My latest book just came out: Why I Hunt Flying Saucers & Other Fantasticals. The title comes from the short story of the same name, which was nominated for an Aurora Award in 1991.
It contains some SF tales featuring things like malfunctioning/malevolent household robots, the apocalypse on endless replay and potash-fueled interstellar spacecraft — from the pages of magazines like Interzone, On Spec and Descant.
Because I like my future with a dash of retro there's the original audio drama script "21st Century Scientific Romance" from Shoestring Radio Theatre.
Plus there's a foreword by renowned myth and folklore expert Professor John Colarusso designed to let you know how clever you are for choosing to read the book.
Here's one of the stories, "Strategic Dog Patterning" which was original published in Tesseracts Eight, edited by John Clute and Candas Jane Dorsey:
Strategic Dog Patterning
Originally Published in Tesseracts 8, 1999; Edited by John Clute and Candas Jane Dorsey
The Sacrifice Principle: behavior that appears non-adaptive, even self-destructive when found in individual organisms. However, when viewed in a more dynamic, collective context, the same actions are revealed to be a decoy–giving up a few lives to expand the pack community.
It was a bad transmission: the dead skyscrapers and old streetcar lines were breaking up the signal from Animal Control.
"Bring us the Alpha Dog," the ghost voice on his helmet speakers whispered.
Morrow looked over at Fixx; his partner's blue-crystal eyes were tracking the last of the pack disappearing into the decaying parking garage.
"Stop here," said Fixx.
Morrow braked the van and Fixx kicked open the door. The Gothic tattoos on Fixx's forearms twisted into flesh baroque as he hauled out stained metal tanks and black tubing from below the front seat.
"We'll do well here." Fixx pulled a helmet over his ponytail and ran toward the concrete building.
More of that freak intuition, thought Morrow. Then he noticed Fixx clamping a chrome nozzle onto the tubing as he approached the entrance.
Fixx was going to use a wide-angle flamethrower.
Shit! thought Morrow. He wasn't going to give up on a good commission. Morrow released two multi-pistols from the dashboard gun rack. The pistols could get messy, but if he aimed properly he could keep the cranium and upper spinal column intact.
"Do you have the Alpha in sight?" the voice in his head asked.
"Fucking, eh," replied Morrow and clicked off the signal. AC didn't need to know his problems.
Morrow knew the drill on building infestations, so he headed for the far end of the first level basement. Packs liked to be underground, but not so far from the surface that it was hard to scout and forage.
Inside there were some truly unusual smells. The building reeked of dog urine from where the pack had marked its territory and the smell of many dead things. Kills brought in to feed the pack.
Morrow saw bursts of bright blue and orange at the opposite end of the level and then there was a new smell: napalm and live meat cooking.
Now Morrow was really pissed off. Fixx claimed he was some kind of mystic, really he was just a goddamned peasant. The jerk had just charged in, burnt out everything and would be collecting minimum bounty on everything he could salvage.
No style at all.
When Morrow reached his partner there was another smell. Fixx was smoking an enormous reefer as he contemplated the concrete-bound fireball. Contact with cannabis would have meant immediate termination for Morrow–but Fixx was a Registered Functional Head and so was excused from drug free regulations on religious grounds.
"Did you get them all?" asked Morrow. The fumes from the napalm and the reefer were making his eyes tear up. "Did you see the Alpha?"
Fixx inhaled deeply and kept on staring at the burning bones. "No A-Dog in there. Just puppies and bitches."
Morrow knocked one of the tanks of the flamethrower with his gauntlet. "For god's sake don't use that thing anymore!"
"Whatever, man," replied Fixx as he extended the spring on his specimen-scooper. "Got my quota."
Morrow was already running up the main ramp leading to the ground floor.
It was back to his basic training in animal behaviour now. If the Alpha Dog and his elite guard weren't back there defending the pack, they'd be on the upper levels of the garage: checking out potential new territories and packs, working out escape routes.
Don't give the leaders time to think, the manuals said. Hit them hard, hit them fast. Before you end up reacting to whatever they are going to do to you.
The ramp ways had dozens of dark corners and abandoned doorways. The elite guard was spread out along these spaces on each floor–leaping out at him as he passed by. He took out the first four with standard slugs through the brain. Nothing to worry about: big muscles, small heads, and enormous teeth. Definitely E-Dogs but no sign of the Alpha.
Number five leapt out from a washroom and Morrow used an explosive charge to transform it into a wet red cloud.
This is too easy, Morrow concluded. These E-Dogs are too stupid, they must be expendable. He figured that the Alpha Dog wanted him to come up the main ramp.
Ah, well. The risks are part of the fun, Morrow thought.
Morrow humped over to the far corner of floor eight and found the fire escape ladder on an outside wall. Climbing with 150 pounds of field gear on your back was not easy.
These dogs were starting to be a real pain in the ass.
Six floors later, Morrow hauled his body over the edge of the rooftop. As quietly as possible, he staggered behind an air conditioning unit and looked around. On the other side of the rooftop, right next to the main ramp access, was another cadre of Elite Guards. They had big heads and bigger teeth. These were the ones the A-Dog valued.
They were waiting for Morrow to appear on the main ramp, but they were facing the wrong way. Maybe these dogs weren't so smart after all.
Another dog pushed its head around the corner of another huge old air conditioner, it was only six feet away from Morrow. This one had a really big head and absolutely enormous ears. The body was smaller than the others. This was probably an Alpha-Minor, a smart runt, or maybe the A-Dog's pup.
Morrow surprised the A-Minor. It reacted to Morrow with a classic fear-threat snarl instead of barking loud to alert the others.
Almost reflexively, Morrow kicked the animal full in the body. The A-Minor went flying off the roof. It didn't have time to yelp before it hit the pavement.
The up side to this, thought Morrow, is that I'm still alive. The down side is that the inside of that dog is now the consistency of strawberry jello. He wouldn't be collecting much on that one.
Where was the real thing? Where was the damned Alpha Dog?
It was crouched on yet another air conditioner unit next to the main ramp.
Morrow did a head count: there were ten dogs on the roof. Even with the utility-pistols, Morrow wasn't sure he'd make it. The Elite Guard could swarm him before he could get off a single shot.
Stop thinking like a dog, Morrow thought. Don't fight your way up the pack hierarchy.
He selected a 303 caliber setting on one of the pistols and aimed at the Alpha Dog. Cut off the head and worry about the limbs later.
The bullet severed the Alpha Dog's spinal column. The animal collapsed, paralyzed but still breathing.
The Elite Guard panicked, barking at their fallen leader, leaping around in frenzied fear-attack-defense postures.
They never noticed Morrow as he clicked in an explosive charge and aimed.
After one ear-splitting sound, there was no more barking. Just a ragged edge where there used to be the corner of the rooftop.
Not much to collect on there, Morrow realized. He would have done better if he'd torched them like Fixx. But direct action was so satisfying.
Even so, the Alpha Dog was still intact. Its frantic eyes tracked Morrow as he walked over to its side.
"Stay," Morrow whispered as he took out the spring-clippers and the doggie bag.
On the way back to AC Central Morrow did some mental arithmetic. He was still going to do well at the bounty counter. And he didn't mind too much that his partner was going to make more than him on this kill. Fixx would probably just use the extra money for dope, Morrow decided.
"We should give thanks for this bounteous harvest," muttered Fixx as he slid a chrome pellet into the van's entertainment system. "Do you mind if I worship now?"
Morrow shrugged, knowing that he could be facing disciplinary action if he said that he did.
The van vibrated to the sound of vintage Hawkwind as they rolled into human-occupied territory.
What a jerk, thought Morrow. Fixx was wasting his time with religion. Not like me, thought Morrow. I'm on a fast track. Gonna be the world's greatest dog-killer.
Morrow cornered his shop steward in the locker room. "Got a minute?" Morrow asked.
McDermitt unfastened his armored vest, releasing a wave of beer-fed flab. Some of the younger DKs believed that the union man was lazy and stupid, but Morrow had noticed that Animal Control's most senior non-management employee seemed to know a few things. Sometimes it was a good idea to talk to the dinosaurs.
McDermitt squinted at Morrow. "Aren't you supposed to be over at the Vet-Section lecture?"
Morrow opened his locker and shed his gauntlets. "When I'm getting screwed, I make time to adjust my priorities."
McDermitt struggled to put on his duty shirt. "What's the problem?"
"They pulled me off the Sweep," Morrow replied. "And I figure I was in for at least 40 klicks in bonus kills."
"You know what they say." McDermitt grimaced as he bent over to pull on his runners. "A bonus is a bonus. You shouldn't count on them as part of your take-home pay."
"Puppies couldn't live on regular take-home," said Morrow. "Besides, it's not money I'm pissed about, it's career path. How can I get promoted if I can't score on the sweeps?"
McDermitt looked thoughtful. "What's your new assignment?"
"Some research project," said Morrow. "Management is burying me!"
McDermitt sighed. "So what can your union do for you?"
Skills Transferability: the adaptive capacity of new organisms to assume the roles and responsibilities of older, or deceased, organisms.
"Did you bring the dog's brain?" The man in the jeans and faded lumberjack shirt looked up from a screen of psychedelic patterns.
Morrow held up the aluminum cylinder. "Hope it didn't go bad on you," he said. "It took me a while to find your lab."
The man took the cylinder in both hands and strode over to a rusting sink. "We're a bit off the beaten track but we have great co-axial connections."
There was a moan of cheap tortured metal as the man turned the tap and a trickle of brown water ran out of the goose-necked faucet.
"But perhaps AC management just feels more comfortable with us out of the way," the man muttered as he unscrewed the cylinder.
Morrow noticed racks of TV monitors and computers stacked against the concrete walls. There were lots of cables, a sleeping bag and a half-deflated air mattress.
"So do you get a lot of TV channels here?" Morrow thought it was probably safe to joke with a weird guy who wore jeans and lived in a sub-basement.
"We use that gear to process our satellite and sensor transmissions," the man said as he slid the brain out onto his open palm.
"Shouldn't you wash your hands before you hold the brain?" Morrow asked.
"I wish I knew," the man replied and nodded to some stools by a folding table. "Make yourself at home."
Morrow sat and watched as the man removed an exacto-knife from his shirt pocket and started to scrape the surface of the brain. Layer after layer of gray matter curled above the blade and disappeared down the drain.
"Arthur!" the man shouted. "Get over here, please!"
An overweight young man emerged from behind one of the TV racks. He was also wearing jeans with a Land of the Giants T-shirt.
"Take a look at this, Arthur." The older man lifted the remains of the brain out of the sink. "How enlarged would you say the auditory lobes are?"
"Maybe twenty-six, twenty-seven percent bigger than the last specimen we had," replied Arthur.
"Big even for an Alpha." The man sighed. "Amazing. I just wish I had the slightest idea of what it means." The man slid the rest of the brain back into the cylinder. "We'll deal with it later."
Then he turned to face Morrow and extended a slimy hand: "Hi, I'm Ogilvy. Welcome to my team."
Reproductive Behaviour: Most observers seem to think that sex is quite important in the lives of most organisms. But from the altitudes I have available, the meaning and significance of sex is not always apparent.
Morrow steered the van down a crumpled strip of asphalt that used to be Royal York Road.
He was wasted. Last night, around 10:00, Sheila accessed his computer. A friend of hers who worked at the Barnes & Noble at the mall had dropped off some old paperbacks about a wild fantasy planet.
"Bring your handcuffs, dog-killer," she texted. "Not the play ones–the ones you use on the dogs."
Morrow put away the fact sheets on weekly area kills and hurried.
Things got a little rough when Sheila started strapping on appliances and proclaiming herself to be the "Master Tarnsman".
At breakfast, Sheila asked about his new assignment but Morrow didn't feel like talking. Job titles like "delivery boy" or "radio repairman" didn't sound as exciting as dog-killer.
Ogilvy showed him the drop-off point on a print out from one of the Global Information System satellites.
"There's some good open space there… it's a mini-park," Ogilvy explained. "You can connect the sensor to the climbing structure at the west end." The scientist pointed to something that looked like a bird dropping on the shiny paper. "The metal frame will make an excellent antenna."
The van rolled past burned-out residential blocks; Symons Street… Mimico… Wheatfield Road… Sure, from 30 miles up, I'll bet this looks real easy, he thought.
To his left Morrow saw the remains of a red-brick church. Ahead he saw a stretch of tangled weeds and large piles of dog shit. This must be the mini-park. There was the climbing structure, right next to some rusting poles and dangling chains where the swings used to be.
The monkey bars were set in the shape of a domed cylinder. They reminded Morrow of the nuclear reactor buildings he saw when he took his nephews to the Atomic Park Attraction over at Pickering. He laughed as he turned off the ignition and pulled on the parking brake. Yeah, let's play melt-down and watch all your budgies and house plants mutate.
"I'm here." Morrow spoke into his wire-mic and began connecting the air nozzles in his EVA suit.
"Wonderful." It was Arthur's voice on the helmet speakers. Everything that guy said sounded like sarcasm.
A few minutes later, Morrow was outside, lumbering around in his EVA suit. Two years ago, these suits were guaranteed to protect you from bites for at least five minutes. Last year, a memo from the supplier adjusted the time frame. Two and a half minutes.
Morrow sealed off two more air vents in his helmet. The damned faceplate was fogging up every time he breathed. He walked to the back of the van and swung open the doors.
It was very difficult to move around in a full EVA suit. But it was his best bet out here. Every few months, each time a new generation of litters was pumped out, their teeth seemed to be a little sharper, the jaws a little stronger. Last month, another memo from the supplier said that the suit's armour "would resist canine dental penetration until an officer has time to take retaliatory action."
i.e., no guarantees.
Morrow grunted and hefted a metal carrier case onto the curb. These sensor components were goddamned heavy.
"I don't see anything moving," Morrow said. Maybe he was just being optimistic.
"We do," Arthur replied. "Our satellite is picking up a pack lying in the weeds over at the far side of the park."
Shit! Thanks for telling me ahead of time!
"Don't worry," Arthur chided. "They're just mutts and mongrels. Little guys."
Fine, let them bite your ass, Morrow thought. He dragged the carrier case over to the climbing structure as fast as he could.
"And they appear dormant," Arthur added. "They're probably taking a nap right now."
Fortunately, it didn't take long to set up the sensor unit. Most of the components were heavily insulated plug-in-play-on stuff and the rest were big ceramics. Impervious to extreme weather and chew-resistant.
"That ought to do it," Morrow reported as he clipped the cables from the solar panels into the base of the sensor. With the solar panels in place at the top and the sensor assembled inside, the climbing structure looked like a very badly designed Mars probe.
Ogilvy spoke: "Treat the unit before you start transmitting."
Morrow cursed softly and removed a long aerosol canister from his back-pack. He started spraying mist on the climbing structure. Morrow worked as fast as possible–the mist contained Canine Erotic Stimulation Pheromones and nobody in AC ever wanted to work with the stuff. C.E.S.P was dangerous; if you got any of it on you, all male dogs within 50 miles would seek you out with serious amorous intent.
C.E.S.P. was developed to trick hyper-horny dogs into fighting with each other over non-existent mates–but it just didn't seem to work out that way. The Alphas and the Betas would just have sex with each other, while the Deltas, Gammas and subs would just engage the nearest inanimate object.
"Give the structure a really good dose," Ogilvy said. "If we're going to get good readings we need to attract as many subjects as possible."
There was movement just outside Morrow's field of vision. Something impacted the back of his leg.
"Ouch!" he cried. "The pack is here!"
"Sorry," Arthur said. "They must be too small for us to pick up."
Before Morrow could move, another dog gripped his other leg. The small animal was frantically gyrating its mid-section onto his calf.
"Fuck!" screamed Morrow as a curtain of randomly coloured fur pushed him to the ground. His body shook as a chorus of determined panting almost deafened him.
Morrow slowly bent one arm, shook off the animal that was trying to mount the crook of his elbow, and grasped the release of his multi-pistol.
"Don't shoot!" commanded Ogilvy. "You might damage the sensor!"
"So, what am I supposed to do?!" Morrow gasped in exasperation.
"Remain calm, stay still," insisted Ogilvy. "These are small specimens, probably some kind of terrier variant. They aren't strong enough to penetrate your suit."
"Stay still?" Morrow could feel at least a dozen little reproductive engines hammering away at his back and legs.
"That's right," said Ogilvy. "Once the specimens have ejaculated, they will probably become docile and apathetic. You can get to the van once they're finished."
Morrow laughed bitterly. "Sure, fine, I'll just lie here and think of Toronto."
The hot huffing and humping continued. Morrow was definitely not going to tell Sheila about this.
Leadership Hierarchy: Pack movement patterns often identify the location of the Alpha dog and his elite guard. This is strong evidence of stable social organization with effective lines of communication. It also differentiates them from the human species.
"I think everyone's here," Edwards, the Assistant Supervisor looked around the meeting room. "Anyone who isn't here, please raise your hand."
Petrie, the Administrative Assistant, laughed at his boss' joke. Morrow and McDermitt sat at the other side of the table. They didn't have to smile.
McDermitt opened a plastic folder bearing the eagle and gun logo of the International Brotherhood of American Infestation Workers. He removed a three inch thick computer print-out from the folder.
"This is our first addendum to our Grievance Application."
Petrie smiled but he shook his head. "This is a lot of trouble over losing a bonus for a lousy Alpha dog."
Edwards coughed and looked at the table top.
McDermitt flipped to another section of the Collective Agreement. "If you're now admitting that there were punitive motives involved in Officer Morrow's re-assignment, then we will be filing another grievance under Article 18.104.22.168…"
"That's bullshit, too!" Without another word, Edwards put his copy of the Collective Agreement into his satchel and left the room.
A moment of silence followed. Morrow wondered if Edwards might cool down and come back to the meeting. The Assistant Supervisor did not return.
Petrie sighed and smiled wistfully. "Well," he said and left.
Boundary Maintenance: Maintaining the appearance of territorial control is essential. For that reason guards and scouts are often more active within the heart of claimed territory than at the frontiers.
A sparrow was trapped in the food court. It darted crazily between the canvas geodesic folds of the mall ceiling.
"We'll see some ACs in a minute," Morrow said.
Sheila put down her plastic fork and tracked the bird's frantic movements with her newly-violet eyes.
"Just to get a tiny little bird?" she asked.
Morrow nodded as he poked at the diced tofu on his Styrofoam plate. "This is the border between 905-land and the Reclamation zones. AC has to show the taxpayers that we take the protection of Sherway Mall seriously."
"God, yes," Sheila replied earnestly. "We have the only decent Benetton's left."
"Gotta keep The Wild in check."
Morrow's prediction was right; two mall security guards and three people in AC coveralls came racing up the escalator leading to the food court.
"Here's the cavalry."
The ACs were definitely small-timers. Morrow noticed that only one of them was armed, and she was just carrying some kind of pellet gun.
Rookies, he decided. Maybe even trainees.
"Shouldn't you help?" asked Sheila.
"No," replied Morrow. "I worked hard to be a dog-killer, I don't have to do birds anymore."
The rookies and the security guards climbed onto some empty tables, and waved their arms, whistling and calling at the bird.
"They're scaring the poor thing," said Sheila.
"They're just trying to look effective."
Sheila sighed and returned her attention to her salad. "How was your day?" she asked.
"Pointless," he said. "I got my orientation from my new boss."
"Was that a problem?" Sheila asked as she peeled off the top of something labeled low-fat. "Did they have lousy training videos?"
"No videos at all, not even disks or print-outs," he replied. "Just some sci-fi burn-out case, raving about dog communication, movement patterns and computer images."
"Well, it can't be so bad if you get to use computers." Sheila was a good 905er, she devoutly believed in the upwardly mobile potential of digital technology.
"I'm not so sure," Morrow sighed. "He kept on going on about really old computers, one called UNIVAC and how it couldn't predict the weather."
"So what's his point?" Sheila pushed the edge of her plastic spoon through the surface of her colourless food.
"My new boss says that now his computer can predict the patterns–but these are dog patterns, not weather patterns."
Morrow shrugged. "Yeah, he says that with his computers and the right information from satellites and these sensors–he can determine what the dogs are going to do next."
Sheila sucked the food off the bowl of her spoon. "Sounds like that might be useful."
"Only if it works," said Morrow. "And I kinda doubt that it will–this guy runs his operation like the House of Frankenstein."
By now the AC with the pellet gun had drawn her weapon and started shooting. After about ten puffs of air, she finally connected and a little ball of gray feathers plummeted to the tiles just in front of the frozen yogurt concession.
The ACs put on rubber gloves and carefully placed the dead bird in a small aluminum case.
"Pitiful," said Sheila. "You could have taken that bird out with one shot."
"I could have removed both its eyes and pinned back its tail feathers with one shot. But as long as I'm sidelined I won't be shooting anything."
Sheila looked at Morrow carefully: "Sidelined?"
Morrow noticed that he had broken his plastic fork.
"It means that I won't even be doing sweeps for a while," he said. "I might be experiencing some cash-flow problems."
The ACs and security guards shook hands and walked towards the down escalator.
Sheila took a few sips from her Styrofoam cup of herbal tea.
"I forget to tell you," she said finally. "I've got a training seminar this weekend. I won't be able to go out."
Later, when they drove to her apartment, Sheila explained that she had to get up early the next morning.
Morrow was not invited in.
Sacrifice Principle, An Elaboration: Some entities seem to trail off from the pack and then go silent… after a time we are unable to pick up any life readings. It is as though these individuals know they are now a liability to the community, so they isolate themselves and prepare to die.
At 07:00, Morrow woke up, drank a power shake and put on his exercise sweats. Then he started listening to tapes on professional assertiveness while doing sit-ups.
At 08:37, Morrow noticed that the air conditioner wasn't working right, so he decided to bend a rule and have a cold beer before starting in on the free-weights work-out.
By 11:18, Morrow was drunk, but still coherent enough to know that if he timed the drinks properly he would be able to stay that way for the next twelve or so hours.
He wasn't sure of the exact time when he threw up and passed out.
Defense Options: Politically, it would help this project if I could develop some. But my real passion is studying the pack behaviour–irregardless.
The high frequency buzzing seemed to burn through Morrow's eardrums and make his eyes bulge into throbbing balloons of pain.
He lay there for what seemed like an hour but the buzzing didn't stop. An idea slowly assembled itself in his murky consciousness:
I… think… therefore… I… may… vomit… soon…
But the buzzing would not stop.
I really am going to vomit if I don't do something about this, Morrow realized.
Heaving and wheezing, like some kind of diesel-powered mechanical man, Morrow forced his body to move. He gripped the telephone receiver.
"Ugh-lo," Morrow stammered into the speaker.
"Get over here right away."
"Y-you c-crazy?" Morrow half-squeaked, half-whispered into the receiver. "It's Sunday morning."
"Are you getting dressed for Church?" Morrow wasn't sure if Arthur was serious or not.
"That isn't the point…" began Morrow, then Ogilvy's voice came on the line: "There have been some developments overnight, Officer Morrow. We need you to do some repairs."
"Can't this wait until Monday?" Morrow tried to say something else but he started coughing and the only words that got out were "regular working hours".
"You are on call to this project, officer," Ogilvy replied. "And I believe you will be paid time and a half for working today."
How the hell did Ogilvy get a copy of the Collective Agreement? wondered Morrow.
An hour later, Morrow was driving the service van towards Lakeshore, approaching the scene of the grand humping.
My mistake, thought Morrow as turned up Royal York Road was that I didn't lie and tell Arthur that I was going to church. The exercise of religious freedom and/or ethnic identity had paramount language in the Collective Agreement. No way they could have made him work then. But then maybe he'd have to get a note from a minister. Fixx never had those kinds of problems.
"Is the unit still in place?" Ogilvy's voice fuzzed a little over the van's speaker.
Morrow peered through the windscreen.
"Yeah, but it doesn't look too good," he said. "The main dish is on the ground and there's no sign of the secondary antennae."
"That would explain the signal interruption. Let me see it."
Morrow clipped a cam-caster onto the side of his helmet and stepped out onto the cracked asphalt.
That's one giant leap for an under-employed dog-killer, Morrow thought. He started walking toward the unit.
"No sign of any packs," Morrow said into the helmet-mic. So, maybe I won't have to wash off any embarrassing stains, he thought.
"Take your time," said Ogilvy. "I want to get a good look at the damage."
Up close, Morrow saw ragged points sticking out of the unit, as though the antennae had been snapped off by a high wind. There was a tangle of utility-coloured fibre curling off the socket-connector that had once held the dish.
"Doesn't look like equipment failure to me," Morrow said. "Unless it was some kind of weird metal fatigue."
"Repair it." Ogilvy signed off.
About two hours later, Morrow had plugged in a newer, smaller dish and tapped in some copper wire to serve as make-shift secondaries. He used a remote control to power up the system and then he called the lab.
Arthur answered. "We've got good signal."
"What are you trying to pick up with these things anyway?" asked Morrow. With nothing else to do, he decided that he might as well learn something about his job.
"Ultra-high frequency sound." Arthur yawned. "Kind of noise that only dogs and radar can pick up."
The unit by the old museum was a problem. It was set in between the loading bay and the dome of the planetarium. When Morrow had set the unit up last Wednesday this seemed like a good idea, but in the meantime a pack had moved onto the grounds.
Morrow estimated that over fifty Betas and Deltas were hanging around. At least twice that many pups and bitches, too–but you'd never see them out in the open. Morrow couldn't see the Alpha but he wouldn't be surprised if the Alpha could see him.
"Don't worry so much," Arthur said. "The heat signatures from the GIS say the pack is in passive mode."
"Modes and moods change," Morrow replied. He wasn't going any closer than the abandoned GAP outlet over 500 metres away.
"I thought you were the Great White Mutt-Blaster," Arthur said. "You're afraid to take on some sleeping dogs?"
"Not if I can burn them out or blow them up," replied Morrow. "But that wouldn't be very good for your sensor."
"You're right." Ogilvy's voice clicked in before Arthur could say anything.
They agreed on a compromise.
Morrow would set up a powered antenna by using a cross-bow and a grappling hook to string a wire between the planetarium dome and a nearby lamp-post.
Ogilvy wasn't too happy, but he agreed this would be enough to pick up louder sounds in the region.
It was after eleven at night when Morrow came to the last problem site–an old teleconferencing array on one of the bank skyscrapers around University and Front Street. Morrow was feeling impatient. He'd shot two Gamma dogs in the elevator lobby and didn't even bother to pull their teeth. Wouldn't get me beer money, he thought.
And there was no power for the elevators.
Not a surprise, Morrow thought. But irritating anyway.
He fired a bolt from his crossbow and hauled himself up the main shaft using the motorized pulley connected to his suit's torso harness. Unfortunately the lifting gear wasn't fitted properly. Morrow realized this too late, and it felt like he was getting a sixty story wedgie from God.
Typical of this stupid-ass job.
Morrow grunted into his helmet mic and hoped it annoyed Ogilvy and Arthur.
At the top of the shaft, Morrow kicked through a ventilation grill and pulled himself up onto the roof, where he encountered about twenty Betas and Gammas, pushing at the base of a sensor unit with their backs and front paws. They had moved the unit over ten meters, right to the edge of the roof.
Morrow had a sudden headache. He blinked and he noticed that his eyes were streaming with tears.
"You're breaking up at little," Arthur's voice crackled over the helmet speakers. "There's some kind of ultrasonic interference."
Morrow turned his head and noticed three Alphas crouched behind what remained of the central antenna array. The short snouts were pointing at the labouring Betas and Gammas.
There was hardly any sound as the dish went over the edge; just a faint tinkling sound as the high-tech artifact finally hit the pavement, like the sound of a house cat knocking an ornament off your grandmother's Christmas tree.
The panting shapes of the pack stood at the roof's edge for a moment and Morrow felt the pressure in his temples ease a little. His old instincts kicked in:
Do an inventory, he thought. Access your kill zone:
Twenty-two Betas… no Gamma… four Alphas…
Four is too many, Morrow realized. The more Alphas, the more competition–the Alphas should be tearing each other apart.
They're not acting like Alphas at all.
Morrow reached for his multi-pistols. On top of the time and half and four Alpha-kill fees, he was looking at some extremely serious money. The beauty of it was that if it was self-protection in the line of duty, Edwards and Petrie couldn't say a thing.
He would be able to afford to take a couple of weeks off, take Sheila to an executive chalet in Huntsville for assertiveness training and rough sex.
Morrow lightly touched the holster release… the pressure in his temple started up again and… he noticed the eyes.
Red slits, pulsing behind the chill clouds of wild breath.
If he had paused to think about it, Morrow would probably have been dead. Instead, he just moved his hands away from the pistols and toward the harness controls.
Slowly, quietly, he descended into the shaft.
Extinction Context: This is not a catastrophic event. This is a gradual process of environmental change whereby one species replaces another. Therefore, the prognosis for the city, for the human race, is not particularly good. I wonder if the dinosaurs had an uneasy feeling as the Cretaceous Era approached its conclusion… the situation was very serious but there was damned all they could do about it…
MONDAY, 12:10 A.M.
"I don't think I'll be able to fix the unit," Morrow said softly as he drove into 905 territory.
"No, I guess not," replied Arthur. "If the area clears up any time soon we can go in and clean up."
Morrow didn't know why he was apologizing to these morons. Maybe he was just embarrassed about backing down from the pack. But those dogs were doing weird shit. Maybe he ought to make a report or something.
"Don't blame yourself," Ogilvy's voice echoed over the speakers. "We still have enough sensors in operation to generate an operational composite map."
They already have enough sensors?!
Morrow felt like putting his fist through the dashboard. So why did these fuckwits risk his life and waste his Sunday?
Arthur's voice came on: "Yeah, RADARSAT 18's signal is coming through great. Do you want to see it?"
"Sure." That was all Morrow could say without screaming.
But the images were striking, even with the cheap vid-screen. It reminded Morrow of those old 3-D illusion posters.
He could make out the edge of the lake… the main intersections at the city centre… the 905 barrier…
"That's really interesting," Morrow said as he turned his attention back to the road. What the fuck is it, he thought?
"The composite pattern," replied Ogilvy. "It shows the movements of hundreds of packs at once."
"So it's easier to locate them?"
"That's part of it." Ogilvy sounded irritated. "More importantly it's the way they move–" Then Ogilvy stopped short. "Look at that!" he cried.
Morrow saw two red and purple blotches of near-identical size slowly move across the top and the middle of the screen.
"That's perfect parallel movement." Arthur whispered.
"They're massing," said Ogilvy.
"What do you mean?" asked Morrow.
"The packs seem to be coordinating their movements over long distances," explained Ogilvy.
"That's impossible!" Morrow said. "They're just dogs!"
"More than just dogs," replied Oglivy. "At the macro-level, the dogs are working as a single organism."
"We're reading the thoughts of the giant doggie brain." Arthur giggled nervously.
Ogilvy sighed. "Just keep tracking, Arthur."
Extinction Inevitability: Honestly, I'm not sure if any of this information will do us any good. Perhaps we can delay the inevitable for a time, but there will be no deviation from the long-term projections. As I stated before, the situation is serious but there is very little we can do about it. Even so, I remain cheerful; the research itself is absolutely fascinating.
By the time he parked the van at Control, Morrow was starting to see some benefits to his situation.
Yes, the money was lousy. Yes, he had zero prestige and negative promotion opportunities–but at least he had some inside track. Whenever the packs started doing some new weird shit, Morrow would be the first to know.
And as a service man he didn't have to take on the Alphas if he didn't want to.
No more bonus money, no more Sheila, but he got to live a little while longer.
By the time he reached the cafeteria, Morrow decided that he could handle the losses.
McDermitt was sitting at a table talking to some guy just off night shift patrol.
"We have to go for more danger pay," McDermitt said. "Hayward and Jang are going to be in hospital for over a week."
"Accident?" the other man asked.
McDermitt shook his head. "Gurney says the dogs were waiting for them; and they got through the body armor before anyone could get a shot off."
"Wow, shit," the other man murmured.
McDermitt looked up and called over to Morrow: "Brother! Go home and get some sleep, you're going to need it!"
"What are you talking about?" Morrow's voice croaked with tiredness. I just pulled a Sunday shift, he thought. I'm taking the day off, you cretin.
McDermitt looked surprised. "You didn't get the message I left on your machine? You're supposed to report to Arsenal at 08:00 today."
"What for?" There was no way the grievance could have gone through so fast.
McDermitt smiled. "Officer Fixx has volunteered to replace you on the research assignment. You're taking his place on the front line Sweep."
Morrow sat there with a stupid grin on his face, wondering if this was a good time to start banging his head on the table top.
McDermitt smiled back at him. "Huge bonus money, massive opportunity. You're a rising star again, boy."
Oh yeah, I'm heading right up the goddamned evolutionary ladder, Morrow thought.
But he had a feeling that on his way up he'd find something with flaming red eyes and razor sharp teeth.
Just waiting for him.