The Tale of John Marker
by Amy Fontaine
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3, 4
The poor macaw simply looked at him. Whether he did not truly understand the words he imitated, as most ethologists would seem to believe, or whether he simply had neglected to take the Spanish lessons always offered by the Siamese cat across the street, the bird said nothing, only cocked his head and stared.
I grabbed Scruffy rather roughly by the scruff of the neck and dragged him out of the greenhouse and down the lawn. Though he no doubt would have followed me anyway, I was too shocked to think clearly.
“You speak Spanish?” I asked faintly, feeling like an idiot.
The dog nodded. “Sí. I speak English, too, though, obviously. I’m most fluent in German,” he added, rather dryly. At this point I could not tell whether he was joking or not. Do talking dogs joke, too? I wondered stupidly.
Once we reached the curb where our car was parked and my initial shock had dissolved, I found myself curious rather than startled. When I started to ask one of the many questions bothering my science-and-reason-oriented brain, however, Scruffy cut in.
He had been nonchalantly sniffing a flower, but now he looked up and said, “I’m hungry. Let’s get some chow before we talk.”
I shrugged and hopped in the car. Rather than taking the back seat as usual, Scruffy leapt into the passenger’s seat beside me. I hardly noticed through the bizarreness of everything else.
“Fine, we’ll get you some kibble,” I sighed, though I had been hoping for answers straightaway. I revved the engine.
Scruffy looked horrified. “Kibble?” he exclaimed. “Kibble no more, my friend! We’re full-fledged partners now, so please respect my wishes. I’d like Italian. Preferably spaghetti.”
The request dismayed and irked me. Who owned whom here? However, I said nothing, merely nodded and began driving. I decided I wouldn’t really mind an Italian meal either.
I set a course for an ideal restaurant I remembered, with outdoor tables that Scruffy and I could eat at together and delicious spaghetti. Having changed the radio station to my favorite classical channel, I hummed along to Mozart as we drove.
Scruffy grimaced. “You like this music?” he yawned. “It’s nearly putting me to sleep!”
“It helps me concentrate,” I said, glancing at Scruffy. I had never known he could be so demanding and immature. His verbal abilities were starting to annoy me rather than intrigue me now.
“Yeah, well, I don’t like it,” Scruffy said. Reaching out with a paw, he flipped through several stations before settling on one he seemed to enjoy, playing loud and passionate modern rock. He appeared delighted by the current song.
“We’ll carry on,” he sang, “we’ll caaaarry oooon. Though you’re dead and gone, believe me, your memory will caaaaarrrrryyy oooooon!!!”
If a talking dog is strange, and a joking dog’s sarcasm is horribly dry, a singing dog not only has too horrible a voice to tolerate, it’s awfully distracting when one is driving. Exasperated, I lifted a hand from the steering wheel, still with both eyes on the road, and changed the station back to my own favorite.
The singing stopped abruptly. Thoroughly annoyed, Scruffy made a point of returning the station to his own and singing as loudly and hoarsely as possible once he had.
This exchange of hostilities went on for a while, until we had landed on a sad country twang neither of us cared for. Then we made the rest of the trip in stony silence as each of us stewed privately over our own lost station.
We reached the restaurant quite uneventfully after that. Scruffy sat outside and waited for me by our chosen table while I went in and ordered our lunch. We sat together in the afternoon sun, him eating his spaghetti dish noisily under the table, occasionally licking his chops with loud satisfaction. I loved my angel-hair fettuccini alfredo pasta and my wonderful orange-flavored Italian soda so much that I hardly noticed; this place had always been a favorite of mine.
As always in New York City, many varied people passed by us down the sidewalk, but naturally they were too preoccupied with their own affairs to pay us any mind. No other customers sat at the outdoor tables today; the summer heat was too much. Scruffy and I were free to talk.
I remembered this only when Scruffy called from near my feet, “So, whatcha wanna know?” It seemed that, because of the good food, he’d forgiven me now, as I had him. He appeared quite eager to volunteer information.
I smiled, savoring my last few noodles before I responded. “How do you speak as a human can?” I asked.
He looked as though he was about to answer, hesitated, stared longingly at the remainder of spaghetti on his plate, and then wolfed the last few bites down. Once he had finished, he began his reply.
“Ah, that is a complicated story, but one I must tell you, now that I’ve opted to trust you with it. This department you applied for, the Strange Times department, is not really part of the police force at all. It used to be, but now it has an even more important role to play, one that could determine the fate of all beings on this earth.” He paused, as if expecting me to laugh or scorn what he was saying, or at least make some response. When I said nothing, he continued.
“The thing that created me is called a biotechnical fabricator. It was created by a man named Eugene Blackwater, a former New York City cop. He was very smart and dabbled in science, particularly genetics. Some thought him and his theories insane, while others applauded his genius and thought it could be a useful asset to the forensic departments. Secretly, however, he used his knowledge to develop something no one would have expected.
“Spurred on by a vague bit of information he had found in an issue of National Geographic long ago, Blackwater created the fabricator. Though it had taken him a lifetime to create, it still had a few glitches and problems to be sorted out, but it was a remarkable achievement nonetheless. If people heard what this machine was capable of, they would think it was impossible. They’d scoff and call it science fiction. I can tell from my time with you, Marker, that you’re a skeptical guy who needs proof of everything, but I assure you this is true.
“The biofabber, you see, can create life. It has samples of DNA from almost every species of animal that humans have ever collected a specimen of, and with it can create almost any type of creature you could imagine. When the user manually selects what specific traits he or she wants, and how they combine, they punch a button and the animal materializes on a little platform hooked to the machine. Don’t ask me how it works, as I have no idea. It seems impossible to me, the thought of being able to create matter, let alone a living organism, but somehow it happens.
“Now, a few people from the Force, despite Blackwater’s secrecy, ended up finding out about this machine. They thought it was wonderful. They updated the computer’s storage with DNA samples from their own police dogs. Combining this with some aspects of human DNA, such as those that encode certain thought processes and language, they created several highly intelligent, newly improved police dogs, including myself. They thought this would make communication between dog and handler easier; training would be more efficient and the dogs would be capable of incredible and heroic deeds for the good of people everywhere.
“However, Blackwater had other plans. One night, he removed the data chips connected to DNA storage and species fabrication from the fabber and vanished. Several members of Strange Times were on duty at the office, but he shot and killed them all before he left. The two that had not been present that night were the only ones who survived. He took the other fabricated dogs with him. I was the only one who hadn’t been there.
“The press and the families of the dead humans were informed that no one knew who could have done it. They all assumed, from the information we gave them, that Blackwater had been kidnapped by some typical criminal. They had no idea that he’d murdered those people. We had to keep it that way, until we could find Blackwater ourselves. Otherwise, some ordinary police officers might try to pursue him, unaware of the dangerous technology he possessed. We couldn’t let that happen, now that we knew the man was mad. But we’ve been trying to track him; in his haste, he left behind the anti-theft chip designed to locate the other chips should they ever leave the building. However, the two officers and I continued to work alone.
“This has been a private war, up till now. Reuben, one of the two remaining Strange Times officers, decided it was time to let someone new in on our secret. He thought that if this person came to us of his own accord, he would have a role to play in helping us. Perhaps he was just clutching at a false hope, I don’t know. In any case, that person is you.
“And now that I’ve told you our story, we should head back to headquarters. No doubt you may prove some use after all.”
Scruffy grinned teasingly at this last remark, tilting his head and looking up at me.
I had no clue what to think; how can one absorb such impossible information all at once? However, considering that this was being told to me by a talking dog, I was ready to accept anything at this point.
“All right,” I said, finishing the last few drops of my Italian soda. “Let’s go.”
* * *
Copyright © 2015 by Amy Fontaine