glanced back over to Dante and was stunned to see that the kiss was still in progress. Justin saw it too and laughed. “Hey Dante, am I going to have to throw a bucket of cold water on you two?”
They broke their embrace and looked around with embarrassment when they saw the others had been watching them. Dante drew Cynthia over to George, who looked up at him nervously with her big mouse eyes. “Uncle George, I’d like you to meet Cynthia Brisby, the love of my life,” he said.
She smiled and extended her hand to him. “It’s...nice to meet you Dr. George,” she said hesitantly. He just looked at her and was too stunned for words. Dante, are you mad! Surely you can’t seriously mean that you’re in love with her? Cynthia couldn't read his thoughts, for which George was grateful, and his spoken greeting was cordial. “It’s a pleasure to meet you. You must be a truly remarkable woman to have won Dante’s heart.”
She relaxed at this and smiled. “Thank you, Dr. George. We were worried about how you’d feel about...Dante and I.” The gratitude he saw in Dante’s eyes said all that needed to be said between them. “If you’ll excuse us, Uncle George, Cynthia and I need to talk about something.”
Dante took Cynthia’s hand and they walked further down the corridor and were soon out of site. George just watched them walk away.
“You don’t approve?” Jonathan asked, coming up next to him.
“It’s nothing against your daughter, Jonathan. It just goes back to those immutable laws of reality that I spoke about during the last meeting in my office. I mean no offense by what I’m about to say, but in my mind you’re still just animals and Dante and I are still humans. I realize that’s no longer the case, but it’s going to take quite a while to grow accustomed to this new life.”
Jonathon mulled it over for a long minute before he spoke again. “I’ll do what I can to help you, George.”
“Thank you. I understand and appreciate the tolerance you and Justin both are showing me. I know that my being here burns you both up inside. I just hope that one day it will be genuine tolerance.”
Justin was standing by as well, and now added his two cents. “That is going to take time, George. But it’s not impossible.” Deep down, George appreciated Justin’s forced diplomatic courtesy. He looked around, most of the others that were at the front gate just standing at a distance watching him in stunned silence. As he studied them, he recognized some of them as members of the NIMH animals.
Nearby was a brown and white female mouse with a baby girl mouse in her arms, both dressed in red. For some reason she seemed familiar to George, but he couldn’t imagine where he would have seen her before. She was certainly not one of the NIMH animals.
He thought for a moment, and then gasped. “You!” he said, pointing at her. “You were the giant rodent from Dr. Schultz’s dream. You had a red cape and a red stone...and you looked a lot different then.” George suddenly realized he probably shouldn’t have referred to her as ‘rodent’. “I’m sorry, giant ‘mouse’ from the dream,” he added. The mouse in question appeared surprised at his recognition. “Yes, it was me. How did you see the dream?”
“I don’t know, but Julie and Rita were there with me also,” he replied.
“It’s odd. I didn’t feel your presence there,” she replied. After a brief but awkward silence Jonathan spoke. “Rose, I’d like you to meet Dante’s uncle, George. George Yardley, meet my wife, Rose.”
George was surprised when she smiled pleasantly and shook his hand. She didn’t seem to radiate the hostility that everyone else had, which he found most refreshing. “Hello, George. I hope you enjoy Thorn Valley as much as we do.”
“It’s a pleasure, Rose and I sure hope I like it, I’m stuck here whether I like it or not.”
“George, this is our daughter, Violet,” Jonathan said. George crouched down to get a look at the little girl. He still found it amazing that the changes in these creatures appeared hereditary. The baby acted like a human child, and in fact he found it disturbing how humanlike her own behavior was.
Justin put his hand on George’s shoulder. “George, we have a place set up for you. If you’re tired, I can show you the way,” Justin said.
“I’m exhausted. Let’s go.”
As he followed Justin he was awed by the colony. It was far more advanced than he ever would have imagined possible. He had expected them to have medieval level technology, but it was in fact mid-twentieth century. Justin gave him a running commentary as they walked, and he was obviously proud of the accomplishments of the community.
“See, George? Coming here won’t be much of a step down in comfort from what you’re used to,” Justin said.
“It’s absolutely amazing. I never imagined you could have achieved so much,” George replied.
“If you think this colony is amazing, the things we had in the rosebush colony could only have been described as otherworldly. But between you and me, I actually prefer the somewhat more basic world of Thorn Valley.”
Moments later Dante came running up to them. He appeared to be bursting with excitement. “Sorry, Uncle George, I had to take care of something.” The three walked to an elevator and waited for the door to open. When it did, Justin continued. “George, we have a place set up for you on the uppermost level of the residential wing, it’s a decent size apartment and it’s in an unoccupied corner. There will be several guards posted for your protection.”
“For my protection?”
Justin eyed him seriously. “George, I want to be as optimistic as possible about your reception here in the valley, but until the initial shock is over I’m taking no chances with your safety. I’ll say this now--you’re not here as a prisoner and there will be no trial. You are free to come and go as you please, but take Dante with you if you go anywhere, just in case.”
As they left the elevator, Justin and Dante turned toward the door when they exited, but George did not. He let out a cry of alarm as the door closed on his tail, and it quickly opened as he yanked his tail into the elevator. Justin and Dante stifled a laugh. “I warned you about that, Uncle George,” Dante said, merriment in his voice.
George just gave him a stern look. “I can’t hide forever up here. What’s the plan? Surely you have something mapped out already?” George said.
Justin led the way down the well-lit hallway. “Well, it all depends on you. I have had requests from our experts in the scientific and medical field who want to interview you. I have the chief reporter from the Thorn Valley Herald who wants to do a cover story on you, and our historian wants to record your impressions of the experiment, the escape from NIMH, the time you spent with Dr. Schultz and the difficulties of your adapting to life here. But something I must insist on, and I have discussed this at length with the other NIMH escapees, is that we want a face-to-face meeting with you.”
George’s heart froze in his chest, and Justin could see the effect on his features. He continued talking, giving the newcomer time to recover. “From what I’ve been told about you by Dante, it seems like you have a lot to get off your chest too and we certainly have some things to say to you. What we have decided is to try an all-inclusive series of meetings, as this is a unique event. In other woreds, we have decided to make this a historical account.
“You will recount the history of the experiment, as we are curious to know many of the details behind it, and we will recount our history which I’m very sure you are also curious about. Our historian will be on hand along with several stenographers to record everything. Hopefully, all questions will be answered there.
Justin put a hand on George’s arm to stop his progress. “Bear in mind that this is not a trial of any sort. No judgment will be handed down. It will be ugly, but I think even you would have to admit that it is something best dealt with now, rather than left to fester. After the anger and harsh words, perhaps the healing can begin. The first meeting is scheduled for the day after tomorrow, if that is acceptable.”
George had listened as well as he could, and nodded at the end. “I agree, the sooner we face each other then the sooner I can get settled in. The day after tomorrow is fine with me. Do you really have a newspaper here?”
Justin smiled, amused at that particular question. “Yes, we’ve had it since the colony was founded. I have last week’s issues in your apartment. We announced through it that you would be arriving here the day after Dante and Jonathan left to get you. As you can well imagine, the public was startled by the announcement, but after the shock had worn off they came to grudgingly realize it was for the best. The editorials will give you an idea as to public opinion,”
When they reached the room assigned to George, several armed rats were standing nearby in the hallway. “Dante! Great to have you back!” the lead rat said as the group approached, and addressed himself to the newcomer. “You must be George. I’m Killian, Captain of the guard. Welcome to Thorn Valley, sir,” Killian said, extending his hand.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Captain Killian,” he replied, shaking the rat's hand, but was surprised that he had been addressed as “sir” by the rat.
Justin regained George’s attention. “I’ve had Killian place a group of hand-picked guards to look after you, Dante being one of them.” Killian opened the door to the apartment, and Dante came up close beside George, whispering. “Killian’s a friend of mine. You can trust him with your life.”
“I hope so,” George whispered back.
The apartment was large and comfortably furnished. Killian quickly showed George around the place, similar to what one would expect in a mid-grade hotel room. “Tomorrow we’ll have the rest of your stuff brought up here. Are you hungry? We can have some food brought up.”
“No, I’m just exhausted,” George said. “If I may, I would just like to turn in for the night.”
Dante said and gave him a friendly hug. “Goodnight, Uncle George. Trust me, you’re going to like it here, eventually.” He handed George his duffle bag and then left the room, Justin and the others leaving as well and closing the door behind them. George heard them talking on the other side, he put an ear to the door to listen.
“She said ‘yes’, she’ll marry me!” Dante said excitedly.
“Congratulations, Dante,” Killian said.
“I’m sure the two of you will be very happy together,” Justin said.
George heard them walk down the hall. He sat on his couch and opened his duffel bag, withdrew a notebook and pen and began to write.
Have arrived in Thorn Valley to chilly reception (as expected). Have briefly met the president and captain of the guard among others. They have been surprisingly civil. Rose Brisby and Killian have been the most tolerant. Fortunately, Dante has friends, so that’s making my presence bearable here.
Justin and Jonathan have given me hope that I can one day be able to walk around without having to look over my shoulder.
I look with concern upon the planned meeting with the escapees. I have a feeling that it will be a bit intense, but it will be truly cathartic.have provided me with remarkably comfortable accommodations. It will remain to be seen if they will continue to be such good hosts.
I fear that Dante has willingly abandoned whatever humanity that he had retained. He has become engaged to one of them. It’s odd that as I sit here in my new body, in my new home in this new world that I still think of the rats and mice as ‘them’ when I am now one of ‘them’.
She seems like a nice girl, from a good family. Dante would be devastated if I rejected her. I have no doubt that he worked hard to bring me here, so I owe him a great deal. For his sake I must try to accept them all.
As I look upon my brief time among them, I am suddenly aware that it has been done without the anxiety and fear that has haunted me for years. I dealt with them as people, not animals. Just a few days ago I wouldn’t have been able to look at any one of them without the aid of booze.
He closed the notebook and walked to the bedroom and prepared for bed. He turned on the light and looked at his reflection in the dresser mirror. He was fascinated and horrified at the same time. Well George, you wanted to do things no other scientist ever did, and boy you succeeded.
George dragged himself out of bed the next morning. He hadn't slept well, the tail constantly twitching and waking him. He walked to the closet and opened the door to find a variety of clothing of different sizes, all medieval style shirts and tunics. He traded his human clothes for the local style, looking at himself in the mirror. It occurred to him that he didn’t even know how the others perceived his appearance--did he look handsome, average, homely or ugly? Jonathan could easily have played a cruel joke on him.
He walked over to a window covered by curtains and threw them open, flooding the room with sunlight. He looked out over the valley, where he could see the tilled fields and many rats and mice scurrying abouttheir business.
Get used to it, George. You’re here to stay. He walked to the couch and sat, finding a stack of newspapers on the coffee table before him. He took one from the bottom and started reading with a mix of wonderment and apprehension.
He found they were capable of deeper and more complex thought than he would have imagined, and he did enjoy the crossword puzzle. He continued through the pile and read with great interest the announcements that he was coming to the valley, along the firestorm of controversy it created. The editorials were scathing, but as the days drew on the people had come to see his arrival as the lesser of two evils. He heard a knock on the door.
“Uncle George, can I come in?” Dante asked.
Dante walked in, a sword strapped over his shoulder. George suddenly found himself wondering why on earth Dante had chosen to become a mouse instead of a rat, but then he remembered Cynthia. “The breakfast crowd has gone; I was wondering if you’re ready to eat?”
“Sure, but I’ll need you to back me up in case of trouble,” George replied and followed Dante out the door. At Dante’s request he took his laptop computer along.
Almost everyone they encountered stared at him with alarm and fear, some adding anger to that mix, but none spoke to him. He felt very uncomfortable under their scrutiny, and when they entered the cafeteria George was relieved to see it almost deserted. They filled their trays, the kitchen staff also giving George the silent treatment. Dante sat down at one of the rat-sized tables with George and the other and despite barely being able too see his food tried to eat with as much dignity as he could.
“Dante, is it just because of your girlfriend that you wanted to be a mouse rather than a rat?” George asked, looking down at him.
“No, this is the first form Jonathan gave me. I just grew accustomed to it. Jonathan gave me the option later to change to a rat, but I was used to it by then. Plus as you know, by that time I was already falling for Cynthia. However, times like this remind me of some of the disadvantages of the smaller size.”
George felt guilty for putting Dante in this uncomfortable situation. They moved to a smaller table and George sat on the floor. As they resumed eating, a lady rat joined them at the table. “Greetings, Dante. Dr. George.”
“Hi, Lilandra,” Dante said, seemingly familiar with her.
“Congratulations, Dante,” she replied with a smile.
“Thanks. Uncle George, this is Lilandra, head of scientific research in Thorn Valley.”
George immediately got off the floor and shook her hand. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Lilandra.” Lilandra looked him over speculatively. “How do you like our valley, Dr. George?”
“It’s amazing. I’m overwhelmed by your accomplishments. Dante had not been exaggerating when he said that you were building a civilization here.”
Lilandra looked into his eyes, the challenge in her voice evident. “Do you feel that it’s a good thing or a bad thing?”
“I haven’t made up my mind yet,” George said, tasting his coffee. “Your people make a great cup of coffee, though.”
Lilandra let out a half-amused laugh. “How have people been treating you?”
“Like a leper. Most won’t even speak to me.”
“Well, in time they will probably get used to you. We’re a small colony, so it’s hard to stay hidden here.”
They chatted for a time as Dante and George ate their breakfast. George was particularly grateful that Lilandra was being so open to him. It was a nice change from the unrestrained hostility he had been getting from most of the others. After they had eaten, Lilandra offered to show George the lab, which he eagerly agreed to, though he again encountered the fear and silence that he had experienced before.
Lilandra ignored the reactions of her colleagues. “I see that you brought your laptop, good. We can set up an electrical hookup for you. If you trust us that is.” He reluctantly passed her the computer. “I have to learn to trust sooner or later.”
Lilandra began setting up the connection. “Relax, nothing will happen to it. This is where we keep Dante’s computer.”
“What kind of research do you do here?” George asked, looking around the strange laboratory.
“Anything that needs to be done. I wear many hats,” she replied proudly. “If I may ask, what is your scientific background?”
George relaxed a little, sensing another educated mind. “I have a Ph.D. in Biochemistry from Princeton, with an incomplete medical residency thrown in before that.”
“Ph.D. from Princeton? Impressive. What of Dr. Schultz and Dr. Julie?”
“Dr. Schultz had an MD from Johns Hopkins and a PhD in Genetics from Harvard and Julie had a doctorate in molecular biology from Stanford. When I say doctorate, Julie and I were in fact just grad students working on our PhD’s at the time. After the escape we were fired from NIMH and we both went back to school. But the enormity of what we had created just ate away at us over the years. After Julie and I graduated, the three of us started a research company. Dr. Schultz kept up his obsessive search of you people and Julie and I became alcoholics--well, she became an alcoholic and a chain smoker--I was just an alcoholic, until very recently.”
Lilandra had listended while she checked his computer over, her response showing her ability to be an objective scientist. “After you get settled in here, perhaps we can find some work for you in one of our labs.”
“I have a feeling that it will be a while before anyone here trusts me enough to let me do any work in the biological sciences.”
“That is probably true. I’m sure there is a great deal we could learn from you, however. Your specialty is something that we are weak on. You could be a great asset to us.”
Part 2 - The Rats of NIMH and Making Adjustments
After a brief tour Dante and George left Lilandra and the lab behind and Dante gave his uncle a tour of the valley. As they walked through the various buildings, George decided to open a new line of conversation. “Last night I overheard you outside my door. Did you propose to Cynthia last night?”
Dante smiled blissfully. “Yes, and she accepted.”
“Are you really prepared to do this? This will be unprecedented. It’s against all the laws of nature and reality.”
Dante shrugged. “So is what you did to them.”
“Touché,” George said. “I know we agreed to become like them, it’s just that I never imagined that you would join them this closely.”
Dante grinned and pointed at him. “Why not? Have you taken a look at yourself in a mirror lately? You’re not human anymore, Uncle George. You’re a rodent now, just like them. You’re just going to have to accept it. Why should I isolate myself from them and remain alone the rest of my life? I’ve found a wonderful woman and she loves me.”
George lowered his voice, contrite. “I’m sorry, Dante.”
“It’s okay, Uncle George. I know this is difficult for you. Who knows? Perhaps one day you’ll meet a nice lady rat and settle down.”
George looked aghast. “Don’t even joke about that! The very idea of spawning with one of these vermin is repellent to me!” He regretted it the moment he said it, but the damage was done. Dante stopped and looked up at him, angry.
“Uncle George, you’re the only family I have left and if you want to have any part in my future family, I suggest that you get it into your head that they are not animals anymore! You’ve helped to make them people, so start treating them as such. I know you still blame them for ruining your life, but it’s time to get over it. They were willing to give you a second chance here, so don’t waste it. Make the best of this opportunity.”
Dante began walking quickly down the hall, George moving to follow him. “Dante! I’m sorry, again!” Dante stopped, remaining silent for a long time, but eventually he spoke. “As I said, just accept them and her and we can all be happy here.”
“I will,” George said, then changed the topic. “I was wondering about something--how do I look, for a rat? Am I good looking, average or ugly?”
“I’d say you look average,” Dante replied with a chuckle. George’s thoughts returned to the scientist they'd met. “How about that Lilandra woman? How does she rate?”
“Lilandra is very beautiful, but you’re out of luck Uncle George. She’s engaged.” Dante was joshing, and while George gave him a stern look at first he smiled a little too. “I wonder how long it will take for me to be able to tell the difference? They all look the same to me.”
For the next stop on their tour, Dante took George to the hospital. He was showing him around when Mr. Ages, one of the original mice of NIMH, appeared from his office. He gave George an icy stare, which for him was par for the course as he tended to treat everyone brusquely.
“Hello, George,” he said coldly. Dante totally ignored Ages’ attitude. “Uncle George, this is Mr. Ages, chief physician of Thorn Valley.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, sir,” George said, moving to shake hands with him. Mr. Ages looked down at his hand and then up at him. “‘Sir’ is it? Things have certainly changed. Wouldn’t you feel more comfortable calling me G-8?” Mr. Ages pushed past George, bumping his shoulder purposefully as he grumblingly returned to his office, slamming the door for effect.
George raised his eyebrows, resolute. “Short and to the point, at least.” Dante continued the tour. “Sorry about that. Perhaps we should avoid any of the 28 for the time being. I didn’t expect that, really. I was told he wanted you here to explain the procedure that created them. I guess he’s just not ready to meet you face to face yet.”
After they finished with the hospital, Dante took him to the library. At this time of day it was sparsely populated, which suited George just fine. When they entered, he was surprised to see Rose Brisby sitting at the librarian’s desk.
“Hello, Dante, George. How can I help you?” she asked. Dante approached the old oaken desk. “I’m just showing Uncle George around.”
“If you need anything, just ask,” she replied pleasantly.
George had wandered away from them and was examining the books on the shelves. Virtually every tome in this library was a copy of a human book, on every imaginable topic, and it was truly an impressive collection. In one corner of the library, a large painting adorned wall. It was a magnificently-rendered portrait of an ancient-looking rat with glowing eyes. George drew near to the gilt frame to read the plaque, and found the name under it was “Nicodemus”. Rose and Dante came up beside him.
Rose spoke first. “That was Nicodemus. He was the leader of the rats before Justin. He was killed by one of others in the group.” George continued to look at the eyes--there was something mesmerizing about them. “Was he from NIMH?”
“Yes,” she replied. George looked at the picture and it took him quite a while to realize that Nicodemus was A-10, from the lab. “What do you mean he was killed by one of the others?”
“One of the rats was very evil, named Jenner. He killed Nicodemus in an attempt to take over as leader,” Rose said.
“Dad called him A-13,” Dante added. George remembered him. “A-13, yes, a vicious rat. He was a handful. We always needed the leather gloves to handle him. He’s dead, I hope.”
“Yes, but keep that to yourself, Killian is Jenner’s son. As you can imagine, it’s a painful subject to bring up with him.”
“Say no more,” George said. “I’ll be glad to start the meeting tomorrow. I would very much like to hear the history of the rats and mice of NIMH,” George said.
After the library, George and Dante returned for the cafeteria for an early dinner. George began to feel tired; several nights of bad sleep and the grueling march to the valley were really catching up with him.
Returning to his apartment, George found the rest of his belongings had been delivered in his absence. He wanted to be as well-rested as possible for the coming meeting. Still,he felt compelled to sit on the edge of the bed and took out his notebook.
Have met another of the experimental animals, G-8, the white mouse. He was very hostile to my presence. Lilandra was a welcome reprieve from the normal hostility, as was Rose Brisby. It’s encouraging to see that some are willing to accept me, knowing who I am.
I see why Killian was willing to call me ‘sir’; his father had been a villain, so he is less judgmental toward others. This Nicodemus whose picture I saw intrigues me. I must know more about him and what role he played in all this.
Tomorrow is the big day, the first of the meetings. I am eager to hear what went on in their heads during the experiment, plus what happened during the escape and in the intervening years.
I only realized today that Dante does indeed think of me as family. In fact he said to me that I was the only family he had left, and he has been introducing me to everyone as his uncle. He’s making a family of his own now and I need to be more careful if I wish to remain a part of it.
He closed the notebook and crawled into bed, sleeping like a rock that night. Dante woke him early the next morning. “I figured you’d want to eat breakfast before the meeting.”
“Thanks,” George said, stretching. He was starting to get a little more used to that tail. “I need a little time to collect my thoughts.” George went into the next room and dressed in his modified human clothing, but he also concealed something extra on himself, in case there was trouble.
They arrived as the regular breakfast crowd was leaving, and there were many stares and whispers as George made his appearance. Whenever anyone looked at him, he smiled and waved, which caused those looking to turn away quickly. A short time later Jonathan, Rose, Martin and his wife Tess, along with Timothy and Jenny Brisby approached the table.
“Mind if we join you?” Jonathan asked, introducing them all to George. “Not at all,” Dante replied, motioning for them to sit. Tim shook George’s hand. “We meet again, Dr. George. You seem to be in better spirits than you were at the last meeting.”
“I am, Timothy,” George replied. “Coming here has been a lifesaver for me, but now comes the hard part--making peace with your people.” Jonathan sat in silence, but it was obvious that he had a lot on his mind. Dante broke the ice, hoping to avoid any unpleasant exchanges. “Is everyone ready for the meeting?”
“Yeah, I guess,” It’s just that it’s not something I like to talk about,” Martin said. Tim interrupted before Martin could elaborate. “It was really intense at NIMH when we escaped during the fire,” Tim said.
George looked up from his meal in surprise. “You know what happened at NIMH? About the fire and Dr. Valentine and his people?”
Martin squirmed in his seat and started to answer, but again Tim intercepted the conversation. “Yes, we know all about those things.”
“It was all my doing,” Martin added sadly.
“Tell me what happened, please,” George pleaded.
Martin caught a warning glance from Tim. “It’s a very long story. We should probably wait for the meeting. Besides, it’s not something I want to have to tell more than once.” George wanted to press the issue, but then Rose Brisby glided into the room, sharing her smile with everyone, and put an arm comfortingly around Martin’s shoulder.
After a moment she looked to the newcomer. “Feeling well this morning, George?” Rose asked.
“Yes, thank you,” George said, realizing he had been cut off. “It’s just strange getting used to having a tail. Every time I turn in my sleep it moves, and since I’m not accustomed to it I panic. But I was just so exhausted yesterday that I slept like the dead.”
They chatted for a while longer and when they had finished they headed for the conference room. George walked at the back of the procession, beginning to feel anxiety at the thought of the meeting. He took comfort in the presence of the .357 magnum revolver he had concealed in a shoulder holster under his jacket. When they got to the conference room, George asked to speak with Jonathan for a moment in private. The others went inside, leaving the two in the hall.
“What’s on your mind, George?” Jonathan asked.
“Jonathan, I have been giving this meeting a great deal of thought and I have a big favor to ask.”
“I make no guarantees.”
George nodded. “I understand. Jonathan, I would like to go to this meeting in my human form.”
Jonathan’s eyes bulged in shock at the magnitude of what he was suggesting. “Are you crazy! It’s going to be difficult enough for them facing you as a rat without having to face you as you looked then!”
George held his hands up, signaling for a chance to speak. The desperation in his eyes pleaded for him. “Please? I think it would be better for them to face me like that. As everyone has been saying, they want to put the memories of NIMH to rest. I want to face them as I was then and it would probably be better for them to face Dr. George the human rather than Dr. George the rodent. I want their hate directed at me in that form rather than my new one.”
Jonathan started to pace. “I can only imagine the reaction when I walk into the Great Hall with a human in tow. It goes against every sensible instinct I have!” George said nothing, just looking at the mouse. Jonathon sighed and nodded. “All right. All right, I'll do as you ask. But be aware that it’s really going to freak them out.”
George had known that of course, but it was a risk he was willing to take. “I understand. Thanks.” Jonathan’s eyes glowed and he raised his right hand toward George. “Close your eyes, George.”
George quickly did so, feeling the strange sensation of change that he had felt before. When he opened his eyes, he saw that he had returned to his human form but was still rat-sized. He composed himself and looked to Jonathan. “Now I’m ready to face the music.”
Jonathan opened the door and he followed him in.
There were gasps and cries of alarm when George appeared. The room was set up with several rows of chairs, the mice toward the front and the rats occupying the back rows. Several rats sat at attention, each with a stenographer's machine. A podium was set up in front of them all, a large chalkboard on the wall behind it.
“Sorry for the surprise, everyone, but I think doing it this way is for the best,” George said, taking a seat next to Dante. Justin, after overcoming his own shock, walked to the podium. “Ladies and gentlemen, we are about to write a new chapter in our history. We now have the opportunity to learn about our own origins and hopefully that will give us a better understanding of ourselves.”
Justin addressed himself to the unlikely guest of honor. “George, those of us gathered here are those that had been most affected by NIMH and its treatments.” He began introducing the rats and mice, each one standing when their name was mentioned. “The way this is to start is for you to begin with an explanation of the experiment. We would like to know everything about the experiment from the human perspective. We may from time to time ask questions. Now, before we begin, do you have any questions?”
“No, I’m ready to begin,” George said and walked to the podium. He took a deep breath and steeled himself, looking out toward the mass of eyes fixed upon him. “First, I would like to thank you for allowing me to come here. I realize that for most of you the only reason you are here was for this chance to face me. Still, I am grateful, and will do my best to answer any and all questions.”
George looked around to see if there were any takers but all of them were silent, most just glaring at him. He cleared his throat and began. “Project Titan was the brain child of Dr. Erhard Schultz, a brilliant doctor and geneticist, and an influential man at the National Institute of Mental Health-- more familiarly entitled NIMH. Julie and I were just grad students at the time, working on our respective PhDs: she in molecular biology and I in biochemistry.
“We were both in mundane research projects when we were approached by Dr. Schultz. He offered us the chance to work on a once-in-a-lifetime secret project that he guaranteed would make us all world-famous. Julie and I readily agreed; when you’re in such a competitive field as medical research, you jump at the chance to make the big score and make a name for yourself, especially when you’re an anonymous college student with dreams of grandeur.
Pausing, George took a sip of water from the glass that had been placed there for his benefit. The whole thing reminded him of his classes in the ancient buildings of Princeton. There was that same academic air to it, and the echo of one professor's voice as a roomful of onlookers weighed his words. Of course, no one at Princeton had ever given a lecture to such a unique audience as this.
George spoke on, his voice growing calmer as he went. “The first thing Dr. Shultz did was to swear us to secrecy. He explained that his work was so revolutionary that if anyone else discovered it, the project would be taken away from us and others would get the fame and glory. After we signed a document he had prepared, agreeing to his terms, he explained that what he was going to do was develop a way to modify existing brain cells to compensate for damaged or destroyed brain tissue, thus theoretically restoring stability to the mentally ill and reversing brain damage.”
Someone in the gallery coughed, a little too loud to be an accident, and Justin called for order. George continued. “It was amazing. The research, if successful, would revolutionize the field of neurology and psychiatry, not to mention geriatrics, and would make us all shoo-ins for Nobel prizes in medicine. Book deals and the lucrative lecture circuit would have followed. We would all have been immortalized in the world of medicine, our names mentioned in the same breath with Pasteur, Salk and Heimlich.”
George paused again, seeing if there were any questions. There were none. “At first I thought it odd that Dr. Schultz moved his operation from the main NIMH labs to the fortress...”
“What is the fortress?” one of the rats interrupted.
George looked to his right toward the question-asker. “It was the nickname of the building where you were kept. It was originally a Victorian-era music conservatory, which was bought by NIMH in the sixties and converted into a laboratory. It was called ‘the fortress’ because it was apparently modeled after a castle and the place was just plain oppressive--at least that’s how we humans felt being there.
“Shultz moved the project there because, according to him, in every gigantic government-run bureaucracy there are people who have too much seniority, are too well-recognized or too well-connected to fire. NIMH set up that place to cull the weirdoes and deadwood, setting them up with a lab and a shoestring budget and letting them sit it out until retirement.
“They also gave the projects there virtually no supervision, which is what Dr. Schultz wanted more than anything. He was paranoid that someone would steal his work, and there was some justification to his fear. Dr. Elliot Valentine was a genius, not as great a genius as Dr. Schultz, but he didn’t have an original bone in his body and Shultz knew he had a reputation of stealing others’ work.”
George felt the question had been addressed, and continued with the main story. “At this point we had a project name, a budget and a lab. All we needed now were the lab rats.” There was an angry grumble from the crowd, and several of them appeared ready to stand and challenge the speaker. George remained aloof from their hostility. “Grumble all you like. With certain exceptions, such as yourselves, NIMH is a legitimate medical organization that helps millions of people with terrible, debilitating mental illnesses. You have to learn to take the good with the bad.”
Several people from the crowd stood now and began shouting at him angrily. Justin stood and commanded them to be silent and sit down. To George’s relief they did so. “For reasons I still don’t fully understand, Dr. Schultz didn’t want to go with the typical white, easily obtained Wistar lab rats. He specifically asked for wild rats. The only explanation he gave was ‘I have enough tame ones’.
George could sense the proverbial volcano bubbling in the room, and while he wanted to make his points he realized that he had best keep his voice calm while doing it. “That was a mistake on his part, because if he had gone with the standard born-and-bred lab rats, being so tame they probably would never have had the initiative to escape, at least not with the audacity...er, resourcefulness that you did.
“The lot of you were rounded up by animal control, along with those of B group and the control group and brought to the lab. During the sorting we discovered you mice mixed in with the rats and debated what to do with you. Eventually Dr. Schultz decided to add you to the experiment. The first stage was to use you to test his secret formula and augment your brains to see if we could improve your thinking capacity.”
Mr. Ages stood up now, and to George’s surprise addressed his question in a professional manner. “From what you knew of the details of the experiment at that point, was the mutation that occurred in us a possibility?”
“From what I knew of the experiment then, no,” George replied. “It was much later that I discovered the true nature of the experiment.” George redirected his remarks now to the entire audience. “It was a long process. We were doing unprecedented research, but eventually when you began showing signs of increased intelligence we were astonished. You obviously know what happened next much better than I do. I have to admit I found it alarming the first time one of you solved the maze using the printed symbols as guides. We knew you were becoming smarter--it was obvious.”
Now he looked to one rat in particular. “For instance, when you, Justin, leaped out of your cage and examined the baseboard and found the air duct, we thought it interesting, but nothing more than that. It was inconceivable to us that you were already plotting escape.”
George took another sip of water. “By the third year, I think that Julie and I were honestly growing afraid of what we had done. By that time you were beginning to develop humanoid characteristics, and we realized that we had perhaps gone too far. Dr. Schultz took a sample of brain cells from each of you, supposedly for examination, but as it turns out he implanted them into Dante. Where he learned neurosurgery is beyond me; it certainly wasn’t on his resume.”
At this point, George began to run the images of what had happened through his mind, so vivid were the memories. “Well, a few months later Julie and I came into work to find Dr. Schultz standing before the wall of empty cages, a wild look in his eyes. He explained that you all had escaped. We searched every inch of the lab, and then we found the open heating vent, with the thread leading into the shaft.”
George reached into his pocket and withdrew a small object and tossed it to Justin. The rat gasped when he recognized it as the actual spool of thread that they had used during their escape. George managed a slight smile. “I thought you might like to have that as a souvenir.”
Justin passed the spool around to all the others, and George continued as they looked at the unique artifact. “Julie and I were in a daze and Dr. Schultz called maintenance to tear the ductwork apart to find you. They found just six mice in the bottom of a ‘U’ shaped piece of ventilation duct. A thorough search of the outside produced the neck tags you all had worn, but beyond that no trace of you could be found. Later that same day we went to our department head with the news of the escape. Dr. Schultz told him about your abnormally high intelligence and that you had engineered your escape. He warned the head that with your intelligence you posed a threat to the human race.”
George formed an amused look on his face. “And do you know what the head’s response to this news was? He laughed! Laughed in our faces, and he laughed so hard he fell out of his chair. Needless to say, he didn’t share our concern. When we left his office, Julie and I were fired and Dr. Schultz was given a severe censure.”
“What were the grounds for you being fired?” one of the mice asked.
“Gross dereliction of duty, carelessness, not following proper procedures, stuff like that. The department head believed that we had screwed up whatever it was we were working on and destroyed all of you, and that we made up the escape story as a lame excuse to cover our mistake. NIMH kept the event under wraps, not because they believed us, but that it would make them look bad if the press and public found out that a bunch of lab animals had gone missing.”
A shadow seemed to cross George’s face when he spoke again. “When Julie and I left the building, carrying the contents of our desks in cardboard boxes, Dr. Schultz caught up with us in the parking lot. He took us aside and explained to us what the experiment had really been about. Then he took a discarded glass bottle from a garbage can, and when he did his eyes began glowing and he altered the bottle in a way that should’ve been impossible. He told me he would hunt you down to the ends of the earth, assuring us that he would bring things under control again. Then he returned to the building.
“Julie and I, on the other hand, went to a nearby pub and proceeded to get totally wasted. Now that we were laughingstocks at NIMH, we decided to return to school and try to salvage any chance of remaining in the field of science.”
Justin stood up. “I think that’s enough for now. Let’s give some of the older members a chance to get up and stretch their legs. Anyone who’s hungry can retire with me to the cafeteria.” All that speaking had sparked George’s appetite, so he accompanied Justin and Dante for a bite of early lunch. Several of the rats and mice had come as well, and while they wouldn’t approach him, he could hear them whispering to each other excitedly. So far, George was simply relieved that they hadn’t killed him.
An hour later, the meeting resumed with George back at the podium. “After college, I formed a bio-research company and Julie worked for me. One day Dr. Schultz comes calling--he said that his funding at NIMH had been cut and that he needed a place to continue his research. I gave him the warehouse next to my lab to do his thing. He would disappear for months at a time and would make strange phone calls at all hours of the night, keeping me updated of his progress in the hunt. When he was eventually fired by NIMH, he spent almost all his time between my warehouse and his private lab.
“By this time Julie and I had become full-fledged alcoholics, so the details after that are a little dim. The next big event was a massive explosion several years later at Dr. Schultz’s lab. Julie, the only other person present that night, rushed onto the scene and dragged Dr. Schultz out of the wreckage. By the time she did he was already dead--or so we thought, as I later learned.”
Some of the audience exchanged hushed whispers at this statement until several others shushed them. “A few days later Dante returned home for his father’s funeral. The next day he came to my lab to pick up his father’s car. Julie, Dante and I were in my office talking when Dante happened to mention project Titan. Julie and I tried to convince Dante to not dig to deep into his father’s work, but he insisted. I gave him the keys to his father’s secret lab, which had been given to me by Rita.”
“Who is Rita?” Justin asked.
“My aunt, my mother’s sister,” Dante replied. “We both warned Dante that what he would find there was going to change him forever, and not for the good. It certainly did. Later that night Dante comes to the lab with a dead rat--one of your type. At that point we told Dante about what we had done at NIMH and we again told him to just walk away from what he had discovered, and it seemed like we had succeeded until he got to the parking lot.”
George took a large gulp of water now, the memory of what came next far too unpleasant for his taste. “There, a giant human-sized rat was waiting for him. That giant rat turned a bunch of the nearbly squirrels into huge, ferocious monsters that tried to kill Dante. Dante dispatched them easily enough with his sword, but the rat guy was a tougher nut to crack. I ended up having to blow him away with the gun that I had kept on me for just such an emergency. I told Dante to just run for it, and he did.
“With great difficulty, Julie and I moved the bodies of the rat and the squirrels to the back of the lab and set them on fire. When they were burned up we went to Dr. Schultz’s secret lab, which Dante had set ablaze. We’d advised him to burn it down without going inside, but he went in anyway. We made sure it was burned to ashes, then we returned to the lab and continued with our drinking as if nothing had happened. Aa day or so later I had the strangest dream--Julie, Rita and I were present while Dante, George and a giant mouse that was Rose (I didn't know that at the time though) watched Dr. Schultz live his life in flashback. It was freaky seeing where Schultz had learned about the origin of those strange powers.”
Some in the crowd looked at Rose speculatively, but no one interrupted George's interesting tale. “We watched these things and then when it ended we were thrown back to reality. Julie got up and told me she was quitting and left the lab right then and there. Her last words were enigmatic: ‘George, I quit. It’s over at last and I can finally return home,’ she said, and took off without another word. I sent an e-mail to Dante, hoping against hope that he was still alive after all that had happened. In response to my letter I had another strange dream.”
“You say these were dreams.” This was Justin, who had sensed a need to give the audience a moment’s pause. “Are you sure that at the time you perceived them only as dreams, and not more?”
“Just dreams,” George said. “After all, how was I to know that there was a group of sentient rodents who could communicate with me that way? I knew the dreams were vibrant and unique, but never having experienced that before I rationalized it as some offshoot of the incident with the giant rat... or it might have been the booze.”
One of the older rats stood up now, around Mr. Ages’ age. “Let us return to the matter at hand. What was the topic of your next dream?”
George returned his attention to the full room. “Dante, courtesy of Jonathan, visited me in a dream to say goodbye and to assure me that you weren’t plotting to kill Julie or me. Over the proceeding months, my health declined and my doctor told me I had one foot in the grave because of my alcoholism. He advised me to quit and I reluctantly did so. That left me with time to think, and I realized it was you, the survivors of NIMH, that I feared more than anything. And now I had a link with you, via Dante. I decided to make you an offer I was sure you couldn’t refuse, and I was correct. That is the how and why for why I am here.”
A general buzz emanated from the room as the rats and mice started talking among themselves. Justin called for quiet, and for the question session to begin. A rat near the back row on the left side of the oval-shaped room stood up. “Are you saying that no one at NIMH believed you?”
“Not one single person,” George said. “I mean, look at you--the notion of walking, talking intelligent rats and mice with magical powers exists for humans only in fairy tales. The very impossibility of your existence is your greatest protection. Searching for you would be like looking for Bigfoot or the Loch Ness monster. As for you mice that had been recaptured, you could have won Academy Awards for your performances as dumb lab animals when Dr. Schultz showed you to the director.”
One of the mice raised his hand. “How did Dr. Valentine get control of the project?”
“As Dr. Schultz grew more unhinged, NIMH was getting ready to can him. Valentine, who had long suspected that Schultz was working on something astonishing, had been secretly working to take the project away from him. When Schultz failed to catch you at the farmhouse, that’s when NIMH pulled the plug. Dr. Valentine was given control of the wreckage of project Titan. I can’t tell you much about his particular work, as I was long gone by that time. It’s funny in a sense--he wanted Titan in the worst way, and boy did he get it. Julie and I were back in school and Schultz was going insane, so all he had to work with was the documentation that we had kept of the experiment, which I later learned from Schultz was all faked”.
“Faked, you say?” Mr. Ages asked. “But surely he must've had legitimate notes somewhere.” George shrugged. “If he did, we never knew it. He had been removing the true results of his work so that he would leave no trail, and in fact he said that if someone did try to do what he did using what he left behind, they were in for a world of trouble. Anyhow, Valentine set out to figure out what in the world we had been working on.
“He knew the rumors and gossip about the escape and your high intelligence, but you that remained behind kept up your dumb animal act like professionals. The poor dope had no idea what he was walking into. I’m told he even went back to the farmhouse where you guys had lived and tried to capture you. The next thing I hear from the NIMH grapevine is that the ’fortress’ has burned down and Valentine and his team had their brains turned to jelly and are now running around acting like dogs.”
“What do you mean ‘NIMH grapevine’?” one of the other mice asked.
“I still have a few acquaintances at NIMH. They kept me up to date on the doings at the lab. I’m even told that over the years project Titan has taken on the status of an urban legend at the lab, where it’s unofficially referred to as ‘The Secret of NIMH’. It makes sense when you think about it--imagine your capacity for terrorism, assassination, sabotage and espionage. You could go anywhere and get into virtually anyplace. That’s just without your powers; with them...well, I’ll admit that frightens me a little even now to think of it. Some of my friends at NIMH jokingly e-mail me whenever there’s some catastrophe, asking me if I thought my super-rats were carrying out their war on humanity.”
Mercy took the floor. “Seeing us here and seeing what we have done, do you regret working on project Titan?”
George saw the interest level of the audience rise tremendously at this question, so he carefully weighed his words before answering. “I admit that I have very mixed feelings about the lot of you. I wanted to be a great scientist, but one of the first research projects I worked on turned out to be a detour into the Twilight Zone. It ruined my career before it even began. This is not where I pictured myself being at this point in my life. I feel like a mix of Dr. Frankenstein, Dr. Moreau and Dr. Dolittle. I’ll admit that I’m bitter. This project didn’t just ruin my career, it ruined me.”
The emotions were churning in him now, and George for better or worse let them out.“Do you have any idea how many nights I’ve woken up screaming as I dreamed of the lot of you tearing at my flesh? I haven’t been able to look at a rat or mouse since the experiment! Anytime I would see one, I would always wonder if there was some nefarious intelligence hidden behind those eyes. Ironically, I would actually be worse off if I hadn’t accepted Dr. Schultz’s offer to work on Titan and just continued on the project I was originally working on.”
“Why?” Mercy asked.
“I was originally working for Dr. Valentine when Dr. Schultz stole me away for his secret project. If I had stayed with him I’d be with him and his people at the state hospital learning to walk and talk again.”
Martin’s face showed his horror at the thought. “They’re still acting like dogs?”
George nodded. “I visited Elliot a while back, poor slob. It may be another five to ten years of intensive therapy until they can bring them all back to any semblance of humanity.” Martin just buried his face in his hands. “Those poor people.”
Anja stood up and walked in front of the podium. “What gave you the right to inflict such torture on us!”
George responded just as tersely. “The way I see it, you came out of this experiment the winners by a long shot. We were humans, you were animals, and man has the right to do anything he wants to the entire animal kingdom.”
There was an angry rumble from the crowd, but George didn't let faze him. “Welcome to the top of the heap, folks. The first rule you’ll have to learn about being a higher life form is simple; life isn’t fair, so get used to it. One day, when your people begin experimenting on those creatures you deem as being beneath you, you’ll see how easy it can be to do it.”
“We are not like the humans, George. We would never do such a thing,” Mr. Ages said indignantly. George faced him. “It seems that the lot of you haven’t been willing to accept what we really did to you. It’s as plain as the nose your faces, but you just won’t accept it.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Dr. Schultz took human DNA, altered it and introduced it into your bodies. It fused with your rodent DNA and replaced many key elements in your physiology, and gave you those articulated hands, bipedal motion, speech and higher brain functions. So let’s just end the notion of a pure animal nature free of human contamination. What we did was simply transplant human nature into you.”
The crowd again erupted in shouts and epithets, and it was all Justin and the guards could do to contain them. George wasn't deterred. “The truth is always hard to accept, but in the long run it’s always the best thing. I don’t quite understand your reluctance to accept this fact. Look at yourselves! Don’t any of you think it’s odd that many of you have extraneous facial and cranial hair? Let me ask you, when was the last time any of you ran around on all fours? When did you last groom yourself with your tongue? When was the last time any of you walked around naked in public? Any of these things would seem unthinkable now, right?
The crowd grew silent at this, and George knew now they were listening. “I’ve wondered about your clothing. Having fur, it just seems so unnecessary. I found what I believe is the answer. In the Bible, at the point where Adam and Eve had just eaten from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, it states: ‘Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.’ It would appear that Dr. Schultz force-fed you that knowledge.”
George was now forced to shout over the cries of anger from the crowd. “At what point did you decide that it was necessary to get married! It didn’t feel right just taking a mate, did it!” George spread his arms out, emphasizing his words. “How about Jenner! He was your first taste of evil on a human level!”
“I bet you haven’t even given yourselves a scientific name yet. You’re not Rattus Rattus anymore, so what are you now-- Rattus-sapiens, Rattus-erectus, Homo-Rattus? You complain about the experiment, but look around! Look what you’ve built here. Can any one of you look me in the eye and tell me you regret being in the experiment? Who among you wishes they had remained an ordinary sewer rat, and would any of you really be willing to give all this up and go back to the Carlton Avenue Fish and Farmer’s Market, scavenging for rotting vegetables and fish heads?”
He looked intently at the crowd, but none dared to answer. “I thought as much. The fact that you’re all alive now, years later, is another indication of the effects of the human DNA. If you had escaped the nets, you’d be long dead! Think about all that you have done and accomplished in this new life, then compare that with what you were capable of before. How much do any of you even remember about your lives as feral animals anymore?”
George focused his attention, pointing. “Mr. Ages, remember back to the first time you healed someone? How did if feel knowing you were the first of your kind to do that since the world was created?”
For a time, no one seemed to know what to say. It was as if they all had exhausted what was in their souls to speak, and the slightest noise was audible. It was one of the rats who broke the stalemate. “Why did Dr. Schultz create us, then? Why didn’t he just experiment on humans?”
As he was about to reply, George noticed a mouse approach Jonathan and Rose Brisby and after a few moments of discussion they followed the mouse out of the room. He was grateful for the topic shift and for a few moments to collect his thoughts and emotions before going into the next round.
“He wanted to see what parts of the brain controlled those weird powers,” George said. “He made you because he believed you were more easily controlled and supervised, and any changes in you would be more easily observed. When the project was over you could also be...disposed of easily. He couldn’t work on human subjects; it would have been very difficult, not to mention illegal to get test subjects.”
“It would be difficult to conceal and very, very hard to dispose of the evidence. Or worse, what if the test subjects manifested dangerous powers? When he felt he was close enough to his goal, he risked experimenting on Dante. The rats’ increased intelligence wasn’t entirely unexpected, but since nothing like this experiment had ever been done before, we didn’t know what exactly to expect. Ironically, they ended up developing powers to the degree that Dr. Shultz sought and had gained the intelligence to use it.”
“What would have become of us at the end of the experiment?” Anja asked.
“If things had gone as planned, at the end of the experiment we would have euthanized all of you, removed your brains, sliced them into pieces and examined them under the microscope to study the extent of the improvement. Then we would have made alterations to the formula that we injected into you and begin injecting a new batch of rats in the hopes of getting better results.”
Most of the crowd rose to its feet. Justin, Dante, Tim and Anja leaped up defensively in front the of podium while Justin tried to calm the mob. Eventually they began returning to their seats.
Anja quickly turned to George and before he could react she plunged a dagger into his chest, pushing him to the ground and raising the knife for a second blow. Overcoming his pain and moving with speed he didn’t think possible, George drew out his gun and pressed it under her chin. He looked at the others--Justin, Dante, Mr. Ages and several others were moving to his aid, the rest just too stunned to act.
He looked up at Anja, who had a terrified look on her face. “Give me one reason why I shouldn’t blow your brains out.” He put a hand over his wound, and then looked at his hand, covered with blood. Anja dropped her dagger.
“Not satisfied yet? I’m sorry!” he shouted in her face. “Open your eyes!” he demanded. She opened them, wide with fear.
Dante took a step closer to George, but George waived him off. “Stay back, Dante! I’m not through yet.”
“Uncle George, let us help you,” Dante said.
“George, please put the gun down.” Mercy pleaded. George looked at Mercy, then at Anja. He remembered her from NIMH, number A-5. He looked to Justin and the others who were now gathered around him, all of them alarmed.
“Get back!” he shouted to them, they quickly withdrew. He looked at Anja menacingly. “On your feet, slowly!”
He struggled to his own feet, his wound bleeding badly, the whole time keeping the gun to her chin. “I have something more to say. I came here to beg for forgiveness. What happened to you was a complete accident. We made you, but we can’t take any credit for what you built here--that was your doing alone.
George paused to breathe, fighting to keep the pain and shock at bay. “You may not like what you’ve heard, but it was the honest truth. But I can see that it’s not sufficient for some of you. Some of you want my blood, so here it is. Take it, with my compliments!”
He put his free hand over his wound until it was covered with blood, then he wiped his hand on Anja's face, leaving bloody streaks on her fur. He repeated the process, streaking both sides of her face. She closed her eyes and shuddered as he did it.
“George, stop this madness! You’re going to bleed to death,” Mr. Ages said. Guy took a step forward. “George, please, don’t kill her! We have eight kids. She was just overcome by the moment!”
George's look was icy as a glacier. “She just happened to be carrying a concealed weapon at the time. It looks a little premeditated to me.”
“We were all angry at you. I just didn’t think she’d do this! Please, don’t hurt her! We have eight children.” Guy pleaded.
George considered it for a long moment. “You’re right. I don’t want to make my position here even worse than it is now.” George took her hand and put the gun in it, then he guided her hand up to his forehead so the barrel was right between his eyes. She tried to pull her hand away, but he gripped it too tightly for her to do so.
“Here, this is what you want. Go ahead, do it!”
Anja cried and whimpered, and after a brief pause he yanked the gun out of her hand. He took it by the muzzle, offering it to the others. “If this is what it will take to even the score, just say the word. Just one of you, please! Then you’ll have your revenge.”
Justin spoke to him soberly. “George, we don’t want revenge. We just wanted answers.” Dante was visibly shaken. “Uncle George, what are you doing! Put the gun down, you’re bleeding badly!”
George lowered the gun, sighing, and handed it to Justin. In one motion, he staggered and collapsed to the floor. Justin pulled Anja away, the others crowded around him. George saw Mr. Ages quickly begin issuing orders and treating the wound, and George smiled. “How’s this for irony,” he muttered. “My life...is now...in your hands...” He tried to say more, but didn't have the ability and lapsed into unconsciousness.
When George awoke, he didn’t know how much time passed. He looked out a nearby window--it appeared to be early morning. Slowly, and with a lot of pain he sat up. He realized he was a rat again. Connected to his furry arm was an I.V. bottle and a strange device that appeared to be a heart monitor. He looked at his chest, and found the wound well bandaged.
A short time later Mr. Ages entered, who appeared surprised to see George sitting up. “George, you’re awake! How do you feel?”
“I’ve felt better,” George said, trying to find a way to sit that was comfortable. “What’s the damage?”
“Your little dramatic display nearly cost you your life. In fact when you were on the operating table, your heart actually stopped beating. I had to do CPR to get it going again.”
George slowly reached out a hand in gratitude. “I owe you my life.” Mr. Ages simply stared back. “It’s my job, George. I don’t do it to earn favors.”
“You could have easily let me die and you didn’t, so thank you.”
“If it will make you feel better, George, let’s just say I am willing to bury the hatchet,” Mr. Ages said and grabbed George's hand just as he'd started to lower it. George looked surprised, but didn’t hesitate to shake his hand.
“Mr. Ages, now that I’m awake, I need to speak to you and Justin alone as soon as possible and I need someone to bring me my big duffle bag from my room.”
Mr. Ages was writing on a clipboard now, noting George's vital signs. “Is it that important? You need your rest.” George nodded emphatically. “It is that important.”
“Very well. I will call Justin and tell him this instant,” Mr. Ages said and left the room. A short time later Justin showed up with the duffle bag and joined Mr. Ages at George’s bedside. “I’m glad to see you’re awake, George,” Justin said. “You really had us all worried. Dante was really upset, and he’ll be glad to know you’ve recovered. I owe you an apology, George. I gave you my assurance that no harm would come to you and I failed to fulfill that promise.”
“Forget about it, Justin. I must say, in a sense I’m glad it happened. I knew I was in your power and that really frightened me. But you were willing to save my life, which showed me that my life actually has some value to you. I just wanted to say that it really means a lot to me.”
“All life has value, George,” Justin said.
George motioned for them to come closer, his voice beginning to weaken some with the effort. “The reason I asked to speak to you is that there is something I wanted to give you. Only the two of you should be allowed to know of it, but if you wish to tell the others, so be it. Justin, open the duffle bag.”
Justin opened the bag and removed a large folder. He stopped when he saw what else was in the bag, and George smiled. “I forgot, that’s something else you might need. You may have to face humans again one day or you may need more supplies from the human world. There’s 2.4 million dollars in cash there, plus twenty one-ounce gold bars. Or rather they will be if Jonathan enlarges the bag back to regular size. If you want to know how to deal with the human race, right there is your answer.”
“Where did you ever get this much money!” Justin asked, handing the folder to George.
“I liquidated all my assets, except the business. But the important thing is that file,” he said, pointing to the file folder. “I hope and pray that it’s the very last factual documentation of the process that created you.”
George was showing signs of anemia, so Mr. Ages brought him some juice to drink. He downed it gratefully, then gestured to the folder in Justin’s hands as the rat flipped through the pages. “Those are photocopies of Dr. Schultz’s own documents. I waited till he left on one of his hunts for you, then I called a locksmith to open the safe in his lab at my warehouse. Inside was a stack of papers in a bundle, which I made photocopies of and returned them to the safe, locking it up again.”
“He apparently never discovered what I had done, fortunately. Who knows what he would have done to me if he had. The things described on those pages were bizarre, unearthly...I’d almost call it anti-science. It took me years to figure it out, and when I did I was even more horrified by what we had done than I was before. I now had the knowledge to do what he did, and it terrified me.”
“Did Julie have access to this file?” Mr. Ages asked.
“No,” he replied, and then paused. “Unless...unless she did to me what I did to Dr. Schultz and copied my files. I don’t think she did, though. I certainly never mentioned I had it.” George pointed to the folder, which Mr. Ages was holding now. “In your hands you hold your blueprint. With that you have the knowledge to create more of yourselves. You could even create new species of creatures, or mutate other animals. It’s Pandora’s Box, and I’ll leave it up to you whether to open it or leave it closed.”
“Without these documents, could you recreate the experiment?” Mr. Ages asked.
“No,” George said. “From memory I could perhaps go about seventy percent of the way, but the other thirty would require dangerous trial and error. I debated within myself long and hard about whether or not to give you that. I decided that if I was going to be one of you, then it was in my best interest to give you every possible advantage for our survival.”
Mr. Ages opened the file and began leafing through it, and Justin approached George’s bedside again. “We will need to think carefully before we decide what to do with that. Thank you, George.” The human turned rodent paused for a few moments to rest, then another pressing question came to him. “What happened to the lady that stabbed me?”
“Well, Anja is under house arrest until we can decide what disciplinary action to take.”
“Don’t do anything to her.”
Justin raised an eyebrow, confused. “George, are you sure? She tried to kill you!”
“Justin, I honestly expected to be cut down two steps past the front door when I got here. If that’s the only stabbing I receive, I’ll count myself very lucky. I would recommend that she get some counseling. I wouldn’t like to go through this again.”
“We have already made arrangements for that. She has always had a hard time dealing with the trauma of the experiment and your coming here was just too much for her, apparently. Your wiping the blood on her face certainly had a deep effect. I’m told that for hours she sat in front of a mirror and scrubbed her face over and over. Her family will be grateful to hear that you won’t pursue the matter.”
George leaned back on his bed. “I just want to get settled in. I don’t want any conflicts. What I do want is to get back to the meeting. I’m dying--no pun intended--to know about what happened to all of you.”
Mr. Ages put the folder aside. “Well, I’d say it will be at least a week till I’ll let you out of the hospital, but we can get you up and on your feet tomorrow. We can’t risk letting you just lie around and have you developing pneumonia or blood clots.”
“This is an impressive operation you have here. How many people do you have working for you?” George asked. The old rodent physician adjusted his spectacles. “There are three doctors, myself included. My wife is in training and we have eight on the nursing staff.”
“This is all just so amazing. It’s the same planet I was born and grew up on, and yet here I am now, a rat in a hospital run by a mouse, in a community run by a rat. It’s all too much to believe!”
Justin placed a reassuring hand on his shoulder. “Don’t worry, George. Soon Thorn Valley will feel like home to you,” Justin said.
“That will be nice,” George said, and with a contented sigh he closed his eyes to rest.
Later that day Dante and Cynthia stopped by to visit him. It was obvious that Dante was still deeply shaken by the experience of what had happened. Mr. Ages understood, but he was also firm that they were to stay no longer than fifteen minutes. Dante walked in first, finding George awake and being attended by one of the nurses. “Uncle George, that was way too close! I thought you were a goner!”
George motioned him over, and then the young female mouse appeared from behind Dante. She advanced timidly, but her smile was genuine. “I’m glad as well to see you’re well, Dr. George. I was worried you might not be here to see the wedding.”
“After what happened, I’m glad to be able to see anything,” George said. He reached out a hand to her and she eagerly gave him hers. “I’m happy for both of you and I look forward to your wedding.”
Jonathan and Rose came to visit a few minutes later. George was surprised to see that Jonathan even appeared to be genuinely concerned about his health, and Rose was very supportive. They also explained their reason for leaving the meeting. Anja had arranged to have them out of the room at the time of the attack, so they couldn’t use their powers to stop her.
After half an hour, Mr. Ages shooed them all out in his own loving and tender way. Jonathon joked abut his beside manner, and George returned to his resting. At the end of the week it was decided that he had recovered sufficiently to return to his apartment, with extra guards in place. The first thing he did was go to his notebook.
Days Three to Eleven
Went to meeting with the escapees. Stabbed! Ended up in hospital for a week. This rodent body is remarkably resilient.
While in the hospital I received many visitors and was very surprised to see that cards and letters were delivered to me from concerned members of the community. Some were from the twenty-eight survivors of NIMH and others were from members of the younger generation. They expressed their feelings of bitterness and anger, but also of forgiveness and reconciliation. Apparently the stabbing had been cathartic for many of them.
These feelings were confirmed when I read the newspaper and saw that the community was shaken by the incident. Many had initially wanted to strike back at me, but now that someone had actually done so they were all horrified by the act.
They had realized that they didn’t want my blood after all, much to my relief. I like it where it is. I have gotten to know the hospital staff fairly well. Mr. Ages and I have made peace with each other, if anyone really can with that grumpy old soul. I was surprised to learn that he was married to Mercy. I would have thought him a bit old for her, but they certainly seem happy together.
Luke and Laura are a curious couple. It would actually appear that they are in love! I’m still struggling to cope with the idea of cross-species romance, but have finally come to terms with the idea of Dante marrying Cynthia. He is so happy here, it amazes me. Rita, Julie and I always hoped Dante would meet a nice girl and settle down. Well, I suppose doing that here is okay.
When the meetings resumed, George felt comfortable enough to go in his rodent form. This was the part he had been waiting years to hear: what happened during and after the experiment? He was relieved to be in the room and not feel the overwhelming hostility that he had sensed before. The tension was not quite gone, but it was definitely lessened. Justin and the others took turns speaking when they began the narrative of the rats and mice, and they told of their struggles as they were captured in the nets, the fear of being in the lab and their life in captivity.
George was amazed when he went over his own memories of the time in the lab, seeing the same things and conducting the experiments that Justin and the others spoke of. All the things they spoke of were going on before the very eyes of Dr. Schultz, Julie and himself. It seemed impossible that they had all been so blind as to not see these things.
The survivors spoke of their planning of the escape, about stealing the thread and taking the screwdriver to pry open the vent covers. Slowly, they outlined the weeks spent going through the vents, trying to find one that led to freedom.
“The day we made our escape was the most frightening,” Justin said. “We knew that once the scientists were aware of our escape that they would do anything to get us back. Once we started, there was no going back. I opened the cages that held the mice, serving as lookout while they scampered up into the ventilation system. The trip through the ducts was tense, and none of us knew if we would see tomorrow.”
At that point the mice that had been recaptured spoke briefly about the beginning of their ordeal after being blown away from the rest of the group. Then Jonathan spoke of his going through the grate that blocked the escape to the roof and how he opened it. Then they took turns speaking of their time of flight, each telling what they knew, and of the tragic death of Nell and its effect on Jenner.
Of particular interest to George was the recounting of their time at the Boniface estate and the other formative events of their early history. “The Bonifaces, like the Fitzgibbons have been our unknowing benefactors,” Justin said. “The Boniface estate sat empty, as its owner and his new bride were traveling the globe on an eight-month honeymoon. While they were gone we moved in for the winter and stayed until spring. We devoured the massive library, learning everything we could. That was the turning point in the destiny of our people, for there we got our education and it was there that we discovered Thorn Valley National Park.”
The rats spoke with great fondness of the Rosebush colony and life on the Fitzgibbons farm. Jonathan recounted his loneliness and of his meeting Rose and starting a family. Mr. Ages, when asked, reported that his main desire there had been for privacy, and of his moving to the old threshing machine.
When the rats spoke of Jenner and his growing influence on the community, it was evident that the evil rodent was a blight on their community’s honor. They spoke reverently of Nicodemus and all that he had done for them, and of his tireless work on the Plan. They all agreed that next to the humans, the cat known as Dragon had been their greatest adversary.
Jonathan recalled his fateful encounter with the cat, then Rose told George of her life and of meeting Jonathan. She wiped tears from her eyes when she got the point in her story where Jonathan had died, and of raising the children alone and life without him. George was amazed at her courage when she told him about the events that led to her meeting with the Great Owl and her trip to the rats. When she got to the point of being held captive in the bird cage and overhearing the phone call from Dr. Schultz, George interrupted.
“I’m sorry, please allow me to explain. I remember it well, the night he called the farmer. I got a phone call in the middle of the night from Dr. Schultz. The man was beside himself with excitement. He told me that Mercy had tracked the rats to a farmhouse in West Virginia, and that he had just spoken to the farmer and gotten permission to destroy the rosebush where you rats were hiding. He was so intent on destroying you that he couldn’t wait till morning to speak to the farmer-- that’s why he called so late. If he had just had the patience to wait a few more hours he probably would’ve taken you by complete surprise. As to who this Mercy person was that he spoke of I’ve never been able to figure out.”
George glanced momentarily at Mercy and she smiled, and to his surprise spoke up. “I am the Mercy he spoke of. Later I will tell my story and answer that question.”
The story of the cinderblock came next, along with the murder of Nicodemus and the death of Sullivan and the apparent death of Jenner. Then Rose in glowing words spoke of the wondrous event with the stone, and how she had moved the cinderblock. Justin and the others detailed the frantic dismantling of the Rosebush colony and the hurried flight from the farm to Thorn Valley. The hardship of the first year gradually led to the good times that followed, and the events and dangers that they faced as a stable colony.
Martin approached the podium and hesistantly began recounting his capture by Dr. Valentine and the experimentation he was subjected to, along with how he turned the situation around and took control of Dr. Valentine and the other humans at the lab.
“The process Dr. Valentine used was called ‘Electro-Cerebral Enhancement’,” Martin explained. “When Mr. Ages restored me, I fortunately lost all the details of the process.”
“The process was no doubt the culmination of a lifetime of stolen research and ideas all rolled into one,” George said.
“I manifested great powers--greater than mom or dad has, even greater than those Dr. Schultz and Jenner possessed. They were possibly greater than all the others combined, and with those powers I was going to lay waste to the entire planet.”
He continued in his story up to the point where he had brainwashed Dr. Valentine and his people, but before Tim had arrived. He returned to his seat, his wife taking his hand and putting an arm around his shoulder.
George just sat there in stunned silence. Martin had talked like a comic book supervillain; he alone had the power to destroy the world. How on earth did we create these creatures? Where do these powers come from?
The mice that had remained at NIMH began to speak, talking of their captivity by Dr. Schultz and later by Dr. Valentine, and how Valentine became even more unhinged than his predecessor. They also mentioned the ‘evil’ Martin taking control of everything, and Jenny spoke of her perilous trek from NIMH to Thorn Valley, using only the directions supplied by Martin before he was altered.
“It was terrifying,” Jenny said. “I had never been outside the lab before. I didn’t know how to forage for food or to watch out for predators. I didn’t know how to survive in the wild. It’s strange--at times during my trip it felt like some unseen hand was guiding me. As I think about how I got here, I still can’t believe I actually made it alive. The odds were astronomically against me.”
She continued her story up to the point where she encountered Tim, then he, Martin and Justin joined her up front, each taking turns telling of what happened next. Jenny and Tim had requested that they go back to rescue Martin and the others that had been left behind, which led to the encounters with two cats and the altered Martin.
Martin’s voice literally trembled at times as he described the terrible things he had done. “And when Tim and Jenny refused to join me, I...I... tried to kill them.” He began sobbing, and Tess and Rose rushed up to him and led him back to his seat.
Tim and Jenny finished their part of the story, then the mice spoke of their arrival in the valley and growing accustomed to their new life. Justin had chosen Tim as his vice-president. Jonathan and Dante told of their strange meeting and the entire group spoke of the battle with Jenner and Dr. Schultz and its aftermath. At the end, they spoke of the plans to free Jenner’s colony, and Mercy spoke of her life and her dealings with Jenner and Dr. Schultz and then of the details of the actual liberation of the other colony and some of the new arrivals spoke with her of their adjustment to the wonders of Thorn Valley.
When Mercy had finished, a long period of discussion took place as the colony historians asked questions. Justin pulled George aside. “Well, George? What do you think?”
“I’m too stunned for words, frankly,” George said, trying to process it all. “To think that in a valley, in a national park in West Virginia, an evil rat and a mad scientist fought a battle in which the fate of the entire world hung in the balance and we’re the only people on earth who know about it.”
George looked Justin in the eyes. “I am struck by one last ironic thought, though. Dr. Schultz taught Mercy how to track you, when right in front of him was his own son who could see through your eyes. If he had known that, he could’ve followed you anywhere, but he was so blinded by his mission he didn’t see opportunity staring him in the face.”
Justin agreed. “It’s all so unbelievable, if I hadn’t seen it all myself, I wouldn’t have believed it.” Shortly, Jonathan and Rose approached them. “George, we would like to know if you would help us with something,” Jonathan asked.
“Well, I don’t know how useful I’ll be. I’m still recovering from my injury, but I’ll do what I can.”
Justin started to leave, but Jonathon grabbed his arm. “Actually, I would like to speak to you also, Justin. Could we meet in your office?”
“Sure,” Justin said. “Is it something serious?”
“In a manner of speaking.”
Just nodded, then turned to George. “George, I also have something I wish to discuss with you, with Mr. Ages also.” Justin went off to find Mr. Ages, and when they all arrived in Justin’s office, Jonathan began speaking. “This meeting was prompted by something George said, about how Dr. Valentine and his people are still incapacitated. Rose and I have been giving this some thought and we decided that we should attempt to restore them--that is, with your approval, Justin.
“Martin is deeply affected by this,” Rose said. “He’s always felt deeply guilty and ashamed for what he did, and the fact those poor people are still affected by what he did is deeply troubling.”
“It’s a noble thought, but how?” George asked.
“The same way we went to you, George, in their dreams,” Jonathan said. “I suggest that Rose, Martin, you and I go. I also think we should take the stone. We don’t know how big a job this is going to be. Hopefully, their humanity is just buried and not destroyed.”
George didn't like the idea of it. “Why do you need me?”
“You knew the man and you’re the most recent to have seen him, plus you know exactly where he is. All those things help in making contact.”
“Am I fit enough to help?” George asked.
“There’s no strain to you. I’m the only one who’ll feel it.”
George paused, then nodded. “I’ll help, but I would like to see this stone that everyone is talking about.”
Justin unlocked a nearby drawer and removed the golden box that the stone was kept in. He opened it, removing the golden necklace from the box’s red velvet interior, and held the stone up. George could see writing on the back. Jonathon brought a lamp over to make it legible. “The inscription is, ‘You can unlock any door if you only have the key’. That’s a quote of mine that Nicodemus liked,” Jonathan said.
George reached out and touched the stone, then cried out in alarm when it blazed to life at his touch. “Ge...” Rose shouted in alarm, but George couldn't hear her any longer.
George suddenly found himself standing alone in a dimly lit room. In the distance he saw a pair of glowing eyes. He wished he still had his gun.
“Come closer,” a kindly voice said to him. He hesitantly approached the eyes. Soon the room grew brighter. George could see an ancient rat sitting in a large chair. “Nicodemus?” George asked. The rat smiled. “Yes, George Yardley. It is I, Nicodemus. You knew me as A-10. It was quite a tale you told of your coming to us. I am terribly sorry about your injury.”
George remembered how mesmerizing Nicodemus’ eyes had been in the painting. They were ten times so now. “How do you know about that and about me?”
“George, I was there watching the meeting. Life is certainly a capricious thing, is it not? I must confess that I find it hard to reconcile the image of you as you are now with the image of what you were then.”
“Believe me, the idea of spending the rest of my life looking like this isn’t very thrilling. Why am I here? Why are you here? Aren’t you supposed to be dead?”
Nicodemus smiled slighty. “I have found it convenient for the others to believe that I am dead. I do not enjoy this deception, but it is for the best. The reason you are here is that I wished to meet you, welcome you and to thank you.”
“Thank me? Why?”
“Over the years I have come to understand that what happened at NIMH was a good thing and necessary in the great scheme of things. I want to say that I have forgiven you, George Yardley, as well as Julie and Dr. Schultz. Those of Thorn Valley will, in time, accept you. I have gone to Anja as well and spoken with her. She will not attack you again. I know you feel like an alien here, and I can help that as well. You still think like a human in a rat’s body. I can give you insight into our people that will allow you to understand and think more like us, if you wish.”
George felt uncertain, but on some level he trusted the ancient rodent. “I’ll have to think about that. I’ve lost my old life, my old body--my ‘humanity’ is all that’s left of the old me. I’m afraid of letting go of that. What’s left of Dr. George Yardley when that’s gone?”
“George, you have agreed to spend the rest of your life here. I am merely offering you the option of fitting in better.”
George took a step closer. “Do I have to decide now?”
“No, I will ask you the next time we meet.”
“Swell. You said you were thanking me for something, what?”
Nicodemus took up an old quill pen, dipping it in an inkwell. To George’s suprise, strings of light emanated from the quill as Nicodemus wrote on the parchment in front of him. “For the documentation of project Titan. I am recording that information now in the annals of NIMH. I know it was no easy task to share that with us, but it was for the good of all that you did so. You have given us our greatest chance for survival. I am sure history will remember you kindly for that. George. And when Justin asks you to help the naturals, please do so.”
Nicodemus said, returning his attention to the writing that had been going on even while he was speaking. “What do you mean by that?”
Nicodemus began to fade from view. “Farewell, George.”
“...orge!” Rose shouted in alarm. George released the stone, the light faded and the stone gently floated to the desk top. “Whoa! Was that supposed to happen?”
Rose took hold of his arm to steady him. “No. In fact you’re only the forth person who has ever activated the stone. Odd--it usually activates only during important events. I’ve never seen it happen under normal circumstances.”
“George, what happened? Are you all right?” Jonathan asked.
“Yeah, I’m fine. I don’t know what happened.”
“Well, it only lasted a second, so it couldn’t have been too important,” Justin said.
George turned to stare at Justin, dumbfounded. “A second! But I was...I mean, the experience lasted several minutes!” Rose calmed him. “I’ve heard the others say something similar, so that was probably quite normal. Can you tell us anything about what you saw?” George shook his head. “Not really, no. But I’ll help with the Dr. Valentine thing.”
“Excellent!” Justin said. “Jonathan, you have my approval. Can you erase the scientists’ memories of us?”
“Yes, I can wipe clean everything from the point of Dr. Valentine taking over project Titan. They won’t remember a thing.”
George still wasn’t thrilled by the idea, but he knew now that he had to come along. “When do you want to do this?” Jonathan thought it over. “I’ll need a week to prepare myself. The effort it takes is very trying.” Rose started for the door. “We should go tell Martin--he’ll be glad to finally close this chapter of his past.”
Rose and Jonathan left, and Justin continued the talk with George that they’d begun earlier. “George, there is something Mr. Ages and I would like to talk to you about.”
“What’s on your mind, guys?” George asked.
Justin and Mr. Ages traded glances. “George, I have talked with Mr. Ages about the documents you gave us. We would like you to recreate the experiment.”
George gasped in alarm. “What on earth for!”
Justin hesitated, knowing they were asking for a lot. “When the mice that had been recaptured after the escape were returned to the lab, Dr. Schultz paired the three males with the three females. They had children, and when those mice reached maturity they were paired with naturals who also had children. Those naturals are here, George, and they’re growing older. It’s not just the mice--there are some natural rats that have intermarried with us, and by this time next year they will all be dead from old age.”
“We want you to save them, George,” Mr. Ages said. “By the time our people go over this information and could reproduce the procedure, it will be too late. Our best efforts have only managed to buy them a little more time. You’re their only hope for survival.”
George crossed his arms and shook his head. “Screwing around with your DNA is what got me into this mess to begin with! It cost me everything except my life, and just last week it nearly cost me that. If I help, I want it made perfectly clear to everyone that I am doing this out of mercy and with your blessing.”
“No problem. What do you need?” Justin asked.
“The folder and a lab,” George replied. “I don't like this, though. We’re playing with power so deadly that we can’t really know if we’re doing these naturals a worse service by altering them.”
Justin unlocked a drawer on his desk and removed the folder, handing it to George. “I know there’s a risk involved, but this is a problem that is affecting the whole colony. If we’re to keep a viable gene pool, then from time to time we’d have to do this anyway or go extinct. Right now, though, the clock is ticking for the naturals and every hour counts. When can you start?”
George sighed, tucking the folder under his arm. “We could start now.”
“Fine with me,” Mr. Ages said.
“Mr. Ages, Doctor George, good luck,” Justin said.
George and Mr. Ages immediately left Justin’s office, heading quickly down the hall. “Can we do this at the hospital?” George asked.
“No,” Mr. Ages said, taking a turn through a hallway that George wasn’t familiar with. “We’ll have to take over a lab in the science wing. Do you have any idea how long this will take, George?”
“Hard to say. I think we could have things ready in a few months. But bear in mind that it will only be the beginning of the process. The full transformation will take years. It could be faster or slower, depending on how advanced your equipment and abilities are.”
“I think you will find both to be better than you expect,” Mr. Ages said. They found Arthur in his office and hastily made arrangements for a lab. George made a list of the equipment and materials he would need, then he and Mr. Ages went to inspect the lab. It was a large well-lit room, currently unoccupied.
“I think we can cut some corners if we forego the superpowers,” George said. Mr. Ages stopped in his tracks, incredulous. “You can do that?”
“Sure,” George said. “If we wanted, we could give them all sorts of powers and alter them in any way we chose. That’s what I meant about the Pandora’s Box. The limits of what we could do are limited only by our imagination--or someone else's.”
Mr. Ages understood the ramifications. “One possibility to consider is to rewrite this document. We could include just enough knowledge to recreate us.”
“Possibly. We will see as we proceed,” George said.
Together, they worked late into the night doing as much preparation as possible. As soon as they were done, George headed directly for his home where he greeted the guards and headed inside. He climbed into bed, grabbing his journal.
I am still amazed by these creatures, their unbelievable powers, their intelligence. It’s just amazing. I have been asked to participate in two extraordinary events.
I will go to help rescue Dr. Valentine and his people, and Justin and Mr. Ages have asked me to help save some unaltered rats and mice--“naturals” as they call them--from certain death. I am very hesitant to do this, but it is something very important to them. It’s like back in my days of medical residency. Lives are hanging in the balance and only I can save them.
Mr. Ages was very preoccupied during the lab setup. I think he is dreading the start of this project. He knows that it’s desperately needed, but he, like myself, is justifiably hesitant to tamper with these people. I am trusting Justin and Mr. Ages to accept responsibility for this action and publicly say that it was their idea. Well, things certainly haven’t been boring since I got here--villain a week ago, hero today. Weird.
Wound healing remarkably well. Mr. Ages has proven to be quite a good physician. I feel it will be very uncomfortable for him to work with me, doing to others what was done to them.
Something else I have been hearing about but have been looking forward to with some trepidation is the wedding of Dante and Cynthia. Am I really ready to accept such a union? Or worse, Dante put a thought in my head that I cannot shake: he said “Maybe someday you’ll meet a nice lady-rat and settle down.”
Good heavens! Could I ever grow so accustomed to this place and these people that such is possible? When he said it he was only half-joking. In my brief time here it has become very obvious to me that the residents of Thorn Valley consider family to be everything; it is their main focus and one of their greatest strengths.
I can easily see why Dante loves this place so much. All his life he has searched for a home and a family, and has found both here. He has become very attached to the Brisby family, it seems. In essence they have become a surrogate family to him. Whatever else I may feel about them as people, I am deeply grateful that they have been so kind to Dante. He needed this so desperately in his life.
He has found fulfillment here, but can I?
After he had finished his journal entry he climbed into bed. This is it--people are counting on me, lives in the balance. Many families, husbands, wives and children are looking to me to save their loved ones from an early grave. I wanted my work here to have value. I can give the gift of life. How much more meaningful than that can my work be?
George lay in bed thinking on these things as he drifted off to sleep.
Part 3 - Thrice More Unto the Breach, A New Love and A New Life
The next morning George woke very early. He knew that Dante wouldn’t be around to join him for breakfast for another hour, so he decided to eat alone. Moreover, he was curious to see what the general reaction to him would be now. He boldly left his room, and was surprised when the guards actually greeted him as he exited his room.
“That was odd,” George said to himself.
When he got to the cafeteria, George was surprised again when people made eye contact and some even spoke to him. When he came looking for a seat he was waved over by Rose and Jonathan. “Good morning, George,” Rose said as he approached, smiling.
“Feeling bold today, are we?” Jonathan asked. George took a seat next to him. “Yes. Surprisingly people have been civil to me, for the first time.”
“Well, things have changed a bit. Have you seen the paper today?” Rose asked. George couldn't fathom what that had to do with anything. “What are you talking about?”
Rose held up the journal. “As you can see, the headline is ‘Dr. George To the Rescue’. Can you really save them?” George read the headline over twice, amazed to see the words. “Yes, I believe so. Does the article mention that this is being done with the blessing of Justin and Mr. Ages?”
“It makes that perfectly clear, and it mentions that you were reluctant after nearly losing your life for performing these very same procedures on the original twenty-eight. This is certainly going to make a good impression on Thorn Valley.”
“I hope you’re right,” George said. Jonathan’s look suddenly turned uncomfortable. “George, I realize that asking you do to this after vilifying you for doing the same thing to us is hypocritical, but remember we were captured and experimented on against our will. These people need and want this desperately.”
George started in on his breakfast. “Well, thank you for saying that. I’ll do it, but like you I’m trying to put everything NIMH-related behind me and start moving forward.”
“NIMH is a part of us all, whether we will admit it or not,” Jonathan replied. “I’m afraid that it will always be in our thoughts.”
George could see the look of concern on Rose’s face as she listened to them both talking about NIMH. She decided to change the topic. “So, George, are you ready for the wedding?”
“Well, no. I’ve been a bit preoccupied since I got here. I hadn’t even thought about it, actually. Have they set a date yet?”
“It’s in two weeks. Has Dante had a chance to ask you to be in the wedding party?”
George looked down at his plate. “No, but I don’t think I will.” Rose stretched out a hand toward him, alarmed. “Why not?” Idly, George pushed his food around. “This is something that should be done with his friends there. Frankly I’d prefer to be as invisible as possible.”
Rose let her empathy for the newlyweds come through in her soft voice. “Dante will be hurt by your refusal.” Jonathan, though he hadn’t made up his mind about George, was just as concerned for him. “Are you still that uncomfortable about it?”
“Yes and no,” George said. “I’m growing accustomed to you people, so I’m not as opposed as I was when I first got here. Still, it’s going to be a hard adjustment, especially when they have kids. We all wanted Dante to settle down and have a family, but this isn't what we had in mind.”
“But Dante is happy here!” Rose countered. “He's spoken about the emptiness he felt in his life before coming to Thorn Valley. Cynthia's filled that void and she loves him so dearly.” Rose took a step closer to him. “We've become both friends and family to him. I hope we can say the same for you.”
George looked up, managing a smile. “Frankly, I’m sure Dr. Schultz is rolling over in his grave at the very idea of this union. Inadvertently, he made a home for his son where he would find the love and guidance that he could find nowhere else.”
“That’s very kind of you to say, George,” Rose said.
“Doesn’t it bother either of you that he is human and the son of Dr. Schultz?”
“No,” Rose and Jonathan said in one voice. Jonathan continued. “George, where you have great difficulty being here, Dante has embraced our society. The human world is merely a painful memory of his past. He looks forward to his future here with Cynthia.”
The conversation was interrupted when a young mouse couple with a small boy approached George. “Please excuse us, Dr. George. We’re Cedric and Emmy Jorgenson, and this is our son Leland,” Cedric said.
“Nice to meet you. Is there something I can do for you?” George asked.
“Actually,” Emmy said, “you’ve already started. I’m one of those that you will be treating.” Emmy hugged her son. “With your help Dr. George, I’ll live to see Leland grow up, and share next Christmas with my family. You’re an answer to all our prayers. Thank you!”
She hugged him, tears started to flow, and George was caught not knowing what to do. Gently, he put his arms around her and patted her on the back. “There, there, now. I’m glad that I can finally bring some happiness to your people. I’ll do my best to make the transformation as rapid and as painless as possible.”
“This is for you,” Leland announced, and the youngster held up a piece of paper with a picture on it. George looked at the picture--it was a crude picture of him, done in crayon, with the words “Docter George” written underneath it.
George looked at the portrait, then back at the smiling boy. A long time back, he had developed a professional's objectivity about life and decided that since no one had cared about him, he would return the favor. Now, this little boy's picture reminded him of some things he'd allowed himself to forget. “Thank you, Leland. It’s a very good likeness.”
“I drew it myself!” he said proudly.
Cedric got his attention again. “Dr. George, I don’t want to be a nuisance, but do you by chance have a timetable for the treatment?” Cedric asked. George looked first to the mouse who had spoken, then to his wife. “Mr. Ages and I should be ready to start the process within two months. Full transformation will take years, though, so don’t expect this to all happen overnight. It’s going to take a lot of time and I'm sorry to say that at times it’s going to be very painful.”
He could see that Emmy was growing uncomfortable at that idea, so he took on his doctor's advisory tone. “Your entire body is going to go through some very drastic changes, Emmy. However, Justin said that they had managed to prolong your life a little bit, which means some changes have already taken place. Hopefully we’ll be able to build on what has already occurred and not have to start from scratch. Perhaps the transformation process won’t be as long as it was for the original group.”
Emmy took the hands of her son and husband. “I don’t care what it takes, Dr. George. I will pay any price to stay with them.” Cedric shook George's hand. “Thank you, again. We’ve taken up enough of your valuable time, Dr. George.”
George returned their waves, then cold reality seeped in. He'd let them get to him, and for a moment he'd allowed himself to forget what had brought him to this particular station in life. Grimacing, he pushed the paper aside as he sat down. Rose smiled at him. “George, you have a very good bedside manner.”
But George didn't want her compliments. He didn't want anything to do with any of them, and the feelings of self-punishment brought up a sense of bitterness that he couldn't have controlled even had he wished. “I almost became a medical doctor, but then I heard the calling of science. What a fool I was! I should’ve stayed in medicine--it gave me a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment that science never did. I could have done great things and been famous, but like an idiot I thought I could accomplish even greater things in the laboratory, and what did it get me? Guilt, depression, alcoholism, a fur coat, a tail and a near fatal stabbing! Well, I guess it's all water under the bridge now.”
There was silence at the table for a moment, then George's ire focused on Jonathon. “By the way, just why can’t you use your powers and do to the others what you to Rose and Dante and me?”
Jonathan folded his hands, emotion slowly creeping into his voice. “What I did to you and Dante may have looked easy, but it was not. It was easier than what I did to Rose, but for the two of you it was more of a lateral move. For Rose it was much more--it took her powers, mine and the stone's to do it. It would have been easy to change her appearance, but to change her from a natural to one of us was no easy feat. It was a monumental change to her very nature. Frankly, I couldn’t explain how we did it. And for your information, we did try to use the stone to help the others but it would not activate.”
Rose reached and caught George's hands. “George, I understand your reluctance to be here, but you just saw that you can do good things here. So maybe you can’t be rich and world famous, but you can be respected, admired, even loved in Thorn Valley. You can do things that will be remembered by history. Our history.”
“Rose, is right. Some would consider those things even greater than wealth and fame,” Jonathan said.
George drew back from Rose's touch. “I played with fire and I got burned. Now I'll spend the rest of my life in bondage to your people. So I will do whatever is asked of me so that I can atone for what I did, but don't ask me to like it.”
“George, you were the one who asked to come here, remember?” Jonathan said. “You willingly accepted the condition that if you came here you would have to stay. At Dante’s house I gave you the chance to back out. You said you wanted to come here, that the human world held nothing for you. You even seemed excited at the prospect of coming!”
George looked away from him. “Yeah, I know I said that. Look, I've got to get to the lab to start work. See you later.”
George left the table and stormed out of the room. He sulked his way back to the lab and worked in sullen silence. For the next day or two, George threw himself into his work to blot out his troubles. He kept to himself and avoided others, even Dante.
As the days passed, however, the long dormant scientist and medical man slowly began to emerge. It was six full days after his conversation with Jonathan before he spoke again, this time in the medical lab. He was inspecting a long series of test tubes, pipettes and tubing used to synthesize the compounds they would need.
George spoke as he checked a stopper on one of the test tubes. “Mr. Ages, if I may ask, why did you become a doctor?” Mr. Ages flinched, actually suprised to hear something from his reticent partner. “It’s not something I could explain, really. I didn’t choose medicine; it chose me.”
“I guess I feel the same way. I could never imagine myself as anything different. I always wanted to do what I’m doing now--well, not this exactly.”
Mr. Ages stood away from the counter where they were working and looked at him. “George, we are perhaps the only two people on earth who can do this. Doesn’t that mean anything to you?”
“It was a terrible price to pay to learn this secret,” George said.
“You can do the impossible. What more can any researcher ask?”
George had no answer for that, and had kept silent for the rest of their work time. At the end of a long day in the lab, George dragged himself to the cafeteria. The place was almost empty, and he sat down to eat in silence.
“Uncle George!” It was Dante, sure enough, and George groaned inwardly. The last thing he needed right now was a showdown with him. Dante ran up to the table and stood on the chair facing George.
George tried not to notice. “Hello, Dante,” he said cooly, continuing to eat.
“Why have you been avoiding me? Why don’t you want to be in the wedding party! What’s the problem, Uncle George?”
George let the sandwich in his hands fall, and stood up. “Look, I came here and I gave up everything including my body. I’ll jump through their hoops, I’ll do what they tell me to do. But I am not one of them! They're animals, Dante! Why can’t you see that! You’re a human--on the inside at least. They’re just masquerading as humans. You’re just blinded by animal passion.”
Dante looked up at George, a mix of astonishment and anger. “Just a few days ago you told all of Thorn Valley that they were more than rats and that they were given human nature!”
“I know I said that, but it doesn’t change the fact that they are not like us.”
“So, you’re saying that they’re not really people, just animals that don’t know their place,” Dante said, his voice growing louder. “You still hate them and despise me for wanting to marry one!”
Before George could say more, Dante leaped onto the table and grabbed him by the collar, pulling him forward so that they were face to face. He was seething with rage.
“Cynthia is not an animal! Take a good look, George! They walk upright, they talk, they create things, and they write books! Do animals do those things?”
Dante pushed him away violently, George ending up sprawled on the floor. “You can live in resentment here, hating everyone, blaming them for the consequences of your own actions. You see it as ‘us’ and ‘them’--well guess what? They ARE ‘us’ and we ARE ‘them’! I'm not a human anymore!”
Dante started to walk out, then turned and spoke again. “If you’re going feel this way about us, fine! If you don’t want to be at my wedding, fine! You can just sit here wallowing in self-pity, alone with your contempt and arrogance. Good night, Dr. Yardley!”
George walked back to the lab, shaken. He flipped on the light switch and tried to return to his work, but the strain of the confrontation made it hard to concentrate. After a short time the lights went dead, causing him to swear as he felt his way over to the switch and flicked it a few times, to no effect. Suddenly, the room grew a little lighter.
“Greetings, George,” Nicodemus said. George turned to see the ancient rat sitting in an ornate wooden chair, the lab having been transformed into a dark and cavernous room.
“It seemed things were not going well, so I decided to again offer my help.”
George suddenly recalled the previous conversation he had with Nicodemus. “How did you make me forget that?”
“I can do many things,” Nicodemus replied.
“I still don’t know.”
Nicodemus spoke to him patiently, his words showing his wisdom and experience. “George, you are afraid of accepting your life here. You don’t want to lose your feelings of human superiority. Please, come with me.” A long staff suddenly levitated toward the ancient rat from out of the darkness. He hobbled over to George and led him to a strange device that began to spin and glow brightly. “Watch, and observe what your thoughtless words have done to Dante.”
George found himself transfixed by the image that appeared in the sphere. He saw Dante in a rage, tearing apart a gymnasium.
Dante raged until he was exhausted, then slumped to the floor. He heard someone clapping behind him, and when he rolled over he saw Killian standing at the entrance. The guard rat was clad in pajamas and a robe, with two nervous-looking guards standing behind him.
“Amazing. Only Brutus could have done a better job,” Killian said, amused, as he walked over to Dante. The mouse stood up, coming to attention. “Just letting off a little steam, Captain,” Dante muttered.
“Yes, I see. What’s the problem, my friend?”
Dante struggled into a sitting position and faced Killian, who took a seat on the floor across from him. “It’s Uncle George.”
Killian hadn't expected a problem arising from that quarter. “What’s wrong with him?”
“I’m getting sick of his hostility to us! He's an arrogant little hypocrite!”
“Why did he do that make you snap like this?”
Dante forced himself to calm down, but it was a struggle. “It’s just now that he’s sober I'm reluctantly beginning to see that maybe what dad said about him was true. He always told me that Uncle George was just a pathetic loser. Now that he’s been here I realize that he’s just a man wallowing in regrets who wanted to be famous.
“He wanted people to revere his name, to recognize his brilliance. He’s just a bitter man that’s mad that his dreams didn’t come true and he blames all of you for that. He’s humiliated by being here!"
Dante held out his hands in front of him, staring at them, anger slowly building in his voice. “He held your mother and father, all twenty-eight of them, in his hands. They were just animals in cages--now the tables have turned. He’s at their mercy! They’ve accomplished greater things than he did, and now he’s had to give up his humanity and dignity to come crawling to Thorn Valley to seek their shelter and protection. He's jealous and he just can’t deal with it! Worst of all, he... he hates me for wanting to marry Cynthia! He feels I’m selling out my humanity! He thinks that I’m giving in to animal passion and not using my head.”
Killian kept his voice even-tempered, allowing his friend to get his feelings out. “It seemed he was feeling comfortable here.”
“That’s the problem! When he first got here it was easier when everyone hated him. It was easy to remain separate and aloof from the rest of us. Now that he's beginning to be accepted, that line of separation is vanishing. He's afraid of losing his humanity. I don’t know what he’s holding onto so dearly!
“Is he afraid he’ll never have his picture on the cover of Time magazine as the Man of the Year or never win the Nobel Prize for medicine? As long as I can remember he’s always gone on and on about his broken dreams and ruined career. I’m sick of it! It’s all his own fault. He threw away his career and drank himself into a stupor and let his life fall apart. Now that he’s got a second chance, all he does is complain and rage against being here!”
Dante's voice started to crack with the pain of the moment. “I looked up to him and admired him all my life, and I wanted so much for him to be here! I wanted him to share in the most special day of my life, but he doesn’t even want be there! Well, he’s not going to ruin my wedding--I’m marrying Cynthia whether he likes it or not. If he doesn’t like it he can do what he was doing before and just sit alone in his lab and waste his future by obsessing on the missed opportunities of the past. He'd better decide fast, because my patience is running out!”
Killian got up now, and touched his friend's arm, speaking to him like a brother. “You’re right, Dante, don’t let him ruin your day. You’ve worked long and hard here and I can’t think of anyone else that doesn’t want you to be happy. Forget him--it’s his loss if he doesn’t want to wish you well. Believe me, I know from experience what it feels like to waste time worrying about what others think of you.”
“I came here to start over; if cutting this last tie to the past is what it takes to truly be happy here, then so be it! I thought I was doing him a favor by working to bring him here, but now I see that I was very wrong. I'm grateful nonetheless. It was the trip home that gave me the resolve to propose to Cynthia and to remain at Thorn Valley, with my friends. And hopefully, one day, with my family.”
“That’s the spirit!” Killian said, clapping him on the back. “Just focus on Cynthia and you, together forever.” Dante closed his eyes and smiled. “That’s a nice thought.”
“Good. And while you have that image to warm your heart, clean up this mess. Then go home.”
Dante snapped to and saluted. “Yes, sir!” Killian smiled, returning the salute, and left the room along with the two guards.
The image faded from the sphere. George sighed, “That hurt.”
“It is true. George, tell me, what have you really lost by coming here?”
George turned away from the spherical machine, once again looking at those glowing eyes. “Dante hit it right on the button. I lost my chance to be everything I wanted to be.” Nicodemus pointed him back toward it. “Were you attempting to achieve those dreams and goals while sitting in your office, drinking?”
The sphere began to move again, and soon the image of George at his desk drinking appeared. “Now tell me, what year was this?” The image changed, but it again showed George at his desk drinking. “And what year was this?” More bellying up to the bar. “And this? You didn’t lose your hopes and dreams coming here. You let them go years ago. It wasn’t until you came here that you were forced to face it, but you still can’t accept that so you blame us. You lied to the others when you told them you left your medical residency to go into science. You had completed it and were a full MD-- you left that because you felt you could never achieve the fame and glory you craved while working in a hospital that you could achieve in a laboratory.”
The image in the sphere changed again, showing Dante and Cynthia, holding each other. “You also take your hostility out on Dante,” Nicodemus continued. “He, who has done everything in his power to help you and bring you here. He has accepted his new life here, embraced us, and we in turn have embraced him. Do you wish to drive away your only family? Do you want to be alone the rest of your life? Even Mr. Ages could not stay alone, though he tried his best. People are not made to be alone. George, I want all of my people to be happy.”
George cringed at the last. The image in the sphere changed, it showed George at his desk, the revolver in front of him. He picked it up and started to raise it to his head, seeming to struggle with his thoughts, and then he lowered the gun and put it back in the safe. Then the sphere showed the meeting with the people of Thorn Valley, at the part where he had ranted while daring them to take the gun in his hand and shoot him.
George looked at the images soberly, answering in a small but definite voice. “I’m sure Dante thought that I kept that gun in the safe for protection. I really kept it there in the hope that one day I could finally get drunk enough to pull the trigger.”
Nicomedus placed his hand on George's shoulder. “George, you have given up nothing by coming here. In fact you are gaining a purpose, and you are helping a new race--your new race--to survive in a very hostile world. It is not your humanity you are afraid of losing, it’s your pride. You think that by accepting life here it is admitting defeat.”
George didn’t respond for several moments, continuning to look at the image the sphere held. “Yeah, I think you’re right.”
The image in the sphere changed again. It showed George and Dante at George’s lab, just before Dante left to visit his father’s private lab. George spoke to Dante: “I’ll be honest with you, you’ve been like a son to me and you know that I would never steer you wrong.”
The image froze with a look of kindness on George's face, returned by Dante. Nicomedus continued, his hand still on George's shoulder. “George, if that is how you truly feel about Dante, would you not want him to be happy? He desperately wants your approval, and for you to be happy here. Do you want to truly start over here? Do you want to break with the past and begin a new life?”
George looked anguished, and Nicodemus gave him a little time to recover himself. For several minutes, George studied the frozen image in front of him. He had felt that fatherly pride in Dante, and cared for him like a father. Now...now he didn't know what to feel. Nicodemus cleared his throat again.
“George, you have lost your hopes and dreams from your old life,” the ancient rat said. “Being here can give you new hopes and new dreams. Imagine what you can do here, the things you can accomplish. There is much you can teach us and much we can teach you. You must decide.”
George sighed. “I’m a rat now, a rodent--Rattus Rattus or whatever the heck you are. What is there to decide? I’m stuck here! Do what must be done to make this bearable for me, please!”
Nicodemus smiled. “George, you still see us as animals, even though we can speak to you. You still cannot accept us. I will give you what Dante has; he has seen us through our own eyes and felt what we felt, and that is what allowed him to accept us as people. I will share our lives with you so that you will know us and understand us. You will share our history, everything that we are and have experienced. Are you willing to do this?”
George looked back at the image one more time. “Yeah. Do it.”
Nicodemus raised his right hand and it glowed faintly. George felt strange. Suddenly his mind filled with foreign images and emotions, and then it suddenly seemed as though the lives of the rats and mice of NIMH filled and swarmed in his mind. He began to live their experiences and the emotions of all their lives. As the minutes passed, the intensity of it grew until it was nearly unbearable. As the maelstrom faded he collapsed to the ground.
When his mind returned to consciousness, Nicodemus was standing over him. “Dante experienced the same effect. It is rather extreme, but it is the most effective way.”
George stood up, finding his legs able once again to support him. “That was...amazing. I feel different somehow, strange. That was the most intense thing I have ever experienced.”
George sank to the floor again, suddenly feeling weak. Nicodemus continued to stand there, unfazed. “Do you now understand?”
“Yes,” George said, his eyes going wide with sudden revelation.
“I have given you the insights that I had promised, some obvious, others not so obvious. I will allow you to remember this exchange, though you will not have the ability to speak of it to others. You will find things to be somewhat easier now. Farewell, George, perhaps we will meet again.”
Things grew dark and George found himself back in the dark lab. He stood in stunned silence for several minutes, then quickly closed down the lab and headed out. He walked around in silent wonder, this place which had been so alien to him just the night before now as familiar as if he had been born here.
George wandered the dark corridors of Thorn Valley for hours, his new memories filling his mind. He understood the sacrifices and the wearying labor that made Thorn Valley what it was.
What he had been told about the events at the Rosebush and the cinderblock suddenly overwhelmed him, and he relived those times. Most unexpectedly he felt Jenner’s lust for the stone and its power. The life, death and birth of everyone in Thorn Valley had become fused into him.
The strain and mental fatigue he had experienced forced George back to his room. He looked at the guard that stood at attention at his door. “Good evening, Vincent,” George said. “You know, that uniform would look nicer if it was blue.” Vincent smiled at the thought. “Yeah, that's my favorite color! Well, good night, sir.”
George walked in, stifling a laugh. He’d known nothing about Vincent that morning, but now he felt like a lifelong acquaintance. He didn’t bother with his journal that night, tired as he was. He was asleep the second his head hit the pillow, and George experienced many strange dreams and nightmares.
When George woke the next morning he looked at himself in the mirror. His rodent features were unchanged, but he was different somehow. Then it hit him, he was looking at his reflection without the usual loathing and anxiety. For the first time he could see that he was neither handsome nor ugly, but as Dante had said, average. And for a reason he couldn’t explain he felt perfectly at ease with his rodent form, which alarmed him when he realized it.
Deep inside of him a part of his old self was fighting desperately against his feelings of acclimation. “Stop it, George! This is home now.”
George took a deep breath and mentally prepared himself before he changed and headed for the door. He left his room and greeted the new guard by name as he headed for the elevator.
He entered the cafeteria, and once he got his breakfast he sat and looked around. It was no longer a sea of unfamiliar faces. He knew them all now, and he felt strangely at ease. Halfway through his meal he stopped eating. He looked across the room to the tables where the mice sat, and saw Dante and Cynthia. He picked up his tray.
George approached hesitantly. “Hello, Dante, Cynthia". Dante didn’t turn around, but Cynthia gave him a cordial smile. “Hello, Dr. George.”
“Greetings, citizen Yardley,” Dante replied without emotion.
George put down his tray. “Please Dante, don’t be this way! I’m sorry again for what I said last night. Please, let’s talk about this, in private.”
Dante ignored him for a few moments, then Cynthia nudged him in the ribs. He sighed and stood. “Okay, let’s talk.”
Dante walked past George and they left the cafeteria, finding an empty hallway. Dante turned a pair of cold eyes on him. “Say your piece, George.”
“Dante, I do want to be at your wedding. I want only the best for you and Cynthia,” George said earnestly.
Dante didn’t look convinced. “Why the sudden change of heart?”
“I can’t explain it, but things are different for me than they were last night. I do want to fit in here. I want this place to feel like home. Coming here has been one of the most difficult experiences in my entire life. Maybe you didn’t have a problem giving up your humanity, but you haven’t been making this very easy on me. I’m under pressure from everyone about everything! I’m hassled about what I did in the past, what I’m supposed to do in the future and other things you couldn’t possibly imagine. Please, just cut me some slack, okay?”
Dante’s shoulders slumped as he walked over to George and looked up at him. “Look... you’re right. I haven’t been patient or supportive. I’m sorry, Uncle George. I’ve been selfish about this since the beginning. I just wanted you here and didn’t bother with how you’d feel or react to being here.”
George leaned over and looked Dante in the eye. “I want us to be friends again and I want to be at your wedding.” Dante studied his face and mulled it over in his mind for a few moments, and then he smiled. “Uncle George, I’d love for you to be at my wedding.”
Then Dante hugged him, and George felt that fatherly feeling return. “I’m sorry I’ve been putting you through so much trouble over this. I’ll try to make it up to you and Cynthia.”
“I hope you’re serious, Uncle George. You’ve given me a lot of grief and I don’t know how much more I can put up with.”
“I know. I promise it won’t be like that again.”
Dante was visibly relieved. “Good, I’ll take you at your word. Talk to Rose about arrangements. She’s generously taking care of the details.”
After saying goodbye to Dante, George headed back to the lab. He felt like a huge weight had been taken off his shoulders and now found he was actually looking forward to his work.
George found he was able to concentrate better, and his research progressed more quickly. At the end of the week, George was ready for another task: going with Jonathan and the others to try to help Dr. Valentine and his people. They all meet in Justin’s office where chairs had been set up in a circle.
“Is everyone ready?” Jonathan asked.
“Yeah, dad, I’m as ready as I can be about this,” Martin replied. Rose hugged Martin, trying to keep his spirits up. “It won’t be like last time, dear,” she said. “You'll see.”
Justin looked across the room to their newest member. “George, are you ready?” George felt hesitant, but shook off the notion. “I’m ready.”
“Everyone sit and hold hands,” Jonathan said. Jonathan took one of George’s hands and Rose took the other, and he continued. “Just relax everyone. George, I want you to focus on the hospital and its general location.”
George had been about to reply when he suddenly felt like he was torn out of the room and was hurtling through space. He was aware of strange images and lights rushing all around him. It was completely disorienting and very disturbing. Just as abruptly, he found himself standing in the New York State Hospital. It took a few moments for George to realize he was human again. A few seconds later the others materialized, still rodents, but human sized.
“Jonathan, we can’t let them see you like this!” George said urgently.
“Relax, George, they can’t see us. We are completely invisible to them. Where are Valentine and the others?”
George led them down a series of halls, walking past and even through some medical people doing their rounds in the hospital.
Shortly they found Valentine and the other scientists. Martin was almost in tears when he saw them, memories of that terrible time welling up in him. Both Rose and Jonathan put hands on his shoulders. “Don’t worry, son. We’re here to set things right,” Jonathan said.
“Soon these people will be free again,” Rose added.
“What do we do now?” George asked.
“We go inside and see what’s to be done,” Jonathan replied. Jonathan’s eyes glowed and George again found himself moving, but this time the location was unearthly. George figured this was taking place in the scientists’ heads, as it certainly wasn’t a room that would be approved of by the AMA. It appeared to be a sterile white room, in its center a large cage with several humans locked inside, and surrounding the cage were several huge, evil looking dogs that snarled at them menacingly.
The people in the cages screamed in fear when they saw Martin and the others.
“George, talk to them. They know you.” Jonathan said. George took a few steps forward, but the menacing dogs prevented him from going any closer. “Uh, Dr. Valentine, the rest of you, we’re here to rescue you. Give us a minute to figure things out.”
“George?” a shocked Dr. Valentine asked.
“Yeah. Hi, Elliot. Long time no see. Just sit tight and we’ll have you out of there in a jiffy.”
Martin walked past him and as he did so, his form began to change. He grew shaggier, his clothes changed and his voice took on a malevolent tone. Those in the cage were in a blind panic when they saw this new incarnation as it approached the dogs.
“Well done, my pets,” Martin said. “I dismiss you. Go back the ether from where you came.” The dogs remained there, hackles up, and began snarling at Martin. Jonathan rushed forward and put a hand on his son’s shoulder. A moment later, Martin’s eyes began to glow.
Martin began to take on a truly sinister look as he approached the creatures, a sword materializing in his hands. “Very well, you pathetic creatures. If you will not leave, I will have the pleasure of destroying you personally!”
Martin and the dogs attacked simultaneously, George watching the bizarre spectacle, not quite sure what to think of it. Martin was short and stocky, and the dogs looked like they were killing machines, but Martin moved with supernatural speed and agility and seemed to actually enjoy the destruction of each of the dogs. In less than a minute the battle was over. Martin stood facing the cage, sword still in hand. Those in the cage cowered in the corner farthest from Martin.
“Martin?” Rose asked hesitantly. Evil Martin turned with a look of malice on his face.
“So, father dear, you and mother have come to help poor little Martin with his embarrassing little problem. Did you really think it wise to summon me from the darkness again? Well, his little problem is now yours, old fool.”
“Old fool?” Jonathan said in surprise. “Now look here, Martin! Snap out of it! I don’t want to have to hurt you.”
“Hurt me? Surely you jest! I have at my command all the powers of the universe. Oppose me and I will erase your very existence!”
“Martin Jonathan Brisby!” Rose said crossly. “Don’t you dare threaten to erase your father’s existence. You stop acting like a hooligan this instant, young man.”
Without turning around, Martin raised a hand in her direction and she was hurled back and fell to the ground unconscious. “Rose!” Jonathan said in shock. Jonathan tried to charge Martin, but the younger mouse was just too fast. He flung his hand up and Jonathan started running backwards to where he had started.
Jonathan was frozen in place now, and could only watch helplessly as he was seemingly being erased. The matter of his body seemed to be fading before his eyes.
George watched this all unfolding before him. He had no illusions about his ability to deal with the situation so he remained quiet and kept out of the way. The connection that had allowed them all to come to this place allowed George to feel the almost palpable hatred the Martin radiated. George could feel the waves of pure hate ripping at his essence, hate that he never thought anyone could have, much less a son to a father--the hate of lost years, of lost innocence. The hate of a man who was never a child because his father was never there to let him be that child.
The hate was so overwhelming that George could sense that it was difficult for Jonathan to fight for his life when his own son thought he deserved far worse. Martin raised one hand toward his mother and the stone levitated from her unconscious form and it gently placed itself around his neck. He put his hands on the stone and it blazed to life.
George rushed to Rose’s side and gently shook her. He stumbled back in alarm when her eyes snapped open, revealing a warm glow. She quickly rose to her feet and came up behind Martin.
George expected some manner of spectacular supernatural attack, but instead she gently put her arms around him in a hug. “Martin, come back to me. I know it hurts so bad. I know how the pain feels. We all lived it. But you are more than the sum of your pain, Martin. Come back to me, sweetheart. You know I could never hurt you. You’re my baby.”
Martin’s hateful expression faded and a look of great hurt took its place. The fire the stone generated began to grow brighter. Then Rose’s body merged with Martin’s and a few moments later she emerged from him, wearing the stone. Martin slumped to the ground.
She approached Jonathan, now barely a ghost of his former self. She reached out to him and her hand passed right through. Jonathan’s head hung in shame and despair as Rose grabbed the stone and it blazed to life. Her body appeared engulfed in flames as she again reached out and passed her fingers into him. Jonathon’s body began to reappear and solidify, and when he had been restored Rose hugged him. The glow engulfed them both and they maintained their embrace for nearly a minute. When they parted both had tears in their eyes.
The stone’s light faded and Rose stumbled and fell into Jonathan’s arms. “I’m so sorry, Rose. I had no idea,” he said amid his tears. Jonathan helped her over to Martin. She sat next to her son’s unconscious form and held his hand. He then took a few moments to get his mind and emotions back in order before doing what they came here to do.
“Now, let’s see to these people,” Jonathan said as he approached the cage. Those behind the bars shrank back from him. Jonathan walked around the cage, examining it carefully. Dr. Valentine looked to George. “George, what happened? Where are we and why are you here with them?”
George thought for a moment before answering, but then recalled that they were there to erase their memories as well as set them free so it didn’t really matter what he revealed. “Elliot, you messed with things you couldn’t possibly understand and paid the price. I don’t know where we are, but apparently we’re supposed to be in some kind of weird dream state. The reason that I’m with them is that I couldn’t live with myself anymore for having worked on the project. They were willing to let me join their colony, but the price was losing my humanity. I’m a rat now. This human body is just an illusion.”
“You’re a what now?!” Valentine exclaimed.
“What’s it like?” Valentine asked, suddenly intrigued.
“It’s freaky-weird, but not as bad as it sounds.”
Valentine gestured to the bars between them. “I guess we all make our own hells.”
“It could have been worse for me. They could’ve left me where they found me.”
Jonathan came up to George. “Ladies and gentlemen, if you’ll all move to the middle of the cage I’ll remove it.” Those inside crowded to the middle and Jonathan put his hands on the bars and slowly the cage melted away. Those inside seemed too stunned to respond at first, but after a few moments it sunk in that they were finally free.
Valentine walked up to George. “How long have we been in there?”
“A couple of years.”
Valentine stared, stunned. “Years!”
“I know the feeling,” Jonathan said. “For the last couple years you’ve been running around acting like dogs. You’re all at the state hospital. They’ll be in for a surprise when you all suddenly wake up sane.”
Valentine looked at Jonathan as if noticing him for the first time. “What are you creatures? What on Earth did Schultz do to you?”
Jonathon looked him in the eyes. “We have no idea what Dr. Schultz did to us. You should all consider yourselves incredibly lucky for getting this second chance. Now you know what it feels like to be the helpless captive of beings more powerful than yourselves--remember that the next time you try to play God. Now, I am going to erase your memories of all things involving the rats and mice of NIMH.”
“Yes, please do!” Valentine replied. “I don’t want to remember you creatures!”
Jonathan raised his hands and the room seemed to fade away. Soon George found himself back at the hospital with Rose and Jonathan. They watched as orderlies rushed to the rooms where Valentine and the others were kept and the astonishment of the staff to find them all back to normal.
“It’s always wonderful to see healing, whether physical or mental,” Rose said, hugging Jonathan. “They’re free to return to their loved ones again.” George felt a deep sense of satisfaction. “Good work, Jonathan. That was quite an interesting little adventure.”
“Yes, but I’m concerned about Martin,” Jonathon said. “I’ll have to spend some time with him. There’s still quite a bit of resentment against me in him that I didn’t realize. I’ll have to try to make peace with that part of him.”
Jonathan walked over to the still-unconscious Martin and put a glowing hand on his son’s head for a few moments. “I’ll remove his memory of what happened here. He’d feel terrible about this.” Rose hugged him again. “Don’t worry, Jon, you two will be fine. There’s just some pain to work through yet.”
“I know, my love. Well George, ready to return home?”
George hardly heard him, as he had caught sight of the distant lights of New York City through a window along with his human appearance reflected in the window as well. “What? Oh, yes, home. Sure.”
“I’m sorry, George,” Rose said.
“It’s okay, I’m part of Thorn Valley now, and the old George is gone.” Rose walked over to George and put a comforting hand on his arm. “George, we’ll try our best to make your new life a happy one. You are not an enemy anymore. You are one of us.”
“Thanks Rose. Jonathan, can we go? I really want to get out of here.”
George suddenly felt that disorienting moving sensation again and soon he and the others woke back in Justin’s office.
Justin saw them returning to consciousness. “How did it go?” Martin woke and rubbed his head. Rose checked him over, then answered Justin. “It went well, Justin. Everything as planned.”
“What happened?” Martin asked. Rose sat down next to him. “I think the stress of the trip and seeing them again was too much for you. You passed out.”
“Sorry about that, dad. Did you let them out?”
Jonathon nodded. “Yes, they’re all safe and sound.”
“Good. I owe you all big time for helping me.”
“It’s nothing, son. You know I’d do anything for you.”
“Thanks, dad,” Martin said, hugging his father. Jonathon managed to hold back the levels of emotion he felt, but a few happy tears escaped anyhow.
They all thanked George and then all went their separate ways. George returned to the lab, his thoughts melancholy as he looked back on his research. That taste of the human world had awakened a part of him that had fallen silent lately.
He had again witnessed the powers of NIMH in action and again it left him baffled. He pushed those thoughts aside and delved back into his work and continued on through the night. One of the things he pondered was statistical data on the population of the Thorn Valley. As he studied it, a disturbing notion came to his mind. The population was dangerously small.
Even though the colony seemed large, it was still in danger of inbreeding. The rats were close to being viable, but the mice were headed for trouble in just a few generations, and that meant Dante’s and Cynthia’s children and grandchildren. He leaned back in his chair and put his hands behind his head, thinking about the matter. The transformation process would take years to fully change an individual and they’d need many more subjects to create a stable gene pool. Jenner’s colony had only rats, so even with those survivors now integrated into Thorn Valley, it would only be able to help the rats.
“If it was only a situation of race rather than species there would be no problem, Luke and Laura would have kids...”
George sat bolt upright in his chair, his mind running at full speed. He dug into the folder, and as the light of dawn shone through the windows of the lab he realized he could do it. He burst from the lab, rushing for Justin’s office.
He actually met up with Justin before he had reached his office--in the manner of plowing right into him as he hurriedly rounded a corner. Justin was alarmed when he saw George’s excitement. “George, is something the matter?”
“Justin, I have a concept that will knock your socks off!” George shouted. “If you wore socks, that is.” Justin ushered him into the presidential office and locked the door. The rat sat in his chair and looked at George intently. “Okay, George, what’s this concept?”
Justin looked him, totally lost. “Thansgenic...what’s that?” George began to spout, and had trouble controlling his excitement. “In a nutshell, it means I could make it possible for rats and mice to have offspring together!”
Justin stood up, dumbfounded. “How can that be possible?
“It will take some work, but it’s not as difficult as you might think. In human research, rat genes have already been successfully transferred to mice, we’ll simply be taking a quantum leap beyond that research.”
Justin considered the ramifications. “Well, that would certainly be a boon to our gene pool, particularly for the mice.” George continued on. “The transgenics and the new formula will go a long way to insuring that Dante and Cynthia’s family have a future here, rather than the mice becoming a historical footnote to the history of the rats.”
“I’ll have to get approval from the others before we’d try this, but I think this is a good idea, George.”
“Thank you, Justin! If approved, I think we know who the first volunteers would be.”
Justin grinned, catching his meaning. “Indeed. If Luke and Laura could have kids, then there would be nothing to stop them from getting married.” George ground to a halt. “You mean, they’re not allowed to get married?”
Justin appeared apologetic. “Well, there’s no law against it, but there is tremendous pressure from the community to not go through with it, as there would be no contribution to the community gene pool from the union. I personally have nothing against the idea of a rat loving a mouse or a mouse loving a rat...but that’s beside the point.”
He stood up, walked toward a banner on the wall that had a representation of the Thorn Valley colony on it. “As harsh as it sounds, the community should come first. We’re hanging by a thread in many ways. Our survival must be first in everyone’s mind. I’ve talked about it with Jon from time to time and the only alternative would be polymorphing the mice into rats, which I don’t think would sit well with most of them.”
“I understand,” George said. “Giving up your natural form isn’t as easy as one might think. Justin, I don’t think less of you or the others for feeling that way, but with my idea, we could have the best of both worlds!”
“I’ll run this up the flagpole and see who salutes it, and then I’ll get back to you. I think it would be pretty safe to assume the majority would be for this.”
“Good. Keep me informed, I’ll head back to the lab and get back to work on the formula project.”
Justin extended his hand. “George, thank you. I’m glad you’re with us rather than against us.” George was surprised, but shook his hand. “Thorn Valley is my world and my future now. Your survival is my survival.”
George returned to the lab and he and Mr. Ages spent the rest of the day hard at work on their project. It was late when he shut down the lab and returned to his apartment. Once inside he found that his wedding suit had arrived, a note reminding him that the wedding was the following day. He lay on his bed and looked up at the ceiling, pondering the cruel fate that he endured.
I have the knowledge to give these vermin the powers they have. I can give them life and a future. I’m not one of them, I never will be. Dante may have gone over, but I never will. I have so much knowledge. Why am I content to just be a lackey to these rodents?
I can give myself powers beyond those of Jonathan, so what’s to stop me from granting myself those powers? Imagine what I could do: I could cure disease, build, create anything! I could bring peace to the world--no more wars, no hate, no famine. The world could be made paradise!
All these years I had those powers at my fingertips, but fear held me back. Now I can see that these powers can be controlled and used wisely. Why should I settle for being a rat for the rest of my life? Jonathan can move between forms with ease. So could I.
I could return to the human world. I owe these rodents nothing. I gave them what they wanted--the understanding of their own creation. Dante is happy here, so I could leave them all here. I would intend them no harm. I know now that my despair was my own invention. I will protect them and keep them safe. With me in control, no one would ever harm them again.
I could be a god.
As he lay there in the dark, the darkness seemed to become all consuming.
“George, the time has come to end this nonsense,” a vaguely familiar voice said. George found himself standing alone on a seemingly endless, dark expanse.
“Who said that?”
“I did, or rather you did,” the voice replied and suddenly a figure materialized in front of him. It was his human self towering over him.
“Is this a dream?” the rodent George asked.
“No,” the human George replied. “The time has come for you to accept your destiny, George.”
“What do you mean?”
“You cannot be seriously considering staying here? You are human and as such you have dominion over all. You said as much yourself.”
The rat looked at human, suspicious. “Who are you?”
“I am you, the destiny that is at your command. I offer you the universe and all its many wonders! All existence will bow to your whims.”
The rat crossed his arms. “You’re crazy. I don’t want all that.”
“Yes you do, George. You don’t like being the rats’ whipping boy. You don’t want to spend the rest of your life at Thorn Valley. The entire world would bow before you! Stay here and all that awaits you is death.”
The human George picked up rodent George and the lab at NIMH appeared around them. The human put the struggling rodent into a cage, then looked at his prisoner through the bars of the cage.
“This is your fate, George. You’re the next experiment,” human George said and stepped away. A human lab worker appeared and took George out of his cage. He was carried to a nearby table and strapped to a medical apparatus. Several other humans appeared, scalpels in their hands. George screamed as the blades moved closer and then suddenly found himself back in the endless expanse.
“Is...is that my fate?”
“It is one of many possible terrible fates, George. I offer you everything. They can offer you nothing. You have the choice between being a rodent or being a god. Why do you resist me?”
George paused. “I don’t know. Can I think about this?”
“Of course, but do not try my patience. I will return shortly. I am part of you, remember. I am very much interested in your decision.” The human turned, seemingly to walk away, and faded from view.
George was left alone in this terrible, empty place to ponder his fate. This human form of himself had made clear the decision he was supposed to make. He feared both choices, but he couldn’t understand why neither seemed to be better than the other.
“Daddy?” a timid little voice asked. George looked around and suddenly a little rat girl rushed up to him and hugged him. “Daddy, I heard you scream and I wanted to see if you are all right. Where are we?”
“Who are you?” George asked in astonishment. The little rat girl was the same shade of gray he was, dressed in a pink nightgown and was tightly clutching a stuffed toy rat. In her right ear she had a small gold earring.
“It’s me, Pixie! Don’t you know me, daddy?”
George felt a totally different kind of fear. “I don’t have a daughter. How did you get here?”
“Of course you have a daughter, me!” the girl protested. “My real name is Diane, but you call me Pixie. And soon there’ll be another, ’cause mom is gonna have another, then I’ll have a little sister or little brother. I don’t know how I got here. I just heard you and found you here. You and Mommy had already tucked me in for the night and I thought I was asleep, but I guess I’m still awake--I think.”
George was silent for a few moments as he tried to absorb and process all this child had said. He found it hard to believe he’d ever use such a saccharine nickname like Pixie. “I’m sorry, Pix...Diane. I don’t know who you are. I’m not married and I don’t have any children. I only got to Thorn Valley a couple of weeks ago.”
“A couple of weeks? How could you have me then?
“I don’t know, but I’ve stopped being surprised by all the weird things that happen here. Maybe you’re my mind’s attempt to try to find a silver lining to my choosing to remain in Thorn Valley, rather than giving myself godlike powers and returning to the human world.”
“I have to decide if I want to be a rat or return to being human again.”
“But you are a rat, daddy.”
Before George could respond, a human materialized before them. It was woman in her twenties, dressed in ornate robes and carrying a staff. Diane clung tightly to George as the human crouched down in front of them. The woman leaned closer and looked at George.
“Father,” she said.
Oh great, not another one, he thought. “Okay, who are you?”
I am your daughter, Sophonisba, high priestess of the temple of George and sworn enemy of the mouse-god Jonathan!”
George felt like he was in some odd cartoon. “Okay. I don’t know how to even respond to that. What do you want?”
“You have sent me here from the future, to warn you not to take the path of power. I come from the future to stop you from taking the wrong path, to save you the death and destruction that awaits you there.”
“Are you my sister?” Diane asked the human woman. The woman smiled at the tiny rat. “Perhaps in a way we are, little one. We are both daughters of George, born in different worlds, in different times and places.”
George reclaimed Sophonisba’s attention. “You’re saying I should stay in Thorn Valley? That’s it? That’s all there is to my future?”
“No! You can have the world as your footstool, George!” human George shouted as he materialized. Sophonisba leaped to her feet and held her staff up. “Evil one, we meet at last. You cannot have him! I will not let the evil be repeated.”
“Fool! Do you really think your powers are greater than mine? George will do my bidding, it is his destiny.”
“I will stop you or die trying!”
“Then you will die trying,” evil George said and they began a vicious melee battle. The rodent George picked up Diane and quickly moved far away from the battle. The battle itself was short, but intense. Sophonisba was no match for the vastly more powerful George and soon she had been beaten.
“Foolish child, did you think anyone can stop me? I’m a force of nature, a tidal wave! The dominant primordial beast! No one and nothing can stop me!”
“I can stop you!” A voice shouted. Another human figure appeared, this one clad in magnificent golden armor. The figure reached up and lifted the face plate to reveal the face of a much older George, one whose face showed great hardship and suffering.
“Old fool, you should have stayed in the future!" evil George said.
“I have the blood of the world on my hands because of you. For a thousand years you have ravaged my world and my life. Now has come the time for it to end. To end where it all began, in Thorn Valley,” old George replied.
Evil George spat at the old warrior’s feet. “Old man, I will destroy all that try to stop me! My time has come--neither you nor your daughter can defeat me.”
Old George moved to his daughter and helped her to her feet. “We may not defeat you, but we must try.” The Georges circled each other for a little while and soon Sophonisba had gained her second wind and was again ready for action. Both sides squared off against the other and the battle resumed.
Diane clung to George, frightened. “Daddy, what’s going on? Why are they fighting?”
“Apparently I’m trying to make an important decision. Uh, we better move back farther.”
As the battle raged, Old George and Sophonisba appeared to be losing. George looked down at the girl. “Diane, I want you to stay here. I’m going to see if I can do anything to stop this madness.”
“I don’t want you to get hurt. You might get hurt! Please, be careful, daddy!” she said.
“I will, Diane,” he said and patted her head as she hugged him again. “Don’t worry, I’ll be right back.”
Old George and Sophonisba had been beaten back when George arrived. “Hey, evil guy, just what do you think you’re doing?” Evil George looked from his defeated enemies to the rat at his feet. “This is none of your concern. I am here to make your path clear.”
“My path? This is my brain, not yours. I’m the one who should be making the decisions here.”
“You will do as I command. I am your true master!”
“We’ll just see about that. I command you to vanish!” Rodent George commanded. Evil George just looked down at him with an evil grin. Then he reached down and picked up rodent George again.
“No, George. You will do as I say. You will embrace your destiny, so that I can return to the human world...as its master! I want the entire world to know my name. I want those fools in the scientific community to see me for the genius I really am. I want to have another order of curried beef from the Jade Panda restaurant. I want courtside seats for all the Celtics games. I want it all and I want it now, George!”
“Leave daddy alone, monster!” Diane shouted up at evil George. He looked down at the little rat at his feet.
“You would give up the whole world for this, to have vermin in your own image? I will deal with the little creature,” he said as he raised his foot above her head. She cried out in alarm when she saw what he was about to do. Rodent George sank his incisors into the hand that held him, causing the evil human to drop him. Quickly, he grabbed Diane and they started running. Evil George slowly raised his hands and small dark forms began to appear in the void. It appeared to be a horde of spectral rats.
“If you won’t join me willingly, then I will destroy you and take your place!” evil George said and the horde of rats moved forward toward George and Diane. Evil George turned back to his two other enemies. “Did you two fools think you could stop me? You thought you could stop me here, in my own mind? This is where I am strongest! Now there is no one left to stop me!”
“Don’t count on that, George,” a voice called from the darkness. Evil George turned just in time to be struck by a blast of energy that staggered him.
“Who dares?” he muttered in response.
Two human sized figures appeared, but only their size was humanlike. One was an aged Jonathan Brisby, dressed in a robe identical to Nicodemus’ and beside him was Rose, but her entire body appeared to be composed of the red substance that the Stone was made of.
Evil George moved back defensively as the two mice came up beside old George. Old George moved to his daughter and helped her to her feet. Jonathan stepped forward and he raised his hands. A staff levitated out of the void and came to him.
“We’ve all come a long way to fight you, George. The time has come to end what you started so many centuries ago.”
“No one can stop me!” the evil human cried. “I shall take great delight in killing you all!”
“Alone we couldn’t stop you, but together we can beat you,” Rose said.
Evil George smiled. “Well then, let’s get started, shall we?”
Rodent George could hear the battle taking place behind him and that didn’t bother him nearly as much as the sound of the monster rats that were chasing him.
“Daddy, they’re getting closer!” Diane shrieked in his ear. He ran as fast as he could, but he could hear them gaining.
Suddenly a small figure appeared before them, running in their direction. George didn’t know what it was, but he’d rather face that one thing than the horde behind him. It was running at top speed and when it came into clear view it was a small rat with a sword. The rat rushed past them and began fighting the pursuers. Exhausted, George turned to watch. The rat moved with almost supernatural speed as it tore through the spectral rats, which would vanish as they were slain. In less than a minute the rat stood alone, and then he turned and approached George and Diane. George put Pixie behind him when the rat came before him.
“Uh, thank you,” George said. The small rat looked at him closely, and then reacted with surprise. “Grandfather George!”
“What? I’m not your grandfather! I don’t even have a wife!”
“Who are you?” Diane asked, stepping out from behind George.
“I am Frank. Who are you?”
“I’m Pixie, well, it’s really Diane.”
“Pixie, Diane?! This is so weird.”
“My mother’s name is Diane and her nickname is Pixie and you’re Dr. George Yardley, are you not?”
George shrugged. “I am.”
“Then this is all really, really weird.”
“Why?” Diane asked.
“Because you’re my mother.”
Pixie’s eyes grew large. “I’m your mother? I didn’t know I had any kids!”
George stepped forward. “You don’t have any children yet, and neither do I. Frank, are you a child? You seem a bit small for a rat.”
“I’m only half rat.”
“So if I’m your mom and you’re only half rat, that means I marry a mouse?” Diane asked excitedly.
“Not necessarily, there are a variety of factors that could account for that,” George explained.
The half-rat interrupted. “Actually, she does marry a mouse.” Pixie seemed intrigued by the idea. “Is he cute? What’s his name?”
George was perturbed now. “Enough! Don’t anyone say anything more about the future. We already know too much about what’s going to happen as it is.” Secretly, he was delighted to learn that his transgenic plan was to be implemented.
Their conversation was interrupted in what appeared to be the final round of the other battle taking place there. Evil George was falling back against the onslaught of his four attackers. A few minutes later he was staggering. Flames surrounded Rose as she continued to fight, the others falling back to let her finish the battle. In a few moments she had beaten evil George to the ground and stood over him and raised one fist dramatically.
Rodent George quickly put a hand over Diane’s eyes so she wouldn’t see the death blow. Rose rammed the burning fist into evil George’s chest and he burst into flames. Within seconds he was totally engulfed by the supernatural fire and he burned away to nothing.
Old George collapsed into his daughter’s arms and the others gathered around him. Rodent George picked up Diane, and they and Frank felt it was finally safe to join the others.
“What just happened?” Rodent George asked the others. They all turned to look at him. Jonathan looked back to his wife. “It’s strange to look at George from the time long past when we were actually friends.”
Old George had a coughing fit and when it was passed he looked down at rodent George. “You have witnessed the death of the ’human’ part of you. It was one of the two minds within you that were warring against the other. You will stay at Thorn Valley now.”
George looked the old man, confused. “I have no choice?”
“You want to stay here now, George. That was the part of you that wanted to leave. You love it here now.”
“Hey, that’s not true...” George said as he quickly tried to organize his dislikes of Thorn Valley and suddenly found he no longer had any objections to being there.
“Rats!” George said in frustration. “Did all of this really happen? Is this a dream or have I really seen things and people from the future?”
Rose approached him. “It was all true, George. A battle that needed to be fought.”
“I really could have had the power to destroy the world?”
“It is not entirely destroyed, thankfully. There is still enough left to rebuild,” Jonathan said.
“My enemies...” Old George said, mumbling. “My enemies who have come to my aid in my time of greatest need. I thank you, Jonathan and Rose.” Jonathan put a hand on old George’s shoulder. “As I said, we were friends once, long ago.”
“The final battle has been fought and my time is over. I am dying.”
“Father, no!” Sophonisba said, tears starting to fall. “You cannot die! You are all I have in the world.”
He patted her hand, then turned his attention to the others. “Jonathan, Rose, the future belongs to you now, but I have a request. I would like you to care for Sophonisba when I am dead. Forgive her for her opposition to you, for she fought against you out of loyalty to me.”
Sophonisba shook her head. “But father, all my life you have taught me to hate them!” The elderly man looked on the rodents. “I have been a fool all your life, daughter. Perhaps there is time for you to break from the past. Jonathan, Rose, will you do that for me?”
Jonathan and Rose looked at each other and appeared to be having a wordless conversation. Then Rose looked to Sophonisba and smiled. “If you are willing, you may come with us, Sophonisba,” Rose said. Sophonisba looked to her father with uncertainty, who took her hand and placed it in Rose’s.
“Use your powers to build rather than destroy, my daughter. Perhaps you can yet redeem the name of our family from the evil I have done.” Sophonisba looked to Rose and Jonathan, then she put her other hand on Jonathan’s hand hesitantly.
“Welcome to the clan of Brisby...daughter,” Jonathan said sincerely.
Old George then looked back to his rodent alter-ego. “Now you have escaped the fate that I tried to give you. Life is a gift, George. No longer take it for granted.” George stared at him, bewildered. “I won’t, sir. This has all been very disturbing. I can kind of understand why you guys are here, but what about Pixie and Frank?”
“Well, I was asleep when I felt the presence of danger and just followed it and I somehow ended up here,” Frank explained.
“And I came when I heard you scream,” Diane explained.
Sophonisba helped her father to his feet and she was joined by Jonathan and Rose, who turned to George. “Farewell, George,” Jonathon said. “As you see, you have a future here, and a pleasant one at that.” Then the older George added, “Always remember what could have been when you feel life has cheated you.”
He and the others began to vanish, and Frank cried out in alarm when he began to fade away. “Whoa, hey, I’m starting to vanish too! Well, I’ll see you later, mom. Grandfather.”
Frank faded away, leaving just George and Diane, whom he still held tightly in his arms. George looked at her. “Do I love your mother?”
“Of course! You both love each other very much.”
“What about Dante and Cynthia?”
“They’re very happy.”
“Do they have children?”
“Eric and Mina.”
As they were talking, Diane began to fade away. “I guess I gotta go too. Goodbye daddy.”
“Goodbye, Diane. I look forward to seeing you some day.”
She leaned forward and gently kissed his cheek. “I love you, daddy. Oh, I left Rattus behind!” she suddenly exclaimed, pointing behind George. He turned and saw her stuffed toy in the distance. He began sprinting to the toy, but she faded away before he got there. He looked around sadly at the darkness, and then he picked up the doll.
“Farewell, Pixie,” he said softly, looking at the toy.
George woke suddenly, looking around frantically, and found himself in his bed in his apartment in Thorn Valley. Before he could even ask himself if it was all a dream, he realized he was still holding Pixie’s toy rat.
He sat up in bed and put his chin on his knees as he pondered the strange ordeal he had just experienced. He glanced to his closet and saw his outfit for the wedding he would attend later that same day. He now realized that he truly had no desire to leave Thorn Valley. That very night he had at last put to rest his divided desires to stay and to go. To his surprise he was glad--glad that the ordeal was finally over. To his greater surprise, he was glad to know that he did indeed have a future here.
He looked back to the toy and smiled. “I better put you somewhere safe. Pixie will be looking for you when she wakes up.”
George’s thoughts were interrupted when he noticed the clock on the wall. He quickly changed into his wedding attire and rushed out of the room.
When he entered the wedding garden, he found it a mass of activity. The chairs had been set up and all the sound equipment was in place.
“Uncle George!” he heard Dante shout. Dante rushed up to him, his nervousness at his impending marriage obvious. George hugged him. “Dante, are you okay? You look terrible.”
“I’m getting married in less than an hour! I’m scared out of my wits! I’m glad you made it. Thanks for being here, Uncle George. You’re the only person from my old life now. This would be a lot harder if I was alone.”
“I wouldn’t have missed it for the world, boy,” George said with total sincerity. Dante searched his features. “You’re really and truly okay with me and Cynthia?”
“Absolutely. If it means anything to you, you both have my blessing on your marriage, and on your children.”
Dante just stood there in silence for a few moments and George was surprised to see tears being to form in Dante’s eyes. Realizing he was crying, Dante wiped his eyes and tried to appear nonchalant about it. “Uh, well, I really appreciate that, Uncle George. I know you aren’t flesh and blood family, but now I’d like to make it official. You’ve been more of a dad to me than my own father was, so, would you be my father and the grandfather of my children?”
George looked at Dante in stunned silence for a few moments. “Dante, I... I would be honored.”
Dante hugged George. “You won’t regret it!”
“I’m sure I won’t.”
Dante grinned merrily. “All I need now is the tin seal as my sister and the windup elephant as my mom and then I’ll have it all.” George looked at him, confused. “Huh? What?” Dante ducked his head a little. “Oh, nothing. Nevermind.”
“Dante!” Rose shouted, rushing up to Dante. “You need to get ready. Come on, time is short!” She took Dante by the hand and led him away. Jonathan came up beside George as he stood watching. “Glad you could make it, George. It means a lot to Dante that you’re here.”
“I know. I’m just sorry I gave him so much grief over this.”
“You don’t mind the melding of the Brisby/Schultz bloodlines anymore?”
“I’m sure Erhard isn’t happy, wherever he is, but I sure don’t mind.”
Jonathan nodded approvingly. “That’s good to hear. Say George, did anything strange happen last night? Rose and I both felt something we couldn’t quite get a handle on, but we both felt it might have involved you somehow.”
George didn’t know quite where to begin. “I had some strange dreams last night. Some disturbing things happened, but in the end it made me see just how lucky I am to be here.” Jonathan patted him on the shoulder. “Thorn Valley isn’t the worst fate in the world.”
“True,” George said, then looked at the mouse. “Jonathan, are we friends?” Jonathan was silent for nearly a minute. “I suppose so. Why do you ask?”
George shrugged and grinned. “I’m just counting my blessings.”
Soon the wedding began. George watched the proceedings, smiling. Jonathan walked his daughter down the aisle and moved back to stand nearby, as the best man. George had felt a little resentment at first at that, but realized he still had many fences to mend.
He even found himself shedding a few tears when the rings were exchanged and the “I do’s” were said. Soon the ceremony ended and Dante lifted Cynthia’s veil and kissed her. The crowed erupted in applause.
The crowd quickly retired to the reception hall. Little time was spent on formalities and the food was served and the music and dancing began immediately.
George ignored the festivities for the most part and just picked at his food. He observed all the rodents present and as he looked among the ladies, he wondered if the woman he was destined to marry was among them. In his dream he had been tempted to ask Diane what her mother’s name was, but had resisted in order to prevent any more damage to temporal continuity.
As he pondered these things, a petite hand touched his arm; it was Cynthia. “Hello, Dr. George, would you dance with the bride?” she asked with a smile.
“Of course, my dear. You can call me George.”
“Thank you, George. Thank you for being part of the wedding.”
“Thanks aren’t needed. If anything I still owe you an apology. All this time and I’ve hardly spoken a word to you, treating you like vermin. I hope you can forgive me and give me the chance to get to know you as a person.”
“All is forgiven and forgotten, George.”
They continued chatting and during the dance George finally realized what an attractive young lady she was. He had never thought of a rodent in that way before, and it surprised him that he had finally crossed that invisible line in perception.
When it was over, to his surprise, she hugged him. He watched as she was quickly swept back up into Dante’s arms as they began another dance, and George then found himself with another partner, Rose.
Rose beamed at him. “You certainly seem in good spirits today, George.”
“I am in good spirits. Today seems to have been a turning point.”
“That’s wonderful news, George. Jon and I wanted to ask you about something. Last night we both felt something strange and undefined, and it involved you somehow. Did anything strange happen last night?”
George could see that they hadn’t talked yet. “Well, I did have some very, very strange dreams last night. It was very disturbing, but very enlightening as well. I gave myself the choice of staying or leaving and I chose to stay.”
“I’m glad to hear you say that. There are certainly worse places to be than Thorn Valley.”
“I agree--I’ve been to Trenton.”
As they danced, George realized that Rose could pass as Cynthia's sister rather than her mother and, if anything, she was just as attractive as her daughter. Both had the same big blue eyes and...
"George, I'm flattered, but I'm a very happily married woman," she said quietly.
George snapped out of his thoughts when he realized she was blushing. Then George remembered hearing about her empathic powers and realized she must have picked up on what he had been thinking, causing him to blush and leaving him flustered. "Oh dear! I'm sorry about that, Rose. It's just that today, now that I see things different, the final barrier has fallen and things really do look different to me."
Rose grinned up at him. "You certainly seem to be comfortable here now."
He returned her smile, but there was a nervous edge to it. "Yes, and it's suddenly a bit scary."
"If you'd like to meet someone, I could put out feelers and see if anyone is interested."
George thought back on Pixie. "No. I'm pretty sure at this point that destiny will take care of bringing us together." Rose showed her surprise. "I never would have thought of you as a romantic, George!"
"Neither would I, but last night I saw glimpse into my future and it actually isn't too bad."
As they continued dancing, George began to wonder about the distant future. In his dream, both Rose and Jonathan were still alive a thousand years from now, as was he. **Will we all really be alive in the future**, he wondered.
After that dance, George ended up dancing with several lady-rats and found he was enjoying himself. He wondered with several of them if he had danced with his future wife. Caught up in his enthusiasm, he glanced around for his next dance partner and spotted a number of rats standing off at the back of the large room. These wallflowers appeared very self-conscious and nervous, and with some discreet inquires he learned that they were some of the people relocated from Jenner's colony. As with many of them, these newcomers were going through the tough process of acclimation, but they were braver souls and had taken up the open invitation to the wedding and reception.
As George watched them, he realized that one female rat stood out from the others, seemingly an outcast among outcasts. With a few more inquiries, he learned she was known only as "Eight", the second highest surviving member of Jenner's elite. Little was known about her, not even her name. She seemed an enigma even by those close to Jenner's operations. The other Jenner rats avoided her and she seemed quite aware of their reluctance to be near her but tried to hide it.
After a while George felt sorry for her and approached her and made a polite bow.
"May I have this dance, Miss Eight?"
She glared at him for a few moments then looked around nervously.
"What do you want, human?" she said nervously.
"Ah, I see my reputation precedes me. As one outcast to another, I thought you might like some company."
She turned her nose up in an aloof manner, also turning her head. When she did that, George noticed that she wore an earring her left ear. Jewelry among the residents of Thorn Valley was rare outside of wedding rings. The earring in fact was nearly identical to the one he had seen Diane wearing in his dream. He smiled.
"Come on, you know you want to dance but you're just too stubborn to admit it."
She tried to remain aloof, but George had been right and soon she relented and took his offered hand. The crowd parted as the mad scientist and one of Jenner's lieutenants began to dance.
George tried to engage her in small talk but defiantly she glared at him, trying hard not to enjoy the dance.
"Slumming, are we, human?"
"Ha! I'm having the time of my life. My name is George, by the way. Come now, what's your name? I'm sure you must have something besides Eight as a name."
She danced silently for a while, periodically looking off or glaring at him.
"My name is Dixie," she said quietly.
George made a small gasp and she put a hand up before he could reply.
"I know, you're probably thinking about the cartoon rodents Pixie and Dixie. I wasn't named after them, I was named after of the song."
"I think they're both lovely names," George said with a big smile.
George and Dixie danced for quite a while that day, and after an hour or so of sullen silence she began to open up to him a little. He even managed to get her to smile by the end of the evening. When the festivities ended, they found they were the last on the dance floor and the cleaning crew ushered them off. She gave him a sincere but awkward thanks for having spent the evening with her before she left for her apartment.
When George got back to his place, he danced with an invisible partner, singing...
"I could have danced all night, danced all night and still have asked for more!"
George changed for bed and lay there for a while pondering the strange twists and turns his life had taken. He reached for his long neglected journal and began writing.
Final entry, I originally kept this journal to keep company with myself, a stranger in a strange land. Now, after a great deal of strife and pain, I find myself a man among peers. The enemies I once feared are now my friends. I can at last rest peacefully here, now that I am home.
The characters and elements of Secret of NIMH, the books and movies are used without permission, but with great affection and respect. Dante and other characters not from the movie are mine.