Sometimes Everything Changes (Part 13)

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Ferdy was tired after hours of working with the humans. It was always fun and they had worked out a pretty easy system of communicating, although sometimes the humans asked strange questions which the mice did not understand. And sometimes they just did not ask the right ones. Still, for Ferdy it was one of the most exciting adventures of all, getting to know the humans so well and in turn sharing what it was like to be a mouse.
Today something strange had happened, though. When he had gone to the office with a few other mice he had noticed a thin book lying around. He had not thought about it much, but when he looked at it a while later the pages had been turned, and there were tiny teeth marks around the edges. Just like it would look if a mouse tried to read the book. So he had gone closer and taken a look himself. It was a brochure, listing several labs in the area. Why would any mouse be interested in that? Of course it could just be general curiosity, but Ferdy had a feeling that there was more to it. There were more pages which had not been turned, so he decided to keep an eye on the book. Maybe he would find out who had been reading it, and why.

After more hours of work – the humans stayed late for their conversations, and the mice had shifted their days, too, so that they slept partly during the night and partly during the day – and after dinner, when everyone went to their favourite sleeping corners, Ferdy tiptoed away. He went down to the office and made himself comfortable behind one of the monitors.
While he waited his thoughts wandered. Now that he thought about it he realized that many of his friends had been behaving in a weird way. Laurina, for example, had disappeared for longer periods of time without telling anyone where she was going. Ferdy had not paid attention to that – it was everybody’s right to come and go as they pleased. Nadine on the other hand just seemed more thoughtful than before, as if she was contemplating a big question. At least for Sophie’s behavior there was an explanation. She had been spending a lot of time with Steve, and eventually they had told everyone that they were in love. Ferdy grinned at that thought. He liked the two of them together.
Ferdy’s eyelids grew heavy. It had been such a long and eventful day, and his body was aching for some sleep. He tried keeping himself awake by going through some of the facts he had learned from the humans during the last week, but after a few minutes he drifted off to sleep anyway.

He woke with a startle. The noise was not loud, but he recognized it immediatey: paper scraping on paper. Carefully he looked around the monitor toward the book. A mouse was trying to turn a page, struggling because the material was heavier than it looked. Ferdy snuck up behind the other mouse. When he was only centimetres away he said, “Hello”.
The mouse squeaked and jumped in fear. When she turned around, Ferdy recognized Nadine.
“What are you doing here?”, she asked, still breathing hard from the shock.
“I could ask you the same thing”, Ferdy said. “I was just curious who was reading that brochure.”
Nadine’s cheeks colored. “I guess I should tell everyone soon”, she said. “I’m looking for another place to live, and when I’ve found something I’m going to leave here.”
Ferdy stared at her in disbelief. “Why would you leave now, when everything is quiet again? No more danger from the rats or the humans, and they even put food out for us now!”
Nadine gave him a sad smile. “Don’t misunderstand, Ferdy, I love living with all of you. But I need something new, something where I can feel useful again. I have stayed until now because I didn’t want to leave you in a crisis, but now…”
Ferdy was sad at the thought of her leaving, but in a way he understood what she meant. The communication between humans and mice was challenging, but was mostly done by Anica, Wulfric, Lisbeth, Claudi and himself. For many of the other mice there was not much to do.

The next day, Nadine called everyone to a meeting and explained her plans. Ferdy noticed that many of the mice were horrified, but three faces showed a deep understanding. One of them was Laurina, who stepped forward.
“I’m also going to leave”, she said quietly. “I have been thinking about it for a while now. As you know, I’ve come here to learn more about foreign countries, but I never planned to stay here forever. I need to go back home now, and maybe I can get the attention of the humans there, too. It is important work we are doing here, but you guys have it well in hand, and I think I can do more if I go home.” She looked around at her friends and smiled. “Also, there is a certain mouse I want to meet again. We were close, very close, and he promised to wait for my return.”
The mice laughed. Simmy said, “It sounds very nice, but we are going to miss you both.”
Sophie cleared her throat and took Steve’s paw.
“We have some news, too”, she said and all eyes went to the couple. “You know we’ve been talking about having a family. Well, we’re having a puppy.”
The mice cheered and applauded, but Sophie had more to say.
“This means we are leaving, too. My parents live in a mouse community about an hour from here, and I want our puppy to grow up around the grandparents. We’ll come visit you, though, when it is old enough to walk for one hour, I promise.”

It was a strange atmosphere, between excitement and sadness. Things were changing so fast now. First their alliance with the rats. Then the long conversations with the humans. Now three mice of the original family were leaving. Ferdy thought back to his first days as a free mouse. How scared he had been, and how friendly they had all taken him in. There had been so few mice at that time, before they had meet Jeff and his people and freed Oscar.
So far, all the changes had been good. Change was what had led him out of the cage, to his new family. Mice had joined them, and they had become friends. They had lived in fear of the rats, and now they helped each other. Humans had tried to catch them or even kill them, and now they learned from each other on a daily basis.
Maybe, Ferdy concluded, the next changes would also turn into something good, even though he would miss his friends.
For himself, he was determined to stay and work with the humans. Perhaps other mice would join their group. For a second, Ferdy could picture himself with a yet unknown female mouse, and a little pup of their own. Who knew what would happen next.
If this entire experience had taught him anything, it was that change opened the doors for so many different things that it was impossible to imagine it all. You just had to let it happen, and take whatever life gave you.
Ferdy sighed at these poetic thoughts. Maybe he should write a book.
Anyway, whatever happened next, he was somehow sure they would all be all right.

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We Need To Talk (Part 12)

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„Quickly now, we need to move! We have probably less than ten minutes!“
The agitated voice belonged to Oscar, who had been leading the team observing the humans. Every day now the rats and mice sent out scouts to find out what their new enemy was up to. This was only the fifth night, and already they’d had to change their position three times. It seemed that every time they found a spot suitable for both rats and mice, the humans found them and did their best to kill them all.
„We can’t leave yet“, Ferdy said desperately. „Team Two didn’t have enough time to find another hiding place! If we go now, we could never find them again – and what if we run into a dead end?“
Just as one team was designated to watching the humans, another was exploring the surroundings. They were in completely unknown territory now, running wherever they could. Somehow it would have been easier for the mice alone, because they could basically fit through every tiny opening and could huddle together in the smallest of places. But they had decided to stay with the rats and help each other, so they always had to find escape routes where everyone could fit.
The last gas attack had been only a few hours ago, just after the humans had arrived. That time they’d had a plan, but it had taken a long time to get to the new hiding place, because it was on the other end of the building. And now Team Two was not back yet with the next plan.
„If we stay here we will die for sure“, Jeff said with a matter-of-fact voice. Bushy Tail looked doubtful. “I don’t like to leave now. And anyway, which direction should we try?”, he asked, and eyed the three tunnels leading away from them.
“We are not leaving without the others”, Nadine said decisively. “If we do that, we might as well give up right now, because this is not who I would want to become.”
Jeff took a deep breath for an obviously lengthy reply, but it did not come to that. In this moment Team Two came running through one of the tunnels, led by Simmy and Laurina.
“We need to leave right now”, Oscar shouted, although they were already close enough to understand everything. The mice of Team Two did not ask questions. Simmy pointed to the right tunnel. “This way, the middle one is blocked and the rats cannot get through the one we just came through.”
“That’s actually why Flat Nose and Big Ears are not with us right now. They had to turn around a few minutes ago, but we should meet them if we go now”, Laurina added.
So it was settled, and they were on the run again. Ferdy was relieved that they did not have to make a decision nobody wanted to make, but he started wondering about how long they could keep this up. He was among the last to leave, and just when he entered the tunnel he saw the green gas filling their hiding place from the other side.
“Faster!”, he screamed, and the mice hopped on the backs of the rats as if they had choreographed this. As always Bushy Tail had stayed close to Ferdy, and so he was his ride now. The rats were much faster, and after a few turns they seemed to have left behind the mortal danger – for now.
They met Flat Nose and Big Ears after a few minutes. The two rats immediately understood and turned around, leading them into an opening above a lab that Ferdy had seen before.
It took a while for all of them to catch their breath, and the spirits were low.
“This is not working”, Anica observed after a few minutes. “Sooner or later they will get us if we don’t come up with a better plan.”
“First things first”, said Bushy Tail. “I know we are all tired, but we need a new surveillance team and a new scout group. Who knows how long we will have this time.”

He was right, although admitting this unpleasant fact was hard for everyone. Despite their tiredness there soon were enough volunteers. They knew how much depended on the knowledge about the actions of the humans and about their surroundings.
The remaining rats and mice sat together in a circle. They discussed their situation for over two hours, but short of leaving the building and finding a completely new home they did not find any solutions.
Ferdy closed the discussion by saying out loud what everyone was thinking. “We may have to leave eventually, even if we don’t know what is waiting for us out there. But I’m not ready to give up on this place, so let’s keep thinking.”
Afterwards there was nothing more to say and they went off into different corners to get some sleep. Ferdy was tossing and turning. Slowly, an idea formed in his head, but it was so crazy that he almost could not believe himself what he was thinking.
Finally he could not keep it in any longer. He went over to Oscar and impatiently pulled his whiskers until his friend finally woke up.
“I need to talk to you”, he whispered before Oscar could protest loudly.
They did not go far, to make sure they would not miss the return of any of the teams, but far enough so they wouldn’t wake up the others. Oscar listened patiently, but when Ferdy was done he just stared at him in disbelief.
“That is… I mean, it wouldn’t…”, he stuttered, paused, and then sighed. “I guess it could work, mad as it sounds.”
They gathered the others. Ferdy started to like his idea more and more, but he worried about what his friends would think about it. Convincing Oscar had been the easiest part – he was always up to try out crazy things. Jeff and some of the rats were a different story.
When they were all assembled Ferdy started to explain.
“I think our main problem is communication”, he said. “Before we talked to Bushy Tail we thought all rats were evil and just wanted to capture us and use us as slaves. Now we know better. With the humans things could be very similar, only we don’t have a way to talk to them, even though we can understand what they are saying.”
Most of the others nodded in agreement. Jeff said, “But even if we could talk to them, why should we assume that they are friendly? There is absolutely no evidence of that!”
“First of all”, said Ferdy who was prepared for this question, “the humans do treat the rats and mice in the cages quite well. As long as they are not putting things in their heads or necks, of course, but who knows what this is all about? They take care to always give them ample food and water, for example. Secondly, a long time ago a human saw me. He looked at me when I was looking down into the office from the ceiling, but he did not try to capture me or kill me with gas. He even smiled, I think.”
“But now they are actually trying to kill us”, Jeff countered.
“Yeah, but what if it is all a big misunderstanding?”, Oscar pitched in. “We cannot know that unless we communicate.”
“This is all nice and well”, Nadine said, “but as long as we don’t know how to talk to them this discussion seems kind of pointless.”
“And that is where my idea comes in”, Ferdy grinned broadly. “Do you remember when we used to sleep above this one lab where they had the music all day?” He looked at the rats and explained, “We had to move after a while because we were not able to sleep anymore, but somehow it was also nice. We learned a lot of songs during that time.”
“Don’t stop me nooow, I’m having such a good time…”, Sophie started squeaking and Laurina joined in.
“Exactly”, Ferdy said. “We can’t say the actual words, but if we recognize the melody then the humans would certainly do that, too. So, what if we went over the office and squeaked the melodies of songs?”
The discussion that followed was long and passionate. Going through with this plan would mean putting all their hope on their ability to make the humans understand, and on the premise that the humans were not bad people.

The humans came in one by one. Ferdy’s heart was pounding and it was all he could do not to run away and forget about the whole thing. Finally there were five humans in the same room, which was enough for their plan, as they had decided earlier.
Ferdy, as the one who had the idea, stood in front of the others and used his tail to count them in and to direct their singing. They began with an easy song that everyone loved and that was probably the best one to get the attention of the humans.
“Row row row your boat gently down the stream…” They squeaked as loudly as they could while still keeping the correct tones. Beneath them one of the humans looked up with an irritated look on his face.
“Hey, listen”, he said to the others. “That sounds like…”
He didn’t finish the sentence, but the others followed his lead and listened. The mice and rats continued a little longer with the same song, but when they had the complete attention of the humans Ferdy directed them into another song. They were not completely sure what the text was about, but on the radio it had been called “Hello”, so they thought it was a good start.
Another human recognized it first. “Now it sounds like “Hello” from Lionel Richie”, he said and frowned. “Where is that coming from?”
The next song choice had been very tricky. They had not heard anything about rats and mice on the radio. But then Sophie came up with something that had been mentioned one day. It was not a song with lyrics, but it had been on a report about a television show (they were not sure what that was, but obviously the humans would understand it well enough) which was actually called “The show with the mouse”. The rats had not been completely okay with that choice, but when they failed to offer anything better they had agreed.
The television show seemed to be well known, because it didn’t take long until the humans all recognized the song and even started to join in by humming. Then one of them said, “Hey, wait a minute! You don’t think those are actual mice doing that song right now?”
The others laughed, but it was an uncertain and somehow uncomfortable laugh.
“This is it”, Ferdy shouted over the squeaking. “Now or never.”
He jumped out of the hole in the ceiling and raced down the curtain. The others followed him. On the table below the curtain they reformed their little orchestra and launched right into “Don’t stop me now.
For a while the humans just stared them. Then one of them came toward them carefully and said, “Does that mean you understand what we are saying?”
The mice and rats nodded and Ferdy signalled them to start with a new song, apparently called “You know you’re right”.

It was a long and exhausting day, but when they curled up to sleep they felt safe for the first time in a long while. The humans had not understood everything they wanted to explain – for that their song collection had been far too limited. More and more humans had come to listen and they had all seemed incredibly excited. It was obvious that they were also very confused and didn’t really know what to do with these changed circumstances, but they had promised to leave the little group of rats and mice alone. They had also asked them to come back and work with them to better understand what was going on, and of course Ferdy and his friends had readily agreed.
It was the start of an exciting relationship. None of them knew where it would go, and what would happen next, but it was certainly worth finding out.

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A Common Enemy (Part 11)

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The silence seemed to go on forever. None of the mice knew how to react to the white flags on the rats’ tails. Jeff opened his mouth and closed it again without speaking, which was a first, as far as Ferdy could remember. Finally Bushy Tail stepped forward and said, “You get it, right? We surrender?”
Anica cleared her throat. “We do”, she replied, “But you must understand that it is hard to believe.”
Jeff, obviously happy that he had found something to say, pitched in, “Exactly. How do we know that this isn’t just a trick?”
The rats looked at each other with puzzled faces. They had not considered this kind of response.
“Well, it’s a fair question”, Bushy Tail conceded. “I can promise you that we don’t want to harm you. We only want to make up for what we did to your people. We really feel bad, now that we know you are more than pets.” He paused, then added, “What can we do to prove it?”
Ferdy thought it was absolutely impractical that the mice were divided, surrounding the rats on all sides. He would have loved to discuss the question with everyone.
In the end it did not matter. Before anyone could think about an answer Claudi pointed toward the barricade. “Careful! There is some kind of green cloud coming at you!”
The mice on the barricade turned around and found themselves almost face to face with a green fog moving rapidly toward them. Now that they saw it they also noticed a foul smell.

“Run!”, Ferdy shouted. He did not have to say it twice. Everyone turned in panic and started moving as fast as they could. That meant that Ferdy and his team were not only running away from the green gas anymore, they were also in danger of getting trampled by twelve huge rats.
Ferdy suddenly lost the ground beneath his feet. Frightened to death he realised he was being pulled up by the tail, but after a second it was over. He was sitting on the white back of Bushy Tail. Next to him, the rats had swooped up the other members of his team. Feeling at least a little more at ease Ferdy turned around to see what was going on with the others.
Anica and Wulfric were leading their group down the barricade as fast as they could. They had almost reached the two teams on the flanks, with the additional speed that going downhill gave them. But it still didn’t seem fast enough. The green cloud approached faster and faster.
“They are not going to make it”, Ferdy shouted desperately. Bushy Tail turned his head to look at him, but only for a second. Apart from this little gesture he did not acknowledge Ferdy’s panic. The rats rapidly left the green cloud and the other mice behind. Ferdy decided he had to do something and ran along Bushy Tails back. When he jumped the rat caught him with his tails and held him firmly, no matter how hard Ferdy tried to wiggle free.
Looking forward again Ferdy noticed they were rapidly approaching a wall. What was the plan here? There was no way to go!

The rats were almost at the end when they suddenly came to a slithering halt. Ferdy was afraid he would be catapulted across Bushy Tail’s head, but instead the rat grabbed him again with his tail and threw him. Ferdy sailed through the air and finally he saw what the rats had been aiming for. There was an air vent without the metal protection. The mice were all thrown into it, landing more or less uncomfortably. Ferdy immediately ran back to the opening and looked out.
He realized that the plan was smart. The green fog stayed close to the ground – up here, the mice were safe. He was surprised by the rats’ ingenuity. He had always suspected them to be a little, well, slow. And they surprised him again, when they turned around and ran back toward the other mice. The cloud had almost reached them. Oscar had a hard time keeping up with the rest, and the green stuff already touched his tail. He was panting and running desperately, but he had often found a reason to skip the trainings suggested by Jeff, and he was badly out of shape. Ferdy saw the first rats each grab a mouse and turning around again. Bushy Tail continued toward Oscar. The fog was gaining on the mouse and Ferdy could hardly breathe out of fear for his friend. Just before Bushy Tail reached him, Oscar was swallowed up in the green cloud. Ferdy squeaked miserably. Bushy Tail came to a halt just millimetres away and rapidly turned around again. “No, he has to be in there”, Ferdy screamed, but Bushy Tail was too far away to hear him. He started running after the other rats that had now taken up all the remaining mice. Just when Ferdy wanted to turn away and hide his tears, the rat’s tail shot out of the green cloud, and it was tightly wound around Oscar.
The rats were now starting to climb up to the air vent and the mice tried to help as best as they could. When Bushy Tail arrived he stretched his tail long enough so that the mice could take Oscar’s paws and pull him up. He was unconscious but breathing.

They all gathered around him.
“What was that stuff?”, Laurina finally asked. “Is he going to be okay?”
There was a long uncomfortable silence. It was a rat who broke it, a female rat with extra-long whiskers. “We have heard of this”, she said. “The humans use it to get rid of rats, and apparently mice. They have never used this here before, but Long Nose came from a lab far away and he told us the stories.”
“So which one of you is Long Nose?”, Anica asked.
The female rat shook her head sadly. “He was killed over a year ago, when he was caught by a human during his patrol for food.”
Jeff waited a short period of time that was not quite appropriate for a statement like this, then he asked, “But did he tell you anything about this gas? What it does, if there are any cures,…?”
Bushy Tail stepped forward. “So, this is Gleaming Whiskers”, he said. “Long Nose was her boyfriend.”
Jeff looked embarrassed for a second, but then he continued. “I’m very sorry about that”, he said. “But Oscar is our friend, and we need to know what we can do to help him!”
Gleaming Whiskers nodded. “I understand. Long Nose said that most rats died within a minute or so, but then they were lying inside this stuff completely. There were apparently two times when they got the rats out after only a few seconds.” She paused and noticed that all the mice were staring at her, taking in every word. “They both were unconscious for about one day. But one of them died after that. The other one was rescued. The problem is, they used something that I could not pronounce. Long Nose showed me the writing on the bottle once, but I can’t remember.”
Ferdy could have screamed of frustration.
“Could you recognize the writing, if you saw it again?”
Ferdy and everyone else turned to look at Simmy. She gave a little smile and shrugged. “I read somewhere that seeing it might help to remember.”
Gleaming Whiskers looked doubtful but after a few seconds she nodded. “Perhaps. I think so. It could definitely be worth a try.”
“All right then”, Ferdy jumped in. “We’ll form a research party with Gleaming Whiskers in the lead. A few of us will join, to warn you if humans are approaching and to help figure out where to look. If it is something they have in this lab we will find it. If not we would not be able to get it anyway.”
It did not take them long to figure out who would join the team. From the rats, Bushy Tail and Gleaming Whiskers volunteered. Of course all the mice wanted to go, but Jeff as the combat leader decided to take Ferdy, Simmy and Steve. The mice had the task of covering every exit and make sure they would not be disturbed by the humans. Bushy Tail would help Gleaming Whiskers to move around between the heavy bottles, and in case they found the correct one the two rats would be able to carry it.

They did not wait any longer than they had to. Oscar was looking very pale but at least he was still breathing more or less regularly.
In the first room there were only a few shelves with bottles, but none of them triggered any memory in Gleaming Whiskers. So they moved on to the second room, and here almost all the cupboards were covered with bottles of different sizes and colours.
The mice spread out, and the rats went to work. Ferdy felt like it took them hours, not only because he was afraid the humans would come, but also because he was worried Oscar would not make it long enough.
A low whistle came from Steve’s side. It meant humans were approaching. Ferdy moaned. Suddenly he heard Gleaming Whiskers. “This is it!”
He knew there was not much time to get out. The two rats were struggling to run while not breaking the bottle. All Ferdy and the other mice could do was watch. The bottle was just too big for even the four of them together.

The humans arrived while Gleaming Whiskers and Bushy Tail were still visible on top of a cupboard. The two rats froze in the middle of the movement, but the humans were quite concentrated on a conversation. Ferdy was too afraid to understand much, and he really did not care what they were discussing. They moved around, gathering bottles and other supplies, getting closer and closer to the cupboard with the rats. “Oh no”, Steve whispered. His gaze was fixed on Gleaming Whisker’s paws, which had started to shake under the weight of the bottle. “It will fall any second!” He looked at Simmy with a thoughtful expression, then made a sign for her to follow him. Together they ran to the rats without making any sound. Ferdy wondered what his plan was, but seconds later he understood. The two mice crouched under the bottle. They were not strong enough to take the entire weight, but they could certainly take some of it.
The humans stopped just in front of the little group. They now seemed to be arguing about something written on a sheet of paper. Finally one of them shook his head and stormed off. The other one gave a deep sigh before he followed him out of the lab.

“That was close”, Jeff whispered, as the rats, Simmy and Steve joined them and they started making their way back to the hiding place.
Oscar looked even worse than before they had left, and the others were all anxiously waiting.
“I think we just have to get some of this stuff into his stomach”, Gleaming Whiskers said.
It was not easy getting the unconscious Oscar to swallow the liquid, but finally they managed. Gleaming Whiskers nodded in satisfaction. “Now all we can do is wait.”
Suddenly the rats and mice became aware of the fact that they had been working together quite well with each other, even though they had not been entirely sure if they could establish a trustful relationship. There was an awkward silence which Ferdy broke. “Thank you”, he said. The rats had, after all, saved many mice today, and had risked their own lives to get the cure for Oscar. “I guess this means we can trust you”, Jeff added, and everyone looked at him in surprise – he was the last mouse they expected to say these words.
Bushy Tail nodded. “I promise you, you can.” But he did not look happy. “I guess you also don’t have a lot of choices here. It seems that after a long time of ignoring us the humans have finally decided to get rid of us, meaning both mice and rats. If we want to survive this, we will have to work together.”
After the short relief, Bushy Tails words made Ferdy shiver. He had not thought about the situation at all, because he had been too focused on Oscar, but now that Bushy Tail had said it, it seemed like the most obvious thing. The fight against the rats was over, but a new, maybe more dangerous fight was just beginning.

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Under Siege (Part 10)

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It had been a pretty bold move, letting Bushy Tail go, and Ferdy started to doubt the decision. He saw it in Nadine’s eyes, too. At the time they had been convinced of his honesty, but now two days and nights had passed without any word from him.
They were sitting together around a small pile of food. Even after Bushy Tail’s departure, they had not dared to stop rationing their supplies. Every mouse was hungry all the time, and the mood that had lifted for a few hours now went back to gloomy.
„Maybe it just takes some time for them, too“, Anica said, trying to cheer everyone up. „They probably need to discuss their options. If it had been the other way around, we would not have believed a story about talking rats immediately.“
„And they also have to consider how to approach us. They somehow have to convince us that they don’t mean us any harm, right?“ Oscar did not sound as sure of himself as he intended.
Jeff shook his head. „Do you really think that they discuss what to do for two days if their intentions are good?“
Ferdy was just about to say something when Lisbeth held up her paw to silence them. „Do you feel that?“, she whispered.

The chatter stopped and they all waited to see what she meant. Ferdy knew immediately. There was a slight vibration of the ground. It repeated itself over and over, rippling like waves.
Steve came running around a corner. He was one of the mice from Jeff’s group that had not joined Ferdy’s team immediately, but during the crisis they had all come together much closer. Steve had the watch at the barricade, together with Sophie.
„Rats“, he yelled and tried to catch his breath at the same time. „They are… huh… ten or so, all coming…. toward the barricade!“
„So Jeff was right“, Simmy said with a sad expression on her face. „Bushy Tail was only pretending to be nice.“
Claudi spoke up. „Will the barricades hold?“
Steve shrugged, breathing easier now. „For a while, I guess. Sophie is still there, keeping an eye on them. But if they decide to break through, who knows.“
„What can we do?“
They had talked aboutthis question, of course. The problem was, that the rats had almost all the advantage. They were in a better position to get food and water, and they were much bigger. Ten rats could easily take out all the mice if they ever came into their territory. The mice had only two advantages. The tunnels and caves were much smaller than the rats were used to. They would fit through somehow, but it made it harder for them to navigate, and if the mice were fast they could probably escape. Also, the mice could reach the office of the humans, so they were not completely trapped. On the other hand, where should they go?
Wulfric and Anica had been scouting to see if there was another place within the building where they could make themselves at home, but they had not found anything suitable for such a big family.
The only choice was to fight.
„Steve, go get Sophie. Watching the barricades is important, but for now we all have to get armed. It won’t take so long.“

Jeff took over the command quickly, and everyone accepted it. He had been right all along and he was the one with the most combat training.
„Claudi, Anica, Wulfric and Nadine, you get the weapons, Laurina and Oscar, put together the armor. The rest will divide into tactical teams and go over the plans with me.“
It went smoothly, as if they had practiced it many times. The weapons-team returned after only a few minutes, carrying self-made spears and shorter pointy sticks that might be useful in hand-to-hand combat. Laurina and Oscar appeared not long after them. They positioned themselves and their equippment in a corner, calling each mouse individually. When it was Ferdy’s turn, they gave him a surprisingly well fitting cardboard waistcoat and a little helmet made of some sort of plastic. Ferdy suddenly felt very important.
A little while later they all gathered in the middle of their living room. Looking around, Ferdy saw the strangest assembly of armor, weapons and mice he could ever imagine. It made him proud to be part of the team.
Steve came running up to them with Sophie. They were a few feet apart from each other, but something in the way they were looking at each other made Ferdy smile. He did not have time to think about it though, because Jeff started yelling orders again.
When they were all fully armored and had their weapons ready, they huddled together around Sophie.
„What is the situation?“, Jeff asked commandingly.
„There are twelve rats“, Sophie reported. „They formed a line opposite our barricade, but so far they have not made any move to attack or break down the barricade.“
Jeff nodded. „They are evaluating the situation“, he explained, although no explanation seemed necessary.
„All right“, he said, „we will have to use the ‚elevated-plus-maze‘ formation. Oscar and Simmy, you lead your team through hole ‚Orange smell‘ and approach them from the left. Anica’s and Wulfric’s team distract them from the front by shouting down from the barricades. Laurina and Lisbeth take their team through ‚Gate Lemongrass‘ on the right and Ferdy, Steve, Sophie, Nadine and Claudi will take the long route through ‚dark-light-box‘ tunnel and approach them from behind.“
They nodded, as if that plan was the most natural thing in the world. The tactic that Jeff was counting on was very clear, and they only had one shot at succeeding. They would circle the rats and make them think that there were a lot more mice than they expected, and frighten them into submission. It was a risky plan, but they all agreed it was the best they had.

So they hugged and got to work. It was a strange feeling, saying good bye and good luck to all his friends and not knowing whether they would ever see each other again, Ferdy thought. There was not much time to dwell on this, though. Jeff lead his team away far too quickly. They had the longest way, as they had to go into the floor beneath the barricades. They were running, and by the time they got to the exit Ferdy was exhausted.
„We need to rest a few minutes“, he panted. „We were much faster than planned, the others are surely not at their positions yet.“
Jeff nodded. „We need to wait here anyway until we hear the signal.“
Ferdy looked around. Claudi was helping Nadine adjust her armour. Her helmet was a little too big for her and it was hanging from her head in an unproductive angle. Steve was again close to Sophie. The two of them did not speak a word, but they looked at each other with such understanding that Ferdy suddenly was sure that they were more than friends. He made a mental note to ask Sophie about it if they got out of this situation alive.
The signal came, and far too soon for Ferdy’s taste. There was a faint whistle, a melody of four tones. He knew that this was Anica’s sign. It was followed by the same tones, but in reverse order – Simmy. Lisbeth answered with four different tones, and then it was Jeff’s turn. When all the signals had subsided, they counted to ten and then started to approach the center of their ‚elevated-plus-maze‘ formation.
Ferdy saw the rats, standing in two lines in front of the barricade.
What were they waiting for? They did not move a muscle. Ferdy started to get a very bad feeling about this. What if this was a trap and there were more rats on their way here? Jeff and his team would be caught between enemy lines, and Ferdy could not even begin to imagine what the rats might do to them.
Out of the corner of his eye he saw Simmy and Oscar. They were walking very carefully so as not to attrackt attention, but they were almost in reach of the rats. Too close! Ferdy wanted to shout at them to get back a little, but of course that was not an option. From the other side, Laurina and Lisbeth appeared. They, too, seemed to notice that Oscar and Simmy were already in danger. Where was Anica’s and Wulfric’s group? They could really use the distraction now.
Ferdy started breathing a little easier when he finally saw them on top of the barricade.

„Hey, rats!“
Wulfric was shouting down the barricades, trying to attract the attention of the rats. Ferdy held his breath, expecting the rats to attack immediately. They still did not move, though.
„You thought you could just come in here and take us? Think again!“
Jeff, Sophie and Ferdy were not close enough to reach the rats with their spears, and already Oscar and Simmy were visible from the rats‘ vantage point. If only one of them turned their heads, they would probably attack the two of them immediately. Their team was a little further back, but also visible to any attentive rat.
„What’s the matter, are you afraid of us small mice?“
Ferdy hoped that the front group would continue to insult the rats enough to keep their attention but not enough to storm the barricades. He was not sure how much the structure could hold, and as soon as the barricades had fallen all hope was gone.
„Faster“, he whispered to his teammates, and Jeff repeated the order, while adding, „Spears at the ready!“
It was harder to move silently while holding the spears in position, but somehow they managed. Finally all groups were in place.
Team Barricades pulled out their spears at the same time as Team Orange Smell and Team Lemon Grass. Team Dark-Light-Box, with their own spears already drawn, joined in when they all squeaked at the same time.
The rats did not move a whisker.

Ferdy’s heart dropped into his tail. The plan had failed. The rats did not seem the least impressed by their formation, on the contrary, some of them even started to smile. Ferdy could not see their sharp teeth very well, because they had their backs turned on him, but he could see the fear in the other teams‘ eyes.
It was over. Well, Ferdy thought, at least they had tried. Maybe the rats would now enslave them, as they had done with Nadine, but then there would always be hope of an escape. On the other hand, they might kill them right now, knowing that they were far more intelligent animals than they had previously thought.
Suddenly there was movement among the rats. They were still sitting in front of the barricades, looking up at Anica’s and Wulfric’s team. The only thing that moved was their tails. They rose up into the air, waving left and right. Ferdy could not believe his eyes.
Bound to each of the tails was a little white flag.

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Taking Prisoners (Part 9)

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“This is very big.”
“Do you think we can do it?”
“It is so dangerous! What if we fail?”
“We have to try, don’t we?”
“Does anyone have a better idea?”
The mice sat in a large circle around an object they had stolen from the humans.
“Well, if we’re going to use it, we have to figure out how to fill it.”
They looked from the empty syringe in their middle to a bottle standing in a corner of the room.
“I have seen a human do it once”, Lisbeth said thoughtfully. “They put the pointy part in the bottle, and pulled back on this opposite part here.”
“That doesn’t sound so difficult.” Ferdy tried to sound positive, but the others could clearly hear the doubt in his voice.
“Let us just try”, Oscar proposed. He grabbed the syringe almost at the needle and looked around expectantly. Ferdy and Nadine joined him and together they carried the syringe to the bottle. They immediately faced the first problem.
“The pointy part has to go into the top of the bottle”, Lisbeth explained.
They stood there with clueless expressions.
“Maybe if I stand on Ferdy’s shoulders?”, Nadine suggested half-heartedly.
“I don’t think you will be strong enough to hold the syringe on your own”, said Oscar.
Claudi cleared her throat. “We could lay the bottle down”, she said. “If we position the bottom of the bottle against the wall, we can put the needle in and have a good angle to pull this other part back.”
The others agreed and they went to work. It was hard to tip the bottle, because it was almost completely full, but with their combined effort they managed to put it in the right position quickly. From there on it was easy to fill the syringe.
“All right”, Wulfric said. “This is done, but the hardest part is still in front of us.”
They all nodded. The task of filling the syringe had taken their minds of what they were about to do, but now the extend of the danger they were about to put themselves into came rushing back.
“It will be worth it”, Laurina said to cheer them up.
“It is almost time”, Ferdy put in. “We should go to our places.”

They had gone through the plan at least a thousand times and everyone knew what to do.
Ferdy and Jeff went to the border of their territory and hid behind the barricade they had constructed. Above them Ferdy heard Nadine and Sophie getting in position, then it was absolutely quiet again.
They hardly dared to breathe. After about ten minutes they began to feel cold, but they still did not move.
Then they heard it. The shuffling of large feet and tails.
A group of rats marched by. They had been patrolling and surrounding the mouse territory during the last couple of days, always at the same time, as if on a schedule. The last rat stayed a little behind, as usual, and studied the barricade, probably looking for weaknesses.
The mice waited until the other rats were a little further away, then they sprang into action. From above, Nadine and Sophie let a large net fall down onto the rat. Ferdy and Oscar sprang out into the open space in front of the rat’s face, who had started to fight the net and to scream. Seeing the two mice surprised the rat, as they had planned and it stopped for a second. That gave Wulfric, Lisbeth and Laurina enough time to run up and push the needle of the syringe into the rat’s behind. Anica followed them and put all her effort into pushing the solution out of the syringe and into the rat.
They knew they only had a few seconds before the rat would get rid of the net and start attacking them. Luckily the other rats had been out of earshot when it had started screaming, so their plan was going well so far. The mice all raced behind the barricade and watched as the rat bit through the net and started freeing itself. Then the movements became slower and the rat started swaying a little.
“It’s working”, Ferdy whispered excitedly.
They had to wait a little longer before the rat was completely asleep. Then they divided into two groups. The first group opened part of the barricade, an opening big enough to fit the rat through. The second group took a long rope, made of parts of the curtains, which they had prepared the night before, and began to tie up the rat.
“Make sure it is secured very well”, Anica reminded them. “Especially the mouth, or it will just bite through the rope.”
When they were finished all mice surrounded the rat and each took part of the rope.
“Aaaand GO!”, Jeff shouted. They pulled and pushed, and together they managed to get the rat into mouse territory.
It was a long way from there to the small room they had prepared as a prison. Fortunately, the dosage seemed to be correct, as the rat slept deeply during the entire journey and did not even wake up when the mice accidentally bumped the head on the small opening to the prison.
They were all exhausted when the job was finally done. Simmy and Oscar took the first watch, while the others went back to their home cave and immediately fell asleep.

As soon as it got dark they gathered in front of the prison. The rat was now awake and tried to wiggle itself free, but the rope held very well.
“We need to free the mouth if we want to talk with it”, Anica said.
Jeff shrugged. “That should be all right. It is tied up pretty good, I don’t think it can reach the rope to bite through.”
Ferdy carefully went to the rat and pulled the rope off the nose and mouth. Quickly he jumped back again as the rat started snapping at him.
Laurina stepped forward, facing the rat.
“Hello rat”, she said slowly in her best rattish, “we are sorry for the inconvenience, but we need to have a talk with you.”
The rat’s reaction was completely different than expected. It stopped wiggling and stared at Laurina with its eyes wide open. “You can TALK?”
Because Laurina had taught the other mice as much rattish as possible, they all understood what it said. They looked at each other in surprise.
“What do you mean, you can talk? Of course we can talk”, Laurina said. The rat didn’t react but continued to stare at them in confusion.
“All right. Let’s start with your name.”
Slowly, the rat blinked. “Bushy Tail”, it finally said. Now it was the mice’s turn to be confused. “Your name is Bushy Tail?”, Laurina asked.
Bushy Tail nodded.
“Well, that’s certainly a weird name. Anyway, I’m Laurina. Look, we don’t want to hurt you, but we know that your people want to hurt us or keep us as slaves, so we need some information.”
Bushy Tail shook his head fervently.
“It’s not what it looks like”, he said.
“Don’t try denying it”, Nadine said angrily. “I was there, I know exactly what it is like!”
Bushy Tail looked her up and down, then said, “Right, I recognise you. You thought you were our slave?”
“What would you call it, then? You kept us in small caves and only let us out to do your work!”
The rat took a deep breath. “I guess from your point of view that is what it was. But we never meant it like that. This is the first time we have ever heard one of you talk. We thought you couldn’t talk, we thought you were our pets!”
“None of us was able to speak rattish”, Nadine said. “In the beginning we tried to learn it, but you always talk so fast and then we didn’t think it would help us anyway.”
“So you thought we were mean to you on purpose?”, Bushy Tail asked incredulously.
Nadine nodded.
“We never meant to make anyone feel uncomfortable! Actually, we thought we did you a favour, because we always gave you food and you had a warm cave to live in, far away from the humans.”
“But why would you then make a plan to attack us”, Ferdy pitched in and earned approving nods from the mice around him.
Bushy Tail blushed a little. “To be honest, we thought there was a little bit of a mouse plague up here, and we rescued some rats from the humans that did not have pets of their own…” He let his voice trail of in embarrassment.
“A mouse plague?” Laurina sounded appalled, but took a deep breath and said, “Well, now that we have cleared up all this confusion, you can go to your friends and explain the situation to them.”
Bushy Tail nodded eagerly. “Of course! We can work this out, I promise.”
“Wait!” Jeff stepped forward. “How do we know that he is telling the truth? Maybe he is just playing us so that we will set him free. And then he will go back to the other rats and tell them everything he has seen, like how many we are.”
“No, I would never do that, I promise!”
Bushy Tail sounded completely honest, but Ferdy had to agree that they could not be sure.
“I bet he didn’t even give us his real name”, Jeff continued. “Bushy Tail? What kind of stupid name is that anyway?”
“Hey”, the rat said. “It’s a much better name than Furry Fur, my sister, or Crooked Ear, my brother!”
“You see how this sounds weird, don’t you, though?”, Laurina said drily and Bushy Tail shrugged, ruffling his nose.
“So what do we do?”, Oscar asked.
They sat there, looking at the big rat, every one of them uncertain of what the best course of action was. Finally, Ferdy walked up to Bushy Tail. He stopped right in front of his face and gave him a hard stare. Bushy Tail looked back with a frightened expression. He knew that his future was lying in the hands of the group of mice, and that he was completely helpless.

When Ferdy stepped back and turned to face the group he said, “I think we should trust him. We sedate him before we bring him outside, so that he doesn’t have more information on our territory. If he turns on us and tells his friends what he has seen here – well, there is not much to tell, is there? He has not seen anything except this room. He doesn’t know exactly how many we are, because he doesn’t know how many of us did not come to this interrogation.”
“He knows now that we are not just pets, but that we are talking and thinking and quite intelligent”, Jeff said.
It was a good point. If the rats had not known that before, and if they were indeed the mean creatures the mice thought them to be, they could use that against their other prisoners and incorporate it in their plan to attack the mice. It might give them a big advantage. Bushy Tail seemed to understand that, because he did not say another word and waited patiently for a decision.
“I still think we should trust him”, Ferdy said after a moment of consideration.
Everyone was surprised when Nadine stepped up and agreed with Ferdy. “I can’t even say why, but I have the feeling that he is telling the truth.”
Her vote convinced most of the others. Jeff still looked doubtful but it was his vote against the others, so it was agreed.
They gave Bushy Tail another injection while apologizing again for the inconvenience, and brought him back outside of mouse territory. Then they took the rope off him and closed the barricade behind them.
“Now all we can do is wait”, Ferdy said. “We’ll find out soon enough whether our leap of faith was justified, or whether he will sell us out.”

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The Inside (Part 8)

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It was a coincidence that Sophie was on the team that went into the rat cave. Ferdy was there, too, as he was the one that had discovered the tunnel leading inside. Jeff came for his fighting and stealth experience and Laurina joined them because of her language skills. Although Ferdy and a few other mice started to get the hang of speaking and understanding rattish, Laurina was still best at it.
They went in one after the other, trying not to make a sound. The tunnel went on for quite some time, in curves and ups and downs, until Ferdy was not sure anymore in which direction they were actually going.
Finally the space widened and they stood on a narrow platform overlooking a big part of the caves. For a moment they just stood and stared. There were so many chambers, filled with food or sleeping rats, that the mice felt small and frightened just from seeing it. But it was Sophie who made the discovery that was both shocking and amazing at the same time.

“There are mice”, she whispered and pointed at a group of small chambers.
Ferdy’s gaze followed her paw and he saw that she was right. In each chamber two or three mice were huddled together, apparently sleeping. In front of the chambers were two rats walking up and down as if keeping watch.
“They are prisoners!”, Jeff said astonished.
Laurina could hardly breathe out of excitement. “We have to free them!”, she squeaked. Sophie nodded in agreement.
“We do”, Ferdy agreed. “But we need a good plan. Look at the guards. We need a distraction, or we will never get past them.”
Before they could even start to think about a plan, a gong sounded. Ferdy, Sophie and Laurina jumped and ran back into the tunnel, while Jeff just backed into a corner and kept watching the rats. After a second the three mice came slowly back to the platform, crouching close to the ground.
“What is happening?”, Ferdy whispered. Jeff pointed toward the prisoners. “I think something is going on down there”, he said.

Two more rats had joined the guards who started lining up the prisoner mice in rows. Each rat took the lead of one row and they left in different directions. Two groups vanished from sight when they turned a corner. One of the remaining group went to a food chamber, where the mice started picking up food and carrying it to the sleeping places of the rats. The last group spread out and the mice started cleaning the cave.
“They are keeping them as slaves!” Jeff sounded astounded and disgusted.
“How are we supposed to rescue them now?”, Laurina asked. “They are all over the place!”
“We will have to wait until they are back in the prison chambers”, Ferdy said. “And then we’ll have to get around the guards somehow.”
“There is another problem to consider”, Jeff pitched in. “If we free them all, the rats will know we are on to them. Our only advantage is that they think we are oblivious of their plans. As soon as they realise we’re on to them, they’ll probably attack us without any further preparations, and we’re not ready for that.”
“What are you suggesting?”, Ferdy asked. “That we do nothing?”
“Think about it”, Jeff said. “It would not help them if we rescue them and then they get killed or taken prisoner again in the attack.”
There was an uncomfortable silence. None of them wanted to leave the mice behind, but they saw the logic behind Jeff’s words.
While they were still contemplating the situation some of the mice in the cleaning crew had moved closer to the platform. From their vantage point they were still not able to see Ferdy and his friends, but some of them were already quite close.

Suddenly Sophie’s eyes got big and she gaped at one of the mice.
“Nadine!”, she whispered, barely audible.
The others turned and looked at the mouse. “You’re right”, Ferdy squeaked. “That is Nadine!”
The friend they had been searching for desperately was sweeping dust out of a corner of the cave with her tail. She looked thin and sad, as all of the imprisoned mice. Her fur was ruffled and dull, and she kept her eyes on the floor. Ferdy felt the strong urge to run to her and comfort her, and he could see that the others felt the same way. Sophie looked as if she was already halfway there, so Jeff casually moved in front of her, to prevent her from doing something stupid.
Laurina finally said what they were all thinking. “Maybe we can leave the others behind until we are prepared for the rats to attack. But not Nadine.”
Sophie shook her head. “I’m not leaving here without her.”
Ferdy and even Jeff agreed.
“I think the rats probably won’t notice one missing mouse”, Jeff said. “Now we just have to find a way to get her.”
“We can’t wait until they are back in the prison chambers now”, Laurina said. “If we do that the other mice will want to come, too.”
“She is so close. If we can just get her attention, she could climb up this little ramp over there.” Sophie sounded more hopeful than she had in weeks. Jeff wasn’t so convinced. “I don’t think we can reveal ourselves to her without the other mice and maybe even the rats noticing. And I’m not sure she is strong enough to climb up here by herself.”
“Then I’m going to get her”, Sophie said.
“And I’m going with you”, Ferdy agreed. “Together we can do it.”
Jeff did not look convinced, but there was no rat close to Nadine and he had to admit that this was probably their best chance.

Sophie and Ferdy started climbing down towards Nadine, who fortunately was moving even further into a corner, away from any other mice or rats.
When they were halfway there, another mouse suddenly came around a corner, just next to Nadine. The two mice did not look up or even acknowledge that the other one was there, but the stranger was so close that it would have noticed Sophie and Ferdy immediately.
So they waited. And waited.
“I don’t think we can stay like this much longer. Sooner or later a rat will come by, or more mice will come”, Ferdy said after a while.
“We could take the other mouse, too. What’s one more?”
They thought about it, but they were not comfortable with the idea. One more mouse didn’t sound like much, but it was a risk and they could not afford risks right now. They decided to get as close as possible without being seen first, and then see what would happen. The stranger moved away a little, more toward the other mice and the rats in the main cave, but it was still too close. Once or twice Nadine looked up a little, but it was never the right direction. Sophie and Ferdy reached the floor and hid behind a rock.
Suddenly they heard another gong. The strange mouse looked up, sniffed and ran toward the sound. Sophie and Ferdy were so happy that it was finally gone that they almost didn’t realise that Nadine had also started running.
Just before she ran out into the open, Sophie and Ferdy jumped out and tackled her. They quickly put their paws over Nadine’s mouth, so that she could not squeak.

Nadine struggled a little, but she was indeed quite weak. Then she finally recognised her friends, and she stopped.
“We’re here to take you home”, Sophie whispered in her ear. They slowly let go of Nadine.
“How…? Where…? What…?” Nadine did not know what to say.
“Come on”, Ferdy said. “We can explain everything later, but we have to get out of here right now.”
Nadine shook her head. “There is no escaping the rats”, she said quietly. “I tried to run, in the beginning, but they always get you. “ She was already shaking at the thought.
Sophie put a paw on her friend’s shoulder. “Don’t worry. We have a way out, we can get you to safety. Trust me.”
Nadine hesitated another moment, then took a deep breath and nodded. Ferdy and Sophie took her between them and helped her up the ramp. It was quite complicated, climbing as a trio, but they managed. At the platform, Laurina and Jeff were already waiting to help them up.

There was no time for hugs and explanations. It was obvious that Nadine still did not believe she could actually escape. They ran along the tunnel and didn’t stop until they were well out of rat territory. Then they walked a little slower, to give Nadine time to breathe.
It was almost morning when they finally reached their home. A few nights ago they had decided to put guards at the borders of their territory.
“Password?”, Oscar said when they approached.
“Cheese fondue”, Laurina answered, and Oscar opened the barrier they had built.
When they came in, Oscar stared at Nadine. “What’s going on?”, he asked. “Who is this?”
“Right! We found you only after Nadine was taken by the rats.” Ferdy smiled. “Oscar, this is Nadine, the mouse we have been searching all this time.”
Since Nadine was exhausted, Oscar ran ahead to alert everyone, and the others came after him a bit more slowly. When they arrived, all the mice were gathered and they had brought food and water.

It was a happy reunion. In the beginning it was still hard for Nadine to realise that she was free. But after she had eaten something and they all snuggled up together she started to relax.
“So, the rats have mice as slaves?”, Wulfric asked.
Nadine nodded. “I don’t know where they all come from. But I think there might have been another colony that was raided by the rats, because most of them knew each other. We didn’t have much time to talk, though, especially because the rats punished us whenever we made a sound.”
She realised that she sounded sad and frightened, and suddenly a smile spread across her face. “I’m home now”, she said. “That’s all that counts – my friends saved me.”
And from that moment on, she was almost her old self again.
It took a while to fill Nadine in on everything that had happened since her abduction. More importantly, Nadine had some insight in the daily routine of the rats, and the exact layout of their cave. As part of the cleaning crew, she had seen every corner and every rat. Unfortunately she did not speak rattish, so she did not know any secrets, but even so her experience proved very valuable. They talked late into the day, making plans and discussing ideas. Nadine fell asleep at some point. Ferdy smiled when he saw Sophie put a blanket over her friend. He felt like now that their group was whole again, everything was possible.

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The Discovery (Part 7)

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It was a bad day for Ferdy. A little over a week ago they had resumed the search for Nadine and the other mice, but so far there had been absolutely no progress. All the mice felt discouraged, even Jeff, Toby and the rest of the freezer mice. Somehow, Ferdy felt worse than all of them. He still thought it was his fault that Nadine was even missing. He started feeling depressed and it got harder and harder to even get up and search, with almost no hope at all.
Tonight had been the same as every night. They searched and searched, widening their grid and moving into areas where they had never been before, but in the end they returned to the big room unsuccessfully.

Suddenly, Ferdy saw the only mouse that was even worse off than him: Sophie. She had been Nadines best friend, the two of them had been almost inseparable. Sophie spent more time searching for Nadine than anyone, and hardly came back to eat and sleep for a while. Now, though, she seemed excited, or frightened, Ferdy couldn’t tell.
“I found something”, she squeaked. “Not Nadine”, she added, her enthusiasm damped a little. “But something you have to see!”
Ferdy and the other mice that were already back in the big room gathered around her. “What is it?”, Laurina asked. Sophie shook her head. “I can’t explain it, you’ll have to see for yourself. Follow me!”
Without waiting, she turned around and started running. The others exchanged confused glances, then they quickly followed her.
Sophie led them through several levels of the house. Ferdy soon lost orientation and hoped that he would not get separated from the others.

After a while, Sophie stopped.
“Where are we?”, Wulfric asked.
Sophie said, “In the basement. This is as low as the house goes, beneath us is just earth. “
“How do you know that?”, Anica asked. “Did you find a way out of the house from here?”
“I really don’t know how to say it. We have to go around this corner. There will be a large hole in the wall, leading into a sort of… cave. We’ll all fit in there and you’ll see what I found. But it is important that we are absolutely quiet!”
Before they could ask more questions, she moved on. Around the corner there was the hole she had described, big enough for five mice to go through simultaneously. Quickly, they all went inside.

“Cave” was not really an accurate description of what they saw, but none of them came up with a better one. They all stood there and stared, not knowing what to think.
They were looking down on a giant – town, for the lack of a better word. They were standing on a sort of gallery, with a way leading down into a giant cave, divided into different areas, and with more tunnels leading away from the main cave. The most stunning and most frightening part, though, was that it was filled with rats.
Rats were walking in and out, bringing food pallets and other types of food into certain chambers, others looked like they were cleaning up parts of the cave. In a corner, five rats were huddled together, as if they were discussing something important.
Most of the rats looked quite similar to each other. They were white, with red eyes. But there were also others, with eyes that seemed to shimmer in a green tone, and those with a black head.
“These are lab rats”, Anica whispered. “They must have escaped the humans, too!”
“And they built a real community”, Wulfric added.
“We should leave”, Oscar said. “It’s really dangerous, being here. What if they see us?”
“Don’t you want to see more?”, Laurina asked. She seemed as excited as Sophie and leaned over the edge of the gallery to see more.
A hushed discussion started, with both sides presenting viable arguments. Just as it became clear that they would not be able to agree on a common plan, one of the rats reared and squeaked very loudly.
Ferdy’s heart almost stopped. “They heard us”, he whispered. The others fell silent immediately, and they all sat there frozen and shivering.
But the rats did not even look up to the gallery. All of them dropped what they were doing and gathered around the rat that had squeaked. It was one of the five rats that had been discussing something intently. They stood next to each other, the other rats looking at them expectantly.
The biggest of the five rats started talking to them.
“Anyone speak rattish?”, Marcel asked. Most of them shook their heads, but Laurina looked uncertain. “I understand it a little”, she said. “But not well enough, I guess. It is just so fast, I can only get a few words.” She listened for a while, then shook her head. “I think these five are their leaders. They have made a plan, but I didn’t get what for.”
“Doesn’t matter to us, anyway”, Oscar said. “As long as it doesn’t include us, we should make sure it stays that way.”
The other mice looked at Oscar in disbelieve. “When have you become so indifferent?”, Wulfric asked. Oscar started to give a defiant answer, but suddenly Laurina whitened.
“I… I think it does include us”, she stammered. “I just heard the word for ‘mice’.”
“What else?”, Anica asked.
“I don’t know”, Laurina replied. “I’m not even sure they were talking about us, but it didn’t sound good.”

Below, a second rat had started drawing something on the wall next to it.
“I’m not getting any of this now”, Laurina said desperately. “They are talking too fast, the words all blur together.”
“If we could get close enough, could you read what they are writing on the wall?”, Sophie asked.
Laurina nodded. “I probably could. Reading is much easier than listening. But how are we supposed to get close enough? Rats are everywhere down there.”
“We do what we always do with the humans”, Sophie said. “We wait until they are all sleeping.”
“It could work”, Anica said. “It must be morning already, so it shouldn’t be long now.”
The group started arguing again, but it soon became evident that there really wasn’t another option. If the rats were planning something that included them, they had to find out, no matter how dangerous it was.
Jeff, Ferdy, Laurina and Sophie volunteered for the mission and the others agreed after another lengthy argument. None of them wanted to stay behind, and everyone wanted to help, but Jeff and Ferdy were the best at defence techniques and stealth, while Laurina was able to read the rattish words. Sophie earned herself the spot in the crew because she was the one who had found this place.

The meeting of the rats was over soon, and the rats dispersed, going to their sleeping places. Unfortunately, the sleeping places were not concentrated in one part of the cave. They each had a corner somewhere, distributed almost everywhere.
The little team waited a while, until they were sure the rats were all asleep. Then they quietly went down the ramp into the large cave.
There were rats all over, in every corner, but there was always a little space between them, through which the four mice tiptoed.
Jeff led the team, searching for a suitable route and making sure that they did not step on anyone’s tail. Laurina and Sophie followed, and Ferdy stayed a little behind and glanced back again and again to see if any of the rats woke up.
They just passed a particularly large rat when it suddenly stirred and turned its head. The four mice froze, but the rat just yawned without opening its eyes and went back to sleep. Up in the gallery, the other mice started breathing again, but the tension was excruciating.
After almost half an hour of careful sneaking, they finally reached the wall with the writing and drawing on it.
“What does it say?”, Jeff whispered. Laurina stood on her hind paws for a better view.
“The drawing looks like a plan of the second and third floor. It seems they are looking for ways in!”
“What do you mean?”, Ferdy asked. “There are thousands of ways in.”
“For us, yes”, Sophie chimed in. “But think about it. The openings to our territory are mouse-sized. None of these rats could fit through.”
Jeff nodded. “What else?”, he urged Laurina to go on.
“This word here means ‘attack’”, she said with a worried undertone. “Then there is some kind of a time course, I guess. ‘One week: find suitable routes. Two weeks: make openings wide enough. Three weeks: explore territory. Four weeks: attack.’”
Ferdy started to say something, but Jeff cut him off. “That’s all?”, he asked, and Laurina nodded.
“Then let’s get out of here, before they notice us. We can talk about this later.”
They had to restrain themselves to move back at the same slow pace as before, instead of breaking into a run that would most certainly have woken the rats. When they finally arrived at the gallery, they were exhausted.
The others immediately started asking questions, but again, Jeff prevented any discussions. “They could still hear us”, he said, and would not let anyone say a word or even pause for a second, before they had not reached the big room.

Safely back in their territory, they all sat together in a big circle and Laurina explained what they had found.
“Are you sure it was a plan of our territory?”, Marcel asked. “Why would they want to attack us?”
“And how would they even know that we exist, and where we are?”, Sandy added.
“The plan of this area was not very detailed, and some of it was actually wrong”, Laurina answered. “They must have observed us coming and going and concluded that we live here.”
“As for the why”, Jeff said, “they are rats – what do you expect? I bet it just gives them pleasure to hunt mice, or they think we might have something valuable here, like a food store or something similar.”
“And the reason is not very important right now”, Lisbeth said, thinking practically. “We need to figure out what to do about it.”
“It seems that we have about three weeks until they want to attack. But even during that time they will probably be working during the days, hoping that we are asleep, just like we did today. As they wrote on the wall, they have to make the entrances bigger, scout the area without being seen, and all that without us noticing. Our only advantage is that they don’t know we found them and saw their plan.” Laurina’s summary was as accurate as it was frightening. From where they stood, the prospects were quite bleak. There had been so many rats, and there might even be more, since they didn’t know how far the caves reached. How were they supposed to defend themselves against such superior forces?
Anica was the first one to come up with a plan. “We have to think this through step by step. We can’t let ourselves get overwhelmed by all of this, because then we would not get any work done at all. Now, first, we need to learn as much as we can about the rats. So, each night, two of us will go to the rat caves and observe their behaviour. During the day, this will be more difficult, but we need to set up watches that find out on which entrances they are working and which routes they are taking. This will be hard work, because the rats will be highly alert themselves, but it has to be done.”
Claudi nodded. “We should make a fortress of the big room, to make sure the rats cannot get in here.”
“And we need to collect a lot of food, so that we can survive even if the rats are surrounding us”, Lisbeth added.
They discussed plans for a long time that night. At some point Oscar suggested to just leave and relocate somewhere closer to the roof, where the rats did not expect them to be, but the others agreed that this would only delay a confrontation. Also, they decided, they didn’t know which dangers might be hiding in other parts of the building.
Finally, they had a rough plan and every mouse had a task assigned for the following night. Until then, they would sleep to gather their strength.

Ferdy lay curled up in his usual corner. He glanced around nervously and saw that many others were also not sleeping. Everything was so overwhelming – one moment they were looking for missing friends, and the other they were making plans on how to survive an attack by blood-thirsty rats. He knew that it would be the most sensible thing to close his eyes and sleep. The following days and nights would be hard, and it was important to be rested, but he was too nervous and frightened.
Then, as he lay there, he had a thought that calmed him down. His escape from the humans had made it possible for him to live a happy life with a loving family and some interesting adventures. Compared to so many mice in this building, he had a wonderful life, so even if it should end in the next four weeks because of a rat attack, he would still die a happy mouse.
He closed his eyes and slept.

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