by Diana Hockley
This week we have 2 rat rescue articles, and this interesting rat short story all in honor of World Rat Day on April 4!
The little beady-eyed creep irritated the hell out of me. If he hadn’t been one heck of a technician, I would have had him transferred to another department. Much as I liked to hear the figures on the monitors squeal, prolonged listening got old pretty quickly.
“Sorry, Boss. I get bored and it helps to pass the time.” Everything about Benny was small and neat, from his shoe-button eyes to his narrow feet and long toes. The screen in front of us erupted in a flurry of terror as he jerked the cursor again. The brawl taking place between the Anglicans, paused a moment before the combatants ran into each other, trying to flee the monstrous shadow above them. Benny moved the cursor again and the shadow drifted away, leaving bright sunshine in its wake.
The crowd stilled, allowing the bearded leader to continue his harangue. “Repent of your sins! God is punishing us with global warming!” he roared.
“Bulldust!” screamed a woman of somewhat substantial proportions, who would have been an excellent front-row forward for a rugby scrum. “It’s nothing to do with global warming, you idiot! There’s no such thing! We’re not to blame for this!”
You weren’t? You could have fooled me. Things went downhill from there, and by the time the wounded had been hauled away and the police had cleared the battlefield, bets had been won and lost in our Control Room.
I continued to watch the citizenry of Las Vegas going nervously about their business, darting into the patches of sunshine, trying to dodge the shadow of The Cloud drifting above, seemingly aimlessly. Of course, nothing about it was aimless.
Increasing numbers of central city businesses were closing. People were staying close to home, only creeping out to work and to buy provisions when they thought The Cloud was well away from their area. Like squirrels gathering nuts, they moved with unaccustomed speed, perhaps thinking that if they couldn’t see The Cloud, whoever was responsible for it couldn’t see them. Of course, we could see everything: the thieves, the bullies, the gangsters, the adulterers, the murderers, and of course, the animal abusers.
We’d worked long and hard on our project. The lights of this city never dim, so their glare covered our installation of a vast black cloud of ectoplasm about half a mile above. Cars and trucks thundering along the freeway belching clouds of pollution into the atmosphere couldn’t hide our Cloud. Many tried to outrun it, but there was no escape. Our technicians had made sure that nothing could interrupt its travels; nothing could disburse the dense gas. The Air Force did its best, the scientists–no doubt panicking in their labs–couldn’t shift it. The politicians, for once eschewing photo opportunities, took to their beds to bite the sheets.
We were justly proud of our creation, and I was looking forward to the climax of our achievement.
Just then, the monitor displayed a park where a small child sitting on a rug was playing with a Cocker Spaniel puppy. The mother, laughing and tickling them both, looked soft-eyed and kind. “Time to get home,” she said, getting to her feet. Indeed, as The Cloud moved toward the park, the lights came on, even though it was mid-afternoon. Something inside me started to melt, but then the monitor switched to a revivalist meeting nearby.
“Benny, close in on that, will you?”
The camera zoomed onto a pastor, a well-scrubbed and ironed, clean-cut individual, who was addressing his flock in ringing tones. “Friends, neighbors–God will not desert us in our hour of peril!”
As his congregation crossed themselves in unison, Benny smiled slyly and jerked his hand on the control. The Cloud swooped low over the crowd sending them into panic, stumbling into each other in their haste to escape. Before I could remonstrate, Benny switched the feed back to the mother and child. I could see she was trying to pretend she wasn’t frightened, but her ashen face told a different story.
“Boss, did we ever think the good people will be annihilated with the rest?”
“There are no good people, Benny. That kid will grow up as bad as the rest. Is that what you want?”
Benny screwed his face up. “I don’t agree, Boss. She’s a good mother. Doesn’t that count? And what about the people who work in the hospitals, the clinics, the schools–and what about the zoos? The vets? All the people who rescue animals and look after the shelters?”
My staff looked at me and then moved over to the main monitor where the mother was bundling the child and their pet into the car, glancing up fearfully at The Cloud.
I had a point to make. “Now, listen here to me. If we are to keep the faith and make our point, we need to ignore everything but the matter in hand. We have to make the world sit up and take notice. How do you think the giant pandas, what’s left of the rhinos, the tigers who are running out of time, and the orang-utans–all those animals who agreed to this project, who trusted us to make an example of these people–would like it if we reneged now?
We’ve been entrusted with a sacred mission! The good have to die with the bad if we are to succeed, and anyone who bucks the system is a traitor to our cause. If this experiment is successful, today Las Vegas, tomorrow the world!” I felt positively Churchillian.
They listened to me intently, some unhappy, others nodding in steely-eyed agreement. Benny turned back to the monitor, shoulders slumped. I wanted to wring his fat little neck for throwing in an eleventh-hour hitch, but something inside me couldn’t let this rebellion pass. I reached over and switched the cameras back on the religious mob, where the pastor was still berating his followers.
“Repent, I say! God save us from The Cloud! Send rain to destroy it!” he shouted, flicking what appeared to be an experienced eye over the jiggling breasts in the front row, as his female fans jumped up and down, waving their arms.
“Make your point, Benny. Are you saying we shouldn’t bring destruction down on those people?”
“We’re not going to save that one,” I said dryly. “He can’t even say please when he speaks to God!”
“But Boss, he’s a man of God!” someone protested, accompanied by a chorus of agreement.
“Man of God nothing! The Whitney sector manager reported just yesterday that this creep beats his wife senseless almost every night, and duffs the President of the Mother’s Union in the vestry before Evensong.”
“Oooooh!” they gasped, wide-eyed.
“But Boss, I wonder if there is a way we can save the good people? The babies and the animals of the city who didn’t do anything wrong?” Benny’s mouth quivered.
“No animal will be harmed in this project. The Cloud will only affect people.”
A chorus of agreement echoed around the room, as the awful possibilities occurred to my staff. Out of the corner of my eye, someone bumped a control, sending The Cloud streaking down on the pastor and his flock, who screamed and threw themselves onto the ground.
“Ah…” During our planning and preparations, we hadn’t thought of that outcome and I felt bad. How could we have missed it? Were we all too focused on our revenge to look further into the consequences of our actions?
Benny’s concerns tugged at what passed for my conscience, a disturbing development because normally I don’t have one. A new feeling entered my heart: remorse. How to sort the good from the bad? The kind from the cruel among the millions of residents in the city? It was a hard call. We could not go back on our plans, because our brethren throughout the world had invested all their hopes and dreams in the success of this experiment.
I spent the next couple of days in uneasy cogitation before the solution came to me. First, I had to clear my plan with our King, a huge, dark-whiskered individual with bold black eyes and an unreliable temperament. On hearing what I had to propose, he immediately threatened to abdicate. This would have caused mighty problems, because the Prince Regent was a snivelling streak of weasel piss, who didn’t deserve to lead a mob of cockroaches. When his time came to rule, I intended to raise a private army, mount a military coup and take over the radio station.
“You expect me to save humans? Just as I was about have the pleasure of killing them all?” roared the King.
“Quite a few, actually, Sire. The good ones…”
“There aren’t any good people, you nincompoop!” he shrieked, hurling a yogurt candy at me. I ducked expertly–it bounced off the wall and clattered to the floor, where a small minion leapt out of the shadows, grabbed it and fled. I backed out of the King’s range and for about the twentieth time, explained the problem.
Our Honorable Monarch blustered, but he weakened after I produced a couple of bottles of grog, distilled from the flower of the Drunken Parrot tree which one of our scouts discovered growing on a suburban pavement. After spending some time in a somewhat incoherent argument, His Regalness scribbled a somewhat wobbly signature on a hastily written edict. I beat a retreat before he sobered up.
The necessary orders were conveyed to our people on the assembly line in the vast subterranean caverns beneath the city. They began making the manufacturing tools and when the goods arrived for them to work with, they manned around-the-clock shifts. Die-stamps hammered, lathes twirled, drills whined, and kilns baked. Finally everything was ready– the good would survive, the bad would die.
There were only three days left; I worried we would run out of time. My minions lugged hundreds of cartons into the Parley Hall and stacked them around the walls. I mounted the podium as thousands of our number shuffled in. When the chattering and twittering died down, I picked up the microphone. “Brothers and sisters, a valid point has been made.” I reiterated Benny’s concerns and explained why the subterranean workers had slaved during past days.
“These cartons hold millions of tiny pellets. You will each be issued one carton containing two hundred thousand of the devices, divided into small packets. You are required to move throughout the city dispensing them to our people. They are the ones who will identify the murderers, the predators, the animal abusers–all those who don’t deserve our mercy.” I paused to make sure everyone was listening. “The instructions are in each packet.” I nodded an acknowledgement to the exhausted scribes leaning on the far wall.
“What if we can’t read?” screeched a twit, third row from the front.
“Make it up!” I snarled, fixing him with a death stare. “Our people will slip a pellet into the ear of each of these despicable beings who will be eliminated in the coming catastrophe. Our scientists have re-programmed The Cloud to focus on these devices and this will happen just before dawn. Many of the bad will be sleeping, stoned, or in a drunken stupor. Those whose way of life means they work at night, will have their pellets implanted while they are asleep during the day. Do you follow me?”
Thousands of voices roared agreement.
“We have three days left. Wherever there is an animal or a child in a household, one adult must be saved to care for it. If both people in the house are bad, then we have to trust that there will be enough good people to care for those left behind. Now, away with you for there is little time to spare.”
My brethren scurried to retrieve the boxes and an unaccustomed feeling of peace stole over me. The animals and the good people would be saved.
A few hours before the catastrophe was to take place, our technicians cranked The Cloud into the main area of the city to start. I could hardly wait for when the citizens of Las Vegas realized the ectoplasm was darker and larger than ever. An hour before dawn, I took my place on the podium along with our King, who would give a victory speech, then announce the commencement of the project. Thousands of our kinsfolk crammed themselves into the great Parley Hall. Much pushing, shoving and muttering ensued as they claimed seats next to their friends and families. Hundreds lined the walls and packed into the galleries above.
The King stepped forward to adjust the microphone, frowning as it whistled in feedback. Sound technicians rushed over and twirled dials; somebody tripped over the cable. The Machine which controlled The Cloud, black and shiny with lights winking on its panels like the cockpit of a jet plane, stood at the ready for its final performance.
“I congratulate you all on your diligence, strength of purpose and complete dedication to the cause. Soon our race will conquer the earth! The means to carry out our project are ready to be activated.” He waved an arm in the general direction of the Machine. “The annihilation of the orang-utans and tigers of Asia and India, the moon bears in China, the marsupials of Australia, badgers of England, and the squirrels and other wildlife of our country–not to mention the animals in the sea–are just a few examples of what greedy, rapacious Man is doing to Nature.”
The King paused for effect and a sip of what he wanted us to believe was water. His eyes were glazing rapidly. I watched with concern as he wobbled dangerously, but he hurriedly recovered himself. “Many years ago, a Prophet came among us who preached of freedom, and advised us to work toward facilitating the arrival of a sign–The Cloud. Working in concert with the animals of the world, we conjured a manifestation which would enable us to conquer the world. Deep in the bowels of the earth, the animals wove spells, heaping curse upon curse, until each cell created what you now know to be The Cloud.”
He paused to glare at some younger members of the audience who couldn’t stop giggling and punching each other on the arms.
“Now, our smog darkens the city and blocks out the sun. We’ve watched their businesses go bankrupt because the tourists are frightened to visit. Many citizens have fled the city, but there are plenty left to remain at our mercy. With much ringing of hands and flashing of expensive taxpayer-paid teeth, their politicians have promised to rid the city of The Cloud.” The King paused, beaming, as cheering thundered throughout the hall. Rows of feet stamped approval until the floor vibrated and the walls shook. “And now, my brothers and sisters, we come to the culmination of our plans.” He waved his arms in the air like a game show host, then grabbed me for support. Waves of Drunken Parrot fumes nearly knocked me out.
“Let’s hear it for The Cloud!”
Beady eyes glowed with manic excitement as thousands of rattie throat burst into song:
“Come ye, come all, come stand and FIGHT! Let the rodents of the world UNITE!”
As the King crashed face first onto the floor, I hitched my tail over my arm, twirled my whiskers, stretched out my paw and pulled the lever on the Machine.
You can find more rat stories & articles in our Rodent Ramblings section.