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Fit For a Dog

Glitter heard the muffled clatter of the descending plane. Slav had left the ruins of the '93 Buick which served as their den only minutes earlier, on a predawn trip to the Dome to get meat for the growing pups. Glitter had not gone back to sleep. Now she sat up to look out the window while she sniffed the air.

She saw the blurred lights of the plane as it came down in a wobbly glide. The lights vanished as the plane dropped behind the rim of a low hill. She heard it meet the ground with a grinding, drawn-out crunch.

Glitter leaped out the window and then to the top of the car. From this vantage point she still could not see, smell, or hear anything of the plane. That told her something. If the plane were afire, the air would be reflecting its glow. But the only light was the dim beginning of the new day.

She could tell it was going to be a beautiful day, though, with a dense, invigorating smog.

While standing on the car, Glitter bayed out the news of the downed plane. Then she jumped to the ground while her neighbors repeated her call, relaying it to more distant neighbors who would, in turn, bay it out to a still wider radius. Soon every dog within five miles east, south and west—and to the border of Bog Erie on the north—would know of the plane. Many of them would be hurrying to the scene.

Also, the message would catch up with Slav, long before he reached the Dome, and bring him loping home.

The pups were whining with curiosity. The car would not be a safe haven for them with humans about. Copters from the Dome might soon be circling overhead, and the flyers might fire at the old car. They often shot at anything which appeared, from the air, to offer concealment for dogs.

Glitter called the pups out and herded them through the weeds and into a deep bone-burrow Slav had dug in the bank of a nearby erosion ditch. She bared her teeth at them and growled a warning that they were to stay in the bone-burrow, and they huddled obediently against the back of the hole.

Satisfied that they were out of harm's way, Glitter trotted off toward the downed plane.

As she neared the hilltop, she dropped to her belly and crawled into hiding behind the concrete block foundation of a long-vanished house. Now she could smell hot metal and freshly vaporized oil quite plainly, but she could not smell any humans. That meant the crash landing had sprung no big leaks in the plane's airtight cabin.

Carefully she peered around a corner of the crumbling foundation and down the hill. There lay the plane, its wings, crumpled by the landing, on either side of the long, fat metal body. Light glared out of the windows, and the humans inside were plainly visible. They were milling about in their slow way, and looking disorganized. Some were putting on filter masks while others were taking them off, as if they didn't know what to do. Their sounds came dimly through the hull as they made cries and words at each other.

An antenna near the nose of the plane was transmitting; Glitter could feel the tingle in the back of her head that strong radio signals always produced. Rescuers would be coming out from Cleveland Dome, and that was good. Otherwise, a lot of meat would go to waste here.

She could sense no indication of gunnery, so there was no need to remain in hiding. Probably the humans could not see very well, looking through the windows at the outside gloom, although dawn was coming rapidly now. She stepped out into the open and moved alertly down the hill toward the plane, eyeing the lighted windows as she approached. Close up, she studied the humans inside.

Most of them, she saw, were young men and women . . . more of these than were usually found in a grounded plane. Three pairs of them appeared to be mates from the way they huddled together. And one female clutched a small child but had no mate in evidence. Only four that Glitter could see looked to be past breeding age. But sight was not to be depended upon in classifying humans. The sorting-out would have to wait until they were out of the plane and could be investigated by smell.

A questioning bark told her that the neighbors were beginning to arrive. She responded softly. Too much loud baying could spook the humans, already upset by the crash-landing. It was best for them to become aware of the dogs gradually.

The neighbors knew this. As the day brightened, they trotted about, not getting too close to the plane, conversing in quiet yelps. None simply sat and stared at the plane, because nothing would panic the humans quicker than that.

Of course there were some terrified screams and yelling from the humans as they discovered that the plane was surrounded by thirty or forty dogs, but these dwindled as the humans reconciled themselves to the situation, and the dogs made no immediate threatening moves.

But it was not safe to wait too long. A copter might arrive soon, and the humans had to be brought out of the plane before that. Presently four of the dogs, Clog, Blackeye, Brist, and Paddler, ambled nonchalantly to the plane's tail assembly, leaped up onto it, and then worked their way forward on the slippery metal to a spot directly over the passenger cabin. Glitter caught the sharp change in their smell as they prepared to vomit acid.

Inside, there was another flurry of near-panic as the humans heard the clatter of hard claws above their heads. Calm was restored shortly, however. The humans moved away from the area beneath the spot where the four dogs were working on the roof. Glitter could see dull fright and acceptance in their faces when they peered out the windows. There would be no wasteful stampede, she decided.

* * *

A plane was down fifteen miles from Cleveland Dome, and Rescue Unit 502 scrambled.

That meant Joe Cosman, for one. His half of the bed tilted suddenly, sliding him into the mouth of the chute tube before he could wake up. Wheels were mumbling beneath him and a tinny voice was briefing him on details of the mission as he sat up and began dressing in his rescue gear. He listened while wondering if the scramble had awakened Doris. Sometimes the bed decanted him into the tube without her knowing anything was going on.

The tinny voice stopped for a moment, then asked, "Any questions?"

"Yeah," Cosman grunted, tugging on his jacket. "How many copters are going out to cover us?"

"The dispatch of copters is being taken under advisement," the voice replied. "Other questions?"

Cosman's lips tightened in anger. "No more questions," he snapped.

The tube disgorged him a minute later at Westside Emergency Park. He jogged across the concrete apron toward his armored bus 502, putting on his filter mask as he went because the air this close to the Dome wall was somewhat stenchy from exhaust pipe leaks. The wall itself, with its vast triangles of tough plastic, rose in the gloom a dozen yards away from his bus.

Mike Mabry was trotting ahead of him, making hard going of it. Cosman caught up with the older man at the door of the bus, and could hear Mike wheezing.

"How you doing, Mike?" he asked.

"Hi, Joe," Mabry responded hoarsely.

Inside, Cosman climbed behind the wheel and Mabry mounted the ladder to the gun turret on the foreroof. "What's keeping Diego?"

"Here he comes," Mabry replied, sounding less winded. "No . . . it ain't Diego. It's somebody else."

Whoever it was boarded the bus and dropped into the second driver's seat beside Cosman, who eyed the man curiously.

"I'm John Haddon," the man said, "subbing for Diego what's-hisname. Your second driver."

Cosman nodded curtly, not sure he liked this guy and wondering what was wrong with Diego. "I'm Joe Cosman, and that's Mike Mabry up in the nest." He flipped a switch on the dash and spoke into the mike. "Bus 502 crewed and ready. Open up!"

"Okay, 502," the speaker responded. "Move out."

Cosman put the bus in gear and rolled forward. The inner door of the Westwall Emergency Lock folded aside as the bus approached. When it was passed, the door closed and the outer door, a hundred feet ahead, swung apart. The bus passed through it and into the swirling blackness of the outdoors.

He heard Haddon gasp at the sudden darkness and wondered if this was the man's first mission. "The smoke thins when we get a few hundred yards from the Dome," he said, keeping his attention on the dashboard instruments.

"How . . . ?" Haddon started, then apparently thought it better to leave his question unasked.

Cosman nursed the bus along, partly by feel and partly by the radarscope which revealed the position of the guidewall along the edge of the ramp. After a couple of minutes he brought the bus onto the South Sandusky Dome expressway, switched on the autopilot, and sat back.

"Your first mission, Haddon?" he asked.

"Well . . . the first real one. I've had mock-up training, of course."

"Okay. You know where the coffee is?"

"Oh, certainly!"

"Fine. That's part of the second driver's job. Go get us some. Make mine black."

"Mine with white and sweet," said Mabry.

Haddon got up and moved out of the cockpit, back into the passenger section. Cosman and Mabry watched him go; then the driver looked up at the gunner. Mabry shrugged elaborately and chuckled. Cosman spread his hands in a gesture of hopelessness and the gunner chuckled again and nodded.

After a moment Mabry asked, "How close can we get on the expressway?"

"To within a couple of miles, I think." Cosman got out his road map, triangulated the position he had been given for the downed plane, and marked the spot on the map. "Yeah. A little less than two miles. Plenty of old roads there. We probably won't need to use the tracks to get in."

Haddon returned with the covered coffee mugs in time to hear the end of that.

"Is it in . . . dog country?" he asked.

Mabry answered, "Everything outside is dog country, bud. Everything except the Bog."

"Oh." Haddon handed a mug up to the gunner, then brought Cosman his.

"In fact," Mabry went on, "even inside the Dome seems to be dog country."

Cosman frowned. Old Mabry had his good points, but holding his tongue wasn't one of them. Remarks like that one shouldn't be made. They could get a guy in trouble. Especially in front of a stranger like Haddon, who might blab.

"No coffee for yourself?" he asked to change the subject.

"It might tense me up," said Haddon, peering at the blank blackness of the windshield.

Mabry guffawed. "Good thinking, bud! You gotta stay loose to be a rescueman. Some folks say the dogs pick the people who smell afraid to pull down. So don't get in a sweat and you'll be okay."

Haddon turned to look up at the gunner, and Cosman could see the look of dislike in his eyes. "You don't know what you're talking about!" Haddon sniffed.

Mabry laughed, pulled his mask aside, took a long swig of coffee, and replaced the mask.

Cosman activated the windshield washer and switched on the headlights. The heavy trucks rumbling past the bus on the fast inside lane now became visible . . . huge dark forms running on their automatic controls, each one sending its spout of black exhaust up to mingle with the thinner smog of the dawn-touched sky.

"Won't the lights tell the dogs this is a manned vehicle?" Haddon asked uneasily. "I mean . . . not that I think the dogs are intelligent, or anything like that . . ."

"For whatever reason, the dogs never bother a bus on its way to a rescue," Cosman replied evenly. He was becoming angry in spite of himself. This effeminate kid Haddon did not belong in rescue work, that was for damned sure. The Labor Draft Board had either goofed badly or was scraping the bottom of the barrel. And old Mabry wasn't making things any better by putting the kid on.

And no copters on this mission. That was the worst annoyance of all. It was . . . surrender. It was letting the dogs have things their way, without even an attempt to fight them off. It was admitting defeat.

"Not that I think the dogs are intelligent, or anything like tha-a-at," Mabry gurgled, mimicking Haddon, "it's just that they're so fa-a-ast. That's because they can metabolize smog when they ain't metabolizing people. You know why they ain't eaten me and Joe, boy?"

Haddon, with tightly pursed lips, kept a frigid silence.

"Because we're too sexy!" Mabry answered his own question. "The dogs don't bother good breeders, and they know that's me and Joe, because they can smell woman-sweat on us. Right, Joe?"

"If you say so, Mike," Cosman said with what he hoped was discouraging indifference.

"So if you want to last long, boy," Mabry ran on, "you better get yourself a broad to rub against. That's what it takes to stay alive, boy, and it might even make a man out of you. Ain't that right, Joe?"

"You're doing the talking, Mike, not me," Cosman grunted.

This silenced Mabry for a while. Then he grumbled, "Everybody's afraid to know anything, too damn scared to put two and two together. Well, everybody can go to hell, far as I'm concerned!"

"Some people think they know it all!" snapped Haddon. Cosman winced, because that remark would start Mabry up again just when the old gunner had settled into a glum silence.

"Some people know a few things," Mabry replied. "Me, I used to read, back when it was still all right to read. I read about evolution, for one thing . . ."

"Big deal!" snorted Haddon.

"They didn't teach you as much about evolution as you think, boy. They told you about the origin of species in school, didn't they? But did they tell you that for a hundred years after evolution was discovered nobody saw a new species get originated? Thousands and thousands of species, but not a single new one in a whole century! What do you think of that, boy?"

"I don't think of it at all!" Haddon said.

"Well, you ought to. Because after the smog rolled in, there were new species all over the place. That was something old Darwin didn't figure on, kid . . . that species changed when the world around them changed. Because they had to change. So now there's dogs who don't just breathe smog. They can live on the stuff when meat's scarce. What do you think makes 'em so strong?"

"You're blabbering nonsense!" Haddon retorted with desperation in his voice. "Dogs breathe smog because they're used to it! That's all."

Mabry chuckled and yawned. "I sure could've used a couple hours more sleep," he said.

Cosman glanced at Haddon. The young man's face was pale with fear and anger. Well, the kid would have to learn to ignore old Mike's crackpot theorizings, as he had himself, if he became a regular in bus 502.

Because it was no good, trying to figure out the dogs. The best thing was not to even think about them. A guy could drive himself nuts wondering how dumb animals could do what the dogs did . . .

He took the bus off autopilot and swung it off the expressway onto a cracked, weed-grown ramp. There was a lot of light outside now, with the sky a lighter gray than it ever was over the Dome, even at midday. He glanced at the map again, picking out the markings which were likely to still represent recognizable roads that would lead to the vicinity of the plane.

"Ain't you going to get a copter to talk us in?" asked Mabry.

"No copters this trip," he grunted.

"Ah! The brass hats must be wising up," said the gunner with evident satisfaction.

"You mean we're . . . unprotected?" Haddon quavered to Cosman.

"We'll be okay," Cosman assured him. "Mabry can work that gun on the roof as fast as he can his mouth, when he has to."

Mabry laughed. "That I can, kid. And it's a great kick, shooting at our betters. I just wish they wasn't so damn hard to hit!"

* * *

Slav had returned, and Glitter hunched down beside him as they watched the humans help each other climb out of the plane. Clog, Blackeye, and Paddler were inside, having dropped through the acidcut hole in the roof, snarling and snapping at the laggards. But there was no smell of fresh blood; the dogs inside had not had to slash anybody to get their obedience.

Brist had been inside, too, but he had leaped back through the hole to stand on top of the plane. He was looking down at the people milling around outside and barking happily. He was a young dog, feeling the vigor of full adulthood for the first time, and was plainly excited.

Glitter called Slav's attention to him, and her mate rose to walk indifferently past the humans, who drew back nervously at his approach. He stared up at Brist and growled warningly. A dog alone on top of the plane would be a perfect target, not only for a copter but even for a bus gunner.

Brist gave a nonchalant yap, but after a moment he skittered back to the tail assembly and jumped to the ground.

Thinking of copters, Glitter looked at the ground around her. She spotted several stones of about the right size—small enough for a dog to grasp by the teeth and sling high in the air, but large and heavy enough to reach the rotor blades through the heavy down-current of air, and damage those blades when they struck them.

All the humans were out of the plane now, and the dogs were beginning to move among them. They had stood in a tight clot at first, but this broke up as they drew apart to give the dogs plenty of room. Soon they were sufficiently scattered for the sorting-out process to begin and so thoroughly mingled with the dogs that a copter gunner would not dare try to shoot.

The sorting did not take long, and the results were somewhat disappointing. As Glitter had noted the first time she looked into the plane, most of these were young people . . . good breeding stock. But there were the four older ones, who ought to be tough and tasty, plus a hulking young female who did not have the breeder smell.

These five were gradually herded away from the others but did not seem to realize immediately what was happening. When they saw the distance between themselves and the other passengers, they created the usual uproar. Two of the old ones, a male and a female, fainted, but both revived quickly when jaws closed on their shoulders to drag them away.

Another of the old ones flung off his filter mask and started running in the general direction of Cleveland Dome. Three of the dogs trotted after him, knowing he could not go far.

The young female clenched her fists but allowed herself to be herded away. Glitter guessed that one would try to fight when slaughtering time came.

The remaining humans by the plane were silent during all this. Now one of them giggled loudly, and then all of them were laughing and making words to each other. They tried to clot up again, but a few growls from the dogs kept them in their places. The female who was clutching a small child sat down on the ground, looking fearfully at the nearest dog as she did so, but plainly too weak to stay on her feet. The dog, Highleg, ignored her. Soon the other humans were sitting, too.

Brist was making a show of his discontent with the small number of humans the sorting had yielded. Glitter watched him with more amusement than admiration—and he was plainly playing for the admiration of all the bitches in hearing distance as he yowled about how he could eat a whole human by himself, and be ready to eat another tomorrow.

He was a robust young dog, without doubt, but Glitter suspected that Slav could make him scamper if the need ever arose.

The roar of the approaching bus brought the humans to their feet, and Glitter found herself a safe position in their midst. She wondered briefly at the absence of copters. If any were coming, they would have arrived before the bus. So there would be no copters, with crews to augment the meat supply if the copters dropped low enough for the gunners to aim and for their rotor blades to be smashed with slung stones.

* * *

"I hear a mutt yowling," remarked Mabry. "We getting close?"

"We must be," said Cosman. He was homing on the plane's radio beam now, and had a good idea of its location. The trick was to reach the spot while staying on low ground—in hopes that Mabry could get a good shot at some dog on a hillside—while avoiding getting the bus stuck in mud or bog.

"Hey! I saw somebody on the ground!" yelled Haddon.


"The headlights swept over him! Can you swerve back to the left?" Cosman slowed the bus almost to a stop and eased it to the left. The lights caught the prone form of a man, not more than twenty feet away but invisible in the smog until the bright illumination struck him.

"Dog meat," Mabry muttered.

"I guess so," said Cosman. He pulled the bus up alongside the motionless form and switched on his exterior speaker. "Hey, mister!" he called into the mike.

The man made no move. Cosman noticed that he was not wearing a filter mask. After a moment he shrugged and started the bus forward again.

"Aren't you going to bring him in?" Haddon demanded.

"Can't do it. He's probably dead, anyway."

"We don't know he's dead," Haddon persisted.

"Okay, would you like the job of going out and dragging him in?" Cosman demanded crossly.

Haddon was quiet for a moment. "What would happen if I did?" he asked.

"The dogs would be all over you."

"Oh . . . But I didn't see any dogs."

"They're there. You didn't see the man till the lights hit him, did you."


"Okay. Just keep in mind we're out here to collect live people, not dead meat. And we don't jeopardize them by trying to take away a body the dogs have claimed."

"That's one way dogs ain't changed," Mabry threw in from his perch. "Try to take a bone away from one and you got a fight on your hands."

"Don't you see anything on your infrared?" Cosman asked him with impatience.

"Nope, not through this muck. Yeah . . . there they are. We're heading straight for them!"

Cosman slowed the bus to a creep. He heard the people yelling before he could see them. Then there they were in his lights, standing and waving their arms, and the dogs slouching about among them.

"Good morning, folks," he said into the mike, speaking slowly and calmingly. "There's no need for hurry or panic. In a moment I will open the door of the bus, and all of you will be permitted to come aboard. Just move toward the door in an orderly fashion, without any crowding, when I give the word. All of us will be having breakfast in Cleveland Dome in half an hour. Okay?"

He heard muffled yells of assent from outside. "Good," he approved, and activated the door switch.

Almost instantly there was a crash behind him as the door between the passenger compartment and the cockpit section was torn open.

Cosman whirled in his chair to stare numbly at the gleaming eyes and bared teeth of a giant dog.

Haddon screeched and Mabry roared "Good Godamighty!" Cosman started to fumble for his sidearm but froze when the dog made a snarling lunge at him.

There was a moment during which the three men and the dog were motionless. Then the men stayed that way while the dog rose on his hindlegs to sniff briefly at Mabry's trousers. Next he dropped down to smell Cosman's face, and the driver felt the hair on his neck stiffen as the dog's hot breath moistened the skin around his filter mask.

Then the dog moved over to Haddon and gave him a similar inspection. The muzzle moved down Haddon's arm, and teeth clamped on his trembling hand. Cosman could see blood start to ooze.

"Oh," Haddon said softly in response to the pain. "Oh."

The dog tugged on the hand and Haddon came swiftly to his feet, grimacing. The dog backed out of the cockpit, pulling the young man along.

"W-wait, dog," Haddon was beginning to whimper. "Let me go, dog. I admit I . . . don't like girls . . . but I'll get one. Really I will, dog. I promise! Have lots of babies. That's what you want, don't you? Please . . . lots of babies, dog . . ."

The pleadings had been making Cosman cringe. It was a relief when Haddon was led beyond earshot. Mabry wheezed and coughed.

"I thought the kid was just . . . kind of prissy," he said in a weak voice. "They know better than to send a homosexual out here. Ought to, anyway."

"Maybe he wasn't good on any other job," said Cosman when he found his voice. "Bottom of the barrel." After a moment he added sharply, "Why the hell didn't you cover the door, Mike?"

"How was I to guess a damn dog would come aboard? They don't usually do that," Mabry said defensively. "Doubt if I could've hit him anyway, fast as they move . . . look at him out there! Acting awful damn proud of hisself! Maybe I can get him yet!"

"Careful," Cosman warned as the gun turret swung about. He too had caught a glimpse of the dog that had taken Haddon frisking about, but an older looking dog had growled at it, and it had moved out of sight among the people. Mabry cursed, and his gun remained silent.

"Okay, folks, don't be alarmed," Cosman said into the mike, "and start coming aboard."

The people outside began moving warily toward the bus, and when the dogs made no objection, they moved faster. But nobody was trampled, although there was some pushing and shoving at the door before all were inside. Haddon was not among them.

And the dogs had melted away into the smog. By the time the people were safe inside, no targets were left for Mabry.

"Hell!" he grunted. "Let's go home."

Cosman started the bus moving. It was full day now, but the headlights helped visibility enough to be left on. He checked his map for an underpass to the eastbound side of the expressway.

"I wish I hadn't picked on the kid," Mabry muttered.

Cosman said nothing.

"We're all such damn fools," Mabry went on angrily. "Always lousing ourselves up! This whole mess we're in . . . the world didn't get like it is by itself. We brought it all on ourselves, by our damn stupid mistakes! You know that, Joe?"

Cosman shrugged, and wished Mabry would shut up.

"We made our mess and now we got to live with it. Ain't you ever thought about it, Joe? How different things might be if we'd used some sense, or if our granddaddies had, I mean? It was way back then, when they put domes over the towns and everybody moved inside to get out of the smog.

"Have you ever thought, Joe, what damn fools they were? All they had to do was take all the dogs inside with 'em, or make sure they killed every damn mutt in the country. But they didn't! That was the damn foolishest mistake anybody ever made!"

Cosman nodded slowly. Old Mabry talked a lot of nonsense, but sometimes he hit the nail squarely on the head.

"I guess that's right, Mike," he said. "I can't imagine anything stupider than that."


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