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    The Ferret

    Nathan Traggen couldn't stand rodents. Which made his job much harder. At least he didn't have to clean up after the experimental animals that he was involved with. As an employee of Encecircuit, he was one of a team for testing and troubleshooting of the biomechanical chips they were developing. He glared at a guinea pig as he passed the cage. Just last week his boss had chewed him out for not watching them more carefully. Honestly, though who would have expected the guinea pig to kill himself with only a play tunnel and water spout? Some things shouldn't happen, even in experimental laboratories.
    The rats had been another matter. Spontaneous combustion was funnier, anyway. Not so messy. Chris was in charge of the rat division, so when the fire sprinklers came on one night when the only person there was a security guard, Nathan had laughed along with everyone else. He hadn't been one of the employees who kept costly electronic devices on their desks.
    Now, for the rabbits. Nathan didn't mind them so much. His daughter had one at home, and as long as it was fed it didn't make any noise whatsoever. Quiet rodents, while still disgusting, were easier to ignore. Walking past on his way to the lunchroom, he glanced over at the cages where Sylvia was preparing to feed them their tasteless, bland concoction. He saw her drop an entire bucket of food on the floor. She bent over something on the door.
    Not again! Nathan was instantly certain that one rabbit had somehow killed another using only kibble and bits of sawdust. This, I gotta see! Not wanting to miss out on any teasing, blaming, or loss of job likely to result from this mishap, Nathan sidled over behind a file cabinet and listened avidly to Sylvia's lament. Ms. Ganter, their supervisor, was there. He craned his head around the cabinet, trying to see without letting his eyebrows show past the edge of the drawers.
    Sylvia was pointing to a wire that seemed to have been fashioned into a lever to release the catch on the rabbits' cage. Three rabbits were gone. Ms. Ganter's face was slowly empurpling. "Sylvia! If I've told you once, I've told you a thousand times. The rabbits are experimental animals. They are not pets. You are not to rescue them. I am going to write you up so high you will never find another job involving anything that looks remotely like a rabbit!"
    Sylvia broke into tears. "I swear, I didn't! The cage was locked! I don't know how they got out!"
    Nathan edged back away. That did not look quite as entertaining as he had hoped. He ducked behind a desk and broke into a trot around the corner, heading resolutely for the lunchroom.

    Three weeks later, the rabbits were still missing. Sylvia had kept her job, but just barely. The security cameras that had been installed after the rat incident had distinctly filmed the rabbits bending a wire, inserting it through the cross-hatching on their cage, and flipping open the catch. Although this would technically be classed as a biological spill, on a scale that included oil spills and nuclear contamination it didn't even rate a letter to the government. As long as no one found out, the rabbits would quietly die out. They were three males, anyway, since those were what they traditionally used in the experimental department.
    Nathan came into work that Monday and almost spilled his coffee all over the paperwork that was on his desk. He caught it, but there was really no reason to care. Every bit of paper on his desk had been shredded. Mouth open wide enough for a cohort of flies, he stood there for a moment, dumbfounded. What was going on?! Had the shredder suddenly developed a destructive personality to go with its function? Unlikely. Then, he remembered the rabbits. They knew he didn't like them. They had seen him restrain himself from kicking the cage as he went back. They were probably in contact with his daughter's rabbit, and knew about the habaƱero pepper he had fed it the day before in his most sadistic mood. Okay, that was a bit too unlikely. But it must have been the rabbits who chewed his paper. Distinctive pellets littered the ground around his desk. Sylvia's desk was untouched. Nathan had a sudden revelation, and crept around to see Ms. Ganter's desk. Her door was slightly ajar, and Nathan could see wreckage strewn liberally around the floor and desk. Nathan's head started to ache slightly.
    This happened several days in a row. Sylvia's desk was never touched, and her co-workers started to avoid her. By the fifth day, Nathan couldn't take it anymore. At the time the rabbits had escaped, a bright mind in the testing division had suggested that they simply move up the trial schedule and smarten a ferret. Then it could catch the rabbits, and everyone would be happy again. Ms. Ganter had looked interested, but a higher-level boss had vetoed the idea. "The last thing we need running loose around here is a homicidal ferret. Rabbits are bad enough."
    Nathan went to see Ms. Ganter early one morning. "We can't take it anymore. I forgot to lock my desk last night, and an entire week's documentation on the guinea pigs was destroyed. We have to do something."
    Ms. Ganter eyed him suspiciously. Then she motioned for him to close the door. "A few of us have pooled our funds to buy a ferret. We are going to operate this afternoon. We will set it loose in the air ducts. We need someone to keep contact with him with a radio collar. Can you do that?"
    Nathan bobbed his head. "Absolutely! Anything to be rid of those rabbits."
    "Then come to room 83 at 4pm this afternoon."

    Footsteps echoed from further along the hall, and Nathan plastered himself to the wall. There wasn't really anywhere to hide, so all he was accomplishing was looking more suspicious than ever. But, he told himself, what was good enough for all those superheroes was good enough for Nathan Traggen. Then he realized that they wouldn't really be worried about being seen; it was just the courtesy of killing as few people as possible that made them hide. Reluctantly, he peeled himself off the wall and resumed a business-like trot down the hall.
    When he got to room 83, he knocked. Ms. Ganter opened the door slightly, then let him squeeze in. Almost the entire laboratory staff was there. Sylvia was conspicuously absent. The ferret was partially shaved and locked in a small wire cage. Someone thrust a small object that looked like a toy car controller into his hands. The ferret had a small collar on, but it was still under the anesthetic from the surgery. As Nathan looked at the ferret, everyone except Ms. Ganter scattered and left the room.
    "In about 15 minutes it will wake up. Make sure it has a chance to get a drink, then open the cage. It's set so that if you lift the door it can run directly into the vent." She frowned. "It would probably be better to let him sleep it off and get a good rest, but we can't hide this any longer. We have to get him into the vent as soon as possible."
    Nathan nodded. "Got it." After Ms. Ganter left, he sat in a chair and watched the ferret. It kept twitching in its sleep, like a dog having hunting dreams. Nathan allowed a sly smile to creep over his face. Better run, bunnies, better run.

    The next morning, Nathan hooked the controller into his computer to log the ferret's travels. It had run around quite a bit the afternoon before, but thanks to the map of the building on his computer, he thought he could pinpoint its location. The ferret seemed to have spent the entire night in the basement, just sitting in a corner. Nathan raised an eyebrow. Come on, eat the rabbits! That's what you're there for!
    When it hadn't moved all day, he started to worry. Visions of super-ferrets jumping out of rooms and eating people danced in his head all night. When he went back to work, he went to see Ms. Ganter. Together they went down to the basement to see what was going on. They found the body of one rabbit, and a little way off the ferret's collar. Nathan broke out in a cold sweat. Ms. Ganter pursed her lips. "How dare he! We specifically instructed him to leave that on. But I see he didn't eat the rabbit. The rest of the programming may be successful."
    Nathan gaped. "He's loose! He'll attack us all!"
    "Nonsense. We instructed him to kill rabbits. No one said anything about humans."
    "But what happens when he runs out of rabbits? And he'll still be hungry if he's not eating them!"
    Ms. Ganter's eyes narrowed. "You're not really cut out for this, are you. Nevermind. Go and do whatever it is you're supposed to be doing. You never heard about this and you don't know anything. Shoo!"
    Nathan shooed. Don't blame me when you open a dark closet and the ferret comes out and velcroes himself to your arm! Don't say I didn't warn you. He shied away from a shadow in the hall.

    When he got to his desk, there was a security team going through the papers in Ms. Ganter's desk. How did they figure into it so quickly?! He kept his head down and went straight over to the guinea pigs to chart their progress for the day. Sylvia was sitting primly in her chair, pointedly ignoring the security team. There was a low conference between the members of the team. Nathan looked sideways at them, and suddenly noticed a certain woman who was familiar.
    "Yes, he was there. He had the controller."
    Nathan's mouth went dry. His heart began to pound, and his vision swam.
    "Excuse me, sir, you'll have to come with us." Two burly men in black vests took his arms and led him towards the door. Nathan didn't struggle -- he went limp. "Whaa ... What's happening? I was just in the bathroom! What's going on? You can't do this!?" The last was more of a question than a protest.

    Nathan spent three days in the security section. He was in solitary confinement, and the only contact he had with any outside person was when a security flunkie brought him a cafeteria meal.
    Finally, he was retrieved from his little locked room and taken to another empty, locked room. No, the room wasn't quite empty. Over against a wall was a low table. Laid out like a science fair exhibit were three rabbits and a ferret, limp and dead. Nathan gasped, and slumped against the far wall. The floor was cold to his back, and he shivered.
    The door creaked, and footsteps echoed into the room. A woman dressed in a suit with a skirt stepped into the middle of the room and looked around.
    "Ah, Mr. Traggan."
    Nathan reluctantly stood. "Yes, ma'am." A little politeness couldn't hurt him at this point.
    "As you can see, we have taken care of the little problem you exacerbated for us. Very simple, actually. We emptied the experimental building of all proper biological life, and gassed out the ducts. Ms. Ganter was contained, and she has already been in this room. Now, what shall I do with you?"
    She narrowed her eyes and pressed her lips together. Then a nasty gleam lit her eyes. "Ah, I know."

    Nathan met Ms. Ganter in the hall. She was wearing a blue smock and pushing a mop bucket. She gave him an evil glare, then pointedly turned away down another hallway. Nathan shifted the small shovel on his shoulder, and kept walking. Today was a guinea pig day. He'd cleaned up the rabbits' cages yesterday. Tomorrow, he would muck out the rats.

    Written by Anemone Flynn, 2006