As soon as the light switch went off in the room, Jerry asked Lenny, who lived in the cage above his, "Hey, Lenny, how's it going?"
Lenny hesitated for a moment, then said, "Same old, same old."
Jerry could hear it in his voice, "Did you pig out on the red lever again today?"
Lenny was silent. After a while, he replied weakly, "I can't help myself."
Jerry shook his head. "You can if you put your mind to it. You have a choice, a blue lever and a red lever. You know you should choose the blue one because the red one will make you forget eating, but you just can't control yourself."
"I feel so good whenever I press the red lever that I totally forget about everything. It is so much better than food." Lenny gave a deep sigh. "I'm weak. I'm a loser."
Jerry tried to boost him up, "No, you are just tempted. We are all tempted. But the gods gave us free will! They don't have to give us the red blue lever, but they did, which means that, in their eyes, we are intelligent and superior creatures. We must live up to their expectation of us."
Lenny did not answer, but merely whimpered and fell asleep. Jerry was worried about him. He had been feeding on the evil red level that had obviously given him no nourishment. The blue level, once pressed, would have brought him real food that would sustain him, but he was too caught up in the indulgence to even think about food, until the day was over and he was sent back to this room for the night. Lenny had become thinner and weaker by the day. Jerry wondered whether his god would let him die or try to save him.
Gods were far more powerful than all the rats put together, every rat knew. They could give life or take it away. The rats had seen baby rats being born under the gods' watchful eyes, as well as rats of all ages being taken away by the gods, never to return.
"Hey, Jerry," a voice came from the left. Jerry couldn't see him, but he recognized Matt's voice. "Tell us about the story of Robinson again."
Matt looked almost identical to Jerry, and both were treated with utmost care and delicacy by the gods. Everyone in the lab was convinced that they were not only brothers but were from a noble bloodline. Of course, there was no way to know for sure, as all rats in this room grew up in separate cages since birth.
"Once upon a time there was a mighty warrior named Robinson," Jerry began for the hundredth time. "He was larger and stronger than any mouse in the world. He won every challenge the gods put in his path, from running the high crossbeam to the swimming test. He was also the smartest, and beat all mice in running mazes. The gods were awed by his might and rewarded him with dozens of the most beautiful and intelligent female rats for mating, so that his seeds would be preserved forever and spread as far as possible in the world."
The entire room fell into a hushed admiration for the legendary Robinson. He was way before their time, and none of them had seen him, but his mythology had lived on.
"I wish I was as strong and as smart as Robinson," Matt said. "Even if I could be only half as great, life would be so much easier."
Oh, no! Jerry thought. Is everyone feeling down tonight? Or is pessimism contagious?
"Don't say that, Matt." Jerry tried to keep his tone encouraging. "We are the lucky ones, because we are the chosen ones. We don't have to live in the dangerous and horrible outside, starving and fending for ourselves. The gods have chosen us because we are special."
Matt sighed. "You're right. I guess I'm just tired. I had a hard day at work."
"Tell me about it," said Jerry. "Then you'll feel better."
"There is not much to tell. I was put in a very large pool. I swam and swam, but felt like I could never reach the edge. It was endless. Finally my god, the boy with the dark hair, fished me out and gave me some sweet food. I was so exhausted. And then he put me in a maze. Are you kidding me? That was too much. I ran around for a whole hour without getting anywhere. I could tell my god was disappointed with me, and that just made me more depressed."
"Oh, I am sure your god was not disappointed with you," Jerry tried to look at the bright side. "He would not have given you such a difficult task if he didn't think you had the exceptional strength. The gods want to make us tough, so that we can succeed more and more. It's call tough love."
Matt chuckled, apparently helped by Jerry's words. "Does your pretty god ever give you tough love? I don't think so."
Jerry blushed a little, but of course no one would see it. "Life is not easy for anyone," he answered vaguely.
"Ah, if I had such a caring and beautiful god, I would be as happy as you are," said Matt with mild envy.
Jerry's god was everyone's envy in this lab. She was tender and kind, she always fed him well, and never allowed Jerry to suffer. And she always smiled. Jerry's job was not easy by no means. He ran a ton of mazes of all kinds every day. There were always new mazes to learn and remember. Sometimes he was injected with something or had blood taken from his body, but his god had a quick hand, and he was never in much pain for too long. He loved his job, because it was intellectually challenging and satisfying and, of course, he was fully rewarded for his intelligence and hard work.
I am smart and I work hard, he thought. Naturally my god appreciates me and rewards me. I've earned it.
"But my god is not so nice, and I have a feeling that my days are numbered. He used to be Peter's god too. Remember Peter? I heard he was sacrificed," Matt continued to complain. Jerry began to suspect that he was not of noble blood anyone, but rather just another weakling like Lenny.
"They are ultimately benevolent," Jerry declared. "But they are also just. They gave us free will and a lot of choices. We are responsible for choosing our own destiny. If we work hard and worship them correctly, they will reward us. Have some faith."
"How do you know all this?" Matt asked skeptically. "Did your god tell you? Can you understand god's language now?"
"I have a personal relationship with my god," Jerry answered cryptically. "She knows my every thought and need. You should try to build one with your own god too. It might make your life much better."
Matt had no answer for that. Darkness engulfed the laboratory. All the rats soon went to sleep. In his dreams, Jerry had a direct dialog with his personal god.
In the office down the hall from the laboratory, Jerry's god was putting the finishing touches on her protocol draft. According to the plan, she would give the final injection of a memory enhancing drug to her rat, test his ability to remember the passages in the maze. If his running time was significantly shorter than the previous test, she would sacrifice him immediately and analyze his brain, so that she could determine the precise biochemical effect of this promising drug.