It had taken all of Jenner’s will-power to act calm and collected while he had conferred with Jonathan in the Directorial Office. Thankfully Alis had been able to provide him with mock reports and status updates that showed everything was going according to schedule. The mouse had then added a few minor adjustments to the sequence of events before the actual Move, which would commence at midnight exactly. Jenner had never been the praying sort, never believing in anyone but himself. Granted, his experience in dying and what came after had altered his view of the world, yet he still never had been able to pick up the habit of connecting with some sort of divine guidance. But as the meeting went on he found himself, for the very first time, silently imploring whatever divinity existed to keep Jonathan from reading his true thoughts. Either by divine intervention or the Stone hidden beneath his uniform the Director gave no indication of sensing something out of place.
Once the meeting had concluded Jenner hurried through hidden corridors and obscure elevators to rejoin the others in Detention Block D. When the freight lift doors opened he found the access ramp leading into the now wide-open storage hall a bustle of activity. He had hoped to keep their efforts low key, but had not taken into account how many individuals had been incarcerated in the containment cylinders. Seeing countless rat guards, all in off duty garb, coordinate the distribution of food and clothing as medical personal saw to the needs of the newly resuscitated made his heart sink. How they would ever manage to keep all of this from Jonathan was beyond him. There were just too many people. He even saw a few of his canine guards, the very same he had sent after the Thorn Valley refugees during their ill-fated escape attempt, comfort some of the larger animals as they emerged from their enforced hibernation. Thankfully, none were in uniform, which raised his hopes that nobody here had been pulled away from duty. That would have been a dead giveaway.
Before he could enter the cell block proper he spotted Cynthia Brisby, wearing a sky-blue Stone over her poncho and three male mice in two, heading straight for him, waving an arm.
‘Jenner! I need to talk to you.’
The rat was not certain he wanted to hear what the youngest Brisby daughter had to say. He did note that she was pulling along one of the male mice, a dark-grey-coated youth of about her own age with a sprinkling of white freckles on his face, while two other males, of early adulthood, followed behind. One of these was medium-grey in color and sported puffy cheek fur and glasses, the other of a warm tan color with a slightly darker goatee. To Jenner’s dismay he noticed all three males were wearing Stones.
‘Cynthia, why do they have the Stones?’
The female mouse waved her paw dismissively, which aggravated the rat to no end. At least the two older male mice looked appropriately cowed. The younger one being dragged seemed somewhat amused.
‘This here’s my friend Brendan,’ Cynthia explained, ‘He held off herds of those giant sewer rats all by himself, so he can deal with Sterilizers. He gets a Stone, and that’s that.’
She pointed at the remaining mice.
‘These two are Vincent and Anthony. You know why dad locked them up down here?’
Now she glared at the rat with enough venom to make Jenner lean back a bit.
‘Well, I’ll tell you. They were with the first people in here Timmy and I talked to, and what we heard made us a bit uneasy about this place. We mentioned it to Dad.’
Jenner’s eyes grew wide.
‘I remember he asked me to find out who you talked to. He had them locked up for that?’
‘He locked up their whole families!’
Few had ever heard Cynthia shout in rage before. It was just not something that was part of her usual nature. That made her all the more terrifying for it. She stomped forward and poked the much larger rat on the chest.
‘You told Dad and he had them locked up. So don’t you dare ask me why I gave them the gems.’
She glowered up at him, her chest huffing and puffing as she dared the rat to make a reply, any reply. Jenner decided that keeping silent might just be the best option. This was the first time he had ever been intimidated by a teenager, much less a mouse teenager. A few moments later Cynthia regained her composure and took a step back, smoothing her poncho.
‘Actually, these two are…’ She glanced at Anthony and Vincent.
‘What are you again?’
‘Therapists?’ They offered in unison.
‘Mind doctors,’ the female mouse explained to Jenner.
‘Anyway, Julia thought it might be a good idea to have someone look at any security people we needed down here and I thought they would do the trick.’
She turned to the two hesitant mice expectantly. Vincent and Anthony exchanged glances and then Anthony spoke.
‘We talked to the guards. Dr. Snow asked us to see if any of them had somehow been brainwashed.’
‘Like that would be an obvious thing to see!’ Vincent rolled his eyes.
‘That’s why you got the Stones, remember?’
The two therapists eyed Cynthia doubtfully, but Anthony continued.
‘Whatever these jewels are, they do seem to make it easier to find out if someone has something wrong in their minds.’
The grey mouse nodded sagely.
‘Plus, Vincent specializes in hypnosis, so we had some idea what to look for.’
‘And?’ Jenner was getting impatient.
‘And,’ Vincent took up the tale, ‘every single one of the security people down here, no matter what species, has had a serious hypnotic implant. Is that usual practice?’
Behind the glasses the mouse’s expression had become disdainful, making Jenner uncomfortable once more. How was it that mice were now able to unnerve him so?
‘No, not at all,’ he replied defensively.
‘Well,’ Anthony added, ‘Vince removed the programming.’
‘It was strange,’ Vincent agreed, ‘normally we’d have to probe and ask to find out what had been put into their minds. But with these little beauties…’ he padded the ember Stone around his neck, ‘it was like I could actually see what had been done to them.’
‘Huh’, Anthony confirmed, ‘Positively bizarre. I don’t usually do hypnosis, but even I had no problem helping them get rid of that programming.’
Cynthia pushed herself in front of the other once more.
‘In any case, I wanted to let you know that you should be able to trust all of the ones these two have un-brainwashed so far. There’s only about two dozen, and most of them have gone away with Brutus and Stella, plus a whole bunch of the mice and big sewer rats. They still have to check on about a dozen or so and deprogram them as well, so we better get back. And by the way, you’re welcome!’
With that she turned, the youngest male still in tow and the two mental specialists following while giving the security chief uneasy glances over their shoulders.
Jenner just stood there for a minute, mulling over what he had learned. Then he began to walk towards the detention area proper.
‘Thank you,’ he muttered to himself.
As he entered the general commotion of medical personal and a few off-duty guards the security chiefs noticed again that none of the individuals aiding in the recovery of the secret prisoners were wearing uniforms. Maybe they could keep this quiet after all. Doctors and nurses, a few he recognized, were all dressed casually. Jenner assumed that Julia, with Alis’s help, had decided to utilize only those who were not currently on active duty. He approved. Someone was using their heads.
Once in the detention hall he searched for the shapes of Justin and Julia. He found Dr. Snow, Mrs. Brisby and her son talking to a group of mice, most of middle or advanced age. Before he could say anything, a slender almost black-furred mouse with a slate-grey underfur and mustache walked up to him, bushy brows furrowed.
‘Is that you, Jenner?’
The rat noticed the mouse was wearing a yellow Stone on top of a simple laboratory tunic, which made recognition even easier.
He looked up at Jenner, arms folded across his chest, golden eyes boring into the rat green ones uncomfortably.
‘Never thought I’d see you again, and if I had, it would not have been like this.’
The rat nodded.
‘I know. I’m sorry.’
‘Tell me, face to face, is Jonathan really responsible for us being here?’
Jenner was about to affirm, but then shook his head.
‘No, I am supposed to be the Head of Security. Jonathan may have put all of you down here, but the one who is supposed to know what is going on is me. The responsibility is mine.’
Elizabeth tilted her head. She would have never suspected the rat that had once tried to kill her for personal gain to take blame like this. How the world had changed.
Nestor sighed and shook his head as he waved a hand at Mrs. Brisby.
‘Jonathan’s wife told me that he isn’t really himself anymore. From what’s going on in here that sounds about right. The Jonathan I knew would never even have considered this.’
Before any reply could be made, Jenner felt a hand on his shoulder. Turning he saw Justin, who had just walked up behind the group.
‘Sorry to interrupt you guys, but I think we’re in a bit of a time-crunch here. Brutus and Stella have taken twenty of your off-duty guard rats down to some storage place, as well as twenty of the mice from the sewers, and fifty of those huge rats. They’re waiting for you.’
‘What?’ Jenner exclaimed in disbelief.
‘Why in the name of all that’s sane did they do that? If they’re seen this entire thing will be blown wide open.’
‘Calm down,’ Julia said from behind a few mice she had been talking to, ‘Stella and Brutus were talking it over, using those speaker collars. I only got part of it, but your Sergeant thinks you’ll need some back-up if you have to deal with any more brainwashed Sterilizers of yours, or worse.’
The dark rat was still incredulous.
‘So they took most of the off-duty guards and more than twice as many strangers without any training and went… where exactly?’
‘Some storage facility for outdated police gear, I think,’ Justin offered. ‘Stella said you’d know where they would be.’
Jenner slapped a hand over his eyes and groaned.
‘Untrained rats and mice in that old gear? This is going to great.’
He was just about to head out toward the open loading ramp again, but Justin’s hand held firm to his shoulder. As he balked at the restraint, Elizabeth walked up and put a gloved hand on his arm.
‘I think there is something you should do first.’
Following the mouse’s gaze Jenner suddenly spotted three female rats, all dressed in the same uniform laboratory smocks, sitting on a hastily arranged set of benches. His heart dropped into his guts. He had not seen his wife in three years, and there she was. Victoria had not noticed him yet, engrossed as she was in talking to two young rat ladies, which to Jenner’s shock were recognizable as two of his own daughters, now grown to adulthood. He could do nothing but stare. His more waif-like daughter Sarah chanced a look towards their group and immediately made out the shape of her father. Her mouth opened wide and she pointed, saying something to her mother and sibling. Then, all three pairs of eyes started back at him in a consternation that threatened to tear his heart apart.
Victoria, her frame thinner and her claws much longer than he recalled, rose slowly to her feet, never taking her eyes off him. One of her long-clawed hands grabbed his other daughter’s arm for support. Before she could walk over Jenner unfroze and hurried to his family, the family that had thought him dead for three long years.
Justin looked at him almost stagger to them and then pointedly turned his back and nodded towards Julia, Mrs. Brisby, and the group of resuscitated mice.
‘I think they will need what little privacy they can get down here.’
The others nodded and shuffled a bit farther away from the awkward reunion.
Being the Head of Security and actually caring about his work beyond his own personal ambition had a few drawbacks. One was the constant worrying. Before his untimely demise he had lived in a blissfully uncaring state of self-centeredness. What came after convinced him, the hard way, that empathy was something he needed to develop. But that meant always having concerns for others at the back of his mind, and that was beginning to wear on him.
Hurrying to a large storage hall close to the security services training facilities Jenner wove his way laboriously through seldom used corridors and maintenance shafts. The last thing he needed was one of his other lieutenants seeing him and asking unfortunate questions. Who could tell how many of his staff had hypnotic implants? That meant that rather than taking a direct route he had to double back on his course multiple times. This wasted time Jenner felt he did not have.
When he finally stepped through a slightly rusted side-door into the storage chamber he had to stop short. Stella and Brutus had apparently been busy. In the sparse lighting available he could see that a duo of his regular Sterilizer guards had been assigned two mice and five immense sewer rats. Jenner had to suppress a groan when he saw the entire lot of them dressed in the long-outdated policing gear. Modern Sterilizer armor had self-contained power sources and integrated weapons, all with a fluid but sturdy construction giving it an almost organic feel. The gear the rodents were sporting here was more medieval by comparison. The armor was of a similar, although more metallic and less pearlescent composite. Helmets had not been donned yet as they would not contain any sensory enhancement functions apart from radios. To him the old gear had always appeared cumbersome. To make it more intimidating they had, back in the day, chosen to given the helmet visors a slightly sinister shape. Compared to the newer weaponry his regular troops were using now these outfits were ridiculous.
Worse, the actual weapons that his few de-brainwashed sentries were trying to train the newbies in were as outdated as the armor. The precursors to the current energy weapons consisted of crystal orbs suspended at the end of quarterstaffs, supplied with a small power sources at the base and various trigger points along the shaft. Unlike the more modern versions these could not be used as distance weapons and required physical contact to deliver their debilitating energy charges. Back then they had made gear for mice, rats, and a whole number of other species. In those days there had been too few of them to be choosey. Now as Jenner looked at the diminutive mice in their armor he had to suppress a feeling of dread. This was never going to work.
As he moved forward he spotted Brutus, gesticulating wildly in an effort to explain to a mouse how to attack one of the regular rat sentries. Jenner stopped for a moment to see how this would play out. The trained Sterilizer, despite his decommissioned gear, deftly swung his staff in an effort to sweep the mouse off its feet. He felt a bit of pride when he noticed that at least some of his people knew how to adapt to new weaponry. But his pride gave way to astonishment when he saw the mouse, rather than trying to jump away, flatten itself underneath the blow and then, with an astounding economy of motion, thrust his own weapon into the rat’s chest as it was looming above him.
The five burly rats assembled around the sparring rodents gave shouts of amazement. Jenner resumed his pace and walked up to the assembled trainees.
‘Attention!’ He bellowed.
Surprisingly, in addition to his normal troops more than two thirds of the untrained rats and mice managed to snap to some sort of attention. Stella, upon spotting him, put a finger on her speaking collar.
It was not what he would have called military precision, but the ten groups assembled themselves quickly and orderly. It was, Jenner had to admit, slightly impressive. He noted that each team had two rows, three rats, one veteran and two newbies at the sides, and two mice at the center in the first row, the remaining veteran and huge rats making up the back row. He was beginning to see what Stella and Brutus had been thinking off when pairing mice and rats together like this. Also, he noticed that each veteran was apparently wearing one of the Stones on golden chains peeking through between armor plates. That was good. This way by touching hands, if what Justin had told him was correct, they might be able to avoid one of Jonathan’s mind tricks.
As he came close Stella, one hand still on her collar, snapped off a salute.
‘Teams ready for inspection, sir!’
Brutus, he noted, had not saluted. At least the huge rat was standing at attention. Strange though, on Stella and him the old armor looked actually rather frightening.
He cleared his throat.
‘At ease, eh, troops.’
One of the burly rats from the sewers, a male with grey fur and a pigtail, called out.
‘Whose’ that guy?’
Stella, half the height of the rat in question turned around with painful slowness until her eyes met the offending newbie. Jenner had to hand it to her, those eyes of hers combined with her aura of absolute confidence actually made the towering male try to shrink back behind his compatriots in the first row. She was about to put her finger on her collar again for a rebuke when, completely without order, another one of the sewer rats suddenly broke ranks from the same team and advanced on Jenner.
The head of security was taken aback.
The rat coming at him was more than a head taller, slender, but obviously festooned with ropey muscles, and obviously female. Red feverish eyes set in a dirty, dark grey pelt bore down as she strode towards him. For a moment Jenner was afraid she was going to attack. He did not think he would have a chance against this monstrosity. Then, as unexpected as her advance, she stopped right in front of him and, her eyes wide, slowly went down on one knee to be eye to eye with him.
‘He’s my father.’
The one who had once been called Dora rasped dryly, eyes wide and beginning to moisten.
‘That’s her sire?’
The same grey Stagg that had taken objection before dared to venture.
‘Why’d we follow his orders?’
Before Jenner, his daughter, or Stella and Brutus could react, an enormous male, not the largest, but definitely imposing and of a truly terrifying demeanor, swung around from the first row and grabbed the other by his throat. Neither of the team’s Sterilizer veterans dared to interfere. The crimson-furred beast had small, blazing yellow eyes and lifted the other off the ground with one hand and grumbled.
‘Because your Overlord tells you to.’
There was immediate muttering and shuffling coming from almost all the feral sewer rats. The blood-furred one, not missing a beat and apparently a very quick learner, turned his head and bellowed.
To Jenner’s surprise the Staggs all immediately fell in line, imitating the stance of the veterans as best they could. When he looked back at the face of what had to be his oldest daughter, he saw that she was smiling. Had he ever seen Dora smile? Had he ever wondered if any of his children smiled?
She touched his cheek with an armored hand, tenderly, and hushed.
‘I go by Rapta now, Daddy.’
This was surreal. To think this towering harridan was his daughter. But she had always been large for her age. She must have kept on growing still. Now he felt intimidated by his own offspring.
Then she embraced him, tears running down her cheek.
In addition to choking the air out of him this bizarre emotional display agitated the new rats once more, but another growl from the male with the red fur and blazing eyes restored order.
As unexpectedly as the embrace had come Rapta released him and pointed over her shoulder to the Stagg who appeared to have the others in thrall.
‘That’s my husband, your son-in-law.’
Jenner was stunned.
Before anything else could be said, his daughter stepped away from him and returned to her place in the front line of her team, next to her husband, and stood at attention, all traces of tears vanished from her features. Jenner felt a shiver run down his spine. He hoped that whatever he had done to foster such a transformation could be undone, somehow. But now was not the time or place. He steadied himself and motioned his Sergeant to approach.
Stella and Brutus stepped forward. The female activated her collar.
‘The mice are fast and well-trained. The large rats lack discipline, but have good reflexes and seem eager to learn new fighting styles. Combined in teams, they should be able to hold their own.’
The security chief cleared his throat again.
‘They’ll work together?’
It was Brutus who answered, awkwardly fumbling with his speaker collar,
‘If they don’t… I bash sense into them.’
Jenner blinked. Ineloquent as he would have expected from the huge mutant he had a point. He remembered Brutus’ father also having come from the sewers. Clearly, his son knew how Stagg culture and its violent ways worked. And if Brutus was not cut out to bash in some reluctant rat heads, nobody would. Plus, it appeared that somehow, under the sway of his daughter and her chosen companion, these Staggs, which he remembered oh-so-well from his early life, were willing to cooperate. How they exerted such dominance was something he needed to investigate, once he had time. For now he just hoped they would not turn on each other when an opportunity arose. Jenner remembered the fickle alliances of sewer rat politics. It was time for a little talk.
He put his hands behind his back and, in his best imitation of confidence, walked up and down the ranks.
‘You don’t know me. I don’t know you. But that doesn’t matter. What matters, is that we are all in serious trouble; the kind that may mean our death.’
Gratifyingly, Jenner saw very few flinches from the newbies, none, he realized, from the mice.
‘You may be strong, you may have had training. But in there that doesn’t mean anything.’
This led to some angry mutterings from various Staggs, but the commander was relentless in his arguments.
‘All your training, all your strength, did nothing to keep you from being defeated and locked up.’
The mutters became more subdued, shamed.
‘I don’t know how much has been told to you about what’s going on here. I leave that up to Sergeant Lux and Brutus here. But I can tell you that whether you like it or not, were stuck in this mess together and the only way we’ll have any chance of survival is if we work together, fight in new ways.’
There were some grumbles, but also a number of stoic nods from the recruits.
‘You remember how our Sterilizers caught you. The same weapons can kill you as easily as stun you.’
Now there was some uncomfortable shuffling.
‘Your armor will protect you, but your own weapons are at a disadvantage, as I am sure you have been told. But as teams, backing each other up, you have a chance. You, Staggs!’
Jenner pointed at a random sewer rat.
‘You’re stamina and unwillingness to back down is your strength. You attack together and your combined strength will bury your opponents.’
A number of sewer rats turned their heads towards each other. In their culture fighting alliances were fragile. The notion of working as a tight-knit group was something the Overlord had introduced only recently. Yet they did remember how easily they had been beaten fighting in the old way. Then they looked at the mice in the front rows. These tiny meals-on-legs had shown skill in fighting during the recent training that had left a number of Staggs with painful bruises.
As if reading their thoughts Jenner pointed to a mouse.
‘You mice are small, weaker. But you are fast and nimble. Where the rats will be the blunt force you will be able to get under your opponents’ guard. Together you will be able to break them.’
Staggs and mice exchanged a few dubious glances, but there were a few tentative nods as well.
Jenner looked at the teams head-on and sighed.
‘We are terribly outnumbered.’
That definitely made even the veterans uneasy.
‘But that does not matter! We keep battle to a minimum and not provoke a head-on assault. We will strike fast and hard. We will take control of this situation!’ he shouted.
‘If we stick together we can get free of this place!’
Some of his passion, faked as it was, spilled over to the teams.
‘We have been lied to! We have been trapped! But no more!’
‘Tonight,’ his voice dropped low, ‘we will make ourselves free.’
Standing up straight again Jenner nodded to Stella, who activated her speaker.
‘Resume your training,’ Jenner added.
‘By tonight, you will know all you need to know to get out of here in one piece. Our strikes will be planned thoroughly. You must follow orders, without question.’
Not waiting for any replies the Head of Security turned around.
‘Or you will die.’
Then he walked to the small door he had first entered from. He did not want them to see his face. His regular staff numbered almost six hundred, at least four hundred supposed to be on duty at the Convocation and the Move. Here he had ten teams of nine rats and two mice, the majority untrained and never having worked together. If he and the others could not manage to stop Jonathan without direct confrontation this would turn into a massacre.
Back down to Detention Level D Jenner went.
For the time being the secret installation was growing to be a make-shift headquarter for their impromptu insurrection. When he arrived he noticed that the cell block now only contained about a third of the occupants it had held barely an hour ago. Concerned, the head of security strode through the loading ramp, only to be faced by a hastily constructed set of metal cubicles, the largest one open at two walls and containing a big computer terminal. Justin, Julia, Mrs. Brisby, her children, Nestor, and the young mouse Cynthia had introduced as Brendan were looking over digital maps on the compute table. Alis, from speakers in the device, answered questions and added details.
‘So we have them camp out at these evacuation vehicles?’ Justin pointed to an icon on the desk display.
‘Jonathan always loved redundancies. Those vehicles are only half-loaded with supplies and are supposed to be on automatic, no passengers.’
‘Did I miss anything?’ Jenner grumbled as he reached the group.
Ever the one to try and keep the peace Elizabeth smiled and pointed at the glowing table.
‘We thought we might get the people here set up to leave with the Move as quickly as possible.’
‘Hopefully without Dad finding out,’ Timothy sighed in dejection.
Jenner noticed the faces of all the Brisby mice fall at this comment. He had been so angered by his own betrayal by Jonathan that he had never considered what his family must feel. To regain a long-lost parent and husband, only to discover he had turned into… what? That was the overriding question. Jonathan was acting in ways that were, Jenner had to grudgingly admit, completely unlike himself.
It was Brendan who broke the silence as he pointed to another diagram.
‘This is the only access to the main platform in that auditorium?’
‘Yes,’ Julia nodded, ‘by that elevator and over the bridge.’
The young mouse crossed his arms.
‘That’s going to be difficult to defend.’
Jenner cleared his throat.
‘And what would you know of such things, boy?’
Before Brendan could answer Cynthia snapped at the rat.
‘He held back whole clans of sewer rats all by himself. I’d say that qualifies him.’
Nestor, who had stood quietly to the side, observing, nodded.
‘Trust me Jenner. My boy is well-trained.’
So Brendan was Nestor’s son. That meant that some diplomacy, as hard as that was to swallow, might be called for. The dark rat raised his hands.
‘No offence. So,’ he leaned on the desk eyeing Justin, ‘what’s the plan?’
Justin tapped the display showing the outline of the arena where the last Convocation before the Move was supposed to be held.
‘Alis tapped into Jonathan’s plans. He will have Sterilizers set up all along the galleries, here, here, here, and here.’
‘Like he’s trying to cover the audience,’ Jenner muttered.
‘It makes sense,’ Justin agreed. ‘Once the sprinklers would turn on some of the folks in here might panic. Armed guards are always a good incentive to keep from going nuts.’
‘How many does that make for the auditorium?’ Jenner continued.
‘Four-hundred and twenty Sterilizers in the stands, the rest covering the exists from the arena.’
Jenner nodded grimly.
‘Enough to stun the entire audience if need be.’
‘Actually,’ Julia smiled, ‘that can work to our advantage.’
The security chief could not stifle a derisive snort.
‘And how is that?’
Not taking the bait the white rat indicated the main speaker platform.
‘There are fifty Sterilizers as an honor guard on the podium. That’s it.’
‘More than enough,’ Jenner sighed.
‘If Brutus and Stella can whip our own troops into shape we can take them. The others will be isolated in the audience.’
Now Jenner’s tone oozed contempt.
‘Apart from the fact that the Sterilizer weapons are long range. While we are busy getting our new, barely trained recruits, over the bridge, they can pick us off like turkeys.’
‘Not,’ Brendan raised a finger, ‘if we can get our hands on this Director of yours quickly.’
‘And how do you propose to do that?’
‘Some sort of diversion?’ Cynthia offered cheerfully, her previous anger apparently evaporated.
‘Like what?’ Jenner persisted with a sneer.
‘You’ll think of something,’ the crème-furred mouse winked, leaving Jenner’s jaw hanging open in consternation. He stared at Justin, who simply shrugged.
‘Don’t fight it. Even Brutus can’t get the better of her.’
‘Yessir!’ Cynthia nodded with folded arms.
Jenner rubbed his temples. There were too many unknowns in this, too many variables that could spell disaster. His head was throbbing. Then, an idea came to him. It was not what he would call a good idea. It was foolhardy at best and lunacy at worst. Yet it might just work. He looked at the rats and mice assembled.
‘Okay, maybe the best we can do is try to keep Jonathan off balance.’
‘How?’ Mrs. Brisby wondered.
‘We’ll act just the way he wants us to. You will all show up at the appointed time, like obedient guests, and act your part.’
‘And?’ Justin raised a suspicious brow.
Jenner tried to give him a wicked grin, with little success.
‘I will surprise him.’
Julia’s gaze darkened.
‘You’re not going to do anything foolish, right?’
‘Me? No-no-no! That would be Justin’s job. I’ll do something… subtle.’
Worried glances passed from the assembled rodents.
The meeting went on only a few minutes longer, with Jenner remaining tight-lipped about his plans. Then, as everyone dispersed to their appointed tasks, the tall rat pulled Mrs. Brisby to the side before she could follow her children and whispered quietly.
‘I need to see you at my quarters in one hour exactly.’
Elizabeth saw the desperate pleading in his eyes again and nodded. She would find a means to slip away. This felt important.
Then, Jenner walked away, his shoulders uncharacteristically slumped.
Justin, who had been standing off to one side with Julia, observing the exchange, muttered, ‘Any idea what that was about?’
She shook her head.
‘No. But he looks like he has been beaten down.’
Jenner, lost in his own thoughts, left the others to their own devices. He made for another cubicle, of the ones that had been set up as make shift sitting areas and triage for the medical volunteers. Now, most of them were empty, but the rat could see a few families of newly awoken prisoners occupying the chairs and couches for comfort. Jenner spotted the two mice, the therapists, apparently offering solace to some of the more traumatized individuals.
Then, he reached the one he had been aiming for. Inside, his family, with the exception of his eldest daughter, waited for him.
Elizabeth arrived at Jenner’s place early. But the rat was ahead of schedule as well and when he breezed by her, opening the door to his dwelling almost frantically, he ushered her in with haste and almost slammed the door behind them.
‘What is this about, Jenner?’
He waved his arms at her in a surrendering gesture.
‘Okay, this may sound crazy, but I think you’re in danger.’
‘Hear me out,’ Jenner begged.
‘Jonathan could have pulled the Move and his insane plan off without ever needing you, Justin, or anyone else from the Valley here. The reason he sent Julia off like this had only one purpose, to bring you here.’
‘Are you sure?’
The rat rolled his eyes.
‘I’m not. But something about him bringing you here has bothered me from the get-go. At first I thought it was because I was envious. You know, him getting to see his family again and not me.’
He went down on his knees and grabbed a hold of the mouse’s shoulders.
‘But that’s not it. Whatever Jonathan has become, I think he’ll hurt you.’
‘Jonathan would never do that,’ Elizabeth protested.
Jenner looked despondent.
‘The old Jonathan would not. But this one?’
He let the question hang in the air.
Then the rat got to his feet again and when to the same closet he had pulled the box of Stones from earlier. This time he rummaged in a container on a higher shelf until he produced a dagger. He turned, went on his knees in front of Mrs. Brisby again, and offered her the weapon.
She shook her head vehemently.
‘You must take it. Hopefully you’ll never have to use it, but just in case, I would feel better if you had it.’
‘Why would you care?’
Jenner looked to the ground.
‘Not caring cost me my life, my family, it almost cost me my soul.’
She nodded silently, accepted the dagger, and hit it within the folds of her cape. It felt heavy and oppressing, corrupted almost.
Jenner stood up and sighed.
Now it was the mouse’s turn to sigh.
‘I better get going then. Jonathan asked the kids, Justin, Julia and me to dinner. Not that I feel like it.’
‘You can’t let him suspect what we have learned,’ Jenner reminded her.
‘Afterwards he wants us to wait in the apartment until Julia gets us all to the Convocation.’
Jenner nodded to himself.
‘Let’s hope that gives us enough time.’
Elizabeth turned to leave her posture slumped as she looked at the rat in dejection.
‘I never thought I dread being around my own husband.’
With that, she left. Jenner looked at the closed door for a while. Then he turned to the box he had pulled the dagger from, the same dagger, ironically, that Sullivan had used so long ago to kill him, retrieved from his grave. From the container he removed a set of clothing.