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  short fiction from THE ZONE


Short fiction from THE ZONE
Magazine Spotlight contents


Ceri Jordan

It's an uncertain business, dog handling.
Connecting is easy enough. All you need is a PC with access to the normal webs and networks, the deviousness of a born hacker, and a little patience. It's what you do then that matters.
They can tell, you see. That it's not their usual handler, the command on the microchip inside their head 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 –

Got him.
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 his 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 sign


as he fetched me my key, I keep trying to get my wife to do it doggy-fashion, but she won't come out into the yard, and their sick laughter echoing all through the lobby…
New memories. Dog memories. A moment's freedom in the yard, running and running for the very joy of it; last visit to the breeding centre, 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 jeopardise 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 confusions 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 be thinking 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 seventeen, and she, high-flying computer programmer, magnificently unattainable, sure she could never want me..? I try to remember finding out what she did. Try to think of the flat and the holidays in Asia and the petty arguments that ended in lovemaking among the scabby shrubbery 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 dark-suited armed men who had materialised the moment the hearse drew up, while I cursed and sobbed trying to prise open the welded metal coffin for one last look. Absurd, in retrospect. Her father and my brother and the curate all hammering at it with candlesticks and prising 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, of god, don't even think about that –

Don't think.
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 gone – if they saw it tottering about like this, they'd have shot it as rabid.
Keep trying. It gets easier. You learn how much to allow it to control, how little effort you actually need to trigger each step. You learn to co-operate.
Because we're in this together, aren't we?

Do tail wags eager assent.
Almost due for morning exercise now. He'll be here soon. And we'll recognise him. Oh yes. As long as I live I'll never 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 plain packaging without a covering note, and I had been trying to get information from Laura's work mates about what had happened and hoped this might be some anonymous response…
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 the oldest of them pushed her down on the bare concrete, 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…
This morning, I carried the original tape reverently up to the rooftop and took a blowtorch to it.

The handlers are crossing the yard.
I recognise quite a few of them, and wonder how many it will be possible to take this time. How many seconds will my tool have before some gaping horrified thug gathers himself sufficiently 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 nasty casual ripping, as would suffice to bleed to death your prey. There will be medical aid close by, too much chance they'll 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 armoured 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 are all dead. And I mean all.
I think I will find a female next time.
They should learn that even bitches can bite back.


reprinted from The ZONE issue #5 by kind permission of the author.

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Handlers by Ceri Jordan