Grandfather remembered how the war began when he was very young. It was so long ago, that people still needed names to be differentiated from each other. Grandfather forgot what he used to be called, but he remembered from his childhood fantasies that he had wanted to be named after a hero, so that all would glorify his name.
Grandfather remembered waiting behind the laboratories glass windows. Of all the structures around, it was odd how a scientific warehouse was more heavily fortified than even the political structures, which were the first points of attack. As he emerged from the bubble of security, it struck him that nobody else seemed to be as uncomfortable about the sound of weapons fire than he was.
Lately, he had taken to walking to the premise. It was way too dangerous for the public transport to operate. Recent attacks had left them with rising death tolls every day. The sky bled in the morning, and in the evening, and with the air strikes, the wounds lasted during the day as well. But he was behind a laboratory’s closed door, sheltered, defended and protected, until the time he stepped out and the cries of the mourning, the whines of overwrought engines and the sharp punctuation of the weapons fire reminded him of where he was.
Everyday, the news covered another debacle of politics. Existing societal systems were failing. Rebellion and anarchy seemed to be the only route to survival. The economy plunged. Goods were looted. Yet everyday, the radiation from the attacks seemed to reduce the number of beggars on the street. Death, desperation and the enemy were persistent. They could not be stopped. They would not be stopped.
Yet, even in this dreary mess, he had reason to be happy. It was a small secret, folded up in the deepest corners of his heart before any of the plunderers found it. But it was also embodied by his lovely new bride who waited for him to come back home, anxious and worried. Despite all the misery and gore around them, they derived some small happiness in the mere fact of being together.
Perhaps it was cruel how their concern didn’t seem to bother any of the others on the streets who could have been anyone’s mother, father, sister, brother, son or daughter. But perhaps shortsightedness had always been one of Grandfather’s problems. It was a problem that extended not just to him, but to his entire civilization as well.
When the funding for the laboratory and its security stopped, Grandfather helped several refugees into the warehouses and tried to keep them alive with the limited rations. Many died. Some survived. Like the very same desperation and enemy that drove these people to his shelter, Grandfather persevered and sent a few alive ones back out into the world as well. His benefactors glorified his name, the one which he himself would forget. But back then, he was a hero.
Then the call came to create an army. For a nation that was living off dust and grass, littered with decaying corpses and the pungent aroma of perpetual smoke, an army had to be raised. But from what? They had no money to buy anything. They had no more people to create an army. When the call came, a cry of confusion sang louder than all the other screams of pain. For a land that was losing its dignity, people and resources, what could it make its army from?
The answer was so simple that it was pure genius. Though nobody remembered that genius could be dangerous. Only Grandfather and Grandmother, sitting huddled up in their lonely cottage decades later, would learn to mistrust genius.
Rats. The rodents that scavenged the streets, feeding off the uncovered dead,multiplying abnormally in an environment that seemed to support their existence better than humans, they infested the city. Yet, people were so preoccupied with war, that they didn’t notice them. Most considered them as their new form of meat. Others made them into fur. They were not an inconvenience any more. They were property.
More so, they were genetically malleable. A few embellishments to their existing helix, combined with the encouragement of the native tendency to forage and scavenge and you could create a perfect army. Their skills in multiplication surpassed any automated machine, and there were so many of them that they seemed to be the only resource left.
Ordinarily, it would have occurred to some noble soul that this was cruel. Testing and forcing an animal to mutate into something that was beyond its natural capacity involved torture at some level. But inflicting torture to one species after having suffered immeasurably for their own kind seemed only a natural, and weirdly normal, way of extending the feeling of brotherhood among the remaining life-forms.
Grandfather watched as science, inspired by hate and the human need of self-defense, began to morph harmless rodents into one of the most lethal forces known. No more were there any decaying bodies on the streets. The new species required complete, clean meals in order to sustain itself, and any dead carcass presented itself as a valid option. Directed, they burrowed in millions of tunnels to the enemy state. Driven to a mad frenzy, they effortlessly crossed physical and geographical boundaries with great speed and tenacity.
They were known as the Muridea and they were formidable. Their accelerated multiplication began to displace the enemy population and give them a taste of what they had caused. They chewed through metal alloys, bone and seemed to have a lasting resistance to any form of extermination methods.
And thus began, what is colloquially called, the Era of Monsters. Though Grandfather did not know if only the Muridea should have earned that title.