Unpredictable

Three white rats watched from behind wire mesh as the man crossed the room with an uneven gait, moving past the circular maze to stand before a large bookshelf that reached almost to the ceiling. He began to pull the books off the shelves in clumps, setting them in dusty piles on the nearby table and then the floor. When the bookshelf was near empty he started to pull it away from the wall, slowly, gasping with effort. A sliver of light was revealed, warm and bright, and it grew bigger as the bookshelf scraped across the floor. Finally a long forgotten window was revealed, the view of the city outside hazy through the thin layer of caked-on dust dust.

The man opened one of the cages to take out the rat inside, holding it to his chest. He wore not the pristine white lab coat they were used to, but a deep brown suit, dusty and a little tattered. Standing in front of the window, he ran his hand over the rat's white fur and down its back, over and over.

"Perhaps I should set you all free. But it would be cruel, I think. To make you fend for yourselves. You have lived so long... in captivity." The man gave a soft, sad laugh. "Perhaps you would not know how... to live any other way. You would not be able... to take care of yourselves. You need a master." He let the rat crawl up the sleeve of his jacket to sit on the dust covered shoulder as he looked out the window. "The city will not know... the difference. But I..." He stopped, troubled, and sighed, turning from the dirty window to put the rat back in its cage.

"Perhaps a practice," he said slowly, moving to regard the maze in the middle of the room. "If you will not be jealous... of me dividing my time. I will have so much of it now. It will be..." he was silent for a long time, then reached a hand into the maze to move the dividing walls aside, collapsing them onto each other and destroying the neat spiral pattern.

"Unpredictable. Frightening."

The man finally turned the maze on its end, struggling only a little, and began to roll it up the stairs and out the open door. From inside the office, the rats could hear a surprised greeting from the hall, the faint sound of their master's voice. "John."

"Daniel - Doctor Schreber, I'm sorry. Glad to find you in. Are you moving?"

"Daniel is fine... please. This is just... some spring cleaning. Reorganizing. It seems I am now... happily unemployed."

"Really? I remember you mentioning something about working for me in that memory cocktail you gave me. Think you'll gave time to help a friend figure out how to run a city?"

For a moment there was silence, and when the Doctor spoke again the stress and worry that had been in his voice melted away. "Yes. Yes, of course. Any time you need, John."

Written for Yuletide 2010 for Kurushi :)