RS2179 had been given its final injection. Perhaps this would be the one to bring it the peace it craved. It hoped so.
It was a cold and clinical reference for a living creature. That was the intention – experience had shown such impersonal referencing to be an effective means of helping insulate the laboratory staff from any guilt. Many a brutal dictator had used similar victim classification systems as part of their extermination processes, mainly when they were short on the sort of person who enjoyed such work.
The tiny creature was number two thousand, one hundred and seventy-nine in the extensive list of rat specimens used in the secret 101 faculty’s nasty experiments. ‘Secret’ was a good description of the place in more ways than one. It was not listed in any public domain. It was purposely hidden away from peer scrutiny, its very existence kept secret from all but the shadowy upper echelons of its parent company. Given what went on there, it was as much a dirty little secret as it was a location.
The little creature sensed it was coming to the end of its relatively short existence. But that was okay. It had not been a good life and RS2179 would be glad to see it over. From the moment of RS2179’s birth, the only world it had ever known was the chilly sterile one of the laboratory it had been allocated to. It was never to experience the feel of grass under its feet. The joy of finding some tasty morsel for its next meal was unknown to it. All it knew was the hard-smooth Perspex floor and the dry and tasteless mixture the white-coated laboratory technicians would leave in a tiny bowl at the end of its foot-long cage. The only sounds it heard were the deep thunderous voices of the two-legged giants and the hum of the air conditioning unit that kept the experimental environment at a distressingly low temperature. The lack of any other external stimuli seemed to amplify whatever distress the lifeless prison inflicted on those creatures unfortunate to find themselves there.
Within hours of RS2179’s arrival a few months before, the experiments had begun. It was a rare day when it hadn’t been roughly manhandled from its cage for some new horror at the sharp end of the shiny spikes they would plunge into its body. It had tried struggling and even biting its handlers, but the clothing they wore was too thick to penetrate. The shiny spikes though, they were razor sharp, far more so than its own teeth. And oh, how they hurt. It was a blessing when the rat would sometimes be sent into sleeping darkness less than a minute after one of them pierced its skin. Each time it had hoped not to awaken, only to face disappointment when consciousness returned.
The last few times that had been the worse. Usually, the skin piercing spikes would be stabbed into some rear part of its body. The latest ones though had been directed towards the areas around its forehead. For some reason, it wasn’t so frightening when the entry point was out of sight, but seeing the sharp, gleaming tip coming into focus distressed RS2179 so much more.
Unbeknown to RS2179, the laboratory staff had been pumping all sorts of cognitive enhancers into its brain, And, equally unbeknown to the laboratory staff, they were working immeasurably better than their maze running tests would suggest. The microscopic chemical and electrical information exchanges between the synapses were now jumping across time and space, reaching farther out with each new injection.
For now, that wasn’t much of a consolation to RS2179. Its use was at an end other than what details might be gleaned from a post-mortem of their effects on its general physiology. That would have been fine were the rat actually dead.
Just as lethal injections were far from being a failsafe procedure with humans, they were even less so with rats. There had been no check on the complete absence of brain activity in the rat, just a rudimentary investigation of its heartbeat and non-response to being gently stabbed at with a pencil. Most of the life had indeed slipped from its body, but deep inside the rat’s brain and mind there was still a dying flicker of life, enough to make it aware of everything going on. It had been robbed of its ability to struggle or resist but sadly, not its feeling and consciousness. It was aware of being lifted and placed in the dissecting tray. Then the cold feel of the Nitrile gloved fingers moving about its body, poking and pulling, feeling about its abdomen and head, contorting its limbs into unnatural positions.
Its enhanced awareness helped limit the confusion and emotional distress it might otherwise have felt, but it was a double-edged sword – it now had a rudimentary understanding of the various instruments it could see in its limited field of vision, and even some of the human sounds they were making. Glad though it was, knowing it would soon be dead, the suffering it was likely to endure beforehand was ample reason to be afraid.
“I’m ready to proceed,” Lance Nelson told his colleagues. They had already prepared the equipment he would need: a dissecting tray and board, scissors, a scalpel, a variety of probes, and several pins.
RS2179 was again manhandled from the dissecting tray to being placed on its back on a wooden board. Its limbs were stretched out in a spread-eagled position and pins inserted, one through the palms of each of its tiny feet, and three more along its tail. The pins were super sharp and thin, and so the pain of their entry was quite momentary. Still, the rat wished for the darkness and death to overcome it, watching the white-coated two-legged giant reach for a scalpel. Lance hesitated for a moment, imagining he saw a flicker of recognition in the creature’s eyes. He dismissed it as a trick of the light and proceeded to cut along the surface skin and tissue of the abdomen. No sound emerged from its mouth, but inside its head, RS2179 was screaming, its short-lived enhanced awareness now given over to overwhelming fear and blind panic. Another perpendicular slice of the scalpel, this time a fraction deeper, sent its pain receptors into over-drive, flooding its mind with sensations no creature, sentient or otherwise should ever have to purposely endure. A probe was used to prod at its internal organs, moving them this way and that to check for inflammation and discolouring …
“Everything looks normal. Respiratory, heart and other organs all look intact. Now moving onto the muscle and fatty tissues,” the voice was saying. RS2179 didn’t understand the words but realised what was about to happen, watching the scalpel move towards one of its limbs. It was all too much for the suffering creature to willingly endure. Its mind was beginning to shut down, severing itself from the torrent of impulses attacking its pain receptors. The pain was still unimaginable, but it was mostly starting to subside. The end was mercifully close, but there was one more ordeal to come, and the worst.
The scalpel disappeared out of sight. The suffering creature soon became aware of its new location though when it felt the pain inflicting instrument slicing through the back of its skull. Its mind filled with an explosion of light and colour as its brain was literally cut in two. Such trauma came as a blessing. There was no more pain, just the dying of its brain cells and the last remnants of its tortured mind. The last flicker of life passed into darkness.
“Nothing much to be learnt here,” Lance said, “might as well clean up. Dispose of it will you?”
Three months later …
Lance Nelson felt a buzzing about his head as he got into the car. He wasn’t particularly alarmed by it. There was all manner of wildlife about given the proximity to the nearby extensive forest. The high walls and other barriers kept most of it at bay, but even the faculty’s state of the art security and remote location wasn’t going to keep out the bugs and insects.
TLS1, the first two-legs human specimen of its kind was laid out on the rocky surface of the cave floor. It had amused the rats to choose a classification mocking that of their human counterparts.
TLS1’s mind was now stirring as it returned to consciousness. The first things it saw and felt were the various insects and spiders crawling about its body, biting, and feeding off him – it was a far cry from the clean and gleaming sterile environment of the lab but more than adequate to serve the same purpose. The human specimen was in pain too. That was the first realisation that everything about him was horribly real and not the nightmare he had thought, and indeed hoped it might be. There was a thumping in his head, worse than any hangover he’d ever had, and he was sure of a couple of cracked ribs too. He could just about roll his eyes to look down and along his body; he was bruised and scratched. Another worry was being naked as he was. How had that come about? Had he been kidnapped? Something to do with his work at the lab he speculated. His mind began to clear. He could see rats, lots of them darting back and forth, just out of reach had he indeed been able to move.
Those same creatures he had once experimented on and cut into pieces now inspired in him the same sort of fear they must have felt.
He was briefly reminded of George Orwell’s novel, 1984, and the Room 101 scene where people would be confronted with their own worst fears. The central character’s overwhelming fear had been rats. It dawned on him why the research centre where he worked was often referred to as the 101 Faculty. Someone’s idea of a sick joke? Whatever the reasoning, it was hardly amusing given his present circumstances.
The insects and other crawling things were minute in comparison, and so the rats were content to allow them some tiny share of their spoils. It would have been ungracious not to, especially given the help they had been in delivering the specimen – rats weren’t the only creatures being experimented on in that place.
Lance wanted to scream, to struggle, to swat and brush them away just like he would if seeing a fly or a spider buzzing or crawling about his home. None of that was an option now. Not a sound escaped his lips, and except for the occasional involuntary shudder, his body made no response to any mental commands to move. He tried thinking back on how it came to be there. The last thing TLS1 remembered was getting into his car. Something had stung or bitten him. It hadn’t been painful, but enough to get his attention. He remembered thinking at the time of being glad he hadn’t been driving and paid it no consideration other than to reopen his car door to shoo whatever it was out of the car. After that he’d set off for home, confident that whatever it was had flown off into the night air. And then … nothing.
Like those laboratory victims, this human one had also been rendered incapable of movement or resistance, though not by the same means. The rats had no access to or even the means or understanding yet to administer muscle relaxants or anaesthetising drugs, not that it mattered. They would not have been inclined to using them regardless if they had. They had other means for now, albeit cruder and somewhat less ‘humane.’
While still unconscious, several of the rats had nibbled deep into TLS1’s naked flesh, not to feed but merely sever vital nerves, paralysing its movement. It was unfortunate for the specimen they hadn’t miscalculated and severed more vital ones, either killing or at least neutralising its pain carrying nerve endings too. They had done neither. The specimen remained conscious and aware of the slightest touch to its skin, right up to the gentle breeze of a nearby mosquito fluttering its wings.
The rats’ purpose in bringing the specimen there was two-fold. Firstly, they wanted to know just how much tissue loss and damage a human could sustain before death quickly followed, and anything else they could learn. The other reason was a more basic one – revenge; they not only knew of RS2179’s ordeal before it died, but they had also felt it too, living every moment of their little cousin’s pain and fear, powerless to help. Their minds had been connected, and along with all the pain they had shared, they had also taken on its cognitive enhancements and had their own synapses super-charged. The new-found intelligence it gave them was as much a curse as it was a gift, or so it seemed at the time. It was an experience that would stay with the thousand plus numbered mischief of rats for as long as they lived. It seemed only fair to share that experience with their current specimen …
A lone rat, the dominant one of the mischief, crawled up onto its abdomen. It started to nibble away just above the belly button. Its teeth and claws were more than sufficient to tear away a few inches of skin and subcutaneous tissue beneath. More of them approached, hesitantly at first. The dominant looked round to them with a nod of acknowledgement. After that, they approached more confidently. The specimen silently shrieked as one it hadn’t seen started to crawl up the back of its head and over the face. Claws scraped along its eyes. It tried to close them, the eyelids being the only part of its body other than the eyes themselves that still responded. It was no use. Another rat had joined it, using its claws to pull back the other eyelid while a third used its teeth to literally slice at the eyeball itself. There are no words to adequately describe the sense of panic and revulsion going through the specimen’s mind at that moment. And that was just the beginning … it was about to get worse … much worse.
The slow and meticulous way the rats tore away at the flesh and internal organs had been calculated to cause the most amount of pain for the maximum amount of time. All the time the specimen clung to life, its blood remained warm and tastier to its insect and arachnid feeders. The rats too were feeding off the extremities, but only in small tiny rat-sized bites. They paid particular attention to its genital area, knowing from its mind the additional psychological impact of that.
The rats learnt a lot from TLS1: rates of blood loss, pain tolerances, and even some insight into the working of its mind from their synaptic connection – that last aspect hadn’t been as intense or well-defined as with their little cousin, RS2179, but enough for them all to revel in the hated two-legs’ suffering.
Despite their giant size and, for now, superior intelligence, the two-legs were not so nearly adept at coping with the sort of procedures the rats and other creatures had had to contend with for as long as any of them could remember. The two-legs feared death and would fight its inevitability in any way they could.
They would need more such specimens, different ages, sexes, and the like if they were to learn more. They would also need a more efficient means of getting them too; relying on their insect allies stinging them into darkness was not ideal. The one they had just dissected might well have died in the car crash, and it had been no easy task dragging its body back to their underground cave. As it was, it was already bruised and damaged when they got it. The rats still had much to learn in trapping live prey like the two-legs did, but they would learn from them, adapting their methods to suit their own smaller size and different skill sets.
Still, there remained over a hundred more of the two-legs working at the 101 faculty. There would be plenty of time and opportunity for the rats to improve their skills.
Lance Nelson had taken three days to die. It was a death no creature, sentient or otherwise should ever deliberately have to suffer.
That rats had thought otherwise. Not bad for a first specimen, they congratulated themselves. They could, and would do better … Next time.
If you enjoyed this story and would like to read more rat-related tales, they can all be found in Book One of my Creature Tales collection …
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