“Well,” snapped Professor Hojo, “does it talk yet?”
His assistant cringed.
“No,” he said. “We are still having problems with its tongue. And lips.”
Hojo spun round with a lecturing expression.
“There is little point,” he started, “in creating a talking dogman that can’t talk.”
His assistant nodded.
“Get back to work,” dismissed the professor.
His assistant turned back to look at the dogman pressing its face against the glass. Putting the head of a dog on the body of a man had been fairly easy. And people and queued to see it, eagerly pressing up against the glass for a glimpse of the man with a dog’s head. Keenly watching it walk around, sniffing the ground or eating its breakfast.
Hojo got bored with that once all the information had been collected. Then the number of visitors dropped. So the next plan was hatched – The Great Talking Dogman. And that’s where it seemed to stay, a plan. The first problem had been the dog’s brain, it didn’t have the necessary parts. So dog head attached, dog brain removed and human brain inserted. There were a few initial errors but the procedure had been successful.
It was then that they discovered how speech was actually produced. Hojo had been terribly excited by the discovery and spend hours documenting it with childlike glee. But, again, once there was nothing more to discover, it was back to getting it to talk. With a sign the assistant leaned forward and said,
It all begins with school, I tell them. If you can’t take lunch money off a kid in a school-yard, then you aren’t going to lift money from anybody on the street. Sometimes that’s an easy lesson for them to learn — usually I need to beat them.
On the street you need to keep it simple. Begin small — maybe petty theft from street-stalls; one kid plays the distraction, another pockets something. Both need to be able to run fast. I don’t have my kids steal cars, but I do have them run things for me. Messages across town, a few grams of coke. There is an advantage to youth in this: the younger, the more innocent — the less apparent guilt. Too young, though, and that’s a complication.
Halloween is one of my favourite holidays, when I can dress my children up and send them out under cover of crowds. Usually my children need to show some subtlety, but that’s not true for this one night. No doubt you’ve seen them — you feel them watching, you wonder what they want. I dress them up as animals, the dog, the cat, the donkey, the pig. And yes, if you’ve ever crossed me, then you should worry when you see them gathering on your doorstep. Because even if they’re sweet looking and innocent, they could still be one of mine. Heartless and cold, not just the animal on the outside, but an animal on the inside.
And they could be waiting for you.
I was spotted in the crowd by someone I knew from years ago. We’d played together in the shelters when we were kids. She signalled one of the soldiers to pull me aside, and they did. The crowd didn’t want to let me go. I still have scars from when the soldier dragged me through the barricade. I didn’t see my saviour again after that. I’m sorry to say that I don’t even remember her name.
When I first arrived, I spent a full year working just on animals before I started with people. It might have been interesting if it hadn’t been so grotesque and pathetic. It started simple: they were testing me. Seeing what I would do. The requests came into the lab and we did the experiments.
We made pigs with cornered torsos. We made cows with udders covering their lower halves. We made hybrids of chickens and ducks, of goats and donkeys.
Now I’m working in Pairing. One human, one animal. Seeing what traits we can steal from animals without dragging along some unwanted ones too. The animals seem somehow stronger than us. As if their will to live is stronger than ours. I’m not sure that they realise they’re inside a Dome; I can hardly think about anything else.
I injected myself with Africanis this morning. I do not expect to be able to record another journal entry tomorrow morning.
– I’d like to help you.
– I don’t need your help. I’m fine. Go away!
– I can carry your bag?
– It’s my bag! It’s mine, you don’t get to – I don’t need you, the bag is fine, go away. Go away!
– It looks heavy. Let me help you. I’m strong.
– What? Is that a threat? Are you threatening me? Leave me alone, you thing, leave me! You disgust me.
– I’m sorry.
– Don’t – It’s not your fault. Just go away.
– Is it my face?
– The dog face, does it upset you?
– It’s freaky, ok? It’s wrong. It’s not your fault, ok, but that doesn’t make it –
– I just want to help. I’m built to help. I need to help.
– Look, go talk to a young mechnik, or one of the facelift brigade. They love this sort of shit. I – I’m not your target market!
– Master (Pty) Ltd says all humans are the target market. Humans love help. Rovers help humans.
– That’s wrong. It’s all wrong. One corporation should not be able to make – you. Things like you.
– Living, breathing, thinking things. New things.
– I’m just an advanced dog. I’m a pooch plus. I’m man’s best friend… Don’t go!
– Just leave me alone!
– I’ll wait for you here then! I’ll be here tomorrow.
I’ll be your best friend tomorrow.
The first time I got in trouble, I was made a Fox for two weeks. I didn’t mind that so much because the fur was soft and silky, even though I couldn’t talk or eat properly. Also, I could hear and smell really well. It gets old really fast, though, when the fleas discover you. I never knew they liked fur so much!
The Fox was for messing up Jane’s art box and project. I was just curious and a bit clumsy, but that didn’t matter. I broke one of the special rules. You never know which rules are going to be special; I think they switch them around, because Susan didn’t get the Fox when she broke Alan’s vase in art class and I think that’s the same as what I did.
Unfortunately, I’m not very good at following rules. I try really hard, but I get distracted easily and the last thing that comes into my head when I’m interested in something is the rule I might be breaking. At the Pig hearing, they said I had a delinquent lack of impulse control.
The Pig thing happened about one week into my Fox sentence. It’s a long story, but the short version is that I got midnight munchies – I woke up and was SO hungry I thought my stomach would eat itself. I had to find some food.
It turns out that there is a special rule about eating after bed-time; they even have cameras in the kitchen to make sure we obey it. So, Fox became Pig, my sentence was doubled and here I am.
It’s a sturdy house, well-made, and the glass in the windows is thick and snug. It does no good: when the hot breath is on my heels it feels like straw.
And it’s not as if there’s any attempt at a polite visitor’s knock, either: with a rank, lupine stink the beast is there, rampaging through my rooms. What drives it? Some terrible lack, a gut-deep need, a loathing of its own rough and barbarous fur, so different to my clean pink skin.
When you come down to it, it would be more helpful if the damned house was straw; if at need I could explode through a wall in a frenzy of fleet-footed terror. But I’ve built it too well for that, and now the beast is in here with me. Instead, I pound my hands on the window and shout. The thick glaze between me and the world muffles me: I may as well be silent.
Did I mention the beast is invisible? You, the passer-by, may be moved to pity by my desperate breath on the window, but you can’t see what pursues me. And I’m a pig. It’s not like you’re going to be sympathetic to my squeals even if you could hear them.
The moment when its teeth meet in my heel and drag me backwards is the moment at which the house explodes outwards and I’m straw, whirling in the wind.
It’s all over, even old Boxer has turned on me. I should have had him made into glue in ’62 but I’d worked alongside the cart horse so many years I couldn’t bear to part with him. I just don’t understand, I’ve always been so good to all my animals, the last few years have been a bit lean around here but they’ve always had the best our small holding could afford.
We were happy when Old Major, my albino Lancashire, was alive. The other animals loved his calm wisdom: I would often see them arrayed in the barn like theatre goers listening intently to him. It was the new generation of pigs that started the trouble.
They’re all sweet animals really, just not too bright, so when Snowball started spouting his equality rhetoric it was easy to confuse them. And with Napoleon (last year’s spring fair champion at 232lbs) for muscle any dissenters were quickly silenced.
I can’t understand why it started with the pigs, they have such comfortable, happy lives: the best slop, no work and a lovely sty. They must know they can’t run a farm: what does a pig know of accounting, budgets and markets. Soon enough they’ll all be starving and beg me to take over again.
I didn’t invent farming; this is how the system works: we all have to do our part and someone has to be in charge.