Released under the Creative Commons BY-NC-SA license. Share, modify, and redistribute -- as long as it's attributed and noncommercial, anything goes.
This is a prequel, of sorts, to a novel-length story I'm working on. It's science fiction, set in a universe where animal-people exist to do the menial work of better men, and concerns the creature who, without meaning it, sets in motion their eventual liberation. There is no sex in it, and I'm not really sure where it would even be appropriate. Sorry, folks! As always, though, please respond with criticism and feedback!
"Bad dog!" by Rob Baird
Base men know to hide their depravity in an empty symbol of kindness. They've known this since Judas, just a few decades past two thousand years ago. The dog is not a messiah, of course -- but all the same, they bear our sins stoically. And all the same...
"Good girl," the man says, and ruffles her between the ears. The ruffling musses up the hair she'd spent five minutes carefully straightening, not an hour before, but she doesn't complain -- wouldn't even if she could. And all he's asked her to do is fetch the news, which is her job anyway.
Fifty years ago that would mean something different -- they used to cut down trees, mash them into pulp, and stamp the dried pulp with toxic ink. Still pictures, soundless, and when you asked Rover to fetch you the news he'd actually put it -- you're not going to believe this -- he'd actually put it in his mouth, ink and ground up tree both, and drop it at his owner's feet, with an added gift of saliva besides.
Waste of a tree, waste of a dog.
Fetching the news only takes ten or fifteen minutes these days, if your dog is well trained, and she is. Her name is Atwood -- technically 2C-GeneMark15a-ATW, her batch number, but nobody calls her that. And that's in the Common tongue, of course. In the language of dogs her identity is a certain scent; when it must be spoken, it's a wavering bark you would never be able to distinguish and it means, roughly, "the one whose right ear is a source of some occasional confusion." When she was a puppy, her right ear was always cocked -- dogs, even high-octane superdogs like Atwood, rely heavily on facial expression to communicate. A misbehaving ear is like a speech impediment -- Atwood went to therapy for it.
It's better now, enough to splay out happily as the man's fingers brush against it. When he asks her for the news, he doesn't care about little things, like a sports team winning in overtime or a Yakuza gunship strafing the docks at Frisco. He's a politician, after all -- the Associate Vice President of Consumer Relations for BosWash, Porter Akamiro, the man with those ads that talk about living up to a proud New England heritage. If you're plugged in, you can taste the salt spray -- and the blue blood.
An important man like Akamiro doesn't have the time to figure out what the CEO of Hong Kong is yammering on about in his latest press conference. That's for Atwood to do. Atwood is of Border collie stock -- a herding dog, with a herding dog's instinct for order. These days everybody in the whole human flock is a journalist, mostly posting micro-updates straight to the Net, without an editor or anything. Maybe one in ten thousand has a live stream, pumping raw information like a broken faucet. One in a hundred thousand has something interesting to say, and only ten percent of those know what they're talking about -- but that's still a hell of a lot of things to herd. Atwood is good at it. That's why Akamiro has her.
And when he says "fetch the news," that's her cue to plug in. If she wants to read things in realspace, Atwood needs special glasses to correct her vision, but the computer box she uses for news-herding projects a canine-calibrated image right against her retinas. The software has been optimised for her, too; information sources are marked by location in her field of vision, and the richer ones aren't brighter -- they move faster. The projector is an RGB laser array, but it shows things in blues and purples, the colours she can see best (sunsets aren't particularly stunning to Atwood).
As she finds things she likes, she manipulates the sources of information with her paws (if you can call them that. She has opposable thumbs, of course -- has to). Most people aren't so manic with a computer -- their movements look relaxed and organic. Atwood looks like she's playing a theremin forty times too fast. But she gets results.
Once the field is narrowed down to the most relevant stories, she gives each one a quick look, making sure there's nothing extraneous or distracting or needlessly speculative -- Akamiro deals in facts. It doesn't take long. If you tried to measure Atwood's intelligence, it would be off the charts. That's the "2C" part of her name -- two centuries; an IQ of 200. She's a stable genius when it comes to handling information, the product of decades of applied genetics research, and if anything were still pegged to a gold standard, she'd be worth her weight in it.
She hands the news over to Akamiro seventeen and a half minutes after he asked for it, on a thin, flexible computer, holding it in an outstretched paw -- the best news comes hand-delivered and without slobber. All the important bits of information are highlighted, and the stories are only the most relevant. She hasn't missed anything, which is good for a pat on the head, and when she gives a subservient bow of thanks, that's when he ruffles her hair.
Good girl, indeed.
Atwood isn't always a good girl. Two weeks ago, Akamiro asked her to do something menial -- something even she could recognise was beneath her abilities -- and she bristled, giving him a petulant growl. He'd struck her -- hard -- and he'd said, very sharply, "bad dog!" Between physical pain and a rebuke like that, Atwood isn't sure which hurts worse; that's the power of language. Anyway he'd done them both, and he'd done them both again a few hours later when, still sulking, she'd taken her kibble and used it to spell things on the floor. When she hadn't been willing to eat it, piece by piece, off the carpet, then he'd sent her to her kennel with nothing to eat and a nose that still smarted.
Six months ago, she'd whirled and almost snapped at him when he tried to pull her breakfast from her -- breakfast is on a timetable in the Akamiro household, leastways for dogs. Then he'd put a muzzle on her, and made her wear it for most of the day. She hasn't done anything to be so humiliated since.
Last week Atwood noticed that the pictures on the mantelpiece were slightly askew. When things are askew, that bothers her -- it's the herding instinct again. And she's bred to organise information -- what's the difference between a family picture and a microcast out of some guy's basement in Jakarta? So she started to straighten them, and when he caught her Akamiro beat her again. In theory, these things are done to teach her a lesson. Mostly, what Atwood learns from them is that people are capricious.
Actually, if she thought about such things -- and she doesn't; it isn't how her brain is wired -- she would conclude that the only reason she and others like her exist at all is because human beings are bastards. See, back when it was around and meant anything, the United Nations made up all these rules about what you could and couldn't do to other humans -- and that doesn't just mean homo sapiens, mind you. You start putting human genes in things, well, you'd better be ready for a reckoning.
But if you're a smart designer of safety systems, you know that cadavers aren't good enough to test your car's impact protection. You need somebody who can say "I feel fine, doc" -- or "Christ, doc, help me, I can't feel my legs." Either or. And if you're really smart, you hire a bunch of geneticists, who have supercomputers that can track the flapping of a butterfly's wings all the way to the windspeed of a typhoon six months later. You tell them what you want -- a vaguely human skeletal structure. A brain complex enough to get rattled by a concussion. The ability to feel enough terror to tense up all their muscles, like natural humans do when they sense that the stuff's about to hit the fan.
You do that, and a couple of years later you have a guinea pig. Early on, it was an actual pig, except it could walk on two legs and talk, in a horrifying, disconcerting sort of way (that's something they still haven't really got a handle on). And it doesn't have any human genes that anybody can find. Perfectly legal.
Now that the whales are all extinct the people who used to get up in arms about them have nothing to do, and, sure, they're good for a protest or two. But so what? You can't argue with the numbers. Between 2030 and 2040, the number of traumatic deaths in car accidents dropped by 78% -- four fifths! -- even as the average speed of cars increased by 50 kilometres an hour.
So the whale-hugging types get told where they can shove their protests.
After that, it's real easy. Certain things can't be automated very well by computers, but they're too menial -- or too dangerous -- for a person. That's why they test body armour on C-sub bulls, calculating ballistics penetration to the millimetre -- or do you want to be the one who has to go to the door of a policeman's widow, telling them that their husband died because somebody didn't want to shoot a damned cow?
That's why you have the C2 cat-stock astronauts, practically cyborgs, with their brains directly wired in to the LIDAR sets of a sweeper ship. They love it when the LIDAR hits something -- lights up a little bit of debris they can chase, burning the rockets to bring the trajectory of the laser around until it lances out, quick, and takes out something that might've holed a satellite. Or a research station. Or the orbital liner with your kids in it. They hop the cats up on a drug cocktail about ninety syllables long; it keeps them alert. Keeps them from getting too distracted, also, about all the radiation they're soaking up in those ships. C2 astrocats live about two years, on average.
That's why you have Atwood, corralling fifty thousand bits of gently bleating information into an easily consumable flexicomp for the VP of Consumer Relations to take with him in his limo. It would take an intern twelve hours to process the feeds she can digest in ten minutes.
Plus, you'd have to give them more than a pat and a strip of artificial bacon at the end of it.
Atwood has some chores to do, though they never take her too long -- dogs aren't very good maids, for instance; it's the shedding thing, which GeneMark never bothered to fix. There's maybe an hour of filing and data entry, during which she pulls some thin gloves over her paws to keep her short fur from gumming up the keyboard (and to give her claws some purchase on the keys), and then she's free, for the rest of the time that Porter Akamiro isn't home.
This isn't an ease brought on by any particular kindness. Mostly Akamiro just doesn't know what to do with her. He doesn't really own Atwood -- but then, he doesn't own his car, either, and like the car, the collie came with the job. BosWash covers her vet bills and he invoices them for food and her kennel, a coffin-like contraption about the size of a phone booth.
If and when she gets too sick, the company will also take care of having her euthanised, and they'll send him a new one of the same model. According to their subcontractor's agreement, the new one is guaranteed to be 95% like the old one -- which is one reason why you aren't supposed to get too attached, the other being that it's seen as a little weird, even if they are supposed to be man's best friend. Ninety-five percent is a good guarantee, and that commonality encourages people to treat them without any particular care. Like in all industries, replaceable parts are good for improving efficiency.
Besides, nobody ever asks about the missing five percent.
A lot of reshaped animals use their free time to plug in. It's a way of escaping their daily life; meeting new people, reading about new things. Atwood spends too much time plugged in to want any more of it. She goes to the park, which -- if nothing else -- offers smells that are a bit less offensive. Mostly.
Not always. Now, for instance, her local environment smells terrible, because she's standing next to Ralston P., who is sort of a friend. Ralston (2C-Trimurti71-RAL) can't help his odour being objectionable; he's a cat. Atwood always feels a bit guilty about disliking the smell -- like it was just a little racist, or something. She's never told him.
Ralston was intended to be an astrocat, up in a sweeper, but the Corporation got him just a hair too late. He was probably a docile kitten, or at least trainable, but he got mislaid in the system and was already too much of a tom for space training when somebody remembered him. Two weeks in, he got in a barfight and somebody smashed a bottle over his head. The scars -- he was cut down to bone, in places -- make him look slightly dangerous and more than a little rakish, for a cat. The guy who hit him was never charged; the Corporation didn't want to prosecute a property crime over a washout.
Atwood has never asked Ralston why he was in a bar in the first place; she doesn't have to. Like most animals, he doesn't drink alcohol -- but he does like brawling. He also likes women -- that's something else the Corporation screwed up by getting to him too late -- although not Atwood, not in that way. She's a dog, after all. But she comes and talks to him sometimes, and he listens.
Ralston steals food, and gets in the occasional scrap. He doesn't wear clothes, which is a little scandalous, but the BosWash security police don't do anything. He's the beneficiary of complicated bureaucratic politics. The security guys would like nothing more than to shoot him and leave him for the rats -- but he is still technically corporate property, owned by the Orbital Corporation. The rivalry between BosWash and the Corporation is old, ancient practically, and even though he's worthless as an astronaut, he is good for leverage. If he dies, lawyers will get involved. The Corporation would sue for damages -- or worse, take it as a causus belli.
They're pretty trigger-happy. It isn't worth the risk.
The local businesses, of course, don't really want Ralston around. As he sprawls across somebody's steps, soaking in the sun, Atwood stands next to him, and as a result she can see the shopkeeper pick up a bit of trash and throw it at the cat. He gets up, slowly, with a distracted feline growl. Sun is one of the few things he likes better than fighting; he doesn't want to leave.
For a moment, Atwood expects him to get into a fighting stance, but instead the tom just shrugs, and ambles stiffly towards the grass of the park, tail drifting lazily. She follows. "Don't you mind?"
They speak Common, the two of them -- Atwood can't make the right sounds to speak cat, and Ralston is too lazy to learn dog. "Ain't worth minding." His voice is gravelly, the voice of an old man. He chose it deliberately, the same as Atwood chose hers -- an old actress, back from when entertainment was still only dual-sensory.
"It doesn't bother you?"
Ralston finds a new place to sprawl and stretches out, his claws extending briefly. "It's just part of life. You say the same thing when your owner hits you, don't you? I don't have an owner, and I don't mind that either." Ralston embodies laissez-faire -- it's a kind of ease that Atwood would envy, if she rightly understood what envy was. "Everything's going to stay the same, thrown cans and all. Besides, if he doesn't pick it up, they'll get him with a fine. I saw them do that last week."
'Last week' means as much to him as it does to Atwood -- which is to say very little. Time is an abstraction to animals; it might've been last week or it might've been two years back. The same reason he uses it as an example is the same reason he believes all days to be fundamentally identical. Atwood herself also lives in the moment, without a real understanding of time -- she's aware of it only in the hints that come from her newsreading, of a mysterious and vague concept she can't quite grasp. So when she responds, it's almost a platitude. "It might change."
"Won't." There isn't really a reason for the tom to be laconic; talking doesn't require any effort. It's a conscious choice. "They have a power over us." It's a weird construct, 'us' versus 'them.' The genetic scientists haven't really considered that part. Sure, there are reshaped cats and dogs and cows and pigs and tigers, but at the end of the day it's still "humans" and "not humans." The makers and the made. Light and dark. Atwood may value Akamiro's praise more, but she knows she's closest to Ralston -- powerless.
What is the source of power? Atwood isn't sure. "You mean they can kill us?"
Ralston opens one eye. The pupil is a thin, vertical slit, like a half-finished exclamation point. "They kill each other, too. I mean there's something else. It gives them control... or it takes it away from us. I don't know what it is. Something we're missing."
Atwood thinks she's heard the word for this before, though she has no idea what it means. "A soul?"
Either Ralston disagrees or he hasn't the first idea what she's talking about either. He closes his eye again, and a few seconds later he seems to be asleep. She knows better than to disturb him.
Language -- like when you need to talk about a "soul" -- is a funny thing. Atwood is verbal, but her speech comes from a computer, implanted in her jawbone. There's a speaker in her throat -- it was intended to make her sound mostly normal. Atwood has never liked using it around humans, though. It calls attention to their distracting habit of pausing for breath -- and for their part, they seem to find her failure to do so disconcerting.
She tried talking with her natural voice, once. Dogs can make most human sounds. It's the labial consonants that give them problems -- which is fine if you're speaking Mohawk, but not if you're trying to communicate in English, where m, p, b, f, and v are all impossibilities. Consequently they speak with a heavy accent, almost unintelligible to the human ear.
Atwood practised for a while, before speaking for the first time. "Good morning" being out -- along, for that matter, with "Akamiro" -- she settled on "good day, sir. How can I assist you?" At first, she'd taken his shocked look as marking a lack of understanding. Then he had struck her, making her yelp, and as she cowered, ears pinned until they disappeared into her hair, he had told her that she must never, ever do that again.
She can sort of see why. Her natural voice is deeper, more resonant and more commanding. But it's also harder to understand, and it frees her of her dependence on the voicebox. To think that she might operate without it, well, that's as ridiculous as thinking she might be given the key to her own collar.
Here's where her creators got clever, though, when it comes to speaking in Common. You see, there's this old, mostly discredited thing in social theory called the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. It says that our language reflects our worldview -- but it also shapes it. Atwood runs headlong into this hypothesis when she tries to say certain things. The computer chip in her jaw handles her communication for her; when she thinks about saying something, it speaks. But they've left out a lot of important words, and when she tries to say them: nothing. It's like having to think in a foreign language, except the language literally doesn't have the words you need.
For instance, her voicebox doesn't have a link between the word "soul" and the neurons in her mind that would fire if she were to actually think about the concept that word represents. When she says it, she's just pronouncing it phonetically -- it's semantically meaningless for her, gibberish. This is one reason her news-herding focuses entirely on facts -- on tangible things that can be sniffed at and grasped and bitten. To actually muse in Common about a soul, for a dog, requires lengthy and awkward circumlocution. "A thing that is given to you without your knowing it by the one who is the owner of the people who are our owners also, but not a thing you can put in your mouth nor a thing you can consume, that is valuable but your owner cannot beat from you."
It isn't any better in the language they use amongst their own kind. Dogs are present-focused, and their language is descriptive. If English had the right words -- and it doesn't -- a translation would sound artistic. Between themselves, they wax poetic about the sound and smell of a morning -- but aside from describing it differently, they cannot distinguish one morning from another.
Dogs know that they are present, but they do not talk differently about the living and the dead, except to remark upon the absence of motion in the latter. This is why she can talk about the ability to "kill" in the Common tongue, with Ralston; to another canine there is only the ability to make still. The power that a terrier has over a rat is the same as the power that gravity has over a falling stone. So there isn't a word for 'death' in dog, and therefore none for 'heaven.'
They are content with the notion of being "put to sleep." It doesn't seem like a euphemism.
Linguistic awkwardness is worse for some reshaped creatures, who are completely hobbled by the limitations of the box's vocabulary. Talking to most dogs is a lot more like talking to a computer than anything else. If Akamiro asked Atwood to "fetch me a beer," she would be smart enough to go to the refrigerator and get one. But it's idiomatic, for her, a peculiar use of the word that requires second-order thinking. A 1C dog, like one of the soft, pillowy Saint Bernards they use to keep watch of children, will be flummoxed if you tell it to fetch a drink. Fetch a beer?, you can see them thinking. But a beer doesn't need to be chased. They'll tilt their heads, caught between their desire to please and their complete befuddlement, faces wrinkled in confusion. "Error. Object/request mismatch," is what those wrinkles say.
The upshot of this is that, in those times when Atwood is tired of being beaten or starved, she has a hard time thinking about it. She can't easily consider "freedom," to say nothing of "human rights" or "passive, non-violent resistance." They're phrases that she comes across, from time to time, but can only parrot them back, without knowing what they really mean. In the cruellest stroke, she isn't even really capable of wrapping her brain around the fact that she's missing something -- though the hint comes in occasional sparks, they mostly flicker out noiselessly.
For people, rebellion begins in ideas, and those ideas have to begin in words. Atwood doesn't know those words; couldn't understand even if she did know them. Because it prevents her from articulating certain thoughts, her voicebox neatly severs the feedback loop of context that might bring those unapproved connections together in her brain. There is a magic spell that exists, to begin the slow process of liberation. But without the ability to say it, she's stuck.
Some time ago, a few years or a few hours, Akamiro hit her hard enough to bring tears to her eyes -- but she doesn't know when. And right now he's petting her, smoothing down her hair. So her tail wags -- why wouldn't it?
Damn clever idea, the voicebox.
Because dogs are creatures that live perpetually in the moment, it will require an outside observer to pick the first of two that were somehow special. Seminal, even -- not because of what they were, but because of what they created. It will not happen for several years; a journalist, taking a belated interest in the affair, will start to piece it together like this...
It's a Saturday, which means that Porter Akamiro is not officially working, and neither is his live-in personal assistant. That leaves just him and Atwood, who is busy fetching the news when the front buzzer rings to signify that the mail has arrived.
Just like with newspapers, fifty years ago physical mail used to be printed on the flesh of trees. Today, in a slightly more civilised world, it comes in thin metallic strips, encoded with origin and destination data in a strip along the top. The fact that all of this is recyclable means people don't care so much about sending out great heaps of it, and during the week, Akamiro is frequently swamped. He tells Atwood to handle it, and she dutifully agrees, nodding to him and standing with a slight bow.
Besides a few advertisement flyers -- one of them starts to dance and flash in bright colours that are not at all distracting to Atwood, because she can't see them -- there are only two that require attention. One is from the IRS, promising a coffee mug in return for a small donation. The other is a letter from Porter Akamiro's wife. Atwood has never met her.
When she hands the letters over, he takes the time to read the return address first, which means she doesn't get a pat on the head or a bit of graham cracker. He's too distracted, so she goes back to work. In the background, she can hear him sigh several times.
Once -- just once -- it took her twenty-five minutes to review and synthesise the news. That was the day that passenger ship accidentally rammed the Golden Gate Bridge, cutting it in half -- there was a lot to sort through. With that exception, it has never taken her more than twenty minutes. This is something she is proud of -- she doesn't know that word, exactly, but when she thinks about it her tail starts to wag.
Nineteen minutes have now elapsed, including the time it took to get the mail, and she's done. In his den, Akamiro is seated, reading and re-reading the letter from his wife. As a rule Atwood isn't good with abstractions, but she understands parental instinct. Akamiro is upset about his litter, she believes -- correctly, as it happens.
Atwood is starting to get a little antsy, rocking back and forth on her feet. Starting to whine, quite involuntarily. His back is to her, which means he can't be looking at the grandfather clock outside the den, which would be telling him quite clearly twenty-one minutes, twenty-one minutes with each tick of the pendulum. Atwood is torn. He very clearly asked her to fetch the news, but -- twenty-two minutes; her whining builds in volume -- does he still want it?
She doesn't know. Maybe he does. Maybe he wanted it immediately, and by delaying all she's doing is disappointing him. But maybe he does not want to be disturbed. Atwood is, by now, experiencing an agony that borders on the physical. The life of a dog is harder than it looks.
The sound of the minute hand on the clock clicking forward again falls like a judge's gavel. This is mostly because Atwood's hearing is quite acute; Akamiro hasn't noticed at all. Nor has he noticed the little black and white spectre, her tail tucked between her legs so far it impedes her movement, her ears flat, slinking out of the library and into his den. The first thing he notices is the whine that marks each nervous exhalation of the dog's breath. She just wants him to be happy. She just wants to be a good d -- "what is it?" he asks, very curtly.
She holds out the computer, but he doesn't turn around. Now she faces an even more difficult choice. She doesn't really like using her human voice; Akamiro hasn't heard it for months, now. With the exception of Ralston, she hasn't really spoken to anyone, but now she has to. Now she has to get his attention, and it's such a small thing, it shouldn't mean too much, but she tries to modulate the volume really quiet -- like a whisper would be. "The news, sir," she says.
Even as on edge as she is, Atwood is caught off guard by what happens next, which is that he whirls around, screaming at her. He rips the computer from her paw and bends it in half, striking her with it in one of his gesticulations. This hurts -- the plastic of the computer is something like a dull knife; it'll bruise.
Her ears go back, way back, but it's not enough to muffle the cursing. He asks her why she bothered him, without meaning for her to answer the question at all. He says that he doesn't know why he has to deal with her. He calls her a name that is literally descriptive, but meant as an insult. He calls her a bad dog, which is even worse. Then he shoves her, hard, out of the room, and slams the door.
Trembling all over, shivering, Atwood creeps back to the library where her computer is, and as soon as she has crossed the threshold she collapses. She whimpers quietly for a few moments, until the neurons start to fire in that 2C brain of hers. She's pretty good at tracing cause and effect, most dogs are, and the obvious answer is her voice. He must hate it as much as she does. That's what pushed him to the edge, having to listen to it. She vows to stop using it.
And from there on out she thinks in her own words.
Akamiro, by dint of his distraction, has left her computer on. Once her wits are more or less about her, the Border collie plugs in, and she starts to read. She wants things to be different. It is not sufficient to be a Good Dog. She wants to have a soul. This is a radical change.
She knows there are freedom fighters; she's read about them before. She knows there is a thing called a revolution -- which she will in time pronounce "re'holution," because of that pesky labial consonant -- and she starts to gorge on information.
All of her training -- all those herding instincts, honed to a point -- is brought together with a singular task: understand what it means to be free. She ferrets out trails of information that would surprise the BosWash Intelligence Firm in Quantico, esoteric definitions that she doesn't understand but squirrels away until she might be able to.
Atwood reads about the Sepoy Mutiny, and the Pueblo Revolt, and the Decembrists. She reads about John Brown and the Continental Congress. She reads about something called glasnost. She reads about Gandhi and Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King, Junior -- and then she reads about Jean d'Arc, for good measure, and Mikhail Bakunin.
A few hours after his outburst, Akamiro emerges from his den, and he holds out a graham cracker to Atwood, a whole one this time. It's tempting; she leaves the library and trots over. He gives it to her, lets her eat it, and then gives her a hug, pulling the slight collie up against him, petting the exposed fur of her neck. He apologises.
She accepts this -- dogs always do. Her tail starts to wag again; she gets comfortable. It's true that she still wants to make him happy, but Atwood realises then that there might be something beyond his happiness. Her tail wags faster.
Afterwards, he lets her go again, and she gets back to reading. She tries to figure out the universal constant, to see the pattern behind it all. Here, living in the moment comes to her rescue. All she can really tell is that the Easter Rising and the Revolutionary War happened in the past. This morning? Yesterday? Last week? It's all the same to her; their lessons can all be taken in equally. She is devouring information prodigiously, faster than she ever has before.
Three days later, the big picture is starting to emerge. There is a concept that has power, great power bordering on sorcery, the power to be free from the whims of her master, the power to think her own thoughts and speak in her own voice. There must be, she thinks, a word associated with this concept, a most important word -- but she can't pin it down yet. She tries a few different ones; none seems appropriate.
It's hard to articulate. She tries to tell Ralston, who for once in his life seems to be intrigued, keeping both of his eyes open for minutes at a stretch. It isn't something he's heard before, this overwhelming thing that the collie is teasing at, circling without ever quite striking. If she does learn the word to unlock this magic spell, he says, he can spread the word to reshaped creatures all over the periphery of Central Park. He gets her to promise to tell him.
But the second moment, when she figures it out -- the moment perhaps most important for those reshaped beings and their kind the world over -- happens randomly, like it so often does. All the pieces come together. She can't have predicted it until it's too late; until the ball is already rolling. Such is the beast that a moment is, untamed -- the sum of the parts that precede it; the promise of those that follow. This one is full of promise.
It's a Tuesday, a boring Tuesday, utterly unremarkable. "Fetch me the news, Atwood," Akamiro says, and suddenly she knows what great and complex concept she's been thinking about, half-blinded to. She knows what the Most Important Word is -- it's been all around her, all this time. It's a word she can say, clearly, without her voicebox -- and more than this she knows that she will say it, and she knows that in saying it the world will change, for her and for her fellow future citizens everywhere. The last time she used her voice, her real voice, what came out was "good day, sir. How can I assist you?" This will be different.
She can see what will happen. For the first time, she is perfectly aware of the future as distinct from the present. She can see that Akamiro will grab for that most hated phrase, b-d d-g (she censors it, even in her mind), like a pistol, reflexively, and she knows that it will mean absolutely nothing. That it will be too late. She can see that the word will spread; that it will be echoed. That it will be clung to -- because it's the basis for consent, for law, for freedom of the mind. Atwood sees all this, and she is the happiest she has ever been -- her tail would be a blur, except that the moment has almost frozen in time as it tips over into eternity. "Fetch me the news, Atwood," Akamiro has said. Atwood grins doggishly.