False Dogs

by Ethan Fode

Harrison fiddled with the key in the lock. I wondered if his difficulty was due to natural clumsiness or too many glasses of beer. We’d had a few drinks after work, discussing the vagaries of scientific research and the horrific performance of Solodyne’s stock.

Since he didn’t have a car, I dropped him off at his townhouse; when we arrived he’d invited me in for a beer, promising to show me something that would save the company. I’m a sucker for free beer.

“You have to swear that you won’t tell anyone about this,” he said.

“No sweat.”

He finally got the door open, then strode into the house, pointing to the kitchen. I snagged a couple beers out of the fridge. A plate of Anzac biscuits sat on the counter. “Help yourself,” he said, and I did.

“These are delicious,” I said. “I didn’t know you baked.” He shrugged. I heard a jingling sound behind me, and when I turned, I saw a small dog sitting on the floor peering up at me. Some sort of terrier, with Holstein-patterned fur, buggy eyes and large batlike ears. A doggy face only an owner could love.

“What do you think?” Harrison asked when I handed him a beer.

“I can’t believe you have a dog!” I said in mock surprise. I’d always figured Harrison as one of those reclusive loner types. In the last few years, he’d said maybe two dozen words to me. Granted, we worked in different departments: I was the head of our Sales and Marketing division, while he was in the Tech section. Rumours painted him as a brilliant, driven, innovative scientist, and a complete tool in social situations—the kind of guy you hid in the back room when clients came to visit the tech campus. I wanted to know what made him tick. So when he invited me out for a beer after work, I jumped at the opportunity. “Don’t worry about the puppy,” I said, and winked. “Your secret is safe with me.”

“No, dummy!” he said, exasperated, little blots of red appearing on his fleshy cheeks. “This is going to save the company.” He always lowered his voice when he said that, like I was a little bird and he didn’t want to scare me away.

“Ah,” I said, nodding. “Is this our new CEO?” Our CEO had been sacked two weeks ago due to non-performance. “Do they make Armani suits small enough for this little guy?”

Harrison blew out a sigh and picked up a small joystick sitting nearby. He punched a button, and the dog yipped. He pushed the joystick forward, then back, and the dog trotted one way, then the other, following the controller.

“Nice trick. How’d you do it? Ultrasonics that only animals can hear?”

“He’s not a dog. He’s a cyborg.”

I looked over and saw the dead seriousness on his face. Oh my God. I’m drinking beer with a crazy man. “Oh come on. He can’t be a ….” I said. Then I saw it. The dog’s eyes didn’t move, and there were lines on his furry body—seams—where he’d been stitched together.

“Pick him up. You’ll see how heavy he is. I had to use a lot of steel to make him.”

I reached down, cringing at the thought of touching unnatural flesh. Those buggy eyes just stared at me, unblinking.

The little dog put his ears back and growled.

“Wow!” said Harrison. I jerked upright. “Do you have a cat?” he asked.

I nodded.

Harrison snapped his fingers in triumph. “He can smell the cat on your clothing. He remembers! This is more than I’d hoped for!”

“How … how did you do it?”

“Actually, it wasn’t too hard,” he said. “After mapping his brain on my computer, all I had to do was put him under, scoop out most of his internal organs and replace them with hardware.” Harrison smiled. The little dog wagged its tail in response. “Amazing, isn’t it? I mean, he’s hardly changed. In fact, he’s better.”

“Better?” I kept my voice calm. Were my hands shaking? Harrison didn’t seem to notice.

“Yeah, better. He doesn’t poop on the carpet, and he doesn’t need dog food or water, just a bit of protein slurry to keep his dermis intact, so he can grow fur. And when I leave, all I have to do is turn him off. That way, he isn’t even lonely when I’m gone!” Harrison beamed. “You need to figure out how to market this! We’ll make zillions!”

“Eh … I’m not sure there’s a market for this kind of thing.”

Harrison’s face flashed with anger, then turned pouty. “I figured you’d say that. That’s the problem with Solodyne. Nobody wants to take a chance, you know? No one wants to push the envelope.”

“I know what you mean,” I said, though inwardly I praised my company’s lack of mad scientist tendencies. I felt woozy, and put my beer down. Mustering my most soothing tone, I said, “Don’t get me wrong. This is brilliant stuff. You’re light years ahead of anything I’ve ever seen.” Harrison perked up. I clapped him on the shoulder. “I’m impressed. This is amazing.”

Harrison brightened like a child given a lollipop. “You really think it’s amazing?”

“Yeah, definitely,” I said.

He gave me a sly smile, went over to a door on the far side of the room, opened it. An aroma of ozone and formaldehyde wafted up. Beneath it, the barest hint of butcher-house reek. “If you think that’s amazing,” he said, “then you have to see what I’ve done with my wife. She made the biscuits.”

“No thanks,” I said. My legs felt so weak I couldn’t stand up. I leaned against the cabinet, and then slid to the floor.

Harrison’s face swam into my vision. “Don’t worry,” he said. “It’s just a tranquilizer. The operation won’t hurt one bit. We’ll make zillions.”

Copyright © 2011 Ethan Fode.
First published in our Infinitas Newsletter, May 2011.

This page last updated 13th Feb 2012.