A hamster saves the human race - for Sally because she loves hamsters - Quills 2016 Winner
|WRITTEN FOR: Sally BUT PLEASE DON'T LET THAT STOP YOU FROM READING AND/OR REVIEWING!
Featured in "Fantasy Newsletter (November 30, 2016)"
I cowered in darkness in the corner of my cage. My stomach rumbled, and I wished I had some seeds to gnaw on with my large front teeth. Both my cheek pouches were empty, and I couldn't remember the last time I'd had spare food to store in them. There was never enough food.
A shadow passed over the bars, and one of the monsters appeared. I shrank into as small a ball as possible in the hope my brown fur would blend into the filthy straw, but it had no trouble finding me and grabbed me with its giant paw. I'd never seen this particular monster before. It had no fur around its face, like all the others did, but long hair grew from the top of its head, which was strangely pink. This was the first time I'd seen pink hair. Another anomaly was that the others wore white clothes, but this monster was dressed in black.
This attack especially surprised me because it was night; usually the monsters only appeared when the sun was up. They often tortured me, so I expected the worst. Sometimes they stuck sharp metal things into me. On other occasions, they forced foul tasting liquids down my mouth. They frequently made me run around a confusing series of tunnels and obstacles for their sadistic pleasure.
The creature raised a stick above my head that glittered like the stars outside, and then it made those sounds the monsters use to communicate with one another with hisses and clicks and things. I cringed and closed my eyes, expecting at any moment a blow that would end my miserable existence.
'Can you understand me, Harry?' said someone.
I opened my eyes and looked around but saw no other hamsters.
The monster continued to grip me but lowered its stick. 'I said, “Can you understand?”'
I gaped at the creature. Those words had come from its maw. 'How—?' I began to say, then immediately clamped my mouth shut. Impossible. Not only could I now understand its noises, but I could make the same kinds of sound myself. A strange thought entered my head. She wasn't a monster; she was a woman.
'I'll take that as a yes,' she said and placed me on a table.
For a second, I thought about running. But where to? There were no obvious bolt holes, and experience had taught me the men — that's what the monsters with furry faces were, I now realised — could catch me before I got to the edge of the table anyway.
She produced a particularly juicy looking hazelnut and held it out to me. Drooling, I scampered towards her, half expecting her to snatch it away at the last second, another example of their cruelty, but she allowed me to paw it from her fingers and pop it into my mouth. Oh, the savoury nuttiness. After chewing, I swallowed some but pushed most of the pulped nut into my cheek pouches to enjoy at my leisure.
'Now that I've got your attention,' she said. 'How would you like to leave this dump and come live with me, where I'll feed you treats like that all day every day?'
I cocked my head and stared at her.
'Okay, Harry,' she said. 'You don't know me and don't trust me.'
'You got that right, lady,' I said, then covered my mouth with a paw. Why had I spoken my suspicions out loud? She'd probably stuff me straight back in my cage, and I'd get no more of those wonderful nuts.
'Well, first of all, do you have any idea why you can speak now?'
She picked up her stick. 'I'm a witch, and this is my wand.'
The word 'witch' brought evil images into my mind, and I edged away.
'Relax.' She smiled. 'My name's Sally. I'm a white witch with the power to give animals human strength, intelligence and speech.'
'If you're a white witch, how come you're all dressed in black?'
'Because black is a little more inconspicuous, which was necessary for my activities tonight.'
I wasn't sure what to think about that comment. 'So I can speak and understand you because you zapped me with your magic?'
I sat to think. Sally produced a cherry and placed it in front of me. I tried to ignore it, but it had a wonderful fruity scent. After a moment's hesitation I grabbed it, bit it in half and placed one piece in each of my cheeks. Wow, its sweet flavour was delicious. I was inclined to learn more about what she wanted.
'Why did you do this to me?' I asked.
'Come over here and I'll show you.'
She sat beside the table next to a black plastic thing covered with buttons in front of a screen. Glancing at the buttons, I was surprised to find I recognised the symbols marked on each — letters and numbers. Sally had given me the ability to read, too. She pressed several buttons, and the screen lit up. Twelve pictures of men and women appeared, and all looked terrible. Some had red spots covering their skins, others had sores oozing green puss. They were clearly sick. Above each image was printed 'TEST SUBJECT A' or similar.
'This is a computer,' she explained. 'The scientists who work here keep records of everything they do on computers just like this one.' She pressed another button, and the screen changed. Twelve pictures of hamsters filled the screen, labelled 'TEST SUBJECT' just like the humans. But the hamsters had been opened up, their skin ripped off their chest to expose the internal organs beneath.
Anger flared through my mind. 'They're evil.'
'This place is a medical research laboratory,' she continued. 'This room is where they test performance enhancing drugs to be used on soldiers to make them more efficient killers. I was able to break in here, but the security on the next lab, where they're creating a super plague, is too tough.'
'A super plague?'
'A biological weapon they intend to deploy soon.'
'You mean they want to deliberately make people sick?' I asked.
She nodded. 'People and hamsters both.'
'They're greedy. They want to murder most of the Earth's population so that they can have our planet's wealth all to themselves. They've created a disease and a cure, but will keep the cure for themselves and a few others they select to become their slaves when they control the world.'
'You're a witch. Can't you use magic to stop them?'
'My magic is limited. I can only improve the natural ability of animals. I can make birds sing better, fish swim faster, dogs bark louder. My magic doesn't work on inanimate things or plants, so I can't break through walls or get through locked doors.'
'Well, somebody should do something to stop these evil men,' I said.
Sally looked at me expectantly.
'Whoa,' I said. 'What can I do?'
She picked me up, walked over to my cage and pointed at some kind of diagram on a clipboard. 'Those are charts of cognitive performance tests. According to these records, you're the most intelligent hamster they've ever come across.'
'Most of the testing involved you running around complex mazes they created. They injected you with their drugs, then tested your speed to see if it improved or not. But, the point is, you have unique training for this mission.' She pointed up to a rectangular metal grille. 'Behind that cover is an air conditioning duct. The whole building is riddled with them.'
Sally carried me back to the computer and pressed a button. A complex network of lines appeared on the screen overlaying a fainter group of rectangles. 'This is a plan of the layout of the air conditioning system and how it supplies each room with cool air.' We're here.' She put her finger on a place where two lines crossed. 'And you need to get there.'
'It's a room where there's a computer terminal just like this one, except the other terminal is isolated from the rest of the local network and contains all the most important secret stuff they don't want anybody to know, like details about the virus they've created and the method to manufacture the cure.'
'Even if I can find that room, what can I do?'
She smiled and pulled a small object from her pocket, then showed me a slot at the back of the computer. 'This is a USB port,' she explained. 'And the thing I'm holding is a transmitter. Plug this transmitter into the port like this, and I can use a receiver here on this terminal to control that terminal. A tech savvy friend of mine set this up for me. Once you've inserted the transmitter, I can remotely lift all that secret data and download it onto a memory stick here.'
I didn't understand a lot of the things she was saying, but I got that she wanted me to stick that metal thing into a hole at the back of a computer in another room. 'How can I carry it?'
Sally chuckled. 'Harry, you're a hamster. How do you carry anything?'
'Oh, right. Doh!' I shook my head at my own stupidity.
She handed over the transmitter. 'It's waterproof, so don't worry about damaging it.'
I shifted all the stored nut and cherry into my right cheek pouch and placed the transmitter into my left cheek. 'How do I get past the grilles?'
'I already told you. You've got human strength in your little paws.'
I spent some time studying the map of the air conditioning ducts on the screen, then Sally lifted me up to the grille. When I reached out with my paws, I was able to rip it away as easily as tearing the straw in my cage.
'Be careful,' she said and placed me inside the vent. 'As soon as you've plugged in the transmitter, just come straight back here.'
Keeping the map in my mind, I scurried along the ducting. I didn't hesitate at the first intersection, or the second. Compared to the mazes I'd been tested on, this was a doddle. There was a metal lattice blocking my route, but I tried out my claws on it and found it almost as easy to tear through as the grille before. Within a short while, I was standing behind another grille and looking down at the computer terminal.
Except for the light from the computer screen, the room was in complete darkness. However, I'm a hamster. Nature designed us to be good at seeing in the dark. I pushed off the grille, took a deep breath and then jumped down onto the table.
Immediately, a noise so loud that it hurt my little ears filled the room. I wasn't sure what caused the racket, but suspected it didn't bode well for my mission. I trembled, and almost threw up the nut I ate earlier. For a moment, I considered running away and hiding. But, no. I'd been running all my life, prodded along by the scientists. Tonight I'd make my stand.
I scurried across to the computer and located the holes at the back. After spitting out the transmitter, I tried it for size in each. After two the wrong shape, I managed to slide it into place in the third slot.
The door banged open, and the lights came on. I curled into a ball, making myself as small as possible. Two men dressed in blue shirts with black jackets and hats entered and gazed around.
'I don't see nothin,' said the more plump of the two men.
'Me neither,' said his bald-headed companion.
Of course. They were looking for a human sized intruder. I was too insignificant for them to even notice me.
The plump guy pointed at the floor. 'Look, it's the cover from the air conditioning vent. Those idiots from maintenance must have fitted it wrong.' He touched a small black box fastened to his jacket near his neck. 'Control, it's Bob. Cancel that alarm and contact maintenance. A loose vent cover fell off. It must have triggered the movement sensors.'
The box crackled for a moment, then someone said, 'Roger that.' Bob switched off the light, and both men left.
I scampered over to the front of the computer and looked at the screen. Lots of things were opening and closing, so I guessed that transmitter must be working. It was fortunate the computer was facing away from the door so those men didn't notice the screen changing and wonder what was happening.
I studied the open vent. It was a long way up. However, I noticed a shelf ran close to it. I had human strength in my front paws, so maybe… I crouched down low, then pushed up with as much strength as I could manage. I flew through the air and landed on top of the computer monitor. Wow. I was the world's first flying hamster. Next I leapt onto the shelf. From there, it was easy to scramble back into the vent.
I scampered along that ducting faster than I'd ever run around a maze for the scientists. My mind was focused on the thought that Sally might have another hazelnut or maybe a cherry for me when I got back. My mouth watered in anticipation.
At the intersection, something huge popped up in front of me, and I stopped so suddenly that I nearly tumbled over myself. Blocking the whole vent ahead was a huge, black rat. He stank like my scat. He sniffed at me, then smirked. From the glint in his eyes, I gathered hamster was on tonight's menu. He licked his lips and stepped closer.
I edged backwards, and I'm not too proud to admit I wet myself there and then. This beast was twice my size, and where I had two big front teeth, he had a dozen bigger, sharper gnashers. He loomed over me.
For some reason, Sally's voice came into my head. 'You've got human strength in your little paws.' I stared right into that rat's face. He paused a second and blinked. I think he'd seen, or maybe smelled the change in my attitude. Yet he still opened his jaw and lunged at my neck.
I swung my paw, making firm contact with his head. He went flying across the intersection and hit the wall with a loud bang. He shook his head, then turned tail and scarpered.
'Yeah, that's right. Run, you dirty rat!'
Soon I was standing at the vent where I originally entered the ducting. Sally reached up and lifted me down. Oh, I was so happy to see her pink hair and broad smile once again.
'Are you okay?' she asked. 'First I heard an alarm, then there was an almighty bang in the ducting.'
I shrugged and said nonchalantly, 'Oh, just a few rats I had to evade.'
Sally opened the window. 'We'll have to use the fire escape.' She picked me up and slipped me into her bag. 'Hang on in there a minute.'
I didn't see much of what happened for a while. There was the clang of feet on steps. A metal door opened and closed. A mechanical noise, which I later learned was a car engine. Around dawn, we reached Sally's house.
She placed me on the kitchen table and ruffled the fur on top of my head. 'You're not only the bravest hamster on Earth, you're the cutest, too.' She patted her jacket pocket. 'Thanks to your courage and skill, I've got everything we need on a memory stick. Once MI5 see the information we've obtained, they'll shut that place down pronto. And if the mad scientists try to spread their evil plague before then, we've a cure that can save everyone.'
From a cupboard, she pulled out a box which rattled. She took out something brown and roughly the size and shape of her thumb. 'Here.'
I sniffed. There was nut there, hidden beneath a rich scent I didn't recognise, and the whole ensemble was very enticing. I held it in my paws and took a tentative nibble. The flavours that exploded in my mouth nearly knocked me off the table. This was too good to save in my pouches. I had to eat it all now. 'That's fantastic! I've never tasted anything like it.'
'It's a chocolate Brazil nut,' said Sally. 'I think they're the best nutty treat on Earth, and nothing is too good for the hamster that saved the human race.'