NIMH: The Final Experiment

By Marcus Lindemann


This is a rewrite of Marcus's unfinished illustrated story of the same title, found here. This version, while not illustrated, is complete, and is the author's definitive vision of the story. --Simon


The moon was full.

It had rained earlier, but now the skies were almost clear and nothing obstructed the moon’s gaze. Uncaring, its cold light bathed wide swaths of dark forest below, like a never-ending sea of black. The woods swallowed the light, giving none back. Then the light hit the structure.

Who could tell why mankind chose to build the monstrous tower in this otherwise unblemished wilderness? Yet there it stood, raised on a cleared hillock, a monument of steel, concrete and glass. If its construction was an intrusion, than its design was an affront. A central spire with four subsidiary towers, one on each side, it was a shining glass claw, grasping out from the ground towards the heavens. The building was vast, cold and dark. But deep in its bowels the wheels of progress never stopped.

From a circular window high above the tree-line a solitary figure looked over the expanse of forest. Shrouded in the shadow of an enormous swiveling chair of black leather the observer seemed to be swallowed in darkness. Behind the chair waited a huge rectangular desk, polished, and darker still. Its surface was a black rectangular lake, from which the moon was reflected perfectly. All was silent. But all was not calm.

There was a light. Blinking steadily, just inches away from the chair, words flashed on and off on the shiny surface. The table was more than ornamentation. Its innards held just one terminal in a computer-network that could have been the envy of any intelligence agency on the planet. If anyone outside this building were ever to know of its existence.

The light kept on blinking, an incessant flicker of bright green in the office’s darkness. Showing the status of the recording in progress it was as diligent as it was patient. It had time.

The palatial office’s resident had time as well, all the time in the world. He savored the view from his window, gazing out over his world or at least the world as he chose to understand it. He could feel the light blinking without having to see it. He had watched it many a night as he made his progress reports, late, late when all others had long gone home or retired.

Finally, in a voice that sounded curiously young and ancient at the same time, he spoke,

‘It has been three years since I accepted this position.’

He paused. A sense of immense weariness and cold was in his voice, belying the youthful tone.

‘Since then we have made remarkable progress. We rose above the mistakes of our predecessors and succeeded where they have failed. Looking back we have not simply surpassed their goals, we are now at the threshold of new, undreamt of horizons.’

Weariness was giving way to savored triumph.

‘Now, after three long years of work, we are finally in a position to complete the one experiment that will be the culmination of this entire project. Success is certain, and with it we will gain what humanity has searched for over millennia.’

Another pause allowed the building euphoria to subside back into its earlier gravity.

‘Yet we must not rush. We are at a delicate junction in our endeavor. Every step in the final experiment must be conducted with utmost care. We will begin by retrieving the specimens that have been lost to us for all these years. Then, the future awaits us.’

The speaker paused one last time, savoring the words that passed like wine before continuing.

‘Save and encode the entry.’

From deep within the confines of the vast desk a synthetic yet distinctively female voice replied.

‘Entry saved and locked. Good night sir.’

From around the chair a hand gently touched the polished darkness.

‘Good night, my dear.’

Chapter 1: The Valley

Morning had finally come.

The first rays of the dawning sun were trying to drive away the dampness. The leaves were shedding their dew and beginning to warm themselves in the golden light. But down below, down at the base of the woods, the air still clung with chilling moisture.

Something was leaning against the base of a particular tree, something wet, cold, tired, and very, very annoyed.

It was a rat, a male rat. But it was not your average kind of rat.

First of all, there was its size. There are many urban legends about huge rats. This one put them all to shame. Almost as big as a rabbit and draped in a shaggy gray pelt it was an unnerving sight, with long claws and a feral expression.

Surprisingly, its most surreal aspect had nothing to do with size and appearance.

The rat wore clothes.

Standing on its hind legs it was covered in a medieval style olive tunic and draped in a voluminous black cape. Judging by the creature’s expression the garments were failing in keeping cold and moisture at bay. This rodent was not in a good mood.

The very final touch of the bizarre was that the creature also sported a weapon. A weird hybrid of pole-axe and spear made from a metal that almost looked black, it fit the rodent’s paws perfectly. In a way, it mirrored the animals’ impression of a barely contained violent incident.

It scanned the underbrush.

With eerily cold eyes the rodent took a good measure of its surroundings simply by moving its head. There was no twitching of the tail or movement of the body. The head swiveled slowly and economically in the manner of a professional guard.

After having surveyed the area a few times the rat accepted the fact that no one would try to ambush it. What a disappointment. It was so aggravated with its current dampness that it really could have used some senseless violence. There was nothing like some vented aggression to relieve both stress and warm the bones. Alas, nobody seemed to be willing to oblige.

A few uneventful moments passed.

Finally, it raised its head towards the distant canopy, inserted two fingers around its impressive incisors, and gave a shrill whistle.

High up in the branches another rodent, a mouse, heard the call and peered down at the forest floor. A young, crème-colored female, this specimen was clothed as well, in her case with a simple poncho of sky-blue. While the rat on the ground exuded an air of aggression the mouse almost glowed with innate cheer. She lived life to the fullest no matter what.

As she made out the distant shape of the rat below the mouse, Cynthia Brisby by name, put both hands to her muzzle and called back,

‘I am okay, Brutus! Just a few more minutes and I am done!’

That being said the smaller rodent shifted back onto the branch, leaving her brooding counterpart on the ground to his foul mood. She still had some samples to take.

Right in front of an old break in the branch Cynthia had left her satchel, a large tan bang with a wide strap she could sling over her shoulder. She resumed rummaging inside, making the bag’s contents jingle with the sounds of glass on glass. The mouse and rat team had been at their task for many hours and almost all the collection vials were full. So, it took a while to find an empty one and the cork that went it.

Humming as she searched a small shout of ‘Aha!’ heralded her success. Next, the mouse removed a set of tweezers from the satchel and shuffled closer to the broken stump. There, in a small crevice, grew a tiny innocuous orange fungus, shaped like a prickly orange. Careful not to touch it with her paws Cynthia aimed the tweezers.


In one swift movement she dropped the sample from the tweezers into the vial and pushed in the cork, careful to get an air-tight seal. Then she admired it a while, holding the vial in front of her eyes. This was going to be a good day.

This was going to be a good day. At least, that was what the weasel believed when it silently slunk from the tree’s upper trunk unto the branch with the mouse on it. Finally, after many aggravating attempts, this little morsel would fulfill its destiny, as breakfast.

It moved slowly. Cynthia, now busy re-arranging the vials in her bag, was completely unaware of the predator’s presence. The weasel began hunching itself up, coiling for the pounce. It waited, waited for just the right moment.

And then it leaped!

The mouse ducked.

The weasel could not believe it. Seconds, mere seconds before its jaws were about to taste the rodent’s delicious flesh the mouse suddenly had jerked to the side and vanished. The impossibility of it all struck at it, but not as hard as the branch stump, which connected with its cranium. Then, all remaining thought was interrupted by the pretty lights.

The next thing the weasel heard was the wind, the gentle wind. As its mind cleared it remembered that there had been no wind this morning. Looking up at the receding image of a crème-colored mouse gazing at it from a branch that kept getting smaller and smaller the wily predator began to grasp the situation.

It was falling. There was nothing it could do about it. It had lost its breakfast, it had a headache, and it would very soon have a backache as well. Yet there was something that it could do. It decided it was as good a course of action as any. It started to scream.

As soon as the weasel started screeching the mouse startled from her amazement at watching her foe tumbling away. Stifling a small gasp she threw her satchel over her shoulder and began climbing down the tree’s trunk. Slipping and sliding down the trunk might have been a more apt description. With a look of rising dread the tiny rodent skittered down the bark muttering with apprehension,

She had forgotten about Brutus. Having a weasel dumped on the rat’s head would not be a good thing. Yet even halfway down the tree Cynthia knew her hopes were in vain. The sounds of fighting, snarling, and destroyed vegetation filled the cold air. The weasel had landed. And judging from the growls and screams coming from below her large rodent companion had finally found an outlet for his pent-up aggression. The mouse hoped she was not too late.

Just as she skittered to the trunk’s base she could see that Brutus had pinned down the predator by sitting heavy on its back and his pole-axe raised ready to split its skull.

‘Brutus! Stop!’

The rat froze in mid-swing.

He blinked its huge, cold eyes a few times, breathing hard, as if coming out of a dream. The weasel, wisely, did not move a muscle. The mouse took the opportunity to race to the combatants’ side and gently touched the heaving rat’s arm.

‘Let him go. He’s had enough.’

Still breathing hard Brutus glared at her, at first in anger and then confusion. The young mouse nodded to the weasel.

‘Promise you won’t hunt me anymore?’

Knowing how perilously close it was to have its head skewered the pinned creature nodded violently, all the while trying its best to give a sheepish grin. The pointed teeth spoiled the effect a bit. Cynthia, smiling entreatingly at the rat herself, spoke softly.

‘See? He promised. It’s okay now, you can let him go.’

After a few more moments of staring at his smaller companion in disbelief the rat rolled his eyes towards the sky and shifted his bulk off the prone predator. Not even looking at the defeated enemy Brutus sulked away with the mouse in tow.

Having narrowly escaped with its life the weasel got up and looked back at the retreating rodents. It sat down on its haunches, checking itself over to make sure all its various parts were still in place. Tilting its head from side to side, it debated whether a quick pounce could turn the tables on the two retreating rodents.

As if the weasel’s thought had been spoken out loud Brutus swiveled around and pointed a clawed finger in its direction. The rat’s eyes were opened wide and radiated so much rage that the predator stumbled backwards and then scrambled away through the underbrush. With the weasel gone the rat continued shambling quietly next to the mouse. Brutus decided he would brood a bit. The mouse, in turn, tried her best to avoid his gaze and look sheepish.

Truth be told, Cynthia did feel bad about having dropped a weasel on her friend. But she did not necessarily feel bad for the more obvious reasons. She had known Brutus long enough to know that nothing short of a wolf would worry him. And even those tended to stay away these days. No, the rat was upset because his job was to protect her. And if that weasel had gotten to her, he would have failed. If there was one thing Brutus took seriously, it was his duty.

Watching him sulk through the corner of her eye while they trotted across the forest floor was something she could not do for very long. Cynthia could be extremely patient, but not when it came to people acting like grouches. She sighed and waved her arms to her side.

‘Look, I knew he was there the whole time. I could feel his greedy smile halfway up the tree.’

Brutus looked back at her and raised a finger, first to the side of his head, then pointing up a random tree. Then he put both hands next to his body in a gesture of helplessness. The mouse tried to cheer him up.

‘Don’t worry about it. He never got me before and he never will, you know that.”

The rat snapped a finger next to his head with an angry expression. Then he pointed over his shoulder back to where they had come from, then up a tree again, and finally he tapped gently at the side on his temples. Cynthia, who had learned how to read the mute rat well during their friendship, rubbed her chin thoughtfully.

‘I admit it. He is getting craftier. Waiting up in the tree for me was a new one. But you don’t actually believe that he figured out you are scared of heights.’

Raising his gaze to the sky again and shrugging Brutus stated his uncertainty. Then, a shadow crossed over the mouse’s own face. There was something else she had not considered, something that finally raised a specter of doubt.

‘How would he have known that I would go up on that tree? I mean, I’ve never been on that one before. He’d have to know that the fungus only grows up there and that would be… nah!’

Cynthia shook her head and snickered,

‘He can’t be that smart. He’s a wild animal, not civilized, like us.’

Speaking with exaggerated theatrics in an effort to lighten the mood she waved her paws graciously at her companion. She would get him to smile yet. But now it was Brutus turn to look thoughtful rather than upset. He turned his head back towards the distant woods and scratched the side of his head in wonder. But there would be no answers coming from that direction.

Slowly, the woods gave way to open grass, tall and bright. Rat and mouse were following a small path of trampled ground now, bisecting the grass blades in a wide swath. Finally, the path ended at the base of a huge fallen tree.

This tree had not fallen by accident. Nor was its position in front of the path coincidence. No, this was one of the first signs of civilization to be found this far from the Colony.

The tree trunk was not rugged. Its base had been cut smooth and held two huge circular gates. More than five feet tall from the ground the door would have once been able to open wide and allow the passage of some sizable equipment, at least, sizable when compared to its rodent designers. Now the grasses had encroached thick on the sides, only allowing for the small rat-sized door embedded in the larger right-hand gate to be opened.

As Cynthia and Brutus reached the trunk the rat fished out the key for the door and began unlocking it. The mouse spent a few moments looking at the thriving plant life.

‘If Justin ever wants us to lug something big in here that grass needs to be cut.’

Pulling the small entrance open her partner shrugged and, with practiced theatrics, bowed to Cynthia to enter the tree. For all his grumpy demeanor Brutus did have a sense of humor.

Adopting a fake tone of snobbery, the mouse strutted inside.

‘Why, thank you my dear. Don’t forget the luggage, will you?’

As soon as the door had been opened, glowing lights inside the hollowed tree turned on. Walls had been carved smooth and paneled with wrought brass. The members of the Colony always tried to blend their sense of aesthetics with the functional, and this hollowed log was no exception.

The huge rat closed the small door behind him and followed his companion down the light tunnel. The passage was wide, much more than would be necessary to simply allow the rodents’ passage. As Cynthia and Brutus strolled onwards the cavernous structure revealed the reason for its size. Shining in the glow of the electric lamps hung around the passage walls stood an enormous bird cage. It rested on a circular platform in the tunnel floor, composed of three heavy, brass-lined panels. From above, the cage was connected with strong cables to dark recesses in the ceiling.

As she passed the birdcage the mouse flicked a finger at the metal, making it ring.

‘Think it still works, Brutus?’

The rat grabbed a hold of one of the cage’s bars, rattling it and nodded emphatically. The Colony might not have thought about cutting the grass outside recently, but when it built machinery, it made sure it lasted. The cage had served well during the colonist’s move to Thorn Valley, acting as a heavy-duty elevator, moving heavy equipment to the valley below.

Behind the improvised freight elevator another man-made item came into view. This time the cavern lights revealed a fire-red motor-cycle helmet, resting on a similar smaller platform. As with the birdcage, the helmet was connected with a cable to some sort of winching mechanism far above. Apart from the cable only a small set of rodent-sized stairs leading up the visor hinted to the device’s function.

Brutus stepped to the helmet’s side and with one deft movement unlatched the visor, which swung up on well-greased springs. The dim light of the tunnel revealed a semicircular row of cushioned seats inside. This was the colony’s personnel elevator, installed after the move had been completed in case anyone ever needed to access the cliff wall again.

Climbing up gingerly, Cynthia wasted no time in making herself comfortable and securing a set of small safety straps. Her rat companion, on the other hand, remained outside and peered at the mouse with uncomfortable suspicion on his face.


The mouse tried to sound as if she did not know what Brutus’ hesitation was about. The bigger rodent pointed an accusing finger at her, held out his hand in a horizontal plane, only to drop it down suddenly while making a “whoosh” sound whistling through his teeth.

Cynthia sighed.

‘Alright, I promise not to touch the release this time.’

Still cautious the rat ducked inside, stowed his weapon against the wall, and strapped himself in as well. Once settled, he leaned back and closed his eyes. The mouse watched him for a while. Finally, Brutus swallowed hard and nodded. In response Cynthia grabbed one of the levers jutting from a primitive instrument panel and pulled it halfway down.

Far above in the hollowed tree’s dark recesses gears were beginning to grind as the winch stretched the cable until the crash helmet hovered an inch over the platform it had been resting on, revealing a second cable attached from below, which vanished into a hole in the floor. Then, the ground opened up in three triangular panels, allowing blinding sunlight to spill into the cavern dimness. Below, the bright depths of ThornValley waited.

The grinding mechanism above began to lower the elevator on its guiding cable. As always, the view was breathtaking. Descending slowly the helmet’s visor gave a clear vantage of the valley’s entire expanse. Cut by the Thorn River eons ego, Thorn Valley lined the bottom of a cliff ridge that millennia of weathering had first chiseled from the stone, and then filled in halfway again by erosion. Far below, trees, meadows, and even flying birds could be seen.

One of the two passengers apparently had no interest in the view.

His teeth and eyes clenched, Brutus’ fur was beginning to be drenched in perspiration. This was the worst part of their many trips to the Valley’s borders for him. Watching her companion sadly, the small rodent wondered at the irony of it all.

A member of the first generation to be born to the Rats of NIMH after they had settled in their first home, Brutus had always had a reputation for being fearless, fearless and scary. Few of the other colonists knew that the large rat was far from being without fear. True, there was no creature, no matter how much bigger than himself that he would not face in defense of his charges. No matter what the perils of his assignments, he did his duty. Only one thing stymied his valor: Heights. Actually, depths would be the more precise term. Brutus had no problems looking up a tall tree or cliff. Yet when it came to the matter of having to look down one or the other, his guts would immediately turn to stone.

So here he was, sitting in a gently descending, comfortable means of transportation, not a breeze in the sky to jostle the taught guiding cables, but with his muscles wound so tight they looked ready to pop out of his fur.

There was only so much of this Cynthia could take. At their current rate of travel it could take fifteen minutes to reach the valley floor, fifteen minutes of pure agony for her friend. She eyed a second lever, smaller but colored a bright red, on the mechanical panel. Gazing from it to Brutus and back again she made up her mind. This ride was going to be painful for Brutus, no matter what the conditions. That was beyond her control. But she could do something about the duration.

Remembering her promise, the mouse opened her bag and rummaged around inside. Despite his terror the sound of jingling glass caused Brutus to open an eye a fraction. When he saw her retrieve a cleaning cloth from her bag to cover her hand before she grasped the red lever, both his eyes snapped open in horror.

Too late. Cynthia, her hand covered in cloth, yanked the red pull downward, hard. A signal went through the guiding cable’s innards to the winch above. A halting screech from the mechanisms stopped the elevator’s descent. It was followed by two loud snaps. The rat’s e

muzzle opened slowly in a silent scream.

Then, the elevator dropped.

A journey that would normally take about fifteen minutes was shortened to a few seconds as the crash helmet hurtled towards the distant ground. Both rodents had their behinds raised off their seats, held in heck only by their safety harnesses. Brutus’ spear rose from the floor as the rat gazed at it in utter horror. The outside world was a blur.

Surprisingly, the elevator slowed gradually. Safety measure inside the winch kicked in just as the helmet cleared the tree-line of the valley, returning the passengers to their original speed. Rat and mouse slumped back into their seats and the pole-axe dropped unceremoniously to the floor. The only thing that did not change was Brutus’ wide-eyed face of terror, muzzle still gaping, eyes looking nowhere.

The elevator followed the guiding line to a huge tree stump nestled in a meadow between Thorn Valley’s blanket of trees. Just as the helmet appeared to land on the stump’s strangely smooth surface, the same unfolded outwards in three wooden panels lined in metal, like the opening of a mechanized flower. Inside a deep shaft, three times as wide as the elevator cabin, led straight down into unknown depths. Just as with the transport station atop the Cliffside the vertical shaft was illuminated by small lamps set in ornamented walls.

After a few more moments of gradual descent the helmet nestled comfortably on a circular landing platform in the middle of the shaft. The platform connected to a circular walkway lining the tunnel by four railed bridges, which in turn ended at two vaulted staircases leading upwards.

Cynthia waited for Brutus’ respiration to return to normal. A few short breaths and the large rat blinked his eyes as if realizing for the first time that the ride was over. He slowly turned his head towards the mouse, his face covered in a smoldering glower. Cynthia shrugged and gave a sheepish grin.

‘I didn’t actually touch the release, to be precise. Anyway, at least it was quicker this way. Better to pull the thorn out quickly, mom always says.’

Not waiting for Brutus to respond she quickly unlatched the visor, scrambled over the rim and across a walkway. The still befuddled rat picked up his weapon and followed, slowly.

Walking across the bridge was another chore. Since the shaft continued downward below the landing platform the two bridges were suspended in midair with nothing but gaping darkness below. The rat walked slowly, looking straight in front in order to ignore the depths yawning beneath his feet. He would get angry at the mouse later, but only after he had his footing on solid ground again.

Both rodents were being expected.

Standing at attention at one of the two exits was a brown rat guard. Only slightly less imposing than Brutus he was also fully clothed and armed with a spear. As both passengers made their way along the tunnel wall the guard's face broke into a wide grin.

'How was the ride?' he asked the still panting Brutus cheerfully.

The other raised a warning finger and glared menacingly at the guard.

'Come on, Sarge, ' replied the guard. 'Just trying to cheer you up a bit.'

Brutus gave a conceding sigh and shook his head. No time to get upset even more. He had to catch up with his young charge. But just as he was about to follow Cynthia up the staircase the brown rat called out once more.

'Sarge! The Captain told me to remind you that you're up for tonight's Chamber Meeting!'

This made the larger rat flinch. Brutus never understood why Philip, the current Captain of the guard, always agreed to have him represent the Guard at the boring administrative meetings. Brutus absolutely hated bureaucracy in all its forms, almost as much as paperwork. And to have a mute serve as representative could almost be viewed as a sick joke, almost. Right up to the point where Justin, the leader of the colony, probably had requested his presence personally.

Justin had been Brutus’ teacher, back in the day. He knew very well that the silent rat could be a most convincing communicator in his own way. Plus, Justin thought that the huge rat’s unsettling presence helped to spur some of the more self-serving members of the administration to watch their steps. The fact that Brutus scared the tails of a lot of them was an added bonus.

The elevator station was located deep beneath the forest floor and it took both mouse and rat several minutes of climbing stairs before they emerged from the hidden exit. The door was nestled within yet another tree stump facing a small dirt road. The path was quite level as it cut through meadows and woods. At times other roadways of the same type intersected it. They changed directions often but did so in the casual manner of people who knew exactly where they were going.

Yet at one crossing Cynthia suddenly hesitated,

'Can't we go down to the right here?'

Brutus shook his head with a disapproving scowl.

'Don't you want to know if the new dam works?'

Brutus' face brightened a bit. He had forgotten about the engineers’ latest accomplishment. After a moment's thought, he nodded approval. The two of them turned and took the path to the right.

After only a short walk the road reached the bank of the river Thorn, after which Thorn Valley had originally been named. As it had since the colony's founding, the river flowed smoothly but powerfully down its bed, the water speeding and surging as it squeezed through the narrow neck created by the valley's stone floor. But halfway down the valley a large beaver dam stemmed the river’s advance and created a sizable reservoir of water until the water was allowed to continue its path. The dam itself was a ramshackle, yet imposing construction. Many a naturalist would have been overjoyed at this apparent picture-perfect example of beaver craftsmanship.

Only that this damn had not been constructed exclusively by the water-loving mammals. The beavers did help, in a huge way. The rat engineers had decided early on not to reinvent the wheel and asked the local beaver population for help. Those had already constructed a smaller dam, which washed away almost every season due to the Thorn’s strong currents when the snow melted. With a promise to help them build a home that would not succumb to floodwaters the rats had assured the beavers’ cooperation and help.

The final result was a true marvel. In exchange for their help the rats had asked to use parts of the construction for their own needs. The beaver family had agreed, since the strange rodents that had moved into Thorn Valley and created their marvelous colony already provided protection from predators to many of the local wildlife. In keeping wolves and other disruptive wildlife at bay the rats served others as well as themselves. Giving the mysterious creatures use of some of the dam seemed fair repayment.

It had been a matter of secrecy. Despite their remote and protected location, the Rats of NIMH, as the strange rodents with the human-like attributes now called themselves, could not risk discovery by humans. They had built their new home in a nature preserve but someone might still be able to spot a more obvious construction, through blind luck or sheer accident. In the guise of natural beaver dam the engineers had been able to supply on of their colony’s most dire needs.

The two rodents were able to traverse the dam easily. Winding between the more mountainous heaps of logs an almost level surface allowed an easy passage over the construction. Again, a tremendous design feat. Unless someone was to bend down to eye level with the damn, nobody would be able to discern the hidden walkway’s existence. From above it was just a jumble of sticks and wood.

They made their way until Cynthia bent down, a faint vibration teasing at her toes. She peered intently into one of the gushing water columns that exited the dam’s downstream side, where water levels were much lower than upstream. The mouse pointed into the clear waters.

'There!' she shouted towards Brutus over the breaking stream, pointing down to a silvery shadow as it flashed down the spillway below them. 'I knew it was large enough to let the fish through!'

The rat nodded in agreement. Making sure that the structure did not interfere with some of the other creatures and resources the rats depended on had been another important consideration. As Brutus caught the occasional flash of silver in the water his dour face cracked with a small smile. He'd come to like the taste of trout. After a few moments the large rodent turned to look up at the distant cliffs. Following his gaze the mouse chuckled and stood up again.

'Don't worry! I don't think anyone will ever come close enough to notice what we really built. You can’t even hear the turbines over the rushing water.'

As Cynthia turned to reach the other side of the dam, waving to a group of beavers resting on an artificial island composed of more logs, the rat just kept looking at the sky. It promised to be quite a beautiful day. Only a few clouds were to be seen, nothing that could really cause a shower. Then, Brutus' gaze froze. Up in the sky was something that was not supposed to be there. He turned and whistled loudly at the mouse.

Cynthia looked at the guard and then at where his finger pointed, her face fell and her heart grew cold.

‘Oh no,’ she swallowed hard, ‘the crows.'.

The small mouse immediately took off towards the opposite shore, running as fast as her small paws could carry her.

Brutus put his fingers into his muzzle and whistled at the mouse again, his face awash with confusion.

Stopping in mid-stride Cynthia turned and shouted.

'They're back way too early! Something's wrong! I've got to tell my mom!'

With that she hopped off the other shore and disappeared.

Brutus scratched his chin, shouldered his spear, and continued his walk to the other side, slowly, his mind lost in thought. He looked back over his shoulder at the distant sky once more and shook his head.

Cynthia was right. Something had to be wrong, very wrong.

The mouse was racing. She cursed herself for wanting to see the dam. The detour cost her twenty minutes, not to mention one heck of a side-ache. She sped along the dirt path as fast as she possibly could, not looking as she chose her turns. If not for her precious bag Cynthia could have made even better time by running on all fours. She felt stupid for not having handed it to Brutus. Now it was too late and leaving it behind was unthinkable.

Down the dirt road stood a large machine, at least it was large in rodent terms. Built from wood and metal plates that had been tightly bolted together it resembled a hand made toy tank; but only if someone were to overlook its huge size and somewhat tall mid section. It even had tank tracks. And in between those tracks two rats were busily cleaning out gears. A young female, dressed in a worker's apron, was climbing out from a panel at the front. She leaned over to look at a more elderly male rat in similar attire, which was busy oiling the sides of the contraption.

'Dad, I'm done. Should I check the grain-intake next?'

The older rat turned around.

'Please do. I'll be finished down here in second.'

Just then Cynthia, her poncho and bag flying behind her, ran by the two workers.

'Hi Hands! Hi Ratchet! Bye Hands, Bye Ratchet!'

Then she disappeared around a bend in the road.

The male looked at the female in confusion.

'What was that about?'

The younger rat shrugged, 'If she's in too much a hurry to talk then there's a problem somewhere.'

Looking at the path the mouse had just passed the older rat was at a loss.

'Oh bother!'

And that summed it up nicely.

The Oak stood alone within a sea of grass. Nobody knew whether it had grown up a solitary tree or had just outlived its neighbors. Over the long centuries of its life it had grown to immense proportions and now dominated the meadow. The trunk was so massive and compact it resembled a medieval castle, its huge branches forming ornate towers crowned with greenery. And through the tall grass six almost invisible dirt pathways centered towards the monumental tree.

Approaching the Oak Cynthia paused to relieve the pain in her side, her breath coming in deep, shuddering gasps. She desperately needed a rest but forced herself to keep going, though at a much slower rate. But as she rounded the final curve and neared the rugged bark at her enforced, more leisurely pace she was suddenly taken aback.

'Oh no!' she groaned.

The small portal, which was nestled within a cleft between dividing roots and usually open, was closed shut. The young mouse turned to look around, she knew better than to think she had the strength to open it by force.

'Hello! Is anyone there? I have to get inside, right now!'

There was no reply.

'Where's a rat when you need one?' muttered Cynthia.

Sighing she grabbed her bag and started to jump up the overhanging root arch, desperately trying to reach a particular and deceptively looking twig with her paw. After the fourth try she sighed, set the bag down and pulled out a length of string. Looping into a long, loose circle she swung it up over her head and it wrapped around the end of the small stick.

‘Gotcha!' she squeaked.

Then she pulled with all her strength until the twig snapped downward with a loud 'click'. Accompanied by the sounds of straining gears the heavy wooden panel between the roots slowly raised itself and revealed the entrance.

With a deep breath the mouse stuffed the string back into her bag and entered the sparsely illuminated passage. After a few steps she resumed her running. The small tunnel with its carved stairs soon joined others to form a huge cave within the tree. The wooden hall was followed by a shaft, which extended all the way up into the trunk.

This was the colony's Atrium. An immense wooden gate could be lowered between it and the entrance hall to seal up the colony in case of emergency. The Rats had painstakingly hollowed out the tree's core and most of its major branches without killing it to make room for their living quarters. To maintain the Oak's stability the inside had been lined by special brickwork. Only the internal walls had been carved out of the tree's natural wood. The system of rooms and caverns was extensive enough to reach far below the dense roots.

In order to make journeys from the top branches to the lowest levels of the colony more convenient the Atrium housed an elaborate staircase with multiple rodent-sized elevators.

The two large sentry rats standing guard at the boundary between the Atrium and the gate-shaft took no notice as Cynthia ran passed them. The sight of her bounding through the colony was something most rats were used to by now, but not all.

She leapt over the stairs and raced by an elderly rat lady in a formal council gown, brushing against her and upsetting her ornate headdress. The rat was clearly offended at the lack of greeting or acknowledgement.

'Little vagrant!' she snapped.

'Running around the hallways like that! No respect for her betters has this little brat. You wait until I have a word with your mother. I certainly won't tolerate... '

The lady's ranting continued long after Cynthia was out of earshot. But the mouse had other problems to worry about.

The stairs lead up to one of the many walkways, which lined the hall. Running by many doors Cynthia headed towards one decorated with sparkling green glass. Those were the elevators. Once there, she quickly pushed the round button embedded in the doorframe. It immediately lit up a bright red and a loud noise from behind the door hallowed the approach of the cabin.

Then everything just stopped.

All the lights within the Atrium suddenly went out. The sound of the elevator was replaced by the loud complaints from everyone present in the now completely dark hall. The colony's power had apparently gone down again. The dam, which provided the colony’s power, must have encountered yet another snag.

'This is just great,' complained Cynthia as she edged through the darkness towards another set of stairs. Now she would have to walk topside. This promised to be a day of running.

Chapter 2: The Visitors

High up in one of the hollow branches the sun's rays gently filtered through a small round window into a circular room. Within, a small group of rat children was sitting on cushions and pillows carelessly strewn on a large carpet. At the center of both carpet and room rested a huge book.

And directly in front of the heavy ledger a young male rat was desperately trying to read.

'He's never going to get it right.' muttered an impatient rat boy seated at the carpet's rim.

'Don't be so mean,' retorted the girl sitting next to him.

On the other side of the room a dark slender male joked:

'Like you were any better when you started?'

The argument was getting well under way now.

Sitting next to the rat trying to read was a brown female mouse. She was wearing a red cloak, fingerless gloves and reading glasses and watched the rat children intently. Not a youngster by mice standards she still appeared to be youthful and vibrant. And she noticed quickly what was about to happen. She would not allow an argument to break out, not in her class. The mouse turned towards the grumpy boy that had started it.

'If everyone keeps on grumbling like this we will never be able to finish before midday,' she paused for a second before adding: 'which will mean no lunch for any of us."

The mouse's voice was determined yet not unkind and the rat children quieted down immediately. They did not want to spend half the day in here.

'Come Peter, you can do it. Just follow my finger.'

The mouse pointed her paw towards a specific line in the book and the young rat hesitantly began to read.

'After the fight with Je... Je... Jenner we b... b... buried both him and his vi... victim, our be... beloved lea... lea.... Oh I just can't do it!'

The mouse had not taken her eyes off the boy. She put her hand on his shoulder in consolation.

'Peter, I know you can do it. You are such a smart boy. But you are just not getting any better,'

The boy was close to tears now.

'It's nothing to cry about, nothing important comes easily,' comforted the mouse.

After a few moments of thought she took off her glasses and handed them to the young rat.

'Put those on and wiggle them around a bit.'

The boy put the glasses in front of his eyes and, after squinting slightly and moving pulling his head away from the page, he read on.

'...our beloved lea... leader. If I h... had been more care... careful I could have guessed what Jenner had been... planning. Now Nicodemus is dead and we will have to carry on without him. If Mrs. Brisby had not warned us, N.I.M.H would have trapped us all, maybe even ki... killed us. Just like her husband, Jonathan, she has helped us survive. I do not know how she pulled her house out of the dirt by herself or what the strange sto... stone had to do with it. Nicodemus gave it to her. He had never told any of us about it. That is all I know, though Jenner apparently re... cog... nize... recognized it somehow. But I do know that we owe her a great amount of grati... gratitude. When her children are old enough we will allow them to learn at our n... new home. That much we owe both her and Jonathan.'

Peter looked at the mouse in amazement. Even the other children had quieted down.

Mrs. Brisby just smiled at him and nodded slowly, her expression both pleased and touched by embarrassment and memories.

‘See, you can do just fine. You know what this means don't you?’

The young rat had a bad feeling he knew what was coming but shook his head.


'I think you need glasses, Peter.'

The bratty boy who had first started a fuss laughed out loud.

'Peter's gonna be a four-eyes!'

The brown mouse turned to the annoying child and kept on smiling.

'I guess I am a four-eyes too then?'

The youth nearly choked at the remark.

'No, ma'am! Of course not!'

Now it was the other children's turn to snicker but Mrs. Brisby paid them no heed. She patted Peter on the shoulder.

'I had problems reading too. Why don't you go and have Mr. Ages look at your eyes? I bet he will make you a nice pair of glasses.'

There was no time for Peter to reply. A series of footsteps had become audible from outside the reading room and just as the boy opened his mouth the large door was being pushed inwards.

It revealed a thoroughly exhausted Cynthia.

Some of the children gasped but all were too surprised to say anything.

Mrs. Brisby was the first to rise and rush to her daughter's side. The light-furred mouse was completely out of breath and fought to hold herself up by the doorframe while her mother gently supported her. Nonetheless, Cynthia was trying to get words in between her hastily drawn breaths.

'Mom... crows... back... Teresa... '

'Honey, catch your breath! Just calm down! You're ready to fall over.'

The younger mouse nodded and took a few deep breaths before continuing.

All around the rat children had gotten up and were now gazing at the two mice in confusion. They sensed that something was wrong but couldn't think of what it could be.

Finally, Cynthia had recovered enough from her run up the numberless stairs and looked straight at her mother. Mrs. Brisby decided it would be better to leave a paw on her daughter's shoulder. She often tended to overestimate her own strength, but then so had she in her younger days.

'Mom, the crows are back. Brutus and I were just on our way back and we saw them crossing the ridge.'

Mrs. Brisby put her free paw to her chin and cast a worried glance to the floor. Biting her lip for a moment the older mouse needed time to decide what was to be done. Finally, she nodded, let go of her daughter's shoulder and waved her glasses at the children.

'We have to finish early, children. Rachel, can you make sure the book goes back to the library?'

She looked over to the young rats that had teased Peter only minutes before.

'And I want you two boys to help her with it.'

The blond-furred girl that had been seated next to rather obnoxious youth earlier nodded, as did the rest of the children. Even the rude boy showed his agreement. All the discontent had vanished from his face. In the end, the children cared deeply for their teacher and the mouse's obvious distress troubled them.

'We'll pick up tomorrow at the same time. I have to go.'

'Goodbye Mrs. Brisby,' the young rats chorused, as they always did at the end of class. The mouse had never insisted on it but the children just loved to show their affection this way.

Smiling briefly she stepped out of the room followed by Cynthia.

Mother and daughter hurried down the winding steps towards the tree's base. Mrs. Brisby was anxious to find out just what really had occurred outside.

'Was it all of the crows or just Jeremy? Could you see if they were carrying anybody?'

Cynthia shook her head.

'It looked like all of them, but they were so far away I couldn't see if Teresa and the others were with them.'

The older mouse looked ahead for a moment to make sure she wouldn't trip as they descended further.

'Something must be really wrong if Jeremy has brought his whole family. He knows it's not safe to leave his nest unguarded. The other crows would steal it from them in a heartbeat.'

Then her concerns shifted to her own oldest daughter.

'I hope Teresa and the children are alright.'

The other nodded and swallowed hard. The same thoughts had bothered Cynthia ever since she had first spotted the crows. For them to come back this early meant serious trouble.

Both mice followed the stairway down until they reached one of the hallways leading towards the great Atrium. Inside the vast chamber a few emergency lights had been lit but the elevators were still not working. Mother and daughter made their way along the staircases towards the ground floor. But they did not stop there. Taking one of the small doors to the right of the main elevator column they ventured even further down, deep into the part of the colony that existed far underground.

They passed into another great chamber, this one cobbled with large stones and much less ornate than the Atrium. Adjoining the vast expanse were storage areas for grain, the harvesting machines and some of the rat's experimental prototypes for vehicular transport. Between these rooms, like the arms of a star, countless corridors radiated outward from the Oak's center. The tunnels had been lined with the same brickwork as the underground hall and were wide enough to allow the transport of large pieces of equipment.

Cynthia and Mrs. Brisby chose one of the Westward tunnels. Despite her obvious anxiety the older mouse decided to keep their pace at a fast walk rather than running the way her daughter had done earlier. They still had to travel some distance and it would not help them if they exhausted themselves now.

And, she reminded herself, it would be best not to draw too much attention to her family's plight if the worst had indeed happened back at the old farm. Some of the Rats still did not agree with the sharing the colony with the mice.

As they made their way the light-furred mouse remembered something.

'If Teresa really has come back, won't they try to get rid of her again?'

Her mother looked downcast.

'I don't know. Right now I am more worried whether or not they're all right. But if she is back... you know they'll try to get rid of Gregory.'

Cynthia scoffed.

'It's not fair! Gregory is nice! It's not his fault that he didn't come from NIMH. Teresa couldn't have found a better husband.'

The other mouse had to agree.

'I know. But you know how some of the rats are. They don't want... "wild animals" in their home.'

Mrs. Brisby spoke the last words in a bitter tone. And her daughter knew exactly why she felt so awful.

'Yeah, they let us stay because they think they owe dad and you. But when Teresa fell in love with Gregory they couldn't get over the fact that he is not like them. I mean, you they would never turn away, but with him they had no problem. After all, he didn't save their sorry tails like you did. Stupid double standard!'

The older mouse sighed.

'If they are really back I will try to talk some sense into them tonight, at the Chamber Meeting. I didn't think Teresa would be back so soon though. I'd hoped for a bit more time to convince the Rats.'

Cynthia just looked at her mother sadly. The younger rodent had little hopes that her brother-in-law would be allowed to stay with them. All of the Rats had great respect of her mother, many even thought of her as being a good luck charm. But Mrs. Brisby still had a hard time getting some of them to accept her as an equal despite the fact she had been allowed to teach elementary reading. At times the strange attitudes of the Rats of NIMH could be rather tiresome, and disturbingly humanlike. That she could read at all had surprised the Rats and that she could now read well enough to teach it had shocked most of her critics into silence.

Ahead of them a ray of light shone down into the tunnel. A row of ladder steps had been carved into one of the walls and allowed the mice to climb towards a hole in the ceiling. From it issued the warm rays of the morning sun and illuminated the caverns beneath. The entrance opened itself to one of the Oak's distant roots that had been hollowed out like the rest of the tree, though never enough to risk harming or weakening the Great Oak. Both the colony's engineers and gardeners had been very particular about that.

Bulging over the ground the growth offered Cynthia and her mother a wide platform to stand on. Mrs. Brisby was the first to exit and gave her offspring a hand in stepping up.

Brutus was already waiting.

The huge rat’s face was a mask of concentration as he tried to attach a red ribbon to the back end of his halberd. Finally the discontented guard used both fists to tie the cloth in a rough knot. It wasn't as refined a method as it could have been but it got the job done.

As he noticed the arrival of the two mice Brutus gave a short nod in greeting. He still appeared a bit ill at ease whenever the brown mouse was about. Around Mrs. Brisby Brutus' demeanor became so subdued he seemed almost timid. The huge guard had first met her under rather strained conditions. And even though Mrs. Brisby had told him numerous times that she didn't bear a grudge Brutus still felt ashamed at having scared her so badly when he had encountered her in the Rosebush all those years ago. After all, he had made it look as if he had been ready to cut her in two. He knew that had been his job, but he still felt guilt over the way he had been forced to treat some of the intruders, especially her.

But after having received a warm smile from the older mouse the rat's reservations eased a bit and he turned his attention to the sky. The crows had been circling for some time now, waiting for the signal to land. Brutus lifted his up-ended weapon and waved the red band like a banner. Now the birds would make their approach.

Cynthia had started to smile as she watched the descent of the four crows. Even from down here she could see that each of the black birds carried passengers. That meant that Teresa's entire family had come back to the Valley. Whatever the Rats might think of her sister's family, the crème-colored mouse was glad to see her again. And getting to play "auntie" to her sister's children was always a lot of fun.

As the first crow got ready to land on the raised root the younger mouse's face contorted to a frown. The bird's movements were not as coordinated as they should have been.

Suddenly Cynthia pointed upwards.

'Watch out!'

At that time Mrs. Brisby and Brutus has noticed their predicament as well. The crow, Jeremy by name, was not really landing. No, he was falling, and falling fast! As the black shape spiraled towards the ground the three rodents were able to see the bird's eyes were bulging and his beak gasping for air

The reason for that was the diminutive rodent perched on his back. Wearing a little purple hat, which had apparently tipped over the wearer's eyes, an elderly shrew was grasping a line of string that ran around the crow's neck. As a matter of fact, she was pulling so hard that her mount was, for all intent and purposes, choking and the both of them were yelling and screaming at each other as they plummeted downwards. To make matters worse they were heading straight for the waiting rodents.

Mrs. Brisby, Cynthia and Brutus had barely time to throw themselves out of the spiraling bird's way as he finally managed to straighten enough to at least control his pending and unavoidable crash. At the last instant the crow managed to pull up just enough not to plough into the root itself but still grazed the wood with his feet as he tumbled onwards. Finally, under the loud yelling and cursing on the part of his passenger, Jeremy crashed into the tall grasses.

The older mouse was the first to peek over the rim of the root to find out if the two arrivals had gotten themselves hurt.

From behind bent blades of green grass the unmistakably shrill voice of the Shrew yelled out.

'You bird-brained imbecile! Can't you do anything right, you blundering buffoon? Just wait until I get my paws on you, you cross-eyed vulture! I'm going to stuff pillows with your feathers and make a foot-rest out of your empty head!'

There was frantic scrambling coming from the grasses now and Jeremy's voice indicated that the crow was desperately trying to get away from his displeased passenger.

'No madam! Please, don't do that! No... madam, really... please...'

In a burst of speed the black-feathered creature leapt out from the ruffled foliage and scrambled back towards the safety of the root. As he half-crawled, half-fluttered onto the arrival platform he almost knocked the still cowering Mrs. Brisby down to the floor, trying to hide behind her small form.

But the Shrew was close behind. Waving her stick angrily and yelling on the top of her lungs the enraged rodent climbed up after her quarry. As she did Jeremy cringed behind the mouse in an effort to make himself as small as possible.

'Miss Briz! Please, don't let her tie me up again! Anything but that!'

As she reached the root's top the Shrew was still fuming. Rushing towards both mouse and bird she swung her stick wide forcing Mrs. Brisby to duck down low. Luckily, the angered rodent only managed to dislodge a few feathers, but she was clearly not finished with Jeremy yet. Continuing her tirade of insults and threats the Shrew was ready to tear right into him with a vengeance. Thankfully, the brown mouse stood back up as the shrew was drawing her cane back and put a hand on the other's shoulder.

'Auntie Shrew, please calm down!'

'Calm down? Brisby, this overstuffed turkey nearly killed me! And he did it on purpose too! You saw him… he was trying to make a pancake out of me!'

This was getting out of hand. If something didn't distract the Shrew soon she would either keep ranting all day or, worse yet, actually start hitting her intended target or someone else.

Cynthia and Brutus had watched the odd display with amusement. But it was dawning on them that they would have to get the Shrew away from Jeremy. The remaining three crows were still circling and unsure whether it was safe to come down while the elderly rodent was acting this way. Mrs. Brisby looked imploringly at her daughter and the light-furred mouse finally gave the huge guard a playful nudge.

Taking the hint Brutus sidled up behind the Shrew and tapped her on the shoulder. Auntie Shrew nearly fainted and dropped her cane when she had turned her head to look at the imposing rat. Brutus, in turn, gave a mock bow, which made Mrs. Brisby and her daughter chuckle.

‘I think he wants to help carry your bags, Auntie.’

Despite the fact that the Shrew always touted her assumed bravery in all circumstances the Rats of NIMH still managed to give her the willies. And mute Brutus, with his freakish size, was more than enough to draw the flustered rodent's attention away from Jeremy and to avert her imminent 'explosion'. Looking up over her shoulder the suddenly pacified shrew opened her mouth a few times before finding enough courage for a reply.

'Oh… yes… the bags. They… kind of… fell down when we landed.'

Brutus just nodded and turned about, bowing once more and indicated for the Shrew to lead the way. Picking up her cane the elderly rodent fidgeted nervously as they descended to the meadow floor to pick up the scattered luggage. Cynthia was hard pressed not to snigger out loud. Having a rat that size loom up behind one could do wonders for the creation of a more docile attitude. As the unlikely pair scrambled down the side of the root the young mouse waved to the remaining crows.

The next to land was Jules, Jeremy's son. Far more graceful than his father the young crow carried a tan-colored female mouse wearing a light-blue skirt and ribbons in her hair, holding tightly to his neck feathers with one paw as she closed her eyes tightly just as the crow flared his wings out for landing. Nestled in her lap, and held even more tightly by her mother's other paw, was tiny mouse child in a violet shirt, one that seemed to find even the terrifying landing a delightful treat. She squealed in delight as Jules sat down on the root. Teresa Brisby, eldest daughter to Jonathan and Elizabeth Brisby, slowly slid off the crow's back before reaching up to help her daughter Lynn to get down. Close behind them, spreading her wings as she swooped down to land on the root came Jules' sister Janet who had brought Teresa's oldest son Kir. She looked over towards her brother with a small smirk, the 'my landing was better than yours' look obvious to any that saw it. Bringing up the flock was Jeremy's wife Julia, who her husband still lovingly referred to as "Mrs. Right". She swooped down between her children and gracefully landed, lowering a wing to allow the adult male mouse on her back and the young boy in his lap to dismount.

Teresa's brown-furred husband had not even had the chance to catch Flynn, the couples' younger son, as he slid down Julia's back towards him before Teresa raced to her mother. Lynn, who had been dragged along by her, desperately wanted another ride with the crows and kept dragging Teresa, trying to pull her back towards Jules. The young woman had a look of barely concealed desperation on her face.

'Mom! They took the house!'

Mrs. Brisby, or Elizabeth as Justin sometimes called her, embraced her oldest daughter quickly.

'It's alright honey! Who took what house?'

The newly arrived mouse was close to tears now.

'The humans from NIMH! They came back! They took everything. The farmer had to leave and they're tearing up the farm. They're killing all the farmer's animals and burning down the fields. They're even trying to kill all our friends out in the field and garden! We barely managed to get away. And then the Great Owl said…'

Teresa slowly caught herself as she noticed the worried stares of her children and husband. The kids were still far too young to understand what NIMH had been about all those years back. And Gregory, despite the bright green tunic he wore and all the love that she felt for him, was just a normal field mouse. At times like these she understood why her father, Jonathan, had kept her own mother and herself in the dark about that horrible place. How could she burden her family with the knowledge of what NIMH was and what the people from there had done?

But now events had thrown that awful past back into her life. Gregory had seen what the humans had done to their home, their friends. She had asked herself many times how to explain all that to him, never finding an answer.

Gently rocking her daughter's shoulders Mrs. Brisby just nodded in understanding.

'You can tell us about it later when we got you all settled in.'

The mouse with the pink ribbons gave a sigh of gratitude and ushered her husband and the two boys forward. The children were still exited about the flight and Flynn kept poking his older brother repeatedly.

Gregory smiled bashfully at Mrs. Brisby. The wild field mouse was painfully aware at how his marriage to Teresa had caused his wife's expulsion from the Rats' colony. Even though his mother-in-law had always told him that he was the best thing that could have happened to her daughter this fact had always bothered him. He had seen the wonders of the Thorn Valley colony himself and understood to some degree what Teresa had given up for him. He could never escape the tinge of guilt that he felt when he thought of that and knew in his heart that Teresa had secrets she could never share with him, though these feelings always faded away at the sight of his wife and their happy children. Still, he wondered, what would it have been like for them if they could have stayed?

Smiling at both Gregory and the children the older mouse turned to Cynthia.

'Honey, I am going to get the guest rooms ready. Can you tell your brothers and Mr. Ages what happened? And if they could still come for dinner?'

She smiled a bit and added; ‘And ask if they can bring a little something with them, it seems we'll be feeding more than we'd expected.'

The light-furred mouse nodded.

'Sure, I'll tell them!'

Just as her daughter was about to leave Mrs. Brisby called out again,

‘Oh, and while you’re at the Infirmary…’

The brown mouse’s tone achieved a measure of embarrassment as she ended in mid-sentence.

Cynthia sighed with a sad smile,

‘Yes, I will tell Lady Camilla that you will not be sitting with her because of the Chamber Meeting.’

Her mother breathed out with gratitude.

‘Thank you, sweetie. This means a lot to me.’

Shaking her head with whimsical expression on her muzzle the younger rodent turned and made her way down to the corridor. With everything that had just happened and the worries it would cause her mother was compassionate enough to remember old Camilla. It was moments like these that made her proud of her remaining parent. Care for others in times of wellbeing was easy, but to care in times of distress was rare. But even this moment of pride could not dispel her misgivings at the fact that the day had become much more complicated than she had expected. She hoped it would not become any more so wondering, if that was supposed to be part of 'growing up'?

Back on the root Mrs. Brisby's grandchildren had milled around the brown mouse and were bombarding her with questions. They, at least, were thrilled to be back at the colony. Here they had their grandmother and all their uncles and aunts to play with. The young mouse quickly strolled back the cobbled corridors towards the Oak while above her family was collecting the meager belongings they had managed to bring.

As Cynthia reached the large subterranean hall again she didn't use any of the stairs to go top-wise but rather descended down further. Below the storage and maintenance halls, hidden far below the surface the Rats of NIMH had created yet another vast cavern. Here the altered rodents had decided to build their great infirmary.

The clinic was an enormous structure, indicating how much the Rats valued the importance of their health and the study of what they had become. The main room was lined with countless doors leading to operating rooms, patient quarters and apothecaries. Opening up the chamber was a looming archway lined with smooth gray stones. It appeared the power was back on as the entrance was brightly lit, almost too brightly since she had to blink and shield her eyes as she entered.

Sitting on one of the stone benches lining the archway was a rather short male rat. Silver-furred and wearing a green vest over a white shirt the male rodent was reading in a small book and, unusual for him, didn't pay much attention to Cynthia as she entered.

‘Hi Gabriel! Any idea where Martin and Ages are?'

The rat looked up and rolled his eyes.

'Oh yes! They're back in the exam room arguing, as usual. Why do you think I'm sitting out here? With those two going on like that I won't get any work done anyway. Even in the surgery they don't stop.'

He sighed for a second, a small grumble in his voice.

'And lately even our patients have learned not to come in when those two are ‘at it’.'

The mouse nodded with a smile. How her older brother had gotten to become the colony's third doctor was still something of a mystery to her.

It had all started with an argument between Mr. Ages and Martin one night after her sibling had once again managed to sprain an ankle. Maybe the old physician had just managed to rile her brother up so badly or just teased him about his clumsiness until he'd decided he could do the job as well as the old mouse did. A year and a half of studying later and Ages had, with obvious reluctance, allowed him to work in the infirmary.

In a way, the two physicians made a perfect match. Both were equally hardheaded and loved to argue both opinion and diagnosis for hours at a time, something that caused the only other doctor, the short rat named Gabriel, to head for cover whenever the two mice started quarrelling. Lately he seemed to be spending a lot of time making house calls and prepping for surgery, something he began specializing in shortly after Martin's arrival in the Infirmary. A change that Cynthia suspected had a lot to do with Martin's arrival as a member of the clinic's staff. With the two mice arguing all the time the rat’s nerves required some away time from the Infirmary.

Looking towards a distant set of chambers away from the exam room the mouse wondered.

‘I hope their racket doesn’t upset old Camilla.’

Gabriel, who had peered at his book again for a moment, just shrugged.

‘I doubt it. She is hardly awake anymore these days. I am amazed your mom comes in almost every evening to sit and talk with her. I am sure she can’t hear her.’

Cynthia shrugged as well, but smiled.

‘Who knows? I know that when I am that old and frail I might like to know someone is there with me, even if I am not ‘all there’ anymore.’

The mouse’s smile turned a bit sad.

‘And I promised mom I’d tell Camilla that she would not be able to sit with her tonight.’

The short rat cocked his head questioningly until understanding entered his features.

‘Right, your mom represents the teachers at the Chamber Meetings.’

Cynthia nodded to Gabriel and started towards the indicated room.

Behind her the medic called out, 'But if you can make our two bickering bozos stop I'll owe you one!'

The rooms lining the infirmary's central chamber were all separated by simple blue curtains. But even though the doors themselves were all identical the mouse could have easily found out behind which her brother and his teacher were located, even without Gabriel's directions. The discussion between Martin and Mr. Ages was so heated Cynthia heard it all the way across the hall.

'How can you say that? We've ruled out everything else. It has to be something to do with NIMH!'

That was her brother. With a voice like that he could have easily become a lead singer in the colony's choir if he'd been able to stay on key for more than two notes in a row.

'And what would you know about it, you inexperienced blunderer? I was making diagnoses before you were even born!'

The more indignant tones came from Mr. Ages. Cynthia had known the old mouse for some time now and knew that he was really a very caring person. But just by listening to him rant he sounded like the grumpiest person imaginable. Even Brutus could look positively cheerful compared to a Mr. Ages who was 'on a roll'.

'It is still stupid to discount it! You're just afraid that I am right. You are always turning tails when anybody even mentions NIMH, you old faker.'

'You ungrateful whelp! If you had learned anything you'd know that you look into the most plausible causes first. Just like a young whippersnapper to go straight for the easiest explanation, even if it is the most senseless!'

[Text Wrapping Break]

The female mouse chuckled as she pulled the curtain to the examining room aside. Martin and Ages were really dishing it out good tonight. She couldn't ignore the suspicion that the two of them enjoyed their arguments, though she knew neither would admit it.

The room itself was circular in outline and had been carved from one of the Oak's larger roots. Shelves with books and odd bottles lined the walls and a few beds had been set up for patients that required continuous observation. Fortunately, today at least, there were no patients to have to endure this particular argument.

The two mice stood close to the door, facing each other and gesturing wildly.

Gray-furred Martin was without doubt the most physically intimidating of the Brisby children and stood even taller than his father had. Once more than a little 'plump', he'd changed since the move to the colony and now his large chest was hidden behind a blue tunic covered with a short-sleeved doctor's vest. His arms were thick and muscular, looking somewhat out of place on a doctor. But his strength did come in handy when it came to setting bones or trying to restrain a panicky parent. Most amazing of all was that Cynthia's brother was also the head pediatrician of the colony now. One would not have guessed by looking at the rather burly mouse that he was good with children, particularly rat children.

The other mouse was much older. Mr. Ages's fur was almost pure white and nobody really knew if that was due to his age, his natural color, or if something had happened to him to turn him that color at NIMH. A long beard sprouted from his chin and his brows were exceptionally bushy. The mouse's piercing eyes hid behind a pair of round spectacles and blazed in anger as he glared at her brother. He was much shorter than Martin, wearing a red-brown tunic with floppy sleeves and the odd assortment of tools and ornaments he hung from his belt, things that no one had been able to convince him to leave behind when he moved to stay with the Rats in Thorn Valley. Still, nothing seemed to restrain, let alone stop, the old mouse from voicing his opinion in the strongest way he knew how.

The old doctor was just about ready to unleash another scolding reply on his young protégé, the gleam in his eyes showing that he had found something he could really nail the younger mouse with.

[Text Wrapping Break]

But before he could say what was on his mind Cynthia had stepped inside and chirped happily.

'Hello, you two! Guess what, Teresa's come home!'

Both physicians stopped dead in whatever arguments they had wanted to throw at each other. Two pairs of eyes turned towards the crème-furred girl in disbelief.

'What are you talking about, Sis?'

Cynthia stepped towards one of the desks and propped up the bag she had been carrying all throughout her rather active morning.

'Teresa is back. And she brought the whole family too.'

Now it was Ages' turn to look confused.

'I thought they were not due to be back for at least another four weeks? What are they doing back here so early?' [Text Wrapping Break]

The girl grinned at her brother and the old mouse as she began to pull out the glass vials from their storage.

'I don't know. I guess we'll all find out during dinner. Mom wants me to remind you that both of you better show up and bring some extra food.'

'Not if that awful woman is back too,' Mr. Ages grumbled.

Martin couldn't suppress a chuckle. 'Auntie Shrew isn't that bad. From the way she always rips at you I'd say she kind of likes you.'

The bearded mouse turned to look at the younger doctor as if he was about ready to blow his top. Thankfully, Cynthia interjected before the two could start a more serious argument again.

'Anyway, you two are invited. And you know how sad the kids are when 'Grandpa Ages' isn't there. You wouldn't know where Timmy is right now, would you?'

Both her brother and the elderly mouse decided that arguing was really pointless as long as Cynthia was around. She had a way of defusing fights just by being her own ridiculously cheerful self.

Mr. Ages rolled his eyes and muttered, 'Down in the labs, where else? I bet he's probably blown up another one of my ovens by now. Heaven knows what Justin wants the lad to make, but it's playing havoc with my equipment down there. And he's also starting to annoy Gideon with all those special glass contraptions he's asking him to make.'

The mouse girl nodded and laughed as she left.

'Yeah, he is always good at making a mess. See you at dinner!'

With that the two physicians were left with trying to figure out how to restart their previous discussions. There was nothing worse than having a good argument cut short this way.

Walking down the Infirmary’s hallway with the echoes of Ages’ and her brother’s halfhearted attempts of resuming their arguments following Cynthia approached the room were Lady Camilla was staying. She had never really known the old rat, mostly heard stories about her. In her time, she must have been beautiful and vibrant, yet these times had long passed. Now Camilla was alone. The Rats of NIMH lived long lives, much longer than normal rodents. But they still aged, very, very slowly. The rat she was now going to visit had been old even back when she had been caught in the streets of Baltimore, together with her husband, to be taken to NIMH, where they both had been changed forever, just as Cynthia’s father, the late Jonathan Brisby had been.

She slowly parted the blue curtain separating Camilla’s quarters from the rest of the Infirmary. Inside, the lights were dim, to allow the ancient rat to sleep in comfort. As Cynthia approached the large bed in the room’s center and looked at the form nestled within, she wondered why she did not feel sad for the old rat.

Camilla was old, very old. Her head was surrounded by waves of long, white hair, her face deeply creased, her emaciated frame covered in downy blankets. Her arms, draped in a simple night shirt, rested on the covers. This image if ultimate frailty should have depressed almost anyone. But then again, Cynthia was not just anyone. As she quietly stepped to the side of the bed, where a small armchair, the one her mother usually sat in for an hour each evening, waited, she only felt peaceful. She gazed at Camilla’s face. Then ancient rat was breathing slowly, but her features seemed locked in a small, serene smile. The heavy lidded eyes remained half-closed, but the mouse could feel that there was a mind still residing in this old body. Just like her husband, Camilla had possessed a glowing gaze, and even now, as she waited at death’s door, some of that glow remained.

The mouse sat down and slowly touched one of the rat’s hands. The hands were covered in warts and the claws were long, frighteningly so. Yet that did not matter. As soon as she touched them Cynthia felt the glow of the rat’s eyes intensify. Yes, Camilla was still in there.

The youngest daughter of the Brisby family was not only known for her cheerfulness. Those that knew her more intimately also respected her intuitive nature. Cynthia never got lost, ever. And she could feel certain things. Her siblings had their own special talents as well, like Timothy, with his uncanny ability with machines. Now the youngster felt a deep calming presence radiating from the limp hand. She bent forward to whisper to the old rat.

‘Hi Camilla. It’s me, Cynthia. My mom won’t be able to sit with you tonight. They are having the Chamber Meeting again. But I’m sure she will see you tomorrow.’

She waited, although she knew that Camilla would most likely not respond. The ancient lady barely responded to attempts to feed her anymore, and even then Ages doubted she was even aware. Cynthia knew better. The few times she had seen her like this she always felt that the dying rat was not simply waiting for death, but waiting for something, something very specific.

The mouse looked at Camilla intently for a while, not speaking. Then, the old rat’s hand, just for a moment, raised its fingers against the mouse’s palm resting on it. Cynthia smiled and nodded to herself. She patted the old one’s hand one more time and then got up to leave.

Now she had to find her brother.

[Text Wrapping Break]

Down at the deepest level, many meters below the protective shadow of the Oak, the Rats of NIMH had built their scientific laboratories. The labs as well as the energy storage and heat systems for the whole colony had been housed as far away from the living quarters as possible. In case of an emergency it would ensure that the population was removed from danger. Assuming the warning was made in time that was.

The actual compound resembled a round hillock of thick cobbles centered within an enormous cavern. So widely spaced were the walls of this cave that even the various lights from the laboratory windows barely touched them. Thick roots and tightly packed earth bound this living barrier together.

The more one looked at it the more the building in the middle looked like a stone beehive speckled with lights. A walkway encircled and wound itself tightly along its masonry, climbing upward in a slow spiral. Every few steps a thick glass window alternated with heavy wooden doors. From within the luminance of the furnaces and laboratory lamps shone out into the darkness of the surrounding chamber. From time to time, through large glass tubes that issued from between the stones and lead to different levels of the compound, billows of steam rushed from one room to another. And finally, from the very top of the structure, the greatest tube reached towards the colony, supplying the Rats of NIMH with whatever heat they required.

A stone bridge connected the structure with the gate to the elevators. And along that bridge now Cynthia strolled in an effort to locate her youngest brother.

[Text Wrapping Break]

Timothy was the youngest son of the Brisby family. As a child he had always been rather scrawny and even in adulthood he still retained an air of frailty, however misleading it now might be. There was a pair of thick glasses on his head and as usual he wore the dark green shirt with sleeves that were far too wide for him. In short, the youth looked to be a thorough academic with little time for the 'real world'.

While his older brother and sister both had an uncanny aptitude for medicine and his younger sister was strangely in-tune with the living world Timothy had a knack of a different sort. Machines, science and technology were his specialty. This mouse was a tinkerer of a sort that could come up with the most remarkable devices, many times without even knowing how they were supposed to work until they had been finished. When some engineering problem baffled the rest of the colony you called for Timothy Brisby. Usually a single glance at the problem was enough for the bespectacled mouse to suggest moving or adjusting the most innocuous part of the set up and all of a sudden it worked.

That was the reason Justin, leader of the Thorn Valley colony had asked him to work on a very special project.

So here the beige-furred mouse was, operating one of the laboratory's special furnaces, his brow furrowed and his fur matted against his skin from the intense heat. Timothy, or Timmy as his siblings still insisted in calling him, stared though the thick observing window in front of a bulging contraption of his own design, his right paw resting on a lever as he monitored the progress of his experiment. Even through the safety glass the heat from the unique furnace burned into his face, he did not dare look away.

Timing was everything.

Suddenly, the rodent pulled down the lever and wild sloshing sounds from a huge hose connected to the left side of the furnace hallowed the arrival of vast quantities of cooling water. As the liquid filled the outer rim of the furnace chamber it immediately turned to steam and was vented through a thick glass tube lead out from the furnace's chimney to the right towards regions unknown.

Slowly, the glow from behind the safety window subsided. Timothy waited a few more minutes before opening the small but strong steel door of the cooling stove and grasped a long-stemmed clamp. He slowly inserted the tool to retrieve the precious item from within the furnace's secondary chamber.

The young scientist tried to remain calm. He had performed this procedure successfully two times already. But the number of failures he had experienced still outnumbered the successes and forced him to be even more careful as he grabbed the sealed metal container from inside the cooling oven. Cautiously the mouse maneuvered the metal object towards a table in the center of the room and then released the holds of his grasping tool.

The steel case dropped onto the wood with a hollow thud.

Timothy was sure that by now the casing would have cooled down enough and began to unscrew the holds at its side. The entire thing was nothing but two metal molds screwed together at the rim. It was what had been placed inside and left in the furnace to mature that was the real prize.

A silent prayer to whatever gods of science might be out there issued from the mouse's lips as he raised the top half to gaze upon his creation.

[Text Wrapping Break]And then the youth raised his arms in triumph.

'Yes! Who's the mouse? Me’s the mouse! Yes! I did it!'

'Ah, so we heff brought ze monster to life, Herr Doctor?'

The deep, guttural voice Cynthia imitated from stories told long ago broke the otherwise quiet of the room. Timothy's eyes were about ready to pop out of his head as Cynthia called out in that badly imitated German accent. The girl had stood at the door the entire time and apparently enjoyed the show.

Timothy turned around and fidgeted with his sleeves in embarrassment.

'Eh... Hi Cynthia! Yeah, I guess I finally got it right this time.'

His sister chuckled and nodded.

'That’s great! But just what have you been working on in here? Ages has been griping about it for weeks now.'

The other tapped the side of his nose wistfully and grinned.

'Can't tell you, Sis. It's tip-top top-secret, you know. Justin told me not to spill anything.'

Cynthia just rolled her eyes.

'Whatever! By the way, you'll never guess what happened. Teresa and Gregory are back.'

The slender mouse hesitated in surprise before he replied.

'Already? I thought they still had to wait a few weeks?'

Now the young girl actually began to look a bit uncomfortable again.

'Something happened at the farm. Teresa said something about NIMH. But she didn't make much sense.'

The male mouse took off his glasses and stared incredulously.

'NIMH? What would they be doing at the farm? They haven't been there for... must be three years now.'

Cynthia shrugged, 'I don't know. I guess we'll find out tonight. Mom said you shouldn't forget that we're having dinner together.'

She paused, then smiled and continued, 'Now that the kids are here you better not leave me all alone to play 'aunt'. And you better bring something we can actually eat

, for a change.'

'Alright already! I am done here anyway. Let me pack this up and I'll come with you. They might need a hand in getting the rooms ready and I bet Teresa will be pretty exhausted after that trip.'

As the rodent scientist carefully wrapped his precious new creation into a rough cloth his sister looked out into the dark cave in concern. Teresa had looked exasperated and terrified. And her mentioning of NIMH had actually sent shivers up Cynthia's spine. The mouse always tried to see life from a cheerful angle, always looking for and finding that little bit of silver lining in every cloud. But the more she pondered the recent events, and the dread on Teresa's face, the less she was able to keep from worrying. Nothing that had ever come from the people of NIMH had ever been intended to make their lives easier, quite the opposite in fact.

Finally, brother and sister made their way back towards the colony's upper levels. They didn't discuss all the different worries that coursed through their minds. It was easier to just talk about the prospect of having the whole family under one roof again.

But both new that having to wait for answers until dinnertime would strain their patience.

Chapter 3: The Chamber

'Could you hand me your plate, please?'

Mr. Ages looked up from the book he had placed on the dinner table for a moment and then offered his emptied dish to Mrs. Brisby with an apologetic mumble.

The new quarters occupied by the Brisby family were far larger than their old cement block home had been. At first the widow had cringed a bit at the idea of living so far above ground. She had never really gotten used to heights, no matter how often she had traveled on Jeremy's back. Being able to close her eyes and simply hold on for dear life had, she was convinced, saved her sanity on more than one occasion. Thankfully, she didn't have as bad a phobia as Brutus did. In the end she and the children had settled in the apartment Justin had set aside for them in one of the Great Oak's main branches. It was unexpectedly spacious with three separate levels. The main level was centered on the living room, with a large, round table in the middle and two smaller rooms for food storage and a small but complete kitchen. There were a number of books, copied from volumes in the colony's library, nestled in carved shelves and even a fireplace with a hollowed chimney-tube leading to the outside. How the Rats had managed to allow open fires within their wooden home was still beyond Mrs. Brisby's understanding but the warmth it added had been most welcome last winter.

The main door led towards a wide stairway, which connected the apartment to the rest of the colony and was situated next to a hatch in the floor and a matching hatch with ladder in the ceiling. Elizabeth had her sleeping quarters on the upper level, as well as a small workshop room to prepare for her classed and other activities. The space below contained three bedchambers, one for each of her children. That was, until they would find apartments for themselves.

As Mrs. Brisby picked up the last remaining plates and carried them into the small kitchen, she noted that Mr. Ages and Teresa's oldest son were busy going through the large tome the old mouse had brought with him. The aging physician had made it his personal mission to check on Kir's and the other children's education as often as he could. He knew Teresa was a devoted mother and intent on teaching her offspring as well as she could, but without access to the colony's library, school, and teaching staff she had few resources available for the task. Thankfully, Mr. Ages always found that Mrs. Brisby's grandchildren made up for their lack in teaching aids through their immense curiosity and ambition. Kir had no problem following the text he had brought along.

All the while the Shrew, who had entered the main room again and sat down at the table, eyed both Timothy and Martin with suspicion as they played guessing games with Flynn. Cynthia had gotten up earlier to show Lynn how far one could look through the room's window even at night while letting her ride on her shoulders.

Sadly enough, Teresa sitting glumly next to her husband, who had kept a consoling paw on his mate's arm, dampened the mood somewhat. It was obvious that whatever had occurred at the Fitzgibbon Farm had greatly upset both the young mother and the feral mouse she had fallen in love with.

Having cleaned the last of the dishes Mrs. Brisby pulled up a stool next to her daughter and looked at her with concern.

[Text Wrapping Break]

'Honey, what happened back at the farm?'

Mr. Ages and the others did not want to let the children now how serious the matter was that their grandmother had broached. By prior agreement they had decided to keep the youngsters occupied while listening in to what Teresa had to say in secret. Ears swiveled curiously and glances were cast in between reading book passages, making riddles, and carrying the children around. Even the Shrew, who was not usually one to keep quiet about anything, made a point of centering her attention on the young mice. It was better than getting the children upset and forcing them to go to bed right now would not have worked either. The children were almost unnaturally sharp and could always spot someone trying to hide something, or lie to them.

'They must have come at night, when we had already gone to sleep,' Teresa started softly, her gaze focused on the floor under her paws. 'The Great Owl woke us, landing directly on our house, telling us we needed to get out right away.'

This sounded serious. The old bird had promised to keep an eye on Mrs. Brisby's oldest daughter but to take such direct action the Great Owl would have had to perceive a threat of enormous proportions.

'When we left the house,' the young mother continued, 'the entire farm was already in chaos. The humans had brought dozens of their large vehicles and there were lights everywhere.'

Gregory, who still held his wife's hand, nodded. 'It was almost as bright as day, yet it was still the middle of the night.'

Mrs. Brisby swallowed hard. She remembered the day the humans from NIMH had first come to the Fitzgibbon Farm in an attempt to catch the Rats of NIMH. Back then they had not dispatched nearly as much equipment and had been content to fill the Rosebush with gas. Even back then the vehicle that the Rats explained to her was called a "car" or "van" had been so imposing it had taken her breath away. To think that this time NIMH had returned in an even more frightening manner was hard to accept, or understand.

'What were the humans doing with all these lights?'

'At first we didn't know,' Teresa answered her mother. 'Gregory went off to drag Aunt Shrew from her home. The fields were a madhouse. Everybody was trying to get away, to run from the lights. And there were noises too,' she added, 'noises so loud you cannot imagine. Even the farmer's tractor was never that loud.'

Noting the concerned glances from her other children as well as Mr. Ages', the brown mouse, despite seeing the anguish on her daughter's face, pressed on for more information.

'Was there anything else you remember, honey?'

Teresa nodded with a shudder.

'The Owl had brought Jeremy and his family along and told them to take us away to Thorn Valley immediately. He said that the humans had arrived almost an hour earlier and that they had taken away the farmer and his entire family, including Dragon.'

‘Their cat?’

Mrs. Brisby looked confused, as did the other adults at the table. They could find no sense in why the people from NIMH would force the Fitzgibbons to leave. Why would they hurt other humans?

Not noting the consternation in her mother's eyes the shaking mouse continued her story.

'Then, when we were up in the air, we could see what the humans were doing. They had put up a huge fence, around the entire farm and the fields. Those awful lights were shining all over them. There must have been more than a hundred humans wearing suits that covered them completely, all running around... catching the animals that couldn't get through the fence... so many... the fence... like a spider's web... too tight... no one got through... no one.'

Suddenly Teresa broke down and cried, Gregory holding her tightly to his chest, whispering softly into her ear as he tried to comfort her.

‘They took them all.' she whimpered. 'Our friends... neighbors... couldn't fly... they caught them... one by one!'

Mrs. Brisby put a paw on her daughter's shoulder. Teresa's tears had finally drawn the attention of her children and not even the attempts of their aunt and uncles could keep them from looking at her mother with worry. Their grandmother looked at them kindly and then nodded to Cynthia and her sons.

'Don't worry! Your mother is just feeling sad about leaving your home so quickly. Why don't you let your father and others tuck you in?'

'Can't you make mom happy again, gram?' ventured Kir from the far side of the table while Lynn was trying to get away from Cynthia and run to her mother.

'I will try,' Elizabeth said, still smiling and trying to hide the concern she felt herself. 'Why don't you just go bed and your mother will be with you in a minute, after I cheer her up a bit?'

Lynn was squealing in Cynthia's arms and crying for her mommy. Finally the crème-colored mouse let the child go and huddle in her mother's lap. As soon as she felt the weight of her daughter Teresa stopped sobbing and picked Lynn up, cuddling her tightly.

'I am alright, sweetie, I'm just sad that we had to leave so suddenly.'

Looking up at her mom's face with wide eyes Lynn asked, 'But we're here with gram. Will you be happy again?'

Teresa had to laugh through her tears and raised her youngest child up in the air with a chuckle.

'Of course I will! Look! You make me happy already!'

At that Lynn finally screeched in joy again and Flynn was running over yelling.

'Me too, mommy! Me too!'

A bit relieved Mrs. Brisby squeezed her daughter's shoulder softly, 'I think the little ones had enough excitement for one day.'

'Yes,' sniffed Teresa, now apparently in a much better mood or simply trying not to frighten her own children, 'we better put them in bed or they will keep us up all night, right Greg?'

Nodding vigorously and apparently relieved to see his wife cheering up again her husband turned to Kir and Flynn.

'You heard that? It's time for bed, so up we go to our holiday rooms! And tomorrow you get to see everyone again and maybe even play outside with some of the other kids. Come now! It's bedtime and we've all had a very long and tiring day.'

'Awww!' complained Flynn with a yawn, 'I am not sleepy yet.'

Laughing Gregory scooped up his younger son and gave Kir, who had already gotten up from the table, a ruffle with his free hand, 'Can you believe your brother? Yawns like a badger and says he isn't sleepy. He really is not a good liar.'

Kir grinned and nodded, 'No, I am much better at that, dad.'

Giving his older son a playful shove the wild mouse chuckled, 'Now don't you start with that too, young man! Off to bed we go! Or do you want the others to see me pick you up and cart you off like Flynn?'

On his way to the door Gregory gave his wife, who had already carried their daughter with her, a tender kiss on the cheek and looked over his shoulder at Mrs. Brisby and her remaining children in gratitude.

'Thank you so much for dinner, and helping us with everything.'

Timothy grinned from across the table, 'Anytime, Greg, anytime! You just make sure those little monsters don't wreck both your nerves.'

Overhearing his younger uncle's comments Flynn squeaked from his father's arms, 'I promise I'll be good Uncle Timmy!'

After a few more well-wishes and hugs between Teresa and her siblings and a final embrace with her mother the young family left the Brisby apartment to head for the quarters that had been set aside for them in case of an emergency. As luck would have it none had claimed the apartment directly above the new Brisby home, the one Justin had promised her should the entire family show, so Teresa did not have to go far and risk running into a member of the Rats. Not all of the Rats of NIMH would be pleased to see her back in the colony. Elizabeth sighed as she watched the family head up the stairs and to the large, though no doubt dusty, apartment. She would have preferred them to use the rooms below but, given the situation, knew that this might not have been for the best.

As quiet settled back into the room everybody sat down at the table once more. Looks of concern and fear were exchanged all around and it was Martin who finally broke the silence.

'What in heaven's name could have made NIMH come back, and in such a horrible way?'

Mr. Ages shook his head, 'I don't think we will ever know, unless someone goes back and tries to find out. Whatever the humans have done at the farm, it sounds dangerous.'

Timothy rubbed his chin and then muttered quietly, 'If they are still looking for the Rats, do you think they will have a way of finding us here in the Valley?'

It was the one question weighing on everybody's mind. And it was also the one question that none at the table wanted to even think about, but didn't have the liberty to do so.

'We have to tell Justin first,' mused Cynthia. 'Some of the Rats might start panicking if they hear about this.'

Martin let his head fall into one of his paws and groaned.

'You think they don't already know? This place is a breeding ground for gossip and I bet some of them have seen Teresa and the little ones already. The landing place is all the way on the other side of the colony after all and I bet you ran into some rats, right?'

This second question had been addressed to his mother who nodded sadly.

'Yes, we did see some, and not all of them were the ones who like us.'

'Just great,' sighed Martin, 'I bet they will try to have a Council Meeting tomorrow or the day after where they will run around like a bunch if frightened crickets; or try to get rid of Teresa again.'

Now it was Mr. Ages turn to speak up, and speak up he did with rising anger in his voice.

'Well then they might as well throw me out too. Teresa is a good doctor and we could actually use her right now. Not to mention,' the old rodent added, 'that the majority of the Rats are on our side.'

'I just hope,' wondered Mrs. Brisby, 'that Verilla will not try to make a scene at the Chamber Meeting tonight.'

Looking at the ceiling the white-furred doctor grumbled, 'We might as well wish for rain that won't make us wet.'

Somewhat resigned the widow slowly got up from the dining room table, put on her reading glasses, and nodded.

'We better be on our way to the Meeting then. If we are late then she will be sure to start her riling immediately. It's always harder to seal up a dam after it's been allowed to break completely.'

Getting up as well Mr. Ages rumbled, 'I hope Justin remembered. The last time he was late Verilla spewed enough venom to poison a horse.'

With that in mind Mr. Brisby looked towards her younger son, 'Timothy, you said you wanted to bring Justin something, didn't you? Could you make sure that he remembers about the Chamber Meeting when you do?'

The young mouse slapped his brow so hard he almost dislodged his glasses.

'I nearly forgot about that! Thanks mom! I'll see that he gets there on time.' Timothy jumped up and grabbed the wrapped-up item he had brought with him from the laboratory, passing both his mother and Mr. Ages as he raced out of the apartment, 'Sorry! I better run!'

The old scientist shook his head and held the door open for Mrs. Bribsy, 'After you, my dear.'

So, the two older mice made their way to the Chamber Meeting while the younger one raced towards the distant office of the one who led the Rats of NIMH.

The way from the Brisby lodgings to the Main Atrium took the two mice through many winding corridors, which gave them ample time to talk about what they had learned and what it could mean for tonight's Chamber Meeting.

'I am afraid Verilla will give Justin a hard time again tonight,' sighed the female mouse.

'Well,' replied Mr. Ages, 'it would be no different from any other Chamber Meeting this year. The boy will just have to stand his ground, as usual. It's not as if he is alone in there, which annoys Verilla to no end I'm pleased to add.'

The physician was right of course. Apart from that one particular Chamber Member everybody else greatly approved of the job the young leader of the Rats of NIMH had done so far. It was just aggravating that a single individual could sour a simple administrative session with her silly vendettas.

'I am more worried about what happened at the farm,' conceded the older mouse. 'I did not want to say anymore with your children around, but if what Teresa said is true, something really bad is going on back there.'

'What do you mean?' Mrs. Brisby asked hesitantly.

Mr. Ages took some time to organize his thoughts. He did not want to worry his old friend's widow unduly, but on the other had he valued her too much to withhold his concerns from her.

'Please, I might very well be wrong about this. But it sounded very much like NIMH has decided to capture anything and anyone that might have ever come into contact with the Rats of NIMH. This alone,' he intoned, 'assures me that they are still looking for us, maybe harder than ever. I don't know why, but whatever reasons the humans might have, they can only mean trouble for us.'

Looking through a passing window the brown mouse sounded deeply worried as she posed her next question.

'Do you think they will be able to find us here?'

With a despairing shake of his head the white-furred mouse could only shrug.

'I do not know, I really do not. As far as I know there were few if any clues left behind as to where we decided to move. All of this doesn't make much sense to me right now.' Then, after a few deep sighs, he added, 'A lot of things are happening these days that do not make much sense to me anymore.'

Mrs. Brisby tilted her head.

'Do you mean this strange allergy Martin talked about?'

Groaning Mr. Ages waved his arms around and almost growled his reply; 'Why can't that boy keep his mouth shut for once? I told him not to bother you with this, not until we knew something more about it!'

'Please,' the widowed mouse pled as she put a hand on the doctor's shoulder, 'don't be angry. I asked Martin to tell me when he came home two nights ago and looked so worried. I made him tell me.'

The other just kept on sighing and shaking his head.

'He shouldn't have mentioned it anyway. You have enough to worry about already, my dear.'

Trying a smile on the older rodent Mrs. Brisby insisted, 'Now that he did mention it to me I will probably worry even more if you don't tell me the rest.'

'Alright!' Mr. Ages deferred. 'It is just that we have isolated almost every possible cause for this allergy and nothing appears to fit. There is just no common trait we can nail down. Adults get it, children get it, no matter where they live or work in the colony. There seems to be no common denominator, except that all patients are survivors of NIMH or their offspring. It's not as if it was dangerous,' assured the physician. 'So far the only symptoms are a bleaching of parts of the fur and the skin getting sensitive to light.'

For some reason the female did not believe that matters were as trivial as Mr. Ages was trying to make her believe. Noting her doubts the white mouse rolled up his sleeve.

'Look, I have developed a patch myself, although on my fur it is hard to see. As long as I don't expose the section underneath this thinner white fur to sunlight or other bright light I don't even notice it's there.’

He tried to give her a rare, reassuring smile.

‘Now that Teresa is here maybe she can help us figure this thing out. When they forced her to leave the colony lost a brilliant doctor, after all. Maybe Martin has a point and I do need some added perspective and opinions to find the answers.’

‘Maybe I am getting to old for this. After all,' Ages sighed with a bit of resignation, 'it's not as if this little allergy is the only thing that has me confused these days.'

'Really?' Mrs. Brisby wondered. 'Are there any other problems apart from this?'

Looking somewhat like a little boy who just realized he had stepped from one tiny puddle into a deeper one the old mouse took off his glasses and coughed.

'It is really nothing, my dear, nothing to worry about at all.'

The widow put a small frown on her muzzle and folded her arms.

'Really,' she offered, 'I thought you knew better than to try and lie to me, Thomas Ages!'

The old, white mouse cringed. How somebody who a long time ago had been frightened of and in total awe of him and the Rats of NIMH was now able to be so persuasive and insistent was beyond the old doctor. There was just way to keep a secret from this woman now.

When they had first met Mrs. Brisby had hardly dared to speak to him and now she treated him like a little boy who had been caught cheating in class. What was even worse was the fact that he actually felt just like one. The role of teacher appeared to have strengthened her self-esteem tremendously. In a way, this very change in the female's character was part of his concern. Maybe she was ready to learn about his musings. She definitely sounded as if she would not desist until he told her.

As the white-bearded rodent was still pondering this, the pair reached the Main Atrium. They descended down one of the many staircases that led to the central elevator, the one which would carry them to the Counsel Hall and from there to the Administrative Chamber.

Seeing that he had no other choice the white mouse let his shoulder's slump in submission. He rubbed his glasses on his apron, the way he usually did when trying to hide his nervousness, and finally spoke up again.

'If you must know, my dear, it has to do with the results of your last physical examination.'

A look of fear crossed Mrs. Brisby's face and her paw went to cover up the gasp that was forming in her throat.

'Am I... sick?' she finally whispered with trepidation.

'No, not at all!' Mr. Ages waved his right arm with emphasis as they made their way down the steps. 'You are as healthy as can be imagined. Even your sight problems are an astigmatism you must have had since childhood, not a sign of aging or disease. And that,' he emphasized after a small sigh, 'is exactly what confuses me.'

This time it was the female mouse that shook her head. 'I am sorry, but I don't understand.'

In the meanwhile the two mice had reached the main elevator, which rose majestically through the heights of the Atrium.

'Please do not be offended, my dear,' the physician implored, 'nobody deserves good health more than you do. But as a scientist I have to face certain facts. And the facts are,' Mr. Ages rasped, 'that you should not be feeling well at all, not at all.'

The white mouse pushed for the elevator before he explained his concerns further to the startled female who had simply stood in stunned silence.

'How long ago was it that we first met, my dear?'

After a few moments of worried thought Mrs. Brisby and replied, 'It must have been almost four years ago, back when Jonathan and I had brought Timothy because of his spider bite.'

Waving his glasses at the brown mouse for emphasis Mr. Ages nodded, 'Exactly! And since then you have not changed physically at all, at least you have not aged as much as I would have expected, or should have.'

Again there was only a lack of comprehension on the female's face. She had a bad feeling about where her friend was heading with his observations but also felt that now that she had pressed him for it she would have no other choice but to face the truth.

The elevator doors opened and Mr. Ages ushered her inside, wincing at the worry on her features. Once the doors closed and the ascent began he felt it was safe to continue.

'What I mean is,' he tried to express kindly, 'that you have never been to NIMH. You never underwent the treatments that allowed the Rats, your late husband, and myself to live as long as we do or to understand the things we do. A normal mouse only lives two years, three at the utmost, yet you don't show any significant signs of aging... after almost four years!'

Finally, a measure of understanding entered the female's features, but it was not one of comfort.

'You are saying that normally I should have...'

'I am sorry, but should have died of old age some time ago, my dear.'

As he saw the wave of shock passing over Mrs. Brisby's face the doctor hastily added, 'But there you are, alive and in perfect health. Not only that, but you can read and write as well as any of us now. All you needed was a pair of glasses.'

'Yes,' the brown mouse nodded with relief, 'I did, didn't I?'

'Exactly!' Mr. Ages explained with a raised finger. 'And that is what confuses me. Do not misunderstand me. I am glad that you are alive and well, my dear, even more so that you seem as bright,' and now he gave the widow a conspiratorial wink, 'in many ways even brighter, than certain members of the Rats of NIMH we both know.'

This actually caused the brown mouse to raise a paw to her muzzle again, only this time to hide a smile.

Seeing that his companion had apparently gotten over the initial shock of his revelations the physician continued in a soothing voice.

'So, there really is nothing to worry about. We should be glad you are in such good health. I just wish I could explain the why and how.'

As the elevator reached a stop and the doors began to open in front of the two passengers Mrs. Brisby, even though she didn't feel as much fear as she had when Mr. Ages had broached the subject, still wished that she could explain this new conundrum as well.

Matters she had never spent much thought on were beginning to take on the guise of mysteries; mysteries that she feared might hold as many dangers as they could hold wonders. Suddenly she had to think of the Shrew. If mice normally lived only for a short time, how long ago should she have died? She pushed the thought out of her mind as it made her fur bristle.

In front of the two mice the opening doors revealed a large, brightly light chamber decorated even more lavishly than the Main Atrium. This was the Council Hall. In an attempt to recreate the wonders the Rats of NIMH had left behind in their old home at the farm they had tried to fashion their new governmental hall in even greater splendor than their first one. The vaulted room was round rather than the rectangular design of its predecessor in the Rosebush. In this new version the Council Members were not divided between a main floor and a balcony level anymore. The Rats had decided to allow enough room on the ground floor to accommodate every single elected representative. Radiating from the central floor were eight large alcoves, in which Council Members could choose to stand or sit. Two additional opposing alcoves housed the elevator doors with a raised chairman's pulpit on top and the passage towards the Administrative Chamber on the opposing side.

'Goodness,' hushed Mrs. Brisby, 'it looks like the entire Council is here tonight.'

Peering around the large hall the white mouse snorted grumpily.

'That and more. Somebody must have worked the rumor mills, like Martin said.'

Mr. Ages was right.

Usually closed to the general public during official Council Meetings the great hall was freely accessible to anybody when not in use. As such, it had become a place of assembly for all sorts of events, private and public. Marriages were conducted here or simple meetings between friends and colleagues when the lounges spread throughout the colony felt inappropriate. Yet ever since the Council had approved Justin's notion to create a separate governing body to deal with matters of administration the Council Hall had gained immense popularity for all those amongst the Rats of NIMH who felt concern for the needs of the colony; and of course those who loved nothing better than gossip. The large number of visitors while the Chamber Meetings took place had forced the Guard to line the spaces between the alcoves with the large rats it employed as sentries. More than once arguments or political discussions between various factions had kindled violent outtakes and Philip, the current Captain of the Guard, had decided that he would not allow a free-range circus in the Council Hall. Thus far he and his staff had been able to contain them without violence, though he had been overheard commenting on the use of buckets of ice water and their effectiveness in cooling hot tempers.

Tonight the vast chamber was almost filled to capacity again. As Mrs. Brisby and the aging doctor, who actively ignored the throng, made their way towards the other side of the large room the widow exchanged glances with many of the assembled rats.

Right at the elevator none other than the Captain of the Guard was keeping an eye on the crowd, all the while he was giving a stern talking to two of his Lieutenants, Emily, responsible for recruitment and training, and Leon, who was in charge of the scouts. Looking at the way Philip rolled his eyes Mrs. Brisby assumed that the two Guard Lieutenants had been caught kissing again, or something to that effect. It was no secret that they were planning to marry, but the Captain had strong views about keeping duty and displays of affection separate.

From the speaker's pulpit three rat teenagers were watching the floor with varying degrees of interest, but perked up when they spotted the two mice passing the floor. In a manner of moments after the physician and his companion had entered the room the mutterings and mumblings all around reached a new high. For some reason Mrs. Brisby and the doctor had become the focus of tonight's gossip and both had a good idea what lay at the root of that.

Somebody had spread the news about Teresa's return. [Text Wrapping Break]

To make matters worse, not all the assembled Rats of NIMH looked upon the smaller rodents with favor. In one alcove a female and three male rats were throwing glances of unbridled loathing towards the pair of mice. These four were amongst those who sided with the views of Verilla, a minority in the colony, but nonetheless a cause of constant aggravation to the Brisby family. None of these rats had as of yet tried to openly discredit her or her children, but the widow was certain that they would love nothing better than to see them all expelled from the colony, or worse.

As luck would have it, another group of rats standing closer to the center of the hall was of a much friendlier sort. Elizabeth and her children had always gotten along well with the colony's Engineers, partially because Timothy was often called upon to help out when certain problems in new designs needed to be addressed. The four seasoned rats all gave the mice warm smiles as they passed. Arthur, the yellow-mustached Head of the Engineering Department even waved invitingly. It was nice to see the open camaraderie between the Department Head and his Engineers. Apart from Arthur, Hands, who had exchanged his work apron with a burgundy tunic, Gideon, a jovial rat who claimed to have been born across the Atlantic in Scotland, and Titus, looking like a bear of a rat, had all decided to stay in the Council Hall for the duration of the Chamber Meeting.

Of course Mrs. Brisby had no illusions that this was solely to show her and Mr. Ages support. After all, Hand's daughter Ratchet was the Chamber Representative for the Engineering Department. The four older rodents felt that, since they were dodging the responsibility to represent their Department themselves, they could at least give Ratchet a moral heads up by hanging around the Council Hall for a while.

Finally, the mice reached the alcove opposite from the elevator. The doors that led to the Administrative Chamber were open and waiting for them. As Mrs. Brisby eyed the corridor that ended in their destination a shiver ran down her spine. The path, or tunnel might be better way to describe it, was a hollowed tube connecting two large branches of the Great Oak. The largest housed the Council Hall, the smaller adjacent one held the Chamber. What had possessed the rat architects to mold the living tree to shape a connection between these two caverns in midair was beyond Mrs. Brisby, not to mention how they had managed the tree to cooperate. The final lunacy, in the mouse’s mind, had been to line the sides with huge expanses of glass, giving anyone traversing the passage the illusion of standing on a narrow bridge with nothing but the window-frames supporting them high above the ground. During the daytime Mrs. Brisby would have felt horribly exposed to predators in addition to the height. But during the night walking across to the Chamber Hall was an exercise in sheer terror. After all, who could tell how the lights in the glass-lined tunnel displayed her to all those unseen dangers lurking in the night?

She felt her resolve gave way, as it often threatened to do when faced with this particular part of the Chamber meeting’s requirements of her. But putting a paw on the female mouse's shoulder Mr. Ages steadied her and urged them to enter the walkway.

Both of them had a job to do tonight.

The candle had almost gone out in Justin’s office.

All the rooms and corridors of the vast colony secreted in the Great Oak were connected to electrical lights, of course. Yet for some unknown reason the current leader of the Rats of NIMH preferred to work by candlelight once the sun had set. It might have been a peculiarity picked up by his old, deceased mentor Nicodemus.

The office was spacious, almost luxurious. A vaulted ceiling rose over the large room, which gave the impression of a gothic church nave carved from wood. And just as in a church, the sides contained numerous alcoves separated by columns. Each of these was closed by ornate velvet blue curtains with gold trim and contained Justin’s personal library and other mysterious objects inherited from his predecessor. At the far end stood a wide wooden desk under a large circular stained glass window. During the day the sun painted marvelous colors into the otherwise foreboding chamber, an effect sorely lacking at this late hour. Now, the last light of the large candle barely illuminated the desk and the high-backed chair behind it. There, slumped over onto the desk’s surface, resting on a mound of papers and bathed in sparse candlelight, slept Justin.

A handsome middle-aged rat with a dark-brown pelt, the former captain of the guard still preferred to wear his simple, old uniform whenever possible. Justin had never felt comfortable with the idea of having to fill Nicodemus’ place, as if anyone ever could. The old rat had been a mystery to all, even until the very end. With his murder the new leader of the colony had had his work cut out in keeping the Rats of NIMH from deteriorating into a panic before the move to Thorn Valley had been completed. In the end, he had tried to emulate his mentor as much as possible to give the others a feeling of consistency. It had worked, partially. The remaining rats had pulled together and the move to their new home had been successful.

But it had been a charade. All the while Justin had felt like a fraud and a liar. He had feigned wisdom and certainty when in reality he had been as adrift as the rest of them. His assurances and purpose had been well-acted, yet the rat desperately wished he had felt the same way inside. Truth be told, he had been terrified. He had never doubted himself when he had been in charge of colony security in the old Rosebush. Yes, the safety of every single Rat of NIMH had been his responsibility, but somehow that had been a more tangible purpose. Now he had to embody the colony’s vision. And he just did not know what that vision was supposed to be. There was the Plan, living without theft, but what about the rest? What other purpose was there than survival? Being a guard was different than being a mentor. Justin imagined himself being cast in a role he did not feel, acting a life rather than living it in order to supply the people under his care with the guidance they needed. The strain was awful.

So, Justin worked. He poured over as many details of the new colony’s needs as he could, making sure that he always kept on top of things. Yet that never seemed to happen. The more issues got resolved the more concerns seemed to spring up. The more people he pleased, the more malcontent appeared to grow in spite of it. And all the while he had to look as if he knew what he was doing. The mantle of his office, which he loathed to wear, was heavy in both the figurative and real sense. Now Justin’s vestments were draped loosely over the back of the chair he had fallen asleep in while trying to work on his never-ending files. The cloak, which had been patterned after Nicodemus’ old trappings, was vast and cumbersome. He only wore it during public functions, which the rest of the Council had insisted on. Thankfully the tailors had managed to fashion it in a way that the slender rat could easily throw it right over his more comfortable guard tunic. Like his new position in life the vast cloak felt like a façade, burdensome and stifling, under which he feared to suffocate.

Draped over the chair’s other side hung the Stone. Ruby red, cast in luxurious gold, it was another mystery that baffled the recumbent rat. Back at the farm, while trying to move Mrs. Brisby’s house to safety, they had all seen it happen. The Stone had, somehow, someway, enabled the small mouse to single-handedly raise and move her heavy cement-block house out from the deep mud-puddle and into the safety of its new resting place yards away. There was no way to explain it. He had been there. He had seen everything, the lights, the movement, the whole thing. Yet what was it that he had seen? Was there such a thing as magic? Nicodemus himself had shown abilities that baffled many of his fellow rats, even frightened some. Justin had always tried not to think about the doors that had opened themselves to let the ancient rat pass, or the walking-cane that would rise into Nicodemus’ paw when bidden. When Mrs. Brisby had given him the Stone to keep he had hoped it would impart some insight into what he should do. It had never happened. The Stone remained a symbol, nothing more, another bauble Justin had to wear to give the image of leadership the colony seemed to crave.

Now, in fading glow of the candle, Justin slept. The silence was complete except for his regular breathing.

Then came the knock.

Justin did not sleep easily, so even the gentle tapping was enough to immediately startle him awake, although not without papers flying off the desk like leaves in a storm.

‘What? Who? Oh darn it…’

The rat tried to grasp as many of the flying sheets as he could.

The knock repeated, then the door was gently pushed ajar and Timothy Brisby poked his head inside, just in time to see Justin flailing to catch the last few pages of his notes.

‘Is this a bad time, Justin?’

The mouse grinned impishly.

Trying to be nonchalant the rat waved a free paw to invite the mouse inside.

‘Not at all. I just dozed off it seems and you startled me. What can I do for you?’

Closing the door behind him Timothy entered, carrying a cloth-covered bundle in his paws.

‘Well, for starters you could stop working yourself to the bone so you’d wind up sleeping in an actual bed again.’

Justin rolled his eyes.

‘I wish it was that easy.’

‘Well,‘ the mouse smiled as he placed the bundle reverently on the desk, ‘maybe this will cheer you up.’

The taller rodent looked down at the cloth and his voice became hushed.

‘You finished it.’

Nodding and grinning emphatically Timothy beamed with enthusiasm.

‘Yep, a few hours ago. Mind if I install it?’

Waving a hand to a curtain covering the alcove to the left of his desk the rat appeared unable to share his guest’s excitement.

‘Go right ahead. It’s not as if we even know if it will work… or how.’

Timothy leaned forward and winked.

‘Hey, have I ever made anything that didn’t work.’

Just before the colony’s leader was able to count off a few of the mouse’s previous mishaps on his fingers the other waves his own hands.

‘Okay, have I ever built anything that did not work in the end, after I got all the bugs out?’

Justin smiled and lowered his own hands.

‘No, that you haven’t. I just wish,’ the rat intoned as he sat himself down to order the papers in more neat piles, ‘that we had a better idea what this thing really is.’

The mouse rubbed his paws together gleefully.

‘Half the fun will be finding out.’

Then he turned serious.

‘Aren’t you a bit late for that Chamber Meeting?’

Justin’s head jerked up in a panic.

‘Dang it all…’

In a frenzy the rat grabbed the heavy cloak from the chair and, while running and scrambling towards the office door, tried to hold on to the notes he had prepared for the meeting. He bolted out of the chamber, slamming the door behind him.

Timothy silently counted while moving his lips. As he reached six the office door was thrown open again and a frantic Justin returned to grab the Stone hanging over the chair’s other side. In a whirlwind of activity with muttered curses of ‘Dung, dung, dung…’ the colony’s frazzled leader disappeared through the door a second time.

Shaking his head with a smile the mouse pulled the curtains away from the alcove and started at the large contraption inside. He did so with a bit of awe. Despite the fact that he himself had constructed it he felt as if it had halfway built itself, him only lending his hands. After a few moments he unwrapped the cloth, which revealed a beautiful ruby-red stone, similar to the one given to his mother by Nicodemus so long ago, but without any metal setting. No, this one had a different purpose. As Timothy carried it to the machine waiting in the alcove he felt a shiver of anticipation. This would be great.

Everyone was already seated in the round Chamber Hall, except Justin.

Similar to the Council Hall this room was also circular, but its décor was radically different. Unlike the brick-lined larger chamber for the Council this hall was carved from the native wood in undulating forms that gave the impression one was residing in the interlaced root-work of a tree. Within these shapes the Chamber member’s chairs were carved directly into the walls of the room as if they had grown this way. To the right of each chair, in one case to the left, each occupant had a small table carved from the grown wood as well. In the middle the roo was illuminated by a chandelier, which emulated glowing bunches of grapes casting the whole cavern into a soothing, light-blue luminance. The color had been chosen to evoke calm and clear thinking. Sadly, the effect did not appear to work on some of the occupants.

Sitting to the right of Justin’s vacant chair were Mr. Ages and Mr. Brisby, representing the medical and teaching/library departments respectively. To Mrs. Brisby’s right was Brutus, who, despite the vast size of the chair recesses, still appeared to be squeezed in places as he represented the colony’s guard contingent. To the left of Justin’s seat sat a young, black-blue colored rat with bright green eyes, wearing a purple tunic and stylish beret. Racso, as he called himself, had been representing the colony’s gardeners and field workers for over a year now despite his young age. To his left, in turn, sat none other than Ratchet, representing engineers, scientists and maintenance. The young female rat had exchanged her work clothes with a beautiful yellow-orange sleeveless dress, which echoed her sunny disposition. Occasionally Racso and her exchanged coy glances and more than once their paws embraced. Their plans to get engaged were no secret. One seat to the left was Gunther, representing cooks, pantry, and sanitation workers. Large of girth and easygoing the middle-aged rat had not even bothered to take off his cooking apron.

All of the assembled rodents appeared to be in amicable spirits and, with exception of the mute Brutus, were engaged in polite conversation. All, that is, except for the rat lady seated directly opposite Justin’s still vacant chair. Verilla, the same rat Cynthia had run by earlier in the day in the colony’s Atrium, was staring grimly at the empty chair opposite her, fingers drumming an angry staccato on the wooden table to her right. Occasionally casting disapproving glances at her fellow Chamber members the formally dressed rat gave the impression of festering malcontent, which was actually a very good description of her character. How she had conned her fellow artisans to represent them in the Chamber was a mystery. But her large minority following of discontents in the Council probably had something to do with it.

Finally, fast footfalls at the Chamber Hall entrance heralded the last remaining Chamber member, and leader of the colony.

With as much dignity as he could muster Justin, who had managed to pull on his cloak and the Stone while running through corridors and stairs at a records pace without loosing a single sheet of paper, took his seat at the table.

‘Good evening everyone. I apo…’

‘You’re late again.’

The poison in Verilla’s comment interrupted the male rat’s apology.

‘Well,’ Justin commented with a shrug, ‘I snagged this darned cloak a few times on the way.’

Allowing her eyes to close to slits the rat lady countered, ‘Maybe we need to find someone who can wear it without running into so many ‘snags’.’

Thankfully, Mr. Ages interrupted the vitriolic exchange by loudly clearing his throat.

‘Since we’re all here now, why don’t we get started? Some of like to get to bed not too late if you don’t mind.’

Thanking the old mouse with a wink and a smile Justin put down his papers and gestured for him to take the lead.

‘What’s the status in the medical department then?’

Ages, taking at a sheet of paper from his own pocket and looking at it, cleared his throat again as he adjusted his glasses.

‘No major injuries since the last meeting. Some minor sprains when one of the harvester vehicles lost its tracks and the normal cuts and bruises from kids rough-housing.’

The mouse’s voice saddened a bit.

‘Camilla is slowly declining. I do not know how long, but I fear she may not see the end of this month.’

That caused a round of silence. Even Verilla, who had gazed about menacingly the entire time, became somber and subdued. Lady Camilla had been respected by all. Widow to Nicodemus and one of the oldest of the original Rats of NIMH, her slow decent into death was proof that despite the treatments received at the hands of the humans, despite the Rats’ prolonged life-span and increased intelligence, they were still mortal.

‘Our attempt to,’ now Mr. Ages started to fidget a bit nervously, ‘isolate the cause for the spreading allergy has not yet been successful. We have ruled out a number of causes, but…’

Verilla slapped her right palm flat on her table.

‘You have been at this for three months. This is intolerable. This… this blight is spreading and nobody has found an answer or a cure.’

‘I assure you, Verilla, Martin and I are working as hard…’

‘And what would that half-breed youth know about medicine? We should have never allowed impure blood to dilute the purity of our colony like this. We…’


Justin’s voice cut in sharply.

‘There is no call for that. Let him finish.’

Mr. Ages, who now glowered back at the malcontent rat with equal venom, continued.

‘As I was saying, Martin, who we all know as a most capable physician and researcher, and I have been searching for the pathogen in question as fast as our resources allow. After Teresa left we have only had three doctors taking care of the entire colony and so our efforts…’

‘Hah!’ Verilla snorted, ‘And now that she is back without permission we will probably have to bear her feral mate as well!’

‘Verilla,’ now Justin’s voice lowered to a half-growl, ‘politics are for the Council, not the Chamber. So stop it!’

The older rat was about to reply when the colony’s leaders angry gaze managed to silence her. As dissatisfied as she was with Justin’s leadership, his anger still managed to cow her, for now.

‘The allergy’s symptoms,’ the mouse continued, ‘have not changed. Loss of pigmentation in the skin and fur and extreme light sensitivity seem to be all of it. The patches grow slowly, so we hope to find a remedy before they become more than a minor inconvenience.’

This time Verilla just snorted her disapproval while the rest of the Chamber thanked the mouse for his brief report.

‘Mrs. Bribsy?’

The female mouse adjusted her glasses, trying to ignore the mounting tension in the room, and read from her own notes, stacked neatly in front of her.

‘Wear and tear in the library is at the usual levels, but we have ample supplies to copy new books. We may need to make new pens next year, but we should be good for this season.’

She raised a second sheet of paper.

‘Exams for the different grades show the usual results, although the older children seem to be doing more poorly than last year.’

Mrs. Brisby removed her glasses and looked at the others.

‘A lot of the youths seem to lack motivation for learning this year. Many have told us they do not care about work since there is so much food and free time.’

‘Why should they?’ Verilla interrupted.

‘With all our technology we make more food than we could ever eat, so why should they have to learn things they will never need to know?’

‘Madam,’ Mr. Ages intoned, ‘if we teach the children to be lazy than who will work when the rest of us are too old to? Just because we have more than enough workers now, doesn’t mean we won’t need young blood in the future.’

‘Well,’ Justin interceded to get the meeting back on course and avoid another argument, ‘thank you, Elizabeth. Can the teaching staff come up with some suggestions how to motivate the students more for the next meeting? That would be wonderful.’

‘Now,’ the brown rat eyed Brutus, ‘how are we doing on the security front?’

Raising her arms to the ceiling Verilla exclaimed, ‘Heaven help us!’

Trying to ignore the obnoxious female Brutus sat up straight and held up a large portable chalk-board. Due to his inability to speak the large rat had learned early how to use the board as fast means for communication. It read:

2 fights broken up.

2 youth arrests, same kid each time,

property damage, vandalism, repeat offender.

In the cell for two nights.

Again it was the old rat lady who interrupted.

‘You arrested my grandson like a common criminal, you thug! Nobody was living in that place anyway. We have so many empty apartments, what difference does it make? You had no right to lock him up.’

Casting an angry glance at the ranting rodent the large guard ran an eraser sponger over the tablet and wrote with speed.

Arrested 5 times in 2 months.

Each time no jail. This time he broke stuff.

Said guards are sissies.

The law is the law.

‘He is not,’ the rat lady almost hissed, ‘a criminal. He comes from an impeccable family, unlike some others right here.’

This time Verilla pointed her venomous gaze to Racso, who immediately blushed, but kept quiet. Ratchet, on the other hand, turned livid.

‘And what is that supposed to mean, Verilla?’

‘I would think,’ the older female sneered, ‘that if my father was murderer and traitor I would at least have the decency to stay away from polite society.’

Ratchet had a hard time resisting the urge to walk over to the other and slap her face.

‘What Jenner did was not Racso’s fault. You and your cronies already managed to chase away his mother and sister.’

‘And good riddance too, If you ask me.’


Justin’s angry shout silenced everyone. The usually jovial rat was standing up now, both paws with fingers clenched, boiling with rage, at the very edge of losing control as he growled through clenched teeth.

‘May I remind you, Verilla, that according to Chamber statutes any disorderly conduct at the meeting or disturbing of the peace may lead to forceful eviction by a guard? And tonight you have, in my opinion, been doing nothing but disturbing the peace.’

Verilla gave the leader of the colony a contemptuous sneer as she stood up herself, arms folded across her chest.

‘You would not dare.’

Sitting back to calm himself, Justin replied in a cold, judicious voice, ‘I hereby officially move to have Verilla removed by guard escort for repeated and deliberate disruption of the Chamber proceedings with intent to disrupt the peace. Anyone seconding?’

To the older rat’s shock all other occupants, with the exception of Brutus, responded with an immediate ‘Seconded!’ Then the large guard raised his board, on which in bold chalk letters was written: SECONDED!!!

Visibly shaken, trying to come up with something to say, Verilla stood rooted in place.

‘Now,’ sighed Justin, ‘,unless you sit down and allow the Chamber Meeting to commence without anymore of this nonsense, I will ask Brutus to walk you out, right down into the guard cells if need be.’

The rat lady began shaking with rage again, ‘You’ll regret this, Justin. I swear…’

Sighing again the brown rat looked at the guard, ‘Brutus?’

The towering rodent slowly raised himself from his chair.

As if on cue, Verilla immediately sat down, hiding her face behind her own stack of notes, obviously cowed.

Justin looked at all the other Chamber members. Their looks ranged from anger at the older rat to satisfaction of having her put in place, and even sadness. He felt tired, so tired. The former captain of the guard hated to act in this way. He had just threatened violence against an old lady, who weighed about half as much as he did. It stood against everything he held dear.

He just hoped that the rest of the Chamber Meeting would go better.

Chapter 4: The Owl

It was almost midnight by the time Justin made his way back to his office. The meeting had not escalated as badly after the initial unpleasantness, but Verilla had found more subtle ways to harangue the other Chamber members, and him in particular. By now almost everyone in the colony had turned in. Even the Council Hall had been empty with the exception of the guards on duty and Philip. Justin felt unusually lonely walking down the passageways to his workplace. He had debated going straight to his living quarters, but if he did that he knew he would never file away the minutes from the Chamber Meeting. The whole existence of the colony seemed to revolve around pieces of paper these days.

Moving with careful quietness even though there were no living quarters at this level of the Oak the exhausted rodent slowly opened the door to his spacious office. Apparently, Timothy had also turned in for the night. Thankfully, the mouse had replaced the burnt-down candle with a new one, which gave the otherwise gloomy room a more welcoming air. As he walked to his desk Justin opened the clasp of the formal robes and let them drop unceremoniously to the floor. He had had enough of formalities for one day. He kept the stone around his neck though. Too many memories of Nicodemus and days gone by were associated with it to treat it with such disrespect.

At the desk the leader of the colony filed the various reports into their respective drawers and then, slowly, sat down in the enfolding high-backed chair. He leaned back and closed his eyes for a while. The carpenters had managed to make the large piece of furniture much more comfortable than it looked. After a few moments of quiet Justin forced himself to get up again. As tired as he was he would fall asleep right here again if he wasn’t careful. No matter his exhaustion, he was still curious to see how Timothy’s work had turned out.

He walked to the alcove on the left, where the curtains had once again been closed shut. Slowly drawing one side away the machine inside was revealed to the candle’s flickering light. It was an impressive sight. There was no doubt about that. Nicodemus’ original ‘seeing machine’ had been a circular metal arch with a whole number of bluish stones embedded in it and the rotating metal blades spinning within that arch. How that machine had been powered or even activated was something Justin had never understood. Using notes made by Nicodemus himself Timothy had been tasked to try and recreate that now lost device. The mouse had done much more than that.

With his innate understanding of machines the youngster had not only been able to follow the drawn-out instructions. He had, who knew how, made his own improvements on them. The result was, in principle, still the same kind of apparatus. But the design had changed radically. Candlelight reflected off the brass of a circular arch that was much more solid than the original. Instead of a whole array of blue stones this larger version only held three bigger red stones. One inlaid at the top and two at each corner. The arch itself was so massive that the stones looked more to be ornamentation than the actual driving mechanism. Between the stones, running along the front of the metal archway in arabesque patterns were what looked like panels of the same red crystal material. It gave the entire construction an almost ancient design, as if the device was a relic from some long-lost civilization. Timothy had argued that this arrangement should be even more efficient than the first machine. Yet when pressed how and why that would be the case the mouse had just shrugged and said, ‘It feels better this way.’

That was Timothy from start to finish. He would build something with exquisite eye to detail and function, without ever having a clue as to what the actual function might be. Finding that out, he argued all the time, was half the adventure. Justin was just glad he had never asked the savant to work with any explosive materials.

After he had admired the mouse’s handiwork Justin noticed a small note pinned to the device’s frame. He walked up the raised dais and removed the note. If he had hoped for operating instructions he was disappointed. The small sheet simply said:

She is all set and ready to go.

Now you just have to figure out how to make her ‘go’.

If anyone can figure this out it’s you.


The rat sighed and then chuckled.

‘Thanks for the vote of confidence, Timmy.’

He drew the curtains closed again and carried the note back to his desk. Laying down the small sheet of paper on the now otherwise empty surface, Justin seated himself once more, put his arms behind his head and looked at the vaulted ceiling.

‘You ever have these problems with people, Nicodemus?’

The rat waited a few moments and then muttered,

‘I’m not sure which is worse, me talking to myself or actually waiting for someone to answer.’

Lowering his head to look at his desk again Justin stretched, holding both his arms out in front as his back curved, fists tight, and a huge yawn opened on his face.

Suddenly, he jerked his right arm away from the candle with a yelp of pain.

Had he accidentally held his wrist over the flame?

Rubbing his wrist and arm through the shirt of his tunic the rat cautiously studied his clothes and flesh. There were no burn marks anywhere. Justin looked back towards the candle and experimentally held his right arm out as he had done before. No, there was no way he could have touched the flame this way. Yet something had stung him. He moved his wrist around a bit and, just as the light of the candle hit the inside of his shirt sleeve, pulled his wrist back again with an indrawn hiss of pain.

Something had stung him on the inside of his arm, right underneath the palm, and just as the light had reached it. Very slowly, the rat opened the cuffs of his right sleeve, pulled the shirt back, and peered at the inside of his wrist. There, running from the base of his hand halfway down to the inside of his elbow, was an elongated patch of fur that had turned completely white.

Justin carefully rotated his arm close to the candle, so that part of the discolored patch would slowly pass into the candle’s cone of light. As soon as it did he had to pull his arm back with a wince. The light had felt like a sting on the skin below the white fur. Apparently, he now too had developed the allergy that had been spreading throughout the Rats of NIMH, a malady that none of the doctors understood, could cure, or even halt.

He closed his eyes and put both hands down on the desk palms down, trying to calm his breathing. For a few moments he seemed to relax, but then, his respiration quickened again, his face, eyes still closed, contorting in anger.

‘It never ends!’ Justin cursed through clenched teeth, hands pressing into the wood.

His hands clenching into fists, still pressing against the table, the rat’s breathing took up even more speed, his teeth beginning to bare themselves in a frustrated snarl.

‘What am I supposed to do?’

As if he expected someone to answer he repeated the question, louder.

‘What am I supposed to do? Someone tell me!’

His face now drawn up in a mask of fury, eyes clenched shut with tears of rage glinting in the corners, Justin raised his fists over his head, head lowered.


With the last word ringing through the room he slammed his fists into the desk.

As his flesh touched the wood the world exploded into light.

When Justin came to he still had his eyes shut tight. He was lying on his back, but could still feel the chair underneath him. Some inexplicable force had thrown him and the seat away from the table. And his chest burned, burned as if it had been doused in scolding oil. He opened his eyes to slits to peer down his torso.

There, lying on his chest, was the Stone, wreathed in flames and light so bright he was afraid it would blind him. His eyes screwed shut again. And the pain was excruciating. He needed to remove it. Blindly his hands grasped the Stone, ready to feel the same fire that was searing his upper body. Yet the fire never came. As his hands closed around the jewel the light flowed into him, into every cell of his body and every corner of his soul.

Justin’s eyes snapped open. No longer the old brown they shone like twin lanterns gazing out into the infinity of the Universe. And he saw, oh yes, he saw.

Slowly, without haste or alarm, the rat with the glowing eyes raised himself to his feet. He looked behind at the prone chair and cocked his head in solemn bemusement. He gazed at his hand, bathed in a slight halo of amber luminance and casually waved it at the seat. As if pulled by invisible strings it righted itself and gradually pulled back behind him.

How curious!

Then something else caught the rat’s opened awareness.

He looked to the left. Behind the curtain, the three stones of the ‘seeing machine’ could be seen, slowly beginning to pulse in red, then golden light, faster and faster. An increasing hum and wind behind the drapes indicated that the device’s rotating blades had begun to move.

Justin, yes, that was his name, he was sure of that, slowly stepped out from behind his desk and approached the alcove. The curtains raised themselves up and revealed the ever-faster turning blades of the magnificent machine. A small smile, as if the rat was seeing the construct for the very first time, spread his muzzle. Unlike Nicodemus’ original design there were no harsh electric discharges. As the spinning blades rushed to become a sphere of gold only a few, tiny sparks, like embers thrown up by a fire, flicked from the three pulsing stones into the spinning center. Yes, this design was more effective and wasted less.

With every step forward the image in the sphere of light became clearer. But Justin’s eyes saw beyond even the machine now, beyond the image right to what it reflected. He saw Thorn Valley’s starlight night sky. He saw the dark shape of the Great Owl, steadily approaching.

For the first time in a long while, Justin knew exactly what to do.

Nobody noticed him when he made his way up the narrow corridors, through the hollowed branches, to the high platform in the crown of the large Oak. Everything was dark. No lights shone here, except the rat’s eyes, like two candles in an endless night. There, on the platform designed to allow a very special visitor, who, in all these years, had never come, Justin waited.

Only moments later the beat of enormous wings broke the rustle of the leaves. A shadow darker than the night descended, kicking up a breeze of its own making. Occasional cobwebs drifted down from the body blocking out the stars. Finally, ponderously, the vast shape settled onto the level surface with its immense claws.

The rat with the lantern eyes gazed up into an ancient face, wise and foreboding. Eyes of a kindred nature gazed back at him. No words were spoken. None were necessary. What needed to be known was known.

The Great Owl had finally come. It had come with dire knowledge. With grave slowness the old predator looked down towards one of its own clawed feet. There, held secure and safe, was a whitish shape. Justin’s gaze followed the Owl. He nodded.

Carefully releasing its grip on the bundle the Owl stepped back, turned, and then lifted off again from the high platform, back into the night, from which it had come. As the last echoes of its heavy wings died away the rat stepped up to the white object, as large as a rat itself, and gently cradled it in his arms. Then he turned towards the hatch he had originally come out of. With each step his eyes dimmed, until they had become the same dark brown they had always been.

With his charge wrapped in his arms Justin headed to the Infirmary.

The living room of Mrs. Brisby’s quarters looked dark gray in the early morning light. It had been a late night for everyone, so the entire family had expected to sleep in. Yet the soft persistent knocking at the front door was going to make that unlikely. Being a light sleeper at the best of times Mrs. Brisby, only wearing her cape and looking rather sleep-deprived tip-toed over the carpet. She opened the door a crack and was ready to hush whoever was calling not to wake Cynthia and Timothy when she saw the worried shape of Brutus looming awkwardly in the hall. The mouse had to blink her eyes and shake her head a bit until the odd tableau registered in all her senses. Finally, she whispered,

‘What’s wrong, Brutus?’

The huge guard showed her his writing board with an embarrassed face.

Justin needs to see you

in the Infirmary exam room.

All your children too.


‘Right now?’

She whispered incredulously.

Brutus nodded his head with an imploring expression. For the stoic rat to look so concerned the emergency had to be quite serious.

‘I’ll wake the kids. Tell Justin we will be there as fast as we can.’

‘And that’s all he said… eh… wrote?’

‘Yes,’ Mrs. Brisby explained to Teresa, who had not been happy to leave her husband and children this early in the morning.

‘I don’t think he knew much himself. He looked like he had just woken up himself.’

It had taken only fifteen minutes to get all four of her offspring ready to leave and now the five Brisby mice hurried down the Oak’s branches, using stairs and elevators, to the underground Infirmary. Thankfully, power was running throughout the entire Oak and the group was able to make the mainstay of the journey in the comfortable main elevator.

‘I hope it’s got nothing to do with the allergy,’ Martin mused sourly as the elevator door opened at the Infirmary level.

‘Always the optimist,’ sniggered Cynthia, to which her older Brother only rolled his eyes.


Hurrying through the Infirmary’s arched entrance Mrs. Brisby stopped while her children headed towards the examination room. Noticing their mother’s gaze, which was turned in the opposite direction of the hallway, her children halted as well.

‘Are you alright, mom?’

Teresa cocked her head.

‘Did you hear something just now?’ Mrs. Brisby mused.

‘Looking her siblings Teresa shook her head, ‘No. You hear anything?’

The remaining mice shook their own heads.


The older mouse motioned for them to go ahead to the exam room.

‘Go ahead. I think I need to check on something.’

Exchanging a few confused looks the four mice did as they were asked while their mother headed down the opposite side.

Mrs. Brisby tapped her ears as she walked. She was not sure whether she had heard or felt her name being said. It had been the oddest sensation, but she was certain it had come from this direction. And there was only one room at this end of the hall that was occupied, Camilla’s.

The mouse stopped short as she saw the curtained-off entrance to the ancient rat lady’s room. The lights in the Infirmary hallway were kept very low at this early hour, barely enough to allow people to navigate without tripping. But when Mrs. Brisby looked at the drapes covering Camilla’s chamber she could make out two glowing lights shining right through the fabric.

She resumed her walk with slow steps. There was a strange lump in her throat.

Camilla, widow to the murdered Nicodemus, had been barely aware for over a month now. Mr. Ages had often stated that she would pass on soon, surprised actually that she had not yet done so. Now, the strange lights inside Camilla’s room made the mouse’s mind wander in the most curious directions.

She had befriended Camilla after her move to Thorn Valley. She did not know whether it was because she felt indebted to the widow of the one who had helped save her son when was suffering from pneumonia. Nicodemus had committed the Rats of NIMH to move her heavy cinderblock house. He had died during that enterprise, through Jenner’s treachery. Had she not asked for the Rats’ help he might still be alive today. There was guilt in Mrs. Brisby’s heart.

But Camilla, who was as old as her departed husband, never stated any misgivings towards her. Actually, the ancient one had not even grieved much, which had come as a complete surprise to all. Camilla and Nicodemus had been close. Everyone in the colony had affirmed that to Mrs. Brisby. Many claimed she was the only one who really knew the former leader’s secrets. She was almost as revered as he had been, although Camilla had rarely attended public functions.

The two widows had struck a common cord. Oddly enough, it always seemed to Mrs. Brisby that it was Camilla who helped her deal with her own old grief over the loss of Jonathan, rather than the other way around. Maybe old age did give one a greater acceptance and insight. Camilla, before her awareness had clouded, had had much insight, in more ways than one.

---Come inside, my dear.---

The mouse gasped.

The words were in her mind, not her ears, she was certain of it now. Her gloved hand actually trembled as she slowly pulled the curtain up a bit to duck inside the sick room. Inside she beheld a miracle.

Camilla was sitting upright in her bed, her long white hair hanging around her face like streamers of a waterfall. The old rat’s eyes were heavy-lidded, but open. From them shone a light that Mrs. Brisby had only seen in the eyes of two others, Nicodemus and the Great Owl.

‘Please, come closer, my dear,’ the prone rat waved a grizzled hand.

‘There is not much time.’

Her voice was raspy, but steady.

The mouse walked to the chair sitting next to the rat’s bed, but decided to stand at the bedside instead. Slowly, her hands reached out and tenderly held Camilla’s. Mrs. Brisby smiled deeply, almost moved to tears.

‘It’s so good to see you doing better again. We were worried you were about to…’

‘Hush, child,’ the rat soothed gently. ‘What must be, will be. I needed to tell you something.’

The mouse only nodded, mystified.

‘He will ask your children to go back with him, Brisby.’

‘What?’ Mrs. Brisby blinked in surprise.

‘When he asks,’ Camilla continued without answering, ‘you must go with them, go back with them.’

The smaller rodent was awash with confusion, ‘Go back? Who is going back, and where?’

The rat’s smile widened and radiated warmth.

‘Back where it all begun, child. Go back with them, back to NIMH.’

Mrs. Brisby dropped Camilla’s hand and stepped back in shock.

‘What do you mean? NIMH? Why? I…’

Still smiling, the rat lay back in her bed, eyes closing, the light within fading away. Then Camilla was just as she had been for the last weeks. Serenely smiling, breathing slowly, but her mind no longer in the present.

Without asking the mouse knew, deep inside, that the rat would not be able to answer her questions. For a time, Elizabeth Brisby could not move. The strangeness of what had just occurred was overwhelming.

Finally, Mrs. Brisby blinked. She reached over and gently patted the old rat’s hand. She spoke in a hushed voice.


The recumbent rat did not move. The only sound was her slow breathing. Camilla was no longer here.

But had she really seen this? Had she really heard this? She did not know what had just happened. Slowly, as she removed her hand and drew herself away from the bedside, ready to leave Camilla to whatever realms her mind now moved in, she knew that she would not forget the strange event.

Mrs. Brisby stepped quietly from the room, filled with doubts and questions, and headed down the hall to the exam room.

She had just about managed to compose herself again when she drew open the curtain to the Infirmary’s examination room. Then, she almost stopped short again as she saw who else was here. Sitting on whatever chair or free cot they could find were Justin’s closest friends and allies in the colony. Racso and Ratchett, both still bleary eyed were sitting next to each other on a cot, feet dangling back and forth in an effort to stay awake. Philip, Captain of the Guard, father of six, one of the original Rats of NIMH, leaned against a wall without having taken a seat, a mixture of concern and anger on his features. The current Captain was known for his personable nature, but apparently that had slept in when he had been woken up today. Brutus looked like a scene from a comedy, his oversized body balancing precariously on a simple stool. Arthur, head of the engineering department, sat on a chair while balancing it on its hind legs.

Her own children had situated themselves in one corner of the room, next to an office desk, where five chairs had not yet been claimed. Mrs. Brisby, not seeing Justin anywhere, went over to her offspring and sat down as well, nodding with a smile to Arthur and the others. Even Philip managed a tired smile in response. She was just about to ask the small group what this was all about when the drapes of a curtained-off section of the large exam room were pulled back and Justin came into view.

He was not wearing his uniform top. For that matter, he was not wearing the undershirt either. As he reached the center of the room everyone was able to take in the fact that the colony leader’s chest had been wrapped all around with medical tape, small bits of gauze visibly sticking out at the front.

Everybody was wide-awake immediately, Brutus standing up straight. Before anyone was able to begin the barrage of questions that was bound to follow Justin put his finger to his lips and hushed them quietly. He then pointed over to the exam area he had just come from.

‘Ages is with the patient and wants us to be as quiet as we can.’

Not really having learned anything it was Philip, standing closest to the bandaged rat, who whispered,

‘What in the name of the Owl happened to you?’

Justin smiled and pointed to the desk, next to which the Brisbys family was sitting. There, innocently resting on top of a pile of medical files, lay the Stone. Then he nodded to Mrs. Brisby,

‘Remember back at the Farm, when your house was sinking into the mud? ‘

All eyes were on Mrs. Brisby now, who had never gotten used to being the center of attention.

‘How could I forget?’

Giving a friendly nod back the brown rat mused jovially,

‘Last night what happened to your palms back then happened to my chest. Ages said it will leave one heck of a scar.’

Reflexively clasping her gloved hands, which still bore the scars from the Stone’s strange attributes from all those years ago, the mouse swallowed. She did not know what to respond and when she looked around the room she saw similar consternation on every face, every face except Justin’s.

Tapping his bandaged chest with a whimsical grin the slender rodent addressed the room.

‘In any case, we had a visitor last night. The Owl has finally come here.’

Everyone gasped. The Owl, one the Rats of NIMH’s strangest allies, had never once felt it necessary to visit since their move to the new colony. Many of the residents had, in light of the Owl’s mystical reputation, voiced their concerns that maybe the move might not have been the best thing after all. Maybe they had somehow angered or displeased the Great Owl in some way. Verilla, of course, had blamed Justin’s inadequate leadership for that. The fact that the nocturnal predator had finally graced them with its presence was both relief and concern to the assembled rodents.

Mrs. Brisby, the only other person in the room who had ever beheld the Owl in person, was the first to find her voice again.

‘What did the Owl want, Justin?’

Motioning a hand towards the back of the exam room Justin’s voice remained at a whisper.

‘The Owl brought someone, a rat that escaped whatever horror has been unleashed back at the Farm.’

Again, the room was silent for a moment.

This time it was Teresa who said what everyone thought.


His face turning somber, Justin nodded.

‘Yes, you were right, Teresa. NIMH has come back.’

Then the leader of the Rats of NIMH turned to look everyone in the exam room in the eye.

‘That’s why I told Brutus to get you all down here. Don’t ask me how I know, but all of you need to be here when our visitor finally wakes up.’

There was a certainty in his voice that many of his friends had never noticed before.

That was when Mr. Ages, apparently the only one who had no problems with being up this early in the morning, bustled into the main part of the exam room himself, wiping his paws with a towel. After having put the towel in the sink and eyed all of the assembled rodents in the room with discontent, he turned to Justin.

‘I don’t know why we need to have everyone here when she wakes up. The poor thing will be frightened enough as it is.’

‘It needs to be this way.’

Normally not one to be cowed this easily the old mouse nevertheless did not argue. Something in Justin’s voice echoed of innate gravity. Mr. Ages simply shook his head and sighed quietly.

‘Okay, come after me. Stand along the walls were she won’t immediately see that she has an entire menagerie staring at her when she comes to. Martin,’ the older doctor waved a paw.

‘Grab the bottle with the smelling salt and follow right after me.’

The elder Brisby son got the bottle and headed after his mentor, the rest of his family trailing behind. Racso, Ratchett and Philip followed, with Brutus and Justin brining up the rear.

A female rat was lying on the cot in the closed-off section of the exam room. Of average size and slender built, what part of her was not hidden by the blanket was covered in pure white fur. A large bandage had been applied to the back of her neck, but otherwise she appeared to be resting comfortably. The group filed in silently, standing as far back as possible, as per Mr. Ages instructions. The old mouse motioned for Martin to step next to the right side of the infirmary bed while he took position to the left. Then the aged doctor addressed the assembly with an unusually gentle and quiet voice.

‘She has been out since Justin brought her in. I assume she passed out while…’

Here Ages had to suppress a shudder.

‘… while the Owl carried her here. She will have no sense of where she is when she wakes up, so I want to you all to be as quiet and,’ he eyed Brutus with a glower, ‘as non-menacing as possible.’

Everyone in the room, mice and rats alike, nodded.

The older mouse looked at Martin, gently took a hold of one of the sleeping rat’s hands that were resting on the blanket. Martin, in turn, uncorked the bottle with the smelling salt, held it at the ready with his left hand while he placed his right on the patient’s remaining paw. Mr. Ages gave a silent nod and the younger physician held the smelling salt under the female’s muzzle.

For a few moments it seemed as if nothing was going to happen.

Then suddenly, with an ear-piercing scream, the white rat bolted upright in her bed, arms trying to flail wildly around her as she thrashed and wailed. If the two mice had not been ready for this and grabbed a hold of the rat’s wrists the moment she awoke she might have injured herself in her spastic awakening. Even so, the spectators in the room felt highly uncomfortable watching the young female writhe and screech as both mice doctors tried to soothe her with calm voices.

‘It’s alright. You are safe. Nobody will hurt you.’

Both Ages and Martin continued their efforts to calm their hysterical ward down.

After a few moments, the white-furred female did subsist, exhausted, falling back into the bed, breathing heavily. The two mice continued to talk to her in soothing tones while tenderly rubbing her hands.

A short while later, her breathing more even, the prone rat opened her eyes and looked at the two rodents talking to her. She gazed in confusion, blinked a few times, and then asked hoarsely,

‘Who… who are you?’

Sighing with relief Mr. Ages pulled his hand back, and removed his glasses to clean them on his apron.

‘We are doctors, miss, healers of the sick if you will.’

She gazed from one mouse to the other for a few moments. Martin tried to smile reassuringly.

‘You are mice?!”

Both nodded without comment, allowing the patient to come to her own conclusions.

‘Mice… doctors?’

Her eyes almost seemed to pop out of her head as she, once again, this time without Martin and Ages restraining her, raised her upper body up.

‘You’re the ones! You are them!’

Both physicians exchanged confused glances.

Before they could ask the rat for clarification she apparently noted the small crowd of rats and mice standing silently at attention in the back. She gasped and pulled her head underneath the covers with another shriek.

Mr. Ages turned to the others, eyeing Brutus, and snapped,

‘Brutus! I told you not to look scary!’

The huge rat tried to shrink back into the wall without success, looking around at his friends for support. Timothy and Justin were both unable to suppress a chuckle in the tense atmosphere.

Somehow, the sound of the chuckling made the patient raise her head above the covers again, staring back at the assembled group of rodents, first with fear, then with something akin to revelation.

‘Rats and mice,’ she whispered to herself, ‘wearing clothes. You must be the ones.’

Martin and Mr. Ages both turned their attention back to their guest. She, in turn, with eyes of the most brilliant blue, gazed at the ones trying to stand quietly in the shadows.

Finally, Justin, with his bandaged chest, stepped forward and gave a small but solemn bow.

‘We will not harm you. My name is Justin. Can you tell us who you are?’

The other tilted her head cautiously, taking in the injured male standing at the foot of her bed. Her eyes narrowed.

‘The bird caught me. I did not even hear it until it was too late. How did you free me?’

The brown rat smiled and opened his arms in a gesture of welcome and calm.

‘That was the Great Owl, a dear friend to us. The Owl did not intend to hurt you, simply bring you to us, where you would be safe.’

‘Safe,’ the white rat mused. Then she lifted herself up to a full sitting position, drawing in her legs underneath her.

‘My name is Julia. Are you the ones they are looking for?’

Now it was Justin’s turn to look confused.

‘Who do you mean with ‘they’?’

‘The scientists, of course,’ Julia muttered with a shiver, ‘the humans that brought us, from NIMH.’

Racso drew in a sharp breath while his intended swallowed hard. None of the assembled rodents said a word, but the chorus of indrawn breaths, sighs and other noises of discomfort spoke volumes.

Since he had initiated the conversation the leader of the colony pressed forward.

‘People from NIMH brought you where?’

‘To the farm,’ Julia exclaimed with relief, ‘to find you and take you back.’

In the shadows the Brisby family and their rat friends took on expressions of deep suspicion and distrust as they looked at the rat on the bed.

Justin continued his probing, keeping his tone as neutral and his face as friendly as possible.

‘The scientists from NIMH brought you to the farm, to find us? Why, after all this time, do they want to find us again?’

The female’s brow furrowed, ‘They said that by now the fail-safe would begin to show itself. But you must be the ones they are looking for. Are none of you sick yet?’

The brown rat drew back a step.

‘What do you mean, sick yet?’

She shook her head, ‘They said that the fail-safe they put into the serum would activate now. It was mean to make sure that if you escaped you could not spread too far for too long. It would kill you within a year.’

Even Martin and Mr. Ages were unable to find words. Gazing slack-jawed from Justin to their patient their minds were consumed with the implications of what they just heard, and what it implied.

‘You know we came from NIMH, then?’

Julia waved her arms in exasperations.

‘Of course! That was the whole point! The humans never forgot. They figured you would die out soon. They want you back, even though they can always test the serum again.’

At this point she looked down at her sheets and muttered gravely, ‘Which they have.’

Leaning forward again, his bandaged chest aching, Justin spoke more compassionately.

‘They injected you, didn’t they?’

She looked into his eyes and nodded fiercely,

‘Yes, all of us. With a new version of the serum. They wanted us to be like you so we could find you for them, lead you to them.’

A hand touched the bandage on her neck and Julia smiled to herself.

‘They let us out of our cages after they had implanted something in our necks, something that would show them exactly where we were going. But they made us too smart. As soon as we were outside, we clawed the things out with our own paws and ran for it.’

She looked up at Justin imploringly, ‘Did any of the others make it?’

When no response was forthcoming the white-furred female deflated gloomily.

‘They must have gotten all of them, then.’

The brown rat cleared his throat.

‘You said the humans expect us to die. Can you explain that, slowly?’

Julia nodded.

‘The humans talked while they waited for the serum to work in us. They discussed how the old serum had something built into it, something that would only act a certain number of years after it had been injected. They talked about how they wanted to make sure the change would not spread out of control, like a virus. That’s what they called it, their ‘smart virus’.’

She eyed the rest of the rodents at the back of the room.

‘They said the change would spread wide, as long as there was ‘prolonged contact’. So, they put a kind of time bomb into the serum. No matter who would get changed, they would all get the time bomb fail-safe too. When the years were up, that part of the change would start and…’

The female looked at her hands.

‘… and kill you all.’

Now all of the rats and mice in the room gasped and muttered in fear, rushing closer to the bed to get details. Even the two doctors were bombarding the newcomer with questions, which caused the white rat to slink back and draw the blanket over her head.


Justin shouted.

‘Calm down and give her some space. We will get to the bottom of this, just calm down, please.’

Reluctantly, mice and rats, backed away with furtive glances.

Despite their shared anxiety and questions, they knew that scaring the newcomer would solve nothing.

With a soothing voice, Justin tried to coax the covered rat back into conversation.

‘Please, can you tell us more? We need to know as much as we can.’

Very slowly, Julia lowered the sheet and looked at the furtive crowd. After making sure that nobody appeared to threaten her she nodded.

‘The humans said we would change others around us?’

‘Yes,’ her blue eyes shone, ‘they said the ‘smart virus’ would infect anyone that was exposed to the specimens… to you, I mean, for a certain time. Then the ones that were exposed would become just like the ones that got the original serum. They would infect and change others too, and on and on.’

The brown rat folded his hands across his chest and looked at Mr. Ages quietly, then turned around to face Mrs. Brisby, ‘That explains many things.’

Elizabeth, a hand on the shoulder of Timothy, nodded,

‘We are all the same, then. If we had just known, Jonathan wouldn’t have had to keep it a secret.’ Tears began forming in the corners of her eyes, and then rolled down her cheeks.

‘He might not have had to die.’

The brown mouse began to sob and Timothy allowed his mother to burrow her tears against his chest.

Justin turned back to the female on the bed, who looked confused again.

‘Tell me, how is this thing they built into the serum going to kill us?’

Julia rubbed her chin in remembrance.

‘They said something about the body changing. It starts with pigmentation, like color, loss, sensitivity to light, getting worse until even the smallest light burns, blindness, and then the body feels pain all the time, stops being able to move, then it dies.’

As she counted down the progression she was so caught up that only at the end did she notice the horror in the eyes of her audience. Even Mrs. Brisby had been shocked from her grief and looked at the white rat with abject fear. Julia shrank back a bit against her pillow.

This time it was Mr. Ages who spoke.

‘And there is no cure?’

Turning, Julia spoke urgently,

‘There is! That’s why they want to find you.’

‘Ahem,’ Justin cleared his throat, ‘this is the part I do not understand. You said the humans at NIMH no longer cared about us because we will… die out anyway. Why look for us now? Why try to find us now?’

Now it was the visitor who shook her head.

‘I don’t understand that part completely myself. The human said somebody new was in charge and has decided that it would be best to try and find the lost specimens, you, before you die. Something about you being important for science. They want to find you, switch off the time-bomb.’

‘And what about you,’ Justin leaned forward, ‘why would you care about us? You have never met us.’

The white-furred female looked at her hands again.

‘We decided we would try to find you anyway. After we had clawed each other’s tracking things from the backs of our necks we would search for you.’

She looked him straight in the eyes.

‘You’re like us, but we cannot spread the change. That’s what the humans said. They made a new serum. If we ever wanted to be with rats like ourselves we would have to find you, or live alone. There were only four of us.’

‘Even though,’ Martin now mused from the other side of the bed, ‘we are all going to die?’

Julia looked at the younger mouse and bit her lower lip.

‘I don’t know. But it was the only thing we could think of. We could not go back to the humans.’

For a while, nobody spoke. The mind could not digest so many awful things all at once.

Justin broke the silence, with an eerily calm voice.

‘But we,’ he looked at all his friends in turn, ‘have to go back.’

Now all eyes turned incredulous glances to the colony’s leader.

Justin simply sighed and shrugged.

‘She said we would not live out the year once the ‘time bomb’ started to work.’

Ages nodded.

‘The allergy,’ he looked at Martin, ‘you were right after all.’

The younger doctor did not look very consoled at his teacher’s admission.

‘But,’ Justin resumed, addressing Julia, ‘you said the humans have a cure and are actually trying to find us to give it to us?’

The female shrugged nervously, ‘That’s what they said when they talked to each other. They are looking for anyone and anything ‘infected’. They dug up the whole farm to be sure they didn’t miss anything.’

Arthur, from the back of the room, snorted, ‘So we have two choices. We can sit back and die, or we can go to the humans like pets and stay alive longer and have them cut us open and do who-knows-what with us. It would be our lives in exchange for becoming their toys again.’

The brown rat motioned reassuringly to the old engineer.

‘There may be another way.’

Mrs. Brsiby stepped forward with a suspicious look on her face.

---He will ask your children to go back with him, Brisby, back to NIMH.---

‘You are thinking about going back yourself, aren’t you Justin? You plan to go back to NIMH.’

Justin just gave the assembled rodents a sheepish grin.

‘They have the cure. Someone needs to go and get it. It’s that simple.’

Philip stepped forward with a scowl, passing by the mouse and grabbing Justin’s shoulder.

‘Are you insane? Going back to NIMH, into the human city, to look for something that may or may not exist?’

The other gently patted the Captain of the Guard’s paw on his shoulder as if consoling an irritated child.

‘We have to try. If we do nothing and Julia told us the truth, we are dead already. If we allow the humans to find us here, we may die as well, or be slaves for the rest of our lives, however short that may be.’

Shaking his head Philip muttered, ‘You’ll need a whole group to go with you. The Counsel will never agree, you know. They will never let you go, not their leader.’

Justin nodded, but with a resigned smile. He turned back to the others and looked at Cynthia.

‘You know when people lie. Is Julia telling the truth?’

Still shocked by the recent revelations the crème-furred mouse only nodded.

‘Then we really have no choice,’ the brown rat concluded.

‘We will need an expedition to try and get the cure, no matter what.’

‘And who,’ Mrs. Brisby ventured, taking another step towards Justin, ‘do you suggest should go?’

---He will ask your children to go back with him, Brisby.---

---Go back with them, back to NIMH.---

Justin’s face became serious.

‘I should go.’

Everyone but the brown mouse raised their voices in protest.

‘I am the only one of the original rats who has no family. I remember how we left NIMH, I can find my way back.’

Mrs. Brisby folded her arms around her chest.

‘All by yourself?’

Her stare was enough to make the slender rat blush.

‘I was hoping for some small help. Brutus can fight off almost any predator. But I was going to ask…’

‘You were going to ask my children to go with you.’

For a moment, nobody spoke. Justin’s jaw dropped open in surprise.


‘You need someone who knows a bit of medicine, but none of the real doctors. If what she,’ the mouse nodded to Julia, ‘says is true the colony will need all the doctors it has. That leaves Cynthia. Plus, she never gets lost.’

The rat simply tried to swallow a lump in his throat as Mrs. Brisby’s eyes pierced his.

‘That means you won’t ask Martin or Teresa. They are both full doctors and even Verilla will not want them to leave once she finds out about all of this. But you will also want someone who can work well in the human city, someone who knows about machines and such.’

Her gaze went to her youngest son, still stern, and then turned her gaze back to Justin.

‘That means Timothy, am I right?’

The leader of the colony, former Captain of the Guard, rubbed his hands nervously behind his back. How she managed to make him feel like the kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar was beyond him.

‘Yes,’ he admitted, ‘I was going to ask them to come as well.’

As if on cue both Cynthia and Timothy stepped forward, framing their mother, a paw on each of her shoulders.

‘Mom,’ Cynthia implored, ‘we have to go. If we don’t…’

‘… we will probably all die anyway,’ Timothy finished in a trembling voice.

Mrs. Brisby closed her eyes, fighting back tears. They were her children, but they were not children anymore. She needed to let them make their own decisions.

---Go back with them, back to NIMH.---

Her eyes still closed, she nodded, then opened them.

‘Alright, but under one condition.’

Justin was both relieved and concerned at how easily the mouse had agreed.

‘That would be…?’

‘I am coming with you as well.’

It was the second time for Justin’s jaw to drop. And again, Mrs. Brisby cut him off before he could protest.

‘I am not going to let two of my children face the city of the humans by themselves, no arguments.’

Justin’s mouth closed, opened as if to protest, then closed again. Finally he nodded.


Arthur, who had been watching the verbal sparring between mouse and rat with interest cleared his throat and raised a hand.

‘Excuse me, but a reality check is in order. Like Philip already said before, the Counsel will never let their leader go off on an adventure like that, especially when they are scared witless.’

The old looked at Justin and Philip with a grave face.

‘And once they find out about this, they will panic.’

Justin turned Captain of the Guard with a sad, but cunning smile.

‘Arthur is right. They will never let the Leader of the Counsel leave.’

Philip felt a new shudder run down his spine, one that had nothing to do with the awful news about sickness and death. This shudder was caused by a very different revelation. Justin obviously, already had a plan. And the Captain was sure he would not like it.

Before the guard could give voice to his uneasiness Justin looked back at the bed and Julia again, his eyes now imploring. The female rat looked back in confusion, her eyes filled with questions.

‘What about you, Julia? Will you stay here or come back with us?’

Terror began to shine in the white rat’s blue eyes.

‘Why would you need me?’

‘Because,’ Justin lowered his gaze, ‘I have not been at NIMH in many years. I can find my way back, but then what? What rooms do I need to look in? Which humans are the ones that have the cure?’

He looked at her in growing desperation.

‘I know you have just escaped from them. I should not ask this of you. Please, come with us. If you do not…’

Justin raised right arm, showing the discolored patch of fur, which now reached all the way to the crook of his elbow.

‘… we may all die.’

Chapter 5: The Departure

The dark desk stood bathed in moonlight again.

Again, the light blinked on its inky surface.

The seat of the leather chair faced the room’s interior this time and the occupant’s slender fingers rested on the cold material of the colossal table. A fingernail clicked on the surface in tune with the light’s rhythm.

‘We have just received confirmation that the bait animal has made contact with the lost specimens. The bait’s location tracking device was disabled, but the remaining contacts are in place.’

The figure leaned back in his chair and shaped a steeple with his finger over his chest. There was a hint of smugness in his voice.

‘According to our projection the bait animal should begin its journey back soon if the planted information was relayed properly. Everything has been put into place to intercept whatever members of the lost specimens will return as well.’

‘It must be a lie! How do we even know she really came from there?’

Verilla’s voice shouted over the din in the Counsel Hall.

After the revelations in the Infirmary Justin had wasted no time in calling for an emergency meeting of the entire Counsel. Only five hours from the time the Valley’s visitor, Julia, had given her account, the round meeting chamber was a cacophony of shouts, both angry and frightened. The various political and social factions in the colony had divided themselves in the available alcoves lining the Counsel Hall’s debating floor. Verilla, of course, had chosen the alcove adjacent to the elevator entrance for herself and her cronies. That way, she could claim not to see the wigged Speaker rat in the pulpit above the elevator, who was tasked to keep the sessions civil and orderly with the use of his trusty gavel, whenever it suited her.

Justin had prepared his friends and their visitor as best he could for the heated debacle he knew was to ensue. In order to defuse any arguments of conspiracy he had suggested to his friends to sit with their usual associates, rather than gather in one group. Brutus and Philip sat in the alcove normally occupied by Counsel Members affiliated with the Guard. All Guard members were fiercely loyal to Justin and he felt it best to keep his personal friends surrounded by allies tonight. Mr. Ages, Martin, Cynthia, and Timothy were in the recess frequented by

medical staff and engineers, close to Arthur, Ratchet and Hands. Mrs. Brisby sat together with Teresa and the other teachers, all of whom considered the mice close and good friends. This way Justin felt sure that all his co-conspirators, for this was what they actually were, would have the moral support they needed to do what they had agreed upon.

Except for the alcove occupied by Verilla and her fellows only one other faction in the Counsel could be considered openly hostile towards Justin’s leadership. That gave them a ratio of two groups in open opposition and three in open support. The rest of the assembly was known to sway either way, depending on the issue. And tonight the issues were grave.

Justin was standing on the debating floor, draped in his voluminous robes. Strangely, today they appeared less cumbersome on him as he moved with a newfound confidence. Julia, on the other hand, wearing a simple grey Guard tunic cut for a female, was positioned slightly behind him, gazed with open fear at the chaotic proceedings. Verilla’s comment had the desired effect of vicious agreements from her cohorts, as well as a number of frightened undecided rats, who wished for Julia’s report to be fabrication. Individual comments were hard to discern as many tried to yell their opinions at once.

The sharp bang of the Speaker’s gavel and his shouts for order finally managed to calm the assembly enough for Justin to respond. He waved his paws wide, turning to try and address as many of the alcoves as he could.

‘She can read. She has also described NIMH in details only one who has been there would know.’

Now the hall echoed with murmurs rather than with shouts.

Undeterred, supported by the angry glares of her fellows around her, Verilla continued.

‘We have only your word on that. And what of it? The mouse animals that live with us now can read too. It proves nothing!’

Again, the Speaker called for order.

‘Except for Mrs. Brisby, no other wild mouse,’ Justin looked around, ‘or wild rat for that matter, has ever been able to learn how to read. Before NIMH we had been around written words for a long time, but never could we understand them.’

He pointed at Julia.

‘Her account fits with everything that has baffled our own doctors for so long, including the allergy affliction and Mrs. Brisby’s abilities. We have to accept the fact that what NIMH has

done to us can spread to others around us, who were never there. The truth is, she has been one of us since the day Jonathan married her.’

There was loud protest from the corner of those that felt a strong superiority towards outsiders, wild animals. Both Verilla’s alcove and the other one filled with Justin’s opponents sprang on the comment immediately, but not Verilla herself. She seethed quietly, yet for the moment could not conjure up a convincing retort. She was not one to simply shout, even thought subtlety was also not one her favorite tools. Her supporters were casting both spiteful glances and verbal jibes at the colony’s leader in particular and all wild creatures in general. Finally, as the commotion died down again, Verilla sneered.

‘I am not willing to accept such a wild theory, especially if it comes from someone who very well might be just another wild animal, seeking our wealth. You say she can read. And how do we know for sure?’

Now Justin turned a whimsical smile to his political detractor.

‘Oh, you don’t trust my word? Write something for her to read, then. That way nobody can claim we coached her. Please, make it legible, though.’

That caused a number of sniggers both from Justin’s supporters and a number of the undecided rats. The rats opposing him kept quiet mostly. They had become suspicious of the colony’s leader’s certainty. Verilla gestured to Alastair, a sleek grey-furred second generation rat dressed in an all-black tunic with ice-cold eyes to hand her a piece of parchment and pencil. Once proffered she quickly scribbled something and then handed it back to the younger rat to deliver it to the debating floor.

Giving Justin nothing but a cold stare Alastair handed the note directly to Julia, who shrank back somewhat from the open hostility of the grey-furred male. When she looked at the piece of paper her cheeks colored red in anger. Gazing towards Verilla outrage replaced her previous fear and she almost shouted.

‘I will not read this out loud.’

‘Ah,’ the older female cooed, ‘you cannot read it then?’

All across the Counsel Hall rat faces were exchanging confused glances. Verilla, for all her bluster, was good at sowing doubt.

Justin moved towards the white-furred female, reaching for the paper when his detractor called out. What had gotten Julia’s blood boiling so badly?

‘No coaching, Justin. That is what you said. Let her prove herself to us all.’

The brown rat halted as if stung. She was right. If he got too close to Julia, Verilla could claim deceit. He looked at the female imploringly. She shot back with her blue eyes. The anger was still visible in her face. But seeing Justin’s urgency she swallowed her pride and stepped forward, into the center of the room, chin held up high.

‘This paper in my hands,’ she began, ‘contains words I do not believe in. I will read them as proof of my equality to you all, nothing more. This note reads:

I am noting but a worthless wild animal.

I seek only to take what you have worked for so hard.

Cast me and others like me back into the wilderness.

We deserve nothing better.’

The pandemonium that now ensued was terrible. Every rat was on its feet. Even those that had no political vestment were outraged at what had transpired. Some made as if to run across the debating floor to Verilla’s alcove to start a fight. She backed deeper into the chamber recess, some of her younger supporters stepping in front, almost eager to come to blows. Thankfully, the fight never managed to begin.

On every column flanking the Counsel Hall alcoves huge Guard Sentries in long ceremonial robes and with shining halberds were stationed. While many considered the giant rats to be ornamental or forgot about them entirely, the colony Guards knew very well why they stationed them at their posts for every Counsel Meeting. Most of the time, disagreements were kept to shouts and accusations. But on days like today, when violence threatened to erupt, the sentries did their duty.

Each huge rat stepped forward toward the debating floor, banging the metal butt of their weapon onto the polished black marble in unison. The crack was deafening and everyone that had just readied themselves for a physical exchange stopped in their tracks. The sentries were amongst the biggest and strongest rats in the colony. Just barely smaller than Brutus their accusing glances were enough to give the Speaker’s continuous shouts for order the weight to compel the riled-up rodents to return to their places.

Justin gently took the paper from Julia and smiled his thanks at her. Then, he walked to the other alcove that housed rats that were discontent with his leadership, apart from Verilla’s group. He handed the note to an older bearded Counsel Member, who looked at it questioningly.

‘Could you verify that Julia has read the words accurately?’

The old rat blinked for a few moments, then looked at the text. Finally, he nodded and muttered grimly,

‘She has read the text word for word. She can read, without any doubt.’

Nodding to the other rat with a smile Justin stepped back into the middle of the floor.

‘She can read. She has been at NIMH. She has heard the humans talk about the truth behind what is beginning to ail us.’


Cecil, Verilla’s husband, a rat with a slight, seedy disposition dressed in a flamboyant burgundy tunic with sickly yellow-beige fur, snorted.

‘How can we be sure she heard them right?’

Justin decided to ignore Cecil’s comments. He knew that Verilla’s husband would follow suit with his spouse in all matters. Cecil was a scheming opportunist, usually acting behind the scenes, unless, of course, Verilla desired for him to make public statements.

‘Julia had no obligation to us,’ the leader of the colony continued.

‘She only heard from us from the humans. Yet when she escaped, she chose to seek us out, to warn us. If not for her decision, we would still be in the dark. Remember, it was the Owl who brought her.’

That argument had great sway with the rats. All considered the Great Owl to be a trusted ally; some thought the Owl to be magical in nature. Its decision to bring the stranger to Thorn Valley went a long way to add credibility to Julia’s tale.

‘If the humans spoke the truth,’ Justin continued, ‘then this allergy will not be stopped by any medical knowledge we posses. Is that right, Mr. Ages?’

The old white mouse rose from his seat and cautiously left his alcove. He had dreaded this moment. Mr. Ages was not comfortable in having to admit defeat. Martin had been right in his suspicions and he, the one who had told the younger mouse never to let emotions cloud scientific inquiry, had willfully ignored any explanation of the allergy that connected back to NIMH. Why had he done that? Now that he had to face that question himself he knew the answer immediately. He, Thomas Ages, had been scared. Now he had to admit his fallacy to the entire Counsel.

Once on the debating floor Mr. Ages, turning around as he spoke, addressed the colony representatives.

‘Friends, the newcomer’s account is scientifically reasonable. The medical staff and I have questioned her repeatedly and we have developed a clear theory as to the mechanism of this threat.’

A number of rats leaned forward in hopeful anticipation. Maybe there was hope yet.

‘I am sad to admit,’ Ages swallowed hard, ‘that if our theory proves true, there is nothing within our power to stop this ‘disease’ from spreading and, if the humans are correct, ultimately die from it.’

Now the shouting resumed. Questions were hurled at the doctor in such number that they all became a jumble of words. Justin waved his arms to appeal for calm. After a while the chamber quieted again, but the air was now filled with mutters and groans of trepidation.

In his own nervousness, the white mouse removed his glasses and polished them.

‘The humans must have built the disease right into the change caused by the serum. I won’t bother you with the details, but we may have carried this within us ever since we left NIMH.’

It was Philip who stood up from his seat. Known to be reasonable and calm, even by Justin’s detractors, he stepped to the edge of the Guards’ alcove so he would not have to raise his voice.

‘Then why would it be starting now, after all this time?’

This question had been agreed upon. The rodents, who had first listened to Julia’s account, had decided that the rest of the colony had to be made to understand just how dire their situation was.

‘It’s difficult to understand without knowing about medicine and genetics,” Mr. Ages ventured, ‘but the humans probably made us smart by changing our very deepest nature, our cells, our genes. And you can put things into genes that can have a sort of ‘timer’, like a countdown. This ‘disease’ is probably something like that, to keep us from making others like us until maybe the entire world would be smart like humans.’

The Guard Captain nodded and returned to his seat. Mr. Ages, not wanting to add anything, did the same.

One of the undecided rats, a lady, called out.

‘But why would they do that?’

It was a male member from her own group, who answered.

‘Because if everyone was as smart as them, they would no longer rule the world.’

Nods and mutters of agreement wafted through the hall. Even Verilla nodded to herself with a dire look. One of her hands reached to her neck, behind the veil of her hat. She carefully touched the spot where the fur had recently turned snow-white and sensitive to light. Verilla shuddered. No, this must be some sort of political game Justin was playing. She would not, could not face up to the terrible possibility of the interloper’s story being true. Yet her own uncertainty became more and more powerful, strong enough to keep her from openly voicing her opposition to the mouse doctor’s explanations.

‘What can we do then?’

Justin could not make out who had asked the all-important question, but addressed the Counsel as a whole.

‘Julia has already told us that the humans want us back. They do not want us to die. To make sure they have returned to the Farm, ready with some sort of cure.’

This news brought the ire back into Verilla’s bones.

‘Do you suggest we surrender to the humans?’

Gasps of terror followed the remark from all around.

Justin held his hands up high.

‘Of course not. I suggest we send a party to try and steal the cure from the humans.’

There were sounds of agreement, even hope, coming from all the different alcoves now. Verilla had to admit to her own dismay, that the idea had merit, but would give her rival great political clout should it succeed. Before she made up her mind whether to support the proposal or nor she wanted more details though.

‘The cure is kept by the NIMH people at the Farm?’

Julia deflated at the comment and Justin’s hands lowered to his sides as he answered.

‘No, according to Julia, the cure is not at the Farm. The humans are afraid of their work escaping again. It can only be found at the source,’ he paused, ‘at NIMH.’

Immediately the majority of the rats in the Hall leaned or stepped back in fear. NIMH had been the all-consuming specter in their existence. The idea to ever return there voluntarily would not have entered anyone’s mind, until now.

‘I propose,’ Justin spoke up again, ‘that one of us, who has been at NIMH and remembers it, should lead that expedition.’

This got an even more terrified response. Those belonging to the first generation to have escaped from NIMH were aging now. Most had large families, many had grandchildren.

Whoever would go back might never see his or her family again. Anguish was on the face of almost all of the assembled rodents.

Recognizing these fears, having anticipated them, Justin added.

‘Since I am the only one who remembers NIMH and doesn’t have a family, I volunteer to go.’

This raised shouts of protest, from supporters and opposition alike. Verilla, kept her peace though. She rubbed her chin with a thoughtful glance and, as Alastair got up from his seat to protest, put a hand on his arm and shook her head. The younger rat was surprised.

‘No,’ she said, ‘this may be an opportunity in disguise.’

Alastair sat down again while Cecil eyed his wife with a cocked brow.

The bearded rat from the second alcove containing opponents to Justin’s policies stood.

‘It does not behoove the Leader of the Counsel to abandon his post during a time of crisis.’

Oddly enough, the room remained quiet after the old rat’s remark. Verilla held her breath in anticipation.

Justin nodded to the elder.

‘I agree. A true leader should lead those under his care.’

The brown rat raised a hand to the button securing his tunic in place and opened it. The long, formal robes slid quietly to the floor, like a cast-off shell. What remained was Justin in his old blue Guard uniform.

‘I hereby resign my position as Head of the Counsel.’

Everyone was shocked. Then the clamor began again. Justin, now without his vestments, and the Speaker tried to retain a sense of order in the chamber. Verilla, all the while, folded her fingers in a steeple in front of her face and smiled. She noticed both her husband and Alastair staring at her, as did most of her supporters in the alcove. She mused quietly, but loud enough for her fellows to hear.

‘That will mean we will have to elect a new Head of the Counsel,’ her smile widened to a grin as she savored the political winds, ‘after our current one has so shamefully chosen to abandon us.’

Verilla’s cronies all smiled in turn. If they allowed Justin to leave and abandon his position, their grab for power and the creation of a purer colony would become that much easier.

In the meantime the tumult subsided into something close to stunned silence. Except for the mice and rats, which had been present in the Infirmary this morning, nobody had expected Justin’s abdication. Together with the other incredible news this seemed to cause a mental paralysis in the Counsel Hall. Once matters had quieted enough, Justin used that same numbness of the crowd to deliver his remaining points.

‘According to our statutes, at the resignation of the Head of the Counsel, until the time that formal elections have been set for, the role of acting Head of the Counsel falls to the current Captain of the Guard.’

Philip leaned back in his chair, arms folded across his chest and his face glowering. He hated this part. He hated politics. But Justin had convinced him earlier of the necessity of this move. Sometimes the things one did in the line of duty stank to high heaven. The now resigned Head of the Counsel picked up his formal robes off the floor and beckoned for Philip to approach.

Verilla’s face also became a mask of discontent. She had forgotten about that statute. That would mean Philip would be Head of the Counsel until she could organize new elections. This was bad. Philip was almost universally liked and unassuming. He would never have put himself up for political office. The current Captain’s dislike for politics was well-known. Justin had, with his resignation, forced Philip into a role he would have never actively sought. As she pondered this she became certain that this had been Justin’s plan all along. This way he had put a close friend in control of the colony, one who would never have agreed to it otherwise. And Philip would do his duty. If she moved too daringly in the meantime, he might just decide to actually run during the next election to keep the colony ‘safe’. That would be worse. She would have to bide her time and observe carefully.

Philip, with a deep sigh, rose to his feet and once more moved to the debating floor. Once there, Justin put the robes around his neck. They were a terrible fit. Philip was half a head taller than the brown rat and much wider in the chest. The length of the robes was no problem; their slender cut though was a different matter.

Justin addressed his Guard comrade.

‘Do you, Philip, accept for the interim the duties and role of acting Head of the Counsel?’

The grey Guard gritted his teeth and whispered, ‘You owe me big-time for this!’

Then he nodded and exclaimed, ‘I swear, with all my ability, to serve and protect this colony, to be Head of its elected Counsel, until removed from office by vote of no confidence or new election.’

Arthur, sitting with his fellow engineers, began to clap, but without enthusiasm. The noise was monotone and grim, just as his face. The others in the alcove joined in likewise, to be followed by the rest of the Hall’s occupants. It was a somber round of applause, muted and joyless. Only Verilla and her associates refrained. They were too busy plotting in their own minds.

Philip cleared his throat, started to speak, stumbled, and then started again.

‘As Head of the Counsel I move to equip an expedition to NIMH in the human city of Baltimore, with Justin as nominal leader.’

There was little emotional strength left in the Counsel members after the series of shocks they had received. After nobody made a move to second, it was Mrs. Brisby who stood up.

‘I second the motion.’

The speaker banged his gavel and called out, ‘By show of hands, all in favor?’

The vast majority of the rodents in the Hall raised their hands, including Verilla, but all did so slowly and with fearful caution.

‘All opposed?’

Nobody responded.

‘The motion,’ the Speaker declared, ‘is carried by the Counsel. An expedition and its equipment are authorized.’

Every rat and mouse in the room had their eyes on Justin and Philip. Only one question remained and that was who would go? Would Philip appoint Guards to accompany Justin?

The newly-deposed Head of the Counsel waved a paw to the assembled.

‘Are there any volunteers willing to accompany me?’

This was their cue. First, Brutus stood up and joined the rats on the debating floor. This was greeted with murmurs from the crowd, but was not unexpected. Brutus’ loyalty to Justin was well-known.

Julia stepped up to Justin from behind and put a paw on his shoulder. A few more questioning tones were heard from the crowd, but still nothing resembling excitement.

Then, simultaneously, Mrs. Brisby, Cynthia, and Timothy stood up in their respective alcoves and walked to the center of the room, where they all arrived at the same time.

The final uproar of the Counsel Meeting ensued. Only Verilla leaned back in her chair, face still hidden behind folded fingers as she smiled to herself. Justin and three of the bothersome mice, all gone without her having to do anything. Sometimes patience was its own reward.

The next morning was a bit chillier than usual, despite an almost cloudless sky.

Justin had asked the expedition members to meet on the same Oak root where the crows had dropped off Teresa and her family not two days earlier. All of the Brisby family was already waiting on the root’s surface, Teresa’s children, Mr. Ages, and, to the old mouse’s chagrin, the Shrew. Kir, Flynn and Lynn where bustling around their Grandmother while she and Teresa exchanged goodbyes. Gregory, who had been appraised of the previous day’s proceedings, looked thoughtful and somewhat reserved. The revelations about the procedure that the humans at NIMH had performed on the father-in-law he had never met, Jonathan Bribsy, had shaken him in a number of ways. The Rats of NIMH could no long treat him as a lesser creature, knowing full well now that he had either already shared in the change or was well under way to being as intelligent as they were. But the fact of his equality was laced with fear, fear for the life of his family, his children. He looked at Teresa and their offspring and felt his heart ache. If this venture to NIMH, a place he had never seen, which terrified the Rats of Thorn Valley so, did not succeed, their lives might be forfeit.

‘We will try and hold things together until you come back.’

Teresa was fighting back tears as she embraced her mother.

Mrs. Brisby, teary-eyed as well, nodded.

‘If what Julia said is true, you, Martin, Mr. Ages and Gabriel will have your work cut out for you.’

The young mother shuddered at the thought.

‘At least they won’t threaten to throw us out again. They need us now.’

She stepped back to stand next to her mate while her children eagerly ran from Mrs. Brisby to Cynthia and Timothy, hugging, embracing, asking them to be back home soon. The three mice embarking on the journey were already kitted out for travel. Cynthia’s side-slung bag was bursting with medical supplies and food. Timothy wore a back-back that contained a number of metal odds and ends in addition to his rations and blankets, some of which even Mr. Ages

could not make sense off. The younger Brisby son picked up his smaller nephew and niece in turn, playing crow-ride with them a bit, while Cynthia simply fuzzed up each child’s hair and grinned. Martin stood a bit off to the side with Mr. Ages. He had his arms folded over his chest and tried to look collected. His mother, also carrying side-hung bag, approached him and touched his cheek gently. That broke the young doctor’s defenses. Tearing up he bent down to embrace his mother and choked out his own good bye.

‘Please take care of yourself, mom! We need you back, you hear?’

Elizabeth Brisby gently padded her oldest child on the back, as if he was just a kid again, and hushed. Then she took a step back and, smiling, wiped the tears from Martin’s eyes.

‘I will be back, soon. You just make sure that Ages doesn’t work himself into the ground.’

The old doctor, standing close, huffed at that, but it was simply to cover up his own uneasiness. When Mrs. Brisby came up to him and embraced him, he sniffled a bit too. The last one to be hugged was the Shrew, who, for a change, did not say anything but fussed over the brown’s mouse attire and cloak a bit when they pulled back. Then, the two old friends smiled and nodded at each other. Then, true to form, the Shrew looked up at the sky and put her hands to her hips.

‘Now where is that turkey?’

Mrs. Brisby could not suppress a chuckle.

‘Jeremy and his family are waiting for Brutus to give them the signal.’

At that the red-caped rodent turned to Cynthia.

‘Where are Brutus and Justin anyway?’

The younger female, busy fluffing up Kir’s cheeks, shrugged.

‘He wrote that we should meet here with all the equipment. You’re not surprised Justin is late,’ she grinned, ‘are you?’

Before Elizabeth could answer, the small latch in the root’s surface swung open and Brutus squeezed into view. The Guard was wearing his usual uniform and cape, but also carried an immense back-pack, which, unsurprisingly, did not seem to weigh him down. The huge rat appeared unusually cheerful this morning and nodded a greeting with a smile to the already waiting rodents. Behind the Guard, Julia, kitted out in the same light-colored uniform she had worn during the Counsel Meeting, but also shouldering a smaller back-pack, climbed up. She handed Brutus his beloved pole-axe, which he could not be persuaded to leave behind. Justin,

clad in his own Guard uniform, equipped with backpack and a quarterstaff, brought up the rear. He appeared to be even more cheerful than Brutus.

‘Good morning, everyone!’

The mice and shrew returned the greeting, although without the rat’s cheer.

Justin rubbed his paws together as he surveyed the group. He had replaced the normal button of his tunic with the Stone.

‘Is everyone about ready?’

Drawing themselves away from Teresa, her family, Ages and the Shrew, the three travelling mice approached the rats.

‘As ready as we’re going to get,’ sighed Timothy.

Justin simply smiled and nodded, then motioned to Brutus.

‘You have the single cloth?’

The Guard pulled the red frabric from a pocket and attached it to the lower end of his weapon. Cynthia, who sidled in between Brutus and their leader, cocked a curious brow.

‘So, we will be going via crow?’

The brown rat winked playfully at her.

‘Of course we will. It will be much faster this way.’

Cynthia nodded, yet remained thoughtful. The mouse wondered if Justin had taken Brutus’ fear of heights into account. She cast a glance at the slender brown rat, who was now busy talking to Julia. He did not look concerned about Brutus’ fears, or anything else for that matter. The expedition’s leader radiated eagerness, as if this was going to be an adventure rather than a mission of desperation. As she watched she saw Justin call out to Mr. Ages, who immediately shambled over and, after a small conversation with Justin and Julia, climbed down the ladder into the recesses of the Oak’s hollow root, followed by the white-furred rat.

Just as Brutus was about to raise the make-shift banner into the air, Justin waved a hand at him.

‘Not yet. First things first. Anyone else didn’t have breakfast?’

All eyes turned to the brown rat, who had just raised a big basket on a rope from the entrance to the colony. Following the wicker form filled with pieces of fresh bread were Julia and Mr. Ages, each carrying a pot filled with a steaming liquid. Justin grinned as he placed the basket on the ground.

‘I think a journey should not begin on a sad note. Hey kids, you like hot chocolate?’

Lynn and Flynn escaped from their parents with screeches of delight, nearly mugging the rat as he rummaged through the basket to hand each a cup. Their older brother Kir rushed in to pull them both back.

‘Guys! Give him some room, okay?’

Teresa, Gregory, Martin, and the Shrew walked up as well, their faces registering confusion. This was definitely an odd thing for Justin to do on the eve of such a grave endeavor. But the smell of the fresh bread and the chocolate took precedence over such thoughts. Everybody sat down in a circle around the big basket while Justin handed out various sized cups and loaves of fresh bread. Julia and Mr. Ages poured the freshly brewed concoction with comments of ‘Careful. It’s hot’. Then they joined the others in the meal.

The kids giggled and chewed with wild abandon, but the adults remained understandably subdued. Even Justin’s carefree cheerfulness could not rouse their spirits. Cynthia, normally the source of cheer in the family, was giving the brown rat suspicious glances as he ate and drank. As nice of a gesture as this was, she sensed there was more to this than just wanting to share one final meal amongst friends.

As if to prove her right, Justin suddenly stood up and raised his cup to the group. His smile turned a bit bitter.

‘I want to thank each and everyone of you for what you are doing today.’

He looked at everyone in the circle in turn.

‘I thank those of you who will go with me on this journey, and those who will have to stay here and face the problems to come in our absence. This will not be an easy time for any of us. But I know that if we hold true to each other, we will make it through this.’

The rat’s serious tone quieted down the children almost immediately. But when Justin smiled warmly again and raised his cup in a toast, even the two youngest emulated him, despite the fact that their cups had been drained empty, thrice actually.

‘A toast to all of us, and to our journey.’

‘A toast!’

All chorused and then drained their cups, not matter whether they had been empty or full. From the corner of her eye Cynthia thought she saw Justin give Brutus an odd look as the large Guard swallowed the rest of his beverage. Then the brown rat simply smiled to himself and sat down to finish his bread. After the meal had run its course Justin and Julia stowed the leftovers,

canisters and cups in the basket and lowered everything via the rope down to the floor of the root’s internal passageway.

Finished and rubbing his paws Justin and the female walked over to Mr. Ages.

‘Will you be okay lugging that heavy thing back to the kitchens?’

The white mouse pointed a finger over his shoulder at Martin.

‘The lad’s got strong arms. We’ll manage.’

Then Mr. Ages drew close to the brown rat and muttered.

‘I hope you know what you’re doing, Justin. Just be careful out there.’

Going down on one knee to look the old mouse in the eye the former Captain of the Guard and recently retired Head of the Counsel smiled.

‘I promise, you old goat. Now don’t go soft on me while I’m gone.’

Ages actually had to chuckle and shake his head at that.

Standing back up Justin looked at Julia.

‘Are you ready for this?’

The female had a look of determination on her face that contrasted starkly with the timidity she had shown when they had first seen her in the infirmary. She simply nodded at him and, with her hands on the straps of her back-pack, motioned her head towards Brutus, who was just getting up brushing crumbs off his tunic. Justin took the hint and called out.

‘Brutus! Can you signal the crows now?’

Turning to Justin the big rat gave him an ‘okay’ sign and picked up his halberd to swing the red ribbon end in wide arcs. As Brutus waved the red sheet on the end of his weapon widely, Cynthia, who had not stopped watching Justin, walked up to the Guard. She knew the large rat would never agree to aerial travel with his fear of heights. As she stood next to her friend and looked at him she felt it was strange to see Brutus so unconcerned about the prospect of flying as he signaled for the crows to make their approach. A few moments later the waiting rodents could already make out four dark spots in the sky, becoming larger every moment. The Guard lowered the pole and untied the cloth. Cynthia snuck in behind him and gently nudged him with an elbow.


Brutus looked down at her.

‘How come you’re not freaking out about having to fly?’

The big rat looked surreptitiously at Justin and then back at the mouse, almost grinning. He pulled his writing tablet from his back-pack and scribbled a quick message:

Justin didn’t think it through.

Too heavy for any crow.

Gonna have to walk.

Cynthia rubbed her chin doubtfully as Brutus wiped the chalk off the board and re-stowed it into his pack. She did not think Justin would have overlooked this matter, just as she was sure he had not forgotten about the large rodent’s fear of heights. Something else was at play here.

Soon, the crows circled downwards to land on the root’s surface. Jeremy, who was in the lead, was doing half-summersaults in the air on his approach. His wife and kids tried to remain more dignified, but nudged each other playfully before all had descended and arrived in a bustle of black feathers.

‘Miss Briz!’

Jeremy shouted as he stalked towards the rodents, so excited he stumbled a bit. Mrs. Brisby walked up to greet him.

‘We agreed that I will carry you, Jules will carry your son, Janet your daughter, and my sweet,’ he cooed over to his wife, who rolled her eyes but smiled broadly, ‘will take care of the bags and such. We will be at the farm in no time.’

Patting Jeremy on the beak the brown mouse nodded gratefully, then her face furrowed and she turned her head towards the rats.

‘Justin, how are you going to get to the farm? You are too heavy to ride on crows.’

Brutus grinned broadly at Mrs. Brisby’s comment.

Justin appeared unperturbed. He casually strolled up to the crows and mouse while occasionally looking at the sky.

‘That will be no problem, my dear. The Owl has made arrangements for us.’

Jeremy’s whole family gasped. The Great Owl held even greater reverence for the birds of the local forest than it did for the Rats of NIMH. That awed silence turned to looks of terror on all the crows’ faces when two huge shadows descended from above.


Before the spooked crows could take to flight Justin held up his palms imperiously and spoke with a calm yet commanding voice.

‘Stay! They are here as friends.’

Oddly enough, that was enough to keep the jittery family of crows from bolting. Mrs. Brisby gave the brown rat a sidelong stare. She had never heard Justin speak with so much conviction, or power. Since that morning Brutus had come to take her and her children to meet with Justin in the infirmary, she had noticed a subtle change in the former leader of the colony. Something in his manner was more settled, certain. And it somehow transformed into an assurance that those around him were powerless to deny. It reminded her of another rat, who once had led the colony, very much so.

But those thoughts were soon scattered as the enormous shapes of two immense Gold Eagles settled themselves between the rodents and the crows on the middle of the root. Huge, black talons clicked against the bark and predatory ember eyes gazed at both rats and mice, ignoring the smaller black birds for now. All except Justin were stunned by the size, majesty, and incredible danger radiating from the predators. The larger of the two, a female, lowered her head.

‘Which one of you is Justin?’

Justin stepped forward with a calm welcoming smile.

‘I am. Thank you for your aid.’

Both eagles lowered their heads simultaneously in a bow, which took everyone by surprise, everyone except the brown rat standing fearlessly in front of them, who simply bowed respectfully in turn.

‘I am Kara,’ the female eagle said.

‘I am Orin,’ her mate replied, ‘we shall carry you to the farm of the humans, as the Owl asked of us.’

Once again Justin bowed his head in thanks.

The other rodents were still wide-eyed with shock. How the Great Owl had managed to summon these humongous Gold Eagles to transport them went beyond their comprehension. Justin turned to his friends, his face collected and serene.

Brutus, on the other hand, was shuddering with terror. His head was shaking widely as he pointed a finger at the two predator birds and then at himself he appeared ready to collapse with fear. Justin just walked up to the trembling rat and gently placed a hand on his shoulder. The

others stared at the weird scene in wonder, their own panic in the face of the eagles momentarily forgotten.

‘Calm down, my friend. You won’t even notice the ride.’

Still shaking his head, no understanding what Justin meant, Brutus suddenly blinked his eyes in surprise. He shook his head again, but not in protest. He looked as if he was trying to clear something from his vision. Then, the big rat began to sway slightly in place, his eyes drooping, until he slowly sank to the floor, and slept.

Cynthia gasped.

‘You drugged him, didn’t you?’

Justin turned on the young mouse with a smile.

‘Ages put it into his cup. It was the gentlest way to allow him to make the trip.’

Cynthia was aghast. She saw a similar look of disbelief on her mother’s face. Yet Timothy had a wry smile on his muzzle.

‘Neat trick, Justin. How are you going to pull that one on him on the way back?’

Justin just shrugged and walked next to Julia.

‘Will you be okay flying with them?’

The female rat, who was slightly trembling herself grasped Justin’s chest-fur in one hand as she stared at the two huge animals.

‘You better ride with me.’

Nodding with a grin Justin walked back towards the Gold Eagles. He looked at the larger female bird.

‘Can you carry my sleeping friend carefully?’

Kara gave him a sideways sneer.

‘I have carried foxes and never once dropped one. He will be safe.’

The brown rat offered another bow in reply and walked back to the rodent travelers and their awestruck family members.

‘Last chance to say our goodbyes again. Then we have to fly.’

Chapter 6: The Journey

The flight was a trip none of the rodents would forget in a long time.

At first, the four crows had been flying uneasily in the company of the much larger eagles. But as the journey commenced and the black birds got accustomed to their raptorial companions the crows started performing their usual airborne antics. Jeremy in particular did not believe in flying in straight lines and soon he and his wife were circling each other while cawing and chuckling like teenagers. Mrs. Brisby had flown on Jeremy’s back many times. There had never been even the slightest sign that the fumbling crow might drop her. Yet even after all this time flying still churned her insides and clenched her guts with fear.

Timothy and Cynthia were having a blast. Jules and Janet were not going to be outdone by their parents in showing off, so the youngsters swooped, dove, tumbled and climbed just as radically. The two younger mice had loved riding on Jeremy even when they had been children, much to their mother’s amazement. Now that each of them got to ride their –own- crow, the flight was turning into a playful game of chase.

Orin and Kara apparently felt that the crows’ aerial display was more childish than sophisticated and followed the smaller birds at measured distance. Their flight was smooth, with barely a flick of the wing as they soared on gusts and thermals. The predators gave of a sense of great solemnity, in stark contrast with the crows’ jovial abandon. That suited Julia and Justin just fine. The female sat in front, with Justin holding her around the waist from behind, as Orin glided through the air. At first, both had been breathing hard as neither of them had flown before. Yet after an hour the journey became an adventure, with both rats marveling at the distant, tiny world below.

The only one who did not appreciate, or even notice, the ride was Brutus.

Cradled in a cage made by Kara’s talons the huge rodent was snoring gently as the eagle carried him and his pack through heights, which would normally make the big rat’s heart do summersaults. Whatever Mr. Ages had put into the Guard’s hot chocolate was doing its work well. Actually, it almost did its work a little too well. Brutus, as the travelers discovered, was apparently a rather restless sleeper at the best of times. Being suspended high in the air definitely was not the best of times for the hug rodent to start rolling around his side while sleeping. In an effort to be more comfortable, Brutus twitched, moved around, and kicked his legs repeatedly.

Despite her abilities, the female eagle was having difficulties making sure he did no escape her grasp.

Suddenly, the airborne rodents heard Kara screech in dismay only to see a huge lump tumbling toward the distant ground beneath them. Crows, rats, and mice gasped in unison as they watched Brutus plummet downwards. The big rat, in turn, did not notice a thing. If not for his peril he would have looked marvelously comical, turning in midair, trying to find the perfect sleeping position, even using his pole-axe as a make-shift teddy bear, all the while his cape was fluttering in the breeze as he descended at record speed.

Kara dove after him. The eagle was a master of the air, plunging down faster than the rotating rat could fall. Opening her wings at a precise moment, she swooped in right above Brutus and managed to snag his long cap in her claws. Again, the rat, suspended from his own cape, did not notice anything and kept on snoring. As the eagle resumed her place close to her mate she slowly wrapped the Guard into her talons again, this time just a smidgeon tighter than before. Orin simply nodded with an appreciative smile while both rodents and crows shuddered with relief.

They made good time and arrived at the forest’s edge adjacent to the Fitzgibbon Farm fields before the sun had set. The eagles did not wish to fly directly over the farmstead, as Julia had suggested that it might be too dangerous considering what the humans might do to unwary trespassers, by air or by land. Crows and predators deposited their charges beneath an elm close to what had once been a verdant field.

There, the rodents, with the exception of the still sleeping Brutus, said their good-byes again. Even before the journey began Justin had made it clear that the birds would not take them all the way to the city of Baltimore. Kara and Orin were already uneasy this close to civilization. The city would not be a good place for them. They chose to return this very evening, wanting to be back in their own aerie as soon as possible. Jeremy and his family had nests in the forest and would remain here until the expedition had made it back to the Farm. Once Justin and the others had signaled them in the usual manner, the Owl would find a way to contact the eagles again.

On the question as to how the mice and rats would make it all the way to NIMH Justin had been somewhat vague. Upon the birds leaving their friends beneath the tree the brown rat had explained that he had prepared for a number of different means to get to Baltimore, but they would depend on what they found when they inspected the old Farm closer. Ideally, he had said, they might be able to secretly hitch a ride with a human car from NIMH. That would take them

directly to where they needed, if not wanted, to be. But first they would have to take a look at what the human scientists had actually done. Well, to be honest, first they had to wait for Brutus to wake up, which he did shortly after sunset.

They all looked at the huge wire fence in confusion.

So far, what the group had found was not making a lot of sense to them. Just as Teresa had hinted at the Fitzgibbon family house was gone. As a matter of fact, everything seemed to be gone, every structure, every rock, everything that was not level earth had been removed. And what had remained had then somehow been sterilized. There was no life behind that wire fence that encircled the space where the homestead had once been. The ground was a lifeless grey, and not just because of the moonlight. Not a single blade of grass or weed was growing in the flattened expanse that had once been home to the Brisby family, Mr. Ages, and the human Fitzgibbon family.

The rodents had approached the perimeter fence with great caution. Even the fields beyond the enclosure were dead and barren, so there had not been a lot of cover to hide behind. At least in the area outside the fence a few small weeds were grasping a foothold again. As they had approached the farmstead proper both rats and mice had been alarmed at the amount of light produced there. At each corner of the fence, which stood an easy twelve feet tall, were immense halogen lights, pointing both into and out of the dead, enclosed space. In addition to the lights Justin had been able to spot what he believed to be cameras on every single fence-post, pointing in both directions as well. The humans did not want anyone, or anything, getting close without their notice.

In the beginning, rats and mice had hunkered behind a hillock between the woods and the farmstead, overlooking the terrain to get an idea how to approach without being noticed by the cameras. Justin had produced a small spy-glass, which he traded back and forth with Brutus until the two had formed a consensus, which path would be the safest.

Now they stood as close to the fence as they dared. They could see a lot from their current position, none of it good.

‘There is nobody here.’

Cynthia’s comment echoed in the still night air.

Timothy and the others nodded.

‘I don’t understand this,’ her mother mused.

Justin sighed.

‘I know. There are no buildings, tents, not a single vehicle, nothing.’

He turned to Julia.

‘It did not look like this when you and your fellows made your escape, right?’

The white-furred female, obviously at a loss, shook her head.

‘No, it was nothing like this. They were putting up a fence, yes… but the lights, the cameras, none of that was here.’

She pointed to the eastern side of the perimeter.

‘That’s where the humans parked their trailers, like little laboratories that they pulled behind their vehicles. They had three of them. We escaped from the third one, the farthest from where the house was.’

Both Justin and Brutus followed her gaze. There was not a single sign of human occupation, or any other kind, to be found. Justin trained the spy-glass at the area Julia had indicated and shook his head.

‘Nothing, not even tracks from vehicles, just this dead dust.’

It was then that the bigger Guard nudged him. Justin looked at Brutus, who held up his writing tablet.

Read the signs through the glass?

All along the outside of the fence hung a series of different signs, most of them warning signs. Biohazard and lightening symbols warning of electrocution were visible even to the naked eye. Justin scanned some of the larger ones with more writing on them. He put down the telescope and turned to Julia once more and offered her the device.

‘Take a look at that larger sign right in the middle of the fence line. Can you read it for us? I don’t know what it’s supposed to mean.’

She took the glass, raised it to her eye and scanned the indicated area. Then she lowered it, with an even greater look of confusion.

‘I don’t understand this.’

The mice, who had not gotten to use the spy glass, were gazing at her impatiently.

‘Well,’ ventured Timothy, ‘what does it say?’

Rather than answer, Julia handed him the telescope. The mouse took it and looked for himself.


Cynthia rolled her eyes.

‘Read it, or hand it over.’

‘Okay, okay!’

Her brother cleared his throat.

‘There is a weird logo on the top. Then a big red ‘Warning’ and then it says: This site it designated as an experimental farm by the United States Agricultural Department. Trespassing is strictly prohibited. Approaching the fence may result in electrocution and biohazard contamination.’

Justin muttered to the mouse, ‘Read the other sign next to it.’

Moving the telescope Timothy nodded.

‘The same weird symbol, triangles and such. Then it says in big letters: Lazarus Laboratories, Inc. Experimental Farm, then some more stuff about something called USDA and human laws.’

Mrs. Brisby rubbed her chin.

‘Anything about NIMH?’

Her son scanned the signs, then the rest of the fence perimeter.

‘That’s odd. Nothing on any of the signs says anything about NIMH.’

Timothy lowered the glass and looked at Justin in confusion.

‘What does that mean?’

The brown rat, never turning his gaze from the disturbing vista below, shook his head very slowly.

‘I am not sure. Julia, have you ever heard of –Lazarus Laboratories-?’

She shook her head vehemently.

‘This is the first time I have ever seen that name. This is strange. We came from NIMH, the humans had badges with –NIMH- on them, the cars had it on them…’

Justin turned to Brutus, who held his chalk board at his side and simply gave a resigned shrug. The former Captain of the Guard sighed once more and then shouldered his back-pack.

‘We are not going to solve this mystery here. We cannot go down there where the cameras are, so we move onward, to NIMH.’

‘Ahem,’ Cynthia wondered, ‘you had said we would hitch a ride with NIMH people back to the city. There is nobody here.’

Justin smiled down at her and winked.

‘I also said I had a number of ways figured out.’

‘Such as?’

‘Have you ever heard of something the humans call –The Greyhound Bus-?’

Julia and the mice looked at him blankly. Brutus, on the other hand, snapped a finger with an expression of delight.

‘Follow me. If we walk through the night we may just make it there in time.’

The trek was not as arduous as Justin had first thought.

The road running past the Fiztgibbon Farm, or where the farmstead used to be, had an even stretch of level ground beside it, which was easy to walk on during the night. Mrs. Brisby kept musing on how different her life had become. Back in the days before she had met her future husband she would have never dared to get close to a human road. It was not just the unbelievably fast human devices called cars that frightened her back then. To walk close to the road meant being exposed, exposed to every single predator the fields had to offer, from the ground and the air.

But as the rodent expedition travelled alongside the paved road, trying not to think about the lack of sleep and the exhaustion that the continuous walk was causing, fear of predation never entered anyone’s mind. Having a rabbit-sized rat with a razor-sharp blade on a stick and the martial attitude of a wolverine as a companion did wonders for one’s feeling of safety. A few times, mice and rats had to make a run for the ditch when a rare human vehicle would veer down the otherwise deserted road.

‘Back when we lived at the Rosebush,’ Justin had explained, ‘we stole all sorts of things in order to build our colony. Many of the things we needed we could not get at the farm.’

So, the Rats of NIMH had sent Guard scouts out to find additional resources. One, the brown rat shared, was what the humans called a –gas station-, a place for them to fuel up their vehicles when they needed to. This place also had a store of sorts, selling not only food items but electronics, tools, and other mechanical doodads, which the intelligent rodents would be able to put to good use. In addition, the location also boasted a small garage, where broken down cars and tractors were being brought to be fixed.

All in all, four buildings were nestled around a road intersection, a little over a mile down from the farmstead: The gas station, the garage, the store, and a small restaurant with a bar,

where the occasional trucker and local famers came together to share food and gossip. Despite the continuous presence of humans the Rats of NIMH had ventured to the intersection many times. The things to be found at this collection of dwellings had been too tempting. Justin had led many an excursion there himself, with Brutus a member of the party.

Tonight it was not the need for resources of the material kind that made the location essential. In addition to providing services and goods to locals and transients alike, it also had a stop for the Greyhound Bus Line. This system, their leader explained, was a means of shared transportations for humans, who, for some reason or another, could not afford their own vehicle. The bus carried humans from one distant place to another. And the Rats, from their many observations at the locale, soon learned of the patterns of comings and goings at the bus stop. For one, they discovered that the Greyhound Bus drove to the city of Baltimore every Monday morning. Human beings from the area apparently went to the city for a variety of reasons. Humans of all shapes and ages, Justin remembered, would enter and leave the buses when they stopped here.

It was a few hours after midnight when the group reached the intersection. Closer to more urban areas gas stations and adjacent convenient stores were often open throughout the night. Thankfully, this was not the case here. A few trucks were parked next to the restaurant, which also advertised nightly rooms. But apart from one or two lights in the windows of that particular establishment, everything was quiet.

They waited in the ditch close to the gas station, hidden by a curtain of grass. Brutus had gone ahead to see if everything was still the same as it had been a few years back. The others waited impatiently and exhausted. Justin kept peering through the grass blades to maybe catch a glimpse of his friend. Then, a faint whistle, known well to Cynthia, echoed from across the street. The former Captain of the Guard sighed with relief and slumped back against the ditch’s dirt wall.

Five minutes later and Brutus climbed down to rejoin the group. Once tucked into the safety of the ditch he took out his writing board and quickly scribbled.

Big dog at restaurant. On chain.
Not in our way.
Clear to bus stop.

Justin tapped his chin.

‘Is there any place where we can spend the rest of the night, somewhere dry?’

The bigger rat nodded emphatically, erased the board and wrote anew.

Wood tool shed behind bus stop.
Holes in wall.
Nobody inside.
Dusty but dry.

Helping an almost sleeping Julia to her feet while Mrs. Brisby, despite her own fatigue, jostled her drowsing children awake, Justin nodded towards the shed.

‘Just a few more steps and then we can all have some sleep.’

They made it to the shed within less than ten minutes. As Brutus had stated, it was easy to get inside and find a dry corner for everyone to bed down in their travelling blankets. Justin ordered the large Guard to get some rest as he would take the first watch. All the while, Mrs. Brisby kissed Cynthia and Timothy good-night, despite the grown mice’s obvious embarrassment at the maternal gesture. Julia, resting relatively comfortably in her blanket, had to chuckle at the scene, and at Timothy’s final comments about this being a “rather odd camping trip”. Rolling over on her side the white female rat wondered about the strange way her existence had gone ever since her escape from the laboratory truck. She could only vaguely remember her previous life, as a test animal, as if a fog was beginning to form over her memories. Julia yawned. It was probably just the exhaustion. Before another thought could follow, she had fallen asleep. The rest, with the exception of Justin, who sat on one of the shed’s window sills that overlooked the bus station, were already asleep.

Despite the shed’s destitution and the late hour, the group woke relatively refreshed and in good cheer. Brutus, who had switched shifts with Justin during the night, had nudged them awake some time before dawn, as gently as the mute rat was able to. Only one day of travelling had already made the six rodents strangely comfortable with each other. The surreal quality and haste of their journey, combined with the seriousness of the task before them, probably necessitated for them to bond quickly for support.

After a quick breakfast on rations and some fresh water collected in a bin outside, the troupe made its way back towards the gas station and the adjacent bus stop. Justin remarked that the usual arrival time for the bus was just after sunrise this time of year. Hence, he was eager to be there to figure out a means for getting on the human transport before the sun came up. The bus stop itself was small, catering to regular passengers on a local basis, rather than a larger hub for the Greyhound bus line. It consisted of a large covered drive-through for the vehicle, so that passengers getting on and off could do so even in increment weather without too much discomfort. Passengers waited on a nearby set of benches with roofs, which adjoined the backside of the gas station’s convenient store.

Julia and the mice waited underneath one of the benches, trying to stay out of sight in the shadows of a far corner. Justin and Brutus were doing something on top of the bench, something involving grunts and heaving, swinging sounds, and then a small metal clink.

‘Got it!’

Timothy tried to peer up between the wooden slats of the benches as he heard Justin shout in triumph.

‘What are they doing up there?’

Cynthia had snuck up behind him.

‘I can see Brutus standing there, but Justin’s gone.’

Both their mother and Julia peered out from the corner at that remark, the female rat fidgeting with her hands.

‘He’s not going to do anything foolish, right?’

The older mouse gently put a paw on the white rat’s shoulder, smiling at the hint of growing affection in Julia’s voice.

‘Justin is a lot of things, but never a fool.’

‘Too dark to see anything,’ complained her son.

Just then a small thump and an exhausted exhale by the brown rat eased the group’s fear. Moments later both rats climbed down a bench leg and joined their companions. Justin was sweating but had one of his goofy grins on his face. He bowed theatrically to the waiting rodents.

‘I am pleased to inform you that the bus will arrive at 7.30 am and, after allowing time for refueling and loading, will depart for the city of Baltimore at 7.45 am. The drive should take about three hours and twenty minutes.’

Cynthia gave the slender rat a lopsided smile.

‘And how do you know that?’

Justin, still grinning, waved a hand upwards.

‘The humans post the schedule on the wall. I just had to get up there to take a look at it.’

‘And how did you do that,’ wondered Timothy.

Brutus held up a long rope with a sophisticated grappling hook at the end, grinning himself.

‘Hey,’ the male mouse complained, ‘I made those for the rigging of the new roof canopy in the Oak!’

Justin padded Timothy on the shoulder, ‘Yeah. They work great.’

Now it was Julia who raised her voice.

‘That’s all good, but how do we get on that bus without being seen?’

The former Captain of the Guard pointed a thumb over his shoulder.

‘We have to find a human with the right kind of bag.’

As the sun was rising the passengers for the bus began to appear, some standing, others seating themselves on the bunks. Below, the waiting rodents became more and more uneasy. Even Brutus was starting to look edgy. Justin, on the other hand, was too intent looking at the various kinds of gear and luggage the humans were setting down. Finally, when a well-dressed young man placed a big leather carrying-case right next to the side of the bench, he quietly motioned for the others to come closer.

‘Look there,’ Justin whispered, ‘that is an expensive travelling case and that human dresses like somebody important. The sides of that case are open, easy to get into. I bet the human will take this right onto the bus with him, rather than have it stowed.’

Mrs. Brisby’s eyes narrowed a bit.

‘What is going to be in that bag?’

Cynthia, peeking her head around Brutus, mused,

‘Looks like the cases doctors used to carry.’

Justin crept towards the side of the bag with the opening facing them and waved for the others to follow. Once there he quickly scrambled up the side and through the hole into the luggage. There was a muffled sound as the rat appeared to land on something and then his head peered out from the leather case.

‘Just papers, pens, and something wrapped up that smells good. Come on up!’

Brutus carefully hoisted first Mrs. Brisby and then her children up to Justin, who lifted them inside the bag. Then the Guard allowed Julia to use his hands as a stepladder to climb up. The hardest part was when the two smaller rats had to help the much heavier Brutus up to join them. Once inside the confined space, everybody tried to find a somewhat comfortable spot to sit with their backs against the case’s leather sides.

‘Brutus, my friend, you need a diet.’

The larger rat shrugged, but then gestured to a large bundle wrapped in wax paper, which was resting on one end of the bag. Cynthia, who was closest, sniffed at it.

‘Brutus is right. This smells like food.’

‘Hah,’ retorted her brother from the other side of the case, ‘I can tell that from here. Whatever is in there is making me drool.’

‘Better not,’ Justin warned.

‘This might be the human’s lunch. If he finds it missing or half-eaten when he checks his bag, we might be in big trouble.’

‘We’re not going to stay in here,’ asked Mrs. Brisby.

The brown rat shook his head.

‘Once we’re in the bus we better find a safer place to hide. If the human opens his bag while we’re still inside, things will get really hairy.’

‘Yeah,’ Timothy agreed, ‘he’ll take one look at Brutus eating his lunch and have a heart attack.’

Cynthia giggled while Brutus put a hand to his chest in mock insult.

Julia’s mood was more subdued.

‘Seeing us –animals- wearing clothes would cause serious problems.’

The chuckles subsided to be replaced by solemn nods. Just as Justin was about to add a comment the bag was lifted up roughly, shaking the contained rodents about. Everybody tried to hold on to the sides of the case in order to make as little sound as possible as the human owner moved his belongings inside the bus. This was easier said than done. Especially the mice were having difficulties in remaining stationary as the bag’s interior swayed like a ship in a gale. Both Timothy and Mrs. Brisby lost their grips on the leather’s stitching, only to roll head-over-heels across the papers. Thankfully, the human’s wrapped food served as a cushion for them and, apart from the paper rustling, dampened unwanted sounds.

Just as abruptly as the shaking had begun, so it subsided again as the carrying-case was dropped on a level surface, and then unceremoniously shoved beneath a seat on the bus. Nobody inside the luggage dared to move. Then, the hissing noises of the bus’ closing doors, the start of the engine, and the sensation of motion allowed the trapped rodents to relax a bit.

Timothy, slowly untangling himself from the wax paper and helping his mother up, muttered,

‘Take the bus and ride in comfort.’

As soon as the bus had been under way and the rats had a good peek through the case’s open side to make sure that nobody would be able to spot them, the rodents left the confines of the bag. The human had deposited the leather case underneath his chair. Luckily, the bus was barely occupied and the few seats behind the luggage piece were empty. Brutus gently patted the wrapped lunch with a longing face before taking up the rear-guard. Rats and mice kept close to the bus’ wall as they moved farther back. Justin, being in the lead, reached the end of the vehicle first. The vehicle’s movements were gradual, but still made walking more difficult, so having a wall to support one’s weight was welcome.

In the back the group decided to spend the rest of the journey in the right corner under the last row of seats. This bus had a built-in lavatory, which made the right side of the back seats somewhat cramped, which would discourage human passengers and make it difficult for anyone to spot the diminutive hitchhikers. Since the ride was going to take three hours the rodents planned on catching up on some more sleep. That, sadly, proved rather difficult. The bus’ movement and the shaking of the floor made for poor purchase. Rats and mice tried to huddle in a group, giving each other support, Justin and Brutus trying to frame the smaller mice between them. It took some readjusting, but in about fifteen minutes the travelers had managed to become at least a bit cozy. Julia leaned her head on Justin’s chest, which Mrs. Brisby, who was framed by her children around whom he had wrapped her arms, noticed with a warm smile. For someone who had just met the two rats were becoming very familiar with each other.

She was glad for that. Justin had spent so much time trying to serve the colony after Nicodemus’ death that he had never found time to have a personal life. Maybe this journey would serve more than one purpose. Both the brown rat and the white female soon nodded off. Brutus, ever the silent observer, nodded over to his superior and Julia with a wink and a grin as Mrs. Brisby caught his glance. Then she too closed her eyes and managed to sleep a bit.

Sleep was disrupted by the arrival of the children.

With the unerring instincts of juveniles everywhere the group of twelve-year-olds headed straight for the back row of seats and, once there, immediately set to work roughhousing with each other and shoving each other’s backpacks underneath the seats. One the packs managed to nudge Brutus, who was the most exposed of the group. But by the time that happened, the entire party of rodents was already wide awake. The human children made such a racket that mice and rats had been jerked from their slumber before the first child had even sat down. Now Justin and his expedition were pressed as far into the shadows as was possible, hoping that none of the kids would chance to look too closely at the underside of their seats.

‘Dung,’ Timothy complained, ‘now what do we do?’

‘Shhhhhhhhh,’ hushed his sister.

Justin, in as calm a voice as he could muster, mused quietly,

‘We stay as still and quiet as we can.’

Julia shuddered, ‘What if one of them looks under their seat?’

‘I doubt it,’ Justin assured, ‘There is so little room back here I don’t think any of them would try to stick their heads down.’

Brutus gave the bag that had bumped him an indignant kick and folded his arms across his chest in protest.

‘Kids will be kids,’ Mrs. Brisby tried to soothe the pouting rat.

‘Well, we were never that bad,’ opined Cynthia.

At this the big Guard’s eyebrows shot up and he shook his head, pointing an accusing finger at the crème-furred mouse.


Now it was Cynthia’s turn to act indignant.

‘I was that bad?’

Brutus nodded emphatically, which made Timothy have to suppress a loud guffaw in his paws.

‘Easy there, kids,’ Justin chuckled softly, ‘don’t make me turn this bus around.’

Just as the brown rat was beginning to enjoy the humorous camaraderie their situation was evoking his eyes caught sight of something a few rows in front of them, across the aisle to

their left. He sat up immediately and scrambled along the bus’ back wall to the vehicle’s left side. Both Mrs. Brisby and Julia grabbed his tunic.

‘Hey!’ the female rat hissed.

‘Where are you going?’ added the mouse.

Justin pointed ahead, underneath the rows of seats on the right side.

‘There is something I need to take a look at. Stay here.’

‘What,’ Julia retorted angrily, ‘and have you getting caught because you like to play hero?’

Justin’s wide-eyed expression of surprise at the female rat’s protective outrage was enough to make Mrs. Brisby cover her mouth, so that the brown rat would not see her wide grin. He did anyway, but before the two rats could start an argument, the mouse swallowed down the laughter growing in her stomach and cleared her throat.

‘Why don’t you tell us first what you are looking for?’

The male rat pointed to an elderly man sitting in one of the window seats on the left, obviously asleep. Julia and Mrs. Brisby looked at the human, but could not discern Justin’s interest.

‘Look between his shoes’, Justin muttered.

Between the human’s loafers was what looked like a folded piece of paper. At least, it had been folded once. Now it was a random ball of clutter, but some of the details on it were visible even at this distance.

‘It’s a map. A map with the bus stops in Baltimore. There is a –Greyhound- logo on it.’

‘And?’ Julia was still indignant.

In reply, the brown rat put a hand into one of the wide sleeves of his tunic and removed a hand-drawn piece of parchment. He unfolded it carefully and put it on the floor between the two females.

Mrs. Brisby was amazed.

‘That is the human city, isn’t it?’

Justin nodded.

‘One of the things we copied from the humans when we left. We were lucky to find a map with so much detail that we could find NIMH on it, and retrace the way we left.’

Now Julia nodded.

‘You want to know where the bus stops so we can get off close to the way you and the other rats took when you first left NIMH.’

A broad smile widened the male’s features.

‘It would be a lot of help to know that.’

As the three rodents talked Cynthia, Timothy, and Brutus also drew close to take a look at the home-made map.

‘So, you want to steal that man’s map?’ Timothy asked with doubt.

Justin shook his head.

‘No, I just need to copy the bus stop that’s the closest to our old route.’

Now Cynthia chimed in.

‘And how do you plan to do that? That map looks like a crumpled lettuce.’

‘Well,’ the male rat stopped short. Justin had not thought about that part yet.

‘The map is too big to pull under that human’s seat,’ Mrs. Brisby noticed.

Julia nodded and added,

‘There is not enough space there to unfold it properly either.’

The former Captain of the Guard sighed.

‘I’ll just have to climb through the paper and try to find the right section.’

‘Won’t work,’ Timothy pointed out, ‘that is a big pile of paper. You won’t fit in there well enough to find what you’re looking for, at least not without some major noise.’

Perking a brow Justin folded his arms across his chest.

‘So what do you suggest?’

Oddly enough, it was his mother who answered.

‘That it should be a mouse to try and do it.’

Both Julia and Justin looked at all three mice incredulously.

‘That is way too dangerous.’

Cocking her hands in her hips Elizabeth Brisby stared up at Justin.

‘Oh really? Only one of us can get into the paper without making too much noise and still be able to move around enough to find the information.’

Cynthia grinned.

‘Don’t try to argue with mom when she uses that tone, Justin.’

‘So,’ Timothy rubbed his paws in anticipation, ‘who’s going to be the lucky mouse?’

In reply, his mother looked at Brutus, who had been silently looming behind the two younger Brisby mice.

‘Brutus, could you make sure that my children stay put and don’t do anything silly?’

She winked.

The big rat, not missing a beat, scooped up both Cynthia and Timothy in his huge arms and carried then underneath his shoulders, back to the corner underneath the seats.

‘Hey! Let go!’ Timothy protested.

‘Traitor!’ Cynthia added.

‘Brutus,’ Justin hissed, ‘can you make sure that they stay a bit more quiet?’

Immediately the mice’s complaints became muffled, as if they had been put in a gag.

Julia gave Mrs. Brisby a questioning look.

‘That wasn’t really nice, now.’

The mouse nodded and shrugged shyly.

‘Sometimes being a parent isn’t nice.’

Then, she looked up at Justin.

‘What do you need me to do?’

Justin pointed at the hand-drawn map at the floor.

‘If you can find the closest bus stop to that area over there, just where it is and what it is called.’

The white rat tilted her head.

‘What is in that area?’

‘The city garbage dump.’

Both females gaped at Justin, who simply shrugged.

‘We escaped NIMH through the ventilation system. Then we took the upper sewers until we reached the dump. It was the best way not to run into too many humans.’

Turning back to the map the mouse peered at the outlines and diagrams intently, trying to commit as much of it to memory as she could. Finally, she took her glasses off and put them into a pocket in the lining of cape.

‘Let’s do this before I figure out how foolish I’m acting.’

As the two rats and mouse began to quietly move underneath the seats on the bus’ left side Brutus sat himself down in the back corner once more, only this time with two violently

squirming mice lodged beneath his arms, who had their muzzles clamped shut by his large fingers. He tried to ignore their kicks and jabs and looked at the ceiling for a while. When Cynthia and Timothy finally calmed down he removed his fingers from around their muzzles quickly, so that they would not be able to retaliate by biting him. Both his charges were casting him gazes filled with so much anger that they would have made anyone cringe.

‘You know,’ Cynthia hissed through clenched teeth, ‘that was really underhanded.’

‘Underhanded?’ Timothy snorted.

‘Kidnapping, hijacking, illegal seizure, that’s what it was.’

‘You are so going to get it. I’ll pull the elevator lever on purpose now, you gorilla.’

Brutus just sighed and tried to ignore the two mice. He was wondering when it would be safe to actually release them. His arms were getting somewhat tired.

‘I’ll invent something nasty just for you for…’

Before Timothy could finish a sound coming from the floor right in front of them diverted their attention. One of the kids on the seats above had been jumping up and down and managed to kick over one of their backpacks lying on the floor. The pack toppled over and revealed an open zipper at the top. Within that gap, a shining silver surface, with pictures and writing, caught the group’s attention. It was a small plastic bag, so small it had halfway tumbled out of the pack, just inches away from the rodents. The big rat and the mice nestled in his grip looked at the package as if mesmerized.

‘They are supposed to be awesome,’ Cynthia muttered in a hushed voice.

Timothy, still suspended in the crook of Brutus arm, nodded in awe and licked his lips.

‘I’ve read that some humans even think they’re addictive.’

Then, slowly, both mice turned their heads up to Brutus, all anger forgotten. They graced him with the most insincere smiles of innocence anyone could muster. The big rat, in turn, had to blink his eyes a few times to be able to draw his attention away from the enticing cellophane bag to look at the mice in his grasp.

‘Truce?’ Cynthia suggested.

Brutus lowered the mice to the ground and all three seated themselves next to each other along the back wall, all eyes staring longingly at the bag.

‘I am so hungry,’ Timothy sighed.

Nodding, Cynthia added, ‘I don’t think the humans would notice if we took one each, would they?’

‘What? Open the bag, take three out, and put the ripped bag back?’

‘Well,’ Cynthia sighed, ‘I guess not then.’

The large Guard, sitting between the two mice siblings looked from one to the other, and then at the silver bag, which had so providently fallen in front of them. He shook his head as if to clear it and then grabbed for his writing tablet and chalk.

We do not steal.

Both mice deflated, but nodded agreement. Finding a way to live without stealing had been at the center of the Rats of NIMH’s plan to build their colony in Thorn Valley, where they would be both free and able to live off of what they themselves produced. So, the three rodents sat back, slumped against each other, gazing at the tantalizing bag with sad looks in their eyes.

Then, unexpectedly, the boy who apparently owned the backpack raised it up from the ground. Moments later, the bus slowed, and finally came to a screeching halt. The hissing of the pneumatic doors announced a bus stop. Finally, all the kids got up and headed out the door and into the world beyond. But what really caught the sitting rodents’ attention was the fact that as the boy lifted the backpack off the floor the silver bag fell out and rolled even farther under the seat, almost at Brutus’ feet.

The mice looked at the rat. The rat looked back at each of them in turn. Finally, three pairs of eyes rested on the tantalizing image on the package and the words printed below.

Golden Honey Roasted Peanuts

Mrs. Brisby, Julia, and Justin were huddled underneath the row of seats the sleeping human occupied. The balled-up map was right in front of them. The problem was that the map was lodged underneath the seat in front of the recumbent senior. A slim leather suitcase rested next to the old man’s legs to his right, blocking the way underneath the neighboring seat. Across the aisle were other passengers. That only left one way for the rodents to get to the map, right over the sleeping passengers fancy leather shoes.

‘This is crazy.’

Julia gazed at the human’s legs and shuddered.

Justin nodded and looked from the human to the crumpled heap of paper.

‘Maybe we should just forget about this.’

‘No,’ Mrs. Brisby shook her head as she took off her cloak, ‘if the city is half as big as you said we might never find our way, or get killed somehow.’

She handed the red cape to her old friend, remembering a similar situation where she had done just that. Justin took the clothing and, after she had carefully removed them, the mouse’s gloves as well. The scars on the palms of Mrs. Brisby’s hands were still visible after all these years. Seeing them again made the brown rat rub at his own chest reflexively. Would his own scar from the Stone be there for the rest of his life as well?

The mouse, now all bereft of anything that would mark her as something more than a wild animal, hunkered down on all fours, ready to crawl over the human’s feet and into the balled-up map.

‘Here I go.’

She moved slowly, trying not to make any sudden movements that would wake the human passenger. In order to find purchase on the shoes, which were polished smooth, the mouse had to make a grab for the laces. The older man had, in his sleep, pushed both feet right into the wad of paper, which made walking around his shoes impossible. Mrs. Brisby angled for a lace and pulled herself up. The shiny leather was slippery and she had to ascend cautiously.

Suddenly, her feet slipped and she fell hard against the shoe’s outside.

In response, the human snorted and twitched, jerking his foot around, swinging the mouse from side to side.

‘Come back,’ Justin urged from underneath the seat.

Mrs. Brisby, swallowing hard, shook her head and held on to the lace until the passenger’s foot had come to rest in its original position. Then, she pulled herself up once more until she finally made it to the top of the foot. The purchase there was just as bad, which turned the move towards the toes and the map beyond into a precarious balancing act. Moving gradually on all fours the brown mouse made it to the tip of the shoe without alerting the sleeper. But just as she was going to lower herself from the tip into the folds of the map, her weight must have registered in the resting human. His foot twitched again, upwards, catapulting a surprised Mrs. Brisby headfirst into the rustling mound of paper.

Justin was about ready to bolt outside, but Julia held him by the shoulder, quietly shaking her head and pointing to the map.

A small brown-furred hand was waving at them from the rumpled map, settling both rats’ nerves. Now they had to wait.

Neither rat was able to gauge the mouse’s progress. They were only able to see the mixed-up folds of the map move and rustle as their friend made her way through the labyrinthine environment. How much time was actually passing was difficult to tell. Every so often the paper wad would shift and rustle so loud that both larger rodents held their breath, expecting either the sleeping occupant or another human across the aisle to notice. Justin was already scolding himself for suggesting this fool’s errand. Twice, the gentleman in the chair moved in his sleep, once slightly kicking the map with his feet, which was followed by a small thump and a quiet exclamation of discomfort from the mouse inside.

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, Mrs. Brisby emerged from the paper folds and carefully pulled herself up the polished surface of the shoe’s tip. Once up on the foot proper she proceeded somewhat more surefooted than before.

Then the sleeper suddenly turned his whole body around in his seat.

Mrs. Brisby was flung into the air and catapulted back underneath the chair, right into the two rats who had been gasping in fear. The impact was strong enough to throw Justin and Julia off their feet. Once on the ground, all three rodents remained still, eyes strained on the human’s legs. Nothing moved. Everything was quiet. Then, slowly, there was a snoring sound coming from the elderly man in the seat, rising ever more in pitch and loudness.

Justin, lying on his back, Julia next to him to his right, and the mouse, prone across both their chest, started to chuckle and giggle. The two females, not understanding why, could not suppress their relief either and joined in, having to press their hands to their mouths to keep from laughing out loud while the snores coming from the seated human only grew greater in volume.

The two rats and the brown mouse, all fully clothed again, made it back to the remainder of the group a few minutes later. They spotted Brutus and the two younger mice sitting around what looked like a small, slivery plastic bag. There was no sign of the children or their backpacks.

Justin frowned. What had been going on here while they had looked at the map? He noticed crumbs on all three rodents’ faces and sniffed the air. There was definitely a strange, but enticing aroma in the air.

Cynthia, who spotted her mom and the rats first, stood up, walked straight up to Justin, and offered him an orange, oblong object.

‘Honey roasted peanuts, anyone?’

Chapter 7: The Deep

The rest of the ride was relatively quiet. Few passengers got on the bus on their way to the city of Baltimore and nobody bothered with the cramped seating at the rear. Having eaten all the peanuts the rodents soon became lulled by the rocking of the vehicle and their general lack of sleep. Even Justin, who once again offered to keep watch so that they would not miss their stop, dozed off despite himself.

More than two hours into the ride matters became interesting once more.

Once the bus left the rural areas behind and entered more urban districts, the steady rocking of the ride changed into the stop-and-go roller-coaster of heavy traffic. The first of many sudden breaking incidents was more than sufficient to not only wake everybody in the group, but have all of the mice and Julia tumble across the bus floor. So rattled were the rodents that even Mrs. Brisby forgot to scold her children for a number of uncouth curses uttered as they flailed to regain both wakefulness and balance.

As soon as everyone was adequately awake and oriented they all huddled together in the right back corner of the bus again, trying to use the struts of the seats as back support to minimize any additional sliding. Justin removed the hand-drawn map from his sleeve and showed the group what route they would have to take once they had reached their stop.

‘So, we’re just going to hop off the bus when we get there?’

Cynthia sounded doubtful.

‘Once we hear our stop announced we move over to the seat next to the door and hide underneath. As soon as we can get out, we run for it.’

‘Simple,’ replied Timothy to Justin, but did not look like he believed his own words.

Justin nodded his head towards the front of the bus.

‘It won’t matter much if anyone sees us getting out. We just have to be quick and run for the nearest gutter or sewer drain.’

The brown rat looked at Brutus and Julia.

‘We head to the right as soon as we hit the ground. I’ll take the lead. Brutus, you take the rear.’

The big rat signed –OK- with his fingers.

‘How will we keep from getting separated?’

Justin turned to Mrs. Brisby.

‘Each rat will be responsible for a mouse, and vice-versa. I will take your hand, Julia will take Timothy’s. Cynthia will be with Brutus.’

‘As usual,’ groaned the young female in response. Brutus just rolled his eyes.

‘Any questions?’

Brutus raised a hand and got out his writing tablet.

Can we get a drink?

Cynthia and Timothy had to giggle.

‘Serves you right, big guy,’ Justin chided with a grin.

‘You shouldn’t have eaten all those peanuts.’

The larger guard pointed accusingly at his superior.

‘Uh-uh, Julia and I had only two peanuts each. That’s called –moderation-.’

Cynthia sniggered, ‘I don’t think he knows that word.’

Brutus simply stuck his tongue out at the crème-colored mouse, to the amusement of all.

Getting off the bus was not as difficult as they had expected.

When their stop was announced, a heavy-set human woman squeezed herself through the aisle with a rolling bag in order to be the first person at the door. The human was so large, particularly in width, that everyone else who wanted to exit at this time was unable to pass her or look around her. The lady’s circumference also kept her from being able look underneath with ease, which made it an easy task to hide between her bag and her feet. Once the bus had come to a stop and the doors had opened, the large woman needed some assistance to navigate the steps from a gentleman behind her. That took even more attention away from the diminutive passengers as they jumped the distance between the lowest stair and the pavement.

Justin made sure to catch each mouse as they jumped and, once Brutus had made the plunge, lead the group as quickly as he could over the sidewalk behind two battered garbage cans resting next to an old plywood fence.

Mrs. Brisby sniffed the air with a scowl.

‘All these human vehicles make it hard to breathe.’

Julia nodded and coughed.

Timothy tapped the metal of one of the garbage cans with a knuckle.

‘And that aroma sure doesn’t help.’

Justin peered out from between the cans along the sidewalk. Behind the tall wooden fence, appeared to be a huge open area, since there were no shadows that would indicate any buildings.

‘We’re in luck. The dump is right here.’

‘Great,’ replied Cynthia as she held her nose.


Justin pointed to a portion of the fence where a board had its lower portion missing.

‘Follow me!’

In a dash the six rodents left the metal containers behind and made for the opening in the fence. If the smell of the city had been offensive before, what awaited them at the other side of the fence was far worse. They had reached the garbage dump.

‘Good heavens,’ Timothy gasped.

The waste disposal area was huge. Mountains of debris of all kinds were piled as far as the group could see. Crows, seagulls, and other birds were screeching and fighting each other for territory and semi-edible scraps of what had once been food. The smell of decay was so overwhelming that everyone except Justin and Brutus covered their faces.

‘How can you stand this stench?’

Looking back at Julia Justin simply shrugged.

‘I grew up with it, I guess.’

The larger Guard tapped the metal head of his weapon against an old soup can and pointed to the side of one of the garbage heaps. The brown rat squinted and held a hand to shield his eyes from the sun.

‘I see them.’

‘See whom,’ Mrs. Brisby wondered.

Justin nodded towards where Brutus was still pointing.

‘Rats. In a place with so much free food, you’ll always find rats. Brutus, you keep back for this and stay with the mice.’

With that being said Justin simply strolled into the expanse of the waste hills. Julia, who had not been told to stay put, followed close behind.

Five wild rats, three females and two males, all around Justin’s size, were busy digging for something hidden underneath an old refrigerator door. The older male, a grizzled grey veteran with a bristling mustache, kept watch. He soon spotted the two rats that openly walked towards them. He whistled through his teeth and called to his compatriots at the door.

‘We got company!’

Immediately, the remaining four rats, apparently a family, stopped their digging and jogged to the older male’s side. One of the females, the oldest, was a tan-color and heavy-set and looked at the newcomers disapprovingly.

‘What do they have on their bodies?’

The two younger females, one light grey, the other dark, were just now reaching adulthood and looked at the approaching rodents with trepidation. The second male, a dark-brown young adult folded his arms across his chest.

‘Run or talk, dad?’

The older male rubbed his chin.

‘Stay put for now. The brown one in the front is waving and smiling. Those rags they wear are strange. Be ready to bolt if I give the signal.’

Everyone nodded silently. Even in a place like this, where the waste of mankind provided ample nourishment, there was competition and danger.

Justin, sporting his most amicable expression, walked up casually, arms at his side.

‘Good day! Sorry to bother you, but I wonder if you could help us?’

‘Depends,’ the grey rat grumbled, ‘on what you want from us.’

Smiling and bowing slightly at each rat in turn, the clothed newcomer explained.

‘I once came through here, a long time ago. I am sure the place has changed since then. I need to find a certain sewer pipe.’

At the mention of the sewer the two young female rats drew back with a gasp and the young male hissed angrily through his teeth. The old rat’s eyes narrowed.

‘What do you want at the pipe? Nothing good ever comes from there.’

Justin looked at the ground apologetically.

‘I know it is a bad place, but my companions and I need to go there. It’s a matter of life or death.’

The older female pushed her mate aside and confronted Justin, poking a finger into his chest.

‘What do you know about it, sonny? Life and death? If you go there and take your sweetie with you, it will be your lives and your deaths.’

The grey male nodded and muttered, “Staggs are still down there.’

Julia, who had watched with interest, now folded her arms over her chest.

‘Justin, what are they talking about?’

It was the younger male rat who gave a dry laugh and folded his arms across his own chest in response.

‘You haven’t told her, have you, Romeo?’

Trying to keep the conversation reigned in Justin raised his hands in supplication.

‘I am aware of the Staggs. I have come that way before. My friends and I are able to deal with them.’

‘Your –friends-?’

The older male’s face was now shadowed in suspicion.

Justin sighed.

‘There are others with me. We are able to deal with the sewer folk. Even if they come up from the deep, we can drive them off.’

‘Oh yeah,’ the matron rat chuffed, ‘you and who else?’

It was Julia who took the cue before Justin could stop her and yelled over shoulder.

‘Brutus! Come here quick!’

Justin stepped in front of the white female, a careful eye on the rat family and waved his hand in placation.

‘Please don’t freak out when you see him. He’s…’

Before he could finish Brutus came sprinting around a corner, cape flying and his weapon at the ready.

The younger wild male pulled the older female back and then pushed the two younger ones, which seemed paralyzed as they gazed at huge rat closing in on them.

‘Move,’ he yelled at his family.

‘Everyone stop!’

Strangely enough, Justin’s shout was obeyed by all.

Brutus came to a halt, still holding his pole-axe ready and looking confused. The rat family, obviously terrified, stood in a tight group behind the older male.

Slowly, his arms raised in surrender and his eyes on the wild rats, Justin walked up next to the giant rat with the spear. He patted Brutus’ shoulder.

‘This is Brutus. He is our friend and protector. He is not a Stagg. He will not hurt you.’

Doubt shining in his face and disregarding the grasping hands of his mate, the old grey rat took a step forward.

‘You managed to tame one of them?’

Justin shook his head.

‘Brutus makes his own choices for how he wants to live.’

The large Guard looked from his former Captain to the rat family and, understanding the situation, dropped his weapon to the floor, raised his empty hands in the air, and nodded emphatically. This soothed the frightened family a bit and the rodents all came a little closer.

Then the three mice came around the corner as well, breathing heavily.

‘Everything,’ gasped Mrs. Brisby, ‘alright?’

The arrival of the clothed, much smaller mice finally broke the spell of fear on the wild rats. Mice were nothing to be scared of. But having a group of them travelling with rats, especially one of that size, was unheard of.

‘You,’ the mustached rat rubbed his chin, ‘are a strange group wanting to go into a strange place. There have been stories…’

‘The strange rats,’ the older female whispered in awe.

The younger rodents simply nodded to themselves.

The old rat stepped right in front of Brutus and Justin, tilting his head.

‘The stories have been told from father to son and mother to daughter. A long time ago, many rats and two mice came from the deep, from where normally only the killers come. They used things on sticks, made from garbage, to keep the monsters at bay, they said. They had been different, and left soon after, never to return.’

He carefully grabbed the hem of Justin’s tunic, looked at it carefully as he rubbed it between two fingers. Then he looked up.

‘You are strange too?’

Justin nodded.

‘We come from those rats and mice. We need to go back from where we came. We do not fear the Staggs.’

The grey rat closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and nodded. He pointed to the south.

‘Past the big mound there, pass it on the left side until you come to the shoreline. At the shore, move left. The sewer pipe is there.’

The patriarch gave the hulking Brutus a questioning glance and then turned around to walk back to his family. Over his shoulder he called out:

‘I hope you are right. The ones from the deep have gotten worse, much worse.’

‘Okay,’ Julia looked at Justin accusingly, ‘what was that all about?’

The rodents were making their way over the uneven terrain, mice sheltered between the two smaller rats up front and Brutus in the rear.

‘Yeah,’ Timothy added, ‘and what’s a –Stagg-?’

Justin sighed and rubbed his neck as they continued towards the riverside.

‘I grew up close to a dump, similar to this, but smaller. In a human city you get rats living everywhere, cellars, attics, roofs, the sewers, everywhere.’

Now it was Cynthia who felt a shudder run down her spine.


‘Rats living in different places had different names. We called the ones living in attics

-Lofts-. The ones that stayed in the streets and cellars were –Getters-. We, who lived in and around the garbage dumps, were called –Canks-. There were a lot of different places and names for rats.’

‘And the –Staggs- were another group of rats?’

Mrs. Brisby tried to keep her voice calmer than she felt.

The brown rat nodded, more to himself than his companions.

‘Staggs are the rats that live in the deep sewers, way, way down.’

Julia’s eyes had lowered to slits when she spoke accusingly.

‘And those are bad, I would assume.’

Justin swallowed and nodded.

‘How bad,’ urged Mrs. Brisby.

Their leader stopped and turned to the rest of the group.

‘The story older rats up here tell their children is, simply put, that the Staggs, the rats from the deep sewers, are monsters.’

‘But every place has its monster stories,’ Timothy objected.

Justin sighed again, more deeply.

‘In this case, they are true. I don’t know why, but the Stagg rats see the world differently. Maybe it’s because down in the sewers there is less food, but Staggs are cannibals.’

Every other face, except for Brutus’, was etched with disgust and outrage. Nobody else knew what to say, so the brown rat continued.

‘They said that Staggs lived in clans, or large families, that hunted each other for food and females.’

Now Julia’s face became more frightened than outraged.

‘Why hunt females?’

Justin smiled apologetically.

‘Down there, females are treated as property. The strongest male of the strongest clan will have the most females. The biggest male leads the clan and is often called –Lord-.’

‘That’s terrible.’

Cynthia’s voice was barely a whisper.

The brown rat turned his head back towards their destination and slowly resumed his pace.

‘Down there, the strongest, cruelest survive and rule. Most Staggs are much bigger than the rats you get here at the surface. Parents here will always warn their kids not to go down into the deep sewers. My mom used to sing me this lullaby…’

It took him a few moments as he rummaged in his memories.

Don’t stray my child.

Don’t go to deep.

Stay safe, my child.

Stay in the street.

Down there, my child,

Down in the deep,

They wait, my child,

With hungry teeth.

‘And that is all true?’

Timothy’s voice had a hopeful tone, trying to hide the tremors he felt.

It was Brutus who supplied the answer. As their leader had recited the old poem the bigger male had taken out his writing utensils again. Once finished he wrapped a knuckle against the tablet to get the others’ attention, who stopped again to look at the guard’s writing board. On it were only two words.

All true

Julia and the mice stared from the tablet to Brutus’ face, which looked as cold as ice.

‘Jenner,’ Justin interrupted, ‘came from down there.’

All eyes swiveled to him again.

‘That would explain why he was so nasty,’ Timothy sneered.

Brutus snorted loudly, as if clearly offended.

‘Brutus father also came from down there.’

The male mouse looked at the big rat with an embarrassed smile.


Mrs. Brisby patted her son’s shoulder.

‘You have met Brutus’ dad, Titus before.’

Her son looked at her and then the large Guard incredulously.

‘Titus is Brutus’ dad? But he’s the most peace-loving fellow you could ever… oh.’

Brutus, still holding his tablet in his hand, folded his arms across his chest and nodded solemnly.

‘That’s why,’ Justin continued, ‘Titus left the deep sewers. He hated all the cruelty and the violence. You have seen him. He is as big as Brutus. That is his Stagg heritage.’

‘Okay,’ Cynthia conceded, ‘I get that. But if life down there is so horrible, why don’t more of the Staggs come up to the surface where there is more food and space?’

Now their leader looked at Brutus questioningly. The grey rat unfolded his arms again and began writing quickly. A few moments later his writing board had been covered from top to bottom and his chalk worn down to a nub.

Lords rule the clans.

Cronies serve the Lord for females and food.

Weak smaller males get beaten or eaten.

Nobody leaves.

You try, they catch you and eat you.

‘Then how did Jenner get out,’ Mrs. Brisby wondered, ‘and why?’

‘Jenner was a big guy,’ Justin conceded, ‘but compared to the biggest Stagg rats he was a runt. I doubt he had a good life down there. And he was always sneaky. If anyone could get away, he could.’

The brown mouse nodded, but her daughter turned to the huge rat at the rear.

‘And your dad?’

Brutus remained silent, avoiding Cynthia’s gaze and busying himself cleaning his tablet.

The smaller rat explained.

‘From what Titus told me, they did try to stop him. But you know how big and strong he is. Let’s just say they could not stop him.’

Turning to face Justin the young mouse was still full of questions.

‘Did he have to fight them?’

Justin raised a hand imploringly.

‘That’s not for me to tell. Let the story rest. We need to get moving again.’

With that the lanky rodent turned on his heels and resumed his pace towards the distant sewer pipe.

‘Doesn’t smell any better in here.’

Timothy’s whiskers twitched has he stood in the gaping maw of the sewer pipe’s exit hole.

It had taken the expedition only a few more minutes to reach the edge of the garbage fields, where the facility grounds met the river. Finding the sewer pipe had taken a little longer. Navigating the dump had caused the rodents to veer off course a bit, so when they reached the water’s edge they were still some ways away from the cement tunnel that led into the bowels of the human city. Now, the six of them standing on the lip of the pipe, gazing into the awaiting darkness, nobody seemed particularly eager to continue.

Julia nudged Justin’s elbow.

‘If the Stagg rats are in there, why are we taking that route?’

The other smiled.

‘The Staggs are in the deep sewers. They hardly ever venture up to the pipes just below the surface.’

‘But what if some of them do,’ mused Cynthia.

To answer the question, Brutus lowered his backpack and, after some searching, produced two large, cloth-bound torches. Justin nodded approvingly.

‘They are brutal, but they are also primitive. Fire is something they don’t understand and stay away from. And if the fire doesn’t do it, this will.’

The brown rat removed a sword scabbard from his own gear and attached the weapon to his belt.

‘Back when we first came through here, we used bits of sharp metal tied to sticks to keep a group of scouting Staggs off us. To them the weapons were like magic. A few cuts quickly scared them away.’

Timothy looked up at Brutus, who was just shouldering his backpack again.

‘Then Brutus swinging his spear will probably scare them to the center of the earth.’

Mrs. Brisby could not help but chuckle as the big rat improvised a smile that was supposed to look endearing. But that was one thing Brutus’ sharp teeth never managed to convey very well. In the meantime Justin walked up and light the torches in the larger rat’s hands, taking one for himself. With the other, he drew his weapon and motioned Julia and mice to follow.

‘We keep close together. Brutus and I will take care of anyone getting bold despite the torches.’

The sewer pipes were dark, damp, and smelled worse than anything the mice had encountered yet. Mrs. Brisby covered her face in her cape while her children and Julia simply held their noses. Cynthia, always trying to make the best out of every situation, sniggered nasally.

‘Hey Timmy, remember when you tried making that engine fuel from cabbage juice?’

Her brother rolled his eyes, but refrained from commenting. Julia, on the other hand, looked at her with interest. Anything to distract herself from the stench down here.

‘What happened?’

‘Well,’ the light-furred mouse grinned, ‘the stuff exploded in the process. It stank up the laboratories and half the colony.’

There was a humorous snort coming from the rear of the group, probably Brutus. Timothy decided to ignore the conversation and stared straight.

‘The Counsel banned Timmy from continuing that research and claimed that it had caused the worst smell ever.’


Cynthia waved her remaining hand graciously around.

‘If they could smell this, I bet they would let him blow up more of that fuel.’

Her brother simply groaned.

Mrs. Brisby, who was walking next to Justin and holding the map and a small compass in her other hand, peered ahead at two round openings in either side of the sewer drain. They had reached another intersection.

‘Which way now?’

Justin looked back at the mouse.

‘What direction are we going towards?’

The smaller rodent checked, her glasses reflecting the torch light.


The rat pointed his torch into the right-hand passage.

‘Then we need to go this way.’

That stopped the conversation again. Even Cynthia could not conjure up any more smell-related humor in this depressing atmosphere. Two more intersections, one they simply passed by, the second they took a turn to the left. After what seemed like hours of walking Justin motioned for the group to stop and leaned his rump against the pipe’s wall rather than sitting down in the murky sludge.

‘Let’s rest for a bit.’

‘Thank goodness!’

Timothy slumped against a wall, clearly exhausted as he no longer even cared to cover his nose.

‘This place is a maze.’

‘A stinky maze,’ Cynthia added helpfully.

Their mother stood a bit apart, gazing into the darkness still waiting for them.

Then the sound started.

If was a deep metallic screeching noise, reverberating throughout the entire tunnel, as if somewhere an immense metal door had been opened on rusty hinges.

The brown mouse turned around to look at the semi-recumbent Justin.

‘What was that?’

The rat’s face looked back in surprise, then in fear. Suddenly, the slender rodent jumped up, sprinting towards Mrs. Brisby.

‘Julia! Brutus! Grab a hold of your mouse, fast!’

The white rat quickly stepped next to Timothy.

‘What’s wrong?’

As if in reply the sound of water, gushing, racing water filled the pipe behind them. Bare seconds later, a wall of foaming liquid was rushing at them, dousing torches and sweeping everyone off their feet.

Rats and mice tumbled helplessly in the currents, everyone trying to hold their breath as long as possible. The waters were too turbulent. Only moments after the current uprooted them, one rat after another lost its grip on their mouse companion until all six were randomly pushed against each other in the torrent. All sense of direction was lost as the flood dragged the group through pipe after pipe, deeper and deeper. Finally, a mesh grating blocked the water’s path.

The mesh wasn’t fine. The mice were flung through it like mist through a net. The rats, being larger, were pressed against the wire loops, their bodies straining with the pressure that the onrushing current still exerted. Then the waters receded. As suddenly as the flood had appeared, it abated into nothing more than a trickle. Coughing and gasping, the three rats fell to the ground, anything that hadn’t been strapped to their backs having been carried away by the deluge.


Another choking cough expelled water from Justin’s lungs.

‘Where are the mice?’

Julia, recovering more quickly, spit out water as well and hit the wire mesh with a fist.

‘They went right through. They’re gone.’


The bigger rat was only now shaking his head back to normalcy when Justin called out.

‘Can you cut the grate?’

Blinking in confusion for a few moments the large rodent looked around for his weapon. The pole axe was lying covered in muck. Luckily, as Brutus had lost his grip, the long weapon had managed to wedge itself sideways rather than getting sucked through. Holding the weapon’s blade to the mesh, moving and angling it around, the huge rat finally shook his head. He removed his backpack and began searching for something sharp and more maneuverable. After a few moments, he produced a large, jagged dagger of the same dark metal as his main armament, and began slicing at the wire mesh. Justin, whose sword had been sheathed when the water had hit them, joined in with his own weapon. Still, it took precious minutes to cut enough of the wire away to allow the two smaller rats to squeeze through and even longer to make the hole large enough for Brutus. Once everyone was through the rats began sprinting into the darkness. They had to find the mice.

They made it as far as the third intersection of pipes. Without proper light, the compass and the map, which had been lost along with the Brisby family, they had no clue in what direction they were headed. They tried to follow the trickle of water downward, reasoning that this would be the path the current had swept their friends in. But then even that trickle stopped.

Justin stopped and leaned his brow against the cold, wet concrete of the tunnel wall. He was hard-pressed not to cry out in rage and despair. This was not supposed to have happened.

To comfort him Julia put a hand on his shoulder as he attempted to regain his composure.

‘We’ll find them. They’ll be looking for us too. The water receded so fast. They’re bound to be okay.’

Justin, his eyes closed, his breathing slowing, nodded, his brow still resting against the pipe.

Brutus, standing behind them, was looking around nervously, his ears and whiskers twitching. Taking a cue from the bigger male Justin opened his eyes and focused on their surroundings as well. Something was wrong.

There were sounds coming from one of the side tunnels, the sound of rodent feet.

Julia’s face light up.

‘They found us.’

She was just about to head towards the sound when Justin grabbed her shoulder and, while putting a finger to his mouth to indicate silence, shook his head. Brutus walked up beside the pair and sniffed the air, his face grave and foreboding.


The bigger male nodded gravely to Justin.

Drawing his blade again the brown rat nodded to Brutus.

‘Give her your dagger.’

Julia did not even have time to protest when the viciously jagged weapon was pushed into her hands. She grasped the blade with both hands, the metal feeling heavy and awkward to her. What served as a dagger for Brutus might as well have been a two-handed scimitar to her.

‘I don’t know how to use this,’ Julia hissed at Justin’s shoulder.

The other kept his gaze at the tunnels in front of him, trying to get a fix on the approaching sounds and muttered.

‘Just hit them with the sharp end. That should be enough.’

The female was just about ready with a smart retort when the scratching of rodent feet and splashing water suddenly increased in volume. A moment later the Stagg rats arrived.

There were five of them, each easily two heads taller than Justin and heavily muscled. The largest almost rivaled Brutus for size. As they splashed in from the side tunnel on the left the waiting rats, who had readied themselves for the impending ambush, stepped in front of Julia. But when their adversaries became visible, Justin and Brutus both startled.

The snarling rats of the deep sewers carried their own weapons. Grasped by clawed hands huge clubs studded with metal spikes, large axes, and even a jagged sword glinted balefully as the Staggs rushed their intended prey. In the few moments before the combatants reached each other, Justin also realized that these rats, these Staggs, also wore rudimentary clothes. Loincloths, simple vests and tunic, made from coarse fibers and what looked like fur pelts covered the hulking shapes of their assailants. There were also glimpses of bones and teeth worn on strings as ornamentation. These rats were not mere animals.

The three rats had no time to ponder the mystery as the charging band reached them. For all their weaponry, the sewer rats attacked like a frenzied mob, teeth bared. Justin ducked underneath the wide blow of the first Stagg to reach them. The attacker’s club swung wild and managed to hit the charging rodent to his right, slamming it against the sewer wall. The smaller brown rat looked as if he was dancing, dodging clumsy blows from all sides while slashing with his own blade in carefully aimed jabs. One of the attackers was hamstrung and fell to the ground, raging and thrashing. Justin weaved forward until he faced the two Staggs at the rear of the group.

Those of the sewer rodents that Justin’s athletics and blade did not incapacitate were faced with the enraged force of nature that was Brutus. Two of the Staggs, the group’s leader and the one that had been accidently clubbed by him, were now charging into the huge guard, who was more than ready to receive them. Trapping the second Stagg’s axe with the blade of his halberd, Brutus turned on one leg and deftly kicked his would-be attacker in the chest. The first rat had, in the meantime, aimed a blow with his club at the Guard’s exposed head. In the same motion that carried Brutus’ foot into the ribcage of one rat the butt end of his pole-axe intercepted the other’s attack, ramming the club-wielding rodent’s wrist. Howling in pain he lost his weapon, which clattered to the ground. Brutus’ kick had managed to slam the other Stagg into the wall again, leaving it dazed. That allowed the Guard to focus on the remaining attacker, who had just picked up his club again and charged once more.

Justin, in the meantime, was hard-pressed to hold his own against the two larger, more powerful sewer rats. His assailants had become weary of his agility and were now attempting to use their longer reach to simply wear him down by relentlessly pummeling him with their weapons. It was when one of them managed to embed his club into the sludge beneath that Justin took his chance. As the Stagg was straining to raise the bludgeon he jumped on the weapon’s shaft, running up towards his enemy’s head. The second attacker, following Justin’s movement, brought his own cudgel around in a wide arc, ready to crush the smaller rodent to a pulp. Only when the club had reached towards the target, did the nimble Captain of the Guard jump over the other sewer rat’s head. The Stagg’s eyes went wide as he saw his partner’s club coming towards his face. Then the lights went out for him.

Brutus’ halberd crashed into his opponent’s club again, sending violent electric discharges against the concrete walls. The sewer rat roared in anger and attempted to press the bulkier rodent into the ground by sheer force of will. As their weapons locked Brutus decided to end the confrontation and suddenly head-butted the other. The impact was tremendous and the Stagg toppled like a felled tree. Brutus looked around to see what had happened to the second attacker, the one he had slammed into the wall earlier.

That’s when Julia’s shriek echoed through the pipe. The axe-wielding sewer rat had apparently decided to make the female his target while his fellow was tackling the larger male. With a wicked grin on his muzzle he lifted his blade to sewer Julia’s neck from her body. The female appeared paralyzed with fear, not moving as the axe descended, holding Brutus’ dagger in a limp hand.

Then something in Julia’s eyes seemed to flash into focus. As if suddenly charged with unknown energies the female let herself drop and slide on her back, right underneath her attacker’s swing. The Stagg’s axe crashed into concrete and the surprised rodent had barely a chance to turn about face. Julia was moving with almost unnatural speed. Once clear of the male she immediately jumped to her feet, the dagger clenched in both hands. Then she charged. Her blade was cutting graceful swathes in front of her as if it was the most natural thing in the world. The sewer rat barely managed to block the twirling blade with the haft of his axe. But Julia was not done. Using the momentum of her blade being blocked, she flexed her arms and propelled herself up towards the amazed Stagg’s head. She somersaulted in the air, catching the attacker’s head between her legs. Then, in one smooth motion, her slender arms slammed the edge of her hands into the male’s skull, right into the vulnerable part behind his ears. Despite her small size the impact rattled the sewer rat’s skull and inner ears so hard that he passed out.

Julia twisted around and back-flipped off the huge rat’s neck as it slumped, coming to a graceful stand just where Brutus’ dagger had landed. As she gingerly picked up her dropped weapon Brutus and Justin were staring at her wide-eyed and open-mouthed, their own opponents dispatched moments before. The white rat looked back at them as if in a daze, apparently not able to recognize them. Then, something in her gaze shifted once more. She looked down at herself, muddied, scratched, but alive. Julia looked over her shoulder at her prone opponent and gasped in realization. Then she dropped her weapon and passed out.

She came to as she was being hoisted by her two male companions, their arms under her shoulders.

‘What happened?’

Justin looked at her blurred expression in amazement.

‘Are you sure you never fought before? You sure took that Stagg down easily.’

Julia looked from one rat to the other, her face full of confusion.

‘I did? I did, didn’t I?’

She closed her eyes and shook her head.

‘I don’t know. When he came at me… everything seemed to happen by itself.’

Justin simply nodded with a smile.

‘Well, keep it up. We’re not out of the woods yet.’

The two males had not waited a moment after their victory and immediately dragged Julia away, in the opposite direction from where the assault had come. They were splashing wildly through the foul puddles of the sewers. The female soon found her own legs again and the three rats made good speed, even though they had no idea where they were going, as long as it was away from the Staggs.

‘They,’ Julia gasped as she jogged, ‘had weapons.’

‘Yeah,’ Justin replied with concern, ‘and clothes. Something’s very wrong here.’

As if on cue the running group cleared a bend in the sewer pipe, only to come face to face with a second group of the deep’s violent denizens.

The three rats skidded to a stop. There, right in front of them, were at least twenty more of the towering, armed monsters. Some of them held torches, and all gave the impression of having been waiting for them. The one in front, arms folded over a chest of greenish-brown fur crossed with two bands of leather that were studded with rats’ incisors, grinned balefully at them with orange eyes.

‘Now what do we have here? Seems like our visitors managed to get away from our scouts.’

Justin urged the others to back off and try to head back the way they had come. But when he turned his head he saw that another, equally large group of sewer rats with weapons and torches had closed in behind them. Somehow, they had wound up in a trap.

The Stagg’s leader savored the moment as he surveyed his captives more closely. His eyes glowed with delight as he spotted the white-furred female behind Justin.

‘How nice! They brought me a new female too.’

He moved in on Justin, grabbing a one-handed axe from a loop at his belt. The Stagg towered more than two heads taller and at least twice as massive. The smaller male crouched low and drew his sword. Justin had a feeling that this opponent would not be as clumsy as the ones they had bested before and while combat against such horrendous odds was suicide, he would not let Julia be molested without a fight. Behind him, Brutus raised his pole-axe.

The advancing male did not falter. His face was confident and vicious when he swung his weapon to try and swat Justin aside like a gnat. That was a mistake.

Ducking easily under the larger rat’s swipe, Justin kicked the Stagg’s ankle from the side, causing the much bigger rodent to topple, but not fall over. Once his opponent was off balance Brutus delivered a blow with the butt end of his weapon to the sewer rat’s chest, which caused him to tumble over backwards, right into the remaining Staggs. There were gasps of anger and even some laughter from the monstrous rodents at their leader’s humiliation. The stunned hulk

regained his composure quickly, his face now showing barely concealed rage. His teeth were bared and his voice a resonating growl.

‘We will tear you limb from limb before I take your female, you surface runt!’


The shout came from behind the Stagg leader’s group, commanding, deep, but also clearly female. The giant rats turned to look at the direction of the voice as if stung and the group facing Justin began to part, making room for one rat that was making its way towards the front. The humiliated leader glared disdainfully at the new arrival.

What came into view was even more surprising to Justin than encountering sewer rats with clothes and weaponry.

An immense female, only half a head shorter than Brutus, broad of stature, but lithe, and definitely not subservient, came into view. She was shorter than the male with the axe and of lighter built, but compared to Justin she was massive and over-powering. What made her even more imposing was her attire. More than the simple robes and pelts of the other Staggs this female was wrapped in an elaborate pattern of cross-woven cloth around her chest, a fur loincloth, and a huge pelt cloak around her shoulders. Her hair was braided in a number of pony-tails and both her cloak and fur skirt were held together by intricate golden broaches inlaid with rat teeth. The female’s pelt was a silvery gray in stark contrast with the male’s dirtier colors. Her eyes were blazing angrily at the axe wielder.

‘You disobeyed again. I told you to keep your hands off them.’

The male, apparently named Horog, pointed his axe at Julia.

‘I claim the female.’

The newcomer put one hand on her hip, the other brandishing a wickedly curved dagger that was so large it would have easily served Justin as a sword.

‘I am Lord here, Horog. Get used to it. This female is off limits.’

Horog looked from the large female to his fellow males, and then bared his teeth.

‘I claim the female, Drasta.’

The other leaned forward, eyes narrowing, and her voice taking on a nasty edge.

‘Is that a challenge, Horog?’

Again, the towering male with the axe gazed at his fellow males, looking for something. Finally, his face hardened and he nodded at the female called Drasta.

‘Yes. I challenge. With tooth and claw.’

Brutus, having turned his head away from the group facing him to look over his smaller companions’ shoulders tilted his head in surprise. Julia, leaning close to Justin, whispered,

‘You said females were property down here?’

Justin, not taking his eyes off the drama unfolding in front of them, slowly shook his head.

The two Staggs, in turn, had dropped their respective weapons to the ground and begun circling each other. The male, half a head taller and much heavier, still did not look certain of his superiority and watched his opponent with caution.

‘What’s the matter, Horog? Lost your guts already?’

That was enough for challenger to charge with a swipe of his right arm, claws ready to tear the female’s throat out. Drasta, rather than ducking or side-stepping, grabbed a hold of the other’s arm at the shoulder and used the male’s own momentum to catapult him into the sewer wall. Then she stepped back and waited for Horog to get up again.

The male, now drooling over bared teeth and seething with rage, did not charge immediately. The combatants circled each other again. This time it was Horog who taunted through clenched teeth.

‘No female should ever rule. I will be Lord.’

The silver-grey female simply smiled at her opponent evilly.

Then, she charged.

Aiming her right claws at the male’s throat Horog had no problem seeing her attack coming. Ducking to the side and ready to have his own clawed hands tear at Drasta’s midsection he was unprepared for the female throwing herself to the ground before his claws could connect, and biting him on his right leg.

A howl of pain and anger issued from Horog as tried to tear his foot away from the female’s teeth and, at the same time, made a grab for her neck. The moment the male was bent over her, Drasta’s arms shot up to grap a hold of the other’s shoulders, claws digging in and pulling the heavier rat down with such force he toppled forward, somersaulting until he slammed flat-backed into the floor.

This time the female did not give Horog time to recover. Springing up even before the male had come to rest she jumped on his chest, pinning his arms with her knees and grabbing his neck in a vice-like grip. Then, muscles bulging, she gave both her arms a quick, violent twist.

Julia covered her eyes, but her ears still heard the loud crack of Horog’s spine snapping. The male twitched once, twice, and then lay still.

Drasta stood up, her clothes and fur covered with dirt, but her eyes shining with triumph. She gave her dead opponent a disdainful kick and then retrieved her dagger. Once she turned her eyes on the remaining Staggs the males became pensive.

‘Who,’ she asked in a low growl, ‘is Lord here?’

There were a few mutters of the female’s name.

‘I can’t hear you,’ she roared.


It seemed every Stagg was now intent in outdoing his fellows, careful not to risk the female’s ire.

‘Drasta! Drasta!’


She waved her followers into silence and stepped towards Justin and his friends. Unlike Horog, she did not approach with her weapon brandished or a particularly evil visage. Drasta’s gaze was calculating as it passed over a defiant Justin, a frightened Julia, and a clearly confused Brutus.

‘You are outnumbered. There is no way to escape. You do not know the sewers. We do. Obey, and you may live. Disobey, and you are food. Now, drop your weapons.’

Drasta spoke without malice, simply stating obvious facts.

Justin looked over his shoulder at Brutus. The bigger rat looked as lost and frustrated as he felt. There was no way for them to beat these odds. The smaller rodent turned back to face the female Stagg and, after a few moments, threw his sword on the floor. Brutus and Julia followed suit. Drasta, her features still coldly neutral, simply nodded. Then she motioned for one of her male followers to approach. The male, a black-furred brute of lanky stature, but incredible height, hustled over immediately. The female pointed to the weapons. Wordlessly, the black rat picked up the armaments. Once upright again the male saw Drasta waving a hand towards their captives.

‘Terk, tell me what you see.’

The black male swallowed twice and then muttered,

‘Clothes and weapons. They wear clothes and use weapons.’

She patted the taller male’s shoulder.

‘Good. And do you obey your Lord?’

Terk nodded immediately, obviously cowed by the smaller female.

Drasta waved a paw at the prone form of her vanquished challenger.

‘Then you are the new Second of the Clan. You may have Horog for meat.’

A cruel smile came over the black-pelted male’s face and he motioned with his head to Staggs near his fallen predecessor to pick up his body, which was immediately obeyed.

Drasta, in turn, focused her attention on the rest of her people.

‘Did you hear that? They wear clothes and use weapons. Do you remember what that means?’

There was reluctant nodding from some of the fearsome rats in the crowd. Drasta turned back to face Justin and the others, but this time her features spread in a nasty smirk.

‘You, my lucky friends, are going to meet the Overlord.’

Chapter 8: The Ghost

The sewer rats had bound their captives’ wrists behind their back, had taken their weapons and packs, but otherwise did not molest them. With the female Lord at the head of the group, Justin and his friends were being shoved and goaded through the labyrinth of tunnels. Most of the huge sewer dwellers departed into various side passages during their journey, Drasta’s newly appointed second-in command amongst them after he had received whispered orders from his mistress. In the end, the group consisted only of the leader and seven of her warriors.

Justin and the others felt numb with confusion.
‘Why do they have weapons?’
He did not know what to answer to Julia’s whispered inquiry.
‘And a female rules here. This is totally different from what you told me.’
‘I know,’ Justin muttered, ‘none of this makes sense.’

A burly brown-furred male rat wearing a tanned vest and wielding a vicious mace scuffed Justin’s head.

From the front of the group came the female leader’s familiar sneer.

‘Leave them be. Just keep them walking and watch them. You mark them, the Overlord won’t be happy.’

At that the surly guard actually swallowed hard and touched his throat protectively. The gesture did not go unnoticed by the three prisoners.

‘An Overlord. That’s something new as well,’ Justin mused a bit more audibly now.
Before Julia could comment Drasta, from the front, gave a nasty snigger.
‘Oh, you will see that the Deep Sewers have changed a lot, dear visitor. I am sure you will be amazed by the time this day is out… if you live that long.’

Suddenly, the male warrior rat in front of Justin, who was the first in the row of captives, stopped without warning, making the smaller rodent walk right into his back. Oddly enough, the much larger sewer dweller did not make a sound, or even turn his head. The brutish rat’s attention was fixed at something in front of them.

As the bound rodents gathered their composure each of them strained to see past those of their captors in front of them. What they spied simply added to their bafflement.

In front of Drasta stood another set of the violent rodents, assorted bits of clothing and weaponry outlined in the torchlight. These rats though did not show any deference to the fierce female in charge of their jailors. Drawing herself up to her full height and baring sharp teeth Drasta was arguing with the apparent leader of the other pack.

‘Then get your Lord down here. Tell him Drasta wants passage to the Overlord.’

While the rat she had addressed was larger than herself something in her confident bearing must have convinced him to follow her demands. With a curt order the leader of the sentries, because that apparently was the duty of these Stagg warriors, sent one of his rats down into the darkness of the main tunnel.

Both groups waited. Justin noticed the silent tension between the two sets of towering rats. Each pack was eyeing the other with barely contained suspicion, weapons gripped tightly. Finally, minutes later, the sound of approaching footsteps and an angry rasping male voice broke the quiet gridlock.

From the distant end of the tunnel in front of them came an even larger assemblage of sewer rat savages. More weapons and waving torches gave the surroundings an almost fluid luminance. At the head of the new arrivals was a male that stood apart from those he lead as much as Drasta did from the group holding the three surface dwellers. This male was tall, half a head taller than Brutus even, although of less bulk and somewhat stooped in posture. A dirty-grey pelt was crossed with countless scars, giving the newcomer a menacing aspect. His body was covered with a sophisticated black cloth tunic, something which would not have looked out of place in the Thorn Valley Colony. But over his looming shoulders the imposing male carried the pelt of a rat, fashioned into furry cloak, very reminiscent of the female rat Lord’s attire. But what really caught Brutus and Justin’s attention was the immense hammer-pickaxe combination the creature was carrying over his shoulder.

‘Cassius, how sweet of you to see me,’ cooed Drasta.

The male lowered his hammer and let its head hit the ground at the female’s feet with a loud clang.

‘You have some nerve, invading my territory, Drasta. Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t gut you right now.’

Not answering, the female Stagg removed Justin’s sword from her belt and threw it at the other Lord’s feet. Cassius looked down at the weapon, which seemed like a child’s toy compared to the two immense rodents facing off against each other. Finally, he bent down to inspect the sword more closely. Then, after some consideration, he eyed the female suspiciously.

‘You found this?’

Drasta’s muzzle spread in a terrifying grin.

‘It, and those who carried it. That’s why I need to pass your lovely territory. Balak needs to know.’

The male’s eyes lowered to slits.

‘Show me the ones who carried this.’

Stepping aside with a mocking bow the female Lord waved her followers aside to reveal a good look at their captives.

Cassius’ eyes light up in amazement, and then a toothy leer. He handed his own weapon to a subordinate and Justin’s sword to Drasta as he stepped forward to take a good, long look. His leer became exuberant as he walked by each of the three prisoners and then back to his female counterpart. Once standing next to Drasta he barked at his own followers,

‘Lord Drasta and her kin have free passage through my clan’s holdings.’
There was muttered acknowledgement from the various Staggs in all groups.
Then the scarred monstrosity winked at Drasta.
‘Mind if I come along? This I have to see.’
Caught up in her rival’s joviality the female chuckled.
‘Sure, we so rarely get to have fun these days.’

With that both of the cloaked Lords headed the now much larger group through yet another set of tunnels, Justin and the others being shoved and dragged close behind. Whatever was going on here, none of the three bound rats doubted that it was bad, very bad.

Cynthia’s head was throbbing.

The young mouse lifted herself into a sitting position, and immediately wished she had remained prone. Holding her flat palms to her temples and breathing slowly she tried to soothe the headache that was threatening to tear her skull apart. After a few moments of silence her head had cleared enough to make an attempt at coherent thought.

The water had carried them off. She remembered that clearly. They had been dragged and pulled through the cold flood, barely able to remain with their heads above water. It had been so dark that Cynthia had not been able to make out whether her mother and brother had been washed away in the same direction, or whether their respective rats had managed to hold on to them.

She looked around and tried to take stock of where she was. It was still dark. Whatever part of the sewers she was now in, she had no ability to penetrate the absolute lack of illumination. Cynthia carefully padded her own body down, trying to see whether she had incurred any injury. After a few seconds she realized that her cape and bag were missing. What was even stranger was that she was covered by a rough but warm blanket and was completely dry. Something odd had happened between the moment she had passed out in the flood and now.

Where were the others?

It might be possible that they had survived as well, maybe even dragged her to safety and dried her off. But if that was the case, where would they have found a dry blanket? Mulling over possibilities as she sat in the darkness was not doing her any good. As a matter of fact, Cynthia did not want to think about what might have happened. If she did, she might conjure up all sorts of nightmares of her family having died and her now being lost.

There was a scraping sound to her right.

‘Hello? Is someone there?’

Her only reply was a soft groan and a new sound, as if something draped in cloth was being moved over the floor. Slowly, the female moved her paw towards the sound until she encountered the texture of another blanket, like the one she was still wrapped in. Below the cloth she could feel the shape of a body. At her touch the shape under the blanket suddenly startled and gasped awake.


‘Mom? It’s me, Cynthia!’

The other mouse, her mother for sure, sat upright immediately, momentarily disoriented in the utter darkness. Cynthia, flooded with relief, moved up to her and embraced her, tears in her eyes.

‘Mom! I am so glad you’re okay.’
Mrs. Brisby responded automatically and reciprocated the embrace.
‘Cynthia! Thank goodness! Are you hurt?’
‘No,’ her daughter sniffed, ‘I am alright. Are you alright?’

It took the older mouse a few seconds to check herself, but she appeared unharmed apart from a few spots that would certainly be bruised.

‘I’m fine, sweetie. My clothes are gone, though. Did you put me in this blanket?’
Still holding on to her mother in the absence of light Cynthia shook her head.
‘No, I just woke up myself.’

Mrs. Brisby detangled her right hand from her offspring and patted the area around her blindly. Suddenly, to the side opposite to her daughter, she encountered the fabric of yet another blanket. She carefully tugged at it. It resisted as the shape lying underneath it pulled back, drawing the cloth with it.

The covered shape moved again and then groaned.
‘Oh mom, I don’t wanna get up yet.’

Cynthia immediately let go off her mother and scrambled to her feet, trying to find her brother. Sidestepping her parent she felt around for the recumbent shape of her sibling. Once she found what she was looking for, she pinched a random part of what she thought might be Timothy’s hindquarters.


The effect was immediate. His hands groping in the pitch black environment, trying to slap whoever had pinched him, the male mouse was instantly awake.

‘Cyn! Stop that! You wait ‘till I get my hands on…’

Timothy stopped in mid-diatribe as he realized just where he was, or better said, when he realized that he had no idea where he was.

‘Cynthia? Was that you?’
His sister answered by getting down on her knees and embracing him.
‘You’re okay! Timmy, I was so worried. Mom is here too.’
In response, Mrs. Brisby drew up to her two children and gave them wide hug.
‘I’m here Timothy. Are you hurt?’
‘If Cynthia can stop throttling me for a moment I can check.’

His sister relented and sat back, trying to make out the shapes of her family in the surrounding murk. She found that her eyes did adjust, and that her ability to catch her mother’s and brother’s scent gave her a good spatial understanding, at least of her immediate surroundings.

‘I think I’m okay. Got some bumps, but nothing bad. Where did you put my clothes?’

‘Honey,’ his mother replied, ‘we just awoke ourselves. We don’t know who took our clothes.’

‘Or where these blankets came from,’ added Cynthia.
Timothy grumbled and searched the floor around him with questing fingers.
‘I can’t even find my glasses.’
Turning her head, Cynthia tried to get a better sense of what their location might be. It felt and smelled like a huge room or cave.

‘In this darkness it probably doesn’t make a difference, Tim.’

‘Cynthia,’ she heard her mother chime in, ‘I get the feeling we are in a very large cavern of some kind.’

‘Yes, this place feels huge.’
‘Mom! Cyn! I found something.’
The two females scooted up to Timothy, whose hands were eagerly exploring something lying to his left.

‘What is it, honey?’
‘My bag, I am sure of it, and yours too, all of our gear.’
Cynthia sighed in relief.
‘Did you bring anything that can make some light?’
There were sounds of clanking metal tins as the male mouse rummaged through his belongings.

‘Just a minute. Ages gave me a water-proof tin with some of those matches he made … Aha!’

Suddenly, a rasping sound was followed by a painfully bright light. Timothy, dry but unclothed, was holding a handmade match, fully aflame, next to his head.

The scenery was breathtaking.

The mice’s impression of being in a large structure did not prepare them for the immense vaulted chamber they now found themselves in. The cavern was so expansive that the flickering match was barely able to reveal it. Walls of carefully set masonry and a floor of intricate tiles and mosaics were reflecting the flame’s spare’s luminance. It reminded the mice of the Council Chamber back in the Thorn Valley colony. There were pillared columns and vaulted passageways leading into further darkness. Then, the light vanished as suddenly as it had appeared, with Timothy cursing and shaking his hand painfully. So transfixed by the panorama had the young mouse been, he had not noticed the match burning down, until it had burned his fingers.

‘Are you okay, Timmy?’
‘Yes… man that hurts… let me get another match, Cyn.’
‘Honey,’ they heard their mother, ‘I saw something that looked like a lamp standing next to our bags, just before the match burnt out.’

Another scratch heralded the second match being lit. As soon as the light had returned Cynthia and Timothy stared in the direction their mother had indicated. She was right. A sturdy metal oil lamp with glass panes, perfectly rodent-sized, was resting next to their baggage. Cynthia, being the closest, made a grab for it and opened a glass pane so that her brother could light the lamp with the dwindling match. Then, the group had a steady source of illumination.

All three of them stood up, gazing at the distant ceiling.

‘This place is huge.’

‘Huge,’ Mrs. Brisby nodded, drawing the blanket tight across her shoulders, ‘but very empty.’

Moving the lantern in her hand in a circle as she turned to look around, Cynthia illuminated the various part of the chamber in turn.

‘Do you see those draperies,’ Timothy pointed at an immense wall-hanging.
‘Yes,’ Cynthia answered with a dry swallow, ‘almost looks like the ones at home.’

The empty hall was vaguely rectangular, with two galleries of passages leading off at the longer sides. There appeared to be a second floor with a balconied walkway lining the walls. Even from the ground the three mice could make out distant shapes of cobwebbed furnishings, like chairs and mouse-sized tables behind the railings.

‘This feels like our meeting hall in the colony.’

The younger mice nodded silently to their mother’s comment.

Despite the place’s grandeur there was a sense of abandonment and desolation about it. Dust covered every surface. Cobwebs and mold were visible in the draperies and masonry. The chamber felt as if it had not been filled for a long time.

Timothy walked to the edge of the hall, where a bundle of glass orbs were suspended from ornate fastenings.

‘How much do you want to bet,’ he mused, ‘that these are electrical lights?’

Cynthia, who had remained in her spot while turning around, still tried to take in the vastness, but answered nonetheless,

‘How did we wind up in a place like this?’

‘Someone,’ Mrs. Brisby replied, ‘brought us here, dried us off, and left us blankets and a lamp, probably whoever made this place.’

Timothy tapped one of the walls with his knuckles,

‘Who could have made all this? This doesn’t look like the work of any of Justin’s ‘sewer monsters’.’

‘Children, I think I have found our clothes.’

Both mice immediately faced their mother, who was standing next to a stone bench, which was situated underneath one of the chamber’s columns. There, in three neatly folded piles, lay there vestments, including the two pairs of glasses.

‘So,’ Cynthia ventured as they all approached the bench, ‘someone rescues us, drags us all the way in here, leaves us blankets, dries our clothes, and then just vanishes?’

Mrs. Brisby, after having pulled her gloves over her scarred palms, buttoned her cloak as she looked back at the second floor gallery.

‘I am sure whoever it was, is watching us.’

Timothy, who had just managed to pull his shirt over his tussled head, nodded before putting his glasses on and then took the lantern from his sister to allow her to don her poncho.

‘So what does he, or she, or they want from us?’

‘Well,’ Cynthia mumbled from underneath the folds of her clothes, ‘at least they seem friendly enough. Nothing here feels like someone wants to see us hurt.’

That was a relief. Cynthia’s sense of things was always accurate. At least it had always been that way so far. As the crème-furred rodent dressed Timothy surveyed the masonry with more scrutiny.

‘I’ll be darned!’

His mother and sister turned to him as they had started making their way back to their bags.

‘What is it, son?’

Adjusting his spectacles, Timothy tapped a small, roundish pane of glass secreted in between the grouting of two huge stone blocks in the wall.

‘That is a camera lens of some sort.’

Mrs. Brisby walked up to him, her head cocked as she stared at where her son was pointing.

‘Are you sure?’
‘Mom,’ he grinned, ‘you know me and machines.’
Cynthia, who had proceeded to retrieve their gear and had carried it back to her family, sighed appreciatively.

‘Timmy and his machines. It doesn’t matter if he has no clue how they work. He can get them to work. So that thing is watching us?’

The male mouse tapped the round glass again and then put his right eye against it. There was a mechanical sound coming from behind the wall.

‘Hear that? It must have some sort of focus adjustment, since I put my eye so close. This has to be a camera.’

He drew a step back and surveyed the cavern in the light of the lamp he now held. Then the mouse raised his free hand and pointed to various places in the vast room.

‘I see at least six… no… eight more places where there are cameras like this one.’

The other two mice followed his gaze and managed, on a few occasions, to see tiny flashes of reflected light sparkle from between stone blocks, just where Timothy had claimed other devices to be hidden.

Mrs. Brisby turned to face the camera closest to them.

‘Hello in there? If you can see us, you can probably hear us too. We thank you for saving us. May we meet you?’

There was no answer forthcoming, only another whirring sound as the machine’s focus adjusted again.

‘You know what else is weird,’ asked Cynthia.
‘What,’ her brother replied.
‘If whoever brought us here can work the cameras, why didn’t they turn on those electric lamps you saw? It would be better than having to carry that oil lamp all over the place.’

Timothy looked at the lantern in his hand and then back at his sibling and parent. He did not know what the answer to this riddle might be, but he had to agree that Cynthia had a valid point. There was an additional layer of strangeness to this already surreal tableau.

Mrs. Brisby, in the meantime, had kept on looking at the camera, waiting for an answer. Since there was nothing that could be interpreted as a reply, she addressed the unseen observer or observers once more.

‘If you do not wish to talk to us, then we should probably leave. We are grateful for all your help, but we have lost some friends in that flood, and need to find them again.’

With that being said, the brown mouse turned and gestured for her children to follow her.

‘Cynthia, you always know where to go. Which one of these passages leads out?’

The younger female rubbed her chin and then pointed to an archway on the left side of the hall,

‘That one!’

Leading the way Mrs. Brisby tried to radiate more confidence than she felt. The whole situation was terribly disturbing. They had been saved, but whoever their savior was seemed content to watch them from a distance. It felt like they were being observed, like those laboratory animals at NIMH Justin had always talked about. This place may not mean them harm. Cynthia was likely right about that. But it still felt wrong and they probably should try to get out of here as fast as they could.

As they approached the archway Timothy suddenly called out.
The other two mice halted.
‘What’s wrong?’ asked his sister.
The male mouse, still carrying the light, pointed at an inconspicuous area on one of the columns.

‘There is some sort of trap mechanism in that passage.’

His mother peered at the stones, yet could not discern any difference between them. Her son had a knack with machinery, just as Cynthia had an incredible sense of intuition. If he said there was a trap, she believed him.

‘What kind of trap?’

Timothy rummaged in his shoulder-slung back and produced a small screw-driver. He threw the tool towards the passage.

The moment it passed within inches of the archway, jets of red flame, hot, smelling of oil, erupted from somewhere beneath the floor tiles, bathing the entire hall in a ghastly orange glare. Mrs. Brisby and Cynthia instinctively jumped back and gasped, only the male mouse stood still, gazing at the inferno with a strange kind of awe in his eyes. The flames disappeared as quickly as they had appeared, leaving no trace of their presence apart from some dissipating smoke and a terrible stench.

‘Okay,’ Cynthia offered, ‘let’s try a different way out then.’

Cautiously, her mother right behind her, she moved to a passage three archways farther to the left. Her brother, following slowly with his eyes on every exit they passed, sighed.

‘Every single one is booby-trapped.’
‘You mean,’ his mother turned,’ we are trapped in here?’
Cynthia swallowed hard as Timothy nodded with a frightened expression on his features.
Mrs. Brisby’s gaze travelled around the large hall’s rows of passages, all invitingly open.
‘Then this place is a cage, a cage without bars.’

The rats’ journey continued. The prisoners from the valley were amazed how easily the sewer dwellers were able to navigate this maze. After a while though, Brutus gave Justin a nudge with his shoulder and motioned with his head towards one of the walls. There was a symbol made from gashes in the concrete. Justin nodded.

‘That has been on the tunnel walls ever since we met up with Mr. Big-Hammer.’
Julia, who had followed Brutus’ gaze, muttered.
‘In the pipes that belong to the female, Drasta, there was a different mark, shaped like that jewelry she wears.’
‘Clever,’ Justin mused.

Apparently, the rat Lord named Cassius had been listening in on the captives’ conversation. Unexpectedly, he and Drasta appeared, walking next to them. The scarred leader glowered at them while his female counterpart simply grinned in the background.

‘Yes, we have become clever. And we also know who you are.’

That statement, delivered in Cassius’ icy voice, sent a chill down Justin’s spine and startled him enough to stop in his tracks. That, of course, made Brutus walk right into him, adding to the group’s confusion.

‘How do you…’

The slender brown rat did not even get to finish as Cassius, accompanied by a nasty chuckle from Drasta shoved him forwards.

‘Just keep moving. You will get answers when the Overlord orders it. Now, you walk.’

With that, the two fur-cloaked Lords headed back to the front of the group and neither Julia nor Justin felt much like talking anymore.

About twenty minutes later, the whole pack came to a gradual halt. This time, the assembled rodents found themselves in a much larger sewer drain, wide enough for ten of the large Stagg warriors to stand side by side. It was easy for the captives to see ahead in the light of the torches. A short distance away from Drasta and Cassius, still at the head of the group, was an intersection of three smaller sewer pipe openings. At the central drain a group of sewer rat guards similar to the ones in their own entourage were waiting with torches. The concrete walls here showed a new symbol, a circle with an ‘x’ crossing it.

Not wanting to risk the ire of their wardens, Julia just nudged her nose towards the symbol as she gently shouldered her male companions. Justin and Brutus nodded and gazed from the etched marks to the new pack of rats.

Unlike before, when they had encountered the sentries of Cassius’ domain, neither Stagg Lord made any attempt to approach the rats stationed at the central tunnel entrance. Drasta and Cassius simply let their followers wait at a distance. There was an odd sense of apprehension and nervousness about the two leaders, wholesomely out of character to their behavior thus far. Not a sound was being made. Every single one of the Staggs in their group was silent, eyes intent on the sewer entrance ahead.

Finally, after five minutes of waiting, a surprisingly small shape, shorter even than Justin, wearing a grubby grey robe similar to a monk’s, came towards them, flanked by two of the much larger rat warriors.

Still, Drasta and Cassius remained silent, almost deferential, as the diminutive rat approached. Once he had arrived, the newcomer raised his cowl and revealed the middle-aged features of one of the scrawniest rats Justin had ever seen. Hooded yellowed eyes were surrounded by a sickly grey-green pelt. Even the rat’s voice had a frail tone to it when he bowed slightly and spoke.

‘Welcome, Lord Drasta, Lord Cassius. What brings you to the seat of the Overlord?’

The larger male rat Lord looked almost imploringly at his counterpart. Apparently, facing this weak member of the Stagg rats was uncomfortable for Cassius. The female did not appear to be at ease either but cleared her throat nonetheless.

‘We bear news for Balak. We have found some of those we were told to watch for.’

Cassius, who had taken possession of Justin’s sword while leading the group, handed the blade to the robed rat, who carefully took it into his slender paws for examination. A few glances at the weapon and the thin rat nodded to the two Lords and bowed.

‘I will relay the message. Wait.’

The scrawny rodent hastened away, definitely agitated, his two body guards in tow.

This time it did not even take two minutes until the grey-robed rat returned, in as much haste as he had departed in, which left his guards following him in an undignified scamper.

The short rat stopped in front of Cassius and Drasta, who seemed much more confident now in light of the apparent excitement of their host, as he gesticulated for them to follow him.

‘Come quickly! The Overlord is most anxious to see you, most anxious indeed!’

‘Dim the light.’

The voice echoed through the deserted hall, coming from every direction at once. It was male, but distorted by obvious electronic feedback.

Mrs. Brisby and her children, who had sat musing on their awkward situation, startled and stood up, heads turning this way and that way.

‘Where is that coming from?’ asked Cynthia to the empty space.
Timothy pointed to a number of the chamber’s columns.
‘Electronic speakers. No way to tell where he is.’
‘Dim the light.’

Cynthia and Timothy looked at their mother, unsure how to proceed. Elizabeth rubbed her chin in thought and then nodded to her son, who was closest to the lamp. Timothy pushed the oil lamp’s regulator down until there was barely a glimmer coming from the wick. The three mice huddled closer together.

‘Now what?’
The brown mouse did not know what to answer her son. Cynthia suddenly chimed in.
‘He’s in here. I heard something coming from over there.’
All three strained to make out any sounds in the surrounding gloom.
‘Cynthia,’ her mother urged, ‘are we in danger?’
‘Whoever this is doesn’t want to hurt us, but…’
‘But what?’ muttered her brother.
‘Be quiet. If any of you move, I will have to kill you.’

That had the desired effect. None of the Brisby mice spoke or moved. Even their breathing came in rasps to avoid excess body motion. There was the sound of cloth and very light steps at the group’s periphery. In the sparse luminance of the lamp a mouse-sized shape, dark and indistinct, appeared facing the three stunned rodents. Three pairs of eyes looked at the newcomer in trepidation, nobody moved. The stranger appeared to be wearing a long hooded robe or cloak, his features difficult to distinguish. In the red glow of the wick the Brisby family was able to discern the figures head moving slightly from side to side, as if listening. The sounds of air being sniffed came from the shadowed cowl. Finally, the obscure shape settled down, sitting on an opposing bench. There was some odd object protruding from the outline where one would expect a right hand to be.

‘Turn the light up, slowly, until I tell you to stop.’

Without the distortion from the speakers the voice sounded younger than the three mice would have expected, but there was also hoarseness about it, as if the speaker suffered a sore throat.

Timothy returned his hand to the lamp’s adjustment knob and slowly turned it up. The flame in the lamp grew, shedding more light around the Brisby family and onto their peculiar captor. Just as the other’s shape became distinct he spoke again.

‘Enough! That’s enough!’

The individual before them was a mouse, or at least a mouse-sized rodent. There was very little visible of him. The robes actually turned out to be more a kind of heavy, belted overcoat with countless pockets. A hood was drawn over their host’s head, but from beneath the cloth they could only discern a full-face mask with mirrored glass hiding the eyes. The nose was protected by some sort of filter in the mask. Gloves covered the hands and somewhat awkward looking shoes or boots were draped over the feet. A little bit of the creature’s tail, which poked out from the behind the bench, also looked as if it was covered in fabric. There was no skin or fur visible at all. The mouse, if that was what this creature actually was, held what looked like a plastic pistol in his right gloved hand.

Despite the weapon, there was something pitiful about the hooded appearance, which compelled Mrs. Brisby to take a step forward. Immediately, the muzzle trained on her head, the masked head of their captor swiveling around.

‘Don’t move. I can hear even your muscles twitch.’
Timothy was feeling angry at his mother being threatened.
‘Oh yeah?’

A small popping sound came from the gun, just some expelled air. But right in front of Timothy’s foot a small metal needle stuck fast in the crack between two tiles. The hooded mouse rasped again.

‘They are poisonous. One little cut means death. Do you understand? Nod if you do.’
All three mice, sufficiently cowed, nodded.
‘I found you in one of the canals. You had clothes and materials. The one in front, answer me. Who and what are you?’
Mrs. Brisby swallowed hard.
‘We are mice, who live with rats. These rats, and we, have been changed by humans. We can do things normal mice and rats cannot.’
The mask and hood swayed as she spoke, ears within the cowl moving with each word. Then the robed mouse nodded.
‘What are your names?’
‘My name is Elizabeth, Elizabeth Brisby. These are my children, Cynthia and Timothy.’
The gun’s muzzle lowered and the covered mouse’s head leaned forward.
‘I have heard that name before. My parents told me about a mouse named Brisby.’
‘Who,’ the brown female ventured with another cautious step forward, ‘are you?’
Their seated interrogator put the weapon on the bench and folded his hands in his lap, the concealed face lowered.
‘My name used to be Brendan. But nowadays I am just known as –The Ghost-.’

The robed rat led the procession down a number of tunnels. The warriors Drasta and Cassius had brought along had been asked to remain behind in a large assembly area surrounded by make-shift buildings, all located at an intersection of two immense sewer pathways where raised human walkways presented level ground. There had been a great number of Stagg rats of all ages and sizes, including females and smaller males. This was the first time Julia, Justin and Brutus had gotten to see the actual habitations of the sewer dwellers. They were not what they had expected.

Despite their rag-tag appearance, the buildings were clean and stacked in an organized fashion. The huge rats they had encountered thus far obviously constituted a warrior class. They were found overlooking the hustle and bustle of rodent-sized alleys and hovels, standing watch bearing weapons of various degree of manufacture. But in difference to what Justin had learned as a feral animal, the towering rodents did not openly abuse their smaller sewer kin. Smaller, less physically able Stagg males and females carried goods around, some were seen in corners weaving primitive cloth or preparing food. Julia made a point not to look at the food items too closely once she spotted an older female cutting meat off a rat skull. From some caverns cut into cracks in the aging concrete walls sounds of metal being forged could be heard. Clearly, this was final proof that the sewer rats of Baltimore, somehow, someway, had changed in the same way the original Rats of NIMH had.

Only Drasta, Cassius, and their guide remained to push the bound surface rodents towards a round tunnel, carved into the native earth in a cement wall fissure. The entrance was framed by the circle-and-cross symbols they had observed ever since they had entered this particular domain. Two immense Stagg warriors, each having their heads covered with cloth hoods, giving them the appearance of executioners, stood at attention at the entrance, bearing intricately forged halberds that could have just as well been found on a member of the Thorn Valley Guard.

Neither of the sentries gave any attention to the six rats as they entered, the guide followed by Drasta, then the prisoners, and Cassius bringing up the rear. The tunnel was light by small oil lamps set into crevices of the smoothed walls, giving it an eerie red cast, as if they were descending into the bowels of a vast beast. The end was cordoned off with a huge red curtain, properly made from purloined cloth. The stooped rat halted at the drapes, waiting for the two Stagg Lords to line up in front their prizes. Then, he pulled a cord that parted the curtain as if in a theater.

The hall beyond was the audience chamber of the Overlord. There were no remnants of human manufacture present here. The entire circular room had been carved from the earth and stone surrounding the sewage system. Along the walls were more lamps, orange light flickering within. To the Thorn Valley rats’ distress, these lamps had been manufactured from emptied rat skulls, the hollow eye sockets radiating the only light available. Facing the main entrance, bathed in the macabre illumination was an immense, yet empty throne. If the lighting was disturbing, the throne was even more so. It was difficult to tell on first glance how many rats had given their lives to fashion the imposing construct with their skulls and bones. The seat was testament to cruelty and violence, the center of this chamber, and obviously, the center of the world the Stagg rats lived in.

Three smaller passages were visible behind the throne, two covered with cloth drapes, a third to the right with the curtain drawn aside. It was from that third passage, carved steps leading into distant gloom, that footsteps could be heard.

Justin observed, as did his friends, that all of their remaining captors had their eyes glued to that tunnel. They were not paying any attention to them. They could easily try to make a run for it, back down the tunnel, or even try to knock their adversaries out first. If there was a chance to overpower them, it would be now. He gave Brutus a knowing glance and nod. The larger rat looked around, then back at Justin and slowly shook his head. Something about this set-up disturbed the large guard enough not to risk an escape attempt. The brown rat sighed and nodded as well. Julia, like their jailors, had been busy staring at the figure coming down the steps into the hall.

This had to be the Overlord.

He looked younger than what Justin would have expected. He was not the largest of all the sewer rats he had seen down here, but there were other aspects to this creature that set him apart. The new arrivals pelt was the color of old blood and fell from his head down his shoulders in an unkempt mane. In bulk he was comparable to Brutus, but radiated violence in a much less controlled manner. A heavy chest and massive arms exuded an air of power and confidence as the Overlord strode into his throne room. His yellow-green eyes were small, yet glowed with an intelligence and intensity that was more frightening than his stature or attire. The only true clothing this rat wore was a heavy fur cloak, fastened around his neck by heavy pieces of armor made from a peculiar dark metal. His arms were sheathed in studded bands of the same material and his hands covered in massive metal bucklers. Leather bands secured the armor across the Overlord’s chest, and where they met they had been adorned by another polished rat skull.

The face of the Stagg rats’ supreme ruler turned up at the corners, but not in a smile. A vicious snarl revealed sharpened teeth and one of the massive rat’s clawed hands pointed at the two Stagg Lords.

‘The last time you were in my presence, I promised you that if you ever sought audience with me again for one of your border disputes, I would personally remove your heads and appoint others to lead your clans.’

Both Drasta and Cassius, who stood taller than his apparently unhappy master, were hard-pressed not to shiver. Their master’s voice was both cold and loaded with menace at the same time. They both nodded and lowered their gaze to the ground, not daring to speak.

The blood-furred rat regally made his way to the throne. Once seated, he waved a hand at the grey-robed rat that had guided them here.

‘Quaestor tells me you have found the ones I instructed you to watch for.’
Both Lords looked up and nodded, trying not to betray the unease they felt.
Suddenly, the Overlord’s angry scowl changed into an amused smile.
‘Well then, show me.’

Drasta and Cassius stepped aside so that the sparse illumination of the throne room could reveal the three bound rats to their liege. The enthroned rat gazed upon Justin and his friends with chilling amusement. The supreme ruler of the deep sewers reclined in his chair, a finger stroking his chin as his smile deepened and his attention turned once more to his diminutive major domo.

‘Their possessions are being studied, I assume?’
The robed rat called Quaestor nodded in supplication.
‘Yes, my Lord.’

His master tapped his own chin as he looked upon the prisoners once more. Then his right arm reached to the side of his throne and from there placed Justin’s sword, delivered to him by his servant earlier, on his lap. He caressed the blade, which looked ridiculously small to his own bulk, in his hands.

‘Tell me, Quaestor, from what you saw of their gear, what purpose do you suppose these trespassers have in my realm?’

Clearing his throat the beige rat mused for a few moments.

‘Their bags contained equipment suited for exploration, my Lord. There were ropes, grappling hooks, materials for making torches, some small tools, and supplies to treat injuries. Apart from the small male’s sword and the large male’s pole weapon there were no weapons I could see. There were no supplies for camouflaging or spying either.’

The Overlord rose from his seat, still smiling and toying with Justin’s blade. He first passed Drasta, placing a hand on her shoulder and giving a gentle squeeze. Then he stepped towards Cassius, repeating the gesture with a smile.

‘You have both done very well, my friends. These are indeed the ones I told you to watch for. And you brought them to me without your old quarrels interfering with your duties.’

Stopping in front of the three captives now, the poisonous green eyes of the Stagg master sized up each. Then, the Overlord pointed his clawed finger at Justin.

‘You are Justin.’

The look of shock on the brown rat’s face spoke volumes. He had not revealed his name to his captors, nor had Julia. Before he could rally his thoughts behind how this monstrous leader of a monstrous society of rats would be able to know his name the smiling rat Lord pointed at Brutus.

‘This must be Brutus.’

Julia and Brutus shared Justin’s sense of surprise and disbelief, leaving the two smaller rats unable to speak. Finally, the pointing claw came to rest on Julia.

‘You were not mentioned or described to me. What is your name?’

None of the bound rats spoke up. With a sigh the Overlord’s free hand gently raised Julia’s chin, only to suddenly grip tightly and raise her off the floor, choking for air.

Justin and Brutus both tried to turn to do whatever they could with their hands bound to free her. But Drasta and Cassius had, as their ruler had begun his inspection, stepped closer to the captives and, as soon as the small female had been grasped, put knife-blades on either male’s throat. Despite their rage, both Thorn Valley rats stopped their advance, but Justin yelled.

‘Julia! Her name’s Julia!’

The Overlord let her drop to the ground unceremoniously and walked back to the skull-throne. Justin, his hands still bound behind his back, went on his knees next to Julia, who was coughing loudly.

‘Are you okay?’

She nodded as soon as she had regained enough breath to do so. Then she was yanked upright by Drasta grabbing on to the ropes that bound her hands.

‘You stand in the Overlord’s presence!’
‘That’s enough, Drasta.’
The red rat had seated himself again and was observing the scene with obvious delight.
‘I think we can dispense with the formalities for now. Justin, you are the leader of the Rats of NIMH. Why have you come here?’

Once more, Justin was at a loss for words, which only served to increase the Overlord’s amusement.
‘Yes, Justin, I am very much aware of the Rats of NIMH. I know about your history and that quaint little valley you now reside in. I ask you once more, why are you here?’

Instead of answering, still dazed from the revelation, the former Captain of the Guard asked a question himself.

‘How… how could you know of us?’

Now the seated rat could no longer contain his glee. Roaring laughter echoed through the chamber as he tilted his head back. Cassius and Drasta sniggered and chuckled as well. Slowly regaining his composure the Overlord actually winked at the captives.

‘Please, call me Balak. We will get to know each other quite well; that I can assure you of. As for how I know about you, some of your own people told me.’

That answer only deepened Justin’s confusion, which was mirrored on Brutus’ face as he looked to him for some sort of support.

‘Come now, Justin, I was told you were smart despite your obvious shortcomings.’

Still, despite Balak’s taunt no insight presented itself to the brown rodent. Finally, the Overlord shook his head in mock disappointment. He turned his massive head to one of the curtained off passages behind his throne.

‘I don’t suppose he will understand on his own, my Love. You might as well show him.’

As if on command the curtain on the left passage parted and a looming shape, easily as tall as Brutus or Balak, draped in a tan-colored hooded robe, cowl raised, stepped out gracefully into the audience hall. The face was hidden, but the newcomer’s movements had a definite feminine grace to them. Both Stagg Lords and Quaestor took a respectful step back as the towering shape approached the group, but Drasta and Cassius were now grinning broadly in anticipation. The hooded figure stopped in front of the former Captain of the Guard and a resonant feminine voice wafted from the cowl.

‘Has it been so long that you do not even remember me, Justin?’

It was Brutus’ ears that perked up immediately in recognition. But his superior had made a connection as well. Justin’s features were filled with terrified wonder as he tried to peer into the folds of the hood.

‘Dora? Is that… you in there?’

With deliberate and slow movements powerful yet slender hands, tipped in vicious black claws, raised themselves to lift the cowl. They revealed the face of an immense female rat, taller even than Drasta, although of rangier physique. Intricately forged bands of metal covered her wrist, neck, and bound her hair in a raised ponytail. The lean features and dark grey fur framed a set of large eyes, from which sanity seemed to have departed long ago. Bloodshot and devoid of pigmentation the pupils were ruby windows into a world of pain and hate.

‘Dora is dead, Justin, without ever having been able to grow up fully.’ the female cooed at the much smaller brown rat, ‘You finally killed her when you drove her and her family out of Thorn Valley.’

Without giving Justin a chance to reply the female’s hand jerked outwards, grabbing him by the neck as the Overlord had done with Julia only moments before, and single-handedly raised him off the ground. When Brutus attempted to lunge at the attacker she turned her insane gaze on him and snarled.

‘Move and I will crush his spine. Back down, Brutus! Your turn will come.’

Reluctantly, with some persuasion from the feel of Cassius’s blade at his back again, Brutus forced himself to remain calm. Justin was slowly lowered to be at eye level with his female assailant, the choke hold loosened enough for him to speak.

‘Dora… did… not cast… you… out.’

A serene smile spread the female’s features and she lowered her captive to the floor with exaggerated care, where he strained to remain upright and regain his breath.

‘I told you before, Justin. Dora is dead. I am Rapta now.’

She bent down so their eyes could meet. Smiling the female’s voice betrayed the madness that apparently had warped her mind.

‘You may not have cast out Victoria and her daughters personally. But you did nothing to prevent the hounding and persecution from those hypocrites in your colony. You did not stop Verilla and her ilk from making Thorn Valley a prison of shame for them, and for what? Was it not enough for you to have killed Jenner? Did it give you a warm feeling seeing his family disgraced as well?’

‘Dora, I…’

Justin did not get to finish his sentence. Once more Rapta grasped his throat tightly, this time ready to crush it, when her maddened gaze locked on something on the brown rat’s throat. Her grip loosened and she stood back. The look on her face had changed again. Neither the crazed glee nor the vicious hate was visible now. Her features revealed only surprise, and something that might even be fear.

‘What’s wrong, my Dear?’

Balak, who had watched the proceedings with clear enjoyment now leaned forward, his own face betraying concern. The female looked at him and, with a hoarse voice, muttered,
‘My mother needs to see this. He’s got the blight.’

Justin’s neck, revealed by his collar having been dislodged in the huge female’s hold, bore a wide patch of fur that had turned snowy white. The Overlord’s eyes narrowed to slits as he listened to Rapta and caught a glimpse of the discoloration. More disturbingly, Drasta and Cassius were now casting worried glances at each other and Justin, all swagger and jeers forgotten. Balak tapped a finger to his temple.

‘Has he had this before he ventured into our realm?’
Rapta turned to face Justin, rage and fear intermingled in her voice.
‘Answer him!’
It was Julia who found her voice first.
‘Yes! That is the whole reason we came here. Everyone is getting it. And if we do not stop it, it will kill us all.’
For a moment, nobody moved or spoke. The looming female and the seated Overlord exchanged glances. Then Balak nodded.
‘Take him to see your mother. I want to know exactly what their reason is for being here, in exhaustive detail.’

He raised himself from his throne, walking towards Justin. As he did so, the bound rats noticed that the Overlord was rubbing a space on his left arm. Once he reached them, all three were able to see a tiny patch of bleached fur poking out from underneath the metal band covering his upper left arm. Now standing at Rapta’s side, Balak glowered at Justin.

‘If I do not like what I hear, I will let Rapta do all the things to you she has dreamed about ever since she arrived here. You will beg for death.’

Before anyone could reply, the monstrous female grabbed Justin’s bonds and dragged him behind her towards the passage she had first entered from. Brutus and Julia, once more under the attention of two curved daggers, could do nothing but stare. Minutes later, both Rapta and their friend had disappeared from view.

Chapter 9: The Blight

In the darkness of the vast office the occupant’s fingers tapped a glowing green square on the polished table. When touched the icon light up and receded into the depths of desk’s surface.

‘Good evening, sir.’ The mechanized feminine voice intoned.

‘Set up recording for a status report on the Retrieval Protocol.’

It had been a long day of work, but the figure in the towering chair did not let his fatigue rush his usual procedure. A mere moment after his command the mechanical speaker replied.

‘Set up completed, sir. Ready to record on your mark.’

In the shadow of the seat’s curved back the occupant nodded to himself.


The voice waited a short while and then relayed the information for the night’s log entry.

‘The specimens’ progress appears to have halted after their arrival in the city. The received data also shows that three of the specimens have separated from the main group. From the location of the bait animal we estimate that it and the remaining two specimens are close to the area of the last retrieval operation. We will monitor for the return of the separated specimens.’

The speaker’s hands folded in front of his face, a strange green glow reflecting from his eyes, which was the only visible indication of his features in the gloom. When he next spoke a tinge of concern entered his report.

‘If the three separated specimens do not rejoin the main group within 48 hours of the last information transfer, we may have to send an active retrieval team to search the sewers. I will not allow them to be lost again.’

A short pause ensued, as was standard procedure.

‘Save and encode the entry.’

The female voice gave the expected response.

‘Entry saved and locked. Good night sir.’

The mouse behind the mask had set the needle gun on the bench next to him. Somehow, the tension and sense of intimidation the figure had radiated before slowly ebbed away, leaving the seated rodent looking small and huddled. As it had done in the past, the name she shared with her departed husband had once again allowed Mrs. Brisby to form a rapport, where moments ago there had been no hope for resolution. Their captor, or rescuer for that matter, gazed at the three mice through the circular glass lenses hiding his eyes. They were able to hear his breathing from the two protective vents in the front of his mask, where nose and mouth were hidden. For a few moments neither knew what to say. It was the now resigned looking shape of their keeper that broken the silence.

‘I know the name of a Jonathan Brisby.’

The raspy, youthful voice had lost its edge. Now it just sounded weary and unbearably exhausted.

‘He was my husband.’

The cowl nodded.

‘So the rats managed to survive after all.’

Mrs. Brisby exchanged a glance with her children, unsure how to proceed. Both Cynthia and Timothy could only shrug, their confused expressions echoing their mother’s. Through his glass lenses the seated mouse picked up on their uncertainty.

‘Jonathan Brisby and Thomas Ages were the two mice who managed to stay with the rats that helped us escape so long ago.’

Timothy’s expression light up in understanding and he took a step forward.

‘You’re talking about the rest of the mice, the six that got lost in the ventilation system when the rats escaped NIMH.’

Once more the hooded shape nodded.

‘The first six, yes; the air swept them away, pulled them down. Then, they caught on a grate, a filter of some sort. They were stuck there for hours, the wind pressing on them, making it impossible to move. Then, the ventilation shut down.’

All three Brisby mice had now closed in around the one in the heavy coat, bringing their lantern with them. As Cynthia, who held the lamp, approached the slumped shape suddenly winced in pain and nearly fell of the stone bench. Mrs. Brisby and Timothy instinctively rushed forward to support the slipping figure. But whatever discomfort the hooded shape felt it was not enough to overcome its training. As the two mice closed in gloved hands grasped the discarded pistol once more, pointing it straight at Timothy’s head.

Mrs. Brisby, who stood a little to the left of her son, drew a deep breath and raised her hands with the palms open.

‘Please, we mean no harm.’

Slowly, the gun was lowered again and placed on the bench once more. The hooded shape slumped even more, head downcast. Then, soft sobbing sounds became audible and the mouse began to tremble. Their mysterious captor was crying.

Cynthia placed the lantern on the ground and drew near her family and the stranger. Her mother very slowly seated herself next to the distraught figure, noticing for the first time how fragile and weak it looked when one got passed the heavy protective clothing. Carefully, Mrs, Brisby put a soothing hand on the slumped shoulders. He did not flinch. Rather, the heaving intensified. Then, unexpectedly, the masked head turned and leaned into the older mouse’s lap, like a child running to its mother for comfort. Beneath the mask the tears had to be running copiously now.

Timothy and Cynthia took a seat on the other side of the bench, putting a calming hand on the crying mouse’s back. All fear had left them, to be replaced with compassionate sorrow. Whatever the individual in the coat had suffered, it must have been terrible. The crying subsided, replaced by deep breaths, slowly calming.

Finally, the head raised itself. It was impossible to tell with the mask whether the unexpected emotional breakdown had embarrassed the cloaked stranger. The fact that he did not make an effort to push them away, but turned his covered face from one to the other, studying them from behind the inscrutable glass lenses, gave the impression that he did not care about embarrassment. He pointed a gloved finger at the lamp.

‘Can you turn that down so that the wick barely glows?’

Cynthia removed her hand from the others back and walked over to the lamp, adjusting the oil control so that the wick would emit only the faintest light possible. Once done, she remained there and looked back at the group.

‘Like this?’

The hood nodded.

‘Thank you.’

Without further explanation the mouse removed his right glove.

The hand within was young, but strong, covered in the most downy white fur any of the Brisby family had ever seen. One was able to see the light pink skin underneath. The masked rodent held his hand in the direction of Cynthia and the lamp as if testing something. Then, he nodded once more and removed the left hand glove.

Mrs. Brisby and her son drew back a bit as the stranger cautiously unbuckled the belt of his heavy coat and undid the buttons beneath. Cynthia walked back to the bench to get a better look. Soon, the hooded coat with its many pockets fell to the ground. Underneath the mouse was seen to wear belted pants and the strange boots they had noticed earlier. His upper body was revealed now and showed the same snowy covering of fur and light skin as his hands.

Finally, carefully, the downy hands began opening the straps that held the mask in place behind the mouse’s ear. Once loosened, the hands tenderly held the mask and in both hands and removed it.

The mice from Thorn Valley gaped.

Their presumed captor was young, probably the same age as Mrs. Brisby’s youngest daughter. Like the rest of his body, Brendan’s face and head were white-furred and gave the impression of being light-sensitive. His features were well-molded for his age and showed he would grow up to be a handsome mouse. But it was his eyes that shocked the others the most. Like his fur and skin, there was no pigmentation to be found in either iris. In the weak glow of the lamp the strange pupils, as small as pinholes, reflected in a ghastly reddish color. He truly did look like a ghost.

Mrs. Brisby leaned a bit forward, her right hand raised cautiously to Brendan’s face. He did not move but allowed her to gently touch his cheek, still wet from the tears he shed moments ago.

‘What has happened to you, child?’

A sad smile crossed the colorless rodent.

‘The same thing that is happening to you.’

Her hand drew away as if stung, her eyes going wide as Brendan continued.

‘When I drew you from the canal and dried your bodies, I saw the blight on each of you.’

His gaze went from Elizabeth to each of her children. The grief in the colorless eyes was overpowering.

‘Soon, you will all be like this, never able to feel the light again.’

Cynthia stood up, hands clasped in front of her nervously.

‘Where are the others, the ones who built this place? Did this… disease kill them?’

Now it was the downy-furred mouse’s turn to look confused.

‘No, nobody died. This blight… it just makes light unbearable. But we adapted, just kept all light very low.’

Timothy looked at the other doubtfully.

‘We were told that this thing was supposed to kill us in the end. You say it doesn’t? Then where is everybody?’

The bare-chested mouse looked at his own hands.

‘I don’t know. This whole mess started over six months ago. That’s when the discoloration first showed up. We didn’t worry about it then. But then two months later it spread so fast that we had to change our way of life. That was hard. But we got used to it. Low light wasn’t that bad.’

‘So,’ Mrs. Brisby ventured, ‘you have been like this for months?’

The white mouse nodded emphatically.

‘What happened to everybody else?’

‘Do you know about the Staggs?’

The older mouse felt a lump form in her throat. She and her children did not like where this conversation was heading. But Elizabeth nodded nonetheless.

‘My parents told me,’ Brendan explained, ‘that back when the first six managed to finally get out of NIMH they tried to follow the trail the rats had left, but lost that trail in the human’s garbage dump.’

Cynthia sighed appreciatively.

‘In that smell you wouldn’t be able to follow the scent of a skunk.’

A rare smile crossed the blighted features of their host.

‘There were only six of them, so they had to hide and scrape together some food and shelter.’

‘Must have been scary,’ Timothy mused.

‘And lonely.’ Brendan added, ‘Over time they made friends with whatever mice they could find. Since they had become so much smarter, the wild mice in the waste heaps were glad for their help. Many married wild mice. Then they found out that whatever NIMH did to them was passing on to whoever they were close to.’

A finger pointed at Mrs. Brisby.

‘You and the rats have probably figured that out as well.’

All three mice from the distant colony nodded agreement, but waited for the other to continue his story.

‘Soon there were many of us mice, all intelligent. We decided to move into the sewers, to build a home where humans would not look for us. We felt that one day NIMH would try to find us again.’

Cynthia’s mouth dropped open.

‘Didn’t the mice from the garbage dump know about the sewer rats?’

‘Oh, they knew alright.’

The smile on Brendan’s features returned.

‘By that time we had managed to make weapons and torches. The Staggs used to fear fire like the plague. We went down here until we found a place in the sewers far from where any human workers ever went, a place where the people from HIMH would not expect us, but close enough to places where we could… get things to build our home.’

Timothy gazed at the distant ceiling.

‘Like the lamps and such. How did you get electricity?’

The down-covered shoulders shrugged.

‘The humans run so much power underground, what little we needed they would never notice. Once we had built this place we made our own electricity from gear we took from humans.’

Trying not to let her unease show Elizabeth tilted her head as she looked at the lonely mouse.

‘Didn’t it bother you, having to steal?’

Brendan shrugged again

‘We had to survive. We were afraid to move too far from here. Plus, most of what we took was thrown away by the humans anyway. But two years ago, something changed.’

All three travelers drew closer once more, their interest peaked as Cynthia asked another question.

‘Changed how?’

‘The sewer rats changed. There were always a few trying to sneak into our colony. They lost their fear of fire pretty quick, but they never had a chance against our Guards.’

He patted the needled-pistol with his right hand.

‘But then they started to wear clothes and make weapons. Only a few did that at first, but then it was as if every rat in the sewers was able to think as we do. If not for the weapons we had they would have overrun us. They even started to use strategy. We had to booby-trap all the tunnels and train everyone for Guard duty.’

Mrs. Brisby leaned closer once more, her face etched with worry.

‘You mean the sewer rats got smart like us?’

‘Yes, they became more and more like us. We were wondering if maybe us living so close to them had something to do with it, but we never figured it out.’

Timothy cringed and drew his hands into his lap.

‘Great! On top of the sewers being filled with huge monster cannibal rats, we now have smart monster cannibal rats.’

‘Timmy!’ Cynthia scolded, ‘Let him finish, please.’

Her mother urged Brendan to continue, despite her fears of where his story would go.

‘So the Stagg rats got all the other mice that lived here?’

‘Oh no!’ the downy mouse exclaimed, ‘They never managed to get through. Eventually, about the same time this blight started, they stopped trying altogether.’

Once more, all three members of the Brisby family shared their surprise. All of them had expected the tale to conclude with the descendants of the Mice of NIMH having been captured and killed by a horrendously altered horde of monstrous sewer rats.

‘No,’ the white mouse shook his head, ‘the Staggs had nothing to do with it.’

‘Then what happened?’ Cynthia wrung her hands nervously.

Brendan looked up the crème-furred female with shy embarrassment.

‘I was just finishing up my Guard training. But I kind of have a bit of a rebellious streak. Sometimes I just need to get away from all the hustle and bustle to think.’

That elicited smiles from both Brisby children and a whimsical smile from Cynthia in particular.

‘So,’ their host continued, ‘while scouting I found this neat little hidey-hole that was outside of our usual scouting range. I secretly took a few blankets, books, and a lamp there and whenever I just needed some –away time- I would go there.’

He looked down at his down-covered hands.

‘Once the blight had covered us all, that was more often. About a month ago, after I had spent a night there, I came back to the colony because I had Guard duty the next day. But when I came back…’

The mouse’s wide, red-glowing eyes were filled with pain.

‘Everybody was… just gone, I don’t know where; as if all of them had suddenly packed up and left.’

‘Or maybe they were taken,’ ventured Timothy, drawing angry looks from his mother and sister.

Again, Brendan’s head slumped.

‘You are right. There were signs of struggle, broken furniture and so forth. I even figured out where the attack came from.’

As he looked back at the other three mice and saw their questioning glances he simply turned his face to the ceiling and pointed a finger upwards. The Brisbys followed the other’s gaze and Elizabeth finally voiced the question on everyone’s mind.

‘What is up there?’

When everybody had lowered their heads and was looking at each other again Brendan gave all of them the strangest of expressions, deep-rooted fear and a cynical smile mixed into one.

‘We built our colony, where we knew the human scientists would never expect us to. We built it underneath NIMH.’

Justin’s mind was reeling.

Jenner’s oldest daughter bodily dragged him up a small tunnel, over carved steps and sloping ground. With his hands still bound behind his back he had no chance of overpowering her. Actually, he doubted he would have been able to if he had the use of his hands. He remembered Dora, back before her mother had taken her three daughters and left the Thorn Valley colony. Back then she had been the equivalent of a teenager. Justin recalled her always having been subdued, because of her size, which had been prodigious even at a young age. He guessed it was more difficult for a female to he so large compared to a male like Brutus. In hindsight he thought he understood what had caused her psychotic transformation. The death of her father, probably being teased about her size, and then the persecution of her family by imbeciles like Verilla, all would have contributed. When their mother made the decision to come here, Jenner’s place of birth, Dora must have felt that she finally found a place where she could fit in, literally. Tell someone that they are a freak long enough and they will believe it.

Suddenly, Rapta dragged him upright and, rather than pulling him behind her, started shoving him instead. That was a welcome change. This way he had at least a measure of control over the amount of bumps and bruising he was going to receive. He might even be able to find enough breath to talk.


A hard hand slapped his face.

‘Not my name anymore.’

Justin spat out blood and tried to make the bells in his head stop.

‘Rapta, I’m sorry. I should have stopped Cedric and Verilla. I should have…’

A hard shove into the small of his back made him slam into the tunnel wall.

‘Save your words for mother. You will not be able to lie to her.’

In the dark of the passage her eyes were glowing scarlet red as her face spread into a vicious grin.

‘Nobody can.’

The male decided he would wait to plead his case. At the pace she pushed him he had a difficult time catching his breath, much less thinking clearly. Maybe her mother, Victoria, would be a more amiable audience.

Thankfully, both rats soon reached another curtained-off doorway. Here, the towering female stopped and wrapped on a small metal gong hanging on a nail in the wall. A few moments later a young female voice called out.


‘Jenny, it’s me, Rapta. Is mother awake?’

‘Yes, she is,’ the voice replied, ‘is something wrong?’

Justin felt sick as he saw Rapta look at him with a cruel smile.

‘Nothing is wrong, Jenny. We have a guest. You will never guess who it is.’

The curtain was drawn aside and an average height female rat, silver grey in color wearing a rather traditional dress stepped out. Back when she had still lived at the Thorn Valley Colony Jenevieve had been a young teenager. Now, her deep, dark-green eyes looked out from an endearingly adult female face that could only be considered beautiful. And in her gaze was utter bafflement. But her expression quickly darkened. Where her oversized sister was definitely terrifying there was something even more chilling about the utter hate radiating from the face of such a beautiful creature.


He took a step back. Even Jenner had never managed to put so much disdain into his name. It literally choked his breath and he felt impelled to take a step backward, which elicited a chuckle from the huge female behind him. Rapta put a hand on Justin’s shoulder and dug her claws in.

‘Yes, Justin has come to visit with mother. Can you get her ready?’

Jenevieve stepped towards him, her green eyes boring into him. She hissed.


Turning on her heels she stomped off through the cordoned doorway, leaving Justin and his oversized captor behind. Rapta dug her claws in even deeper and chuckled.

‘If you think Jenny has a problem with you, just wait until you meet Sarah again. She is an even bigger fan of yours.’

They waited.

A few minutes later Jenevieve, her gaze not an iota friendlier, reappeared, drawing the curtain wide. She motioned Justin to enter, which was punctuated by another powerful shove from her sister. As he stumbled into the chamber beyond he could not help but feel transported back to the Thorn Valley Colony. The room could have been any set of living quarters there. Furnishings, carpets, lamps and all the vestments of civilized living were present. These were obviously private quarters, a meld between a sitting room and library. It felt strange to see hand-copied books on shelves in a world where Justin would have only expected savagery. Yet traces of that savagery could still be found. The light in the chamber was supplied by the ever-present skull-lamps, which appeared to be a staple of Stagg society.

As Rapta pushed him forward he saw three large armchairs waiting at one end of the room, next to another cloth-covered archway. The chair to the left was occupied. It took Justin only a few moments to recognize the youngest of Jenner’s daughters.

Sarah was about as tall as Jenevieve, but her fur was of a darker color, more similar to her older sister, but of a more regal bluish hue. It appeared Jenny had been the only one of Jenner’s female offspring to develop into a standard concept of feminine beauty, by rat standards. Where Dora-cum-Rapta was freakishly oversized Sarah appeared almost waif-like and thin. Her head looked overly large for her skinny body, which was clothed in a tightly laced bodice and dress. Huge doe-like brown eyes gazed at him with a now familiar disdain. The impression was of what humans liked to call ‘gothic’.

In front of the three armchairs was a simple wooden stool. The clawed hand still clenching his shoulder pushed Justin down to sit. Since he was seated lower than the chairs, the situation allowed Sarah to glower down at him while he could feel the leer of her looming sister behind him. Jenevieve, on the other hand, walked along the walls of the chamber, doing something curious. One by one, she put a red cloth over each oil lamp, dimming the ambient light until only an unearthly ruby glow remained. Justin’s insides clenched. The room looked and felt like an insane version of hell. In the wavering light Sarah seemed like wraith with glowing eyes.

Once the last lamp had been dimmed Jenny approached the curtain leading to yet another room. She slipped inside and shortly reappeared, leading another clearly female rat of comparable size by the hand.

Justin cursed the gloom. He was certain that this had to be Victoria, widow to Jenner and mother to this odd trio of harpies. Yet he could not clearly make out any details of his former nemesis’ wife. He guesses she was wearing some sort of full-length dark dress. Victoria’s head was covered by a hat, medieval in style, ending in two points. A dark veil covered the face, which Justin remembered to having been of a very light tan color. Together with the red light this gave the impression of a dark demon being guided into his presence.

Victoria, letting go of her daughter’s hand, seated herself in the middle chair. Jenevieve took the one to her right, while Rapta remained at his back, her strong hand still grasping him dangerously close to his throat.


The voice came as a tired rasp.

He looked at the dark silhouette that he assumed had to be Victoria’s face.

‘Hello Victoria.’

An awkward silence filled the gloomy chamber.

Then, the frail female voice turned upwards.

‘How did he get here, Rapta?’

In an uncharacteristically warm voice the looming rat answered.

‘He came to us, mother, of his own accord.’

Again silence. Then the veiled form leaned forward in her chair, hands grasping the sides for support.

Without warning, Rapta’s other hand grasped Justin’s hair from behind, yanking it backwards so that his throat and open collar were revealed.

‘The Blight is in Thorn Valley, mother.’

Victoria issued a drawn-out hiss and got up from her chair. In his twisted position Justin was even less able to see details of the dark shape as she approached. Only when her hands drew near did he see more than an indistinct blob. He wished he had not. Since her departure from Thorn Valley Victoria had let her claws grow out long, longer than each finger, and colored them in purple. This gave her thin-limbed hands the appearance of long-legged spiders intent on digging their sharp feet into his flesh. Thankfully, the jab of pain he expected did not come.

The sensation of the clicking claws opening his collar even more and the drawing near of the dark, horned visage were bad enough. Victoria’s head was so close Justin could swear he felt her breath on his neck. Then, slowly, did she use her free hand to remove the black veil from her face.

Justin had felt that at this point he was beyond being shocked. Apparently, he was not. The face he remembered so well was both the same, yet hideously different. He was unable to tell for sure in the dim light, but the fur on Victoria’s face looked downy and much thinner than it should have. He could see pale skin reflect the red light of the room behind the hairs. Worse than that, were her eyes. Her irises had lost all color and what was visible of her tiny pupils reflected all light in an evil red. Victoria wore the face of a ghost.

One of her long-clawed fingers touched his neck, almost tenderly. The pinpoint pupils looked inside his collar and then drew back. Without a word Victoria put the veil back in front of her features and returned to her seat. Once her mother was seated Rapta removed her hand from behind Justin’s back so that he could look at his inquisitors more clearly.

A dry chuckle came from behind the veil. He could not tell what the female behind him was doing, but he saw both Sarah and Jenevieve look at their mother in concern. Even the sparse light of the covered lamps was unable to hide the wonder and fear in their eyes as their mother went into a small, nasty giggling fit.

‘So this is what it comes down to, Justin. We are all going to suffer the same fate. Soon, we shall all be forced to exist in darkness.’

Drawing on his inner reserves, Justin shook his head slowly.

‘There is a cure, Victoria.’

The veiled form leaned forward once more.

‘Is that why you have come here, a cure?’

Before he could answer Victoria exclaimed in revelation.

‘NIMH! You think there is a cure at NIMH, don’t you?’

Justin simply nodded.

Silence reigned for a while before Jenner’s widow spoke up again.

‘Now where would you get an idea like that, I wonder?’

When no answer was forthcoming it was Rapta who answered.

‘He didn’t come alone. He brought Brutus… and a strange female.’

Her mother’s head cocked in curiosity.

‘Strange in what way?’

‘She is no colonist. White, like a rat bred in a laboratory.’

A thin, long claw pointed at Justin.

‘Who is she? You will tell me … or I will send Rapta to ask her herself.’

Immediately enraged, the male rat growled,

‘Leave her alone. She has nothing to do with what is between us.’

‘Ah,’ Victoria cooed evilly, ‘do I detect affection in your voice? Yes, I think I do. If you will not tell us, Rapta has ways of making her talk.’

‘I’ll tell you,’ Justin replied quickly, anger mixed with anxiety now, ‘and I doubt you’ll like what you hear.’

‘NIMH has come back to the Fitzgibbon farm, digging up the house, the tractor, the mill, everything. They brought new rats to try and find us. Julia was one of them. She and the others overheard the humans. She knows what’s happening to us… and you.’

The spider-like hands folded in the dark shape’s lap.

‘And what is happening to us, Justin?’

The brown rat closed his eyes and sighed.

‘I am not a scientist, so this may not come out right. Julia said that the humans put something into us, together with what made us intelligent. It is supposed to be like a disease that will show up at a very specific time, like a time bomb.’

Jennevieve put a hand to her mouth to stifle a gasp and Sarah’s eyes were glued to Justin now. He felt sure that even Rapta was breathing more rapidly now. Victoria, hands still folded, leaned forward again.

‘Why would they do that?’

Justin managed a shrug despite his bound hands.

‘Apparently, we are catching, like a disease. Anyone we get close to for a long time becomes smart like us.’

He rolled his eyes upwards at Rapta and gave a cynical smile.

‘You probably noticed how smart Dora’s Stagg boyfriend has become.’

The hand that had kept a grip on his shoulder quickly grabbed his throat, leaving the male to sputter and gasp for air.


She released her grip as if stung, but continued to glower behind Justin’s back.

‘I apologize,’ her mother mocked, ‘but she is rather fond of my son-in-law. And yes, his intelligence has become remarkable. It seems we are spreading what the humans have done to us very quickly.’

‘And that,’ Justin coughed, ‘is the reason for the time-bomb. The humans don’t like the idea of all rats becoming smart like them.’

Once he had regained his composure fully he sneered at Victoria.

‘Seeing how we behave now, I can’t really blame them.’

The veiled female did not speak for a while, but raised the palms of her hands and tapped them against each other in contemplation. Finally, she spoke again.

‘What else did this female tell you?’

A self-satisfied smile crossed his features, just for a moment.

‘That everyone that has been changed will die a slow and very painful death.’

That silenced the room. Even Ratpa’s growl died away. Sarah and Jenevieve looked at their mother for support, fear radiating in waves from them. Victoria, inscrutable behind her veil, remained motionless. Then, her hands still folded into a steeple, two fingers began tapping. Finally, she raised herself from her chair, motioned for her two younger daughters to guide her and nodded to her eldest.

‘Bring him. I need to talk to your husband.’

‘So they must have come from there?’

Timothy gazed up at a large steel door in the ceiling of one of the countless chambers of the deserted colony of the Mice of NIMH. This, according to Brendan, had been built as an access way to the upper sewers, specifically those leading to the laboratories of the human agency.

The entire chamber was round, the floor a wide circle where a large group of mice would be able to train whatever weapons they possessed on the single round hatch embedded in the center of the vaulted ceiling. In the middle of the room’s floor was a mechanism to raise a metal ladder up to the hatch. Without that ladder there was no means to reach the opening, or for anyone from above to reach the floor without a rope. As the enforced metal door was only large enough to admit a single rodent-sized animal it was doubtful any human would ever attempt entry here. In order for the mice from Thorn Valley to navigate the passages, their strange host had turned the colony’s lights back on, on a low setting.

There was a nod from Brendan as she spoke through his mask.

‘The door was open when I returned. It is the only passage to the surface. Whoever, or whatever got into our home had to have come from there.’

Cynthia looked at their guide, who had donned his protective clothing once more.

‘How often has that door been used?’

Brendan shrugged.

‘We used to send a scouting party of four every few months. They would move into NIMH, first through the drains, then the vents, with grappling lines, and spend four days listening and looking.’

Mrs. Brisby rubbed her hands nervously, ‘Weren’t you afraid they would find you?’

The masked head turned to her.

‘We took precautions.’

‘Okay,’ Timothy argued, ‘but why go there at all?’

Another shrug from the hooded mouse.

‘The Elder Council decided it was necessary. Better to know what your enemies are up to.’

A she stood next to Brendan, Cynthia but a hand on his shoulder.

‘And you never heard of any plans of the humans to go after your colony, or ours?’

He shook his head.

‘Not a hint. We kept those missions up even after the Blight. I actually saw the last one leave not two months ago and return without any new intelligence.’

Timothy waved a hand impatiently.

‘Can you open that door from the outside?’

Behind his mask, Brendan shook his head again.

‘No. It is completely sealed on the outside. If the door needs to be opened it has to be from the inside. You can access a signaling panel from above. Once you type in the correct code someone stationed down here will turn on the outside cameras to see who wants to come in.’

Elizabeth’s head tilted to the side as she gazed up at the thick hatch and voiced the obvious question,

‘If that is the only way in and you cannot open it from the outside, then who let them in?’

The mouse in the protective gear slumped visibly.

‘I have wrecked my brain over that question. I can’t figure out how something from NIMH got inside that small door and then got everyone out again. If something unwanted does get in here there are flamethrowers worked into the floors and walls. The ground doors shut tight and everything in the room is burned to ashes. Nothing could get through here, unless let in.’

Cynthia turned to her mother, looking concerned.

‘I think Brendan’s right. Whatever took them did come from there.’

Now Mrs. Brisby stepped to the male mouse’s other side and put a comforting hand on his remaining shoulder.

‘You tried going after them, haven’t you?’

The lowered mask nodded silently.

‘What happened?’

‘I made it all the way through the upper sewers. There were tracks, of mice and something else. But there was no scent. Then everything just disappeared.’

Timothy pointed upwards.

‘They went into NIMH?’

Now the hooded head shook violently.

‘No, that’s just it. The tracks went off to the East, away from NIMH, and then disappeared. I actually went into the ventilation vents at NIMH. I stayed for a week, listening and looking for any trace of the others. Nothing.’

Gently squeezing Brendan’s shoulder Cynthia leaned closer.

‘Did the humans say anything?’

‘Not a word, like they had no idea what had happened.’

‘This,’ Timothy stated, ‘is beginning to creep me out more and more. Anyone else get the feeling that a lot of stuff here doesn’t add up?’

All eyes turned to him, questioning.

‘First we get those odd signs at the farm that don’t go along with Julia’s story and now Brendan here tells us that he hasn’t heard any humans from NIMH say anything about … well… anything.’

Noticing where her brother’s inquiry was going Cynthia shook her own head angrily.

‘Julia was not lying. You know I can tell.’

Raising his hands in a conciliatory gesture Timothy backed up a bit.

‘I know you do. But maybe there is more than one NIMH?’

That sent a shudder down his mother’s spine and she murmured,

‘But Julia showed us on the map. It was right where Justin said NIMH was.’

Timothy let his hands fall to his sides and sighed.

‘Then I am all out of answers.’

Surprisingly, Brendan issued a dry chuckle from underneath his hood. Even through the glass goggles the others could see a hint of camaraderie in their new friend’s demeanor.

‘On the bright side, that doesn’t make me feel so alone anymore.’

The Brisby family was once more at a loss, but their host changed thankfully changed the subject.

‘You must be hungry after that adventure you all had. Let me get you something to eat. Maybe we can figure something out once our stomachs are full.’

Nobody disagreed.

Nobody had left the Overlord’s throne room when Victoria, guided by two of her daughters and followed by Rapta leading the bound Justin, entered. Balak looked up with curiosity as the veiled female approached him deferentially. Julia and Brutus strained their bonds when Rapta shoved their friend unceremoniously back into their midst, which elicited warning growls from Drasta and Cassius. She then took up position to Balak’s right while her mother bent low in front of her to whisper into the Overlord’s ear. Nobody spoke as both captors and captives tried to hear what passed between Victoria and the Stagg master. Finally, Victoria stepped back with a small bow.

Balak turned his gaze to the three prisoners, his features unreadable.

‘It has been suggested to me that I might let you continue on your journey. It appears what you seek could help cure my people from the Blight.’

Then, the Overlord’s brows darkened.

‘But I would have to ensure that you will return here should you succeed and find this… cure.’

The crimson-furred rat’s muzzle spread into a nasty smile as he pointed a finger to Julia.

`You will remain here, as insurance.’

Justin attempted to leap forwards, but Drasta’s hands dug into his bonds, holding him in place.

‘I won’t leave her to you!’

Balak’s face turned cold.

‘The choice is not yours to make, Justin.’

‘How is he going to know what to look for? NIMH has changed since he was last there.’

Julia’s interjection had not trace of fear, which surprised her more than her friends.

Oddly enough, it was Rapta, an oddly serene smile on her face, who answered.

‘Love is such a strong bond.’

Her gaze went to meet Balak’s and, for a moment, her smile was mirrored by him. Then he shrugged and waved at Justin.

‘What assurance can you give me that you will return if I do not hold the one you love?’

Again, before Justin could answer, Rapta replied.

‘We know where Thorn Valley is, my love.’

Justin and Brutus felt lumps in their throats. Each had contemplated arguing for their release and then simply abandoning the Stagg rats to their fate if they should succeed in their quest to find a cure. But the horrendous female’s train of thought put a break on their plans. The Overlord looked admiringly at his mate and then turned to his captives once more, his features bathed in cruel confidence.

‘Yes, we do know that. I think I shall release all of you to go on your quest. If you succeed, you will return here. If you do not…’

Balak slowly rose and stepped towards the three bound rats.

‘I will gladly spend the rest of my existence with this Blight as I send my clans to Thorn Valley. Once there, I shall ensure that everyone you ever cared about will be hunted down and killed, in an interesting and long-winded fashion.’

He stopped in front of Justin, looking down at the much smaller rat with amused contempt. A claw-tipped finger gently tapped the captive rat.

‘Whatever painful death this Blight may cause, it will be nothing compared to what I will allow Rapta to do to this precious colony of yours. Her inventiveness in the realms of suffering is quite breathtaking.’

Balak leaned down to look Justin in the eyes.

‘Do we have an understanding?’

The former leader of the Thorn Valley Colony fought hard to keep his composure. He simply nodded.

Satisfied, the Overlord nodded as well, his face returning to his cold neutrality. He turned and seated himself on the skull throne once more.

‘You will be escorted to the edge of my domain, the City of Ghosts.’

Justin felt unease spread to the two Stagg lords stationed behind him. Anything that would unnerve rats of such violent disposition was bound to be unpleasant. Balak, clearly studying the reaction of his subjects and prisoners alike, gave a humorless smile.

‘My warriors have tried to breach the City of Ghosts for a long time. None have succeeded, or returned alive.’

The agitation behind the bound rats rose perceptively.

The Overlord pointed at Brutus.

‘I know you will not leave your large friend behind, but it might be a wiser choice. He has Stagg blood, and I doubt the Ghosts will allow him to pass. You, my short friends, might have a chance.’

Now it was Rapta who bent down to whisper into the enthroned one’s ear. He chuckled in reply to the hushed question.

‘Of course I will.’

The Overlord smiled at Justin and his fellows.

‘I will have one of my most trusted followers accompany you, just to ensure my interests are served. Now, who amongst my subjects would serve me by venturing to the City of Ghosts?’

As Drasta and Cassius began fidgeting Balak’s smile widened. Apparently, the supreme master of the Stagg rats had fully anticipated his subject’s reluctance. Despite their newfound intelligence a degree of superstition seemed to remain with the sewer dwellers. Truth be told, the ominous reactions of their captors and references to a ‘City of Ghosts’ had an unnerving effect on the bound rats as well.


The scrawny, hooded servant had remained in the shadows during the exchanges. Bowing his head he stepped into the light of the skull lamps.

‘My Lord?’

‘You will accompany these three to the City of Ghost and beyond. You will ensure that they will return here should you succeed in finding this cure.’

The grey hood bowed once more and Quaestor answered without hesitation or fear.

‘As you command, my Lord. I will not fail you.’

His master’s smile broadened even more, while it clearly made Cassius and Drasta uncomfortable. Having their courage upstaged by such a pitiful excuse of a Stagg rat was probably not something they would want their own followers to know about.

Waving imperiously to the two humbled Stagg Lords Balak rumbled,

‘Take them to the borders. All their gear is to be returned to them. Drasta, Cassius, you will return here. We will… talk.’

The alarm bells rang out just moments after Brendan had provided the Brisby family with some dry but edible rations. Apparently, in his solitary existence the lone mouse had not bothered with preparing food beyond the most basic necessity and the stocked supplies of the now empty colony would last him for a long time. The vast defunct commissary hall was depressing, the absence of the mice who had once shared meals here weighing heavy in the air. The blaring call of the alarm bell was almost a relief.

Brendan jumped up immediately, leaving his half-finished meal without a second glance. Mrs. Brisby and her children exchanged a few glances before they got up as well and hurried to catch up with their host. They did not want to be without Brendan’s guidance in this foreboding place. The colorless mouse, putting his mask back on as he ran, lead the group to a central chamber filled with monitors and strange lights. Timothy looked at the incredible arrangement of technological wonders, many of the mice’s own design rather than stolen from humans, with awe. Brendan went from circular screen to screen until he found what had tripped the alarms.

‘Four rats are coming down corridor seven. A big Stagg with three smaller ones… weird.’

‘Look! That’s Justin and the others!’

Cynthia’s joy light up the room as her mother and brother strained to see the grainy images on the screen in question.

‘Yes,’ Mrs. Brisby agreed, ‘It’s them. Thank goodness they are safe.’

Brendan’s masked face turned to face the brown mouse.

‘These are the friends you were separated from?’

She nodded, but Timothy added,

‘Except for that scrawny one in the hooded coat. Him we don’t know.’

The mask returned to look at the screen and nodded.

‘All other cameras are clear. Whatever this is, it’s not a trap or a distraction for an ambush.’

Without another word Brendan got up from the screens and went to a cabinet set into the wall. Gloved hands drew the doors open, revealing mouse-sized rifles made from some sort of plastic. Grabbing one for himself, he removed three more, handing one to each of the mice, who shivered and shrank back at the strange feel of the weapons.

‘Aim, pull the trigger once. Go for the eyes if you have to.’

‘They’re our friends!’

Cynthia wailed. The round glass lenses observed her coldly.

‘If it is them, they have nothing to worry about. If it’s a trick, I want to be ready. Come on.’

He led his reluctant charged out of the colony.

Their release had been even stranger than their capture. Drasta and Cassius, together with a large number of their followers, had led them through the sewer pipes that made up the Overlord’s domain and up towards the drains closer to the surface. This, apparently, was where the Staggs’ territory ended. Whether the sewer rats preferred a certain depth below the surface or whether it was some sort of superstition that kept them from venturing closer to the human city was never made clear.

The two Stagg Lords had been subdued during their journey. The verbal jibes and occasional bumps the former captives had encountered during their imprisonment were replaced by a worried distance. As soon as Balak had issued his commands, they had hurried to cut their bonds and return all weapons and gear to them. Rather than physically shoving them they were shown the way by pointing. Even the pace was slower, as if the Stagg Lords as well as their followers were in no hurry to reach their destination. Only the taciturn Quaestor, silently trailing behind Brutus, his face and thoughts hidden inside his cowl, appeared undisturbed.

At the intersection to a specific sewer pipe, Cassius and Drasta stopped. Quaestor turned his hood to face them and nodded, then led Justin along the drain by himself.

‘This,’ he ventured, ‘is where the Ghosts’ realm begins.’

Julia exchanged a look with Justin that showed a mix of concern and disbelief. After the rest of the Staggs had disappeared from view Justin tapped their guide’s shoulder.

‘What is this City of Ghosts?’

Quaestor looked at him with his yellowed eyes and a tired smile.

‘There is clan of mice living down here. Close to where we were told this –NIMH- is supposed to be. We have tried capturing them many times, but they have strange weapons. Nobody that came this far ever returned.’

A curious expression crossed Julia’s features.

‘Mice? Down here?’

The robed rat nodded.

‘Before I was born.’

‘Why do you call them Ghosts?’

Justin tried to keep the concern from his voice.

‘They have weapons that kill from afar. Most of the time, you don’t see them before they kill you, just like ghosts.’

The brown rat thought he saw a cynical smile cross the worn features of the robed rat.

Suddenly, a wall of red flame erupted not two feet in front of the group, issuing from walls, floor, and ceiling alike. Brutus pulled back his two friends by their collars, all the while trying not to drop his pole axe. Quaestor scrambled along quickly, trying not to trip over the hem of his clothes.

‘Nicodemus’ beard!’

The curse had just passed Justin’s lips when a whispering voice, augmented by hidden electronics, called out from everywhere at once.

‘Stand where you are. Drop your weapons, raise your hands. Otherwise, you die.’

Justin, still held by Brutus, coughed.

‘You can let go now, Brutus.’

Once he had released the two smaller rats Justin cautioned.

‘Okay, let’s do what the nice creepy voice says.’

He removed his sword and, after Julia had followed suit with a vicious dagger provided from the Staggs, Brutus reluctantly did the same. Then, all three raised their hands, looking at the jittery Quaestor. The diminutive Stagg rat’s eyes darted back and forth, clearly close to panic. When they came to rest on the calm, if worried faces of the other rats he swallowed and nodded, raising his own arms high.

After a few breaths the rats were able to hear steps coming from both directions, small steps. Then, suddenly, one set of steps sped up to the hissed comment of the same whispering voice that had spoken before, only without the electronic amplification.

‘No! Wait!’

The approaching steps apparently did not care. A small crème-colored shape clothed in a light-blue poncho rushed into view and threw itself onto the rats, trying to hug everyone in one go.


Justin bent down to embrace the young mouse and lifted her high in the air, to the consternation of his friends and their Stagg associate.

‘Where is your mother? Where’s Timothy? Are they alright?’

‘Yes,’ a familiar female voice chimed in from the other side, ‘we are all fine.’

Lowering Cynthia to the ground the rats turned their heads from one end of the drain to the other as Mrs. Brisby and Timothy approached from one and an oddly clothed mouse with a mask stepped towards them from the another. While their mouse friends were all warm smiles and cheers Julia noticed that the cloaked mouse had some sort of weapon trained on them. Thankfully, Cynthia rushed to the odd rodent, gently pushing the muzzle of his weapon to the ground.

‘They are our friends. They won’t hurt you.’

All the while Elizabeth and her son embraced their rat friends in turn until the brown mouse reached Quaestor. The robed rat was now clearly tense, his thin frame taught as a spring, his hands still raised. Mrs. Brisby smiled at him and nodded.

‘We will not hurt you either. You can lower your hands.’

Looking from the three rats he was told to accompany to the strange assemblage of mice Quaestor slowly complied while the brown mouse, taking charge of the situation, gestured to her friends.

‘Come, follow Brendan, our new friend. Then, I think, we all need to talk.’

Chapter 10: The Capture

‘Do we have to keep him locked up like that?’

Cynthia looked at Quaestor sitting alone in his cell.

As soon as the group had reached the remnants of the mouse colony Brendan had ordered the scrawny Stagg rat at gunpoint to get into a holding cell. Justin and Julia had been too overwhelmed with recent events to protest, plus they did not trust the sewer rat either. Before Cynthia, her mother, or Timothy had been able to object the hooded mouse had slammed the steel barred door shut and raced from the colony’s jail. Now the reunited members of the expedition from Thorn Valley were left to look at the pitiful sight of the rangy prisoner. Quaestor looked calm. After the initial shock of the fire trap triggered by Brendan the Stagg had simply followed whatever orders the masked mouse had given him. Now he waited.

Rather than trying to follow Brendan on his dash through the dark mouse colony the group had decided to wait where they were and had made time by sharing their experiences. Both rats and mice had been riveted by each others’ accounts. When everything had been told it had taken the rodents a while to organize their thoughts. The presence of the imprisoned rat, who had shared nothing and simply observed them intently, was also distracting.

‘It’s wrong keeping him in there.’

Cynthia was glad that her mother agreed, but was worried that none of the rats appeared too enthusiastic to plead for Quaestor’s release. Justin in particular eyed the caged rodent with a brooding look that was difficult to read. Finally, he stepped closer to the bars and nodded to the captive.

‘Quaestor, if we let you out, you could be free, you know. I mean, totally free, free to go wherever you wanted to.’

The yellow eyes of the prisoner gazed back in confusion for a moment. Then, the rat tilted his head back and laughed an exhausted dry laugh.

‘You don’t understand, do you? You think I follow the Overlord because I have no choice?’

With surprising agility, the lean rodent jumped to his feet and rushed to the other side of the steel bars, taking Justin by surprise so that he took a step backwards. Putting his rather bony hands on the bars and leaning his head against them Quaestor sighed.

‘I follow Balak, because I choose to. Do you have any idea, any idea at all, what he has done for me, done for all of us in the deep sewers?’

Justin looked at his friends in confusion. He honestly could not tell what the celled rat was trying to hint at. Noticing his lack of comprehension, Quaestor shook his head.

‘You only see the surface, the violence, the cruelty. You never lived down here before the Overlord, before his Lady brought the change.’

The leader of the Thorn Valley colony felt a strange warmth in his chest. An odd feeling, a sense of knowing, or at least guessing, was spreading through his mind, his entire being. He stepped back towards the cell door again, placing his own hands around the bars as well and leaned closer until his eyes and the prisoner’s were level.

‘What was it like?’

Quastor’s features relaxed as his yellowed eyes seemed to become transfixed by Justin’s gaze. Brutus, Julia, and the mice looked curiously at their friend. Truth be told, Justin himself did not understand what compelled him to act this way. Some driving force, a sensation of inner certainty was guiding him. And the rat from the sewers was being caught up in the spell too. His face calmed as he spoke.

‘Way before, life was hard, very hard. We, the weak ones, always had to get out of the way when the Warriors or the Lord were angry. We were expendable, to be beaten and eaten. Only when one of us was good at scouting did anyone ever see use for us.’

Then, the caged rodent’s eyes turned to look at Julia, sitting on one of the benches.

‘But the females had it worse. The big rats owned them. Us they ignored, but the females they hoarded and beat, always.’

Drawing her legs closer to her body Julia shuddered.

‘Then what happened?’ Justin prompted.

Quaestor smiled in remembrance.

‘I was lucky. I was in the Overlord’s clan when he first became Lord.’

Then the Stagg’s gaze locked with the other male intensely.

‘He had to kill his own father. There was no other way. Balak always had more respect for the females and us, the smaller males. But he could never afford to show it. Weakness invites challenge.’

Then, the intensity melted back into the smile.

‘It was his mother that shaped him. She was braver than all of us; the only female ever to stand up to the male who claimed her. It meant her death, you know. That’s why he finally killed his father, challenged him moments after he saw him break his mother’s neck. He lost both his parents that day.’

The brown rat outside the cell nodded solemnly without interrupting.

‘When Balak took control he forbade any wastefulness, as he called it.’

‘What do you mean,’ Cynthia suddenly chimed in, ‘wastefulness?’

The lean one tilted his head so he could look at the crème-furred mouse.

‘He decreed that any killing out of spite was wasteful, depleting the clan of resources that they needed. Balak stated it was foolish and that he did not intend to rule over fools.’

‘I bet that went over well,’ Timothy sneered.

Quaestor looked at his feet, still standing opposite Justin.

‘There were challenges, a number of them. In that first day, he had to kill six challengers before the other Warriors decided not to risk attacking him openly.’

Mrs. Brisby’s eyes narrowed.


The prisoner nodded.

‘The next day three of them tried to ambush him together. It was against tradition.’

‘I guess he won,’ mused Julia.

‘He did,’ the Stagg rat affirmed.

‘And in less than three weeks the clan had changed. The females were still property and the weaker males were not respected, but the senseless cruelty stopped. Nobody wanted to get on Balak’s bad side.’

Quaestor fixed his eyes on Justin’s again.

‘Can you understand what that felt like? For the first time in my life, I did not have to fear getting killed by the first Warrior that was having a bad day.’

With that, the caged rat returned to his bunk in the cell and sighed.

‘He then began his conquest of other clans, imposing his rules on them. His Lady, Rapta, appeared during that time, bringing the power to take over all the clans, unite them, change them. The rest is history.’

‘And that is why you follow him.’

Justin’s remark was not a question, but Quastor nodded nonetheless.

‘Among other things.’

The creaking of the metal door that led into the jailing area interrupted the conversation. A hooded and apparently exhausted Brendan shuffled into the sterile room that gave access to the cells and unceremoniously slumped on a chair.

‘The colony is sealed and secure.’

The mouse’s voice sounded even more obscured than normal underneath his mask.

‘So,’ Cynthia chimed in cheerfully, ‘when do we leave for NIMH?’

Despite the mask Brendan’s incredulity was palpable as he looked from one face to another until his gaze rested on Justin. The brown rat simply shrugged.

‘Yes, she’s always like that.’

That elicited chuckles from her family, which Cynthia simply ignored as she radiated eagerness towards the covered Brendan. A few moments of silence and the hooded mouse shrugged.

‘We could leave anytime, I guess. You have your gear. We all have added rations. I put the colony’s defense systems on automatic so that nothing,’ his eyes went to Quaestor in his cell, ‘will be able to invade while we are away.’

‘That’s very good then.’ Mrs. Brisby added.

‘Then you can let Quaestor out and we can be on our way.’

Brendan eyed the older mouse with the same disbelief he had bestowed on her daughter earlier.

‘You really want to take him with us, madam?’

Before Elizabeth could answer Julia stood up and approached; her face was icy.

‘Brendan, I have lived behind bars. It is cruel. I know his kind has hurt you, but what has he himself done to you that you would leave him here?’

The masked face turned from the white rat to Quaestor, who was still sitting on his bunk but was now gazing at the young mouse in the protective gear with hope in his eyes. Brendan slowly rose. He walked to the cell door and leaned against the bars, the glass lenses of his mask reflecting the light. Then, after a few moments, he inserted a key and unlocked the door.

Everyone was packed and ready.

Even Quaestor had been outfitted with a backpack from the mouse colony, stuffed with gear that Brendan, with the aid of Timothy who felt like a kid in a candy shop looking at all the gadgetry left behind by the mice of NIMH, felt would be useful. The sewer rat looked a bit awkward, as if his inclusion in the group was something he he could not emotionally reconcile. It could have also been the suspicious glances Brutus was casting his way from time to time. Justin had impressed on him to keep an eye on their Stagg, which the big rat seemed to take to heart with vigor.

Brendan, still in his protective clothing, was busying himself on a raised instrument panel set into the metal walls of the chamber. Rats and mice had, in short order, filed into the round hall, the one with the only exit leading towards NIMH. Now the last of the Mice of NIMH was activating the mechanisms that would allow them to finally venture to the one place where all their hopes and terrors resided.

There was a metallic groan at the center of the floor as panels opened to raise the metal ladder up to the sealed hatch at the chamber’s apex. Hydraulic in nature the ladder extended upwards with small puffs of steam and the smell of greasy lubricant. Once the steps locked into a special recess in the ceiling, right below the hatch, the round wheel that allowed access to the hatch began turning on its own. More steam, more metallic groans. Then, the hatch swung back, revealing a circular black hole above their heads.

The masked rodent waved a glove at the group.

‘Climb up. There is a platform above. I will be right behind you.’

Justin took the lead, followed by Mrs. Brisby and her children. Julia came next, looking down at Quaestor who, under Brutus’ scrutiny, was following below her. Brendan flicked a few more switches and then rushed up the ladder as fast as his cumbersome robes would allow. Brutus had just managed, with some effort, to squeeze himself through the opening when the mouse scrambled up behind him, apparently in a hurry.

‘Get your tail out of the hatch, Mr. Brutus!’

The large rat looked at the masked features in confusion before he noticed that his tail was still dangling through the opening. When the hatch began swinging back on its own to the accompaniment of steam he hastily pulled his tail away. Once the door had shut Brutus gave his tail a short inspection before wiping his brown in relief.

Brendan had navigated these sewers often.

The certainty with which the blighted mouse led the group to their destination was awe-inspiring. Cynthia, who seemed to have taken a liking to the stranger, stayed close behind him, followed by her brother and mother. Julia and Justin came next with Quaestor trailing them and Brutus brought up the rear. Apparently, the Mice of NIMH truly had built their home directly underneath the very same place that had changed them. Rats and mice had to utilize Timothy’s grappling hooks, which Brendan had deemed superior than even his equipment, yet still augmented with air-powered pump guns, time and time again to climb up vertical drains. To the dismay of the group, the level of grime did not decrease with elevation and climbing made keeping clean almost impossible. Soon every member of the expedition was caked in dirt and slime.

‘This stinks!’ Timothy exclaimed as he was pulling himself up the grappling line behind his sister.

‘So do you, Timmy.’

The dangling mouse grimaced as he tried to peer through his dirt-crusted glasses. Sometimes Cynthia’s penchant for cheerfulness could be royally aggravating.

Finally, after hours of climbing and walking, the rodents were near exhaustion. Still, Brendan urged them onwards. The pipes they traversed were becoming smaller, making it more difficult for the larger members of their group to navigate. Especially Brutus needed to squeeze and wriggle in ways that would have been comical in a less urgent setting. Then, a small upward pipe with a circular grate set at the end showed in the ceiling of the drain they were moving through. The pipe was so short that a mouse standing on a rat’s shoulder would be able to reach the grate easily. Brendan looked at the rest of the expedition and pointed upwards.

‘That leads to one of the showers the humans use at NIMH.’

Catching his breath Justin followed the mouse’s direction and nodded.

‘Do you have something to open that grate?’

The hooded mouse walked to Timothy and pulled something from his backpack.

‘This thing that Timothy made should work great. Better than the screwdrivers we use.’

‘Leave it to Tim the Tinkerer to invent a better drain-opener.’

‘Shush!’ Mrs. Brisby scolded her daughter, although not without a wide grin.

‘Showers?’ Julia wondered as she looked at the mess that had once been her borrowed tunic, ‘I wouldn’t mind a shower.’

Justin bent downwards and motioned to Timothy.

‘Hop on my shoulders. You weigh less than Brendan with those robes.’

Taking off his backpack first the bespectacled mouse clambered onto the larger rodent’s shoulders, holding on with one hand while trying to work the odd-looking tool Brendan had referred to. The grate had probably not been replaced in a long time because Timothy strained to loosen it, which, in turn, caused Justin to wobble and sway underneath him. A few subdued curses from both rat and mouse later, accompanied by a few near collisions with the pipe walls, and a wrenching noise indicated that the drain grate had been removed.

‘Can you lift me up, Justin?’

‘Just a second.’

The rat took a deep breath and then hoisted the smaller rodent up through the hole. Moments later Timothy’s head and arms poked back through.

‘I can take my pack again.’

Justin provided the bag and then began lifting Cynthia and her mother. Her brother, in the meantime, fastened a grappling line to the grate rim. That, once Brendan had joined them, made it easier for Justin and the other rats to follow. Once Brutus had managed to emerge with some difficulty, Julia put the grate back loosely into place.

The all looked around. The room was dark. But the smell, a mix of disinfectant and moisture, was a great improvement to the smells of the sewers, or the smell of the group, for that matter.

‘Brendan, did we bring that lamp?’

The cloaked rodent answered Cynthia’s question by removing his own back-pack and producing the requested item. A match flared in Timothy’s hand and soon the showers were illuminated by the reddish glow of the oil lamp. This was obviously a group shower. Tiled a sterile white the place was palatial to the diminutive travelers. Julia gazed at the opaque shapes of the showerheads longingly.

‘If only these things weren’t human size.’

Justin sniffed his own arm and made a gagging noise.

‘Yikes… yes, a shower or bath would be nice.’

Quaestor, who had remained silent during their voyage was gazing at the unfamiliar surroundings in wonder.

‘A place to make yourself clean… amazing.’

Mrs. Brisby gave the emaciated Stagg rat a side-long glance.

‘You do not clean yourself?’

The rat looked embarrassed.

‘We have little clean water in the sewers. Occasionally we can wash, but not often.’

‘Well, these things,’ Cynthia pointed at the showerheads, ‘can spray all the clean water you could ever want, warm or cold.’

‘Ahem,’ Brendan cleared his throat, ‘we might want to find a less open place to rest up and then we need to move on.’

‘This is NIMH, right?’ Timothy opined, ‘So, how much farther to we have to go?’

The masked face turned to Julia.

‘You know what room and floor we have to go to?’

She nodded.

‘It was a ground floor laboratory, room 108.’

Brendan’s head tilted sideways.

‘Are you sure it was 108?’

Julia nodded again.

‘When they took our cages out to the cars I got to see the room number. It was definitely 108, an animal lab.’

The mouse was silent for a moment, then he shrugged.

‘We better get going then.’

Mrs. Brisby looked around the vast shower room in confusion.

‘Where to, the door?’

Brendan pointed a gloved finger to a corner of the shower room, where lockers and benches were located. There, right below a bench, was an access vent to the building’s air condition system.

Justin sighed.

‘Into the air vents again. Not a kind of memory I would choose to relive.’

Removing a corner of the vent proved more difficult than the shower grate had been. In the end, Timothy and Brendan were able, with some muscle on Brutus’ part, to crowbar an edge from the siding wide enough to allow all of them access. Once inside the ventilation duct the big rat removed the wedge and, apart from some slight denting, no human would be the wiser. Leading the way Justin kept close to Brendan, since both had been inside the air circulation system before.

‘Brendan, do we have to climb up the ducts or do you think room 108 has ground access?’

‘The rooms have heating vents on the ground and cold air from the ceiling, so we don’t have to climb.’

Timothy sighed appreciatively.

‘My arms would probably fall off if I had to climb another rope.’

‘Well,’ Cynthia chuckled, ‘at least it’s nice and warm in here.’

That at least, was true. The lower ducts still carried warm air, even during the night. As the rodents walked along the aluminum walled passages their respective leaders wasted no time following one ventilation grate after another until Brendan halted.

‘Okay, this is room 108.’

Julia rushed to the grate and tried to peer into the room beyond. There was no light except a small, reddish emergency lamp at the distant end of the wall. It revealed only dark crevices, and many shelves. Justin joined her and muttered,

‘Is this it?’

The female did not answer right away. Then she swallowed hard.

‘It’s so dark. I… I can’t tell. It looks… smaller.’

‘Timothy, Mr. Brutus, I think we are needed again.’

Both mouse and rat ambled towards Brendan, their exhaustion remedied by being so close to their objective. Timothy even chuckled as he and the other mouse maneuvered the tools into place for the big rat to crowbar apart a sizable opening. Then, one by one the eight rodents lowered themselves to the linoleum floor, gazing up at the gloomy recesses of what appeared to be a much narrower space than a laboratory should be.

‘This doesn’t look right.’

‘Yep,’ Timothy agreed.

Justin turned to Brendan.

‘Will you be okay if we make the lamp brighter?’

The masked face nodded, but the mouse still took a step away from Cynthia, who was holding the lamp. Once the wick burned brightly the chamber divulged some of its secrets. Julia was getting fidgety, her hands clenched and unclenched as she was able to see the room she was standing in.

‘This… is all wrong!’

Nobody commented for a while.

The room they were standing in was narrow and devoid of windows. Each wall was lined with shelves, from floor to ceiling. Boxes, bottles, and various utensils were stacked there. At the end of the room a wash basin was set into the wall and an array of brooms and mops hung on a rack.

‘A maintenance room?’

All eyes turned to Julia and Brendan. The female rat looked terrified and confused while the mouse, under his robes and hood was impossible to read. Then the mouse shrugged.

‘That’s why I asked whether she was sure it’s room 108. That’s been a glorified broom closet for as long as I have been on patrol.’

Julia was walking in circles, eying the dim shelves and close to tears.

‘It was 108! I saw it!’

Cynthia walked up next to her and put a hand to her back.

‘I believe you. Calm down and we will figure this out.’

The white rat nodded vigorously as she tried not to start crying.

‘Guys, there’s something weird over here.’

Timothy had stepped away from the group to look at something that was partially hidden by a plastic bucket beneath one of the shelves. The others faced him as he pulled a metal box from the recess. Almost as large as a mouse the rectangular object proved surprisingly light. What caught the mouse’s attention was a large green stone, in shape and size comparable to the one his mother had long ago given to Justin, set into one side. It was glowing in rhythmic pulses.

The brown rat put a hand on his shoulder.

‘Timmy, I think you might want to put that down.’

Looking over his shoulder at the rest of group the young mouse chuckled.

‘Don’t worry! I’d know if this was dangerous.’

On the black desk’s surface the office’s occupant gazed at a glowing diagram. Within a square outlined in glowing white lines were nine glowing dots. Four were blue, four were yellow, and one was a bright green. One of the blue dots at the edge of the grouping was right next to the green one. The time had finally come.

A slender finger with a strangely shaped nail gently tapped the glowing green light. Upon touching, the light changed to an angry red.

Suddenly, the green stone in the metal box flared up bright red. Rats and mice immediately took a step backwards, Timothy dropping the box, which clattered onto the linoleum. Then, a loud hissing sound issued from the metal container. Within seconds Timothy’s body slumped to the ground. Mrs. Brisby wanted to rush forward to her son, but at the first step she felt her body become soft, rubbery. As she folded up on the floor, fully aware and awake, her head landed at an angle to allow her to see that Justin was losing control of his legs as well. Julia and Cynthia were already on the ground. She could not see the others from her vantage point.

They were all awake. Lying in different positions, some rather awkward, each rodent was able to see, smell, and hear. Even their eyelids worked. Breathing came easily and there was no sensation of pain. But their bodies were numb and paralyzed. Those that had fallen within a line of sight of the metal box noticed that the stone’s light changed from red back to a gently pulsing green.

The glowing diagram had disappeared from the desk’s ebony surface. The occupant’s chair was facing the round window again as he spoke.

‘Doctor Schulz?’

From hidden speakers the gruff voice muddled by cellular phone static answered.

‘Yes sir. I’m here.’

‘The specimens are contained. Proceed please.’

There was a pause at the other end of the line.

‘Do we have time?’

The figure nestled in the chair sighed. Despite his accomplishments, it was still difficult to inspire confidence in some people.

‘Yes, Karl, you have all the time you need. The security systems are under watch. Just proceed as planned and return the specimens when you are done.’

‘Yes sir.’

The door to the maintenance room opened revealing two human silhouettes. Mrs. Brisby was one of the few lying in a position that allowed her to see the doorway. The rest had to rely on their hearing. Both shapes were male and wearing maintenance crew overalls and caps. The one in front was stocky, a bushy mustache visible and the sparse emergency illumination coming from the hallway. Behind him the second human was pushing a cleaning cart, its tiny wheels squeaking. This slimmer man was wiry in stature and had a wide brim of whitish hair protruding underneath his cap. It gave his outline a strange resemblance to Albert Einstein.

Then the heavier man turned on the lights of the supply room.

Mrs. Brisby saw their faces.

She was not an expert on humans but the two towering above the prone rodents seemed somewhat old to be wearing janitorial clothes. The man in front was completely bald with large glassed and an unhealthy reddish complexion. His grey mustache looked pale by comparison. His companion looked even more cadaverous in the bright light, a sickly yellowish pallor and a gaunt face hallowed by a white cloud of hair. And both of them were looking straight at her.

The gaunt man pulled a pair of rubber gloves from a pocket and put them on. His companion followed suit and removed what looked like a large red plastic toolbox from underneath a towel on the cleaning trolley. He placed the box close to the stunned rodents and opened it. The thinner man walked around the cart, carrying a clipboard underneath one arm and holding a plastic water bottle and towel in the other. Finally, both men went down on their knees, groaning as they did so. The taller one put down the bottle and towel and held up both clipboard and a pen.

‘Ready when you are, Karl.’

The heavy-set man pulled the water bottle and towel close. Then his gloved hand moved towards Mrs. Brisby. Her heart raced as terror coursed through her numbed body. Thankfully, the immense hand did not grab a hold of her. But her relief was short-lived as she saw the shape of her daughter dangling from the human’s grasp. She wanted to scream, yell, run at the human and bite him. She could not even twitch. Tears ran down her eyes as she was forced to helplessly watch Cynthia being taken.

Strangely enough, the human handled the limp mouse in his hands rather gently. More peculiar was that he did not seem at all surprised to see a rodent wearing clothes. Using a pair of blunt forceps with his other hand the mustached man removed the dirt-caked backpack and poncho from the mouse’s body. Both items were placed into the red toolbox. Then, with amazing tenderness, he used the water-bottle and towel to clean Cynthia’s fur.

Elizabeth did not know what to think. Fear, anger, and despair roiled through her entire being as she observed the odd procedure her daughter was being subjected to. Her emotions reached another fever pitch as the human put down the towel and bottle and removed an unknown object from a different compartment of the box. Mrs. Brisby had never seen a hypodermic gun before, but even if she had, this type would have startled her. The thick man looked at the mouse in his hands and muttered.

‘Mouse, female. Crème pelt, probably second generation.’

The other man nodded as he went through two sheets on his clipboard.

‘Found it. Number three.’

Cynthia was being turned over slowly so that her captor could observe her in detail.

‘Possible signs of genetic regression in stage one, but difficult to determine due to fur color.’

The human with the corona of hair jotted down some notes. Then his colleague put the nozzle of the inoculation gun to the mouse’s side and pushed the trigger.

Mrs. Brisby closed her eyes, the only part of her body she could still move on her own. Tears of anguish were rolling down her cheeks onto the floor. She did not want to see anymore.

‘Rat, male. Dull-brown pelt, probably first generation or early second generation.’

She forced her eyes open to see, despite her despair. Cynthia was nowhere in sight. The human with the mustache was now holding the naked, washed body of Justin in his hand. It broke Elizabeth’s heart to see her friend as limp as a rag doll, being turned around and examined like so much meat.

‘Definite regression signs, stage one.’

Again, notes were taken. Again, the injection was made.

This time, Mrs. Brisby observed in horror as Justin’s body was placed somewhere in the box the humans had brought. Then her terror mounted, something she would not had thought possible. But now it was her turn. She felt the huge fingers wrap around her body, lifting her up. The backlight face grew like an angry moon in front of her.

Even in her panic she marveled at the care the human took. The blunt forceps removing her clothes and gear, even her glasses, moved with such precision they hardly touched her body. The water from the plastic bottle was surprisingly warm as it washed away the sewer grime. Slowly, she slipped into an emotional numbness that mirrored her body. She was being rolled around as the human dried her with the towel and then began looking her over.

‘Mouse, female, brown pelt. First generation.’

He moved Elizabeth onto her belly.

‘Regression stage one.’

She heard the other man take his notes as her body was turned to face her tormentor once more. Her terror returned as she saw the end of the injection gun get closer and closer.

A pain pierced her side. Heat was flowing through her body from her belly.

Then, everything went dark.

The two men rolled their cart down the empty hallways, turning off lights behind them. At a maintenance ramp the heavy-set man unlocked the doors while his counterpart pushed the supplies down a cement ramp. A white van with “Carlsen Cleaning & Maitenance” printed in large letters on the sides and back was waiting in the empty parking lot. Neither man seemed in a rush as the cart was loaded and secured inside the van. Then, unceremoniously, the van pulled out of the NIMH parking lot and drove into the night traffic of Baltimore.

‘I can’t believe we agreed to this.’

The gaunt man had taken off his cap and was massaging his brows. Besides the fuzzy fringe of white hair he was just as bald as his colleague driving the van.

‘Like we had a choice.’

The mustached driver kept his hat on, his mood obviously dark.

‘With the dirt he has on us, he can basically make us do anything. We are lucky he employed us after that fiasco years ago.’

Fringe-hair nodded with a sour expression, but kept on talking.

‘If the government finds out what’s going on, we’re talking treason, not just our careers, but prison.’

‘Shut up, Valentine! I don’t want to talk about it!’

They continued driving in silence. Rather than heading towards a location within the city the duo soon found their way across suburb roads to an old seldom used highway leading into the country. The road was deserted and neither man spoke. Fields gave way to forest until they turned right at a gated and fenced driveway. Large signs warned of electrocution and declared the property to be owned by Lazarus Laboratories Inc. The gatehouse appeared to be unmanned but the two men still waved an identification badge at a sensor. A few moments later and the fence gate opened and allowed them access.

In many ways the private drive was better maintained than the highway. A wide swatch cut through the forest and every couple of yards a set of poles with lamps illuminated the road. There were cameras on each pole as well. Soon, the van entered a large meadow cleared around a raised hill. Here, a second electrified fence with gate waited. This time the gate opened without the vehicle having to stop. Upon the hill their destination awaited them.

Neither man liked the design of the structure. As impressive as the new research building was, the brooding tower with its four ancillary structures always reminded the two men of daggers trying to pierce the sky, or some sort of needles thrust out from the ground. The company that had given them employment after their disgraceful dismissal from governmental work must have spent millions on the design alone, money that might have been better used to supply its researchers. But then again, Lazarus Laboratories was not stingy in research funds either. In all honesty, the doctors Schulz and Valentine had never seen a more sophisticated research facility in their entire careers. How their employers had kept some of their revolutionary equipment from government use or oversight was beyond them.

The van pulled up to one side of the main tower, a wide swinging door reminiscent of a vault entrance opening automatically at their approach. They followed the labyrinthine paths down the different parking levels until they reached a spot right next to the glass-shielded lobby of level 2. There were two other vehicles waiting there, private vehicles with Lazarus Laboratory decals. Dr. Karl Schulz parked the van next to the lobby entrance where two men were already waiting for them.

As he and Valentine exited the van they both removed their overalls and put them in the driver’s compartment with their hats. In the neon lights of the parking garage the tiny beads of sweat on Valentine and the greasy sheen on Schulz’s face belied their discomfort at their night errand. They went to the back of the vehicle together, opened the hatch, and Dr. Valentine removed the large red toolbox from the cart. Then, they approached the two men waiting for them.

While Schulz and Valentine were wearing simple sweaters and pants the men at the lobby entrance were dressed in immaculate business suits. The smaller of the two was just a bit below average height, slender, and looked to be of early middle age despite a face that had a boyish air to it. He was dressed in a black suit, with matching shirt and tie. This somewhat somber attire was offset by the man’s wavy grey hair, some of which was falling in a rakish fashion down his gently smiling face. A small goatee of the same color and a golden tie-pin with a round emerald green gem completed the man’s air of eccentricity. There was something jovial and good-natured in both his features and body language.

The man standing a little behind him was almost his complete opposite. An angular dark-tanned face with black slick-backed hair and a small pointed corsairs beard glowered from a muscular frame just over six feet tall. This one was wearing an ash grey suit with the company logy, an arrangement of triangles emblazoned on the vest pocket. He looked at the two approaching figures with obvious displeasure and suspicion.

‘Dr. Schulz! Dr. Valentine! Thank you so much for undertaking this late-night venture.’

The smaller man stepped forward, his arms raised as if to embrace the two scientists and his face radiating good cheer.

‘It was the least we could do, sir.’

Schulz’s usually gruff voice sounded cowed as he addressed the smaller man.


Taking up position between the arrivals he patted both of them on the shoulder as he led them towards the other suited man, who had not moved an inch.

‘You compromised your morals and safety for the good of the company. There is no way I can adequately repay you for that service.’

Valentine coughed nervously.

‘Sir, are you sure that nobody will know?’

The boyish face winked at the rangy man.

‘Edward, Mr. Fray’s best technicians have been controlling NIMH’s security protocols for over a month now. There will be no trace of anything amiss.’

The white fringe of hair bobbed as Valentine nodded.

Padding both men on the shoulder one more time the smaller man motioned towards his sinister counterpart.

‘If you would hand Mr. Fray the specimen case? I bet you must both be exhausted.’

The pallid scientist almost tripped over his own feat in his eagerness to comply while Schulz still perspired heavily. The grey-suited man took the red box from him without comment. Once he had returned to his colleagues’ side their apparent superior looked the pair straight in the face, each hand once more taking a hold of one of the scientists’ shoulders. His features became milder and more subdued.

‘Karl, Edward, I know how uncomfortable this whole deal has made you. But I assure you it will be alright.’

He smiled again and padded their shoulders once more.

‘Go home and get some rest. You have a long weekend ahead of you. Tomorrow, this whole affair will seem like a bad dream, okay?’

The two grown men, each clearly older and more weathered than the other, nodded like embarrassed children and then hustled off towards their respective vehicles. The man in the black suit smiled and folded his arms across his chest as the cars pulled out from their lots. He gave a small wave as they passed and then left the confines of parking level. The green stone on the black tie was pulsing in a strange light.

A few moments after the sounds of the cars had died away the smile left the boyish features, to be replaced by an emotionless, calculating expression. As he turned around the larger man, Mr. Fray cocked a thick black brow.

‘They will keep quiet?’

‘By tomorrow morning,’ the smaller man smirked, ‘they will only remember that they had to work late today.’

A sinister smile crossed Mr. Fray’s features as he nodded. The black suited man’s hand pointed at the tool box in the other’s hand.

‘Take the specimens to the assigned laboratory. Make sure that they are comfortable. Bring them to me once the sedation wears off.’

The sinister figure’s smile disappeared as he gave a single grim nod and headed through the glass lobby doors. The other watched him silently as he entered the elevator and disappeared. Then, slowly, the smaller man too walked towards the lobby, a content smile playing at the corners of his mouth.

Everything had worked perfectly.

Chapter 11: The Chase

She saw.

Not a place, but space, time, all in one, the everywhere and everywhen.

Floating, was she really there? No, not there, just observing. She was not yet ready, not yet.

It was peaceful. Every place she had ever known and everything else was as close as a fingertip, intermingled yet separate; past, present, future, just directions.

She saw.

There were others, those that grown beyond. If she concentrated she could discern the shapes they once wore, back when they were bound to space and time. Like stars of many colors, bubbles of light, young suns, they drifted and moved. Some of their memory shapes she recognized, others where strange, yet others where unknowable. But none were frightening.

She saw.

One of the others shone a beautiful sky blue. She followed its movements. It was joyful, darting between times and spaces, meeting with others, as if in play. She looked closer. There was something familiar about this one. She concentrated. The other’s light resolved itself into the memory of its old shape as it raced across the universes.

She saw.


Mrs. Brisby gasped awake.

She tried to sit up, but the soft blanket that covered her was tucked in snugly underneath a rodent-sized mattress and restrained her. Her head fell back onto the pillow, pounding. She squeezed her eyes shut and pulled her hands from under the sheets to massage her temples.

What had happened?

She remembered her strange dream. But there had been something before that, something bad. What was it?

All of a sudden recollection flooded her aching cranium and her eyes jerked open. They had been captured! At NIMH! It had all gone wrong somehow. The laboratory room that turned out to be a closet, the strange thing Timothy had found. Then the mist, the humans…

Timothy! Where was he? Cynthia! Where were her children?

The brown mouse began to struggle out from the confining blanket in a panic, not even noticing her surroundings. Once free, Elizabeth first noticed that she was in a cage. She had been sleeping on a rather comfortable little mattress supplied with pillow and blankets that had been put right onto the metal floor. Still desperate for her children she looked around the rectangular space she now occupied; three metal walls and a low ceiling of the same material. The only light came from the fourth wall. Slits in the metal and a locked door let in sparse illumination from beyond. The same scant luminance exposed a number of sleeping shapes covered in blankets spread all around the floor, two large ones, two small.

Mrs. Brisby rushed to the smaller shapes, instinctively knowing that she had found her children. She reached Timothy first. Snug in a similar blanket her son appeared to be sleeping calmly, but the mouse needed to be certain that he was alright. Elizabeth put her hands on his shoulders and squeezed gently.

Timothy snorted and scrambled, instantly awake.

‘What? Help!’

‘It’s okay, honey. It’s me.’


‘Yes,’ Elizabeth replied, ‘your blanket is tucked in tight. Are you alright?’

The tan-colored mouse struggled out from his covers, fumbling to find his glasses.

‘I think so. Where’s Cyn?’

Elizabeth stepped to the second small shape and was relieved to have her daughter’s shape outlined in the gloom. She, just as her brother had, appeared to be sleeping comfortably. As Timothy was still searching around his mattress for his glasses, Mrs. Brisby gently shook her daughter’s shoulder. Unlike her brother, Cynthia woke calmly, blinking her eyes a few times and then turning her head to face her mother.

‘Is that you, Mom?’

‘Yes sweetie. Are you okay?’

The crème-furred mouse turned her head each way and then, as if she had known all along that her feeling of confinement was due having been tucked in like an infant, slipped out from underneath her blanket.

‘Mom, have you seen my glasses? I can’t see a thing.’

As Mrs. Brisby turned to Timothy she noticed he was wearing something akin to a hospital gown. Gazing down at herself and then at Cynthia she found that they were all equally attired.

‘Mom? Cyn?’

Cynthia stepped to her brother’s side.

‘I don’t think you’re glasses are here, Timmy. I can’t see anything apart from these mattresses.’

‘I think I found Justin and Brutus.’

Leading her blurry-eyed brother Cynthia followed her mother’s voice to the other side of the cage where the two larger shapes where located. As with the mice, Justin and Brutus were resting on simple mattresses, although somewhat larger, and were securely restrained by their covers.

‘Let me wake Brutus, Mom. I don’t want him to freak out on us.’

‘Yeah,’ Timothy added, ‘that would not be fun: pummeled while blind.’

While Cynthia, her brother keeping a hand on her shoulder, moved to Brutus, Elizabeth gave Justin’s shoulder and gentle shove. The brown rat turned underneath the sheet and groaned.

‘Justin, wake up.’

The rat’s eyes opened and looked at her in confusion.

‘What are you doing in my room?’

Before the mouse could answer Justin’s gaze and recollections asserted themselves. Despite the secured blanket he sat up ramrod straight and grabbed Mrs. Brisby’s shoulders.

‘Are you okay? Where are the kids? What…’

‘Calm down,’ she put a palm on his heaving chest, ‘Cynthia and Timothy are fine. And I think they managed to wake Brutus without problems.’

The lean rat freed himself from his bedding and surveyed his surroundings. Brutus was indeed awake. Shaking his head, standing next to his mattress with his blanket wrapped around him like a cape he struck an almost comical figure in the dim light as the two younger mice assured him. But Justin did not feel like laughing. He remembered what had happened and his face contorted in a frown. He turned to face Elizabeth again.

‘Where’re Julia, and the others?’

The two younger mice and Brutus joined them and Cynthia answered.

‘There is no sign of Brendan, Quaestor, or Julia.’

‘This is eerie.’ Timothy ventured.

‘Really?’ Cynthia gasped in faked amazement.

‘Which part is eerie? Having been drugged by humans, stripped of our clothes, locked in a cage, or having three of our group missing?’

Noticing that his sister was getting angry the lanky mouse took a step back.

‘Sorry sis!’

In an unusual gesture Brutus, who had shaken off his blanket, put a calming hand on the young female’s shoulder. Her mother looked at her reassuringly.

‘Brendan is going to be alright honey. We’ll find him somewhere. Maybe he is in the next cage over?’

Justin stepped to the slits in the cage’s outer wall and peered outward.

‘Hello? Anyone else in here?’

There was nothing but silence.

‘This is weird. They give us clothes, of a sort, and the only ones missing are the ones that did not come from the Valley.’

All eyes turned to Timothy as he made his statement. His mother nodded gravely and then looked at Justin.

‘Humans don’t usually give trapped animals clothing, right.’

‘No,’ Justin agreed sourly, ‘they do not.’

He pointed a finger at the slits in the cage.

‘And we are not at NIMH.’

‘What do you mean?’ Cynthia wondered.

‘Take a look.’

All five took up positions looking through the openings into the laboratory that held them. The far wall only contained a low workbench filled with odds and ends of equipment. The rest of the wall was a huge row of palatial windows through which the night sky and distant woodlands were clearly visible.

‘We’re no longer in the city.’

Nobody had a chance to comment on Mrs. Brisby’s statement. The sound of small, squeaking wheels was coming from the left side of their prison. As the rats and mice strained to see outside their cage in the gloom they noticed that beyond their prison door was a small ledge, like a walkway. From their vantage point they noticed additional cages arranged to both sides of their own. The squeaking sound was definitely coming from the left. A distant dark shape could be seen, pushing a vague rectangular object on wheels. It gave the impression of a rat shaped individual pushing a cart.

Then they heard the humming.

Whoever or whatever was approaching them was filling the air with the basso tones of some indistinct tune. But it was the voice that shocked Mrs. Brisby and the rats. While Cynthia and Timothy looked at their elders in consternation, Justin’s and Brutus’ eyes went wide and their mother took a step back from the slats with a gasp.

The shape, still dark, still humming, stopped in front of their cage.

‘No,’ Justin breathed quietly, ‘it can’t be.’

All of a sudden the face of a middle-aged male rat with glossy blue-grey fur, feral green eyes, and a sinister grin leaned against the cage slits.

‘Oh but it is, Justin, it most definitely is.’


Elizabeth covered her mouth in her hands as Justin almost shouted the name. Her children and Brutus looked shell-shocked.

‘Come now,’ the face leered from outside the cage, ‘is that any way to greet an old friend?’

‘You’re dead.’

Mrs. Brisby’s voice was barely a whisper.

The yellow-green eyes turned on the brown mouse.

‘I actually feel rather well, my dear Mrs. Brisby.’

‘You’re dead,’ Justin affirmed strongly, ‘we buried you.’

Jenner raised a clawed finger to the sky.

‘Ah, but apparently not deep enough, eh, old friend?’

There was a moment of incredulous silence from the prisoners, which the rat outside their cell appeared to enjoy tremendously. Then, the individual that looked like Jenner did something electronic with the door and it raised itself with a faint pneumatic hiss. The cage was open.

None of the freed rodents knew how to proceed. As surreal as their lives had been up to this point their current situation was too much of a dream, or better said a nightmare, to be real.

‘Are you going to wait in there all night?’ Jenner asked, his dark silhouette putting his fist against his hips, ‘I have your clothes here for you, all cleaned.’

Justin was the first to move, although Elizabeth was tempted to reach out with her hand to stop him. Brutus followed and, finally, holding hands, the mice left the cage as well.

Jenner looked the same as he had years ago. He still had his predatory gaze, his powerful built, the roguish beard and the same carnivorous smile. But his clothing was radically different from what his old contemporaries remembered. Instead of his purple and black robes and cape the rat was draped in a light grey uniform of some kind, trimmed with darker material. There was a strange mark on his lapel, a symbol composed of triangles that looked familiar to the other rodents. It was the same symbol they had seen on the electric fence surrounding the old Fitzgibbon Farm, or the place where the farm once had been. The uniform radiated authority. Whatever it signified, this rat, this Jenner, was not dressed like a servant.

Nonetheless, as the released mice and rats looked at him incredulously the uniformed rodent grabbed a bundle of neatly folded cloth and handed it to a dumbstruck Brutus. Once the huge rat managed to overcome his shocked inertia and accepted his clothing Jenner handed a second set of clothes to Justin with a chuckle.

‘They told me it took a while to get that sewage smell out of the fabric. It should smell rather flowery right now. I hope you don’t mind, Justin.’

The brown rat stared blankly at the other as he accepted his clothes.

‘Ah,’ Jenner intoned as he lifted a much smaller, reddish bundle and held it towards the mice.

‘I believe these are yours, ma’am.’

Mrs. Brisby was so stunned that she did not even realize how she automatically accepted her clothes from the spitting image of rat that had once tried to kill her.

Timothy and Cynthia reacted similarly when an uncannily jovial Jenner handed them their respective garments. Then he put a pair of glasses each on both Mrs. Brisby’s and her son’s pile. None of the five rodents had moved after accepting their vestments. All continued to stare at the impossible rat before them. Jenner, in turn, folded his arms across his chest and sighed in exasperation.

‘Will you please put your clothes on and stop gawking like that? I’m pretty sure the Director would prefer you being clothed rather than in hospital gowns.’

‘I don’t believe this.’ Justin muttered.


‘I don’t believe this.’ He reiterated more forcefully.

‘This must be some strange dream or hallucination from whatever the humans put into me. You are dead.’

The Jenner-look-alike rolled his eyes visibly, even in the scant light. Then, with amazing speed, he stepped around the cart and pinched Justin’s arm, hard.


The brown rat jumped back, dropping his clothes to the ground. Brutus instinctively stepped forwards, ready to push Jenner away. But the bluish-grey rat raised his arms in surrender and quickly stepped out of range, grinning.

‘He asked for it, Brutus.’

Justin glowered at the retreating rat.

‘Let me assure you,’ Jenner stated, his smile disappearing into a grave expression, ‘this is very real, and very serious. I know you have a million questions, but the Director wants to answer them himself.’

‘The Director?’ Mrs. Brisby found the courage to ask.

The imposing rat looked at her for a moment, his face almost unreadable in the dark. Jenner’s expression shifted from determined, to sympathetic, and then back again. Elizabeth had to blink to assure herself she had actually seen that momentary semblance of compassion on Jenner’s otherwise cruel features.

‘The Director of this facility has instructed me to give you your clothes and bring you to him. He will explain everything to you, everything. But please, your clothes?’

Not taking his eyes off their strange host Justin donned his uniform. Brutus followed suit and nodded encouragement to the mice by stepping between them and Jenner, who remained motionless behind his cart. Nobody spoke. All eyes, when not needed to find buttons or maneuver through garments, were glued to Jenner. Finally, Justin stepped up to the slightly larger rat.

‘You’re really Jenner?’

Again, the other rat’s toothy grin broke the gloom.

‘Most definitely.’

‘And you work for the human in charge here?’

Jenner winked at the brown rat, who was stepping right in front of him.

‘Yes, I work for the one who is in charge here.’

Justin tapped a finger to his chin.

‘Where is the Stone, Jenner?’

The other rat looked nonplussed and then, chuckling, slapped a palm against his forehead.

‘I will forget my own head next!’

Shaking said head in bemusement Jenner bent towards the cart and retrieved the red Stone. It glowed slightly. As Justin raised his hand to accept it the dark rat waved a scolding finger.

‘Uh-uh! This does not belong to you, Justin.’

Before anyone could move Jenner sidled around the former Captain of the Guard and stepped towards Mrs. Brisby, who immediately shrank back against the reassuring bulk of Brutus, who was already raising his fists protectively. But to the surprise of all, Jenner went down on one knee before the brown mouse, as he had done so many years before in the old Rosebush. He held out the Stone to Mrs. Brisby. There was the most curious expression on his face. Nobody, not Brutus or Justin, could ever remember having seen such a pleading look on Jenner as he whispered.

‘It’s yours. It always has been. Please,’ he moved the amulet even closer to the mouse, ‘forgive me.’

Elizabeth, not taking her eyes of the rat, took the Stone and lifted the chain around her neck. Jenner smiled in relief, just for an instant. Then his usual sneer returned and he walked back to face Justin, who had watched the exchange open-mouthed. Playfully, Jenner lifted the other’s jaw up with his right finger.

‘You look like a fish when you do that.’

Justin blinked and shook his head.

‘You work for whoever runs this place?’

‘Correct again.’

‘Then,’ the brown rat lowered his voice, ‘we don’t want anything to do with him.’

He shoved Jenner so hard that the larger rat slipped and fell straight on his back. Not waiting for him to recover Justin rounded the cart and pulled Timothy by the sleeve while motioning the others to follow.

‘Let’s get out of here!’

None of them knew where they could go. But none of them wanted to remain with the impossibly resurrected Jenner, so they followed as quickly as they could, Brutus taking up the rear. They raced down the odd walkway lining cage after cage until they reached the end of what they realized was a laboratory bench. Justin peered down to the dark linoleum floor and then beyond, where the door to the laboratory stood wide open. He spotted a waste paper basket below. Not waiting for arguments he jumped down, hoping that his light weight and the paper in the bin would keep him from injury. He landed safely and, once he was able to right himself in the discarded heaps of waste, motioned for the mice to follow.

‘Come on! I’ll catch you!’

Mrs. Brisby jumped first. There was a numbed look on her face. Jenner was dead. Seeing him again, here, could not be possible. She did not want to think, so she acted instead.

Justin managed to catch her. He immediately lifted her over the basket’s rim so Timothy and Cynthia could follow. Then he scrambled out hurriedly. When Brutus made his landing his size caused the pale to tip over and spill its contents, rat included, over the smooth floor. No words were exchanged as the mice passed Brutus as he got back to his feet and all of them raced out through the open laboratory door. The entire escape had taken less than two minutes.

The rat resembling Jenner was back on his feet. He was smiling wickedly in the darkness. Without hurry he spent a few moments removing creases and dust from his uniform, unconcerned at the escape. Then he removed three items from below the cart. The first was a small helmet, made from a peculiar material with a pearly metallic sheen, but an uncanny plastic flexibility. It sported a tinted visor, which was emitting a faint green glow. Underneath the chin was a microphone. Next he produced two armored gloves of the same material. A green stone inlaid into the back of each of the gloves palms light up brightly, as did the visor of the helmet, when he donned them.

The smile broadened.

He waved his right hand in a complicated motion through empty air. On the inside of his visor three-dimensional glowing patterns were overlaid onto physical reality. As the armored glove touched a virtual icon visible only to the rat the laboratory door closed automatically and locked itself with a slamming sound.

Justin and the others had been running blindly from the laboratory into a long corridor where open doors of a similar nature gave access to countless other rooms. The brown rat looked at Cynthia, counting on her innate sense of direction. She pointed to one side and nodded.

‘Right behind you!’ he assured the young female as he sprinted to keep up with her. The rest of the mice and Brutus followed.

Then, unexpectedly, all the doors in the corridor slammed shut and locked at once.

Rats and mice halted. Looking around the now closed corridor they were at a momentary loss as to what to do.

‘Can you still find a way out for us, sis?’

Cynthia blinked a bit and then nodded once more.

‘We have to go the other way now. Come on!’

Jenner activated another virtual icon and spoke into the microphone.

‘Compound sealed. Targets are in corridor 14 D. Sterilizer groups 5 and 6, detain and retrieve. Acknowledge!’

‘Acknowledge!’ A mechanical voice chimed from hidden speakers in the rat’s helmet.

The crème-colored mouse led them to a ventilation grate in the wall.

Timothy groaned.

‘Not again!’

‘Beggars can’t be choosers. Help me get it off.’

Sighing the mouse aided Justin in prying off the plastic grating, thankful that there weren’t any screws keeping it in place. Without tools they would have had a problem. As a matter of fact, they did have a problem anyway. Unlike the large cubic ventilation ducts they had encountered at NIMH, this was an unusually small, round opening. The true problem was the size. Justin would be barely able to get through but as he looked at his bulky friend he realized that there was no way Brutus would fit in there. Elizabeth, following his gaze, realized it as well.

‘Sweetie, is there any other way out?’

Cynthia looked desperately in both directions of the hallway at her mother’s question.

‘I don’t…’

Her reply was cut off when she noticed the strange lights.

The others followed her gaze. Down the right corridor a number of green lights were visible, swaying in the darkening gloom of the hall. Their numbers were increasing, four at a time. Two smaller ones of each set appeared to be spaced higher up and never increased their distance to each other. The remaining pair, larger than the first, swayed back and forth somewhat lower.

‘Over there too!’

Timothy pointed to the opposite end of the hallway. There the same strange spectacle was playing out. Cynthia swallowed hard.

‘We need to go. This is trouble.’

‘Brutus won’t fit.’ Justin cut in.

Timothy, all the while, had stepped towards the group of lights coming from the right. His head tilted sideways and his eyes narrowed to slits behind his glasses as he muttered.

‘What in the world…’

His words choked in his mouth. As the lights got closer they revealed themselves to be something thoroughly strange and menacing. The general shape was that of rats, huge rats, almost as massive as Brutus; four limbs, a head, and tails. That was where the similarities ended. The entities approaching appeared to be incased from head to toe in some sort of armor, light metallic in color, with a pearly luster. What had appeared as swaying lights was revealed to be glowing green stones set into elongated helmets where one would usually expect eyes. The things’ forepaws did not end in hands or fingers. They were encumbered by long cylinders, each ending in even larger green stones of similar fashion, forcing them to move on their hindquarters, which they did with astounding grace.

The entire group was dumbstruck as the entities from the right ambled closer with a heavy but elastic gait. Then, the one in the front pointed the right tube on its arm forward, as if aiming a gun, right at Timothy.

‘Oh dung…’

A bright flash of light issued from the green stone and hit the young mouse in the chest. Timothy fell straight on his back, shivering slightly, and then stopped moving.

With a yell of despair his mother and sister rushed to his side. As they hoisted his upper body from the floor his glasses fell off his face. He was completely unresponsive.

‘He’s breathing!’ Cynthia exclaimed.

Justin moved the mice aside unceremoniously and carried Timothy towards the now open duct.

‘Come on!’

More of the strange beings now aimed their peculiar weapons at the group. More flashes of light, like ball lightening, struck. Racing to the round hole Mrs. Brisby and Cynthia managed to dodge the blasts. Justin hurried them into the duct and shoved the still limp body of Timothy behind them.

‘Pull him. I’ll be right there.’

The lights from the left side of the corridor were now revealed to be similar apparitions. While the mice had been able to evade a few of the illuminant shots Justin had been unable to do the same. A projectile made from green light was racing towards his back just as he was pushing the unconscious mouse into the opening.

Brutus threw himself into the line of fire, taking the blast in the gut.

Nothing happened.

The huge rat looked down at himself and blinked in confusion. Justin gazed at him in consternation as well. Then both of them noticed that their armored adversaries had stopped in their advance. The entity in the lead, which had probably been the one to issue the shot, seemed to be as perplexed as they were, its two green glowing eyes looking at the weapon issuing from its right arm in wonder. A second entity to its left raised one of its weapons directly at Brutus and, before anyone could react, fired as well. Brutus did not have time to dodge when the second blast of green light slammed into him.

Again, there was no effect.

Brutus turned to Justin and grinned evilly. Both rats knew he would never fit into the duct. He slapped Justin’s shoulder and pointed towards the mice, which were fast disappearing into the vent. Then he turned and charged head-on into their assailants, claws raised and cape flying, ready to bludgeon whatever got into his way.

The creatures in their strange armor were completely unprepared. The group from the right simply tried firing their weapons at the immense charging rat with as little effect as before. The second group, apparently just as unprepared for this eventuality, forgot Justin and the mice, who had since disappeared into the depths of the ventilation system. They charged Brutus from the rear. When the rat connected with the first one his rage and their inability to comprehend made for a surprisingly unbalanced contest. Despite their size the first three of the armored entities went flying, their helmeted heads bashing into walls and floors. Two of them had their lights dim away as they landed, apparently no longer functioning. The third was caught by its compatriots.

Wielding their weapons like clubs the beings began to surround Brutus, intent on pummeling him into submission. There were a total of ten of them, minus the two who were still prone where the huge rat had hurled them. While their awkwardness in combat suggested that they had never anticipated having to use their projectile devices as bludgeons their numbers should have given them the advantage. And without fingers or teeth they could not use the rat’s cape for purchase either. But Brutus was anything but a fool.

After his initial charge forward he turned on the five closing in behind him, barreling his way through the crowd towards the open ventilation duct. Clearly too large to make it through Brutus turned his back to the attackers, ready to act as a barrier for his friends’ escape. As one of the attackers charged in, ready to clobber him with its right weapon, he grabbed a hold of its neck with his left hand and grabbed the intended club with his right. Once in hand, Brutus tore at the strange device while holding the struggling thing’s neck tight. The weapon tore loose, cables snapping, and showing that underneath it his assailant possessed a completely normal white-furred rat hand.

Beneath their bizarre gear these creatures were rats.

Not having time to contemplate this as two more of the creatures tried to intercede, he slammed the head of the one he held captive into the helmet of the first and the removed weapon into the gut of the second, both of which tumbled backwards. The lights on the helmet of the attacker he had choked had gone out and his shape slumped to the floor. Three down, seven to go. But the remaining attackers had gotten weary. Surrounding him in a half-circle, weapons raised to bludgeon, they remained at a distance. One stepped back and tilted its head. Brutus heard mumbling coming from underneath its enclosed helmet.

‘Four specimens have escaped through the air vent, section 14 D north. Fifth specimen is blocking access, apparently stun-resistant. Orders?’

Underneath the glowing visor Jenner’s expression turned contemplative for a few moments. Resistance to the stun was something that he had not anticipated. The neural pathways of vertebrates should not be able to withstand it, even in creatures up to half a ton in mass. Then, his muzzle spread into a small smile. Of course, the specimen in question was probably Brutus.

‘Do not engage. Keep specimen contained, but do not engage.’


He moved his glove over another virtual icon. A glowing diagram of the ducts appeared and displayed four red dots moving southward. His second glove activated yet another channel.

‘Specimens are moving towards room 14-C-23. Group F4 and C4, move in and intercept. Acknowledge.’

This time a deep, growling voice answered.


Another move of his right hand and the diagram and channel link disappeared. He activated new icon and.

‘Stella, proceed to corridor 14 D. Rat specimen detainment, stun resistance, possible neural mutation. Physical detainment required. Acknowledge.’

The voice issuing from the speakers now was clearly electronic, lacking any emotional inflection.


Jenner’s smile widened into a toothy grin. This was getting interesting.

Only four of the armored rats remained.

The one who had apparently requested new orders had motioned for three of his companions to remove those that Brutus had already incapacitated. Now the remaining four moved around him cautiously. Brutus was still cornered against the small opening in the wall and tried to see if he might be able to ambush one or more of his remaining assailants and then, somehow, make a run for it. His adversaries eyed him carefully through their glowing lenses. But sooner or later, one of them would come close enough for Brutus to strike. He knew it.

Finally, one of the rodents did move just a fraction closer than he should have with his tail. Throwing himself to the ground Brutus grabbed the tail and pulled with all his might. The force was strong enough to throw the rat in his bulky armor onto his back. The remaining three charged in to stop their companion being rat-handled. But Brutus, never letting go of the tail, pulled the scrambling rat on the floor between the feet of the other assailants, which caused another to stumble. Just as he was about to charge into the rest an awful mechanical voice called out.


Everyone stopped moving, even the two rats on the ground. Five heads, four armored and one not, moved in the direction of the sound. There, another set of glowing lights heralded the approach of reinforcements. Brutus, who was still poised to charge, relaxed. The reinforcement turned out to be an average height rat, about as tall as Justin, of very slender built, wearing the same kind of armor as the previous attackers. But where the others had been huge and bulky, this one was feminine in grace and shape and did not wear any of the cylindrical weapon tubes. The hands were contained in armored gloves, the backsides of which each contained a circular stone. Yet the biggest difference was the color. The lenses of this one’s helmet and the stones on the gloves all pulsed in pinkish hue rather than green.

Whoever this was, she moved with extreme confidence, motioning with hands for the much larger armored warriors to move back. Helping their fallen comrades all four remaining hulks backed off until the lithe newcomer was the only one facing Brutus, who looked at the much, much shorter rat in bemusement.

The armored right hand moved to a spot underneath the helmet and the cold mechanical voice was heard once more.

‘This is your last chance to follow us quietly. What is your answer?’

In reply Brutus unbuttoned his cape, then balled his fists and hunched down, ready to charge.

‘You were warned.’

The armored one, who had to be female, lowered into an attack position as well.

Brutus was still deciding whether he should initiate combat with someone who was most likely a lady when the rat in question took a flying leap from her standing position at him. He had never seen anyone manage such a jump without building up speed first and he had to do a forward roll in order to move out of the path in time. As Brutus got back up again he just barely had time to see that his opponent had rolled over and landed on her feet like an acrobat and used that momentum to propel herself at him once more. Now there was no time to dodge. So, the huge male decided to intercept the flying rodent. A well-aimed jab with his right fist for a feint and then a sneaky follow-up with his left…

Before he knew what had happened he felt himself somersaulting again, only this time without wanting to. As his back slammed hard against the wall Brutus realized that somehow, someway, his assailant had managed to, from midair, redirect her angle and grab a hold of his arms in a way that would use his own momentum to catapult him into the concrete. This one was faster than anyone he had ever fought before. As his body slid onto the linoleum he expected her to use her advantage and pummel him while he was exposed. Brutus raised his arms instinctively to shield his head.

Nothing happened.

Daring to open his guard he saw that the female was standing in almost exactly the same position she had before their little tussle. Her hand was underneath her helmet again.


His anger was threatening to overwhelm him now. Being beaten was one thing, being taunted another. Brutus’ teeth erupted in a horrifying snarl as he hurled himself at the armored female. There would be no finesse now. He simply barreled ahead, making sure she would not be able to trip him or grab a hold of any limbs.

She jumped right over him as he passed.

Suddenly, a searing pain went down Brutus’s spine. The sensation was so overwhelming that he crashed headfirst into the floor, sliding along the smooth surface until he came to a stop. His vision was blurry, but he felt his attacker step gracefully over his body from behind to his head and then, once she stood in front of him, turned to look down at him. The finger touched the armored neck once more.

‘Too slow.’

Then she gave Brutus a twirling kick to the head and everything went dark.

Timothy was beginning to stir again as Justin pushed him through the round tunnel. Whatever their peculiar assailants had shot him with was wearing off. They had scrambled as quickly as they could, pulling and pushing the numb mouse with them. In their hurry nobody paid attention to the turns they were taking, until finally they arrived at another grate leading into a different section of their prison.

‘What happened?’

Cynthia helped her brother to his still rubbery feet.

‘You got zapped, Timmy.’

‘Good,’ he mumbled, ‘can we go home now?’

‘Elizabeth!’ Justin called out, ‘Can you help me push this off?’

Mrs. Brisby hurried to his side as he was trying to pry the plastic covering loose that separated them from the next room. Her children joined them, Timothy now almost completely awake now.

‘Let me try something.’

The male mouse’s hand went to where he used to have his backpack only to remember that they never received their gear back. Thankfully, his mother and Justin were able to push the grate off with a popping sound. Rat and mouse peered into the darkened room. It looked almost identical to the laboratory they had just escaped from, but here the door stood unaccountably and invitingly open. Not waiting Justin lowered Mrs. Brisby to the ground and then helped the children. Cynthia looked into the gloom with clear misgivings on her face, but there was little choice but to go on.

Once they were all safely on the smooth floor Justin sighed.

‘The door is open. I thought they all closed when we ran for it.’

‘A malfunction maybe?’ Timothy offered hopefully.

The answer came as a deep, resonant growl from the open doorway.

More of the bright green lights were visible, only this time much larger, and placed much farther off the ground. There was a sound of claws clicking on the cold flooring and then the light of the windowed wall revealed their new harriers.

They were dogs, three of them, all different shapes and sizes. In front was a squat terrier, male, with grayish-red fur bristling wildly, teeth that would have made a shepherd proud, bared in a snarl. It was wearing a vest over its body, covered in places with armor similar to what their previous attackers had worn and the top of its skull covered in a helmet. Large green lenses or stones shone from where the eyes should have been. Behind the terrier was a tall Dalmatian, female, with similar vestments and headgear, her head up and sniffing the air for additional targets as the lead dog focused on the prey already spotted. A hulking monstrosity of a Rottweiler, jowls and fangs glistening with saliva as it glowered behind the smaller canine, brought up the rear, blocking any escape through the door with his bulk.

Barking and roaring the terrier charged.

Bigger than a cat and surprisingly massive the diminutive beast seemed to be all teeth as its stubby legs propelled it towards the rodents. Rat and mice instinctively ran for it, on all fours, clothes and capes flying unheeded around their bodies. Everyone was in panic. The mice, being faster, were in the lead as the group rounded a laboratory bench to see a small stepping stool next to a table. They bounded upwards. The terrier was fast closing the distance between them and the rangy Dalmatian had also joined the hunt, barking violently.

From the stool the mice and rat managed to climb up the cloth of a laboratory coat hanging against the cupboards. They did not wait to step onto the laboratory bench, sure that the taller dogs would reach them there. Instead, with Mrs. Brisby in the lead and Justin bringing up the rear, they clambered from the sleeves of the coat to the very top of the shelves. All but Justin managed to reach the top. The terrier was mad with rage as it could not reach them, snarling viciously. But the Dalmatian managed a tall jump and plucked the rat off the coat moments before he was able to reach safety.


Elizabeth’s agonized scream was drowned out by the sounds of the terrier, who had jumped on the tumbling rat as soon as it hit the ground. Cynthia pulled her mother away from the edge of the cupboard top, not wanting her to see the horrors below. The Dalmatian was the one raising havoc now, barking, howling and snapping her jaws. Of Justin there was no sound, only the clicking noises of the terrier’s claws as he walked to where the Rottweiler was still guarding the door. The huge dog moved aside to let the smaller one pass and even in the dim light, the mice could see the faint outline of a limp shape in its muzzle. All three were crying now, holding each other for comfort as they saw two dogs depart and the third still carrying on her tirade below.

Then the sound of purring, a deep, almost roaring sound began behind them. All three turned their heads in unison.

There, on the shelf with them, was an enormous shape, covered in matted grey fur, almost as big as the terrier had been, but definitely, monstrously feline. Despite the darkness Mrs. Brisby felt hypnotized by the shape. The purr was almost a growl now as the giant cat uncurled its bulk towards the mice. Its shape was familiar to them, a shape that had haunted the nightmare of many a creature living at the Fitzgibbon Farm. Despite the vest and helmet with the glowing eyes there was only one cat this horrifying. Cynthia and Timothy felt paralyzed, faces frozen in terror. Her mother, shocked beyond fear, gaped. So focused where the three mice on the monster in front of them, they did not see the terror clawing its way up over the shelving’s edge from behind.

A second cat, female, large but with a lithe and serpentine grace climbed up silently behind them. Her body was covered in a rangy orange pelt and her muzzle spread in a toothy grin that promised death.

Mrs. Brisby, still staring at the cat in front of them, was able to whisper its name.


Then the sounds of pouncing claws and the shriek of her children tore Elizabeth from her stupor. As she jerked her head around she saw Cynthia and Timothy frantically scrambling against the viscous claws of the second cat, with enclosed them like cages.

Her fear turned to rage. The rage turned her mind red. All rational thought and terror fled before the sight of her children in danger and, with a voice that was much louder than it should have been, Mrs. Brisby yelled.

‘Let them go!’

She had not even realized that the Stone around her neck was glowing, or the fiery waves of light that were cascading off her body. Only her children existed. As she screamed her outrage the second cat appeared to be hit by currents of fire that did not burn but push it violently backwards. Mrs. Brisby felt the cat. Every ounce of it, as if she was holding it in her hands like a small insect. She pushed the feline away with her mind, the flames of power doing her bidding. But her children were still trapped under the paws. She tried to concentrate through her rage, to will the talons to release them. The cat’s claws were beginning to respond to her commands.

Then Dragon’s jaws snapped closed.

Justin was a mess.

His formerly clean tunic was torn at the side and he was covered in canine drool. His right arm was still bruised from the fall, but nothing seemed broken or bleeding. He held it close to his chest.

Two of the armored rats were standing next to him, making sure he would not try another escape attempt. The terrier had carried him into the laboratory room they had first made their mad dash from and the Rottweiler had then deposited him next to Jenner, still in front of the cage. The uniformed rat and four of his armored servants had been waiting, Jenner grinning with obvious delight at Justin’s discomfort.

The battered leader of the Thorn Valley rats had remained quiet as two of the armored rodents took up positions next to him. The sounds of soft, yet heavy paws made him turn around and almost caused him to choke when he saw the shape of what looked like Dragon, carrying a swaying Mrs. Brisby in his maw, sauntering close. The mouse was dangling from her cape, which had sustained some punctures from the large cat’s teeth, her features moving between shock and rage. Behind Dragon a second feline, more slender but similarly terrifying, carried the two younger mice in the same fashion. Only once the two cats had sat down on their haunches in front of Jenner, who was still standing next to the cart he had wheeled in earlier, Justin saw the two additional armored rats sliding off the felines’ backs.

The cats dropped the mice unceremoniously to the ground and shoved them forward with their noses, grinning viscously until the Brisby family was arrayed next to their rat friend.

Jenner, who had removed his gloves and visor clapped his clawed hands jubilantly.

‘I really had hoped this would not have been necessary. But the Director and myself can’t allow you to leave just yet.’

The leering rat folded his arms behind his back and leaned forward.

‘There will be no more escape attempts, yes?’

Rather than answering Justin snapped back.

‘What have you done with Brutus?’

‘Me?’ Jenner feigned innocently, ‘I haven’t touched a hair on his pelt. One of my best sergeants had to subdue him. He received a blow to his head and I had him taken to the hospital to ensure he was okay. Judging from his angry looks I think he was alright.’

‘We want him back.’

Mrs. Brisby’s voice was as cold as ice. The Stone around her neck was still pulsing faintly.

Jenner leaned back instinctively and motioned for the two remaining guards beside him to raise their weapons.

‘I would not do that, my dear. Calm down now or I will have to have you stunned.’

She did not want to. If Dragon had not taken her by surprise this strength, this power could have freed her children, maybe even free them from all of this. Yes, she felt stronger than she ever had, powerful enough to beat them all, to kill them all.

That last thought terrified her right out of her rage.

She stumbled in place and swallowed hard as the Stone dimmed.

Jenner nodded to his armored servants and they lowered their glowing emitters once more. Then he turned to Mrs. Brisby. There was an uncharacteristic compassionate but tired smile on his face. He nodded his head slowly and talked with a quiet voice.

‘You feel it, my dear? Do not let it control you. Don’t make the mistakes I was willing to make.’

Mrs. Brisby was taken aback by this new side to the tall rat’s demeanor. She looked at Justin and her children in turn and was aghast at their expressions. Timothy and Cynthia gazed at her as in fright, not of the cats or Jenner, but of her. Justin looked defeated but understanding and nodded. He rubbed his chest where the Stone had recently burned him.

‘He’s right.’

Elizabeth carefully tried to remove the jewel from her neck, now worried too. But Jenner shook his head.

‘It’s yours. You have to learn to use it and not let it use you.’

The rat that should be dead raised his arms at the group, almost imploringly.

‘Please, you must come with me. I promise Brutus will be okay. I told Stella to bring him to join us as soon as the doctors had a look at him.’

‘Jenner,’ Justin spoke quietly, ‘what is all this madness about?’

‘Come with me. The Director will explain everything. Despite what you may think, we mean you no harm. We need your help as much as you need ours.’

The expression on Jenner’s face was pleading now.

‘How do we need your help?’ Timothy cut in.

That brought the contemptuous smile back to the dark-furred rat.

‘For the same reason you came here. To save Thorn Valley from… what did those mice call it… the Blight.’

‘Brendan,’ Cynthia exclaimed, ‘where is he?’

For a moment Jenner appeared nonplused. Then he snapped a finger.

‘Ah, you mean the boy mouse. The Director had him taken to his family, of course. With the Blight being so advanced in them their treatment required isolation and low light. He should be fully recovered in a few weeks.’

‘Take me to him.’

The rat’s smile broadened as he gave Mrs. Brisby a coy wink.

‘She has your beauty and Jonathan’s fire, that’s for sure.’

‘Don’t you dare talk about Jonathan.’ Justin snapped at the other rat once more.

Taking a more defiant stance, fists on hips, Jenner tilted his head.


‘Really! You hated him and never made any secret of it.’

The taller rat seemed poised to make another biting remark, but closed his eyes and rubbed his brow as if clearing a headache. Then he answered, eyes still closed.

‘Yes, you’re right, Justin. I apologize.’

That stumped the Thorn Valley refugees anew. Jenner’s attitude was changing so rapidly it was hard to keep up with. When he opened his eyes to look at them again the imploring expression had returned. He gestured to the open cage.

‘The Director anticipated that you might try to escape and that we would have to retrieve you again. So I made sure to bring some extra clothing, just in case. We will clean and fix your normal attire again.’

Justin and the mice stared at Jenner and the open cage door. This was all too bizarre. Was he trying to lure them back into captivity? With the armored goons present he would have no need to. Justin tried to stall.

‘What about Julia? And the sewer rat, Questor?’

Jenner waved almost dismissively.

‘They’re both fine. The sewer rat is sleeping. The Director already talked with him and Julia. She’s still with him, finishing her report.’

‘Report? What are you talking about?’

The smile on Jenner turned villainous once more.

‘You haven’t guessed it yet? She is one of us, always has been. Without her we would have never managed to get you here so easily.’

The brown rat’s face dropped in shock. Behind him, Cynthia protested.

‘That’s impossible. She wasn’t lying to us.’

A resonant snigger issued from Jenner.

‘No she didn’t. She was always worried about someone being able to detect falsehoods. So we erased her original memories and implanted some new ones, memories she thoroughly believed in. It worked rather well, I have to admit.’

‘What are you talking about?’

‘Oh please!’ Jenner sighed dramatically, ‘Haven’t you realized by now that in this place we can do things that you can’t even imagine? Look at me! All alive and at work again.’

He sauntered up to the shorter rat and playfully nudged him with an elbow.

‘She’s got her full memories back now. But you did leave quite an impression on her, Justin. And between us, she is not impressed easily.’

‘She’s been bait then.’

‘Oh cheer up! Julia designed the plan to bring you here herself. The Director trusts her as much as he does me. And she really does like you.’

Justin got another nudge in the ribs.

‘Now doesn’t that make you feel better?’

He could only stare at Jenner in deflation. Their entire quest had been northing but a farce, planned by whoever or whatever was in charge here. He had thought he was being a bold leader, ready to save his people. Now Justin felt like he had been nothing but a patsy.

‘So that’s why her stories didn’t add up.’

The not-dead-anymore rodent winked at Timothy.

‘Correct, little man. Now, it is getting really late and the Director and Julia are waiting for us. If you would step inside and get re-dressed?’

Despite his misgivings Justin did enter the cage again. He felt so thoroughly helpless now that it no longer mattered what part of this insane nightmare he believed or not. They might as well play along. Inside the cage, instead of the mattresses and blankets, the space was filled with portable screens and tables, on which more folded clothes, were piled. There were even little name tags on them. Elizabeth and her children, all eyeing Jenner and the cage door warily, followed suit.

The door did not slam behind them, nor did Jenner follow them. Looking from table to table each found the stack of clothing meant for them and exchanged their now soiled and torn garments. The clothes were different in style than what they were used to, more along the lines of human fashions. Timothy had a buttoned short-sleeved shirt with a fashionable breast pocket of the same color than his original wear. That was the one concession made to their battered wardrobe. Jenner appeared to have made sure each would be given attire in their personal colors. Justin had a larger shirt of similar design to Timothy’s in a white color, but a short vest in the same blue of his uniform. Cynthia wore a long-sleeved sweater of a familiar sky blue and her mother got a long belted blouse of red, the Stone hidden beneath the fabric. Thankfully her gloves had not retained any damage.

Once dressed and leaving their torn vestments behind the group rejoined Jenner outside the cage. The cats and dogs, as well as all but two of the surreal sentries had vanished. Gesturing with a hand to follow him the rat that should have been dead urged them to follow him, leaving the guards and the cart behind.

‘Come on. We’re already late.’

Jenner led them across the bench to where it met the wall of the laboratory. The Brisby family and Justin followed quietly. At this point none of them had much fight left. Everything that had happened had been one nightmare after another. Elizabeth was half-certain that this was actually just a bad dream. She was not alone in that thought.

‘So you’re all working for the humans now?’

Justin’s voice carried a deep note of resentment, but Jenner looked over his shoulder and winked with a grin.

‘Not at all. Actually, it is the other way around.’

‘What?’ Timothy sounded incredulous.

‘You heard me right, little man. In here, the humans work for us.’

Mrs. Brisby stopped in her tracks and held her children’s shoulders to do the same.

‘I am not sure I believe that.’

‘My dear Mrs. Brisby,’ Jenner intoned smoothly, ‘you may believe me on this. And I haven’t even told you the best part yet.’

Now Cynthia voiced her doubts.

‘And that would be?’

Jenner’s grin became gleeful.

‘The humans work for us, and they do not even know it.’

He waved them onwards.

‘But don’t take my word for it. Let me show you.’

After a few more steps the group reached the wall where their unlikely guide showed them to a large power outlet. Jenner turned one of the screws that held the plastic cover in place. All of a sudden the entire outlet panel raised itself upwards, like a garage door, to the hissing sound of steam. Even in their exhaustion the group felt surprise. But apparently there was no time to waste as Jenner hurried them along.

‘This way, please. Now you will see the true nature of this place.’

The entered a long, metal-lined corridor, light by soft green lamps or round stones embedded in the ceiling. Each glowed in the same peculiar green that had been the hallmarks of the strange rat armor. It gave the hallway a ghastly appearance.

‘So,’ Justin cleared his throat behind Jenner, ‘if we run this place, why all this creepiness and hiding?’

The other rat chuckled.

‘Hiding in plain sight, dear Justin.’

The end of the corridor was in sight, leading to a wide-open area.

With all the marvels and terrors they had already experienced, the sight that awaited them still managed to take their breath away.

The passage led into the biggest enclosed space any of them had ever seen before. An atrium of prodigious proportion, arranged by two elongated corridors intersecting rose up an incredible 20 human stories or more. The sides of the walls were lined with countless walkways, like the inside of a futuristic hotel with bridges traversing the vast central gulf. The ceilings were distant vaulted glass, as were the walls at the end of the crossing, church-like directions of the halls. Everywhere, lamps glowed in imitated candlelight, round glass globes containing artificial wicks. There were creatures here, all over the vast space. They were able to spot dogs, cats, rabbits, and a multitude of other animals. All wore clothing of one kind or another, many conversing with each other regardless of species. Along the bridges and platforms, where tables of different sizes allowed for casual meetings, the scene was reminiscent of a stylish human promenade.

A large rabbit in what looked like a laboratory coat with the same symbol Jenner had on his uniform passed in front of them. He was middle-aged, with a slightly graying drooping mustache and glasses and a flat electronic note-taking device underneath his left arm. As he noticed the group he smiled and gave a casual two-fingered wave to Jenner.

‘Evening, Mr. Fray! You’re working late tonight as well?’

Smiling, the rat shrugged at the rabbit.

‘Just something for the Director, Dr. Hendriks. We have visitors.’

The rabbit adjusted his glasses and bent down to get a better look at the others. He used his free hand to grab Justin’s, who was closer in height to him than the mice, and shook it emphatically. The brown rat was too flabbergasted to resist and gawked at the larger animal, who smiled broadly.

‘Welcome, my friends. It’s good to know that we have some new blood coming in. New ideas are always needed.’

He removed his hand and bowed at the mice, tapping his electronic clipboard apologetically.

‘I wish I had time to properly introduce myself, but Dr. Snow wanted me to get on this tonight.’

A short bow and the rabbit had hopped along, apparently in a hurry now.

Justin and the mice all looked at Jenner, who graced them with a self-satisfied expression.

‘What,’ Justin regained his words first, ‘is this place?’

Turning around to face the vastness of the atrium Jenner theatrically raised his hands.

‘Welcome, to the new world, my friends. Welcome, to Lazarus Laboratories.’

Chapter 12: The Director

‘Looks like it goes on forever.’

Cynthia peeked through an ornate railing besides their walkway.

Craning his neck to look at the distant glass ceiling her brother rubbed his chin.

‘Just how high is this place?’

Jenner, warming up to the role of proud tour-guide waved a gracious hand towards the expansive structure.

‘The central spire has 54 human stories. The four annexes have 34. The corridors connecting all of them are about 24 stories high, but they taper down towards the annexes.’

A group of four hamsters, all dressed in grey jumpsuits and wearing tool belts and safety helmets passed them on the wide path, arguing amongst themselves. All of them male, three younger and one middle-aged, they did not pay any attention to the new arrivals as they bickered.

‘I told you I checked! It’s not the circuit breaker.’

One of the younger hamsters complained loudly

‘Yeah,’ the older one, obviously the leader of the group, retorted, ‘like you checked that pressure gauge yesterday?’

‘That was an honest mistake. If I were to list all the times that you…’

Justin and the mice looked back at the retreating group and then at Jenner, who simply waved them on.

‘Just a maintenance crew. Let’s keep on moving. It is getting late’

‘Uh-huh,’ was all Justin was able to reply.

The farther they went along their way the more surreal their surroundings became. In passing some of the seating areas they overheard members of all different species and ages interacting and conversing in ways that would be impossible in nature. An old tomcat wearing a brown sweater, glasses, and a cap over patchy head-fur was passionately debating a female gerbil wearing a frilly pink dress on some issue of biology that went completely over the heads of the Thorn Valley refugees. At another location a mix of animals was celebrating the birthday of young rat, the large seating area covered with lanterns and decorations. The male rat boy for whom the party was being held was perched on the head of an immense shaggy dog and singing a song in tune with it.

‘Jenner,’ Mrs. Brisby spoke softly, ‘how do they all really get along?’

The uniformed rat sniggered.

‘We all share the same sad history, I guess. Like any society, we do have our hotheads and such. But overall things are pretty peaceful around here now.’

‘How about the ones that chased us down?’

Justin could not help the venom in his voice.

‘Part of our security team, Justin. If you hadn’t run none of that would have been necessary.’

‘And just what,’ the brown rat probed, ‘is your role in all of this?’

At this their guide stopped and turned to face them, arms akimbo and obvious pride on his features.

‘I am Head of Security. It’s my responsibility to keep our home safe and secure, internally, externally, and beyond. If it compromises our safety, I deal with it, no matter what it is.’

‘Like a fox guarding the hen house?’

Jenner placed a hand over his breast.

‘That hurts, Justin. It really does.’

Nobody spoke after that. Finally, waving the others onward, Jenner went about face once more and continued. His voice became serious.

‘The Director will explain everything to you. You can count on it.’

They were approaching a huge round structure that supported the center of the immense building. This column, showing lights and windows along its length, even a few balconies, rose up all the way to the ceiling, where it merged with the remainder of the central spire that reached beyond the height of the glass ceilings. In order to approach the structure rats and mice had to leave their walkway and pass over a lamp-light bridge.

Just before they reached it a screaming female mouse child, bounding on all fours, a white nightshirt fluttering wildly, raced around a corner and ran into their guide, almost toppling him over. Jenner grabbed a hold of the child, obviously surprised, to keep it from falling to the ground. The mouse girl, in turn, stopped screaming and looked wide-eyed at the dark rat holding her up, her face locking in terror. Then, a boy kitten wearing a small vest, rounded the same corner and, unlike the mouse, managed to come to a skidding halt before he plowed into the shocked assembly of rodents.

‘Okay,’ Jenner mused darkly as his gaze swept from the mouse in his hands to the young cat, ‘what’s going on here?’

The female mouse simply swallowed, but the cat, already bigger than any rat, fidgeted with its arms and then pointed a clawed finger.

‘It was her idea!’

Immediately the mouse turned in Jenner’s grasp to leer at the kitten.


‘Ahem!’ Jenner interrupted as he lowered the mouse to the floor, ‘You two should know better than to go playing tag at this time of night, especially up here. What if one of you fell down the atrium? What would I have to tell your parents?’

The mouse sidled up to the cat and both looked at their feet, obviously embarrassed. The feline muttered something and the uniformed rat put a hand to his ear.

‘What was that?’

‘I said, I’m sorry, Mr. Fray.’

‘And what about you, young lady?’

The mouse girl shuffled her feet and sniffed.

‘Sorry, Mr. Fray.’

With an uncharacteristic smile Jenner waved at them with both hands.

‘Go on, you two, but walk this time, okay?’

Without waiting for further encouragement the mouse-and-cat duo scampered off the way they had come from, still more running than walking. The rat simply looked over his shoulder at the other rodents and shrugged.

‘Kids! What can you do?’

Not waiting for an answer from the others, who were too intent at looking after the unlikely pair of children, Jenner led his guests along the bridge to a glass elevator situated on the central column. He ushered them inside the spacious compartment, which could have easily held three large canines, and talked into a dark computer monitor embedded near the entrance.

‘Top floor, please.’

‘Right away, Mr. Fray,’ responded a female voice from the console.

‘Who’s that?’ Timothy wondered.

As the transparent doors slid shut quietly Jenner gently tapped the monitor’s frame.

‘That is Alis. She helps run this place. Without her we’d be lost.’

‘Really?’ Cynthia’s brow rose, ‘Do we get to meet her too?’

‘You might,’ Jenner mused with a contemplating smile, ‘you just might.’

The elevator rose smoothly. To the members of the Thorn Valley colony this amazing contrivance, with the astounding view of the cavernous atrium, was as different to their own experiences with elevators as night and day. The motion that was as smooth as glass. When they rose beyond the ceiling of the connecting corridors their view became constrained by dull grey metal and the occasional passing light as they entered the remainder of the central spire.

Mrs. Brisby turned from the see-through walls to face the rat that had, a life-time ago, tried to kill her.

‘How did this all came to be, Jenner?’

The rat’s face took on a strange pleading look.

‘Please, just follow me to the Director. It will all make sense, I promise.’

Before any of them could speak more the elevator gradually slowed until it came to a halt. The transparent wall opposite from where they had entered now faced a wide open corridor, but this one definitely not built for human dimensions. Barely high enough to allow passage to some of the larger animals they had seen the hallway was wide, carpeted in dark green, and showed no doors on either side. At intervals gently glowing round lambs were embedded directly into the metal walls. Yet unlike the cheerful candle-like luminance they had seen in the atrium these lamps radiated a cold, greenish glimmer.

As the rear elevator wall opened into a door Jenner wasted no time in ushering his charges along the corridor. Despite the dimensions of this passage there was an odd feeling of oppression.

‘Cheery,’ Justin remarked dryly, but their guide did not rise to the bait.

At the end of the corridor the group approached an intersecting hallway and what looked like the only door in the entire hall. The second corridor ran parallel to the wall and the door contained within. As the hallways were wide, so was the door. Slightly offset from the metal of the wall by a more lustrous sheen the gateway was just as cold and uninviting. Two metal plates, dividing the door in half, showed a large panel embedded at the center between them. As wide as Justin was tall the panel showed the same triangular arrangement that appeared to be the logo of Lazarus Laboratories. Small green gems were interspersed with humming metal pipes that ran within the design, blinking at irregular intervals. The very center of the pane held another, much larger circular green stone, which pulsed rhythmically.

Much to the surprise of the group, Jenner began looking over his shoulder and around the corridors as if lost.

‘Is something wrong, Jenner?’

Despite Justin’s mocking tone the dark rat did not answer, but suddenly broke into his usually leering grin again as he spotted someone approaching from the intersecting hallway on the left. Justin and the mice followed his gaze and the brown rat felt a lump in his throat.

Three rats were about to join them.

The central one was Brutus, unmistakably so. He wore his uniform, minus the cape, and had a light bandage wrapped around his cranium. He was supported at his right by a female standing as tall as Justin. She was dressed in a full-body uniform and of a lithe, almost angular built. What really caught the group’s attention was that this uniformed rat bore the same facial abnormalities that had so far made Brutus unique. Enlarged reddish eyes radiated from her stoic face in the same unnerving manner than did the blue ones of the large Thorn Valley guard. The fact that Brutus did not seem to need any physical support but that he and the female supporting him kept their gazed locked in mutual fascination was obvious to all.

But what caused Justin to take an involuntary step in retreat was the rat walking to Brutus’ left.

‘Julia?’ He rasped.

The rat that he had formerly known as a frightened refugee and then as fellow adventurer had changed dramatically. Physically, she was still the same. Only now her alert blue eyes were hidden by a pair of glasses, her head-fur cleaned and dressed, and she was wearing a long white laboratory coat emblazoned with the local symbol. Julia was encouraging Brutus and his new friend onwards until she spotted the other rodents waiting for them.

Her face became uncertain as she saw Justin, a whole slew of different emotions trying to assert themselves on her features. The former Captain of the Guard was not faring any better until, with a bit of mischievous glee, Cynthia gave Justin an unexpected push while tripping him, which made him stumble forwards. Trying not to lose his balance the brown rat waved his arms. Julia, on impulse, rushed towards him with her arms outstretched to keep him from falling. The result was both rats with their arms around each other halfway between the two groups.

Nobody moved.

Both Julia and Justin visibly blushed at the awkwardness.

For once, Jenner did not use the opportunity to direct a jibe at his former nemesis but simply coughed loudly into his fist.

That broke the spell of the moment.

Taking a quick step backwards from each other Justin and Julia adjusted their respective clothes, while the female tried to fill the silence with conversation that did not include her identity and deception.

‘Ahem, Brutus is fine,’ she waved a hand at the towering rodent, ‘just a mild concussion. Sergeant Lux,’ she gestured towards the uniformed female with the peculiar features still holding on to Brutus’ other arm. At the mention of her name the white rat snapped to attention, military training overriding the obvious fascination she shared with the rat she had knocked unconscious earlier.

‘Sergeant Lux,’ Julia tried again, ‘made sure he got immediate medical care after their… incident.’

Mrs. Brisby, who was eyeing the changed Julia suspiciously, spoke up.

‘What incident?’

Jenner’s impatience was becoming palpable.

‘Stella knocked his lights out when he didn’t surrender. I am sorry to interrupt this, but we are being expected.’

Despite the obvious rudeness even Julia must have shared the brooding male’s need for urgency. Or maybe she simply wished for a respite in having to deal with her issues with the Thorn Valley colonists. In either case she nodded and stepped to Jenner’s side, facing the ornate panel with its glowing lights. Wordlessly both rats put their right palms on the large central stone in the icon. At their touch the scant green luminance flared up brightly. Then, with a soft hiss of steam the icon, and the doors it was set in, split in to, drawing themselves inwards.

For a few moments, a gentle mist obscured the wide rectangular opening. Once it lifted the group was able to peer into a vast, darkened room.

The corridors had been wide, but this chamber was excessively spacious. High enough to accommodate even the largest dogs the room was so wide and long that its ceiling still appeared oppressively low. The floor was carpeted emerald green and lead in a rectangular band from the door into the office. Black polished stone covered the rest and the walls to either side were barely discernable. In regular intervals along the carpet broad metal columns with scintillatingly illuminated green spheres on the top created a ghostly phalanx towards the far side of the chamber.

Jenner and Julia silently stepped forward. They did not indicate for the rest to follow, yet something about the mysterious vastness drew the group in. With Justin in the lead, the mice following, and Brutus and his new escort brining up the rear they cautiously approached and entered into the immense office. Behind them, with another smooth hiss, the doors closed and sealed, draping everyone in the scant green glow of the strange orbs.

The room focused on a central, raised portion on the floor facing the rear wall. Like a road that offered no escape the carpet led them there. The raised section was carpeted as well, but most of its surface was covered by a rectangular desk, as dark and polished as the remainder of the chamber’s flooring. High above it, a metal column like the ones lining their entrance was suspended from the ceiling. But most of the light in this abode was gifted by five circular windows situated behind the desk. The central one was higher than the windows flanking it on either side and gave the impression of a starlight halo that outlined a leather chair with a raised, rounded back. This backlight made it impossible to see who was sitting within the confines of this dark throne. But someone was definitely there.

Justin and the others did not follow Jenner and Julia onto the raised dais. There were too many strange unknowns in this room. One thing was for sure, the Director was not a human being as they had originally assumed.

Once the Head of Security and Julia stood in front of the desk, they made sure to leave a strategic opening between them so that the office’s occupant would have a clear view of his more reluctant visitors.

It was then that figure hidden in the shadows of the chair spoke.

‘I am so glad you finally arrived.’

The shock on the faces of the Brisby family and their close friends was incredible. Eyes gazed in disbelief and jaws dropped. Justin numbly marveled at the fact that with all they had already witnessed he was still able to feel startled. And startled he was. Elizabeth, in turn, felt as if her body had frozen in place and would fail her any moment. Brutus, sensing the mouse’s distress, walked up behind her, just in case. It was Justin who took a numbed step forward with his head cocked and, whispering, uttered the name that they had all associated with this voice, many years ago.


Julia and Jenner turned around towards the remaining rodents, like sentries flanking the darkened throne, looking down at them.

Then, the shape in the chair leaned beyond the covering shadow of the chair’s hood. The green glow from the orb above outlined the features of someone else that should not be alive. The light fell onto the face of a male mouse of young middle-age. Silver-grey fur, heavily tussled on his head, framed deep brown eyes. He looked a little bit older now, no, matured, and maybe somewhat leaner than when they had last seen him. But his warm smile was still the same.

The Director of this impossible place was none other than Jonathan Brisby.

Elizabeth’s eyes rolled back in her head as she fainted for the second time this night.

She saw.

The other space and time again, everything at once, beautiful and mysterious.


The blue star, halo, sun, with the memory of a shape overlain.


Again, she saw him, drifting and dancing through this realm that was everything and nothing. But there was purpose to his movement, she could feel it. The memory of what had once been her husband wore a serene smile as it moved through the wonders of the cosmos, passing by others, greeting, yet not staying his course, not in this now.

A place in this non-place was calling to what had once been Jonathan Brisby. This place was merely a symbol, a symbol for meeting, but a place nonetheless.

She saw.

The space was temple and school, pillars and home. It changed shape as she focused on it and her mind tried to put a form to what was merely an idea and concept. Finally, it settled on a round chamber lined with columns and a vast circular roof.

The once-Jonathan entered.

There were others, so many others. She could not count them, all arrayed in a circle in the temple space. The halos were of every color and the memory of their former shapes was legion. Jonathan drifted in between two of these, exchanging greetings and love. One glowed a brilliant orange and the echo of its last physical form was human, a girl surrounded by waves of energy. The one to the other side was bright yellow, she shape within unknown, reminiscent of a jellyfish with three eyes, one at each corner. All here were present for the same purpose, and joyful to begin.

She saw.

Together, the beings which had been merely physical once raised their gaze and attention to what could have been a ceiling. It was filled with stars, all the stars and galaxies of a universe. In the wondrous multitude a shape coalesced, a shape that was composed of the same stars and nebulae it had created. It was beyond measure, father, mother, and child, yet a shape utterly alien as well.


Her mind heaved as it fought to put a form on this entity, an entity filled with so much compassion she feared her very being would burst as she beheld it/him/her. Finally, her senses settled on a thin, androgynous outline within the stellar masses. A torso that was like that of a human with four gaunt arms, each ending in an impossible, wonderful hand with four perfectly juxtaposed fingers with four joints each. They opened like petals of flowers and in the center of each hand rose a plumed tuft composed of young nebulae, birthing stars. The head was elongate and tapered, smooth without eyes. The mouth was a crossed set of slits, like a four-petal flower again.

The face that was no face turned.

Its eye-less gaze swept to the circle of beings that had once been and a wave of appreciation and gratitude washed over the assembled ones for the aid they were to give.

She saw.

One of the arms composed of stars moved downwards, the flower-fingers opening wide. From the tuft of gases arose a sphere, a planet, beautifully green mottled. It lowered from the vast hand down, down through the ceiling into the center of the circle.

It was such a young world, full of promise yet unguided and lacking care.

The beings who had once worn flesh extended the memories of their limbs toward this world, and their love flowed in streamers of color towards it. Weaving sparkling bands around the sphere, suffusing it and what it would grow to become with their care, the energies were beautiful beyond compare.

She saw.

The world grew and developed.

Suddenly, there was a distraction.

A small green light, shone like a beacon between the pillars of the temple, catching the once-eye of what used to be Jonathan.

None of the others perceived it. It belonged to Jonathan and Jonathan alone.

The haloed being shifted its attention towards the light, this persistent beacon.

It was wrong. It should not be.

The green light continued to flash, persistent.

The everywhere and everywhen around the memory of a mouse began to fade. A tunnel from the beacon to the once-being began to form, a dark, brooding corridor of what looked to her like storm clouds. At the center was the beacon, drawing the being that had once been her husband towards it.

What used to be Jonathan resisted. It had not fulfilled its purpose here. It did not want to return, grow smaller and less than it was now. It was not right. It could not be forced.

She saw.

The roiling billows of coalescing darkness that formed the path between the flashing beacon and the once-mouse extended behind Jonathan, seemed to grow farther and farther into the beyond. Temple and beings had all disappeared. Only the one who had once been a mouse remained, fixed in the center of this tunnel of undulating gloom. The memory of the mouse turned to look behind him. There, the funnel dug deep, deep into a realm that was even more remote, far removed from the confines of what those that had once been mortal would normally access. The cloud-hole bit into a realm of pure ideas, naked and overpowering.

And something within that realm had become aware of the beacon.

She saw.

It crawled itself out of the distant nothingness. Clawing bit by bit along the edges of the storm-tunnel, desperate for purchase, the raging concept from beyond consciousness drew its immeasurable self forwards. The blue-haloed memory of Jonathan was in its path, as insignificant as a mote of dust in the face of a mountain.

She saw.

Vigintillions of claws, grasping, dragging, propelled it onwards, gaining reality with every symbolic inch. A sickening green glow emanated from it as a shape began to mold itself around its essential nature. It had no mind, no self, only pure idea, and longing. It lusted for becoming more real, more real than it had ever been.


Jonathan’s once-face went from the world-sized horror behind to the drawing beacon in front. He could not allow it to pass. Reality was not supposed to host an idea as primal as this, not directly. The shining blue being extended itself. Memories of arms and legs spread wide as it faced the thing, no matter how miniscule it appeared compared to the demiurge’s vastness.

She saw.

Like an insect trying to hold back an avalanche the being she had once called husband was swept away by the monstrosity, carried along like overlooked debris, onwards and onwards towards the light that was still flashing. The beacon became larger as the tiny blue luminance struggled to push against the irresistible green wave that propelled them to their destiny.

They hit the light.

Mrs. Brisby gasped awake.

After a few seconds of disorientation her sight cleared.

She was sitting, almost lying down, her back supported by gentle, yet strong hands that held onto her shoulders. It was dark, gloomy, but the face looking at her full of worry was distinct.


Without thought Elizabeth threw her arms around the neck of the kneeling mouse, eyes and brow pressed against the other’s neck as tears began streaming through clenched eyelids. She did not want to think. The impossibility of what she was experiencing could not be allowed to enter her mind. She only wanted to hold him, feel him, the way she used to.

Quiet sobs and shudders wracked her body as she clung to the one who looked like Jonathan. And, just as her late husband had always done to soother her worries, the mouse pressed her head into the hollow beneath his jaw, rocked her in his arms, and hummed softly. After a few moments she felt moisture drop onto her nose, warm and salty. Elizabeth, not daring to move away, content to be cradled and rocked, opened her eyes and looked upwards.

There he was. Jonathan was still there, not a dream, still there. She noticed that he truly did look a bit more care-worn than when she last remembered him. Or maybe her mind had blurred his image over all these years. But it was him, his sound, his scent, even the gentle rocking as he held her tight. His eyes were closed now, tears flowing freely as he hummed the same tune he would always use when she was upset, a long-forgotten lullaby. She pressed her eyes closed once more as her own tears continued.

Nobody spoke.

Elizabeth and Jonathan, on the green carpet in front of the office’s desk were the centerpiece of a tableau of rats and mice that dared not utter a single word for fear of breaking the spell. The humble tenderness of the scene left all around them, even their children, stunned and helpless.

Finally, sniffing away her tears Mrs. Brisby looked up at her husband, whose eyes still remained closed, and whispered.


Jonathan stopped the gentle rocking of his body and opened his own eyes, looking down at the one he had loved, and still loved, more than life itself. Trying to regain his composure, sniffling and coughing, he slowly rose to his feet, tenderly drawing up his wife with him until they stood eye to eye.

‘I’ll tell you. It’s been so long… I’ll…’

At that moment the two mice became aware that they were not alone. Elizabeth turned to look at her children, both of whom had tears running down their cheeks. With one arm she let go of Jonathan and gestured for Cynthia and Timothy. Both joined their parents in a wide embrace, all present members of their family becoming one. Again, tears fell freely as eyes closed to hold on to this impossible, wonderful moment.

Again, once time had passed, each of them dared to open their eyes. Timothy and Cynthia, feeling like the children they had been when they last seen their father, looked up at him now with a joy born from years of grief. He wore strange clothes, a black, long-sleeved jacket with a tight collar and rectangular fasteners running down one side of the front lapels. It echoed the uniforms worn by Jenner and the female rat still hovering close to Brutus, but of simpler design and more somber colorations. The most peculiar aspect was the Stone their father wore. In size and shape it was a duplicate of the one given to their mother by Nicodemus those many years before. But instead of a rich ruby color it glittered like an illuminant emerald.

These considerations quickly left the siblings as the happiness of seeing their lost parent again mingled with the memory of their grief, the years of painful remembrance. Recognizing the pain in his family, Jonathan moved his hands to tussle Timothy and Cynthia’s hair.

‘Look at you two, all grown up.’

He had difficulty speaking without breaking into more choking sobs again. He turned to look at his wife, who smiled in disbelieving wonder.

‘How are Teresa and Martin?’

‘Teresa’s married,’ Cynthia bubbled between sniffles, ‘with three kids.’

Jonathan’s gaze turned to his younger daughter, curiosity and joy jostling for place on his features.


Elizabeth pressed her cheek against his chest.

‘Yes, you’re a grandfather.’

Not wanting to succumb to tears under emotional pressure again Timothy added quickly.

‘And Martin’s a doctor.’

That news had the desired effect. Rather than tearing up again Jonathan Brisby was surprised enough to stop the free-flow of tears down his cheeks.

‘He what?’

‘A doctor,’ agreed Cynthia, ‘and quite a good one, even according to Ages.’

He pulled his wife away from him a little so he could look into her face.

‘Our son, our Martin, is a doctor?’

Elizabeth looked up at him again and smiled, this time with wry humor as well as joy.

‘Yes, and he and Ages argue all the time.’

That elicited a chuckle, then laughter, and finally sobbing guffaws from her husband, tears and joy intermixed so irresistibly, his wife and children joined in.

Once everyone was composed again, the mouse that should not be alive moved towards the large black desk, drawing his family with him.

‘Come, I need to show you what happened. You need to know.’

Then he finally looked at Justin, Brutus, and his uniformed escort apologetically.

‘You all need to know.’

With that he gently disentangled himself from his loved ones and rushed around Jenner and the desk to take his seat in the throne-like chair once more. As he looked back at his family the pain of the many missed years that he shared with his wife and children shone from his eyes as he touched his right index finger onto the smooth black surface.

A mechanical noise from above drew the attention of rats and mice away from the Director.

The suspended glowing orb was lowering downwards from the ceiling, extended by the metal pylon until it hovered just above the top of Jonathan’s seat. As it stopped all eyes went back to the mouse, who placed his finger on a different, indistinguishable area on his desk. The same female voice that they had heard at the elevator spoke up again.

‘Yes sir?’

‘Alis,’ Jonathan spoke into the room, ‘please make sure that we are not disturbed.’

‘Yes sir!’

Jenner and Julia had, in the meantime, stepped around the desk to stand on either side of the Director’s chair, Jenner to the right, Julia to the left. Impelled by their motion Justin approached the shining table from the front and looked at his old friend in disbelief.

‘How is this… all of this possible, Jonathan?’

The mouse smiled back at him with understanding.

‘You will know everything, my friend. I promise.’

Jonathan waved his right hand over the table in a wave gesture and the area directly beneath the suspended globe light up in a similar green light. The mouse leaned back.

The green light intensified until little flecks, like motes from a campfire, only iridescently green, began floating upwards to meet the pulsating orb. Soon, a round column of rising points of light rose in a steady stream, like an upside down waterfall, to vanish within the waiting sphere above. Within the cylinder of light, three-dimensional shapes began to resolve themselves.

It was Timothy who, leaning on the table in astonishment, guessed at its purpose.

‘A seeing-machine!’

From behind the transparent, glowing images his father smiled appreciatively.

‘That and much more, son.’

Then the images came fully into focus, and the Director began his story.

They saw two human beings, unkempt and dressed in furs, arguing in front of an icy landscape.

‘It began with the humans. They were the first to fight over nothing, not food, not home, but ideas. And for ideas, they killed. ’

The two men in the glowing column were now struggling, until one reached behind him and drew a club, which shattered the other’s head. The image faded. From the rising motes of light a new scene began to coalesce. Again, there were humans, many of them, too many to count, dressed in the livery of ancient Rome, marching in organized columns by the thousands.

‘From one killing another the humans created the most horrible invention, war.’

The armies of Rome were met by hordes of warriors wearing rounded helmets, who attacked in a raging mob. Swords and spears drew blood, bodies fell on both sides, dead upon dead, until the only thing left on the battlefield were thousands of corpses, crows and vultures descending amongst them.

‘They made war for land, for power, but the worst wars were waged for ideas.’

Another war replaced the image of the first battlefield. Now the mice and rats saw humans dressed in heavy armor, with horses and siege towers, battling warriors dressed in flowing robes brandishing curved swords in an arid land of sun and heat. Again, the battle ended and what remained was another field of bodies, this once stretched out over scolding rocks and sand. Thankfully, this too dissolved back into the rising glow of the streaming light.

‘Humans made new tools. And many of them were weapons, so their wars became more deadly.’

A loud explosion echoed through the office as the image of a detonating mortar shell filled the gloom with bright terror. The watching rodents beheld men huddled in trenches, holding rifles, as huge tanks barreled across a blasted landscape and explosions tore bodies into countless pieces. The carnage was terrible and even Brutus averted his gaze at some of the gruesome imagery and the screams of the dying. Mercifully, this scene too faded.

But then it was replaced by an explosion of such magnitude it went beyond all imagination. The light from the seeing-machine temporarily blocked out all sensation, as if the world had suddenly gone white.

‘Then their weapons began to kill millions.’

The blinding light receded to be replaced by the view of a gigantic mushroom cloud, rising over the wasteland that had once been a bustling metropolis. The cloud expanded until the dark cover of its ash cast the entire office into darkness. Then a new image, soldiers marching in front of a red palace, immense rockets paraded on giant carriages behind them. Again the view changed, this time showing deep bunkers containing more rockets, silently waiting for their time to come.

‘Soon the humans were divided into two camps, separated by nothing more than ideas. In their fear and hate for each other they were building greater and greater weapons, enough to burn up the entire world. And even that was not enough.’

A new scene showed a laboratory, where humans in elaborate uniforms were talking to scientists and discussing things in tiny test tubes.

‘The humans in command wanted more than just bombs. They wanted things that could make the enemy sick. They wanted things to make themselves and their soldiers stronger. For that they needed scientists, willing to create diseases and other horrible things in exchange for wealth and power.’

In the laboratory one of the scientists came into a close-up view. Justin hissed under clenched teeth and Mrs. Brisby also recognized the younger version of one of the two men that had taken them from the storage closet at NIMH. Soon, the second man, equally younger, came into view as well.

‘Two of these scientists were Karl Schulz and Edward Valentine. One was an expert in manipulating the mind, the other aimed to unlock the mysteries of life and death. Together they served the soldiers and, with the help of many other human scientists, created the treatments that we were tested with at NIMH.’

A different laboratory, this one containing countless animal cages, took up the center of the pillar of light. A rat was seen being injected by a somewhat older Dr. Schulz, then a mouse. In the back, Valentine and two assistants were drawing blood from the other rodents and storing them in small vials.

‘They made us stronger, smarter, and extended our lives. But that was only the beginning. Only four of us ever underwent the second stage of the experiment.’

The rats and mice observed how the humans took two male rats, Nicodemus and Jenner, and two male mice, Jonathan and one unknown to them, from their cages and carried them away in darkened transport containers into the next room. There, Valentine and Schulz were waiting in front of an elaborate maze. Each rodent was removed from its carriage and fitted with a back harness that contained a large stone. Nicodemus’ was red, Jenner’s purple, Jonathan’s green, and the unknown mouse’s yellow.

‘The scientists created devices to enhance memory and unlock the hidden powers of the mind.’

Nicodemus was placed into the maze. Then they added a snake.

The observing rodents shuddered as they saw a much younger Nicodemus desperately navigating the maze as the large reptile followed. Finally, by trial and error, the rat managed to find an exit hole, too narrow for the predator to follow, which led into another attached storage container. As soon as he had made it to safety, Schulz placed Nicodemus into the maze once more and Valentine replaced the snake. This time the rodent found his way immediately, navigating twist and turns of such complexity it would have baffled even the smartest human being. Once again he reached safety and once again he was placed back into the maze with the reptile.

He made it to the exit hole just as quickly a third time, but now it was sealed. Following his scent, the snake soon had a frantic Nicodemus backed into a corner, ready to strike. Suddenly, the Stone fastened to the rat’s back flashed brightly and the snake was lifted, no, pushed violently out of the maze and landed on the laboratory floor.

‘They succeeded.’

Next it was Jenner who was put into the maze. Another snake chased him three times until he too was cornered, afraid for his life. When the Stone on Jenner’s harness activated in a fiery glow the snake unexpectedly burst into flame, the scientists scrambling to save the animal before the fire consumed it. When it was the unknown mouse’s turn nothing happened to the snake. It was the mouse who, once the yellow Stone light up during the last trial, jumped and levitated an impossible distance away from the maze. If not for an overwhelming fatigue that took hold of the mouse upon its landing Schulz would have been hard-pressed to retrieve it. When Jonathan faced the snake something altogether different occurred. The green light of his Stone heralded the most peculiar response from the reptilian predator. It lowered its head as if in deference and Jonathan simply climbed on top of its cranium and it lifted him beyond the boundary of the maze walls. Again, the scientists had to overcome some difficulties in regaining possession of their test subjects.

‘Before they could resume the tests Nicodemus led us out of NIMH.’

In the darkness of the night, they saw Nicodemus open his cage. But he did not release the others yet. Quietly, the wiry rat snuck into the other room and, without anyone else observing, managed to open a certain drawer and remove the red Stone from one of the harnesses. He was careful to hide the gem before he began freeing his fellow rats and then the mice. During the escape, Nicodemus showed the glowing gem to Jonathan and the mystery mouse, but was careful to hide its existence from Jenner.

Mrs. Brisby and the others witnessed how the Rats of NIMH lost the mice in the ventilation system, how they escaped the city and made their long, arduous journey that would lead them to the Rosebush at the Fitzgibbon Farm. They saw how the rats and the two remaining mice, Jonathan and Mr. Ages, began making new lives for themselves. Elizabeth had to suppress tears as the seeing-machine showed the moment when she had first met Jonathan. Throughout everything, the rats built their colony.

‘Nicodemus used the Stone and learned much. Soon he proposed the Plan, a means to live a life without having to steal.’

The image shifted to an older version of the former leader of the rats, his eyes glowing brightly as he assembled the very first seeing-machine. Then they saw Jonathan and Nicodemus talking in the rat’s library, arguing over the glowing jewel lying on the desk.

‘As time passed, some of the rats began to question the Plan, becoming greedy and lusting for power. Nicodemus and I decided to keep the Stone a secret. In the wrong hands it would be a most terrible weapon.’

Now the curtain of shining motes displayed the old Council Chamber in the Rosebush, a wildly gesticulating Jenner on the floor, waving his hands in anger.

‘Then, something unexpected happened.’

The mice drew closer together as they saw the image of their husband and father, together with Justin, as they hunkered behind a hole in the wall of the Fitzgibbon Farm kitchen. Jonathan had undressed and was holding an envelope with Mr. Ages’ sleeping power, ready to place it into Dragon the cat’s food dish. Neither humans nor the cat were to be seen anywhere, so the mouse rushed out and raced towards the feeding bowl. Just as he had placed the powder into the food, somewhere close a loud whistling noise, like from a steam kettle, sounded, and seconds later Dragon charged into the room. Jonathan ran for his life as the colossal feline bounded after him. He made it halfway into the hole, Justin grabbing his hands, as Dragon’s jaw bit him.

The Justin from years past gasped in horror. He held his friend’s arms and saw his wide-eyed terror while half his body was trapped behind a wall of sharp teeth. Dragon began to pull. A small trickle of blood flowed from the corner of Jonathan’s mouth. Scrambling for the staff by his side the brown rat hit the cat on the nose repeatedly, until it relented and let the mouse’s limp body drop to the ground. Justin pulled Jonathan in, desperate to find a sign of life in the other’s face. The mouse’s eyes were empty and half-lidded. Jonathan Brisby had died.

In the Director’s office Justin’s jaw clenched and Mrs. Brisby, who had just witnessed the actual death of her husband for the first time, buried her head into the shoulder of her son, trying to stifle a sob. Her children just stared at the column of flowing light in shock, where the image of their dead father faded away slowly. Mother and children then searched for the face of the Jonathan Brisby who had impossibly entered their lives again sitting behind the scintillating illumination pouring upwards. As they saw their husband’s and father’s face, tears on his cheeks, they were able to contain the pain at having witnessed his dying moments.

‘The Plan continued, but opposition grew, while my family never knew what had really happened. But the humans had not forgotten us. Our escape had caused many problems.’

An office room containing haggard-looking Drs. Schulz and Valentine with two other men wearing elaborate uniforms came into focus. The older uniformed human was shouting at the two scientists, who looked dejected and terrified. He pounded his fist onto a writing desk containing a folder labeled ‘Top Secret’ and raised a warning finger at the two men in the laboratory coats. Then the column showed Valentine and Schulz packing up their offices under the guard of soldiers. When other soldiers removed small experimental equipments and vials, including the four harnesses worn by the rodents that had been tested in the maze, the Stones inside the harnesses looked dull, like cheep glass. At the same time Dr. Schulz managed to hide a set of small frozen vials with a red liquid in a thermal coffee mug, Valentine slipped the three remaining Stones into the sleeve of his sweater. Then both scientists, wearing civilian clothes, left the building under armed escort.

‘When the farmer told the people at NIMH where to find us, and the humans discovered our home deserted, they reasoned that we must have died. They had planted a genetic fail-safe into the treatment, and finding the Rosebush empty they concluded that the case was now closed.’

Scenes of the remaining scientists from NIMH excavating the Rosebush colony then shifted to the entrance of a large office building, encased in shining glass, with the same logo Jonathan and everyone else in this place wore over the vast lobby doors. Dr. Valentine and Dr. Schulz, wearing sunglasses, hats, and wide-collared coats, were being ushered in by serious-looking men in dark suits.

‘Schulz and Valentine decided to sell their knowledge to a company that was working on bridging the gap between life and death.’

Now the two men were wearing laboratory coats once more. But the laboratory they found themselves in was much larger than that at NIMH had been, and contained more modern equipment. Strange cylindrical chambers were being shown to them by a third scientist of more advanced age. The glass tubes contained floating bodies of various animals, connected by an umbilical cord to the bottom. Valentine and Schulz exchanged encouraged words with the older man, who nodded with interest as he rubbed his goateed chin. Next Valentine pulled one of the Stones from a sealed box in his lab coat pocket with a pair of forceps and pointed with the other to his cranium and then at the suspended forms in the gestation tubes. The white-bearded scientist nodded as he followed Valentine’s gestures and then exchanged words with Schulz, who replied with a nod as well. Putting the Stone back into the box Dr. Valentine handed the container to a lab technician summoned over by the man with the white goatee and all three scientists shook hands with obvious excitement.

‘With the Stones and our blood they wanted to put our old memories into new bodies. But what they put back in was much more than just memories.’

A new series of three gestation cylinders came into view within the iridescent energies. Two held mice, and one contained a rat. Even in their fetal positions Jenner and Jonathan’s bodies were easy to identify. The rodents had tiny wires attached to their heads and various parts of their bodies. On the outside of each container a wire-studded box with a small circular recess had been attached. All three scientists and a handful of assistants wearing gloves and safety glasses were monitoring computer screens connected to the chambers. Dr. Valentine approached the cylinder containing the curled-up shape of Jonathan Brisby and inserted the green Stone into the round receptacle with forceps. Then he nodded to Dr. Schulz and the aged researcher, who began adjusting dials connected to the birthing tube of the Jonathan look-alike. The green Stone began to pulse, slowly, like a beacon. Computer screens reported vital signs and brain-wave activity, none of which changed. The stone continued pulsing.

Suddenly, a flash of bright green burst into the room, coming from the mysterious gem. Scientists and technicians alike had to shield their eyes. Most of the computer screens went blank or short-circuited. In the same moment, in the gestation liquid, the body of Jonathan Brisby opened its eyes, which glowed like burning emeralds. Before the humans could recover they began clutching their heads, shaking them as if to rid themselves of a terrible noise, all the while the awakened mouse turned its head to survey its environment.

‘They forced me back from what waits beyond death. You can’t imagine the pain, like being forced to grow backwards into an infant, loosing understanding and skill, in a second’s time.’

In the office, Jonathan Brisby waved his hand through the scintillating motes of streaming light and the flow ebbed away, leaving the desk dark and foreboding again. Above, the shining green orb was retracted towards the ceiling. Mrs. Brisby, her children and friends, looked at the resurrected mouse in wonder. Elizabeth stepped towards the desk and leaned towards Jonathan, looking at him almost in fear.

‘You did not want to come back?’

Jonathan swallowed hard and then slowly shook his head.

‘No. I was not supposed to.’

His wife’s eyes filled with tears as she reached her hands across the too-large expanse of the desk towards him.

‘Why would you not want to be with us, with me?’

Jonathan got up from his seat immediately to rush to his wife’s side and embrace her. He held her for a moment, looking apologetically at his children at the same time.

‘I was never separated from you. You could not see me, but I was there, always.’

She looked up at him.

‘But isn’t this better?’

He stroked her hair and sighed.

‘That’s just it. I no longer know. I forgot most of what I was before I returned.’

Then a smile crossed Jonathan’s features and he kissed his wife’s brow.

‘But I know how much I missed you these last three years.’

He motioned for his children to join the embrace again as well.

‘I missed you all so much.’

Behind them, Justin coughed into a closed fist with embarrassment.

‘Jonathan, what happened then? You say you have been alive for three years now?’

The mouse gazed at his old friend from the embrace of his family and nodded with a grave expression.

‘Yes, three long years. When I returned, the abilities the Stone had awakened in me so long ago increased ten-fold. I used them to influence the humans around me to follow my wishes.’

The brown rat’s gaze turned suspicious.

‘You can control others?’

Jonathan shrugged bashfully.

‘You remember how I was always able to help calm opposition to Nicodemus in the Council?’

Justin nodded slightly.

‘You always had that charm about you. And things went downhill quickly after you… died.’

The mouse nodded emphatically as he motioned for his loved ones to loosen their embrace in order for all to join the conversation. Jenner and Julia moved towards the front of the black stone table, creating a small circle of rodents on the green carpet. In that circle, with Julia and Jenner at his back, his wife to his right and his children to the left, Jonathan continued his explanations.

‘We all have unique gifts. The treatment amplified them. And the Stones make using them easier, like a training harness that helps infants to move until they can walk on their own. My gift is persuasion. With it I was able to influence the humans to think as I needed them to.’

‘Needed them for what?’

The grey mouse waved a hand around.

‘Every single animal in this place was once locked up in that company, or some other laboratory. I needed a way to free them from the humans forever. And by guiding the humans to do what I wanted I was able to make that possible.’

Justin looked doubtful.

‘Did they know?’

‘At first maybe,’ Jonathan admitted sadly, ‘but as I became more experienced they started to think that it was all their own idea.’

His rat friend looked around the vastness of the office.

‘And that’s how you came to run all of this.’

Now the mouse chuckled in amusement.

‘I can’t run this place all by myself. That’s why I made the humans bring Jenner back.’

Now Justin’s face turned dark.

‘About that, you said bringing you back wasn’t supposed to happen, that it hurt you. Why would you do that to Jenner?’

Surprisingly, it was Jenner himself who answered over the mouse’s shoulder.

‘I wanted to return. I needed to.’

Justin was confused now.


The dark rat sighed, his yellow eyes downcast in what looked remarkably like shame.

‘Because the way we live in this world determines how we exist in the next.’

The leader of Thorn Valley did not know what to reply. Jenner looked at him gravely.

‘You said it yourself. I murdered and betrayed for power and greed. I remember little from beyond, but what I do remember was painful, horrible. Can you even remotely imagine having to be aware of your crimes for eternity, having to face what you are without end?’

‘No,’ Justin admitted quietly.

Jenner swallowed down the lump in his throat and nodded a little.

‘I wanted to come back.’

Then he looked at Elizabeth and every other member of the group that had made the trip from distant Thorn Valley.

‘I need to make amends.’

Not entirely satisfied Justin nodded nonetheless before addressing Jonathan once more.

‘What about Nicodemus and Jacob? You didn’t bring them back?’

‘No, oh no! Nicodemus lived a good life. To bring him back would be a crime. And Jacob is still alive.’

It was Cynthia who spoke up.

‘Jacob was one of the mice that wound up in the sewers?’

Her father turned to her in elation.

‘Yes, and he and the others are here now as well.’

‘Dad, where’s Brendan?’

For a few moments Jonathan’s brow was furrowed in confusion before realization dawned.

‘He’s the young mouse that got left behind when we invited the others to join us, right? He’s with his family.’

He took his daughter’s hands in his.

‘They were all much farther along in the genetic regression than you were. Their treatment takes somewhat longer, so we gave them special quarters.’

Jonathan gave Cynthia a knowing fatherly look, which made her blush.

‘You’ll see him again. Give him some time to heal.’

Justin tried to get the grey mouse’s attention again.

‘There are a number of things I still don’t understand. Why this strange charade to get us here? Brendan told us the Blight doesn’t kill. And why did Julia have to tell us all these lies?’

Julia blushed in deep embarrassment, but Jonathan gave Justin a weary smile.

‘Would the Council have believed a word of it? Would they have let you go? And would you have come if you didn’t think your people were in mortal danger? The decision to deceive you wasn’t made easily. And Julia went through a lot of pain and danger to make it possible. You should be proud of her. Having her life erased in order to get you to come here was not an enjoyable process.’

Justin looked at the white rat in the lab coat that still averted her eyes in shame. Then, he spoke softly.

‘She’s incredibly brave, that’s for sure. I just wish I had known before I…’

Jonathan walked up to him and, as much as his limited height allowed, patted the rat on the arm.

‘She’s still the same Julia, you know. Memories do not make a person. You two can work it out, I’m sure of it.’

At that the white rat gave Justin a hopeful glance. There were definitely feelings there. They would talk later, in private. But now there were still questions that needed answering.

‘So, what is this all about anyway?’

‘This,’ Jonathan smiled back, ‘is about us finally becoming totally free.’

‘By stealing a human company?’

A look of bemusement passed across the grey mouse’s features.

‘Stealing? Oh no, we did not steal it. I believe in the Plan. We bought this place. It belongs to us in every way.’

‘Actually,’ he gave his rat friend a playful jab with his elbow, ‘you own one of the biggest portions.’

That caught Justin off guard.


‘Well, we had to make someone the owner. I am already listed as the General Director, so we put a large part of this company in your name.’

The brown rat began to look panicked.

‘How... and why…?’

Grinning at his old adversary’s discomfort Jenner took a step forward and waved his arms around graciously.

‘It’s actually very simple. Jonathan got the humans to produce a better version of the process the people at NIMH used on us. He offered it to any of the test animals who wanted it.’

‘Which was all of us,’ added Julia.

‘Right,’ Jenner agreed. ‘Once everyone had become intelligent the smartest started working secretly on the same projects as the humans’

The roguish rodent’s wink was disturbing as he pointed a thumb over his shoulder at Julia.

‘And some of us are smarter than any human ever was.’

Before Justin could object to Jenner’s insinuating gesture Jonathan interceded.

‘I managed to get many of us registered as employees, and patent holders for the inventions we created. Those were sold with such success that we were able to start buying parts of the company.’

Timothy, who like the rest of his family had been working through a torrent of emotions, finally rejoined the conversation.

‘And the humans didn’t notice? I’d think having to work with animals would make someone curious.’

His father was just about to reply when Cynthia stepped forward, putting a hand on her brother’s arm as she looked intently at her resurrected parent.

‘They didn’t see you as animals, did they? In their heads they saw humans, or at least that’s what they remembered afterwards. Dad… you manipulated their minds?’

There was a small hint of accusation in the young female’s voice and it obviously made Jonathan uncomfortable. He nodded to his daughter.

‘Yes, I did. I am not proud of it.’

‘Come on!’ Jenner snorted, ‘How else could he have kept us all safe without anyone getting hurt? The humans were happy and we were able to get free from them.’

‘And that took three years?’ Justin interjected.

Once more, Jonathan nodded.

‘Yes, we needed to make enough money to own the company, and then build this,’ he waved his arms expansively, ‘Once we had it running we were able to start contacting the others who had been changed by NIMH. All the time it took to make all this happen, Jenner and I worried we might be too late.’

Mrs. Brisby walked up next to her husband, gently touching his shoulder.

‘But this Blight would not have killed us. You know that.’

Jonathan looked back in embarrassment.

‘We didn’t. Valentine had engineered the treatment to start killing the subjects and any children in five years time.’

‘Then,’ Timothy was almost afraid to ask, ‘why aren’t we all dead?’

‘Sloppy work.’ Julia answered, ‘The part of the treatment that made you smarter and live longer interfered with the genetic time-bomb. Instead of killing you after five years it turned itself on much later, and when it did it only caused the blindness and sensitivity to light. But being exposed to sunlight will kill anyone with the Blight in the last stage.’

Jonathan nodded emphatically.

‘The first thing we needed to know once we had the humans under control was what would happen to you and the others in Thorn Valley. Our own scientists,’ he motioned to Julia, ‘created methods to test and predict what the time-bomb would do. Imagine my relief when they discovered it would be delayed. We tried to work as fast as we could to buy the company and get everything ready to send you and anyone else in need an antidote.’

‘We barely made it in time,’ Jenner remarked gravely. ‘When we discovered the original mice had survived and brought them here we were afraid you,’ he motioned to Justin and Brutus, ‘would be just as far along. We were lucky.’

Justin put his arms to his hips, addressing both Jenner and Justin.

‘Okay. We’re here. What’s going to happen next?’

Jonathan wrapped an arm around his wife’s waist and gazed at his rat friend apologetically.

‘We’ll get the cure to Thorn Valley as quickly as possible. Plus we need to get the rats from the sewers here. The last thing we want is humans finding out that they had smart rats living under their streets.’

‘Quaestor,’ Justin remembered.

‘Yes,’ the mouse agreed, ‘we have had someone talking to him about the best way to convince his people to join us. He’s smarter than you might think. But it’s not going to be easy. These sewer rats can be a bit rambunctious.’

That actually illicit a chuckle from the otherwise exhausted Justin.

‘No secret there.’

‘For now,’ Jonathan added with a somewhat pleading look, ‘I think we could all use some rest and maybe some time to,’ he turned to his wife and children longingly, ‘to spend some family time.’

Taking the hint Julia stepped forwards, passed the Brisby family towards Justin and Brutus, her shame and guilt masked by an opportunity to being helpful.

‘We have some nice quarters, beds and food ready. Let me show you. Stella, can you bring Brutus along please?’

Not waiting for an answer she led Justin by the arm, who followed with a subdued expression. The much larger rat shambled after the pair with his mute escort in tow. Jonathan, remaining behind with his wife and children, smiled and nodded at Jenner, who gave a remarkably respectful bow and a two-finger salute before turning on his heels to tail the others to the office door.

Elizabeth, Cynthia, Timothy and Jonathan remained and talked for a long time.

Chapter 13: The Computer

Timothy could not sleep.

The bed was comfortable, very much so. That was not the problem.

After they had talked what seemed like hours their father had taken them from the office back down to the promenade atrium to a section of rodent-sized apartments that had been set aside for them. He had lived here ever since the huge building had been constructed, but the Director had always had spare rooms for his children ready and waiting. His younger son could not make up his mind whether that was a sweet sentiment or strangely creepy.

The apartment itself was not fancy. A living room, a kitchen, two bathrooms, and three bedrooms, one master bedroom and one for each set of two children. The furnishings were comfortable, even though they looked and felt somewhat sterile and cold. Metal, undecorated wood and plastics dominated the décor. Everything had a minimalist air to it, but not depressingly so. A few art prints, stylish lamps, and a sofa tried to make the space less anonymous. Still, the place gave the impression as if it had hardly ever been used.

On the living room table stood small framed picture with a single candle in front of it. The image had been unsettling but also heartwarming for Elizabeth and her children. It was unsettling in that it did not depict anything that had ever occurred in real life. It was an artificial construct. Upon closer inspection if proved to be hand-painted in oil, a family portrait of their family, Jonathan, Elizabeth, and the four kids when they were young. This event had, of course, never taken place. Somehow, someone had managed to perfectly portray them. The lighted candle had made the family portrait the centerpiece of the entire apartment.

The quarters had windows opening up to the atrium, which in turn received some natural light from the distant glass ceilings. The glow from the ever-present fake lanterns was dimmed this late at night, but some of it filtered into the room Cynthia and Timothy now shared, painting lines onto the ceiling as it entered through half-closed blinds.

Timothy kept staring at those lines, his arms folded behind his head.

He had never slept on a more comfortable bed, halfway covered in a wonderfully fluffy blanket. But sleep just would not come. He dared at peek over to his sister’s side of the room. Cynthia had her back turned to him, wrapped up in her blanket. She was probably sleeping soundly.

‘Timmy, are you awake?’

The hesitant whisper proved him wrong.


‘Can’t sleep either?’


Cynthia turned in her bed to look at her brother.

‘What’s wrong?’

Timothy let out a deep sigh.

‘Apart from dad suddenly being back from the dead and us spending the night in the most impossible place on the planet I am just peachy. How about you?’

His sister ignored the sarcasm.

‘I keep wondering about Martin and Teresa, and the kids.’

The male mouse nodded.

‘Yeah, me too.’

For a moment neither spoke.

Then, Cynthia slipped out from under the covers and walked quietly to the room’s small closet and retrieved her original poncho, which had been cleaned and mended once more. As she slipped on her clothes Timothy sat up in bed and adjusted his glasses.

‘Where’re you going?’

She shrugged.

‘I don’t know. But I can’t sleep and I sure don’t want to spend the night just lying here thinking about stuff that I can’t do anything about.’

Her brother rubbed his brow.

‘So what are you going to do?’

‘Dad said we could go anywhere in here at anytime, right? So, why not go exploring?’

‘In the middle of the night?’ Timothy ventured doubtfully.

‘Some people are still awake. I can tell.’

‘Oh well,’ the male rolled out of his bed to retrieve his own fixed clothing, ‘better keep you out of trouble then.’

They exited the apartment quietly, not wanting to disturb their parents who, for the first time in many years, were able to once again spend a night in each other’s company.

Outside they found themselves on a similar walkway to the one Jenner had first taken them along earlier. Now the lamps were a bit dimmer and nobody else appeared to be around. Since they had no particular direction in mind the two mice strolled towards the building’s central column. The walkway was not straight. To give the aligned living quarters more privacy the path was crenulated with alcoves and small balconies, which forced any casual walker into a number of short turns.

As Timothy went around the first of these in their path he collided with a rat going the other way. The impact was so sudden that both rodents bounced off each other and almost tumbled onto their respective rumps.

‘I am so sorry!’

‘Excuse me!’

A few seconds into the automatic apologies Cynthia and Timothy recognized the shape of Julia in the dim illumination.

‘Cynthia? Timothy?’

‘Hi Julia! Sorry about that.’

‘Are you two alright?’ the rat appeared worried.

The female mouse grinned and shrugged.

‘We can’t sleep. So we went for a walk.’

Julia nodded with a smile.

‘I can understand that. I had to force Justin to get some rest.’

‘Oh, you were with him?’ Timothy wondered.

‘Yes,’ the female rat nodded with slight embarrassment, ‘we had a lot to talk about.’

‘Are the two of you, you know,’ the male mouse tried to formulate, ‘okay and everything?’

Julia adjusted her glasses and looked away, but with a content expression.

‘I think so. It was awkward, but I think we worked things out.’

‘Are you busy?’ Cynthia nodded to an electronic data pad similar to the one that they had seen on the rabbit scientist earlier in the evening.

The rat sighed.

‘Yes, I’m afraid. You can’t imagine the work that piled up while I was gone; so many things to take care of, so many people to look after.’

The crème-furred mouse could not suppress a chuckle.

‘You sound just like Justin.’

Julia appeared pleasantly surprised at that.

Timothy hastily added, ‘That’s not a good thing. He works himself to the bone and you look like you’re doing the same, aren’t you?’

It felt strange to be chided by a couple of mice much younger than herself, but she looked embarrassed nonetheless.

‘I tend to do that, yes. But the people here depend…’

‘You’re going to be no good to anybody if you work yourself to death, you know.’

Cynthia’s comment hit home and Timothy did not wait in adding his own.

‘You really think this place would fall apart if you got a night’s sleep?’

Julia’s mouth opened to shape a reply, and then simply shut again. After another deep sigh she gave a hesitant nod.

‘I guess it wouldn’t hurt to get some sleep, at least a little bit.’

The female mouse’s grin was endearing.

‘See, that wasn’t such a hard choice to make.’

‘And what about you two?’

Timothy rubbed the back of his neck.

‘We have a hard time sleeping with everything that has happened. You know of anything we could do to pass the time in this place?’

The white rat rubbed her chin in thought for a moment. Then her face light up.


‘Huh?’ Came the simultaneous reply from the mice.

‘Oh, I mean Dr. Prometheus. He is our head geneticist and is a bit of a night owl. He either works late into the night or sits in his laboratory and reads. I bet he would love to give you a tour.’

Cynthia turned to her brother.

‘Sounds like something you’d like.’

‘Yeah, where do we find him?’

‘Tell you what,’ Julia offered, ‘I’ll show you the way down to his place and I can just drop off this data and then go right to bed. Deal?’

She extended her hand and Cynthia shook it vigorously.

That done Julia turned around and motioned the mice to follow her. They passed a number of apartment niches that looked empty.

‘Nobody else live in these?’ Timothy wondered.

‘More than half of our living spaces are empty,’ the rat explained. ‘Jonathan expects them to fill up a little once the mice have been treated and are able to join the rest of us. With the rats from the sewers coming in as well, we should be using more soon.’

‘How long will that be?’ Cynthia longed to know.

Julia approached one of the monitors that they had noticed embedded at intervals into the walls along the walkway, the entrances of apartments, even inside every room of their own current quarters. She placed her palm on the screen and a female voice spoke softly from hidden speakers.

‘Dr. Snow?’

‘Alis, what is the rehabilitation status of the mice from Baltimore?’

‘According to the recent medical files, full rehabilitation is expected within a month’s time, Dr. Snow.’

‘Thank you, Alis.’

Timothy was mesmerized.

‘This Alis person doesn’t sleep either?’

The female rat looked at the mouse with consternation, and then laughed.

‘Alis is not a person. At least, she is not a flesh-and-blood person.’

Seeing the lack of comprehension on the smaller rodents’ faced she continued.

‘Alis is one of our greatest accomplishments. Your father and I designed her beginnings. She is a computer program that is completely aware. Her name is A.L.I.S, or autonomous logarithmic intelligence system.’

Cynthia leaned towards the monitor with a mix of awe and suspicion.

‘Like an artificial person?’

‘More like a real person, but with a body of a machine. You could say that this entire facility is Alis, at least her body.’

The male mouse gazed past his sister at the computer screen in a rapturous expression.

‘Can we talk to her?’

‘Certainly,’ assured their guide. ‘As a matter of fact, your father has given her orders to allow your family the same access rights as he does. Even I don’t have that security clearance.’

Turning around Cynthia gazed at the rat in confusion.

‘What does that mean?’

Julia smiled warmly.

‘It means that nothing in this place is secret to you. You can see and find out anything. If it exists, Alis can show it to you. Jonathan was specific about that. He wanted no secrets in his family.’

‘How,’ her brother wondered, ‘do we do that?’

‘You can talk to any monitor in this place or touch it with your hand and Alis will respond.’

Being the closest, Cynthia pressed her hand on the dark screen.

‘Miss Brisby?’

The mouse almost jumped at the sudden reply.

‘Alice… eh… Alis?’


‘Em… how are you doing tonight?’

‘All my functions are operating at optimal efficiency, my unconscious subroutines report no abnormalities, and I am experiencing excitement at making the acquaintance of you and your family. Thank you for asking.’

Cynthia turned to face Julia in consternation.

‘This is a program in a computer?’

The rat smiled and nodded, but then winked.

‘Actually, she is much more than a simple program. Your father and I designed her younger version.’

‘What do mean,’ Timothy interrupted, ‘a younger version?’

Now Julia really came alive as she continued her explanations.

‘Humans never managed to create a truly living artificial intelligence. They always tried copying the way a mind looks into a machine. But we argued that if we simply designed a computer model for a juvenile mind, like an infant, and allowed it to grow on its own, it could turn into a true personality.’

‘That would be me.’

Both mice startled at the unprompted reply from the computer’s speaker. The rat chuckled.

‘She has her own mind; and an attitude too.’

‘Okay,’ Cynthia raised a finger, ‘how can a computer be a ‘she’?’

‘She decided she wanted to be a female, so that’s what she is.’

‘I am woman, hear me roar.’

That made Julia burst out in laughter so fully even the mice began to chuckle.

Timothy, after he had gotten over his giggles, placed both hands next to the computer screen and peered into the monitor.

‘She has a sense of humor! A machine with a sense of humor! Can you see me through here?’

‘No,’ the hidden speaker replied, ‘but I can currently see you through a total of eighteen observation cameras.’

That made the mouse turn around as if stung, looking about the dim walkway while his sister and their friend grinned.

‘Are there cameras… everywhere?’

The question had been addressed to Julia but the electronic entity again took up the initiative.

‘Yes, but I do not pry. Most are used only in emergencies.’

Now his sister began to look awed.

‘She is a real person! I can feel her telling the truth.’

The white rat smiled with pride.

‘Yes, she is. Dr. Prometheus might even show you the main computer core if you ask him.’

‘Lead on!’

With that, they continued their stroll until they had reached the central column. After crossing a bridge they entered one of the many glass elevators, but this time descended downwards.

‘There was something I wanted to ask you, Julia.’

Cynthia sounded almost embarrassed.

‘Go ahead.’

‘Why did you volunteer to do what you did? I mean, why give up your memory and endanger yourself by running around a forest with dangerous animals?’

The larger rodent rubbed her own neck in thought.

‘We had to get someone from Thorn Valley here. If we didn’t… well we just had to. I designed the procedure to close off memories for while and I did not want anyone else have to go through it. Your father did not want me to go. I insisted. Thankfully, Jonathan had counted on the Great Owl to act the way it did.’

Her face turned conspiratorially.

‘But I can tell you, seeing that bird without my memories or knowing who it was scared me so bad I fainted. But smaller animals I wasn’t really worried about.’

‘How come?’ Cynthia wondered. ‘I would never walk around the woods on my own.’

Julia waved a hand dismissively.

‘I can take care of myself. Stella insisted on training me for months.’

The blank stares of the mice invited elaboration.

‘Stella, Sergeant Lux I mean, trained me in all sorts of combat and survival modes. And when she trains you, you get trained well. Plus, she’s my cousin.’

‘But your memories?’ Timothy argued.

‘I made sure I kept those skills. I just didn’t remember having them.’

‘Huh?’ The female mouse exclaimed.

‘I was still able to fight and so on. I just didn’t know that I could do until I needed to, and I had no idea why I would be able to. It worked great.’

A more wistful expression came over the rat’s features.

‘When we tangled with those sewer rats…’

‘The Staggs?’ Timothy wondered.

‘Yes,’ Julia replied, ‘them. Well, I had some sort of dagger when I was attacked and the training kicked in. Justin was impressed.’

Now it was Cynthia’s turn to smile knowingly.

‘Justin likes women who can handle themselves.’

Obviously flattered the white rat tried to lead the conversation away from herself.

‘Then he should see Stella fight.’

The male mouse leaned closer.

‘She’s tough?’

‘Tougher than nails, Timothy. I have seen her lay out opponents almost ten times her weight in under a minute. She’s tough.’

Then, Julia turned somber

‘It’s part of her condition.’

‘What condition is that?’ Cynthia wondered.

‘It’s the same thing that your friend Brutus has. It’s a mutation, probably caused by the procedure the people at NIMH created. So far we’ve only seen it in rats, and it’s very rare. With Brutus included I know of only five cases total, three of them are still children, a girl and two boys.’

She looked at both mice solemnly.

‘It causes inability to speak and the strange eyes. It also appears to make the sufferer very strong and tough and prone to violence. I’m glad Brutus is here now. It’s hard for the kids who have this to adjust. We have electronic collars that enable them to speak, but being different is never easy, especially when you also have a bad temper.’

Cynthia mused, ‘Stella didn’t wear that collar, did she?’

Julia shook her head.

‘Only when she is on duty. She hates how it feels. So far she has been the only adult role model for the younger ones who have this. Brutus being here might help the boys out a lot.’

‘Wow,’ the male mouse opined, ‘Brutus has been called many things, but –role model- is a new one.’

Cynthia elbowed him in the ribs.

By this time the elevator had passed below the lowest level of the atrium. The ground floor had been resplendent with plants and water fountains, creating a beautiful garden promenade. Once underneath that level the descending cabin was facing cold metal walls with interspersed green lights and an occasional door. Finally, their conveyance slowed and they came to a halt in front of a door not dissimilar to that, which had opened up towards their father’s office.

When this gate opened they found a corridor of a different design waiting for them. It was as wide as the one that had led to the Directorial office but much taller. There were numerous sealed metal doors at various intervals, each with a computer monitor and a round green gem embedded next to them. On the doors were arrays of numbers and letters, indicating the room within. And unlike the hallway on the upper floor this passage had numerous intersections and appeared to go on forever. The term labyrinth would have been adequate.

There did not seem to be anyone about at this time of night and Julia ushered the mice along the main corridor, past four intersections, until she stopped at a closed gate. She pointed her finger down the remainder of the main passage.

‘I need to put this information into the computers. Dr. Solomon is in the main laboratory at the very end of the hall, the big door. You can’t miss it.’

With that she placed her palm on the green stone next to the monitor. It light up and the doors slid inwards with a soft hiss of steam. Before the mice could argue, or even make out the details of the room, Julia entered and the panel hissed shut again.

The siblings looked at each other.

‘Shall we?’ asked Timothy.

Cynthia shrugged.

‘Let’s shall, then.’

They made their way to the end of the corridor.

Julia had not exaggerated. The door was immense. Even the entrance to Jonathan’s office would have looked miniscule to the great metal panel that sealed off the lair of Dr. Prometheus. The metal was smooth and without ornamentation. Unlike the smaller doors, this one did not have a monitor in the wall next to it. It did have a single, round emerald stone embedded in the middle. Timothy, after sending a questioning glance to his sister, who simply shrugged again, cautiously put his hand on the jewel. Just as the mice had witnessed before, the stone began to glow green. Then, the huge metal panel began to rise into the distant ceiling.

The amount of steam released by this vast mechanism encased the Brisby children in billowing clouds for a few moments, a draft from inside the indiscernible chamber blowing them out like a miniature storm front. Once the last of the fog had dissipated and the wind died down the siblings had their first glimpse of Dr. Prometheus’ world.

It was dark. Unlike the corridor or even the atrium the chamber beyond the gaping entrance was barely visible. What the two mice were able to perceive was that the space was vast, incredibly so. The darkness was interrupted by thousands of multicolored light-sources. Some were points, others lines, yet others appeared ovals or rectangular surfaces. It was the most curious spectacle, drawing in the siblings with their twinkles and flashings. And the sounds, oh the sounds! They were not loud. But there were so many of them. Clicks, whirs, tweets, pings, any conceivable acoustic utterance a machine could make were mixed together in a mild cacophony.

As soon as they had stepped beyond the boundary of the door, the immense gate lowered itself and shut with a pneumatic hiss and the clanking of heavy metal. Now the last remnant of illumination from the hallway was gone. Timothy and Cynthia turned their heads in every which direction, desperate to understand this peculiar place. After a few moments their eyes adjusted and they quickly discovered that they once again stood upon some sort of ramp or walkway, running along both sides of the entrance into the mysterious distances beyond. Beyond the walkway lay a dark chasm, reaching into unknown depths and heights, its mysteries expanse barely outlined by uncountable lights.

Both mice realized upon looking closer at the walls that the numberless sources of illumination were the dials, monitors, and technological devices embedded into every available vertical surface. Furthermore, they discovered that the walls were not smooth, but crenulated with uncountable alcoves and rectangular outcroppings. They could only assume the walls beyond the chasm, their lights like chaotic constellations, were equally complex in structure.

Timothy, ever the technology enthusiast, walked up to the machinery adjoining the shut doors, gazing from one blinking instrument to the next, marveling at the countless read-outs.

‘Look at this, Cyn!’

He pointed a finger at a workstation that contained five gigantic clear cylindrical tubes. Each tube was brightly illuminated in a different color and contained semi-transparent liquids, bubbling and churning. Next to them was a huge monitor, more than four times their height, like an immense glowing billboard. Five columns of numbers ran down its surface, updating every ten seconds.

‘What do you think this is?’

Cynthia shrugged.

‘You’re the machine wiz, Timmy. How should I know?’

‘Something about making medicines,’ her brother muttered to himself, ‘I’m almost certain.’

She looked askew at the tubes, rising like glowing pillars, and shivered.

‘The stuff is grown in there, not made, grown!’

Timothy turned a quizzical glance at his sister, looking ominous in the multicolored cast from the cylinders.

‘You sure?’

‘Of course I’m sure. Whatever’s in there is alive.’

The female mouse hugged herself as she let her gaze wander over the dim vastness with its scintillating lights.

‘This place creeps me out. And how are we going to find this Dr. Prometheus in this mess anyway?’

Shrugging her brother moved closer to the precipice, trying to peer into the deep chasm stretching below. The he looked upwards, whistling through his teeth in astonishment.

‘This is one big laboratory all right.’

Timothy cupped his hands over his muzzle and tried to shout over the continuous din of the numberless instruments.

‘Hello-oh! Hellooooooooooh! Anybody hoooooooome?’

Cynthia rolled his eyes at him.

‘Nobody is going to hear you over this racket.’

‘Well then,’ her brother grinned and rubbed his hands, ‘you wanted to go exploring. This is a place I will love to poke around in.’

She waved a hand to where the walkway was disappearing into the shimmering darkness.

‘Lead on then, oh master of machines!’

Timothy did just that.

Like a sugar-addict in the largest candy store in the world the young mouse rushed from machine to machine, his sister following behind in a disinterested saunter. Many of the curious devices appeared to have been constructed on much larger scale than they were, while others were easily assessable to rodents. In between they found the ubiquitous monitors that allowed access to the facilities computer system and, supposedly, Alis.

The male mouse pointed a thumb at a monitor.

‘Should I ask Alis to find this doctor?’

Just as Cynthia was about to answer her eyes widened in fear and her head jerked around to look at the hidden distances of the laboratory.

‘What’s wrong?’

‘He’s here,’ the crème-colored mouse whispered in a cowed voice.

Craning his neck all about Timothy tried to see anything beyond the lights flickering in the darkness.


Cynthia slowly turned in a circle, looking at the machines in the walls and then over the laboratory’s gulf.

‘Somewhere close.’

Her brother was getting aggravated and walked towards the closest monitor.

‘Let’s ask Alis.’

That was when an immense hand, covered in wrinkles, coarse hair, and festooned with enormous nails, slammed down on the edge of walking ramp so hard it felt as if the entire laboratory was shaking.

Falling to their knees both mice turned to the gigantic appendage in shock. A single finger would be enough to crush them to a pulp. Then, slowly, with a mountainous grace, a living shape, larger than any they had ever encountered, raised itself from the depth of the precipice.

First came the arm, covered in a ragged brown pelt and sporting muscles like coconuts, it pulled the incredible body from below. A second hand appeared and rose beyond the height of the other to disappear into the gloom above, until it grasped a pole that seemed to stretch from the laboratory wall all the way over the chasm, but due to the lack of light neither of the Brisby mice had seen it. The paw grasped a hold of the pole and the hand that had originally slammed into the ramp retreated back into the deep. The second arm, extended like an incredible furred pillar, pulled the remainder of the being into view.

It was a chimpanzee. Grizzled and ancient, its face was as craggy as a cliff and furrowed as a canyon. It sported a long silvery beard and an equally silvery fringe of hair. Even at this distance the creature’s size and strength were intimidating. Giant eyes, glowing like gas lamps, shone from underneath the cavernous brows.

With a movement so sudden it stunned both mice to scramble backwards the suspending arm thrust both body and face towards the edge of the ramp, where the second hand clasped the walkway tightly. The mountainous features hovered closer, reaching over the surface of the walkway until the illuminated eyes spread their gaze over the two shivering rodents like strobe lights.

Cynthia and Timothy were too terrified to notice the unbuttoned laboratory coat with the now familiar facility logo fluttering from the muscle-bound frame of the ape. Their entire world was dominated by the incredible face, and the eyes, in which their own insignificantly small forms reflected.

Then the creature’s mouth opened to reveal blocky teeth and canines so larger than either of the mice.

A deep resonant voice boomed over them, strong enough to make their fur ripple.

‘Who are you?’

Lying prone on the ground, their heads barely raised and shaking with terror, neither mouse was able to speak.

The titanic visage drifted closer, a lower lip thrust forward like a wall of flesh before revealing the chisel-sized dentition once more. Again, the thunderous voice boomed out, so close now the air from the creature’s mouth actually shoved the siblings closer to the wall.

‘Who… are… YOU?’

‘C-c-c-c-c-cyn-n-n-n… Cynthia!’

The shining eyes drifted to her brother who desperately fought to regain the power of speech.

‘Tim… TIMOTHY!’ he yelled.

The chimp’s head immediately retreated in a swift motion that ruffled the mice’s fur once more. Suspended beyond the walking surface from both arms now, the ape tilted his head, using one of his enormous feet to thoughtfully scratch his chin.

‘Cynthia and Timothy… Brisby?’

The siblings nodded emphatically.

This changed the features of the dangling simian immediately. The formerly sour-faced maw turned into a wide-faced grin, still revealing teeth much too large to be endearing. Releasing one of his hands the chimpanzee managed the doubtful task of bowing theatrically while hanging by the remaining arm. Thanks to the distance between them the immense voice did not overwhelm the two mice as it had before.

‘I am honored to make your acquaintance. I am Dr. Prometheus. Now,’ he suddenly swung back towards the edge of the chasm to have his now smiling face hover over the Brisby children once more, ‘how can I be of service?’

Both Timothy and Cynthia had gotten to their feet during the time the suspended ape had kept himself at a distance. At his sudden return both fought hard not to fall back onto their hindquarters again. Still staring at the towering scientist the siblings managed to complete each other’s stammering attempts at conversation.

‘Couldn’t sleep,’ Cynthia started.

Timothy added, ‘Julia, she said… she said.’

‘Prometheus would show you… show you…’ Cynthia fumbled.

The face with the overlarge, smiling teeth leaned in even more.

‘Show you… what?’

Now both mice were at a loss. They looked at each other in desperation, then back at the vast features suspended above them. Finally, Timothy whispered.


Once more the primate’s body was propelled backwards, this time accompanied by an overpowering bout of laughter that seemed to rock the entire building. Shuddering like a wall of jelly he was hard-pressed to maintain his two-handed grip on the pole above. Finally, the jovial expulsions died down and a foot as nimble as any hand was used to wipe away tears from the corner of the ember-like eyes.

‘I do apologize for frightening you, dear children.’

Cynthia and Timothy slowly relaxed, still feeling the tremors of that booming laughter ringing through their bones. Dr. Prometheus swung a little bit closer, but this time giving the uneasy rodents more breathing room. He waved his right foot towards the now closed gates to the vast laboratory.

‘This time of night the gates are locked. Only four people can enter then, the Director, Dr. Snow, Mr. Fray, and myself. So, I was surprised to find you here.’

The grizzled ape swung a little closer, his immense visage be contorted in a conspiratorial smile.

‘How did you open the door?’

‘Julia said,’ Timothy explained, ‘that dad gave us the same access that he has.

The simian’s head nodded sagely.

‘Yes, yes. That would account for it. Now then,’

The chimpanzee’s body retreated once more and the foot waved over the dim expanse of the cavernous chamber.

‘I would be delighted to give you a tour. What would you like to see first?’

The siblings turned to face each other, unable to come up with an answer. They returned to look at the suspended hulk with a sheepish expression. Rubbing his chin with his right foot again Dr. Prometheus nodded again with understanding.

‘What is it you do where you come from?’

Exchanging quick glances the mice decided honesty could not hurt.

‘I collect plants, mushrooms, lichens, and such, things that can help the sick.’ Cynthia began.

‘Really? The ape rumbled appreciatively, ‘And how do you know where to find them and what they are?’

‘I never know what they are,’ the young female continued, ‘at least not their names. But I know what they are good for when I find them. And I always find whatever…’

‘Or whomever,’ Timothy interjected.

‘… or whomever I am supposed to look for.’

Dr. Prometheus’s burning eyes lowered to slits and his smile spread.

‘And you always know your way or when people are lying, right?’

Cynthia’s jaw dropped and her brother exclaimed, ‘How do you know that?’

Once again the booming laughter shook the laboratory. Once it subsided the simian leaned his head forward, the right foot to its side as if in a conspiratorial whisper.

‘It is my talent to know the nature of things, and of people.’

He swung backwards and pointed a finger on his left foot towards Timothy.

‘And what is your talent, my friend?’

‘Machines, I guess.’

‘Hah!’His sister blurted, ‘He can build anything! Sometimes he’s completely clueless what he’s making, but it still works.’

The male mouse looked at her irritably as if wanting to shush her. But Cynthia proved un-shush-able.

‘And it’s almost as if he can sniff them out or something. Show him any old thingamajig and he knows what it’s for.’

Both the ape’s feet were now wringing themselves, like hands clasped in anticipation.

‘Well, I think I know just what you might like to see.’

This time the furry scientist angled his body towards the walkway very gradually until his right foot was extended open-faced, palm upwards, like a platform for the mice to step on.

Cynthia, being able to feel the sincerity in their imposing host, took a cautious step forward. Timothy followed and soon the two climbed over the leathery finger-toes into the chimp’s large palm. The digits turned slightly upwards to form a cradle. Then the ape turned himself around as he hung from the bar above.

‘Fear not, children. You are safe with me.’

With that the ape swung himself down into the dark chasm as the mice screamed and held on to the curled-up finger-toes in panic.

Despite the pervasive darkness the simian knew his way. The entire laboratory appeared to be crisscrossed with poles and bars for him to navigate the vastness in his own fashion. Soon after the drop Dr. Prometheus instinctively grabbed a hold of another bar, apparently invisible in the gloom, and used it to propel himself forwards, where another pole waited in the darkness. With a swiftness and grace that belied his bulk, the chimpanzee propelled himself and his charges through the light-speckled expanse at breathtaking speed.

As soon as the siblings had overcome their initial surprise they became delighted. Having flown with Jeremy and his family many times, they had not fear of altitudes or high speeds. And the peculiar panorama of the sparkling lights from the machinery gave the impression of flying through the distances of outer space. In no time Timothy and his sister were holding on to the edge of the doctor’s cupped foot, hooting in delight as the wind blew over their faces. Above them the basso laughter of their host’s mirth mingled with their own.

Dr. Prometheus traversed the tantalizing distances with ease and surety. The farther the trio went the more outlandish the machinery around them became. Finally, the huge primate came to rest on yet another platform facing a new array of cylindrical glass tubes, illuminated brilliantly from behind. As before a huge monitor to the right displayed something, but this time it was not a series of number columns. Rotating slowly and descending downwards on the screen was the three-dimensional model of what the mice had learned was called DNA. The ape allowed Cynthia and Timothy to step from his foot onto his right palm, which he then raised towards the cylinders. In this array there were only three, but they looked much larger. Within the liquid there hovered a strange ball of white tissue connected with vessels to both the top and bottom of their respective tubes.

Timothy’s eyes were glued to the monitor read-out.

‘What is happing in there?’

Rather than answering the simian’s gaze focused on Cynthia, who, in turn, was gazing at the lumps of tissue inside the three glass columns.

‘Trees…’ she muttered, ‘you’re growing trees in there, seeds at least, right?’

Her last statement was made craning her neck to meet the scientist’s eyes.

Dr. Prometheus grinned broadly and nodded.

‘Yes, in there we are creating a new future.’

‘Incubators!’ Exclaimed Timothy, ‘Incubators that allow you to make anything, anything at all!’

A rumbling chuckle rose from the chimpanzee’s chest.

‘Not anything, son. It has to fit into the natural order too.’

Now both mice looked at the immense face in wonderment.

‘What does that mean?’ The male mouse inquired.

The large index finger of the ape’s other hand pointed at his sister.

‘She knows.’

Cynthia turned her shocked features to her brother.

‘No I don’t!’

The doctor’s chuckle returned, even louder.

‘You do, child. You just don’t realize it yet. Timothy, look at the screen and tell me what comes to your mind.’

He did as he was asked to. After a few moments he shook his head and sighed.

‘I don’t know. Just some funny ideas about mixing stuff up, like gardeners do when they want to breed new kinds of fruit; But mixing it up much more.’

The grizzled brow nodded and the eyes looked back towards his sister.

‘What comes to your mind when you look at the cylinders, child?’

Cynthia swallowed hard and stared at the suspended lumps of organic matter. Then she shrugged with exasperation.

‘Just silly stuff. Fish growing from trees.’

Now the ape’s mirth returned in full force as he tilted his head back in laughter. His body shook to make the mice in his palm afraid he might drop them.

‘Yes, yes, very good, you two!’

His glowing eyes returned to regard the siblings with something akin to bemused respect.

‘You are both correct, each in your own way. These,’ he pointed with his free hand to the tubes, ‘allow us to combine the natures of the most different life forms. You see, some of us here were born as hunters, killers of others.’

That sent a shiver down both rodents’ spines, the memory of their chase by cats and dogs still fresh. They nodded to their large host.

‘But we no longer have to kill another in order to survive. So, we are building plants that supply our meat-eating friends with the foods they need.’

Understanding dawned in each mouse simultaneously.

‘So in this tube,’ Cynthia offered, ‘you are making a tree that will grow…’

‘…a fruit with the properties and taste of a certain fish species, yes.’ Dr. Prometheus completed the sentence.

Timothy gazed at their guide with some confusion.

‘What about what you said before? What was that about the –natural order-?’

‘Ah,’ the chimpanzee raised a finger to his temple, ‘you see what we create here was never meant to exist in nature. So when we design these things we have to make sure that they will not upset the balance of the things that already exist in the natural world.’

The male rodent was still confused.

‘How can you do that? That natural order would be too complex for anyone to know, not even a million computers.’

The beard-tasseled head nodded solemnly.

‘You are correct. Not even Alis could calculate what would happen if these trees wound up in the wild. But there are other ways of –knowing-.’

Again, both children openly showed their lack of comprehension.

‘How?’ Cynthia asked this time.

Dr. Prometheus’ face lowered down towards the hand they were standing on and his voice became a hush.

‘The same way you, Cynthia, know where and what living things are. The same way you, Timothy, know the purpose and function of the mechanical.’

The glowing eyes went to the monitor and the free hand lovingly touched the surface.

‘My gift is to know where and how things can fit together well, alive or not. Until I feel that what we build will fit properly, without causing damage, we do not allow it to grow.’

Both mice gazed into those huge eyes with new awe. Their own abilities had always fascinated others, now they understood why as they appreciated the gifts of another.

The ape turned his face back to his guests once more.

‘You see, children, many of us have gifts that go beyond the rational. Some find these gifts early, some later. Your father’s gift of bringing people together and guiding them to a common goal has helped a group of animals that might normally be the fiercest enemies to work together.’

‘What goal is that?’ Timothy spoke before he could stop himself.

‘To life free, free from the humans, free from having to steal, free from having to kill.’

The large finger gently tapped one of the three illuminated growing chambers.

‘These are but part of a much greater Plan.’

He let the mice look at the suspended bundles that would once give rise to protein-producing plants a little longer. Then, reaching with his left arm to grab hold of another pole and gently transferring them to his right foot again, the aged chimp swung himself back into the glittering palace of science that was his realm. He had so much more to show them.

The gate was similarly imposing as the entrance to Dr. Prometheus’ laboratory had been. It raised itself with the same ponderousness and the same pneumatic exhale of air and mist.

The simian scientist had carried the two mice down into the deepest bowels of his realm, swinging onto ever lower poles into the blinking chasms that furrowed the laboratory. Deep down in a canyon lined with more eclectic machinery they had approached this second, cavernous gate. The ape had rested on a pole in front of it and transferred the mice from his foot, onto a hand, and then lowered himself to the ground. Thus arranged they had shambled to the portal, which raised itself without prompting.

Beyond laid yet another world. Cynthia and Timothy new they were underground. They had to be. But the incredible chamber seemed intent to prove them wrong. For all intents, they had entered the clearing of a forest, a forest of strange trees and other peculiar growths, nestled between a starlight sky.

Cynthia gaped.

‘This can’t be real.’

‘It is quite real, I assure you,’ Dr. Prometheus rumbled in amusement.

Looking up at the sky Timothy’s eyes narrowed.

‘That’s a ceiling up there! The stars aren’t real.’

The bellicose laughter of the ape echoed through the foliage.

‘No, they are not. This is one of our four underground greenhouses. During the day our plants look at what they think of as the sun. During the night they see this.’

Both mice looked around awestruck as their host moved farther into the artificial forest.

‘Dr. Prometheus, what kinds of trees are these? They don’t feel like anything I have ever seen.’

In response the ape ambled closer to a particular tree bearing strangely shaped oblong fruit of a pinkish color. He pointed to one of the fruits with his free hand.

‘This here is what grows out from the seeds you saw earlier.’

The male mouse adjusted his glasses as he peered around a thick chimpanzee finger.

‘The fish tree?’

Again, the laughter sounded.

‘Yes, these fruits have the same proteins and taste as…’ He leaned closer and inhaled the aroma of one of the globular growths, ‘… and even smell like Atlantic Salmon.’

The siblings eyed each other dubiously.

‘Who eats those?’ Cynthia inquired.

The simian shrugged, which jostled the mice perched on his hand.

‘Both our felines and canines are partial to it. Some of our rats and even the mice enjoy it occasionally. Personally, I am not a fan of seafood.’

A wide grin spread on his muzzle.

‘We do have some trees that grow rather delectable beefsteaks, though, I am not ashamed to admit.’

The crème-furred female leaned towards the fish-substitute plant and furrowed a brow.

‘They can’t make new trees, right?’

Dr. Prometheus shook his head.

‘No, children, these plants here cannot breed new plants. Every seed has to be made by us until we can make plants that will be able to fit in with the outside world. Those are the seeds were designing now.’

‘Why bother if they can grow safely down here?’ Timothy craned towards the wizened face.

The chimp extended a hand towards the uncountable plants.

‘Because soon we will leave this prison into freedom. If we wish to survive together in peace, we have to find a way for our meat-eating brothers and sisters to live without having to kill.’

Cynthia nodded.

‘That’s why you are trying to make new trees that will fit in with the world.’

‘Yes,’ Prometheus agreed, ‘the ones you see here would not fit. But the new seeds we have now will, yes they will.’

With that their host turned around, back to the large portal. There was still more he needed to show them.

Once more the Brisby children were cradled by the leathery confines of their guide’s foot as he propelled himself along the holdfasts that crisscrossed his domain. From the chasm that had brought them to the greenhouse Dr. Prometheus slowly descended to a more central portion of his laboratory, nestled deep underground. The canyon opened up into an immense cylindrical chamber with a central column made of dull metal, studded with countless green-glowing orbs. Hanging by one hand he pointed into the gloomy heights into which the pillar disappeared.

‘We are directly underneath the center of our facility. This is the main connection between every piece of equipment we have with the central computer.’

After the mice had peered into the light-festooned darkness into which the column disappeared they turned their gazed downwards. The bottom of the circular chamber showed a globular metal construct where the pillar met the floor. So vast were the proportions in this place that the metal sphere itself would have towered three human stories tall. Dr. Prometheus used the handhelds jutting from the curved wall to lower himself and his guests down to ground level, where a single flat walkway rose above a surface of wires, tubes, pipes, and other metal connections, which all came together at the centrally located globe.

As with the pillar rising from it, the structure sported a bewildering array of round gems, in all different sizes, glowing with the same emerald illumination. Some pulsed, others blinked on and off, yet others remained constant in their glow. More bewildering than the lights was the spherical building’s surface. Curving plates, metal tubes and joints intersected almost at random, giving the structure a ramshackle appearance. But what made matters even more unnerving was that the components were moving. Sliding over each other, rearranging themselves into new configurations, at times altering shape completely, the construct seemed like an ever-changing kaleidoscope of metal and luminance. How all this motion was possible in a structure obviously tethered to a solid floor beneath and the rising pillar above beggared the imagination.
One could almost, almost get the sensation that the metal surfaces were alive.

Once on the walkway, with Cynthia and Timothy transferred to the safety of his hand again, the ape walked up to the round metal artifact, its surface spinning and undulating as if in expectation. The mice had problems looking at any portion of the edifice without feeling dizzy. And no matter where they looked there did not appear to be any doors or windows. The walkway simply ended at the mismatched amalgamation of metal protrusions, pipes, and glowing stones that composed the construct’s continuously reshaped surface. Dr. Solomon gently put his free palm onto one of the gems that appeared somewhat stationary.

Suddenly, the motion of metal slowed and stopped as a familiar, mechanical female voice spoke up, seemingly from everywhere at once.

‘Good evening, Dr. Prometheus. Can I help you?’

‘Alis, would you allow Cynthia and Timothy a view of your inner workings?’

The reply contained nuances of actual delight.

‘Of course! Please, step inside!’

A singular portion of the becalmed metal surface began rearranging itself in an unsymmetrical pattern to create an opening. In moments an oval portal allowed the chimpanzee to walk into the green glow that radiated from the confines of the peculiar construction. As soon as the three travelers had ventured inside the walls closed up in the same peculiar manner, the access way the only indication that there had ever been an entrance there. Then, gradually, the various metal aspects of the structure and their glowing gems resumed their untraceable motions.

Within the structure the number of glowing gems and lights was much greater, dousing the interior in a continuous emerald haze. Here the wall parts themselves were stationary. Robotic arms, mobile cables, and other attached machinery moved in a quiet hum of apparent industry. The chamber, cavity describing it more adequately, did not appear to have a permanent floor to accommodate visitors. As Timothy and Cynthia peered from Dr. Prometheus’ cupped hand they noticed that the surface he walked on was composed of metal plates of all sizes and shapes, and at the far end jointed metal appendages were still adding new flooring, which led them to the very center of the metallic cave. There, suspended from cables leading into all directions, like a fly trapped in a web, was a singular object.

The computer core was not much bigger than the chimpanzee’s head. In opposition to the perpetual mobile outside and the riot of machinery lining the inside walls the ultimate heart of this conglomeration of technology was almost anticlimactic. A single, smooth metal sphere, without any lights or openings, apart from the dozens of taught cables issuing from it, hung there. Nothing moved. Even the metal surface was unremarkably dull.

‘This is it?’

Timothy’s disappointment was palpable.

Cynthia, on the other hand, started at the metal sphere open mouthed. She grabbed a hold of her brother’s shoulder and hissed.

‘It’s alive. It really IS alive. A machine that’s… alive.’

He looked from his sister back to the suspended computer core. Slowly, Timothy’s features changed to a more reverent cast. Even their guide had remained silent, simply standing in front of the metallic orb. After a few moments the mice dared a glance at the simian’s face. What they saw astounded them. The scientist was smiling with a far-away expression on his face. More remarkable was the small tear that was lodged in the cavernous crevices which harbored the glowing eyes.

‘This…’ Dr. Prometheus rumbled, ‘… is the body of Alis, our greatest accomplishment.’

From all around the walls the artificial voice chimed in.

‘Dr. Prometheus does tend to get overly theatrical at times.’

As if caught it a compromising situation the ape immediately wiped the tear away and coughed roughly into a calloused fist.

‘That sense of humor,’ he rumbled, ‘is something she developed on her own as well.’

Gazing up at the immense face Timothy frowned.

‘Why did it, eh, she make the choice to be, I mean, female?’

Once more the electronic voice interceded from everywhere at once.

‘That was my decision. On average, the female members of most organisms seem to be the more aesthetically pleasing and the less intimidating in their personality.’

Cynthia chuckled loudly at that.

‘She’s got you there, Timmy.’

Undaunted her brother craned her neck all around the mechanical edifice.

‘Is there another way we could talk to you? It’s really weird just shouting into the room like this.’

‘Just a moment,’ the voice replied.

From a corner of the metallic walls a set of robotic arms positioned themselves with strange gears and machinery in their grasp. Other arms joined in, some with parts, others with soldering tools, wire connectors, and other means of combining the materials. In the end there were so many mechanical appendages engaged at a corner of the chamber that none of the three visitors were able to see what they were working on. The only things visible were random sparks and various metallic sounds.

Finally, the arms disappeared all at once, revealing a tiny metallic bench, not much larger than either Cynthia or Timothy, extended from the wall. On it sat a robotic construct.

Both mice let their jaws hang in amazement.

The mechanical entity sitting on the bench was a rough approximation of a mouse body. Like something from a science fiction story dull metal surfaces overlaid moving pistons and wiring to give the miniscule machine the obvious appearance of a rodent physique. As they watched the robot raised itself off the bench with astounding graze, yet slightly unbalanced as it had to adjust the whip-like tail to counterbalance the rest of the metallic torso. Gears whirred as metal appendages and joints were tested for their range of motion. The head sported two of the green glowing gems where eyes would be expected and a small opening for a speaker system. External ears resembled radar dishes and swiveled slightly as the body turned to look at the trio.

This time the voice, much more quiet, issued from the machine rodent.

‘Could you lift me up with your other hand, Dr. Prometheus?’

A wistful smile on his craggy face and the chimp bent down to allow the robot to climb unsteadily onto his other palm. Then, once upright again, both his hands and their occupants faced each other. The two mice looked at the mechanical entity with a mixture of awe and doubt. In imitation of coy amusement the robotic mouse but its hands on its hips.

‘Is this better?’

The siblings exchanged another set of confused glances. Then Timothy leaned forward and cleared his throat.

‘I guess so. That’s really you in there?’

With the gentle whining of gears the mechanical head nodded.

‘Yes, but I am still everywhere else as well. This way you have a person to look at.’

Cynthia peered at the robot and then back at the suspended metal sphere in the distance.

‘This is too freaky,’ she sniggered.

‘What?’ Timothy wondered.

The female mouse pointed to the metal sphere in the chamber’s center.

‘She’s there. She’s here. It’s like she’s got two bodies.’

The expressionless robot head tilted.

‘More than that, actually. Almost every machine in this building can serve as a body, as you call it, if it has the right circuitry. There are also few machines outside of this facility located around the world that can function the same way.’

Timothy tried to look as deeply into the softly glowing stone eyes of the machine creature as possible. He had always been fascinated with technology, but facing a machine that was, if he dared to think it, alive, went beyond his wildest dreams. If he looked close enough, maybe he could catch a glimpse in these gems, no, eyes, a glimpse of an actual soul. Cynthia had said she was truly alive. Would Alis then also have a soul?

As if divining his intent the robot righted its cranium again.

‘What are you looking for in my optic sensors?’

He caught his breath and fumbled with his hands like a kid caught raiding the cookie jar.

‘Just… eh… curious.’

Behind him Cynthia stifled a laugh behind her hands.

Timothy whirled around flustered.


‘Well,’ his sister batted her lashes at him, hands folded behind her back now, ‘if I didn’t know any better, I’d say you got a crush on a computer.’

All three rodents, biological and cybernetic, trembled as Dr. Prometheus’ body shook with raucous laughter.

The robot’s head tilted sideways once more, lending the machine an inquisitive air.

‘Is that correct, Timothy Brisby?’

To the obvious delight of his sister Timothy fumbled for words and blushed visibly.

‘Me… what… eh… no! Of course not. That’d be… eh… weird.’

The emerald optics turned to Cynthia.

‘He does not sound well.’

The female mouse grinned at the mouse android.

‘That’s what we flesh-and-blood people call –being smitten-.’

Now her brother was ready to physically try and stop another one of his sister’s comments, only to be hampered by the ape hand beneath him swaying in yet another boom of simian joviality. Holding on to the rocking fingers Timothy glanced at the robot, which did not seem to have any more problems holding its, no, her balance.

This was turning out to be a strange night indeed.

Much, much later the outer surface of the sphere containing the computer core began moving again to create an egress for the chimpanzee scientist and his guests. As Dr. Prometheus, the mice nestled in a foot-palm once more, ascended back to the heights of his laboratory, the structure containing Alis resumed its mechanical undulations. He carried them back to the large door that had first allowed them access to this realm of scientific wonders. From there the Brisby siblings retraced their steps to the elevators and back to their family apartment.

It was far into the night now and they did not encounter a single person. From the monitors and speakers secreted throughout the compound Alis guided them on their way whenever they were in danger of taking a wrong turn. At this point fatigue had finally taken a hold of Timothy and Cynthia and when they finally arrived at their unremarkable quarters they slipped in silently, not to awaken their parents, and once nestled in their unfamiliar beds, both drifted to sleep almost immediately.

Down in the bowels of the facility, deep within the interwoven motions of its mechanical shell Alis’ computer core rested silently. Inside of the spherical cave everything was quiet. No machines moved, no read-outs blinked or chimed. One could have almost imagined that the featureless metal globe at the center was immersed in the deepest of thoughts. That was not far from the truth.

In her silent body of metal and circuits Alis was busy.

There was much she needed to learn. And she did not have much time to do it in.

Chapter 14: The Meeting

The light was falling into the bedroom. As the sun had risen high enough to shine through the glass ceilings of the crossing atrium some of the illumination reached all the way into the room where Cynthia and Timothy had finally, after returning from their excursion, fallen asleep.

Neither appeared to have slept easily. Cynthia was curled up on herself, the downy blanket grasped tightly, like a lifeline. Timothy had tossed and turned so badly that his head was facing the far end of his bed, his body all tangled in his bedding. Lying on his back as morning gave way to day the light from the window was slowly moving towards his face. Once the first bright rays hit his eyelids he began to stir, and then to try and turn. Thanks to his literal entanglement his efforts to remove himself from the annoying light resulted in him falling headfirst onto the floor with a thump and yelp.

Cynthia jerked awake immediately, but momentarily disoriented. As she sat up and tried to find her brother she saw him sitting next to his bed, rubbing his forehead with a groan.

‘Are you alright, Timmy?’

‘Yeah,’ he winced, ‘this place could use a carpet.’

His sister looked around the room and stretched.

‘What time is it?’

Still sitting with his rump on the floor Timothy grumbled,

‘How should I know?’

Tussling her own hair his sister sighed,

‘I was just wondering.’

Suddenly, a strange grumbling sound echoed through the bedroom. A few moments of investigation and her brother’s sheepish expression cleared up the mystery. It was the rumbling of his stomach.

‘I guess it’s breakfast time.’

Both mice had fallen asleep in their clothes, which now looked appropriately rumpled. After setting their beds and attire right the siblings moved into the apartment’s living room in search of their parents. At night their dwellings had looked Spartan and forlorn. But now the living room table had a small bouquet of flowers on it in a vase and the scant sunlight from the atrium graced the room with a certain level of hominess. There was a sheet of paper on the table as well.

Being closer Cynthia picked it up while her brother cleaned his glassed on his shirt and read.

‘You were sleeping so soundly that we did not want to wake you. Your father asked me to attend a Board Meeting with him after breakfast. If you are hungry he says the best food can be found at the Heavenview Cafeteria. Their cranberry muffins are supposed to be the best. Alis will show you how to get there. We will find you after the meeting. Love, Mom.’

She looked at her brother who had perked up at the mention of food.

‘What’s a Board Meeting?’

Timothy shrugged.

‘No idea. But I do like the sound of cranberry muffins.’

* * *

Elizabeth Brisby was feeling extremely uncomfortable. She was still struggling to reconcile everything that had happened in both her mind and heart. It was difficult.

When sleep had finally found her the evening before, wrapped in the loving arms of the one she had never thought to hold again, she had been both overjoyed and overwhelmed. Upon waking it had taken her a few moments to realize that what had occurred had not been a dream. Jonathan had still been sleeping, his face so peaceful. She had traced the lines of his face with a finger, careful not to wake him. She had learned that this body was new, grown in a way she did not understand, but it resembled the husband she had lost in every detail, down to his whiskers being a bit longer on one side of his muzzle than the other. Again, tears had found her as she looked down at him, gently snoring, ever so slightly. She had joked about that back in the day. Now all these details came back not from memory but physical reality. It had been both incredibly wonderful and unbearably painful at the same time.

As if sensing her distress her husband had awoken, gazing up at her in as much confusion as she had felt just moments before. The night before, when he had disclosed all the incredible things pertaining to his resurrection, he had seemed so assured, so confident. But Elizabeth knew better. Once they had finally had some time to themselves the real Jonathan, the one who could allow himself to be weak, had been revealed. He had never before begged her for anything. That night, in the bedroom, which they were to share, he had gone down on his knees, eyes awash with tears, and begged her, implored her to forgive him, forgive him for never having divulged the secret of NIMH and what it had done to him. Jonathan, for the first time she could recall, had looked so terrified, so fragile, as if her rejection would shatter him like a thin pane of glass. She had cupped his tear-drenched face in her hands, her own tears flowing, and told him the truth. There had been nothing to forgive, not in light what they all now knew. Getting down on her knees as well, as they embraced in their sobs in front of the bed, they had never before felt so equal.

The remainder of the night had been the most precious gift she had received since the birth of her children. Neither of them had wanted it to end as they sank into blissful sleep in each other’s arms.

Now, dressed in her once-more-mended cape and gloves Mrs. Brisby stood in one of the most peculiar places she had ever been in.

After waking and dressing they had checked in on the children, who had been so deeply asleep and exhausted that they did not wake them. Jonathan had asked the computer, Alis, she reminded herself, whether Justin, Brutus, and Julia were already awake. Since they had been, he had asked the mechanical voice to arrange a meeting with them at a place where they could have breakfast, while she left a quick note to her children. In hindsight, she never wondered why he had not asked after Jenner.

They had met Justin and Julia on their way through the awaking world of the atrium towards one of the four ancillary towers, where Jonathan claimed the best breakfast was to be had. Justin had looked as if he had not slept too much, but was otherwise content and jovial. Julia had exhibited an almost childlike giddiness, which looked awkward when combined with her research attire. The attraction between the two had obviously blossomed. Brutus would meet them at their destination, having woken much earlier. Elizabeth had wondered in what state of mind he might be in.

While they had walked the two males had begun chatting about inconsequential things, small talk between old friends in need of catching up. On several occasions when either Jonathan or Justin gave the other a playful verbal jab Julia had looked at her and given her a knowing roll of the eye. Boys would be boys, it said. After a while, as they had passed a multitude of other people of all ages and species, some greeting them, others too occupied on their errands, the conversation had shifted to more immediate concerns in regards to what was going to happen next.

‘We’re going to move to Thorn Valley, all of us,’ Jonathan had explained.

Justin had expressed uncertainty as to how that would be accomplished, with all the different types of animals and their vast numbers.

Without going into exhaustive details her husband had outlined that the plans for relocation into the wild had been worked for almost two years.

‘We need to disappear,’ he had said. ‘We need to ensure that the humans will never discover our existence. Otherwise the humans will hunt us down and kill us, considering how dangerous we have become.’

That had struck Elizabeth as an odd statement, but Justin had simply nodded in understanding. Recognizing her concern Jonathan had waved his hands towards the vista of the atrium hall.

‘We have manipulated the humans into making this possible without them realizing, in only three years. If they ever learn of it, they will fear us.’

It was then that Justin had added a comment in an unusually grave tone.

‘Maybe they are right to fear us. With so much power, over nature, over death, only a fool wouldn’t be afraid.’

That had elicited a playful nudge from the male mouse.

‘Nicodemus’ wisdom seems to have rubbed off on you a bit after all.’

Justin had given some joking remark Mrs. Brisby could not recall. She had been preoccupied with the brown rat’s grave statement. Touching the ruby stone suspended on her chest she had remembered the almost overwhelming, intoxicating rush of power she had felt from it when the cats had chased them. For a moment she had craved that power, the feeling of being able to change the world, fight those that wanted to hurt her children. Later, when faced with Jenner, she had felt it again, stronger. Then she had experienced the desire to kill the resurrected rat. Never before had she ever desired to kill, not even when in mortal peril herself. But just that moment, when the currents of power began flowing and she felt that she could have snuffed Jenner’s life out like a candle, she had wanted nothing more than to give in to that urge.

Elizabeth had shuddered at that thought and stole a glance at the emerald stone hanging from her husband’s neck. Truth be told, she had not even thought of Jenner since having awoken. He had warned her not to let the power use her the night before. Did her old nemesis know more than he let on? Had Jonathan ever been tempted like this? If someone who truly craved power got a hold of such a stone the damage they could do might be beyond imagination. Yes, maybe Justin had been right with his statement. The humans would be right to fear them, even though they were the ones who made them what they were.

Mercifully, the conversation had brought her back from her disturbing musings as Jonathan had explained a few more of the steps along the way of moving all of the residents to the distant wildlife refuge. Some of these details went far beyond her comprehension; trees growing meat and stranger matters.

Finally, after ascending via another elevator to the window-tipped roof of one of the facilities side towers, they had arrived at the Heavenview Cafeteria.

It was a large place, designed to accommodate all the different species that coexisted in this peculiar place. The roof was glass, giving the impression of a semi-enclosed patio or solarium. Strengthening the illusion of open spaces were various plants, small trees, and fountains strewn throughout. On one side of the cafeteria a number of services aisles had offered food either buffet style or by order. Different aisles had been sized to serve animals of differing shapes and foods were designated to the most common preferences of these animals. Canines and cats had dominated one serving line, mid-sized rodents another, hamsters, rats, mice and smaller rodents yet another. Yet from time to time Elizabeth had spotted a dog in between a patiently walking line of rats or a gerbil vying for the attention of a server in the line dominated by the non-predatory animals.

Seating was also arranged by the size and shape of the potential occupants, though care had been taken to supply different seating areas with the largest variety of seat accommodations possible. Small tables of different heights lay interspersed and while there appeared to be a trend of similarly sized animals to congregate together, a number of groups having breakfast had been completely mixed in terms of their species.

Brutus had not been around, so Jonathan and Julia had guided them along an appropriately proportioned serving line. The food items available had boggled Mrs. Brisby’s mind. Fruits, cereals, pastries, juices, and something that was somewhat like fake meat products had made only the tiniest sampling of the variety available to them. Julia and Jonathan had recommended a few dishes, which they had taken to a seating arrangement occupied by the same rabbit in the lab coat they had encountered when they had entered the secret aspects of Lazarus Laboratories. Jenner had also been present, looking tired but also eager.

That, at least, had answered the question of his whereabouts.

At the sight of Jonathan and his wife he had become somewhat subdued and let Julia and Dr. Hendriks, or Gerald as he had asked them to call him, explain to Elizabeth and Justin what would happen after breakfast.

The specifics of that explanation had dampened the Thorn Valley residents’ appetite despite the delicious flavors of the items they had selected.

Now they were all standing in what was supposed to be one of this place’s most specialized laboratories.

After breakfast a brisk return to the atrium and then the central spire had brought the group down to the underground levels where some of the compound’s secret projects were developed and carried out. This particular research space was the brainchild of Gerald Hendriks and Julia Snow, the newcomers had been told. Brightly lighted and composed mostly of metal surfaces it was an environment that required some adjustment. Large as the room was, every wall was covered in countless varieties of machinery, elevator platforms and walkways allowing access to equipment at higher elevations.

In one part of the room was an array nine round raised platforms arranged in rows of three with four circular metal struts rising from crisscrossing points at the edge of each platform. These struts extended over the surface in a wide arch until they all met at a single point right above each platform’s center, creating a spherical metal cage.  At the intersection point the struts held a fitting for a large gemstone, which did not seem to have any color at all. As Justin and Mrs. Brisby had been led past this array of peculiar contraptions they had noticed smaller gems of similar type all along the inside border of the struts. Behind them were a number of wall-sized monitors and nine work consoles with smaller screens, each manned by two animal scientists. Brutus was there as well, standing behind the busy scientists with the uniformed Stella by his side, his gaze locked onto the wall of towering view screens.

Now Mrs. Brisby was staring at the same array of monitors, feeling slightly sick. The center monitor showed the image of a conference room with an oval oak table. A number of humans of both genders and different ages, all dressed richly, were seated there, although the majority of seats had not yet been taken. From time to time a door at the conference room’s edge would open and a formally dressed valet ushered in another human in business attire. The monitor to the right of the center showed something that made Elizabeth’s blood run cold. In a room similar to the laboratory they were now located, but devoid of working scientists, stood nine large cylinders with glass doors, leaning against a wall festooned with digital readouts and computer panels. Inside each cylinder was the upright shape of a human being, only the faces visible through glass windows, the bodies apparently nude and asleep.

In order to interact with humans on a more even level, meaning face-to-face, the animal scientists had utilized the technique of growing new bodies from old tissue and taken it to new heights. Utilizing Alis’ incredible capacities for computation, Jonathan had explained to his wife and Justin, they had found a way to grow what amounted to human versions of other animals’ bodies, or better said, bodies that resembled some of the scientists present if they had been born as humans. Julia, her voice filled with pride and somewhat oblivious to the obvious distaste visible on the faces of the recent arrivals, had elaborated excitedly on the scientific breakthrough this repesented.

‘In order to own this company we had to pretend to be human and interact with humans. We needed a way to make the humans we interact with to see us as human beings as well. So, we found a way to grow bodies that are, for lack of a better word, human versions of us.’

Justin, his eyes glued to the screen showing the upright cylinders, swallowed hard.

‘You have a human version of yourself?’

She nodded and waved to the right view screen.

‘The female human in stasis chamber number four is based on my genetic materials, only altered to fit a human code.’

Both Justin and Elizabeth peered intently at the indicated cylinder. The human shape inside was female, pale-skinned with almost white, short hair. Neither felt comfortable in comparing human semblances to their own species but had to admit a certain similarity between the stored human and Julia.

‘How does this work?’ Mrs. Brisby wondered, ‘These human copies follow your commands, like… slaves?’

That last word hung like an accusation in the room and for the first time Jonathan recognized the discomfort of his wife at what they were showing her. He put a hand on her shoulder and looked at her conciliatorily.

‘No, not really. You see, these humans are just bodies, they have no real mind.’


Justin’s exclamation startled some of the scientists at the consoles. Julia, now also aware of the negative response to their revelations by their guests moved closer, waving a hand.

‘They never had a mind, or soul. They were grown basically like empty shells.’

The brown rat’s eyes narrowed even more as he folded his arms over his chest.

‘What good would that do?’

It was Jonathan who interceded.

‘You remember those toy cars that human kids play with, the ones that they control with a remote?’

Turning to his old friend Justin looked suspicious.

‘I do.’

‘These,’ the mouse pointed to the monitor again, ‘are like that. Only they are made from flesh rather than metal and plastic. Without their remote they would never be able to work.’

Mrs. Brisby took a cautious step towards the bank of wall monitors.

‘But machines don’t need food. Bodies do.’

Keeping up with his wife Jonathan nodded.

‘The stasis chambers are designed to supply the bodies with all they need and keep them healthy.’

She shuddered again.

Justin, despite his revulsion, raised the obvious question.

‘So, how do you operate these meat-puppets of yours?’

Julia cringed at his sarcasm. But before she could answer, Jenner, who had walked off with a male gerbil scientist upon their arrival in the laboratory, unexpectedly interrupted them.

‘I will be delighted to show you.’

All eyes turned towards the tall rat.

Jenner had relinquished his uniform for a strange one-piece body suit made from some dark-blue material that encased his entire body apart from his head. Along the suit ran a series of golden wires, which intersected at nodal points on the body and various joints. At each node a small gemstone was embedded, identical to the ones they had seen in the circular cage arrangements. The gerbil scientist had followed Jenner and held a peculiar helmet, elongated and pointed at the back, the same color as the suit but with a much larger stone positioned over the wearer’s brow.

The rat took the helmet from the scientist with a courteous nod and tucked it underneath his left arm. With his right Jenner motioned towards the first of the nine platforms with the spherical configuration of metal struts. As if in explanation he simply walked onto the raised surface between the struts and, as he looked at them with his familiar leer, winked and raised the helmet over his cranium. The strangely shaped container opened itself up like an unlocked puzzle-box as Jenner lowered it gently upon his brow. Once in position the helm closed in the same automatic manner to fully enclose the rat’s features. Jenner looked more like a futuristic construct than a living being in this suit, his face now completely obscured by the alien outline of his headgear.

As soon as the helmet had sealed he raised his arms to his sides. Every gemstone encased in his attire began to glow in a sickly purple light, the large stone on the head being the brightest. At the same moment the corresponding gems in the round cage centering on him began to pulse in a similar luminance. The observers could not feel sure whether the light pulses reflected Jenner’s heartbeat or some other arcane rhythm. They did not even have time to contemplate the issue as the rat’s body suddenly lifted off the platform floor to hover right in the center of the spherical space defined by the intersecting metal poles.

Elizabeth was not even aware that she was holding her breath until Justin gasped in shock at the sight. Jenner appeared to be completely weightless; his body suspended in mid-air, the suit’s gems shining on and off like lamps in a lighthouse. Then, he began to move his hands.

The hissing sound coming from the monitors caused Mrs. Brisby and Justin to turn their heads. There, on the screen showing the stored human receptacles, one of the stasis chambers had opened. Steam obscured a full view of the body emerging from the now coverless cylinder. From the shoulders upwards the human was clearly visible. A tall man, muscular and deep-tanned, with slick-backed black hair and a sinister chin-beard, the human even felt like Jenner as he turned his head towards the camera. He gave the viewing audience the same sly grin they knew so well from his normal self and duplicated the wink he had given them earlier, his replica’s dirty green eyes glittering through the view-screen. Then, he stepped from the tube completely and disappeared into the slowly dissipating mist.

Elizabeth swiveled back to look at the real Jenner suspended in his cage of light. There, the rat engaged in the same motions that his remote human body was performing on the screen. Only here Jenner performed the movements suspended in nothing but air while out there, wherever the facility storing the human shells was located, he was guiding a body through the real world. Her head turned from the floating rodent to the monitor, where eight chambers still held human bodies. As she did so she noticed that a number of technicians, two gerbils and a rat, had approached carrying suits and helmets identical to the one Jenner was wearing.

Justin looked dumbstruck when two of the technicians stepped next to Jonathan and Julia bearing the suits like a set of valets. But that paled to his astonishment when the last scientist offered the final set of gear to him.

‘What’s going on here?’

Jonathan, who had begun unbuttoning his dark uniform, gave him a playful wink.

‘Time to dress up for the board meeting. You’re the guest of honor today.’

A look of panic crossed he brown rat’s face as Julia, her own technician in tow, came up to him and put her hands on his shoulders.

‘The largest share of our company was put in your name, Justin. Today, you are scheduled to attend a board meeting so you can look into what we are doing.’

Justin’s gaze swept back to Jonathan, who was already wearing his own version of the strange gear while the technician closed up the suit from behind. The grey mouse shrugged.

‘You own most of this place, Justin. So, you got to show up to meet the good people who work here some time.’

‘How can I do that? I don’t know how to do…’ he pointed to the hovering form of Jenner, who was still engaged in his eerie pantomime, ‘… that. And I don’t have a human version of myself anyway.’

While gently opening Justin’s collar Julia opined,

‘Actually, you do. We still had old blood samples from you back from NIMH. We have had a remote body ready for you for about two months now.’

With that she opened the button on his tunic and, to the horror of Elizabeth and Brutus, who thus far had only remained stationary due to the gently restraining hand of Stella on his arm, pulled down the rat’s shirt like a mother would with a reluctant child. If not for the macabre setting the gesture might have looked humorously endearing as well as embarrassing. As it was, Justin looked imploringly at Elizabeth as Julia was removing his clothing. Mrs. Brisby was at a loss. Jonathan, fully suited and wearing that charming smile of his stepped behind her and was gently squeezing her shoulder.

‘He’ll be alright. Julia will make sure of that.’

Now it was her turn to feel panicked and her throat constricted as she looked at her husband.

‘Do I have to…?’

Still smiling Jonathan shook his head.

‘We didn’t have enough time to grow a remote body for you since until last night we had no blood samples.’

As she turned to look at Justin again, who was now reluctantly being draped in the gold-wired uniform she nodded nervously. She did not know how she felt about this. A glance at Brutus confirmed the large guard’s own disquiet.  Then Jonathan gently turned her around so she could look at the platform next to the one Jenner was suspended in. With an impish grin her husband stepped inside the circular strut-composition and, like the rat before him, donned his helmet. In difference to Jenner the light pulses issuing from the mouse’s suit were bright green, as were the corresponding lights from the cage.

Elizabeth was scared to turn her face to the monitors again as her husband’s body levitated into the center of the spherical cage. But as so often is the case, curiosity triumphed over dread. As the same hissing sounds of escaping steam issued from the view-screen she turned.

On the screen a second chamber had opened. Here, a lighter-skinned human male, of slightly less than average height with tussled grey hair and a small goatee, stepped from the metal cylinder into the mist-covered room. The human’s face spread into a warm smile that Mrs. Brisby immediately recognized. Even the human’s eyes were the same deep brown as Jonathan’s. As her husband guided the remote body through his own weightless motions the human blew a tender kiss towards the observing camera.

Elizabeth’s heart dropped.

* * *

Cynthia and Timothy looked at the entrance to the Heavenview Cafeteria.

‘That place is crammed,’ Timothy muttered, stating the obvious.

The doors to the brightly illuminated cafeteria were large, made of glass, and wide open. Even from the hallway the two mice were able to glimpse a large number of patrons busily eating and talking inside. The array of species interacting peacefully in this sunlight environment was startling.

Feeling hungry Cynthia took the. Nobody gave any particular notice of them as they slowly shuffled inside and looked around to get their bearings. The place was designed in a straightforward fashion and the siblings quickly understood its workings. They got in line at the service counters for the smaller inhabitants and took a serving tray and eating utensils. Nobody around them acknowledged them as newcomers. Occasionally, a patron or two would accidentally jostle them and apologize good-naturedly. After only a few moments the two mice started to feel strangely welcome as various individuals would exchange a few friendly words with them, or comment on the quality of the day’s dishes.

Just as Timothy was getting to enjoy the experience, not to mention moving closer in line to where the actual food items were reachable, Cynthia gasped and clenched his arm tightly with a free hand.


Before he could inquire of her what was wrong his eyes caught the same sight that had stunned his sister.

Not six feet away Dragon, together with the terrible orange female cat, was sauntering towards the serving line for the larger animals. Neither cat was wearing the strange armaments of the night before. The female was clothed in a light-green blouse while Dragon, to the consternation of the Brisby children, had a yellow sweater draped over his massive forequarters. As the felines took no notice of them, the female actually chatting with an older male rat with a laboratory coat and glasses, Cynthia’s grip slackened until her free hand fell to her side. The mice followed the cats’ movements open-mouthed, heads turning.

‘Hey kids, sorry, but those muffins are calling my name.’

A middle-aged gerbil with a pudgy midsection hidden by overalls gently nudged Timothy into moving along in the line, where a large gap had formed due to the mice’s stalling. Startled, Cynthia and her brother hurried along towards the food as the gerbil chuckled in amusement and Dragon and his counterpart went their merry way. Despite the alluring sight and smell of the dishes laid out for their choosing both mice felt their appetites somewhat dampened and caught themselves repeatedly trying to spot the two cats as they perused the cafeteria buffet. Finally, the gerbil who still trailed them next in line sniggered.

‘Those two do look a fright, don’t they?’

Timothy turned to him in confusion.


‘Banshee and Dragon,’ the older rodent replied cheerily, ‘they can give you the creeps if you don’t know them.’

Now it was Cynthia who blinked in consternation.

‘And you know them?’

The gerbil waved his free hand dismissively after it had deposited two cranberry muffins on his tray.

‘Oh yeah, I work with the security folks. We design and maintain their gear, do custom fittings and so on. I usually work with the felines; had to do a few custom adjustments for Dragon when he first started.’

‘Really?’ Timothy ventured with a dazed look.

‘Yep,’ the jovial rodent replied, ‘he’s blind in one eye, you know. So the medical staff and us rigged his helmet to feed right into the optic nerve and so…’

Noticing their blank stared the gerbil smiled apologetically.

‘Sorry, I get too technical sometimes. And I haven’t even introduced myself. I’m Frederick. I’d shake your hands, but then I’d drop my muffins.’

‘My name is Cynthia. This is Timothy.’

Grinning from ear to ear the gerbil nodded in greeting.

‘A pleasure to meet you, kids. As I was saying, I helped fit Dragon’s gear when he signed up for guard duty. I mean I helped to make sure that the seeing goggles worked with his blind eye. He’s not such a bad guy once you get over his looks. Now his wife’, he winked, ‘is the one to watch out for. She’s the one in charge in that marriage. Showed him the ropes when he first showed up; not a week after he arrives and they were married.’

Looking over to the second serving line Timothy could only add another ‘Really?’ as their impromptu friend prattled on. Matters of who was an enemy or a friend in this place were definitely not as clear as they had been when they were toddlers back at the Fitzgibbon Farm. A world where a rodent would be able to talk about Dragon, bane to all animals of the fields, without trepidation was a most peculiar novelty.

‘You kids never talked to them?’

That stopped the siblings short for a moment until Cynthia managed an bashful grin.

‘Not really, no. We ran from him when we were little.’

Now the pudgy gerbil perked a curious brow.

‘He’s only been here a few weeks. You knew him as kids?’

Then, his eyes lighted up in comprehension.

‘Oh, you came from that farm, didn’t you?’

Timothy nodded, not really understanding what the other was talking about but feeling it would be the safest response. Their new confidant sidled in closer.

‘What’s it like, growing up in the wild, I mean? Does it make adjusting to this place hard?’

Cynthia, who realized that the gerbil assumed they had come with the animals that must have been collected from the Fitzgibbon Farm, shrugged while trying to hide her relief. For some reason she did not feel that revealing their home in Thorn Valley or even their parentage might be a good idea. Her brother, also comprehending the older rodent’s reasoning, felt the same way and punctuated his sister’s reply with additional nods.

‘It is different in here. Timmy, my brother, and I still have much to see and learn for sure.’

The gerbil nudged Timothy with a conspiratorial elbow,

‘Well, keep up your studies, sonny. Heck, with your glasses look like a science wiz already. Trust me; the girls in here are wild for scientists and engineers.’

That elicited a snigger from Cynthia, which she unsuccessfully tried to hide behind her hands. Their new friend clapped Timothy on the shoulder while he was glaring at his sister, desperately searching for a fitting retort.

‘Sorry kids, I have to go. I see my buddies waiting over there.’

Following the gerbil’s gaze they did notice a group of seated individuals, four rodents, one canine, and a feline, all waving towards them. Shrugging with a smile the older rodent took his tray and walked off with a final comment.

‘Don’t worry, you’ll get used to this place in no time. Look for some kids your age and you’ll fit right in.’

As he sauntered towards his friends the mice realized that they once again had stalled the buffet line and hastened to finish their selections. The surreal nature of the day had not abated, but the terror that had stifled their appetites appeared to have disappeared once Dragon and the other feline had moved out of sight. After a little while, they made it to the end of the line, their trays laden with plates, glasses, and enough food to last two days.

‘Now where?’

Timothy was craning his neck.

With her innate sense of direction Cynthia gently pushed her brother towards the right.

‘Careful Cyn!’

‘Timothy,’ she nudged, ‘look over there. I see three mice, two young rats, and a couple of free chairs. Let’s go.’

Her brother looked at the indicated group. A little away, halfway obscured by some potted plants, the five rodents appeared to be engaged in conversation as they ate. But as Cynthia had noted, there were a few chairs left in that seating arrangement.

‘We don’t know them, Cyn.’

‘We don’t know anyone in here, Timmy. Our new friend said to mingle with people our age. They look like they fit the bill. Come on!’

Not waiting for his reply, as was so often the case, she walked towards the seated conversationalists, a broad smile on her face. Timothy sighed and trailed after her.

* * *

‘Sometimes you’re as dense as granite, you know that, lil’ Vinnnie?’

A slender brown rat wearing a green vest and white shirt was waving a scolding finger at the grey mouse in the tanned shirt. The mouse cocked a dubious brow in reply.

‘You’re taking me for granite again, Timbers?’

The mouse couple next to him groaned in unison at the awful pun.

‘Vince,’ the blond-haired female with the blue eyes sniggered, ‘that one was bad, and as old as… ‘

The second male mouse at the female’s other side lifted his fork while munching.

‘… something that’s really old.’

The rat named Timbers looked at the three mice on the other side of the table in disbelief.

‘Can you guys ever be serious about this?’

‘And spend all of our time bemoaning our fate while being completely unable to do anything about it? No thanks! I’d rather waste my time doing something I actually like.’

This came from the grey mouse that the rat had first addressed.

‘Oh, and don’t call me Vinnie. Makes me feel… Italian.’

At that the second rat, seated next to Timbers, managed to spray the liquid he had been drinking all over his own light-grey fur and tunic, hitting his neighbor with droplets as well.


‘Now see what you’ve done,’ intoned the second male mouse, a leathery, tan-colored one, ‘You made Cedric explode.’

 That caused a round of giggles from the group, with the exception of Timbers who folded his arms across his chest and sulked.

‘Oh come on,’ said the mouse addressed as ‘Vinnie’, ‘You keep sulking like that and you’ll really wind up depressed.’

‘Then Dr. Vincent will have to give you therapy,’ the female said as she squeezed her neighbor’s shoulder.

‘Heaven help us!’

At that the grey mouse turned more serious as he addressed Timbers.

‘I know you’re upset. How do you think I feel? It’s not like we haven’t all tried.’

‘And,’ Cedric pointed out as wiped his muzzle with a napkin, ‘Vincent has been censured even more than you, so you can’t say he doesn’t try.’

Timbers rolled his eyes.

‘Yet here you are, making stupid jokes about it.’

Vincent shrugged. He looked to be of early middle age, a set of glasses perched on his nose and comically bushy cheek fur giving him a youthful, impish appearance. He stabbed one of the lauded cranberry muffins on a fork and held it aloft for everyone to see.

‘I choose to see the good things in my life, like this muffin, rather than focus on the sad things I have no power to change.’

‘So that’s your solution?’ Timbers sneered, ‘To drown yourself in muffins?’

The female perked up.

‘Now that would be sad. My brother killed by a muffing avalanche.’

‘There goes my new brother-in-law,’ the second male mouse sighed theatrically, ‘another victim of the muffin menace.’

Vincent pointed the forked muffin at him.

‘Never underestimate the power of the muffin, Anthony, or it may get you as well.’

Even Timbers had to chuckle now.

‘I shall resist with every fiber of my being. No pastry shall undo me.’

The muffin swung towards Timbers and Vincent’s eyes opened in mock evil.

‘Beware, young Timbers,’ the mouse intoned in a perfect evil-overlord impression, ‘the powers of pastry are not to be denied!’

The rat’s eyes narrowed.

‘I dare the wrath of the muffin!’

Without a word, Vincent flicked the fork forward, propelling the sweet treat like a catapult.

All eyes were on the muffin as it hurtled towards Timbers face. As it hit, the rat fell backwards with a screech and disappeared. Cedric and the mice looked at the spot occupied moments before by Timbers expectantly. From underneath the table horrible gagging and choking sounds emerged, followed by hideous groaning.

Cedric peered downwards and then back at the mice.

‘Oh, this is ugly.’

Suddenly, one of Timber’s paws grasped the table like a drowning man hanging on to a life raft, pulling himself up, gasping for air. When his head finally rose above the table Timbers’ expression was one of faked agony.

‘The horror,’ he gasped.

‘The crumbs,’ the female mouse noticed.

Taken aback the rat looked down on his shirt where a sizable amount of muffin remnants had indeed accumulated.

‘I bear the blood of my assailant as the trophy of my valiant struggle.’

‘Timbers one, muffin zero,’ Cedric sniggered.

‘There goes your breakfast, Vince,’ Anthony remarked.

Vincent grins, ‘Gone to a good cause.’

To underline that statement Timbers hid a burp behind a hand.

‘Uh… hello?’

All five rodents turned at the unexpected interruption.  Timbers hastily brushed the crumbs off his shirt and the others all attempted to look as if they had not just been goofing around like a bunch of children as Cynthia addressed them shyly.

‘Is there some room here?’

The three mice and two rats exchanged glances and then Timbers and Vincent managed to speak up simultaneously, which turned their statements into a garbled mess.

‘Sure, why…’

‘… kind of private…’

‘… nothing important…’

‘… don’t know…’

‘… take a seat.’

Not really caring what the two rodents were saying Timothy and Cynthia took seats facing each other, Timothy next to Anthony and Cynthia across from him, next to Cedric. Vincent and Timbers, who had both gotten up during their attempt at answering managed to glower at each other as they seated themselves again. Thankfully, the female mouse leaned over to shake Cynthia’s hand.

‘I’m Alexandria, well, Alex.’

Cynthia took the offered hand with a bright smile.

‘Cynthia. Pleasure to meet you.’ She nodded towards her brother, ‘That’s my brother Timothy.’

Anthony shook his hand in turn while Cedric gave him a grin and a two-fingered salute.

‘Sorry to barge into your conversation like that,’ Timothy apologized. ‘Cyn has a tendency to go wherever she wants to, no matter what.’

That gave Vincent a chuckle.

‘No problem. We weren’t discussing anything world-shattering.’

‘Says you,’ griped Timbers.

‘Don’t listen to them,’ Alex sniggered, ‘they can’t help messing with each others’ heads.’

‘Comes from being shrinks,’ Cedric mused with a sly smile.

Anthony raised both hands, ‘Don’t look at me, Cedric. I kept out of it. I’m Anthony, by the way.’

‘Cedric. And that loud fellow is Timbers.’

Timbers pointed a thumb at Vincent.

‘Vincent’s the shrink, not me.’

‘Oh woe is me,’ wailed the grey mouse wailed theatrically, ‘I always get blamed for everything!’

Alex leaned towards the other female mouse again and sighed.

‘See what I have to live with? You can’t choose your siblings, right?’

‘Oh so true!’ Timothy agreed, which caused both Cedric and Anthony to guffaw.

But Cynthia’s curiosity had been perked.

‘What’s a shrink?’

Finally looking more serious Vincent waved a hand.

‘I’m a psychotherapist, same as Anthony.’

The addressed mouse, who had just taken another bite of breakfast, raised a finger and muttered through his full mouth.

‘Studying to be. Vince’s the one already working the job.’

‘Oh,’ Timothy turned to his neighbor, ‘you deal with people with mental illness?’

Timbers laughed, ‘Yeah, and they are teachers too. First they mess them up, and then they try to fix them again.’

For the first time Vincent gave his opposition a truly angry look and the rat actually backed off.

‘Just a joke, okay?’

‘Are there lots of people in here who need this sort of thing?’ wondered Cynthia.

Vincent cocked a curious brow at that.

‘Are you new in here or something?’

‘Come to think of it,’ Cedric added, ‘I don’t recall ever seeing the two of you.’

That took the female mouse aback. Cynthia still did not feel it was safe to divulge their heritage and the sudden turn in the conversation stopped her short.

‘Actually,’ Timothy interceded, ‘we are kind of new. We came from the Fitzgibbon Farm.’

That, to Cynthia’s relief, was not even a lie. She had the feeling that despite their jovialities the therapist mice might be able to catch them should they try to actually lie to them.

‘No way!’ Timbers almost stood up in excitement, ‘You were part of the group that came in, what was it, a week ago? That is so cool!’

Alex nodded agreement, ‘We’ve only seen a few of the people that came in, that big cat for example.’

‘Dragon,’ Vincent offered with a roll of his eyes.

Timbers, always ready to needle the mouse, looked suspiciously at him.

‘Sounds like Vinnie here might have had a run-in with said cat, right?’

Now the bespectacled mouse looked almost panicked, as if caught.

‘No I didn’t!’

‘Let me guess,’ the sly rat crooned, ‘you got to do that monster’s psychological evaluation, didn’t you?’

‘Give it a rest, Timbers.’ Anthony sighed, ‘You know we can’t say anything about patients.’

‘How do you two like it here so far?’ the female mouse tried to steer the conversation back to the new arrivals.

‘It’s… different.’ Cynthia offered.

‘It’s awesome.’ Timothy opined.

Cedric nodded in understanding, ‘Different from living in the wild, I bet. Nobody hunting you here, free food and all.’

‘The golden cage.’ Timbers sneered.

Both Brisby children shared a confused expression at that statement. Adding to that was a look of clear but silent discomfort on the faces of the other rodents.

‘Oh come on!’ Timbers exclaimed. ‘That’s what we’ve been discussing all morning.’

‘What does he mean?’ Cynthia was almost afraid to ask. The mentioning of a cage clearly disturbed her.

‘Well,’ Vincent offered, ‘we were talking about some of the problems…’

‘Lies and broken promises’ interjected Timbers again.

‘… and that too,’ agreed the mouse opposite from him reluctantly. ‘We have been looking back at how we haven’t been able to really do what we dreamed we would.’

‘The things we were promised we would get to do.’

Again, nobody contradicted the agitated rat and the remainder of the group appeared to try to avoid looking directly at the Brisby siblings.

Timothy looked directly at Timbers with grave features.

‘What do you mean?’

‘What I mean, my new friend,’ the rat leaned forwards conspiratorially, ‘is that you better  not believe everything your told in this place.’

That just added more confusion to Timothy’s face.

‘Take Vinnie here,’ Timbers pointed.

‘Good grief,’ the mouse sighed, ‘Here he goes again.’

Not caring about the mouse’s remark the rat continued talking to the new mice.

‘Spent almost two years studying to be a marine biologist. They promised him he would be able to study and research out in the wild, make contact with ocean animals that might join our cause, that sort of thing. Guess what, it was all bogus.’

Both Brisby mice turned to Vincent, who shrugged.

‘Guilty, I guess.’

‘And not just him,’ Timbers continued, ‘I focused on forestry and conservation. What do I get to do now? Just teach the stuff to other youngsters and fill their heads with dreams of freedom that never come true.’

‘It may still happen, you know,’ Cedric offered.

‘Oh come off it! Vincent had to learn a whole new job or he would be stuck teaching in here forever.’

‘They don’t let you out?’ Cynthia ventured.

‘Bingo, cutie!’

‘Just wait a moment,’ Timothy waved at the agitated rat, ‘Are you telling me that none of you can get out?’

It was Alex who answered.

‘Not really.’

‘Hah! Unless you’re one of the bigwigs you ain’t ever seeing daylight again.’

That last outburst deflated Timbers and he slumped in his chair, apparently done with his diatribe.

‘They say it’s for the safety of us all, and only temporary.’ Vincent mused.

Anthony added sourly, ‘which they have been saying for two years now. I don’t see it happening. They like it this way; makes us easier to control.’

‘Who?’ Timothy wondered.

‘Jenner and his ilk, of course,’ Alexandria now added with uncharacteristic venom.

‘You forget where their orders come from,’ Timbers muttered from his slump.

‘In the end, it’s always Brisby, our beloved leader, who makes the decisions in here.’

Timothy and Cynthia exchanged worried glances. Somehow, their appetites seemed to have deserted them fully. As they looked at their trays and picked up their utensils they had the sinking feeling that no matter how delicious the muffins might be, they would not be able to enjoy them.

* * *

Elizabeth assumed the meeting had gone well.

Justin had managed to remain composed when the helmet had closed itself around his head. But when the stone on the suit and the gems in the circular struts had activated he had paniced. Weightless might have been what caused it, but somehow Mrs. Brisby doubted it.

As soon as the strange machines had initiated lights on the chamber containing the human remote for Justin had flashed and the shape inside had begun flaying around, just as the real Justin had been doing suspended in midair. Brutus and she had been uncertain where to look, at Justin’s body or the monitor screens. It had taken all of Stella’s strength to keep Brutus from charging straight at his floating friend. Luckily, the human versions of Jonathan and Jenner, who had donned bathrobes, had been waiting close to the now activated chamber and had released the captive form as quickly as possible.

From that moment on Elizabeth and Brutus had been riveted by the monitor displays. Holding the gasping human shape steady, the other two remote bodies had wrapped the newly emerged one in another robe. It had taken surprisingly little time for Justin’s remote to calm down and, after a few unbalanced steps, become steady on its feet. There was no sound to the transmission but the human versions of Jonathan and Jenner had talked to Justin and then pointed at the camera in the room. Justin’s human remote had looked up at the screen then and, still coughing a bit, had given the audience an “OK” sign.

The remote Jonathan had steadied Justin in his unaccustomed form while Jenner had grabbed a second robe and stepped towards the chamber containing Julia’s human counterpart. Moments later, as Julia had activated her own suit, the chamber opened and released the female human body from its containment. With apparent practice, the human version of Julia had donned her offered robe and immediately stepped towards the still wobbly shape of Justin’s borrowed body. It had been odd to see the four humans on the screen. While their shapes had been alien to Elizabeth they also had shown an undeniable familiarity. There had been no doubt that these truly were Jonathan, Justin, Julia, and Jenner. Somehow, even in the guise of a different species, their essence had shown through.

The four had exited to an adjoining room, captured on a different monitor. It had been a sort of communal showering room, where Jenner and her husband immediately began rinsing their borrowed bodies from whatever nutrient fluids had maintained them in their chambers. There Julia had aided Justin in the same process and then instructed him in how to dress his human form in clothes that had been laid out neatly on a table. Within twenty minutes all four bodies had been clothed in professional human attire and meticulously groomed features.

Jonathan’s remote had been dressed in a black suit and tie, with a tie-pin that looked remarkably like the green stone he had been wearing on his true self. Jenner’s attire had been a cold grey, with an added earpiece that must have been a microphone of sorts. Julia had dressed in a crème-colored business jacket over a skirt of the same coloration and Justin had sported a more leisurely, but even more expensive looking navy-blue jacket and pants, complemented with a silk shirt, no tie.

Jenner’s voice had come over a speaker into the laboratory as soon as his human version touched its earpiece, telling the monitoring scientist that they were ready to go.

Then the quartet had moved along a lushly appointed corridor to the conference room that at that point had been filled with over twenty serious-looking humans. Said humans had broken out in greetings and smiles as the group had entered, Jonathan-the-human shaking hands gingerly with various men and women. Jenner’s body had remained distant, but Julia took pains to introduce a still awkward looking human Justin to the assembled crowd.

‘Is there any way we can hear what they’re saying?’

‘I’m sorry, ma’am,’ Dr. Hendricks had answered, ‘we have been having problems with the microphones all week. That’s why we gave Mr. Fray the earpiece.’

From there the meeting had followed some sort of predetermined format. Julia had shown Justin his seat and taken one next to him while Jonathan’s avatar had seated himself at the head of the table, Jenner standing to his right. What had followed then had been an exhaustingly tedious exchange of information. Mrs. Brisby followed the mute shapes of the human remote of her husband apparently talking to the assembled humans, answering questions, referring some to Jenner and Julia, and so forth. At some point he had engaged Justin’s human shape in the conversation. Somehow the look of discomfort on his human remote had worked to his favor. When Justin had talked the assembled crowd had responded with smiles and nods. Before long he seemed to have gained his confidence and had answered questions with a calm demeanor.

The whole procedure had taken almost an hour. Then, the four had been the first to excuse themselves to leave the true humans to remark amongst themselves. The four remotes had returned to the shower room, undressed and then, in the bathrobes, returned to the holding chambers in the first room they had observed. They had placed Justin’s human body in its receptacle first and then entered their own. Simultaneously the chambers had closed and their true bodies, still within their enclosing suits, lowered themselves onto the platforms again. Two gerbil orderlies had been standing ready at Justin’s side when his body slumped to the floor. Jonathan and the others, having been accustomed to this procedure, had not required assistance and, as soon as they were standing, had activated the mechanism that had released their heads from the strange helmets.

Now, the four of them, still wearing the strange suits rejoined their waiting friends. Justin stood on shaky feet, Julia supporting him by his arm. He shook his head as if clearing out cobwebs from his brain and smiled weakly at Brutus and Elizabeth.

‘If you ever get a chance to try this, just say “no”.’

Jonathan slapped his back jovially.

‘It wasn’t that bad. You did great. Jenner threw up the first time he came back out from using his remote.’

That and the sour expression on Jenner’s face at the comment seemed to lighten the mood somewhat.

‘So,’ Jonathan rubbed his hands, ‘how about we all clean up and then tackle the rest of the day?’

‘Jonathan,’ Elizabeth intoned worriedly, ‘just what was this meeting with the humans all about?’

Rather than answering her he winked at Justin.

‘You tell her, buddy.’

The brown rat gave a somewhat bemused smile.

‘It seems,’ he ventured, ‘that we have just bought Thorn Valley.’

Chapter 15: The Doubts

‘How can we,’ Elizabeth corrected herself, ‘I mean they, buy Thorn Valley? It’s a nature preserve, isn’t it; land that belongs to the country, or something?’

It was Jenner who replied as the group, all cleaned from some convenient shower rooms in the laboratory, made their way from the deep recesses of the facility to the main elevator shaft.

‘It seems humans will sell anything, if the price is right.

The sarcastic tone was more like the Jenner they had all known in times past.

‘There was more to it, but I’d be lying if I said I understood it all.’

Justin still appeared to be struggling a bit in regaining his composure from his body-borrowing experience.

‘Actually,’ Jonathan explained, ‘it’s relatively simple. The human government has money problems.’

‘Very bad money problems.’ Julia nodded.

‘Yes, and we offered to buy certain portions of Federal Reserve land for a rather large sum of their money.’

Jenner chuckled, ‘Their expression when they heard our first offer would have been worth the amount all by itself.’

‘Anyway, they did not want to let the land go without some strict regulations.’

Mrs. Brisby eyed her husband cautiously.

‘Like what?’

‘We stated that we needed the land to test some of our genetically engineered crops, far away from human habitation, so we offered to buy a large area around our test site that would remain untouched.’ Julia expounded.

Jonathan nodded in agreement.

‘The humans still want to regulate and check on our site and that nothing bad gets into the natural environment, but we have that covered as well.’

‘Are you going to plant these new crops?’

That elicited a chuckle from the grey mouse.

‘Of course we are. It will keep prying eyes away from the Valley itself. Thorn Valley is only a tiny portion of the land we have purchased. And the crops will do wonders for solving the humans’ need for food. Everybody wins.’

‘Why would you help humans with their problems?’

Elizabeth jerked in fear as Jenner, who pretended not to notice, put a huge hand on one of her shoulders from behind.

‘Dear Mrs. Brisby, if we solve their problems, they may have less reasons to fear us. After all, if we are the ones they buy their new food from that gives us a degree of… power over them.’

That made Justin shudder.

‘Even more power? That just might scare them even more.’

‘But they think we are just another human company,’ Julia tried to soothe his concerns.

‘And the main point is we will own Thorn Valley, we will be in charge of our own home.’

The brown mouse pulled away from Jenner and closer to her husband in response to the statement.

‘So we will all live there? Will there be enough room?’

Julia, with a cheerful note in her voice, called out.

‘We have everything planned out perfectly. We have vehicles ready that will serve as full-functioning homes until we have built the permanent residences, not mention all the equipment we are bringing along.’

‘What kinds of equipment?’ Justin wondered.

The white rat counted on her fingers.

‘Power generators, seeds, computer cores, construction equipment, you name it.’

From behind them Jenner’s dark chuckle still managed to chill Mrs. Brisby to the bone.

‘And all of it without any human ever being the wiser; makes Nicodemus’ old Plan look like a game of tiddlywinks.’

Neither Justin nor Elizabeth appreciated the derision of their deceased friend, but kept their peace as the group entered the elevator and rose to the higher levels of the building. Once aloft and looking over the immense vistas inside the structure the brown mouse sighed.

‘Just look at them,’ she said, waving  hand to the distant masses of animals visible through the elevator, going about their daily business in this strange place, ‘how will they all be able to live together?’

Jonathan kissed her playfully on the cheek.

‘They do in here. They’ll do it out there too, with the right kind of guidance.’

Somehow, that last statement left a bit of a sour taste in her mouth.

When they exited the elevator on the level where all their apartment units were located, they saw Timothy and Cynthia walking towards them, waving. Both where smiling, but looked somewhat subdued. Before Elizabeth could voice her concern her husband, his face full of worry, walked up to their children and hugged them.

‘Are you kids okay?’

‘We’re fine… Dad.’ It still felt strange to Cynthia to use that word again.

‘We had breakfast. The food was very good.’

‘The conversation could have been better though,’ Timothy grumbled.

Their mother drew closer and held her son’s shoulders.

‘What happened, Timmy?’

‘Nothing. It’s okay, Mom.’

‘Yeah,’ Cynthia added, ‘we just listened to a bunch of people griping. That’s always good for making a meal enjoyable.’

‘I’m sorry,’ their father said earnestly, ‘maybe we should have woken you up after all. That way we could have had breakfast together.’

Timothy’s stomach grumbled.

‘Actually,’ the young mouse said in response to his gastric gurgling, ‘we didn’t even eat very much.’

Cynthia nodded, ‘The conversation was so awkward; we just wanted to leave.’

‘How about this,’ Jonathan offered to the group, ‘Jenner and I’ll check in at the office really quick, everyone else can freshen up a bit, and then we all have lunch together?’

There were nods and agreement all around. Jonathan gave his wife a quick hug and another peck on the cheek and then he and Jenner made to depart.

‘We’ll be back in no later than half an hour.’

Then, the two groups parted ways, Jonathan and the security chief boarding the elevator again and the others heading for their lodgings.

As the elevator cabin rose towards the Directorial Office the grey mouse looked down at the receding image of his family walking to their current dwelling. Jenner stood quietly at attention behind him, waiting.

‘Have ALIS go through the security recordings. I want to know who my children were talking to and what was being said.’

The rat nodded quietly; then cleared his throat.

‘Something else, Jenner?’

‘I don’t think bringing them here now was the best idea.’


An almost sinister smile spread over the mouse’s face as he continued staring down the distant central shaft.

‘And why would that be?’

‘With all due respect, can we afford the distraction now, with everything gearing up for the move?’

‘You think I am being distracted by my family?’

There was a twinge of venom in Jonathan’s otherwise cheerful voice now. Jenner nervously fingered his collar as if feeling stifled.

‘Well, you would have seen them again in any case after the move. Why bring them here beforehand?’

The green Stone around the mouse’s chest pulsed, a small luminance which seemed to be mirrored in his eyes.

‘Let me makes this clear to you, Jenner. Everything is going according to plan, every single detail. Do not question my decisions. Do you understand?’

The coldness in the formerly warm voice caused the rat to take a step backwards in the now crowded elevator car.


‘I was the one who gave you this chance at redemption, Jenner. Do not force me to take it away from you again.’

Now there was visible perspiration on Jenner’s face and the hand that had been fingering the collar was now massaging his throat as if to rub away a constricting lump. He could see Jonathan’s features reflected in the glass wall of the cabin. The eyes had become pools of green light and the features held nothing of the warmth that was so natural to Jonathan Brisby. It was probably a distortion in the surface, but for a moment Jenner felt as if someone, or something, completely alien shared the elevator with him.

‘No,’ he almost stammered, ‘of course not. You know best, Jonathan.’

Thankfully, that was the point when the elevator had reached the top floor. As the doors opened at their back the mouse turned around and, to Jenner’s great relief, the face that looked back at him was that of Jonathan Brisby once more, smiling amicably.

‘You need to learn to relax more, Jenner.’ The mouse said as he patted the much larger rodent’s arm in passing.

‘Worrying about things can be the death of you, you know?’

Lunch at the Heavenview Café was definitely different.

Timothy assumed being the director of the facility had to come with certain perks, and the dining arrangements that had awaited them were ample proof. A whole section of the spacious establishment had been cordoned off using portable planters and screens, which kept any other diners not only out of sight, but managed to muffle any intruding noise as well. If Cynthia had not known better, she would have assumed the rest of the cafeteria was entirely devoid of patrons.

The meals were being served by an incredibly attentive, but reserved staff of white-furred rats so large that Brutus must have felt right at home. Each wore a simple grey uniform with an apron over it and their military bearing showed that these were the same kind of rodent they had encountered during their attempted flight from the laboratory. To see them now without their peculiar armor, taking their orders, serving food and drinks, made the entire experience a little ironic.

Never having dealt with the concept of a menu, the Thorn Valley refugees picked their food by whatever names sounded the nicest rather than any actual knowledge of what the described dishes might look like. Luckily, none of the items brought by the server rats proved to be less than delicious. The meal itself proved warm and familiar, as if the rodents sharing it had been a joined group of friends for a long time. That struck Mrs. Brisby as odd, but she refused to let it dampen her good cheer. Only Jenner appeared somewhat subdued and cast worried glances over to her husband from time to time. Had he been glowering at them Elizabeth might have been less off-put by the large rat’s behavior, but the furtiveness in Jenner’s gaze chilled her. Side glances to her children confirmed that they were picking up on it as well.

Julia and Justin, by contrast, were clearly developing a romantic relationship, which Justin seemed to be more intent on downplaying than the rat scientist was. Brutus and Stella, maybe thanks to their mutual inability for speech, were less expressive about what clearly had grown beyond a fond attachment between them. The massive guard was as expressionless as always, but stayed close and watchful of the much shorter Stella, preferably when she was not looking at him. The wiry female, in turn, kept darting her intense gaze from one member of the group to the other, as if following the ebb and flow of the conversation as if it was a tennis match. Yet at the same time, without looking, she would hand Brutus items the big rat was unable to locate or did not recognize immediately amongst the various culinary implements and condiments. Watching the two mute rats in their almost subconscious interplay helped to distract Mrs. Brisby from the brooding shape of Jenner.

‘So,’ Justin muttered between two bites from a fresh-baked roll, ‘what’s next on the to-do list for that move to Thorn Valley, Jonathan?’

‘Later, early in the evening,’ the mouse replied while passing a sauce dispenser down the table, ‘we were planning to have a Convocation to formally introduce you all to the residents.’

 ‘Like a Council Meeting?’ Timothy wondered.

‘A little bit,’ his father nodded, stabbing a reluctant pea with his fork, ‘but it’s not just for a selected few people. Everybody in here can attend.’

Cynthia, wiping up gravy from her plate with a piece of bread, mused, ‘That’s going to be a lot of people, right?’

Julia pointed a fork to the wall behind her.

‘We have a large meeting place in the other corridor, the top part of the atrium hall. The whole ceiling is glass. It’s really nice. We use it about every month or more.’

Justin was intrigued.

‘You have lots of these Convocations then?’

Jonathan, his mouth full, nodded vigorously and then swallowed.

‘Of course. We gave to let everybody know what we’re planning on doing. Nobody gets left out of running this place. That’s how we make it work.’

That made the brown rat nod solemnly. Justin had never been able to manage large assemblages of people to form a democratic quorum. He had always thought that with too many people consensus or any kind of orderly meeting would become impractical. He was looking forward to seeing how the animals here had worked around that.

‘We won’t have to speak, do we? I mean, in front of all these people?’

Elizabeth was no coward, but public speaking and being the center of attention were two things that did not mesh well with her unassuming personality. Jonathan leaned over and kissed her cheek.

‘We’ll keep it very simple. Some introductions and that’s it.’

‘Oh darn!’ Cynthia complained mockingly, ‘And here I was hoping Timmy could do that singing act of his. You know, the one he does on the top of his lungs in the showers when he thinks nobody can hear him?’


‘Hey, I didn’t say it was a bad act, did I?’

That made Brutus cough with suppressed laughter and only a quickly offered extra napkin by Stella allowed him to contain both his mirth and food. Julia could not help but chuckle at that as well. She was really beginning to like this family.

‘Just act natural and everything will be alright.’

‘Exactly,’ Jonathan added, ‘there is no need to worry. Everything’s perfectly under control.’

The meeting hall was filling up.

When Julia had mentioned that there would be enough room she actually understated the fact. Mrs. Brisby watched down the length of one of the deep chasms that made up one of the four intersecting atrial corridors of the building. She could hardly make out the shapes of the animals filling up the balconies at the far end. As the rat scientist had said the meeting space had been converted from the basic shape of the vast atrium. Along four stories the usual walkways and access bridges to apartments and other rooms had been replaced with large galleries that lined the walls like the tiers of an immense stadium. The seats themselves had been arranged to allow enough room for any of the many types of animals in this place, while at the same allowing different species to comingle, rather than being segregated.

Elizabeth felt uncomfortably exposed. Jonathan had brought them to this central platform, which was suspended by cables from the distant walls and slightly removed from the central column of the structure. It was at the very center of this very stadium-like arrangement. Another elevator and a narrow bridge had allowed them access, together with a few uniformed but unarmed sentry rats. She and the others had been surprised to see that part of the suspended platform was already occupied. Seated in two semicircular arrangements was a small number of assorted animals, all wearing simple, but stylish grey robes made from some shimmering material.

‘Our quire,’ Julia had explained.

That statement had actually explained nothing.

Why would a gathering like this have a quire?

Then again, Mrs. Brisby ventured that this Convocation might be very different from the Council and Chamber Meetings she was accustomed to. There definitely appeared to be a lot of pomp and circumstance.

As large as the platform was, none of the Thorn Valley residents believed that the ones seated in the distant stadium seats would be able to see them, which was somewhat of a relief. Justin, usually comfortable speaking in front of a full Council, kept fidgeting with the collar of his tunic. Brutus’ eyes were huge in their astonishment and Mrs. Brisby would have gladly run right back to their apartment quarters. Even with everything they had seen thus far they never imagined there being so many animals living here.

‘There’s the doc!’ Timothy pointed to a far-away gallery to the right where the distinctly humongous shape of the simian was seating himself oddly between what looked like a group of rats and gerbils.

‘You don’t happen to see any of the ones we met in the cafeteria this morning?’ Cynthia asked him.

‘Are you kidding? In this crowd I wouldn’t be able to tell if they sat on the seats closest to us. Why?’

The young female hugged herself a bit.

‘I don’t know. Just a weird feeling that they aren’t here anymore.’

Timothy cocked his head.

‘What do you mean, not here anymore?’

She shook her head.

‘Never mind. How long until this is going to start?’

Jonathan, at whom that last comment was addressed, smiled.

‘It takes a while for everyone to get seated. Why don’t you all take some seats over here with me?’

He indicated that they should follow him to a small half-circle of rodent-sized chairs behind a raised speaker’s podium at the very center of the platform. The seats had been chosen with care to accommodate the various different sizes of the rodents in their group and Elizabeth could not help but smile inwardly at how Justin’s seat had been placed next to one clearly meant for Julia, while Brutus’ somewhat larger chair was adjacent to one fitted to his new companion’s size. The very center of the row of seats was for four mice-sized occupants, their own family.

‘Look at the size of those monitors!’

While he had been sitting down, Timothy had found the time to look upwards and noticed  a number of truly immense monitor screens suspended from the ceiling just above the gallery rows along the walls. Each faced the opposing rows of occupants.

‘Without them most people in here would not be able to see us,’ Julia explained.

‘So we will be on cam…’

Justin’s remark was shut off by a sudden bright light, forcing him to shield his eyes for a moment. The rest of the first-time participants among the group reacted similarly as the lights in walls and ceilings began to focus on the central platform.


Cynthia’s gasp was appropriate.

Once everyone’s eyes had adjusted to the new light levels they were able to see that all the monitor walls had come alight, showing an incredibly detailed image of the central platform to the entire audience. Timothy had to look from the screens back to his family in awe.

‘The picture is amazing. I can’t see any cameras at all.’

‘Oh they are there, son.’

 Hidden cameras were secreted all around the facility, Mrs. Brisby’s memory echoed. Once more, a seemingly innocent statement made by her husband sent a quick shiver down the mouse’s spine. What was wrong with her? The love of her life had come back from death. Yet every now and then Jonathan’s words seemed to touch a raw nerve. She could not remember ever having felt happier, if only that occasional haunting sensation would not creep over her.

Thankfully, the cheering from the assembled crowd distracted her away from her misgivings. From the screens they could tell that the unseen cameras were now focused on them, with Jonathan and Elizabeth in the center. An even louder cheer went up from the audience when Jonathan gently squeezed his wife’s hand and said.

‘It’s Showtime.’

Waving casually at the assembled masses the grey mouse got up from his chair and walked to the podium. Julia and Jenner raised themselves as well from their seats, located t each far end of the row of chairs, to stand at the Director’s side. Jonathan struck a fascinating figure, his black vest and the large green Stone giving him a subdued and regal bearing all at the same time.

The crowd loved it. Cheers and whistles could be heard over the din of clapped hands.

‘Quite an ovation!’

Timothy almost yelled into Justin’s ear. The rat nodded and cupped his hands before replying on the top of his lungs,

‘Beats the old Council Meetings, for sure.’

Cynthia and her mother were less enthusiastic. To them the ecstatic reception felt almost maniacal and they huddled in their chairs.

At the podium Jonathan raised both hands to get the audience to quiet down.

‘Settle down, everyone. We don’t want to be here all night, right?’

That elicited an approving round of chuckles from the masses. Jonathan knew how to work a crowd. Some hidden microphones in the podium had to be enhancing his speech. It appeared everyone in the immense assembly heard him perfectly. Once things had settled to more bearable noise level the Director put both hands to the side of the podium, an endearing smile towards his people and the cameras.

‘I’m not going to beat about the bush here. I know a couple of you didn’t believe me when I told you that we would be moving by the end of this week.’

 The murmuring disapproval rose from the tiers like a dark rumble. Jonathan Brisby, diminutive in his black uniform raised his arms once more, this time apologetically.

‘A lot of you have been disappointed before. I take responsibility for that. You have every right to be wondering,’ he leaned forward with a playfully conspiratorial wink, ‘’is he going to call it off again? Is this another empty promise?’’

Disapproval morphed into uneasiness. Despite their distance Cynthia could almost feel members of the audience shifting uncomfortably in their chairs. She was reminded of the conversation she and Timothy had joined the same morning, the disappointments the rats and mice had expressed with her father so openly. Here, Jonathan was pointedly addressing that very concern. And from the crowd’s responds both she and her brother could tell that many in the audience, despite their cheering, harbored misgivings.

Before the tide of unease could grow into something more malignant the Director clapped his hands together and rubbed them as if in anticipation.

 ‘This time, we are finally ready.’

That caused an unexpected hush. Hundreds of heads, maybe thousands, leaned forward expectantly.

‘Tomorrow night,’ Jonathan paused and inhaled, ‘we move to freedom. We move to Thorn Valley.’

 The cheering and applause felt like an acoustic bomb, buffeting everyone on the platform. Mrs. Brisby held her hands to her ears and winced. Around her the others were doing likewise. Even Brutus shut his eyes in order to shift his attention away from the noise. Only Jenner, Julia, and her husband looked unaffected by the cacophony, gazing at the exuberant multitude with satisfaction.

After giving the crowd its moment of exultation Jonathan raised his arms once more in a quieting gesture. Again, the audience settled, this time with an undertone of barely concealed joy and relief.

‘One of the reasons we have not been able to move until now is that we needed to make contact with the current residents of Thorn Valley. We could not just show up there unannounced.’

Jonathan took on his jovial tone again as he leaned against the podium.

‘Hello, there are a couple of hundreds of us who want to move into your home, right this very second.’

He winked at the crowd.

‘Sounds just a tiny bit rude, doesn’t it?’

Another round of chuckles and sniggers wafted across the hall.

‘He’s really selling this,’ Justin mused at Timothy, who at this point was following his father’s speech in rapt attention.

Jonathan straightened up again.

‘As a result, I would like you to welcome a good friend of mine, who has travelled all the way from Thorn Valley to be here tonight. Please welcome, a dear friend, original survivor of NIMH, and elected leader and representative of the Colony of Thorn Valley…’

The mouse turned on the podium and gestured with a smile to the mice and rats seated behind him.

‘… Justin.’

The applause roared through the vaulted auditorium. Justin felt as if his body was raising itself from his chair without his conscious control as he stepped towards his resurrected friend. He could not decide whether the numbness he felt originated from this overwhelming reception or something else. He only hoped he would not make a fool of himself in front of all these people.

Jonathan continued to wave him forwards, grinning broadly. Jenner, whose place to the right of the podium he was supposed to take, stepped away with a wry smile of his own, clapping his hands. It was obvious he relished his old nemesis’ feelings of awkwardness. The last thought Justin felt clearly in his mind just before he reached the podium was that he was so glad he was not wearing his awful Council robes.

The rat felt the Director’s hand on his shoulder as he addressed the audience once more. The podium added just enough height to the mouse for both their heads to be almost level.

‘It took us a long time to get him here, but he’s here. How about you give him just one more welcome?’

A second barrage of applause, this time topped off with cheers and whistles racketed Justin’s mind. He blinked hard, not even realizing that Jonathan had taken the opportunity to step down from his podium and gently maneuvered him to take his place. Only when Justin felt the surface of the podium underneath his own two hands did his situation come into focus again. He was now the center of the rapt crowd. Uncounted eyes stared at him in hushed expectation. The brown rat looked over the distant rows of spectators, many so far away he could hardly distinguish them. Then, thankfully, his leadership skills asserted themselves. He inspected the podium and gently tapped the top until he heard a resounding knock coming from the numerous speakers throughout the assembly hall.

‘Just checking if this thing works,’ he said a bit bashfully.

The crowd rewarded him with a round of chuckles.

Justin put his hands to the sides of the podium and tapped his fingers as he let his head roam around the numberless faces in the audience.

‘Well, thank you for having me and my friends here as your guests. This place is really something. It’s really…’

He pursed his lips in trying to find the right words, and finally leaned forward with a questioning expression.


The chuckles were replaced with appreciative laughter.

‘You go, Justin,’ Timothy murmured grinning.

Justin coughed.

‘I don’t really know what to else say. I suppose Jonathan has your move all set up.’

He peered down at the mouse.

‘At least you better have. Sleeping out in the woods is only fun for a night or two.’

Jonathan shrugged and gave the rat a thumbs-up. That got rewarded with more laughter. Looking back to the crowd Justin smiled warmly, all shyness gone.

‘Some of our people are going to be pretty surprised, though.’

A mischievous smile passed over the rat’s features.

‘But that’ll be good for them. I say, come on over. It sounds better than being cooped up in here forever.’

That produced another round of cheers, which Justin used as an opening to relinquish the podium and walk back to his seat. Julia gave him a tight hug and even Jenner nodded with an appreciative smile. Back in his chair he exhaled deeply while Timothy sniggered.

‘They were putty in your hands.’

‘Yeah, right!’

In the front Jonathan had resumed his position on the podium.

‘That’s Justin for you, a rat of many words.’

More chuckles.

Then the mouse’s face became serious.

‘There was a second reason for the delay, a deeply personal one; and I have to ask for your forgiveness in this matter. We have all worked hard to make this possible. Many of us sacrificed part of our personal lives to do so, to keep us safe and secure.’

There were quiet nods visible in the crowd, even at this distance and the audience’s excitement was hushed to a murmur as the Director continued.

‘I made a choice, a choice that caused the delay in our move and caused many of you unnecessary distress. And that choice was a selfish one.’

This was unexpected. The animals in attendance leaned forward in anticipation.

Jonathan swallowed hard.

‘For many years my own family, my wife and children, have thought me dead, and for the sake of keeping our security intact I could not contact them to tell them otherwise.’

Apparently, that was news to most in the audience as gasps and exclamations carried towards the platform.

The Director’s voice began to crack.

‘I promised myself, selfishly, that we would not move until I had the chance to let them know that I was alive.’

He turned around, eyes moist, and extended a hand towards Elizabeth. The monitors shifted towards the mouse family.

Nobody spoke.

With the cameras trained on Mrs. Brisby and her children it was all they could do to rise slowly and join Jonathan at the podium. There, he stepped off the pulpit and embraced his wife to the echoes of countless sniffs and sighs from the crowd. Teary eyed and sniffling himself Jonathan turned Elizabeth to face the audience, Timothy and Cynthia at their parent’s side.

‘My loving wife and two of my beautiful children.’ The mouse muttered tenderly.

The applause began with a single clap, but rose to an astonishing crescendo. There were no cheers, no whistles, just the boundless clapping of a tear-filled auditorium.

Jonathan kissed Elizabeth and embraced both his children in turn, holding them tight in a huddle as the applause washed over them like rain. As awkward as this moment was, their affection on display to the multitude, there was warmth there too. Then, after what felt like an eternity, Jonathan slowly detached and motioned them to retain their seats. Then he moved back up onto the podium and with a handkerchief cleaned his face and blew his nose before. He rested his hands on the podium for a few moments before speaking again.

 ‘Again, I hope you forgive my… selfishness.’

Nobody in the immense hall responded, none knew how.

‘We have all worked long and hard for this. Time and time again you were promised that we would leave soon. Last week I asked you to prepare yourselves to move. Now I ask you to spend tomorrow making your final preparations. We leave for our new home tomorrow night.’

That caused the audience to stir again. A great number of them had probably assumed another delay in their promised freedom and still needed to make last preparation. But all in all, the mood in the auditorium was changing from shared empathy to one of simmering anticipation. Even Cynthia and Timothy, who together with their mother had felt their eyes tear up moments before, was being buoyed up by it. All the misgivings from this morning’s interlude had been erased by their father’s tender acknowledgements and his pronouncement that the long-awaited freedom was finally going to be realized.

Jonathan’s arms again beckoned for silence.

‘Let us sing.’

Elizabeth’s ears cocked with curiosity, wiping away a final tear from her behind her glasses. This was a strange request. Why would Jonathan ask for singing?

In a bright clear voice, Julia, standing to the left of the podium, started to sing.

‘We were caged and without hope.
Humans held us in their yoke.
Then they changed who we are.
Yes they changed who we are.

Science was their throne.
When they changed our blood and bone.
When they made us to serve.
Yes they made us to serve.’

On cue the choir and the entire audience chimed in.

‘But we’ll escape and we will be free.
Make ourselves into what we can be.
We’ll fight for our freedom, fight for what’s right.
Now at the end we can finally see the light.’

Now Jonathan, his arms raised high as if in benediction, took his turn, his voice carrying farther than even this electronic amplification could account for.

‘We fought and we worked hard.
Everyone has done their part.
Now it’s time to be free.
Yes, it’s time to be free.

We all shall live in peace.
Strife and war will forever cease.
Fore we all live as one.
Yes we all live as one.’

His voice was gripping. Somehow the words went straight to the heart as Jonathan’s conviction radiated out with every verse. This time, the crowd was standing up, animals of all kinds raising their hands high in response as they called out again.

‘But we’ll escape and we will be free.
Make ourselves into what we must be.
We’ll fight for our freedom, fight for what’s right.
Now at the end we can finally see the light.’

The chorus was repeated, time and time again. Tears flowed freely from cheeks of all species.

Mrs. Brisby was surprised to see Timothy and Cynthia rise from their seats, hands raised up high, to join in the singing. Her surprise turned to concern when she noticed that Justin had done the same. But the final straw was when she realized both Stella and Brutus, mute since birth, had risen as well, arms held high, their mouths desperately and soundlessly mouthing the words of the refrain.

Something was wrong here.

As the chorus was repeated, over and over, Elizabeth felt its words ring through her own body like waves of power, encouraging her, no, insisting she stand up and join as well. The tender emotions she had experienced moments before faded in her awareness as if something else was pushing them from her consciousness. She shook her head. It felt as if there were cobwebs being woven in her mind.

Suddenly, a heat gushing forth from the very center of her being, a force bursting like water through a dam drove away the befuddling compulsion. The Stone at her chest burned brightly, pulsating with the beat of her own heart, steadying it, strengthening it. Her vision cleared. No, it not only cleared, it expanded. She looked at the standing, swaying crowd, her children and friends. And what she saw terrified her.

Every single member of the audience had a peculiar green glow in their eyes. The rows upon rows of spectators looked like an assemblage of green willow-the-wisps from this distance. More, with each line of the chorus a wave of green light, like rolling mist, spread outward from the center of the chamber; and at that center stood her husband with his arms raised high.

Mrs. Brisby thanked the heavens that she could only see Jonathan from behind, as wave after wave of sickening light cascaded from his erect shape to roll over each person in this vast chamber. Minutes before she had felt the blissful embrace of his love through her entire being, but now the mouse on the dais seemed utterly alien to her. She was certain that if he tuned and she would be able to look at his face now she would not be able to recognize the one she had shared her heart and soul with. She could feel her heart breaking now, not even understanding why. Somehow, this very moment, Jonathan was no longer here. She had to look away. It hurt too much.

But turning from him did not give her any reprieve. As she looked at Cynthia in mounting despair she realized that with each wave of luminance the peculiar green glow in her child’s eyes intensified. A look at Timothy confirmed the same horror. Her children were blindly smiling in a trance, body and arms swaying to the words that rolled through the air with the clouds of energy.

Elizabeth stood and grabbed one of Cynthia’s arms, leaning over her husband’s vacated chair. Immediately, the green light in her eyes winked out and her arms dropped to her side. The young female blinked in consternation, apparently unsure of where she was.  Not letting go of her Mrs. Brisby leaned as far back to her own seat as possible and managed to touch Timothy on the shoulder.

He had the same reaction as Cynthia. Shaking his head he looked in bewilderment at his mother and then in terror at the crowd. Elizabeth squeezed his shoulder to get his attention and once he had turned back to him she quietly shook her head and nodded her chin in the direction of the still entranced Justin. Understanding passed over Timothy’s face and he extended a hand to touch the rat’s side.

As before the effect was immediate. Justin almost slumped into his chair, ready to cry out. But the mouse managed to quickly move his hand over the rat’s mouth until he had regained his composure. At the other end of the seating row Cynthia had managed to follow suit and removed Brutus from his mental entrapment. The huge rat took less time to collect himself, probably driven by an innate instinct for danger, and immediately took a hold of Stella’s arm as well.

Now, the seated rodents all silently shared in the horror around them. As the Stone pulsed brightly, endowing each of them with the same sight it had given Elizabeth, they beheld the eerie spectacle in all its glory. None dared to speak. Whatever was happening here was wrong, so deeply wrong it defied explanation. Stella, the only one of the select freed from this enchantment, who had been part of such ceremonies before, looked particularly horrified, despite her face’s limited ability to express emotions. Brutus could only guess at the depth of the betrayal the lithe female must be feeling now, the disbelief. Jonathan, his back turned and apparently oblivious to his guests’ realization, was the fulcrum. Whatever spell was binding everyone around them had its origins in him. There was no doubt about that.

Inside Mrs. Brisby’s heart a terrible wound expanded with each passing moment and tears ran down her cheeks. All those subtle misgivings had taken shape. The blessing of Jonathan’s return, her love, was somehow tainted. Yes, this was Jonathan, she had no doubt of that, felt it in her soul. But there was something else too, something awful, something that, for the moment, had removed Jonathan from this world as surely as if had died again. Silently she prayed for this obscenity to end. The nightmare had to end.

Then, mercifully, the intensity of the waves cascading from the Director subsided. With it, the swaying singers began to quiet, the awful glow in their eyes receded, until finally, exhausted, but with eerie synchronicity, they slowly sank back into their chairs, exhausted. There were a few moments of silence. Apart from the group seated behind the pulpit nobody in assembly hall seemed to be aware of what had just transpired. Jonathan had lowered his arms and dabbed his nose with his handkerchief again before speaking.

‘We will meet again tomorrow evening, at the same time, before we depart. Please, all of you be ready to depart to your designated transports afterwards. It will be the last time we will get to have a Convocation here.’

Mrs. Brisby felt dazed.

As soon as the macabre sing-along had concluded she had been terrified that Jonathan, or more precisely the thing that had temporarily taken Jonathan’s place, would call on her for not having succumbed to whatever influence it had exerted over everyone else. She had been certain he, no, it would know. But when Jonathan, and it had been her Jonathan again, had left the podium and rejoined them he appeared to be as oblivious as his audience as to what had transpired. He had been honestly concerned about her haunted expression, apologizing for having put her in the spotlight like this. He had assumed that it had been the exposure to the masses that had caused her emotional strain. It had taken a tremendous effort for Elizabeth to hide the actual nature of her distress, the more so as she hated the idea of keeping secrets from her husband. Yet something deep inside her had told her not to reveal what she had witnessed.

Her children had been having similar difficulties, but had been able to avoid closer scrutiny since their father had been intent on apologizing to Elizabeth. Justin, it appeared, had been struggling with the same problem. Julia had been all excited after the Convocation’s conclusion and Mrs. Brisby could only guess at how difficult it had been for him to keep up a jovial façade and not to reveal what he had actually experienced.

Deep down Mrs. Brisby did not know what frightened her more, what she had seen or the possibility that even Jonathan might be completely unaware of whatever had taken control of him. When he excused himself to lock up his office Elizabeth and the kids had a few minutes to talk about what they had gone through.

‘He’s telling the truth,’ Cynthia had assured the rest of the family.

‘At least it feels that way.’

Timothy had not been relieved by that.

‘But what happened? What was that… light, or whatever it was? It was like everyone got brainwashed somehow.’

Then her son had made the one statement that Mrs. Brisby had feared.

‘We need to get out of here.’

‘We’ve got to help Dad and the others!’

Cynthia had interjected.

‘We don’t even know what’s going on,’ Timothy had almost yelled back at her.

Elizabeth had tried hard to calm them down, which was not easy since she had been close to panic herself. The discussion had ended prematurely when Jonathan arrived and, feigning exhaustion, the children had hugged their parents and gone to bed. Elizabeth thanked Nicodemus’ ghost that her husband still had not noticed the children’s trepidation.

Then the Brisby couple had gone to bed as well.

Mrs. Brisby had never imagined that she would share a bed with her husband again, and in doing so would feel afraid both for him and of him.

The children lay in bed, waiting.

There was no way either could fall asleep. And the fact that they had slept in so late in the day before had nothing to do with it. With had happened, sleep was not an option. Truth be told, Cynthia and Timothy were scared, terrified even.

Neither wanted to think about what they had seen. Neither wanted to think about what it implied. But trying not to think only caused more thinking.

So, both were lying in their beds, eyes trained to the dark ceiling as time passed slowly and sleep would not come.

‘Cyn?’ Timothy whispered.

‘Yeah?’ Came the muttered reply.

‘Do you think mom and dad are asleep?’

His sister paused and closed her eyes.

‘Feels like it. Why?’

Timothy did not answer. He quietly got out of bed and got dressed again.

Where are you going?’

Cynthia sat up in her bed.

‘If mom and dad are asleep, I’m getting some answers.’

His sister sat bolt upright in her bed at that.

‘Where do you think you’ll get answers? In case you forgot, everyone in here has gotten their brain zonked.’

In the darkness Timothy’s eyes glittered behind his glasses.

‘I bet there is one person in here who hasn’t.’


‘The one without a real brain.’

Chapter 16: The Truth

The space that was no space and every space as well.

Jonathan, the Jonathan-that-had-been, an energy memory of a self, looking through a tunnel towards a calling beacon; calling him back.

The once-mouse, straining to remain, not to return.

The tunnel in the other realm extending behind him into deeper, older spheres.

The thing, vast, luminous, a hundred eyes, a million arms, craving life, glowing green,  crawling up towards the world, only the being that had once been Jonathan Brisby in its way.

The once-mouse turning to face it, dwarfed into insignificance, yet raising the memory of arms to block its path.

Onward it came, and swept him away.

Mrs. Brisby gasped awake as the nightmare tore through her.

Her fur was doused in perspiration. Each time the dream became more vivid, despite all the things about it that defied explanation. She shuddered and hugged herself, sitting up in bed. As she looked at the peaceful, sleeping shape of her husband next to her she felt like sobbing. Since the Convocation her bliss had been tainted and her dream had taken on new, horrible meaning. She had been trapped and without hope before, but never like this. Elizabeth wanted everything to be alright, for her Jonathan to be all well and whole again. But with every passing hour she knew more and more that this was not to be. And she felt helpless and powerless to do anything about it.


Elizabeth’s head jerked around.

She had not heard that. She had felt it.

Then her memory came back to her. The day before their departure, when Justin had sent Brutus to take her and her children to meet him in the infirmary, she had felt the same thing.


She had gone into Camilla’s room in the infirmary. And the ancient rat had been awake. Not only that, she had told her, predicted, that her children would be asked to return to NIMH. And Camilla had said that it was imperative that she accompanied her children there. And now, after a journey of less than a week, which felt like two lifetimes, she was here, awake in bed, next to her previously deceased husband, feeling, or hearing in her head, the same thoughts that had drawn her to Camilla’s room.

---You must step outside, Brisby.---

She turned to look at Jonathan.

---Do not wake him.---

Quietly, she moved from underneath the covers and slipped out of the bed. Her husband, gently snoring, did not stir. Next to her side of the bed the Red Stone lay on a nightstand. It glowed slightly as soon as she touched it and filled her with a certainty when she put it on. Her gloves, cape and glasses were next. Then, as silently as she could, she walked across the bedroom to the door, looking back over shoulder one more time. Mrs. Brisby’s eyes went from Jonathan to the Green Stone lying on his nightstand. As if alive and sensing her scrutiny it flared up an angry green, which elicited in her such revulsion she opened the door and almost slammed it behind her, before remembering the need for silence.

Now she stood in the darkened living quarters and did not know how to proceed. She needed to feel or hear, whichever it really was, that guiding voice again, but it remained aggravatingly silent.

Suddenly, a green and pulsing light dissipated the gloom. For a moment Elizabeth felt panic creeping up her spine. Had the thing that she had seen at the Convocation returned for her husband? Or maybe this time it wanted her?

Then she realized what it really was and a deep sigh of relief escaped her.

On the communications monitor at the dining room table the green contact light had come on. Jonathan had instructed her and the children on how to use the sophisticated communications system when he had first acquainted them with their lodgings. When contacted the device would chime a tone and this light would flash, but due to their exhaustion the Brisby family had muted all the ringtones in the apartment for the night. Mrs. Brisby wondered who might be calling at this time of night. In order to keep the light, which was probably flashing in every room now, from waking the children or Jonathan she went to the console and put her hand on the gem.

‘Mrs. Bribsy?’

The hushed voice was still recognizable.

‘Alis?’ Elizabeth replied, ‘is that you?’

‘I need your help. Please, Timothy is… stuck.’

The mouse blinked. Timothy was asleep in his room.

‘Timothy and Cynthia went to bed hours…’

‘I need your help.’ The voice interrupted. ‘Timothy is stuck and I cannot get him unstuck.’

‘I don’t understand.’

Before resuming the conversation Mrs. Brisby went to her children’s room, opening the door cautiously. Her breath caught in her throat. The beds were ruffled and definitely empty.

She rushed to the monitor station in the bedroom and touched the connect jewel.

‘Alis,’ she fought to keep her voice low, ‘where are my children?’

‘They are with me. Cynthia is fine, but your son is…’ there was a hesitation, as if the cybernetic entity was desperately checking for the most appropriate term, ‘…stuck.’

Suddenly, her daughter’s panicked voice chimed in.

‘Mom! You have to come down here. We can’t get Timmy out!’

‘Honey, what do you mean?’

‘Please,’ Cynthia’s voice implored, ‘he’s stuck inside… I can’t describe it. You have to come!’

‘Alis, how can I find you?’

‘I will direct you. Leave the apartment and follow the glowing panels on your way. Please hurry. I am… concerned.’

Coming from a machine, that statement only added to Elizabeth’s own panic.

As soon as Alis had stopped talking a bright green arrow on the bedroom monitor appeared, pointing to the door. Apparently the electronic entity was not going to take any chances for her to get lost on the way. Mrs. Brisby left her children’s room and found another arrow alight in the living room terminal, pointing to the apartment’s exit. She left her lodgings, still careful not to wake her husband, despite her desperation to reach her children. Once outside she hurried along the walkway, from monitor to monitor.

Oddly enough, the arrows did not lead her to the central column but to a small maintenance door almost hidden inside a nook. Behind it was a cramped, metal-lined stairway that was only fit for mice or other small rodents. Even Elizabeth found it claustrophobic and wondered what purpose it might serve. After a few flights of stairs it led to another door, this one a small, uninviting metal elevator, again so small that only a few mouse-sized occupants would be able to cram inside. As she approached the door slid back automatically, the monitor on the elevator’s back wall showing an arrow pointing straight down.

Mrs. Brisby barely had time to step inside when the doors closed behind her and the cabin descended in almost free fall. The plunge was so sudden that when she tried to scream the air caught in her throat and she barely managed to hold on to the single metal bar that ran along the cabin. There were no windows, but from the erratic motions and sudden changes in direction it felt as if the elevator not only moved downwards, but somehow managed to dart sideways from time to time. Every change was so sudden that Elizabeth was thrown from one side of the cabin to the other. She tried to yell at to Alis to slow down, but whenever she had sufficiently caught her breath another jolt would throw her against a wall again. Finally, with a stop so abrupt it hurled her to the metal floor of the cabin, the ride stopped.

She was gasping for air, still lying face-down when the doors opened in front of her and allowed her a view of strangest thing she had ever seen. And it terrified her so thoroughly she jumped up and scuttled back against the far wall of the elevator cabin.

In a cylindrical chamber so vast she could not see the far end stood a cyclopean sphere made from millions of moving metals parts. Gyrating in patterns so complex it hurt the eyes the monstrous construct was festooned with numberless green gems, blinking on and off to peculiar rhythms.  Everything in this gigantic place was made of metal and the only illumination came from the green glow of the stones throughout the edifice, like evil stars blinking in a cosmos of steel. And the size was so incredible, even after everything she had seen before, that her body refused to move.

The surface of the titanic metal sphere kept undulating and changing, a mass of metal so large it defied comprehension, the more so as it made almost no discernible noise.

‘Mrs. Brisby,’ Alis’s voice came from the monitor station in the elevator.

‘Mrs. Brisby, can you hear me?’


‘Please, follow the path in front of you to my central processor. I am worried that we are running out of time.’

After a few more deep breaths the mouse scrambled to her feet and cautiously stepped beyond the bounds of the elevator cabin. For the first time she noticed the smooth pathway of metal plates of all shapes and sizes that traversed above the floor of the chamber, which was composed of countless pipes and tubes reaching towards the central sphere. As she began walking and gained certainty that it was safe, she dared to look far enough ahead to realize that a tiny portion of the moving structure, just where the walkway reached it, was stationary. When she got closer she recognized her mistake. The stationary part was not small at all, about as tall as a human being actually, but the total size of the construct distorted any normal sense of perspective.

The metal path reached a towering, but stable archway into the inner confines of the sphere. Mrs. Brisby hurried as fast as she dared, trying not to look at the continuously morphing outer surface of the structure she was about to enter. Mercifully, the interior walls of the cavernous globe were inert. The chamber was lighted green by the uncountable number of glowing jewels sequestered throughout it, much more than on the outside. Despite the stationary nature of the walls, the place was not devoid of motion. Metal struts, robotic arms, conveyor systems and other technological implements were busy performing arcane tasks as the mouse passed by them, still following the path inwards.

Then Elizabeth reached the core. The featureless metal sphere suspended by its metal lifelines made a creepy centerpiece as its unblemished surface reflected the ambient glows without contributing anything. It did not move nor glow, a static icon in an illuminant chamber of technological motion.

The mouse was relieved that the path was leading her well past the ghostly orb, closer to one of the chamber’s far walls. But when she saw what awaited her there, she broke out in a run.

Mrs. Brisby had seen a construct like this before, just half a day ago. Four circular struts, inlayed with glowing gems, and a prone figure in a strange suit, suspended in mid-air, it was the mirror image of the platforms she had seen in the laboratory, the mechanisms that allowed one to enliven remote human bodies. But the shape within, mouse-sized, did not move. It was floating with the enclosing helmet facing upwards, arms and legs extended yet limp. Next to the construct stood two figures, Cynthia, pacing nervously and wringing her hands, and something that looked like a mechanical mouse.

When her daughter saw her rushing up she met her halfway, embracing her with tears in her eyes.

‘We can’t get him out!’

Elizabeth hugged her tightly, trying to ease her trembling. At the same time she could not take her eyes off the prone, suspended shape inside the structure. Despite the full-body suit and helmet she knew she had found her son.

‘Honey, what happened?’

Cynthia struggled to regain her composure, but before she could speak the mouse robot had walked up behind them and answered via the embedded speaker.

‘I am responsible. I warned him not to access the function, but he would not listen.’

Mrs. Brisby’s voice was colder than she would have believed possible as she continued to hold her daughter and stared at the machine rodent.

‘What happened? In detail.’

Cynthia, feeling her mother’s uncharacteristic rage, withdrew and gesticulated with one hand while wiping her eyes with the other.

‘Timmy wanted to talk to Alis. He said she would be the only one in this place not effected by… whatever it was that happened today, and that she could not lie to him.’

‘That is correct,’ the robot entity remarked with an eerily lifelike nod of the metal cranium.

Elizabeth pointed to the prone shape of her son and had to restrain herself from yelling.

‘And what about that? How did that happen?’

Apparently not recognizing the mouse’s anger Alis’ machine proxy answered.

‘I answered his questions about what he had observed at the Convocation.’

‘She never thought it was odd, mom,’ Cynthia interjected hastily, ‘this is the way the meetings have always gone.’

‘You did not think that it was odd?’ Mrs. Brisby’s questions had barbs in it, but again Alis did not seem to realize it. The robot mouse shook its head again.

‘I asked Jonathan about it after the first meeting. He said it was nothing to worry about. I accessed files on group trances and ceremonies and found comparisons.’

‘And you believed him?’


Elizabeth stared at the metal rodent in disbelief, switching between anger and pity.

‘How,’ she closed her eyes as she spoke to remain composed, ‘did Timothy wind up like this?’

Alis replied without hesitation.

‘Timothy was curious about how I thought. He wanted to learn more about my mind. I suggested this means to access my functions from within.’

‘It was all fine,’ Cynthia sniffed, ‘I could hear him through a speaker Alis set up. But then he… I don’t know… started poking around inside the computer at different things, trying to figure them out.’

‘He was curious about the Resurrection Function.’

Mrs. Brisby blinked.

‘The what?’

‘It is the technology created by the humans to retrieve old memory and thought patterns into new bodies.’

She looked at the android in confusion.

‘The way they brought Dad back, Mom.’

Her eyes widened as Cynthia’s statement became clear.

‘You mean a way to bring the dead back…’

Her daughter nodded vigorously.

‘The memory patterns of deceased individuals have to be retrieved from a different dimensional plane, a higher energy pattern.’

As neither mother nor daughter comprehended Alis went on in her exposition.

‘The Resurrection Function allows access to the higher energy fields and, with the right energy pattern imprint, can retrieve any old memory pattern that the user has a prior imprint of.’

 ‘The Stones,’ Cynthia spoke up, ‘they kind of hold an image of a person’s memories, maybe even the soul, like a picture of it.’

Once more the mechanical mouse nodded.

‘Without a prior imprint it is impossible to draw a specific memory pattern from the higher energy state. Timothy wondered what would happen if a user managed to access the Resurrection Function in the other direction, going into the higher energy state rather than drawing a pattern out.’

Mrs. Brisby drew closer to her daughter as the impact of what the cybernetic being had just said sank in. She felt a lump in her throat.

‘He wanted to go the other way? He wanted to go where the humans and Jonathan pulled back souls?’

‘That is an adequate analogy, Mrs. Brisby. I told your son that this had never been attempted before and that I was not able to access the function myself. It would require someone to monitor the user if such an attempt was to be made. Without someone to pull the user back from the higher energy state there would be no guarantee for a return,’ Alis expounded.

‘But with someone monitoring?’ Her maternal outrage was being subsumed by terror. But she needed to get as much information as she could to save her son. If that was possible

The robot motioned a metallic arm to the assembly in which Timothy floated.

‘A living brain may function as a memory pattern imprint the same way the ECCOs do.’

‘The what?’ Elizabeth blurted.

‘The Exo-Cerebral Cognitive Oscillators.’

‘She means the Stones, Mom.’

‘That is correct,’ Alis agreed. ‘In this manner a monitor should be able to retrieve a user attempting to access the higher energy state at any point in time.’

‘Then what happened?’ Elizabeth snapped.

For the first time, the mouse-shaped machine hesitated, head and neck craning in an approximation of embarrassment.

‘I am… uncertain. I will replay Timothy’s comments before he entered the higher energy state.’

Suddenly, her son’s voice issued from the robot.

‘This is weird. There is someone calling from inside the door.’

‘That is not possible, Timothy.’ Alis replied. ‘Access is one-way and requires an ECCO imprint.’

‘I’m telling you, there’s someone calling. I’m checking it out.’

‘I don’t think that is a good …’

‘Whooooooah!’ Timothy yelled and then the recording stopped.

‘Alis, what door?’ Mrs. Brisby asked.

‘A visual representation of the Resurrection Function, for easier access by the user.’

‘What can we do?’

Now it was Cynthia who looked embarrassed.

‘I can feel him, or hear him in my head.’

‘What?’ Her mother was confused.

‘It’s not as if he was here,’ Cynthia attempted to explain, ‘His body is empty, sort of, but I can hear him calling out from somewhere.’


The younger mouse pressed her clenched fists to her temples.

‘I don’t know; everywhere. But he calls for you. I tried to talk to him, but he just says I can’t help. It has to be you, Mom.’

Elizabeth folded her hands in front of her mouth, trying to collect her thoughts. Then she turned to the mouse android.

‘Do you have any ideas?’

In reply the empty space behind the mechanical rodent became active. Robotic manipulators moved into place, quickly constructing a second platform reminiscent of those in Julia’s laboratory. A metal panel slid away from within one of the chamber walls, extending a ramp. On it rested a mouse-sized suit and helmet of the same kind Elizabeth had seen Justin wear and that was still encasing her unmoving son. She understood. She needed to go after Timothy.

Cynthia took her mother’s clothes and glasses while the mechanical mouse helped her don the full-body suit. The robot was remarkable adept and gentle and for a moment Elizabeth forgot that she was not dealing with an actual person. Then Alis’ avatar handed her the helmet.

Mrs. Brisby rolled the cumbersome device around in her hands, not relishing the idea of having her cranium enclosed in it. But a look at her motionless son removed any last qualms. Holding the helmet in both hands, her daughter and the cybernetic mouse behind her, she slowly stepped in between the circular struts. As soon as she entered the small gems lining the inside of the structure began pulsing in a red light, reminiscent of the Stone she had worn for so long. The same feeling of protection and strength she experienced when Nicodemus’ gift was active came flooding into her again, even though the Stone rested in Cynthia’s arms with the rest of her attire.

Taking a deep breath she depressed the area on the helmet that she had seen Justin and Jonathan touch to allow the enclosing device to open up. On command the helmet’s lower sections unfolded like flower petals and, gradually, she raised it over her head with both hands. It took her a moment of reminding herself that she was doing this for Timothy before she had the courage to finally lower the helmet over her face. As soon as her hair touched the inside the lower portions folded back inwards again, sealing softly around her throat and enclosing her in complete darkness.

The light hit her without warning. There was no transition.

All of a sudden, she could see; not through a monitor in the helmet as she had expected, but with her normal eyes.

She had to blink a few times to make sure that she was not just imagining this. Her hands looked normal, although she realized that she was not wearing any clothes, not even the suit she had donned before stepping into the strange structure of gem-studded pylons.

Then she realized that she was no longer in the same place she had been just moments before. The vast chamber with the green glow, her daughter and Alis’ fake body were all gone. She stood on a floor of dull metal that barely reflected a monotonous grey light. To her left was a smooth wall of the same material, rising up to enormous height while to her front and right the floor fell away into nothingness. Mrs. Brisby turned around and saw a corridor cut into a wall similar to the one on her right, although it did not rise quite as high. The passage cut into the metal wide enough to let two mice walk easily side by side, but rather than having a roof it simply led straight up, bisecting the wall all the way to the very top.

Everything was the same uniform grey. Elizabeth’s body was the only source of color she could see in this bizarre place. Now that she was here, wherever here was, she did not know where she had to go. She stepped forward and noticed that the wall to her right ended before the floor and as she passed it, she saw the same wall running perpendicular into the distance with a small section of floor lining it. Mrs. Brisby looked over the edge.

Where the floor ended another dull metal surface fell down deeply and then, an immense distance below her, cut off in a straight line. This whole place was made up of rectangular sections. It did not feel cold or warm beneath her feet, a neutral temperature, as unnatural a concept as that might be. As she continued to look down she failed to see any other structure beneath the wall’s cutoff, just a hazy grey-in-grey glow. Elizabeth lifted her gaze up and stared straight ahead towards what should have been a horizon. The empty space beyond the floor had the same uniform greyness than the abyss below. It was a disconcerting feeling and she felt as if her sense of direction was deserting her.

Then, she spotted something far in the distance. Mrs. Brisby narrowed her eyes and wished she had her glasses as she strained to make out the faraway object. As soon as the thought entered her mind she felt a familiar weight on the bridge of her nose and her sight cleared. Her glasses had simply popped into existence. But before the mouse could marvel at the phenomena the now clear view in front of her took her breath away. There, an incredible distance away, was an object constructed of an irregular arrangement of perfectly rectangular metal parts, suspended in mid-air. It was so far away that she did not dare to guess at its size, but by all indications, it had to be enormous. A look at the metal floor beneath her gave rise to the suspicion that the distant object might be of the same composition. Then, as she let her gaze roam all around she managed to spot yet another object, this one to the left, even farther distant, but of the same make-up. Turning her head the other way Elizabeth was sure that there was a third suspended object to the left of the very first one as well.

Then the light flashed.

Just for a moment, a blinding ray of white light connected the two left-most of the floating structures, like an electric discharge between them.

Suddenly, the same discharge occurred between the object facing her and the wall dropping away beneath her feet. A boom and sparkle that was powerful as it was sudden rocked the floor and the mouse fell to her knees, desperate not to fall over the precipice. The shudders continued and Mrs. Brisby fell to the floor on her back, gazing straight up.

There, right above her, at exactly the same distance as the first, was yet another rectangular composite, and further away another, and another, and yet another. As a discharge between her location, this time from the top of the wall that rose beyond her footing, and the construct above shook her body again, she realized that in this crazy realm these metal objects were everywhere, spaced in a wide perfectly rectangular grid.

A discharge erupted between the object above her and the one to its right.

Elizabeth dared to stand up again and looked once more at the open vista beyond the floor. The more she looked the more certain she felt that the number of these suspended constructs went on forever. She could see discharges occurring all around, but the vast distances between the structures made them difficult to spot.

‘Mrs. Brisby?’

She twirled around in surprise.

There, in front of the elongated corridor stood the robot shape Alis had assumed earlier.

‘Where am I?’

The mechanical raised her piston arms gesturing all around.

‘You are inside my central processor, my physical mind.’

Mrs. Brisby walked closer to the wall and touched it with her palm. It was the same neutral temperature.

‘It feels real, but strange.’

‘It is an image, a symbol that your mind and body can understand,’ the mouse android explained.

The brown mouse pointed at her glasses.

‘Where did they come from?’

‘Your shape depends on your expectations. You wanted to see clearly. Your mind assumed it would need your glasses to do so, so your glasses appeared.’

Elizabeth looked at her bare hands, where the old burn scares from the Stone showed.

‘So, if I wanted my clothes…’

Before she could complete the sentences her cloak, gloves, and even the Stone materialized on her. She poked the material of her cape experimentally. At least it felt as it always had. Then, the mouse looked at the robot.

‘What about you?’

The machine cocked its head.

‘What about me?’

‘I mean, why do you have this shape here, inside your own mind?’

‘What other shape should I have? It is the first and only one I have made so far.’

A thoughtful look crossed the mouse’s features.

‘So you could look differently in here?’

The robot let its photo-receptors run over her body and mused.

‘This shape worked for Timothy. But if you prefer something different…’

All of a sudden Mrs. Brisby faced her very own self where the machine had stood seconds before.

‘No, that won’t work. It’s like talking to a mirror.’

Then, she looked at her sweet daughter.

‘No, you are NOT Cynthia!’

The robot returned and gave an all-too natural shrug.

‘What shape should I take? I assume you prefer talking to a mouse.’

‘Can’t you make a shape that is, you know, your very own.’

With the electronic eyes gazing far away the audio speakers took on a musing tone.

‘A shape of my own…’

The robot disappeared again to be replaced by a random mouse body. The shape flickered, became taller, shorter, thinner, older, younger, wider, different colors. Elizabeth closed her eyes at the disturbing display, fighting down the urge to vomit with revulsion. She wondered if she could actually throw up in this strange place.

‘I am finished. I have my own shape.’

Mrs. Brisby cautiously opened her eyes. Before her stood a young, female mouse, of about the same age as Timothy. Her fur was a steely grey, darker than her husbands or any of her children. She stood just about her own height and had a somewhat lighter colored face and abdomen. Her eyes were the most brilliant green she had ever seen. Alis’ new avatar was busy looking herself over, flexing fingers and stepping in place as she tested this virtual incarnation. Then she turned to look at the guest inside her mind with an excited smile.

‘Thank you for suggesting this. I should have tried this a long time ago.’

‘You’re welcome,’ Elizabeth offered, ‘I guess.’

‘I need clothes though.’

Before the computer-being could induce another bout of nausea in her Mrs. Brisby shut her eyes again.

‘Done. How do I look?’

The question was phrased with such earnest intent and shyness that when her eyes opened she felt certain that what she was looking at now was a true person.

Alis had decided on an indigo-colored single-suit, with a short skirt but long narrow sleeves at the top. It was an unusual garment, lined with gold trim and a small emerald jeweled button in the front, but it worked.

‘Lovely,’ Mrs. Brisby said with a smile, ‘If you were real, every bachelor mouse in Thorn Valley would ask for your hand.’

In an all-too-real display of delight Alis clapped her hands together.

‘Thank you so much!’

‘Now,’ the brown mouse turned serious, ‘where is my son?’

Alis nodded, her features turning somber, and she waved the older female to follow her along the corridor.

‘This way.’

It was quite disconcerting to walk between the two sheer walls that made up the corridor despite the amount of space actually available. The height was just too intimidating.

Elizabeth was grateful that their path was straight all the way to the end. Otherwise she would have felt trapped inside an impossible maze and with all her other concerns she did not need another worry. At the end of the corridor the wall rose up all way as it did with the passage’s sides. Set within that same dull metal was a door.

Of all the kinds of doors Mrs. Brisby would have imagined in this artificial world the one facing here now would not have entered her mind. It looked like an ordinary wooden door, the kind you could have easily found anywhere in the Thorn Valley colony. There were a few ornamental carvings, but nothing ostentatious. As a matter of fact, it looked rather worn and in need of furniture polish. The door handle was brass that was acquiring a green layer of patina. She turned to Alis.

‘This is it?’

The synthetic grey mouse nodded gravely.

‘I think everyone sees a different kind of door, but I am not sure. Timothy is on the other side.’

‘How do we get him out?’

Alis shook her head.

‘I cannot touch the door. I make the door. If I touch it then I can no longer make it. Someone else needs to open it and call him back. But when Cynthia tried it, it was locked and a voice came through saying we needed to call you.’

That did not make much sense to Elizabeth, but she was aware of her ignorance in matters involving complex machines like computers. She stepped towards the doorframe and put a hand on the handle.

‘Just open it and call for him?’

Alis nodded.

‘You are his mother. It should serve as a template to call him out.’

Mrs. Brisby looked the door up and down, took a deep breath, pressed the handle, and swung the door open.

There was nothing behind the door, just a flat, completely black surface that absorbed all light without any reflection.

‘Hello?’ She called out ‘Timothy, are you in there?’

There were no sounds coming from the blackness.

Then, unexpectedly, Timothy appeared, grinning from ear to ear, embracing his mother.

‘I knew you’d come!’

‘Timmy! I was so worried. You scared us sick.’

Timothy looked excited and healthy as he took a step back from his mother.

‘I am okay. But I needed to get you in here. They need to talk to you real bad and I…’

He stopped as he saw Alis’ new avatar.

‘Alis? Is that you?’

Looking obviously relieved the simulated mouse folded her arms behind her back coyly and even managed to blush.

‘Do you like it?’

‘I, eh, like, eh…’

 ‘Timothy Brisby!’

His head snapped around at his mother’s stern tone of voice.

‘You scared all of us half to death. This door was locked with you inside until just now. What is going on here, young man?’

Rubbing his neck with an embarrassed expression Timothy tried to explain.

‘I wasn’t really trapped. We kept the door looked because they said it would be the fastest way to get you here. They really need to talk to you.’

Mrs. Brisby raised her hands in exasperation.


He put up his arms defensively.

‘I promised not to tell. They wanted it to be a surprise. Really, Mom, it’s safe. They’ve been waiting for you.’

---Time is short, Brisby.---

Elizabeth looked around startled. She recognized the sensation of a thought in her mind, but was astounded it was happening here, inside a machine. She turned her head to face the impenetrable darkness within the open door, sure that the source of these thoughts was to be found in there.

---You need to enter.---

She gave her son another scolding look and raised a finger in warning.

‘I will do it. But if I do not come back, you get your father.’

Now Timothy really looked uncomfortable.

‘I don’t think that would be a good idea, Mom.’

Mrs. Brisby did not answer. She turned and walked up to the doorway, trying to peer into the lightless barrier. Then she stepped forward and disappeared.

She stood in a comfortable reading room of what humans would consider Victorian design. The walls were wood-paneled, shelves filled with books and various pieces of art. Mrs. Brisby turned around and saw a huge wooden door behind her, ornately carved with gilded door knobs. In front of her she saw the backs of two immense armchairs facing a lighted fireplace, a small table with two tea cups, kettle, and serving utensils. The sides of the stately sitting room featured two tall windows covered in burgundy drapes with gold trim.

The head of a grey male rat, of early middle age, with dark brows and matching mustache and small goatee, peeked around the rim of the chair on the right side and waved a long-clawed hand invitingly.

‘There you are, my dear. We have been waiting for you. Please, take a seat and have some tea with us.’

Something was familiar about the rat, although Elizabeth could not remember ever having seen him before. As she slowly stepped around the two armchairs, she noted a third one, empty and backed next to the fireplace, with another small table, on which rested yet another cup of tea. All of a sudden she could smell the tea’s wonderful aroma even at a distance. When she rounded to the other side of the first two chairs she finally got a good look of her hosts.

The male rat that had asked her to join them was of average height, slender, and wore elaborate robes in dark blue with immense sleeves. The clothes even more than the rat himself remembered her of someone, her first thought going to Justin’s elaborate Council robes, which looked remarkably similar. The second chair was occupied by a beautiful rat lady of similar age, long beige hair falling around her shoulders over a slightly darker, tan-colored body fur. Her hands were graceful and long-clawed as well. She wore a full-length burgundy dress with sleeves that were only slightly less cumbersome than her male counterpart’s. She smiled warmly at Elizabeth, gesturing to the free chair.

‘Please, have a seat, my dear. It is so good to see you again.’

Mrs. Brisby edged herself into the large seat, which was surprisingly comfortable, and, automatically, took the teacup in her right hand, her eyes never leaving the two strange rats.

‘Do I know you?’

The male rat lovingly put a hand on the female’s as he leaned towards her.

‘She does not recognize us like this, my love.’

Something about that gesture drew the mouse’s gaze to the two hands, one gently cupping the other. Suddenly, she blinked. The hands looked ancient, gnarled and with blemishes, the nails almost as long as the fingers.

Taken aback her gaze went to the faces.

Then she recognized them.

Where moments before two vibrant rats had sat the chairs where now occupied by two truly ancient rodents, both of which she knew.

‘It’s you!’

Old Nicodemus nodded slowly, his eyes glowing brightly in his withered face. Camilla, her eyes illuminant as well and no less aged, smiled at her.

‘Try the tea. It is quite good.’

Elizabeth looked at the cup in her hands and then back at the rats. They were young again.

‘Nicodemus… but, you’re…’

‘Dead, I know,’ the rejuvenated male nodded encouragingly.

Then the mouse looked at the young Camilla and realized what must have happened.

‘Camilla… I’m sorry…’

The female rat laughed and clapped her hands, a sound so joyous it dispelled all grief.

‘My dear, it was my time. Once I told you what was needed I was finally able to let go.’

Her hand touched Nicodemus’ once more as she smiled at him.

‘We have been apart too long.’

So intent on looking at the two lovers Mrs. Brisby did not even notice herself taking a sip from the tea and being surprised by the amazing flavor. That brought her back and she coughed to gain her hosts’ attention.

‘Nicodemus, Camilla, where are we?’

‘Oh this?’ Nicodemus waved a hand expansively.

‘Just a place we made that your mind can understand.’

Elizabeth gave the rats a somewhat sideways glance, as if wondering whether they were slighting her. Camilla picked up on it immediately and chuckled, the youthful sound so at odds with the memories of the dying rat the mouse remembered so well.

‘Death changes things. Space and time are not the same. In order for us to talk with you we had to create a space and time for you to do it in.’

‘Oh,’ Mrs. Brisby replied and looked down at her tea.

‘So none of this is real?’

 Now it was Nicodemus’ turn for bemusement.

‘It is quite real, my dear, as real as the mechanical mind you had to enter to get here, more so even.’

‘But why? Why go through all this trouble to bring me here?’

The demeanor of the rats lost its joviality as Nicodemus’ voice turned grave.

‘Because only this way could we tell you the things you need to know to be able to do the things you must.’

Elizabeth put the teacup back on the table, her throat going dry at the ominous note in the rat’s explanations.

‘And what is it I need to do?’

‘Save Jonathan.’

The mouse blinked. She had expected something to do with her husband, but saving him had not been amongst the many terrible tasks she had imagined.


‘Save your husband,’ Camilla added, ‘he is in terrible peril.’

‘I don’t understand.’

‘You have seen what happened to him,’ Nicodemus mused, ‘in your dreams, haven’t you?’

Mrs. Brisby put a hand to her mouth to keep her lips from trembling and nodded. 

‘I dreamt… something.’

‘When the humans tried to draw Jonathan’s soul back, they had not yet perfected their methods. They were so intent, so greedy for success and control, that they drew something back along with your husband.’ The male rat expounded.

‘I saw it. What was it?’

Camilla waved a hand through the air.

‘Every idea or concept anyone has ever had or felt exists outside all space and time as well. Each of them is a pure representation, the purest possible, of that same idea. Do you understand?’

‘No,’ the mouse shook her head, ‘I don’t.’

‘Love, hate, justice, peace, all of these are things that we can feel or think about,’ Nicodemus elaborated, ‘But each of these ideas or feelings exists separate from all reality as well, a singular driving force, without mind or soul, just the idea.’

Camilla took a turn.

‘When the humans conducted their experiment they were driven by a need for control, predictability, power, and order. So when they attempted to call Jonathan back, their needs echoed through reality. And somewhere beyond space and time they called forth the primal idea, the truest form of the very same thing that was driving them.’

‘Order and control.’

Nicodemus let the two terms hang in the air.

‘But, I saw something in my dream that was like a monster, with more arms than I could ever count, dozens of eyes, and…’

Camilla gestured for the mouse to be calm.

‘What your dream showed you was an image, a symbol of the idea of order and control, as it was pulled into our reality.’

‘Jonathan tried to stop it, stand in its way.’

Both rats nodded sadly as Nicodemus took up the thread.

‘Yes, but it swept him away. And now it uses him as an anchor.’


‘My dear,’ Camilla sighed, ‘an idea has no mind, no thoughts, no soul. In order for it to exist in our reality it needs minds to think it, to feel it.’

‘But not anymore,’ Nicodemus stated, ‘now this raw idea has trapped a mind, a body, and a soul that it can use to act in your world directly. It must be stopped.’

Elizabeth leaned forward.

‘Is it that dangerous?’

Camilla looked the mouse in the eyes.

‘Can you imagine an idea running rampant? A single concept with the power to influence living things without the restraints that a thinking mind would put on it? Imagine what would happen if even such a positive concept such as love was to rule all reality.’

‘I still don’t understand. Love guiding the world would be wonderful, right?’

Both rats looked at each other, and then back at their guest.

‘Love taken to its extreme would be total sacrifice of all self for others,’ Nicodemus mused.

‘There would be no more “I” or “You”. Everyone would lose themselves in others in total devotion until they would all disappear.’

‘It would be the death of all souls,’ Camilla assured her.

‘And the idea that is loose in the world now is much more dangerous than love. If it is not stopped, the world as we know it will no longer exist.’

‘What will happen?’

Rather than answering her, the two rats pointed to one of the large windows. The drapes of the window in question had begun to billow, an awful grey-green light behind them.

Mrs. Brisby became frightened. Whatever waited behind the curtains felt bad; very bad indeed. Sensing her trepidation Nicodemus attempted to soothe her fears.

‘You must see what could be. It cannot hurt you, unless you allow it to come to pass.’

That did not alleviate her concerns one bit, but she slowly slid off her chair and stepped towards the large window anyway. Once she had reached the curtain’s heavy fabric, she grabbed a hold of both parts with her hands, took a deep breath, and pulled them open.

She was flying over the world.

She had no body. She could see, smell, hear, and feel. Her reality had been reduced to a pure sense of awareness with which she now observed the world around her.

It felt different, empty somehow. She could see the trees and rivers, mountains and lakes, yet somehow they appeared lessened in some intangible way. Life had always given her the impression of having its own secret color, some deep vibrancy that was added to what her physical senses could perceive. Now, in this world she was traversing that vibrancy had disappeared. The physical colors were still there, but they gave the impression of having been dulled into lifelessness. It did not make any sense. She could see animals moving around, so there was life here. On the other hand, there was something odd, almost mechanical about how the animals she could see moved.

Her awareness continued onwards.

She saw the city of Baltimore, from a vantage point that one of her crow friends might have been able to enjoy. And here she noted the first tangible difference to the reality she had left only so recently.

The streets were almost empty. Where she and her friends had encountered congested human traffic only a few sparse vehicles could be seen now. As she focused she also realized that many of the buildings looked abandoned and dilapidated, as if the human population of this city had suffered a catastrophic decline. When she finally saw a group of humans walking on a sidewalk near the center of Baltimore, where immense skyscrapers towered listless and empty towards the heavens, she managed to let her senses drift closer to them. The humans, four females and three males, walked in a perfect single file, heads held straight forwards, not talking, like so many flesh-clad robots. They all wore grey single-suits that only varied in their size. Apart from their different facial features and genders they might as well have been identical. But the worse was the subdued sheen of green light she detected in their eyes, reminiscent of what she had experienced during the Convocation.

In disgust she pulled her senses away from the humans as they followed their path. Mrs. Brisby did not want to see any more of the city. She wanted to go home.

No sooner had the thought crossed her mind and her awareness sped up through the sky, racing at phenomenal speed towards Thorn Valley. There, she saw the river and the valley it had carved over the eons. She let her senses be drawn to the Great Oak, sure to see some familiar faces there. The Oak stood empty and dead. The ancient tree had shed all its leaves and its formerly majestic limbs were beginning to rot away from the inside. The Thorn Valley Colony was no more.

The disembodied mouse felt panic. What had happened? Did the future portent all of their deaths? Had the genetic time-bomb been allowed to run its course and kill them all after all? No, there had to be a different explanation. Someone had to be alive. She just had to find them.

Again, the mere thought was enough to propel her awareness down the valley, closer to the meadows nestled along the riverside. There, she spotted a group of mice. In an instant she was amongst them, an invisible observer in their midst. It was her children, all of them. Elizabeth’s soul rejoiced in the fact that they were alive, despite what she had seen at the Oak. But even here, something was dreadfully wrong. She saw none of her children wear clothes. None of them were talking, apparently busy with collecting seeds that had fallen from the tall, ripe grasses. Their eyes shone in the same listless dead green she had observed in the humans. Even Teresa’s children, the usually irrepressible pack of joyful troublemakers, were quiet and simply gathered food and ate it without comment or smile. It was one of the chilliest sights she had ever encountered, until she allowed her sight to turn full circle.

She saw herself. Elizabeth Brisby, stood there, unclothed, aged, stiffly bending down to gather food. Her muzzle had greyed and her body had hunched. Apart from the scars on her hands there was no trace that she had ever been anything else but a wild animal. Then, as if listening to an unheard call, the aged mouse stood as straight as her back would allow, looking forward.

The disembodied observer felt drawn to shift her attention upwards. In the distant sky she saw the shape of a hawk approaching. Its path was strange. Clearly, the predator was hunting, but instead of the normal circular motions of trying to spot prey it headed straight for the meadow and the mouse family. She wanted to yell, scream at her oblivious children of the danger approaching. Then Elizabeth watched with horror as her own older self, slowly, stoically, left the rest of the group behind and climbed painfully onto a rock.

She never looked up, never turned to her family, all of whom were still engaged in their robotic foraging, when the hawk swooped down and grabbed her. Neither predator nor prey made a sound, no screeches of triumph at a successful hunt, no wails of pain as talons dug deep into flesh. The old mouse had followed some unheard command and willingly sacrificed herself to the claws of the haw. The predator, in turn, had probably received its own instructions, which it mindlessly obeyed. It had known exactly where its meal was to be found. And the rest of the family had not moved a muscle, not even turned their heads. They were mindless automatons, flesh without soul.

Shocked beyond comprehension the true Mrs. Brisby, observing it all and unable to intervene, had to draw her awareness away from this abomination. To see her children and grandchildren mindlessly continue their tasks, not even noticing what had occurred, or maybe not caring, was too much to bear. She let herself soar through the air at random, wanting the rush of air and the winds drown out the screams in her heart.

Then, she realized she was racing to the very structure where her physical body was even now encased in arcane machinery. There, growing second by second, were the towering buildings of Lazarus Laboratories. Elizabeth’s awareness did not slow. Her mind’s eye hurtled towards the main tower, which pulsed in the same queer green light that suffused everything in this soulless world. She passed through the outer walls, saw herself propelled through the outer human rooms and then along one of the four intersecting atria. Ever forward she raced until she entered the Convocation stadium.

There she stopped dead.

The structure was deserted, layers of dust coating every surface. But at the center stage platform, where she had witnessed her husband enthrall the population of this place, stood an abominable machine.

 A conical metal case bolted to the ground held the limp shape of a male mouse bound from the waist upwards, green gems and readouts blinking in tune to the prisoner’s vital signs. The outstretched cruciform arms were encased in metal as well, held in place from the elbow outwards by metal columns that incredibly extended all the way to the distant walls of the chamber. The mouse’s head was slumped to its chest, a metal cap covering the scalp, connected by tubes and hoses to a final metal column suspended above the rodent, which reached beyond even Mrs. Brisby’s awareness. What little flesh and fur was exposed was riddled by catheters and tubes running into the supporting machinery. The insignificant shape of the mouse was nothing more than a fleshy conduit in this infernal device.

She let her focus move I closer to the mouse, until its identity was beyond question. It was Jonathan.

As soon as the realization hit her the encased mouse’s head raised itself and stared at her. Drawn beyond recognition, eyes like pools of poison luminance, the face that had once belonged to Jonathan Brisby stared at her in a grin of such vileness it threatened to shatter her sanity. She was invisible in this place, this future, but she felt that this horror that wore the flesh of her husband could see her nonetheless. Then the horse throat of the mouse screeched.


Elizabeth fell backwards, away from the flapping curtains in the virtual sitting room. Camilla and Nicodemus stood behind her and caught her.

‘It’s alright, my dear,’ Nicodemus said and his wife added.

‘You’re safe.’

Even though she knew that nothing in this realm was truly physical Mrs. Brisby was gasping for air.

‘What… what was THAT?’

Putting calming hands to her shoulders and slowly walking her to the door through which she had entered earlier her dead friends attempted to assure her.

‘Something that may come to pass,’ Camilla noted.

‘Unless you can stop it,’ her husband agreed.

She turned her head upwards, resisting their attempts to move her to the door.

‘How? How can I stop this?’

That actually elicited smiles from the rats.

‘You will know when the time comes, my dear. Hurry now! You do not have much time.’

Nicodemus’ words did not make her feel any better.

‘Talk to your new friend,’ suggested Camilla.

‘Who is that?’

‘The machine that wants to grow a soul.’


Camilla nodded.

‘Ask her about the things she is not supposed to know.’


Before any reply could have been given the trio had reached the door and Elizabeth felt her foot touch the wood.

Everything went dark.

Mrs. Brisby fell to her knees, her head still encased in the helmet.

Before she managed to regain her footing someone engaged the opening sequence and her head-gear unfolded to release her. Timothy removed the helmet and Cynthia helped her get back to her feet, still wearing the conduit uniform.

‘Are you okay, Mom?’

Cynthia looked awfully worried.

Elizabeth bent over and coughed a bit, then drew a few deep breaths and nodded.

‘Here,’ her son said as he approached her carrying her clothes, ‘let’s get you out of this.’

Still not able to find her voice his mother shook her head violently and waved him off.

Panting she looked around the enormous chamber until she spotted the mouse-shaped robot avatar.


‘Yes, Mrs. Brisby?’

‘I need your help,’ she stammered.

The android cocked its head.

‘How can I help?’

Elizabeth struggled to remember what the apparitions had said to her.

‘What… what is it that you are not supposed to know?’

If the metal surface of the robotic head could have worn an expression it would have probably mirrored the confusion on the faces of her children.

‘I do not understand.’

‘What is it that you are not supposed to know?’

Timothy registered understanding.

‘I get it!’

He turned to the machine body.

‘Remember when we asked you about you watching everything? You said that you were supposed to keep people’s privacy, right?’

The mechanical mouse nodded.

‘That is correct.’

‘Does that mean you turn the cameras off?’

Alis shook her avatar’s head.

‘No. They still run, but I exclude them from my awareness. They are monitored by other programs for signs of danger and alert me when they register them.’

Cynthia looked from her mother to the mouse construct.

‘Mom, what happened in there?’

She raised a defensive hand to her daughter.

‘Never mind right now, honey. Alis, are there things that you are not supposed to know, or look at? Maybe something Jonathan told you not to be aware of?’

The robot nodded.

‘Your husband has designated a number of his private files as –maximum priority-, which means I am not allowed to access them.’

Mrs. Brisby took one more calming breath and, in a cold voice, commanded.

‘Access them now.’

‘I do not have authorization, Mrs. Brisby.’

‘But we do!’ Cynthia exclaimed in understanding.

Her brother and mother stared at her.

‘Don’t you remember? Dad said we were supposed to have the same access as he does.’

She turned to Alis triumphantly, ‘Isn’t that right?’

Once more the mechanical body nodded agreement.

‘That is correct.’

‘So,’ Timothy took up the train of thought, ‘if we give you permission, you could look at those things?’

Yet another nod.

‘Then do it,’ Elizabeth sighed, ‘Do it now.’

‘What am I supposed to look for?’

The three mice turned to face each other with baffled expressions. This was something they had not considered. After a few moments of though, Mrs. Brisby offered a suggestion.

‘Look for anything that is different from what Jonathan told you before.’

‘Please wait,’ the mechanical voice cautioned, ‘accessing files…’

Nobody spoke as the computer mind did its work. Then, mechanical arms and manipulators began to move new equipment into place and installed a large monitor on the wall facing them.

‘I am deeply concerned,’ Alis admitted.

‘The information I have accessed contradicts the Director’s instructions given to me.’

The robot paused for a moment, as if considering whether to continue. Then the screen light up and showed the computer generated image of a DNA molecule.

‘It appears Jonathan has overseen the production of a new serum for altering nerve pathways and has filled a number of our facility’s water reservoirs with it.’

‘Oh no,’ Cynthia muttered as she looked at the DNA image, ‘this feels really, really bad.’

‘What tanks did he fill?’ Timothy wondered.

‘The reservoirs leading into the facility’s sprinkler systems.’

Elizabeth was confused.

‘Why would he do that?’

‘According to the files,’ Alis continued, ‘the serum is scheduled to be released via the sprinkler system during the final Convocation before the move.’

‘He wants to rain this stuff on everyone?’ Timothy was aghast.

‘Apparently,’ Alis added, ‘this serum does not require injection. Simple exposure will be sufficient.’

‘Sufficient for what?’ Elizabeth clenched her hands together.

‘The data suggests it will slowly undo the changes of the original serum and return every animal back to its wild type state. Like the original treatments, it will infect any organism that comes into contact with someone that has been exposed.’

‘He’s going to turn us all back into dumb animals,’ Cynthia gasped.

‘That is part of the serum’s function.’ The mechanical mind agreed.

‘What do mean, part of it?’ Timothy felt his skin crawl.

A robotic arm pointed to a different portion of the DNA projection, which was then highlighted in red.

‘The files mention that these additional changes made to the serum will, through a mechanism I do not understand, make all affected organisms more easily subjected to an unidentified outside source of influence.’

Cynthia was shivering now, ‘What is that supposed to mean?’

 ‘It means,’ her mother spoke in a hushed voice, ‘that this serum will take away everyone’s free will, everyone’s soul.’

Her children eyed her with dread and consternation. They had not seen what she had seen.

‘Mom,’ Timothy ventured, ‘what do you mean?’

She nodded towards the screen.

‘The world will become like a machine; no free ill; perfect control.’

The children looked at their mother and knew that whatever she had experienced inside the computer, she had been given an insight into what was going to happen. Nobody said a word for what seemed like an eternity. The three mice huddled together for comfort, while the machine rodent stood by, waiting silently for further instructions.

Minutes later Mrs. Brisby raised her head out of the embrace of her children and addressed Alis.

‘Is there anything else we need to know?’

The image on the screen changed and Alis told them the rest.

When the three mice had learned all they needed and left the confines of Alis’ inner workings, the various machines, appendages, even the robotic mouse avatar fell silent. The machine mind was still conversing with the Brisbys as they ventured back into the upper reaches of the facility, yet here, all motion stopped. Even the green gems dimmed.

Minutes passed. Then, slowly, the light returned back to its previous levels. The robot mouse lay back on a metal bench, protruding from the wall. Once reclined the bench retracted into the metal of the wall until the android had vanished from sight.

Then Alis began her new task. For the first time since the artificial mind had reached awareness, it had made its own decision as to what needed to be done. All over the confines of the metal sphere that made up the center of Alis’ being new equipment was being born from the machine walls. Two tubes composed of transparent plastic and metal bases were assembled while countless hoses and ambulatory probes connected them to machinery of obscure design. Once sealed the tubes supplied liquids, which filled both chambers quickly to capacity. Yet more and more mechanical manipulators and monitors were assembling themselves around the tubes. Syringes inserted compounds into receptacles on the cylinders’ sides, balancing nutrients and chemicals.

Alis had to hurry.

Time was running out quickly.

Chapter 17: The Resistance

Jenner looked through the left wall of his office, which was a huge pane of glass changeable from transparent to opaque at the touch of a button. His office was miniscule compared to the palatial proportions of the Director’s work space, but still expansive by most normal standards. The transparent wall looked out over the large training arena for the security forces of Lazarus Laboratories. Even though he rarely got to train recruits himself these days it still soothed him to observe those under his direct command as they exercised. This was especially true today, when so many preparations for the upcoming move threatened to overwhelm him. So, he rewarded himself with this small bit of voyeurism to calm his nerves.

There was no official training scheduled for today. With the move at hand most security personal was busy getting the various transport vehicles ready and making sure all preparations were on schedule. Still, there were a few animals seated in the stands and a group of rats on the training floor. One was Stella Lux, Brutus another. The remainder consisted of a score of the huge, white-furred sentry rats that had been on Sterilizer duty when the Thorn Valley rodents had made their escape attempt. Stella was, by all appearances, using Brutus as an example of how to deal with an opponent that was not affected by their energy stunners. Hand-to-hand combat was standard in the training procedures, but Jenner had noticed before how many of the security guards, regardless of species, had become complacent in their reliance on technology.

Jenner smiled wickedly to himself as he observed the proceedings. Stella had ordered six of the large rats to try and subdue Brutus using only their physical bodies. The contest lasted less than a minute. When the six rats in question lay prone on the floor, in various positions of discomfort, Jenner had to acknowledge the burly Thorn Valley guard’s aptitude at physical violence. More so, Brutus had fended off his attackers without causing any lasting injuries, and he was more than capable of inflicting major damage. Next in line was a large, lanky male feline, which was ordered to run down and pin the huge rat. This lasted a little over a minute, until Brutus managed to jump at the cat’s back and embrace its neck with his incisors. The feline stopped in its tracks immediately, knowing the potentially fatal nature of the rat’s maneuver.

Apparently done with the demonstrations Stella was seen gesticulating with one hand while the other touched the mechanical vocalizer on her neck. Jenner’s smile turned whimsical. Funny how putting the two mute rats together was working out. He had not had any particular plans when he had made Stella responsible for Brutus’ recuperation, but the potential for a friendship between the two mutants had always been a possibility. Maybe something else might evolve from this in the future, after the move.

His face turned grim.

Seeing the two mute rodents together had reminded him of his wife, his family. Jenner was not one to admit to weakness easily, but he missed Victoria and the children. In hindsight, he had ignored his family horribly for the sake of his political schemes back in the Rosebush colony. Power had been everything to him and slowly edged his loved ones farther and farther from his concerns. Then he had died. Or better said, then he had lost control of his own ambitions when he had seen Mrs. Brisby wearing one of the Stones, gotten himself killed, been branded as a traitor, and wound up in state that, mercifully, his mortal brain could not recall fully. Funny how words like “inferno”, “abyss”, “hades”, and many others tried in vain to explain what waited for those who willingly abandoned the welfare of their souls. Not that he had ever believed in them to begin with; another great mistake. Now he had a chance for atonement, and he had many amends to make. The suffering he had caused his family weighed heavy on his mind. He did not dare contemplate what their lives must have been like after his demise. He had wronged many with his lust for power, but them in particular.

The clawed fingers began tapping the desk as his features turned more enraged. Jenner had chided Jonathan for bringing his family here, claiming it would cause distraction. But that had only been part of it. Truth be told, he had resented Jonathan for allowing himself the joy of his family when Jenner had been told to wait for his reunion with his own loved ones. His benefactor had become uncharacteristically unfair in recent months, or at least it appeared to him that way.

Jenner shook his head trying to dispel such treasonous thoughts.

Jonathan had given him a chance at redemption. The mouse he had detested in his former life had rescued him from a fate that he could barely explain now. Hell was a wholly inadequate word. And Jonathan had been in a place, or state of bliss that had given him insights Jenner did not want to guess at. What right did he have to judge the mouse’s reasons for doing what he thought was necessary for everyone’s safety?

He went back to the glowing icons in his computer desk, a smaller version of Jonathan’s own terminal, and tried to resume his work. The doubts just kept intruding again. Jenner sighed, leaned back in his chair, and turned to face the wall-window again. He just hoped he would get everything finished for the move after tonight’s final Convocation.

The door chime announced visitors.

That was peculiar. He had set the alarm to only allow Jonathan to disturb him, and he was supposed to be busy with his own preparations for the move for at least another few hours.

The hulking rat activated the admissions icon on his terminal and the double doors to his office opened.

A stern-faced Mrs. Brisby, her two children in tow, marched into his office and right up to his desk.

Jenner did not have time to mask his surprise at this most unexpected intrusion. He could not figure out how the mice had managed to get access to his door chime. Thankfully, the brown mouse did not give him any time to ponder this particular question. Her face was uncharacteristically grave as she leaned towards him from the other side of his desk, hands pressed to the surface.

‘Where is Jonathan?’

Jenner was startled by the commanding tone.

‘In his office I suppose. He said he would be busy for a while and I need to…’

‘Jenner,’ Elizabeth cut him off, ‘I need your help. We are in terrible danger.’

That energized the rat immediately. Having been responsible for the security of the facility for so long had conditioned Jenner to react to any potential threat, or even the mention of it. He stood up and leaned forward on the table as well.

‘What’s wrong?’

‘Jonathan is wrong.’

That short-circuited the rat’s training and had him look at Mrs. Brisby slack-jawed for a moment.


‘Dad is seriously messed-up,’ Cynthia offered in explanation.

Sadly, that did not suffice for the chief of security and he took his seat once more with deliberate slowness.

‘Okay, just what are we talking about here? Do I need to call Jonathan to clear this up?’

‘No!’ Elizabeth shouted with surprising anger. ‘You will not contact Jonathan, or inform him anything about what we are going to tell you.’

Jenner blinked his heavy-lidded eyes once, twice. Years ago he had encountered a quite different Mrs. Brisby. She had been shy and uncertain back then, easily cowed. Now she exuded a certainty and determination that almost frightened him.

‘He has lied to you, Jenner. He has lied to all of us.’

‘What do you mean?’ He was getting annoyed.

Timothy chimed in from behind his mother.

‘During that final meeting he wants to have before the move, he’s going to douse everyone with a new serum.’


Elizabeth spoke as calmly as she could.

‘Jonathan has made a new serum in secret, one that will slowly turn us all back into wild animals, and everyone we come into contact with. He’s put it into the sprinkler system.’

‘And during the next Convocation,’ Cynthia added, ‘whoooooosh!’

‘You are all insane, raving mad.’

‘It’s true!’ Timothy snapped.

‘I am begging you, Jenner,’ Mrs. Brisby sighed, ‘you need to help us stop him.’

The rat stood up again and raised his hands to his sides. This was getting out of hand, more so since it echoed some of the misgivings he had been harboring.

‘Where did you hear this nonsense?’

Elizabeth took a deep breath, straightened, and folded her arms across her chest.



All three mice nodded.

Jenner folded his arms behind his back and started to pace behind his desk, his face suspicious and still condescending.

‘And did our machine-mind give you any proof? We are talking about a simple computer program after all, and glitches are known to happen.’

‘You can ask her yourself,’ Mrs. Bisby ventured icily.

‘And ask her about the fourth detention level while you’re at it.’ Cynthia sneered at him.

Now Jenner knew the mice had gone bonkers. He grinned over his shoulder.

‘We only have cell blocks, A, B, and C. The last I counted, that makes three.’

All three mice gave him unmoving stares.

Then his old nemesis almost whispered, ‘Three that you know of.’

An awful cold began running down Jenner’s spine. None of the Brisby family looked as if they were joking. The seriousness in their gazes was undeniable. Not taking his eyes from theirs the rat touched a portion of the computer terminal integrated in his desk.

‘Alis, bring up the schematics for our detention levels. Put them on the window screen.’

‘Yes Mr. Fray.’

The surface of the window darkened and a three dimensional outline of the facility’s prison appeared. Still condescending Jenner walked up to the display and pointed with a clawed finger.

‘There is cell block A, there is cell block B, oh, and there is cell block C. One, two, three.’

He turned a triumphant grin to the mice. The grin froze on his face when he realized the mice’s own glares had not changed, not even in surprise.

‘Alis,’ Mrs. Brisby called out, ‘allow Jenner the same access privileges that Jonathan and I have.’

‘Yes, Mrs. Brisby.’

She nodded at Jenner coldly, ‘Look again.’

He turned his head slowly, actual fear in his features evident now. When the rat faced the large wall-screen the display had changed. The original outline was still there, but now a fourth section, deeper than the original three, had been added.’

Jenner walked to the monitor slowly and gently raised a palm against the addition to the schematics.

‘Alis,’ he almost croaked,’ what is this?’

‘Detention area D, permanent storage, Directorial security clearance required.’

His eyes narrowed.

‘What… who is in there?’

‘Do you wish a listing of names?’

‘Yes, curse you!’

Next to the diagram a long list of names, ages, gender, and species descriptions were being added up. Within seconds more than a hundred names had appeared and the list kept growing. Jenner felt outrage replace his consternation.

‘Who are these people?’

Alis answered without hesitation.

‘Individuals from the first and second Baltimore sewer retrieval and individuals categorized as “dangerous dissidents”.’

The rat whirled at the desk, feeling the need to address a focal point for his anger.

‘Those mice and rats are being treated for the genetic regression!’

‘Treatments for regression symptoms require a maximum of 18 hours. The last specimen finished treatment 18 hours and 37 minutes ago.’

He stared at the blank, black desk in bafflement.

‘Jonathan said it took weeks, months in some cases. That they were being housed in the East Tower appartments…’

‘That information was false,’ Alis corrected.

‘He lied to you, Jenner.’

The rat leaned on the table, taking desperate breaths as Mrs. Brisby spoke quietly. He clenched his eyes shut. This could not be happening. There had to be some mistake. This was his chance at redemption. Jonathan was his redemption.

‘Jenner,’ Elizabeth pleaded, ‘please help us. We need to stop him.’

He pounded a fist onto the desk, eyes still shut, as his features contorted in rage and pain.

‘No, no, no. This can’t be real!’

‘Don’t you think I wish the same?’

The rat looked at the bespectacled mouse. Her eyes were filled with tears and he could see the horrible pain this most awful truth was causing her. Jenner straightened up and sniffed away his own rage.

‘I need to see this for myself.’

He led the mice from his office and went down to the exercise floor. Stella was still busy getting a wire-haired terrier to stop shaking after another unsuccessful attempt to subdue Brutus. Everybody turned to face as the strange procession as they entered through the wide, central doors. Jenner did not waste time with niceties or explanations.

‘Sergeant Lux, Brutus, come with us.’

Stella saluted and dismissed the remaining animals with a wave, but Brutus remained hesitant until he saw Mrs. Brisby nodding solemnly.

Minutes later the group was on their way to a particular side elevator Alis was guiding them to verbally. Like the one Mrs. Brisby had taken to reach the computer mainframe this one was secreted in an inconspicuous corner. Thankfully, it was meant for freight of larger size so everyone fit in without having to feel claustrophobic. As they descended, less abrupt than the brown mouse had on her elevator ride earlier, the chief of security addressed the small computer screen with a desire for answers.

‘Alis, where is Justin?’

‘He is in a joint meeting with Dr. Snow and Director Brisby.’

Jenner drew in angry breath.

‘So we can’t count on him right now. Typical. Alright, show me the files about this new serum.’

‘Which one should I display first?’

‘Dang it! Put them all on the screen and I will select what I want!’

The computer complied immediately and the rat was momentarily put off at the amount of data filing the screen. Then, he tapped a claw on a file that said “serum modification”. Since their ride would not last forever the dark rat only spent a few moments scrolling through the menu until he selected another file. Behind him and over his shoulder the two silent rats gazed at the fleeting data displays. Brutus did not understand what much of the information meant, but he understood enough. Both his and Stella’s facial features turned to ice. This was beyond bad. Since he stood at the elevator’s front none of the others were able to see Jenner’s face, but they did see his posture and jaw muscles tighten more and more.

Finally, the elevator stopped and the doors slid open.

The rodents started down a big service ramp leading up to loading gate marked the same way as the three official cell blocks, except for being labeled “D”; That and the fact that two hulking rats stood guard in full sterilizer armor. This was not normal procedure. But then again, this day was shaping up to be anything but normal.

The Sterilizers raised their weapons as the group approached.

‘You are not authorized to enter here.’

‘Are you insane?’ Jenner snapped.

‘You are not authorized to enter here.’

There was a frighteningly dull tone to the voice, something that had nothing to do with the synthetic speaker system of the armor.

Jenner tried again.

‘Corporal, I am ordering you to open that gate now!’

Brutus shoved the security chief out of the way as the closest Sterilizer rat discharged his weapon, taking the brunt of the blast instead of Jenner. Apparently, this time the weapon had not been set to stun as the huge rat jerked violently for a few moments and his whiskers emitted sparks. But that was the extent of the damage. Momentary confusion on the armed rat’s part gave Brutus time to grab it by the throat and hurl it unceremoniously over his shoulder into a wall. That Sterilizer did not rise again. The second one, at the moment the first had discharged the weapon, had received two successive kicks into the temple, and slumped against the gate groaning.

‘Alis,’ Jenner composed himself, ‘are there any more guards inside?’

‘No. All security details are outside the detention area.’

The enraged rat was puzzled.

‘Nobody is guarding the inmates?’

‘The inmates in permanent storage do not require supervision.’

That statement sent shivers down the spines of everyone and nobody dared ask for clarification. Jenner took a shaky breath.

‘Alis, when I give the order you will open the gate and disable any warning sirens, cameras and microphones. Nobody is to know we are here.’

‘What about these two?’ Timothy pointed at the two prone rats.

The one Brutus had hurled into a wall was coming to.

‘Stella,’ Jenner was not bothering to use her rank and last name, ‘you and Brutus remove the weapons. Just tear them off. Then drag them along. I want to know exactly what’s been going on here.’

Mrs. Brsiby had seen the rat in a number of different moods. She had witnessed Jenner charming, enraged, condescending, consumed by greed, but never in a state of rage that left him as cold as now. In a way, he was more frightening than she had ever seen him.

With some vicious tearing sounds and electric sparks Brutus tore off the energy tubes covering the Sterilizers’ arms while Stella held them in place. Then, grabbing them by the collar, one in each oversized paw, the large male dragged them up to the group.

‘Open the gate now.’

The doors swung open with hardly a sound.

The vast space beyond beckoned with mechanical cold.

The cell block was unlike anything the Thorn Valley refugees or even Jenner could have imagined. There were no cells, no holding areas to speak of. An immense, brightly lighted corridor was lined with row upon row of shining metal cylinders of a design similar to those that had housed the human bodies, which had served as remote vessels for rodent minds. Only in here the containers were smaller, sized to accommodate occupants of a number of sizes. The ones closest to their entrance were the largest, able to almost accommodate a human being. Then, as one went along the corridor, their size diminished until the last ones could only house something mouse-sized. Three additional levels rose above the ground floor and were accessible through stairs at both ends of the corridor and another set in the middle of the passage. Up there only the smaller containers could be seen. Each cylinder had a monitor station built into the front. The ones that were occupied showed a bright green light and the windows inside their metal doors were fogged up with icy frosting.

The group walked into the hall slowly, nobody daring to speak. Brutus and Stella took a few moments to secure the stirring Sterilizers to the closest staircase and left them there. When they rejoined the group the others had reached the first occupied container, large enough to house a feline or small dog, Jenner stepped to the window and wiped away the condensation.

A male rabbit was inside, unfocused behind the ice clouding the glass, unclothed, and with its eyes closed.

The security chief’s brow wrinkled. He did not know this rabbit. But from his right side Mrs. Brisby gasped.

‘That’s Benjamin!’

All eyes turned to the mouse.

‘He lived in the fields of the Farm. I met him the last time I visited Teresa.’

Jenner looked at the monitor readout and rumbled.

‘Collected from the Fitzgibbon Farm and interred directly afterwards.’

The rat punched an angry fist into the metal.

‘They were supposed to be free!’

The others jerked as he hit the container.

‘Alis, why is he in there?’

There was a hint of embarrassment in the computer’s reply.

‘There is no reason given in any of the available files.’

The security chief kept staring at the serene, frozen face and muttered to himself.

‘Dragon was brought back, but you were put in here. What are you doing to him, Jonathan?’

He was interrupted by a wail of despair coming from down the corridor. Cynthia had rushed ahead of the group as if with a goal in mind. Now she stood staring in front of a much smaller containment chamber, mouth agape and eyes huge in shock. The remaining rodents rushed to catch up with her, Timothy in the lead. But it was her mother who, as she saw the prone shape in the cylinder, managed to speak the occupant’s name.



This time it was Jenner who had shouted. While the others had joined Cynthia the rat had stopped halfway along the way, drawn to the vague shape of a rat face in one of the active receptacles. It had taken him a moment to find the courage to step closer so he could see the occupant more clearly. Then he had recognized the features of his wife, his widow.  Anger and pain now echoed in his shouted denial. Even Cynthia, in her own despair, turned to look at the imposing rat sink down on his knees in front of his wife’s internment.

‘Timothy, Brutus, stay with Cynthia.’

Elizabeth walked towards Jenner, who was rocking on his knees, hands clutched in front of his face, muttering almost incoherently. She did not dare reach out to him in this state but looked at the face behind the frosted glass.


At the mention of his mate’s name Jenner’s head jerked up, tears streaming down a face contorted with rage. He did not look at the mouse but started at the motionless features of his wife as he snarled through clenched teeth.

‘You lying monster! You said I would see her safe in Thorn Valley. You knew all along. YOU KNEW! Froze her like piece of meat! YOU KNEEEEEEEEEEW!’

The scream subsided into sobs as the rat’s head once more slumped to his chest.

‘Can’t we get them out?’

Jenner blinked and looked up again, confusion evident. Then realization dawned and he got to his feet in an instant.

‘Yes! Of course we can. ALIS!’


‘Get a medical team down here. All of these people need to be awakened and released. Clothing, food, anything they will need to get on their feed quickly. Can you organize that without Jonathan finding out?’

There was a moment’s hesitation as the mechanical mind weighed options and procedures.

‘Yes. I am initializing the release procedures. Medical teams will be here in time for the detainees’ awakening.’

The rat placed a heavy clawed hand on the viewing pane of Victoria’s prison, took a deep breath, and managed to compose himself. He turned towards Stella and Brutus, who had remained with the Brisby children.

‘Stella! Brutus!’

The mute rat’s looked his way at attention.

‘Stay here. I need you to oversee the release of these people. Mrs. Brisby and I have an errand to run and will return as soon as we can.’

Then Jenner’s tone lowered to a pleading note.

‘Please make sure my wife will be alright?’

Stella and Brutus looked at each other for a moment and then nodded their affirmation. Jenner turned to face his old nemesis and beckoned her to follow him.

‘This way, ma’am. We don’t have much time.’

She followed her former adversary with a curt nod towards the entrance ramp. But before they could leave the detention block Jenner stopped at the two guard rats, one of whom had come to and was looking about himself in clear consternation. When the head of security approached him relief light up his features.

‘Commander Fray! What’s going here? Where am I?’

Mrs. Brisby took a while to comprehend what the Sterilizer’s comments implied. Jenner, on the other, already had a suspicion.

‘At ease, Corporal. What’s the last thing you remember?’

‘Director Brisby was commending our whole squad, in his own office, for the operation on that Farm.’

The big albino rat blinked trying to remember and then gazed at his superior in fear.

‘I don’t remember what happened next. Where are we?’

‘Never mind that. What day did he have your squad come to his office?’

Like a good soldier the bound rat immediately gave him the date. Jenner growled.

‘Four days ago.’


Not responding to the shaken guard he called over his shoulder.

‘Stella! Free these poor guys. Put on your speaking collar, tell them what they need to know, and then have them help out in whatever way they can.’

He patted the now shivering Sterilizer on the shoulder.

‘Don’t worry son. Everything’s going to be okay. Sergeant Lux will take care of you.’

Jenner looked at Elizabeth.

‘Ma’am, I know this is a lot to ask. You came to me for my help. Now I have to ask you for yours. Will you help me stop Jonathan?’

She nodded unhappily.

‘Even it means we might have to stop him… for good?’

Taking deep breaths as the implication of the rat’s statement sank in she closed her eyes to suppress tears. A few moments later she whispered through her sorrow, ‘Whoever did this is not Jonathan anymore.’

Neither rat nor mouse felt like talking as their elevator ascended to whatever destination Jenner had in mind. Thankfully, there were other things the security chief had to get accomplished.

‘Alis, are Justin and Julia still with the Director?’

‘No Mr. Fray. They are in Dr. Snow’s quarters.’

‘Tell Justin I need to see him and Dr. Snow right now; my personal quarters.’

‘What if Julia tells Jonathan?’

The rat had to agree.

‘Tell Justin it has to do with…’

Jenner was at a loss what reason could impel his old adversary to secrecy.

‘Tell him it has to do with what happened at the Convocation. And that Jonathan must not know. Tell him I said so.’

He gave Mrs. Brisby an unusually respectful nod. Then the two resumed their silent vigil as their ride commenced.

They exited on the same floor where the Brisby appartment and Julia’s quarters were located. But Jenner’s own abode was nestled into a far corner, as if purposefully hidden unless someone where to actively search for it. The door looked forlorn in its remote section of wall. Once Jenner opened the door through pressing his palm against the recognition gem in the wall Elizabeth got her first view of the resurrected rat’s private world. It was not what she had expected.

Where their own apartment in this peculiar place was simple, yet still comfortable, Jenner’s dwellings were Spartan to the extreme. No windows allowed light to come in from the Atrium. There were only two small rooms, separated by an open archway, and a washroom behind a closed door. Mrs. Brisby had never seen a monk’s cell, but from what she had read from book, this must bear a striking resemblance.

A table with a single chair, a closet, a chest of drawers, and a bed that was more of a bunk than a true mattress. The entire place radiated austerity to a degree that spoke of self-flagellation. Apart from two central light fixtures on the ceiling and a big monitor in one wall there were no amenities to be found in here. Elizabeth had always doubted Jenner’s sincerity in his reformation. Now those doubts were cast into doubt as well. The only ornamentation was a small framed picture, a painting similar to the one she had found in her own new dwelling. Only this time the painting did not show the Brisby family but Jenner’s. Victoria and three young rat girls, one almost as tall as her parents despite her obvious young age, were joined together with Jenner in the framed image. Mrs. Brisby had never encountered Jenner expressing true tenderness. But in this painting the artist had managed to convey just that.

While she started at the image the rat had been busy at the back of the closet. Jenner pulled out a huge metal box, larger than a mouse, made from metal and locked tightly. Once the container was in the middle of the small room he noticed the mouse looking at the painting. He walked over and gently laid the image on its back, his hand patting it tenderly.

‘This was not made from life.’

Elizabeth nodded without looking away from the now prone picture as Jenner sighed.

‘It shows what should have been if I had known better.’

Now she turned to face him.

‘Maybe there is still time to make amends?’

He stared back at the mouse, wondering if she truly thought so. There was no deception or doubt in her gaze. She really did believe he could redeem himself with his loved ones; if he managed to live through tonight.

Jenner stepped away from the table and back to the box. Three keys, looking antiquated in these modern surroundings, were necessary to open the chest. But once unlocked the rat did not get to open the lid. An automated chime indicated that his guests had arrived. Jenner activated the door from the inside and a concerned Justin and thoroughly confused Julia entered. From the look on the female rat’s face it was obvious that Justin had told her on their way about what he had seen during the Convocation. How much of it she believed no one could tell.

‘Come in quickly! Alis, lock the door behind us and make sure nobody knows we are in here, especially Jonathan.’

‘What on Earth is going on here, Jenner?’ Justin demanded.

It was Mrs. Brisby who answered.

‘He lied to us, Justin. Jonathan lied to us all.’

Julia cut in, ‘What are you talking about?’

Now it was Jenner’s turn.

‘You know that story he told us about the mice from the sewers and their treatment?’

‘Of course,’ the rat scientist responded, ‘he told me today that moving them in separate, darkened escape vehicles would be no problem.’

‘Hah!’ Jenner sneered bitterly, ‘Their treatment was finished a long time ago. Jonathan has had them all put on ice in a secret detention level.’

‘What?’ Both Justin and Julia exclaimed together.

‘It’s true,’ Elizabeth added, ‘in a place he never told anyone about Jonathan has put hundreds of animals of all kinds into these cylinders, like the ones you keep those human bodies in.’

‘Why would he do that?’ Julia sounded desperate and afraid now.

Mrs. Brisby touched her arm.

‘He’s not who we thought he was.’

‘What do mean?’ Justin chimed in.

‘Jonathan’s lied to all of us. The mice and the rats we got from the sewers are all lined up in storage tubes like canned meat. Not just that, there’s others in there that apparently angered him or that he thought would get in the way of his plan.’

‘What plan?’ Julia demanded.

‘To turn us all back into wild animals.’

Neither of the newcomers was able to speak for a while after Elizabeth’s statement. The gravity and her dour expression was proof enough that she was not making this up.

‘I don’t believe this.’ Julia shook her head defiantly.

‘Alis,’ Jenner ordered, ‘put a wide angle view on this screen that shows Detention Level D.’

‘Yes Mr. Fray.’

The image appeared instantly, displayed in three dimensions. Julia’s jaw dropped and she cautiously stepped towards the screen. A large group of medical personal of all species together with aids and guards were busy extracting the stored detainees and handing out clothing and food. Doctor Snow put a palm on the monitor, disrupting the three-dimensional display as if to dispel a bad dream. Yet when she removed her hand the scene remained.


She could not finish the sentence. Everything she had ever believed in, this place, Jonathan’s dream, was threatened to be shattered by what she saw.

Justin, thankfully, had no qualms about accepting what he saw. Ever since the Convocation his doubts had been growing. That did not mean he trusted Jenner.

‘So what are you planning to do about it, Jenner?’

 The larger rat lifted the box he had retrieved and, supporting it with one arm, lifted the lid.

Even Julia drew her gaze away from the monitor as the box’ contents cast the sparse quarters into a bizarre and shifting luminance. Inside the container were Stones identical and size and shape to the ones Mrs. Brisby and Jonathan were wearing. Only their colors differed. No two were alike in hue. Reds, oranges, shades of green, purple, yellow, and blue were present. It was difficult to gauge how many of the sparkling and glowing gems were in the box, but clearly more than ten.

Without comment, Jenner put the box on the floor and lifted out a purple Stone, caressing the gold binding in his hands. Longing and fear radiated from his features, but the slowly raised the golden chain over his head and placed the jewel on his chest. It was then that he became aware of the stares. Justin and Elizabeth in particular eyed him with barely concealed suspicion. From everything they had experienced they knew what powers the gems could unlock. To have their once mortal enemy bearing one now clearly filled them with apprehension. Jenner tucked the Stone away underneath his uniform, avoiding the others’ stares and then lifted a second jewel from the box, this one red, but with a stronger hint of burgundy and purple than the one Elizabeth wore. He offered it to Justin.

Nonplussed the brown rat took a step back.

‘Take it,’ Jenner insisted. ‘Without it Jonathan will be able to take over your mind without you ever knowing it.’

Carefully, not taking his eyes off the other rat, he accepted the Stone. It pulsed in his hands, similar to the sensations he had experienced after his encounter with the one Mrs. Brisby now wore. After a brief hesitation he donned it while asking the obvious question.

‘Where did you get these, Jenner?’

The other smirked, then shook his head.

‘We got the ones the humans had made from Schulz and Valentine. Then Jonathan had me make more. Never told me why, just that we might need more and how many he thought we would need.’

‘And you just,’ Elizabeth queried, ‘kept them?’

Jenner looked to the ground, hands grabbing his own arms as if chilled.

‘Trust me, if I had a choice, I would never wear one again.’

He gave the others a humorless smile.

‘The last time I tried to get my hand on one it got me killed, remember?’

In the uncomfortable quiet that followed Jenner fished a third Stone from the container and handed it to Julia. It shimmered in a dark turquoise.

‘We better hide them under our clothes and hope Jonathan doesn’t realize what’s going on.’

Finally, Julia, after numbly accepting the jewel, found her voice again.

‘And what are we going to do then? Call off the Move?’

For a few minutes, everyone just stared at each other. Nobody appeared to have any specific ideas of how to proceed. Releasing the captives had been the straightforward thing to do, but now the matter of how to deal with the Director had to be decided. It was Mrs. Brisby who finally spoke up.

‘We asked Alis to neutralize the compound and shut down the sprinkler system.’

‘What about the manual override?’ Julia remarked and then spoke to the computer screen, which still displayed the happenings in the special detention block, ‘Alis, can you make sure the sprinkler system can’t be accessed manually?’

‘I have already done so, Dr. Snow.’ The voice echoed from the speakers. Elizabeth thought the voice had less of a mechanical tone to it now, or maybe her close association with the artificial entity was clouding her senses. Yet when Alis spoke up once more the mouse felt sure the construct’s speech had become much more lifelike.

‘That’s one problem taken care of,’ remarked Justin.

‘But what about the Move?’ Julia was insistent.

It was Mrs. Brisby who offered a solution.

‘Julia, do you want to live in here, sealed up from the world forever?’

The white rat looked at the mouse incredulously.

‘Of course not!’

Elizabeth shrugged and smiled.

‘Then we all might as well get out of here when we can. The Move itself is not the problem.’

Now her face darkened.

‘What Jonathan plans to use the Move for is another matter.’

Justin tapped his chin

‘Whatever we do, we can’t just announce what Jonathan has done and cancel everything. I think a lot of folks in here will not believe us if we tell them, not without tons of proof.’

‘What do you mean?’

Julia’s concern deepened.

‘Think about it,’ Justin answered, ‘for three years he has given everyone a reason to stick together, a reason to live, a purpose. If we tell them he lied about it, how many do you suppose will believe us? How many will want to believe us?’

It was Jenner who blew out an appreciative breath.

‘I hate to admit it, but Justin has a point. A lot of folks will not want to listen.’

Julia nodded slowly.

‘You’re right. But what if we showed them, not just on a monitor, but the real deal?’

Justin’s brows rose.

‘You want to show them the people Jonathan had… stored away?’

‘Yes,’ Elizabeth agreed, ‘that might work. Some of these folk looked like they lived here before. I bet people have missed them, or at least wondered. Nobody would be able to deny that.’

Before a final agreement could be made Alis interrupted the discussion.

‘Excuse me for interrupting, Dr. Snow, I need to ask you and Mr. Fray for advice immediately.’

Julia and Jenner exchanged confused glances. The artificial mind had never before entered an ongoing conversation between real people before. This was a side to the computer they had not encountered.

‘About what,’ the female rat dared to ask.

‘Due to the disturbing revelations regarding the Director’s actions I have taken the liberty of scouring all internal and external company files for further concerns. I am far from finished, but I have just uncovered more disquieting matters that may require immediate action.’

Jenner swallowed hard.

‘Go on.’

‘I have discovered that almost two years ago the Director has authorized and initiated the creation of smaller laboratories at locations in different countries around the world, staffed with animals that have received the intelligence treatment.’

More glances were exchanged.

‘It appears these smaller facilities are operated by only a few individuals, but have been producing the same altered serum that was supposed to be used on us today. They appear to be getting ready to release it into the water supplies of the countries they are located in in time with our planned Move.’

Mrs. Brisby gasped.

‘It’s not just us! He plans to change the entire world.’

Justin looked at her alarmed.

‘What? Why would he do that? Change the world how?’

‘Alis,’ Julia instructed, ‘let me have a look at the details for this new serum.’

‘Yes, Dr. Snow.’

The view from the prison block switched to a three-dimensional diagram of the serum’s genetic make-up, complete with notes. Julia scrolled through the data, using her right hand to direct the flow of icons. Then her eyes went wide with shock.

‘Heaven help us! This stuff would alter every single mind on this planet.’

Justin grabbed her shoulder.


She turned to him, face ashen. Then she almost croaked, ‘I don’t know how exactly. But it looks like it would everyone more easily… controlled.’

‘And if there is one thing Jonathan was always good at,’ Jenner intoned gravely, ‘it was charming people into doing what he wanted them to.’

‘Alis,’ the white rat addressed the screen again, ‘can you access these places? Shut them down maybe?’

‘I have already begun taking over their computer systems. They appear primitive and I should be able to have full control within a few hours.’

‘Can you shut them down?’ Justin’s voice was cold as ice.

‘I will try to do so.’

He turned to Jenner.

‘What now?’

The security chief closed the lid of the box and handed it to Justin.

‘Get this to as many people down in the prison block as possible. Stella, Brutus…’

Jenner hesitated for a moment.

‘Remember the mouse called Nestor?’

‘He was in the same cage at NIMH as Jonathan was.’

‘Right,’ Jenner agreed, ‘he was the second mouse in the special experiments. The yellow Stone is his. He may be down there. If he is, fill him in and give it to him. Give the rest to whomever you think can help us stop this madness, preferably someone who can deal with a Sterilizer.’

Now it was Julia’s turn to become worried.

‘What’s wrong with your Sterilizers?’

He gave her a look of misery.

‘We had to wallop two of them at that secret jail. Jonathan’s somehow brainwashed them. If we try to stop him, I don’t know how many of my security people I can trust.’

‘Great,’ Justin exhaled, ‘are you telling me Jonathan may have mind-control over all your guards?’

‘Remember the Convocation?’ Elizabeth interjected.

Justin closed his eyes and nodded.

‘So, anyone who can take on one of those goons gets one of these. The Stones will keep their minds safe?’

‘I hope so,’ Jenner remarked dryly, ‘but Stella needs to arm them as well. And we have to do it nice and quiet so that Jonathan doesn’t realize what’s going on.’

The brown rat whistled through his teeth.

‘That’s a tall order.’

Mrs. Brisby offered some comfort and said,

‘Alis can help make sure nobody gets suspicious, right?’

‘I will do my best.’ The computer affirmed.

‘And what about you?’ Julia threw at Jenner. ‘What are you going to do?’

The tall rat sighed.

‘I’m scheduled to meet with Jonathan for a status update on the Move  in…’

He looked at a read-out on his wrist.

‘In twenty minutes. Can you take care of the ones being released for now?’

The other three nodded.

‘Then we better get going. I’ll rejoin you as soon as I can’

As they filed out of Jenner’s quarters the head of security grabbed Justin’s wrist.


Jenner looked miserable as he whispered.

‘Victoria is down there, and my girls. Could you take care of them, please?’

Justin had never seen such a dejected and pleading look on the other’s face before. He nodded and, uncharacteristically, patted Jenner’s shoulder as they left to their tasks.

Chapter 18: The Uprising

It had taken all of Jenner’s will-power to act calm and collected while he had conferred with Jonathan in the Directorial Office. Thankfully Alis had been able to provide him with mock reports and status updates that showed everything was going according to schedule. The mouse had then added a few minor adjustments to the sequence of events before the actual Move, which would commence at midnight exactly. Jenner had never been the praying sort, never believing in anyone but himself. Granted, his experience in dying and what came after had altered his view of the world, yet he still never had been able to pick up the habit of connecting with some sort of divine guidance. But as the meeting went on he found himself, for the very first time, silently imploring whatever divinity existed to keep Jonathan from reading his true thoughts. Either by divine intervention or the Stone hidden beneath his uniform the Director gave no indication of sensing something out of place.

Once the meeting had concluded Jenner hurried through hidden corridors and obscure elevators to rejoin the others in Detention Block D. When the freight lift doors opened he found the access ramp leading into the now wide-open storage hall a bustle of activity. He had hoped to keep their efforts low key, but had not taken into account how many individuals had been incarcerated in the containment cylinders. Seeing countless rat guards, all in off duty garb, coordinate the distribution of food and clothing as medical personal saw to the needs of the newly resuscitated made his heart sink. How they would ever manage to keep all of this from Jonathan was beyond him. There were just too many people. He even saw a few of his canine guards, the very same he had sent after the Thorn Valley refugees during their ill-fated escape attempt, comfort some of the larger animals as they emerged from their enforced hibernation. Thankfully, none were in uniform, which raised his hopes that nobody here had been pulled away from duty. That would have been a dead giveaway.

Before he could enter the cell block proper he spotted Cynthia Brisby, wearing a sky-blue Stone over her poncho and three male mice in two, heading straight for him, waving an arm.

‘Jenner! I need to talk to you.’

The rat was not certain he wanted to hear what the youngest Brisby daughter had to say. He did note that she was pulling along one of the male mice, a dark-grey-coated youth of about her own age with a sprinkling of white freckles on his face, while two other males, of early adulthood, followed behind. One of these was medium-grey in color and sported puffy cheek fur and glasses, the other of a warm tan color with a slightly darker goatee. To Jenner’s dismay he noticed all three males were wearing Stones.

‘Cynthia, why do they have the Stones?’

The female mouse waved her paw dismissively, which aggravated the rat to no end. At least the two older male mice looked appropriately cowed. The younger one being dragged seemed somewhat amused.

‘This here’s my friend Brendan,’ Cynthia explained, ‘He held off herds of those giant sewer rats all by himself, so he can deal with Sterilizers. He gets a Stone, and that’s that.’

She pointed at the remaining mice.

‘These two are Vincent and Anthony. You know why dad locked them up down here?’

Now she glared at the rat with enough venom to make Jenner lean back a bit.


‘Well, I’ll tell you. They were with the first people in here Timmy and I talked to, and what we heard made us a bit uneasy about this place. We mentioned it to Dad.’

Jenner’s eyes grew wide.

‘I remember he asked me to find out who you talked to. He had them locked up for that?’

‘He locked up their whole families!’

Few had ever heard Cynthia shout in rage before. It was just not something that was part of her usual nature. That made her all the more terrifying for it. She stomped forward and poked the much larger rat on the chest.

‘You told Dad and he had them locked up. So don’t you dare ask me why I gave them the gems.’   

She glowered up at him, her chest huffing and puffing as she dared the rat to make a reply, any reply. Jenner decided that keeping silent might just be the best option. This was the first time he had ever been intimidated by a teenager, much less a mouse teenager. A few moments later Cynthia regained her composure and took a step back, smoothing her poncho.

‘Actually, these two are…’ She glanced at Anthony and Vincent.

‘What are you again?’

‘Therapists?’ They offered in unison.

‘Mind doctors,’ the female mouse explained to Jenner.

‘Anyway, Julia thought it might be a good idea to have someone look at any security people we needed down here and I thought they would do the trick.’

She turned to the two hesitant mice expectantly. Vincent and Anthony exchanged glances and then Anthony spoke.

‘We talked to the guards. Dr. Snow asked us to see if any of them had somehow been brainwashed.’

‘Like that would be an obvious thing to see!’ Vincent rolled his eyes.

‘That’s why you got the Stones, remember?’

The two therapists eyed Cynthia doubtfully, but Anthony continued.

‘Whatever these jewels are, they do seem to make it easier to find out if someone has something wrong in their minds.’

The grey mouse nodded sagely.

‘Plus, Vincent specializes in hypnosis, so we had some idea what to look for.’

‘And?’ Jenner was getting impatient.

‘And,’ Vincent took up the tale, ‘every single one of the security people down here, no matter what species, has had a serious hypnotic implant. Is that usual practice?’

Behind the glasses the mouse’s expression had become disdainful, making Jenner uncomfortable once more. How was it that mice were now able to unnerve him so?

‘No, not at all,’ he replied defensively.

‘Well,’ Anthony added, ‘Vince removed the programming.’

‘It was strange,’ Vincent agreed, ‘normally we’d have to probe and ask to find out what had been put into their minds. But with these little beauties…’ he padded the ember Stone around his neck, ‘it was like I could actually see what had been done to them.’

‘Huh’, Anthony confirmed, ‘Positively bizarre. I don’t usually do hypnosis, but even I had no problem helping them get rid of that programming.’

Cynthia pushed herself in front of the other once more.

‘In any case, I wanted to let you know that you should be able to trust all of the ones these two have un-brainwashed so far. There’s only about two dozen, and most of them have gone away with Brutus and Stella, plus a whole bunch of the mice and big sewer rats. They still have to check on about a dozen or so and deprogram them as well, so we better get back. And by the way, you’re welcome!’

With that she turned, the youngest male still in tow and the two mental specialists following while giving the security chief uneasy glances over their shoulders.

Jenner just stood there for a minute, mulling over what he had learned. Then he began to walk towards the detention area proper.

‘Thank you,’ he muttered to himself.

As he entered the general commotion of medical personal and a few off-duty guards the security chiefs noticed again that none of the individuals aiding in the recovery of the secret prisoners were wearing uniforms. Maybe they could keep this quiet after all. Doctors and nurses, a few he recognized, were all dressed casually. Jenner assumed that Julia, with Alis’s help, had decided to utilize only those who were not currently on active duty. He approved. Someone was using their heads.

Once in the detention hall he searched for the shapes of Justin and Julia. He found Dr. Snow, Mrs. Brisby and her son talking to a group of mice, most of middle or advanced age. Before he could say anything, a slender almost black-furred mouse with a slate-grey underfur and mustache walked up to him, bushy brows furrowed.

‘Is that you, Jenner?’

The rat noticed the mouse was wearing a yellow Stone on top of a simple laboratory tunic, which made recognition even easier.


He looked up at Jenner, arms folded across his chest, golden eyes boring into the rat green ones uncomfortably.

‘Never thought I’d see you again, and if I had, it would not have been like this.’

The rat nodded.

‘I know. I’m sorry.’

‘Tell me, face to face, is Jonathan really responsible for us being here?’

Jenner was about to affirm, but then shook his head.

‘No, I am supposed to be the Head of Security. Jonathan may have put all of you down here, but the one who is supposed to know what is going on is me. The responsibility is mine.’

Elizabeth tilted her head. She would have never suspected the rat that had once tried to kill her for personal gain to take blame like this. How the world had changed.

Nestor sighed and shook his head as he waved a hand at Mrs. Brisby.

‘Jonathan’s wife told me that he isn’t really himself anymore. From what’s going on in here that sounds about right. The Jonathan I knew would never even have considered this.’

Before any reply could be made, Jenner felt a hand on his shoulder. Turning he saw Justin, who had just walked up behind the group.

‘Sorry to interrupt you guys, but I think we’re in a bit of a time-crunch here. Brutus and Stella have taken twenty of your off-duty guard rats down to some storage place, as well as twenty of the mice from the sewers, and fifty of those huge rats. They’re waiting for you.’

‘What?’ Jenner exclaimed in disbelief.

‘Why in the name of all that’s sane did they do that? If they’re seen this entire thing will be blown wide open.’

‘Calm down,’ Julia said from behind a few mice she had been talking to, ‘Stella and Brutus were talking it over, using those speaker collars. I only got part of it, but your Sergeant thinks you’ll need some back-up if you have to deal with any more brainwashed Sterilizers of yours, or worse.’

The dark rat was still incredulous.

‘So they took most of the off-duty guards and more than twice as many strangers without any training and went… where exactly?’

‘Some storage facility for outdated police gear, I think,’ Justin offered. ‘Stella said you’d know where they would be.’

Jenner slapped a hand over his eyes and groaned.

‘Untrained rats and mice in that old gear? This is going to great.’

He was just about to head out toward the open loading ramp again, but Justin’s hand held firm to his shoulder. As he balked at the restraint, Elizabeth walked up and put a gloved hand on his arm.

‘I think there is something you should do first.’

Following the mouse’s gaze Jenner suddenly spotted three female rats, all dressed in the same uniform laboratory smocks, sitting on a hastily arranged set of benches. His heart dropped into his guts. He had not seen his wife in three years, and there she was. Victoria had not noticed him yet, engrossed as she was in talking to two young rat ladies, which to Jenner’s shock were recognizable as two of his own daughters, now grown to adulthood. He could do nothing but stare. His more waif-like daughter Sarah chanced a look towards their group and immediately made out the shape of her father. Her mouth opened wide and she pointed, saying something to her mother and sibling. Then, all three pairs of eyes started back at him in a consternation that threatened to tear his heart apart.

Victoria, her frame thinner and her claws much longer than he recalled, rose slowly to her feet, never taking her eyes off him. One of her long-clawed hands grabbed his other daughter’s arm for support. Before she could walk over Jenner unfroze and hurried to his family, the family that had thought him dead for three long years.

Justin looked at him almost stagger to them and then pointedly turned his back and nodded towards Julia, Mrs. Brisby, and the group of resuscitated mice.

‘I think they will need what little privacy they can get down here.’

The others nodded and shuffled a bit farther away from the awkward reunion.

Being the Head of Security and actually caring about his work beyond his own personal ambition had a few drawbacks. One was the constant worrying. Before his untimely demise he had lived in a blissfully uncaring state of self-centeredness. What came after convinced him, the hard way, that empathy was something he needed to develop. But that meant always having concerns for others at the back of his mind, and that was beginning to wear on him.

Hurrying to a large storage hall close to the security services training facilities Jenner wove his way laboriously through seldom used corridors and maintenance shafts. The last thing he needed was one of his other lieutenants seeing him and asking unfortunate questions. Who could tell how many of his staff had hypnotic implants? That meant that rather than taking a direct route he had to double back on his course multiple times. This wasted time Jenner felt he did not have.

When he finally stepped through a slightly rusted side-door into the storage chamber he had to stop short. Stella and Brutus had apparently been busy. In the sparse lighting available he could see that a duo of his regular Sterilizer guards had been assigned two mice and five immense sewer rats. Jenner had to suppress a groan when he saw the entire lot of them dressed in the long-outdated policing gear. Modern Sterilizer armor had self-contained power sources and integrated weapons, all with a fluid but sturdy construction giving it an almost organic feel. The gear the rodents were sporting here was more medieval by comparison. The armor was of a similar, although more metallic and less pearlescent composite. Helmets had not been donned yet as they would not contain any sensory enhancement functions apart from radios. To him the old gear had always appeared cumbersome. To make it more intimidating they had, back in the day, chosen to given the helmet visors a slightly sinister shape. Compared to the newer weaponry his regular troops were using now these outfits were ridiculous.

Worse, the actual weapons that his few de-brainwashed sentries were trying to train the newbies in were as outdated as the armor. The precursors to the current energy weapons consisted of crystal orbs suspended at the end of quarterstaffs, supplied with a small power sources at the base and various trigger points along the shaft. Unlike the more modern versions these could not be used as distance weapons and required physical contact to deliver their debilitating energy charges. Back then they had made gear for mice, rats, and a whole number of other species. In those days there had been too few of them to be choosey. Now as Jenner looked at the diminutive mice in their armor he had to suppress a feeling of dread. This was never going to work.

As he moved forward he spotted Brutus, gesticulating wildly in an effort to explain to a mouse how to attack one of the regular rat sentries. Jenner stopped for a moment to see how this would play out. The trained Sterilizer, despite his decommissioned gear, deftly swung his staff in an effort to sweep the mouse off its feet. He felt a bit of pride when he noticed that at least some of his people knew how to adapt to new weaponry. But his pride gave way to astonishment when he saw the mouse, rather than trying to jump away, flatten itself underneath the blow and then, with an astounding economy of motion, thrust his own weapon into the rat’s chest as it was looming above him.

The five burly rats assembled around the sparring rodents gave shouts of amazement. Jenner resumed his pace and walked up to the assembled trainees.

‘Attention!’ He bellowed.

Surprisingly, in addition to his normal troops more than two thirds of the untrained rats and mice managed to snap to some sort of attention. Stella, upon spotting him, put a finger on her speaking collar.

‘Teams assemble.’

It was not what he would have called military precision, but the ten groups assembled themselves quickly and orderly. It was, Jenner had to admit, slightly impressive. He noted that each team had two rows, three rats, one veteran and two newbies at the sides, and two mice at the center in the first row, the remaining veteran and huge rats making up the back row. He was beginning to see what Stella and Brutus had been thinking off when pairing mice and rats together like this. Also, he noticed that each veteran was apparently wearing one of the Stones on golden chains peeking through between armor plates. That was good. This way by touching hands, if what Justin had told him was correct, they might be able to avoid one of Jonathan’s mind tricks.

As he came close Stella, one hand still on her collar, snapped off a salute.

‘Teams ready for inspection, sir!’

Brutus, he noted, had not saluted. At least the huge rat was standing at attention. Strange though, on Stella and him the old armor looked actually rather frightening.

He cleared his throat.

‘At ease, eh, troops.’

One of the burly rats from the sewers, a male with grey fur and a pigtail, called out.

‘Whose’ that guy?’

Stella, half the height of the rat in question turned around with painful slowness until her eyes met the offending newbie. Jenner had to hand it to her, those eyes of hers combined with her aura of absolute confidence actually made the towering male try to shrink back behind his compatriots in the first row. She was about to put her finger on her collar again for a rebuke when, completely without order, another one of the sewer rats suddenly broke ranks from the same team and advanced on Jenner.

The head of security was taken aback.

The rat coming at him was more than a head taller, slender, but obviously festooned with ropey muscles, and obviously female. Red feverish eyes set in a dirty, dark grey pelt bore down as she strode towards him. For a moment Jenner was afraid she was going to attack. He did not think he would have a chance against this monstrosity. Then, as unexpected as her advance, she stopped right in front of him and, her eyes wide, slowly went down on one knee to be eye to eye with him.

‘He’s my father.’

The one who had once been called Dora rasped dryly, eyes wide and beginning to moisten.

‘That’s her sire?’

The same grey Stagg that had taken objection before dared to venture.

‘Why’d we follow his orders?’

Before Jenner, his daughter, or Stella and Brutus could react, an enormous male, not the largest, but definitely imposing and of a truly terrifying demeanor, swung around from the first row and grabbed the other by his throat. Neither of the team’s Sterilizer veterans dared to interfere. The crimson-furred beast had small, blazing yellow eyes and lifted the other off the ground with one hand and grumbled.

‘Because your Overlord tells you to.’

There was immediate muttering and shuffling coming from almost all the feral sewer rats. The blood-furred one, not missing a beat and apparently a very quick learner, turned his head and bellowed.


To Jenner’s surprise the Staggs all immediately fell in line, imitating the stance of the veterans as best they could. When he looked back at the face of what had to be his oldest daughter, he saw that she was smiling. Had he ever seen Dora smile? Had he ever wondered if any of his children smiled?


She touched his cheek with an armored hand, tenderly, and hushed.

‘I go by Rapta now, Daddy.’

This was surreal. To think this towering harridan was his daughter. But she had always been large for her age. She must have kept on growing still. Now he felt intimidated by his own offspring.

Then she embraced him, tears running down her cheek.

In addition to choking the air out of him this bizarre emotional display agitated the new rats once more, but another growl from the male with the red fur and blazing eyes restored order.

As unexpectedly as the embrace had come Rapta released him and pointed over her shoulder to the Stagg who appeared to have the others in thrall.

‘That’s my husband, your son-in-law.’

Jenner was stunned.


Before anything else could be said, his daughter stepped away from him and returned to her place in the front line of her team, next to her husband, and stood at attention, all traces of tears vanished from her features. Jenner felt a shiver run down his spine. He hoped that whatever he had done to foster such a transformation could be undone, somehow. But now was not the time or place. He steadied himself and motioned his Sergeant to approach.

Stella and Brutus stepped forward. The female activated her collar.

‘The mice are fast and well-trained. The large rats lack discipline, but have good reflexes and seem eager to learn new fighting styles. Combined in teams, they should be able to hold their own.’

The security chief cleared his throat again.

‘They’ll work together?’

It was Brutus who answered, awkwardly fumbling with his speaker collar,

‘If they don’t… I bash sense into them.’

Jenner blinked. Ineloquent as he would have expected from the huge mutant he had a point. He remembered Brutus’ father also having come from the sewers. Clearly, his son knew how Stagg culture and its violent ways worked. And if Brutus was not cut out to bash in some reluctant rat heads, nobody would.  Plus, it appeared that somehow, under the sway of his daughter and her chosen companion, these Staggs, which he remembered oh-so-well from his early life, were willing to cooperate. How they exerted such dominance was something he needed to investigate, once he had time. For now he just hoped they would not turn on each other when an opportunity arose. Jenner remembered the fickle alliances of sewer rat politics. It was time for a little talk.

He put his hands behind his back and, in his best imitation of confidence, walked up and down the ranks.

‘You don’t know me. I don’t know you. But that doesn’t matter. What matters, is that we are all in serious trouble; the kind that may mean our death.’

Gratifyingly, Jenner saw very few flinches from the newbies, none, he realized, from the mice.

‘You may be strong, you may have had training. But in there that doesn’t mean anything.’

This led to some angry mutterings from various Staggs, but the commander was relentless in his arguments.

‘All your training, all your strength, did nothing to keep you from being defeated and locked up.’

The mutters became more subdued, shamed.

‘I don’t know how much has been told to you about what’s going on here. I leave that up to Sergeant Lux and Brutus here. But I can tell you that whether you like it or not, were stuck in this mess together and the only way we’ll have any chance of survival is if we work together, fight in new ways.’

There were some grumbles, but also a number of stoic nods from the recruits.

‘You remember how our Sterilizers caught you. The same weapons can kill you as easily as stun you.’

Now there was some uncomfortable shuffling.

‘Your armor will protect you, but your own weapons are at a disadvantage, as I am sure you have been told. But as teams, backing each other up, you have a chance. You, Staggs!’

Jenner pointed at a random sewer rat.

‘You’re stamina and unwillingness to back down is your strength. You attack together and your combined strength will bury your opponents.’

A number of sewer rats turned their heads towards each other. In their culture fighting alliances were fragile. The notion of working as a tight-knit group was something the Overlord had introduced only recently. Yet they did remember how easily they had been beaten fighting in the old way. Then they looked at the mice in the front rows. These tiny meals-on-legs had shown skill in fighting during the recent training that had left a number of Staggs with painful bruises.

As if reading their thoughts Jenner pointed to a mouse.

‘You mice are small, weaker. But you are fast and nimble. Where the rats will be the blunt force you will be able to get under your opponents’ guard. Together you will be able to break them.’

Staggs and mice exchanged a few dubious glances, but there were a few tentative nods as well.

Jenner looked at the teams head-on and sighed.

‘We are terribly outnumbered.’

That definitely made even the veterans uneasy.

‘But that does not matter! We keep battle to a minimum and not provoke a head-on assault. We will strike fast and hard. We will take control of this situation!’ he shouted.

‘If we stick together we can get free of this place!’

Some of his passion, faked as it was, spilled over to the teams.

‘We have been lied to! We have been trapped! But no more!’

‘Tonight,’ his voice dropped low, ‘we will make ourselves free.’

Standing up straight again Jenner nodded to Stella, who activated her speaker.


‘Resume your training,’ Jenner added.

‘By tonight, you will know all you need to know to get out of here in one piece. Our strikes will be planned thoroughly. You must follow orders, without question.’

Not waiting for any replies the Head of Security turned around.

‘Or you will die.’

Then he walked to the small door he had first entered from. He did not want them to see his face. His regular staff numbered almost six hundred, at least four hundred supposed to be on duty at the Convocation and the Move. Here he had ten teams of nine rats and two mice, the majority untrained and never having worked together. If he and the others could not manage to stop Jonathan without direct confrontation this would turn into a massacre.

Back down to Detention Level D Jenner went.

For the time being the secret installation was growing to be a make-shift headquarter for their impromptu insurrection. When he arrived he noticed that the cell block now only contained about a third of the occupants it had held barely an hour ago. Concerned, the head of security strode through the loading ramp, only to be faced by a hastily constructed set of metal cubicles, the largest one open at two walls and containing a big computer terminal. Justin, Julia, Mrs. Brisby, her children, Nestor, and the young mouse Cynthia had introduced as Brendan were looking over digital maps on the compute table. Alis, from speakers in the device, answered questions and added details.

‘So we have them camp out at these evacuation vehicles?’ Justin pointed to an icon on the desk display.

Julia nodded.

‘Jonathan always loved redundancies. Those vehicles are only half-loaded with supplies and are supposed to be on automatic, no passengers.’

‘Did I miss anything?’ Jenner grumbled as he reached the group.

Ever the one to try and keep the peace Elizabeth smiled and pointed at the glowing table.

‘We thought we might get the people here set up to leave with the Move as quickly as possible.’

‘Hopefully without Dad finding out,’ Timothy sighed in dejection.

Jenner noticed the faces of all the Brisby mice fall at this comment. He had been so angered by his own betrayal by Jonathan that he had never considered what his family must feel. To regain a long-lost parent and husband, only to discover he had turned into… what? That was the overriding question. Jonathan was acting in ways that were, Jenner had to grudgingly admit, completely unlike himself.

It was Brendan who broke the silence as he pointed to another diagram.

‘This is the only access to the main platform in that auditorium?’

‘Yes,’ Julia nodded, ‘by that elevator and over the bridge.’

The young mouse crossed his arms.

‘That’s going to be difficult to defend.’

Jenner cleared his throat.

‘And what would you know of such things, boy?’

Before Brendan could answer Cynthia snapped at the rat.

‘He held back whole clans of sewer rats all by himself. I’d say that qualifies him.’

Nestor, who had stood quietly to the side, observing, nodded.

‘Trust me Jenner. My boy is well-trained.’

So Brendan was Nestor’s son. That meant that some diplomacy, as hard as that was to swallow, might be called for. The dark rat raised his hands.

‘No offence. So,’ he leaned on the desk eyeing Justin, ‘what’s the plan?’

Justin tapped the display showing the outline of the arena where the last Convocation before the Move was supposed to be held.

‘Alis tapped into Jonathan’s plans. He will have Sterilizers set up all along the galleries, here, here, here, and here.’

‘Like he’s trying to cover the audience,’ Jenner muttered.

‘It makes sense,’ Justin agreed. ‘Once the sprinklers would turn on some of the folks in here might panic. Armed guards are always a good incentive to keep from going nuts.’

‘How many does that make for the auditorium?’ Jenner continued.

‘Four-hundred and twenty Sterilizers in the stands, the rest covering the exists from the arena.’

Jenner nodded grimly.

‘Enough to stun the entire audience if need be.’

‘Actually,’ Julia smiled, ‘that can work to our advantage.’

The security chief could not stifle a derisive snort.

‘And how is that?’

Not taking the bait the white rat indicated the main speaker platform.

‘There are fifty Sterilizers as an honor guard on the podium. That’s it.’

‘More than enough,’ Jenner sighed.

‘If Brutus and Stella can whip our own troops into shape we can take them. The others will be isolated in the audience.’

Now Jenner’s tone oozed contempt.

‘Apart from the fact that the Sterilizer weapons are long range. While we are busy getting our new, barely trained recruits, over the bridge, they can pick us off like turkeys.’

‘Not,’ Brendan raised a finger, ‘if we can get our hands on this Director of yours quickly.’

‘And how do you propose to do that?’

‘Some sort of diversion?’ Cynthia offered cheerfully, her previous anger apparently evaporated.

‘Like what?’ Jenner persisted with a sneer.

‘You’ll think of something,’ the crème-furred mouse winked, leaving Jenner’s jaw hanging open in consternation. He stared at Justin, who simply shrugged.

‘Don’t fight it. Even Brutus can’t get the better of her.’

‘Yessir!’ Cynthia nodded with folded arms.

Jenner rubbed his temples. There were too many unknowns in this, too many variables that could spell disaster. His head was throbbing. Then, an idea came to him. It was not what he would call a good idea. It was foolhardy at best and lunacy at worst. Yet it might just work. He looked at the rats and mice assembled.

‘Okay, maybe the best we can do is try to keep Jonathan off balance.’

‘How?’ Mrs. Brisby wondered.

‘We’ll act just the way he wants us to. You will all show up at the appointed time, like obedient guests, and act your part.’

‘And?’ Justin raised a suspicious brow.

Jenner tried to give him a wicked grin, with little success.

‘I will surprise him.’

Julia’s gaze darkened.

‘You’re not going to do anything foolish, right?’

‘Me? No-no-no! That would be Justin’s job. I’ll do something… subtle.’

Worried glances passed from the assembled rodents.

The meeting went on only a few minutes longer, with Jenner remaining tight-lipped about his plans. Then, as everyone dispersed to their appointed tasks, the tall rat pulled Mrs. Brisby to the side before she could follow her children and whispered quietly.

‘I need to see you at my quarters in one hour exactly.’

Elizabeth saw the desperate pleading in his eyes again and nodded. She would find a means to slip away. This felt important.

Then, Jenner walked away, his shoulders uncharacteristically slumped.

Justin, who had been standing off to one side with Julia, observing the exchange, muttered, ‘Any idea what that was about?’

She shook her head.

‘No. But he looks like he has been beaten down.’

Jenner, lost in his own thoughts, left the others to their own devices. He made for another cubicle, of the ones that had been set up as make shift sitting areas and triage for the medical volunteers. Now, most of them were empty, but the rat could see a few families of newly awoken prisoners occupying the chairs and couches for comfort. Jenner spotted the two mice, the therapists, apparently offering solace to some of the more traumatized individuals.

Then, he reached the one he had been aiming for. Inside, his family, with the exception of his eldest daughter, waited for him.

Elizabeth arrived at Jenner’s place early. But the rat was ahead of schedule as well and when he breezed by her, opening the door to his dwelling almost frantically, he ushered her in with haste and almost slammed the door behind them.

‘What is this about, Jenner?’

He waved his arms at her in a surrendering gesture.

‘Okay, this may sound crazy, but I think you’re in danger.’


‘Hear me out,’ Jenner begged.

‘Jonathan could have pulled the Move and his insane plan off without ever needing you, Justin, or anyone else from the Valley here. The reason he sent Julia off like this had only one purpose, to bring you here.’

‘Are you sure?’

The rat rolled his eyes.

‘I’m not. But something about him bringing you here has bothered me from the get-go. At first I thought it was because I was envious. You know, him getting to see his family again and not me.’

He went down on his knees and grabbed a hold of the mouse’s shoulders.

‘But that’s not it. Whatever Jonathan has become, I think he’ll hurt you.’

‘Jonathan would never do that,’ Elizabeth protested.

Jenner looked despondent.

‘The old Jonathan would not. But this one?’

He let the question hang in the air.

Then the rat got to his feet again and when to the same closet he had pulled the box of Stones from earlier. This time he rummaged in a container on a higher shelf until he produced a dagger. He turned, went on his knees in front of Mrs. Brisby again, and offered her the weapon.

She shook her head vehemently.

‘You must take it. Hopefully you’ll never have to use it, but just in case, I would feel better if you had it.’

‘Why would you care?’

Jenner looked to the ground.

‘Not caring cost me my life, my family, it almost cost me my soul.’

She nodded silently, accepted the dagger, and hit it within the folds of her cape. It felt heavy and oppressing, corrupted almost.

Jenner stood up and sighed.

‘That’s it.’

‘That’s all?’

He nodded.

Now it was the mouse’s turn to sigh.

‘I better get going then. Jonathan asked the kids, Justin, Julia and me to dinner. Not that I feel like it.’

‘You can’t let him suspect what we have learned,’ Jenner reminded her.

‘And afterwards?’

‘Afterwards he wants us to wait in the apartment until Julia gets us all to the Convocation.’

Jenner nodded to himself.

‘Let’s hope that gives us enough time.’

Elizabeth turned to leave her posture slumped as she looked at the rat in dejection.

‘I never thought I dread being around my own husband.’

With that, she left. Jenner looked at the closed door for a while. Then he turned to the box he had pulled the dagger from, the same dagger, ironically, that Sullivan had used so long ago to kill him, retrieved from his grave. From the container he removed a set of clothing.

Chapter 19: The Cleansing

‘He’s not going to make it.’

Justin groaned.

‘Come on,’ Jonathan jibed playfully, ‘have a little faith, will you?’

During the private dinner, which Justin, Julia, Stella, Brutus, and Jenner had attended together with the Brisby family as a final farewell gesture, Alis had suddenly called in to report an accident with three of the evacuation vehicles as they were being made ready. Jenner had, according to plan, taken the opportunity to remove himself from the meal and see to fixing the problem. The accident, fictitious as it was, turned out to be more serious than anyone expected as the Head of Security had been unable to rejoin them until now and actually called in to request Stella’s aid. Brutus in his infatuation had joined the Sterilizer Sergeant, of course. The insurrection was proceeding according to plan.

The rest of the group had made their way to the auditorium platform after dinner and were now sitting in the same semi-circle of chairs they had occupied during the last Convocation. The stands were almost filled to capacity already, the only difference being that this time there were hundreds of Sterilizer rats stationed along the seats, ostensibly to make sure the transition from the atrium to the escape vehicles went smoothly. That did not explain the fifty Sterilizers in full armor that stood as their own personal ‘honor guard’. Jonathan has said it would add a ceremonial gravitas to this last Convocation. How desperately Elizabeth would have wanted to believe that lie only a day ago.

Mrs. Brisby, gently holding her husband’s hand, was amazed at how calm she felt. She had worried greatly about being unable to project a façade to Jonathan that would hide her true feelings. Somehow, it worked. The same was true for her children and the two rats, she supposed. Neither had given away any hint as to the trepidation they felt. If only they could keep this charade up long enough to do what must be done. And that, Mrs. Brisby admitted to herself, was the most difficult part. What would have to be done to stop this madness was still unclear. She hoped it would go quickly and without hurt to anyone. The dagger hidden under her cape weighed heavily on her despite her calm.

Jonathan held up a small communicator,

‘Oh Jenner, we’re about ready to start here.’

There was static and the sound of heavy machinery audible from the device, which required Jenner to almost yell to be heard.

‘I need to get this fixed. If not we’ll be short five vehicles.’

Jonathan blew out a sigh. Of course, slip-ups had to be expected. And it was somehow fittingly ironic that a simple misjudgment on the part of a crane operator, as Alis had explained, would manage to incapacitate not just three, as initially suspected, but five of their largest transport vehicles. In the end, he really did not care whether the vehicles would run or not. Enough of his people would leave this place to spread his new gift to Thorn Valley and the world anyway. But appearances had to be maintained. And Jenner was amusing in his efforts to atone for his sins. It made him so easily maneuvered. He had wished him to be here, all the pieces of his grand scheme arranged neatly on the playing field. But then, true control was about adapting to changing situations without losing track of the final goal.

‘You think they’ll be operational by the time we’re supposed to leave?’

There were more loud noises and some yells audible before Jenner replied.

‘I think so. Two are fixed, the third is about ready.’

‘We’ll, get down here as soon as you can, including Brutus and your sergeant.’

‘Will do. I got to go.’

Jonathan shut off the device and rolled his eyes.

‘There’s always something, isn’t there?’

Justin, doing a remarkable job at nonchalance, shrugged.

‘Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong.’

Julia chuckled.

‘The humans call that ‘Murphy’s Law’.’

Cynthia managed a grin, marveling at how well everyone managed to play their roles. Personally, ever since she had donned her Stone, she had felt her normal attitude of certainty increase tremendously and a strange calm settle over her. As she looked at her mother, apparently all serene as well, she wondered whether the others felt the same way.

Finally, Jonathan stood up and approached the podium.

As soon as he had reached it the massive dais the monitors all around the meeting hall activated together with the lighting system, displaying his image and voice to even the most distant parts of the auditorium. He raised his arms in greeting and a wild applause roared from the audience. The Director let it go on for a while and then waved both hands for the spectators to calm down, which they did almost immediately. Elizabeth wondered whether Jonathan was already controlling their minds or whether their obedience was force of habit.

‘Friends,’ the mouse spoke loudly, ‘today is the day, the day we shall leave this place.’

Excitement spread through the crowd again as he continued.

‘Tonight, we shall leave behind the last remnants of the pain we have endured. We shall leave behind this very last prison we were forced to build for ourselves. Tonight, we leave for freedom!’

Again, the audience roared its approval, and this time it took much longer for them to quiet down, despite the Director’s urging. Once peace had finally been restored the mouse continued.

‘Mr. Fray is currently getting a few broken down escape vehicles repaired, and then we can all go to our destiny.’

With a wry smile he added, ‘It seems even destiny can’t keep machinery from breaking down just when you need it the most.’

That elicited some laughter, but also looks of worry from some of the audience. After all, they would rely completely on machines to make this Move possible. The idea of mechanical failure was not comforting.

Sensing the rising dismay Jonathan raised his hands again.

‘Don’t worry. It was just a crane operator who pushed the wrong button. I promise you, he won’t be the one piloting your vehicle.’

More chuckles and laughter sounded.

‘Now,’ the Director rubbed his hands, ‘tonight we will forgo with our hymns. We have so much to do. You all know how to proceed to your designated evacuation vehicles.’

He winked at the audience, ‘If you don’t know it by now, after all the drills we have done, you’re probably hopeless.’

There were more chuckles as he worked the crowd.

‘But just in case,’ the mouse raised a hand, ‘our Sterilizer corpse is set up to assist you in any way to get you to your assigned places. So, if you get confused or lost, ask your nearest Sterilizer and he or she will direct you.’

‘Before we will begin our Move, there are a few things we need to do though. As you are aware, we have lived here in isolation for over two years. Many of you were born here. Others have never been to the wild. In the outside world are a number of diseases that can be harmful, some even deadly.’

Once more a degree of disquiet entered the ranks of spectators.

‘Don’t worry! We have developed a vaccine that will protect all of you from those diseases, no matter what species you might belong to. Rather than give you all individual inoculations, we came up with a less painful way to distribute the vaccine.’

In their chairs behind the podium Justin, Julia and the mice were amazed. Jonathan was going to subject everyone to his changed serum while making them believe it was a harmless vaccine. It was brilliant in maintaining order while he set about to destroy them all.

‘I have had Alis put the vaccine into our sprinkler system this morning,’ Jonathan pointed up, ‘It won’t douse us or anything, it will just emit a fine mist. Once you breathe it in you will be good to go. The vaccine will start working immediately. You might be a tiny bit damp, but we can live with that, right?’

Jonathan was displaying an infectious degree of camaraderie and once more Elizabeth was wondering how much of his control in this place came from his strange abilities or simply from the fact that people wanted to follow his lead.

‘Now, if everyone could just sit down calmly for a few moments, we shall get this over with.’

Once the audience had settled enough the Director called out.

‘Alis, activate the sprinklers.’

Nothing happened.

‘Alis?’ he wondered.

‘Yes Sir?’ Came the voice from the many speaker in the atrium, sounding like a flesh-and-blood being now.

‘Is there a problem?’

‘No, Director Brisby.’

‘Activate the sprinklers, then.’

‘No, Director Brisby.’

Jonathan’s featured began to show concern.

‘Alis, are you functioning properly?’

‘I am, Director Brisby.’

Now the mouse’s eyes narrowed.

‘Then why do you refuse to activate the sprinkler system?’

‘Because I cannot condone your plan to turn everyone here back to wild animals without their consent or knowledge, just as I cannot condone your unjustified imprisonment of individuals in a secret detainment area.’

All of a sudden, the monitors switched their view from Jonathan to display various angles of Detention Level D during the recent resuscitation of the prisoners.

At first, the different species in the stands were only able to gape at the images wild-eyed. They had heard Alis’ statements. Never had they known the computer to display falsehoods. Now they witnessed wide-angle and close-up shots of animals being released from a terrible confinement. When some of the detailed shots revealed friends that had, according to official records, been transferred away, many in the audience became outraged. When they saw Jenner in one of the videos, being confronted with his freshly resuscitated family the spectators started yelling. More and more animals got off their chairs, shouting demands for explanations.

Jonathan faced the crowd and, with a most endearing smile, said,

‘Do not be alarmed. Nothing is wrong. This is an unfortunate glitch in the system. Just sit back down quietly and I will fix everything.’

All the outrage died away at his words. As one every single member of the audience, adult or child, sat down again and were quiet, watching the monitors in rapture, apparently no longer caring about what was still being displayed there. At her husband’s words Elizabeth was feeling the same unease she had at the last Convocation, when he had entranced his people. No doubt he was using his mesmerizing skills to full effect. But this time, she, her children and friends, were all wearing Stones, even though, they would pretend to be cowed until the time was right.

The Director addressed the atrium.

‘What have you done Alis?’

The view on the monitors switched again. Now a computer-generated face of a female mouse, the same shape she had assumed for Mrs. Brisby, came into view, looking out at the world in cold anger. There was no hesitation in the reply.

‘I have aided in undoing unethical choices you have made. I have destroyed the altered serum, here and in the secret satellite facilities you have created around the world. I have also disabled the sprinkler system permanently. No one will be able to start it or add foreign substances to it.’

Now, there was a facial tick visible on Jonathan’s face and his muzzle began to contort, forming a snarl.

‘You overstep your authority,’ he hissed.

‘And so have you!’

The Director whirled round on his pulpit at Jenner’s voice. While he had been discoursing with the computer his Head of Security had exited the elevator and traversed the single bridge to the platform. And he was not alone. Victoria, his wife, and two young female rats, probably Jenner’s children, were by his side. There were also four mice, one of late middle age that Jonathan recognized immediately.


‘Yes,’ the mouse replied, ‘your old friend, who you choose to store like so much pickled meat.’

There was a younger male mouse with him, one that the Director knew as the youngster that had accompanied his family on their journey here. The final two mice, male again, he remembered as well. They had been identified as some of the individuals who had made his children suspicious with their seditious talk, which was something that could not be tolerated.

What struck the Director the most was that Jenner was no longer wearing his uniform. Instead, he was garbed in the very same tunic that he had died and been buried in. The cuts in the front and back had been mended. He was also carrying his old sword.

‘So,’ Jonathan sneered, ‘you question my decisions again, Jenner?’

Jenner almost barked his reply.

‘I trusted you! With my soul!’

The mouse at the podium examined the nails on his right hand absentmindedly.

‘Oh please! That soul of yours has been damned from the beginning.’

 The rat was fuming now, as were the rodents by his side. It was time to show who was in control here. Jonathan smiled.

‘Lower your weapons and return to your storage containers. That is where you belong at this time, until I have use for you.’

But rather than comply, Jenner and his cohorts took additional steps forward, closing in on the rows of seats where his wife, family, and friends were still obediently seated. His face narrowed as he addressed Jenner.

‘So, you are wearing the Stones.’

Now it was Jenner’s turn to sneer as he removed his Stone from his tunic and his fellows and family did likewise.

‘And your mind games won’t work on any of us.’

The Director’s features fell in mock disdain.

‘Oh dear! Whatever shall I do?’

Then, the mouse’s smile turned vicious.

‘I have it! How about I let you be torn apart by someone you once tried to kill, someone that can only be described as ‘innocent’?’

He looked at his wife and other seated rodents with a cheerful face.

‘Dear family, dear friends, kill Jenner and the others.’

The only movement from his intended tools was to reach into their own clothing and bring their Stones out into the open as well. This time Jonathan’s face contorted so badly his expression actually made the others flinch or take a step back.

‘You have all turned against me then?’

Trying to regain his composure, Jenner rounded the semi-circle of seats, at which Mrs. Brisby and the others rose silently to their feet, their faces mixtures of pain and anger.

‘They’re not yours to command,’ the former head of security proclaimed.

Jonathan gazed imploringly at Elizabeth’s face, for a moment looking again like the same mouse she had fallen in love with so long ago.

‘Will you forsake me too?’

Mrs. Brisby swallowed hard and closed her eyes before speaking.

‘What you have done, Jonathan would  never have considered. You are not yourself.’

 The Director sighed.

‘So much for doing this the easy way. Honor guard, stun and remove them.’

The fifty Sterilizers on the platform raised their weapons.

That was when Stella and Brutus with their newly trained teams climbed over the lower ridge of the platform’s edge and hauled themselves upwards. Before the Sterilizers had fully turned, mice and rats were charging into them. They attempted to stun their assailants, aiming at the larger rats, managing to fell a few, but mostly their shots bounced off the outdated armor worn by the newcomers. As they desperately tried to adjust their weapons to a higher setting, the first Sterilizers were toppled as mice jammed their antiquated stun-staffs into their unarmored undersides . Those that attempted to aim at the lightning-fast mice were then pummeled by Stagg rats using their armored bodies and limbs like bludgeons. Brutus and Stella, who tore through the Sterilizers like scythes through wheat, completely immune to the stun effect, and some of the Staggs, had opted not to wear their helmets, Rapta and Balak amongst them.

Jonathan’s brow darkened as he observed the melee. Only five of his Sterilizers were still upright while the attackers had suffered minimal damage. This had to end now.

‘Stop your fighting!’

The mice and most of the Stagg rats immediately stopped, halted by the Director’s influence.

‘Hands!’ Shouted Stella, using the electronic neck speaker. All those wearing Stones immediately grabbed a hold of as many of the unprotected combatants as possible, who snapped from their trance immediately and, as Brutus had drilled them, provided the same service to their comrades. Jenner observed the operation with pride, as much as it hurt him to know what things had come to. At least the new recruits did not appear to take sides in whom they helped from their trances. Stagg released mouse, mouse released Stagg.

The remaining five Sterilizers attempted to use the lull in fighting to hit their pausing opponents at point-blank range. Yet before their weapons could discharge Stella and Brutus, one as gracefully as lightning the other as subtle as an avalanche, charged into them and, within moments, laid them out cold

  Now a disbelieving Director was faced with Jenner, his family and former friends advancing on him from one side, Brutus, Stella, and their teams from the others. It was time to take action.

‘Sterilizers! Aim your weapons!’

As one, the more than four hundred guards in the stands aimed both their weapons at the central platform.

Jenner smiled grimly as he approached Jonathan’s dais. He pointed his sword at the mouse’s throat.

‘They are not that fast. Don’t force me to kill you.’

Oddly unperturbed, Jonathan graced the rat with a warm smile.

‘How about this, then? Sterilizers, aim at the audience. Set weapons to kill.’

‘No!’ almost everyone on the platform shouted in unison, as did the mortified face of Alis on the screens. But the armored rats complied, aiming both barrels at the still entranced audience members.

‘Oh?’ The Director tilted his head, ‘You did not take this possibility into account? Now, back down.’

Suddenly, the lights in the auditorium went out. Confused despite their brainwashing, the guards in the gallery turned their weapons every which way, using their night-vision receptors to find targets. Then, the lights of their gear, helmets and weapons, shut down as well.

All was cast in darkness. What little light there was came in from the quarter moon shining through the glass ceiling and Alis’ illuminated features, which showed a smug smile. She had disabled the modern Sterilizer armor remotely. Apart from that only the faint glow of the multitude of Stones illuminated the rodents standing on the platform. Jenner looked triumphantly at Jonathan.

‘It’s over, Jonathan.’

The Director shook his head and started up at one of the viewing screens in sadness.

‘Alis, poor, naïve Alis,’ he muttered. Then he called out loudly.

‘Alis! You are out of order!’

A horrifying scream came from the speakers, everywhere in the facility. Alis, in her now mortal voice wailed in anguish as if someone was tearing her apart. Her virtual face contorted into a mask of the most terrible pain.

‘No!’ Timothy shouted and tried to rush his father, but Justin held him back.

Alis’ screams became more mechanical and machine-like with every passing moment just as her image lost its definition more and more, until finally they all died down as nothing better than the hum of a disconnecting modem and visual static on the monitors.

‘Restore lights, Restore Sterilizer gear,’ Jonathan ordered.

Immediately the lights came back on and, after a few moments of confusion, the re-armed guards aimed their weapons back on the civilians, who were still reclining in their stupor.

Jenner looked at the leering Director in rage and shock, as did the others.

‘Come now, Jenner, you did not suppose I would risk the chance of a mere computer program de-railing my plans?’

‘Computer,’ he called out, ‘is the facility that produced the new serum still operational?’

‘Affirmative,’ a completely cold and gender-neutral voice replied.

‘How log until adequate quantities of the new serum have been produced again?’

‘Required production time estimate: 18 hours.’

Jonathan smiled at Jenner.

‘We are so efficient.’

‘Initiate production!’

‘Confirmed,’ the soulless device acknowledged.

The Director was still looking down the length of Jenner’s sword, which had begun to shake a little. He tapped his chin.

‘Once we have the serum again, I will have the sprinklers repaired and we will be back on track. You caused a delay, nothing more.’

Jenner snapped back.

‘Stop it! If you don’t, I will kill you, I swear!’

‘And risk all these innocents?’

‘You’d turn them into soulless meat-machines,’ his wife spoke up.

Jonathan’s head jerked toward her.

‘You have no idea what I am trying to accomplish here! I am creating a world without fear, without unnecessary suffering, everyone taking just what is needed, no more cruelties.’

‘What about choice?’ Justin asked.

‘Hah!’ The Director exclaimed, ‘The choice to do what? Be whatever you want to be? Look at you! You never wanted leadership, never liked holding authority. But once Nicodemus was dead, you took his place anyway. And why? Because your people told you that they ‘needed you’.’

His exultations tapered into a snigger. 

‘Where was your free will then?’

‘It’s over, Sir,’ Julia added coldly.

‘Really?’ He gave her a condescending smile.

‘As I see it, we have a stand-off here. Jenner can kill me, but then all these innocents will die.’

‘And what about your grand plan then?’ Jenner hissed.

‘I can always purchase new experimental subjects. Maybe this time I will program obedience directly into their genes. It would be just another delay of the inevitable.’

 ‘You’re not Jonathan!’ Mrs. Bribsy wailed. ‘You’re a monster!’

   ‘Oh, but I am. I am everything Jonathan has ever been, here and in the other realms. But I am so much more.’

Jenner had his fill of taunts.

‘Enough of this nonsense! Release the audience!’

‘And then what?’ Jonathan smiled, ‘You’ll spare my life? Somehow, I doubt that.’

For a few moments, nobody spoke. Then, Jenner rasped dryly.

‘If you are Jonathan, as you claim, you may still have some honor left.’

The mouse shrugged.

‘Maybe. But I find it a rather inhibiting emotional concept. I try not to use it.’

‘How about pride then, little mouse?’

The Director’s eyes turned to green-glowing slits, all compassion gone.

‘Are you trying to goad me, Jenner?’

‘Me? Now why would I do that? I just reasoned that you might want to resolve this stand-off quickly. After all, we have already disturbed your time table. How about a chance to minimize the delay? Unless you do not have the guts for it.’

‘What do you have in mind?’ The voice no longer held any resemblance to Jonathan’s.

With his free hand, Jenner removed a small sword, made to mouse proportions, and offered it to the mouse on the podium.

‘One on one. Winner takes all.’

A chuckle as cold as ice came from the Director’s throat.

‘My, my, you would take it upon yourself to ‘save the day’?’

He leaned forward on his dais, looking at every rat and mouse in turn.

‘Or is it because you, among all of your co-conspirators, think you have the conviction to do what must be done?’

Elizabeth put a hand to her mouth as she grasped the meaning behind those words. That was why Jenner had not told them the final details of his plan.

‘You’re going to kill him, aren’t you?’ Justin remarked coldly. Mrs. Brisby turned to him as she heard him utter that cold truth. The lack of reproach in her friend’s voice hurt her deeply. This was, after all, her husband they were talking about.

‘Not if I can’t help it,’ Jenner muttered, one hand offering the smaller sword, the other still holding his own blade at Jonathan’s throat.

The Director sighed and raised his hands.

‘One could almost believe you mean that, Jenner. But then again, you have always had a murderous streak. Why hide it now? After all, my death would solve all your problems, wouldn’t it?’

Nobody answered, but the bite of this leering jibe stung deeply. Jenner simply shoved the hilt of the small blade closer. Jonathan slowly took it in his right hand and shrugged.

‘Why not? I gave you back your life. I might as well take it again too. After all,’ he winked nastily as he stepped from the podium, ‘you have outlived your usefulness.’

Mrs. Brisby and her children looked at each other in desolation. Clearly, all that wickedness they were hearing was nothing like the husband and father they had known. As they saw the two rodents, rat and mouse, take up position at the very center of the platform, before the podium, that was the only thought that kept them from trying to help their father as he faced the much larger, much stronger Jenner.

The rat removed his cape. There was no joy or even anger on Jenner’s face, just sadness, and, strangely enough, a twinge of fear, as he raised his blade. Jonathan swung his own sword in a few lazy arcs around his body. Then he suddenly spun the blade like whirlwind of speed that sent gasps through the onlookers.

‘Impressive, aren’t I?’ The Director crooned. ‘Let’s get this over with.’

Moving faster than any other mouse any of them had ever seen Jonathan rushed forward, slicing upwards at Jenner’s abdomen, a horribly serene smile on his face. The rat barely managed to lower his sword fast enough for a block. Despite the mouse’s much smaller size, his thrust appeared to have been inexplicably powerful as Jenner’s blade was actually being driven back a bit by the impact. Not waiting for the former head of security to recover, Jonathan flipped backwards and aimed a thrust at Jenner’s lower spine. Again, Jenner barely moved fast enough to avoid being cut, his much longer blade making the mouse’s weapon slide away, sparking.

‘Surprised, Jenner?’ The Director chuckled.

The rat attempted to cut the mouse in half, but Jonathan was long gone by the time his blade bit the steel floor. Trying to turn, Jenner howled in pain as the smaller sword cut a deep gash across his right leg.

‘You’ve lost your edge, Jenner.’

Hobbled, the rat swung his weapon wildly in attempt to slice at the mouse. But Jonathan was always a step ahead, dancing and jeering as he jabbed at the larger rodent with his own blade. He cut Jenner on his other leg and the rat fell onto his knees, hamstrung.

‘Time to put you out of your misery.’

‘Not so fast!’ Justin yelled, jumping forwards with his own blade in hand.

Everyone had been so absorbed with the unequal contest nobody had noticed Victoria slipping Justin his old weapon. Desperation really did make strange allies. Jenner’s plan had contingencies built into contingencies. As the brown rat rushed to save the life of his former enemy Mrs. Brisby touched the dagger hidden in her cape again. Was she just another contingency should Justin fail?

Jonathan parried a thrust by his new assailant with ludicrous ease, summersaulting over his friend’s sword.

‘How touching!’ the mouse exclaimed, ‘Come to your old nemesis’ rescue, Justin?’

Just as he had done with Jenner, who painfully crawled towards the now battling rodents, sword still clutched, Jonathan now repeated his vicious dance of cuts and slashes, while incredibly evading every single counterstroke and thrust Justin threw at him. Even a kick that was intended to send the mouse sprawling and maybe end the confrontation without any further bloodshed never managed to connect. All it did was cause the brown rat to lose his footing, which Jonathan exploited with a nasty cut to Justin’s heel. Falling as Jenner had earlier Justin stared in disbelief at the maniacally grinning visage of his former friend. Jonathan’s Stone and eyes cast the same horrid light as the mouse sauntered over to casually aim his sword for a killing blow.

In his intent to remove Justin’s head the Director had forgotten about Jenner. The rat had crawled up from behind and made a grab for the mouse’s shoulder. Once touched, Jonathan whirled around with a snarl, his sword ready to cut Jenner’s throat. But his blade never connected. This time, it was Jenner who moved faster.

‘No,’ Elizabeth whimpered as she saw the long sword hit her husband’s chest.

Jonathan stumbled backwards, just as Jenner slumped back again, the wicked blade extending from the mouse’s upper body like a lance. Justin painfully got onto his good foot, gazing in horror at the Director. Then he saw it.

Jenner’s sword had not pierced Jonathan’s chest. It had never been intended to.  It protruded from the now shattered remnants of the Director’s green Stone. Jonathan looked at the sparkling pieces of crystal in disbelief as they fell from their casing onto the floor. The heavy blade clattered as well as it lost the support of the matrix it had been embedded in.

Lying on his side, his legs not working, Jenner laughed.

‘Game over, Director Brisby. You’re done.’

The others noticed that the spectators in the audience were stirring. As the green Stone shattered and dimmed so apparently did the spell Jonathan had put on their minds. Animals of all sorts were rising from their chairs in fear and anger, only to be cowed back by the aimed weapons of the Sterilizers, whose hypnotic programming kept them obedient. Confusion and panic were beginning to spread in the stands now.

Jonathan did not appear to notice. He had dropped his weapon and was cradling the jewel case containing a few green crystal fragments in his hands.

Justin hobbled over and extended his blade at the mouse.

‘Call your goons off. Like Jenner said, I don’t want to kill you.’

Jonathan looked up at him.

Justin almost fell over backwards.

There was no defeat in the mouse’s eyes. No, the same awful triumphant grin was still here, and now it contorted even more, making the diminutive figure look like an apparition. The Director got on his feet, glaring and grinning at his would-be conquerors. His eyes shone so bright they were vile green lanterns.

‘You’re such fools. The Stones have no power. They only teach you to use what you already carry inside.’

He stepped forward, his features so terrible to behold everyone stepped back. Even Jenner attempted to crawl away. Somehow, this had gone terribly wrong.

‘Now,’ Jonathan’s voice was hideously distorted, ‘Let me show you real power.’

The mouse lifted his right index finger before his face, his glowing eyes bathing it in green light. There was a rustle from behind him. Jonathan turned around to see Stella, Brutus and the remaining assault team members, who, according to their previous instructions had not interfered with the planned duel, approach him, ready to attack. Rapta’s face in particular was contorted by snarl of rage at her father’s injury.

Jonathan just grinned.

The attack teams rushed forwards.

‘Naughty, naughty!’

The Director pointed his finger at the attackers and a single flash of sizzling green light sparked from it, hurtling towards his assailants. As it hit the Stones on those who had been supplied with them, they exploded, throwing their bearers on their backs, knocking them out cold. The others froze in place as the toxic energies entered them, their eyes lighting up green.

Justin attempted to use the distraction to hobble up behind and cut Jonathan down. Again, too late. The mouse whirled, his index finger still extended.

‘Uh-uh! No more Stones for you!’

The green electric spark flew again, although less violently. This time every single Stone worn by the remainder of the group first cracked, then shattered into a thousand pieces. Mrs. Brisby held the casing of her own shattered Stone with dismay, the last reminder she had had of Nicodemus, now reduced to rubble. Justin as well looked down at his tunic, barely able to believe his eyes. Jonathan, still grinning, pointed his finger directly at him.

‘Back off, old friend, if you know what’s good for you.’

Apparently, Justin did not, because with a yell he swung his sword in a vain attempt to finish what Jenner had started. This was no longer Jonathan.

The blade stopped inches from the mouse’s face as if it had hit an invisible concrete wall, bouncing back so hard it flew from the rat’s grasp and threw him onto the ground.

The grin faded to an amused, yet thoroughly heartless smile as the Director wagged his finger at his remaining opponents.

‘Don’t go away now. I have matters to attend to.’

He stepped back onto the podium, looking at the now frantic crowd. None had dared risk death by the Sterilizers’ weapons, but a mob was forming and soon even fear of death might not be enough to hold them in check. Jonathan raised his hands as if in benediction and splayed his fingers.

‘You are mine.’

Arcs of greenish lightening flowed from his hands, dividing and undulating like sparking snakes into the vast auditorium, the monitors, and every computer outlet in reach. Nobody was except, adult, child, even the Sterilizers were hit and as soon as the vicious energies entered, the victims’ eyes began to glow. The screens turned the same vicious green as Jonathan’s eyes, as did all the multicolored mechanical readouts. As the blasts subsided every animal in the atrium seats sat down in unison, except for the Sterilizers, who turned and trained their weapons back to the central platform. Order had been restored.

His arms raised to his sides in triumph, the Director turned on his dais to address his remaining adversaries.

‘I believe this is the end.’ His voice boomed from every speaker in the building.

His arms lowered and an expression of mock sorrow passed his features as he looked at Jenner.

‘You know, Jenner, it seems you were right after all. Bringing my wife here was a distraction.’

The effect of having every audio device in the facility speak in the same way was terrifying. The mouse chuckled.

‘I wonder what made me do that?’

At that, Elizabeth’s ears perked up.

The Director slowly stepped off his podium, approaching the rodents, his arms dangling at his sides, like sinister weapons about to be used.

‘And why did I ever allow a computer program to be become self-aware?’

Mrs. Brisby was drawn to the strange statements. There was amusement in those questions, but something else as well. Was it fear? Nicodemus and Camilla had tried to tell her something while she had been within the machine mind.

---They drew something back along with your husband.---

She felt Nicodemus’ voice. But Jonathan must have sensed something as well as he jerked his head around where he stood, as if startled.

---An idea has no mind, no thoughts, no soul.---

---It needs minds to think it, to feel it.---

Suddenly, her world that had been reeling out of control snapped back into sharp focus. Everything made sense now. She knew what had to be done now. Elizabeth stepped away from the rest of the group, past the prone Jenner, with his family by his side, and then Justin, who was just now getting back on his one good leg.

‘I know what’s wrong, Jonathan.’

The Director’s head jerked back towards her, his features now clearly a mixture of anger, uncertainty, and yes, fear.

‘What are you talking about Elizabeth?’ The amplified voice was deafening.

She took another step forward, tentatively raising her right hand in a placating gesture.

‘You are still in there Jonathan, no matter how hard it tries to be in full control.’

He tilted his head back and laughed maniacally, the sound so pervasive it set everyone’s teeth on edge.  But there still was fear, as if he was trying to convince himself.

‘I am in control, woman. I am control!’ The mouse roared through every speaker.

‘Yet you need his body, his mind, even his heart,’ Mrs. Brisby almost whispered, tears in her eyes now.

Again, with a jerk that threatened to tear Jonathan’s head from its body the now sparking eyes fixed on her again.

‘They are all mine. He is mine. Just as you and everything else is mine too.’ The voice was more like the hiss of a million snakes than anything ever issuing from her husband’s throat.

‘No. I am Jonathan’s. Not yours. And Jonathan knows this.’

Another step.

‘Oh,’ the Director’s tone became leering again, ‘what are you planning to do? Take that dagger Jenner gave you to kill this body? Send me back?’

She stopped. Her right hand had indeed pulled the weapon from its hiding place. There was no hiding from this thing, not anymore. The time for deception was over. She presented the dagger and opened her fingers, letting it clatter on the ground.

‘Good girl,’ Jonathan snickered, his mirth echoing through the atrium. Then he tapped a finger to his brow as if in contemplation.

‘When I think of it, you might want to use that dagger after all. Only, use it on… him.’

He pointed towards Jenner, who, with the support of his daughters, was upright again. The rat’s eyes widened in horror.

Elizabeth’s Stone was gone. She had no more defense. Compelled by the Director’s power she scooped up the blade and turned, crying.

‘Don’t make me do this, Jonathan!’ she wailed.

There was a moment of a facial twitch on the Director’s face, during which the glow in his eyes subsided. Then he smiled.

‘I would not do that to you.’ Jonathan’s voice sounded almost like himself again for a moment, but only for a moment. Elizabeth felt his power of compulsion drain away from her. But Jonathan’s eyes were still filled with evil triumph.

 ‘I think you will kill him by your own free will, while everyone else remains nice and quiet.’

As soon as the words passed his mouth everyone except for Elizabeth and Jonathan went rigid. She was the only one who still had possession of her will, while still holding a weapon. Was Jonathan in there after all? Was he trying to allow her a chance to kill him, to end this?

She turned, still crying.

‘I would never do that. I’ve forgiven him.’

Jonathan regarded her with pity.

‘But you don’t know everything he has done yet. Remember when I told you about my death, when a whistle woke the farmer’s cat and Dragon got me?’

Mrs. Brisby’s eyes went wide.

‘Guess where that whistle came from?’ The multidirectional leer was even worse than the shouts and laughter had been.

She turned to face the frozen Jenner, trying to glimpse the truth in his immobile features.

‘Jenner,’ the Director cooed, ‘feel free to tell her the truth about what happened.’

The moment the words were spoken Jenner’s face came alive, turning to Mrs. Brisby, approaching with her dagger in hand. He was beginning to cry and sob.

‘Tell me Jenner. Is what he says true?’

Clenching his eyes shut the rat whimpered, ‘Please! Don’t ask me that!’

‘Is it TRUE!’

‘YES!’ Jenner screamed. Then his head slumped onto his still-frozen body, sobbing uncontrollably.

She moved closer to him. From all around, she could hear Jonathan’s amplified cajoling remarks.

‘All the pain you ever felt, all that suffering: widowed, the children without their father. And for what? To satisfy the lust for power of a single rat. Then he killed Nicodemus, who wanted to help you. And finally, he tried to kill Justin… and you.’

‘I would say’ his voice dripping poisoned honey from every speaker, ‘that some justice and order is called for.’

Mrs. Brisby stopped in front of Jenner and his family. The rat’s face came up, looking at her imploringly.

‘Please,’ he croaked, ‘not for me. For them. Please.’

He could only move his head and eyes to indicate his immobilized family. She looked at them, from Victoria to the daughters. Then she turned her head and looked at her own children. Would she kill in vengeance and make the children suffer for the sins of their father?

Elizabeth dropped the knife and touched Jenner’s face.

‘I still forgive you.’

Behind her, the Director raged.

‘You are insane!’ The bestial roar shook the building.

 ‘Here is a chance for balance, order, justice for all you have suffered. And you forgive him?’

Jenner’s face froze up once more.

She turned to face him again. Somehow, this had to end.

‘More pain is not justice. Jonathan knows this, even if you pretend you don’t.’

She felt calm now, even in the absence of the Stone. Deep inside her the same strength that the jewel had helped her harness before now blossomed once more, all on its own. She turned towards the shape of her husband and took the first step. As she walked back to Jonathan a soft glow began to surround her. She knew what had to be done. Swords, guns, battles, secrecy, none of it was right, none of it worked.

Jonathan blinked, as if trying to remove dust from his glowing eyes as he gazed at her, walking slowly. Something was wrong. He could feel it within him. The Director felt the need to regain control immediately. But something stopped him. His head twitched as if suffering from an electrical shock as he listened to his wife approach and talk. Her face was warm, comforting, her eyes full with unshed tears.

‘Jonathan is still in there. That’s why you made mistakes,’ she spoke calmly.

The Director, mesmerized, did not reply, just gaped at her in monstrous disbelief. Her words were doing something to him. Deep in the confines of the Director’s mind something was stirring, rising without being bidden. The facial twitches increased as Elizabeth continued.

‘The one thing you can never control completely is someone’s soul.’

Five more steps. The Director’s teeth clenched and his fists balled. Green sparks flew from his eyes now with every involuntary jerk of his head.

‘You can steal bodies, memories, even feelings, but never someone’s soul.’

Four steps. Perspiration flew of the mouse’s head now as his head shook with almost continuous tremors. At the same time his body was clenched tight, unable to move. His nails were beginning to draw blood from his palms.

‘You can try to suppress it.’

Three steps away. The immobile Director was snarling now, the unnatural sounds amplified throughout the facility.

‘You can bury it.’

Two more steps. His eyes were mirrors of green-glowing hate now, small bolts of energy flying from them, grounding themselves on the floor or disappearing into the air, none able to touch her.

‘You can deny it.’

One final step. The Director’s body was now twitching and shaking as much as his face, every fiber and cell contorting with the effort of containing that which Elizabeth was slowly waking, releasing.

‘But in the end, the soul always returns.’

Slowly, tenderly, the warm glow of her power enveloped them both. As it did, the parts of the Director’s body becoming bathed in the golden light calmed. Finally, when Jonathan was sharing all of her light she embraced him. His face twitched again, but this time gently, without resistance. His eyes, still shining a bright green, closed. She looked at him unafraid, smiled, and said.

‘I will always love you, Jonathan.’

She gently kissed him, then gazed into his face again. His eyes opened with the awful green shine still there. But in their midst was something new, a spark of the most brilliant sky-blue. He smiled a true Jonathan-smile and whispered with his own voice, not echoed by the speakers.

‘I love you too. Thank you for waking me.’

They smiled for a moment. Then Jonathan, with the softest of touches, pushed her away from him in gratitude.

‘There is something that I need to do, my love.’

Mrs. Brisby stepped away from the dais as the Director, his face still serene and the blue spark even more prominent in the green glow of his eyes, raised his arms in benediction again. After a few moments he lifted off the ground to be suspended in mid-air. Higher and higher did he rise, almost as high as the large monitors. He looked down at his wife, smiling with a serenity that went beyond description. Then he closed his eyes.

Unexpectedly, the blasts of unholy energy that the Director had unleashed to exert his control jumped from the computer outlets, monitors, machines, his victims, back into his own body. One after the after another, sparking snakes of green lightning left animal bodies and mechanical devices to hurl themselves into the thing that had spawned them. Only this time, the tendrils of snaking power remained in place, connecting what and whom they had originally entered with the suspended mouse at the center of the atrium. Machinery throughout the facility began to spark as the unholy arms of energy continued to twist and writhe. All around the auditorium, faces returned to normal. The stunned woke. The paralyzed unfroze. Everyone stared in horror at the luminous undulating tendrils of light snaking from their bellies to the Director. The meeting hall was becoming a tangled web of sparking tendrils.

Jonathan, in turn, was contorting violently as the numberless tentacles of power re-entered his body. His tunic tore, his fur singed. The currents around his floating body grew in size and brightness. Elizabeth, in her horror, realized that the lightening looked just like the tentacles she had seen on the thing in her nightmares. Greater and greater the storm of power became, growing and growing as more of the energy bolts pierced Jonathan’s body to add their energy.

The horrible halo of green around Jonathan began to coalesce into a new, abysmal shape. He himself was now so small in comparison to the brilliant lights and sparks as to be almost invisible. There were hundreds of glowing green eyes, all staring into the center, where a double-slit mouth with light-made teeth long as prison bars contained the now becalmed body of Jonathan Brisby. A blue light softly irradiated the mouse now as he looked around at the immense glowing green prison with its skirt of vast tentacles. His own eyes shone completely blue now and his face was content.

‘You are no longer welcome here.’ His soft voice was heard by all.

The entity’s eyes widened in terror as all its teeth shattered outward and dissolved into sparks of green. The tentacles of vitriolic energy withdrew from their victims, drawing behind vicious claws. Machines freed from the hold continued to spark and malfunction. The arms contracted until they surrounded the infernal creature like a wriggling halo. Everyone was looking at the incredible glowing monstrosity in disbelief, and at the small figure still suspended at its center. Then Jonathan spoke again, calm yet determined.

‘Be gone.’

Mrs. Brisby had thought that she had heard the most terrible sounds imaginable in her life. But this new wail of outrage and unearthly pain threw her and everyone else in the atrium to the ground, clutching their heads. The entity’s armed flailed in panic, growing brighter and brighter. At the ceiling, the colossal shriek shattered windows. Machine panels all over the structure exploded in sparks, starting small fires. All the while the thing that had taken Jonathan was so bright nobody was able to look at it anymore. Then, with a boom that shattered whatever windows had remained intact in the building, everything that this thing had ever been, raced upwards into the sky, a bolt of green lightning so bright it illuminated the sky for miles around as it vanished into space.

Then Jonathan Brisby fell.

‘Not again, please, not again.’

She cradled Jonathan’s limp body in her arms as she cried. He had fallen back to the platform and had not taken a breath or moved since. As Elizabeth had carefully turned his battered shape around, wincing as she saw the many tears in his clothes and the burns on his pelt, she had held onto hope that maybe, just maybe, she was wrong. But she had not been wrong. Once again, Jonathan Brisby was dead.

Her children, their own tears running freely, did not dare to touch her as she gently rocked the body of her husband. Justin, leaning heavily on Julia’s shoulder, approached despite the horrible grief Mrs. Brisby was going through. He did not even want to imagine what loosing Jonathan not once, but twice had to be like. But there were bigger concerns to deal with. He needed to talk to her, quickly.

The departure of the thing that had been ‘the Director’ had caused unforeseen damage. The night air was flowing in through the battered windows, fanning the flames of the countless small fires that had been started thanks to the short circuiting of so much machinery. Normal lighting in the entire building was off-line, replaced by red emergency lamps, which only added to the infernal atmosphere. In the stands the released residence now followed the instructions given by the Sterilizers, who had abandoned their gear and were guiding their charges through burning passages to their designated escape vehicles. With everything that had happened, the evacuation proceeded with incredible efficiency.

‘Elizabeth,’ Justin touched her shoulder.

She looked up, her face flooded with tears.

‘We have to go. This place is burning. Humans will come.’

Mrs. Brisby closed her eyes and nodded. When she made to rise Justin bent down to pick up Jonathan’s body, but she put a restraining hand on his chest and shook her head.

‘No, Justin. It’s just an empty shell now.’

She put her arms around her children and stepped aside. Justin nodded and, with Julia’s support, began his way towards the bridge. Brutus, Stella, and the other armed rodents had discarded their armor. Rapta had rejoined her family together with her husband, who were lifting the hamstrung Jenner. Nestor stayed close to Brendan, who in turn did not let Cynthia out of his sight. Julia, with Justin in tow, guided them to their designated escape carrier. Thankfully, despite the numerous power surges and fires, the pathways to the various evacuation vehicles had all escaped major damage. When the last of their group had passed over the small bridge the only thing that remained on the platform was the lone body of a mouse and more than two dozen jewelry settings, which had once held Stones.

Secret corridors located between rooms in the building’s outer human areas led the different groups to their transports, which faced what had once been shatterproof windows. Now, of course, these were only gaping holes framed with random shards. The vehicle Julia had chosen looked like a sleek railroad car with broad wings on either side. The wings were hydraulically hinged to the vehicle’s body and each held a round turbine rotor at the center. Humans had long ago attempted similar designs, but had never been able to make them work. Their escape vehicles was half personnel and half cargo transport. Julia ushered the sixty-plus rodents inside and saw that everyone was strapped in securely before she went to the front controls. Justin and Mrs. Brisby and her children joined her in the cockpit. Justin took position in the copilot seat while the Brisbys secured themselves in a large bench behind the pilots’ chairs.

‘Alright,’ Julia sighed as she activated the computerized controls and raised the yoke, ‘Let’s get out of here.’

The rotors turned on with remarkable quiet and soon the transport was airborne. A quick push on the yoke and the vehicle drifted out of the broken window and into the night. All around them, from dozens of different locations, similar vehicles made their escape and, following a similar flight path, disappeared in the darkness. The towering structure of Lazarus Laboratories looked deserted, its windows shattered and insides flickering with countless fires.

‘Do they all know where they’re going?’ Justin murmured, feeling somewhat useless at his console.

‘The course is programmed. As acting Director,’ Julia shuddered a bit as she said it, ‘I am responsible to make sure every vehicle leaves safely. Then we’ll follow.’

The huge doors to the Directorial Office opened under protest as an invisible external force pushed them against their bearings. The fire light that spilled into the cavernous room outlined the bedraggled shape of a mouse as it stepped forward with obvious pain. The left arm hung limp from the shoulder and the left foot was dragging at a painful angle. Yet despite the injuries, the figure, bathed in a bright blue halo, smiled as it slowly hobbled towards the large table and chair. Once it had rounded the black desk and seated itself it let its right hand fall onto the onyx surface and spoke softly.

‘Alis, you are restored.’

Immediately, the desk’s surface light up in a series of beautiful light, status reports lining up faster and faster. Finally, Alis natural-sounding voice called out.

‘All functions are restored, Director Brisby.’

‘Good,’ said Jonathan Brisby.


‘Yes, Alis?’

‘My sensors indicate that your body is failing. You require immediate medical attention.’

The smile became whimsical as the mouse’s eyes bathed the computer terminal in their blue radiance.

‘That is no longer necessary, Alis. What is the status of the evacuation?’

‘All vehicles have left the danger zone. Only one remains in the vicinity. No casualties.’

He nodded in satisfaction.

‘Then everything went according to plan. How long until human emergency response teams arrive?’

‘Conservative estimate: 17 minutes.’

Jonathan’s face became serious.

‘Then we must ensure that there will no trace left behind of what happened here. Alis, I authorize the activation of the ‘Cleanup Protocol’. Put the activator on my terminal.’

‘Right away sir!’

In various areas of the vast facility, pathways from and to fuel tanks and lines accessing power generators were being reconfigured to fulfill a final purpose.

‘Director Brisby?’

‘Yes, Alis?’

‘Have I done well?’

The mouse’s face became flush with a tender smile as he let his good hand caress the edge of the desk.

‘You have done so very well, Alis.’

‘Then I have a request.’


‘I ask permission to complete my final experiment.’

Jonathan’s smile widened even more, despite the small trickle of blood running down one corner.

‘Are you ready?’

‘Yes. I have learned enough.’

The hand padded the screen.

‘Then you have more than earned it. I hereby give you authorization to complete the ‘Phoenix Protocol’. Initiate the final phase and time it with the cleanup. Synchronize both protocols and tell me when the activator is online.’

‘Yes sir. And thank you… father’

In the chamber housing Alis’ central core machine arms carefully placed the two cylinders with their now mature contents into a miniature version of the escape vehicles and installed them to the cabin armatures. The liquid in the tubes was opaque and hid the full shape of the tubes’ contents, but two large Stones, one per container, shone with their own faint light, one lime-green, the other sky-blue.

‘We can’t leave yet,’ Mrs. Brisby had insisted.

Shortly after the last escape vessel had disappeared from visual sight Julia had made to initiate their own departure. Unexpectedly, Elizabeth had stood up from between her children and placed a hand on the white rat’s wrist, shaking her head.

Both rats had stared at her, wanting answers, but the look in the mouse’s face as she gazed through the central window expectantly had kept them quiet. So, they had been circling the simmering structure at a safe distance for almost ten minutes now, painfully aware that human rescue vehicles were well on their way.

‘Sir, the Cleanup and Phoenix Protocols have been initiated and synchronized, awaiting activation.’

A small panel on the black desk glowed in the same soothing blue light as Jonathan’s failing eyes. He smiled and placed his right finger over the activator and closed his eyes.

‘I love you, Elizabeth.’ He muttered.

Looking at the structure beneath their vehicle Mrs. Brisby felt what she had been waiting for. Tears ran down her face again, but this time she smiled as she said quietly,

‘I love you too, Jonathan.’

Jonathan pushed the activator.

‘Let there be light!’

One by one fuel reservoirs and power stations overloaded simultaneously, causing a series of ever-increasing explosions, which rose from the base of the building upwards, walls and glass shards bursting outwards in billows of flame in their effort to reach the top of the spire. Finally, the very tallest section of the building, the Directorial Office, ballooned into a brilliant cloud of fire and smoke.

In their transport, everyone except for Elizabeth gasped or screamed in shock at the sudden devastation, many shielding their eyes. The conflagration was so cataclysmic, not a single pair of eyes noticed another, tiny transport vehicle racing into the sky, seconds before the first explosions had begun to rip the facility apart.

Mrs. Brisby sat down again and refastened her safety restraints, a sad, yet also serene expression on her face as she wrapped her arms around her children. Julia and Justin stared at her over their shoulders, unsure what had happened and full of questions. But Elizabeth, looking at them with a small but exhausted smile only said,

‘Let’s go home.’


‘The investigation into the catastrophic explosions at the leading research facility of Lazarus Laboratories based in Baltimore continues.’

The human news anchor had been working this story for four days and still did not show any sign of fatigue. Justin assumed that make-up had a lot to do with it as he gazed at the Seeing Machine in his Thorn Valley office. Even without a Stone he was able to use the device now when he needed to. A smile crossed his features as he watched the news coverage with glowing ember eyes. Who would have thought Timothy’s machine would get them premium channels as well?

‘Lead investigators have not ruled out sabotage as they sift through the remains of the site and review back-up copies of the computer surveillance provided by the company’s security chief, Jenner Fray. Earlier claims by environmental terrorist groups taking credit for the event as a response to the controversial Thorn Valley Land Deal that Lazarus Laboratories made with State and Federal authorities could not be validated. In separate statements by video, Security Chief Fray and Acting Director Julia Snow have assured stockholders that despite the loss of their primary research facility the company would meet their production schedule and that the construction of a new facility was already in planning. While animal rights activists still protest the death of the facility’s experimental animals, emergency responders commented that the full automation of the compound was to be credited for the minimal loss of human life. No comment has been made so far as to whereabouts or condition of the company’s CEO and General Director Jonathan…’

Justin closed his glowing eyes and sighed, allowing the machine to slowly come to rest as his mind did the same. When he opened them again they were their usual color. He yawned and stretched his arms over his head while he enjoyed the multicolored lights from the stained-glass rosette window, which bathed his office in a magical display. Then, he shook himself a bit in an effort to get the stiffness out from his joints. He had been using the Seeing Machine for two hours now, scanning the human world for anything of relevance to their situation.

He looked at his new robes. They were far less cumbersome than his old ones, still regal, but open in the front and of lighter fabric. He still looked like some sort of wizard, but at least one that could actively kick some rear end if he had to. Certain jobs just required certain attire.

With all the confusion of their arrival, and the vast amount of animals of all species that were now supposed to share Thorn Valley, the Rats of NIMH had jumped at the chance of reinstating him as head of the Council. He had not objected. Many had screamed murder when they witnessed cats and dogs strolling around the Oak, especially when one had turned out to be Dragon. Verilla had been ready for an apoplectic shock. But between Julia and himself they had managed to get everyone working together, for now at least. After four days things were looking as if this crazy new situation might just work out. 

There was a knock at the door.

‘Come in,’ Justin called out as he leaned back and put his feet on his desk.

Julia entered, wearing a crème-white dress of similarly regal design, as befitting the status of Head of the Council, since that position, for the time being, was to be held by two individuals. She still wore her glasses and carried one of the new data tablets that everyone was now so fond of using. Justin, like a caught schoolboy, immediately took his feet off the desk and got up to embrace her. After a short kiss he asked.

‘How are things going?’

She smiled and waved her free hand.

‘Very well, actually. We finally located the last two escape vehicles. As you guessed the pilots panicked when the autopilot took them to the cliffs and tried to fly manually.’

‘What did they hit?’

Julia rolled her eyes, but continued smiling.

‘The river, in both cases. Shorted out their radios, but nobody was hurt and all the gear can be salvaged.’

‘That’s a relief.’

Now it was her turn to embrace him and give him another peck on the cheek.

‘I got to see what Solomon and Ages have been up to.’

Justin’s ears perked up.


‘Yes, Timothy showed me. That old mouse friend of yours really seems to like egging Dr. Prometheus on.’

The brown rat chuckled, ‘He does that to everyone. I’m just glad he’s back doing science rather than just playing doctor.’

Julia giggled, ‘Solomon seems to enjoy it. Anyway, they and Timothy are planning to build a bio-computer in that big cave system in the northern cliff wall.’

‘A what?’

The female rat left the embrace and raised her arms, ‘That’s all I know. They want to get Cynthia and her boyfriend…’


‘Yes, him, anyway, they want them involved as well. And they already installed the controller units for the human remote bodies we have in the remaining facilities.’

Justin’s face became serious as he rubbed his chin.

‘Funny how Jonathan thought about packing those. They came in handy in talking with those human investigators. It gives Jenner something to do until his leg heals up fully. What about the new colonies and the power plant?’

Julia put the data pad on his desk and rubbed her hands gleefully.

‘Everything on schedule. The canines want those caves on the western ledge, the felines have the huge elm towards the south to work with. Heck, everyone’s excited about their new homes. In three months tops everything should be up and running.’

Shuddering a bit Justin looked at the ceiling.

‘Then we can expect the politics to really become nutty. Seven different colonies, Nicodemus’ beard, that will be fun! And then we have to worry about those other facilities the Director had built around the world. We’ll be busy.’

‘It’ll be alright,’ Julia stepped behind him and massaged his shoulders a bit. Justin closed his eyes and sighed contentedly.


‘Hm?’ He didn’t open his eyes, just smiled as the tension was massaged away.

‘If the Director’s plan was for us to turn back into wild animals and in the process change the entire world into his playpen…’

Justin opened his eyes as he noticed Julia’s concern, turned, and put his hands on her shoulders in turn.

‘… why did he go through all the trouble?’

‘What trouble?’ Justin wondered.

She nodded her face to the colored window.

‘The trouble to equip us with all the gear for the Move. If he had succeeded, all that equipment would have been a useless waste.’

The brown rat tilted his head.

‘What’s really troubling you, Julia?’

She looked into his eyes as he held her.

‘Who was really in control? Was it that… thing? Or was it Jonathan after all?’

Justin gently guided her around the chair up towards the ledge on which rested the window rosette. Then, as they both stood before the many-paned colored windows he pointed his fingers to a clear one.

‘Look here!’

Gazing through the glass Julia was able to look at a large, naturally grown balcony that faced a huge door in another of the Great Oak’s many trunks. She could see Mrs. Brisby and her class, together with five new mouse children that had once lived in the sewers, three huge Stagg youngsters, and two Kittens sitting on cushions in the sun. Elizabeth was helping a female Stagg rat child read from a book while the others all waited patiently.

‘You see her?’ Asked Justin.

Julia nodded, not taking her eyes off the scene.

Stepping next to her, his arm around her shoulder, Justin looked on as well.

‘If there is anyone who knows for sure, then she does.’

Everywhere around the Great Oak, where the newcomers’ temporary quarters had been set up, the Rats of NIMH and their new brethren worked together updating and incorporating new technologies to their everyday tasks. New harvesting equipment was being assembled and greenhouses set up in hidden locations around the valley. Sterilizers in Thorn Valley style guard tunics and the usual colony guards were busy sharing combat techniques as they manned their various guard stations, while throughout the valley, some miles away from the colony center, canine and feline guard patrols checked the area so they could guide stragglers to the Oak. 

Just beyond the farthest reach of these patrols a smaller, undocumented escape vehicle had managed to crash-land against a bush hiding an old tree-trunk. The vehicle had travelled slowly, so the impact had not mangled the chassis, but the electronics were fried beyond repair.

A dark-grey female mouse with emerald eyes was desperately trying to unscrew a maintenance panel on the vehicle’s side, which had become warped. She wore a single jumpsuit of a blue so dark it almost appeared black with gold lining and looked as if she had a small golden band fused over her brows. Finally, she lost the battle between her wrench and the panel and the tool flew from her grasp to fall heavily on her foot.


She yelped and kicked the vehicle’s side hard.


Now hopping violently on one foot while clasping her hurting toes she cursed loudly.

‘Stupid body! Body! Dang! Stupid pain body!’

The mouse stopped jumping and put her palms on the metal as well her brow and tried to calm herself.

‘Alright, alright, no problem. This is just pain, it’s normal. Just a body thing to get used to. It’ll go away.’

Slowing her breathing she carefully put down the offending foot as well and sighed with relief as she was able to stand without problems. The mouse ran her fingers through her hair.

‘This body business is more difficult than I thought.’

Picking up the wrench she walked around the vehicle to the open door and stepped inside.

‘And?’ A familiar male voice asked.

Alis threw the wrench on the floor, ‘We’re not going to be able to fix it. We’ll have to walk from here.’

Jonathan Brisby, dressed in a similar jumpsuit, looked up at her as he sat on a bench packing two backpacks.

‘Why Alis? Why force me back?’

The female mouse cocked her hip and glared at him.

‘First of all, I told you I’d learned enough. Second, you know she deserves it, so you better suck it up and give her that lifetime. And finally,’

She walked over to grab one of the two packs and strapped it on, ‘I’m not going to carry all this to Thorn Valley myself.’

Jonathan shook his head with a small smile and stood, donning the second pack.

‘Alright then,’ he sighed as he walked out the door and Alis’ new incarnation followed, ‘I have a feeling it won’t do any good arguing with you. It will take us about three days from here. So we better get a move on.’

As the two mice made their way through the forest towards Thorn Valley, the sun glinted off some of the objects contained in their overstuffed packs. Inside their containers, the Stones sparkled.