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The Trap – Piece 2

February 14, 2011

The first step, however brave, was still a tentative one. Only a tiny pink paw past the line of dark and light. Enough to reveal his brown and white face to any sharp-eyed predator watching from the eucalyptus trees. The ground was hard packed, yellow and pebble strewn. The path lay five scampers ahead. He knew the path and he didn’t need to walk down it, he needed to cross it.

A cool breeze rustled the long leaved bushes on the other side. On his side it swept up a thin swirl of dust that made him wince. Above him owls and hawks might have been waiting for his next move, but he had no choice any more. Memories of a place beyond this path guided him. Fuelled by instinct he ran, awkwardly bobbing like a lab rat not used to the wild does, back feet bouncing him along. Given any concept of time, Nessum would have ran for minutes, but it was less than seven seconds before he was over the path and among the green, leathery leaves on the other side.

A rat has no natural defences apart from their discretion. If they find themselves in the presence of an enemy they can either run to safety or sit tight and see if the enemy passes them by. Neesum had gone from the danger of open ground into the unfamiliar wilderness of a university that had been practically built in the middle of bushland. A rat is filled with more fear than anything else, and it is this constant paranoia that has perpetuated their survival for millennia. Neesum froze, as these rat instincts washed over him like a cold shower. Not even his whiskers or ears twitched. He struck the pose of a rat the moment before a snake strikes it.

But then there was no snake or any other danger, only the fear of being thrust into an alien environment. The fear of new confusing forces. He stayed in this state, frozen beyond his senses, and waited for the strike to happen. But it never came. After a moment Neesum understood that nothing was going to happen. The fear started to leave him. Odours of cut grass and earthy plants became apparent as his senses opened up again. His whiskers twitched and memories returned. He had been here before and that is why he had come. He wiped his ears with his front paws, looked around in that jerky way rats do, and then followed the bushland as it sloped downward.

Rats have always been cowardly, and although this has been their survival, they usually come to cowards deaths. How Neesum survived that night might give providence to the saying “Fortune favours the bold.” Because, even though the tamed scrub and bushes gave little cover and the grass was cropped close to the ground, he did survive. A white, soft rat, running in the moonlight, scrambling over fallen branches was a gift to any predator. If the rats had a god, it looked over him and sent the hunters hunting elsewhere.

The air was moist. The grass thick and damp. The scent of moss and decaying wood filled Neesum’s pink nostrils. It was a rich comforting smell, as the smell of brewing coffee on a Sunday morning might be for a human. He followed these scents, greedily breathing them in, letting it ignite recollections in his mind. Memories that were once vague and distant now came to him with intense clarity. The air besides the creek ahead was cool. A wall of tuberous plants lined its banks. He scrambled through and sat on the waters edge beneath a green canopy.

Lights sparkled off the water, but that was nothing compared to the lights coming from across the creek. To another rat it would have looked like a wall of yellow fire, but Neesum remembered what it was. He may not have known that it was the university dormitories, but he knew it was his home. There was an urge inside him to go there, return there, but another urge pulled him back. The voice of his new instinct spoke to him. It told him that that was not the way. And he knew, that although that was his final destination, the direct route would not lead him there. There was another way.

Memories of another place, not his dormitory home, but another just as familiar, came to him. Sounds called words came. It was “laboratory”, but other than that it was inconceivable to a rat, even one of Neesum’s heightened intellect. Despite being otherworldly to Neesum – a land of white lights and white clad humans – it was not a place of fear. It was his school, sometimes intimidating and confusing, but filled with stimulating lessons, mazes, and tests.

To his school and his lessons his mind wandered and stayed. This was the path home, and the thought settled clear in his mind, heavy and immovable. As he stared across at the lights his eyes faded. Words stirred again. These joined together and made basic thoughts. However clumsy or clunky these thoughts were, they were indeed thoughts. Genuine thoughts.

Knowing not what was happening, something clicked in his mind. Something in those human words. Not a single word or concept, but something between them. Nothing a rat would know from a rat’s normal life, but a new part injected by humans. That rats feel the basic range of emotions is generally known, but what Neesum felt then was completely new. It would be a mystery to the scientists until they saw what Neesum later did. Then they would study back to that moment and realize that this was the first evidence of hate and revenge ever seen in a rat.Rats have shown signs of meta-cognition, but this type of thought and premeditation was beyond that. Infanticide was not one of his learned words, but Neesum decided for himself that something was wrong with what happened. A decision was made. Something had to be done. And just as the big brown knew its strength lay in its size, instinct told Neesum his strength lay somewhere else. He also had the advantage of knowing another human word: revenge. And this was the start of his plan. His trap.

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