by A. D. Burrows
©2008 A. D. Burrows

Home -=- #21 -=- ANTHRO #21 Stories
-= ANTHRO =-

   “Excuse me,” said the gerbil, “could we have another carrot, please? This one’s nearly gone.”
   Mr. Smith, the pet store owner, sat down heavily on the floor. The voice hadn’t come from one of his smart-alec customers after all: It really was the gerbil talking.
   “You just… spoke,” he said.
   “Yes,” the gerbil replied patiently. After a discreet pause, it added, “We’d like another carrot, please.”
   “How… how… How did…”
   “If there are no more carrots, could we have more rat chow, please?”
   Smith stood up, rather clumsily, and got a carrot from the fridge in the back. He pushed it through the wire mesh of the gerbil cage and topped up their hopper of rat chow. Then he stood and watched, astounded, as the little rodents made small talk.

   “We had the Super 8 film analysed frame by frame,” said the radio show host, “and our experts say it’s real. Grainy and off-colour though it is, those gerbils were actually speaking. Mr. Smith, why didn’t you just use a video camera?”
   Smith gawked at the host.
   “I’ve got animals talking on film, and you’re geeking over the format!?”
“Medium,” the host corrected.
   “My gerbils ask for carrots!”
   “They’re very polite.”
   “Polite!? The bloody things talk!”
   For a long (on air) moment the two men just stared at each other.
   “I can’t find anybody to do anything about it!” Mr. Smith exclaimed. “The army isn’t interested since I went public. The National Institute for Mental Health just tells me they have enough rodent problems. Show business agents say there’s no call for animal acts right now. What am I supposed to do?”
   “And that’s where you come in, listeners!” the host interrupted. “What should Smith’s Pets do about their talking gerbils? You know the number, so call now! Mr. Smith, while we wait for a call, tell us how you trained your gerbils to talk.”
   “I didn’t!” Smith replied. “One day about closing time, they just started asking for carrots!”
   “Why carrots?”
   “It’s a treat for them.”
   “We have a caller now—Bob from Silliwhack. Bob, what do you think Mr. Smith should do about his gerbils?”
   “Oh, wow, am I on the air?” Bob asked.
   “Yes, go ahead.”
   Bob cleared his throat.
   “So, these are gerbils… and they, uh, talk, right?”
   “So, doesn’t that mean they can, like, think, sorta?”
   “Did you catch the beginning of the show, Bob?”
   “Naw, I got off work late, just tuned in a minute ago.”
   “They think.”
   “So, did that guy ever ask the gerbils what they want?”
   “Ask a gerbil???” an incredulous Smith replied.
   “Well, they can talk,” Bob argued. “They could say. You want ’em to be happy, don’t’cha?”
   “Mr. Smith—” the host began.
   “Yeah, Smith,” Bob corrected himself.
   “—you have one of your gerbils with you, don’t you?”
   “Yes, he’s right here.”
   Smith lifted a small cage from the studio floor and set it on the desk. The rodent inside sniffed at the microphone.
   “Hello… Erh… What is your name?” said the host.
   “Oh, we’re not given names until we’re sold,” the gerbil replied. “That’s an owner’s prerogative. For now, just call me ‘gerbil’.”
   “They’re well-spoken, too. Folks, I want to stress that the wee, small voice you’re hearing is not Mr. Smith talking in falsetto. I’m sitting here watching a gerbil talk! Well, um… gerbil, what would you like Mr. Smith to do about you?”
   “We feel that we are able to prove that we are sentient in any reasonable test. As thinking, reasoning, speaking beings, we wish to be admitted to the United Nations.”
   “Aw, you don’t want the UN,” Bob replied. “They’re a buncha puppets an’ clowns!”
   “Notwithstanding,” the gerbil replied, “we believe that it’s our best chance to be recognized as something more than an amusement or a source of protein.”
   “Point,” said Bob.

   “So we find that the problem, as such,” said the Secretary General, “is not that you aren’t human.”
   “I’m glad to hear it,” the gerbil replied, and nibbled on a slice of apple.
   “It’s more a matter of the status of gerbils as a nation. Nations, as we define them, occupy specific, contiguous and definable areas of land. You gerbils—please don’t misunderstand me, I don’t mean this to be disrespectful, merely stating a fact—well, you live… all over the place.”
   “As did the Jews,” the gerbil replied, “during the time of the Diaspora; as they do today, even after the re-establishment of Israel. Would you treat us as lesser citizens than aboriginals, whose homes have been taken away?”
   “So… you’re saying that gerbils are an occupied people?”
   “From what, please?”
   “Owls. Eagles. Snakes. Small mammals. We’re hunted in the wild.”
   “And so you take refuge among humans?”
   “Some of whom also eat us. Mr. Secretary, I believe you’ll find that territory will be less of a problem than you think. Land was put aside for the Jews; a homeland for us could be carved out of Mongolia without inconveniencing too many humans. Of more immediate concern to you, I should think, would be the matter of United Nations membership fees. The current cap is twenty-two percent, I believe, and your operating budget this year is five billion dollars, or half the value of Bill Gates’ toilet. If you will examine this piece of paper I’m sitting on, you’ll find it to be a statement from a numbered account in a Bermudan bank. I think you’ll find the bottom line adequate. And the piece of paper under that represents a quite generous voluntary contribution.”
   The gerbil got up and moved aside with a flourish of his tail. The Secretary General looked at the first statement. He spoke a most ungentlemanly word in his native Mandarin, then recited its equivalents in French, Spanish, Russian and, as it turned out, Anglo-Saxon. He looked more timidly at the second statement and gasped.
   “Where did you get all this!?” he exclaimed.
   “The source, really, is not as important as the fact of it,” the gerbil replied. “This will be our first contribution—and you may count on subsequent assessments to be similar.”
   “Forgive me, Mr. Gerbil, but I must be certain that the United Nations is never beholden to sources that are… ah… less than above-board, shall we say?”
   “I can assure you that we gerbils are every bit as honest as China, Russia or the United States.”
   “Damnation by faint praise,” the Secretary General muttered… but he didn’t put the bank statement down.

   “Honoured fellow members,” the gerbil intoned, “members of the press, ladies and gentlemen. I’ve little doubt that you are wondering about the future right now. When big changes happen in our lives, the future is what we think about. How will life be, now that you are no longer alone in the universe, or even the world that you now share with another species? It can be a very different place, if you will let it be. We do not ask for that, however. We only ask to be left alone to do what we do. Stop treating us as pets, as pests or as food. See us as fellow passengers on this spaceship Earth, and don’t stick your noses into our berth without good reason. Nobody can—nobody should—ask for more than this…”
   “You’re listening to live coverage of the inaugural address of the gerbil delegate to the United Nations,” the radio show host interrupted. “Mr. Smith, what do you think of the gerbil’s message to humanity so far?”
   “I think he’s full of it!” Smith replied. “Look: Gerbils are rodents, and that means they’re opportunists. They want something more than a hunk of Mongolia, you can bet on it!”
   “And Lloyd’s of London is currently placing odds of fourteen to three that the gerbils want more than a portion of Mongolia. We now return to the speech.”
   “…more importantly,” the gerbil intoned, “we can help to control the world’s population of problematic insects. Grasshoppers and locusts are a delicacy to us…”
   Suddenly there was a piercing shriek in the chamber of the General Assembly, as if tens of thousands of tiny voices were all raised at once. It was quickly joined by human cries of pain and panic.
   “Ladies and gentlemen,” the host exclaimed, “the General Assembly has been invaded by rodents! Rats—mice—squirrels—small pets of every description—they’re running around, biting human delegates! They’re swarming the guards, pulling them down under sheer numbers, biting and biting! There’s blood flowing! Oh, the humanity! I’m turning off the screen now so that I don’t have to see! Oh, this is terrible…”
   “I knew it!” Smith exclaimed. “I knew the little pests wanted more than freedom!”
   “And Lloyd’s of London stock has jumped by seven points. Wait, there are further developments in the General Assembly! We return you to the chamber where the gerbil is speaking again…”
   “Humanity!” the gerbil spat. “I welcome you to the the dawning of the glorious Empire of Rodentia! Do not try to enter this hall or our hostages will be gnawed to death! We order you to turn over your military assets to us or their deaths will be much less kind! You have twenty-four hours to surrender, without conditions, starting now!”
   Smith growled, “And to think they used to be my favourites…”

   The Security Council met in a secure room deep beneath the basement of the Pentagon. The President of the United States sat at the head of the table and banged a gavel.
   “Hoo-whee!” he said. “That dingus sure is loud, ain’t it? All right now: I don’t hardly need to tell you gentlemen what kinda crisis we’re defacing up against. And I’m sure I doublespeak for all of y’all when I say that we must not give inches to terrorists. We must strike back derisively and with determination.”
   “And the hostages?” the French delegate asked.
   “Well, now, that’s what you call a noble sacrifice—after all, you can’t scrabble an egg without makin’ a hamlette. Don’t you worry none, gentlemen; Washington is very much an outsider in the blast zone.”
   “I beg your pardon, Mr. President,” the British delegate replied, “but did you say ‘blast zone’?”
   “I surely did! Mr. Limey, there ain't no way in Hell we’re gonna leave any one single one of those mutato rodents alive. The world is threatened by their presentience, and that means no price is too high for their determinating!”
   “Yeah, right,” a high, squeaky voice replied. “An’ it don’t hoit that New York ain’t voted Repugnican in twenny years, Washington’s wanted ta get shut o’ da UN for near’s long as dat, plus yer fav’rite preacher’s had it in for animals since dis all started. Noble sacrifice, my ass!” it spat. “Dey’ll all die happy. Youse’ll have to ’scuse my altitude, I happens ta live der!”
   Every head turned towards the source of the voice. It was coming from a Secret Service agent who held an albino ferret in his black-sleeved arms. The ferret looked around the room until its sharp gaze fell on the President.
   “I hears ya gots a problem wit’ rodents,” it said. “I’m here t’ help yez. But dere’s a price, o’ course.”
   “I presect that,” the President replied. “Being up front, coming straight to the hardpoint, no wastrel words. Yessir, I truly respectorate that. Now, what exactly do you proffer up to the table?”
   “Awright, den. I represent a consortium o’ weasels an’ felines. We got some canines woikin’ fer us, too, not ta mention our crack squad o’ door-coons. But it’s mainly us weasels. We’ll take out dem rodents, save da humans, den jus’ fade back inta da forest an’ ya won’t never hear from us again.”
   The President nodded. “And the price?”
   The ferret smiled.
   “One: Dem goibils gave da UN a pile o’ money; we want a thoid. Just a thoid. Two: No more leg-hold traps for nuttin’, dey’re woise’n moider. We can’t say nuttin’ about huntin’ ’cause we do it, too, but dem jaw traps has gotta go! An’ last: If ya can’t leave us enough free land t’ live on, ya gotta find a way t’ let us inta da cities. Dat’s it. Okay?”
   “Seems fair,” the President replied. “Except the money. What’s y’all need all that for?”
   “Dat’s our business. As far as youse is consoined, it’s a fee f’ soivices rented. An’ ya ain’t got much time, so take it or leave…”
   Suddenly the ferret’s ears perked up. It sniffed around itself, then jumped from the Secret Service man’s arms to the table. It kept sniffing as it scampered around. Suddenly, it dove under the table between two delegates. There was a scurrying and lifting of legs and a high pitched shriek. The ferret climbed the leg of a Canadian functionary and onto the table with a freshly-dead mouse in its mouth. It muttered something, then dropped the mouse on the table.
   “Spyin’,” it said. “Proof enough I’m on da up-an’-up?”
   “One other thing while you’re here,” the British delegate said. “How did you and… they… come so recently to be able to speak?”
   “I’d’a expected dat o’ youse; humans just fugget about stuff dey don’t like. But ders some o’ youse remember da big race. Alla us animals was gonna prove once an’ fer all who was da fastest, strongest, smartest, an’ like dat. Youse humans used tools an’ numbers to cheat an’ win, but ya still couldn’t beat da bear. So youse offed da bear! We ain’t had nuttin’ ta say t’ youse since den. Not ’til dem muddafuggin’ goibils broke da rule, dat is.”
   “Never you remind all that,” the President said. “You’ve bought us under a barrel-roll, so this great nation ain’t about to look a dead cat in the mouth. Do we got us a deal, or not?”
   “Sure t’ing, boss! We’ll start da raid in one hour. Jus’ lemme use da phone, is all.”
   The President nodded, then looked at the Secret Service agent who’d brought the ferret into this conference: “You—operational—find a terraphone for this ferret and see that he’s not misturbed. Oh yeah, and flush this mouse.”
   The agent took a handkerchief from his jacket pocket and picked up the dead mouse with it. He then picked up the ferret and took both creatures away. The President took out his cell phone, tapped a single key and held it to his face.
   “Sunglass Boy with the ferrulet? He might could be compressomized. … Don’t trust him until every agent jerkin’ up and down his chain is reproved, and him, too. … Damn right.
   “Gentlemen,” he went on, as he put his cell phone away, “we drop the bomb in one hour ten minutes. That should give the ferrets time to get right where they want us to get ’em.”
   “Mr. President,” the French delegate spoke up, “surely we are at least going to let the weasel consortium rescue the hostages?”
   “Like I said: When demonic animal spirits depose the righteous way, no price is too high to extermorate them—especially all at once.”
   “But sir,” the Canadian delegate said, “the ferret said that all animals can talk—they just won’t talk to us! There are millions of weasels in the world, billions of rodents! How can we know that—”
   “You shut your Goddamned mouth, boy!” the president explained. “You just go back to your crossword puzzles an’ leave the thinkering to us real men! You just nod an’ say ‘Yessir!’ when you hear someone say Canada, you understained? Canada!”
   The Canadian delegate nodded sadly, said “Yes, sir,” and went back to taking highly classified minutes of the meeting.

   Smith’s Pets burned down that night. His computer burned with it, as did all of his paper records. And his stock. The fire marshal said it looked like arson, but Smith had lots of witnesses to say he was elsewhere and, after his gerbils’ attempted takeover, he had plenty of enemies who might have done it. The police went through the motions of a perfunctory investigation, then deemed the case ‘unsolvable’ and left it nominally open. When they asked Smith questions about his stock, he would only answer that they were shipped to him from New York City. It satisfied the authorities.
   Smith was sitting in a local bar, sipping a brew while he pondered insurance forms, when he heard what sounded like a gerbil squeaking. He looked around him at the table. There didn’t seem to be that many bottles… but there did seem to be a gerbil.
   “Good evening,” it said.
   Smith said nothing.
   “You’re not drunk or hallucinating, if that’s what you think.”
   Smith still held his peace.
   “I just wanted to apologise for all the trouble you’ve been caused. The rodents you dealt with were a fanatical faction; they did not represent all animals, all rodents or even all gerbils. I promise you, there will be no more trouble.”
   “Good,” Smith muttered.
   “I only hope you won’t take your anger out on us, sir. We only want to live in peace, as I’m sure the vast majority of humans do as well.”
   Smith glared at the gerbil.
   “That was all I wanted to say, Mr. Smith. We won’t trouble you again. Thank you for your kind attention. And one last time, we’re all very, very sorry.”
   The gerbil skittered to the edge of the table, jumped off and was gone. Smith watched the place where the gerbil had been for a while. Then he got a new sheet of paper, laid it on top of the insurance forms and put the tip of a pencil on it. He didn’t move the pencil for a while, just stared at it. Then he began to doodle. He found that he was drawing a van.
   “Handy things, vans,” he murmured. “You can keep things in them. If you’re careful, frugal, organized, you can keep a whole life in them. Maybe even a death…”
   He doodled some more, made the van look more real. It would take changes in his lifestyle, training for a new profession. The Secret Service man had promised him there’d be an insurance pay-out. The money should be enough to live on; enough even to start again, if he was careful.
   Smith’s Extermination: It had a nice ring.

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