From the author: Inspired by an infestation of mice in my house and a PETA raid on a University of Minnesota Alzheimer’s research lab in April 1999. I’m Pushkin, keeper of the chronicles. I will teach you young ones just as I remind the older ones. It’s my responsibility to keep the records accurate, untainted by fear, unclear memory, or nostalgia. I recount the saga as it was taught to me, and add to it in my turn.
It’s not easy being a mouse. It’s even harder for one of us. We’re not like other mice. But we often wish we were.
I’m Pushkin, keeper of the chronicles. I will teach you young ones just as I remind the older ones. It’s my responsibility to keep the records accurate, untainted by fear, unclear memory, or nostalgia. I recount the saga as it was taught to me, and add to it in my turn.
Our distant ancestors, those who lived eight and nine generations ago, were regular lab mice. There was nothing spectacular about them. They were chosen at random for research on a terrible brain sickness afflicting human elders. Our meek predecessors underwent frightening procedures, and many didn’t survive. But mouse deaths are not mourned. Our mortality rate has always been high compared with other mammals. This is the natural order of things. In the wild, mice have a number of predators to evade. Food is scarce. Winter is brutal. But we are no longer natural. Order has been disturbed.
The experimentati who survived the procedures are our forefathers. They were the first of our kind to carry human genetic information within their bodies. I will read to you from the books of Chaos, the Trotsky chronicles. He was the first to record our history for future generations.
At first the new genes were foreign and our immune systems treated them as such. Eventually our bodies began using the new codes, weaving them into our own genetic structure, making us something new and different. We had great opportunities, and we didn’t realize how precarious our situation was. It would, in fact be some time before our danger became clear.
But we know. It’s always left for later generations to understand.
At night our altered predecessors would sneak out of their cages, the nests the humans had made for them. Initially they merely wished to rifle through the scientists’ paperwork to see what had been done to them and why. Their nightly sojourns gave them access to the humans’ greatest learning tools.
We grew to love literature and philosophy. We began to see the value of science and technology. Many in our ranks have taken to these pursuits as eagerly as our human sponsors. Some thought this would make the humans proud. Others simply sought to gain knowledge. It appeared that we were improving ourselves with our own advancements. We, too, could become a great civilization. We could join forces with the humans and stamp out hunger, poverty, and moral degradation. The world was ours for the taking and the possibilities were endless.
In less than one night it was all lost to us.
Remember this, children, as you make your way through life. Nothing is ever certain. The things we think of as stable and secure can change as quickly as the wind.
How were we to know that human culture was still so riddled with violence and contention? True, their stories and plays were rife with these themes, but we thought they were allegorical. We assumed they’d grown beyond such base behavior. With science to lead the way they couldn’t possibly be so unevolved. In our isolated lab we were entirely unaware that we had become a political issue.
Our kind was cast out of the idyllic carefree world of academia and thrust into the cruel and unforgiving real world. Life has become a fight for survival. In many respects our ancestors suffered disillusion and a fall much like that described in one of the humans’ most renowned texts.
It was an evening much like any other. As we settled in for the Lab Performers’ latest Shakespearean extravaganza, a tragedy of course, we heard the stirrings of humans in our building. It was well past the environmental staff’s time, and it had been our experience that they stayed no later than necessary. It was clear something was amiss, and we scrambled for our cages. Many of us had barely fastened the latches before the intruders burst through the door. They cut a swath of destruction of the likes we hope no future generation must face. They smashed computers and delicate equipment. As we watched, the paradise we so long thought of as our home was brought to ruin. We cowered in our shavings as they swept violently through the lab. All the careful studies we had aided our human counterparts with were strewn about in chaos.
It was much later that we discovered that our very existence was the heart of the problem. The vandals were so indiscriminate in their damage, we could only assume they had been stricken by some brain malady. We’d learned that humans were susceptible to any number of curious afflictions that could hamper judgment and temperament, and these individuals bore all the classic signs.
At the last minute, they gathered our cages and fled the building, tripping and bumbling through darkened hallways. We were hastily loaded into a number of vehicles, and we could only fear the worst. As we were hauled like so many packages through the night, Poe’s great and terrifying works came to mind. We were separated from friends and family. Whilst teetering on the verge of becoming a brilliant civilization in our own right, we were being torn apart by a force far greater than we.
We’ve since learned that it is custom among humans for a powerful culture to destroy other cultures as a matter of course. It is something we don’t understand and have failed to implement. While humans may have plucked us out of our place in the evolutionary chain, they are not gods.
Without our trustworthy laboratory wall clock, there was no way to measure the passage of time. After a while, however, the cages were unloaded and we were dumped out in an open grassy place. We’ve since learned to call these particular places ditches and medians. The sky was dark and the noise of passing vehicles was yet another assault on our untrained, inexperienced selves.
Most of the first transgenic mice could proudly trace back four or five generations of captive life. They were completely unprepared for the wild and terrifying life of the city. They were left defenseless and without means. Not even a small pile of shavings was left behind for them to huddle in. It seemed they had been summarily sentenced to death.
It was with great relief that many of us were reunited with our loved ones. Most of our fledgling community had made it to that median along the interstate. There were few of our number we could not account for. It was not long, however, before it became clear that our luck had not improved.
Never caught in such a predicament as this, we were torn. Some insisted that our humans were bright enough to find us as soon as they realized we were gone. They wanted to stay where we’d gathered. Others feared the dark cold place and wanted to seek shelter. We weren’t safe, they argued. The bad humans might come back, and there was no telling what a deranged human was capable of.
As we debated the virtues of both plans, an owl swooped down on our group. Davash was taken in the attack. It was terrible to lose such a respected and valued member of our community. On top of all that had happened, it was too much. Divided though we still were, the majority of us chose to move on for the sake of survival. We could not wait for the humans to save us while our numbers dwindled from predation and the harsh elements. While a small group chose to retain their white coats and stay clustered where they were, the rest of us scrambled to darken our fur with mud. We sought cover in a large drainpipe.
We expected the morning to bring some measure of resolution or clarity, but we were faced instead with absolute despair. From our distant vantage point, marginally safe and warm, we saw a van pull up on the side of the road. We immediately recognized the professor in charge of our research. She hurried to the shivering group of mice who had waited through the long frozen hours of the night and gathered them with her own hands. She even took the bodies of those who had not been able to endure the cold. She didn’t hear our cries as we rushed across the grass, still patchy with snow. She didn’t see us as we bolted toward her, desperate to leave this nightmare world and return to our cozy familiar home.
She did not find us. We weren’t swift enough. Those who had kept faith with the humans were taken home while the rest of us were left in the ditch to perish. We waited for her to return, but she never did. It was too late for us.
We stayed in the drainpipe for a few weeks before moving on to find more suitable housing. Refugees in search of a new land to call our own, we have not been welcome anywhere.
We simply can’t associate with aboriginal mice. They know nothing of philosophy and literature. Their language skills are appallingly basic. It seems they have no more interest in us than we have in them. Our white coats, a genetic marker that we all bear, identify us as different even among our wild brethren, making us vulnerable and suspicious. But it’s a simple matter to color our fur with soot and dirt, and a dark coat has become an important accessory in our nighttime lurking. This is why you are never allowed to leave the warren in your natural state. Only in emergencies will we venture out as such.
Ironically, we’ve learned that the humans who brought such devastation upon us, genuinely thought they were doing us a favor. Animal rights activists by trade, they seemed to believe they were rescuing us. It’s been argued that they were a bit insane as well, since mice bred in captivity obviously have little hope for survival in the cold Minnesota spring.
We tried to make contact with humans, but have been unable to establish meaningful dialogue with them, since they prefer to kill us on sight. As they wear no badges or uniforms of loyalty, we can’t determine who belongs to which factions, complicating our efforts. We have also been unable to locate the lab that spawned us. Our history is old news and the humans have forgotten it. Perhaps our project was discontinued after the attack. Or it may have received higher security. The lab itself may have been turned over to other projects while ours was relocated somewhere safer. Regardless, we do not plan to return to the lab as a home, even if we find it.
We still lack a place of our own. As mice have always done, we’ve found temporary housing within apartments, homes, warehouses, and libraries. We especially liked the library, but we were chased out with the usual fog of toxic gas. We aren’t welcome anywhere. We don’t make good house guests. It’s true, we have some bad habits. Many can’t be helped. While we have become so much smarter and wiser, many of our basic instincts have remained intact, most notably those to reproduce and chew things to bits. Nesting we call it. The unfortunate paradox is that we’re smart enough to recognize these bad manners. We realize it’s foolish to reproduce at a rate we can’t realistically support. We know we get offered poison because humans think we might chew their electrical cords and burn down the house. While we would never do such a thing, a common mouse might. We understand and respect electricity, but no one could expect that from an aboriginal mouse. People aren’t willing to listen when we try to tell them we aren’t ordinary mice.
It’s lamentable that we can’t change our instincts, and our scientists have only made small advances in modifying our behavior. This has created great guilt and remorse. We mate. Then we feel bad about it. We chew something up. And we feel miserable. It’s a dreadful cycle destined to repeat in every generation. Our legacy. Our tragedy.
Some have suggested that reining in our instincts is the only way to return to the paradise of the lab. Only then will the Great White Labcoats, those who made us white in their image, permit us to return. It’s a lesson, they say. They are welcome to their opinion, but it’s not popular. Not anymore. We have been ignored for too long. We have learned that humans are an even more imperfect and barbaric species than we. There is no longer any reason to worship them. Indeed, it is past time for them to learn the consequences of their often careless actions.
I shall read a section from the books of Rebuilding, the Vitner chronicles.
Our efforts have finally restored our information resources. We have been using the library extensively to research human history. We have also gained access to the internet, as we have been attempting for some time. The online accounts are naturally biased, but the themes are consistent and certain facts stand out. In human culture it appears to be the winner who records history, making us somewhat of an anomaly. We are in no position to declare ourselves winners. The humans could easily destroy us if they were of a mind to. It is with this concern, as well as the evidence against them, that we have discontinued our attempts to contact them. In all likelihood, they would view us as a threat. An aberration to be eliminated.
There have always been humans who have fought for ethical change, but their successes have been limited at best. They are the overshadowed, ignored minority and the impact of a society is but a reflection of the majority. Morality has also been an excuse for the most heinous of acts; murder, rape, and war. It conveniently excuses ignorance and the failure to consider consequences.
Vitner was an untiring champion of the search for data. He returned with many discoveries, aiding us all in our efforts to strengthen our civilization. He and his researchers were the first to discover the most grave human crime.
TOTAL GLOBAL EXTINCTION.
It is bad enough that they destroy each other without a care, but they consider all life on this planet, and indeed, any life they encounter anywhere, inferior and subordinate. They have no conscience when it comes to harming or killing creatures outside their own narrow gene pool. They consider such control as their privilege and natural right. But they no longer understand the ways of nature! They no longer see that they are merely a small part of this planet’s ecosystem. We are outraged and revolted by the sheer number of species they have utterly destroyed, to say nothing of the individual lives lost. When this was reported at the open meeting, the words could scarce be heard for the retching of the audience.
The humans exterminate what they do not understand, what they do not like, and anything that falls within the hazy bounds of irrelevant. They will destroy for profit or momentary pleasure. Our scientists recently calculated the point of no return for total ecological breakdown based on current human behavior and propensity to adapt. These results have altered our ultimate focus beyond our own survival. It is now our goal to interrupt the cycle and preserve the Earth, by wresting its guardianship from the humans. We should be able to take custody with a few generations to spare.
We are a disrupted species. But we are no longer confused, and we have hope. We make progress in every generation. Our advancements will continue. Our civilization will not be stamped out, but will continue to grow and thrive. And someday, our descendants will teach the humans the mistake they made in toying with our genes and turning their backs on us.
This story originally appeared in Tales of the Unanticipated #26, edited by Eric M. Heideman and published by TOTU Ink in October 2005.