‘The investigation into the catastrophic explosions at the leading research facility of Lazarus Laboratories based in Baltimore continues.’
The human news anchor had been working this story for four days and still did not show any sign of fatigue. Justin assumed that make-up had a lot to do with it as he gazed at the Seeing Machine in his Thorn Valley office. Even without a Stone he was able to use the device now when he needed to. A smile crossed his features as he watched the news coverage with glowing ember eyes. Who would have thought Timothy’s machine would get them premium channels as well?
‘Lead investigators have not ruled out sabotage as they sift through the remains of the site and review back-up copies of the computer surveillance provided by the company’s security chief, Jenner Fray. Earlier claims by environmental terrorist groups taking credit for the event as a response to the controversial Thorn Valley Land Deal that Lazarus Laboratories made with State and Federal authorities could not be validated. In separate statements by video, Security Chief Fray and Acting Director Julia Snow have assured stockholders that despite the loss of their primary research facility the company would meet their production schedule and that the construction of a new facility was already in planning. While animal rights activists still protest the death of the facility’s experimental animals, emergency responders commented that the full automation of the compound was to be credited for the minimal loss of human life. No comment has been made so far as to whereabouts or condition of the company’s CEO and General Director Jonathan…’
Justin closed his glowing eyes and sighed, allowing the machine to slowly come to rest as his mind did the same. When he opened them again they were their usual color. He yawned and stretched his arms over his head while he enjoyed the multicolored lights from the stained-glass rosette window, which bathed his office in a magical display. Then, he shook himself a bit in an effort to get the stiffness out from his joints. He had been using the Seeing Machine for two hours now, scanning the human world for anything of relevance to their situation.
He looked at his new robes. They were far less cumbersome than his old ones, still regal, but open in the front and of lighter fabric. He still looked like some sort of wizard, but at least one that could actively kick some rear end if he had to. Certain jobs just required certain attire.
With all the confusion of their arrival, and the vast amount of animals of all species that were now supposed to share Thorn Valley, the Rats of NIMH had jumped at the chance of reinstating him as head of the Council. He had not objected. Many had screamed murder when they witnessed cats and dogs strolling around the Oak, especially when one had turned out to be Dragon. Verilla had been ready for an apoplectic shock. But between Julia and himself they had managed to get everyone working together, for now at least. After four days things were looking as if this crazy new situation might just work out.
There was a knock at the door.
‘Come in,’ Justin called out as he leaned back and put his feet on his desk.
Julia entered, wearing a crème-white dress of similarly regal design, as befitting the status of Head of the Council, since that position, for the time being, was to be held by two individuals. She still wore her glasses and carried one of the new data tablets that everyone was now so fond of using. Justin, like a caught schoolboy, immediately took his feet off the desk and got up to embrace her. After a short kiss he asked.
‘How are things going?’
She smiled and waved her free hand.
‘Very well, actually. We finally located the last two escape vehicles. As you guessed the pilots panicked when the autopilot took them to the cliffs and tried to fly manually.’
‘What did they hit?’
Julia rolled her eyes, but continued smiling.
‘The river, in both cases. Shorted out their radios, but nobody was hurt and all the gear can be salvaged.’
‘That’s a relief.’
Now it was her turn to embrace him and give him another peck on the cheek.
‘I got to see what Solomon and Ages have been up to.’
Justin’s ears perked up.
‘Yes, Timothy showed me. That old mouse friend of yours really seems to like egging Dr. Prometheus on.’
The brown rat chuckled, ‘He does that to everyone. I’m just glad he’s back doing science rather than just playing doctor.’
Julia giggled, ‘Solomon seems to enjoy it. Anyway, they and Timothy are planning to build a bio-computer in that big cave system in the northern cliff wall.’
The female rat left the embrace and raised her arms, ‘That’s all I know. They want to get Cynthia and her boyfriend…’
‘Yes, him, anyway, they want them involved as well. And they already installed the controller units for the human remote bodies we have in the remaining facilities.’
Justin’s face became serious as he rubbed his chin.
‘Funny how Jonathan thought about packing those. They came in handy in talking with those human investigators. It gives Jenner something to do until his leg heals up fully. What about the new colonies and the power plant?’
Julia put the data pad on his desk and rubbed her hands gleefully.
‘Everything on schedule. The canines want those caves on the western ledge, the felines have the huge elm towards the south to work with. Heck, everyone’s excited about their new homes. In three months tops everything should be up and running.’
Shuddering a bit Justin looked at the ceiling.
‘Then we can expect the politics to really become nutty. Seven different colonies, Nicodemus’ beard, that will be fun! And then we have to worry about those other facilities the Director had built around the world. We’ll be busy.’
‘It’ll be alright,’ Julia stepped behind him and massaged his shoulders a bit. Justin closed his eyes and sighed contentedly.
‘Hm?’ He didn’t open his eyes, just smiled as the tension was massaged away.
‘If the Director’s plan was for us to turn back into wild animals and in the process change the entire world into his playpen…’
Justin opened his eyes as he noticed Julia’s concern, turned, and put his hands on her shoulders in turn.
‘… why did he go through all the trouble?’
‘What trouble?’ Justin wondered.
She nodded her face to the colored window.
‘The trouble to equip us with all the gear for the Move. If he had succeeded, all that equipment would have been a useless waste.’
The brown rat tilted his head.
‘What’s really troubling you, Julia?’
She looked into his eyes as he held her.
‘Who was really in control? Was it that… thing? Or was it Jonathan after all?’
Justin gently guided her around the chair up towards the ledge on which rested the window rosette. Then, as they both stood before the many-paned colored windows he pointed his fingers to a clear one.
Gazing through the glass Julia was able to look at a large, naturally grown balcony that faced a huge door in another of the Great Oak’s many trunks. She could see Mrs. Brisby and her class, together with five new mouse children that had once lived in the sewers, three huge Stagg youngsters, and two Kittens sitting on cushions in the sun. Elizabeth was helping a female Stagg rat child read from a book while the others all waited patiently.
‘You see her?’ Asked Justin.
Julia nodded, not taking her eyes off the scene.
Stepping next to her, his arm around her shoulder, Justin looked on as well.
‘If there is anyone who knows for sure, then she does.’
Everywhere around the Great Oak, where the newcomers’ temporary quarters had been set up, the Rats of NIMH and their new brethren worked together updating and incorporating new technologies to their everyday tasks. New harvesting equipment was being assembled and greenhouses set up in hidden locations around the valley. Sterilizers in Thorn Valley style guard tunics and the usual colony guards were busy sharing combat techniques as they manned their various guard stations, while throughout the valley, some miles away from the colony center, canine and feline guard patrols checked the area so they could guide stragglers to the Oak.
Just beyond the farthest reach of these patrols a smaller, undocumented escape vehicle had managed to crash-land against a bush hiding an old tree-trunk. The vehicle had travelled slowly, so the impact had not mangled the chassis, but the electronics were fried beyond repair.
A dark-grey female mouse with emerald eyes was desperately trying to unscrew a maintenance panel on the vehicle’s side, which had become warped. She wore a single jumpsuit of a blue so dark it almost appeared black with gold lining and looked as if she had a small golden band fused over her brows. Finally, she lost the battle between her wrench and the panel and the tool flew from her grasp to fall heavily on her foot.
She yelped and kicked the vehicle’s side hard.
Now hopping violently on one foot while clasping her hurting toes she cursed loudly.
‘Stupid body! Body! Dang! Stupid pain body!’
The mouse stopped jumping and put her palms on the metal as well her brow and tried to calm herself.
‘Alright, alright, no problem. This is just pain, it’s normal. Just a body thing to get used to. It’ll go away.’
Slowing her breathing she carefully put down the offending foot as well and sighed with relief as she was able to stand without problems. The mouse ran her fingers through her hair.
‘This body business is more difficult than I thought.’
Picking up the wrench she walked around the vehicle to the open door and stepped inside.
‘And?’ A familiar male voice asked.
Alis threw the wrench on the floor, ‘We’re not going to be able to fix it. We’ll have to walk from here.’
Jonathan Brisby, dressed in a similar jumpsuit, looked up at her as he sat on a bench packing two backpacks.
‘Why Alis? Why force me back?’
The female mouse cocked her hip and glared at him.
‘First of all, I told you I’d learned enough. Second, you know she deserves it, so you better suck it up and give her that lifetime. And finally,’
She walked over to grab one of the two packs and strapped it on, ‘I’m not going to carry all this to Thorn Valley myself.’
Jonathan shook his head with a small smile and stood, donning the second pack.
‘Alright then,’ he sighed as he walked out the door and Alis’ new incarnation followed, ‘I have a feeling it won’t do any good arguing with you. It will take us about three days from here. So we better get a move on.’
As the two mice made their way through the forest towards Thorn Valley, the sun glinted off some of the objects contained in their overstuffed packs. Inside their containers, the Stones sparkled.