Moonlight poured through the window of the laboratory, lighting up the rows of white cages that lined the wall. Inside one of the cages, a small creature stirred. The mouse scurried over to the water dispenser and flicked its minute tongue over the hard metal tip. Water dripped out into its mouth.
The mouse scurried back to the corner of its cage. It was new to the laboratory, like all of the other ones in the room. Rows of cages, each containing one mouse each. The last batch had escaped from the lab, although how, the humans that operated the lab had no idea.
The mouse society of the lab was simple. The mice went about their daily routines of being poked and prodded by the humans, being fed experimental food, having strange liquids rubbed into their fur, and any other things that the humans decided to do to them. Other than that, the mice ate, drank, and slept. They didn't have names and they didn't talk to each other. They hardly even acknowledged the fact that there were even other mice in the room with them.
The moon rode low in the sky. Dawn wasn't far off. It gradually sunk lower and lower until it was out of sight and the sky turned a shade of pale rose. The sky brightened into a shade of pale blue as the sun rose into the air.
The door to the lab opened with a harsh clanking noise. A man dressed in a plain white lab coat walked into the room. He was followed by two others, a man and a woman. The second man was carrying a white tray with a lid over it. The woman was pushing a white cart with white wheels on it.
They walked into the centre of the room and stopped. The second man set the tray down onto the cart while the first man carefully opened up one of the cages and pulled out the mouse that was inside. The small, furry creature squeaked in protest, but the man paid it no attention.
The second man pulled on a pair of plastic gloves and carefully removed the lid from the tray. Inside the tray were about five syringes, each containing a clear fluid. The needles weren't long, they didn't have to be. But they were sharp so they could easily pierce through the fur and skin of a mouse.
The first man set the mouse down on the table and held it down so the needle wouldn't slip if it struggled. Slowly and cautiously, the second man lowered the needle so it was scraping against the skin of the mouse. He applied the slightest amount of pressure and the sharp point slipped easily under the skin of the small creature.
The mouse felt a stab of pain in its side. It squeaked in pain and fear at the needle that was penetrating into its small body. It let out another terrified squeak as the needle slid back out of the small hole it had made in the mouse's skin. It watched with relief as the human replaced the needle in the tray and placed the lid back over it. One of the other humans picked the mouse up and put it back in its cage.
The mouse watched as the humans wheeled their cart through the door and were gone. The mouse looked around at all of the other mice in the room, suddenly noticing them for the first time. It felt a stabbing pain in its head. The mouse closed its eyes as tight as it could until its eyelids were sore. It opened its eyes with a jolt.
The mouse felt like it had been awakened. Like it had been asleep for a hundred years and had finally been awakened. It was no longer an "it". It was a "he". He was no longer just another mouse among dozens of stupid little furballs, he was intelligent. The small mouse decided that he would call himself Nicias. He liked that name a lot. Nicias. It sounded right for him.
Nicias stood up on his hind legs to look around the room. There weren't just a few other mice like he had first thought. There must've been about twenty others.
"Hello there!" he called out in a voice he never knew he had. The other mice looked up, surprised, and then dumbly turned back to their scurrying. Annoyed, Nicias decided that he would get some sleep. It had been a life-changing day. Nicias had discovered his intelligence.
Nicias woke up to the sight of another human staring at him. He got up slowly and cautiously, ready to dart into the corner of his cage if it tried to pick him up. But the human made no move for him. Nicias stared up curiously into the human's face. He saw its eyes open a little wider as it saw the curiosity on Nicias's face. The young mouse darted into the corner of his cage when he saw the white cart and tray of syringes lying on it.
The human moved to the cage next to his and retrieved the mouse from it. The human held the delicate little creature down and carefully inserted the needle. The mouse squealed in alarm, but it was soon over. The human continued to inject each mouse with the clear fluid about half of the mice were injected.
Nicias glanced around and saw that the others who had been injected were shutting their eyes tight and gripping their heads. A wide grin slowly crept across his face. He wasn't alone anymore.
"What just happened?" asked the mouse in the cage next to Nicias's. Nicias jumped when he heard the noise. He wasn't used to hearing noises other than the ones that the humans made.
"I don't know what they did to us, but isn't it wonderful?" Nicias asked the other mouse, a handsome gray male.
"I suppose it is," answered the gray mouse doubtfully.
"What's your name?" squeaked Nicias.
"Galen," answered the gray mouse. "I don't know how I came up with it, but if I've ever had a name before, I'm sure it was Galen."
"My name is Nicias," he answered. In the other cages, other mice were coming to their senses. They were glancing around, taking note of the other mice. Nicias saw Galen looking out the window where sunlight streamed in.
"I wonder what it's like out there," said Galen.
"Out where?" asked Nicias.
"Where the sunlight comes from. I remember my mother telling me about it, come to think about it. She told me that there was another world out there. One that has these things called colors. And other creatures besides mice and rats and humans."
At the mention of rats, Nicias shivered. There were occasionally rats that were brought into the lab. Now, as he looked back into his clouded and blurry memories, he could remember a rat being placed in a cage with a mouse. The mouse hadn't lived to see the morning.
Nicias hoped that he would never have to see another rat in his life. Nicias moved over to the water dispenser and swiped his tongue over the cold, hard surface. The bitter tasting water flowed out easily onto his tongue.
Three Years Later
Jonathan scurried around in the wood shavings looking for more food pellets. His food bowl was empty and he was getting hungry. It had been three years since the leader of the Circle, Nicias, was made sentient. Ever since then, all of the mice in the lab had been born with the gift of consciousness. Jonathan picked up a few of the hard food pellets and popped them gratefully into his mouth. They didn't taste bad, they just had a dry, dusty texture to them.
Jonathan felt color rush to his small face as he caught a young, female mouse named Rosalind looking at him. When he glanced up, she didn't look away, she just kept smiling. Her fur was a beautiful, pale gold color. Her tail was just as fair as her fur.
Jonathan was relatively handsome himself. His fur was a pale brown color and his face was nicely shaped. He looked a little handsomer than the average mouse.
Jonathan smiled happily back at Rosalind. They'd known each other since they were no more than blind, helpless kits. He was obviously her primary suitor and it was obvious that she liked him.
Jonathan caught Nicias glancing at him and the color returned to his face. He turned shyly away from Rosalind. The last thing he wanted was the founder of the Circle watching him make googley eyes at his granddaughter.
The circle was a group of mice that was founded when about five of the mice had discovered their sentience. They were always planning together and thinking of ways that they could make life better for the mice. They were the ones who had come up with the idea of sharpening their teeth on their cage bars so that when the humans tried to pick us up, we could easily draw blood.
My grandfather, Galen was Nicias's second in command. Nicias was like a king to us, even though he was practically ancient. The next one to take his throne would be his son Salem.
Salem was Rosalind's uncle. He wasn't the most pleasant mouse to be around, and Jonathan hoped that Nicias would have a change of heart and appoint Galen to lead the Circle when Nicias got too old. But Nicias was very stubborn and it wasn't likely that he'd change his mind.
Galen was only a few seasons younger than Nicias. He was strongly built with steel gray fur and a strong, masculine face. Galen was the first one to support the idea of sharpening teeth on cages and was a relatively aggressive mouse. He had won many mates and his blood ran strongly through the small society that he had helped build.
Jonathan became rigid as a human walked into the room. He quickly scurried into the corner of his cage. The human shot a quick glance at me, and then moved on to another cage. It reached in and grabbed one of the non-sentient mice and one of the sentient ones and put them in a maze that it had wheeled in on the cart. Jonathan had been in the maze before. It was quite amusing and it was a much better way to pass the time than by chatting with the other mice. The maze had two endings. One ending had a piece of cheese. The other one had a buzzer that shocked you if you so much as placed a whisker on it.
Jonathan knew better than to touch the buzzer, so if he came to it, he turned around and went for the cheese. The non-sentient mice, however, didn't have the memory that his people had. They weren't as smart as the mice of the Circle. Jonathan sniffed the air with his sensitive nose. He didn't smell the cheese that the maze was supposed to have. After a few seconds of pondering this, Jonathan came to the conclusion that the humans had altered the maze to see if either of the mice noticed that there wasn't any cheese in the maze.
Jonathan sighed and shook his head. The humans had come up with another meaningless way to test to see if the mice were getting any smarter. Of course we are, Jonathan thought. We aren't as simple as we had been all those seasons ago.
"I, Nicias, call a formal meeting of the Circle." Jonathan woke with a start as he heard Nicias bellow out the words. There hadn't been a formal meeting for a while now. He hoped it was exciting.
Jonathan quickly groomed his whiskers and scurried to the edge of his cage. A few cages down from him, Nicias stood with Galen behind him. Other members of the Circle were standing at attention as well. Meetings like this were for everyone to listen to, even though not everybody was a member of the Circle.
Jonathan hoped that one day, when he was old enough that he would become a member of the circle.
"For the past few days, the Circle has been discussing an increasingly urgent issue. More and more of our citizens and members are having rats placed in their cages. None of them have survived yet. We all fear that the next mouse we loose will be one that is too important to the Circle for us to continue its operation. In short, we all fear that an important officer of the Circle will be lost. We won't be able to continued operation of the Circle if one of these losses occurs. I and the members of the Circle have come up with a plan to stop the deaths and put all of us in safety."
Jonathan rolled his eyes. He could tell that everyone knew that when Nicias said "an important officer" he meant him or Galen. It seemed that the older Nicias got, the more he cared for the circle and the less he cared for his citizens. It will be a great relief when someone else takes the throne from him, thought Jonathan.
Nicias opened his mouth to continue, but he was cut off by the lab door clanging open. A human walked in holding a box with holes cut in it. Jonathan watched the human walk over to Nicias's cage and undo the latch. Jonathan felt a sickening feeling in his stomach. They were putting a rat in Nicias's cage. They were testing to see how one of the sentient mice reacted to a rat in its cage.
The human emptied the box into Nicias's cage and latched the door. The rat was unconscious for now, but by the time night set in, it would be fully awake. Jonathan didn't know what rats were like and he didn't want to either. He had heard that rats were vicious and cunning, but not sentient like mice. Maybe they were wrong though. Maybe rats had the gift of sentience.
Jonathan opened his eyes as early sunlight peeked through the window. Bracing himself, he looked over to Nicias's cage. As they had all feared, Nicias and the rat were both gone, and the cage door was open. Jonathan noticed that there wasn't any blood or fur or bones lying in the cage. Maybe the humans had cleaned it out. Maybe the rats ate their victims whole.
Either way, it didn't matter. Nicias was dead and the only mouse that was fit to take his place was Galen. Galen wasn't the type of mouse to make elaborate speeches and plan for weeks. He could quickly come up with an idea and act on it even quicker. Jonathan was sure that Galen would make a better leader than Nicias.
"Listen up!" Galen squeaked loudly. "Before Nicias died, he had a plan. His plan was that we attempt to speak with the humans." There was a chorus of gasps following the statement. Jonathan couldn't believe that Nicias would have thought of something so terrible.
"None of us can say that Nicias's plan wouldn't have worked, but I have a better plan. As your new leader, I say that we escape from the lab!" There were even more gasps at that suggestion. Leave the lab? That was insane. All the mice had been born here, even the oldest members of the Circle. To leave to lab would be to leave behind countless past generations.
"We will prepare to leave today, and by night, we shall escape through the air vent," Galen continued. Jonathan had to agree that it made sense. If they escaped through the air vent, it would most likely lead them to the place where the sunlight came from. Jonathan remembered his mother telling him of the place where the sunlight came from. She had said that everything was green and blue and colorful there. And there were other mice. Ones that hadn't come from any lab, but had been born there.
* * *
Jonathan reached through the bars of his cage, trying to grasp the latch. It was just out of reach of his paw. He stood on the tips of his paws and leaned forward. There. He had grasped the metal latch with his paw. Now all he had to do was undo it. He pulled it to the right and it slid easily. The door to his cage swung open. He could see other mice opening the doors to their cages and scurrying down the side of the tables.
Jonathan cautiously stepped out of his cage. The table felt cold and hard compare to the soft wood shavings that made up his bedding. He scampered down the side of the table and onto the floor. He saw Rosalind coming towards him and groomed his whiskers.
"Hello Jonathan," Rosalind squeaked. "You look very handsome in the moonlight." Jonathan felt his face grow bright red. He hated it when Rosalind complimented him.
"Thanks," he murmured. Jonathan followed the others to the air vent. Galen was already trying to remove the grate, but it turned out to be harder than he had expected. Other mice began to pull on the grate until it bent under the pressure of about twenty mice pulling with all their might.
Jonathan strained his muscles to pull harder on the grate. Finally, with an enormous clanging sound, the grate fell back. All the mice fell silent. Jonathan strained his ears, but all he could hear was the quiet whoosh of the air coming from the vent.
Suddenly, Jonathan could hear the loud footsteps of a human coming down the hall.
"Quick! Into the vent!" cried Galen. All of the mice streamed into the open air vent. Jonathan tried desperately to push his way through, but the opening was too crowded with escaping mice.
The door to the lab swung open and there was a loud shout from the human. It grabbed a box from one of the tables and slammed it down over about five mice. Jonathan darted out of the way just in time to avoid being captured.
Finally, there was just enough space to squeeze into the vents. Inside of the air tunnels, it was dark and cold. Jonathan shivered as air currents passed all around him, ruffling his fur. He could hear the scurrying of little paw all around him as the mice started down the vent.
Jonathan couldn't see anything. There was darkness all around him and the air had a sort of bitter cold in it that wouldn't go away.
Minutes past. Then hours. Finally, Jonathan could see light up ahead. It was accompanied by a fierce whirling noise that sounded like a giant tornado. The mice hurried down the vent until they could smell a strange scent in the air. It smelled somewhat like the wood chips that made up their bedding, but much stronger.
"Come back!" Jonathan heard someone scream. But it was too late. They could barely hear the mouse's paws against the floor of the vent over the fan, but there was no mistaking it. They heard a terrified scream, a meaty chop, and then there was silence. One of the mice had run straight into the fan, in hopes of escaping. But there was no safety in the vent. Galen had led the all to their deaths.
The crowd began to drift dejectedly back to the entrance to the vent. They would all rather be in the lab than in the face of a giant fan. Jonathan could just make out the crimson-stained blades through the gloom. He was about to turn around when he saw something else.
The wall to his left looked darker than the others. It looked like it continued on into the vents. Maybe there was still hope!
"Look!" he shouted. The mice turned to face him. "This tunnel turns left!"
"Give it up Jonathan," Galen growled at him. "It's hopeless. You'll never make it out alive." But Jonathan wouldn't give up. Never. He hurried off down the tunnel with about half of the mice following him, Rosalind included. He heard Galen give a loud snort of disgust as he turned back to the lab.
The tunnel went on for what seemed like an eternity. After about an hour, the tunnel opened up into a wide chamber filled with stagnant water. Jonathan heard rustling among a pile of debris and saw a pair of red eyes glowering back at him.
Suddenly, an ugly head popped out of a moldy cardboard box. Jonathan heard Rosalind gasp as the rat scurried down toward them.
"What do you think they'll do to us?" she whispered in Jonathan's ear.
"I don't know, Rosalind. I don't know." The rat was standing in front of him, his red eyes uttering an ugly glare.
"Why are yew here?" the rat growled. "This here is our territry, mice," he spat.
"We just got lost, that's all. We came from the lab." At that, the rat's eyes grew wide with fear.
"Get away from me, mice! Get away, ya hear? We don't need yews here! Yew've been touched by them!" The rat hurried back to his box and disappeared inside. Jonathan could tell that he was talking about the humans, but they couldn't be that bad, could they?
The mice watched as another head popped out of the box. This one was smaller and better groomed. Jonathan stifled a sigh of relief as he noticed that it was a small she-mouse.
She had a shiny pitch-black coat that made the white of her eyes stand out drastically.
"Hello. Don't mind Scrat, he doesn't like humans, ever since what they did to his sister………" she squeaked quietly.
"W-w-what did they do to his sister?" asked a terrified little mouse who was barely more than a kit.
"They captured her and put her in a box with holes in it and made her eat mice for the rest of her life. But, when she was barely older than an adult, they gave her this shot that made her go to sleep. And she never woke up." The mice shivered as they heard what the humans did to rats. It was definitely terrible.
"By the way, my name's Shade," the little she-mouse said. "I live with Scrat and his wife in that box over there. If you ever need anything, feel free to ask." With that, the little mouse disappeared into the box again.