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 attached. He ran forward to intercept. Enhancements weren’t that common, less so in this neighborhood, but it was always a possibility. Someone who had the right kind of work done would be able to escape even Loline’s bite.
Good girl. It wasn’t a necessary command, but her tail wagged in response as the woman struggled to get away from the unrelenting grip of the dog. He was only a few steps away when he saw the glint of metal in the target’s other hand. Watch out!
A shimmering flash arced towards Loline. She yelped and pain overwhelmed his senses. Static blurred the screen before it went blank. Tyghe screamed obscenities as he charged toward the target, weapons forgotten. He lunged at her, his only thought on revenge.
His fingers wrapped around her wrists as she brought the weapon to bear on him. He shoved backwards, slamming her into the ground with his greater weight and strength. The weapon clattered across the broken, weed-infested cement. She bucked and twisted under him, but even without his enhancements, it was a futile attempt. He was twice her size.
As hard as she struggled, he managed to grasp both her wrists in a single hand so he could reach for Loline. Come on girl, wake up. There was no response. He pulled her closer, stroking her dark fur. Come on…
“Get off of me, you fucker.” Spittle hit his face as she screamed at him.
Tyghe slammed her wrists into the pavement hard enough to feel bones grind against each other in his fist. “If you killed her, I swear to every god that ever existed that I’ll make you suffer more than any human has ever suffered in their lives.”
Please, be okay. Wake up. That’s an order! He squeezed his knees tighter on the woman’s ribs until she stilled. His head spun, but not with his own dizziness, this came from a source outside himself. It could only mean one thing. “Loline!”
“What?” The woman beneath him wheezed out the word. He had no doubt that he was making it hard for her to breathe but he wasn’t about to loosen his grip.
“I wasn’t talking to you.” He growled, his gaze never leaving his dog as he willed her to live. Loline’s eyes fluttered open and he could fully sense her again. Good girl! He gave her a gentle scratch between her ears.
For the first time, he looked at the target he had captured. Wide steely blue eyes stared at him from a lightly freckled face. Her hood had fallen back to reveal dark auburn hair that had been chopped short. Everything about her was painfully and impossibly familiar.
“Who were you talking to and how do you know my name?” She pushed the words out through clenched teeth.
Tyghe hesitated, his mind reeling as he attempted make sense of everything. It wasn’t possible. He could still remember that last he saw her. She’d shoved him to safety as the building crumbled, that same wide-eyed look of concern on her face. It was the moment that had changed everything, the moment he had lost everything—including his sister, but that face—it couldn’t be anyone else.
The girl, his sister if she were to be believed, bucked again, trying to get him off her. He loosened his grip slightly so she could breathe, but he didn’t move. Loline whined, awake enough now to pick up on his emotional turmoil. His fingers paused at the strap to his helmet. If this was his sister, she’d recognize him. Often as kids, they’d been mistaken for twins.
Tyghe took a deep breath and threw caution to the wind. Removing his helmet, he rested it on the ground beside his knee and looked back down at her. A lump formed in his throat as he waited. She stared up at him, her already wide eyes managed to grow wider still, her mouth moved to try to speak, but only unintelligible syllables came out until she wrestled out a single word that he knew well. “Tyghe…”
“Yeah…Lolly?” That old nickname slipped from his lips without a thought. He hadn’t said that name in so long. Loline whined, her concern and confusion filled him. He needed to run through her diagnostics, make sure she really was okay. Everything else, including the possibility that his sister was alive, had to take a back seat to that. “What did you do to my dog?”
“Cybernetic disrupter designed specifically for wetware. It’ll be fine,” she assured him. “It’s really you. I thought you were dead.”
“You thought I was dead?” Tyghe gaped at her. “I thought you were dead. That everyone died in that explosion. When those terrorists—”
“You think terrorists did that? In the Meadows? Are you nuts? That was the military doing population control and propaganda exercises! That dictator that everyone worships is keeping the people of this city captive through fear and intimidation,” she spat back at him. “And she is doing it with the lives of the poor.”
“No, no. You’ve got it all wrong. Those terrorists, the ones that think freedom is more important than the health and safety of the people.” Tyghe couldn’t wrap his head around the words he was hearing. He was in the military; he knew her words couldn’t be true.
“You’ve been brainwashed.” A tear ran down her cheek as she shook her head. “I am so sorry that I wasn’t able to find you.”
“I don’t think I’m the one who’s been deceived,” Tyghe countered. “I’ve been military since I was old enough to give back to those who saved my life. I’ve seen things, I’ve brought in those extremists that you call friends. They’d rather us all die from the plague than to keep our borders closed. There is no cure. There will never be a cure and your people want to show mercy to those infected? No. I am not the brainwashed one.”
“Have you ever been outside these walls?” Lolly asked, pushing at Tyghe’s chest to get him off her.
“No.” He crawled back but stayed on his knees as she pushed herself up and rubbed at her bruised wrists. Loline came to sit by his side and he wrapped an arm around his faithful companion.
“Well, I’ve been outside the walls and it’s nothing like what they tell the people it’s like. There is a cure.”
“That’s not possible. The General—”
“Enough about your precious General!” The words exploded from her mouth with a vehemence he hadn’t expected. “She’s the reason our parents died, why I spent the last fifteen years believing that you were dead. She’s a tyrant who seized control the moment she could and refuses to let it go!”
“I can’t believe that,” Tyghe insisted.
Lolly hung her head as if his words were a weight she could not bear. “If you won’t believe me then you need to see for yourself the blood that this sanctuary has been built on. You need to get out of this place and see what is on the other side of the wall.”
“I’m not risking the plague for you to prove some point.” Tyghe pushed himself up and brushed the dust from his uniform. His sister stood a little more cautiously, her eye on the dog.
Tyghe had no answer to that. He had acquired his target, but he wasn’t sure he was willing to turn his sister over to the authorities now that he had found her. But she was a terrorist, and he couldn’t let her walk away either. “I need to take you in.”
“I won’t go. I will fight you, brother or not.”
“I know.” Tyghe pushed back the emotions he wasn’t ready to deal with. It was too much. “I—”
An explosion in the distance drew his attention back the way they had come. A pillar of smoke and flame filled the air. City hall. All those people. Somewhere far in the distance, he could hear the scream of emergency vehicles rushing to respond. He swung back to his sister, intent on demanding an explanation on what had happened, but she was gone.
Loline whined by his side, ready to track her down again. Tyghe hesitated. He could go after her, but that trail would take them further into the Meadows where his uniform was more a liability than an assurance of his safety. He had to let Lolly go.
Easy girl. Stand down. He needed to get back to the barracks. Tyghe set a steady jog back towards city hall, but his mind couldn’t let go of what his sister had said to him or the possibility of what might happen if their paths crossed again.
He slowed as the chaos of city center came into view. Emergency crews hadn’t managed to fully contain the flames, but from how little was left of the building he didn’t think it would burn for long. He tried not to consider how many of his friends and colleagues may have been inside that building. He clenched his fists and released them.
“Tyghe! Man, you’re alive!”
He whipped around at the sound of the familiar voice. “Jax! You’re okay. What the hell happened?”
“They tried to kill the General,” he huffed. “Coms are down, and we’re gathering forces. All unaffected stations have been sent to lock down the city. There’s no way anyone will let an act like that go without retribution. Someone’s going to pay dearly for this.”
Loline nudged Tyghe’s hand. He scratched her head, but his mind on his sister. She had most likely set the bomb, or knew who had.
Jax gave him a hard shake. “Dude, did you hear me?”
“You ready to kill some dirty terrorists?” Jax’s words dripped with glee.
“Yeah, totally.” Tyghe forced enthusiasm into his voice, but all he could think about was Lolly and what she had said. Mostly… what if she was right?