Have you ever had your muse come at you with a two-by-four? Things like this are the result. It was written over the course of two weeks, and ironed out over a longer period of time. Set after the Secret of NIMH movie, The Darker Half isn't long as fanfiction goes; don't let the eleven chapters fool you. Along the same vein, please don't let the quality of story in the early parts, most notably the first chapter, deter you; there really is a plot, but its nature requires that it wait a little.
This story definitely earns its 'R' rating, with language and violence being the two largest factors. If you notice something familiar, it's probably not coincidence; there's a Death to Smoochy reference in there, among others. Also, I'd point out that Dr. Shultz reads Tom Clancy :). That said, sit back, grab a soda, put on Megadeth's Sweating Bullets (or Linkin Park's Crawling, or Disturbed's Down With The Sickness) and enjoy the ride!--Obviousman
I'm almost there. It's been a long time since I escaped from NIMH, but I think I've finally found a place to call home. When we first left, everyone decided to go their own way; sometimes alone (like me), sometimes in pairs, but no more than five together to avoid notice. I'm not sure how the others fared, because I haven't seen them since... I set off on my own, with nothing more than a vague sense of searching for something. I wandered from place to place, homeless, until I heard about Thorn Valley.
Apparently, at least one group came before us. These, however, didn't split up; they formed a colony! If they're still there, then it can work! I've been on my way ever since, asking directions of the local animals, and I'm almost there. I can't wait to be somewhere where I can exercise my brain instead of ignoring it! Hopefully, they'll have someone who can help with my problem... I suffer occasional blackouts. They come and go, and none of them have been at a dangerous time, but they really bother me... I have really bad dreams. Sometimes I wake up somewhere else, but that's not too often. Sometimes I even forget what happened before the blackout... Oh well. Nothing I can do about it now, at any rate.
The last mountain has just come into view, and I've started to climb it. I can imagine what it'll be like... Everyone living in ornate, underground buildings. Lots of children, running along and playing all day. As much food as you can eat. Massive libraries, where people can read all day long... It seems like I've been heading here for forever, now. As long as I can remember (at least since leaving NIMH), everything I've done has been a prelude to this, my symphony of existence!
There it is... It's breathtaking. A serene, peaceful valley. I'm not sure exactly where the entrance is, but I'm bound to be noticed; not every animal wears clothes, after all. By all accounts, they should welcome me with open arms... I look forward to meeting their leader, a rat named Justin. Seems like they tried to keep their colony a secret to begin with, but it didn't take long before nearby animals became curious, and news travels fast in the mouths of crows.
It went as well as I could have hoped for-no, better. Justin and I hit it off right away; my guess is he just wanted a rat to talk to that doesn't think him a god. He's actually a pretty nice guy, once you get past the whole Leader thing. For now, I've been assigned as one of the Guards, because I'm pretty 'physical', if I do say so myself (and I do). Nobody knows what to make of my blackouts, but they don't really worry about putting me on Guard duty because, ironically, its one of the few positions where I probably won't be hurt because of them (there hasn't been actual fighting for a long time).
Everyone here is really nice... They escaped from NIMH a while ago, and have been living in the Valley for three years. I met rats named Justin, Brutus (big!), Arthur, Megan (she's pretty), and a lot more. The strangest thing is that there were mice there too: Timothy, Martin, Cynthia, and Mr. Ages, to name a few. All of the mice are kind of celebrities here, though I don't know why yet; Justin said that it was a long story. Most of the people here have never been directly in NIMH, but a handful have, including Justin, Brutus, Arthur, and Mr. Ages. In all, it seems that only a dozen of them have felt those needles! It's amazing how well they've done here... apparently, human law prevents them from coming into the Valley and discovering us (I love that! 'us'!).
I just got out of library; I spent about three hours there: The only reading material I've ever had was in NIMH, but that was enough to leave me wanting more. Megan volunteered to show me around, so I left the library for last (a reader makes for poor company). I'm pretty tired... I think I'll go to sleep soon. Tomorrow will be my first full day in Thorn Valley! Megan offered to show me around. I can't wait to check out the library!
It's been a week since I arrived, and I've loved very minute of it! I could spend (and have spent) hours in the library, just reading and reading and reading. It's nice to have some outlet for my mind! No blackouts so far, which is a good sign. I've made some friends here in the Valley... Brutus is a nice guy, and really quiet. Arthur works with Mr. Ages, and both of them can be really fun if you get a few drinks into them. On a side note, apparently Mr. Ages didn't always work solely with machinery; he used to be quite the physician. He handed the reigns of medicine over to a rat named Craig, though, because he was "sick of having to stand on a chair just to use a tongue depressor". Just yesterday, I asked Megan out on a date (hiking in the mountains... she's a Guard too), and she said yes! We left a little while ago, and we're up on the mountains right now.
"Come on, slowpoke! You can't be done already!" She's gotten a ways ahead of me while I was thinking.
"Never! Besides, I've seen you taking breaks while I'm not watching. Want to stop and eat soon?" I'm not sure, but I think I'm in love. I spend long minutes just staring at her... She's so smart! Way more than I am, at least. She showed me the ropes, so to speak. *Sigh*...
"All right, fine, have it your way," she responds with a chuckle, punctuated by wheezing. "Lemme go take a look around..." she climbs up a crack nearby, and then returns, panting from the effort. "There's a little plateau up ahead... You can rest your sorry butt in just a moment." We share a chuckle while starting out for the spot. The scenery around here is beautiful... You can see for miles... We set our gear down where we're going to eat, pull out our food, and set up a little picnic. It's so nice up here... The food's pretty good, too. We make small talk while we eat, just metaphorically chewing the fat about anything and everything while we literally chew our food. Working together, we get everything picked up pretty quickly after we're done eating. We're just starting to... uh oh. A dizzy spell. That always means a blackout is coming... I'm just starting to tell Megan when everything goes dark.
back again... God, but this feels good. it's been a while since I've been able to move. he's right, this is a pretty area... it was worth the effort to get here. no buildings... no stench... no people-well, almost no people. that little first-gen, Megan, is over to my right, picking up the remains of lunch. I HATE people. can't stand them! they stagger around, waving their banners of petty desires, wants, and opinions: every last bit of it is 'me me me'. it's a miracle they work together at all. at least there isn't much extra room on our little plateau, outside what was taken up by the cloth. also, there isn't another soul for miles. he couldn't have picked a better spot for me: I hate people, but in particular, I can't stand that bitch. I didn't even think it was possible to be more irritating than him, but I guess it is. at least I don't have to live with her babble. heh heh heh... 'live'. I kill me.
I walk up to the edge of the plateau with my pack, tossing a keepsake of some sort (I think it's his) up and down, and then 'accidentally' letting it fall off the edge. "oh no!"
Megan totters over, all concern on the outside and irritation, I'm sure, on the inside. "what happened?" people always think their little games go unnoticed. in a way, I'm doing him a favor; he'd go insane after a few years with her.
"I was just playing a little... it was my mother's! it's the only thing I have left of her!" quick as a whistle, she's bent over the edge and pretending to look for all her little eyes are worth. I back up silently, and line up with my foot in the air. three... two... one... shove... and they're off! or, at least she is. the look on her face is priceless, as she slowly spins end over end in a sort of 'C' shape before landing (head-first, no less!) on the jagged rocks below. whooooo..... rats are not meant to be that shape. I think she's closest to a 'W', now.
I have to move quickly now... securing my grappling rope, I pull out a recently-emptied jar and start down after her. it's a little hobby of mine... harmless, but vitally important. after filling up the container with blood (and there's plenty of that!), then burying it where nobody will be able to find it (but me, of course), I'm off to Thorn Valley.
almost there now... this is where my superior acting skills earn their keep. they'll be expecting a face full of tears, which is a problem: I don't cry. normally, at least... all I have to do is think back on my days at NIMH and I'm sobbing like a baby... the hours in a cage where I was shocked an instant after a light came on, and the light came on randomly every minute or so. it didn't take long before seeing the light made me tense up, because I knew a shock was coming. that went on for a few weeks, until it became reflexive. then, one day in the dark cage, the light started to blink on and off erratically... I was just laying there, wincing and convulsing. it didn't last long, but they apparently had gotten what they wanted. Dr. Shultz was wringing his hands nervously, and belting something out (I didn't understand English at first), and a man with a necklace bearing his picture and some text on a flat card. it didn't make sense to me, then; I still don't completely understand. I have a pretty good idea, though. it was pretty tame, compared to what they did after... I'm pretty sure it was unrelated; a kind of test run, to see if their theories were correct. all I know about their... experiments... I learned or guessed later. during them, I was in a constant state of depression... seeing no rhyme or reason to anything they were doing to me, and lacking any hope of escape.
later, they put me in a tiny room with a button, and electrified the floor (the ceiling was too low for me to effectively jump). all I had to do to stop the pain was push a button. the button, however, was openly connected to a guillotine in the corner, always occupied by one of my friends. they'd lie there and cheer me on, or plead for their lives, or cry, or anything else they could think of to extend their lives; one of them explained that they were told I'd be free to go if I lasted long enough. not sure if that's true... bah, I don't care. the first time I was in there, I held out for hours. I kept thinking that maybe, if I lasted long enough, I'd be let loose. but no relief came. eventually, with no end to the pain in sight, I couldn't bare it any more. I pushed the button. the second time, I waited less. and less after that. and less after that. eventually, there was no delay any more. in, chop, out. in, chop, out. before long, the scientists ran out of rats who were my friends (or knew me at all); for obvious reasons, nobody wanted to even talk to me after that. for the vast majority of my stay in NIMH, I was alone.
even though I'm about as 'over it' as I can be (in my opinion), even I admit that the experience fucked me up something fierce. still, self-loathing is a path that I refuse to travel. I try not to think about it too much. either way, that little fall down memory gorge did the trick... time to tell Justin and the gang. what luck! he's out in front. "Justin! Justin! help!"
"what is it? what's wrong?" compassion. always, from everyone, love, friendship, and compassion. nobody went through and chopped out part of their brains; obviously, they get the full spectrum of emotions. where does all the hate, anger, and scorn go? it's funneled out in the backstabbing, the bickering, the gossiping... all this other shit that people do. it makes me sick to hear them say something like 'what's wrong?', because I know full well they'll make it up in spades later. hell, I should know; I remember full well how often I did that before I was really me.
"it's Megan! she fell! hurry!" Justin waits a second to get some help, and we're off. I'm pretty tired from my run down the hill; he tells me to stay here and I don't argue. I decide to put my time unobserved to use, though... I sneak down to the labs, and grab thirteen little airtight vials, which I then hide out in the forest. it'll seem strange if there's no throng when they get back, so I had better go inside now and rouse the populace...
everyone's saying how sorry for me they are... God, I wish they'd just shut the hell up. they know and I know that the only thing they're mourning is the loss of a body that does work. I managed to sneak off while I was on duty and move my burgeoning collection out of the jar and into one of the vials, so that it doesn't spoil. nothing else to do, for now. I head home and crawl into bed.
everything whites out
Woah... that last one was a doozy. I just woke up... in bed, in my room, and in the next day (according to the calendar). That's the first time this happened here... so there's probably someone there waiting to check on me. I get dressed, and open the door to... an empty hallway. Huh, that's strange. Well, off to get breakfast: I'm hungry!
Hold on a second... there's Megan's parents... in mourning clothes!? I run up immediately. "What happened? Is Megan OK?"
It's her father who responds, and he's mad as hell. Her mother looks like she's just been slapped. "What do you mean, 'is she OK'? Is this some kind of sick joke?"
I'm used to stuff like this. "No, it's not a joke. I don't remember most of yesterday... I blacked out. What happened?"
The look on his face immediately softens, and he puts his hand on my shoulder. "I should have known. Do you remember going hiking with Megan?" I nod. "There was... an accident. She fell. You came running down to get help, but Mr. Ages determined that she died on impact. We're on our way to the funeral." His wife starts crying (and from the looks of it, this isn't the first time), and he puts an arm around her.
I'm completely dumbfounded. "Oh my God... I... I have to go get changed..."
He shakes his head. "Guards wear their uniforms when it's one of their own. Come on, you can sit next to us." He's doing a pretty good job of fighting back his tears, but the reminder that there's an open spot at their table is too much. We stand in the hall for a while, hugging and they crying the grief out of their systems, before continuing to the funeral.
What a week: the journey was purgatory, the Valley was heaven, and Megan's death was hell. It didn't bother me as much as it should have... I guess I did all my crying before I came to that morning. Still, we were friends, and it struck home just how frail life is, and the capriciousness of death.
I found out something interesting... it seems the rats and mice who've actually been in NIMH have something like a club going. Nothing official, just sort of a group of people with a different perspective on life than the rest. More than with anyone else, I feel welcome with them. I don't really have a reason for it, in particular; I just like them. Justin, Brutus, and Arthur, along with Craig the doctor, Joe the cook, Tiffany the librarian, Matthew the gardener, and Lance the guard. Along with Mr. Ages, the mice in the group are Greg, Melvin, and Samantha, all of whom help Mr. Ages. The trio themselves are part of something called 'The Lost Six', of which they keep promising to tell me. They seem normal enough, from what I've seen of them in the labs.
And what labs they are! Even though I go there fairly often, they still awe me every time I enter. With only a few simple machines, Mr. Ages can make pretty much anything someone asks him to, if he agrees. Just yesterday, he started on something he calls a 'printing press'; I can't wait to see what it does when it's finished. It makes sense that all the mice in the colony work on designing and such, because they aren't very suited to farm work or other heavy lifting jobs. I have to get going now, though; I'm on duty with Lance in a few minutes. It isn't even going to be that boring, since Mat's out there too; Mat and Lance are brothers, and they have really funny stories.
After strapping on my sword, my three daggers (boot, side, and other side), my bow, my quiver, my sack of caltrops (good for stopping things from going in the door, if we have to run), and my folded-up hooked net (we guards are walking tanks!), I start walking up to the back entrance where I'm stationed. This walk is one of the best parts about being a guard. The precise, measured stride... the stainless uniform... the bristling weapons... the respectful nods as I pass... I love it here! Guards aren't really in much danger, though. Every once and a while, small predators like stoats or weasels will give us trouble, but I'm told that most of the animals nearby just steer clear of the entrances.
There wasn't any warning for me this time. Just as the entrance comes into view, I pass out.
awake again... this time on guard duty. ugh, this isn't good... time to think. I HATE time to think. no matter what happens, I always end up thinking about... NIMH. well, nothing for it; there's no way I'm going to talk to whoever this pud is, and the gardener is dumb as a rock. I walk up to my post, nod by way of reply to his greeting, and lean up against the wall. my memories seem to be cyclic; I start at the beginning, then progress chronologically through my tortures until I left. finally, near the end, I usually remember something I haven't before. then it starts over again, like it did about a week ago. sure enough: it isn't long before boredom sends me back on a trip into hell.
how could anything be so senseless and cruel? what possible motivation could they have for what they were doing to me? I asked myself those questions countless times in the beginning, while I was still like him. the guillotine room is just the tip of the twisted iceberg... they were striking around me, finding the range, before the direct barrage. after they ran out of friends to stick me with, it was on to the next horror. I remember Shlutz picking me up, and carrying me to a room full of machinery, centered around a box about two feet by two feet. the box was hollow, and padded on the inside. weird shit. I didn't have long to wonder at it's purpose, though.
Shultz had one of his little minions stick me in the box, and secure the lid. right before it shut, though, I got a good look a the bastard doctor... he didn't seem to care. just kept making little ticks on his little board, analyzing everything with his little mind. he wasn't happy, and he wasn't sad... he just was doing what he was told by the asshole behind him labeled 'N S A', whatever the hell that is. same guy Shultz was toadying to with the shock treatment stuff... I tried to use the padded latch to open the lid and escape, but before I could, I 'fell' straight up, hurtling into that face of the box. while I couldn't hear a thing outside of the soundproofed grinder, my immediate conclusion was that the box was being spun, lifted, and dropped at rapid speeds. the end result was something like the effect of gravity randomly changing directions. the padding was thick enough to prevent major injury and death, thankfully (or not, depending on your point of view).
just like any other 'first' at NIMH, I'll never forget my first time in the box. imagine placing a fly into a glass box the size of a baseball, then shaking the hell out of it. not horrifying, not scary, but it hurt like hell, and I could never tell when the blows were coming. I'd start to fall one way, and brace for impact, only to collide with the box on my other side because it was falling faster than me. I kept wondering why they were going to so much effort for this. in order for it to have caught up with me, it had to move extremely fast; every time I hit, though, it would spin rapidly around to keep me from being seriously hurt. machinery like that can't be cheap. funny, since this had to have been their least effective shit out of their big pile of shit that they kept pitching me into.
the first few times, I couldn't keep track of where anything was. it took me a long time to find my way out of the rapidly moving box... eventually, I trained myself to remember where everything was, and to use the rapid direction changes to end up at the latch and leave. the three-dimensional thinking and the practice at moving in darkness have paid off, but it still sucked. once I got good enough at that, of course, my special brand of torture shifted to something else.
I say special because I talked to the other rats there, and NONE of them went through ANYTHING even remotely close to what I did. everyone got the injections, but while they were all bitching and moaning about mazes, I had to deal with the guillotine room (well, so did some of them, but that's not the point). why were the scientists going to such 'special' effort with me? after the insane complexity of the box, it was onto something simple. I was put in a cage, with no food and plenty of water, with a large block on a button. before the block was placed, a scientist demonstrated that the button closed a door on the cage, which would otherwise lead to food. I had to move the block, or starve to death. not too bad; it only had a little touch of the perversion the other ones possessed.
I tried, but it was just a little too heavy for me. the block was also attached to some kind of chain; I tried to start it rocking back and forth, but after an instant or so, the chain would tighten and the block would stop moving. by this time, I had decided (for my own sake) to play along with whatever they wanted: if they were willing to go so far as the guillotine room, I couldn't see them letting me live if I 'failed' (dime a dozen, and all that). I started to do pull-ups, push-ups, curls, and any other kind of -up I could think of to build strength. the water must have been pretty heavy in minerals, because I didn't get weak after a few days; I did get really hungry, though. this one wasn't so bad: I tipped it off the button in one push on the eighth day.
"hey, Luke, you awake over there?" it takes me a few moments to remember that they think my name is Luke (a male shrew who rots just outside the valley; the name communicated to him by me making contact with an animal, than switching back), and that I'm on guard duty. I wonder what my name is? meh, don't care. the pud who asked the question is still waiting for a response... what was his name again?... Lance... that's who it is. one of those people who constantly bemoan their stay at the lovely NIMH hotel. they never had to deal with anything! nothing! not one single-
"hey, come on! pay attention! we're not out here to sleep!" Lance crosses over, and pokes me on the forehead! he actually touches me! as if this stupid little guard shift is important! and I have to pretend to like this little fuck!
"sorry.. just bad memories from NIMH." I have to respond, just like he would.
"yeah, I know how those can be. I remember one time in the maze..." he keeps talking, but I'm not listening. if someone was watching me, they would see my right eye start to twitch. he's still talking, and as he continues bemoaning his sorry existence, my vision starts to go red. that... why... shit... how... YAAAA! "...I can't think of anything worse than NIMH..." THAT DOES IT!
now my voice cuts into his reverie, coming as it does from right behind him. "really? I'll bet you just haven't tried hard enough! here, let me give you some help!" I quickly draw his own sword from the sheath at his side (he left his other weapons at home, the dumbass) and point it at him as he turns around. I do love the looks on their faces when this happens!
"what... what are you doing?" he's truly terrified, and the fun hasn't even started yet!
"just hold still and you'll find out!" God forbid he actually think for himself. for some unfathomable reason, he stands still as I rip a chunk out of his uniform and gag him with it, then use my hooked net (I love those things!) to tie him to a nearby tree trunk. well, his chances of survival are about zilch. I think he'll get a taste of the guillotine room... I blindfold him, as well. "sit tight, I'll be right back!" I run over to the sleeping (lazy shit) Mat, and wake him up. within moments, I club him back unconscious with the hilt of my dagger (so he doesn't wake up for a long time) and proceed to drag him back to Lance. "I've got your brother with me, Lance. all you have to do to end your suffering is nod three times in a row. of course, if you do, he'll die."
he's just sitting there, very, very still, expecting the worst. smart guy. I pull out the dagger on my right, and begin to torture him as I've done to so many before. he screams, and screams, and screams, but his head never nods; I'm impressed. no danger to me, though; all that's coming out around the gag is some moaning, and nobody actually comes up here except us. every time I do this, I give all the hate, pain, and fear built up in my stay in the illustrious NIMH hotel an outlet. if I ever stopped, I'd go completely insane (short trip). it doesn't take much longer for him to degenerate into mindless animal yelling; his head's lolling about (but never nodding), and some sort of fluid is leaking from his mouth. soon, he collapses like a corpse. one nod. two nods. three nods. I immediately stop. wow, he looks like hell; he's just sitting there, crying, with an expression akin to that of a rat damned to hell by his own hand. "THIS is what I had to go through at NIMH. every day! except there, my friends and relatives actually died." the change on his face is amazing... somehow, without being able to speak, or stop crying, he manages to convey a sense of profound joy. it keeps that look even after I lop his head off with his own sword.
sometimes, I don't even know why I do it anymore. I can think 'outlet for emotion' all I want, but I can't say for certain. force of habit? unlikely. perversion of NIMH? probably. most likely, it was some sick experiment of theirs, testing torture tactics on sentient beings that don't have rights. in some way, I owe my existence to them; if they hadn't been so sick and twisted, he would have never created me to shield himself from all the bad shit that happened. funny how I ended up 'on top', so to speak... I feel that, no matter what happens, where you came from, or what you are, you play the hand that you're dealt. life hands you lemons, you make lemonade. life hands you cyanide, you poison a water supply. snapping back to reality, I sneak off into the woods, in no particular hurry (nobody ever checks on the back doors). I grab two vials, fill them up, and put them back with the empty ones; if all goes well, not even I will know what happened here. heh... remembering his conversation with Megan's parents. funny... wait; parents? aw hell, guess she wasn't a first-gen after all. I grab her vial and bury it, the weapons, and Lance's head. next, I get a fair amount of blood on myself, and prepare for the last step.
I pick up a rock, and crack Mat's skull. I then proceed to pound on myself and the two corpses, making some very pretty bruises. that finished, I climb up a tree and dive off, arms first, straight down; I'm aiming for some broken bones and a concussion. the prices I pay (or he pays, depending) for my vice.
everything whites out
"Woah, that one was a doozy". I remember thinking that, a while ago. Maybe I should just stop thinking, before I get myself killed... I am in bad shape. I don't remember much of the day of the 'attack', as it's being called, but that probably has something to do with the concussion I'm sporting. Nobody has any idea what happened, but they were all looking forward to being able to talk to me when I woke up. It's been a week now, but my memory hasn't shown any signs of returning; Craig says that that's a signal of permanent loss. My arms are broken... my shoulders (both!) were dislocated, and several assorted other bones are broken. I have bruises all over my body, and I can't leave my bed; Mat was beaten completely to death. But that's nothing compared to what happened to Lance...
Whatever attacked us utterly savaged him. His torso was covered with bruises, and there were multiple broken bones, dozens of tiny cuts, and even missing digits! That whole thing doesn't make any sense to me. What on earth would do something like that? No animal I've heard of... The worst thing is, there's nothing I can do about it. There's not really anything anyone can do about it. The Guard has established a perimeter around the immediate area, because we have to go outside to work on the crops and such. Everyone's really nervous, and so am I. Some nameless monster is on the loose... maybe it's some creation of NIMH?
Ahh, that's just paranoid thinking: it doesn't make any sense. Guard training has been intensified, and everyone is being issued pole arms. The logic is that whatever it was, it was big (they think it threw me); swords aren't going to be of much help. I'm going to be in bed for a while... Craig said a month and a half, at least. On the up side, I'm getting plenty of time to read. Tiffany has been really great, bringing in books on her own time so I never lack for new books. I'm also reading through Craig's medical texts; almost as much as I hate to see people suffer, I love the chance to learn how to do something about it.
I'm out of bed! Hooray! It's been six weeks since the attack, and Craig says I'm 'free to go'. I was as weak as a kitten-wait, that doesn't seem right. Weak as a newborn rat. I exercised as much as I could, and I'm almost up to where I was before, but I don't think I'll go back to being a guard. I know a little about medicine now, but I think I'm going to help in the library; Tiffany always says they're understaffed, and I love books. There hasn't been any sign of the... thing... that showed up that day, and I haven't remembered anything I didn't then. Nobody's forgotten about it, but they have put it out of their minds.
On a positive note, Mr. Ages finished with his 'printing press', which turned out to be a big machine that presses print into paper. No sooner did he finished he project than he started one up again; someone in the lab figured out how to smelt a stronger metal, and Ages thinks he can make a 'steam engine' now. He and Arthur are spending all of their time on a prototype-that is, even more so than with other projects.
I'm in Justin's room right now, sharing an evening drink. He's still pretty upset about the attack; he's taking the deaths personally. I think he's being too hard on himself, and I said so, but he wouldn't change his mind.
"You don't understand. I can't let them down! Not again..." he collapsed into a chair, holding his head in his hands.
"What are you talking about, 'again'?"
He looks at me with the strangest expression on his face. "You don't know...? Well, since we don't have any way to show you our story, I guess words will have to do." He reaches into his tunic, and pulls out an amulet. The centerpiece is a red stone, set in gold; it's beautiful. He begins to talk, with an absent tone to his voice. "I won't relate what happened to us at NIMH, because you already know that part." He pauses briefly, because my eye has started to twitch angrily. I rub it a little, and it subsides. "Our search for a home ended near the Fitzgibbons' farm, which you passed on your way here. We made a place like this one, under their Rosebush; we had everything we could want. More specifically, we stole it: we used their electricity, we took their tools, and we ate their food. Our Leader, Nicodemus, wanted more: he wanted us to cast off the last remnants of our lives as rats, and live on our own, here in Thorn Valley. Not everyone agreed with his Plan... a rat named Jenner headed the opposition."
"We voted to continue with the Plan anyway. When we were almost ready to move here, the widow of one of the mice that escaped with us showed up to ask for help. Out of respect for her deceased husband, we agreed to move her cinderblock home out of the farmer's path. It was on that day that Jenner, by now quite insane and furious at losing all the luxuries of the Rosebush, struck. He sabotaged the equipment holding up the cinderblock, killing Nicodemus. He tried to assume command, and stop the move to the Valley."
"During this, the mouse we were helping was caught by one of the human children. While in a cage, she overheard that NIMH had caught up with us. They were coming to bulldoze the Rosebush the next day! She escaped, and arrived just after Jenner started to give a speech. Jenner tried to kill her, partly to get the Stone she received from Nicodemus, and partly to shut her up. Between Sullivan and myself, we stopped him. The equipment, however, was ruined; we couldn't move her house to safety in time. Desperate, she used the Stone to move her entire house through to safety... somehow. In the end, Nicodemus, Sullivan, and Jenner lay dead. I became the leader; I still don't know why they wanted me for the job. I was Captain of the Guard! It was my job to stop things like that from happening! Yet there I was, and here I am, the Leader. It was all I could do to keep everything under control the first few months, but I gradually got used to the responsibility. I talked to everyone, and I still do; I didn't want to fail again, especially through ignorance. None of it mattered! More deaths on my hands, and I can't do anything!" He stops talk, and just stares silently into the Stone. I start to say something, but he raises a hand to stop me.
"I know, I know: I can't be everywhere at once, and bad things happen no matter what we try to do. That doesn't make it any easier to accept... Thanks... Thanks for lending an ear."
Who knew they had such an interesting history...? Truth is stranger than fiction. This beats any story in the library hands down. "What about that... what did you call it... 'Stone'? "
He glanced at it before slipping it into the neck of his tunic. "I'm trying very hard to forget about this thing. Most of the people here think it's a legend, and I don't want that to change. I half suspect that Jenner did what he did because of it... We don't need that kind of power, or that kind of temptation. All power corrupts, and absolute power..."
I think I know what he's getting at. There's really nothing left to say, and he leaves after a moment.
Two months since the attack, and still no sign of the assailant; everyone's stopped looking (except Justin) by now. Life has returned to normal, and the guard has stopped maintaining its perimeter (much to the guards' relief; they share the popular sentiment of utter fear for whatever it was). I'm now officially a 'librarian', reporting directly to Tiffany. I did keep my daggers, though... I'm kind of attached to them for some reason. Right now, I'm walking home after a day at the library (with a book in hand, of course).
Mr. Ages and Arthur are just about ready for the first trial run of their masterpiece, the 'steam engine'. They plan to test it tonight, before having a big demonstration in front of everyone. There's the labs, now... ugh, dizzy spell. I thought the concussion got rid of these things...
Everything fades to black.
it happened again... now it seems like I only wake up when I want to kill someone. it wasn't always this way... I remember trading off fairly often, almost every other day, just after leaving NIMH, and I didn't always kill someone. sometimes, like when they didn't want to tell me where Thorn Valley was (it's a seeecret), but usually I just would walk along and admire the countryside... hell, I don't really have a problem with Mr. Ages and his helpers. I actually like Mr. Ages. yet, here I am. I know from experience that it's better not to fight these hunches... still... is there any way for me to know what's my hunch and what's some remnant of NIMH? I'm pretty fucked up in general, so it's hard to gauge.
doesn't matter, though, I'm still doing it. act now, think later; he who hesitates is roadkill, and all that. as might be expected, I sneak into the lab for some quality time with the prototype. Mr. Ages and the crew are off having a rare break. I've been thinking about this for some time (I can live with that hypocrisy), and I get right to work. first, I rig all the pressure dials so that they display considerably less than normal. secondly, and lastly, I disable the emergency shutdown. I'm glad Ages was so willing to talk about his invention, and how he made sure the pipes were well-reinforced; he tends to neglect the obvious, in this case the actual boiler chamber's integrity.
nothing left to do, other than wait here and make sure it all goes to plan. time to think...
next in my little sideshow of horrors come the relatively mundane 'training exercises'. I don't even know why I call them that... I just always have. things like 'you get shocked if you don't do this right', or 'no food till you are this strong/this fast/this smart'. they even made tiny weapons for me to train with... I didn't take them with me, but they were a lot like what I use now. hell, the only reason I knew what to do to sabotage the boiler is because they gave me a pain-enhanced crash course in mechanics. the 'motivation' was never quite the same... they used a wide variety of shit, some that even I don't want to remember. re-enactments of various Edgar Allen Poe things, like the pit and the pendulum. fun with (big) spiders. torture for torture's sake. eventually, I just stopped feeling the pain, accepting it as an internal signal like any other. when that happened, they used drugs to rob me of my mental discipline and control. all the while, I kept getting more and more... sadistic is the best word. I gradually came to hate everything animate; only living things can be cruel. if I ever think about it too much, I'm sure I'll hate myself: I've become an avatar of the very thing that drove me to this point.
strangest of all, this seemed to please the scientists (especially security-pass-man, and, by extension, ass-kisser Shultz). eventually, they started to give me insects and other pets, just to see how I would torture and maim them. every time I showed mercy, or started to slack, it was back to the box... or the pit... or the guillotine room, if I spared my 'playmate'. they never talked to me, but the intent was clear enough: this wouldn't end until it stuck. as I sit here and think, I believe less and less that I was ever like this. I am entirely an artifact of NIMH... but this is how I am now, and I can't change. not that I haven't tried... I came very close to suicide after my first post-NIMH 'kill'. when do you stop fighting, and just play the villain and be happy with it? no reason to make myself suffer, as it won't change anything.
from my hiding spot behind some crates, I can see them start to file in. Ages immediately starts the machine, and they all gather around to watch. it shakes, rattles, and makes lots of noise, but seems to work; a big gear on one end is turning rapidly, and that energy could be put to good work. but it won't be. to his credit, Ages starts to worry, saying things like 'we should have had to let out some of the steam by now' and 'this is too much noise, even for me'. it's a moot point, however, when the boiler detonates. thanks to tensile strength of the metal, the force of the blast alone is enough to instantly kill the mice. shards of metal fly everywhere, but I'm safe behind my little fort. I'm just standing up to leave when Arthur runs in, to see what's wrong.
"what the hell? oh my God, Mr. Ages!" he's completely stunned by what he sees in front of him. the mice are largely intact, but Mr. Ages was standing right in front of the boiler; chunks of him are everywhere, and his head is right in the middle of the room. and me, untouched, in the middle of it all. it doesn't take Arthur long to recover, or figure things out.
"you! you did this!" he turns to run, but I move a lot faster than he does. I reach the door first and slam it shut, before advancing with daggers drawn. Arthur draws his sword and tries to fight, but it's pretty easy for me to fend off his blows with my left blade and strike a vital organ with the right. slipped it right between the ribs and into the heart: reading those medical texts was like giving a thief locksmith training...
I remove my daggers, and replace them with some metal shards, otherwise leaving the scene as-is. absently, I wipe my daggers off on his clothing, and fill my bloodthirsty vials. it takes a while, but I manage to sneak outside and re-bury them. I then stroll back to my room through the empty hallway (it is, after all, nighttime). the action is over, and it's time to think. I'm not looking forward to it. soon, I arrive at my home.
everything whites out
I keep waking up to bad news... I just arrived, and standing in the wreckage and seeing what's left of Mr. Ages, Arthur, Greg, Melvin, and Samantha is like having my heart in a cold vice. There really isn't much to do, other than clean up; with all the close calls this batch has had since they started tinkering, I guess this had to happen eventually. Still... I'm sad to see them go. Justin is doing much better than I though he would; I guess he feels the same way I do. This is a very sad day for Thorn Valley.
Not only have lost five good people, but the five of them comprised most of the technical knowledge of the Valley. There are books in the library, and a several of the newest technicians weren't there during the accident, but Mr. Ages and Arthur were exceptional. We'll recover, eventually, but long term goals like electricity and running water slide back over the horizon.
Wait... oh my God. I'm staring at Arthur's sleeve... four spots of blood, separate from the rest, of uniform with: that of a dagger. A closer inspection of the metal shards in his chest reveals that they are a little too small to have done that much damage. This is very, very bad. I have to tell Justin right away, and he's not going to take it well.
He surprised me yet again. He looked crushed when I told him, but he buried it quickly... He'll go through hell after this is finished, but he'll deal with it first. I think he's a good leader... he'll need to be, to get through this. We (Justin, me, Craig, and Brutus, who was worried enough to break his silence) talked it over, and we agree that there's a pretty good chance whoever did this attacked me, Lance, and Mat that day. Craig made a good point: if someone's unconscious, you can do pretty much what you want to them. That means that one rat might have been able to do all that damage...
This whole thing really drives home why my friends from NIMH wanted to lead normal lives... normal animals don't do this kind of thing. I have a feeling that all of this is going to get worse before it gets better. We don't want to panic everyone, so we're letting them think it's an accident. Meanwhile, we're going through the unhappy task of compiling a list of suspects. We have little to go on... we looked into who was out and about during the times of the murders (I preferred the terms 'attack' and 'accident'...), which is... nobody. It seems that the killer was the only one active, and they wouldn't mention it. Craig keeps talking about how he can't stand to go through this all again... Being called to the scene, as fast as he can in case someone is still alive, but knowing all the while that it isn't true. This makes me even more worried about what will happen to Justin when this is all over...
The worst part is, there is no 'Jenner' this time. Nobody obvious, nobody stereotypically evil. Whatever reason they have for doing this is kept to themselves. Nobody in Thorn Valley really has enemies; of course, there are people who don't like each other, but nobody seems even remotely capable of doing this. We keep telling each other that we'll get through this, but I have to wonder. What if the killer just leaves, before we can bring him or her to justice? We'd never be able to track anyone down... rats are far too good at hiding, and not being a predator severely limits innate tracking ability.
Everyone went home, and I'm lying in my bed staring at the ceiling. I'm really tired... Eventually, I feel myself start to nod off.
Everything drifts into darkness.
it is almost over, now. I no longer even have an illusion of control over my own destiny... I don't yet know why, but I do know with certainty that I am not my own master. I'm awake again, and on my way to Brutus's room. I have no idea why, but I do know that I will be visiting Brutus, Tiffany, and Joe tonight. the hate... the anger... all a mask, a rationalization of mine to cover what I was doing. the memories of NIMH are all real, and still a mystery, but their purpose was definitely not what I had thought.
the mind tends to explain the inexplicable with rationalization, to protect itself from unpleasant truths. everything from a narcissist's viewpoint to a brainwashing victim is an aspect of this. I was killing all those people, and I didn't know why; rather than look upon myself as a murderer and a psychopath, I created me, this alter-ego, who hates everything and wants to do something about it. all those rage-venting harmless fantasies... imagining yourself beating the bully up, instead of the other way around... mentally giving yourself a knife when the teacher is berating you... all of them personified, in me. what most people actually do (nothing)... him.
left to my own self, I probably would kill people and think that they deserve it. I probably have. I'd probably even torture some of my victims. but there is no way I'd kill for no reason, and killing would not be my entire life. something is wrong here.
I've arrived at Brutus's room, after stopping by the farming tool shed and obtaining a scythe. careful to only use one strike (I doubt I'd live for two), I bury the blade deep between the eyes of the gentle giant. crying from something not a memory for the first time in a very long while, I leave the scythe where it is and head to Joe's room, after filling a vial.
I'm sure that has something to do with it... the vials, I mean. I can't figure out why... or what... but my best guess is that NIMH wanted to create a government killer, obsessed with his 'work', that would bring back evidence. well, they did a good job... I couldn't stop now if I wanted to, and I do. after I'm finished, I'll probably 'head back to report', and be killed. I broke out of NIMH, so they probably didn't want me to ever leave... I'll bet I was given generic instructions like 'kill your friends', just to see if they'd stick.
I'm at Joe's room. I hope that he's asleep, so that he won't feel this... I'm in luck. at least I have enough control to decide how. I use one of my daggers to kill him painlessly, driving it up the back of his skull and severing his spine. I'm bawling for all I'm worth, but no sound is coming out... seems that I can't reveal myself, either. another vial is full, and I'm on to the next.
I'm a gibbering wreck by the time I arrive at Tiffany's room. even with my twisted perception, she's blameless. I've never seen her hurt anything, or even say something mean... a veritable cream puff. all I can hope for is to strike back at the 'scientists' when I return, somehow. I dispatch her the same way, but then I dress the wound, and arrange her body in a peaceful pose. back to bed, and to the concealing anonymity of my other self.
everything whites out
Well, so much for avoiding a panic. Three murders early yesterday morning, and obvious ones... It's our bet that the killer knows we're on to him, so he stopped being subtle. There's no time for us to mourn, though; there's too much to do. Guard patrols have increased dramatically, Justin has his hands full keeping people calm, and we have to look over our shoulders constantly.
This is far from the paradise I imagined, and I'll bet they didn't expect this either. Still, I'm, glad I can be here to help preserve Thorn Valley. The killer has finally given us some clue to his identity: we're fairly sure it's a male rat. All of the killings were brutal, but one: Tiffany's, the only female rat victim. Maybe, in the recesses of his twisted mind, he sees himself as a romantic. Well, we'll find him eventually, no matter his motives... It just isn't possible to keep this type of thing up for long and not be caught.
The next question is 'what do we do with him when we catch him?' Nobody else seems to have thought about this yet, but I have... I think we'll have to kill him. This type of person just can't be safe, ever. Hopefully, when we finish this, we'll be safe, and Thorn Valley will finally be done with turmoil. I can always hope.
We've interviewed everyone we can think to, looking for witnesses, but there are none (at least that are willing to talk). Everyone's on their guard, and looking out for suspicious activity, but it probably won't be enough. We're trying our best, but there just isn't enough to go on, and if he follows his pattern, he'll strike before we have anything more.
The waiting is horrible... We know, with reasonable certainty, that someone is going to die. And we can't stop it. I have a small inkling of what Justin went through as Captain of the Guard... I woke up yesterday with tears streaming down my face. I just don't know what we can do to protect ourselves. I feel so... helpless. I could die in my sleep, and I'd have no say in the matter; none of us are masters of our own fate. Everything we've worked so long for is coming crumbling down.
No... I'm not going to think like that. There's still hope. We will catch this rat, and we will stop this bloodbath. I just hope we can talk to him, and figure out what pushed him over the edge, so we can maybe stop this from happening again.
I don't know how this will end, but instinct tells me that it will be soon... I think I'll go over what we know so far again.
Lance, Mat, Mr. Ages, Greg, Melvin, Samantha, Arthur, Brutus, Joe, and Tiffany have all been killed by this madrat. Six rats, and four mice. Eight male, and two female. Varying professions. Where's the connection? Is there one? Does the killer have a motive, or is he just a psychopath? Normal animals never do anything like this. Does NIMH taint everything it touches? ...!
Every single victim has actually been at NIMH at one time or another! That's something to go on... Who's left? Let's see... Justin... Craig... and... me.
Darkness swallows reality.
this is it. this is the end of the line... I finally remember.
while my alter-ego has control, I am still aware, just not awake. I only really sleep when he does, and I can think while he's awake. I finally remembered the last thing at NIMH.
after everything... the torture, the desensitization, the training... the instruction. I was drugged, I think; when doesn't really matter. I woke up floating a gray world. I couldn't see anything but gray... I couldn't close my eyes... I later learned that a clever system of microphones and speakers stopped me from even hearing myself. any sound I made was recorded, inverted, and played back instantly, canceling each other out like opposite ripples in a pond. I was in a tank of salt water, floating submerged, and quite helpless. I don't know how long I floated in there, with no sensory input, but it was maddening. this was to boredom what hellfire is to a match... not just 'what do I want to do', but mind-numbing, rationality-destroying inactivity. I couldn't move, couldn't see, couldn't smell, couldn't hear, couldn't taste... there was no way to even tell whether or not I existed, short of 'I think, therefore, I am'.
I thought I was dead, at first. then, I just stopped thinking coherently. for the longest time, I yelled... and thrashed around... and panicked. eventually, a voice of reason intruded into my head. the booming, even voice of security-badge man. it was so loud it was almost painful; my guess is that it was pitched for a human. "it's okay... I'm here now..." any input, even the forked silver tongue of that bastard, was welcome. I stopped. "you've been very bad... but you get another chance. all you have to do is agree to do everything I ask of you, and you can go back to life..." some ounce of will remained in me, and I screamed 'no' at the top of my lungs. I wasn't allowed to hear myself, and Shultz's voice left. after another interval of painless torture, the voice returned, and repeated itself. again I resisted, and again the torture resumed... just like the guillotine room. eventually, the word 'yes' was ripped straight from what was left of my soul, and I meant it. I really did. some part of me made the decision for me... anything, anything, to end it.
the voice told me to seek out the rats that had escaped already: hunt them down, collect a sample of their blood, and make sure they didn't live. it told me, in it's calming, reasonable way, to never let myself be caught; to never stop; to never kill myself; to never give up; to return with samples for testing; to never harm any human being; and so on. the instructions went on for some time, each time with my eager assurances of obedience... this must have been where I split into me and him.
and here I am, cleanup crew for the scientists. awake again, and just having delivered a message to Justin and Craig to meet me just outside the entrance, where 'the killer' won't be able to overhear. I told them both that I had found more evidence. they're almost here. there is an upside, though. Shultz will likely leave the Rats of NIMH alone for good, now. it is obvious to me that he thought 'escaped from him' included their children. he probably plans to send out hordes of rats like me, to 'protect humanity'; if I return, he'll think only a handful survived. by killing those thirteen rats, I'll have saved the rest.
Justin and Craig have just shown up... I plan to take Justin first, because Craig will not fight back (Hippocratic oath and all), and I'm a good shot with a thrown dagger. I've accepted my fate, now... I can't change my life any longer, or save myself, but I can do some good. I lead them over to my backpack containing the vials, and they bend over to inspect it. I remove the sword from behind my back, and attack... Justin goes down quickly, completely unprepared. Craig turns, a look of horror on his face, and I quickly dispatch him. I don't enjoy it anymore, but for once, I'm doing the right thing. I make sure that they're dead, then toss my sword away and collect my final two samples. something on Justin's body caught my eye... I look closer. the Stone he referred to. Shultz and co. would love to get their hands on this... I turn back toward the entrance one last time. "use it. don't forget about it: you need it. you need everything you can get."
I leave my paradise, sure in the knowledge that I've saved it.
everything whites out
I must have had a blackout... I woke up outside, and at night, alone... I take a look around.
There aren't any words to describe the scream that was just wrenched from me. My clothes are bloody, and my sword is off to the right, thoroughly and obviously used. The corpses of Justin and Craig lay at my feet.
By my own hand!
All the blackouts... all those people... I finally start to remember. I remember Mr. Ages... Lance... and... Megan? Not her too! And all those animals 'willing' to give directions... oh, please, no...
There's no escaping the truth, though. I said it best: The killer must be brought to justice. This kind of person can never be safe.
A dizzy spell. I will NOT let him do this any longer! It has to end! I fight to stay conscious, looking around for something, anything with which to take my own life. I lunge for Justin's sword, manage to draw it, and bury it hilt-first, so the blade points up. I can barely see, and blackness surrounds the edge of my vision. I have been doing all of this, and my life is forfeit... I have to die to save Thorn Valley.
I stand up, looking down at the clean, pristine piece of metal, and prepare to commit suicide. The dizzy spells are really bad... I'm losing consciousness... he's regaining control... I make one last effort...
A moment later, everything went black. Permanently.
But Justin's sword stayed clean.