"If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and a man." -- Mark Twain
It's an uncertain business, dog handling.
Connecting is easy enough. All you need is a PC with access to the normal webs, the deviousness of a hacker, and a little patience. It's what you do then that matters.
They can tell, you see. They can tell that it's not their normal handler, that the command on the microchip inside their heads is not His Master's Voice, that something's wrong. If you're not careful, gentle, patient with them, they'll howl the kennels down until someone thinks to check their Links for an incoming signal and then you're as good as dead--
Through the Link I feel his confusion, the faint sensation of hair prickling upright on the back of my neck, even a low defensive growl starting to rise in my throat as it is in his.
Just a little, into background noise at the back of the mind, present in the way that a word on the tip of your tongue is: there-but-not-there. Flickering ghostly among all those unfocused, nagging sensations that pass for animal memory, brushing through them until I find something that will serve.
There. His last meal, the sensation of tearing raw flesh.
Link the sensation of pleasure to your presence and slip through into his consciousness, just for an instant, then withdraw: then again, and again...
By the fifth time, he dimly associates the shadowy presence brooding behind his eyes with some sensual pleasure, and by the eighth, he is welcoming it, welcoming you, anticipating.
Begging for it.
And I almost lose him in the wave of anger and desperation and pain, have to fight it down, pushing the image of her face out of my mind, closing connections and locking doors, filling my head with the dull wet sensations of animal pleasures instead, things he will know and understand...
Forcing out of my head the memory of the balding receptionist bantering with his friends under the RENT TERMINAL SPACE BY THE HOUR -- ANONYMITY GUARANTEED sign as he fetched me my key I keep trying to get my wife to do it doggy-style but she won't come out in the yard and their sick laughter echoing all through the lobby.
New memories. Dog memories. A moment's freedom in the yard, running for the very joy of it; last visit to the breeding center, stupidly mounting bitch after bitch, as required.
Not much difference between dogs and people, really.
Growing cynical now -- suppress that. Dogs don't understand cynicism. Mustn't confuse him, mustn't jeopardize the link.
Not much difference between dogs and their handlers.
And that is something the mastiff really does understand.
Beginning to sneak tiny cautious feelers into the senses now, test them out: one eyelid scrolls back, the slow brown eye rolls, a blurry monochrome pan across the yard beyond the wire. The guard on the wall, rifle slung over his shoulder, the visual confusion of broken cloud at his back. Someone coming to feed them now, hoisting buckets of raw stinking flesh to the hatches, his sense of smell abruptly sharpened: she has fair hair and for an instant I think, stupidly, it is Laura.
And I am not, under any circumstances, supposed to think of Laura.
But I do, of course.
I try to think of her as she was when we first met: I a nervous, sober girl of 17, and she a high-flying programmer, magnificent and unattainable. Surely she could never want me.
I try to remember finding out that she did. Try to think of the flat and the holidays in Asia and the silly petty arguments that ended in lovemaking among the scabby shrubbery of the roof garden on sunny afternoons.
I try, and I fail. Instead I find myself seeing the funeral.
They sent her home in a sealed coffin.
At the funeral, the minister went outside to distract the armed, dark-suited men who had materialized the moment the hearse drew up, while I cursed and sobbed trying to prise open the welded metal box for one last look. Her father and my brother and the curate were all hammering at it with candlesticks and pulling at the welds with their nails, but when eventually the curate's husband hissed at us from the door that they were coming, we had only bloodied fingers and a scratched coffin to show for it. I wept, more from frustration than grief, and had to keep my left hand in my pocket all through the service to hide the blood on my black lace gloves.
It would be nice if I could say I'd told her that taking work with Quälek was a bad idea -- never get involved with government agencies, there's always trouble. But no, I'd been delighted. Top of her field at last: cybernetic communications with guard dogs today, human experiments tomorrow.
Human experiments, God, don't even think about that--
Or rather, think dog.
Taking tentative control of the legs now. Peculiar sensation, four legs. Coordination problems. Hard to balance. Glad I waited until the feed was over and the staff was gone. If they saw him tottering about like this, they'd have him shot as rabid. It gets easier. You learn how much control to allow him, how little effort you actually need to trigger each step. You learn to cooperate.
Because we're in this together, aren't we?
Dog tail wags eager assent.
Almost due for morning exercise now. He'll be here soon. And we'll recognize him. Oh yes. As long as I live, I won't forget that face.
The video footage arrived the week after the funeral.
I still can't believe their arrogance. To not even fear that I might go to the civil police or the media with it, or even attempt some personal revenge. To have found it amusing...
It came in a plain package without a note. I had been trying to get information from Laura's co-workers about what had happened, and hoped this might be some anonymous response, so I put it on at once.
They had not tied her, but the rifle muzzles wavering in and out of shot were all too plain, and her naked back was piebald with blood and bruises. One of them fastened a collar and leash about her throat, and then the oldest of them pushed her down on the bare concrete and mounted her from behind, doggy fashion, and she cried and begged and closed her eyes as if it might all fade away, and then the next of them, and the next...
I tried to make myself watch the whole tape, as if understanding would somehow make it easier to bear, but I never could. And I did send copies to the media and the police, but as you can imagine...
Just before I came here, I carried the original tape reverently up to the rooftop and took a blowtorch to it.
The handlers are crossing the yard.
I recognize quite a few of them, and I wonder how many it will be possible to take this time. How many seconds will my tool have before some gaping horrified thug regains enough composure to draw a pistol? Enough time to tear out two throats, if I impress upon him the need for urgency.
But carefully, little one. No hasty casual ripping, as you would to bleed your prey to death. There will be medical aid close by; there's too much chance they'd survive. Your jaws are strong enough to snap a man's neck. Do so.
Key in the lock. Turning.
Bound from the cage as you always do, friendly and docile, so they are taken utterly off guard. As she must have been the night she found policemen waiting in the lobby as she left work, and the armored van outside.
They will destroy you as a rabid beast, but you die a martyr. As will the next dog, and the next, until I am caught or they all are dead. And I mean all.
I think I will find a female next time.
They should learn that even bitches can bite back.
Ceri Jordan (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a writer, theatre practicioner, and general rogue and vagabond. She lives in Wales and has published work in a number of U.K. and U.S. magazines. Her first novel is The Disaffected, (Tanjen Books, 1998).
InterText stories written by Ceri Jordan: "Handlers" (v5n6), "Making Movies" (v6n3), "Savannah" (v7n5).
InterText Copyright © 1991-1999 Jason Snell. This story may only be distributed as part of the collected whole of Volume 5, Number 6 of InterText. This story Copyright © 1995 Ceri Jordan.