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Prisoners of Perfection

showing them how to get along and get by. He'd never forgiven them for that cruel hospitality. Instead
of helping him stay, they should have been helping him leave. He knew it wasn't their fault, and that his
judgment was completely unjust, but that's how he felt, and he honored his fee lings by staying loyal to
them, regardless of situations or facts. He plotted and schemed, but it did him no good. He couldn't
even enjoy the unquestionable beauty of his immediate surroundings, his self-built cottage on the banks
of a lake, with the mountains in the distance, and the sparkling rivers that flowed in and flowed out. He
sat by his fire and kept his inner fire burning.
He kept birds in cages. He had trained some of them to leave and return, and had set his Watchers to
follow, hoping they would lead the way out, but the birds never did. They just flew around and came
home. Now he hated them too, but he couldn't get rid of them. Even when he destroyed all the cages,
the birds still came home, and nested on the roof or inside along the walls. He tried to ignore their
singing and chirping. Let the children enjoy them, he thought, while I remain bitter and cold. The
children did love all the birds, gave them names and chased them around. They had begged Bombarda
to make them new cages, which he eventually reluctantly did. He would have reason to be glad he had
done so.
Soma came bursting into the hut with her new prize possession, the curious rat. The rat sensed the
presence of birds and perked up in her grasp, sniffing and twitching and hoping to get its claws into
some of their bellies. The birds, for their part, those that could, flew right up and out through the hole in
the roof with the smoke. Bombarda turned to look at the girl.
"What have you got for me now?" he asked. Soma was always bringing him something, if only a leaf,
for him to identify and teach her about. She knew as much about the things in this world as he did, only
her memory was not quite developed, and she had trouble holding on to her knowledge, or at least she
pretended. The truth was she enjoyed making her mentor feel needed and important.
"I don't know," she said, and this was also the truth. "I thought it was a squirrel, but look at its tail."
"It's a rat," Bombarda said with a sneer. "Just a common, filthy rat."
"Can we keep it?" she asked. "We could put it in a cage."
"If you like," he shrugged as if the whole matter was of no interest to him, but he watched closely as
she put it inside of an empty one.
"Where did you find it?" he said.
"O ut there," she gestured. It didn't really matter to her where she'd found it. O ne place was the same as
another in the forest.
"It must have come from somewhere," Bombarda murmured, suddenly intrigued. New things never
happened anymore. New creatures never entered their world, and nothing ever left unless it was eaten.
He stood up, creakily, and walked slowly towards the rat. He peered closely into the cage, and the rat
peered just as closely at him.
"Will you show me the way?" he asked it, and the rat twitched its whiskers as if it answered, ma ybe.
Maybe I will if you let me out of here, but then again, maybe I won't.
"This could be the very thing we've been waiting for all along," Bombarda said to Soma, who smiled,
pleased to have possibly pleased him.
"But how," he turned back to the rat, "how can we make it show us the way, and how can we even keep
up with him."
"That's easy," Soma said. "We tie him, right? Get a long vine and we tie him. Then we hold on to one
end and see where he goes."
"You're the smart one," Bombarda said with as close to a smile as he could. "You always were the