As many of you know, I am currently preparing a collection of short stories set in the same universe as the Darkeye series. This includes a short novella called Speak, Dog that takes place many years before the events that occur in Wild Dog City.
Once upon a time there was a city with an endless supply of food, where science was celebrated and the most popular pet was a thinking, talking dog. But the image of this perfect pet is shattered when a dog kills its owner and for the first time ever, asks for a fair trial.
Zeki, a teenage boy, and his dog Tesem are shocked by the news of the trial. But they have no idea what the repercussions are going to be like when a new rule of law takes over the city as people begin to fear their dogs, straining their friendship to the limit.
Meanwhile, Angari, a streetwise Basenji, inadvertently stumbles onto some startling information while carrying out her own investigation of the murder: the time of limitless food is coming to an end, and the humans are discussing a new, alternative source of meat. This knowledge comes with a price- on her head.
When the dark truth about the murder trial comes out, it rattles the city’s population to its core. What is the right place for animals with human intelligence in a city that can no longer support its swelling population? As Zeki, Tesem, and Angari struggle to find their own answers, a final player enters the scene: a cagebound, nameless wild dog.
In this short scene, Angari- who runs her own version of a dog social work slash detective agency- is approached by a friend and former client named Atlas about a shocking murder.
My life could be one of those comic strips they used to have in newspapers. You know, the ones with talking animals. ‘Dog Detective on the case of the missing rubber bone.’
It doesn’t really matter how serious the things I investigate are. In many eyes I will always belong in the funny papers, a joke so tired it’s a parody of itself.
Picture this: a darkened cafe. There are a few tables and chairs, but most of the floor is taken up by low cushions with dogs lying on them. The air is filled with chatter in many different languages, and it smells like raw meat and disinfectant. In a little corner alcove, I and my client are reclining across from each other, speaking in hushed voices.
The client today was a dog that I’d helped before, a tricolor Aidi with a nervous disposition. I didn’t blame her for being nervous. Half a year ago she’d been slated to be rehomed after being dismissed from the police force. Except that in police terms, ‘rehoming’ means ‘you might talk to the wrong people, so we’re going to stick you in a kennel until we can diagnose you with a mental disorder and have you put down.’
Nice, isn’t it?
Atlas slipped the gate and got in touch with one of my contacts. She didn’t have money, but I was pretty willing to help her after she told me a few of her horror stories from the force. Now she spent most of her time playacting as a DumbDog belonging to a Sagdidist who was friendly to our cause. It’s lucky that just about anybody can register a DumbDog license.
I’d thought most of Atlas’ issues were settled, so I was surprised when one of my contacts passed me a message saying she wanted to meet me in the Dish Dish Cafe, one of the few places in the city that would serve dogs without their owners present. Of course, they still needed you to have a license, but an owner isn’t always strictly necessary for one of those.
My own license was chafing at my neck that afternoon, and I sat up to scratch it. Atlas was taking her time getting to the point; in fact, she was mostly licking her own paws instead of speaking. She’d worn harsh red sores on both of her forelegs out of anxiety.
“You know, they have pills for that,” I said. “You talked with the owner about them?”
Atlas stopped licking her paws, and licked her lips instead.
“Not much,” she said, and I belatedly recalled that she was supposed to be pretending to be voiceless with him. We were speaking CC, which lent itself to the charade, since half the humans thought DumbDogs understood it anyway.
“How’s it going, anyway? Any problems? If he’s mistreating you, I always got backup places in mind.”
“No, he’s fine,” said Atlas, fidgeting on her cushion. She got up and did a half-circle to try and get herself settled. “I didn’t really come to see you about me. I came for-”
“A friend?” I wasn’t too surprised. Most of my clients came from referrals from other clients. You can’t exactly advertise on the net that you’re a dog running a business. Dogs aren’t allowed to earn their own currency.
“Yes.” Atlas flicked her eyes nervously towards the rest of the cafe. There were only about five others in there, four dogs and one guy slouching over a coffee by the window.
“Don’t worry, this place is run by Sagdidists,” I reassured her. “Nobody’s gonna call the cops. Most of ’em would rather stay away from them, in fact.”
Atlas sighed. “It’s just that it’s a pretty high-profile. I don’t know how close you’ll be able to get, or if you’ll even be able to help her…”
“What, is she another police dog?”
“No, she is- she was a house dog…”
“House dog, eh?” I sat up a little straighter. If Atlas thought I’d have a hard time getting close to her, maybe the dog was from the inner city. In that case, she might have a bit of money.
“She’s been compounded,” said Atlas, and looked over at me from under her brows. “You have to have heard of her case. It’s all anybody can talk about.”
I took about three seconds to process this before it hit me.
That made Atlas look fearful, even though I’d kept my voice down. “She’s not a murderer. Her name is Christina.”
“What the hell kind of name is Christina?”
“It’s from TV, a white name. When I knew her, her owner called her Tina.”
“Is that so? And how exactly did you come to know her?”
Atlas couldn’t answer right away, because just then our food arrived. A human waiter came by carrying a raised feeder with two silver bowls in it and a lot of simpering words. I think he thought Atlas and I came there as a couple because we only ordered one platter, though in reality it was because Atlas had no money of her own. It took me a minute to shoo him away again.
“Hope you don’t mind that I just got chow,” I said, nosing the dry kibble in one bowl. “The raw stuff gives me a stomachache.”
“It’s fine,” said Atlas. She stuck her nose in the other bowl and took several big laps of water. I had a bit of kibble while she licked her dripping chops and composed herself.
“I knew Christina because my officer lived on the same street as she did. Mid-city dog. She was a nice girl. People were put off by her breed, you know? And she was pretty quiet, not a friendly type, so that added to it.”
“Right,” I said. Atlas could take a while to work her way to the nub of the matter.
“But she was a real sweetheart. Nice smile, when you could get it out of her. She wasn’t ever out on the street much, though. I don’t think her owner liked to let her talk with other dogs too often.”
“Ah. Her owner abused her?”
Atlas took a moment to lick the inside of one leg.
“No,” she said. “Not really… not that I saw. In fact, I think he spoiled her. Treats, toys, that kind of thing. It was all DumbDog stuff, but you know how it is… I didn’t really like her owner, though,” she added. “He was a little weird. Too… too friendly, I guess. He liked dogs all right, and I never saw him being bad to one, but…” She lapsed into silence.
“So you think she didn’t do it?” I asked. “You think she was framed by somebody?”
“I don’t know,” said Atlas. “I mean… I don’t know why she’d confess! There was no way she could have killed him, is what I think, but I just can’t understand why she’d say she did. I mean, he was her whole world. She didn’t have many dog friends, and the guy lived alone. What would killing him accomplish?”
“Maybe it was an accident,” I said. “Or maybe- you know, maybe she confessed because he asked her to do it. Assisted suicide. Was he depressed?”
“I don’t know,” said Atlas, her eyes widening. “I didn’t think of that. It would explain it, wouldn’t it? Maybe that’s why she wants to make a statement this afternoon.”
“Maybe. But you know, even if it’s true, she hasn’t got much of a chance.”
“I know,” said Atlas, her head drooping at once. “They don’t care, do they? They’ll just turn it into a big news item and televise it when they kill her. It’s such bullshit!”
That last statement had exploded out of her uncharacteristically loudly, and a few heads swung around to stare at us. I went around the feeder and licked her ears until she leaned against me.
“It’s rough, I know,” I said quietly, waiting for the stares to go away. “It’s never been fair. But we get by, don’t we?”
“Not Christina,” she said, drawing back from me. “There’s got to be more to it, Angari…”
“Look,” I said, backing up a couple steps, “I want to help her, you know I do, but her face is all over the news. I can’t see how I could do anything at this point. I’m sorry.”
“I know you probably can’t save her,” Atlas said. “But maybe you could… I don’t know, find out what really happened? If there’s something more to it, you could at least get the news media interested, and maybe they’d delay her execution for a little longer…”
“A delay of a few days isn’t going to make much difference,” I said, gently. “And it takes time to get information that’s worth something.”
Atlas didn’t say anything, just gazed into the dish of water. I swallowed, and gave my curled tail a wag.
“I mean, this isn’t me saying no. You get that, right? I’ll at least look into it. Hell, I’m interested too.”
Her head shot up, her big eyes getting bright and moist, and I rubbed my nose with my forepaw.
“Just know that I can’t make any promises,” I added gruffly. Atlas whined and came over to lick my face.
“Thank you, Angari, thank you so much! It’s more than I hoped for- I just want to know, at least, for poor Christina.”
“Yeah,” I said, with a sigh.
“And I’ll- I don’t know if I can get you any money, but maybe-”
“Don’t worry about it,” I said, wagging again. “I can do one on the house every once and a while. Especially for a friend.”
“You’re a miracle,” said Atlas. “I will find something to pay you with, I promise.”
I humored her with a smile. DumbDogs weren’t exactly rolling in assets.
Atlas left a little while later, and I quit the cafe to look for a public place with a TV. Now that I was technically on the case, I’d better not miss that press release. Not that I really thought it was going to be much of a case. If they were in the mood, they could execute her right after she finished talking and nobody would bat an eye. This city claimed to be the city that loved dogs, but one fact hadn’t changed after we’d started talking: a dog was property.
Speak, Dog and Other Stories will be available to purchase in early 2015.
Very nice opening. I loved Darkeye, so getting to find out more about the history of that city is grand. By this point, have the wild dogs become sapient too? Or is it just the “pet” dogs so far?
You’ll have to read the full story to find out!