DOGTRONICS: New Fiction by Hugh A. D. Spencer

MISSION REPORT 

The Kal unit went on autonomous patrol in the East Brantford perimeter — definitely a 4.5 – 5.0 on the Fuzzy Zone Scale. The unit had recently been upgraded from a Terrier Plus to a Mid-Range Miniature Schnauzer replica with additional sensors and munitions capabilities. It was big for a Mini, and it had large broad shoulders with allowed for extra projectile storage. Overall, a well put-together dog-drone. 

22.5 minutes into the patrol, the Kal unit encountered a loose mobile grouping (not organized or large enough to be considered a park) approaching a still functional viaduct near a former elementary school.

The initial chip scans seemed to indicate that all the canines were authorized domestic breeds who had probably escaped from their owners’ homes. As I noted earlier, we were walking around in Fuzzy, and some owners there aren’t as careful as they could be.

Standard Operating Procedure is for the detecting patrol unit to signal local Animal Control contractors and arrange for pick-ups and the appropriate fines, then go look for a real threat situation.

For some reason the Kal wasn’t going S.O.P. Instead it went into submission mode, head down, tail wagging and creeping slowly towards the grouping. The deviation warning was flashing on my board and after a quick roll to the can, I plugged into the Kal unit’s sensory clusters and started riding shotgun.

Phew! After dialing down the olfactory settings, I left the Kal to mingle with other dogs and start sniffing.

It started broadcasting inquiry symbols at me, so I turned the Smell-a-tion back up and dealt with the discomfort.

I had to.

Something was definitely wrong with someone’s asshole. 

.

My balls.

Sometime earlier I had been really worried about my balls. 

I really didn’t those fucking dogs to eat my balls.

They could have my ass. My gut, sure. My face. I didn’t need any of that shit. I never was much of a handsome guy and my build was never all that fantastic.

Back when I was a contracted dog-killer for Animal Control, I was the kind of guy who got most of his dates right after payday.

I felt something warm gush out over my belly and heard cracking and crunching sounds. Oh good, the dogs were just chewing off my arms and legs.

They didn’t seem very interested in my genitals at the moment.

More crunching.

Then darkness.

Why did I care if those nasty beasties ate my balls? My brain would have probably tasted better and provided way more tasty fat and protein. God knows I hardly ever used my brain anyway.

But my testicles….

“Mr. Morton?” 

Once they were gone….

The man in the white coat flickered into view. The bright of his garment hurt my eyes.

“You’re out of the combat zone.” 

There was no possible connection between me and the future.

I’m sure Charles Fucking Darwin might be able to explain to me why passing on my genes seemed important at that moment.

“Are you in pain, Mr. Morton?”

Yes, but before I could say anything, Dr. Whitecoat jammed a large syringe in my shoulder. Then I didn’t feel any pain. In fact, I started to feel pretty good.

“You’re going to live Mr. Morton.”

“Sure, why not?” My spermatozoa were safe for the moment, and I still had the potential to spurt my little genetic message into the Grand Evolutionary Discourse.

Grand Evolutionary Discourse?

Fuck, I really was stoned. 

“I think you might be experiencing some shock and denial right now.” Dr. Whitecoat leaned forward into my face. He had big yellow teeth — like what you might see on an old Alpha Dog.

“So?”

“So I need your close attention right now.”

“Why don’t you try sucking my dick?”

Oh dear, the drugs were making me far too candid.

“You’re a lucky man, Mr. Morton.” The doctor sighed and turned to a page at the back of his clipboard. “You still have a dick to be sucked.”

“So we can get started then.” It really was too bad that the tubes they had stuck in my throat didn’t prevent me from talking.

The doctor laughed and shrugged. “Of course you don’t have any arms or legs, but you do still have your stupid little prick.”

This guy had a great bedside manner.

“Is that what’s so important?”

Dr. Whitecoat shook his head. “No, it’s about your health insurance.”

“Fuck, AC covers that. I’m on the plan.”

The guy smirked as he studied the page on the clipboard. “From what I can see, our conversation concludes the coverage provided by your workplace plan.” 

I made a brief and blurry mental note to send an email to my union steward about that aspect of our Collective Agreement — just as soon as I grew a new pair of hands.

“Someone might be around to help you tomorrow.” Dr. Whitecoat wrote something on the page and started walking towards the door. “Or they might just drop you in a dumpster down the street.”

The door closed. 

Luck.

The doctor said I was a lucky man.

Luck is a very relative concept. I’m pretty sure Einstein said that.

Fuck.

.

MISSION REPORT 

I’d had several briefings on Kal.

In some ways it wasn’t accurate to think of him as a unit. He was more a series of dynamic, interconnected self-aware software systems with advanced analytic and strategic capabilities. Kal was complicated, and he was tough.

I was always impressed with how he handled himself. 

He was steadily making his way towards the center of the grouping. Wagging his tail, fast to some dogs, slow to others; whining a little, growling a bit here and there, sniffing butts all the while. Working his way up the canine hierarchy.

Kal was one hell of a dog-machine. He was also something of an artist.

What was he looking for?

I heard a soft beeping and a green light flashed on the lower left-hand corner of my board.

Sweet spot!

.

Angela came around to see me.

After a few days of minimal meals and nobody in the ward talking to me.

But she filled out her AC Kevlar vest very nicely, so I was actually happy to see her.

“Hey Rob.” She took a seat next to the bed.

“Yo, Angie.”

Angela was trying hard not to stare at the places where my legs and forearms weren’t, and I looked at her boobs and wondered if could find an opportunity to mention that I still had a fully functioning cock.

“Tough break. 

“Yeah.”

“Must be really fucking you up.”

“Thanks.”

Maybe I wouldn’t mention the penis thing.

Angela fumbled a bit with the zipper on her vest, not to reveal additional boobage but take out an envelope.

“Do you know that I’m the new shop steward?” 

“McPherson buy it in the big push?” 

Angela nodded. 

Well, in spite of her incredible beauty, my co-contractor was starting to get boring.

“So what can our union do for me, Angie?”

“After reviewing relevant documentation….” She took something out of her vest. An electronic cigarette that smelled of that artificial opium extract that I would never be able to afford. “I would say sweet fuck all.”

I was annoyed, not by her statement but by her electronic ciggie. I could have used a bit of narcotic second-hand smoke at that moment.

“That’s bullshit, Angie.” I wasn’t stupid, and I couldn’t let this one go by. “My coverage may be over, but I scored at least 15 Alphas and another 20 Betas that day. That’s got to be a high six figure in Bonus Money.”

“Sorry, Rob.” Angela inhaled again and shook her head. “We checked the Kill Counts, and there’s nothing in your column.” 

What?!

The conversation had tripped over from bullshit to Utter and Complete Bullshit.

“Angie! You were doing Recon, you saw what I was doing. You must have seen my hits!” 

“Nope.” More headshaking. “It was pretty busy out there.”

Then I knew what was going on.

You fuckers stole my bonus money!”

They figured I wasn’t going to live so they divided up my kills between themselves.

Angela couldn’t help smiling around the metal tube in her mouth. “Don’t know what you’re talking about, Robbie.”

Do you know what?

If you don’t have legs, it is impossible to kick someone in the face — no matter how annoying they are. So I just glared at her. Unfortunately my accident had not given me killer laser vision, so Angela sat there unharmed.

“So why the hell are you here, anyway?” I eventually snarled. 

My shop steward opened the envelope and took out a piece of paper. 

“We figured you might find this interesting.”

“I can’t see what’s on there from here, Angie.”

“I’ll hold it close so you can read it yourself.”

I wasn’t sure if Angela was being a bitch or if she didn’t want me to know that she had poor literacy skills.

.

MISSION REPORT

Kal still wasn’t sure what was going on. Neither was I. 

He had moved from asses and bellies to snouts and eyes — which can be a little risky with your twitchier breeds.

His central processing unit was pleading for additional sensor power.

Yeah, sure. I could find some spare bandwidth floating around Mission Central.

“Okay, Kal,” I whispered. “What do you want to do now?”

Check out teeth.

What a smart little drone! 

.

Surgery that involves large power tools is always interesting.

“Are you sure you want the wheels?” The surgeon was revving up the drill and looking for the right bit. “You could probably afford legs, even if they are fairly basic ones.”

“Wheels are good.” Now they were pushing needles into my gut which I assumed was an anesthetic delivery system.

“It’s just that if you ever want to start dating again,” the surgeon said, “legs of some kind might be a better option.” 

He found a satisfactory bit and screwed it into the end of the drill.

“Dating?” I had to fight to keep from laughing and I don’t think it was the painkillers. “You mean if I have treads instead of toes nobody will ever want to fuck me?”

However, my choice of words might have had something to do with the drugs.

“Well … yes….”

Was that embarrassment I heard in the surgeon’s voice? Jesus! Here we are, well into the 21st Century and medical people are still getting all wobbly in the knees when the topic of sex comes up in the conversation.

“It is a pretty serious decision, Mr. Morton.”

I had to give this guy credit for persistence and due diligence. But I guess the doctor was right. Never being intimate with another human being again. I thought about my last girlfriend and such isolation sounded like an extremely appealing option.

“Wheel me, doc!” I laughed. Now I really was high.

“Okay.” The surgeon shrugged and started drilling in alloy-screws that felt like they wouldn’t be coming out any time soon.

I saw a couple of sparks out of the corner of my eye and didn’t like the combined smell of melting plastic and burning nerve tissue. I even flinched when the doctor welded some wires into my abdomen and zapped my balls a little.

That’s when the big contradiction occurred to me. For some reason keeping my penis intact was still kind of important to me. I just didn’t want to use it for anything but pissing ever again.

The surgeon was now using a hydraulic chisel to make a channel in the bone of what was left of my thigh — that was where he was going to lay in the communication and motion-control cables.

High or not, this hurt like one motherfucker. But I was really going to love those treads.

.

MISSION REPORT

Son-of-a-bitch!

Hold that thought. I just figured out that the creature Kal was deep-scanning was actually a daughter-of-a-bitch. Well, a bitch herself in actual fact. I had been busy concentrating on the bitch’s teeth, not on her sex.

Her teeth were extremely interesting. Despite superficial appearances, that dog was not an authorized Labradoodle crossbreed. The teeth were way way off Registry Standards. Way too long. Way too sharp. Way too fucking big.

I could feel those teeth tear through the meat of my legs that weren’t there anymore.

That bitch was bona-fide Wild. Probably some kind of mutated Beta. 

Incredible. Such a good mutation. So well-disguised, and she was successively socializing with the normal grouping.

I sent an interrogative symbol through one of my hand screens.

Kal sent an exclamation mark back.

“Good puppy.” Kal was such an impressive mechanism.

Then Kal sent me a question mark.

It was a good question. In my old job as a contract dog killer for Animal Control, I would have just opened up my flame-thrower on anything that smelled like Wild. Hell, that’s what assholes like Angela and his old buddies at AC still got to do.

Fun times.

But me and Kal were a lot smarter than that now. We were smart enough to know that a more considered approach was necessary:

1.     A flame thrower would also toast all those other sad little specimens in the grouping (not yet a formal pack structure) and these days that would sure as shit seriously piss off a certain pet-owners association and the Division didn’t need that. And I didn’t need the Division not needing that.

2.     Division was also going to want to examine that mutated Beta, or whatever the fuck it was. And they would most likely want the M-Beta alive or as close to not dead as possible.

Kal needed my input, re: what was the best thing to do at this point.

The micro-missiles and the submachine guns mounted in Kal’s back sounded extremely appealing.

But no good.

It would be fun, but the treatment would definitely be fatal and there still wouldn’t be enough left for analysis.

Gas.

Was Kal loaded with non-lethal today?

Good.

That’s the ticket.

I directed Kal to lower his head and once in classic submission posture, slowly creep up to the pseudo-Labradoodle. All Betas are eternal pack middle managers so even a mutated Beta would likely really appreciate any compliant gesture. Maybe appreciate it just enough to relax its guard a little.

Kal was just less than a meter from the M-Beta, and I figured that was about as close as we wanted to get to those way too big teeth.

I hit the DISPLAY command.

Kal displayed.

He opened his mouth. Real fast and about twice as wide as a real Miniature Schnauzer was capable of doing.

M-Beta didn’t have time to react before I pressed RELEASE and clouds of gas started pumping out of Kal’s mouth.

In less than a second the other dogs were hitting the lawn. The faker bitch just stood there and wobbled a bit.

What the fuck was this?

Some kind of immunity? 

Not an entirely unlikely possibility. Animal Control was using all kinds of aerosols out in the Wild. Not what they did in my dog-killing days but if the M-Beta had grown up in that kind of an environment, no wonder she was still standing.

I upped the dosage and Kal kept spewing gas. Finally the little bitch was paws up on the grass. I noted with some satisfaction that she was breathing. Very slowly but still breathing.

Then my monitors started telling me things. Apparently, none of the other dogs were breathing. This couldn’t be true.

Nope, Kal’s sensors were very good about sending this kind of information and the rest of the grouping wasn’t sucking in any air at all.

Which was a pretty good indicator that they were all dead.

Fuck.

I was certainly going to be hearing more about that.

.

My recurring nightmares fell into three categories:

In one set of dreams Alpha and Beta dogs are tearing the flesh and muscle off of my body. The dreams usually end with me hearing the crunching of my bones. No surprise there. Just my subconscious replaying the departure strategy from my old job at AC.

In other dreams, robots and people with mirrors for eyes are drilling lots of holes in my head and in my face. That was another no-brainer. Just memories of all the surgeries I had after those mean ol’ wild dogs tried to eat me up.

Then there was the last category of dreams. The worst category of dreams. These were the ones where my ex-GF would be going on and on and on about our “relationship issues” while we sit in the food court, and I watch wave after wave of dogs hammering at the windows of the mall. The dogs don’t bother me all that much in those dreams, but I don’t like to be reminded of what’s her name.

Stupid subconscious.

Okay, there’s one more category of dreams. These ones are so much scary as awe-inspiring. These are the dreams about the Wild.

The Wild. Eating up the cities. Dogs of every kind, Gammas, Betas, elite Alphas and even those sub-Omegas which you can barely classify as dogs; they’re tearing up streets, pissing all over parking garages and shopping malls and chewing down apartment blocks. At some point in the dream, all the canines would gather together and fuse into one vast mega-dog.

Dogzilla.

Of course I had to call it that.

Then in true Kiju fashion DZ would start smashing down the skyscrapers in what used to be the financial district. The dream always ends with the mega-dog shattering the CN Tower with repeated wags of its tail.

That made me wake up sad. The Tower has been abandoned for years now but I used to take some comfort in the fact that it was still standing. As long as the once “tallest free-standing structure” in the World was still there, there was always that chance that we could push back the Wild and go back. Ride to the top and look around, come down and go to the nearby Dome, watch ball games, drink insanely overpriced beer and eat really terrible hot dogs!

I would love to waste my money doing all that stuff again.

My subconscious seems to doubt very much that such a thing was possible.

Stupid, relentlessly honest subconscious.

.

My teeth were buzzing.

I groaned, sat up in my bed and pushed my nose ten degrees to the right.

“What?” I think that’s what I said. My voice was still too croaky to tell.

These new bio-apps were not as much fun or convenient as I had originally been led to believe.

For one thing if Mission Central decided a call was a high enough priority, you had to take it. You’d need a lobotomy to change that little piece of protocol.

Also, unless you made a conscious effort to adjust the optical illumination levels, the text message crawl could just about blind you. I nearly dove off a flight of stairs when some genius programmer at Central decided that it was really important to download the schematics for a new weapons system without warning anyone he was going to do it.

Finally, if I sneezed with just the right amount of force and volume, I could accidently erase a month’s worth of voicemails. Most of the messages were from that pervy woman who kept telling me that she was really into wheeled guys and wanted me to take her for a “ride” — losing those was no big deal. Unfortunately among all that moaning and panting were the occasional messages from middle and senior management. Not hearing those could be a real hassle.

“Hello?” I thought I would try my awake-voice this time.

I heard heavy breathing on the other end of the line.

“I’m too busy to talk now, Betty.”

A loud but remote snort echoed from cavities into my eardrums.

“Who’s Betty?”

A man’s voice was asking the question. 

“Do you want her phone number?” I recognized that voice. “I’m sure it’s been about 150 years since you last got laid.”

Ogilvy.

The voice chuckled. “Sex is fairly easy to obtain if you approach the process scientifically.”

“Oh, really?” 

Ogilvy, my one-time boss and Eco-Statistician. (Well, that was one of the titles he used to use).

“And if you’re not terribly fussy about who, or what, you happen to be having sex with.”

Ogilvy was crazy, but he was usually right.

“I’m pretty sure AC and Central wouldn’t want me to be taking to you, Ogilvy.”

Ogilvy’s theories about the emerging canine super-consciousness were viewed by Animal Control in much the same way that many fundamentalist Christians viewed human sexuality.

Disgusting.

Nightmarish.

Not nice at all.

But probably true.

And therefore something to be kept at a safe distance but carefully observed and worried about.

On the other hand, the Dog Drone Program was seen by AC as a good thing.

Pure.

Unimpeachable.

Upgradable.

We employed machines to contain and destroy the Wild.

Ogilvy and I lived and worked in different worlds. It was best that we stayed apart. At least I was pretty sure that would be what HR at Mission Central would be telling me right now.

“Morton, my friend.” Ogilvy seemed to be enjoying himself. “You’re quite a useful commodity these days. I’ve been looking at your kill rates.”

“That’s really fucking flattering, Professor.”

“Which means that you really don’t have to ask Animal Control for permission about who you can talk to.”

That was probably true.

“Or when you can go to the bathroom.”

But I really didn’t want to push it.

“What do you want, Ogilvy?”

“Just a bit of a confab.”

“What the hell is a confab?”

“Almost a social occasion, but better.”

“Almost?” A social occasion. I didn’t recall Ogilvy actually liking me all that much. When I worked for him, he was a scientist stuck in a basement with a lot of makeshift gear and a point to prove. I was just one of his means to that end.

“It will be fine, Morton. I just want you to come over and watch some home movies.”

Home movies?

I had no idea what he was talking about.

.

MISSION REPORT

Kal was going great. Running at top speed, scanning the perimeter of an abandoned off-leash park where the Wild had setup a micro-nest.

My drone couldn’t be doing a better job. His head was split wide open, and he was targeting pups and bitches all over the place. I was ready, willing and able to deploy those juicy heat-seekers.

These were going to be some really righteous kills.

Plus.

But.

Just as I was going to do the red-toggle howdy to some big-eyed puppies (future throat rippers), something happened. Or rather, nothing happened.

The toggles were dead. The steering controls were dead. All the sensors were dead.

Total system shutdown.

I hoped Kal was running indie right now, otherwise the residents of that M-nest were going to rip him into circuit boards.

What the fuck was going on?

“Guess what, Rob?”

Who? Oh, right. Rob, my first name. I hardly ever used it.

“What?”

Hager. I recognized the voice coming through on my internal headphones. Hager was Management Voice for Mission Central’s morning shift.

“You have a meeting this morning.”

“Really?”

Then, completely without any input from me, the control cables snapped out of me, and my chair pushed back out of my interface pod.

“Yes, really.”

My chair turned and started rolling towards the exit. I wondered if all this remote-control shit was some kind of a violation of my human rights. 

Oh right, nobody who worked with Mission Central had a union.

The door swung open, and I started rolling down the long concrete corridor that led to Admin and Systems Oversight. As me and the chair chugged along, I remembered that I signed all kinds of waivers when they grafted me into all these electronics.

Technically, I wasn’t sure if I was even classified as a human being anymore.

Hard right.

Some doors slid open. Classic USS Enterprise stuff.

“The dogs are dead, Morton.”

The doors slid shut.

Isn’t that a good thing, I thought.

“Uh, what?” is what I said.

Hager looked up from his tablet.

I knew I shouldn’t complain. Whatever shit I was in, Mission Control had delegated the discipline to Middle Management. Droners like me are off-limits to elevators for security reasons so if Sen-Man ever took an interest in me, that would mean a twenty-story ride on my chair’s tread-climbers, and that would definitely re-introduce me to my lunch.

Hager was classic Middle Management material. Skinny, glasses, totally neutral face. Even bald Hager was pretty much androgynous.

“Robert.”

I hate it when people call me Robert.

“Hager.” I had no idea what his first name was. Asshole? Jerkwad? 

I forced myself not to hate the guy too much. Out of all the shitty things that could happen to me during a workday this was probably only a two out of ten.

Two point five max.

Getting sixty-five percent of your body torn off you by a pack of wild dogs was nine point nine.

Hager tapped a projected panel out of existence and sat forward at his desk. 

“Based on your record at Animal Control, we figured we’d be having this chat a lot sooner.”

“Maybe I’ve matured.”

Hager nodded but he didn’t look all that convinced. 

“Do you like your job, Robert?”

That was never a good question. Maybe the number on the Workday Shit Scale was going to start climbing.

“Yes, very much.” 

I hated to admit it out there where other people could hear it, but it was true. I loved the cool tech, I loved the action and I loved the way I could blow shit up when I was running drones.

Kal was one hell of a cybernetics construct and together, me and him could pacify fifty times the Wild that I could humping around in some Animal Control van with a weed-head driver.

“That’s good to know.” Hager flicked his finger, probably checking off a virtual box in a projected form that I couldn’t pick up with my grade of optics.

What really bugged me was being made aware of how dependent I was on asshats like Hager to do this job.

“So, Robert. You killed some domesticateds.”

And keep this job.

“Very regrettable.”

“Yes.”

I had better try and put a good spin on this. 

“But the important thing was that I was able to capture the mutated Beta.”

Hager made some more flicking gestures.

“I’ve never seen that kind of mimicry —”

The guy sighed. “What is considered important or unimportant….”

“We need to work out counter measures —”

“…often depends on your frame of reference.”

More of that damn flicking. A row of screens appeared in front of Hager’s desk. Each screen displayed … what? A tiny tombstone. Muffy. Fido. Snoopy.

“What’s important to this office is that you decided to use an excessive amount of anesthetic gas.” Another fucking flick. One of the screens enlarged and revealed five letters elaborately carved into marble:

BINKI

“And what’s of tantamount importance is that you managed to kill Binki.”

What the fuck was a Binki?

“Er —”

“Who happened to be a pure bred Shih Tzu who was owned by Carol Lane Pearl Dutch.”

What the fuck was a Carol Lane Pearl Dutch for that matter?

“Who happens to be the Assistant Director of the Region Five Chapter of N.A.R.P.O.”

N.A.R.P.O.?

Damn.

National Association…

Double damn.

…of Responsible…

Triple damn.

…Pet Owners.

The Work Day Shit Scale Score had just jumped to a seven. Possibly an eight.

.

Irony Boy (confirm name) rolled around in a van to pick me up.

My god, it was a reconditioned Animal Control model.

“You’re looking good. Lost some weight.”

Actually if IB hadn’t been wearing a Goofy and Pluto t-shirt I probably wouldn’t have recognized him.

“Thanks. I like your wheels.”

IB pushed my chair into the back of the van. “After you left, I had to do a lot more work out in the field.”

“Yeah?”

“Lots more physical effort.”

“Out there repairing sensors?” That’s what Ogilvy had me doing most of the time. Making sure that he could get reliable readings of pack activities deep inside the Wild.

“That.” IB slid into the driver’s seat. “And running around in blind terror.”

“I remember.” But I was smiling.

“Burns off a lot of calories.” I could see IB’s eyes smiling in the mirror. “But I’d trade bodies with you in a micro-second.”

“Really?” The stress of dealing with Ogilvy and the Wild must have warped the poor kid’s mind.

“That is way cool tech you’ve got.”

I couldn’t help looking down at my wheels and all those cables and switches attached to my body. “I like it.”

.

When Ogilvy said “home movies” he really meant home movies. By which he meant Super-8-millimeter movie film that he actually threaded through a small but loud machine that sprouted reels and a lens that he focused by hand. Ogilvy seemed to get a lot of pleasure from loading the film into the sprockets and flicking on the light bulb and the motor.

I’d never heard of this kind of ancient technology and when the big silent images started flickering across the white satin wall, I had absolutely no idea what he was looking at.

Ogilvy seemed a little confused too.

“Is that the projector or the camera?” He gestured at the wall and glared at Irony Boy. 

Irony Boy looked like he really wished he wasn’t in the same room as us. “I had some problems balancing the focal length and light levels.”

“Amateur.” Ogilvy muttered and sank into the chair next to me. I-Boy sat over in the corner of the room, as if he was in disgrace.

The blurs and blobs started to sharpen, and eventually I saw something I recognized. An Alpha swung an excessively assertive Beta by the scruff of the neck and threw it into a concrete pylon. The Beta was more shocked than hurt and kept its head down as it crawled away. That dog was very lucky, if the Alpha had been Terrier bred, it’s head would have been torn off.

The pack administrative hierarchy duly reinforced, the Alpha walked over to a two-meter-high cylinder that was perforated with hundreds of tiny holes. 

I looked over at Ogilvy. 

“Is that thing yours?”

“I installed it,” I-Boy called out.

The Alpha was giving the cylinder a really good sniffing. After about a minute of circling the object, the Alpha nodded at a couple of nearby Betas, and they all started sniffing the thing for another minute or so.

“They’re pretty interested in whatever you’ve got in there.”

“My special formula.” Even though it was pretty dark in Ogilvy’s living room, it was easy to see the man smiling.

Then the dogs dropped to the pavement and started rolling around like felines coked-out on a catnip-crystal meth combination. The film was silent but from the way the dogs’ mouths were working I was pretty sure there was some serious howling and wailing going on.

“You got them stoned?” This seemed pretty unsophisticated for Ogilvy.

“There may be some elements of altered states of consciousness but that is not the most important phenomena we are looking at.”

“So what are they doing?”

“Communicating.”

“It looks like they’re making a hell of a lot of noise anyway.”

“Actually they are attempting to communicate telepathically.”

“With who?”

“Us.”

For a second, I wondered if Ogilvy was stoned too, but then I remembered that he’d been pushing the Great Doggie Hive Mind Theory since before I worked for him.

“So what are they trying to tell us?”

“They are processing information that we conveyed to them.”

“You mean, you think you found a way to talk to them?”

“Directly to the main olfactory lobes and analytic centers of canine consciousness.” Ogilvy and Irony-Boy looked very pleased with themselves. “And we are communicating through the media of uncooked hamburger and decaying cheese.”

.

N.A.R.P.O.

Ugh.

Stinking dog-lovers.

For a buck fifty, I would cheerfully torch every last one of those tummy-rubbing sissies.

Back in the day when I was a (relatively) care-free dog-killer and nobody really knew why the Wild happening (we still don’t really but we’re just used to it now) most people agreed with the Animal Control policy that it was best to err on the side of caution. In other words, if an animal was breathing and it didn’t walk on two legs, then it was probably best to kill it as soon and as thoroughly, as possible.

However, as time passed, and not everyone who was a moron got their throats torn out, we noticed that not all animals went Wild, and there even seemed to be some treatments that had a 30-50 chance of preventing many critters from regressing/mutating/tap-dancing into something big, mean and fatal.

Personally, I figured that it was still safer and easier to kill everything that moved, but I have to admit there were a few scientific and historical facts that I didn’t always take into account:

1.              Some people really love their pets. They love them more than members of their own family. Sometimes they love them beyond all reason.

2.              Some pet owners have a shitload of money.

3.              Some pet owners, even the ones without a shitload of money, are willing to spend what money and time they do have to safeguard the security, health and happiness of their lazy, fat-ass and ugly house-parasites.

4.              The results of these societal inevitabilities?

Once me and my ex-buddies at AC seemed to get the Wild situation stabilized, groups like N.A.R.P.O. had the resources to evolve from the equivalent of the I Saw Elvis Driving a Flying Saucer Society to one of the most powerful political lobbies of the Century. 

National Rifle Association? Feeble?

Big Tobacco? Irrelevant.

Military Industrial Complex? A bridge club.

N.A.R.P.O. had awesome political muscle. You’d have to pry their beagles and poop bags out of their cold dead hands. Even then, you’d probably have to declare a state of national emergency.

“And so, the bond between human and canine is unique in nature….”

The real pisser is that the success of the Dog-Drone Program seems to support NARPO’s go easy position, Kal busts his robo-ass to nail those critters just so you can breed more that periodically go Wild.

“It is this relationship of respect, empathy and mutual support…” As the narrator spoke, the camera assumed a dog’s-eye-view: pursuing a frisbee off the end of a dock.

“…that can only be described as love.”

Yeah, I know, I was getting off easy here with just sensitivity training. But I knew all this N.A.R.P.O. propaganda, and it just made me want to puke.

The doggie on the screen is in free-fall for a second and then in glorious digitally-enhanced color, belly-flops into the water.

“It is a love that needs some discipline, but, most importantly, it must be nurtured, cherished and celebrated.”

Soppy music swelled out of the lecture room speakers. Then big dumb-frisbee catcher’s head emerges from the lake and a bunch of happy telegenic kids leap in after him.Freeze-frame. Fade.

Hate.

Roll credits.

Hate. Hate.

N.A.R.P.O. logo.

Hate.

Hate. Hate.

Lights rose, and there I was. In the front row next to my fellow trainees: A couple of incompetent AC contractors who were in for excessive use of Napalm and some poor sod of a clerk who accidently classified an aging Chihuahua as a baby Gamma, which led to an illegal euthanasia. 

“I hope you found that presentation enlightening.”

Mr. Stephenson, the Interspecies Empathy Consultant walked up to the front of the lecture theatre.

Since I was equipped with wheels I had to sit in the front. That meant I got a close-up view of Mr. Stephenson.

Short hair but somehow not military. Small patterned bowtie. Floral vest under a pinkish-grey tweed jacket. Two-toned shoes and white gloves.

White, fucking, gloves.

What an asshole.

I wanted to break every one of this N.A.R.P.O. mouthpiece’s fingers. 

“Now that we’ve given you some historical and psychological background,” Mr. Stephenson said, pointing to the back of the lecture theatre, “we’re going to end our work today with something a little more direct.”

Two teenagers in N.A.R.P.O. t-shirts came forward, each with three leashes in each hand, and at the end of each leash was a dog. Presumably they were domesticateds.

“Let’s have a little meet-and-greet.”

A couple of the dogs seemed to be a little nervous about my chair and Mr. Stephenson had to use some food cubes to calm them down. I had to admit, his control over those beasts was impressive.

I did learn something valuable about French Bulldogs that day. They are just the right size and shape to make a really nice pair of bedroom slippers. 

Too bad my feet had been chewed off.

.

“It’s not in spite of you being part machine that gets me hot.”

It was another video file message from…(Peggy? Rhonda? Betty!)

“It`s because you’re half-tech that makes me want to fuck your brains out.”

Subtle girl, that Betty. 

Poor woman just didn’t get it. The fact that she, or anyone for that matter, might want me was exactly what made me not want them.

Her presentation was more elaborate than usual. Originally, Betty would have her cam on in her bedroom and play around with her vibrators. She must have sensed that this kind of a show would hold my attention for less than half a second because, tonight, Betty had booked some kind of a studio and hired some helpers. They had strapped her onto a stainless-steel cross and set up a motorized phallic piston to penetrate her. 

It worked. I watched all 62.3 minutes. The hydraulics on the machine were particularly interesting.

.

“Good news,” the text message from Hager read. “Your scores on the N.A.R.P.O. Sensitivity attitude Correction Index were surprisingly good.”

Surprisingly? What kind of bigoted monster did that Hager think I was?

Easy, Morton. Take a few deep breaths and calm down. And remember, this is supposed to be good news.

“You’re back on patrol. Plus we have something extra for you.”

Patrol? With Kal? God-bless you, Hager. I would happily suck your dick right now. Then I remembered something Mr. Stephenson said and felt very grateful that I hadn’t spoken those words out loud because I was pretty sure they were completely inappropriate.

Who cares? Who cares? Who cares! My smile felt like it was going to break my face as I backed away from the terminal and pointed myself in the direction of the Mission Central complex.

Daddy’s coming home my little doggie and it’s going to be so good.

.

MISSION REPORT

Highest kill rate ever for a shift. Check the charts below for the precise numbers.

Me and Kal were chasing a sub-pack of high-level Gammas down Berry Road towards the jagged crater that used to be Stonegate Plaza. Kal asked me to boot in some oxyadrenaline which allow him to leap over top of the dogs. 0.13 seconds later, Kal’s head split open as I e-pathed a FIRE WHEN READY signal and my boy launched a phosphor-bomb missile that took out the whole sub-pack. Thirty-three, thirty-four minimum; all just a smoldering pile of doggie bones waiting for the Reclamation Team to roll in, crunch ’em up and suck up the dust.

Another patch of Wild-less real estate just waiting for the developers to build on.

24.32 minutes later. 

We’ve found a breeding colony of about 150 bitches and one thousand pups clustered around the remains of the open-air theater where they used to do Shakespeare in the Park. It would have been easy for Kal to repeat himself and open his head and fire-bomb.

But for a mobile cybernetic computing and killing construct, Kal was turning into something of an artist. He flashed me for permission to deploy the micro-machine guns mounted in his nose. I could see the horrific beauty of Kal’s suggestion and immediately gave him the affirmative.

The barrels pushed their way out of Kal’s furry snout and the bullets started spraying.

And spraying.

1.3 minutes later, nothing was moving, and Kal’s sensors assured us that there were no canine life-processes within a ten kilometer radius.

One hour, ten minutes later.

We were on the roof of a parking garage at the ruins of the GTA International Airport. Kal and I faced an Alpha-Major that we managed to cut off from his entourage of Alpha-Minors and advanced Betas.

Something of a major accomplishment in itself, but it was the kind of achievement that was likely to get your drone reduced to component parts. 

Not so great.

Kal however, even though he was running a very powerful self-preservation algorithm didn’t hesitate. The spike popped out of his head and the razors rolled out of his front paws.

After almost two minutes of robo-canine kung-fu, the Alpha-Major was a large pile of something resembling furry hamburger.

Good dog, Kal.

Good dog.

.

“I hear you and your drone are the Division’s most highly regarded, lean, mean killing machines.

I burped. Ogilvy had good beer.

“How come you shoot all your research footage with old movie film?” I felt like changing the subject.

“It’s a mechanical and optically based recording system. I don’t want extra electronics gumming up my signals.”

“I thought they didn’t make Super-8 movie film anymore.”

Ogilvy smiled. “AC makes it up special for me.”

“Fancy.”

“Yes.”

We shut up and drank some more.

“Speaking of fancy…” I gestured at the room. “You got way nicer digs these days.”

Ogilvy smiled. “Ever wonder where you get that positional data that lets you and your drone get up and running in the field so fast?”

I took another drink. “That’s from your satellite?”

“Satellites.” Ogilvy took another long swig. “I’ve got 28 of them up there now.”

“That’s what they give you for working full-time for Animal Control?” It was hard for me to see Ogilvy as a sell-out, or at least I didn’t want to.

“I’m not so much working for Animal Control….” Ogilvy’s eyes twinkled. “It’s more like I’m exploiting them.”

.

Hager’s face popped up on some screen or another on my Direction Terminal.

“Special mission for you today, Morton.”

This was a promising development. Dealing with my Middle-Manager-man in LCD mode was a step up. It suggested that I wasn’t enough of a problem to be dealt with in person anymore. 

Plus, we didn’t have to breathe the same air!

“What you got?”

Still, there was a downside. Kal and I had been doing some amazing patrol runs lately. We’d scorched out almost two dozen pack-nests out in Scarborough and together we’d scored over ten times as many Alpha kills than my highest scores when I was a regular dog killer. 

I wasn’t getting squat, and they could pull the plug on me any time they felt like.

If I didn’t have this weird employment/subsistence status: one-third civil servant, one-third military conscript, one-third out-patient — the bonus money would have been phenomenal. 

As it was, all I got was a modest but regular cheque and the occasional, not very reassuring, reassurance that the techs for AC were not going to drive around to Mission Central and confiscate my chair and life support gear.

But at least I had some professional pride. Even though Mission Central and Animal Control were never going to tell me, Ogilvy had leaked enough kill-data to let me know that me and Kal were the most effective drone team in action. 

Actually.

We were the most effective control agents since the Wild first crossed the Tipping Point.

I’m not sure if Kal understood the significance of this fact, but it sure as hell gave my life some sort of meaning.

“New equipment drill, Morton.” Hager smiled at me. 

What an unpleasant experience.

“More simulation drills?” I immediately regretted that I didn’t keep the disappointment out of my voice. Bureaucrats hate it when you’re not appropriately grateful.

Hager shook his head. “No, it’s a live on-field run.”

Out there? New gear? Head-to-head with the packs? 

If AC figures me and Kal was able to handle something like this … well … it was one fucking humungous vote of confidence.

.

“Eight o’clock! Eight o’clock!”

A cluster, easily thirty-plus goddamned Advanced Deltas, were descending on Kal just to the left of my boy’s ass. They were moving at incredibly high speed, and I didn’t like that because the plating over Kal’s joints were not as heavy as they should be and if those mongrels connected their teeth in those spots, they could do some serious damage.

Goddamn. Even the low-scorers in the packs were getting really fast and really smart.

The Wild was still out-evolving us.

Suddenly there was Chloe.

An incredibly speedy Miniature Pseudo-Schnauzer.

She was bouncing in and out between the Deltas and doing circles and serpentine that I wasn’t sure my ‘puters were going to be able to track. The Deltas must have seen Chloe’s movements as both incomprehensible and irresistible. Like she was a squirrel in heat with ten pounds of beef steak strapped to her head.

The Deltas started spinning and running around in every direction imaginable — desperate to connect some teeth with Chloe’s synthetic hairy ass. Very soon they were stumbling and bumping into each other as Chloe kept bouncing around between them.

Perfect cover for Kal.

I had to laugh. It was like the Keystone Cops with paws.

Chloe’s moves were also giving Kal the time he needed to put some distance between the Deltas and reach the target site.

Then something occurred to me, and I stopped laughing. At the speed Chloe was moving she was going to overheat/power-down pretty quickly. 

Was she talking to my systems yet?

The micro-second she got within the perception range of the Deltas, they were going to get her. Scratch one cute little doggie drone.

Which would be a pity. I flipped to her cranial cam. Glorious stuff. Something as sophisticated as her was going to cost a lot of time and money to replace.

Chloe’s eye-cams were not very encouraging. The Deltas were getting their act together and had figured out that they were more likely to destroy this annoying little intruder if they worked together. 

They formed a phalanx and were advancing on her.

Poor little mutt. She was so cute.

A red circle flashed on my heads-up. 

What was that? 

A message from Chloe?

Permission to engage?”

I wondered what one very small thing could do to stop so many big things but I am not the kind of guy who discourages initiative.

I flicked in the direction of a green rectangle.

“Proceed.”

Might as well let the poor thing go out fighting.

My heads-up gave me a view of something metallic and pointy at the end of Chloe’s nose. All kinds of data and color flashes obscured the cam-view. Must have been the targeting calculations of Chloe’s internal computers.

I saw a brief but bright flash coming from whatever was sticking out of Chloe’s nose. Then another flash. Then a red splash.

Then the data feed told me that there were six less Deltas.

That Chloe was one nasty little bitch.

I was in love. 

Still, it would have been nice if Hager had given me more heads-up on this. A spec sheet would have been great.

I had no idea that Chloe was equipped with micro-missiles with Accelerated Napalm tips. 

Sound and fury. Signifying deaths of Deltas.

What I could have done with that kit when I was in the field.

The proximity alert blared in my headphones. Kal was approaching the target zone.

A very old building that used to belong to a bank.

^^^^

Hugh A. D. Spencer

Hugh A. D. Spencer was twice nominated for the Aurora Award in Canada for best short story, his fiction has been published in DescantInterzoneOn Spec and the Tesseracts series, his novel Extreme Dentistry (Brain Lag), was released in 2014, and his audio dramas which have been performed by Shoestring Radio Theatre for the Public Radio Satellite Network. His second novel, The Hard Side of the Moon, was released in hardback in 2021 and in paperback in 2023.

Image: Alpha Dog by Andrea Nechita, www.ACNechitaFineArt.ca.

Read more great science fiction in Oblivioni Magazine.


Stay in the Know

Sign up for our newsletter.

Email List Subscribe Form