Jenner looked through the left wall of his office, which was a huge pane of glass changeable from transparent to opaque at the touch of a button. His office was miniscule compared to the palatial proportions of the Director’s work space, but still expansive by most normal standards. The transparent wall looked out over the large training arena for the security forces of Lazarus Laboratories. Even though he rarely got to train recruits himself these days it still soothed him to observe those under his direct command as they exercised. This was especially true today, when so many preparations for the upcoming move threatened to overwhelm him. So, he rewarded himself with this small bit of voyeurism to calm his nerves.
There was no official training scheduled for today. With the move at hand most security personal was busy getting the various transport vehicles ready and making sure all preparations were on schedule. Still, there were a few animals seated in the stands and a group of rats on the training floor. One was Stella Lux, Brutus another. The remainder consisted of a score of the huge, white-furred sentry rats that had been on Sterilizer duty when the Thorn Valley rodents had made their escape attempt. Stella was, by all appearances, using Brutus as an example of how to deal with an opponent that was not affected by their energy stunners. Hand-to-hand combat was standard in the training procedures, but Jenner had noticed before how many of the security guards, regardless of species, had become complacent in their reliance on technology.
Jenner smiled wickedly to himself as he observed the proceedings. Stella had ordered six of the large rats to try and subdue Brutus using only their physical bodies. The contest lasted less than a minute. When the six rats in question lay prone on the floor, in various positions of discomfort, Jenner had to acknowledge the burly Thorn Valley guard’s aptitude at physical violence. More so, Brutus had fended off his attackers without causing any lasting injuries, and he was more than capable of inflicting major damage. Next in line was a large, lanky male feline, which was ordered to run down and pin the huge rat. This lasted a little over a minute, until Brutus managed to jump at the cat’s back and embrace its neck with his incisors. The feline stopped in its tracks immediately, knowing the potentially fatal nature of the rat’s maneuver.
Apparently done with the demonstrations Stella was seen gesticulating with one hand while the other touched the mechanical vocalizer on her neck. Jenner’s smile turned whimsical. Funny how putting the two mute rats together was working out. He had not had any particular plans when he had made Stella responsible for Brutus’ recuperation, but the potential for a friendship between the two mutants had always been a possibility. Maybe something else might evolve from this in the future, after the move.
His face turned grim.
Seeing the two mute rodents together had reminded him of his wife, his family. Jenner was not one to admit to weakness easily, but he missed Victoria and the children. In hindsight, he had ignored his family horribly for the sake of his political schemes back in the Rosebush colony. Power had been everything to him and slowly edged his loved ones farther and farther from his concerns. Then he had died. Or better said, then he had lost control of his own ambitions when he had seen Mrs. Brisby wearing one of the Stones, gotten himself killed, been branded as a traitor, and wound up in state that, mercifully, his mortal brain could not recall fully. Funny how words like “inferno”, “abyss”, “hades”, and many others tried in vain to explain what waited for those who willingly abandoned the welfare of their souls. Not that he had ever believed in them to begin with; another great mistake. Now he had a chance for atonement, and he had many amends to make. The suffering he had caused his family weighed heavy on his mind. He did not dare contemplate what their lives must have been like after his demise. He had wronged many with his lust for power, but them in particular.
The clawed fingers began tapping the desk as his features turned more enraged. Jenner had chided Jonathan for bringing his family here, claiming it would cause distraction. But that had only been part of it. Truth be told, he had resented Jonathan for allowing himself the joy of his family when Jenner had been told to wait for his reunion with his own loved ones. His benefactor had become uncharacteristically unfair in recent months, or at least it appeared to him that way.
Jenner shook his head trying to dispel such treasonous thoughts.
Jonathan had given him a chance at redemption. The mouse he had detested in his former life had rescued him from a fate that he could barely explain now. Hell was a wholly inadequate word. And Jonathan had been in a place, or state of bliss that had given him insights Jenner did not want to guess at. What right did he have to judge the mouse’s reasons for doing what he thought was necessary for everyone’s safety?
He went back to the glowing icons in his computer desk, a smaller version of Jonathan’s own terminal, and tried to resume his work. The doubts just kept intruding again. Jenner sighed, leaned back in his chair, and turned to face the wall-window again. He just hoped he would get everything finished for the move after tonight’s final Convocation.
The door chime announced visitors.
That was peculiar. He had set the alarm to only allow Jonathan to disturb him, and he was supposed to be busy with his own preparations for the move for at least another few hours.
The hulking rat activated the admissions icon on his terminal and the double doors to his office opened.
A stern-faced Mrs. Brisby, her two children in tow, marched into his office and right up to his desk.
Jenner did not have time to mask his surprise at this most unexpected intrusion. He could not figure out how the mice had managed to get access to his door chime. Thankfully, the brown mouse did not give him any time to ponder this particular question. Her face was uncharacteristically grave as she leaned towards him from the other side of his desk, hands pressed to the surface.
‘Where is Jonathan?’
Jenner was startled by the commanding tone.
‘In his office I suppose. He said he would be busy for a while and I need to…’
‘Jenner,’ Elizabeth cut him off, ‘I need your help. We are in terrible danger.’
That energized the rat immediately. Having been responsible for the security of the facility for so long had conditioned Jenner to react to any potential threat, or even the mention of it. He stood up and leaned forward on the table as well.
‘Jonathan is wrong.’
That short-circuited the rat’s training and had him look at Mrs. Brisby slack-jawed for a moment.
‘Dad is seriously messed-up,’ Cynthia offered in explanation.
Sadly, that did not suffice for the chief of security and he took his seat once more with deliberate slowness.
‘Okay, just what are we talking about here? Do I need to call Jonathan to clear this up?’
‘No!’ Elizabeth shouted with surprising anger. ‘You will not contact Jonathan, or inform him anything about what we are going to tell you.’
Jenner blinked his heavy-lidded eyes once, twice. Years ago he had encountered a quite different Mrs. Brisby. She had been shy and uncertain back then, easily cowed. Now she exuded a certainty and determination that almost frightened him.
‘He has lied to you, Jenner. He has lied to all of us.’
‘What do you mean?’ He was getting annoyed.
Timothy chimed in from behind his mother.
‘During that final meeting he wants to have before the move, he’s going to douse everyone with a new serum.’
Elizabeth spoke as calmly as she could.
‘Jonathan has made a new serum in secret, one that will slowly turn us all back into wild animals, and everyone we come into contact with. He’s put it into the sprinkler system.’
‘And during the next Convocation,’ Cynthia added, ‘whoooooosh!’
‘You are all insane, raving mad.’
‘It’s true!’ Timothy snapped.
‘I am begging you, Jenner,’ Mrs. Brisby sighed, ‘you need to help us stop him.’
The rat stood up again and raised his hands to his sides. This was getting out of hand, more so since it echoed some of the misgivings he had been harboring.
‘Where did you hear this nonsense?’
Elizabeth took a deep breath, straightened, and folded her arms across her chest.
All three mice nodded.
Jenner folded his arms behind his back and started to pace behind his desk, his face suspicious and still condescending.
‘And did our machine-mind give you any proof? We are talking about a simple computer program after all, and glitches are known to happen.’
‘You can ask her yourself,’ Mrs. Bisby ventured icily.
‘And ask her about the fourth detention level while you’re at it.’ Cynthia sneered at him.
Now Jenner knew the mice had gone bonkers. He grinned over his shoulder.
‘We only have cell blocks, A, B, and C. The last I counted, that makes three.’
All three mice gave him unmoving stares.
Then his old nemesis almost whispered, ‘Three that you know of.’
An awful cold began running down Jenner’s spine. None of the Brisby family looked as if they were joking. The seriousness in their gazes was undeniable. Not taking his eyes from theirs the rat touched a portion of the computer terminal integrated in his desk.
‘Alis, bring up the schematics for our detention levels. Put them on the window screen.’
‘Yes Mr. Fray.’
The surface of the window darkened and a three dimensional outline of the facility’s prison appeared. Still condescending Jenner walked up to the display and pointed with a clawed finger.
‘There is cell block A, there is cell block B, oh, and there is cell block C. One, two, three.’
He turned a triumphant grin to the mice. The grin froze on his face when he realized the mice’s own glares had not changed, not even in surprise.
‘Alis,’ Mrs. Brisby called out, ‘allow Jenner the same access privileges that Jonathan and I have.’
‘Yes, Mrs. Brisby.’
She nodded at Jenner coldly, ‘Look again.’
He turned his head slowly, actual fear in his features evident now. When the rat faced the large wall-screen the display had changed. The original outline was still there, but now a fourth section, deeper than the original three, had been added.’
Jenner walked to the monitor slowly and gently raised a palm against the addition to the schematics.
‘Alis,’ he almost croaked,’ what is this?’
‘Detention area D, permanent storage, Directorial security clearance required.’
His eyes narrowed.
‘What… who is in there?’
‘Do you wish a listing of names?’
‘Yes, curse you!’
Next to the diagram a long list of names, ages, gender, and species descriptions were being added up. Within seconds more than a hundred names had appeared and the list kept growing. Jenner felt outrage replace his consternation.
‘Who are these people?’
Alis answered without hesitation.
‘Individuals from the first and second Baltimore sewer retrieval and individuals categorized as “dangerous dissidents”.’
The rat whirled at the desk, feeling the need to address a focal point for his anger.
‘Those mice and rats are being treated for the genetic regression!’
‘Treatments for regression symptoms require a maximum of 18 hours. The last specimen finished treatment 18 hours and 37 minutes ago.’
He stared at the blank, black desk in bafflement.
‘Jonathan said it took weeks, months in some cases. That they were being housed in the East Tower appartments…’
‘That information was false,’ Alis corrected.
‘He lied to you, Jenner.’
The rat leaned on the table, taking desperate breaths as Mrs. Brisby spoke quietly. He clenched his eyes shut. This could not be happening. There had to be some mistake. This was his chance at redemption. Jonathan was his redemption.
‘Jenner,’ Elizabeth pleaded, ‘please help us. We need to stop him.’
He pounded a fist onto the desk, eyes still shut, as his features contorted in rage and pain.
‘No, no, no. This can’t be real!’
‘Don’t you think I wish the same?’
The rat looked at the bespectacled mouse. Her eyes were filled with tears and he could see the horrible pain this most awful truth was causing her. Jenner straightened up and sniffed away his own rage.
‘I need to see this for myself.’
He led the mice from his office and went down to the exercise floor. Stella was still busy getting a wire-haired terrier to stop shaking after another unsuccessful attempt to subdue Brutus. Everybody turned to face as the strange procession as they entered through the wide, central doors. Jenner did not waste time with niceties or explanations.
‘Sergeant Lux, Brutus, come with us.’
Stella saluted and dismissed the remaining animals with a wave, but Brutus remained hesitant until he saw Mrs. Brisby nodding solemnly.
Minutes later the group was on their way to a particular side elevator Alis was guiding them to verbally. Like the one Mrs. Brisby had taken to reach the computer mainframe this one was secreted in an inconspicuous corner. Thankfully, it was meant for freight of larger size so everyone fit in without having to feel claustrophobic. As they descended, less abrupt than the brown mouse had on her elevator ride earlier, the chief of security addressed the small computer screen with a desire for answers.
‘Alis, where is Justin?’
‘He is in a joint meeting with Dr. Snow and Director Brisby.’
Jenner drew in angry breath.
‘So we can’t count on him right now. Typical. Alright, show me the files about this new serum.’
‘Which one should I display first?’
‘Dang it! Put them all on the screen and I will select what I want!’
The computer complied immediately and the rat was momentarily put off at the amount of data filing the screen. Then, he tapped a claw on a file that said “serum modification”. Since their ride would not last forever the dark rat only spent a few moments scrolling through the menu until he selected another file. Behind him and over his shoulder the two silent rats gazed at the fleeting data displays. Brutus did not understand what much of the information meant, but he understood enough. Both his and Stella’s facial features turned to ice. This was beyond bad. Since he stood at the elevator’s front none of the others were able to see Jenner’s face, but they did see his posture and jaw muscles tighten more and more.
Finally, the elevator stopped and the doors slid open.
The rodents started down a big service ramp leading up to loading gate marked the same way as the three official cell blocks, except for being labeled “D”; That and the fact that two hulking rats stood guard in full sterilizer armor. This was not normal procedure. But then again, this day was shaping up to be anything but normal.
The Sterilizers raised their weapons as the group approached.
‘You are not authorized to enter here.’
‘Are you insane?’ Jenner snapped.
‘You are not authorized to enter here.’
There was a frighteningly dull tone to the voice, something that had nothing to do with the synthetic speaker system of the armor.
Jenner tried again.
‘Corporal, I am ordering you to open that gate now!’
Brutus shoved the security chief out of the way as the closest Sterilizer rat discharged his weapon, taking the brunt of the blast instead of Jenner. Apparently, this time the weapon had not been set to stun as the huge rat jerked violently for a few moments and his whiskers emitted sparks. But that was the extent of the damage. Momentary confusion on the armed rat’s part gave Brutus time to grab it by the throat and hurl it unceremoniously over his shoulder into a wall. That Sterilizer did not rise again. The second one, at the moment the first had discharged the weapon, had received two successive kicks into the temple, and slumped against the gate groaning.
‘Alis,’ Jenner composed himself, ‘are there any more guards inside?’
‘No. All security details are outside the detention area.’
The enraged rat was puzzled.
‘Nobody is guarding the inmates?’
‘The inmates in permanent storage do not require supervision.’
That statement sent shivers down the spines of everyone and nobody dared ask for clarification. Jenner took a shaky breath.
‘Alis, when I give the order you will open the gate and disable any warning sirens, cameras and microphones. Nobody is to know we are here.’
‘What about these two?’ Timothy pointed at the two prone rats.
The one Brutus had hurled into a wall was coming to.
‘Stella,’ Jenner was not bothering to use her rank and last name, ‘you and Brutus remove the weapons. Just tear them off. Then drag them along. I want to know exactly what’s been going on here.’
Mrs. Brsiby had seen the rat in a number of different moods. She had witnessed Jenner charming, enraged, condescending, consumed by greed, but never in a state of rage that left him as cold as now. In a way, he was more frightening than she had ever seen him.
With some vicious tearing sounds and electric sparks Brutus tore off the energy tubes covering the Sterilizers’ arms while Stella held them in place. Then, grabbing them by the collar, one in each oversized paw, the large male dragged them up to the group.
‘Open the gate now.’
The doors swung open with hardly a sound.
The vast space beyond beckoned with mechanical cold.
The cell block was unlike anything the Thorn Valley refugees or even Jenner could have imagined. There were no cells, no holding areas to speak of. An immense, brightly lighted corridor was lined with row upon row of shining metal cylinders of a design similar to those that had housed the human bodies, which had served as remote vessels for rodent minds. Only in here the containers were smaller, sized to accommodate occupants of a number of sizes. The ones closest to their entrance were the largest, able to almost accommodate a human being. Then, as one went along the corridor, their size diminished until the last ones could only house something mouse-sized. Three additional levels rose above the ground floor and were accessible through stairs at both ends of the corridor and another set in the middle of the passage. Up there only the smaller containers could be seen. Each cylinder had a monitor station built into the front. The ones that were occupied showed a bright green light and the windows inside their metal doors were fogged up with icy frosting.
The group walked into the hall slowly, nobody daring to speak. Brutus and Stella took a few moments to secure the stirring Sterilizers to the closest staircase and left them there. When they rejoined the group the others had reached the first occupied container, large enough to house a feline or small dog, Jenner stepped to the window and wiped away the condensation.
A male rabbit was inside, unfocused behind the ice clouding the glass, unclothed, and with its eyes closed.
The security chief’s brow wrinkled. He did not know this rabbit. But from his right side Mrs. Brisby gasped.
All eyes turned to the mouse.
‘He lived in the fields of the Farm. I met him the last time I visited Teresa.’
Jenner looked at the monitor readout and rumbled.
‘Collected from the Fitzgibbon Farm and interred directly afterwards.’
The rat punched an angry fist into the metal.
‘They were supposed to be free!’
The others jerked as he hit the container.
‘Alis, why is he in there?’
There was a hint of embarrassment in the computer’s reply.
‘There is no reason given in any of the available files.’
The security chief kept staring at the serene, frozen face and muttered to himself.
‘Dragon was brought back, but you were put in here. What are you doing to him, Jonathan?’
He was interrupted by a wail of despair coming from down the corridor. Cynthia had rushed ahead of the group as if with a goal in mind. Now she stood staring in front of a much smaller containment chamber, mouth agape and eyes huge in shock. The remaining rodents rushed to catch up with her, Timothy in the lead. But it was her mother who, as she saw the prone shape in the cylinder, managed to speak the occupant’s name.
This time it was Jenner who had shouted. While the others had joined Cynthia the rat had stopped halfway along the way, drawn to the vague shape of a rat face in one of the active receptacles. It had taken him a moment to find the courage to step closer so he could see the occupant more clearly. Then he had recognized the features of his wife, his widow. Anger and pain now echoed in his shouted denial. Even Cynthia, in her own despair, turned to look at the imposing rat sink down on his knees in front of his wife’s internment.
‘Timothy, Brutus, stay with Cynthia.’
Elizabeth walked towards Jenner, who was rocking on his knees, hands clutched in front of his face, muttering almost incoherently. She did not dare reach out to him in this state but looked at the face behind the frosted glass.
At the mention of his mate’s name Jenner’s head jerked up, tears streaming down a face contorted with rage. He did not look at the mouse but started at the motionless features of his wife as he snarled through clenched teeth.
‘You lying monster! You said I would see her safe in Thorn Valley. You knew all along. YOU KNEW! Froze her like piece of meat! YOU KNEEEEEEEEEEW!’
The scream subsided into sobs as the rat’s head once more slumped to his chest.
‘Can’t we get them out?’
Jenner blinked and looked up again, confusion evident. Then realization dawned and he got to his feet in an instant.
‘Yes! Of course we can. ALIS!’
‘Get a medical team down here. All of these people need to be awakened and released. Clothing, food, anything they will need to get on their feed quickly. Can you organize that without Jonathan finding out?’
There was a moment’s hesitation as the mechanical mind weighed options and procedures.
‘Yes. I am initializing the release procedures. Medical teams will be here in time for the detainees’ awakening.’
The rat placed a heavy clawed hand on the viewing pane of Victoria’s prison, took a deep breath, and managed to compose himself. He turned towards Stella and Brutus, who had remained with the Brisby children.
The mute rat’s looked his way at attention.
‘Stay here. I need you to oversee the release of these people. Mrs. Brisby and I have an errand to run and will return as soon as we can.’
Then Jenner’s tone lowered to a pleading note.
‘Please make sure my wife will be alright?’
Stella and Brutus looked at each other for a moment and then nodded their affirmation. Jenner turned to face his old nemesis and beckoned her to follow him.
‘This way, ma’am. We don’t have much time.’
She followed her former adversary with a curt nod towards the entrance ramp. But before they could leave the detention block Jenner stopped at the two guard rats, one of whom had come to and was looking about himself in clear consternation. When the head of security approached him relief light up his features.
‘Commander Fray! What’s going here? Where am I?’
Mrs. Brisby took a while to comprehend what the Sterilizer’s comments implied. Jenner, on the other, already had a suspicion.
‘At ease, Corporal. What’s the last thing you remember?’
‘Director Brisby was commending our whole squad, in his own office, for the operation on that Farm.’
The big albino rat blinked trying to remember and then gazed at his superior in fear.
‘I don’t remember what happened next. Where are we?’
‘Never mind that. What day did he have your squad come to his office?’
Like a good soldier the bound rat immediately gave him the date. Jenner growled.
‘Four days ago.’
Not responding to the shaken guard he called over his shoulder.
‘Stella! Free these poor guys. Put on your speaking collar, tell them what they need to know, and then have them help out in whatever way they can.’
He patted the now shivering Sterilizer on the shoulder.
‘Don’t worry son. Everything’s going to be okay. Sergeant Lux will take care of you.’
Jenner looked at Elizabeth.
‘Ma’am, I know this is a lot to ask. You came to me for my help. Now I have to ask you for yours. Will you help me stop Jonathan?’
She nodded unhappily.
‘Even it means we might have to stop him… for good?’
Taking deep breaths as the implication of the rat’s statement sank in she closed her eyes to suppress tears. A few moments later she whispered through her sorrow, ‘Whoever did this is not Jonathan anymore.’
Neither rat nor mouse felt like talking as their elevator ascended to whatever destination Jenner had in mind. Thankfully, there were other things the security chief had to get accomplished.
‘Alis, are Justin and Julia still with the Director?’
‘No Mr. Fray. They are in Dr. Snow’s quarters.’
‘Tell Justin I need to see him and Dr. Snow right now; my personal quarters.’
‘What if Julia tells Jonathan?’
The rat had to agree.
‘Tell Justin it has to do with…’
Jenner was at a loss what reason could impel his old adversary to secrecy.
‘Tell him it has to do with what happened at the Convocation. And that Jonathan must not know. Tell him I said so.’
He gave Mrs. Brisby an unusually respectful nod. Then the two resumed their silent vigil as their ride commenced.
They exited on the same floor where the Brisby appartment and Julia’s quarters were located. But Jenner’s own abode was nestled into a far corner, as if purposefully hidden unless someone where to actively search for it. The door looked forlorn in its remote section of wall. Once Jenner opened the door through pressing his palm against the recognition gem in the wall Elizabeth got her first view of the resurrected rat’s private world. It was not what she had expected.
Where their own apartment in this peculiar place was simple, yet still comfortable, Jenner’s dwellings were Spartan to the extreme. No windows allowed light to come in from the Atrium. There were only two small rooms, separated by an open archway, and a washroom behind a closed door. Mrs. Brisby had never seen a monk’s cell, but from what she had read from book, this must bear a striking resemblance.
A table with a single chair, a closet, a chest of drawers, and a bed that was more of a bunk than a true mattress. The entire place radiated austerity to a degree that spoke of self-flagellation. Apart from two central light fixtures on the ceiling and a big monitor in one wall there were no amenities to be found in here. Elizabeth had always doubted Jenner’s sincerity in his reformation. Now those doubts were cast into doubt as well. The only ornamentation was a small framed picture, a painting similar to the one she had found in her own new dwelling. Only this time the painting did not show the Brisby family but Jenner’s. Victoria and three young rat girls, one almost as tall as her parents despite her obvious young age, were joined together with Jenner in the framed image. Mrs. Brisby had never encountered Jenner expressing true tenderness. But in this painting the artist had managed to convey just that.
While she started at the image the rat had been busy at the back of the closet. Jenner pulled out a huge metal box, larger than a mouse, made from metal and locked tightly. Once the container was in the middle of the small room he noticed the mouse looking at the painting. He walked over and gently laid the image on its back, his hand patting it tenderly.
‘This was not made from life.’
Elizabeth nodded without looking away from the now prone picture as Jenner sighed.
‘It shows what should have been if I had known better.’
Now she turned to face him.
‘Maybe there is still time to make amends?’
He stared back at the mouse, wondering if she truly thought so. There was no deception or doubt in her gaze. She really did believe he could redeem himself with his loved ones; if he managed to live through tonight.
Jenner stepped away from the table and back to the box. Three keys, looking antiquated in these modern surroundings, were necessary to open the chest. But once unlocked the rat did not get to open the lid. An automated chime indicated that his guests had arrived. Jenner activated the door from the inside and a concerned Justin and thoroughly confused Julia entered. From the look on the female rat’s face it was obvious that Justin had told her on their way about what he had seen during the Convocation. How much of it she believed no one could tell.
‘Come in quickly! Alis, lock the door behind us and make sure nobody knows we are in here, especially Jonathan.’
‘What on Earth is going on here, Jenner?’ Justin demanded.
It was Mrs. Brisby who answered.
‘He lied to us, Justin. Jonathan lied to us all.’
Julia cut in, ‘What are you talking about?’
Now it was Jenner’s turn.
‘You know that story he told us about the mice from the sewers and their treatment?’
‘Of course,’ the rat scientist responded, ‘he told me today that moving them in separate, darkened escape vehicles would be no problem.’
‘Hah!’ Jenner sneered bitterly, ‘Their treatment was finished a long time ago. Jonathan has had them all put on ice in a secret detention level.’
‘What?’ Both Justin and Julia exclaimed together.
‘It’s true,’ Elizabeth added, ‘in a place he never told anyone about Jonathan has put hundreds of animals of all kinds into these cylinders, like the ones you keep those human bodies in.’
‘Why would he do that?’ Julia sounded desperate and afraid now.
Mrs. Brisby touched her arm.
‘He’s not who we thought he was.’
‘What do mean?’ Justin chimed in.
‘Jonathan’s lied to all of us. The mice and the rats we got from the sewers are all lined up in storage tubes like canned meat. Not just that, there’s others in there that apparently angered him or that he thought would get in the way of his plan.’
‘What plan?’ Julia demanded.
‘To turn us all back into wild animals.’
Neither of the newcomers was able to speak for a while after Elizabeth’s statement. The gravity and her dour expression was proof enough that she was not making this up.
‘I don’t believe this.’ Julia shook her head defiantly.
‘Alis,’ Jenner ordered, ‘put a wide angle view on this screen that shows Detention Level D.’
‘Yes Mr. Fray.’
The image appeared instantly, displayed in three dimensions. Julia’s jaw dropped and she cautiously stepped towards the screen. A large group of medical personal of all species together with aids and guards were busy extracting the stored detainees and handing out clothing and food. Doctor Snow put a palm on the monitor, disrupting the three-dimensional display as if to dispel a bad dream. Yet when she removed her hand the scene remained.
She could not finish the sentence. Everything she had ever believed in, this place, Jonathan’s dream, was threatened to be shattered by what she saw.
Justin, thankfully, had no qualms about accepting what he saw. Ever since the Convocation his doubts had been growing. That did not mean he trusted Jenner.
‘So what are you planning to do about it, Jenner?’
The larger rat lifted the box he had retrieved and, supporting it with one arm, lifted the lid.
Even Julia drew her gaze away from the monitor as the box’ contents cast the sparse quarters into a bizarre and shifting luminance. Inside the container were Stones identical and size and shape to the ones Mrs. Brisby and Jonathan were wearing. Only their colors differed. No two were alike in hue. Reds, oranges, shades of green, purple, yellow, and blue were present. It was difficult to gauge how many of the sparkling and glowing gems were in the box, but clearly more than ten.
Without comment, Jenner put the box on the floor and lifted out a purple Stone, caressing the gold binding in his hands. Longing and fear radiated from his features, but the slowly raised the golden chain over his head and placed the jewel on his chest. It was then that he became aware of the stares. Justin and Elizabeth in particular eyed him with barely concealed suspicion. From everything they had experienced they knew what powers the gems could unlock. To have their once mortal enemy bearing one now clearly filled them with apprehension. Jenner tucked the Stone away underneath his uniform, avoiding the others’ stares and then lifted a second jewel from the box, this one red, but with a stronger hint of burgundy and purple than the one Elizabeth wore. He offered it to Justin.
Nonplussed the brown rat took a step back.
‘Take it,’ Jenner insisted. ‘Without it Jonathan will be able to take over your mind without you ever knowing it.’
Carefully, not taking his eyes off the other rat, he accepted the Stone. It pulsed in his hands, similar to the sensations he had experienced after his encounter with the one Mrs. Brisby now wore. After a brief hesitation he donned it while asking the obvious question.
‘Where did you get these, Jenner?’
The other smirked, then shook his head.
‘We got the ones the humans had made from Schulz and Valentine. Then Jonathan had me make more. Never told me why, just that we might need more and how many he thought we would need.’
‘And you just,’ Elizabeth queried, ‘kept them?’
Jenner looked to the ground, hands grabbing his own arms as if chilled.
‘Trust me, if I had a choice, I would never wear one again.’
He gave the others a humorless smile.
‘The last time I tried to get my hand on one it got me killed, remember?’
In the uncomfortable quiet that followed Jenner fished a third Stone from the container and handed it to Julia. It shimmered in a dark turquoise.
‘We better hide them under our clothes and hope Jonathan doesn’t realize what’s going on.’
Finally, Julia, after numbly accepting the jewel, found her voice again.
‘And what are we going to do then? Call off the Move?’
For a few minutes, everyone just stared at each other. Nobody appeared to have any specific ideas of how to proceed. Releasing the captives had been the straightforward thing to do, but now the matter of how to deal with the Director had to be decided. It was Mrs. Brisby who finally spoke up.
‘We asked Alis to neutralize the compound and shut down the sprinkler system.’
‘What about the manual override?’ Julia remarked and then spoke to the computer screen, which still displayed the happenings in the special detention block, ‘Alis, can you make sure the sprinkler system can’t be accessed manually?’
‘I have already done so, Dr. Snow.’ The voice echoed from the speakers. Elizabeth thought the voice had less of a mechanical tone to it now, or maybe her close association with the artificial entity was clouding her senses. Yet when Alis spoke up once more the mouse felt sure the construct’s speech had become much more lifelike.
‘That’s one problem taken care of,’ remarked Justin.
‘But what about the Move?’ Julia was insistent.
It was Mrs. Brisby who offered a solution.
‘Julia, do you want to live in here, sealed up from the world forever?’
The white rat looked at the mouse incredulously.
‘Of course not!’
Elizabeth shrugged and smiled.
‘Then we all might as well get out of here when we can. The Move itself is not the problem.’
Now her face darkened.
‘What Jonathan plans to use the Move for is another matter.’
Justin tapped his chin
‘Whatever we do, we can’t just announce what Jonathan has done and cancel everything. I think a lot of folks in here will not believe us if we tell them, not without tons of proof.’
‘What do you mean?’
Julia’s concern deepened.
‘Think about it,’ Justin answered, ‘for three years he has given everyone a reason to stick together, a reason to live, a purpose. If we tell them he lied about it, how many do you suppose will believe us? How many will want to believe us?’
It was Jenner who blew out an appreciative breath.
‘I hate to admit it, but Justin has a point. A lot of folks will not want to listen.’
Julia nodded slowly.
‘You’re right. But what if we showed them, not just on a monitor, but the real deal?’
Justin’s brows rose.
‘You want to show them the people Jonathan had… stored away?’
‘Yes,’ Elizabeth agreed, ‘that might work. Some of these folk looked like they lived here before. I bet people have missed them, or at least wondered. Nobody would be able to deny that.’
Before a final agreement could be made Alis interrupted the discussion.
‘Excuse me for interrupting, Dr. Snow, I need to ask you and Mr. Fray for advice immediately.’
Julia and Jenner exchanged confused glances. The artificial mind had never before entered an ongoing conversation between real people before. This was a side to the computer they had not encountered.
‘About what,’ the female rat dared to ask.
‘Due to the disturbing revelations regarding the Director’s actions I have taken the liberty of scouring all internal and external company files for further concerns. I am far from finished, but I have just uncovered more disquieting matters that may require immediate action.’
Jenner swallowed hard.
‘I have discovered that almost two years ago the Director has authorized and initiated the creation of smaller laboratories at locations in different countries around the world, staffed with animals that have received the intelligence treatment.’
More glances were exchanged.
‘It appears these smaller facilities are operated by only a few individuals, but have been producing the same altered serum that was supposed to be used on us today. They appear to be getting ready to release it into the water supplies of the countries they are located in in time with our planned Move.’
Mrs. Brisby gasped.
‘It’s not just us! He plans to change the entire world.’
Justin looked at her alarmed.
‘What? Why would he do that? Change the world how?’
‘Alis,’ Julia instructed, ‘let me have a look at the details for this new serum.’
‘Yes, Dr. Snow.’
The view from the prison block switched to a three-dimensional diagram of the serum’s genetic make-up, complete with notes. Julia scrolled through the data, using her right hand to direct the flow of icons. Then her eyes went wide with shock.
‘Heaven help us! This stuff would alter every single mind on this planet.’
Justin grabbed her shoulder.
She turned to him, face ashen. Then she almost croaked, ‘I don’t know how exactly. But it looks like it would everyone more easily… controlled.’
‘And if there is one thing Jonathan was always good at,’ Jenner intoned gravely, ‘it was charming people into doing what he wanted them to.’
‘Alis,’ the white rat addressed the screen again, ‘can you access these places? Shut them down maybe?’
‘I have already begun taking over their computer systems. They appear primitive and I should be able to have full control within a few hours.’
‘Can you shut them down?’ Justin’s voice was cold as ice.
‘I will try to do so.’
He turned to Jenner.
The security chief closed the lid of the box and handed it to Justin.
‘Get this to as many people down in the prison block as possible. Stella, Brutus…’
Jenner hesitated for a moment.
‘Remember the mouse called Nestor?’
‘He was in the same cage at NIMH as Jonathan was.’
‘Right,’ Jenner agreed, ‘he was the second mouse in the special experiments. The yellow Stone is his. He may be down there. If he is, fill him in and give it to him. Give the rest to whomever you think can help us stop this madness, preferably someone who can deal with a Sterilizer.’
Now it was Julia’s turn to become worried.
‘What’s wrong with your Sterilizers?’
He gave her a look of misery.
‘We had to wallop two of them at that secret jail. Jonathan’s somehow brainwashed them. If we try to stop him, I don’t know how many of my security people I can trust.’
‘Great,’ Justin exhaled, ‘are you telling me Jonathan may have mind-control over all your guards?’
‘Remember the Convocation?’ Elizabeth interjected.
Justin closed his eyes and nodded.
‘So, anyone who can take on one of those goons gets one of these. The Stones will keep their minds safe?’
‘I hope so,’ Jenner remarked dryly, ‘but Stella needs to arm them as well. And we have to do it nice and quiet so that Jonathan doesn’t realize what’s going on.’
The brown rat whistled through his teeth.
‘That’s a tall order.’
Mrs. Brisby offered some comfort and said,
‘Alis can help make sure nobody gets suspicious, right?’
‘I will do my best.’ The computer affirmed.
‘And what about you?’ Julia threw at Jenner. ‘What are you going to do?’
The tall rat sighed.
‘I’m scheduled to meet with Jonathan for a status update on the Move in…’
He looked at a read-out on his wrist.
‘In twenty minutes. Can you take care of the ones being released for now?’
The other three nodded.
‘Then we better get going. I’ll rejoin you as soon as I can’
As they filed out of Jenner’s quarters the head of security grabbed Justin’s wrist.
Jenner looked miserable as he whispered.
‘Victoria is down there, and my girls. Could you take care of them, please?’
Justin had never seen such a dejected and pleading look on the other’s face before. He nodded and, uncharacteristically, patted Jenner’s shoulder as they left to their tasks.