following novella was first
published in The Magazine of
Fantasy & Science Fiction (Gordon Van Gelder, Editor), September 2004.
Cover art by
reprinted in The
Year's Best Science Fiction and Fantasy for Teens (Edited
by Jane Yolen and Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Tor Books, First Edition
Short Novels 2005 (Edited by Jonathan Strahan, Science Fiction
Book Club, 2005),
Best SF 10 (Edited by David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer, EOS
Books, First Printing June 2005).
Chip" Copyright 2004 by Bradley
Denton. Please do not publish or post any part of this story
without the permission of the author.
the Supreme Commander of the soldier who bears this message
Sir or Madam:
Today before it was
light I had to roll in the stream to wash blood from my fur. I
decided then to send You these words.
So I think
of the word shapes, and the girl writes them for me. I know how the
words are shaped because I could see them whenever Captain Dial
spoke. And I always knew what he was saying.
The girl writes
on a roll of paper she found in the stone hut when we began using it
as our quarters three months ago. She already had pencils. She has
written her own words on the paper many times since then, but she
has torn those words from the roll and placed them in her duffel.
Her own words have different shapes than the ones she writes for me
now. She doesn't even know what my word shapes mean, because the
shapes are all that I show her. So the responsibility for their
meanings is mine alone.
the responsibility for my actions is mine alone.
I killed eighteen of Your soldiers.
I didn't want
to do that. They reminded me of some of the soldiers I knew before,
the ones who followed Captain Dial with me. But I had to kill them
because they came to attack us. And if I let them do that, I would
be disobeying orders.
I heard them
approach while the girl, the two boys, and the old man slept. So I
went out and climbed the ridge behind the hut so I could see a long
way. I have good night vision, and I had no trouble spotting the
soldiers as they split into two squads and spread out. Their intent
was to attack our hut from different angles to make its defense more
difficult. I knew this because it was one of the things Captain Dial
So I did
another thing Captain Dial taught me. As the two squads scuttled to
their positions to await the order to attack, I crept down toward
them through the grass and brambles. I crept with my belly to the
earth so they couldn't see me coming. Not even with their infrared
Dial once said I was black as night and silent as air. He was proud
when he said it. I remembered that when I crept to Your
hear me as I went from one to another. They were spread out too far.
Their leader wasn't as smart as Captain Dial. I bit each one's
throat so it tore open and the soldier couldn't shout. There were
some sounds, but they weren't loud.
soldier had a lieutenant's bar on his helmet. I had seen it from a
long way away. It was the only officer's insignia I saw in either
squad. So I went to him first. That way he couldn't give the order
to attack before I was finished.
others would have attacked sooner or later, even without an order
from their lieutenant. So I had to kill them all.
soldier was the only female among the eighteen. As I approached her,
I smelled the same kind of soap that Captain Dial's wife Melanie
used. That made me pause as I remembered how things were a long time
ago when I slept at the foot of their bed. But then the soldier knew
I was there and turned her weapon toward me. So I bit her throat
before she could fire.
the soldiers to the ravine near the southern end of the ridge.
You'll find them there side by side if You arrive before the wild
animals do. I did my best to treat them with honor.
went to the stream. The stream is near the hut, so I tried to be
quiet. I didn't want to wake my people before sunrise.
washing, I went into the grass and shook off as much water as I
could. But there was no one to rub me with a towel. There was no one
to touch my head and tell me I was good.
remembered then that no one had ever told Captain Dial he was good,
what it means to be the leader.
to howl. But I didn't. My people were still asleep.
care of them. I don't let anyone hurt them. These were Captain
Dial's orders, and I will not disobey.
Dial was my commanding officer. I was his first sergeant. If You
examine the D Company roster, You will see that my pay grade is
My name is
Captain Dial gave me an order, I obeyed as fast as I could. And then
he always touched my head and told me I was good. Sometimes when I
was extra fast, he gave me a treat. I liked the treats, but I liked
the touch even more.
never a time when Captain Dial wasn't my leader. But he wasn't
always a captain, and I wasn't always his first sergeant. In the
beginning he was a lieutenant, and I was his corporal.
promoted because of the day we demonstrated our training to the
people in the bleachers.
morning, in our quarters, Lieutenant Dial said that what we would
participate in that afternoon was political bullshit. Money for the
war was about to be cut, so public-relations events like this were
an attempt to bolster civilian support. But Lieutenant Dial said
that only two things had ever motivated the public to support the
military: heroism and vengeance.
said that we had to do well regardless. He said I would have to do a
good job and make him proud. So I stood at attention, and I thought
about running fast to find mines and attack enemies. I thought about
making Lieutenant Dial proud.
touched my head. He knew my thoughts. He always knew my thoughts. He
told me I was good and gave me permission to be at ease.
wiggled and pushed my head against his knees, and my tail wagged
hard as he buckled my duty harness. Even though he had said it was
bullshit, I could smell that he was excited about the job ahead.
That made me excited too. And as we left our quarters, Lieutenant
Dial's wife Melanie came with us. That made me even more excited,
because she was almost never with us except in our
spoke to me every morning, and although I couldn't understand her
thoughts too well, I knew she was telling me to take care of
Lieutenant Dial throughout our day of training. And every night when
Lieutenant Dial and I returned, Melanie touched my head and said I
was good. Then, after we all ate supper, she and Lieutenant Dial
would climb into their bed, I would lie down on my cushion at its
foot, and we would sleep. Sometimes in the night their scents grew
stronger and blended together, and they made happy sounds. But I
stayed quiet because I wanted them to stay happy. Other times I
smelled or heard strangers outside our quarters, and I would go on
alert even though Lieutenant Dial was still asleep and had not given
me an order. But the strangers always went away, and then I slept
the only times Melanie was with us, and that one order every morning
was the only order she ever gave me. All of my other orders, all of
my treats, and all of my food came from Lieutenant Dial.
Lieutenant Dial loved Melanie. I could see the word "love" whenever
he thought of her. And that made me glad because it made him glad.
So we were all happy on the day she came with us. She smelled like a
hundred different flowers all mixed together, and she was wearing
new clothes that seemed to float around her.
wore a gift that Lieutenant Dial had given her the night before. It
was a shiny rock on a silver chain that she wore around her neck.
Lieutenant Dial told me that Melanie liked the color of the rock. It
just looked like a rock on a chain to me. But when Lieutenant Dial
put it around Melanie's neck, it made me think of the chain and tags
that Lieutenant Dial wore around his own neck whenever he was on
duty. And it also made me think of the collar he put on me when I
wasn't wearing my duty harness. So then I understood why Melanie was
so happy to receive the rock and chain. Now we all had things to
wear around our necks.
go to our usual training area at the fort that day. Instead we went
to a park by the ocean. There were flags and people everywhere. It
was busy and noisy, and I wanted to run around and smell everything.
But Lieutenant Dial ordered me to stay beside him, and that was fun
too. I still got to smell everything. We walked from one tree to
another, with me on one side of Lieutenant Dial and Melanie on the
other. And at every tree, people gathered around while Lieutenant
Dial told them who he was and who I was. Then he would give me a few
orders -- easy things like attention, on guard, and
secure-the-perimeter -- and we would move on. A lot of people asked
if they could touch me, but Lieutenant Dial said they couldn't. He
explained that I was on duty. I wasn't a pet. I was a corporal.
proud when he said it, and that made me proud too.
walked from place to place, sometimes Lieutenant Dial held Melanie's
hand in his. And once, Melanie reached across and touched my head.
This violated the rule Lieutenant Dial had been telling everyone.
But even though I was on duty, it seemed all right. I was glad she
while we walked away from the trees to a broad stretch of lawn
beside the ocean. I saw a long pier floating on the water. And
across the lawn from the pier were bleachers with people in them.
There were more people in the bleachers than I had ever seen in one
place before, and some of them were high-ranking officers in dress
uniforms. So I knew that even if what was going to happen here was
bullshit, it was important bullshit.
Out on the
lawn were little flags, mud puddles, wooden walls, sandbag
fortifications, and some mock-enemies. I knew they were mock-enemies
because they wore dark, padded suits. All of these things were
familiar to me from training. But there were more things on the lawn
than I had ever seen in one training session, and that excited
went to the bleachers while Lieutenant Dial took me onto the lawn,
where we were joined by other soldiers. Some of the other soldiers
were also K-9s. I knew most of them. Lieutenant Dial and I had
trained with them many times.
Out on the
pier, men and women dressed in white stood at attention. And when
Lieutenant Dial and I reached a spot in the middle of the lawn, he
told me to stand at attention as well. So I did, and all of the
other soldiers did too.
stood in front of the bleachers and addressed the crowd. He said a
lot of words through a loudspeaker, but I couldn't understand them.
Since they didn't come from Lieutenant Dial, they were
colonel stopped talking, the people in the bleachers clapped their
hands. Then a soldier ran onto the lawn and handed Lieutenant Dial a
microphone. Lieutenant Dial signalled that I should remain at
attention, so I didn't move as he took a step forward and addressed
He told them a lot of things about
K-9 soldiers. One thing he said was that while war dogs required a
lot of training, we didn't have to be trained to understand loyalty
or rank. A dog who was raised and trained by one soldier would
always see that soldier as his or her pack leader. So if Lieutenant
Dial was put in charge of a platoon, that platoon would become my
pack. And I would see my duty to that pack as absolute and
It surprised me that Lieutenant
Dial had to explain that to people. It was as obvious to me as
knowing that food is for eating. But then I remembered that people
didn't always think the same way that Lieutenant Dial and I thought.
Melanie, for example. Melanie was always kind to me, but sometimes I
could smell that she also feared me a little. And I always wondered
how that could be. Lieutenant Dial loved Melanie, so I would never
hurt her. And as long as I was near her, I would never let anything
else hurt her, either. So I hoped that what Lieutenant Dial was
saying to the people in the bleachers would help Melanie understand
that she never had to be afraid.
Then Lieutenant Dial said something
that made him sad as he said it. I don't think the people knew how
sad it made him, but I knew. The other K-9s knew, too.
He said that during a war in the
past, some high-ranking officers had decided that K-9s weren't
really soldiers. Instead, they were classified as equipment. That
meant that when their units left the field, K-9s were abandoned or
destroyed. They were treated like utility vehicles or tents. They
weren't allowed to return to their home quarters with their
Lieutenant Dial always spoke the
truth, but this truth was difficult for me to comprehend. I knew I
wasn't equipment. I knew the difference between a vehicle and a dog.
And the K-9s in that past war must have known the difference too. So
I was glad the regulations had changed. But I wondered then, and
wonder now, whether there might still be some high-ranking officers
who don't think of me as a soldier.
I urge You not to make that
Lieutenant Dial's sadness went away
as he continued talking. He described some of the duties K-9
soldiers perform, and as he described those duties, different
handlers ordered their K-9s to perform them. And as the dogs obeyed,
their images appeared on a big screen that had been set up beside
One dog, a pointy-eared shepherd,
attacked and subdued first one mock-enemy, then three, and then
five. He was good at it. Even though the mock-enemies were padded so
he couldn't really hurt them, I could smell that they were afraid of
Another dog, a lean pinscher, ran
fast fast fast, dodging and leaping over obstacles that popped up
before him, and he delivered a medical kit to another soldier at the
end of the lawn. Then he dragged that soldier to a designated safety
point while avoiding some booby traps. The booby traps went off bang
bang bang after the pinscher and his soldier were past
A big-chested Malinois destroyed a
Another shepherd crept on her belly
to flank an enemy platoon.
A hound pointed out hidden land
mines and howled as he found each one.
Lieutenant Dial announced each
K-9's name and rank, each handler's name and rank, and the task to
be performed. The K-9s were all good, and the people in the
bleachers clapped. So I was glad because everyone was happy. But I
was getting more and more excited because I wanted it to be my turn.
In fact, as the second shepherd completed her flanking maneuver and
took down a mock-enemy from behind, I almost broke attention. I
wanted to help. I wanted to be a good soldier, too.
I whimpered, and Lieutenant Dial
gave me a corrective glance. So I tried extra hard to remain still
and silent. I didn't want to disappoint Lieutenant Dial.
Disappointing Lieutenant Dial would be the worst thing in the
When all of the other dogs had
performed their tasks, Lieutenant Dial told the people that the
modern K-9 soldier went beyond those of the past. He told them that
K-9s and their handlers were now matched according to their skills,
temperaments, and rapport -- because there were some dogs and humans
who had a gift for understanding each other, and some who didn't.
And he told them that such matchings had been so successful that
dogs often knew what their handlers wanted them to do even before
any verbal or visual orders had been issued. In addition, a
subcutaneous device implanted in each dog made it possible for
handlers to send pulsed signals that their K-9s had been trained to
recognize as orders. And the implants, in turn, sent biometric
signals to the handlers to indicate their K-9s' levels of anxiety
and confidence as orders were carried out. So even when a dog and
handler weren't in close proximity, they could still communicate and
complete their mission.
I didn't remember receiving my
implant, but I knew it was under the skin between my shoulders. I
almost never thought about it because Lieutenant Dial almost never
used his transmitter anymore. He had used it often in our early days
of training. But as our training had progressed, our thoughts had
become clearer and clearer to each other, and one day we had both
known the electronic signals weren't needed anymore. So Lieutenant
Dial had unstrapped the transmitter from his wrist and put it in a
pouch on his belt. After that day, he would sometimes send a signal
just to be sure my implant was working, but I always started
carrying out his orders before I felt the pulses anyway. That was
because I paid attention to him, and I could see his thoughts even
when he was far away.
When Lieutenant Dial finished
telling the people about the communication implants, he told them
about me. He told them I had been rescued from a municipal shelter
as a puppy, and that a military veterinarian had determined that the
dominant breeds in my genetic background were black Labrador and
standard poodle. That made me a Labradoodle. Some of the people in
the crowd laughed when they heard that name, but Lieutenant Dial
didn't laugh when he said it.
He said I had the intelligence of a
poodle and the temperament of a Labrador. He said I was three years
old and in peak physical condition. He said I weighed eighty pounds,
which was big enough to be strong, but small enough to be fast and
to squeeze into places too tight for people. He said my black, wavy
coat was good camouflage at night. He said I was at the top of my
training class. He said I was a corporal and my name was
Then Lieutenant Dial looked across
the lawn at a sandbagged machine-gun nest and gave me the hand
signal to attack. I knew he was going to give me the signal as soon
as he looked across at the sandbags, but I also knew I should wait
for it. The people in the bleachers wouldn't like it if I
But I jumped away fast when he gave
it. I ran for the sandbags, and the machine gun opened fire. It was
firing blank cartridges, but I knew from training that I had to act
as if the ammunition could hurt me. So I zigzagged and made quick
stops behind cardboard rocks, stacks of tires, and other things that
were on the lawn between Lieutenant Dial and the machine-gun nest.
The machine-gun barrel swiveled to follow me, but I was too fast and
tricky for it, because when I ran behind a cardboard rock, I would
come out in a different direction. The machine-gun barrel couldn't
keep up, and soon I was right under it so it couldn't point at me.
Then I jumped up over the sandbags and pushed the gunner onto his
back. Two mock-enemies on either side of him pointed rifles at me,
so I bit one in the crotch and twisted so that he fell against the
other one. Then all three mock-enemies were on their backs, and I
bit the pads at their throats. A bell sounded over the loudspeaker
as I broke the skin of each pad and the mock-blood came out. After
the third bell, the people in the bleachers clapped.
Then I felt a quick series of
pulses between my shoulders, but I was already jumping away from the
machine-gun nest because I knew what Lieutenant Dial wanted me to do
next. I ran as fast as I could to the farthest end of the lawn,
dodging mock-enemies as they popped up and tried to shoot me, until
I reached the wooden wall with the knotted rope at the top. The wall
was high, but I liked that. I'm good at jumping.
I ran hard and jumped high, and I
grabbed the bottom knot on the rope with my teeth. Then I pushed
against the wall with all my feet so I could grab the next knot, and
the next, and the next. Just before the next-to-last knot, a piece
of the wall broke away as my feet pushed it, and I almost missed the
knot. I caught it with just my front teeth. But that made me angry
at the wall and the knot, because they were trying to make me
disappoint Lieutenant Dial. So I bit as hard as I could with my
front teeth, and I kicked and scratched the wall until another piece
broke away and gave me a good place for my hind feet. Then I pulled
with my teeth and pushed with my legs, and I went all the way over
the wall without having to grab the last knot.
On the other side of the wall, two
soldiers lay on the ground. They had mock-wounds on their legs and
chests, but they weren't pretending to be unconscious. So I went to
the nearest one and let him grab the handle on my duty harness. Then
I dragged him through a mock-minefield to a medical station. The
mines weren't marked with flags the way they often were in training,
but I didn't need the flags. I know the smells of many different
explosives, so I could smell the mines even though they were just
smoke-bangs. It was easy to drag the soldier around them. Some of
them went off when we were past, but it didn't matter. None of the
smoke touched us, and I got the soldier to the medical station in
the same shape I found him in.
I ran back for the other soldier,
but when I reached him he was pretending to be unconscious. I whined
and licked his face, but I knew it wouldn't make him stop
pretending. So then I grabbed one of his flak-jacket straps and
began to drag him toward the medical station. But when we were
halfway through the minefield, an open utility vehicle carrying four
mock-enemies came driving across it, straight for us. The mines
didn't go off as the vehicle drove over them, and the mock-enemy
manning the mounted gun began firing at me and my
They were trying to prevent me from
obeying Lieutenant Dial's orders. I wouldn't let them do
I dropped my soldier and started
running so the mock-enemies would chase me. When they did, and when
we were far enough from the wounded soldier that I knew he would be
safe, I made a quick stop, turned around, and jumped. I cleared the
vehicle's windshield and had just enough time to bite the pad on the
gunner's throat. The bell rang. Then I hit the ground behind the
vehicle and tumbled, but got up and turned back around in time to
see the gunner slump over and the driver turn the steering wheel
hard. The other two mock-enemies were raising their pistols.
As the vehicle made its turn,
exposing the driver, I ran and jumped again. But when I bit the pad
on the driver's throat, the skin didn't break right away. So I hung
on and bit harder. The driver gave a yell that I don't think was a
word. Then the pad broke, the mock-blood came out, and I heard the
bell. So I jumped away, spinning as my paws hit the ground so I
could be ready to attack the remaining two mock-enemies.
But I didn't have to. The vehicle
rolled over so its wheels went up, and three of the four enemies
fell out. Then it was still. The driver was still strapped in his
seat, but his neck was bent against the ground, and he didn't move.
The three mock-enemies on the ground didn't move either. So I ran to
the two I hadn't bitten yet, broke the skins on their throat pads,
then returned to my soldier in the minefield.
The soldier was sitting up with his
eyes and mouth open. But I grabbed his flak-jacket strap anyway and
resumed dragging him to the medical station. Then he tried to pull
away from me. But I was still under orders. So I growled, and then
my soldier was still again. I delivered him to the medical station,
ran back to Lieutenant Dial, and stood at attention.
The people in the bleachers began
to smell unhappy. They made growling noises, and none of them
clapped their hands. So for a moment I was afraid I had done
something wrong. But then I knew it wasn't so, because Lieutenant
Dial touched my head and said I was good.
That was all that
From Lieutenant Dial's next
thoughts, I knew that the driver in the utility vehicle had made a
mistake. He'd been supposed to drive farther away from me after the
gunner was bitten. But he had turned back toward me too soon, and I
had been faster than he had thought I would be. Then, when his
throat pad hadn't broken right away, he had panicked and turned the
steering wheel too sharply. So the vehicle had rolled over. But by
then I had broken the throat pad and jumped away.
All four of the mock-enemies in the
utility vehicle had to be taken away for real medical care, and I
could hear that some of the people in the bleachers felt bad about
that. But Lieutenant Dial didn't. Instead, he became angry. He
wasn't angry with me, but I didn't want him to be angry with
anything. Being angry made him unhappy. And that made me unhappy
too. Anger was like smoke with a bad smell in his head.
The K-9 demonstration was over
then, and Melanie came down from the bleachers to meet us. I was
glad to see her. But Lieutenant Dial was still angry. He told
Melanie that the driver of the utility vehicle had done the exercise
incorrectly, and that what had happened wasn't my fault. I had done
what I was supposed to do, but the mock-enemies had screwed it
Melanie told him she already knew
that, and that everyone else knew it too. She said he shouldn't
worry about what people would think of him, or of me, or of any of
the K-9s, because we had all been wonderful.
I didn't always know what Melanie
was saying, but that time I understood every word. And as she spoke,
Lieutenant Dial's anger drifted away. Just like smoke. And then he
was happy and proud again. And so was I.
I rubbed my nose against Melanie's
knee, and she touched my head. I wished I could tell her she was
Then Lieutenant Dial, Melanie, and
I walked to the edge of the water with some of the people from the
bleachers, and we stood on a boardwalk while the people on the pier
performed demonstrations with water animals. We had a good view even
though we were about thirty meters from them. Lieutenant Dial said
the animals that stayed in the water all the time were called
dolphins, and the ones that hopped from the pier to the water and
back again were called sea lions. One of the sea lions barked, but I
couldn't understand it.
The water animals delivered
equipment to people underwater, and they also searched for mines and
mock-enemies. Pictures of them doing those things appeared on the
big screen. Sometimes a sea lion carried a clamp in its mouth, and
when it found a mock-enemy, it swam up behind him and put the clamp
on his leg. Then the mock-enemy was pulled up to the pier by a rope
attached to the clamp, while the sea lion jumped from the water and
got a treat from its handler. It looked like fun, and I wished I
could go underwater and sneak up on the mock-enemies down there
Then the sea lions had a contest.
They were supposed to find some small dummy mines and push buttons
on the mines with their noses, then attach handles and bring the
mines up to the pier. It was a race to see which sea lion could
bring up the most mines in two minutes. So the sea lions were
swimming fast and splashing a lot, dropping the mines on the pier
and grabbing new handles before plunging into the ocean
The dummy water mines looked like
black soccer balls, and they had lights that came on if the button
had been pushed. Once one of the sea lions brought up a mine that
didn't have its light on, and his handler threw the mine back into
the water. Then the sea lion had to go get it again, and he had to
be sure to push the button before putting it on the pier. If I had
been that sea lion, I would have felt bad for not doing it right the
first time. But I couldn't tell whether he felt bad or not, because
he kept on swimming for more mines. So then I was glad because he
was still being a good soldier.
He didn't win the contest, though.
He came in second. At the end of two minutes, he had eleven mines,
and the winner had twelve. All the people who had watched the race
clapped and cheered, and the four sea lions who had raced got up on
their hindquarters and barked. The people cheered even more then,
and Lieutenant Dial and Melanie did too. But Lieutenant Dial didn't
clap because he had one hand on the handle of my duty
Both Lieutenant Dial and Melanie
were happy. So I should have been happy too.
But I wasn't. Something was
I didn't know what it was at first,
so I lifted my head high and sniffed the air. There were many
smells. There was sweat, soda, and popcorn. There were buckets of
little fish. The sea lions smelled salty. Melanie still smelled like
flowers. The other K-9s smelled thirsty. The practice mines smelled
like wet Frisbees.
Except there was another smell with
the Frisbee smell. It wasn't big. But it was there. It was a bad
smell. It was a bad smell like the real mines that had been in the
practice minefield during the hardest part of training. It was a bad
smell like the real mine that had killed another K-9 who wasn't
And as soon as I had identified
that bad smell, I knew where it was coming from. The final mine that
the winning sea lion had brought up wasn't like the others. It
looked like them, but it didn't smell like them. It was different.
It was bad.
It wanted to explode and kill
But none of the sea lions were
doing anything about it. They were still on their hindquarters,
swaying back and forth, while the people clapped. One of the
dolphins was splashing and chattering out in the water, so I think
she might have known. But none of the handlers paid any attention to
her. They were smiling at the clapping people.
I was under no specific orders. But
Lieutenant Dial had given me one General Order many training
sessions ago: If I ever knew something was wrong, I had to
So I bolted for the pier, and
Lieutenant Dial released my harness handle. I knew his thoughts, and
he knew mine. He knew I was being good.
I ran fast between people's legs.
Some of them yelled. And then I was on the pier. It moved up and
down a little, but I kept on running fast even though it tried to
make me fall. Two of the people in white stepped into my path, but I
zigzagged around them. The pier was wet there, and my feet slipped.
But I scrabbled hard like I did at the wall and kept
One of the sea lions came down from
his haunches as I approached, and he opened his mouth as if to bite
me. It was a big mouth with big teeth. The whole sea lion was as big
as five of me, and he lunged at me when I came close. So I jumped
over his head and kicked the back of his neck with my hind feet.
That pushed me the last three meters to the end of the
My front feet hit the pier right
beside the bad mine, so I grabbed its handle with my teeth, whipped
it forward, and let go so it flew into the water. Two of the
dolphins swam away fast as the mine splashed and sank.
Then I couldn't smell the bad mine
anymore, so I was glad. But when I turned around and saw the
white-clothed people and their sea lions, none of them seemed glad.
The people were shouting and the sea lions were barking. The sea
lions' barks still didn't make sense.
I saw Lieutenant Dial running down
the pier toward me, so I started running toward him too. And just as
I began to zigzag around the sea lions, I heard a rumble and a
splash, and the pier rose up under me. I fell, and the pier hit my
jaw and made me bite my tongue. Then the pier bounced up and down,
and I couldn't stand up because my feet kept slipping. One of the
people in white had fallen down beside me, and he kept slipping too.
That made me worry about Lieutenant Dial, so I looked up to see if
he was all right. But a sea lion was in the way.
Then I yelped. Later, a news
reporter would say that I yelped because my tongue was hurt. But
that wasn't the reason. It was because I couldn't see or hear
Lieutenant Dial, and I couldn't find his thoughts. There were too
many people thinking and yelling all at once. I couldn't even smell
him because I was too close to the sea lions.
That was a bad moment. But the pier
moved a little less each time it bounced, and finally I could stand
up. And then I could see Lieutenant Dial. He was in the middle of
the pier helping another person stand up, so I ran to him and stood
at attention. When he had finished helping the other person, he
looked down at me and saluted. And he told me I was good. He told me
I was more good than I had ever been before.
And the bad moment was
Later, investigators said that that
a real enemy had replaced one of the sea lions' dummy mines with a
live one, intending to hurt or kill as many people and animals as
possible. But because I threw it back into the water, only one
dolphin was hurt. And no one was killed.
A few weeks later, Lieutenant Dial
was promoted to Captain, and I was promoted to Sergeant. Captain
Dial received silver bars for his uniform, and then he leaned over
and showed me a new metal tag before clipping it to the ring in my
collar. It was shaped like the insignia for Sergeant First Class. I
knew I couldn't wear it on combat duty, because it would get in the
way and make noise. But it was still a fine thing, because that was
how it looked in Captain Dial's thoughts.
Other soldiers were promoted during
that ceremony as well, but I was the only K-9. Also, Captain Dial
and I were commended for finding the live mine. We were called
Melanie was there for the ceremony,
and both she and Captain Dial were proud and happy. So I was proud
and happy too.
But I still wasn't as happy as I
had been on the pier. That was where I had been more good than I had
ever been before. Captain Dial had said so.
That was how I knew it was
Soon after our promotions, Captain
Dial and I left the fort with many other soldiers, and we all went
to the war. Melanie came to the fort to say goodbye to us. She and
Captain Dial hugged each other for a long time while I stood at
ease. Most of the other soldiers were hugging people too. There were
wives and children, and even a few dogs who weren't soldiers.
Then Melanie knelt down and put her
head against mine. It surprised me. She had never done anything like
that before. I think she was trying to help me understand her
thoughts the way I understood Captain Dial's. It helped a little.
But even if she hadn't done it, I would have known she was telling
me the same thing she had told me every morning before training. She
was telling me to take care of Captain Dial.
So I kissed her face. I wanted her
to be glad that Captain Dial and I were going to the war together.
Her face tasted like ocean water.
Then Melanie took her head away
from mine and put her arms around Captain Dial again. After a while,
Captain Dial pulled away from her and gave me the signal to proceed.
We left Melanie and went to the D Company bus.
When all the soldiers of D Company
had boarded the bus, it took us to the air transport. Captain Dial
was quiet during the bus ride. He just looked out the window. And
for the first time, his thoughts weren't clear to me. It was as if
they were far away in a fog, and a fuzzy sound ran through them. I
glimpsed Melanie, but that was all. Captain Dial kept his hand on my
neck, though, and every now and then his fingers rubbed behind my
ears. So I didn't worry. Captain Dial always had some thoughts that
I couldn't understand anyway. The only ones I really needed to know
were the ones that were orders.
The air transport took a long time,
and it was loud. I didn't like it. By the time it stopped at an
island to refuel, all my muscles were sore. But I felt better after
marking some trees near the airstrip, and better still after some
food. We got back on the transport then, and Captain Dial gave me a
pill to help me sleep through the rest of the flight. It helped a
lot. But I was still glad when we were on the ground again. When we
finally left the transport we were in a place that was dry and
sunny, and all of the smells were sharp.
The soldiers of D Company spent one
night in a tin-roofed barracks at the combat zone airfield, and
Captain Dial and I slept there with them. There was no kennel or
cushion for me, so I slept on a blanket beside Captain Dial's cot. I
was the only K-9 in the company, and some of the other soldiers were
nervous around me. But Captain Dial made sure that I met each one
and learned that soldier's smell. Captain Dial wanted to keep them
all safe. So I wanted to keep them safe too.
I could see some soldiers'
thoughts, although none of them were as clear to me as Captain
Dial's. But that was all right, because the soldiers' voices and
smells told me all I needed to know about them. Most of them were
friendly, although several stayed nervous even after they met me.
And a few smelled frightened or angry.
One of the angry ones was an
officer, Lieutenant Morris, who was in charge of First Platoon. I
couldn't see his thoughts at all, but I still knew he didn't like
me. I knew he didn't like Captain Dial, either. When he stood before
us, his sweat smelled bitter, and his voice was low. And even when
he saluted, his muscles were tense as if he were about to run or
Captain Dial was aware of all this,
because he knew my thoughts. But unlike me, he was able to think of
a reason for Lieutenant Morris's attitude. He thought Lieutenant
Morris believed he should have been promoted to Captain and given
command of D Company.
This troubled Captain Dial, because
he had never wanted to lead a company of regular soldiers anyway.
But I was the only one who knew it. What he really wanted to do was
serve in a K-9 unit. But when we were promoted, he was ordered to
command D Company because its original captain had died in training.
So he requested that I be allowed to join the company with him, and
we were both happy when his request was granted. We joined D Company
on the same day we went to the war. And I knew that all of the
soldiers in D Company were lucky to have Captain Dial as their
The morning after our arrival in
the combat zone, D Company was assigned to guard four checkpoints on
highways that led to the airfield. So Captain Dial put a platoon at
each checkpoint, splitting the soldiers among three separate road
barriers per checkpoint. He told the lieutenants and sergeants to
stop and inspect each vehicle at each barrier, and to detain the
occupants of any vehicle found to contain contraband. He also told
them to have their soldiers fire warning shots over any vehicles
that passed the first barrier without stopping for inspection. They
were to aim at the tires and engines of any vehicles that also
passed the second barrier without stopping. And any vehicles that
passed the third barrier without stopping were to be destroyed. But
any vehicles that stopped at all three barriers and were found to
contain no contraband were to be allowed to proceed unless the
soldiers had reason to believe that a more thorough inspection was
needed. In that case, the suspicious vehicle was to be reported to
Captain Dial so he could bring me to it and I could smell whether
anything was wrong.
I thought these orders were easy
Captain Dial and I spent our first
five days in the combat zone riding from checkpoint to checkpoint in
a utility vehicle, inspecting cars and trucks and seeing to the
needs of D Company. I liked doing the inspections. In those first
days, I found three pistols, four rifles, a rocket-propelled grenade
launcher, and a brick of hashish. Captain Dial arrested the people
with the guns and sent them to Headquarters. But he laughed at the
man with the hashish and let him drive away. Hashish wasn't
contraband here, he told me, so long as no one gave any to our
soldiers. This was a new rule to me, but I'm good at learning new
The first five days were fun. All
of our platoons did their jobs, and so did Captain Dial and
Then, on the morning of the sixth
day, Lieutenant Morris ordered First Platoon to open fire on a van
that had gone past the first barrier without stopping. It didn't
reach the second barrier. By the time Lieutenant Morris ordered his
soldiers to cease fire, all seven people inside the van had been
Captain Dial and I weren't there
when it happened. We were two checkpoints away. By the time we
arrived, the incident had been over for fifteen minutes. Lieutenant
Morris and a few other soldiers had dragged three of the bodies from
the shot-up van and laid them by the side of the road. They were
heading back toward the van when Captain Dial stopped our utility
vehicle in front of them and ordered them to stay away from the van
and the bodies.
Then he ordered me to search the
van, and I obeyed. It was a bad place. It smelled of spent
machine-gun rounds, explosive residue, and human blood.
The driver was still in her seat.
She had been a woman about the size of Melanie. The three other
bodies still in the van had been small children. There were two boys
and a girl. I had seen children of their sizes on the day by the
ocean. But the ones in the van had been shot through and through.
Their blood was all over the floor and seats, and I had to step in
it to conduct my search.
There was no contraband. There were
no guns, and the only bullets were spent rounds. And I couldn't
smell any explosives except the residue of a grenade that had been
fired into the van by someone in First Platoon.
After I had searched the van,
Captain Dial ordered me to search the three bodies on the ground. So
I did. They were all girls. Two were even smaller than the children
in the van. The third was larger, about the size of the girl who
writes these words. But she wasn't fully grown. All of them had been
shot many times. One of the younger girls had most of her face gone.
The older girl had a narrow cut on her neck. None of them possessed
Captain Dial was angrier than he
had ever been before. The smoke in his head was thick and turbulent.
And there were sounds. I could hear Melanie crying. I could hear a
hundred Melanies crying.
Then Captain Dial began shouting at
Lieutenant Morris. I had never heard him shout like that before, and
it made me cringe even though he wasn't shouting at me. All the
soldiers of First Platoon cringed, too, especially when Captain Dial
said he would bring Lieutenant Morris up on charges for disobeying
But Lieutenant Morris's bitter
smell was acrid and strong now, and he stood with his head thrust
forward and his arms straight down at his sides. He didn't salute.
It was as if he was challenging Captain Dial. It was as if he
thought he had done a good thing, and that Captain Dial's orders had
That made me angry, because Captain
Dial always gave good orders. So I took a step toward Lieutenant
Morris and growled.
Lieutenant Morris reached for his
sidearm, but Captain Dial slapped his hand away from it. Then
Lieutenant Morris made a fist and started to swing it at Captain
Dial's face. I was on him before his fist was halfway there, and I
put him on his back on the highway.
I stood with my front paws on
Lieutenant Morris's chest and my teeth touching his throat, and
Captain Dial ordered him to remain still. This time, Lieutenant
Morris obeyed. I could feel the pulse in his neck and the shallow
motion of his chest as he breathed, but those were the only
movements he made until Captain Dial ordered me to stand down. Then
I took my paws from Lieutenant Morris's chest and backed
But now I smelled something wrong
in a pocket of Lieutenant Morris's fatigues. It smelled like the
girl with the cut on her neck. It smelled like her blood.
I pointed at Lieutenant Morris's
pocket and barked. So Captain Dial knelt down, opened the pocket,
and brought out a slender chain with a shiny rock on it. It wasn't
just like the one he had given Melanie, but it didn't look much
different. Except that this one had blood on its chain.
The clasp on the chain was closed,
but the chain had been broken in another place. The rock slid down
against the clasp when Captain Dial pulled the chain from Lieutenant
Morris's pocket, and it dangled there as he held it up. It caught
the sun so that it seemed to have a light inside it.
Captain Dial remained on one knee,
looking at the necklace, for a long time. Lieutenant Morris started
to speak, but I growled and he shut up. I was doing him a favor,
because one of Captain Dial's thoughts was clear. He was thinking of
using his sidearm to shoot Lieutenant Morris in the head. He was
thinking that if Lieutenant Morris said even one word, that was what
he would do.
What happened instead was that Captain Dial
stood up and told a First Platoon sergeant to call for military
police. Then he returned to our utility vehicle, leaving Lieutenant
Morris on his back on the highway. I went with Captain Dial, and we
waited in our vehicle until the military police came. When they did,
Captain Dial gave the rock and chain to one of them.
I didn't understand everything that happened
after that. But Lieutenant Morris was back with D Company just two
days after he ordered First Platoon to attack the van. And Captain
Dial was unhappy because he didn't think there would ever be a
court-martial. For one thing, none of the soldiers of First Platoon
were sure about what had happened. Some of them even thought that
the van had been loaded with explosives, and they continued to think
so even after Captain Dial told them I hadn't smelled any. Also,
Lieutenant Morris said that he had found the girl's necklace on the
ground. And there were no soldiers who would say that he hadn't.
Except me. I hadn't smelled any dirt or asphalt on it. All I had
smelled was skin and blood from the girl's neck plus sweat from
Lieutenant Morris's hand. But the only officer who could hear my
testimony was Captain Dial. And unless there was a court-martial, he
had already done all he could do.
Besides, the military
police said they lost the necklace.
Captain Dial was sad
from then on. I don't think anyone else in the company knew that.
But I did.
I wanted to make
Captain Dial happy again, so I tried even harder to be good. And he
told me I was. He told me I was the best sergeant he had ever
But he was still sad.
So I was sad too.
Two weeks later, D
Company was assigned to a combat mission. A few hours before dawn on
a Friday morning, thirty enemy guerrillas had attacked our supply
depot using mortars and small arms -- and although they had been
repelled, four of our soldiers had been killed. So the guerrillas
had to be followed and destroyed, and D Company was chosen to do it.
Captain Dial thought it was strange that an entire company was being
sent after only thirty enemies, but he followed the order without
D Company was in
pursuit of the guerrillas within an hour of the attack. The
guerrillas had a big head start, but they were on foot, and D
Company had armored personnel carriers, utility vehicles, and me. So
we were able to move fast over both roads and fields, and every few
minutes Captain Dial had me run ahead and correct the direction of
our pursuit. The guerrillas were staying in one group, so their
trail was easy to smell.
We had almost caught up
to them as they reached the hills fifteen kilometers west of our
airfield. We were so close that Captain Dial could see them through
his night-vision field glasses. They were making their way up a
narrow, ascending valley, and they were still in one
This troubled Captain
Dial. It seemed to him that once the guerrillas had reached the
hills, they should have scattered to make our pursuit more
difficult. But they were staying together. So Captain Dial used his
radio to consult with Headquarters, and Headquarters said a refugee
camp of about three hundred souls lay a short distance up the
valley, a few hundred meters beyond a natural curve. The guerrillas
probably intended to stay together long enough to reach that camp --
and then they would disperse and blend in with the civilians. This
would force Captain Dial to either let them escape, or arrest the
So we had to stop the
guerrillas before they reached the refugee camp. Captain Dial
increased our speed, then dropped off two squads from Fourth Platoon
with ten mortars as soon as we were in range. His plan was for those
squads to fire the mortars just beyond the guerrillas, forcing them
to turn away from the refugee camp . . . and perhaps also to run
back into our pursuit.
As the rest of D
Company started up the valley, the mortar squads put a dozen rounds
where Captain Dial had ordered. But instead of reversing direction,
the guerrillas began to ascend a hill on the south side of the
valley. They remained in one group, though, and we gained on them.
When we were close enough that we might be hit by stray mortar
rounds, Captain Dial radioed the squads and told them to hold fire.
But they were to stay put to intercept any enemies that might be
flushed back toward them.
We rushed toward the
base of the hill the guerrillas were climbing. They were moving much
more slowly now, and in the light of dawn it was clear that we would
overtake them before they reached the crest of the hill. I became
excited as I thought of knocking them down and holding them, one by
one, until my fellow soldiers could take them prisoner. And as the
utility vehicle that carried me, Captain Dial, and Staff Sergeant
Owens began to climb the hill, I readied myself to leap out and
Our vehicle was in the
lead, so most of the company was still on the valley floor as we
started up the hill. It was at that moment that rocket-propelled
grenades and mortar shells began raining down around us from the
opposite hillside to the north. And then the guerrillas we were
chasing took up positions and began to fire down on us with small
Captain Dial radioed
orders to our platoon leaders to take cover and return fire. Then he
had Staff Sergeant Owens turn our utility vehicle broadside to the
enemy fire, and the three of us exited on the downhill side. We
crawled downhill as fast as we could until we reached one of D
Company's APCs, and we took cover behind it with soldiers from First
and Second Platoons. The soldiers were jumping up and leaning out to
fire quick bursts from their rifles, and Captain Dial shouted for
them to keep it up as he got on the radio again to call Headquarters
for air support. Our helicopters and drones were always out on
missions, but two or three could be diverted if soldiers were in
trouble. And we were in trouble.
But now Captain Dial
couldn't raise Headquarters on the radio. He tried every possible
frequency, and there was nothing but silence.
crawled to us and told Captain Dial that we were all going to be
killed, and that it was Captain Dial's fault. I wanted to bite
Lieutenant Morris's throat then. But Captain Dial ignored him, so I
tried to ignore him too. He wasn't a good soldier. He didn't belong
in D Company.
There was a loud
explosion up the hill, and a soldier told Captain Dial that our
abandoned utility vehicle had been hit by a rocket from the other
side of the valley. They were zeroing in on us. So Captain Dial said
we couldn't stay behind the armored personnel carrier, because it
would be targeted next. He ordered First and Second Platoons to
retreat to the valley floor, and then he got on the radio and told
the mortar squads from Fourth Platoon to fire on the northern
hillside. Finally he called to Third Platoon and the remaining two
squads of Fourth Platoon, who were all still at the base of the
hill, and told them to abandon their APCs and move up the valley on
foot, doubletime. All platoons were to return fire as best they
could. No one was to retreat back toward the plain.
As Captain Dial and I
moved downhill with First and Second Platoons, Lieutenant Morris
shouted that Captain Dial's orders were insane. The soldiers in APCs
should stay in them, he said. Without armor, he said, they would be
picked off in the valley like cattle in a chute.
But Captain Dial knew
that the armor was what the enemy would try to destroy first, unless
it was moving fast. And it couldn't move fast in the terrain we were
in. So getting the soldiers away from it was the only thing to do.
And sure enough, before we reached the bottom of the hill, the APC
we had been using for cover was hit by a rocket and
Our mortars began
hitting the northern hill as Captain Dial and I reached the base of
the southern hill, and Captain Dial stood his ground there while
urging the soldiers of First and Second Platoons to run past our
abandoned APCs and continue up the valley. And even now, Lieutenant
Morris kept telling him he was wrong, and that D Company ought to be
heading back to the plain in full retreat.
But I knew Captain
Dial's thoughts, and I knew he was right. Headquarters had been
tricked into having D Company follow the guerrillas into an ambush
-- but Captain Dial wouldn't let the guerrillas trick him any
further. He knew that once the ambush began, the enemy would expect
D Company to retreat toward the plain. So there would be another
trap waiting at the mouth of the valley. The enemy would close us
in, then fire down upon us until we were annihilated.
So Captain Dial would
confound their expectations. D Company would continue up the valley,
on foot, until we could reach an elevated position. With our mortar
squads out on the plain providing harassing fire, we could be well
up the valley before the guerrillas could leave their hillsides. And
then we would transform the enemy's ambush into an attack of our
But we would have to
take up our battle position before reaching the refugee camp. So we
would doubletime around the curve to get out of sight of the enemy,
then run up the hill on the backside of the curve. The guerrillas
would have no clear shot from their current positions -- and if they
followed us, we would be able to pour fire down on them as they
rounded the curve. So even without air support, we could
Captain Dial's plan
was good, and as D Company rushed up the valley, it began to work.
Two more of our abandoned vehicles were hit and began to burn, but
despite the constant fire from the enemy, we had not yet lost a
single soldier. Our mortar squads were hitting the hillsides as
ordered, and the guerrillas' weapons fire became erratic. Captain
Dial paused every few meters to shout orders and encouragement to
his running soldiers, and once he sent me back to nip at the heels
of a few stragglers. But the stragglers weren't stragglers for long,
and I was able to rejoin Captain Dial in less than a minute. Then,
bringing up the rear, he and I rounded the curve and began running
up the slope to take our positions with the rest of our soldiers.
They were already following Captain Dial's orders, taking cover
behind rocks and in gullies. And they were readying their
Some of the guerrillas
had chased after us, and a few of them came around the curve before
Captain Dial and I were far enough up the slope to take our
positions. But we hit the dirt so our soldiers could fire on them,
and only two of these enemies survived long enough to come within
twenty meters of me and Captain Dial. So I turned, charged, and bit
their throats. Then I returned to Captain Dial, and we joined
several of our soldiers behind a jumble of rocks and
More guerrillas came
around the curve, and D Company shot them. Then some came up the
slope in a truck, and one of our soldiers destroyed it with a
rocket-propelled grenade. We were winning the battle despite being
Then strange things
They didn't seem
strange at first. At first, I heard the buzz of airborne drones.
Captain Dial couldn't hear them yet, but he knew that I could, and
he was glad. It seemed that Headquarters had heard his request after
But almost as soon as
I heard the drones, I also heard distant explosions, and our mortar
squads stopped firing. So Captain Dial radioed them for a status
report. But there was no reply. Then he tried again to contact
Headquarters, but there was still no reply there either.
The buzz became loud,
and two drones appeared around the curve of the valley, flying low.
They were narrow-winged and sleek, and almost invisible against the
sky. They didn't have any insignia on their wings.
Then they fired
rockets at us. They fired rockets at D Company. And at least twenty
soldiers died as the rockets exploded. Dirt and rocks pelted me and
Captain Dial where we crouched. My ears hurt.
The drones rose up
over the opposite hill, then turned back toward us. Captain Dial
shouted into his radio, trying one frequency after another, doing
his best to raise Headquarters, to raise the remote drone pilots, to
raise anyone who should have been listening. He shouted to his
lieutenants to try their own radios too. And they did. But no one
received a reply.
The drones came
swooping toward us, and it became clear that their first attack
hadn't been a mistake. Captain Dial's thoughts were tangled as he
realized this. The enemy had no such weapons. So he couldn't
understand why the drones were attacking us. Their cameras should
have seen who we were, and their pilots should have known that D
Company wasn't the enemy.
But even in his
confusion, Captain Dial was a good leader. He ordered Sergeant Owens
to fire a flare to identify us, but he didn't wait to see whether
the cameras had seen it and understood its meaning. Instead, he
shouted for D Company's surviving lieutenants and sergeants to get
their soldiers up and moving again. If the drones were returning to
attack our position again, he was going to put us somewhere
The soldiers of D
Company were already running down the slope when the drones launched
their second wave of rockets, so most of them made it to the valley
floor. But eight more were killed. Captain Dial and I were bringing
up the rear again, and the rocket that killed the eight exploded in
front of us just as another exploded behind us. Captain Dial dove to
the ground, putting his arms around me and pushing me down. Then he
covered me with his body as more rockets exploded on the slope above
I didn't like it.
Captain Dial wasn't supposed to shield me from harm. I was supposed
to do that for him. So I tried to reverse our positions, but Captain
Dial ordered me to stay put. Of course I had to obey. But I didn't
understand. Captain Dial was more important to D Company than I
The rockets stopped
exploding, and the drones passed over us again. They were so close
that the dirt under my jaw hummed. Then Captain Dial was on his feet
again, shouting orders as the drones flew behind the hilltop. The
surviving soldiers of D Company were to run like hell up the valley
and to take whatever cover they could find -- rocks, trees, ditches,
anything -- if the drones made another pass. But the soldiers were
to avoid entering the refugee camp, wherever it was, at all costs.
If they came upon it while still on the run, they were to find a way
Captain Dial was smart.
But even Captain Dial could only make his choices based on what he
knew. And he didn't know that the refugees weren't gathered in a
single camp, as Headquarters had said. He didn't know that they were
scattered in small clusters throughout the rest of the
And he didn't know
that the drones would return so soon, or that they would swoop up
and down the valley firing their Gatling guns at anything that
moved. The valley was full of sunlight now, so the pilots should
have been able to see our soldiers' uniforms. There was nothing to
block the view of the cameras. But the drones kept firing on
I wished I could jump
high enough to tear them out of the sky.
As D Company's
lieutenants and sergeants began shouting and radioing Captain Dial,
telling him that they were losing more soldiers and that every scrap
of cover was occupied by noncombatants, Captain Dial made a decision
he didn't want to make. He tried one more time to contact
Headquarters -- and when that failed, he ordered D Company to return
fire. Then he took a rifle from a fallen corporal and fired the
first shots at the lead drone as it swooped toward us
I couldn't fire a
weapon, so I did the only thing I could do to help. I ran in a
zigzag pattern toward the drones in an attempt to draw their fire
and give the rest of D Company a better chance to make their shots
count. And I could hear Captain Dial shouting that I was good.
That made me
The lead drone turned
toward me, and in that instant the soldiers of D Company were able
to hit it broadside with small-arms fire and at least one RPG. The
drone began spewing smoke, and then it turned and almost collided
with the second drone. The second drone pulled up and vanished
behind a hill just as the first one began to spiral
I returned to Captain
Dial, who ordered me and the soldiers who were closest to follow
him. We ran up a hillside and dove into a gully that cut across it.
There were six of us: Captain Dial, Lieutenant Morris, Sergeant
Owens, two specialists, and me. And in the gully we found five
civilians: An old man, a woman, an adolescent girl, and two young
boys. They scrambled away from us as we tumbled into the gully, and
they seemed about to climb out until Captain Dial spoke to them in
their language. I think he told them they would be safer if they
He had no sooner
gotten the words out than the ground shook with the biggest
explosion yet. I smelled burning fuel, and I knew the drone had
crashed. Captain Dial shouted for everyone to hit the dirt, but I
was the only one in the gully who heard him. There was a roaring
noise and more explosions. The drone's remaining weapons were
One of the boys tried
to climb out of the gully. The woman jumped up to stop him, and
something from the exploding drone hit her in the face. She fell
back into the gully. So Captain Dial tried to get to the panicked
boy to pull him down. But Lieutenant Morris clutched Captain Dial's
leg and stopped him.
Captain Dial made a
gesture, and I followed the order. I leaped over him and Lieutenant
Morris, and I grabbed the boy's ankle and pulled him down. My teeth
broke his skin, but it couldn't be helped. When the boy fell to the
dirt beside the woman, I pressed my chest against his to hold him
The girl started to
move as if to protect the boy from me, but then she looked at my
eyes. And for that moment, she knew my thoughts. So she crawled to
the woman instead and wiped blood from her face.
The woman wasn't
breathing, and I knew she was dead. The girl knew it too, but she
tried to make the woman breathe again anyway.
There were a few more
explosions from the fallen drone, and then the only noise from it
was a muted roar as it burned. So I listened for the other drone,
and I heard it flying farther and farther away.
Captain Dial told me I
could let the boy up, so I did. He tried to run away again, but this
time the girl stopped him. He was crying, and so was the girl. So
was the other boy. The girl looked at me again, and I knew then that
the dead woman was their mother and the old man was their
grandfather. The old man was sitting against the wall of the gully
with his knees pulled up to his face and his eyes closed
I looked at Captain
Dial then and saw that he was hurt. His left sleeve was turning dark
at the shoulder, just below the edge of his flak jacket. But I could
hardly smell his blood among all the other bloody smells. I went to
him and whined, and he touched my head and told me he was all right.
I wanted to go find a medic for him, but he ordered me to
Then he used his radio
to ask the rest of D Company for a status report, but he couldn't
hear the replies because Lieutenant Morris began shouting. I
couldn't understand all of the words, but I understood that
Lieutenant Morris blamed Captain Dial for what had happened. He
accused Captain Dial of treason for shooting down one of our own
aircraft. And he said that the civilians weren't refugees at all,
but guerrillas like those we had been pursuing. He said that was why
the drones had attacked. And he said it was Captain Dial's fault
that D Company had been in the line of fire when that
Morris was shouting made any sense. But nothing that had happened to
us had made any sense either. I knew that much from Captain Dial's
thoughts. He didn't understand why things had happened the way they
had happened. He slumped with his back against the wall of the
gully, and he wondered whether Melanie would still love him after
turned to Sergeant Owens and the two specialists, and he announced
that Captain Dial was incapacitated. So he was now ranking officer,
he said, and he ordered them to turn their weapons toward the old
man, the girl, and the boys. If any of them moved, he said, the
soldiers were to shoot them all.
Sergeant Owens and the
specialists did as they were told. Then Lieutenant Morris reached
for the radio in Captain Dial's right hand, but I jumped in his way
and snarled at him. So Lieutenant Morris unholstered his sidearm and
pointed it at me.
But before he could
fire, Captain Dial spoke. He ordered Lieutenant Morris to lower his
weapon, and after some hesitation, Lieutenant Morris obeyed. Then
Captain Dial ordered Sergeant Owens and the specialists to lower
their weapons as well, and they obeyed too.
Captain Dial was
strong again. His shoulder was bleeding, but his thoughts were
clear. He stood up, pushing himself off the gully wall with his
right forearm, and peered over the rim at the burning drone. He
spoke into his radio and told his soldiers to stay put if they were
in a safe place, and to keep trying to find one if they weren't. He
would assess the situation and issue new orders within the next few
But we didn't have a
few minutes. I could hear the second drone returning.
I barked to let
Captain Dial know it was coming. So then he shouted into his radio
and ordered all of his soldiers to remain still and refrain from
returning fire unless directly fired upon. Then he ordered those of
us in the gully to hit the dirt. The girl and the two boys didn't
understand at first, but the old man put his hands on their
shoulders and made them lie down close to their dead
Then Captain Dial
lowered himself to a sitting position with his back against the
gully wall. He couldn't lie down flat with his wounded shoulder. I
lay down next to him and put my chin on his knee, and we waited
while the drone flew back and forth. Its Gatling gun chattered three
or four times, and I hoped it was shooting enemy guerrillas and not
D Company soldiers or civilians.
One of the little boys
began to cry, but the girl and the old man whispered to him, and
then he was quiet again. I was glad they could calm him like that.
They were being good leaders. Like Captain Dial.
But a good leader
needs good soldiers.
On the drone's fourth
pass, Lieutenant Morris stood and fired his weapon into the air. I
was on him fast, my front paws hitting his back and pushing him
down, but it was too late. Even as I pinned Lieutenant Morris to the
bottom of the gully, I could hear the drone turning and the barrels
of its Gatling guns beginning to spin.
shouted into the dirt that we had to show ourselves to the drone so
it would know who we were and so it could help us kill the rest of
the enemy. He worked a hand free from under his chest and pointed at
the family with the dead mother.
I wanted to bite
Lieutenant Morris and bite him hard. And I smelled something in one
of his pockets that made me feel that way even more. It smelled like
the dead girl at the highway checkpoint.
But I didn't bite him,
because I knew Captain Dial wouldn't like it. Captain Dial was busy
with his radio, telling the rest of D Company that they were not to
give away their positions by firing on the drone if it attacked
those of us in the gully -- not unless there was a clear shot for an
RPG. Otherwise, we were on our own. But D Company would
I heard the drone dip
low. It was flying on a path directly in line with our gully. It
would be able to pour bullets and rockets on us with
Captain Dial was on
his feet. It was as if he had been yanked up on a rope from the sky.
His left sleeve was so wet that it dripped.
He shouted two orders.
First, Sergeant Owens and the two specialists were to get out of the
gully at the south rim and run through the smoke of the downed
aircraft until they could find other cover in the valley. Second, I
was to take the civilians over the north rim and head up into the
hills until I could find another gully, a cave, or some other
sheltered position. I was to keep them safe.
Sergeant Owens and the
specialists clambered over the south rim, rolled, and ran into the
smoke. I jumped off Lieutenant Morris and started toward the
civilians. But after a few steps, I stopped. The drone's Gatling
guns had begun to fire.
I looked back and saw
Captain Dial pull Lieutenant Morris to his feet. Captain Dial could
only use his right arm, so he had dropped his radio. Lieutenant
Morris seemed dazed, and Captain Dial had to hold him up and drag
Captain Dial shouted
for me to obey my order. I was not to wait for him and Lieutenant
Morris. They would catch up, he said.
But I knew Captain
Dial's thoughts. I knew he didn't think that he and Lieutenant
Morris would make it.
So for the first time
ever, I decided to disobey a direct order. I would obey my General
Order instead. That was what I had done on the day beside the ocean,
and Captain Dial had told me I was good. He had told me I was more
good than I had ever been before. So I would do that
I ran back to Captain
Dial, and he yelled at me. He said I had to obey his order
But instead I grabbed
one of Lieutenant Morris's flak-jacket straps, and I pulled him away
from Captain Dial and began dragging him up the gully wall. He was
heavy, but I'm strong.
Captain Dial knew then
that he should take charge of the civilians. Dragging soldiers to
safety was one of my jobs, and keeping civilians safe was one of
his. But first, he jumped to me and hooked Lieutenant Morris's arm
through my harness loop. Then he pulled the strap to tighten the
loop. Now I could let go of the flak-jacket strap and drag
Lieutenant Morris a lot faster.
Captain Dial touched
my head and told me to go.
I went up the gully
wall and over the top with Lieutenant Morris while Captain Dial ran
to the civilians and told them that they must go with him. One of
the boys cried because he wanted to stay with his mother, but the
old man and the girl listened to Captain Dial and wouldn't let the
boy stay. They all climbed up from the gully.
Captain Dial's foot
slipped on the way up and he almost fell, but the girl grabbed his
arm to steady him. It was his wounded arm, but she couldn't reach
the other one. I saw a flash like a grenade exploding in Captain
Dial's thoughts. But Captain Dial didn't cry out even though it hurt
a lot. He was a good soldier. The girl was, too. She didn't hesitate
to help Captain Dial. She didn't flinch from his blood.
When we were all out
of the gully, we ran north through the smoke. Captain Dial and the
civilians were a few meters west of me and Lieutenant Morris, and
they were moving up the slope a little faster. Every few steps,
Captain Dial would look back and call encouragement to me. And I
would pull harder and could feel Lieutenant Morris's boots bouncing
on the ground behind us.
I didn't look back,
but I heard the buzz of the drone as it flew low over the gully we
had just left. I could smell its exhaust. Its Gatling guns
chattered, and the slugs made dull thumps in the dirt.
And then, as we ran
higher and came up out of the smoke, I heard the drone swoop out
over the valley, turn, and head right for us. It was attacking us
from behind, and there was no place for us to take cover when its
guns started firing again. I looked ahead and saw a shadow on the
ground that looked like another gully, but it was too far away.
Lieutenant Morris and I wouldn't reach it before the drone strafed
I looked over at
Captain Dial. Although he was wounded, he was now carrying one of
the boys. The girl was carrying the other one. The old man was
breathing hard and stumbling. So they were losing speed, and
Lieutenant Morris and I had almost caught up to them. They wouldn't
reach the next gully either. The drone would be able to hit all of
us with the same burst of gunfire, or with just one
Captain Dial looked
over at me as I looked at him, and we each knew the other's
thoughts. There was only one thing to do. And when his thoughts said
I followed his order.
He and the civilians
cut left, where there was still a little smoke, and I cut right,
where the air was clear. We ran away from each other as fast as we
could. I could hear Captain Dial's breath getting farther and
farther away behind me. I could hear it even over the noise from
Lieutenant Morris's boots.
I would have dropped
Lieutenant Morris if I could, because he would have been safer lying
still. But I couldn't. The loop on my harness was pulled tight
around his arm, and there was no time for me to turn my head to yank
The drone came after
me and Lieutenant Morris. I was sorry for what that meant for
Lieutenant Morris, but glad because it gave Captain Dial a better
chance to get himself and the civilians to cover. And I was glad
because it gave me a chance to be good.
I ran hard, and I
zigzagged as much as I could while dragging Lieutenant Morris. The
engine buzz became a roar, and the Gatling gun chattered loud and
long. And it almost missed us. But the last slugs in the burst came
ripping through the dirt right behind us, and Lieutenant Morris
jerked as they reached him. I was slapped down at my hindquarters,
and I fell. Lieutenant Morris and I rolled a little way down the
hill, and the drone flew over us so low that I could see the rivets
in its belly. It rose up over the ridge, hung there for a moment,
and then started toward us again.
But this time it
bloomed fire from its tail, and it twisted sideways and dove into
the hillside above us. There was a loud noise and more fire when it
hit, and smoke like there had been from the first one.
I tried to get up, but
Lieutenant Morris was lying on my hind legs. And my back hurt, close
to my tail. But I couldn't see or hear Captain Dial, and I had to
find him. So I twisted my head around far enough to tug on my
harness loop until Lieutenant Morris's arm slipped out. I couldn't
hear Lieutenant Morris's breath or heartbeat, and I could smell that
he had blood coming out of his legs, back, chest, and neck. He was
dead, and there was no place I could drag him where he would be all
When his arm came
free, I was able to scramble with my front legs and pull myself out
from under him. And then I was able to stand up all the way even
though my back hurt. I looked for Captain Dial and the civilians,
but I couldn't see them. There was a lot more smoke now, and it made
my eyes itch. It also made it hard to smell anything else. But I
heard the girl say something, faint and soft, so I left Lieutenant
Morris and followed her voice.
I found her with the
other civilians and Captain Dial. Captain Dial was lying on the
ground, and the girl was kneeling beside him with her hand on his
head. The old man was standing nearby holding the little boys'
hands. The boys were scared. They were looking at the body of a D
Company soldier lying nearby. It was torn in two.
Captain Dial smiled
when I came up to him and licked his face. I had to step over an RPG
launcher to reach him, and when I touched him I knew what he had
done. He had found the RPG launcher with the dead soldier, and he
had used it to bring down the second drone. But it had recoiled
against his wounded shoulder, and now the wound was bleeding even
He saw my thoughts and
knew what had happened to Lieutenant Morris. But he said I had done
everything right. He said he was proud of me. He said I was
And just as he said
that, I heard a buzzing noise far off in the south. It was heading
toward us fast. More drones were coming.
Captain Dial couldn't
hear them. But he knew I did. And he said that they might not be
coming to attack us, because their pilots might have realized that
the first two had been firing on allies and civilians. But we
couldn't count on it. So I was to take the four civilians away and
find shelter for them. I was to do so immediately.
I didn't understand at
first, because the picture I saw in Captain Dial's thoughts was a
picture only of me and the civilians. He wasn't in it. He wasn't
walking with us, and I wasn't dragging him with my
And then he made me
understand. He was too dizzy to walk, and I couldn't drag him
without making his wound worse.
I wanted to follow his
orders, but first I wanted to go back down the hill and find a D
Company medic to take care of him. But Captain Dial said there was
no time for that. Not if I was going to take the civilians to safety
before the new drones arrived. And I knew he was right, because the
girl could hear the drones now too. She still had her hand on
Captain Dial's head, but she was looking at the sky.
I whined. I didn't
want to go off with the civilians and leave Captain Dial all alone,
even for a little while.
Captain Dial reached
up with his right hand to touch my head. He told me it was all right
to leave him for now, because I could come back as soon as I had
taken the civilians to a safe place. It could be a cave or a deep
ravine. It just had to be somewhere they couldn't be hurt. Once I
had made sure of that, I could return. And if a medic hadn't come to
help Captain Dial yet, I could go find one for him then.
But for now, I had to
go. I had to keep the civilians safe.
Captain Dial took his
hand from my head and spoke to the girl, and he took his pulse
transmitter from the pouch on his belt and gave it to her. I knew he
was telling her to go with me, and that the transmitter would help
us communicate. She shook her head at first, but I could understand
her thoughts well enough to know that it wasn't because she was
afraid of me. It was because she didn't want to leave Captain Dial
alone any more than I did.
I knew then that I
liked her. But we were under orders now, and we had to follow them.
So I took the girl's hand in my mouth, and I gave a tug to pull her
away from Captain Dial. She didn't want to go, but she didn't fight
me. She knew what we had to do. She strapped the transmitter to her
wrist and stood up. She was good, too.
We left Captain Dial
and went to the old man and the boys. I released the girl's hand as
she told them they were all going with me. She put the old man's
hand on the handle of my harness, and then he held the hand of one
of the boys. The girl held the hand of the other one. We all started
up the hill again, pushing through the smoke. My hind legs hurt, but
I was still strong. I helped the old man go fast. The girl kept pace
beside me as I sniffed and listened to find the best path for
I could still see
Captain Dial's thoughts for a long way up the hill. At first he was
thinking of me and what I was doing, and he was proud. That made me
Then he thought the
two words he had thought about on the day we performed our
demonstration by the ocean. He thought the words "heroism" and
And then he worried
about the other soldiers in D Company. So that made me worry, too.
But I couldn't go back to check on them yet. I had orders to
Finally, as the
civilians and I came out of the smoke onto a sloping field of rocks,
I saw one last strong thought from Captain Dial. It was of Melanie.
It was of Melanie with him in their bed, sleeping. And I was on my
cushion at their feet.
It was a happy
thought, and it made me happy too.
Then Captain Dial's
thoughts became fuzzy as the civilians and I went higher, and soon
they were gone. I paused near the crest of the hill and looked back
down the slope, but I couldn't see the place where Captain Dial lay
because of the rocks and smoke. And I thought for a moment that
maybe the civilians were safe now, and that I could leave them and
go back to where I could know Captain Dial's thoughts again.
But the sound of the
approaching drones was loud now, and as I watched, one of them came
flying up out of the smoke below us. So I led the civilians behind a
big rock. We all crouched down, and I heard the drone turn away and
fly back down the hillside again.
Then I heard Gatling
guns firing, and I remembered my orders. So I got up from my crouch,
and the girl and I took the old man and the boys over the top of the
hill and down the other side.
I didn't like not
being able to see Captain Dial's thoughts. But now I could see the
girl's thoughts almost as well as I had seen his, and she had some
good ideas about where we might find a safe place to hide. So we
started off in the direction she thought was best.
We had to alter our
path many times because of things I smelled or heard. And once we
had to make a long detour because the girl remembered there were
land mines ahead. I couldn't smell them yet, but she warned me by
sending pulses to my implant. And then I saw her thoughts, and I
knew they were true. So we found another way.
I became tired and
thirsty, and my hind legs hurt. The girl and her family became tired
and thirsty too. But we could hear gunfire and explosions behind us,
so the girl and I wouldn't let the others stop. Not until we found
Not until we had done
what Captain Dial had ordered us to do.
We went up and down
through the hills all that day. At dusk we found a guerrilla camp
that had been bombed many weeks before. But there were still some
matches, a knife, and three plastic jugs of water. So we were able
to get a drink. The water tasted like plastic, but we drank a lot of
it. There was only one jug left when we were finished. The girl tied
it to my harness, and we set out again. The girl carried the matches
and the knife.
After nightfall, the
girl couldn't see where we were or where we were going. Clouds
covered the sky, so she couldn't find any stars to help her. That
meant our path was up to me. So I followed my nose and my ears, and
I took us farther and farther away from cities, camps, and roads. I
took us away from anything that smelled or sounded like people with
weapons. We had to go a long way.
At last, when the
eastern sky had begun to brighten, we found a shelf of rock in the
side of a hill. Under the shelf was a cave that was narrow but deep.
It was well hidden by brush. I went in first and found some bone
fragments and a ring of stones for a fire, but I could smell that
they were old. No one had used the cave in a long time.
So I brought the
people inside, and they slept on the bare rock. I didn't sleep right
away because I had to lick the cuts on my hind legs. Then I dozed.
But I kept my ears and nose alert. The only sounds were of the wind
blowing through the rocks and brush. The only smells were of
rabbits, birds, and other small animals nearby. There were no
guerrillas, soldiers, or other people anywhere near us.
When I had rested for
a few hours, I went out into the morning sunlight and killed three
rabbits. I had to chase them, and that made my legs hurt again. But
I still caught them with no trouble. I tore one apart and ate most
of him, and then I took the other two back to the cave. The girl was
awake, and she knew what to do. She woke up the boys and had them
gather brush and sticks while she used the knife from the guerrilla
camp to skin the rabbits. The old man made a spit from the sticks,
and they cooked the rabbits over a fire the girl started inside the
old ring of stones. It filled the cave with smoke, but the people
didn't care. They were hungry.
While they ate, I
scouted the area around the cave in widening circles. I sniffed,
smelled, and listened. I marked a broad perimeter to warn off animal
intruders. Then I did it all over again. And then I was sure my
people were safe.
I had followed and
completed Captain Dial's order. So I went to the girl and pushed my
nose into her hand to be sure she knew my thoughts. I made sure she
knew that she and her family should stay close to the cave. They
could kill more rabbits to eat, and they still had the jug of water
from the guerrilla camp. When that ran out, they could catch rain
So I started back to
the battlefield where I had left Captain Dial. I was able to go
faster now because I didn't have people with me, and because my legs
felt better. I could also choose a path that took me closer to
dangerous smells. And I found a pond where I could get a drink. But
that was the only time I stopped. I wanted to get back to Captain
Dial as soon as I could.
There was still some
light in the sky when I came over the hilltop and looked down the
rocky slope at the battlefield. The two fallen drones had stopped
burning, and there was no more smoke. A number of people were
walking around down near the gully where Captain Dial and I had
found the civilians, and the wind brought me their smells along with
the smells of many dead D Company soldiers and refugees. The walking
people didn't smell like soldiers or refugees. But they didn't smell
like the enemy, either. They didn't make much noise, but
occasionally one of them would fire a single shot. It sounded as if
they were firing into the ground.
I didn't care who they
were, or why they were shooting at the ground. Because now I smelled
something else, too.
When I reached Captain
Dial, I lay down beside him with my chin on his chest. There was
nothing else I could do. I didn't nudge him with my nose or lick his
face. I didn't try to wake him up. I'm not stupid. That was one of
the things Captain Dial liked best about me. He liked that I was
I closed my eyes. I
didn't have an order for what to do next, so I would do nothing. I
was tired, and there were no D Company soldiers left for me to help.
I would stay there with my chin on Captain Dial.
I closed my eyes and
fell asleep. And I dreamed. I dreamed about the day I found the live
mine on the pier and about how proud Captain Dial was. I dreamed
about running fast in training so I could complete my orders and get
back to Captain Dial before the buzzer sounded. I dreamed about
lying curled up on my cushion on the floor while Captain Dial and
Melanie made soft noises above me.
Then I woke up and
opened my eyes. Three of the people below were coming up the slope.
They were solid shadows in the dusk. And their smell was sharper
now. They smelled like men who used shampoo and soap and who wore
clean clothes. They smelled like the men in the crowd the day I
found the mine. They smelled like civilians from home.
And as they came
toward me and Captain Dial, I heard something behind me. Something
higher up the slope, moving down through the rocks. It wasn't loud,
so I knew the men coming up the slope couldn't hear it. I couldn't
identify it by scent because the wind was blowing the wrong way, but
I could hear that it was small and alone. So I didn't think it would
hurt anyone. Besides, none of the men coming up the slope was my
commanding officer. I wasn't required to alert them.
The three men
approached within a few meters of me and Captain Dial, and now I saw
that they were dressed in dark clothes that weren't uniforms. But
they carried pistols in holsters. One of them pointed a camera at me
and Captain Dial. I couldn't see the men's thoughts, but they spoke
in the same language as D Company, so I understood some of what they
said. One of them said something was great, and the others agreed.
I didn't know what
they thought was great, but I knew there was nothing there that
One of them stepped
closer and leaned down as if about to touch Captain Dial. So I
raised my head and snarled at him, and he moved back. Then I put my
head down again, but I stayed ready. I didn't know who they were,
but they weren't part of D Company. They weren't even soldiers. I
wouldn't let them touch Captain Dial.
The one with the
camera kept aiming it at me and Captain Dial. But the other two put
their hands on their pistols and conferred. And I understood enough
to know they were talking about shooting me. So I did what Captain
Dial had taught me to do. I planned how to attack them so they
couldn't get off a shot. If either of their pistols began to rise
from its holster, I would execute the plan. And I would decide what
to do about the one with the camera based on how he
But another thing that
Captain Dial had taught me was that a battlefield situation can
The thing coming down
the slope sent some pebbles skittering through the brush. And the
three men heard it. They backed away from me and Captain Dial, and
the one with the camera let it drop to dangle on a cord around his
neck. They all three began taking their pistols from their holsters.
But now they were looking past me toward whatever had made the
I kept my eyes on the
three men. But I sniffed the air, and even though the wind was still
going the wrong way, I caught a faint scent that told me who was on
the slope behind me. It was the girl I had taken to safety on
Captain Dial's order. She was still and quiet now, probably crouched
behind a rock. But even so, she wasn't safe anymore.
All three men were
raising their pistols. They were farther away from me than when I
had made my plan of attack. But they weren't looking at me now. The
light of day was almost gone. And I am black as night. I am silent
The third one got off
a shot as I hit his chest, but the bullet went into the sky. The
other two were already on the ground, their throats torn out, their
weapons in the dirt. The third one tried to fight me off once he was
down, but that didn't last long.
When he was still, I
looked back up the slope, beyond Captain Dial, and saw the girl
standing beside a clump of brush. She was almost invisible because
the sun was gone now. But I saw her shape against the brush. And the
wind had shifted so I could smell her better. She smelled
I was angry that she
had returned to the battlefield. I had done my duty and made her
safe, and she had spoiled it. I didn't understand why she had done
Then she came down the
hill past Captain Dial, past me, and past the three men on the
ground. She didn't walk fast, but she walked steady and strong even
though she was scared. She said something soft to me as she went by,
and I saw a flash of her thoughts. Then I understood. She was going
down to the gully, to her mother. She wanted to wrap the body and
take it somewhere to bury it. She had returned by herself to do
this, leaving her brothers in the care of the old man.
I looked past her and
knew I couldn't let her do as she planned. There were more people
down there. They were like the three men I had just killed. The girl
wouldn't be safe among them. Already, I could see and hear several
of them starting toward her. She couldn't see them yet. But she
would encounter them before she could reach the gully.
So I ran down to the
girl and got in front of her. But she just walked around me. Then I
took her hand in my mouth, but she just pulled it away and kept
going. She wouldn't stay in contact with me long enough to see my
thoughts. She was determined to reach her mother.
I couldn't knock her
down or bite her to make her come with me. But I couldn't let her
keep going. I had to make her pay attention to me long enough so she
would understand what we had to do. So I turned and ran fast across
the hillside, away from both the girl and Captain Dial. I ran to the
body of Lieutenant Morris, and I tore open one of his pockets. Some
ammo clips fell out, but that wasn't what I wanted. I wanted what I
had smelled when I'd pushed Lieutenant Morris down in the gully.
And I found it curled
up in the corner of the pocket. It was the necklace from the dead
girl at the checkpoint. There was still enough blood on it that I
had been able to smell it. The necklace had been taken from
Lieutenant Morris for the investigation, but he had stolen it back.
Now I took it from him again.
I ran back to the girl
with it, got in front of her, and pushed my nose against her hand so
she would feel the necklace hanging from my mouth.
She stopped walking.
Her palm was against my nose. Her fingers brushed the silver chain.
The transmitter on her wrist hummed. And then, as someone shouted
below us, I thought hard and showed her what had happened to the
girl who had worn the necklace. So she saw that girl lying on the
side of the road with her sisters. She saw me find the necklace in
Lieutenant Morris's pocket. She saw how angry Captain Dial had been
at what Lieutenant Morris had done.
The shouting below us
grew louder. I could hear six voices now, and weapons being readied.
More of the armed-men-who-weren't-soldiers were coming toward us.
But I didn't turn away
from the girl. I kept my nose in her palm because I had to be sure
she understood. I had to be sure she understood that Captain Dial
was my commanding officer, and that I hated to leave him there on
the hillside again. But I would. And she would have to leave her
mother there, too. We both had to follow Captain Dial's last order.
And if the men coming up the hillside reached us, we would fail. I
wouldn't be good. And she would be like the other girl. The one who
had worn the necklace.
The girl was smart. I
saw in her thoughts that her mother wouldn't want her to die like
that other girl. But when she understood what I was telling her, she
began to cry. She hadn't cried before this. But she cried now,
taking the necklace from my mouth and clutching it in her fist. She
wanted to fight the men coming up the hill. She thought they were
responsible for her mother's death. She thought they had made the
I didn't know why she
thought that. But I understood why she would want to fight whoever
had made the drones fire on D Company. I wanted to fight those
people too. But even if those people were the men who were coming up
the hill, we couldn't fight them now. I had already killed three of
them, but I had caught those three by surprise. There were more than
three coming now, and they had their weapons ready to
So we had to go back
up over the hill. And while the girl stood there with the necklace
clenched in her fist, I took her other hand in my mouth. And then I
started up the hill, pulling her with me.
At first, she came
with me without knowing what she was doing. She was still crying and
thinking of what she wanted to do to the people who had sent the
drones. So the men coming up the hill gained on us, and a shot was
fired. I heard the bang and then heard the slug hiss through the
air. It hit the dirt several meters ahead of us.
Then the girl's
thoughts came back to where we were and what we needed to do. So she
began to run, and I was able to release her hand. We ran together
back up the hill, through the rocks and brush, up toward the night
We paused for a few
seconds when we reached Captain Dial again. He lay still in the
twilight. He made no sound. He had no thoughts. He didn't even smell
like Captain Dial anymore. So it was all right for the girl to take
his sidearm and empty his pockets. And this time, it was easier to
leave. This time, I knew I wouldn't need to return.
In training, Captain
Dial had told me that when a soldier was gone, he was gone forever.
But he had also told Melanie that they would be together forever. So
forever was always a hard word for me to
understand. But whenever I didn't understand something, it was
because it was something only someone as smart as Captain Dial could
understand. And in those cases, I would just have to believe
whatever Captain Dial said. Because Captain Dial always spoke the
So that was what I did
as I left his body there on the hillside for the last time. I
remembered what Captain Dial had said, and I was glad that even
though he was gone, he and Melanie would still be
I wished I could be
with them, too. But I didn't know how to get to wherever they
The girl and I went up
over the top of the hill, and soon I couldn't smell or hear the men
behind us anymore. Then the twilight was gone, and the girl held my
harness so I could lead her through the darkness. She knew my
thoughts most of the time now, so I promised her I would do a good
job. And she promised me the same thing.
We had our orders. So
we would follow them.
I took the girl back
to the cave where the old man and the boys were waiting, and we
stayed there several weeks until I smelled men with weapons
approaching. Then we left, and I led the way deeper into the hills,
taking us as far from danger as I could. The weather grew colder,
but my fur grew thicker, and we found winter clothing in an
abandoned village. The old man also found sewing tools, and he made
blankets from the skins of the rabbits I caught. The girl stretched
some skins between two long pieces of wood, and that was where we
kept our growing collection of supplies. The people and I took turns
dragging it as we traveled.
We traveled this way
for many days, until we came upon the stone hut near the
It's been a good
place. We found more things that my people could use here. But the
people who had stayed in the hut before us had been gone for a long
time when we arrived. I couldn't even smell them on the things they
had left. So I believed my company would be safe here for the
Food was easy to
obtain. All I had to do was go up and down the stream until I found
rabbits. Once I killed a small deer, and the girl said its skin
should be my bed. So now I sleep on it even though I like the bare
ground just as well. I have thick fur. But it makes my people happy
to see me lie down on the deer's skin, and that makes me
In recent weeks the
bushes and trees have grown leaves, and the grass that was dry and
thin is now thick and juicy. The girl and the old man have been
making plans to plant seeds they found in the abandoned village.
We've all been looking forward to warmer days.
Then, last night,
eighteen of Your soldiers came to kill us. You must have told them
we were the enemy. So they didn't know I was trained by Captain
Dial. They didn't know that even when I sleep, my ears and nose are
I took the girl to
their bodies this morning, and it made her sad. But she understood
that I had to follow orders. She understands a lot. She and I often
help each other figure out things that are puzzling.
I didn't understand
how Your soldiers could have found us, or why You would want them
to, because we've traveled far from anything that should matter to
You. Besides, we're not Your enemies. And even if we were, we
wouldn't be important enough for You to bother with. Or so I
Then the girl
remembered the implant under the skin between my shoulders, and the
transmitter that Captain Dial had given her. We had used these
things to help us understand each other in our first weeks together,
but then -- just as Captain Dial and I had found -- they had become
unnecessary. So the girl had placed the transmitter in her duffel,
and we hadn't thought of it or of my implant since. But now the girl
said that machines in the sky could probably hear signals from them
at any time, and that the machines could then tell You where I was.
So that was how Your soldiers found us.
The girl also says she
knows why You want to attack us.
She found a radio
receiver in the abandoned village, and now she listens to its voices
for a few minutes each evening. I can't understand the voices, but
the girl has told me some of the things they've said. They've said
that all Your soldiers were about to be sent home because the money
for the war was almost gone. But then D Company was ambushed and
destroyed by enemy guerrillas, and the bad publicity from what
Lieutenant Morris had done at the checkpoint was obliterated by the
heroism of his company's sacrifice. So Your public support surged,
and more money was provided so Your soldiers could avenge the ambush
by destroying the enemy.
This is what the radio
voices say. They don't say anything about the drones. But if the
drones hadn't come, D Company would not only have beaten the
guerrillas, but would have suffered almost no casualties. Captain
Dial would have seen to it.
But the drones did
come. They came from our own airfield. They came from You.
men-who-weren't-soldiers came too, and the girl thinks she knows why
they fired shots at the ground. She thinks they killed any soldier
or refugee who was still alive. And we believe those men were sent
by You as well.
The girl says that our
knowledge of this is why You want to attack us. We're the only
survivors of that battle. So as long as we still live, You fear that
we may reveal the truth of what happened to D Company and the
refugees. And the girl says that then all of Your public support and
money will go away again.
I have tried to think
of what Captain Dial might do if these things had been revealed to
him. But he was much smarter than me. And I can't see his thoughts
But I still know the
final order he gave me: To keep my people safe.
So I've thought of
things I can do to obey.
The first thing I
thought of was to have the girl write this message. Again, she
doesn't know what she writes. Only that I require her to write it.
And what I'm asking her to write now is a promise that You have
nothing to fear from me if You leave us alone. If You allow me to
keep my people safe, we will never tell the radio voices what Your
drones and men-who-weren't-soldiers did to D Company.
The second thing made
the girl cry again. Before beginning this message, I told her to use
her knife to cut between my shoulders and find the communication
implant. She cried because she didn't want to hurt me, and then she
cried more because the device was smaller than we had imagined, and
it was hard to find. She had to make the cut longer and deeper. But
she finally found the tiny glass bean and gave it to the boys, who
took turns hitting it and the transmitter with a hammer until both
were dust. Then the old man cleaned my wound and sewed it shut. I
growled once because the needle hurt, and he stepped back. But then
I licked his hand, and he finished the job. Afterward, I was proud
of all of them for following orders so well.
The third thing makes
us unhappy. But it's necessary. We must leave the stone hut. We must
leave this good place with its water and rabbits. Your soldiers
found us here, so You know where we are.
But since I no longer
have the communication implant, You won't know where we'll go
Finally, there is a
fourth thing I'll do.
If the above measures
fail, and if You send more soldiers or men-who-aren't-soldiers to
find us, I will kill them all. I'll always know they're coming, so
they'll never be able to attack us before I attack them
You may even send some
of my fellow K-9s, because they could find us more quickly than
people could. But Captain Dial said that the K-9s in my training
class were the best war dogs there had ever been, and I was ranked
first in that class. So there are no K-9s that I can't find and
defeat before they can find and defeat me.
And if You attack us
with drones instead of people or dogs, we're now equipped to fight
them. Some of the soldiers I killed last night were carrying RPGs,
and others carried guns with armor-piercing rounds. We have taken
But if You bomb us
from high in the sky so we can't fight, there may be nothing I can
do to stop You. Then You will have made me fail to carry out my
In that event, I'll do
whatever I must to survive. And then I will find You. I don't know
Your name or Your rank, but I will find You anyway. I will hunt and
kill every officer in every company and every battalion until I
reach You. I will read their thoughts as they die and will use that
knowledge to hunt You. I will climb walls and dig tunnels. I will
swim and run. I will stow away in trucks, ships, and aircraft that
will bring me closer to You. I will find something You have touched
so I know Your scent. And then I will find You in Your bed or at
Your table or wherever You may be.
And I will bite Your
throat so it tears out.
So I hope You heed
this message. It will be left with one of Your dead soldiers, so I
know it will reach their unit's commanding officer. And then it will
reach that officer's commanding officer, and then that officer's
commanding officer, and so on until it reaches the officer who gave
the orders that resulted in the current situation. Until it reaches
My company has its
equipment and is ready to move out. The two boys are my specialists.
The old man is my medic and quartermaster.
As for the girl
She now wears the
metal tag I received when I was promoted to sergeant. She found it
in Captain Dial's pocket as we left the battlefield, and today she
put it on the chain of her necklace beside the shiny rock. Sergeant
is the toughest enlisted job. But she can do it.
I myself am no longer
a sergeant. I didn't realize that until this morning. But after I
showed the girl what I had done in the night, she touched my head.
And I heard her thoughts. I heard what she called me.
She called me
Then she took the
silver bars that she found with the sergeant's tag, and she pinned
them to my duty harness.
I am the ranking
survivor of D Company, and my final order from Captain Dial was a
commission. I know this because what he told me to do was what a
good officer does.
A good officer takes
care of his soldiers.
But if You attack us
again, You will not be a good officer. You will not be taking care
of Your soldiers. And if You make me fail in my duty to take care of
mine, You will not be an officer of any kind for much
Captain Dial told me
what I am, and he always spoke the truth. So now I tell
I am black as night. I
am silent as air.
My sergeant touches my
head, and I tell her she's good.
This message is
and Commanding Officer