Who's Who 10: A Matter of Scale
The scientists gathered that morning, as they always did. They parked their cars in their allotted spaces, after each battling their way through their own daily commute. Roadworks, train delays, wrestling wriggling offspring into school uniforms. They made themselves a drink upon arrival. A few even had time to prepare a little breakfast. Nothing fancy. A slice of toast here. A bowl of porridge there. The occasional croissant or fad fruit sliced into yogurt.
Emails were checked. Sports scores were debated. The latest TV addiction was picked apart, from cold open to cliff hanger. Once they were ready, they donned their white coats and headed down to the maze.
They took the favoured route, as suggested by Management. The lift to the lower floor. Past the locked doors with the new security checks. Then it was into the analysis room to prepare for the new list of tests they had to run. Important work with which they’d earn their daily crust.
They were doing so well these days. It was no wonder their funding appeared healthier than the other departments. The theoretical department, for example. Which always seemed to be empty when Maintenance switched on the lights and deserted by the time the cleaners clocked in.
“What got into them?” asked one of the scientists.
He was meant to be getting things ready but, as he’d switched on the monitors, he’d noticed something in the maze.
The other joined him. They peered over his shoulders, the experienced and the fresh from further education. They looked over the screens and frowned the same frown as him. (That’s teamwork for you.)
“I could’ve sworn I put them away.”
“I could’ve sworn I saw you do it.”
“We are a bit earlier this morning.”
“That shouldn’t make any difference. It’s not like we’re catching them on their coffee break.”
The rats definitely weren’t in their allotted cages. They’d moved to the maze, to the very centre of it. There they sat, huddled around something. Clambering over each other to see.
The head scientist decided to investigate. He stepped out of the side room and into the main lab. He approached the maze and stood over the small, furry, tangling knot of test subjects. He hoped no one saw him flinch. In truth, he’d never been keen on rats. Too many history lessons about plagues when he was a boy. Too many tacky horror movies when he was a teenager. It was an aversion he’d been forced, if not trained, to conquer in order to succeed.
He did his best to separate the bickering rodents. His fingers trembling as they squirmed in his grip. He muttered furiously as he dealt with their coiling tails and flicking whiskers.
The others watched his confusion and, when there was no further explanation, they approached and clustered around him. The ones at the back struggling to see.
“Oh.” Another senior scientist remarked.
“Must be a prank?” someone suggested.
The younger ones stayed quiet and took notes, in case this was a test.
Down in the centre of the maze was a small model. Another maze. Inside it, small dark bodies were scuttling down alleyways and sulking at dead ends as they hunted for a crumb of cheese.
As the scientists tried to understand what they were seeing, the rats hustled back to their experiment and keenly studied their results. Over their heads, the scientists turned on each other. They bickered, accused. Each of them finding a way to deny what they were seeing.
A rather sheepish young lad, who was happiest when lost in data, took a step back. It only made him look guilty. He was immediately interrogated whilst, overhead, the cameras watched closely. Those in higher offices were taking careful notes.
Sadly, not one scientist (man or mouse), ever thought to seek the opinions of the cheese waiting to in the centre of either maze. As was always the way with this sort of thing, the cheese never got a clean, straightforward vote on exactly which agenda was going to devour it this time.