by M.O. Muriel

Jon Robberts realized he was in a cage, a catheter sticking out the back of his spine in the space where he couldn't grab it. Just a little too high to work it from behind. A little too low to get it by reaching over his shoulder. Couldn't rub it off on the cage's back paneling; the catheter was flat and taped on real good.

Where am I? Jon peered through the latticed metal bars. He couldn't remember why he knew the sharp prick in his back was a catheter.

Coughing, wheezing, his aching voice the sound of gravel grating on gravel, he tried to twist around and grab the thin, transparent tubing that ran through the thimble-sized hole in the cage's paneling directly into the needle in his back. If Jon could only get a hold of the serpent thread, he could rip the thing out.

It was a wasted effort; the cage was too confining. So, Jon maneuvered an arm around behind him, just enough to stick a probing fingertip out the hole.

"Praud!" Jon recognized the human figure in the cage directly across from him. Like Jon, Praud was naked and huddled fetus-like on his side in a metal enclosure, his body drenched in sweat and barely able to fit inside. Praud's cage was on a white shelf, in a row of cages and white shelves, in a room Jon vaguely remembered.

"Praud!" Jon called again, but all he got was a snarl. Hands behind his back, Praud bit the bars with his teeth, shaking the cage.

"What's going on? Where am I?" Jon roared, trying not to panic.

Giggles sounded-off around him. Many giggles, chattering, clicking, squeaking.

"Let me out! Get me outta here!"

More giggles.

Desperately, Jon tried to remember where he was. Brain-fingers hungry, he grasped at images: a chair, his hand writing something down on a piece of paper, peering inside the cage from outside, the smell of chlorine, Praud giving him the thumbs-up. The images were like soap bubbles on water, popping and slipping away.

What did it all mean?

Suddenly, Jon didn't care anymore. He only knew that he was ravenously hungry.

"Help, help!" He shook the urge. "Somebody help!"

"We are helping," boomed a disembodied voice.

Jon pressed his face to the bars, looking around. Nothing. He couldn't see anyone but Praud, who was now digging the bottom of his cage.

"Are you hungry yet?" the voice all but vibrated the cage off the shelf; Jon still couldn't see where it was coming from. "Thirsty?"

One lens from a pair of bifocals slid over the lip of the cage, and a huge black eye blinked through the split-glass, like two miss-matched pieces of an eclipse. There was no face attached to the eye. No body. If Jon could have recoiled, he would have. Instead, he smacked his head on the back of the cage, and inadvertently let out a long howl.

"That's much better," said the voice, and the bifocals with the eye disappeared. "In order to get to your animal side, we have to dumb you down. Turn off the smarter parts of your brain. It's an experiment. We're very curious, you know."

Jon squirmed in the cage, seeing stars, smelling blood, gauze, skin, tape, and the fetid plastic of the catheter tubing. He could also hear everything now, plain as day: the whirring of machines, the AC unit as it detected a temperature change, and the clickety-clack of many, many claws.

"Who are you? What do you want with me?" Jon felt his teeth grate together.

Across the way, Praud was sobbing and slobbering hysterically.

The giggling continued.

With a small thump, a piece of cheese landed just in front of Jon's cage, followed by a familiar furry figure, who slid down a wire from above.

It was Chitters, one of the lab rats.

"Shouldn't have made us intelligent, Dr. Robberts," he said with a toothy grin, and nibbling the cheese in one paw, pressed the catheter button, injecting Jon with another shot of serum.
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