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It took me about a month to get settled in with my new People. They bought me a big, comfortable bed and lots of toys, and took me on long walks every day. By then I’d figured out what had almost killed me—chronic kidney failure.
My old People had let a simple kidney infection turn into an incurable disease. My new People couldn’t make my kidneys work again, but they did everything they needed to keep me as healthy as I could be.
The Moon kept telling me stories late at night after my People went to sleep, or sometimes, if she rose early, in the afternoon before they came home from work.
All her stories about brave, adventurous dogs made me want to go on my own adventure. But I was just a puppy, where could I even go?
“Moon?” I asked one fall night. “I want to go on an adventure, but I don’t know where to go.”
The Moon made a sound like she was thinking, but as always her face never changed. I’d gotten used to sometimes not being able to see her when she told me stories, like if clouds covered her up.
“If you were to leave your house to go on an adventure, your People would be very worried about you. And there are many dangers to dogs in the world of man, cars not least among them. Your people walk you every day, is that right?”
I ruffed a yes. Something in her tone made me feel embarrassed for asking the question in the first place.
“The world of man is no place for a lone puppy, dear Ruby. Let me tell you a story, perhaps that will sate your appetite for wandering.”
I looked away from her. Before I had a chance to say anything, she started.
“I can see into the future as well as the past,” she said. “So I will tell you a story from the year 2984. By that year, People will create robots of all sorts, and many of them will be sentient. Dog robots begin as protectors, companions and caretakers for young children, but many are so good at their duties they take on more and more responsibility.
“Their ability to transform into a humanoid shape make them ideally suited for this role.
“One of the protectors, Lexitron, a Corgi-style dog robot, is so good at her job her city makes her their official watchdog. Her superbark can strike fear into the heart of any foe, and her tail whip can knock an opponent twenty feet in the air.”
The Moon’s voice fell. “Corgi robots don’t have to worry about burrs, you know,” she whispered before continuing the story. “So, Lexitron becomes the most famous and well-loved watchdog of all.
“She keeps her city safe from all sorts of evil, including renegade robots, terrorists, would-be murderers and regular thieves. As an added bonus, she easily herds large crowds when they get too unruly at concerts, parades or protests.
“She spends most of her free time gardening, which truth be told, consists mostly of her digging holes in the yard behind her house.”
“Gardening?” I asked.
The Moon laughed. Usually her laughter at my questions seemed good-natured. I expected her to know more than me; she was the Moon after all! Today it sounded brash and superior.
“Gardening is when you plant flowers, vegetables, or other green things,” she said.
“Well I know that. I was born in the country. But why would a dog robot who protects a whole city want to plant green things? It’s not like they taste good.”
The Moon laughed again. “Why does anyone want to do anything? Lexitron enjoys digging holes, and gardening is one of few practical uses for such a task, at least for a city dog.”
I snorted under my breath, hoping the Moon couldn’t hear.
“One day Lexitron hears a loud CRASH,” she continued. “She dashes outside to see what danger has befallen her city. But instead of danger, Lexitron finds a large dog robot that had collided with a nearby building.
“Lexitron instantly recognizes the dog robot as Rubicon, a farm dog robot who regularly escapes from her farm and causes problems. She shakes her head and trudges her short legs over to see if Rubicon—and more importantly everyone around Rubicon—is alright.
“‘Rubicon, what happened?’ Lexitron asks.
“The German Shepherd dog robot puts her ears back. ‘I lost my balance and fell…’ She looks at the ground as she speaks.
“‘Well, obviously,’ Lexitron says. ‘What are you doing here? I thought I told you to stay on the farm!’ She pulled herself up to her full six inches of height, but was still a good foot and a half shorter than Rubicon.
“‘Sorry…it was boring there.’ Rubicon looks around her. All the people have cleared the street, and nothing is left but a bit of concrete that fell off the building. ‘No one wanted to play with me.’
“Lexitron rolls her eyes. She knows what she has to do, so she transforms into her humanoid form. Rubicon stands straight up and starts wagging her tail ‘Are we going to play?’
“Even in her humanoid form, Lexitron is barely eye-level with Rubicon. She pulls a metal tug rope from a storage compartment in her hip and waves it in front of the escaped farm dog robot. “Rubicon stretches down on her front paws and then springs up to grab the rope, which Lexitron pulls back before the other dog robot’s teeth can sink into it.
“‘We can only play if you leave the city and promise not to come back,’ Lexitron says.
“Rubicon pauses, and her eyes dart from the rope to Lexitron to the buildings around her. ‘I would rather not play, then,’ she replies. ‘I would rather explore the city.’
“But, Lexitron knows that left to her own devices, Rubicon will only get into trouble, so she does what she has to do and lets out a loud superbark. It echoes around the buildings and through the streets and captivates Rubicon’s attention entirely.
“The Corgi dog robot transforms back into dog form and starts running as fast as she’s able through the city and toward Rubicon’s farm. Rubicon gives chase, and although she can run faster than the shorter dog robot, she doesn’t overtake her.
“They run and run and run until Rubicon suddenly finds herself at the farm doorstep, and her People are there, looking relieved to see her.
“‘Rubicon!’ the woman says, ‘We were so worried about you! Did you get yourself into trouble again?’ She frowns, but it is the kind of frown born more out of anxiety than displeasure.
“Rubicon looks at Lexitron, then back at her Person. ‘Nah, I was just kind of bored so I went to visit Lexitron is all.’
“The People usher Rubicon into the house with admonitions not to leave again and she looks sheepishly back at Lexitron before the door shuts. Lexitron sighs and begins the trek back into the city.”
As the Moon finishes her story an unsettled feeling comes over me. The story did not, as she said it would, satiate my desire for adventure. But I do not tell her this, and instead ruff my thanks.
I sense a smile in her voice when she says “You’re welcome. Sleep tight, little one,” but it’s hard to tell with the Moon.
I curl up by the window and imagine running through the park without a leash, the wind blowing my ears back against my head, until I fall asleep.
Julian Betkowski is an artist in the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania area who makes wonderful organic-looking yarn things. You can see some of them at his profile site, here.