"Mitkey Rides Again" (1950) by Frederic Brown
Wednesday 19 April 2017, by
If you liked Frederic Brown’s superb story The Star Mouse about the rocket scientist Professor Oberburger and his precious and very precocious mouse-assistant Mitkey – and how could you not have liked/loved it? – then you will want to catch up on the later adventures of Mitkey and his Minnie published in the November 1950 issue of the magazine Planet Stories, whose striking cover by Allen Anderson and several story illustrations by Herman Vestal are all included here.
An ebook is available for downloading below.
For Those Who Did Not Read Mitkey’s Adventures in "THE STAR-MOUSE":
MITKEY, a small gray mouse, is captured by Professor Oberburger, a refugee German scientist living in Connecticut and working on a rocket to be sent to the moon. Mitkey is placed in a compartment of the rocket, for experimental purposes.
The rocket is deflected by, and lands on, Prxl—an asteroid with a highly eccentric orbit. It is inhabited by a race of tiny but super-intelligent beings.
The Prxlians, in order to question Mitkey, raise his intelligence level to the point where he can assimilate and understand his own memories and tell them about conditions on Earth.
Thus Mitkey finds himself with a language—the thick German dialect spoken by the professor, who had talked incessantly to himself and to Mitkey while lie worked on the rocket.
The Prxlians, who became fond of Mitkey, send him and the rocket back to Earth. Mitkey approaches Professor Oberburger and tries to sell him on the idea of letting Mitkey raise the intelligence level of all other mice, by means of a ray projector which the Prxlians have taught him how to construct.
Mitkey believes intelligent mice could live in peace with men, and suggests that mice be given a portion of the earth as their own. The professor is doubtful.
But an accidental electrical shock spoils Mitkey’s plans.
The professor has been keeping Minnie, Mitkey’s mate, as a pet, on an ’island’ surrounded by an electrical barrier. Mitkey, seeing Minnie there, dashes recklessly across and receives the shock which destroys his new-found intelligence and makes him again just an ordinary little mouse.
And he and Minnie resume their happy life behind the wall of the professor’s laboratory, until . . .
In the darkness within the wall there was movement, and Mitkey, who was once again merely a little gray mouse, scurried for the hole in the baseboard. Mitkey was hungry, and just outside that hole lay the Professor’s icebox. And under the icebox, cheese.
A fat little mouse, Mitkey, almost as fat as Minnie, who had lost her figure completely because of the Professor’s generosity.
"Alvays, Mitkey," Professor Oberburger had said, "vill be cheese under der icebox. Alvays." And there always was. Not always ordinary cheese, either. Roquefort and beerkase and hand cheese and Camembert, and sometimes imported Swiss that looked as though mice had already lived in it, and which tasted like mouse-heaven.
And Minnie ate and Mitkey ate, and it was well that the holes in the walls and the baseboards were large holes, else their roly-poly little bodies would no longer have found passage.
But something else was happening, too. Something that would have pleased and yet worried the good professor, had he known.
In the darkness within a tiny mind there were stirrings not unlike the scurrying of mice within a wall. Stirrings of strange memories, memories of words and meanings, memories of deafening noise within the black compartment of a rocket, memories of something more important than cheese and Minnie and darkness.
Slowly, Mitkey’s memories and intelligence were coming back.
There under the shadow of the icebox, he paused and listened. In the next room, Professor Oberburger was working. And as always, talking to himself.
"Und now ve pudt on der landing vanes. Much bedder iss, mit landing vanes, for vhen der moon it reaches, softly it vill land, iff air iss there."
Almost, almost, it made sense to Mitkey. The words were familiar, and they brought ideas and pictures into his little gray head and his whiskers twitched with the effort to understand.
The professor’s heavy footsteps shook the floor as he walked to the doorway of the kitchen and stood there looking at the mouse-hole in the baseboard.
"Mitkey, should I set again der trap and—Buds no. No. Mitkey, my fiddle star-mouse. You haff earned peace and rest no? Peace and cheese. Der segued rocket for der moon, another mouse vill be in, yes."
Rocket Moon. Stirrings in the mind of a little gray mouse cowering beside a plate of cheese under the icebox, unseen in the shadow. Almost, almost, he remembered.
The Professor’s steps turned away, and Mitkey turned to the cheese. But still he listened, and with uneasiness that he could not understand. A click. The Professor’s voice giving a number.
"Hardtvord Laboratories, yess? Brofessor Oberburger. I vant mice. Vait, no, a mouse. Vun mouse... Vhat? Yess, a white mouse vill do. Color, it doess nodt madder. Effen a purple mouse... Hein? No, no I know you haff no burple mice. I vass vhat you call kidding, chust... Vhen? No hurry. Nodt for almost a veek vill der—Neffer mind dot. Chust send der mouse vhen convenient, no?"
And a click in the mind of a mouse under an icebox. Mitkey stopped nibbling cheese and looked at it instead. He had a word for it. Cheese.
Very softly to himself he said it "Cheese." Halfway between a squeak and a word it was, for the vocal chords Prxl had given him were rusty. But the next time it sounded better. "Cheese," he said.
And then, the other two words coming without his even thinking about it, "Dot iss cheese."
And it frightened him a little, so he scurried back into the hole in the wall and the comforting darkness. Then that became just a bit frightening, too, because he had a word for that, too. "Vail. Behind der vail."
No longer was it just a picture in his mind. There was a sound that meant it. It was very confusing, and the more he remembered the more confusing it became.
Darkness of night outside the professor’s house, darkness within the wall. But there were bright lights in the Professor’s workroom, and there was brightening dimness in Mitkey’s mind as he watched from a shadowed vantage point.
That gleaming metal cylinder on the workbench—Mitkey had seen its like before. And he had a word for that, too, rocket.
And the big lumbering creature who worked over it, talking incessantly to himself as he worked...
Almost, Mitkey called out "Brofessor!"
But the caution of mousehood kept him silent, listening.
It was like a downhill-rolling snowball now, that growing memory of Mitkey’s. Words came back in a rush as the Professor talked, words and meanings.
And memories like the erratic shapes of jig-saw falling one by one into a coherent picture.
"Und der combartment for der mouse—Hydraulic shock absorbers yet, so der mouse lands softly-safely. Und der shortvafe radio dot vill tell me vhether he liffs in der moon’s admosphere after..."
"Admosphere," and there was contempt in the professor’s voice. "These vools who say the moon it hass no admosphere. Chust because der spegtroscope—"
But the slight bitterness in the voice of the professor was nothing to the growing bitterness in Mitkey’s little mind.
For Mitkey was Mitkey again, now. Memory intact, if a bit confused and spotty. His dreams of Moustralia, and all.
His first sight of Minnie after his return, and the blackout-step onto tinfoil charged with electricity that had ended all his dreams. A trap! It had been a trap!
The professor had double-crossed him, had given him that shock deliberately to destroy his intelligence, perhaps even to kill him, to protect the interests of the big awkward lumbering race of men from intelligent mice!
Ah, yes, the professor had been smart, Mitkey thought bitterly. And Mitkey was glad now that he had not called out "Brofessor" when it had come to him to do so. The professor was his enemy!
Alone and in the dark, he would have to work. Minnie first, of course. Create one of the X-19 machines the Prxlians had showed him how to make, and raise Minnie’s intelligence level. Then the two of them—
It would be hard, working in secret without the Professor’s help, to make that machine. But maybe...
A bit of wire on the floor under the workbench. Mitkey saw it and his bright little eyes gleamed and his whiskers twitched. He waited until Professor Oberburger was looking the other way, and then softly ran toward the wire, and with it in his mouth he scurried for the hole in the wall.
The professor didn’t see him.
"Und for der uldra-vafe brojector..."
Mitkey safe in darkness with his bit of wire. A start! More wire, he would need. A fixed condenser—the professor would have one, surely. A flashlight cell—that would be hard to handle. He’d have to roll it across the floor after the professor was asleep. And other things. It would take him days, but what did time matter?
The professor worked late that night, very late.
But darkness in the workshop came at last. Darkness and a very busy little mouse.
And bright morning, and the ringing of a doorbell.
"Package for Professor—uh—Oberburger."
"Yah? Vot iss?"
"Dunno. From the Hartford Laboratories, and they said to carry it careful."
Holes in the package.
"Yah, der mouse."
The professor signed for it, and then carried it into the workroom and unwrapped the wooden cage.
"Ah, der vhite mouse. Liddle mouse, you are going a long, long vay. Vhat shall ye call you yet? Vhitey, no? Vould you vent some cheese, Vhitey?"
Yes, Whitey wanted cheese all right He was a sleek, dapper little mouse with very close-set beady eyes and supercilious whiskers. And if you can picture a mouse to be haughty, Whitey was haughty. A city-slicker type of mouse. A blue-blood of the laboratories, who had never before tasted cheese. Nothing so common and plebian as cheese had entered his vitamin-infested diet.
But he tasted cheese and it was Camembert, good enough even for a blue-blood. And he wanted cheese all right. He ate with daintiness, a well-bred sort of nibbling. And if mice could smile, he would have smiled.
For one may smile and smile and be a villain.
"Und now, Vhitey, I show you. I put der pick-up by your cage, to see if it iss set to broadcast der vaint sounds you make eating. Here. I adchust—"
From the speaker on the comer table a monstrous champing sound, the magnification a thousand times of the sound of a mouse eating cheese.
"Yess, it vorks. You see, Vhitey, I eggsplain—Vhen der rocket on der moon lands, der combartment door it opens. But you can nodt get out, yet There vill be bars, of balsa vood. You vill be able to gnaw through them, and you vill do so, to get out. If you are alife, see?"
"Und der sound of your gnawing vill be on der ultra shordt-vafe to vhich I shall stay duned-in, see? So vhen der rocket lands, I vill listen on my receifer, and if I hear you gnawing, I vill know you landed alife."
Whitey might well have been apprehensive if he had understood what the professor was saying, but of course he didn’t. He nibbled on at the Camembert in blissful supercilious indifference.
"Und it vill tell me iff I am right about der admosphere, too, Vhitey. Vhen der rocket lands and der combartment door opens, der air vill shut off. Unless air iss on der moon, you vill liff only fife minutes or less."
"If you keep on gnawing through der balsa vood after dot, it is because admosphere iss on der moon and der astronomers and der spegtroscopes are vooling themselfes. Und vools they are vhen they vail to subtract der Liebnitz revraction lines avay from der spectrum, no?"
Over the vibrant diaphragm of the radio speaker, the champ-chomp-chomp of chewing cheese.
Yes, the pick-up worked, beautifully.
"Und now to install it der rocket in..."
A day. A night. Another day. Another night.
A man working on a rocket, and within the wall behind him a mouse working even harder to complete something much smaller, but almost equally as complex. The X-19 projector to raise the intelligence of mice. Of Minnie, first.
A stolen pencil stub became a coil, a coil with a graphite core. Across the core, the stolen condenser, nibbled to within a microfarad of the exact capacity, and from the condenser a wire—But even Mitkey didn’t understand it. He had a blueprint in his mind of how it was made, but not of why it worked.
"Und now der flashlight dry-cell vhich I stole from der—" Yes, Mitkey, too, talked incessantly to himself while he worked. But softly, softly so the professor wouldn’t hear.
And from the wall, the rumble of a deeper guttural voice:
"Und now to put der pick-up der combartment in..."
Of men and mice. Hard to say which was the busier of the two.
Mitkey finished first. The little X-I9 projector was not a thing of beauty to the eye; in fact it resembled the nucleus of an electrician’s scrap pile. Most definitely it was not streamlined and gleaming like the rocket in the room outside the wall. It had rather a Rube Goldberg look about it.
But it would work. In every essential detail it followed the instructions Mitkey had received from the Prxlian scientists.
The final wire, so.
"Und now to bring mine Minnie . . ."
She was cowering in the far corner of the house. As far as possible from those strange neuric vibrations that were doing queer things inside her head.
There was panic in her eyes as Mitkey approached. Sheer panic.
"Mine Minnie, nothing iss to be avraid about You must closer come to der brojector und then—und then you vill be an indelligent mouse, mine Minnie. You viii dalk goot English, like me yet."
For days now she had been puzzled and apprehensive. The strange actions of her consort, the strange noises he made that were not sensible mouse-squeaks at all, terrified her. Now he was making those weird noises at her.
"Mine Minnie, it iss all right To der machine you must come closer, und you vill be able to dalk soon. Almost like me, Minnie. Yess, der Prxls did things to mine vocal chords so mine voice it sounds bedder yet, but effen mitout, you vill be able to—"
Gently Mitkey was trying to wedge his way in behind her, to push her out of the corner and edge her in the direction of the machine behind the well of the next room.
Minnie squealed, and then she ran.
But alas, only a few feet toward the projector, and then she turned at right angles through the hole in the baseboard. Scurried across the kitchen floor and through a hole in the screen of the kitchen door. Outside, and into the high unmown grass of the yard.
"Minnie! Mine Minnie! Come back!"
And Mitkey scurried after her, too late.
In the foot-high grass and weeds he lost her completely, without a trace.
Alas, poor Mitkey. Had he remembered that she was still only a mouse, and had he squeaked for her instead of calling, she might have come out from her hiding place.
Sadly, he returned and shut off the X-19 projector.
Later, when she returned, if she returned, he would figure some way. Possibly he could move the projector near her when she was asleep. To play safe, he could tie her feet first, so that if she was awakened by the neuric vibrations...
* * *
Night, and no Minnie.
Mitkey sighed, and waited.
Outside the wall, the rumble of the professor’s voice.
"Ach, effen the bread iss all gone. No food, und now I must go out und to der store yet. Food, it iss such a nuisance people must eat vhen on something imbortant they work. But—ach, where iss mine hat?"
And the opening and closing of the door.
Mitkey crept to the mousehole. This was opportunity to look about out in the work-shop, to find a bit of soft string that would serve to tie Minnie’s dainty little feet
Yes, the light was on out there, and the professor was gone. Mitkey scurried to the middle of the room and looked around.
There was the rocket, and it was finished, as far as Mitkey could see. Probably now the professor was waiting until the proper time to fire it. Against one well the radio equipment that would pick up the automatic broadcast from the rocket when it had landed.
Lying on the table, the rocket itself. Beautiful shining cylinder which—if the professor’s calculations were correct—would be the first Earth-sent object ever to reach the moon.
It caught at Mitkey’s breath to look at it.
"Iss is nodt beaunfill, no?"
Mitkey jumped an inch up in the air. That had not been the professor’s voice! It was a strange, squeaky, grating voice, a full octave too high for a human larynx.
A shrill chuckle, and, "Did I vrighten you?"
And Mitkey whirled around again, and this time located the source of the voice. The wooden cage on the table. Something white inside it.
A white paw reached through the bars of the door, the latch lifted, and a white mouse stepped out His beady-bright eyes looked down, a bit contemptuously, at the little gray mouse on the floor below.
"You are this Mitkey, no, of whom der brofessor sbeaks?"
"Yess," said Mitkey, wonderingly. "Und you—ach, yess, I see vhat happened. Der X-I9 brojector. It vas in der vail chust oudside your cage. Und, like me, from der brofessor you teamed to dalk English. Vhat iss your name?"
"Vhitey, der brofessor calls me. It vill do. Vhat iss der X-I9 brojector, Mitkey?"
Mitkey told him.
"Ummm," said Whitey. "Bossibilities I see, many bossibilities. Much more bedder than a drip to der moon. Vhat are your blans for using der brojector?"
Mitkey told him. The beady-bright eyes of Whitey grew brighter—and beadier. But Mitkey didn’t notice.
"Iff to der moon you are nodt going," Mitkey said, "come down. I vill show you vhere to hide der vail inside."
"Nodt yet, Mitkey. Look, at dawn tomorrow takes off der rocket No hurry iss. Soon der brofessor comes home. He vorks around a vhile and dalks, and I listen. I learn more. Und a vhile he vill sleep before dawn, and then I eggscape. Iss easy."
Mitkey nodded. "Dot iss smart. Budt do nodt trust der brofessor. If he teams you are now indelligent, he vill either kill you or make sure you do nodt eggscape. He is avraid of indelligent mice. Ach, vootsteps. Get back your cage in. Und be careful."
And Mitkey scurried toward the mousehole, then remembered the piece of string and scurried back after it. The tip of his tail was just disappearing into the hole as Professor Oberburger walked into the room.
"Cheese, Vhitey. Cheese I brought you, and to put in der combartment of der rocket too so as you eadt on der vay. You haff been a goot fiddle mouse. Vhitey?"
The professor peered into the cage.
"Almost I thingk you answer me, Vhitey. You did, yess?"
Silence. Deep silence from the wooden cage...
Mitkey waited, and waited longer.
"Der yard she iss hiding in," he told himself reassuringly. "She knows it iss dangerous to come in vhen iss light. Then dargkness comes—"
And darkness came.
It was as dark outside now as it was within the wall. Mitkey sneaked to the kitchen door and made sure that it was open and that the hole was still there in the bottom of the screen.
He stuck his head through the hole and called, "Minnie! Mine Minnie!" And then he remembered she did not speak English, and squeaked for her instead. But softly so the professor in the next room would not hear him.
No answer. No Minnie.
Mitkey sighed and scurried back from dark comer to dark corner of the kitchen until he had reached safety in the mouse-hole.
Just inside he waited. And waited.
His eyelids grew heavy and dropped. And he slept, deeply.
A touch awakened him, and Mitkey jumped. Then he saw it was Whitey. "Shh," said the white mouse, "der brofessor is asleep. It iss almost dawn, und he has his alarm glock set to go off in an hour yet Then he vill find I am gone. He may try to catch a mouse to use instead, so ye must hide and not go outside."
Mitkey nodded, "Smart you iss, Vhitey. But mine Minnie! She iss—" "Iss nothing ye can do, Mitkey. Vait, before ye hide, show me der X-19 and how it vorks."
"I show you quick, und then I hunt Minnie before der brofessor yokes. It iss here."
And Mitkey showed him.
"Und how vould you reduce der power, Mitkey, so it vould not make a mouse quite so indelligent as ye are?"
"Like this," said Mitkey. "But vhy?"
Whitey shrugged. "1 chust vondered. Mitkey, der brofessor gafe me a very sbecial kind of cheese. Something new, mad I brought you a liddle piece to try. Eadt it, and than I vill help you find Minnie. Ve haff almost an hour yet." Mitkey tasted the cheese. "Iss nodt new. Iss Limburger. But hass a very vunny taste, effen for Limburger."
"Vhich do you like bedder?"
"I dont know, Vhitey. I think I do nodt like—"
"Iss an acquired taste, Mitkey. Iss vonderful. Eadt it all, and you viii like it."
So to be polite and to avoid an argument, Mitkey ate the rest of it. "Iss nodt bad," he said. "Und now ye look for Minnie."
But his eyes were heavy, and he yawned. He got as far as the edge of the mousehole.
"Vhitey, I must rest a minute. Vill you vake me in aboudt fife min—"
But he was asleep, sound asleep, sounder asleep than he had ever been, before he finished the sentence.
Whitey grinned, and became a very busy little mouse.
The ringing of an alarm clock.
Professor Oberburger opened his eyes sleepily and then remembered the occasion, and got hastily out of bed. Within half an hour now, the time.
He went out behind the house and inspected the firing rack. It was in order, and so was the rocket. Except, of course, that the compartment door was open. No use to put the mouse in until the last moment.
He went indoors again, and carried the rocket out to the rack. Fitted it very carefully into place, and inspected the starter pin. All in order.
Ten minutes. Better get the mouse.
The white mouse was sound asleep in the wooden cage.
Professor Oberburger reached into the cage carefully. "Ach, Vhitey. Now for your long, long chourney. Boor liddle mouse, I vill not avaken you if I can help. More bedder you should sleep until der cholt of der stardt avakens you."
Gently, very gently, he carried his sleeping burden out into the yard and put it in the compartment.
Three doors closed. First the inner one, then the balsa grating, then the outer one. All but the balsa grating would open automatically when the rocket landed. And the radio pick-up would broadcast the sound of the mouse chewing its way through the balsa.
If there was atmosphere on the moon. If the mouse—
Eyes on the minute-hand of his watch, the professor waited. Then the second-hand. Now—
His finger touched the accurately-timed delayed-action starter button, and then he ran into the house.
Trail of fire into the air where the rocket had been.
"Gootbye, Vhitey. Boor liddle mouse, but someday you vill be vamous. Almost as vamous as mine star-mouse Mitkey viii be, some day vhen I can bublish—"
Now for the diary entry of the departure.
The professor reached for his pen, and as he did so caught a glimpse of the inside of his hand, the hand that held the mouse.
White it was. Perplexed, he studied it closer under the light.
"Vhite paint. Vhere vould I haff picked up vhite paint? I haff some, but I haff not used it. Nothing on der rocket, nothing in der room or der yard—
"Der mouse? Vhitey? I held him so. But vhy vould der laboratories send me a mouse painted vhite? I tole them any color vould do—"
Then the professor shrugged, and went to wash his hands. It was puzzling, very puzzling, but it did not matter really. But why on Earth would the laboratories have done that?
But in the black compartment of the roaring, soaring rocket Moon‑bound and bust.
Doped Limburger cheese.
Alas, poor Mitkey! Moonward-bound, without a ticket back.
Night, and it had been raining in Hartford. The professor hadn’t been able to follow the rocket through his telescope.
But it was up them all right, and going strong.
The radio pick-up told him that. Roar of the jets, so loud he couldn’t tell whether or not the mouse inside was alive or not. But it probably was, hadn’t Mitkey survived on the trip to Prxl?
Finally, he turned off the lights to take a cat-nap in his chair. When he awoke, maybe the rain would have stopped.
His head nodded, his eyes closed. And after a while, he dreamed that he opened them again. He knew he was dreaming because of what he saw.
Four little white spots moving across the floor from the door.
Four little white spots that might have been mice, but couldn’t be—unless they were dream mice—because they moved with military precision, in an exact rectangle. Almost like soldiers.
And then a sound, too faint for him to distinguish, and the four white spots abruptly fell into a single file and disappeared, one by one at precise intervals, against the baseboard.
The professor woke, and chuckled to himself.
"Vot a dream! I go to sleep thinking of der vhite mouse und vhite paint on mein hands und I dream—"
He stretched and yawned, and stood up.
But a small white spot, a white something had just appeared at the baseboard of the room again. Another joined it. The professor blinked his eyes and watched them. Could he be dreaming, standing up?
A scraping sound, something being shoved across the floor, and as the first two white spots moved away from the wall, two more appeared. Again in rectangular formation, they started across the floor toward the door.
And the scraping continued. Almost as though the four—could they be white mice?—were moving something, two of them pulling it and two pushing.
But that was silly.
He reached out beside him for the switch of the light, and clicked it. The light momentarily blinded him.
"Stobp!" High and shrill and commanding.
The professor could see again now, and it was four white mice. They had been moving something, a strange little object fashioned around what looked like one of the cells of his own pencil-type flashlight.
And three of the mice were now doing the moving, frantically, and the fourth had stepped between him and the strange object. It pointed what seemed to be a small tube at the professor’s face.
"If you moofe, I gill you," shrilled the mouse with the tube.
It wasn’t completely the threat of the tube that kept the professor motionless. He was simply too surprised to move. Was the mouse with the tube Whitey? Looked like him, but then they all looked like Whitey, and anyway Whitey was on his way to the moon.
The three mice with the burden were even now vanishing through the hole in the screen door. The fourth mouse backed after them.
Just inside the screen door, he paused.
"You are a vool, Brofessor," he said. "All men are vools. Ve mice vill take care uf that."
And it dropped the tube and vanished through the hole.
Slowly the professor walked over and picked up the weapon the white mouse had dropped. It was a match-stick. Not a tube or a weapon at all, just a burned safety match.
The professor said, "But how—vhy—?"
He dropped the match as though it were hot, and took out a big handkerchief to mop his forehead.
"But how—und vhy—?"
He stood there what seemed to be a long time, and then slowly he went to the icebox and opened it. Back in a far corner of it was a bottle.
The professor was practically a teetotaler, but there comes a time when even a teetotaler needs a drink. This was it.
He poured a stiff one.
Night, and it was raining in Hartford.
Old Mike Cleary, watchman for the Hartford Laboratories, was taking a drink, too. In weather like this, a man with rheumatism in his bones needed a drink to warm his insides after that walk across the yard in the min.
"A foine night, for ducks," he said, and because that drink had not been the first, he chuckled at his own wit.
He went on into building number three, through the chemical stockroom, the meter room, the shipping room. His lantern, swinging at his side, sent grotesque shadows before him.
But these shadows didn’t frighten Mike Cleary; he’d chased them through this building for nights of ten years now.
He opened the door of the live-stock room to look in, and then left it wide behind him and went on is "Begorra," he said, "and how did that happen?"
For the doors of two of the large cages of white mice were open, wide open. They hadn’t been open when he’d made his last round two hours before.
Holding his lantern high, he looked into the cages. They were both empty. Not a mouse in either.
Mike Cleary sighed. They’d blame him for this, of course.
Well, and let them. A few white mice weren’t worth much, even if they took it out of his salary. Sure, let them take it out if they thought it was his fault.
"Misther Williams," he’d tell the boss, "those doors were closed when I went by the first time, and open when I went by the second, and I say the catches on them were worthless and dee-fective, but if you want to blame me, son, then just deduct the value of the—"
A faint sound behind him made him whirl around.
There in a corner of the room was a white mouse, or what looked like a white mouse. But it wore a shirt and trousers, and—
"Ye Gods," said Mike Cleary, and he said it almost reverendy. "Is it the D.T.’s that I’m—"
And another thought struck him. "Or can it be, sorr, that you are one of the little folk, please, sorr?"
And he swept off his hat with a trembling hand.
"Nudts!" said the white mouse. And, like a streak, it was gone.
There was sweat on Mike Cleary’s forehead, and sweat trickling down his back and under his armpits.
"Got them," he said. "Cleve got them!"
And quite illogically, since that was now his firm belief, he took the pint bottle from his hip pocket and finished the rest of its contents at a single gulp.
Darkness, and roaring.
And it was the sudden cessation of the roaring sound that wakened Mitkey. Wakened him to utter and stygian blackness of a confined space. His head ached and his stomach ached.
And then, suddenly, he knew where he was. The rocket!
The jets had stopped firing, and that meant he was over the line and falling, falling toward the moon.
But how—? Why—?
He remembered the radio pick-up that would be broadcasting sounds from the rocket to the professor’s ultra-short-wave receiver, and he called out despairingly, "Brofessor! Brofessor Oberburger! Help! It iss—"
And then another sound drowned him out.
A whistling sound, a high shrill sound that could only be the rush of the rocket through air, through an atmosphere.
The moon? Was the professor right and the astronomers wrong about the moon, or was the rocket falling back to Earth?
At any rate, the vanes were gripping now, and the rocket was slowing rather than accelerating.
A sudden jerk almost knocked the breath out of him. The parachute vanes were opening now. If they would—
And again blackness behind the eyes of Mitkey as well as before them. Blackout in blackness, and when two doors clicked open to admit light through balsa bars, Mitkey did not see them.
Not at first, and then he wakened and groaned.
His eyes came to focus first on the wooden bars, and then through them.
"Der moon," he muttered. He reached through the balsa-bar gate and unlatched it. Fearfully, he stuck his little gray nose out of the door and looked around.
He pulled his head back in and turned around to face the microphone.
"Brofessor! Can you hear me, Brofessor? Iss me, Mitkey. Dot Vhitey, he double-grosses us. Vhite paint I got on me, so I know vhat happened. You vere nodt in on it, or der vhite paint vould not be."
"It vas dreachery, Brofessor! By mine own kind, a mouse, I vas doublegrossed. Und Vhitey—Brofessor, he has der X-I9 brojector now! I am avraid vhat he may be blanning. Iss wrong, or he vould haf told me, no?"
Then silence, and Mitkey thinking deeply.
"Brofessor, I got to get back. Nodt for me, but to stop Vhitey! Maybe you can help. Loogk, I can change der broadcaster here into a receifer, I think. It should be easy; receifers are simpler, no? Und you quick build a ultra-shordt sender like this van."
"Yess I stardt now. Goot-bye, Brofessor. I change der vires."
"Mitkey, can you hear me, Mitkey?"
"Mitkey, loogk, I giff instructions now and I reheat effery half hour for a vhile, in gase you gannot get der first time."
"Virst, vhen you haf heard insdructions, shudt off der set to safe bower. You vill need all der bower left in der batteries to stardt again. So do not broadcast again. Do nodt answer me."
"Aboudt aiming and calculating, later. Virst, check der fuel left in der dubes. I used more than vas needed, and I think it vill be enough because to leaf der light-grafity moon vill need much much less bower than to leaf der Earth. Und..."
And over and over, the professor repeated it. There were gaps, there were things he himself could not know how to do without being there, but Mitkey might be able to find the answers.
Over and over he repeated the adjustments, the angle of aiming, the timing. Everything except how Mitkey could move the rocket to turn it, to aim it But Mitkey was a smart mouse, the professor knew. Maybe with levers, somehow—if he could find levers—
Over and over and far into the night, until the good professor’s voice was hoarse with fatigue, and until at last, right in the middle of the nineteenth repetition, he fell sound asleep.
Bright sunlight when he awakened, and the clock on the shelf striking eleven. He rose and stretched his cramped muscles, sat down again and leaned forward to the microphone.
"Mitkey can you—"
But no, there was no use in that Unless Mitkey had heard one of his earlier sendings the night before, it would he too late now. Mitkey’s batteries—the rocket’s batteries—would be worn out by now if he still had the set connected.
Nothing to do now but wait, and hope.
The hoping was hard, and the waiting was harder.
Night. Day. Night. And nights and days until a week had gone by. Still no Mitkey.
Again, as once before, the professor had set his wire cage trap and caught Minnie. Again, as before, he took good care of her.
"Mine Minnie, maybe soon your Mitkey vill be back mit us."
"Budt Minnie, vhy can’t you dalk like him yet? If he made an eggsnineteen brojector, vhy did he nodt use it on you? I do nodt understand. Vhy?"
But Minnie didn’t tell him why, because she didn’t know. She watched him suspiciously, and listened, but she wouldn’t talk. Not until Mitkey got back did they find out why. And then—paradoxically—only because Mitkey had not yet taken time to remove the white paint.
Mitkey’s landing was a good one. He was able to crawl away from it, and after a while to walk.
But it had been in Pennsylvania, and it had taken him two days to reach Hartford. Not afoot, of course. He had hidden at a filling station until a truck with a Connecticut license had come along, and when it took on gasoline, it took Mitkey, too.
A last few miles on foot, and then at last—
"Brofessor! Iss me, Mitkey."
"Mitkey! Mein Mitkey! Almost I had giffen up hope to see you. Tell me how you—"
"Layder, Brofessor. I tell you all, layder. Virst, vhere iss Minnie? You haff her? She vas lost vhen—"
"In der cage, Mitkey. I kept her safe for you. Now I can release her, no?"
And he opened the door of the wire cage. Minnie came out, hesitantly.
"Master," she said. And it was at Mitkey she was looking.
She repeated, "Master. You are a vice mouse. I am your slafe."
"Vot?" said Mitkey again, and he looked at the professor. "Vot iss? She speaks, budt—"
The professor’s eyes were wide. "I do not know, Mitkey. Neffer she speaks to me. I did not know dot she—Vait, she says about vhite mice. Maybe she—"
"Minnie," said Mitkey, "do you nodt know me?"
"You are a vhite mouse, master. So I speak to you. Ve are nodt to speak except to der vhite mouses. I did not speak, so, until now."
"Who? Minnie, who are nodt to speak except to vhite mouses?"
"Us gray mouses, master."
Mitkey turned to Professor Oberburger. "Professor. I think I begin to understand. It is vorse than I—Minnie, vot are der gray mouses subbosed to do for der vhite mouses?"
"Anything, master. Ve are your slafes, ye are your workers, ye are your soldiers. Ve obey der Emperor, and all der other vhite mouses. Und virst all der gray mouses vill be taught to work und to fight. Und then—"
"Vail, Minnie. I haf an idea. How mudch iss two und two?"
"How mudch iss thirdeen und tvelf?"
"I do not know, master."
Mitkey nodded. "Go back der cage in."
He turned again to the professor. "You see? A liddle, nodt mudch, he raises der lefel of indelligence of der gray mice. Der zero-two leffel, vhich iss his—so he iss chusdt a liddle smarter than der other vhite mice, und many dimes as smardt as der ordinary mice, who they vill use as solchers und workers. Iss diabolical, no?"
"It is diabolical, Mitkey. I—I did not thingk mice could be so low—so low as some men, Mitkey."
"Brofessor, I am ashamed of mine kind. I see now mine ideas of Moustralia, und men und mice liffing in beace—they vere dreams. I vas wrong, Brofessor. Budt no dime to think aboudt dreams—ve must act!"
"How, Mitkey? Shall I delephone der bolice und ask them to arrest —"
"No. Men can nodt stop them, Brofessor. Mice can hide from men. They haf hidden from men all their lifes. A million bolicemen, a million solchiers could not vind Vhitey der First. I must do it meinself."
"You, Mitkey? Alone?"
"It iss for that I came back from der moon, Brofessor. I am as smardt as he iss—I am der only mouse as smardt as Vhitey iss."
"But he has der vhite mice—der other vhite mice mit him. He has guards, probably. Vot could you do alone?"
"I could vind der machine. Der eggsnineteen brojector vot raised their indelligence. You see?"
"But vot could you do, Mitkey, mit der machine? They are already—"
"I could shordt-circuit it, Brofessor. Refuse der derminals und shordt-circuit it, und it vould kick oudt in von flash—und make normal again all der artificially-raised indelligence mitin a mile from it."
"Budt, Mitkey, you vould be there, too. It vould destroy your own indelligence. You vould do dot?"
"I vould, und I vill. For der vorld, und for beace. Budt I haff an ace up der sleefe, maybe. Maybe I get mine indelligence back."
Little gray man with his head bent low over a white-painted little gray mouse, the two of them discussing high heroism and the fate of the world. And neither saw that it was funny—or was it?
"Ve renew der vhite paint virst. So I can vool them und get by der guards."
I vill be in or near der Hartford Laboratories, I belief—vhere Vhitey came from, und vhere he finds der other white mice to vork mit him.
"Und segund, also before I leafe here, I make another brojector, see? Und I raise Minnie’s leffel of indelligence to mine, und teach her how to oberate der brojector, See?"
"Und vhen I lose mine indelligence in shordting der machine at der laboratories, I still haff mine normal indelligence und mine instinct—und I think these vill brings me back here to mine house und mine Minnie!"
The professor nodded. "Eggcellent Und der laboratories iss three miles avay from here, und der shordt vill nodt affect Minnie. Then she can restore you, hein?’
"Yess. I need vire, der vinest vire you haff. Und—"
Rapidly this time, the projector grew. This time Mitkey had help, expert help, and could ask for what he wanted instead of having to steal it in darkness.
Once while they worked the professor remembered something. "Mitkey!" he said suddenly, "you vere on der moon! I almost forgodt to ask you aboudt it. Vot vas it like?"
"Brofessor, I vas so vorried aboudt getting back, I did nodt notice. I forgodt to look!"
And then the final connections, which Mitkey insisted on making himself. "Nodt that I do nodt trust you, Brofessor," he explained earnestly, "But it vas a bromise, to der Prxl scientists who taught me. Und I do nodt know how it vorks myself, und you vould nodt understand, either. It iss beyond der science of men and mice. But I bromised, so I make der connections alone."
"I understand, Mitkey. Iss all right But der other brojector, der vun you viii shordt—maybe somevun might find it und rebair der shordt?"
Mitkey shook his head.
"Iss hobeless. Vance it is mined, no vun will ever make head or tail of how it vorked. Nodt effen you could, Brofessor."
Near the cage—now with the door closed again—in which Minnie waited. The final wire, and a click.
And gradually, Minnie’s eyes changed.
Mitkey talking rapidly, explaining to her. Giving her the facts and the plans. . .
Under the floor of the main building of the Hartford laboratories, it was dark, but enough light came through a few cracks for the keen eyes of Mitkey to see that the mouse who had just challenged him was a white mouse, carrying a short club.
"Iss me," said Mitkey. "I chust eggscaped vrom der pig cage ubstairs. Vot giffs?"
"Goot," said the white mouse. "I viii take you to der Emperor of der Mices. To him, und to der machine he made, you owe your indelligence und your allechiance."
"Who iss he?" asked Mitkey innocently.
"Whitey der First. Emperor of der vhite mices, who are der rulers of all der mice und layder der rulers of all der—But you vill learn all vhen you take der oath."
"You sboke of a machine," said Mitkey. "Vot iss, und vhere iss it?"
"In der party headquarters, vhere I now take you. This vay."
And Mitkey followed the white mouse.
As he followed, he asked, "How many of us intelligent vhite mice iss there?"
"You vill be der twenty-virst."
"Und all tventy iss here?"
"Yess, and ye are draining der slafe battalion of gray mice, who vill vork and fight for us. Iss now a hundred of them already. Der barracks is vhere they liff."
"How far iss der barracks from der headquarters?"
"Ten, maybe tvellf yards."
"Iss goot," said Mitkey.
The last turn of the passage, and them was the machine, and there was Whitey. Other white mice were seated in a semi-circle around him, listening. "—und der negst moof iss to—Vot iss this, Guard?"
"A new recruit, Your Highness. He chust eggscaped, and he vill choin us."
"Goot," said Whitey. "Ve are discussing vorld blans, but ye vill vait until ye haff giffen you der oath. Stand by der machine, mit vun hand on der cylinder und vun hand raised tovard me, palm vorward."
"Yess, Your Highness," said Mitkey, and he moved around the semi-circle of mice toward the machine.
"Iss so." said Whitey. "Der hand higher. Dot’s it. Now reheat: Der vhite mice iss to rule der vorld."
"Der vhite mice iss to rule der vorld."
"Gray mice, und other creatures including men, vill be their slafes."
"Gray mice, und other creatures including men, viii be their slafes."
"Those who obchect vill be tortured und killed."
"Those who obchect viii be tortured und killed."
"Und Vhitey der First shall rule ofer all."
"Dot’s vot you think," said Mitkey, and he reached in among the wires of the X-19 projector and touched two of them together . . .
The professor and Minnie were waiting. The professor seated in his chair, Minnie on the table beside the new projector Mitkey had made before he left.
"Three hours und tventy minutes," said the professor. "Minnie, do you subbose anything could haff gone wrong?"
"I hobe nodt, Brofessor...Brofessor, iss mice habbier mit indelligence? Vould nodt indelligent mice be unhabby?"
"You are unhabby, mein Minnie?"
"Und Mitkey, too, Brofessor. I could tell. Indelligence is vorry und drouble—und in der vail und mit all der cheese you pudt under der icebox, ye vas so habby, Brofessor."
"Maybe, Minnie. Maybe only drouble do brains bring to mice. As to men, Minnie."
"But men, they cannot help it, Brofessor. They are born that vay. If it vas meant for mice to be smardt, they vould be born so, iss not?"
The professor sighed. "Maybe you are a smardter mouse, effen, than Mitkey. Und I am vorried, Minnie, aboudt—Look, iss him!"
Small gray mouse, most of the paint worn off of him and the rest dirtied to his own gray color, slinking along the wall.
Pop, into the mouse-hole in the baseboard.
"Minnie, iss him! He sugceeded! Now I set der cage drap, so I can pudt him on der table by der machine—Or vait, iss not necessary. It vill broject to affect Mitkey behind der vail. Chust svitch it on und—"
"Gootbye, Brofessor," said Minnie. She reached forward to the machine, and too late the professor saw what she was going to do.
And just a small gray mouse on a table, running frantically around looking for a way down. In the center of the table, a small, complex short-circuited machine that would never work again.
The professor picked her up gently.
"Minnie, mein Minnie! Yess, you vere right. You und Mitkey vill be habbier so. But I vish you had vaited—chust a liddle. I vanted to talk to him vunce more, Minnie. But—"
The professor sighed and put the gray mouse down on the floor.
"Veil, Minnie, now to your Mitkey you can—"
But instructions were too late, and quite unnecessary, even if Minnie had understood them. The little gray mouse was now a little gray streak in the direction of the baseboard mousehole.
And then from a sheltered darkness deep within the wall the professor heard two joyful little squeaks . . .