Devi had thought she had family on her side, too. My smile faded. I got the remains of the scrambled eggs and sliced fruit from the day before, put them on a plate, and sat down at the breakfast table to eat. I barely tasted anything. I kept thinking of Devi’s face when she saw me coming into the office, the way she laughed, the way she always knew exactly what to say…
The way she talked about her bulldog, Minneapolis, who was probably sitting at home alone and confused, wondering when her people were going to be coming back to get her. The mouthful of eggs I’d been in the process of chewing suddenly tasted like ashes. I forced myself to swallow, putting my fork down on the plate. I was done. I couldn’t eat anything else, or I was going to be sick. Even if my implant still needed food, I just couldn’t.
Sometimes people who don’t want to think about what their implants really are—living, independent organisms that just happen to be genetically tailored to live inside the human body—will let themselves neglect the nutritional needs of their implants, and that can be bad. There are implants specifically designed to need less in the way of caloric support, but they’re limited in their distribution to places with bad famines and poor ongoing medical treatment. Low-calorie implants don’t do as much, so they’re reserved for places that can’t support anything else.
I put my plate down on the floor and whistled. The expected black Lab didn’t appear. I frowned and called, “Beverly! Food!” She still didn’t appear.
That wasn’t normal. It was strange to get through a meal without a black shadow appearing at my heels to ask for her share. It was unheard of for her to actually ignore food when it was offered.
“Beverly?” I started toward the back door, tugging my robe a little tighter. It was hard to keep from playing out nightmare scenarios. Like maybe she’d managed to dig a hole under the fence and was running loose somewhere, looking for the way home. But how would she know where home was? Would she run for the house where she used to live, the one where no one was waiting to let her in? I knew my concern for Devi’s dog was feeding my fear for my own. That didn’t make the fear any less real.
“Beverly!” I stepped onto the back porch, and stopped, frowning.
Beverly was still in the yard. That was a momentary relief. But she was standing next to the side gate, stiff legged, ears pushed all the way forward, and the hair on her spine was standing up. Her tail was tucked low. She looked like a dog that was getting ready to charge into battle against a much larger enemy, and even though she knew she was going to lose, she was going to do it anyway. It was her duty.
“Beverly, come,” I called. She didn’t come. It was the first time she’d ever refused a command. I started down the steps to the lawn, still holding my bathrobe tight around my chest. We don’t have many dangerous animals in Colma, but rattlesnakes weren’t outside the realm of possibility. If Beverly had somehow managed to corner a snake, I wanted to pull her away from there as fast as I could.
As I got closer, I realized that she was growling, a low, deep sound that seemed to start in her paws and work its way all the way up through her body before rumbling past her lips. It was the sort of thing that would have been terrifying if she’d been directing it at me. Since she was directing it at the fence, it was scary in a different way. I sped up, trying to see what was in front of her.
There was nothing there but grass. Whatever she was growling at was on the other side of the fence.
She didn’t respond. I stepped forward and let go of my robe in order to lean down and take hold of her collar. She kept growling. Whatever she was growling at didn’t make a sound.
“Come on, Beverly. Let’s go inside.” I tugged on her collar. She dug her feet into the soil and held fast, refusing to be moved. I pulled harder. She still didn’t budge. It was like I was trying to move a concrete statue instead of a dog—only concrete doesn’t usually growl. “Beverly, come on!”
She turned to look at me for the first time since I’d joined her in the backyard. It wasn’t a full turn, just enough for her to see me out of one eye. Her expression was strangely pleading, filled with the anxious need of a good dog to protect her person. If she’d been human, I would have interpreted that look as “let me do this, let me have my job.” I let go of her collar, stepping away. Beverly’s head promptly snapped back into its original position, all her attention fixing on the fence. She never stopped growling.
I wasn’t a stupid actress in a horror movie, despite the fact that I had gone running outside in my bathrobe to see what was wrong with the dog; no matter how much I wanted to know what she was growling at, I wasn’t going to open the gate and find out. But there were other ways. Feeling suddenly very exposed, I turned and ran for the back door. I didn’t shut it—Beverly would need a way back into the house—but I still felt better once there was a wall between me and whatever had my dog so upset.
I wanted to call the police, but I needed a better reason than “something upset my dog.” I swallowed hard, and started for the living room. There was a window there that would give me a perfect view of the side yard, and the gate. I’d be able to see whatever it was that Beverly was growling at. I wasn’t sure I wanted to. I was absolutely sure that I needed to.
I made my way slowly toward the window, wishing I had a weapon, or any idea how to use one. I would have felt better. There were probably lots of things that could be used as improvised weapons in the kitchen and living room, but I didn’t know what would work, and so I didn’t reach for anything. I wasn’t a fighter. I did, however, have a pane of glass between me and whatever was in the side yard. I held that thought firmly at the front of my mind as I inched around the couch and peered out the window.