I don’t know where I am, but I’m dreaming about my Rat Mother.
When I first found my way to the sewers, the Rats found me stumbling around, sick from being exposed to all the bacteria of the outside world. They took me back to their city without question, and someone stepped up to take care of me: her, the Mother.
It was an honorary term. She had no children of her own, left barren from exposure to poison. But she often took in orphans, others like me who had nowhere to go.
I woke up covered in sweat in her bed, a paw laying on my forehead. “Sssh now, Cricket, yer fine. G’own back t’sleep.” She put some sweet smelling herbs against my face and I drifted back to sleep. I realized later this was the first time anyone had been kind to me. I also found out the Rats were calling me ‘Cricket’; my face reminded them of a bug. I never could shake that name.
It was a miracle my immune system survived at all. I put most of the thanks on Mother, dutifully bringing me her hot herbal concoctions and helping me clear the mess that had built up in my bio-respirator. Even when I regained my strength, she let me stay. Her home wasn’t much: a re-enforced shipping box with a few rooms, the walls covered in bits of newspaper and candy wrappers. My bed was a broken music box she had stuffed with scraps of fabric; honestly more comfortable than anything we had at the lab.
She would boil to death any food she would feed me. I technically don’t have a mouth, just a port under my face for injecting nutrient paste. I never got to taste the things she made for me, but they smelled so good as she was cooking them, humming over a giant pot. She’d tip a bowl of sludge into my port, endlessly chattering and gossiping about the mundane lives the Rats led down here.
Mother did her best to understand what I was, and what had happened to me, but I could tell she could never quite grasp it. “Ah, m’poor dear.” She would hold me against her furry chest, and whisper her platitudes to me. I still found such comfort in her company.
When she found out I was dying, she didn’t understand why I was leaving. Why I didn’t want to just die there with her. Even when my skin was coming off in sheets, she begged me to stay with her.
“Please. J’st stay. I can make it better.” She held my stunted hands, pleading with her big black eyes. I tried to explain this wasn’t something her tea could fix.
I remember the day I finally set off, her tight hug, almost drowning me in fur. “Ah, don’t forget your Mother now, y’hear?” she wiped the tears off her whiskers.
It’s a pleasant memory. I replay it in my head one more time, looking up at her kind face.
Her eyes are glowing red.
“It’s time.” She looks down at me blankly. It’s not her voice.
“Be born here, or die.”
I wake up, my lungs filling with blood.