“The AFD Project”
by Andrew Jensen
Victor the Observer watched the man in the ridiculous hat apologize. He was at a distance, but his equipment allowed him to hear each word clearly.
“I don’t know what’s gotten into her,” the man repeated. His straw cowboy hat was so laden with random feathers Victor wondered why it didn’t fly away. “Usually she’s very friendly.”
Victor reflected on what counted as unusual behavior in the Ottawa Valley. He still wasn’t sure, even though he’d been following his subject through the area for two weeks now. As near as he could tell, anything that marked you out as a “character” was positively embraced here. He couldn’t wait to get back to his office in the city. Those feathers, for example: probably the locals could identify what kinds they were. In his city-bred experience, birds came in three categories: pigeons (found everywhere, usually harmless), Canada Geese (found in parks near the river, best avoided) and “other.” He felt alien here, like he was naked in his dark suit and dark car. He wondered if the woman he was following felt that way.
“That’s all right,” said the woman to Feather-Hat. “He didn’t do anything to me.”
“She is usually so friendly, though,” Feather-Hat said. “Normally she’s only afraid of loud things, like thunder-storms or shot-guns. She wouldn’t make much of a hunting dog, which is a problem around here.”
“Are you suggesting I’m loud?” asked the woman. Victor noted the question without revealing his surprise. Was this an attempt at humor? Or worse, at flirting? The thought passed with a quickly-suppressed feeling of revulsion.
Feather-hat blushed. “Sorry, no, of course not. I just don’t understand why she’s hiding behind me. Anyone around town will tell you she’s usually so friendly she’s annoying. You’re the first person she’s ever tried to hide from. What’s the matter, Moxie? Are the hunters in the woods again?”
Victor watched as the people walked away from each other. Feather-Hat was almost pulled off his feet as his hound dashed away from the small woman. Feather-Hat was speaking to his dog, but Victor made no effort to hear what was being said.
Victor had something new to report. First, though, he would have to ask around town about a certain friendly dog.
A few days later Victor approached Feather-Hat on the street. He’d been waiting to meet him, and Feather-Hat didn’t seem to walk his dog at regular times. It was hard to linger without being obvious in such a small town, and he’d had to move around a lot to avoid having the OPP called on him.
Actually, the police concerned him less than the locals. This kind of rural area had a very hands-on approach to Neighborhood Watch. Sometimes it involved shotguns.
“Nice dog,” he said, trying to avoid having the eager hound’s nose ram into his groin. The dog was squirming with excitement at meeting him. That might be cute in a small dog, but this dog easily weighed over sixty pounds.
“Thanks,” said Feather-Hat. “She loves to meet new people. Moxie, sit! Sit!”
To everyone’s surprise, Moxie sat, her tail wagging eagerly.
“Wow, she’s well behaved,” said Victor, wiping slobber off of his pants. He’d been permitted to go undercover for this stage of his assignment, so he was wearing jeans. He’d needed to go out and buy a pair. He wondered if they’d come clean. Would the Taskforce cover the cleaning bill?
“She reminds me of a dog I had when I was a kid,” he said. “Are you thinking of breeding her? I’d love to have a puppy.”
“Sorry, but she’s fixed,” said Feather-Hat. “Was your dog a Black-and-Tan Hound?”
“Uh, I’m not sure. I was pretty young. Did your dog come from a breeder? Could you put me in touch?”
Feather-Hat looked like he was starting in on an explanation he’d given many times before. “Lots of people mistake her for a purebred Black-and-Tan. Even one breeder made that mistake. No, she’s a mix. Her father’s a Rottweiler, and her mother’s a Fox-hound. We got her from our neighbor. He still has her mother, and one of her brothers.”
Victor brightened. “Any chance he’ll have some puppies?”
Feather-Hat scowled. “Yeah, I’m afraid so. That guy tries hard, but he’s not a responsible dog owner. He’s up to four dogs now, and none of them are fixed. He refuses to have the males castrated, and he can’t afford to spay the female. If you’d come a couple of months ago, you could have had your pick of about five pups. They all looked like the mother, though, sort of beagle colored. Not like Moxie at all.”
Victor broke in. “I don’t care about the color. It’s the personality that matters.”
“Oh well, then you’re in luck. The mother behaves just like Moxie. She’s just a bit smaller. Her latest pups all have homes now. Some of them even had to go over to the Quebec side to the SPCA there. I think half the town was trying to find homes for them. Some of them weren’t very well socialized, to tell the truth. That’s the third litter to come out of that house in two years! We’re kind of saturated around here.”
Victor patted Moxie, and was rewarded with more dog slobber. “Thanks. You’ve been very helpful. Where does your neighbor live, by the way? I’d really like a pup, if one comes along.”
Dear Diary. God, I can’t believe I’m doing this. I don’t write. Reading is hard enough. But they said I needed to do this as therapy. It’s hard, but I guess that’s good. It doesn’t hurt as much as the weight-lifting, but it’s harder.
So, this guy came up to the door today. I was busy, working on sanding down the floors, so I didn’t hear him at first. I thought the dogs were fighting, so I shouted at them to shut up. Finally, I heard his knocking.
Turned out he was here about the dogs. At first I thought one of the neighbors had complained again, but it turned out that wasn’t it. He wanted pups or something. I guess the guy next door had talked to him. I don’t know why, he knows all the pups are gone.
Anyway, this guy wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. It was like if he couldn’t have Ruby’s pups, he wanted Ruby herself! I told him that I would never give her up, or any of the dogs I’m keeping.
He got kind of ignorant after that, so I had to tell him to get lost. He left. What was with that guy?
Jeez, I wish I’d had this spell-check thing when I was in school. It makes writing so much easier. Maybe this won’t be so bad, and I’ll get my hand working again. I friggin’ hate being on disability.
Victor had been promoted again. Now he was an Intervener.
The title didn’t mean much. He’d had lots of titles in his career. He’d made it to Sergeant in the Mounties’ Intelligence Department in record time. Then he’d been taken on by the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service. CSIS had promoted him twice before he’d been seconded to CAT.
He hadn’t even known that there was a Canadian Alien Taskforce. No one had to tell him to keep his work confidential. He had no desire to be laughed at. Besides, who knows what the press would do with this information if it ever got out? Even the Prime Minister hadn’t been told. Everyone knew that fear and panic can win votes, and he’d use it just like he used the terrorist threat.
Even if the Prime Minister didn’t know, the Americans did. They always found out. His Supervisor had reminded him that the last thing anybody wanted was to have the Americans come in and take over the case. They’d probably come in with guns-a-blazin’ like in all their TV shows. Actually, Victor thought that might be fun (as long as he got one of the guns), but he knew the value of subtlety.
It was time for subtle intervention.
So last night my neighbor’s dog went missing. I feel bad, she’s one of Ruby’s pups from her first litter.
It’s strange. He usually looks after that dog real good, but last night he must have left the back gate open or something. It’s not like he leaves her out overnight, either, but she always goes out in the middle of the night. He’s checked with animal control, but no one’s turned her in. I hope she shows up again.
If she’s like her mother, she’ll wander a bit and then come home. I hope none of the other neighbors do anything to her. Everyone else here gives me a hard time about my dogs. I don’t trust any of them.
They complain that I shout and swear at them. One of them even called animal control and said I was abusing them!
They don’t understand that the dogs won’t listen any other way. I have three males and one female. Male dogs only respect the alpha male, like they say. So I have to be in charge. Those people complain that the dogs are barking, and then complain when I try to stop them. I can’t win.
This place is crazy. I can’t wait until I can sell this house and go to out to BC. After I give Mom her share, I’ll have enough for a trailer and a houseboat. The dogs can live on the boat with me, and I won’t have to tie them up ever again. I can dock the boat and let them run on the shore where nobody lives, so they can get their exercise.
It’ll be perfect. Not like this place, where everyone is after my dogs.
Test Synopsis: Test Subject is a spayed female canine mixed breed with both hound and Rottweiler characteristics.
Preliminary observations had suggested subject would demonstrate fear in the presence of disguised aliens otherwise immune to detection. Subject has not shown any fear reaction to humans.
Subject was exposed to each of the three known aliens in captivity while each was disguised as human. Each encounter produced the same extreme fear response.
Analysis: If this result can be reproduced in other dogs, a breed of Alien Fear Dogs (AFD) could be developed. Since canine maturity rates are rapid, effective Alien Detection teams could be deployed within a matter of months.
Because the dog in question is a spayed female, standard reproductive models are inoperative. Samples suitable for cloning have been collected and frozen subject to budgetary approval. Additionally, the Observer’s reports suggest the possible existence of another female, intact, which is genetically related to the Subject and may show some of the same characteristic Alien Fear Reaction.
- That full funding be approved for the cloning process;
- That the other female dog be collected for testing and possible retention as a breeding subject for the development of AFDs;
- That the Subject currently in captivity not be used for Alien Detection, due to an extreme propensity to leaving saliva and other bodily fluids on humans. Subject should not be destroyed, but possibly retained for further clone samples as required.
Director’s Note: Our Observer reported that this dog was simple to obtain. I recommend a cost savings by returning the dog to its owner discreetly, and retrieving it for sampling only if required.
So, the neighbor’s dog is back! She turned up at the shelter without her collar or tags. Good thing she had that microchip so she could be identified.
I gotta get those for my dogs. I don’t know what I’d do if one of them went missing.
The floor is all painted, now. It has five coats. If one of the dogs pees on it now, no problem!
The house’ll be done soon, so I can put it up for sale. I can’t wait.
Victor hadn’t counted on the amount of time he would have to spend in the boonies. Some of the aliens who had landed in Northern Quebec had been very effective at disguising themselves as humans. It was Victor’s opinion that they didn’t have the fashion sense to pass as human in Montreal, which might explain the alien tendency to stay in rural and remote areas.
Observers were assigned to track anyone suspected of being an alien in disguise. The lack of any reliable technological way to see through the disguises had resulted in an extra order: look for possible new means of alien detection. He’d spotted the dog’s odd behavior. That’s why he was an Intervener now.
Victor waited patiently. He felt much more comfortable now in this small Ontario town. Not comfortable in the sense of feeling like he belonged. The Ottawa Valley was full of elderly Vietnam draft dodgers, artists and musicians. And then there was the basic population of farmers, with their Valley accent that made them sound like Maritimers. G’Day, eh?
Why did people live here? It was summer, and there were stupid Christmas trees everywhere. No ornaments, just standing around growing. And he’d seen an actual porcupine the other day. What kind of a place had needles on both the animals and the trees? There should be warning signs!
The pickup truck helped him blend in, though. He’d been issued one at long last. He’d requested it weeks ago, when he was going through the mining towns of Quebec. He’d even submitted the requisition in French, in hopes of speeding up the process. Of course it was painted the same standard issue black as all CAT’s vehicles, but so what? There were lots of black pickups around. Even the Quebec plate didn’t stand out too much in this neighborhood.
The guy he was watching actually had a black truck too. In fact, his truck looked nicer. It had a bunch of extras on it, and appeared to be jacked up to drive over logs. Victor wondered how it would corner in a high-speed chase.
Victor had met the man previously, and he had no illusions about him. This guy was clearly some kind of redneck who’d crippled his arm somehow, and was living off the government. He looked like he might be tough enough, but he was old. He looked like he might even be fifty. No problem if push came to shove.
Of course it wouldn’t come to that. Subtlety was required. So he’d done his job and observed patiently. Now he had a plan.
This guy wasn’t like Feather-Hat. He never put his dogs out at night. When they did go out they were tied up, since the fence around the yard was missing whole sections.
Victor had never actually owned a dog himself, but he could tell a male from a female. The Redneck had one dog that was black-and-tan just like the other one he’d grabbed. For some reason, they didn’t want that one. They wanted the mother, who looked like the other two males: white with black and brown spots.
No problem. He’d noticed that one of the spotted males only ever got tied at the back of the property. It was pretty aggressive, and he was glad he didn’t have to bring that one in alive. So he just had to wait for the female to be tied out at the front, create a distraction in the back, and then grab her. What did the Redneck say her name was again? Rudy? Stupid name for a female.
Shit! This is the worst day ever! Somebody grabbed Ruby.
I’d just tied her out on the front porch, when Rambo starts snarling and barking at the back. That’s just the kind of thing the neighbors wait for so they can complain, so I ran right back there to stop him.
While I was running out I heard some tires screech. That’s the problem with living on a corner. People drive like idiots here. I worry they might get one of my dogs.
Rambo had a cat! It was up the tree where he was tied. It was hard to get it down. I’m not as good on a ladder as I was before I fell off that roof. The cat looked like Rambo had nipped it on the way up, but only a bit.
I don’t know whose cat it is. The lady across the side street, the one whose husband called Animal Control on me last time, said she’d seen someone in a black truck throw the cat out the window at Rambo. She said the got the plate number. It was a Quebec plate.
What kind of ignorant person would do that? I hate to see any animal hurt. I’m gonna take it next door to my neighbor. They used to have a cat, but it died last winter. I can’t keep it with four dogs.
Shit, that’s right: I only have three dogs. While I was rescuing the cat, somebody grabbed Ruby. Probably the guy in the black pickup.
I was starting to wonder, you know. There’s been a strange truck around here a lot the last few days, ever since the neighbors got Moxie back.
It’s a black rear-wheel drive Chevy Silverado V6 crew-cab. It’s a wussy truck. I like Fords, and with my trailer I need the V8. Also I need the 4WD to go off-road. The roll-bar and spot-lights are handy in the woods at night too.
I don’t want to talk to the police. Maybe my neighbor can think of something. He knows people. Maybe he can ask for help without involving me. I’m going over there now with the cat anyway.
Victor was frustrated. The immigrant owner of the Whispering Pines Motel seemed to have no sense of time at all. It was taking forever to check out.
He’d set up his dog-napping well, but he hadn’t checked out in advance of actually grabbing the dog. He knew that sometimes things went wrong, and he might have to wait a day or two. As it turned out, the plan had worked like a charm.
If it were up to him, he’d just dump the money on the counter and drive off. But no, he had to bring back an itemized receipt. The Prime Minister didn’t know what he was doing, but the bean-counters did.
When was the last time his supervisor had been in the field? Years, probably. And when was the last time she’d had to kidnap a dog? Never. That kind of assignment only happened to him. How can you be creative and flexible when you have to keep receipts? Oh yeah, and subtle. Didn’t anyone think that surreptitious might be hard when you have to maintain a paper trail?
Now here he was, waiting to check out of a cheap motel. His hand was sore where the stupid dog had bit him. They weren’t supposed to bite the hand that fed them, were they? He’d read that somewhere. What about the steak he’d brought the bitch? (It was okay to use that word in this context, he’d looked it up — no one could bring another sexual misconduct charge against him.) He had the receipt for the steak, too.
The dog had grabbed the meat and let him unhook her from behind without complaining, but when he picked her up she’d bit him! Then she’d squirmed around and grabbed the steak again. He’d stuffed her in the back seat where she’d stayed, alternating between growling at him and gulping down the raw meat. When the steak was gone she kept growling. It reminded him of some dates he’d had. Ungrateful bitch.
As a result he’d needed to disinfect his hand and put on a bandage. Then he’d packed as quickly as he could manage with a bum hand (maybe that’s what had happened to the Redneck — his dogs had chewed up his arm!). Now here he was, waiting to get checked out so he could get on the highway to Ottawa, and deliver this stupid dog to the lab ASAP.
The door to the Motel office opened and someone walked in. Victor looked around. The man looked familiar.
It was Feather-Hat, but without the hat. He didn’t look too happy. The motel manager chose that moment to pull a disappearing act.
“We don’t like dog thieves around here,” said Feather-Hat. “The vet said that Moxie was almost anemic, and had been subjected to probes and tests. What sick things were you doing to her?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” said Victor.
“First you stole my dog. Then you took my neighbor’s dog. We know, because she’s out in your truck in the parking lot.”
There was the sound of smashing glass. “Did you know it’s not safe to leave a dog in a parked vehicle with the windows closed? People around here care about dogs. We’ll rescue them and the police will back us up.”
Victor said nothing. He had no backup, and he could see Redneck out in the parking lot making a fuss over the bitch.
Feather-Hat continued to speak: “It looks like you’re checking out and moving on. I think that’s a good idea. It might be best if you don’t come back.”
AFD Project Progress Report
Current Status: The effort to collect the intact female has failed due to the incompetence of the Intervener. Disciplinary action has been taken.
Future access to the intact female has been compromised. The dog and owner have fled the area, and their location is unknown. Efforts to locate them are ongoing.
The spayed female remains in its original location, but the owners have added a very large dog to their household. The replacement Observer reports that it gives no indication of being an AFD, but instead appears to be a highly effective guard dog. Extreme caution is advised re: future contact.
Cloning work to produce more AFDs is progressing well, and shows great promise. Six pups have been produced. They appear healthy, and have all demonstrated full AFD capacity.
Analysis: Several factors are significant:
1: the success of the cloning program,
2: the increasing cost of locating and acquiring the still-untested intact female, and
3: the unreliability of inter-generational feature transmission during normal reproduction.
1: that the cloning program become our primary focus in the effort to produce an effective method to quickly identify disguised aliens;
2: that budgetary approval be granted to ensure that the cloning program be rapidly expanded to meet the threat of widespread alien infiltration, and
3: that the costly search process for the still-untested intact female be scaled back or discontinued completely as a measure of fiscal prudence.
So, we’re here! I never thought we’d make it, but we’re safe on the houseboat right now. I don’t have to tie up the dogs or anything, because they only leave the boat when they want a swim.
I wish I’d thought about where they’re gonna do their business every day. I try to pull in to the shore a couple of times a day, but they can’t always hold it that long.
They really love the woods here in British Columbia. I have to be careful, though: yesterday Rambo came yelping out of the woods with a bear right behind him! He was okay, but for a minute I thought the bear was going to get right on the boat. I think it was a grizzly.
I guess I’ll have to put in where there are more people, ‘cause there shouldn’t be so many bears where there are people. It just makes sense.
Trouble is, every time we’ve seen people here Ruby has acted all strange. It’s like she’s scared of everyone she meets. I blame that guy who stole her. She used to be so friendly, now she can’t trust anybody. She’s got PTSD. Dogs can get that, right?
Anyway, it’s nice to be surrounded by normal people again, not like everyone back in the Valley who hated my dogs.
I’m sure that Ruby will calm down when she meets more of them. Anyone can see they’re good people.
Andrew Jensen lives in the Ottawa Valley where this story was set, and works in Ottawa, where “Victor” comes from. The characters are based on real people, their speech patterns are authentic, and the plan to move onto a houseboat with four dogs really is a notion of one of his neighbors. Even the feather hat and the dogs are real. Only the aliens are invented (he hopes). It’s barely fiction at all.
Jensen has one short story published in Midnight Zoo Magazine. Most of his writing is non-fiction, so he enjoyed writing this.