Meeting by Mischance

( An old, very short piece, in which Troy Salcedo – lab mouse protagonist of Mouse Cage – meets someone who didn’t know where the data for their biotech patent work came from. This dates back to before 2009, so is from about the time I started taking writing seriously. This possibly remains canonical, although I am tempted to rewrite the scene entirely for a flashback, sometime. )

Troy didn’t like enclosed spaces, which was ironic, given that he was a mouse. But regular mice weren’t genetically engineered into being human-like, regular mice weren’t tortured in labs. Of course Troy wasn’t a regular mouse, he’d been derived from black six lab mice. Electrodes and all were well within ‘normal’ for model organisms.

But it did mean that fifteen years on from that, tired and skittish from a cross-Atlantic flight to Cologne, he didn’t like the hotel bar one bit.

It was cramped, with six seats at the bar and two tables and with people waiting to sit down he couldn’t really get back up from the bar and leave without squeezing past someone.

Elbows everywhere, knees, beer-breath and sweat, an incessant babbling of voices in German and French. That made it worse. The people made it worse.

Troy couldn’t think of a way to leave the bar without bumping into someone, to get out of his seat without having someone squeeze in past him and brush up against him and stare at him and, no doubt, think something like ‘My God, not just a furry, but a Goddamn klutz.’

It was easier to order another beer, which was weird but not all that bad, and pretend that by the time he really needed to get up and take a walk to the bathroom the little bar would be clearer and the patrons wouldn’t be staring at him anymore. The staring wasn’t great, but Troy was used to staring.

People wanted a good look, most of them had never seen a furry before, not in the flesh. They’d sit, and stare, and blink, and eventually they’d tire of it and stop when they’d had their fill of the freakshow.

Not the guy two seats along the bar. He kept leaning forward to catch a glimpse. An older man. Greying, bald. In shirtsleeves, like Troy.

Troy was just here for a conference tomorrow. High energy state polymers. He had results to present from his work with the walls of fusion reactors. He was jet lagged and needed to sleep, a few beers usually helped with that. Not too many, just a couple. The hotel’s room service was shut. That’s why he’d come down here.

He wasn’t at the bar to talk.

The man drinking beside Troy got up, paying the bar tender.

Troy ducked his head, shrugging up his shoulder to try and hide his face. It was ineffectual, his snout was too long.

The older man sprang up, switching seats. “Mr. Salcedo? I’m Franz Mandel.” His accent was only a little Germanic.

A hand offered out in greeting hovered beside Troy. Troy stared at it, but it didn’t go away. He really wished it would. “Uhm. Yes. Hello.”

Mandel had worn a smile, at first. Friendly. But he’d lost it fast, traded the friendly expression for a pained one. “I’m sorry to bother you. You must be Osaka?”

Troy’s lips were dry. He licked them. Then tore his eyes off Mandel. Felt stupid, sipped his beer instead. Cleared his throat awkwardly. “Troy. Osaka died last year.”

“I. I’m sorry.” Mandel bowed his head, squeezing his eyes shut. “I didn’t realize.”

Troy’s gaze skittered back across the man’s worn face. “I guess you don’t know me from the news, then. Did you know Osaka?”

“No. No, I didn’t. I was aware he was in my field, though.” Mandel frowned, head down. He pinched the bridge of his nose tiredly.

Troy glanced back at the door. Dry swallowed. “You’re in genetics, then. Here for the other conference.” It was a statement, not a question.

Mandel nodded miserably.

Troy picked up his beer. Took a sip, then another. If he finished he could try and leave.

“God. I’m so sorry. They never said, you know. All they said to us was model organism.” Mandel lifted his hands helplessly. “We all thought it was just. Just physiological, you understand? They never said you’d have. Have.”

Mandel’s lips trembled. Tears glinted in his eyes. “Souls. I don’t know. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. My great grandmother, she was in Berlin, in the Second World War.”

Troy tried to breathe. Found he couldn’t.

Mandel smiled again. Or tried. He wiped snot out from under his nose, sucking back a tearful gasp like it was his last. “So I understand. I’m a Jew, you see? But look what I took part in. God. I’m sorry, I wanted to apologise, but. But I shouldn’t bother you. Please, let me pick up your bill.” Now Mandel was the one unable to make eye contact. He flagged down the barman, waving his hotel key. “Please, put everything of his to my room, will you?” He patted Troy’s shoulder gingerly.

Smiled the once. “God. Please believe me. You have no idea how sorry I am.” Then Mandel struggled out, almost desperately, pushing past two women struggling to get in.

Troy blinked at his beer. It was the funniest thing. He wasn’t thirsty anymore.

In fact, he felt downright ill.

By foozzzball

Malcolm Cross, otherwise known as 'foozzzball', lives in London and enjoys the personal space and privacy that the city is known for. When not misdirecting tourists to nonexistant landmarks and lurking at bus stops, Malcolm enjoys writing science fiction and fantasy with a furry twist.