“All right, ladies,” yelled Ronald, “what are you waiting for? Breakfast in bed? Form up!”
The other mice groaned at their large yellow-furred leader as he took up position on top of a small box of pipette tips on the lab bench outside their their cage. The furry ball of sleepy rodents slowly began to untangle itself as it did each morning in laboratory three of the Brecon Institute for Research and Development - Flavivirus and Lentivirus Unit.
“Breakfast in bed would be nice,” muttered Tyree.
“Ssshhh,” Mel told him. “The Gouti will hear you!”
Apart from Ronald, Mel was the only non-white mouse in the lab and therefore carried a certain paranoia about standing out: paranoia that was not helped by his generally nervous disposition. Tyree grunted and buried his head into the shredded paper towel that served as bedding.
“Why do you insist on calling him ‘The Gouti’?” Nim asked Mel.
“Because he is a Gouti!” Mel answered.
Nim rolled her eyes. “He’s agouti, not a Gouti! You're a research mouse. Don’t you know any mouse genetics?”
Mel stared at her vacantly. Nim was not entirely sure why she seemed to be ten times smarter than the rest of the gang but she suspected that the answer lie in the mouse lab at the University of Bristol from whence they had come. It was not always easy being the clever one but she tried not to let it frustrate her.
“Never mind,” she sighed. “C’mon.”
The other mice were already beginning to assemble in a rough line in front of Ronald 'The Gouti' and Nim grabbed Tyree by the forelimb and dragged him after her, still protesting.
“Move it, ladies,” Ronald goaded. If he had noticed the muttering, he was paying it no heed. “You ain’t being paid by the hour.”
“We ain’t getting paid at all!” grumbled Tyree. “And I wish he’d stop calling us ladies. Nim’s the only girl here.”
“I hear you there, brother,” answered Wierzbowski, lining up next to him.
“I’m a girl!” said Disco from further up the line.
“You’re not a girl, Disco,” Nim told him despairingly.
“I am too,” Disco retorted proudly. “I’m transgender.”
“You’re transgenic, you idiot!” Nim told him.
“Quiet in the ranks!” Ronald snapped, with a hint of irritation, letting his gaze linger on Tyree. “You get paid by not being fed to a snake. NATO has given us refuge; given us purpose.”
He jumped down from the box and walked the line in front of them, an extra long safety match tucked under his right arm like a sergeant major’s swagger stick.
“Another glorious day in the Corps!” he told the assembled mice. “A day in the Murine Corps is like a day on the farm. Every meal's a banquet! Every formation a parade! I love the Corpse!”
“Shouldn’t that be a silent p, sir?” Nim asked him.
“If you’re lucky, son,” Ronald told her. “If you’re lucky.”