Short fiction from THE
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H A N D L E R S
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
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
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
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
RENT TERMINAL SPACE BY THE HOUR, ANONIMITY GUARANTEED
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
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
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
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
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.
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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