Concentration of Dogs
......This novel started life as
a novella of the same name which appeared in Baen's Universe. It was well-received
and, as it had a somewhat ambiguous ending, felt as if it should be expanded
into a novel. I wrote it, then mined the result for yet another shorter
work--this time a short story, 'Yearning for the White Avenger' which
appeared in Analog Magazine. That story is an homage to my favorite short
story when I was a kid--'Sredni Vashtar' by H.H. Munro who wrote under
the name of Saki.
......The title is a touch ambiguous
as well—intentionally so as both meanings of 'concentration' appertain.
......The novel has good and bad
people as well as good and bad dogs. I've chosen the good dogs to be a
Greyhound and a Kuvasz (my favorite breed). The bad dog is a Pit Bull.
And I'm sorry about that. The pit bull has gotten something of a bad rap.
In its natural state though, it is a sweet dog. But it readily takes on
some of the characteristics of its owner. So if you have a violent owner,
you can get a violent dog.
......The Kuvasz resembles a Great
Pyrenees. It is a large, white, rough-coated dog bred to protect sheep
against wolves. Kuvaszok (Hungarian plural) are independent, catlike,
courageous, loyal, and very protective.
......I do hope you enjoy the story,
and invite you to visit my website www.frithrik.com.
......"In order to really enjoy
a dog, one doesn't merely try to train him to be semi-human. The point
of it is to open oneself to the possibility of becoming partly a dog."
......Mark, his eyes locked on the
brain-scan display, triggered fiber N1032 and the Chihuahua barked. Mark
selected N5112, pressed the activate key and then glanced at the cage;
the Chihuahua fell over, asleep. At the base of the dog's skull, Mark
could see the small, white transceiver module. But he could only imagine
the thousands of conductive organic fibers growing deep into the cerebrum
from the dermal interface of that digital-multiplex transceiver.
......Mark tapped a few more activations
on the Neural Control Unit. The Chihuahua woke and padded around the periphery
of its cage. Yup. Your fibers are all grown, Miguel. Mark exited
the program. The brain-scan disappeared, replaced by Mark's Siamese cat
wallpaper, a sign of nonconformity in this world of dogs. "You're
all ready for Professor Rottweiler," he said, aloud, "our esteemed
guru of canine neurology."
......Just then, the door to the
lab opened and Claire, a file folder in one hand, rolled in another dog
enclosure. Mark stood from his computer and smiled at her—a look
of shared suffering to a fellow graduate student slave. "Not another
one," he said, lightly, glancing at the cage. It grey metal bars
looked cold and clinical under the fluorescent lights. He nodded toward
the window. "It's late. I want to go home."
said Claire. "It only looks late." She pushed the cage until
it sat next to the Chihuahua's.
......"Hey," said Mark,
peering at the caged dog, an American Pit Bull Terrier. "Isn't that
Killer?" Seeing the dog's white, plastic transceiver nodule, he wrinkled
his nose. "I wonder why Rottweiler would let his own dog get the
......Claire walked over and, from
the front, placed a hand on each of Mark's shoulders. "Bad dog!"
she said. "No biscuit!" She released one shoulder and shook
a forefinger as if she were scolding a naughty child. "Come on. I
know you can say it. Repeat after me—Professor Robert Weiler."
......"I'm serious," she
said, the laugh in her voice contradicting her. "If he hears you
calling him Rottweiler, you're dead meat."
......Mark gently clasped her wrist
at his shoulder, gave it a quick furtive squeeze of affection, then drew
it away. "What else can he do to me?" He forced a smile. "He
already passes off my research as his own."
......"I know." Claire
nodded. "I still think you should take it to the Academic Integrity
......"After I get
my degree. He's on my committee." Mark's mood turned grim. "With
Rottweiler, I'd like to defend my thesis with a machine-gun."
......Claire smiled. "Just
goes to show that not everyone who loves dogs is a good guy."
......"Not sure loves is the
right word. I'd say he identifies with them." Mark glanced at the
caged Pit Bull. "With vicious dogs, anyway. But loves?" Mark
gave a snort-like laugh and shook his head. "He'd probably like being
called Professor Rottweiler."
......"Still," said Claire,
"you shouldn't call him that." She too, glanced at the cage.
"It is strange though, Professor Weiler experimenting on his own
dog. Maybe he can't handle him any more."
......"Oh, he can handle Killer,
alright." Mark glared at the Pit Bull. "And only he
can. Rottweiler seems to take satisfaction in that."
......"Okay, okay. Professor
She slapped the file folder down on the cage and Killer growled. Both
......Mark gazed over at the Chihuahua's
cage. "Hey Miguel. I thought I was your friend."
......Claire canted her head. "Miguel?"
......"Better than a stupid
number." Mark smiled, sheepishly. "I give names to a lot of
the dogs that come through here."
......"Yes, I can see you doing
that." Claire glanced at the tiny dog playing with a rubber bone
with an almost raccoon-like dexterity. "I'm not sure naming the dogs
is a good idea. It makes it too easy to grow attached to them." She
picked up her file folder from Killer's cage and both dogs growled again.
......"A concerted action,"
said Mark. "Good union, these dogs have." He kneeled and looked
into the Chihuahua's cage. "Miguel. Have you joined the local dog
......The Chihuahua gave a single,
high-pitched bark. At almost the same time, Killer also uttered a single
bark, low-pitched and angry.
......Mark stood. "It's like
a sound system." He chuckled with a thought. "And both the woofer
and tweeter are actually woofers." He glanced at the Neural Control
unit, then peered down at Miguel again. "Woof," he said.
......Again, both dogs barked in
......"There's something weird
going on here," said Claire.
......"'Let dogs delight to
bark and bite'," said Claire, softly, seemingly in deep thought.
......They stared in silence at
the dogs for a few moments. Then Claire said, "By any chance, are
the carrier frequencies of the two transceivers the same?"
......"I'm not sure. Maybe
the signals are crossing."
......"Hmm." Mark went
to the computer and pulled up a spreadsheet. "You mean, when Killer
barked, the... the barking neurons triggered a fiber. And then the fiber
transmitted the signal, and—"
......"And the Chihuahua's
receiver picked it up and stimulated his barking neurons."
......"Geez!" said Mark,
nodding his head in appreciation of the idea.
......"Do you think it's possible?"
......"Yeah. Could be. The
transceiver multiplexer/demultiplexer assemblies would address corresponding
cerebral regions." He examined the spreadsheet. "Yeah. The frequencies
are the same." He looked over at Claire. "Dog union. Maybe
union was actually the right word."
......"I wonder why it doesn't
ping pong," said Claire. "I mean dog A triggers dog B and B
triggers A again. Why doesn't it go on indefinitely?"
......"Probably because once
a neuron fires, it takes a while before it can fire again."
......"That makes sense."
......Killer and Miguel barked a
few more times, yet again in unison.
......"This is sort of spooky,"
......Claire nodded. "It's
......"More like a joining
of two brains." Mark moved to Killer's cage and rolled it toward
the door. "Look. The transceivers have a limited range. I think we
should untelepathize our dogs. Let's move Killer here to, I don't know,
to the biopsy lab at the other end of the complex."
Claire. "I need some time to think this over. We may have made a
......"Yeah. I think we have."
......"All knowledge, the totality
of all questions and answers, is contained in the dog."
......Franz Kafka - 'Investigations of the
Wind. Smell of rabbit. Smell of grass. Wind tickles nose. Many smells.
House moving fast. Forest smells. Good smells. Tall master. Love tall
master. Lick face. Smells nice. Need to run. Hungry. Smell food. Lick
face. Lick ear. Other tall master. Nice smell. Want to go out. Tall master
scratches ears. Lick hand. Lick face.
......While Claire busied herself
with the drive from the Cornell Canine Research Institute toward the distant
Natural Dog Habitat, Mark in the front passenger seat, fought to keep
the Greyhound from falling out the window. It was mid-July, midmorning,
the countryside thick and verdant with a threat of rain.
......Dogs were introduced into
the Habitat one dog at a time, and today it was the Greyhound's turn.
......Mark stroked the dog's sleek
fur, keeping well clear of the transceiver nodule. "Good boy, Earl.
What do you smell out there?" The dog turned and licked his face,
and Mark laughed like a child. "Yeah Earl, I like you, too."
......"Why did you name him
Earl?" said Claire, her eyes on the uneven dirt road. "After
a dog you had as a kid?"
......"You seem much more attached
to him than any of the other dogs."
......"When I was a kid, my
best friend had a Greyhound. I used to pretend he was mine—the Greyhound,
I mean." Mark hugged the dog. "You’re my dog, aren't you?
You great monster." Earl squirmed around and washed Mark's ear and
cheek, and got tangled in his leash. "I named him after my favorite
......"What?" Then Claire
shook her head. "You would!"
......"It's better than Rottweiler's
name, 'Enhanced Canine 26'." Mark took off the leash and whispered
into the dog's ear. "I wish you didn't have to be a part of the experiment."
He glanced at Claire. "I wonder if he'll still know me when he's
integrated into the collective. I bet he will."
......At an unnamed and unpaved
crossroad marked only by a sign for the Laughing Beaver Campground, Claire
left the two-lane asphalt and headed in the direction away from the campground.
By intent, there was no sign pointing the way to the research habitat.
......Claire took a hand off the
wheel and patted Earl's head, running a finger around the periphery of
the nodule. "If SAFARI knew about this," she said, as if to
the dog, "they'd have kittens."
......"Student Action For Animal
......"Those guys." Mark
laughed. "They have more syllables in their name than they have members."
......"I don't know about that.
They picketed the department again, last weekend. About ten of them, screaming
insults and littering the halls with flyers."
......They rounded a curve and there,
directly ahead, stood the outer gate to the Habitat. "Good,"
said Claire. "It looks like we'll make it."
......"You weren't sure?"
patted the dashboard, "this chariot isn't exactly fresh off the showroom
......"Yeah, I sort of got
that idea from the noisy muffler and the cracked windshield."
......"That's the least of
it," said Claire. "There's more."
......She threw him a glance. "Don't
worry. I've got triple-A."
......"Triple-A! We're thirty
miles from civilization. It would take them a week to get here."
......"Only two hours."
She pulled off onto the access road. "At least that's how long it
took last time."
......"My car's flaky too,"
said Mark, "But I keep tons of tools in the trunk."
glanced at Mark in the rear view mirror. "And you probably even know
how to use them." She chuckled. "In my trunk, I keep
a tent and a sleeping bag."
......"Unfortunately, my sleeping
bag's in the lab."
......"Yes, I know," said
Claire. "And it's beginning to smell." She honked at a raccoon
on the road and then swerved to miss it. "It would be fine if you
threw it in the closet in the morning." Claire stopped the car at
the gate. "But as it is, the dogs nap on it. You're lucky not to
......"Fine. From now on, I'll
wear a flea collar." Mark hopped out of the car with the Greyhound
following close behind. He opened the gate and waved Claire through to
the parking area. The lot lay empty and the observation shack appeared
......Taking his cell phone from
his pocket, Mark checked the time display. Rottweiler should have
been here by now. Scowling, he put his phone away and tromped off
toward the inner gate—the locked entrance to the two square mile
habitat. The facility had been originally built for horses, with high
barbed-wire topped fences more to keep people out than horses in. And
the ground around the fence had been concretized to keep the dogs from
digging their way free. The habitat looked like a medium security prison
farm. Little white signs attached to the fence, every thirty feet or so
proclaimed, 'Danger: Unauthorized Entry Prohibited'. One would think
the nine foot chain-link and the barbed wire would tell you that.
......As he reached for the lock,
Mark saw the pack about ten yards away. All but hidden, only their heads
showed above the tall grass.
......Mark knew all of the dogs:
Miguel, Max the German Shepherd, Beauregard the Bloodhound, the Kuvasz,
the brace of unnamed Yellow Labradors, all the rest. The dogs stared intently
at him, seemingly captivated by the motion of his hands. Feeling almost
as if he were performing for the creatures, Mark keyed the combination.
When the hasp clicked free, he heard a soft, low growl from Earl. He looked
down at the dog. "What's the matter, boy?" The Greyhound growled
again and the sound seemed to reverberate through the woods. Mark glanced
up and saw Killer, in the front of the pack, growling. All the dogs growled.
......Mark opened the gate and Earl,
without ever looking back, ran through and up to the pack. Mark felt a
sense of loss.
......Smell of dogs—other dogs.
I. I am a dog. We are dog. Tall masters are friends. Not sure. I am the
pack. I am the Earl bit of the pack. I see the others. They are me. Tall
masters are enemies. Smell bad. I/We understand many words. The Earl bit
of the pack wants to run. Pack smells good. We are hungry. We are the
......"Hey," Mark shouted
toward the cluster of dogs, "Max, Miguel, Earl. You know me. I'm
your friend." He knelt. "Come on, Earl," he said at just
above a whisper. "I just want to pet you."
......As one, as if in response
to a signal, the dogs bared their fangs.
......Mark sighed, stood, then snapped
the keypad combination lock back onto the gate. He stared dejectedly down
but as he heard Claire approach, he looked up with a forced smile.
......"It's nothing personal,"
she said, softly. "The transceivers connect fibers to equivalent
fibers across the full group of dogs. It's really a single entity, not
just a pack of dogs."
......"I know. I know. It is
not self-inclusive," said Mark, trying to intellectualize his feeling
of rejection. "As Bertrand Russell might have said—The set
of all dogs is not a dog." He turned away from the gate and started
toward the observation shack. "Come on," he said. "Let's
get set up for Rottweiler." Then he swiveled and headed back to the
car. "I forgot my laptop."
......"And we'd probably better
take out the dog food too," said Claire. "They'll be hungry
......Mark opened the rear door
of the car and took his computer. Then he glanced at the fifty-pound bag
of dry kibble. "I'll get the dog chow later," he called out.
"After we power up the shack."
......The observation shack, a large
rough-hewn cabin, stood just outside the inner fence. Thanks to an external
well and an electric pump, the cabin had water. Electricity came via a
gasoline-powered generator. The cabin had air-conditioning, indoor plumbing
and a propane hot-water-on-demand system—that is, when anyone remembered
to bring a fresh propane tank. It also had a clear line-of-sight to a
distant transmitting tower which made possible broadband Internet access
by way of a roof-mounted parabolic antenna. There was no phone service
but, when it wasn't raining, the shack was marginally in cell-tower range,
at least for one service provider; Mark could usually get a call through,
but Claire, never could.
......Adjacent to the shack stood
a small prefab shed which served as an external closet. A thirty cubic
foot hermetically sealed container took about a quarter of the floor-space.
It was filled with emergency dry dog food
......The dog enclosure itself was
large enough to have a varied terrain: a well-shaded forested area, a
grassy knoll, and even a small lake. It lay wild and unspoiled except
for the chain link fence and the electric company's high tension lines
that hung high over the rear of the Habitat. Mark had long wondered if
those lines might be responsible for the spotty cell phone service.
......Inside, video cameras, two
computers, and a few pair of binoculars cluttered a large table drawn
up to a picture window. A ratty sofa, a few folding chairs, and a cabinet
supporting a hotplate, teakettle, and a table radio filled out the main
room—the only room other than a small lavatory. There was a wood
stove for heat and cooking—canned spaghetti and frozen dinners,
mostly. But, being July, there was no stacked wood.
......Mark circled to the side of
the cabin where an overhang protected the generator. "Damn,"
he said, eyeing the fuel gage with its needle hovering in the red. He
shrugged. Not my problem. As he bent to pull the starter cord, he saw
the pack of dogs staring at him through the fence. The dogs' white nodules
gleamed in the sunlight. Mark felt himself shiver, wilting under the gaze
of the set of dogs. Four of the dogs were black Belgian Shepherds, an
intelligent breed. Since he'd not been able to tell them apart, he hadn't
named them. He gazed at the dogs. They sat alert, silent, cookie-cutter
identical like ceramic reproductions. Just one name would do for all
......Killer, stiff-legged and with
heavy fierce-looking dogs flanking him on both sides, seemed to be the
center, the focus, of the pack. Mark stared into Killer's wary yellow
eyes and tried not to hate the animal. He liked dogs, but not Killer.
He'd never known that Pit Bull to be anything other than vicious.
......Virtually hypnotized by those
angry, intelligent-looking eyes, Mark forced himself to look away at the
generator. As he did so, he heard a loud, synchronized, single bark. It
seemed a bark of triumph; he was the one who'd flinched; he was the one
who'd broken off his gaze.
......He pulled the cord and the
sound of the generator's engine broke his trance. He kicked at the fence,
setting off a ripple of motion along chain-link. "All right, get
out of here," he yelled. The dogs did not move. Mark turned and stalked
away to the front of the shack and then sped through the door, latching
it behind him.
......Claire, setting up the video
camera, looked over at the door. "Expecting unwanted visitors?"
......"You mean the latch?"
Mark chuckled, nervously. "Just habit." He joined Claire in
setting things up: turning on the computers, dusting, taking the binoculars
from their cases, making the coffee that Rottweiler would expect to have
......"I feel bad about Earl,"
said Mark as he called up a word-processing program. "I'm really
fond of him." He loaded the observation log. "When this experiment
is over, I'm going to adopt him."
......"But after the..."
Claire bit her lip.
......"What's the matter?"
......"You should never have
named the dogs." Claire evaded his gaze and started toward the door.
"I'd better go and bring in the NCU."
......"The Neural Control Unit?"
Mark looked at her, quizzically. "You brought it?"
......Claire stopped. "Of course.
We always bring it."
......"Well, Rottweiler said
he doesn't want to use it out here. Said it might corrupt the validity
of the observations." He wrinkled his nose. "And what's wrong
with me adopting Earl?"
......Claire looked down on a blank
page of her open lab notebook. "Nothing."
......"The experiment can't
last more than four or five months," said Mark. "That's when
the batteries'll give out." He picked up a pair of binoculars and
trained them out the window. "There they are. A very disciplined
bunch of dogs. They look like they want something to hunt."
......Claire also took up a pair
of binoculars. "They're closer together than a normal pack."
......"Probably the transceivers,"
said Mark. "They don't have much range so the dogs have to stay pretty
close to each other." He zoomed in on the dogs. "Looks weird.
A vicious pack of purebreds." He zoomed in further. "Miguel
and Earl sure don't look like hunters." He panned to the side. "But
......Claire scanned the dogs. "Weiler
said he uses purebreds," she said, distantly, her concentration clearly
on her observations, "so that the fibers can go to predicted places,
and so the temperament and intelligence measurements on the dogs can be
......"Maybe. But I think it
was just because he was able to sweet-talk the breed rescue clubs into
giving him the dogs." Mark scowled in indignation. "The fraud!"
He flipped on the image stabilizer switch. "I heard him tell one
of the clubs that the dogs would go to good homes." He lowered his
binoculars and sighed. "Who knows? Maybe when this is over, they
all will. Earl certainly will."
......Claire lowered her field glasses
as well, and gave the hint of a sad smile. "Who knows?"
......Hearing the sudden revving
of a powerful engine, Mark looked out the window on the side opposite
the enlosure. There, just outside the outer fence, sat a sleek, red sports
car. "Rottweiler's here." Mark frowned. "Looks like he's
waiting for us to open the latch for him—the lazy bastard."
......Claire started for the door
but Mark shook his head. "No. Let him do it himself."
......About thirty seconds later,
and after a few blasts from the car's horn, they saw Professor Weiler
step out. Weiler opened the latch and, leaving the car where it was—at
an angle to the road and blocking the entrance, he sauntered through the
......Weiler, with his long, unkempt
hair, looked like a sixties hippy or maybe an aging rock star: jeans,
corduroy jacket, dirty brand-name sneakers. But under that veneer, as
Mark well knew, there was a personality much like Killer's.
......Claire headed for the cabinet.
"We'd better get Weiler's coffee for him."
......There came the sound of approaching
footsteps, the doorknob turning, and then a thud against the door.
......"Oops," said Mark,
darting to the door. He released the latch and Professor Weiler strode
......"Have you two been doing
something you shouldn't?" said Weiler with a toothy smile scarcely
distinguishable from a leer.
......"Always," said Mark,
wisecracking to cover his repugnance.
......Weiler crossed over to the
observation window and looked out. "EC-26," he said. "In
......"What?" For an instant,
Mark had forgotten the object of the exercise. "Oh, Earl. Yes. He's
in the pack."
......"Good." Weiler went
to the nearest computer. "I think 26 might well bring the entity
up to being self-aware."
......"You really think that's
possible?" Mark's resentment of the man had vanished—replaced
by excitement about the research.
swiveled around from the computer. "Maybe even today."
......Mark nodded. "And if
not, in five more days, we'll have five more dogs."
......Weiler gave a thumbs-up. "I
can't wait to do sectioned brain measurements."
......Mark sucked in a breath. "You'd
have to kill the dogs to do that."
......Weiler gave Mark a quizzical
stare. "Yes, of course."
......"But.... But I thought
we were only going to do MEG scans."
......"Sectioning is necessary
to test an idea that I..."—Weiler broke eye contact—"that
we've come up with. I've been thinking about it and agree; the electrical
stimulation might well cause the growth of new cortical neurons."
......"Are you going to put
down all the dogs?" said Mark in a voice he knew must sound
child-like and pleading.
......Weiler nodded. "Don't
want to be accused of selective statistics."
......Mark glared at Claire. She
avoided his eyes.
......"Hey, what's going on?"
Weiler pointed out the observation window where the German Shepherd stood
on its hind legs with forepaws resting on the gate just under the lock.
The Chihuahua, Miguel, stood on the Shepherd's shoulders, his tiny paws
reaching through the fence-chain and fumbling with the lock's keypad.
Several yards farther back, the rest of the dogs sat watching.
......"My gosh!" said
Claire. "It looks like he's trying to key the combination."
......"Geez!" Mark took
a step toward the window. "That's why the dogs looked at
me so intently when I opened the lock." He went to the cabinet and
began to rummage. "There's a lock with a key in here somewhere."
He found the lock and started for the door.
......"No," said Weiler.
"Wait. Let's see if they can do it."
......"If the dogs get out,"
said Mark, "it'll be hell trying to round them up again."
......Weiler kept his gaze on the
dogs. "They'd still have to get through the outer fence."
......"There's no lock on the
outer gate," said Claire. "Just a latch."
......Weiler, eyes on the dog and
lock, didn't respond. Claire and Mark exchanged glances then both turned
to watch the agile Chihuahua. The three of them observed the dog in silence.
......After about twenty minutes,
after countless tries, Miguel got the lock open. With a bark of triumph
from all the pack, Miguel batted the lock to the ground. He leapt from
the Shepherd's shoulders and then the entire pack rushed the gate and
worried it open.
......"Hot dog!" Weiler's
hands went to the keyboard. "What a great follow-up to my first paper!"
He squinted at the monitor. "Wait. This isn't my usual word-processor."
......Mark watched the dogs. Now
that the gate was open, the dogs seemed in no particular hurry to leave
the enclosure. They milled around the gate, as if they'd not thought past
the point of opening it.
......"Mark!" Weiler called.
"Can you help me, here?
......Mark walked up behind Weiler
and looked over the man's shoulder. "You can just exit X-Windows
and invoke...." Mark stifled a gasp of shock as he saw, all but hidden
by Weiler's mane-like hair, the white outline of a nodule against the
base of his skull.
......"Invoke what?" Weiler
twisted around to look at Mark. "What's the matter?"
......"You've.... I saw...."
......"Oh, you saw the nodule."
Weiler laughed. "My ultimate experiment." He gazed at Mark,
his expression suddenly intense, his eyes bright. "Just imagine it.
To be another creature."
......"Don't worry," said
Weiler, lightly, a look of amused superiority replacing intensity. "My
nodule is different; it has a gain control and an off switch." He
brushed aside his hair and played a hand lovingly over the nodule. "I
was going to wait, but now, seeing how intelligent the collective has
become, I'm going to do it—essentially, now." He stood from
the computer. "I can write this stuff up later."
......"How did you..,"
said Claire. "Who would have even dared such an operation on a human
......Weiler uttered a humorless
laugh. "What charming innocence. You have no idea what a person would
do to get his name associated with a scientific breakthrough like this."
......He walked to the front window
and looked out. The pack was in front now, nosing around Claire's car.
"I wonder what's on their mind."
......"They, it, probably smells
the bag of kibble in the back seat," said Claire in a flat voice,
looking not out the window but at Weiler.
......Weiler returned the gaze and
......Mark didn’t care for
the hungry look in the man's eyes. "Don't you think it might be better
if you did this under a controlled.... I mean...." Mark sought an
argument for delay. "I mean why not wait a week, until we have the
five new dogs?" He saw he wasn't making any headway. "Or just
one day. With one more dog, it might—"
......"It's my decision,"
Weiler snapped. Then he smiled and raised a hand to the back of his head.
"I do know what I'm doing."
......As Mark watched, Weiler's
expression transformed from amused condescension to wide-eyed astonishment
and then to savagery.
......Mark jumped back as Weiler—the
new Weiler component of the collective—howled, the sound echoing
and amplified from the pack without.
......Standing frozen, muscles tensed,
Mark had no idea what to do. From the corner of his eye, he saw Killer
through the window. The Pit Bull's expression mirrored its owner's.
......Weiler drew his lips back
and exposed his teeth. He growled, bent to a crouch, and stalked toward
......Claire backed away, stopping
only when forced to by the wall.
......Getting over his initial shock,
Mark shouted. "Professor... Professor Weiler. Stop!"
......Weiler paid no attention.
He snarled at Claire and appeared set to leap. From the rear, Mark sprang,
grabbing the man around the neck. The two fell to the floor. Weiler, his
head jerking from side to side, snarled and snapped at Mark's wrists,
his teeth clacking as they missed their target. Mark only hoped the man
didn't have AIDS or rabies.
......With Mark struggling to hold
on, Weiler rolled around on the floor, kicking and scratching. The man
was strong—unnaturally strong. Weiler got to his feet and stayed
low in a crouch. Hanging on, with one arm around Weiler's throat, Mark,
whenever he could, probed behind Weiler's neck for the nodule. As they
fought, Mark caught fleeting glimpses of the white transceiver buried
under the brown mass of hair. Tiring, Mark desperately grasped for the
nodule, fumbled for the switch, found and threw it. Weiler went limp and
collapsed to the floor. Mark fell with him.
......On the floor, supine and shaking,
Mark took a few shallow breaths. He'd just assaulted his thesis advisor
and maybe even killed him. Hearing a grunting sound from Weiler, Mark
rolled to a sitting position and took another breath, this time of relief.
At least the man was still alive.
......Mark threw his gaze to Claire
who had pressed herself into a corner. "Are you okay?" he gasped,
scrambling to his feet.
......"His eyes. They were
like...." Claire rubbed a hand across her face then drew herself
primly erect and took a step forward. "I'm fine," she said,
her gaze locked on Weiler who was beginning to stir.
......Groggily, Weiler pushed himself
to a sitting position, then leaned back against a wall. "What a trip!"
He shook his head as if to clear it, then turned to Claire.
......"I'm sorry," he
said. "I lost control." Again, he shook his head, slowly, this
time. "You can't believe what it was like." Smiling, Weiler
moved a hand to the back of his head. Mark tensed, but Weiler took his
......"I'm sorry that I...,"
said Mark, hesitantly, trying to decide exactly what he was sorry about.
......Weiler waved him silent. "Having
this implanted," he said in a collegial tone, "might not have
been the best idea I've ever had."
......"Maybe not," said
Mark, eying the man with some suspicion. "Didn't you try it out first?"
......"I've had the fibers
growing for a couple of weeks now, but just had the transceiver installed
this morning. I came straight out here."
......Gone was Weiler's air of superiority,
but Mark found he still didn't particularly like him—especially
not after the way he'd terrified Claire.
......Weiler got to his feet and
looked over to Claire. "Forgive me?" he said. "Yes?"
Claire looked wary. Then she smiled. "Yes, of course."
......"Good." Weiler took
a few unsteady steps to the front window and peered out. Not twenty feet
away, the dogs, sitting attentive like second-graders in a classroom,
stared in. "I felt it," said Weiler, softly, more to the dogs
than to the grad students. "Near sentience. A trigger is all it would
take." He locked eyes with his Pit Bull and from his expression,
a mirror of his dog's, Mark could almost believe Weiler's nodule was still
switched on. "I've got to know what is in Killer's mind," said
Weiler under his breath.
......"I hope," said Mark,
"that you're not thinking of trying it again."
......Weiler jerked his head around,
breaking eye contact with Killer. "No, of course not," he said,
his eyes showing a feral gleam. Then he seemed to soften. "No,"
he said again, but softly. "The dogs just took me by surprise."
He turned back to the window. The pack still stared in. "Human against
dogs," said Weiler. "I'll be able to handle it."
......"What!" said Mark,
almost at a shout.
......Weiler spun around and eyed
him, coldly. "That is, should I ever decide to do it again."
......Mark, feeling uneasy about
raising his voice to his professor, went to the computer. "Your word
processor is up," he said. "You can write up your thoughts now"—Mark
saw Weiler begin to pace—"if you want to."
......Back and forth, the man paced,
staring out the window whenever he passed it. Mark smiled, grimly, noting
the similarity to an animal in a cage.
......Weiler paused by the door.
"I've got to know."
......Mark studied the man. Weiler's
eyes blazed with the intensity of a single-minded researcher—or
of an animal.
......"I'm sorry," said
Weiler. With one hand, he began to open the door while reaching with the
other to the back of his head. "I can handle this. I'll lower the
exclaimed Mark, stunned. "Gain only affects distance. The intensity
......Weiler's expression abruptly
turned wild. He growled, flung the door open and darted through.
......"Damn!" Mark ran
to the door and slammed it shut.
Claire. "We can't leave him out there."
......"Let him go." Mark
latched the door. "Let him be Lord of the Dogs if he wants it. Anyway,
there's nothing we can do." He pointed out the window. The two of
them gazed out.
......"But since I am a dog,
beware my fangs," said Claire under her breath.
......Weiler, crouching forward
and moving with a gait suggesting he'd only recently learned to walk on
two legs, staggered about fifteen feet toward the dogs and then stopped.
......The dogs, in silence, drew
back their lips, exposing their incisors.
......"The dogs don't seem
to like him much," said Claire, her voice a little above a whisper.
Mark watched as the Pit Bull, stiff-legged, inched forward.
......"Odd," said Claire.
"Killer is, or at any rate was, his own dog."
......Killer stopped and the scene
became a frozen tableau.
......"I wonder what's going
on out there," said Claire after a silent minute.
......"From Killer's and Rottweiler's
expressions, it looks as if they're engaged in some sort of struggle."
Mark smiled, self-conscious about what he was about to say. "Like
a fight for the heart and soul of the pack."
......"Why is he doing this?"
said Claire. "What does he get from being a dog?"
......"It gives one paws,"
said Mark, making pawing motions with his hands.
......Claire looked at him as if
he were some sort of monster.
......"Sorry." Mark cast
his eyes down. "My way of dealing with stress. Tasteless jokes."
......We know who we are now. And we
know what now is. And the tall masters, humans. They are just animals—single,
not a pack. They know much but they have poor noses and they can't hunt
......But a human is part of us. We are sick.
The human-bit doesn't belong. This human brings us knowledge and understanding
but it is not a dog-bit. It must be removed from us. Can not understand.
One part of us wants to serve them, another part wants to kill and eat
them. That part is stronger. But humans know things we don't. A human
is a pack-bit now and we know many new things. We know many more ways
to hunt. And we can think. But we do not understand what humans want.
The human-bit is not necessary. Understanding is not necessary.
......The pack barked, again in
unison. Weiler barked as well, but a little late, like a chorister who'd
missed his cue.
......"Not quite of the pack,"
said Claire. "Sort of sad, in a way."
......As Mark threw a quizzical
glance at her, he saw motion out of the corner of his eye. He snapped
back toward the window. "Uh oh!"
......The dogs had each crouched
low, and Weiler trembled, visibly.
......"This doesn't look good."
Mark started for the door.
......"Wait!" said Claire.
"What are you doing?"
......"If he makes a run for
it," said Mark, his hand on the latch, "I'll let him in."
......Claire nodded, then took a
......"Yeah, I know,"
said Mark. "But I handled him before. I imagine I can do it again."
I hope. He looked through the window at Weiler. The man looked scared.
He's not the only one.
......"If I'd brought the NCU
in," said Claire, "we could just key them all to sleep."
......Mark, staring out at Weiler,
grasped at a thin hope. "You know. He might want to reconsider the
......"Maybe you could open
the door a little and call to him."
......"Yeah." Mark started
to release the latch, but then, his eyes on the window, he froze. Oh my
......The dogs, as if reacting to
the shot of a starting pistol, leapt forward, engulfing Professor Weiler.
The man managed to stay on his feet until Max clamped his teeth over the
man's lower thigh. Weiler fell to his knees. Killer lunged for his throat.
But with one hand splayed on the ground to stop his fall, Weiler punched
wildly out, catching Killer in mid-leap. Landing on the nose, the blow
deflected the dog's jaws from their target.
Then Miguel, small but with needle-sharp teeth, sunk his fangs into the
grounded hand. Weiler shrieked, raised his arm above his head, then slammed
his hand onto the ground. He flung his arm back into the air. Miguel flew
off, his head canted at an unnatural angle, his neck clearly broken. The
pack went motionless.
......Pain. We are dead. And we are
alive. We hurt. The smallest dog-bit is gone. We howl. Dead! Smells like
food. We are afraid of death. What is after? We have only just learned
what after means. Until now, we have only lived in the now—with
memories but no understanding of the past. Now we understand. There is
past, present and future. And, bit by bit, we will die. We are afraid.
We must howl. The human-bit did this to us.
......Seizing his chance, Weiler
got to his knees. He struggled to his feet and hobbled frantically toward
the door. Mark flung it open and started forward to help. But after a
single step toward the professor, Mark stopped short. He watched in horror
as the dogs, with a great angry peal of coordinated barking, flew at the
man. Weiler looked back over his shoulder. At that same instant, Killer
leaped. Its great jaws closed around Weiler's throat.