The next morning George woke very early. He knew that Dante wouldn’t be around to join him for breakfast for another hour, so he decided to eat alone. Moreover, he was curious to see what the general reaction to him would be now. He boldly left his room, and was surprised when the guards actually greeted him as he exited his room.
“That was odd,” George said to himself.
When he got to the cafeteria, George was surprised again when people made eye contact and some even spoke to him. When he came looking for a seat he was waved over by Rose and Jonathan. “Good morning, George,” Rose said as he approached, smiling.
“Feeling bold today, are we?” Jonathan asked. George took a seat next to him. “Yes. Surprisingly people have been civil to me, for the first time.”
“Well, things have changed a bit. Have you seen the paper today?” Rose asked. George couldn't fathom what that had to do with anything. “What are you talking about?”
Rose held up the journal. “As you can see, the headline is ‘Dr. George To the Rescue’. Can you really save them?” George read the headline over twice, amazed to see the words. “Yes, I believe so. Does the article mention that this is being done with the blessing of Justin and Mr. Ages?”
“It makes that perfectly clear, and it mentions that you were reluctant after nearly losing your life for performing these very same procedures on the original twenty-eight. This is certainly going to make a good impression on Thorn Valley.”
“I hope you’re right,” George said. Jonathan’s look suddenly turned uncomfortable. “George, I realize that asking you do to this after vilifying you for doing the same thing to us is hypocritical, but remember we were captured and experimented on against our will. These people need and want this desperately.”
George started in on his breakfast. “Well, thank you for saying that. I’ll do it, but like you I’m trying to put everything NIMH-related behind me and start moving forward.”
“NIMH is a part of us all, whether we will admit it or not,” Jonathan replied. “I’m afraid that it will always be in our thoughts.”
George could see the look of concern on Rose’s face as she listened to them both talking about NIMH. She decided to change the topic. “So, George, are you ready for the wedding?”
“Well, no. I’ve been a bit preoccupied since I got here. I hadn’t even thought about it, actually. Have they set a date yet?”
“It’s in two weeks. Has Dante had a chance to ask you to be in the wedding party?”
George looked down at his plate. “No, but I don’t think I will.” Rose stretched out a hand toward him, alarmed. “Why not?” Idly, George pushed his food around. “This is something that should be done with his friends there. Frankly I’d prefer to be as invisible as possible.”
Rose let her empathy for the newlyweds come through in her soft voice. “Dante will be hurt by your refusal.” Jonathan, though he hadn’t made up his mind about George, was just as concerned for him. “Are you still that uncomfortable about it?”
“Yes and no,” George said. “I’m growing accustomed to you people, so I’m not as opposed as I was when I first got here. Still, it’s going to be a hard adjustment, especially when they have kids. We all wanted Dante to settle down and have a family, but this isn't what we had in mind.”
“But Dante is happy here!” Rose countered. “He's spoken about the emptiness he felt in his life before coming to Thorn Valley. Cynthia's filled that void and she loves him so dearly.” Rose took a step closer to him. “We've become both friends and family to him. I hope we can say the same for you.”
George looked up, managing a smile. “Frankly, I’m sure Dr. Schultz is rolling over in his grave at the very idea of this union. Inadvertently, he made a home for his son where he would find the love and guidance that he could find nowhere else.”
“That’s very kind of you to say, George,” Rose said.
“Doesn’t it bother either of you that he is human and the son of Dr. Schultz?”
“No,” Rose and Jonathan said in one voice. Jonathan continued. “George, where you have great difficulty being here, Dante has embraced our society. The human world is merely a painful memory of his past. He looks forward to his future here with Cynthia.”
The conversation was interrupted when a young mouse couple with a small boy approached George. “Please excuse us, Dr. George. We’re Cedric and Emmy Jorgenson, and this is our son Leland,” Cedric said.
“Nice to meet you. Is there something I can do for you?” George asked.
“Actually,” Emmy said, “you’ve already started. I’m one of those that you will be treating.” Emmy hugged her son. “With your help Dr. George, I’ll live to see Leland grow up, and share next Christmas with my family. You’re an answer to all our prayers. Thank you!”
She hugged him, tears started to flow, and George was caught not knowing what to do. Gently, he put his arms around her and patted her on the back. “There, there, now. I’m glad that I can finally bring some happiness to your people. I’ll do my best to make the transformation as rapid and as painless as possible.”
“This is for you,” Leland announced, and the youngster held up a piece of paper with a picture on it. George looked at the picture--it was a crude picture of him, done in crayon, with the words “Docter George” written underneath it.
George looked at the portrait, then back at the smiling boy. A long time back, he had developed a professional's objectivity about life and decided that since no one had cared about him, he would return the favor. Now, this little boy's picture reminded him of some things he'd allowed himself to forget. “Thank you, Leland. It’s a very good likeness.”
“I drew it myself!” he said proudly.
Cedric got his attention again. “Dr. George, I don’t want to be a nuisance, but do you by chance have a timetable for the treatment?” Cedric asked. George looked first to the mouse who had spoken, then to his wife. “Mr. Ages and I should be ready to start the process within two months. Full transformation will take years, though, so don’t expect this to all happen overnight. It’s going to take a lot of time and I'm sorry to say that at times it’s going to be very painful.”
He could see that Emmy was growing uncomfortable at that idea, so he took on his doctor's advisory tone. “Your entire body is going to go through some very drastic changes, Emmy. However, Justin said that they had managed to prolong your life a little bit, which means some changes have already taken place. Hopefully we’ll be able to build on what has already occurred and not have to start from scratch. Perhaps the transformation process won’t be as long as it was for the original group.”
Emmy took the hands of her son and husband. “I don’t care what it takes, Dr. George. I will pay any price to stay with them.” Cedric shook George's hand. “Thank you, again. We’ve taken up enough of your valuable time, Dr. George.”
George returned their waves, then cold reality seeped in. He'd let them get to him, and for a moment he'd allowed himself to forget what had brought him to this particular station in life. Grimacing, he pushed the paper aside as he sat down. Rose smiled at him. “George, you have a very good bedside manner.”
But George didn't want her compliments. He didn't want anything to do with any of them, and the feelings of self-punishment brought up a sense of bitterness that he couldn't have controlled even had he wished. “I almost became a medical doctor, but then I heard the calling of science. What a fool I was! I should’ve stayed in medicine--it gave me a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment that science never did. I could have done great things and been famous, but like an idiot I thought I could accomplish even greater things in the laboratory, and what did it get me? Guilt, depression, alcoholism, a fur coat, a tail and a near fatal stabbing! Well, I guess it's all water under the bridge now.”
There was silence at the table for a moment, then George's ire focused on Jonathon. “By the way, just why can’t you use your powers and do to the others what you to Rose and Dante and me?”
Jonathan folded his hands, emotion slowly creeping into his voice. “What I did to you and Dante may have looked easy, but it was not. It was easier than what I did to Rose, but for the two of you it was more of a lateral move. For Rose it was much more--it took her powers, mine and the stone's to do it. It would have been easy to change her appearance, but to change her from a natural to one of us was no easy feat. It was a monumental change to her very nature. Frankly, I couldn’t explain how we did it. And for your information, we did try to use the stone to help the others but it would not activate.”
Rose reached and caught George's hands. “George, I understand your reluctance to be here, but you just saw that you can do good things here. So maybe you can’t be rich and world famous, but you can be respected, admired, even loved in Thorn Valley. You can do things that will be remembered by history. Our history.”
“Rose, is right. Some would consider those things even greater than wealth and fame,” Jonathan said.
George drew back from Rose's touch. “I played with fire and I got burned. Now I'll spend the rest of my life in bondage to your people. So I will do whatever is asked of me so that I can atone for what I did, but don't ask me to like it.”
“George, you were the one who asked to come here, remember?” Jonathan said. “You willingly accepted the condition that if you came here you would have to stay. At Dante’s house I gave you the chance to back out. You said you wanted to come here, that the human world held nothing for you. You even seemed excited at the prospect of coming!”
George looked away from him. “Yeah, I know I said that. Look, I've got to get to the lab to start work. See you later.”
George left the table and stormed out of the room. He sulked his way back to the lab and worked in sullen silence. For the next day or two, George threw himself into his work to blot out his troubles. He kept to himself and avoided others, even Dante.
As the days passed, however, the long dormant scientist and medical man slowly began to emerge. It was six full days after his conversation with Jonathan before he spoke again, this time in the medical lab. He was inspecting a long series of test tubes, pipettes and tubing used to synthesize the compounds they would need.
George spoke as he checked a stopper on one of the test tubes. “Mr. Ages, if I may ask, why did you become a doctor?” Mr. Ages flinched, actually suprised to hear something from his reticent partner. “It’s not something I could explain, really. I didn’t choose medicine; it chose me.”
“I guess I feel the same way. I could never imagine myself as anything different. I always wanted to do what I’m doing now--well, not this exactly.”
Mr. Ages stood away from the counter where they were working and looked at him. “George, we are perhaps the only two people on earth who can do this. Doesn’t that mean anything to you?”
“It was a terrible price to pay to learn this secret,” George said.
“You can do the impossible. What more can any researcher ask?”
George had no answer for that, and had kept silent for the rest of their work time. At the end of a long day in the lab, George dragged himself to the cafeteria. The place was almost empty, and he sat down to eat in silence.
“Uncle George!” It was Dante, sure enough, and George groaned inwardly. The last thing he needed right now was a showdown with him. Dante ran up to the table and stood on the chair facing George.
George tried not to notice. “Hello, Dante,” he said cooly, continuing to eat.
“Why have you been avoiding me? Why don’t you want to be in the wedding party! What’s the problem, Uncle George?”
George let the sandwich in his hands fall, and stood up. “Look, I came here and I gave up everything including my body. I’ll jump through their hoops, I’ll do what they tell me to do. But I am not one of them! They're animals, Dante! Why can’t you see that! You’re a human--on the inside at least. They’re just masquerading as humans. You’re just blinded by animal passion.”
Dante looked up at George, a mix of astonishment and anger. “Just a few days ago you told all of Thorn Valley that they were more than rats and that they were given human nature!”
“I know I said that, but it doesn’t change the fact that they are not like us.”
“So, you’re saying that they’re not really people, just animals that don’t know their place,” Dante said, his voice growing louder. “You still hate them and despise me for wanting to marry one!”
Before George could say more, Dante leaped onto the table and grabbed him by the collar, pulling him forward so that they were face to face. He was seething with rage.
“Cynthia is not an animal! Take a good look, George! They walk upright, they talk, they create things, and they write books! Do animals do those things?”
Dante pushed him away violently, George ending up sprawled on the floor. “You can live in resentment here, hating everyone, blaming them for the consequences of your own actions. You see it as ‘us’ and ‘them’--well guess what? They ARE ‘us’ and we ARE ‘them’! I'm not a human anymore!”
Dante started to walk out, then turned and spoke again. “If you’re going feel this way about us, fine! If you don’t want to be at my wedding, fine! You can just sit here wallowing in self-pity, alone with your contempt and arrogance. Good night, Dr. Yardley!”
George walked back to the lab, shaken. He flipped on the light switch and tried to return to his work, but the strain of the confrontation made it hard to concentrate. After a short time the lights went dead, causing him to swear as he felt his way over to the switch and flicked it a few times, to no effect. Suddenly, the room grew a little lighter.
“Greetings, George,” Nicodemus said. George turned to see the ancient rat sitting in an ornate wooden chair, the lab having been transformed into a dark and cavernous room.
“It seemed things were not going well, so I decided to again offer my help.”
George suddenly recalled the previous conversation he had with Nicodemus. “How did you make me forget that?”
“I can do many things,” Nicodemus replied.
“I still don’t know.”
Nicodemus spoke to him patiently, his words showing his wisdom and experience. “George, you are afraid of accepting your life here. You don’t want to lose your feelings of human superiority. Please, come with me.” A long staff suddenly levitated toward the ancient rat from out of the darkness. He hobbled over to George and led him to a strange device that began to spin and glow brightly. “Watch, and observe what your thoughtless words have done to Dante.”
George found himself transfixed by the image that appeared in the sphere. He saw Dante in a rage, tearing apart a gymnasium.
Dante raged until he was exhausted, then slumped to the floor. He heard someone clapping behind him, and when he rolled over he saw Killian standing at the entrance. The guard rat was clad in pajamas and a robe, with two nervous-looking guards standing behind him.
“Amazing. Only Brutus could have done a better job,” Killian said, amused, as he walked over to Dante. The mouse stood up, coming to attention. “Just letting off a little steam, Captain,” Dante muttered.
“Yes, I see. What’s the problem, my friend?”
Dante struggled into a sitting position and faced Killian, who took a seat on the floor across from him. “It’s Uncle George.”
Killian hadn't expected a problem arising from that quarter. “What’s wrong with him?”
“I’m getting sick of his hostility to us! He's an arrogant little hypocrite!”
“Why did he do that make you snap like this?”
Dante forced himself to calm down, but it was a struggle. “It’s just now that he’s sober I'm reluctantly beginning to see that maybe what dad said about him was true. He always told me that Uncle George was just a pathetic loser. Now that he’s been here I realize that he’s just a man wallowing in regrets who wanted to be famous.
“He wanted people to revere his name, to recognize his brilliance. He’s just a bitter man that’s mad that his dreams didn’t come true and he blames all of you for that. He’s humiliated by being here!"
Dante held out his hands in front of him, staring at them, anger slowly building in his voice. “He held your mother and father, all twenty-eight of them, in his hands. They were just animals in cages--now the tables have turned. He’s at their mercy! They’ve accomplished greater things than he did, and now he’s had to give up his humanity and dignity to come crawling to Thorn Valley to seek their shelter and protection. He's jealous and he just can’t deal with it! Worst of all, he... he hates me for wanting to marry Cynthia! He feels I’m selling out my humanity! He thinks that I’m giving in to animal passion and not using my head.”
Killian kept his voice even-tempered, allowing his friend to get his feelings out. “It seemed he was feeling comfortable here.”
“That’s the problem! When he first got here it was easier when everyone hated him. It was easy to remain separate and aloof from the rest of us. Now that he's beginning to be accepted, that line of separation is vanishing. He's afraid of losing his humanity. I don’t know what he’s holding onto so dearly!
“Is he afraid he’ll never have his picture on the cover of Time magazine as the Man of the Year or never win the Nobel Prize for medicine? As long as I can remember he’s always gone on and on about his broken dreams and ruined career. I’m sick of it! It’s all his own fault. He threw away his career and drank himself into a stupor and let his life fall apart. Now that he’s got a second chance, all he does is complain and rage against being here!”
Dante's voice started to crack with the pain of the moment. “I looked up to him and admired him all my life, and I wanted so much for him to be here! I wanted him to share in the most special day of my life, but he doesn’t even want be there! Well, he’s not going to ruin my wedding--I’m marrying Cynthia whether he likes it or not. If he doesn’t like it he can do what he was doing before and just sit alone in his lab and waste his future by obsessing on the missed opportunities of the past. He'd better decide fast, because my patience is running out!”
Killian got up now, and touched his friend's arm, speaking to him like a brother. “You’re right, Dante, don’t let him ruin your day. You’ve worked long and hard here and I can’t think of anyone else that doesn’t want you to be happy. Forget him--it’s his loss if he doesn’t want to wish you well. Believe me, I know from experience what it feels like to waste time worrying about what others think of you.”
“I came here to start over; if cutting this last tie to the past is what it takes to truly be happy here, then so be it! I thought I was doing him a favor by working to bring him here, but now I see that I was very wrong. I'm grateful nonetheless. It was the trip home that gave me the resolve to propose to Cynthia and to remain at Thorn Valley, with my friends. And hopefully, one day, with my family.”
“That’s the spirit!” Killian said, clapping him on the back. “Just focus on Cynthia and you, together forever.” Dante closed his eyes and smiled. “That’s a nice thought.”
“Good. And while you have that image to warm your heart, clean up this mess. Then go home.”
Dante snapped to and saluted. “Yes, sir!” Killian smiled, returning the salute, and left the room along with the two guards.
The image faded from the sphere. George sighed, “That hurt.”
“It is true. George, tell me, what have you really lost by coming here?”
George turned away from the spherical machine, once again looking at those glowing eyes. “Dante hit it right on the button. I lost my chance to be everything I wanted to be.” Nicodemus pointed him back toward it. “Were you attempting to achieve those dreams and goals while sitting in your office, drinking?”
The sphere began to move again, and soon the image of George at his desk drinking appeared. “Now tell me, what year was this?” The image changed, but it again showed George at his desk drinking. “And what year was this?” More bellying up to the bar. “And this? You didn’t lose your hopes and dreams coming here. You let them go years ago. It wasn’t until you came here that you were forced to face it, but you still can’t accept that so you blame us. You lied to the others when you told them you left your medical residency to go into science. You had completed it and were a full MD-- you left that because you felt you could never achieve the fame and glory you craved while working in a hospital that you could achieve in a laboratory.”
The image in the sphere changed again, showing Dante and Cynthia, holding each other. “You also take your hostility out on Dante,” Nicodemus continued. “He, who has done everything in his power to help you and bring you here. He has accepted his new life here, embraced us, and we in turn have embraced him. Do you wish to drive away your only family? Do you want to be alone the rest of your life? Even Mr. Ages could not stay alone, though he tried his best. People are not made to be alone. George, I want all of my people to be happy.”
George cringed at the last. The image in the sphere changed, it showed George at his desk, the revolver in front of him. He picked it up and started to raise it to his head, seeming to struggle with his thoughts, and then he lowered the gun and put it back in the safe. Then the sphere showed the meeting with the people of Thorn Valley, at the part where he had ranted while daring them to take the gun in his hand and shoot him.
George looked at the images soberly, answering in a small but definite voice. “I’m sure Dante thought that I kept that gun in the safe for protection. I really kept it there in the hope that one day I could finally get drunk enough to pull the trigger.”
Nicomedus placed his hand on George's shoulder. “George, you have given up nothing by coming here. In fact you are gaining a purpose, and you are helping a new race--your new race--to survive in a very hostile world. It is not your humanity you are afraid of losing, it’s your pride. You think that by accepting life here it is admitting defeat.”
George didn’t respond for several moments, continuning to look at the image the sphere held. “Yeah, I think you’re right.”
The image in the sphere changed again. It showed George and Dante at George’s lab, just before Dante left to visit his father’s private lab. George spoke to Dante: “I’ll be honest with you, you’ve been like a son to me and you know that I would never steer you wrong.”
The image froze with a look of kindness on George's face, returned by Dante. Nicomedus continued, his hand still on George's shoulder. “George, if that is how you truly feel about Dante, would you not want him to be happy? He desperately wants your approval, and for you to be happy here. Do you want to truly start over here? Do you want to break with the past and begin a new life?”
George looked anguished, and Nicodemus gave him a little time to recover himself. For several minutes, George studied the frozen image in front of him. He had felt that fatherly pride in Dante, and cared for him like a father. Now...now he didn't know what to feel. Nicodemus cleared his throat again.
“George, you have lost your hopes and dreams from your old life,” the ancient rat said. “Being here can give you new hopes and new dreams. Imagine what you can do here, the things you can accomplish. There is much you can teach us and much we can teach you. You must decide.”
George sighed. “I’m a rat now, a rodent--Rattus Rattus or whatever the heck you are. What is there to decide? I’m stuck here! Do what must be done to make this bearable for me, please!”
Nicodemus smiled. “George, you still see us as animals, even though we can speak to you. You still cannot accept us. I will give you what Dante has; he has seen us through our own eyes and felt what we felt, and that is what allowed him to accept us as people. I will share our lives with you so that you will know us and understand us. You will share our history, everything that we are and have experienced. Are you willing to do this?”
George looked back at the image one more time. “Yeah. Do it.”
Nicodemus raised his right hand and it glowed faintly. George felt strange. Suddenly his mind filled with foreign images and emotions, and then it suddenly seemed as though the lives of the rats and mice of NIMH filled and swarmed in his mind. He began to live their experiences and the emotions of all their lives. As the minutes passed, the intensity of it grew until it was nearly unbearable. As the maelstrom faded he collapsed to the ground.
When his mind returned to consciousness, Nicodemus was standing over him. “Dante experienced the same effect. It is rather extreme, but it is the most effective way.”
George stood up, finding his legs able once again to support him. “That was...amazing. I feel different somehow, strange. That was the most intense thing I have ever experienced.”
George sank to the floor again, suddenly feeling weak. Nicodemus continued to stand there, unfazed. “Do you now understand?”
“Yes,” George said, his eyes going wide with sudden revelation.
“I have given you the insights that I had promised, some obvious, others not so obvious. I will allow you to remember this exchange, though you will not have the ability to speak of it to others. You will find things to be somewhat easier now. Farewell, George, perhaps we will meet again.”
Things grew dark and George found himself back in the dark lab. He stood in stunned silence for several minutes, then quickly closed down the lab and headed out. He walked around in silent wonder, this place which had been so alien to him just the night before now as familiar as if he had been born here.
George wandered the dark corridors of Thorn Valley for hours, his new memories filling his mind. He understood the sacrifices and the wearying labor that made Thorn Valley what it was.
What he had been told about the events at the Rosebush and the cinderblock suddenly overwhelmed him, and he relived those times. Most unexpectedly he felt Jenner’s lust for the stone and its power. The life, death and birth of everyone in Thorn Valley had become fused into him.
The strain and mental fatigue he had experienced forced George back to his room. He looked at the guard that stood at attention at his door. “Good evening, Vincent,” George said. “You know, that uniform would look nicer if it was blue.” Vincent smiled at the thought. “Yeah, that's my favorite color! Well, good night, sir.”
George walked in, stifling a laugh. He’d known nothing about Vincent that morning, but now he felt like a lifelong acquaintance. He didn’t bother with his journal that night, tired as he was. He was asleep the second his head hit the pillow, and George experienced many strange dreams and nightmares.
When George woke the next morning he looked at himself in the mirror. His rodent features were unchanged, but he was different somehow. Then it hit him, he was looking at his reflection without the usual loathing and anxiety. For the first time he could see that he was neither handsome nor ugly, but as Dante had said, average. And for a reason he couldn’t explain he felt perfectly at ease with his rodent form, which alarmed him when he realized it.
Deep inside of him a part of his old self was fighting desperately against his feelings of acclimation. “Stop it, George! This is home now.”
George took a deep breath and mentally prepared himself before he changed and headed for the door. He left his room and greeted the new guard by name as he headed for the elevator.
He entered the cafeteria, and once he got his breakfast he sat and looked around. It was no longer a sea of unfamiliar faces. He knew them all now, and he felt strangely at ease. Halfway through his meal he stopped eating. He looked across the room to the tables where the mice sat, and saw Dante and Cynthia. He picked up his tray.
George approached hesitantly. “Hello, Dante, Cynthia". Dante didn’t turn around, but Cynthia gave him a cordial smile. “Hello, Dr. George.”
“Greetings, citizen Yardley,” Dante replied without emotion.
George put down his tray. “Please Dante, don’t be this way! I’m sorry again for what I said last night. Please, let’s talk about this, in private.”
Dante ignored him for a few moments, then Cynthia nudged him in the ribs. He sighed and stood. “Okay, let’s talk.”
Dante walked past George and they left the cafeteria, finding an empty hallway. Dante turned a pair of cold eyes on him. “Say your piece, George.”
“Dante, I do want to be at your wedding. I want only the best for you and Cynthia,” George said earnestly.
Dante didn’t look convinced. “Why the sudden change of heart?”
“I can’t explain it, but things are different for me than they were last night. I do want to fit in here. I want this place to feel like home. Coming here has been one of the most difficult experiences in my entire life. Maybe you didn’t have a problem giving up your humanity, but you haven’t been making this very easy on me. I’m under pressure from everyone about everything! I’m hassled about what I did in the past, what I’m supposed to do in the future and other things you couldn’t possibly imagine. Please, just cut me some slack, okay?”
Dante’s shoulders slumped as he walked over to George and looked up at him. “Look… you’re right. I haven’t been patient or supportive. I’m sorry, Uncle George. I’ve been selfish about this since the beginning. I just wanted you here and didn’t bother with how you’d feel or react to being here.”
George leaned over and looked Dante in the eye. “I want us to be friends again and I want to be at your wedding.” Dante studied his face and mulled it over in his mind for a few moments, and then he smiled. “Uncle George, I’d love for you to be at my wedding.”
Then Dante hugged him, and George felt that fatherly feeling return. “I’m sorry I’ve been putting you through so much trouble over this. I’ll try to make it up to you and Cynthia.”
“I hope you’re serious, Uncle George. You’ve given me a lot of grief and I don’t know how much more I can put up with.”
“I know. I promise it won’t be like that again.”
Dante was visibly relieved. “Good, I’ll take you at your word. Talk to Rose about arrangements. She’s generously taking care of the details.”
After saying goodbye to Dante, George headed back to the lab. He felt like a huge weight had been taken off his shoulders and now found he was actually looking forward to his work.
George found he was able to concentrate better, and his research progressed more quickly. At the end of the week, George was ready for another task: going with Jonathan and the others to try to help Dr. Valentine and his people. They all meet in Justin’s office where chairs had been set up in a circle.
“Is everyone ready?” Jonathan asked.
“Yeah, dad, I’m as ready as I can be about this,” Martin replied. Rose hugged Martin, trying to keep his spirits up. “It won’t be like last time, dear,” she said. “You'll see.”
Justin looked across the room to their newest member. “George, are you ready?” George felt hesitant, but shook off the notion. “I’m ready.”
“Everyone sit and hold hands,” Jonathan said. Jonathan took one of George’s hands and Rose took the other, and he continued. “Just relax everyone. George, I want you to focus on the hospital and its general location.”
George had been about to reply when he suddenly felt like he was torn out of the room and was hurtling through space. He was aware of strange images and lights rushing all around him. It was completely disorienting and very disturbing. Just as abruptly, he found himself standing in the New York State Hospital. It took a few moments for George to realize he was human again. A few seconds later the others materialized, still rodents, but human sized.
“Jonathan, we can’t let them see you like this!” George said urgently.
“Relax, George, they can’t see us. We are completely invisible to them. Where are Valentine and the others?”
George led them down a series of halls, walking past and even through some medical people doing their rounds in the hospital.
Shortly they found Valentine and the other scientists. Martin was almost in tears when he saw them, memories of that terrible time welling up in him. Both Rose and Jonathan put hands on his shoulders. “Don’t worry, son. We’re here to set things right,” Jonathan said.
“Soon these people will be free again,” Rose added.
“What do we do now?” George asked.
“We go inside and see what’s to be done,” Jonathan replied. Jonathan’s eyes glowed and George again found himself moving, but this time the location was unearthly. George figured this was taking place in the scientists’ heads, as it certainly wasn’t a room that would be approved of by the AMA. It appeared to be a sterile white room, in its center a large cage with several humans locked inside, and surrounding the cage were several huge, evil looking dogs that snarled at them menacingly.
The people in the cages screamed in fear when they saw Martin and the others.
“George, talk to them. They know you.” Jonathan said. George took a few steps forward, but the menacing dogs prevented him from going any closer. “Uh, Dr. Valentine, the rest of you, we’re here to rescue you. Give us a minute to figure things out.”
“George?” a shocked Dr. Valentine asked.
“Yeah. Hi, Elliot. Long time no see. Just sit tight and we’ll have you out of there in a jiffy.”
Martin walked past him and as he did so, his form began to change. He grew shaggier, his clothes changed and his voice took on a malevolent tone. Those in the cage were in a blind panic when they saw this new incarnation as it approached the dogs.
“Well done, my pets,” Martin said. “I dismiss you. Go back the ether from where you came.” The dogs remained there, hackles up, and began snarling at Martin. Jonathan rushed forward and put a hand on his son’s shoulder. A moment later, Martin’s eyes began to glow.
Martin began to take on a truly sinister look as he approached the creatures, a sword materializing in his hands. “Very well, you pathetic creatures. If you will not leave, I will have the pleasure of destroying you personally!”
Martin and the dogs attacked simultaneously, George watching the bizarre spectacle, not quite sure what to think of it. Martin was short and stocky, and the dogs looked like they were killing machines, but Martin moved with supernatural speed and agility and seemed to actually enjoy the destruction of each of the dogs. In less than a minute the battle was over. Martin stood facing the cage, sword still in hand. Those in the cage cowered in the corner farthest from Martin.
“Martin?” Rose asked hesitantly. Evil Martin turned with a look of malice on his face.
“So, father dear, you and mother have come to help poor little Martin with his embarrassing little problem. Did you really think it wise to summon me from the darkness again? Well, his little problem is now yours, old fool.”
“Old fool?” Jonathan said in surprise. “Now look here, Martin! Snap out of it! I don’t want to have to hurt you.”
“Hurt me? Surely you jest! I have at my command all the powers of the universe. Oppose me and I will erase your very existence!”
“Martin Jonathan Brisby!” Rose said crossly. “Don’t you dare threaten to erase your father’s existence. You stop acting like a hooligan this instant, young man.”
Without turning around, Martin raised a hand in her direction and she was hurled back and fell to the ground unconscious. “Rose!” Jonathan said in shock. Jonathan tried to charge Martin, but the younger mouse was just too fast. He flung his hand up and Jonathan started running backwards to where he had started.
Jonathan was frozen in place now, and could only watch helplessly as he was seemingly being erased. The matter of his body seemed to be fading before his eyes.
George watched this all unfolding before him. He had no illusions about his ability to deal with the situation so he remained quiet and kept out of the way. The connection that had allowed them all to come to this place allowed George to feel the almost palpable hatred the Martin radiated. George could feel the waves of pure hate ripping at his essence, hate that he never thought anyone could have, much less a son to a father--the hate of lost years, of lost innocence. The hate of a man who was never a child because his father was never there to let him be that child.
The hate was so overwhelming that George could sense that it was difficult for Jonathan to fight for his life when his own son thought he deserved far worse. Martin raised one hand toward his mother and the stone levitated from her unconscious form and it gently placed itself around his neck. He put his hands on the stone and it blazed to life.
George rushed to Rose’s side and gently shook her. He stumbled back in alarm when her eyes snapped open, revealing a warm glow. She quickly rose to her feet and came up behind Martin.
George expected some manner of spectacular supernatural attack, but instead she gently put her arms around him in a hug. “Martin, come back to me. I know it hurts so bad. I know how the pain feels. We all lived it. But you are more than the sum of your pain, Martin. Come back to me, sweetheart. You know I could never hurt you. You’re my baby.”
Martin’s hateful expression faded and a look of great hurt took its place. The fire the stone generated began to grow brighter. Then Rose’s body merged with Martin’s and a few moments later she emerged from him, wearing the stone. Martin slumped to the ground.
She approached Jonathan, now barely a ghost of his former self. She reached out to him and her hand passed right through. Jonathan’s head hung in shame and despair as Rose grabbed the stone and it blazed to life. Her body appeared engulfed in flames as she again reached out and passed her fingers into him. Jonathon’s body began to reappear and solidify, and when he had been restored Rose hugged him. The glow engulfed them both and they maintained their embrace for nearly a minute. When they parted both had tears in their eyes.
The stone’s light faded and Rose stumbled and fell into Jonathan’s arms. “I’m so sorry, Rose. I had no idea,” he said amid his tears. Jonathan helped her over to Martin. She sat next to her son’s unconscious form and held his hand. He then took a few moments to get his mind and emotions back in order before doing what they came here to do.
“Now, let’s see to these people,” Jonathan said as he approached the cage. Those behind the bars shrank back from him. Jonathan walked around the cage, examining it carefully. Dr. Valentine looked to George. “George, what happened? Where are we and why are you here with them?”
George thought for a moment before answering, but then recalled that they were there to erase their memories as well as set them free so it didn’t really matter what he revealed. “Elliot, you messed with things you couldn’t possibly understand and paid the price. I don’t know where we are, but apparently we’re supposed to be in some kind of weird dream state. The reason that I’m with them is that I couldn’t live with myself anymore for having worked on the project. They were willing to let me join their colony, but the price was losing my humanity. I’m a rat now. This human body is just an illusion.”
“You’re a what now?!” Valentine exclaimed.
“What’s it like?” Valentine asked, suddenly intrigued.
“It’s freaky-weird, but not as bad as it sounds.”
Valentine gestured to the bars between them. “I guess we all make our own hells.”
“It could have been worse for me. They could’ve left me where they found me.”
Jonathan came up to George. “Ladies and gentlemen, if you’ll all move to the middle of the cage I’ll remove it.” Those inside crowded to the middle and Jonathan put his hands on the bars and slowly the cage melted away. Those inside seemed too stunned to respond at first, but after a few moments it sunk in that they were finally free.
Valentine walked up to George. “How long have we been in there?”
“A couple of years.”
Valentine stared, stunned. “Years!”
“I know the feeling,” Jonathan said. “For the last couple years you’ve been running around acting like dogs. You’re all at the state hospital. They’ll be in for a surprise when you all suddenly wake up sane.”
Valentine looked at Jonathan as if noticing him for the first time. “What are you creatures? What on Earth did Schultz do to you?”
Jonathon looked him in the eyes. “We have no idea what Dr. Schultz did to us. You should all consider yourselves incredibly lucky for getting this second chance. Now you know what it feels like to be the helpless captive of beings more powerful than yourselves--remember that the next time you try to play God. Now, I am going to erase your memories of all things involving the rats and mice of NIMH.”
“Yes, please do!” Valentine replied. “I don’t want to remember you creatures!”
Jonathan raised his hands and the room seemed to fade away. Soon George found himself back at the hospital with Rose and Jonathan. They watched as orderlies rushed to the rooms where Valentine and the others were kept and the astonishment of the staff to find them all back to normal.
“It’s always wonderful to see healing, whether physical or mental,” Rose said, hugging Jonathan. “They’re free to return to their loved ones again.” George felt a deep sense of satisfaction. “Good work, Jonathan. That was quite an interesting little adventure.”
“Yes, but I’m concerned about Martin,” Jonathon said. “I’ll have to spend some time with him. There’s still quite a bit of resentment against me in him that I didn’t realize. I’ll have to try to make peace with that part of him.”
Jonathan walked over to the still-unconscious Martin and put a glowing hand on his son’s head for a few moments. “I’ll remove his memory of what happened here. He’d feel terrible about this.” Rose hugged him again. “Don’t worry, Jon, you two will be fine. There’s just some pain to work through yet.”
“I know, my love. Well George, ready to return home?”
George hardly heard him, as he had caught sight of the distant lights of New York City through a window along with his human appearance reflected in the window as well. “What? Oh, yes, home. Sure.”
“I’m sorry, George,” Rose said.
“It’s okay, I’m part of Thorn Valley now, and the old George is gone.” Rose walked over to George and put a comforting hand on his arm. “George, we’ll try our best to make your new life a happy one. You are not an enemy anymore. You are one of us.”
“Thanks Rose. Jonathan, can we go? I really want to get out of here.”
George suddenly felt that disorienting moving sensation again and soon he and the others woke back in Justin’s office.
Justin saw them returning to consciousness. “How did it go?” Martin woke and rubbed his head. Rose checked him over, then answered Justin. “It went well, Justin. Everything as planned.”
“What happened?” Martin asked. Rose sat down next to him. “I think the stress of the trip and seeing them again was too much for you. You passed out.”
“Sorry about that, dad. Did you let them out?”
Jonathon nodded. “Yes, they’re all safe and sound.”
“Good. I owe you all big time for helping me.”
“It’s nothing, son. You know I’d do anything for you.”
“Thanks, dad,” Martin said, hugging his father. Jonathon managed to hold back the levels of emotion he felt, but a few happy tears escaped anyhow.
They all thanked George and then all went their separate ways. George returned to the lab, his thoughts melancholy as he looked back on his research. That taste of the human world had awakened a part of him that had fallen silent lately.
He had again witnessed the powers of NIMH in action and again it left him baffled. He pushed those thoughts aside and delved back into his work and continued on through the night. One of the things he pondered was statistical data on the population of the Thorn Valley. As he studied it, a disturbing notion came to his mind. The population was dangerously small.
Even though the colony seemed large, it was still in danger of inbreeding. The rats were close to being viable, but the mice were headed for trouble in just a few generations, and that meant Dante’s and Cynthia’s children and grandchildren. He leaned back in his chair and put his hands behind his head, thinking about the matter. The transformation process would take years to fully change an individual and they’d need many more subjects to create a stable gene pool. Jenner’s colony had only rats, so even with those survivors now integrated into Thorn Valley, it would only be able to help the rats.
“If it was only a situation of race rather than species there would be no problem, Luke and Laura would have kids...”
George sat bolt upright in his chair, his mind running at full speed. He dug into the folder, and as the light of dawn shone through the windows of the lab he realized he could do it. He burst from the lab, rushing for Justin’s office.
He actually met up with Justin before he had reached his office--in the manner of plowing right into him as he hurriedly rounded a corner. Justin was alarmed when he saw George’s excitement. “George, is something the matter?”
“Justin, I have a concept that will knock your socks off!” George shouted. “If you wore socks, that is.” Justin ushered him into the presidential office and locked the door. The rat sat in his chair and looked at George intently. “Okay, George, what’s this concept?”
Justin looked him, totally lost. “Thansgenic...what’s that?” George began to spout, and had trouble controlling his excitement. “In a nutshell, it means I could make it possible for rats and mice to have offspring together!”
Justin stood up, dumbfounded. “How can that be possible?
“It will take some work, but it’s not as difficult as you might think. In human research, rat genes have already been successfully transferred to mice, we’ll simply be taking a quantum leap beyond that research.”
Justin considered the ramifications. “Well, that would certainly be a boon to our gene pool, particularly for the mice.” George continued on. “The transgenics and the new formula will go a long way to insuring that Dante and Cynthia’s family have a future here, rather than the mice becoming a historical footnote to the history of the rats.”
“I’ll have to get approval from the others before we’d try this, but I think this is a good idea, George.”
“Thank you, Justin! If approved, I think we know who the first volunteers would be.”
Justin grinned, catching his meaning. “Indeed. If Luke and Laura could have kids, then there would be nothing to stop them from getting married.” George ground to a halt. “You mean, they’re not allowed to get married?”
Justin appeared apologetic. “Well, there’s no law against it, but there is tremendous pressure from the community to not go through with it, as there would be no contribution to the community gene pool from the union. I personally have nothing against the idea of a rat loving a mouse or a mouse loving a rat...but that’s beside the point.”
He stood up, walked toward a banner on the wall that had a representation of the Thorn Valley colony on it. “As harsh as it sounds, the community should come first. We’re hanging by a thread in many ways. Our survival must be first in everyone’s mind. I’ve talked about it with Jon from time to time and the only alternative would be polymorphing the mice into rats, which I don’t think would sit well with most of them.”
“I understand,” George said. “Giving up your natural form isn’t as easy as one might think. Justin, I don’t think less of you or the others for feeling that way, but with my idea, we could have the best of both worlds!”
“I’ll run this up the flagpole and see who salutes it, and then I’ll get back to you. I think it would be pretty safe to assume the majority would be for this.”
“Good. Keep me informed, I’ll head back to the lab and get back to work on the formula project.”
Justin extended his hand. “George, thank you. I’m glad you’re with us rather than against us.” George was surprised, but shook his hand. “Thorn Valley is my world and my future now. Your survival is my survival.”
George returned to the lab and he and Mr. Ages spent the rest of the day hard at work on their project. It was late when he shut down the lab and returned to his apartment. Once inside he found that his wedding suit had arrived, a note reminding him that the wedding was the following day. He lay on his bed and looked up at the ceiling, pondering the cruel fate that he endured.
I have the knowledge to give these vermin the powers they have. I can give them life and a future. I’m not one of them, I never will be. Dante may have gone over, but I never will. I have so much knowledge. Why am I content to just be a lackey to these rodents?
I can give myself powers beyond those of Jonathan, so what’s to stop me from granting myself those powers? Imagine what I could do: I could cure disease, build, create anything! I could bring peace to the world--no more wars, no hate, no famine. The world could be made paradise!
All these years I had those powers at my fingertips, but fear held me back. Now I can see that these powers can be controlled and used wisely. Why should I settle for being a rat for the rest of my life? Jonathan can move between forms with ease. So could I.
I could return to the human world. I owe these rodents nothing. I gave them what they wanted--the understanding of their own creation. Dante is happy here, so I could leave them all here. I would intend them no harm. I know now that my despair was my own invention. I will protect them and keep them safe. With me in control, no one would ever harm them again.
I could be a god.
As he lay there in the dark, the darkness seemed to become all consuming.
“George, the time has come to end this nonsense,” a vaguely familiar voice said. George found himself standing alone on a seemingly endless, dark expanse.
“Who said that?”
“I did, or rather you did,” the voice replied and suddenly a figure materialized in front of him. It was his human self towering over him.
“Is this a dream?” the rodent George asked.
“No,” the human George replied. “The time has come for you to accept your destiny, George.”
“What do you mean?”
“You cannot be seriously considering staying here? You are human and as such you have dominion over all. You said as much yourself.”
The rat looked at human, suspicious. “Who are you?”
“I am you, the destiny that is at your command. I offer you the universe and all its many wonders! All existence will bow to your whims.”
The rat crossed his arms. “You’re crazy. I don’t want all that.”
“Yes you do, George. You don’t like being the rats’ whipping boy. You don’t want to spend the rest of your life at Thorn Valley. The entire world would bow before you! Stay here and all that awaits you is death.”
The human George picked up rodent George and the lab at NIMH appeared around them. The human put the struggling rodent into a cage, then looked at his prisoner through the bars of the cage.
“This is your fate, George. You’re the next experiment,” human George said and stepped away. A human lab worker appeared and took George out of his cage. He was carried to a nearby table and strapped to a medical apparatus. Several other humans appeared, scalpels in their hands. George screamed as the blades moved closer and then suddenly found himself back in the endless expanse.
“Is...is that my fate?”
“It is one of many possible terrible fates, George. I offer you everything. They can offer you nothing. You have the choice between being a rodent or being a god. Why do you resist me?”
George paused. “I don’t know. Can I think about this?”
“Of course, but do not try my patience. I will return shortly. I am part of you, remember. I am very much interested in your decision.” The human turned, seemingly to walk away, and faded from view.
George was left alone in this terrible, empty place to ponder his fate. This human form of himself had made clear the decision he was supposed to make. He feared both choices, but he couldn’t understand why neither seemed to be better than the other.
“Daddy?” a timid little voice asked. George looked around and suddenly a little rat girl rushed up to him and hugged him. “Daddy, I heard you scream and I wanted to see if you are all right. Where are we?”
“Who are you?” George asked in astonishment. The little rat girl was the same shade of gray he was, dressed in a pink nightgown and was tightly clutching a stuffed toy rat. In her right ear she had a small gold earring.
“It’s me, Pixie! Don’t you know me, daddy?”
George felt a totally different kind of fear. “I don’t have a daughter. How did you get here?”
“Of course you have a daughter, me!” the girl protested. “My real name is Diane, but you call me Pixie. And soon there’ll be another, ’cause mom is gonna have another, then I’ll have a little sister or little brother. I don’t know how I got here. I just heard you and found you here. You and Mommy had already tucked me in for the night and I thought I was asleep, but I guess I’m still awake--I think.”
George was silent for a few moments as he tried to absorb and process all this child had said. He found it hard to believe he’d ever use such a saccharine nickname like Pixie. “I’m sorry, Pix…Diane. I don’t know who you are. I’m not married and I don’t have any children. I only got to Thorn Valley a couple of weeks ago.”
“A couple of weeks? How could you have me then?
“I don’t know, but I’ve stopped being surprised by all the weird things that happen here. Maybe you’re my mind’s attempt to try to find a silver lining to my choosing to remain in Thorn Valley, rather than giving myself godlike powers and returning to the human world.”
“I have to decide if I want to be a rat or return to being human again.”
“But you are a rat, daddy.”
Before George could respond, a human materialized before them. It was woman in her twenties, dressed in ornate robes and carrying a staff. Diane clung tightly to George as the human crouched down in front of them. The woman leaned closer and looked at George.
“Father,” she said.
Oh great, not another one, he thought. “Okay, who are you?”
I am your daughter, Sophonisba, high priestess of the temple of George and sworn enemy of the mouse-god Jonathan!”
George felt like he was in some odd cartoon. “Okay. I don’t know how to even respond to that. What do you want?”
“You have sent me here from the future, to warn you not to take the path of power. I come from the future to stop you from taking the wrong path, to save you the death and destruction that awaits you there.”
“Are you my sister?” Diane asked the human woman. The woman smiled at the tiny rat. “Perhaps in a way we are, little one. We are both daughters of George, born in different worlds, in different times and places.”
George reclaimed Sophonisba’s attention. “You’re saying I should stay in Thorn Valley? That’s it? That’s all there is to my future?”
“No! You can have the world as your footstool, George!” human George shouted as he materialized. Sophonisba leaped to her feet and held her staff up. “Evil one, we meet at last. You cannot have him! I will not let the evil be repeated.”
“Fool! Do you really think your powers are greater than mine? George will do my bidding, it is his destiny.”
“I will stop you or die trying!”
“Then you will die trying,” evil George said and they began a vicious melee battle. The rodent George picked up Diane and quickly moved far away from the battle. The battle itself was short, but intense. Sophonisba was no match for the vastly more powerful George and soon she had been beaten.
“Foolish child, did you think anyone can stop me? I’m a force of nature, a tidal wave! The dominant primordial beast! No one and nothing can stop me!”
“I can stop you!” A voice shouted. Another human figure appeared, this one clad in magnificent golden armor. The figure reached up and lifted the face plate to reveal the face of a much older George, one whose face showed great hardship and suffering.
“Old fool, you should have stayed in the future!" evil George said.
“I have the blood of the world on my hands because of you. For a thousand years you have ravaged my world and my life. Now has come the time for it to end. To end where it all began, in Thorn Valley,” old George replied.
Evil George spat at the old warrior’s feet. “Old man, I will destroy all that try to stop me! My time has come--neither you nor your daughter can defeat me.”
Old George moved to his daughter and helped her to her feet. “We may not defeat you, but we must try.” The Georges circled each other for a little while and soon Sophonisba had gained her second wind and was again ready for action. Both sides squared off against the other and the battle resumed.
Diane clung to George, frightened. “Daddy, what’s going on? Why are they fighting?”
“Apparently I’m trying to make an important decision. Uh, we better move back farther.”
As the battle raged, Old George and Sophonisba appeared to be losing. George looked down at the girl. “Diane, I want you to stay here. I’m going to see if I can do anything to stop this madness.”
“I don’t want you to get hurt. You might get hurt! Please, be careful, daddy!” she said.
“I will, Diane,” he said and patted her head as she hugged him again. “Don’t worry, I’ll be right back.”
Old George and Sophonisba had been beaten back when George arrived. “Hey, evil guy, just what do you think you’re doing?” Evil George looked from his defeated enemies to the rat at his feet. “This is none of your concern. I am here to make your path clear.”
“My path? This is my brain, not yours. I’m the one who should be making the decisions here.”
“You will do as I command. I am your true master!”
“We’ll just see about that. I command you to vanish!” Rodent George commanded. Evil George just looked down at him with an evil grin. Then he reached down and picked up rodent George again.
“No, George. You will do as I say. You will embrace your destiny, so that I can return to the human world...as its master! I want the entire world to know my name. I want those fools in the scientific community to see me for the genius I really am. I want to have another order of curried beef from the Jade Panda restaurant. I want courtside seats for all the Celtics games. I want it all and I want it now, George!”
“Leave daddy alone, monster!” Diane shouted up at evil George. He looked down at the little rat at his feet.
“You would give up the whole world for this, to have vermin in your own image? I will deal with the little creature,” he said as he raised his foot above her head. She cried out in alarm when she saw what he was about to do. Rodent George sank his incisors into the hand that held him, causing the evil human to drop him. Quickly, he grabbed Diane and they started running. Evil George slowly raised his hands and small dark forms began to appear in the void. It appeared to be a horde of spectral rats.
“If you won’t join me willingly, then I will destroy you and take your place!” evil George said and the horde of rats moved forward toward George and Diane. Evil George turned back to his two other enemies. “Did you two fools think you could stop me? You thought you could stop me here, in my own mind? This is where I am strongest! Now there is no one left to stop me!”
“Don’t count on that, George,” a voice called from the darkness. Evil George turned just in time to be struck by a blast of energy that staggered him.
“Who dares?” he muttered in response.
Two human sized figures appeared, but only their size was humanlike. One was an aged Jonathan Brisby, dressed in a robe identical to Nicodemus’ and beside him was Rose, but her entire body appeared to be composed of the red substance that the Stone was made of.
Evil George moved back defensively as the two mice came up beside old George. Old George moved to his daughter and helped her to her feet. Jonathan stepped forward and he raised his hands. A staff levitated out of the void and came to him.
“We’ve all come a long way to fight you, George. The time has come to end what you started so many centuries ago.”
“No one can stop me!” the evil human cried. “I shall take great delight in killing you all!”
“Alone we couldn’t stop you, but together we can beat you,” Rose said.
Evil George smiled. “Well then, let’s get started, shall we?”
Rodent George could hear the battle taking place behind him and that didn’t bother him nearly as much as the sound of the monster rats that were chasing him.
“Daddy, they’re getting closer!” Diane shrieked in his ear. He ran as fast as he could, but he could hear them gaining.
Suddenly a small figure appeared before them, running in their direction. George didn’t know what it was, but he’d rather face that one thing than the horde behind him. It was running at top speed and when it came into clear view it was a small rat with a sword. The rat rushed past them and began fighting the pursuers. Exhausted, George turned to watch. The rat moved with almost supernatural speed as it tore through the spectral rats, which would vanish as they were slain. In less than a minute the rat stood alone, and then he turned and approached George and Diane. George put Pixie behind him when the rat came before him.
“Uh, thank you,” George said. The small rat looked at him closely, and then reacted with surprise. “Grandfather George!”
“What? I’m not your grandfather! I don’t even have a wife!”
“Who are you?” Diane asked, stepping out from behind George.
“I am Frank. Who are you?”
“I’m Pixie, well, it’s really Diane.”
“Pixie, Diane?! This is so weird.”
“My mother’s name is Diane and her nickname is Pixie and you’re Dr. George Yardley, are you not?”
George shrugged. “I am.”
“Then this is all really, really weird.”
“Why?” Diane asked.
“Because you’re my mother.”
Pixie’s eyes grew large. “I’m your mother? I didn’t know I had any kids!”
George stepped forward. “You don’t have any children yet, and neither do I. Frank, are you a child? You seem a bit small for a rat.”
“I’m only half rat.”
“So if I’m your mom and you’re only half rat, that means I marry a mouse?” Diane asked excitedly.
“Not necessarily, there are a variety of factors that could account for that,” George explained.
The half-rat interrupted. “Actually, she does marry a mouse.” Pixie seemed intrigued by the idea. “Is he cute? What’s his name?”
George was perturbed now. “Enough! Don’t anyone say anything more about the future. We already know too much about what’s going to happen as it is.” Secretly, he was delighted to learn that his transgenic plan was to be implemented.
Their conversation was interrupted in what appeared to be the final round of the other battle taking place there. Evil George was falling back against the onslaught of his four attackers. A few minutes later he was staggering. Flames surrounded Rose as she continued to fight, the others falling back to let her finish the battle. In a few moments she had beaten evil George to the ground and stood over him and raised one fist dramatically.
Rodent George quickly put a hand over Diane’s eyes so she wouldn’t see the death blow. Rose rammed the burning fist into evil George’s chest and he burst into flames. Within seconds he was totally engulfed by the supernatural fire and he burned away to nothing.
Old George collapsed into his daughter’s arms and the others gathered around him. Rodent George picked up Diane, and they and Frank felt it was finally safe to join the others.
“What just happened?” Rodent George asked the others. They all turned to look at him. Jonathan looked back to his wife. “It’s strange to look at George from the time long past when we were actually friends.”
Old George had a coughing fit and when it was passed he looked down at rodent George. “You have witnessed the death of the ’human’ part of you. It was one of the two minds within you that were warring against the other. You will stay at Thorn Valley now.”
George looked the old man, confused. “I have no choice?”
“You want to stay here now, George. That was the part of you that wanted to leave. You love it here now.”
“Hey, that’s not true...” George said as he quickly tried to organize his dislikes of Thorn Valley and suddenly found he no longer had any objections to being there.
“Rats!” George said in frustration. “Did all of this really happen? Is this a dream or have I really seen things and people from the future?”
Rose approached him. “It was all true, George. A battle that needed to be fought.”
“I really could have had the power to destroy the world?”
“It is not entirely destroyed, thankfully. There is still enough left to rebuild,” Jonathan said.
“My enemies...” Old George said, mumbling. “My enemies who have come to my aid in my time of greatest need. I thank you, Jonathan and Rose.” Jonathan put a hand on old George’s shoulder. “As I said, we were friends once, long ago.”
“The final battle has been fought and my time is over. I am dying.”
“Father, no!” Sophonisba said, tears starting to fall. “You cannot die! You are all I have in the world.”
He patted her hand, then turned his attention to the others. “Jonathan, Rose, the future belongs to you now, but I have a request. I would like you to care for Sophonisba when I am dead. Forgive her for her opposition to you, for she fought against you out of loyalty to me.”
Sophonisba shook her head. “But father, all my life you have taught me to hate them!” The elderly man looked on the rodents. “I have been a fool all your life, daughter. Perhaps there is time for you to break from the past. Jonathan, Rose, will you do that for me?”
Jonathan and Rose looked at each other and appeared to be having a wordless conversation. Then Rose looked to Sophonisba and smiled. “If you are willing, you may come with us, Sophonisba,” Rose said. Sophonisba looked to her father with uncertainty, who took her hand and placed it in Rose’s.
“Use your powers to build rather than destroy, my daughter. Perhaps you can yet redeem the name of our family from the evil I have done.” Sophonisba looked to Rose and Jonathan, then she put her other hand on Jonathan’s hand hesitantly.
“Welcome to the clan of Brisby...daughter,” Jonathan said sincerely.
Old George then looked back to his rodent alter-ego. “Now you have escaped the fate that I tried to give you. Life is a gift, George. No longer take it for granted.” George stared at him, bewildered. “I won’t, sir. This has all been very disturbing. I can kind of understand why you guys are here, but what about Pixie and Frank?”
“Well, I was asleep when I felt the presence of danger and just followed it and I somehow ended up here,” Frank explained.
“And I came when I heard you scream,” Diane explained.
Sophonisba helped her father to his feet and she was joined by Jonathan and Rose, who turned to George. “Farewell, George,” Jonathon said. “As you see, you have a future here, and a pleasant one at that.” Then the older George added, “Always remember what could have been when you feel life has cheated you.”
He and the others began to vanish, and Frank cried out in alarm when he began to fade away. “Whoa, hey, I’m starting to vanish too! Well, I’ll see you later, mom. Grandfather.”
Frank faded away, leaving just George and Diane, whom he still held tightly in his arms. George looked at her. “Do I love your mother?”
“Of course! You both love each other very much.”
“What about Dante and Cynthia?”
“They’re very happy.”
“Do they have children?”
“Eric and Mina.”
As they were talking, Diane began to fade away. “I guess I gotta go too. Goodbye daddy.”
“Goodbye, Diane. I look forward to seeing you some day.”
She leaned forward and gently kissed his cheek. “I love you, daddy. Oh, I left Rattus behind!” she suddenly exclaimed, pointing behind George. He turned and saw her stuffed toy in the distance. He began sprinting to the toy, but she faded away before he got there. He looked around sadly at the darkness, and then he picked up the doll.
“Farewell, Pixie,” he said softly, looking at the toy.
George woke suddenly, looking around frantically, and found himself in his bed in his apartment in Thorn Valley. Before he could even ask himself if it was all a dream, he realized he was still holding Pixie’s toy rat.
He sat up in bed and put his chin on his knees as he pondered the strange ordeal he had just experienced. He glanced to his closet and saw his outfit for the wedding he would attend later that same day. He now realized that he truly had no desire to leave Thorn Valley. That very night he had at last put to rest his divided desires to stay and to go. To his surprise he was glad--glad that the ordeal was finally over. To his greater surprise, he was glad to know that he did indeed have a future here.
He looked back to the toy and smiled. “I better put you somewhere safe. Pixie will be looking for you when she wakes up.”
George’s thoughts were interrupted when he noticed the clock on the wall. He quickly changed into his wedding attire and rushed out of the room.
When he entered the wedding garden, he found it a mass of activity. The chairs had been set up and all the sound equipment was in place.
“Uncle George!” he heard Dante shout. Dante rushed up to him, his nervousness at his impending marriage obvious. George hugged him. “Dante, are you okay? You look terrible.”
“I’m getting married in less than an hour! I’m scared out of my wits! I’m glad you made it. Thanks for being here, Uncle George. You’re the only person from my old life now. This would be a lot harder if I was alone.”
“I wouldn’t have missed it for the world, boy,” George said with total sincerity. Dante searched his features. “You’re really and truly okay with me and Cynthia?”
“Absolutely. If it means anything to you, you both have my blessing on your marriage, and on your children.”
Dante just stood there in silence for a few moments and George was surprised to see tears being to form in Dante’s eyes. Realizing he was crying, Dante wiped his eyes and tried to appear nonchalant about it. “Uh, well, I really appreciate that, Uncle George. I know you aren’t flesh and blood family, but now I’d like to make it official. You’ve been more of a dad to me than my own father was, so, would you be my father and the grandfather of my children?”
George looked at Dante in stunned silence for a few moments. “Dante, I... I would be honored.”
Dante hugged George. “You won’t regret it!”
“I’m sure I won’t.”
Dante grinned merrily. “All I need now is the tin seal as my sister and the windup elephant as my mom and then I’ll have it all.” George looked at him, confused. “Huh? What?” Dante ducked his head a little. “Oh, nothing. Nevermind.”
“Dante!” Rose shouted, rushing up to Dante. “You need to get ready. Come on, time is short!” She took Dante by the hand and led him away. Jonathan came up beside George as he stood watching. “Glad you could make it, George. It means a lot to Dante that you’re here.”
“I know. I’m just sorry I gave him so much grief over this.”
“You don’t mind the melding of the Brisby/Schultz bloodlines anymore?”
“I’m sure Erhard isn’t happy, wherever he is, but I sure don’t mind.”
Jonathan nodded approvingly. “That’s good to hear. Say George, did anything strange happen last night? Rose and I both felt something we couldn’t quite get a handle on, but we both felt it might have involved you somehow.”
George didn’t know quite where to begin. “I had some strange dreams last night. Some disturbing things happened, but in the end it made me see just how lucky I am to be here.” Jonathan patted him on the shoulder. “Thorn Valley isn’t the worst fate in the world.”
“True,” George said, then looked at the mouse. “Jonathan, are we friends?” Jonathan was silent for nearly a minute. “I suppose so. Why do you ask?”
George shrugged and grinned. “I’m just counting my blessings.”
Soon the wedding began. George watched the proceedings, smiling. Jonathan walked his daughter down the aisle and moved back to stand nearby, as the best man. George had felt a little resentment at first at that, but realized he still had many fences to mend.
He even found himself shedding a few tears when the rings were exchanged and the “I do’s” were said. Soon the ceremony ended and Dante lifted Cynthia’s veil and kissed her. The crowed erupted in applause.
The crowd quickly retired to the reception hall. Little time was spent on formalities and the food was served and the music and dancing began immediately.
George ignored the festivities for the most part and just picked at his food. He observed all the rodents present and as he looked among the ladies, he wondered if the woman he was destined to marry was among them. In his dream he had been tempted to ask Diane what her mother’s name was, but had resisted in order to prevent any more damage to temporal continuity.
As he pondered these things, a petite hand touched his arm; it was Cynthia. “Hello, Dr. George, would you dance with the bride?” she asked with a smile.
“Of course, my dear. You can call me George.”
“Thank you, George. Thank you for being part of the wedding.”
“Thanks aren’t needed. If anything I still owe you an apology. All this time and I’ve hardly spoken a word to you, treating you like vermin. I hope you can forgive me and give me the chance to get to know you as a person.”
“All is forgiven and forgotten, George.”
They continued chatting and during the dance George finally realized what an attractive young lady she was. He had never thought of a rodent in that way before, and it surprised him that he had finally crossed that invisible line in perception.
When it was over, to his surprise, she hugged him. He watched as she was quickly swept back up into Dante’s arms as they began another dance, and George then found himself with another partner, Rose.
Rose beamed at him. “You certainly seem in good spirits today, George.”
“I am in good spirits. Today seems to have been a turning point.”
“That’s wonderful news, George. Jon and I wanted to ask you about something. Last night we both felt something strange and undefined, and it involved you somehow. Did anything strange happen last night?”
George could see that they hadn’t talked yet. “Well, I did have some very, very strange dreams last night. It was very disturbing, but very enlightening as well. I gave myself the choice of staying or leaving and I chose to stay.”
“I’m glad to hear you say that. There are certainly worse places to be than Thorn Valley.”
“I agree--I’ve been to Trenton.”
As they danced, George realized that Rose could pass as Cynthia's sister rather than her mother and, if anything, she was just as attractive as her daughter. Both had the same big blue eyes and...
"George, I'm flattered, but I'm a very happily married woman," she said quietly.
George snapped out of his thoughts when he realized she was blushing. Then George remembered hearing about her empathic powers and realized she must have picked up on what he had been thinking, causing him to blush and leaving him flustered. "Oh dear! I'm sorry about that, Rose. It's just that today, now that I see things different, the final barrier has fallen and things really do look different to me."
Rose grinned up at him. "You certainly seem to be comfortable here now."
He returned her smile, but there was a nervous edge to it. "Yes, and it's suddenly a bit scary."
"If you'd like to meet someone, I could put out feelers and see if anyone is interested."
George thought back on Pixie. "No. I'm pretty sure at this point that destiny will take care of bringing us together." Rose showed her surprise. "I never would have thought of you as a romantic, George!"
"Neither would I, but last night I saw glimpse into my future and it actually isn't too bad."
As they continued dancing, George began to wonder about the distant future. In his dream, both Rose and Jonathan were still alive a thousand years from now, as was he. **Will we all really be alive in the future**, he wondered.
After that dance, George ended up dancing with several lady-rats and found he was enjoying himself. He wondered with several of them if he had danced with his future wife. Caught up in his enthusiasm, he glanced around for his next dance partner and spotted a number of rats standing off at the back of the large room. These wallflowers appeared very self-conscious and nervous, and with some discreet inquires he learned that they were some of the people relocated from Jenner's colony. As with many of them, these newcomers were going through the tough process of acclimation, but they were braver souls and had taken up the open invitation to the wedding and reception.
As George watched them, he realized that one female rat stood out from the others, seemingly an outcast among outcasts. With a few more inquiries, he learned she was known only as "Eight", the second highest surviving member of Jenner's elite. Little was known about her, not even her name. She seemed an enigma even by those close to Jenner's operations. The other Jenner rats avoided her and she seemed quite aware of their reluctance to be near her but tried to hide it.
After a while George felt sorry for her and approached her and made a polite bow.
"May I have this dance, Miss Eight?"
She glared at him for a few moments then looked around nervously.
"What do you want, human?" she said nervously.
"Ah, I see my reputation precedes me. As one outcast to another, I thought you might like some company."
She turned her nose up in an aloof manner, also turning her head. When she did that, George noticed that she wore an earring her left ear. Jewelry among the residents of Thorn Valley was rare outside of wedding rings. The earring in fact was nearly identical to the one he had seen Diane wearing in his dream. He smiled.
"Come on, you know you want to dance but you're just too stubborn to admit it."
She tried to remain aloof, but George had been right and soon she relented and took his offered hand. The crowd parted as the mad scientist and one of Jenner's lieutenants began to dance.
George tried to engage her in small talk but defiantly she glared at him, trying hard not to enjoy the dance.
"Slumming, are we, human?"
"Ha! I'm having the time of my life. My name is George, by the way. Come now, what's your name? I'm sure you must have something besides Eight as a name."
She danced silently for a while, periodically looking off or glaring at him.
"My name is Dixie," she said quietly.
George made a small gasp and she put a hand up before he could reply.
"I know, you're probably thinking about the cartoon rodents Pixie and Dixie. I wasn't named after them, I was named after of the song."
"I think they're both lovely names," George said with a big smile.
George and Dixie danced for quite a while that day, and after an hour or so of sullen silence she began to open up to him a little. He even managed to get her to smile by the end of the evening. When the festivities ended, they found they were the last on the dance floor and the cleaning crew ushered them off. She gave him a sincere but awkward thanks for having spent the evening with her before she left for her apartment.
When George got back to his place, he danced with an invisible partner, singing…
"I could have danced all night, danced all night and still have asked for more!"
George changed for bed and lay there for a while pondering the strange twists and turns his life had taken. He reached for his long neglected journal and began writing.
Final entry, I originally kept this journal to keep company with myself, a stranger in a strange land. Now, after a great deal of strife and pain, I find myself a man among peers. The enemies I once feared are now my friends. I can at last rest peacefully here, now that I am home.