THE EXPERIMENT BEGINS
Elijah slowly began to stir from the shock net. Already, his body throbbed and ached everywhere from the lightning sting. He gave a small groan as he began to rise. Elijah blinked to clear his blurry vision. He didn't like what he saw.
And neither did the mice from the square.
They were surrounded by thin white bars, that they were also above and below the layer of sawdust under their feet. Thaddeus, despite his rotund build, managed to leap up onto the roof bars and tugged at them. James was also trying to wrench the bars open. "Gotta—get—outta here!" But his efforts were useless and both plopped back to the ground, sending up clouds of straw colored dust.
Elijah coughed from the dust, and shook himself off.
He looked around, and tried to see past the bars. There was very little to see, though the crowd of his cellmates. All he was able to see were dark gray walls on all sides—an extra layer of security it seemed. There were also at least fifty to sixty rats all locked up in cages just as he and the mice were. The rats murmured frightfully, terrified of the thought of being captured. Elijah sympathized with them; he was frightened as the rest of them.
"What's going on? What happened?" One of them said.
"Where are they taking us?"
"Why have they taken us? What have we done to deserve this?"
Then, in one of the cages a lean rat groaned as he revived from the shock along with a larger, burly rat. They shook themselves off and started to survey their settings with no success in finding an escape.
Suddenly, as they looked each other, they jumped. Clearly, they hadn't expected to see one another imprisoned aboard their new transport—Elijah had guessed it was some kind of vehicle as he feel the ground beneath him shift and turn.
"Jenner! You're alive!" the lean rat exclaimed. "I thought that you had gotten away."
"I would have thought the same for you, Nicodemus," Jenner answered sourly.
Elijah decided this was a good time to listen. Maybe these two would know what was going on, a voice inside him said.
"Where are we going?" Nicodemus asked.
"I don't know," came the irritated reply. "I'd tell you if I knew."
"Hey, anybody know what a lab is?" A young, brown rat inquired to the two. "I heard about it from somebody and—"
Jenner snarled at the speaker. "Mind your business, you—"
But Nicodemus ribbed Jenner and explained as best he could, "It's a laboratory, my friend; somewhere where humans test drugs upon animals from what I've heard."
The brown rat gave a shudder, which Elijah felt too. "Test on animals? That's horrible!" There was a pause, then the rat asked, "But why us? What have we done to deserve this?"
Elijah was hoping for an answer too when something tapped on his shoulder. "Elijah?"
The little mouse spun to face a welcome sight. "Jonathan!"
Both mice charged towards each other and embraced. Never had they felt so relieved as they were right there and then.
"I was worried, Jonathan!" The little mouse squeaked, and Jonathan held him tighter. "So was I," he answered.
For a long time, they held onto one another, not speaking, not even listening. There was nothing else they could do but wait and pray to see what would happen next, where they would go from here. Neither even noticed their cagemates shouting, panicking about their doom.
Despite this, everybody else in the cages chattered on their fears about their fate, what they could have done to bring this imprisonment upon themselves, and if they would survive the coming storm, whatever it might be.
At first, the journey hadn't been pleasant, with the vehicle twisting and turning on the city streets, squirming like a huge serpent. But shortly after, they found themselves accelerating, despite the lack of windows to see out of. A slight, banshee-like shriek filled the interior, adding to the gloom as they raced along the highway outside toward their destination.
Eventually, they began to slow down, and experienced another twisting ride. They were in another city, as these turns were not like the ones experienced before—it was also very unlikely that the human drivers would have gotten lost and had to go back to the city they started out from.
Less than half an hour later, they slowed to a brief stop, felt the vehicle swing around in the opposite direction, backed up slowly and finally stopped.
Elijah looked around expectantly, then back to Jonathan. He wanted to asked him what happened, why they stopped. The answer he got was that of a firm expression, one that told him he didn't know but would stay with him no matter what. A quick look around told them both that all the rodents were alarmed at the sudden stop.
Minutes passed, and the animals heard chattering outside the vehicle. But it was muffled and indiscernible, so they couldn't make out anything. This only served to feed the fear already hanging in the air, making it even stronger. For Jonathan and Elijah, it was just like boarding the truck back on the farm all over again.
Without warning, a harsh squeak came from one of the gray walls as it lifted up. The country mice winced at the sound, holding their ears to their heads. Everybody looked away as harsh lights flooded their gray holding chamber, with some holding up their paws to shield their faces.
Jonathan and Elijah squinted to see the source of their searing tormentor. The younger mouse gasped upon seeing more figures in white, but their clothing was looser, yet tight enough to act as a shield from contamination and infection. One man, however, wore a gray uniform with two squares—one red and the other blue—on the left side of his chest. Before them was the white armored figure Elijah had seen before blacking out; he was gesticulating to the cages inside.
"Our counts say we've got at least sixty to seventy of the bigger specimens," the armored man said.
One of the men in the hazard suits nodded, and the company moved in to pick up the cages. Outside were identical figures to the white armored man. They formed a semicircle outside the vehicle, and with whirring clicks raised medium length black objects to their shoulders.
"Easy," one of the hazard suited men urged. "They won't like being shaken up; we don't want them to be damaged."
Like these men would actually listen, the expression on Jonathan's face said. One of the armored men snorted, "What's gonna happen? They'll bite your fingers off if you do?" The other armored men laughed at this.
Elijah blinked and shook his head to clear it. "What?"
Was it his imagination, or had they sounded the same to the voice he heard before falling unconscious? The youngster had never heard of another like this in his life. Who or what were these men? Were they even men?
Jonathan, however, was more concerned for his brother's well being than pondering mysteries, so he got in front of him to shield the youngster.
"Jonathan, wait!" Elijah protested. "Let me see!"
But Jonathan didn't listen. And it turned out there was no need moments later, as they swayed back and forth inside the cage and were placed onto a trolley onto of other cages. Looking to where the hazard suit didn't block his view, Elijah saw the armored men held a loose perimeter around the handlers. As he turned to look at them and smell them, it only served to puzzle him further.
The handlers all had a different smell to them, despite their protective gear. The armored men, however, possessed a near identical smell. It sent a shiver down the small animal's spine: these men looked, sounded and smelled the same. Nothing in nature could exist like that; whatever they were, the armored men were a terrifying creation he thought was something beyond anything man on this earth could create.
Elijah squeaked fearfully, "Something's not right here. Who are they?"
But there was no answer. Even Jonathan, who had identified the look and smell of the armored men too, was terrified.
The next several hours turned out to be the most dreadful, most terrifying of Jonathan and Elijah's lives. First, they had to pass through two blue uniformed guards. One of them demanded, "Let me see your identification," and the leader of the hazard team produced a small card, and handed it to the guard. After a minute of inspection within a reader, he returned it.
"Move along," he waved them into a set of double doors. Instead of swinging open, they parted like a curtain with a hiss-whoosh. The pair jumped, but Elijah recovered first, surprisingly. He was taking Ages' advice as seriously as he could; he wanted out just as badly as the others.
Jonathan frowned as the group entered what appeared to be a dead end: another set of gray walls all around them. He wondered what the point of being taken to this room was when the doors hissed shut behind them.
The answer became apparent. A lurch downward, and the whine of servomotors told the animals that they were going down.
Down, but to where?
Jonathan wasn't sure he wanted to know. Already he was imagining horrible disfigurements of people as grotesque versions of mice, gophers, moles, and other creatures that dug into the earth for their homes. Mankind really was everywhere on the earth, above and below the ground.
Somehow, Elijah had that same feeling because he began to clutch Jonathan more tightly now. Jonathan held him with what comfort he could. "Shh, sh-sh, it's okay, Elijah. It's okay." But Jonathan didn't feel reassured himself.
A few minutes later, the doors slid open, and they moved out again. Beyond the lift, the animals were greeted by a series of whistling, chirping, beeping noises, multi-colored panels of light, and the strangest collection of men and machinery—as a matter of fact, some of the machines resembled shiny men; or barreled machines on tripodal set of legs with swiveling domed heads.
First, however, the handlers had to pass under an angular archway. They waited as a man in a black uniform with an open faced, backward sloping helmet swept some kind of remote up and down their bodies. Once he was done, he let them pass.
Their last obstacle was a stern-looking woman behind a semi circular desk awaiting them. "State your business," she said in a clipped tone.
The leader of the handlers answered, "These are the specimens, ma'am, for the independent variable regarding 'Project New Blood,'" He held up the cage to show her. "Request permission to send them for blood and tissue examinations."
The woman leaned over the desk to examine the "specimens." It wasn't very long, and it seemed that she had little interest for the animals. But to Elijah, her glare upon him was unbearable as he shook uncontrollably.
"Very well," the woman said stiffly. "Level 3, section Besh, analysis labs."
The handler nodded, then the relatively jerky ride started again. So did the stunned and panicked murmurs of the animals, which Elijah hadn't realized had halted upon exiting the lift—he was more worried about Ages, Jonathan and his own well being.
"What is this place?"
"What kind of lab is this?"
"What did she mean by 'Level 3, section Besh, analy-thingummy labs?'"
"Are we going to be dissected?"
"I heard of horrible diseases test rats get in labs!" A she-rat sobbed upon saying.
"What kind of machines are those?" The brown rat demanded, eyeing the rolling, tripodal barrel and human-like automatons.
But Elijah noted other kinds of the strange machines as they passed down the corridors: multi-armed thing on a treaded platform with a binocular sensor on a stalk, boxes on wheels chirping and squeaking like mice, a tall cylindrical machine with recessed limbs and "eyes" all around its head, a bipedal machine with a skull-like face with a tube sticking from its mouth, and even a floating, globe-like machine with attachments that looked like they could hurt somebody—he even backed into a corner away from it.
Suddenly, he heard a frightened grunt. Elijah spun to find it was Philip, who looked just as terrified of the floating globe as he was.
"Sorry!" Elijah squeaked meekly.
Just as the machines were oblivious, or deliberately ignoring the panicked cries of the rodents, the humans were going about their usual routines: repairing bits of machinery in the walls, gossiping like nobody's business, studying the readouts of consoles, standing at attention in the presence of their superiors as they marched past.
The little mouse noted more of the white armored men, and they looked, sounded, and smelled exactly the same. But there were a few with olive green or blue markings on their legs, arms, chests, and helmets; but they too smelled and sounded identical. There were men in dark gray or olive drab uniforms and caps, with blue and red squares on their chests; men with lighter gray overalls and black caps carrying boxes of tools; men in black uniforms with the open faced black helmets, carrying similar black objects to the ones the white armored men used.
Blue lights snaked along near the ceiling before giving way to white lights, then red lights. From their limited vantage point in the cages, the rodents could see that the black helmeted men and white armored men were growing in number significantly along the corridors. Every so often, a pair of guards would order the handlers to halt, state their business, check their identification and the cages, then the handlers were ordered to move on.
Finally, they reached a thick door with strange markings above it. None of the rodents could make them out. But Elijah could identify the shapes and markings that similar to the ones on the green and blue signs on the highway below the unfamiliar ones.
Level 1 Section B Turbolift
Elijah supposed that the stranger shapes had a similar meaning to the more familiar shapes, and tried adding sounds to the former when his handler pressed the lift button.
"L–lev–el…eye? S–see–eck–tee–on… Buh… T–too–err–tour–buh...oh–tourbo—"
"Elijah, what are you doing?" Ages barked, breaking the youngster's concentration.
Elijah turned to face him. "I'm trying to see where we are, Mr. Ages. Maybe we can find a way out if we keep our eyes and ears open," he added hopefully.
Ages gave the youngster a long, suffering look. Were he to make mention of it, he would have said that it would have been an nearly impossible goal to achieve, especially given the fact that they were—heaven knew—miles underground.
But the door to the lift hissed open, and two officers slipped out, making the handlers jostle the cage to give way.
Two of the handlers manage to squirm in with their load. They advised the others to wait outside, much to their irritation as well as the animals they clawed and spat trying to break out of their cages. As the lift began to hum on its way two levels down, Elijah scanned the cylinder for some possible grates to slip through when they were finally let out. If they'll let us out, a grim inside reminded him. He swallowed hard.
Finally, they reached their destination, the analysis labs.
Jonathan looked back at the lift. Although he got couldn't fully understand the words when he glimpsed them, he had a guess as to what they were: Level 3 Section B Turbolift.
He had to give Elijah credit: it was the way they came in alright. But what with all the men and machines they saw along the way, Jonathan seriously doubted they could actually get past all of that. If they could get their back up to the first level, and it was a big if, it would be the streets their first day in the city all over again.
The handlers marched on through the corridors until they came upon the door with the words: Specimen Analysis Laboratory. Not surprisingly, there were more guards, the white armored men this time.
They demanded to know the handler's business and to hand them their IDs. Once that bit of business was done, one of them inquired, "Are these the test subjects Khorrus ordered?"
"Yes, sir," the lead handler answered. "They've been surprising docile since their capture. I would have expected them to act more aggressively toward us."
As if on cue, Jenner snarled and nipped at them. But the cage held him in check. The trooper glanced involuntarily at him, then looked back at the handler.
"Well, looks like that's the aggressive one that lot," he said dryly as the other rats came in to restrain their companion. The trooper cocked his head toward the door. "Go ahead, you've got the clearance."
Without another word, the handlers headed inside. As the door whooshed shut, Elijah had a very strange feeling that this was where the final ties to his past were severed, that the gate to that past had shut behind him forever.
Inside the examination labs, the nightmare of this strange place wasn't even beginning.
First, after the handlers had talked with three other humans, those humans began to pick each of the rodents up; looking them all over and pushing aside their ears or limbs to examine something, turning the animals onto their backs, examining their private body parts—making the poor creatures squirm. Any attempt to bite back was useless with their tails held down within each of the humans' fingers on one end and the scruff of their necks at the other.
Jonathan could do little against the humans in the long, white coats; so he shut his eyes, filled his mind with anything better than this place. When they were done, Jonathan was placed into another cage; this one was more like a shallow, transparent bin than a cage. He looked away in respect for the other mice undergoing their examination, especially Elijah.
One of the humans remarked upon noticing one of the she-rat's terror, "Poor little thing, he's frightened. Look how he's trembling."
The older man shook his head disgust. "Julie, what kind biologist are you? The 'poor little thing' happens to be a she, not a he." He then gestured toward the base of the tail. All the animals now looked away in horror and disgust.
Once all the healthy rats and mice were examined, counted and sorted, one of the tube-faced machines spoke to the older man in a synthesized tone. "Dr. Schultz, we will need to conduct specialized blood tests to confirm the health and durability of these specimens."
Schultz gave an exasperated sigh. "We're trained scientists, we know if an animal's healthy or not. They should be suitable enough—though I don't know about that little one," he added.
"Your objection is noted, Dr." the machine answered in a flat tone. "However, I have my orders: I am to conduct tissue and blood tests for analysis before the experiments may proceed. This 'little one,'" it lifted its appendage toward Elijah, "will be a clear cut indication for studying the effects of aging our serum has."
The machine gestured toward the door as two green uniformed guards entered. "You have done all that you can for now, Dr. Schultz. You and your colleagues are permitted to leave."
Schultz raised a hand in protest. "But—"
"C'mon," one of the soldiers said, grabbing his arm. "You'll tag 'em once we fully determine if they're suitable enough. Now let's go."
Jonathan snorted derisively as the three lab coats were escorted from the lab, but Elijah felt a sense of pity he couldn't explain. Some part of him told them that the humans weren't as happy about being a part of this as the rodents were. They were reaping what they had sown, Jonathan thought grimly.
Just then, a floating globe whirred and hovered into the room, making the animals shudder as it approached them in its unnatural locomotion. Elijah was the most terrified of them all. It was the tools he feared, and what their grim purpose would do to them.
Soon enough, they all found out, as the bipedal machine picked them up again and the globe pricked their sides with needles. As they did, they saw the tubes fill with small portions of red fluid. A shiver ran down the rodents' collective spine in realization that the machines were collecting their blood.
One by one, the machines sampled the blood from every one of the animals. Then Elijah was left. He backed away from the floating globe as it approached his cage. The little mouse made contact with the corner as the machine drew nearer and nearer.
"No! No, no, no, no! Get away, get away, get away!" Elijah swiped at the manipulative appendage of the bipedal machine, but it couldn't be diverted or forced open as it closed around him and lifted him out of the cage and toward the hovering machine, toward its needle arm. He shut his eyes and screamed.
Elijah felt the needle slide under his skin and drawing his blood. He imagined the white-hot pain of the needle, and the draining of his life from the machine's evil torture device. But as soon as the pain came, it was over.
Elijah panted as he was set back down. Soon enough, his fear of the machine was replaced by anger. He was angry because it had stolen a crucial and precious element to his life; he was angry that he allowed this thing to attack him and didn't fight back; he was angry because there was nothing he could have done about it.
Elijah staggered toward the wall of his cell, sucking in drafts of air shakily. Jonathan watched as the little one leaned his head and left arm against the wall to begin crying. The older mouse reached out his paw in sympathy.
Several hours later, most of the animals were relocated again. The rodents left behind realized that they were to be exterminated as pests. The survivors listened to the shrieks of the doomed as the machines placed their cages into slots before thick fumes flooded them. Never had they had a brush with death so close, and some even wished for it just they wouldn't suffer for what lay ahead.
The relocated animals were placed into a dimly lit room, each one placed into a new kind of cage with a shimmering red wall. Although they could see through those strange walls, their instincts warned them not to touch. Somehow, the buzzing of this part of the cage was warning enough, as well as a high pitched whine that the humans couldn't hear.
But just before the rodents were placed into their new prison cells, the white coated humans returned and fitted something around their necks. They were ID tags, with markings like the ones above the doors. The rats and mice tried to pull the tags off, or even nibble away at them, but it was no use. The tags simply couldn't be removed. As if things couldn't get worse, the tags flashed little red lights beeped at a frequency too low for the humans to hear.
Inside their cells were bottles of water with metal tubes on the end. Those tubes were blocked off by tiny metal balls that could be pushed back to allow the mice and rats to drink from them. Elijah thought the water was acceptable, cold and sweet upon his tongue and throat, but the food pellets in the bin were anything but appetizing.
As a matter of fact, Jonathan and Elijah disagreed on the subject of eating these pellets when the younger mouse found the other eating one like there was no tomorrow.
"Jonathan, why would you want to eat that?" Elijah asked, stunned at his older brother's bravado in eating it.
Jonathan looked up at him. "Why? It's the only source of food here and I have to."
"But it tastes awful!"
"I know," Jonathan sighed. "But some human kids could say the same about vegetables. I'm sure you know what I mean."
And Elijah did know what Jonathan meant; on one of the mornings in the market square, not once did they not see human children give the air a smell and turn their noses toward the vegetables. This alarmed Elijah and unsettled him. "But what's wrong with vegetables? They're not so bad!"
Jonathan shook his head. "I'm no expert on humans, but it seems that with the power they hold, making buildings and transportation to take them anywhere, they seem to believe that they're above nature itself. I'm guessing that humans have built up everything they know about that they think that they can get away with anything.
"If they don't want to eat vegetables, chances are they're going against their own instincts. All they're going to do is hurt themselves, hurt their own bodies. I can't believe that for all their power to create that they're destroying themselves in the process.
"But we understand better. We eat to live, not living to eat. And that's what we have to do."
Sighing, Elijah looked upon Jonathan, then back at the bland pellets. He hated to admit it, Jonathan was right. There was no other option for food. He would have to eat these nasty things or starve to death.
Besides that, he wasn't the only one unhappy with their supply of food. Several of the other mice and rats grumbled dreadfully about it. It would be a good role model for the rest of the animals to at least eat something to keep up their strength, even if he hated it.
The little mouse went over to the bin, picked up a pellet, and nibbled at it. It was as bland as he expected, but Elijah chewed and swallowed the first bite with grace.
Before he could take another, the door hissed open. A group of men entered, all wearing an assortment of clothing: lab coats, military uniforms, armor, and robes. But much to his surprise, two of the armored men had their helmets off and carried them under their armpits. What Elijah didn't expect was that two of the people who entered weren't men at all, or even human.
Jonathan gasped upon seeing the non-human females. They had long, gracile necks, almost purely white skin, flat faces, nearly black almond-shaped eyes, no hair at all. Although there was no menace in their walk and mannerisms, he was alarmed by the way they fixed their eyes upon him and the others clinically.
But what scared little Elijah was an older man. He had gray-white hair combed back neatly, a lean, frail build, and a hawk-like face with a gaze to match. Somewhere in his gut screamed at him that this man had evil intentions for the rodents. Elijah responded by backing away from him. Neither man nor mouse listened to the shorter uniformed man rambling on about the animals and their conditions.
The old man scanned the row of cages for some time before settling his gaze upon on. It was the one where the big nasty rat was. The rat glazed furiously at the man, it looked like he want to tear him apart.
But the man ignored this, resumed his study of the other animals, then said, "This is truly an accomplishment worthy of galactic recognition: once the Separatists have been defeated, we shall unveil what we are about to do here over the years and use this knowledge for the betterment of the galaxy."
Elijah cocked his head to the side bemused. Galactic recognition? The Separatists? The galaxy? What was he talking about? He looked to Jonathan who had the same expression of puzzlement.
Oddly enough, one of the uniformed men raised an eyebrow. But the older non-human female and the brown-robed man smiled warmly. "Well spoken, Your Excellency," the man lauded.
The uniformed man cleared his throat. "Now that we've completed our tour, I believe it is time for the Supreme Chancellor to escorted home while we attend to our duties here. This laboratory will serve as our home for a number of years—"
"Years?" The younger non-human female asked, apparently dismayed.
"Due to the high risk nature of this project, we are to remain and oversee it to conclusion—like it or not," the uniformed man added with a mutter.
The old man said, "Colonel, could you please see these gentlemen to their quarters? They've had a long journey and need rest. I will return to the shuttle soon, but first I wish to remain here for a short while."
The armored men and the uniformed man raised their eyebrows and stared at him. "Sir?"
"These creatures do not realize their importance, nor the sacrifice they will undergo for the good of the universe," the old man explained patiently.
The brown robed man seemed to show a look of sympathy for the old man. Then he bowed his head solemnly. "As you wish, Supreme Chancellor." Then everybody but the Chancellor turned to leave.
As the Chancellor stood alone in the room, Elijah felt something was very wrong as the man approached the cage where he took interest in the rat: everything felt cold, like the very warm of life itself was sucked into this human. The Chancellor seemed to radiate power despite his slow gait and aged frame.
Power. Misery. Fear.
Elijah shuddered again as he watched the human standing before the imprisoned rat. The rat seemed to be hypnotized by the man's very presence. They remained like this for minutes. Suddenly, something flashed in the human's eyes, blazing like yellow-red fire before returning to normal. Then the rat bowed its head in reverence.
Elijah looked away from the man as he left. As soon as he was gone, warmth flooded back into the little mouse. Never before had he felt so thankful for this; thankful that the man had left him alone and that he didn't have to undergo the process that the rat did. Whatever it had been, Elijah didn't want to know.
Sighing, he turned back to the pellet he had dropped and nibbled at it again.
Every mouse and rat in the room thought that the examinations, the tagging, and the blooding drawing were the worst of it—that the worst was over. So far, they ate whatever amount of pellets they could stomach. Elijah had one and half more, his lunch, dinner, and breakfast. His bedtime was governed by everybody else's internal clocks, when they went to sleep he went to sleep. This was their way of life now, and everybody thought they would rot in their new prison and die from boredom.
They couldn't have been more wrong.
All the animals jumped upon the door hissing open. In stepped the humans from the examination, along with the skull-faced machines and the floating globe. The hovering machine made a slow, hypnotic hum that terrified every living thing in the room. As before, it carried the needle that drew their blood. But this time, it was filled with an amber fluid.
The humans studied the controls of the cages, the rats inside them, then looked at one another worriedly.
"Alright, you get in front of it, George, while I turn off the gate" the older man said.
The young man did as he was instructed. The older man pressed a button, and deactivated the cage's red field gate. Before the rat had realized what was happening, the younger man had scooped it up and held it by the scruff of the neck and the base of the tail.
Held immobilized, the rat could only watch as the machine hovered closer and closer toward him. Sweat seeped through his fur and matted it as the hum grew faster and faster. Elijah watched in horror as the needle slid under the rat's skin, and a silent scream escaped its mouth. It convulsed violently as the needle was withdrawn like he had touched a live wire. Suddenly, as quickly as it started, it stopped.
The young human frowned. "What happened? Is it dead?"
The older man took the limp rat from him, felt around his body, frowned for a few minutes before he found what he was looking for. "No… there's still a pulse. It's faint, but he's still alive. From the look of it, he's in immense shock."
The senior faced the globe machine, then the skull-faced machine, his face pleaded with it not to continue. But neither showed any sign of pity. Instead, it took the unconscious rat and placed it back in its cage. Then it gestured toward the globe and it moved on to the next test subject.
Elijah stood there in mute horror as the human and machine team picked up the rat, stabbed it with the needle, and pumped in the strange liquid into it before moving on the following animal. Every animal jerked and twitched just as violently as the first rat had with each injection before going comatose.
It didn't take long before it was his turn, just before Jonathan. He felt the gloved thumb and index of the young man holding the scruff of the neck down, with his tail held within the crook of the pinkie finger. Elijah tried to squirm in the man's grip, but it was useless. The little mouse watched helplessly as the needle drew closer and closer to him.
Then it pierced his side and pumped the fluid into him.
Elijah's eyes widened.
His heart was beating faster and faster, everything seemed be moving at an inconceivably slow pace. Suddenly, Elijah felt heat from the puncture spread from its source throughout his whole body, like he was some tiny volcano about to erupt from the unexpected pressure within. He clenched at himself from where he was pricked before he felt the lightning course through him, quick and jolting up and down his spine and throughout all of his nerves.
A terrible thought came to him at lightspeed before he blacked out that he might explode.
Out of the corner of his eye, Elijah managed to glimpse Jonathan screaming for him. His mouth opened, but no sound came. But Elijah had heard it, not with his ears. He heard with a sense beyond all his natural senses.
Soon enough, he too heard his own scream for Jonathan with that strange supersense. But he never actually made a sound either.
Darkness didn't creep at the edges of the young mouse's vision, it engulfed him all at once. Elijah felt himself fall into its fathomless abyss. Then everything became still as stars came out and filled the black void before him.
"Master, sir, I heard Yoda talking about 'midi-chlorians.'"
The child's voice echoed through Elijah's unconscious mind. Soon, a vision of the child, a human boy in filthy clothes, materialized before him, and he was facing a much older man wearing a beard, long gray-brown hair, and brown and tan robes. They were surrounded by a cityscape the likes of which the little mouse had never seen before with the man kneeling before the boy.
The fire in Elijah's veins and nerves, the jolts, and the tightening of his muscles were but a distant memory; here he was free from the bounds of the physical world. Here he could relax and let the universe flow around him as he watched.
"I've been wondering," the boy continued. "What are midi-chlorians?"
"Midi-chlorians," the man answered, shifting his stance slightly, "are a microscopic lifeform that resides in all living cells."
The boy's expression was a mixture of confusion and alarm. "They live inside me?"
"Inside your cells, yes." The man placed a hand on the boy's shoulder. "And we are symbionts with them."
"Lifeforms living together for a mutual advantage," was the man's explanation. "Without the midi-chlorians, life could not exist, and we would have no knowledge of the Force. They continuously to speak us, telling us the will of the Force."
The vision faded, and new voices echoed.
"The Force?" This time, it was a young man.
Elijah found himself inside a simple stone hut with an old man in robes similar to the man in the earlier vision, and a younger man in a loose white tunic. The older man was smiling. "Now the Force is what gives a Jedi his power; it's an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us, it penetrates us, and it binds the galaxy together."
The younger man nodded, still bewildered by what he had heard. Elijah felt empathy for him—he didn't understand any of this either. He wanted to know how he was seeing these things and why; what a "galaxy" was; how exactly did the midi-chlorians keep him alive and what the "mutual advantage was;" what these lifeforms had to do with the Force. He also wondered what "the will of the Force" was and what it wanted with him and Jonathan.
He hadn't had time to wonder: what had those injections done to him?
Elijah's next vision took him to a swamp with a strange, green-skinned, elfin-eared creature in brown robes. "My ally is the Force, and a powerful ally, it is. Life creates it, makes it grow; its energy surrounds us and binds us. Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter."
The young man from before was there, but in an olive-drab tank top. The creature pinched his shoulder to emphasize the point it made. "You must feel the Force around you," the robed being made a sweeping gesture before he too disappeared with the young man.
Elijah shook his head vigorously as the words echoed in his mind. If he felt the Force, what was it supposed to do? And how was he supposed to feel it anyway? Did it have the power to free him and Jonathan from this nightmare? Or even the lab?
"Anakin," the old man's voice from the lab resounded in the dark—was the darkness that enveloped the little mouse's mind. "Are you familiar with The Tragedy of Darth Plagueis the Wise?"
"No," The young man, 'Anakin,' replied.
"Ah, I thought not," came the old man's reply. Anakin and the man—the latter wearing more elaborate, and colorful, robes—were seated in a private box overlooking a water globe with fish-like ballet dancers.
"It is not a story the Jedi would tell you. It's a Sith legend, of a Dark Lord who had turned his sight inward so deeply that he had come to comprehend, and master, life itself. And," he continued, "because the two are one when seen clearly enough—death itself."
Elijah felt a chill rush through him from what he said. Anakin sat up straight. From what Elijah saw, the human must have felt a similar chill. "He could keep someone from death?"
"According to the legend," the old man said, "he could directly influence the midi-chlorians to create life; with such knowledge, to maintain life within somebody already living would seem a small matter, don't you agree?"
The mouse trembled. The words held a power he couldn't even begin to fathom. It grew worse when he noticed Anakin was no longer frightened by the idea, but he seemed to like it. "Stronger than death..." the young man murmured. Elijah became more alarmed; the idea to resist death this way was...
"The Dark Side seems to be—from my reading—the pathway to many abilities some would consider unnatural." Then darkness swallowed the two humans.
Elijah suddenly felt the burning again. Before him appeared hundred, then thousands of the white armored figures alongside beings of many species in brown robes on a sandy flat. Blue-white bolts streaked toward robotic, alien soldiers. Those troops, in turn, returned fire with angry red-gold blasts. But the blasts were repelled, and deflected back by the brown robed beings, wielding blue, green, yellow, and amethyst shafts of light held in their hands through small, metal cylinders. When the light wielders reached the robots, they sliced and hacked at them like swords.
Elijah was awed by the battle's ferocity and scale, but baffled as words and meanings came into his mind; battle droids, clone troopers, Jedi Knights, lightsabers, Galactic Republic, the Confederacy of Independent Systems, the Clone Wars.
Elijah wondered, how was this possible? What purpose was meant for him to know about such things? Was this what the injections were supposed to do? If so, why?
Soon he was surrounded by stars, and around the stars, he saw various colored balls in strange patterns. Suddenly, he felt himself rushing toward a ball, and then stopped once he had settled on its surface. Across deserts, ice plains, jungles, grasslands, beaches, sinkholes, and canyons, the Jedi and the armored troopers battled their way through the hordes of machines. Nothing could stop them!
Elijah was in awe. From what he gathered, it seemed like the Jedi were capable of using "the Force" to move at incredible speeds and heights, move things without touching them, and knowing where the enemy before they got there, as well as nearly every shot to be deflected. Despite this, Elijah took some comfort in a feeling that assured him the Jedi and the troopers were good.
Then the terrible thing happened. The voice of the old man talking to Anakin said, "It is time, execute Order 66."
Elijah watched in horror as the troopers took their huge rifles and aimed them at the Jedi. Many fell before they understood what had happened; some of them managed put up some form of defense against their troops before they too were cut down by the blue bolts. He tried to call out, to warn them, but it was futile. With each Jedi's death, Elijah felt the burning stabs again, something he hadn't felt since his parents died. He realized how very much connected their lives were to him.
Now Elijah found himself in a rotunda of thousands of creatures not unlike the brown-robed figures, but they were in more elaborate costumes and robes. A tower stood in the middle of the chamber. A blue horned man, a bald woman with a high colored cloak, and the old man—a much, much older version of him, twisted by age and evil—wore a crimson cloak and robes stood on the podium of the tower.
"These Jedi murderers left me scarred, left me deformed," he told the assembly, "but they could not scar my integrity! They could not deform my resolve! The remaining traitors will be hunted down, rooted out wherever they may hide, and brought to justice, dead or alive! All collaborators will suffer the same fate. Those who protect the enemy are the enemy! Now is the time! Now we will strike back! Now we will destroy the destroyers! Death to the enemies of democracy!"
Everybody cheered. All except for a few which Elijah saw to be bewildered, frightened, and even sad. Some had little to no expression at all, but their eyes usually gave away the pain they felt, the same pain he felt for the fallen warriors. Elijah couldn't explain it, but he felt as if his will was in accord with theirs, that they were trying to avoid something like this.
The old man continued. "This has been the most trying of times, but we have passed the test. The war is over! The Separatists have been utterly defeated, and the Republic will stand! United! United and free!"
Roaring cheers filled the hall. A man in a dark goatee, and a woman, watched in anticipation and dread. Elijah didn't know why, but he felt and feared for them especially. He also despised the twisted old man and what he did to the Jedi, how murdering them hurt him in turn, like he didn't care about it.
"The Jedi Rebellion was our final test—it was the last gasp of the forces of darkness! Now we have left that darkness behind us forever, and a new day has begun! It is morning in the Republic!
"Never again will we be divided! Never again will sector turn against sector, planet turn against planet, sibling turn against sibling. We are one nation, indivisible!
"To ensure that we will always stand together, that we will always speak with a single voice and act with a single hand, the Republic must change. We must evolve. We must grow. We have become an empire in fact; let us become an Empire in name as well! We are the first Galactic Empire!
"We are an Empire that will continue to be ruled by this august body! We are an Empire that will never return to the political maneuvering and corruption that have wounded us so deeply; we are an Empire that will be directed by a single sovereign, chosen for life!"
More thunderous cheers filled the rotunda. With every passing moment, they grew louder and louder, stronger and stronger. And still, there were those frightened, grief-stricken beings horrified with this new development; Elijah was among them, even if he didn't understand why.
"We are an Empire ruled by the majority! An Empire ruled by a new Constitution! An Empire of laws, not of politicians! An Empire devoted to the preservation of a just society. Of a safe and secure society! We are an Empire that will stand ten thousand years!
"We will celebrate the anniversary of this day as Empire Day. For the sake of our children. For our children's children! For the next ten thousand years! Safety! Security! Justice and peace!
"Say it with me! Safety, Security, Justice, and Peace! Safety, Security, Justice, and Peace!"
The man's expression was aghast as the assembly chanted along. Then, to the mouse, the woman's voice could be heard over the chant. But it was a sad whisper: "So this is how liberty dies; with cheering, and thunderous applause."
Darkness took over once more. Another vision began to materialize into night sky with no land beneath it. There was a moon in the field of stars, but it looked more like a shiny blue water drop covered in clouds and rocks with moss all over.
Suddenly, four wedge-shaped objects that resembled armored skyscrapers on their sides appeared from above. Green-yellow bolts streaked from the objects toward the blue orb. Miniature suns appeared where they struck, then disappeared. The process continued over and over until the entire orb became a charred ember, with melted rock pouring from cracks on the surface like blood.
Elsewhere, a village was on fire. The whole area around it blistered with flames caused by clanging bird-like machines spewing red bolts of destructive energy. Elephantine machines and white armored troopers similar to the clones accompanied them. But their armor had changed to reflect the new, mechanized regime they now served. Innocent beings of every size and form ran for their lives from the attackers.
The pain from the injections strengthened from the deaths and suffering of these creatures! Elijah was appalled. They weren't as strong in the Force, but he felt them through it nonetheless. No wonder those men in the lab coats didn't want to carry out their tests in the first place! They feared that they would could hurt the mice and rats with this.
But these weren't the only atrocities Elijah witnessed; a gray uniformed man ordering another being from his home, and several troopers were beating him when he protested; creatures of every kind were forced to construct and repair the machines and weapons their oppressors used; people being subjected to unspeakable tortures; and a metal moon firing a green-yellow beam at another world, destroying it utterly to rubble.
It should have been a relief when shadow took it all away. But Elijah still felt the fire from the injections; and had been growing worse with the visions of death. Now, it was reaching its peak as a small blue-white light appeared before him.
"For over a thousand generations, the Jedi Knights were the guardians of peace and justice in the Old Republic," the old man's voice from the hut echoed. "Before the Dark Times; before the Empire."
The light grew in strength with his words, as did the youngster's agony. Soon, he saw nothing but light.
Then, he woke up.