I: Like any other story
Once upon a time, there was a lab rat named Charles and a pet shark named Erik. They were kept by a peculiar man, Sebastian Shaw, who had an affinity with intelligent and dangerous animals. The first one to be bought and brought home was Erik and he was rather surprised that he actually had a vast amount of space to swim in— the entire underground floors of Shaw’s mansion.
At first, he didn’t really know why he was there other than the fact that he was being kept as a pet, but that soon changed when he began exploring the underground; there were certain lidded holes, holes that he could jump out of if he so wished and then it was made clear that he wasn’t just a pet, but a guard shark of sorts. Shaw didn’t want any intruders, apparently.
(For what reason? He didn’t know.)
To some extent, he was fine with that. He was very good at what he did, being a predator, stalking and striking and killing his prey with uncanny efficiency. Nature had bred him for it. He was perfection.
He could only tolerate Shaw when Shaw fed him live, breathing things. It made the hunt all the more thrilling; he wasn’t being wasted in this underground space—what the humans would probably call an aquarium, an abnormally large one at that.
Otherwise, he detested this strange man. This place could never compare to living back in the ocean and there wasn’t a moment where he didn’t think about escaping. If only he had feet like a human or even had some way to communicate with them. Then he could tell them how he’d like have them for lunch if they didn’t send him back to the ocean.
In the meantime, he busied himself with the routines of this mansion. He’d swim around, trying to sense if there were any intruders for a light snack and actually, there were quite a few. They really shouldn’t have bothered trying to walk on the floors. It was easier to hear their movements, their footfalls and smell their heat permeating from their skin and when he could scent just a hint of blood, it made him all the more excited to kill them.
Ultimately, the arrival of the lab rat had broken and changed those routines.
The lab rat, or Charles, as Shaw liked to call him, was different. From the glass floors, Erik could see him. He was a small white furry thing, but instead of having red eyes like normal lab rats, his eyes were blue, freakishly blue, like the very ocean itself. Erik found that annoying.
Charles was a lab rat in a sense that his owner, their owner rather, not only played tricks with him to test his intelligence (and he was very intelligent, Erik could see that, as Charles whizzed through each miniature maze, chewing on cheese by the end of it), but Shaw would also literally experiment on him, dousing and injecting him with dubious-looking liquids.
Erik detested Shaw a little more because of that; somehow, it reminded him of the fact that he had been taken away from his home. Shaw had no right to do that to him or to Charles.
After one grueling experiment, honestly, Erik was surprised that Charles was still alive, huddled up against one of the corners of his rectangular rat cage.
Erik simply stared at him, out of grim amusement and curiosity more than anything else. Such a fragile little thing, still going so strong.
Eventually, Charles noticed him.
The rat turned around and stared back at him with his bright blue eyes. The rat blinked once. Twice.
‘Is there something on my face?’
Erik jumped, bumping against the glass floors. Where did that voice come from? He looked around, trying to sense anything strange in his watery surroundings, but there was nothing. The voice had come from inside his head. How in the world?
The rat looked just as surprised and confused. They were of different species; it wasn’t like they could communicate. Erik simply saw him as a creature not even worth to be called a prey.
‘Did I think that out loud? I’m very sorry.’
‘It’s you!‘ Erik realized with a gasp, his tail whipping against the natural flow of the waters in agitation. He stared at the rat again, trying to figure him out. ‘How is that possible?’
‘I don’t know,’ said the rat in a self-depreciative tone of voice. ‘It must have something to do with those injections.’
‘I suppose. They don’t look like fun,’ Erik said, sharing his particular taste in black humor.
There was an awkward moment between them then, neither creature knowing what to say next, but that eventually passed as Charles spoke to him in his mind again.
‘You came from the ocean,’ Charles assumed, changing the subject abruptly. He was looking him over— well, what he could see of him anyway. Charles would probably only see his grey and white face, along with his snout and his many, many sharp teeth. Erik rather liked that. Charles only chuckled. Did Charles pick up on that?
‘Yes,’ Erik deadpanned. ‘Where else would I have come from?’
‘Well, you could have been bred in captivity,’ Charles suggested, ‘like I was.’
‘What does that even mean?‘ Erik asked, not liking this one bit.
‘Animals who weren’t born in the wild,‘ Charles said with a shrug. ‘I learned many things about humans this way, being passed from one owner to the next.’
‘And why is that? Were you a bad pet, Charles?’ Erik inquired, smiling and flashing him all of his teeth, hiding this sinking feeling of horror at the information he’d received through the tactics of intimidation.
‘Oh no,’ Charles said, shaking his little head. He didn‘t look fazed at all. ‘I outlive them.’
There was a moment of silence. Erik thought about this for a while. So somehow, Charles could talk to him in his mind and somehow read his thoughts and really, he should be very disturbed about that, but then there were different animals who had different ways of communicating. Why shouldn’t this be any different?
‘You’re not an ordinary rat, are you, Charles?’ Erik wondered. ‘For such a small thing, I don’t think rats are supposed to live that long.’
‘They don’t,’ Charles admitted. ‘That’s why this Sebastian Shaw has decided to acquire me, to experiment on me and figure out how I tick. It’s strange. Most of the humans who have taken care of me in the past are very good and don’t mean any harm—’
Erik glared at him. ‘Of course you would think that. You never lived in the wild. You don’t know what it’s like to be free.’
‘Perhaps,’ Charles said thoughtfully, ‘but maybe things will get better once he’s done with his experiments.’
Erik sighed heavily. ‘How do you know that?’
‘Humans get bored very easily,’ Charles said. ‘He’ll probably buy another pet once he tires of me.’
‘What will you do when he finds out that you can talk the way you do now?’ Erik asked, frowning. ‘Did you think about that?’
‘There won’t be a when,’ Charles said carefully. ‘I’m not even sure myself how I’m doing this.’
‘You better figure it out soon,’ Erik said, hearing those familiar footfalls. They were different from the light and hesitant steps of the fearful intruders. The man walked with a solid, focused purpose in life. What that purpose was, Erik didn’t know. ‘He’s coming.’
To be continued?