“War Dogs” appeared originally in the e-book collection In the Arms of Lachiga: Stories, published electronically on Kindle in March 2013. The story is reproduced below in its entirety.
by Alex Kane
At the promise of “a treat,” Ghost obeys his handler and leaps into the backseat of the idling jeep, where a thorough inspection reveals no such reward. He sniffs at the air a moment, still hopeful, but detects only the faint aroma of sizzling pork, carried on the wind from a hundred meters distant. Two more dogs stand in the vehicle’s rear bed, stirring anxiously, whining: Tjodie, a female German Shepard, and another Husky named Babak, whose fur is much darker than Ghost’s.
The jeep speeds across town, and he breathes in the cool night air, seeking olfactory intel. He doesn’t recognize the area where they slow to a stop.
All three dogs are set loose at the end of an unlit alley, and ordered, “Go get it, boys. You too, big girl.” Ghost jumps out, and turns back to eye his handler, who nods permission. The air here tastes wet, and smells of motor oil, spoiled food, and other garbage.
A bright red triangle appears in the center of his vision, then drifts away toward some unseen target, marking it with a sudden alluring scent of its own, and an urgent sense that Ghost ought to seek it out.
He trots through the shallow puddles of rainwater that shine across the entire surface of the alley, his nose to the ground and the scent of the indicator growing stronger.
Tjodie and Babak follow, stopping occasionally to raise their noses and investigate the air.
Whenever he looks at the others, Ghost notices, a cloud of light hangs over them. A mess of dancing, meaningless symbols and a three-dimensional visual of their drumming hearts.
The red triangle becomes larger as they approach a spotlighted door at the end of the alley, and once they reach it, the triangle seems to hover directly in front of the building, as if beckoning them to enter.
It occurs to Ghost that something of importance is waiting inside. A buzzing in his skull, barely noticeable except for a resulting tickle in his ear, seems to reassert and amplify this hunch.
He plants his rear momentarily on the blacktop, and scratches at his ear with a moist paw, feeling a sliver of scar tissue along the back of his head. He turns back at the others, who have disappeared into the shadows along either side of the alley. Ghost eyes the door, and barks at it.
A few seconds later the front door opens, and an armed biped steps outside.
“Hey there, boy,” he whispers, then whistles. “C’mere.”
Something suggests to Ghost: threat. From both flanks, Tjodie and Babak pounce on the biped, first taking him down by surprise and then dispatching him with swift, powerful bites to the throat. The threat flails its arms at them, twitching for a moment, and then falls still, silent.
He never gets a shot off. For this, Ghost is thankful.
Now that the door is open, all three dogs run inside, with Tjodie taking the lead. Inside the smell of the triangle grows less dominant, and instead Ghost notices the smells of rotting wood and something like gunpowder—probably more rifles like the neutralized biped’s, or some kind of explosive. Pharmamines, maybe.
Either way, Ghost barks the suggestion that they should move quickly: Get in, get out.
Tjodie points with her snout toward a staircase drenched in shadow, barely visible in the room just beyond the foyer.
She leads the way, and Babak follows. Ghost watches behind them for resistance.
At the top of the stairs, they come upon a closed door with light spilling out from beneath and onto the splintery hardwood of the hallway.
Tjodie raises a paw, scratches at the door.
There is a murmur from inside, and then the door swooshes open.
“Shit, Nina,” says the biped at the door. “We got dogs! Dogs!”
Tjodie lunges forward, and knocks the threat to the floor. Another biped inside—a female looking suddenly very protective of her mate, by Ghost’s estimation—grabs her rifle, and opens fire on Tjodie. Flashes of gunfire tear apart first her skull, and then the side of her ribcage.
She whimpers in defiance, then drops, shuddering a moment before lying motionless.
Babak growls an angry warning at the biped on the floor before darting inside, tackling the female who’d gunned down Tjodie. Without pause, he chews open the female’s throat, and barks a cry of Pyrrhic victory.
Ghost turns to eye the male biped, still trembling on the floor, unarmed. Ghost pads softly toward the creature, wrapped in a woolen coat and wearing a pair of glass lenses over his brilliant white eyes.
He lowers himself so that they’re face to face, and growls furiously: run, vermin.
The beast struggles to right himself, then staggers down the hall and downstairs.
There’s a quiet chiming deep in Ghost’s ear, and then the red triangle reappears in his field of vision, just above a backpack in the corner of the room. Before he can go after it, Babak snatches it in his teeth, and the red indicator winks, then fades. Ghost feels a sensation wash over him, which feels as if he has just eaten a large and satisfying meal, or been rewarded for success.
He glances over toward their fallen pack member, whose fur is caked with crimson. Babak comes up alongside him, and they nudge her gently with their noses, taking in her scent to serve their memory, and willing her to rise.
She doesn’t move.
Ghost descends the stairs slowly, feeling defeated despite their having retrieved the package they’d been sent to find, and Babak follows, the backpack clutched in his teeth.
The war dogs’ handlers are waiting for them two kilometers east, made recognizable by the yellow outline of the groundcar he spots in the distance, even through walls of brick and concrete and steel. Ghost howls a greeting, his head held up into the chilly, foul breath of night, and heads toward the extraction point, rainwater soaking his tired paws.