Chapter 9:

Ratkind Sure Has a Bad Reputation! (Tangelos Too!)

Ranch Royale!

I wake up refreshed and with a renewed sense of strength. I feel invincible. Today’s the day I’m sent away to Pol’s ranch, but I know I have a responsibility to prove to Koshi and the rest of the rebels that I am on their side. I also have the responsibility to protect Aiguo from being used as some sort of weapon by those very same rebels or by his own father.Bookmark here

I stretch in my bed when I realize I’m still wearing the same uniform from yesterday. It’s wrinkled and carries the lingering scent of the vinegar I use to remove the mud. It’s probably a good idea that I change before I leave today.Bookmark here

I stand up and drop my dress to the floor. I walk over to my travel bag and unfold one of the uniforms I planned to wear while at General Pol’s. Before I can fully slip it on and button it, two Tamsworth guards barge in through the doors and grab me by my elbows.Bookmark here

“Excuse me! I was in the middle of getting dressed! Let me go now! Somebody tell me what’s going on!” Bookmark here

Neither of them responds as they drag me out of the room all the way to Romano’s office. They forcibly sit me in a seat placed in a row of numerous other chairs occupied by Fujita, Miwa, and a few other unfamiliar faces both mammalian and human. None of them dare look my way.Bookmark here

The guards remain inside the office keeping their eyes on every single one of us.Bookmark here

“Can somebody tell me what this is all about?!”Bookmark here

No answer.Bookmark here

Tap… tap… tap…Bookmark here

The tapping pattern of the General’s golden cane becomes louder until I see him enter the room with a look of distress and distrust. Bookmark here

“If you will all take notice, one of our most valuable humans at the manor isn’t sitting next to you this morning. Does anybody want to explain why? Or inform me on his whereabouts?”Bookmark here

Each one of us remains silent.Bookmark here

“None of you, huh? That’s too bad. None of you noticed Tomo behaving strangely late last evening or any strange behavior on behalf of the staff on duty for that matter?”Bookmark here

Silence fills the room and each of us finally looks over at each other.Bookmark here

After a few moments pass, a male human with brown skin and a shaven head speaks up.Bookmark here

“Is it possible that Tomo is just a deserter? Plenty of people have tried to escape the manor in the past because they can’t handle the responsibilities that come with it.”Bookmark here

“Thank you Masashi, but Tomo was one of our most loyal. I highly doubt that.”Bookmark here

“Then if you truly believe he is in some kind of danger and has gone missing, I can get some of my sniffers outside the manor and track him down for you.”Bookmark here

“I’m looking for a confession before a solution Masashi if you would stop talking.”Bookmark here

The male human crosses his arms and sinks into his chair in rejection.Bookmark here

Then suddenly, Fujita raises her hand.Bookmark here

“Yes, novice vet.”Bookmark here

“General Romano, I did bump into Chinatsu late last night as she came to my room and asked to borrow your son and take him to the medical facility to run some tests you had requested. I found it odd, but being that Chinatsu has been here for longer than me –“Bookmark here

“By literally four days!” I interject.Bookmark here

“No interruptions Kobayashi.”Bookmark here

Great, I was stuck with the surname of a dead man.Bookmark here

“I saw her too, sir,” Miwa says while avoiding eye contact with me.Bookmark here

I guess it is every human for itself at this manor.Bookmark here

“Hmm… Continue please, Fujita.”Bookmark here

“Thank you, General. Chinatsu didn’t mention what the tests were and why they couldn’t wait until morning or when she returned from General Pol’s ranch. She seemed… nervous, but I wasn’t sure why.”Bookmark here

“So, you’re telling me you took notice of Chinatsu’s strange behavior and body language, but you still allowed her to be responsible for the safety of my shoat.”Bookmark here

“Well- I mean yes but, I thought it would’ve-“Bookmark here

“Not a great first impression on your first evening at the manor. I expected more with how highly your mentor spoke of you. We will deal with this later in private.”Bookmark here

All the blood rushes and leaves her face making her look like a ghost. Bookmark here

Good for you bitch snake.Bookmark here

“Everyone leave and allow me to speak with Kobayashi in private.”Bookmark here

The rest of the mammalians and humans who sat in the same row as I vanish quickly, grateful not to be the main center of suspicion for today. I look back and meet eyes with Fujita and she exits. She can see the vengeful look in my eyes. Bookmark here

I will deal with her eventually.Bookmark here

“Chinatsu, at this moment you are highly valuable to me, but so was Mr. Kobayashi. I’m inclined to know what happened between you and him and where he is.”Bookmark here

“I’m inclined to know too, so you tell me because I think you have a pretty good idea of what happened. If you’re going to put me in charge of curing not only an entire ranch but your son as well, at least tell me what’s really wrong with him. And don’t even try to convince me it’s a fever.”Bookmark here

“You are forgetting your place.”Bookmark here

“I saw the files; the ones about hybridization.”Bookmark here

For the first time, Romano begins to look uneasy with himself.Bookmark here

“I know all about the ancient chimeras,” I continue, “But they haven’t existed for centuries since the mammalians took over. So explain how he got here. Is he even really your biological son?”Bookmark here

“You think you’ve figured it out just by reading a few articles from the old world?”Bookmark here

“What other explanation is there? Your shoat has a human brain developing inside his skull. I wouldn’t be surprised if you forced the manor’s scientists to experiment on him so you could use him to wipe out all the enemy ranches. I’m letting you know right now, I won’t stand for it. It isn’t fair to him; he isn’t in control of the chaos he causes.”Bookmark here

“If that really were the case, how come he has yet to devour you, Chinatsu?”Bookmark here

He’s right.Bookmark here

“I haven’t figured that part out yet.”Bookmark here

“Your ancestors used to have dozens of religions, but one common belief was in that of reincarnation. Have you heard this term before?”Bookmark here

I shake my head ‘no’Bookmark here

“Humans used to believe that when you died, you would return back to earth as a different person and relive life all over again. Most times, you would return in the form of a human, other times as your species used to call us; animals. When I look into the eyes of my son, I don’t see a defenseless piglet’s soul. I see the soul of a ferocious man; a killing machine who has seen it all. I believe a human warrior who passed has reincarnated into my son. I also believe this is the first time in a long time that this circumstance has occurred for any of the mammalians.”Bookmark here

As I try to absorb all this new information, Romano walks from behind his desk, stands by my side, and sinks to a height where he can speak directly into my ear.Bookmark here

“It seems to me you’ve developed a connection with my son and have a desire to protect him. It is for that reason and that reason alone I still trust you with the task of dealing with Pol’s ranch. But you allowed for one of my best males to die on manor grounds while drawing unwanted attention to my son’s… condition.”Bookmark here

“Tomo tried to kill me, your son saved me.”Bookmark here

“And why would Mr. Kobayashi attempt to kill you? It would seem very out of character, no?”Bookmark here

“For him to kill? Apparently not, that seems to be his main course of action when he needs to provide more human skins for your disturbing collections around the manor.”Bookmark here

“For him to kill you. He did recommend you after all and I assumed you two were closely acquainted for years in the med coop. Did he know something about you perhaps that I do not? Because if that is so, I suggest you confess it to me now while you have my mercy.”Bookmark here

“… No.”Bookmark here

“Okay then. That settles it. And as I said before, we only practice ethical taxidermy. All the humans are already dead when we find them. It is commemorative-“Bookmark here

“Then why have you only practiced this supposed art form on humans? They seem more like trophies than monuments to me. You don’t even give them a choice in what happens to their bodies after they perish.”Bookmark here

“I don’t offer them a choice in what happens to them while they are alive either, so what’s the difference?"Bookmark here

“... You’ve made your point. So, am I free to leave and prepare for my travels?”Bookmark here

“Oh Chinatsu, do not forget that burn on your back. You will never be ‘free.’ Remember; I’m not offering you a choice.”Bookmark here

-Bookmark here

I stand outside the entrance of the manor awaiting my cab. I admire the landscaping of the beautiful, spring flowers and freshly trimmed hedges. The view brings me tranquility until I see farther back in the courtyard a few topiaries. They are in the shape of pregnant human females, male soldiers, and humanlets playing with one another. I divert my eyes from the human-shaped bushes as a guard rides his cart up to me. I apprehensively hop into the cart and sit down on the seat facing the back of the Tamsworth’s head. I never turn my back to any mammalian. I set my bag next to me on the seat holding it close to the side of my leg. Bookmark here

When we leave manor grounds and ride past the barns and coops, I notice the glares coming from all the workers in the fields. Their eyes are filled with hatred and condemnation. They stare at me as if I think I’m above them. They must truly believe that all the branded humans are branded by their own volition, that they leave their friends and units behind for a life of silky sheets and groomers at your beck and call.Bookmark here

As I stare into the multitude of harvesters with blistered hands and dark spots from the sun all over their skin, I spot Rio. Her bob is more disheveled than ever. She stares back at me and shakes her head shaming me before resuming her duties. Koshi must have told her and now she will surely see me as a traitor, after all my efforts to gain back her trust. They all became futile.Bookmark here

I look away and keep facing forward for the rest of the ride, even when we reach the unclaimed acres between Romano’s ranch and Pol’s where there isn’t a soul in sight and nothing but dry, barren fields.Bookmark here

-Bookmark here

Two hours pass and we finally arrive at the border of Pol’s ranch. Beaver guards in dense armor line the gate, as well at the top and bottom corners of the giant wall barricading outsiders. Each of them holds long, white and black javelins to their sides seemingly ready to stab anybody who comes within six feet.Bookmark here

One of them leaves their stance to question the Tamsworth of our business here today. They communicate in a series of oinks, squeals, grunts, and grumbles. Few words are intelligible; General Romano and vet are the only words I can make out in the overlapping of mammalian noises. The exchange of words appears polite and well-mannered when the beavers let down the gate confirming what I have seen.Bookmark here

We ride over a small, grey bridge before we fully enter the manor grounds. Pol’s landscaping and overall aesthetic of his manor are drastically different from how Romano’s. The field’s crops appear wilted and desecrated by insects and there are no human topiaries in sight. There are fountains on each side of the path we are currently riding on, but neither is working. They look just as dry as the fields.Bookmark here

There are hardly any humans out here working, and so far the mammalian workers have been beaver, gopher, groundhog, hamster, but none of them rat. Where did they all go? How come the plague doesn’t seem to be affecting the other rodent species?Bookmark here

The moment we arrive at the manor’s doors, Pol walks out along with his wife and twelve pups that follow him closely behind. His whiskers perk up as he welcomes me. A groundhog guard rushes up to me taking my bag from me.Bookmark here

“Hey! Where are you taking my belongings?”Bookmark here

“Calm down,” Pol says, “He is only taking it off your hands to bring it to your temporary quarters. There is much to discuss and no time to waste, follow me to the dining area. Come, I’ll escort you there. I’ll disclose all the data we have on how the plague has spread over breakfast. Do you like fruit? We have all sorts.”Bookmark here

“I’ve never had the pleasure of eating any, sir.”Bookmark here

“If General Romano is experiencing a produce shortage I will gladly include that in the list of items I am supplying him with in exchange for your time and knowledge-“Bookmark here

“No, it isn’t that. The General has access to a wide variety of fruits that I struggle to pronounce, but he doesn’t permit his humans, not even his branded humans to consume them. He says they are too delicate and tedious to grow to waste on a human’s taste buds.”Bookmark here

“You know, if you are able to cure my ranch as it’s said you are able to, you could be a new addition to the ranch.”Bookmark here

“But branded humans can’t be sold to other ranches. It’s against the law.”Bookmark here

“Which law? Where is it written in stone? Nothing is written in stone! You wouldn’t call it being sold, you could call it… being sequestered! So that the General and the rest of the ranch would take pity on you rather than see you as a traitor. If you were one of my laborers, you would enjoy delicious fruit every morning before your shift. Loquats, durian, pomelos! We are even experimenting with hybrid fruit. Just wait until you taste a tangelo!”Bookmark here

I have heard enough about hybrids these past couple of days more than I would have liked to. Stop overreacting! It’s only produce.Bookmark here

“I’m exhausted at being a vet for anyone anyway. Humans held captive usually tend to have smaller brains and I would like to keep my head screwed on properly. And, don’t you think creating new fruit in a laboratory is a bit… unnatural?”Bookmark here

“That is the point.”Bookmark here

“No, I mean, scarily unnatural; like you may cause some unforeseen side effects in the people who consume them?”Bookmark here

“This is why we have human test trials. We test it on humans first before declaring them safe for consumption by mammalians.”Bookmark here

“If humans are so different from your species, how would you possibly be able to foresee the consequences of consumption? A human can be resilient and digest a tangelo, or whatever the hell you said, just fine, and it could still kill a rodent.”Bookmark here

“Very true, there is always going to be some risk, but testing on humans lowers the risk tremendously. Besides, we learned it from your kind. In ancient times, humans would test not only medicine but frivolous products designed for vanity on rats of all kinds. Guinea pigs too, but they didn’t get it anywhere near as bad. How do you think all the mammalians were able to create this new world?”Bookmark here

“It never crossed my mind.”Bookmark here

“Humans injected human stem cells into my ancestors to see if they reacted well. Human molecules were the safest go-to for cell therapy because the human body would be less resistant to it. Little did they know those human cells would morph our entire DNA and genes. We began to learn like humans. We learned how to beat puzzles, write, and mimic the sounds coming out of your mouths so we would be able to communicate better. You made us.”Bookmark here

“I didn’t do anything. I’m not any more responsible for whatever my species did centuries ago than you are for what yours did.”Bookmark here

Pol stops midstep as we walk through the drab, dark, humid halls of his home.Bookmark here

“What do you mean, ‘what my species did’?”Bookmark here

I’ve only just arrived and have already offended him! Getting off to a bad start!Bookmark here

“Um, I mean-“ I stutter, “I mean, honestly, I’ve heard the stories about how ratkind spread the plague you are currently dealing with within your walls in the olden days of human rule. Humankind nearly went extinct cause of the disease. That is just what I was told. I apologize if I have offended you.” I bow.Bookmark here

“I will assume it came from a place of ignorance. History gets twisted and altered to be in favor of whoever is telling it. You should be aware that considering how quickly the plague spread, transmission through rats would be the least likely cause. We discovered studies that were buried away with the purpose of never being found, but oh yes we found them. The pattern of the outbreak fit the human-parasite model; more specifically, fleas and lice that would live on humans along with their clothing. And everybody seems to dismiss airborne transmission. But throughout all of history, we continuously get the blame. However, with your help, soon enough we will prove this to every living organism on every ranch in existence!” ”Bookmark here

I completely understood. Having Koshi, Rio, and all the human laborers outside Romano’s manor stare at me in disgust as if I was the reason they were all there. I was getting the blame for something that was totally out of my control.Bookmark here

“I can relate. I’m so sorry you and your kind have had to carry this reputation for so many years. It isn’t fair. I will do everything in my power, General Pol.”Bookmark here

“I appreciate your sympathy, but we have come a long, long way. Ratkind has been resilient through a myriad of natural disasters and doomsdays. We rebuild every time. During the human rule, mice were always favored over rats as more tolerable and amiable. The entitled mice always thought they were superior to us because of that. As mammalians began to dominate, mice kept that same superiority complex rather than see us as allies and equals. They would avoid us at all costs. This ranch used to be ruled by them, until we committed mass muricide! Ate every last pup and pinky within these very walls! Some may call it cruel, but we took what should have been ours. I’m a proud descendant of the Norway rats and made it known that day. If we are going to be reputable for any act, I’d prefer it be that one!”Bookmark here

My sympathy became fleeting as I started to wonder if Pol was even more psychotic than Romano.Bookmark here

“Now, let’s savor the tangelos and set you up so you can save us all, Chinatsu!”Bookmark here

Taylor Victoria
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