Robert Nowall

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Prisoner, by Robert Nowall
Two Sides to Every Story, by Robert Nowall
Blessed Are Those That Remember, by Robert Nowall
Love Dream,, by Robert Nowall
She Who Used to Be, by Robert Nowall
Guardian of the Gate, by Robert Nowall
Plant Girl, by Robert Nowall
Dogs by Robert Nowall
The Danger of Going Native, by Robert Nowall
The Laminants, by Robert Nowall
A Raft, by Robert Nowall

D O G S

 

by

 

Robert Nowall

 

 

 

 

The other side of the wall was built up, covered deep with muck and dirt. The hole narrowed. I caught and stuck on something. I was stripped down to a pair of battered short pants and belt, and the fabric or belt snagged. My head and shoulders stuck out of the muck. Through the dirt suspended in the water, I could look, up, and see the glimmering lake surface above me.

I couldn't turn around. I tried to put my hand down far enough into the hole, to loosen the shorts and slide out stark naked, but I couldn't do it. The hole was too tight. At least I didn't need to breathe. I could stay down for days, months even, and try to shift things around.

But then something splashed in the water over me. The mud swirled around; I could just see the splash. Something on the other side of the defensive shield I was trying to get under came into the water for me, but I couldn't see it.

Whatever it was, it grabbed me and pulled, and pulled hard. I came loose and before I knew it my head broke through the water surface.

I coughed and gasped. I might not need to breathe, but getting water out of my lungs and throat wasn't easy. I was pulled along, and put down in mud on the shore. I didn't resist; I didn't want to. But it took a minute or two before I could roll over onto my side and look around.

I saw her. First I thought she was a wild animal, but before I could flinch I knew she was human in form. She was no more than fifteen standard-years old. She bent over me, a look of concern on her face---a happy concern, but concern nonetheless. She was covered with muck and grime. Water dripped from her. Her hair was neck-long and tangled, as if it weren't combed or brushed that often. She wore a battered pair of leather boots and a ragged skirt and wrap-around cling-top. She looked like a wild animal. She exposed a lot of skin.

The skin. Pinkish-tan, healthy, but crisscrossed by many whitish scars and marks. Laminant scars, the kind a laminant gets when the skin is patched but nothing is done to conceal the patching. The girl bending over me was a laminant, just like me.

Like me?

How old was she? According to what Adam Daedalus told me when he woke me up, civilization and laminant-making were some eighteen thousand years in the past. Was he wrong, or was this girl from then?

Noticing her laminant scars reminded me of my own cuts. A couple of small slices opened up in the skin over my bare legs. No blood, of course, but they still hurt me. I was used to that. I could feel all my scars, patched or not. Nothing that stopped me from functioning.

My repair kit was in my empty stomach. I could make repairs later. I put the pain out of my mind and focused on the girl.

"Are you all right?" she asked. "You were stuck and I pulled you out."

"I'm fine." I looked down at her legs. A cut, a slit the length of a fingernail, was open on her ankle. "You're hurt," I said, and pointed.

She looked down, and was serious for a moment. "I'll be fine." But then she smiled, and knelt down over me. "Come," she said. "Come and play with me."

"What? Play?" I hesitated, then asked, "What's your name?"

"I'm Dee," she said.

I remembered my name from before. But it no longer seemed a part of me. I remembered a serial number, letters and numbers. I lopped off the numbers and most of the letters. I sat up, and held out my hand to her. "Call me TL," I said.

She took my hand in hers and tugged. "Teal," she said. I opened my mouth, then thought better of correcting her. Teal would do. With her help, I climbed to my feet and stood next to her. She was a little shorter than me. Fifteen standard-years?

I was laminated at about the same age. I knew my story. I died and my parents preserved me. I lived on, if you could call it life, in their penthouse apartment, long after they were dead and gone, until the processor battery pack ran out---a couple of centuries.

Then Adam Daedalus found and woke me. I lived a little more. A short time to be awake, according to some---but I was a different person than that teenager whose body I wore.

But Dee---was she awake all this time? I looked at her. There was a lot of laminant scarring---without attempting to cover it up. If she was awake all this time---what changes could those years, those centuries, make in a person, a laminant, just by living through them?

Once I was on my feet, she smiled, and bumped against me---then ran off. We were among some bushes at the edge of the lake. She found a gap and slipped through and was gone.

"Hey! Dee! Wait!" I called out, and ran after her, through the same gap. The ground sloped upward, covered with more bushes and trees. I couldn't see the slope top from where I was.

Over to one side, I spotted a creek, flowing towards the lake. A narrow dirt path ran alongside it, and Dee was on the path, a few hundred meters away. "Hey, Dee, whoah, wait up!" I called. She turned and faced me, then put her hand on her head and laughed, her eyes closed and her face towards the sky of the defensive shied. She laughed---then ran on.

I ran after her. I could keep her in sight. The creek was wide, and after maybe a kilometer a whitened stone bridge crossed over it. Dee climbed onto the bridge without a stop, then looked back at me, then ran down the other side, alongside the creek again.

Damned if she didn't want me to chase her, I thought. I could see her from time to time, running along the path along the creek, as I tried to keep up. The forest closed in on the path. The creek curved upslope and narrowed. With effort, I closed the gap.

Then she bolted across the creek and up a short grassy rise. She looked back at me---to see if I was following?---then went over the top and disappeared. I hurried after her.

#

I found a large and well-tended garden over the rise. I stood at its edge, and looked up and down it. It was a rough rectangle, segmented in terraces, running along the hillside all the way down to the wall and defensive shield. Flowers, with an ornamental bush here and there.

Hovering over the ground in front of me was an ovoid robot. Metallic, smooth skin, no sign of eyes or mouth or ears. It extended a couple of limbs and clipped a rose bush in front of it. I marveled. Even back when I was alive, robots weren't seen much---laminants were cheaper. That a robot survived this long was remarkable.

I stood as still as I could. How would this robot react if I moved?

For a minute I stood, frozen by indecision. Then I heard a sharp whistle, behind me, to my right. I turned. Dee stood at the garden's edge, near an even-planted stretch of pine trees. She waved at me, then passed between two of the trees and vanished again.

Over the treetops, a building, stone or stone-covered, loomed large. Was that where Dee lived? I hesitated, and looked back at the robot. It made no sign of seeing me...and I saw other robots in the garden, here and there, clipping plants or just moving along.

Rows and paths were marked out. But I saw where somebody---Dee?---trampled through the flowers. Yes, it was Dee. The trampled flowers ran almost straight to where she stood a moment ago.

I didn't risk it. Dee was part of this place. I wasn't. I wouldn't chance finding out how the robots, or maybe other security devices, would react. I threaded my way along the paths to where she ran through the trees.

#

On the other side, I stood for a moment, looking up and inspecting the building. I was on the narrow end of it; the building sat on a rectangular foundation and extended about three times as far as it stood where I stood. About a hundred meters by three hundred,. I guessed.

There was a big porch on the front of the house, with a road---the paved road Dee and I crossed earlier?---that came around in a big loop in front, through a well-trimmed green grass lawn. All this on flat ground; the hill leveled off here at the top.

Dee was nowhere in sight. But some footprints in the grass ran up towards the house, and disappeared when they reached the paved road. The oval loop of the road was to my right, but the footprints pointed to the left.

With care, on alert for Dee, I crept around the house, to its backside. Past some scattered trees I found a well-tended green lawn. But the lawn ended and the flat land dropped off. For maybe a kilometer the ground fell down in a steep slope, much steeper than the slope I just climbed up while chasing Dee. Grass grew, but it looked as if it were allowed to grow long and cut at long intervals. There were some scattered trees, scrubby, with a different look than the ones on the other side, in among the dropped-off land.

The sunlight, through the distortion of the defensive shield, was bright. I started digging in the muck sometime before sunrise. I saw the sun was high, well past noon. I shielded my eyes---something I couldn't replace---and looked towards the sun. It was warm in here. Almost stuffy. I wondered about oxygen content---there were lots of plants and trees, but I saw no animal life. I didn't need oxygen myself, but it made me wonder.

I stood at the edge of the big drop-off, looking down into it---and was body-slammed. I heard Dee laugh as I tumbled down the slop---as the two of us tumbled down together---over the edge and rolling. I tried to stop and right myself. But we rolled and rolled until we came to rest in a smooth place, under the branches of one of the scrubby trees.

I landed in Dee's lap, face up. Dee laughed and put her arms around me and put her head on my chest. She breathed hard. I breathed hard---I didn't need the air, but my body and lungs still sometimes acted as if I was alive. Dee must, too.

When we both calmed down, Dee chuckled and said, "That was fun. Let's do it again."

"Hold on," I said, and sat up and looked. I felt a couple of new slices in my laminated skin. One on my thigh, thumb-sized, flapped open in a rough semi-circle and exposed the muscles. They would need work.

I saw new cuts on Dee's arms and legs as well. But she ignored them. She started to push me away and stand up.

I held onto her arm. She stayed down. "Don't go. Who are you?"

"I'm Dee," she said, a little joking intensity creeping into her voice. "I told you that."

"I know. But what are you doing here?"

"I live here." She reached up into the low branches of the tree, and grabbed a green sphere. She pondered it a moment, then took a bite out of it. It was an apple---those scrubby trees were apple trees, I realized. She offered the apple to me. "Want some?
I looked at it. It was a long time since I last ate---but I did not need to eat, and did not want to leave food rotting in my stomach.

She shouldn't, either. I said, "Should you be doing that?"

"Oh, no," she said, "but I like the taste." She held the apple out to me again. I took it, then took a couple of bites. I didn't want to offend her. I would empty my stomach later.

I handed it back to her. She took a couple more bites and finished it off, then tossed the core away. The she looked at me. She waited for my next move.

I nodded, then stood up, and held out my hand. She took it and pulled herself up. She bumped against me, front to front, then stood there, smiling at me. But she didn't run.

"Where to?" I asked.

#

There was a dirt-and-gravel path along the outer edge of the dropped-off field---in a long loop around it climbed back up to the big house above. Dee and I walked along it. My feet ached---my shoes were outside with the rest of my gear, and though the soles of my feet were thickened and padded, standard laminant work, they stayed sensitive to the sharp gravel. I winced when some stone bit into me, and worried about cuts I couldn't repair.

Dee gave it no notice. I held her hand. She did not seem to mind. Every so often she tugged at my arm, as if to run off, but I did not let go and tugged her back. She would pull up, step up, bump up against me, then keep walking.

I asked simple questions, and she gave simple answers. She knew her name, Dee. The house was the House, the grounds around it were the Grounds, and she could go anywhere within the Shield, but not beyond it. I sensed capital letters in her words, as if she knew of no others.

"Do you live in the House?" I asked.

"Yes. But I go out in the day and sleep there at night."

"Does anybody else live there with you?"

"Just the Master."

"The, er, Master? Who is he?"

"She. She's a girl, just like me."
"Can you take me to the Master?"

She looked somber. "I suppose. Let me think about it. But it's more fun to be out here." She giggled and rubbed against me again. "Don't you think so?"

I agreed and changed the subject. "Dee, the House---" I pointed to it, perched on the hill above us. We followed the loop of the path and approached the House from below. It loomed large over us. "Who owns it?" I asked.

"Mmm, gee, I don't know," she said. "My parents, I guess."

"Your parents?" I framed some wild ideas about her laminant experience. Maybe too many, I thought. "Do they live there with you?"

"No, they're gone." She was silent, and more somber. "They're dead."

"I'm sorry."
"It doesn't matter. It was a long time ago." She tugged on my hand. "Come. Let me show you something good. C'mon."

She pulled me along and we walked up the dirt-and-gravel path together.

#

The path led to the other side of the House, to a much smaller building right next to it. Wood and stone, one story, open doors at either end. Dee led me into it. It was dark, very close to sunset.

The light outside was bright, but the shadows in this building were dark. It took my artificial eyes seconds to adjust. The building was a horse born, open at either end, a series of stalls along the left side, and some old and faded pictures of horses and some faded multi-colored ribbons pinned up on the right side. There were old-fashioned electric lights along the ceiling, but they weren't lit. There were switches on the wall but I didn't want to try them.

There were also ceiling-mounted cameras, one in each corner. They did not look active; they looked as abandoned as the rest of the barn. The stalls weren't locked---there weren't even gates on them---and, though they were filled and lined with what looked like fresh hay, there were no horses.

I looked at the pictures. Horses, a few people. Dee was not in them. Some were captioned. There were a lot of names, horses and people, none familiar to me, and some dates---all from centuries before the fall of civilization.

I let go of Dee's hand when we came in. I turned to ask her something, but she wasn't there. "Dee?" I called.

I heard her giggle---she was inside one of the stalls. I went in after her, but couldn't see her---it was darker than outside.

Then she slammed into my side and knocked me over. She rolled me over a couple of times until I was flat on my back, and she was on top. She laughed once, then laughed again, a deeper and throaty laugh. She slipped against me and put her arms around me, and buried her nose in my neck...and started to rub her hips against mine.

Was she...?

My experience with women or girls was limited. I lived centuries, without much chance for it. But I was equipped for sex---I could do it.

But should I? Dee was strange---most of the laminants I knew did not behave the way I saw Dee behave since I met her.

But I was fifteen, she was fifteen, at least in appearance, both of us. All of the laminants I knew, from Adam Daedalus on down, were in their thirties---the standard age for lamination. With Dee, I would never get a better chance, or a better partner. I slipped my arms around her and started to roll her over---

But just then I heard a short bark of noise. Concealed loudspeakers were around. One bark, and just one bark---no words. On top of Dee, I looked up, startled.

But Dee---she leapt up and pushed me aside and ran out of the barn, before I could call after her or say a single word.

I rolled, then leapt up and ran out after her. She was over at the House, maybe a hundred meters away. She moved even faster than when I chased her in the morning. I started after her, but she went up to a door and was inside the House before I could get partway there.

The door was the old-fashioned kind, hinges and a knob. A single stone slab lay in front of it, a small porch. One step up. There were a triplet of frosted glass windows about eye height. I tried the knob, but it wouldn't turn. Locked. I looked in the windows, but could make out nothing, no sign of movement, not even dim shapes. I called out, "Dee?" and rapped on the door with my knuckles. No answer.

I stepped back and looked up. There was an overhanging roof over the door, and mounted on it was another camera. A tiny red light on one side blinked, on and off. An active camera. I looked into it, and wondered if I should say something. But while I watched the light blinked out .

I stood on the stone porch for a long moment. To my left, to the west, the sun was almost down, a hazy red ball blurred by the Shield. The red ball just touched the wall the Shield rose out of. Soon it would be gone and it would be dark.

Well, Dee was gone. Maybe it was a good thing that things went no further.

But what could I do?

#

I retraced my route back through the garden and down the paths I chased Dee along. By the time I reached the lake it was dark, though the glow of the sunset lingered on the summit above through the trees. I carried specialized eye adaptors for night work with me, but I was not wearing them. All I could do was curse when I stumbled over branches and roots.

Up close to the wall, where the Shield rose up out of it, it gave off a little glow. Not much, but enough to see by. I dove in and found the hole Dee pulled me out of that morning. It was still too tight to fit through, as is.

I swam around on the bottom until I found what I wanted. A rock, narrow and pointed enough to use as kind of a pry bar, but light enough that I could lift it off the bottom. I carried it over---it was heavy enough to anchor me down---and went to work.

It was dark down there and I worked my way around by the feel of things. Pretty soon I dislodged two larger stones and a good deal of mud. I made the hole large enough to get through without getting stuck. The water around me was cloudy with the dirt. .

Once the dirt settled down, I slipped through to the other side without trouble. I swam up to the surface and looked around. The difference was startling. The lake on this side was about the same level as the one inside, but out here just a few stunted and dying trees reared up out of a near-impenetrable mass of scrub brush and wilting grass.

It was dark night. The stars made bright pinpoints but no moons were out. I saw no one around. I knew there were tribes of humans, descendents of the survivors of the wreck of civilization, here and there in the wilderness. Sometimes they hunted this far. I was alone when I dove down to try to find an entrance under the water...but was I alone? I didn't want others penetrating the Shield and following me in.

With care, I slipped out of the water, not making a splash. I crawled over to where I hid my backpack. I carried a change of clothes, shirt and pants, and some repair equipment. Everything important was in my stomach.

I opened up the pack and wrapped my spare clothes in a tight bundle around the equipment, then tied the pack straps as tight as possible around the bundle. The pack wasn't waterproof but that couldn't be helped. I needed to take it in. I held it tight in my arms and slipped back into the water with it.

I shoved the pack through the hole, then followed it in. I grabbed the pack before it floated away, then swam up to the surface. I tried to be quiet, but I made a little noise when I splashed up and tossed the pack over to the shore.

I checked the bundle. Things were a little damp but should dry out; I rolled them up again and looked up.

It was night. The glow from the Shield, by itself, was not light enough. There were no moon or stars to see. My internal chronometer was unreliable, but I thought just an hour or two passed since I went into the water.

I was tired. I needed sleep. Other laminants I knew retained other aspects of their humanity; for me, ever since Adam Daedalus gave me the chip that freed me from my central processing unit, when I was tired, I needed to sleep. But not here. The lake was cold and damp, and, besides, I wanted to be closer to the House when I woke up. The horse barn would do, I thought, if I could find it again in the dark.

I turned away from the lake, and headed back up the path. The path lead to the road, and the road was wide and it would be easy to get back to the barn without stumbling in the pitch dark.

#

I spotted these buildings when I reached the stone bridge. Dee and I turned uphill and up the path from the lake...these buildings were downhill and along the road. I did not notice them before. A couple of dim lights on them gave outlines. One was right up against the Shield and looked like some kind of gatehouse.

But the other, a little closer, was also darker, and mysterious. I decided to check it out. I shook off my tiredness, the best I could, and walked down to it. A path led away from the road straight to it.

The building's windows were dark. There was one heavy door, which was ajar, leaving enough room for me to slip through. I approached with caution. If there was nothing strange, maybe I could spend the rest of the night inside.

I stuck my head in. Light came on, brilliant, blinding. I pulled my head out and the lights went off. An automatic trigger of some kind. I slipped inside and squinted as my eyes adjusted.

There were a number of wooden benches arranged so they faced a podium at one end of the building. This was a church or chapel, I realized. I could spend the night here, maybe.

There were deep alcoves to either side. One on the left was empty, but the one on the right held blocks of marble. They looked like tombs. If there was an inscription, I might get some information---I walked over.

They were tombs. Three slabs of white marble, waist-high to me. One was set a little off from the other two, an extra meter between them.

Left to right, the first slab read: JOHN FALMOUTH / BELOVED HUSBAND / DEVOTED FATHER / 3035 - 3077. The second, middle slab read: KERRIE ZIANSKI FALMOUTH / LOVING WIFE / DEVOTED MOTHER / 3039 - 3077.

The third slab, the one a little spaced from the others, read: DEIDRE FALMOUTH / BELOVED DAUGHTER / 3059 - 3074.

The stones were keyed to some sort of projection system. It gave a view of what was inside---or what was inside in 3077, maybe. If so, John Falmouth was a handsome man who wore a formal dark suit and a peaceful expression, and Kerrie Zianski Falmouth was an attractive woman who wore a simple white dress and a similar peaceful expression.

There was no image of Deidre Falmouth.

I stood there, trying to fit it in with what I knew. Dee was, or was once, Deidre Falmouth---the resemblance to her mother was strong, and I did not doubt her identity. She died before her parents. They laminated her---left her running loose on the estate---and then they died not long after, together, maybe in an accident---and Dee went on.

So when civilization collapsed, the estate survived. Dee survived. I wasn't sure which dating system the inscriptions used, but it didn't matter. Here were their tombs, eighteen thousand years later.

And here we were, the two of us, Dee and I.

Except for Adam Daedalus himself, every laminant I met was in some way a servant---slaves without masters. Intended for servitude, laminated for servitude. A lot of former criminals. Oh, they were all people, good and bad, but this "slaves-without masters" showed up in little things they said or did, all the time. A lot of them needed somebody in charge of them. It was a difficult thing to rid themselves of, once Adam Daedalus's chip was in their circuitry. Many never did.

But Dee, like me, was no servant. We might be children, adolescents, teenagers, but we were never processed or trained or manufactured to be anyone's slaves.

What did it mean, for the two of us? What could it mean?

I pulled back. Dee mentioned "the Master." Who was that? What was their relationship?

The chapel was too oppressive and creepy to stay in much longer. My weariness came back. I left. The lights went out behind me and I walked in near-darkness.

I found a sort of an alcove on the side of the chapel building. A curve in the building that produced a niche, that ran from top to bottom, near as I could tell in the dim light. I slipped into it, sat down, rolled into a ball, and shut myself down.

#

Sunlight shining through the gap woke me. I was in shadow, but the light was brilliant.

Something pressed against my back and gripped my shoulders. I raised my head up and looked over my shoulder. It was Dee. She wrapped herself around me, her legs pressed against mine, her stomach and breasts up against my back, her chin digging into the back of my neck. Her eyes were closed and a smile was on her lips.

This, I thought, would be flattering if I wasn't worried about other things. As I looked, her eyes fluttered open. She looked up, met my eyes, and said, "Good morning."

"Good morning, Dee," I said to her. "Er, been here long?"

"No, no, just a short time." She grinned. "Take me for a walk, Teal."

"A walk?"

"Well, sure." She rolled off me and stood up, straddling me with one leg on either side. I rolled onto my back and looked up at her. A physiological fifteen standard years old...eighteen thousand years of real time...but, her mental age...what? She acted like no human or laminant I knew.

The slices on her arms and legs from yesterday were sealed up and repaired. They were not prettied up, but they were fixed. I felt my own cuts---my repair equipment was in my stomach, still unused.

Then again, if I used what Dee used---

I smiled back at her, and said, "Sit down for a moment, Dee. I want to ask you a few things."

She hesitated, smileless, then smiled and said, "All right." She dropped, and bounced a little as her butt hit the dirt. We sat, cross-legged, across from each other, both in the alcove.

"Do you know what's inside this chapel?"

"The what?"

"The, er, this building." I tapped the stone of the wall."

"I never go in there. They told me never to go in there."

"They told you? Who are they?"

"The trustees." She shrugged. "It was so long ago. I never see them around anymore. Maybe they're dead."

"When did you last see them?"

She paused, her eyes looking past me. Then she said, "Eighteen thousand years, plus or minus two hundred."

I blinked. It was the most definite statement from her so far. I said, "Where did you get that number?"

"From my central processing unit," she replied, as if it were a matter of no concern.

In my mind I shrugged. I knew how laminants worked. I knew there must be a unit controlling her. Until Adam Daedalus came along with his homemade chips, all laminants were controlled from some central unit. Why think Dee was an exception?

I thought for a moment, then said, "This processing unit, Dee. Is it the Master you spoke of yesterday"

"No, not at all." She chuckled. "The Master is...well, the Master is the Master."

"Can you take me to meet him?"

"Her."

"Her, then. Can you take me to meet her?"

"Maybe later." She leaned forward, getting on her hands and knees, her face almost touching mine. "Let's go play somewhere first."

I hesitated, but just a moment. "All right," I said.

She let out a loud whoop! and then took my hand and dragged me out in the open.

#

We wound up down by the lake again. Dee let go of my hand, and splashed right into the water and swam away. I followed her, with more caution.

The dirt from my digging was gone, settled, and the water was clear. But I lost sight of Dee as we both dove under the water. Dee rammed her head into my side as I reached the wall---not very hard, but enough. I grabbed her leg and shoved her upward into the air, then followed her up. She laughed and swam for the shore. I coughed the water out of my lungs and swam after her.

We wound up on a sunny shore, a narrow beach I did not notice before. There we crawled onto the sand and lay there a moment, both our laminated lung sets working hard. Then we lay back, side by side, in the light of the warm distorted sun. The sun was at its peak; it was noon.

Dee rolled over and put her arm over me and her head on my chest. I watched the water calm down to just a few ripples on the surface, then looked down at Dee. She looked up into my face without speaking, a smile on her lips.

The lake surface rippled again. I sat up. Dee rolled off me and crouched, looking at the lake.

Somehow I grasped what happened. Something, some animal maybe, swam in through the hole I made in the wall. I looked at Dee. She seemed more intent, more interested, more engaged.

A head popped out of the water. Not animal, a human.

Dee was up in an instant and splashed into the lake. I jumped to my feet. What was she doing?

She swam out and grabbed. Water splashed high. I couldn't see what went on---but I heard a scream, a deep-voiced man's scream---a man in agony. "Dee!" I shouted.

The water turned red with blood. Dee's blood?---no, she was dry as me. "Dee!"

The splashing---and the screaming---died down. I saw Dee again. She swam, slow and sure. She pulled a limp body along with her--- with her teeth.

I ran down to the water's edge as Dee pulled the body in and tossed it to the shore. She swam off. I bent down and knelt next to the body. It was a man, all right. He was dead. Neck broken, along with several other bones. Blood flowed from the big teeth-gouged wound in his neck---Dee bit down to the jugular vein, as far as I can tell. His eyes were open, pupils dilated. I reached up and closed them.

He wore no clothes, other than a pattern of cicatrix tattooing on every inch. I could read no meaning in it, but I knew some close-by tribes practiced the custom. He held nothing in his hands---if he carried a weapon, I couldn't see it.

So a local tribesman came through the hole I made. And Dee killed him! I didn't need working glands to feel guilt, fear, fright. Dee!

Twigs snapped behind me. I jumped to my feet and faced Dee. She looked---well, the same. The blood on her was gone, washed off in the water. She looked as she did before---but then she looked frightened, and cringed away from me. "Teal, you're scaring me!"

"Dee," I said, my voice a croak in the silence that surrounded us. "You know what you did?"

She shook her head. No? She seemed about to run away---she seemed so afraid of me---but I saw her kill a man without a thought.

I looked down in the lake. The blood in the water was gone, dissipated. It was clear enough for me to see the hole I made, a dark patch against the paler stone of the wall.

This man---were others out there? Friends? A tribe? Would they come after him?

I dove in, down to the bottom, and found the big flat rock I used as a pry-bar. A couple of minutes work and the hole collapsed. Water still flowed but nobody could get in.

Nobody could get out, either. I was trapped.

When I climbed out of the lake, Dee was gone. Nowhere in sight. Was she scared of me? But why would someone, who did what I saw her do, be scared of me?

I scanned the woods, then ducked down in the water, my eyes at water level. Robots, those silver ovoid hoverers I saw in the garden before, came through the woods towards the lake. Four of them.

They didn't approach me at all. Instead, two went straight to the body and picked it up and carried it off together. The other two grew arms and manicured the ground for a minute, then followed the other robots and the body.

I climbed out of the water. I stood for a moment where Dee tossed the body. I couldn't see a trace. Then I followed the robots. I closed the distance until I was a few meters behind them. If they noticed, they did not show it.

They stuck to the paths, moving slow enough that there was no problem following them. The paths crossed the gravel road, and wound up to the garden. The robots moved along the border, up to a small silver-metal shed. I did not see the shed before---small, silver-metal, one big door open on one side, too dark inside for me to see what was inside.

All four robots went inside, body and all. I started to step inside with them---then felt a hand on my elbow.

It was Dee. "Don't go in there, Teal," she said. "It's forbidden."

I looked at her. If she was still frightened of me, she didn't show it. And if there was a trace of what drove her to attack that tribesman, I couldn't see it..

Why did she attack him? And why didn't she attack me?

I looked back to the shed. The door was closed---I did not hear it close. I stepped up to the shed, and ran my hands over the metal. Smooth, weather-beaten, cold---but no catch, not even a seam. "Where does this go?" I said aloud, half to myself.

"There's an underground area," Dee said, pointing down. "The robots go there. But I can't. It's forbidden."

"Forbidden? By whom?"

She seemed to think about it for a moment, her brow furrowing. Then she said, "I don't know. It just is."

Laminant programming, I thought. Knowledge of the rule but not knowing where the rule came from.

I looked into the garden again. I saw a bench, and went over and sat down on it. Dee followed me. We crossed our legs and sat opposite each other, close enough that our knees touched. I took her hands in mine. "Dee...I need to ask you some questions. About...well, about what happened down at the lake."

"At the lake?"

"We were sitting by the lake," I said, "and then you attacked that man."

She seemed somber. "I don't know. I just did it, that's all. It's something I do."

More programming? Some kind of defense mechanism? It didn't make much sense to me---she was an object to be protected, not part of the protection itself.

I looked her over again. She was as she was when I met her---happy, playful, not much concerned with anything beside what was in front of her.

I reminded myself that her glands were nothing more than irregularities in the plastic laminant material soaked through every cell of her body. She could not feel fear in the way a living human being could feel it.

But she wasn't without emotion---she laughed, all through yesterday and today. I knew that. Was it a lie, a programmed response?

I did not need glands and a bloodstream to feel emotion. Maybe I operated on a different level.

One thing---I needed more information. I said to Dee, "You didn't do that when I came through the wall."

"It's different with you," she replied.

I thought about that, and decided not to ask more of her. Either she didn't know or couldn't share---or maybe she didn't understand. I would wait, if that would help.

Instead, I let go of her hands, uncrossed my legs, and put my feet on the ground and stood up. "Show me around, Dee. Show me your world."

#

We reached the House close to sunset. Once there, we sat together, in one of the several large wooden chairs spread out across the porch. They were meant for one person, but Dee just climbed in on top of me and sat on my lap, her chin resting against my chest.

We spent the day touring and playing. Dee liked to roll around and wrestle, any time, any place. I let her pin me most of the time---I formed some dim thought of getting in good with her by letting her beat me. We wandered from place to place. As we wandered, I asked a few simple questions. Some of her answers were vague and uncertain, but I think I understood what happened.

Dee was a laminant like me. And, also like me, she was "brought back to life" by loving and wealthy parents. They passed on---together, in an accident---and Dee was brought here to this place, her parents' estate, where she remained.

Dee didn't know more than I did about the fall of civilization---she knew things were, well, wild out there, but she wasn't curious about what happened.

I was curious. I knew a little---Adam Daedalus told me a little more---and others later filled in a few more blanks. But the why and wherefore---I didn't know. It was all vague and uncertain. I hoped to learn more, though there might not be much more to learn.

I knew I could ask more, but I didn't. I was happy, with what I learned, and with where I was. The House cast its long sunset shadow in front of us---and it was cool in the shade.

"That was the best day," she said, without looking up. "The last time I played like that was, well, I can't remember. The Master doesn't play with me like that anymore."

"The Master?"

She looked up. "I told you about the Master, didn't I?" When I nodded, she put her head back on my chest. "The Master used to come out and play with me. But not anymore. She stays inside, all day, all night, all the time. We talk, and she takes care of me, but I miss playing."

If the Master were a woman, I wondered, why was she called "the Master?" Instead of asking, I shrugged it off and said, "Isn't your life kind of dull, just staying in here?"

"Oh, yes," she said. "Sometimes I want to go beyond the Shield and play there. Or maybe just to see what there is to see." She shrugged. "I can't leave."

Bound by the limitations of a fixed-in-place processing unit and broadcast signal. I was about to say something about my own life-after-lamination, but Dee raised her head again and looked me in the eyes. "You won't go away, will you, Teal? You'll stay here?"

"As long as I can," I said, "but not forever. Many days."

"Don't go. There's a lot to show you." She slipped her arms around me and put her face against my neck. "We could do other things. Remember when we were in the barn, when we---"

Just then, there was that loud bark. There must be a hidden loudspeaker somewhere close to the chair we sat in; the bark was almost loud enough to deafen me---and if I lost my hearing units here I couldn't repair them.

But I realized it sounded an awful lot like a single dog bark. A dog?

Dee was up and running, but I was ready for her. I jumped up and stayed a step behind her. She ran to the same door she used the night before. The door opened as she came up---automatic, I thought---and I was able to slip in right behind her.

But Dee was quicker. She put her hands out and turned me and spun me out the door. "Sorry, Teal," she said, "but the Master said for you to stay outside." I staggered on my heels and almost fell over; when I turned around, the door was closed.

That ended my second day with Dee. I stood a moment, wondering what happened.

I went into the barn, and looked over my cuts. It was easy to forget my cuts---they hurt, but they didn't bleed. All on the legs. None were more than a finger's length long, none were wide, none cut deep into the muscles or nerves. None stopped me from moving. I brought up my repair kit from my stomach, and sealed up all the cuts and slashes in my skin, then swallowed it again and went to sleep. Chasing Dee wore me out.

#

We settled into a routine. I spent my nights in the barn. Dee and I met up first thing in the mornings---she woke me up, and together we would explore and play the day away. Every sunset, on the signal, she left and went into the house. I was never allowed past the door. The windows were opaque on this side and I could not see through them.

Months passed. When I parted from Adam Daedalus, I promised to meet up with him in First City in three years. More than a year remained when I found my way inside the Shield. Less than a year was left. I wanted to keep my promise. But I couldn't leave.

I tried the front gate. It would not open for me; it remained just a gatehouse with a small-"s" shield blocking the exit arch. There were control panels but they were not responsive to my touch. Even with Dee's help, I couldn't open it---neither could Dee. I could find no other entrance or exit, and Dee knew of none. There were no other breaks in the wall other than the one I came in through, and that was sealed.

So Dee and I explored inside the capital-"S" Shield---I did most of the exploring, but Dee knew her way around. She showed me, told me what things were, even took an interest in what I found. There wasn't much more to see---the two of us ran out of open buildings in a few days.

I could not get into the House---the doors were there but they were all locked to me. Nor could I get under the hill where the robots went.

But Dee and I also played. We roughhoused a lot---I could repair my damage, and sometime between sunset and sunrise Dee was repaired as well. We dug in the dirt...we tossed things to each other---I chased her and let her chase me---we swam and climbed and did a thousand different things.

We rubbed our bodies against each other---but I held back from sex. I thought it would complicate our relationship. Dee did not press the issue, or ask about it. I was grateful for that, at least.

It was pleasant the way it was. After lamination, I did not make many friends---I knew Adam Daedalus and worked with many other laminants. I thought Adam Daedalus was my friend, but the others...well, we were kind of tolerant of each other, but that was about it.

My relationship with Dee was less complicated, less fraught with problems. We played and explored and played some more. Was Dee my friend?

Well, I thought so.

We were friends, and I was happy...but I knew I needed to find a way out.

#

One day the two of us were down by the lake, laying in the bright-but-distorted sunlight. Dee snuggled up next to me, her eyes closed. Asleep? It was hard to say. I knew I was an oddball among laminants because I slept. But we spent the morning climbing trees and leaping from branch to branch. I was tired but not sleepy.

I wondered about Dee, once again. Every day I realized she was nothing like laminants I knew. When Adam Daedalus woke me, I was suspicious and questioning and very disoriented. I asked a lot of questions, and he gave a lot of answers, before I was willing to leave the apartment I was trapped in and follow him.

Among the many I met since, some were confused, some were still asking questions. Some were obedient and unquestioning, some functioned at just a minimum level.

None of them acted like Dee.

Dee asked nothing and wanted to play. And I played with her, but I was no closer to understanding her than when we met.

Maybe sex would help me understand---but I still thought it best not to start something, not then. She seemed content to snuggle up next to me, rubbing up against me like a---like---

Like a dog?

The idea wouldn't let go of me. Eighteen thousand years passed by since I last saw a dog. But I remembered how dogs behaved, or thought I did. Playfulness, jumping and touching, calm with periods of frantic excitement---I never owned a dog myself when I was human, but I knew several as pets of friends.

It was all there in Dee. I looked down at her, and put my hand on her shoulder. She looked up and smiled at me, then pushed her face into my side.

What was I thinking? She was human---I mean, she was a laminant in human form. Why would someone make a human being act like a dog?

But the idea still wouldn't let go. I turned it over in my mind...then thought of a test, of sorts. I let go of Dee, then stood up. Dee did the same. She put her hands behind her back and smiled at me. I looked around, at the shoreline, and found what I wanted. A stick, about half an arm's length, thick as the circle of my thumb and forefinger.

I showed it to Dee, and waved it in the air. She watched it, ducking and bobbing and weaving, not taking her eyes off it. I said, "Here, Dee, go get it!" I tossed it across the lake, making a loud splash! with ripples.

Dee dove in after it, and in a few seconds, came back with it---not in her mouth, to my relief, but in her hand. She held it out to me. I took it from her and tossed it in the lake again. And again, and again, and again. I waded into the water and splashed around with her.

I tossed and Dee fetched. Dogs fetch. I wondered, again, just what kind of laminant, what kind of person, I was involved with.

#

After Dee tired of playing fetch and splashing in the water, we walked back to the House. I grabbed Dee's hand and held onto it. She tugged my arm out to the limit, then came back and leaned against me.

I thought of putting her on a leash. I didn't carry rope, but, more important, I didn't know how she would take it.

Once we reached the House, we sat down on the chairs again on the porch in front. Again, Dee climbed into my lap. A dog would do that, I thought. It was close to sunset, and, as usual, we sat in the long cool shadow of the House.

It was late, and I heard what I expected, that single bark from the hidden loudspeakers. A dog bark? Dee was up in an instant...but she didn't run. She stood, put her hands on her hips, and said, "Come, Teal. The Master wants to talk to you."

"What?" I stood up and smiled. "You're not going to disappear again?"

"No, this time the Master says to bring you in. She wants to talk to you."

She held out her hand to me. I hesitated. "But how do you know that?"
She looked puzzled. I said, "Never mind," and took her hand. We walked, at a fast pace, to the side door she always entered the House through. I hesitated at the door, but Dee pulled me through. "Come on, Teal!"

#

Inside the House Dee led me through rooms and halls and corridors. I wondered if I could find my way out. It was dark. There was the occasional emergency light sign or bulb. Nothing else was lit, though I saw overhead fixtures. What in the House worked, besides Dee and those emergency lights?

Dee knew her way. She led me into a large room flooded with light. The light came from the tall windows on the west side of the House. The sunset lit things up. The room was lined with books---the old-fashioned printed-and-bound kind that were old-fashioned before civilization fell. Some desks and tables were around, holding more conventional screenreaders and computers, none working at the moment.

There was a couch in the middle of the room. Dee pointed, smiled, and said, "The Master."

What was on the couch sat up and looked at me, solemn and calm. I suppose I wasn't too surprised, under the circumstances, and given what I thought about Dee, that a dog stared back at me.

I looked the dog over. I learned a few things while living, and augmented them some by centuries of confined study. It was all still there, in my laminated brain and downloaded into the circuitry of the chip Adam Daedalus stuck in me, to be called on when needed. I recognized the breed, or thought I did---they were called Siberian Huskies. Black and white fur. This fur was thin and worn, with occasional bare patches.

This dog stared at me like no other dog I could remember.

A dog, I thought. A laminant dog.

From some concealed speaker, a voice said, "You must be Teal." I looked around. It was a woman's voice, much like Dee's voice, but sounding, well, like an adult.

The dog barked. The voice then said, "You are confused. I can't speak through my mouth, but I can speak through the House."

"You sound like Dee," I said.

The dog twitched---was it a shrug? Then the voice said, "Sit down, Teal."

The couch was just large enough for two people. It was worn down. But there were no other seats. I eased myself into it, facing the dog.

Dee sat between us, despite the tight fit. She put her legs against mine but leaned against the dog. The dog shifted around until she faced me.

The dog looked me over, raising her head from top to bottom. She said, "You're hurt. Those cuts---"

I looked down. A few new cuts and a few older cuts reopened. "I can fix them later," I said.

"I can fix them, if you want."

I hesitated. I could repair them later with my own kit. But I wanted to be friends with this---this---whatever she was. And if she wanted to heal me--- "All right."

It did not take long. Dee stood up, while the dog made me put my legs on the couch. The dog climbed down. Next to the couch was a table. From it, the dog picked up what looked like a small caulking gun. She picked it up with her mouth and jaw, then came back to me.

With a gentle hand---gentle mouth?---she squeezed a goo into my cuts and sealed each one up.

I was impressed. The dog handled the caulk gun with the ease of practice---a gun designed for human hands.

Once I was sealed, the dog made me get up and sat Dee down. Dee did not speak, but presented her bare legs to the dog. Once her cuts were repaired, the dog climbed down again and put the tool back on the table.

The dog / speaker voice said, "Would you like me to reconnect your nerve endings?"

"I can operate without them, ma'am," I said.

A tone of amusement crept into the dog / speaker voice. "Call me Martha. My name is Martha."

"Martha, then."

We all sat down onto the couch, same positions as before. Martha said, "I suppose you must be wondering what happened here."

"I made a few guesses," I replied.

"It wasn't always like this, Teal. For a long time I was the dog and Dee was the Master. Then somewhere along the way, we were both the dog and we were both the human." Martha twitched again---the shrug? "One day it just seemed natural that I stay in here and she go out."

"You knew what was happening?"

"Not at first. But after awhile, I put it together." She looked at me with sad eyes. "It's not just our own programming, Teal. Other things drifted into us. Safety programs, security programs..." Was that a shrug again?

"Like what happened down by the lake?"

"That was unfortunate, but, you must admit, we need to protect ourselves."

I nodded at that. Neither Dee nor Martha would be here if they were not willing to defend themselves.

Martha went on. "You must not underestimate Dee, Teal. She acts the role of the dog, but she's still the same bright girl she was the day she was laminated."

I looked at Dee. She looked at me with the same sad-eyed expression that Martha bore. "Dee?" I asked. "What do you think about what we're talking about?"

"I pretty much agree," she said. "I'm the dog...I became the dog...but I know I'm also the fifteen-year-old girl."

I looked at Dee, then Martha, then Dee again, I said, "Neither of you are that old. You're at least eighteen thousand years old."

"Closer to nineteen thousand," Martha said.

"But my body is that of a fifteen-year-old," Dee added. She reached up and put her arm around Martha. "Just like you, Teal."

Before I could say more, Martha said, "What about you, Teal? You're a laminant. Where's your processing unit?"

"I am self-contained."

"Are you an advanced model?"

"No." I told them about my life after lamination, confined to a penthouse apartment until the power ran out. I explained about Adam Daedalus and his development of processor chips, that allowed free movement of laminants in and around this decivilized world. I told them everything I knew, about Adam, about how he found and revived me, about his plans for rebuilding civilization on the remnants of the old, about the other laminants I knew and what they were doing.

Martha asked questions, intelligent and insightful. But Dee leaned back and put her head on Martha's back. She said nothing, but she never took her eyes off me.

"There were twenty three defensive shields like yours on this particular peninsula," I said. "Adam Daedalus trusted me with the job of re-exploring the area, to look for shield failures since the area was last checked."

"Were there any?"

"Three, but I found nothing at them. I found yours." I smiled at both of them. "Your shield ran to your stone fence. It's a first-rate fence---but a section by your lake eroded enough for me to squeeze through."

"We know," Martha said. Was there a sigh in her loudspeaker-projected voice?

"Then you know my escape route is sealed." I hesitated, tensed up some, then said, "I will need to get out."

"I can do that," Martha replied. "I can open the gate and let you out. But I will need to think about it."

At least I could be let out, I thought. I figured there was time to persuade. But there was a deadline coming. "Adam Daedalus told me to meet up with him in First City after three years. Less than a year of that is left. I must be there."

Martha's ears pricked up. She asked, "First City still exists?"

"It is deserted---except for laminants like us."

"Were---" Martha began, but the hidden speaker crackled and the voice stopped. Martha sat up straight, pulling out from under Dee's arm. The speaker voice came in again. "Were there...dogs among them?"

She feels alone, too, I thought, as alone as the rest of us. I said, "I've never seen, er, non-human laminants, until I met you."

Martha slumped. She put her head down on her paws and closed her eyes.

But she came out of it, and looked up again. "Teal. You've said that Adam Daedalus gave you a, what, special computer chip of some kind?"

"Yes. It gives your internal circuitry the power of a much larger processing unit. You can also download and store memories. Everything you know goes with you; it won't be lost."

"Eighteen thousand years of memories," Martha said. She looked at me with her brown dog-eyes...but she wasn't seeing me, I could tell.

After a moment or two she returned to us, and said, "Your friend Adam Daedalus can give these chips?"

"Not just him," I said. "Adam Daedalus gave me---excuse me a moment." I raised my hand to my mouth, and in a well-practiced movement, squeezed my throat and coughed, twice, without noise. Two tiny plastic bags fell into my hand. I held them out in my open palm. The bags held chips. "I don't use my stomach for food. It makes a useful carrying case."

Martha and Dee both slid away from me. They both stared at the chips in my hand. Martha said, "I don't know. It's a good life here."

"But I offer you freedom from it," I said. "Free to stay...free to...go?"

They were silent again. I said, "Let me warn you that the transition after the chip is implanted. Things can be a little rough. Your personalities might change, or revert."

"You mean I might go all the way back to being a dog?" Martha said.

"I can't say for sure. You might, you might not." I tried to put a calming smile on my face. "I just want to tell you it's not without its risks."

"Let me think about it," Martha said. "And what about you, Dee?"

"Me?" Dee said. "You're the Master."

"I can't make that kind of decision for you, Dee."

"Teal?"

I said, "It's not for me to decide, for either of you." I thought about what Dee did, down at the lake. "I don't think I could force it on either of you."

Martha added, "You must think about it."

"Well...can I think about it while the two of you are thinking about it?"

"Of course you can," Martha said.

They carried on the conversation for awhile, till the last light through the windows died out. I felt tired, all of a sudden. I listened to the two of them, a girl and her dog, laminants both, talk to each other for awhile, before falling asleep where I sat.

#

I stood on a low rise of land just outside the main gate. Behind me, the Shield was back up. No one else was around. The path ended at the gate. No one but me came this way for a long time. But from the rise I could see down into the river valley and up the other side, maybe a hundred kilometers, maybe more.

"Beautiful view," I said. Martha stood beside me, and made a soft grunting noise. Agreement? Outside the shield, without speakers, Martha could no longer talk---but, chip or not, she was as intelligent as she ever was. She understood, and I could manage to understand her.

She seemed happier.

Maybe Adam Daedalus could solve that problem---

I said to Martha, "Ready?"

She grunted agreement again, then barked, once, the same bark she used inside the shield to summon Dee. Dee emerged from the bushes and grinned. We were dressed---in the House, some clothes survived eighteen thousand years of neglect. Dee and I wore clothes and boots to protect our skin. Martha wrapped some cloth around her paws to serve as shoes.

"Are you having a good time?" I asked Dee.

"The best!" she said, and rubbed up against me. There was no time for play, so I pushed her away, as kind as I could.

"Remember our plan," I said. "We stick to the rim of the valley, and we stay away from the tribes. We hide from them even if it means staying hidden for days."

Martha nodded.

"Once we're out, we pass through this high and desolate country. Nobody lives there, but we might still meet someone. Some fourteen or fifteen hundred kilometers through that, and we descend to First City."

Martha nodded again, but there were overtones of "we all know this" in her body language. A couple of months together and I read her well, I thought.

So I nodded to Martha again, then said, "Let's go. Dee, stick close to us."

Side by side, we walked down the slope, away from the shield. When we slipped into the brush, Dee slipped her arm around my waist. I let her keep it there, and we kept walking.

************************************************************************