This story was originally published in Visions of War: Volume 2, Issue 4 of the Kyanite Press on August 1, 2020
Tyghe allowed his mind to wander as he listened to the Sargent giving them the mission briefing. He itched to be out of this room and doing his job—keeping the city safe from the plague-infested masses outside the wall and the terrorists on the inside. Today’s job would be a tough one. The General was giving a rally speech in front of city hall. K9 teams like him and Loline would be the key to keeping her safe from harm.
“Ready for the biggest assignment of your life?” Jax joked as they went to gear up.
“It is rather exciting that the General is coming out of the bunker. Gotta wonder what that’s all about.” Tyghe shrugged as he said it. In truth, he didn’t care too much about the announcement itself. Whatever it was, he’d still do his duty. That’s all that mattered.
Jax chuckled. “Good luck out there.”
“Yeah, you too.” Tyghe had one more stop to make before heading out to patrol the grounds of city hall. Loline was waiting for him in the kennels. He hated that he had to leave her there at the end of his shift. It physically hurt when he had to sever their connection. It was like cutting off a limb. Being a part of an enhanced K9 unit was a bond that went deeper than the cybernetics that allowed them to work as a team.
He grinned at Loline watching him through the chain-link fencing. He opened the gate and brushed his hand along her collar, his genetic signature activating the link that connected them.
Hey, my girl. Ready to get to work? Excitement filled his mind—her excitement—and he smiled. She was a good match for him. He’d heard of bad matches happening even with the rigid psych testing they had to undergo. A bad match could kill both the handler and the dog, and that was a best-case scenario. It had been a risk when he said yes to joining this department, but he didn’t regret it.
He ran through a few diagnostics, making sure that all the functions were operational. Vision, tracking, command overrides. Everything was good to go. A sharp bark called his attention away from routine. Loline cocked her head to the side. Most service dogs were silent unless their job demanded noise.
What’s up? Urgency colored the excitement he could feel from her. Tyghe grinned and patted her on the head. “I know, girl. I know. Me too.”
He knew he shouldn’t encourage behavior that was aberrant from her programming, but he couldn’t help himself. Loline was the only family he had left, and to him, she was more animal than machine. About as much machine as I am.
Another tilt of Loline’s head made him realize that the thought had ended up directed towards her. Sorry, girl. Let’s go to work.
Tail wagging, she walked a few steps ahead of him as they left the building for the bright sunshine of the late afternoon. Through their connection, each scent she picked up was processed and color-coded. Everything was green, except one which came up as yellow, but that wasn’t their concern. Common criminals were the responsibility of what remained of the police. They only wanted the ones coded red—confirmed terrorists.
An alarm from Loline caused him to look up, he’d been lost in studying the display. It was normal, that was why the link with his dog was important. She was as much a guide to him as a weapon. A white vehicle sped by, lights blaring and siren screaming. Another case of the plague. They were bound for the wall, with no known cure, those diagnosed were removed from the city. There were no half-measures taken to ensure the safety of the remaining populace.
They crossed the street to one of the few green areas that remained. City hall park. He loved this place when it was less crowded than this. Throngs of people hid the grass and flowering gardens from view. Scents picked up from Loline ran through the system as he patrolled the crowd.
Red flashed on his screen. Follow. Loline did as commanded, carefully weaving them through the crowd. People parted for the heavily armed solider and the fierce dog that accompanied him. “Cisernos here. We have a lead on red.” There was no need to tell anyone his location. It went out automatically with the message.
“Stay on it,” came the order.
His eyes scanned the crowd, seeing them through Loline’s senses. There was a clear trail leading them toward the far edge of the park, but he couldn’t see who it belonged to. Enhanced K9 units were still too new for the military to fully trust them and he needed visual confirmation before making a final decision on how to handle things.
“Be advised, there is no known identity associated with that scent file. Proceed with caution as it has been detected at multiple severe incidents.”
“Copy.” Tyghe tried not to read into that information. It did no good to speculate on who he might be following. All he had to do was follow orders and focus on the job at hand. Right now, that job was following the trail and confirming the identity.
He hesitated slightly when he reached the edge of the gathered crowd. What had started as a nearly translucent red had grown brighter which meant they were getting closer to the source. He walked away from city hall park, moving against the flow of foot traffic.
He continued his visual scan, not worried about where he was going. Bright red popped in and out of the crowd. “Target identified.”
“Continue pursuit. Do not engage.”
Tyghe kept his distance. As the crowd thinned, visual confirmation became easier and he fell back further. It was hard to go unnoticed in uniform, but he did his best to remain inconspicuous as he followed his target. A spike in fear pheromones showed on his display. He’d been spotted, but the target hadn’t changed their pace. Smart. Running in fear always ended in mistakes being made.
“Target may be aware of my position. Advise.”
Silence greeted his request which was odd. Normally the response was quick. It didn’t take long for the computer to work out the variables and give command a list of approved decisions to choose from.
“Command, please advise.” His target quickened their pace, but he didn’t speed up to follow. Let them get a bit of distance between them. Loline would be able to follow the trail anyway.
Tyghe double checked his connection to command and got an error message. It shouldn’t be possible for the signal to be blocked, but somehow it was. He was on his own. He switched frequencies a few times, but nothing was going through. He considered the possibility that these terrorists had found a new way to jam their communications. It was a constant fight—one that the military usually won.
He couldn’t detect any jammer, but that didn’t mean much. His biggest concern with losing contact was that there would be no backup if he needed it. Especially in this neighborhood. Dilapidated buildings had replaced the well-maintained ones at the affluent city centre. Boarded up houses still bore the faded quarantine signs. It had been thirty years since the wall had been built, these signs would have predated that time and still, they remained empty. A reminder of what once had been, and what could be again if they weren’t careful.
He knew this area. He’d grown up not far from here. The Meadows was what they called it. Maybe the name was ironic, he didn’t know or care. What mattered was that this was an area where many of the poorest citizens lived—and many malcontents. It was a breeding ground for terrorists. They did regular sweeps. He’d been a part of them a time or two.
Go. Track only. Time to make a call. He couldn’t go into the Meadows alone with no ability to get backup. He was lucky that whatever was interfering with his communication to command wasn’t stopping the more direct connection he had with Loline.
She took off, strong legs carrying her faster than any natural dog. His own body had been enhanced, but even he couldn’t match her speed as he raced behind her. Though she was focused on the chase as the target took off running, her sensitive nose still picked up everything.
They had never failed to bring in someone once they were on the scent. It was something to be proud of, a one hundred percent capture rate of all intended targets. Not a single other enhanced K9 team could claim the same. Normally, he’d be already pulling up blueprints to find a way to cut them off and direct Loline in another direction, but with no connection, he had to work from memory.
Stay on them. He wasn’t willing to take a chance of losing the target through a guess. If he kept Loline directly on the scent, then he could do his best to circle around and cut the target off. This alley, if his memory served him, dead-ended at Mackenzie. The best option from there would be to go right because left would take them closer to downtown.
Tyghe turned right out of the alley, pushing himself harder to try and get ahead of the target. He grinned at the sight of that old crumbling warehouse that he remembered so well. His sister and he had often played there even though their parents had forbidden it.
As he’d hoped, the fake boarding on the front door hadn’t been secured in all these years. More than likely, many kids since his time had come to play in this place as well. He leapt, over crumbling floorboards that would have sent him tumbling into the basement. As a kid, they would carefully edge past this point to play inside.
He ignored the old rope swing and makeshift slide, brushing away the memories as they clouded his mind. There was no time for reminisces. He charged up the creaking, shaking stairs thankful they managed to hold his weight. Up ahead a window that had been broken as long as he’d known of this place allowed the sun into the dingy hallway.
As a little kid, he’d have never taken the chance to jump out this window. Below it, broken cement and worn metal made a deathly jumble. He had no intention of going straight down as he pushed himself to run faster. His goal was for the cracked, but relatively even cement pad past the rubble. Enhanced as he was now, Tyghe was sure he could make the near-impossible jump to safety.
Of course, if anything had changed in the last fifteen years from what he remembered, he could be in for a world of hurt. He launched himself out the window, breathed a sigh of relief as the broken concrete pad came into view. He rolled as he hit the ground, his shoulder and knees screaming in protest at the rough landing.
Without breaking stride, he vaulted over the six-foot fence and ran into the street. He had been monitoring Loline’s progress the entire time and was relieved to see them both running straight at him.
Take them down. There was nowhere else for the target to go and, if there was an issue, he would be here to give a hand and not struggling to catch up. Loline put on that little burst of speed that only lasted a few strides, but it was enough for her to close the distance. Jaws strong enough to crush a femur on command grabbed hold of the target’s arm gently enough to not even break the skin.
A distinctly feminine scream sounded in the otherwise empty street as the target hit the ground with Loline still attac