by Debbi K.

Alternate Universe

Author's Note: Inspired by the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. I couldn't help myself. Not everyone's cup of tea, I'm sure, but please don't flame me. I'm mostly harmless, really.

Warning: Some vague references to September 11th. Nothing real graphic though.

We aren't supposed to be a pack, but, that's what we do, how nature made us.

I only watch them now as they glide easily under the yellow tape that's everywhere, wearing jackets with Man symbols that tell all that at this moment, these are not dogs for petting, or play. There is work to be done.

No one knows what happened here. No one really ever does. Ironic how the animal Man can wreak so much destruction and still ask 'how' 'who' and 'why'. A building lies in ruin, riipped apart by what no one can yet say. We've most all of us seen it before. Sometimes, these things just happen. The very Earth can tremble and that which Man builds is no match for the mighty hand of the Creator.

Most of the time, though, Man does these things himself. Gas leaks, drugs explode, or someone makes a bomb. Or worse. Then we come in, to smell what we only we can smell, and tell a tale that only we can know, so that Man can answer the 'how" and then maybe, the 'who'. I don't think anyone ever knows the answer to 'why.'

There was a time when I was Alpha, and the strong, black German Shepherd who now leads the pack knows this. His eyes lock with mine, and he does not avert his gaze. He knows his place, and I know mine. I do not challenge him, but with a slight dip of his tail, he acknowledges me with respect, then goes about his purpose.

Chris is the spoken name Man has given the black shephard. He has another name, of course, but it is known only to us and can never be spoken for it's not a word. He's a strong one, Chris is. Lives right on that edge between where Man has control and where he does as he pleases. It pleases him to do this job, so he does. If it didn't, no reward would be big enough to make him. Chris was a pet once, so they say, but one warm night the moon was full and the gate was left open, so Chris did what any dog would do and went roaming. He meant to come back. Did come back... but there was a fire while he was gone. If he had been there, he could have alerted his People, but he wasn't, and they died and Chris still carries terrible sadness in his heart and always will. He went to the city pound after that, and would have died there if he could have.

The big Belgian Malinois is Josiah . He was already doing this way back when Oklahoma City happened. A bomb was the making of that Dark Day. It shows in his eyes that he has seen this destruction too often, done this too many times. He was in Waco, and in Washington, too, on that terrible Day When the Skies Fell. Seen it all before, he has. Man destroys his own kind. Sometimes, we do, too, but only when Man has taught us how. This is something we don't understand. Most of us don't even try. Josiah does, though. He wants to know why this is so. Why buildings are built only to be knocked down again. I don't think he'll ever find the answer. Like Chris, he does the job he is trained for. Searching for that one unique scent that will tell Man what he wants to know. But he is weary. Yes, he's seen this too often.

Buck, a gangly Bloodhound, pauses to check the wind for the scent of females. He knows better, but that's Buck. If there is a bitch within a days walk, he knows exactly where she is. Chris stares at him, reminding him why he is here. Buck lowers his tail in respect, but, we all know those females are on his mind. They always are. Doesn't stop him from doing what he's here for, though. He's looking for a trail. If someone walked away from this, Buck will know and will most likely be able to follow the scent straight to them. But looking for a scent trail in all this rubble isn't easy. It requires his full concentration, and that's why Chris stares him down, to get his mind off those fine bitches Buck knows are behind every fence just waiting for him and only him (the truth is, they are).

Buck is followed by JD, who is only a pup. JD is a small Beagle. Was a time he'd be out hunting foxes, but here, his small size makes it easy for him to crawl under debris where the bigger dogs can't go. JD isn't really working today, though. He's only here to get used to this kind of chaos so that when he does go on his first job, he won't be confused and distracted. Moslty, JD has only one thought on his mind: Gimme the ball! Gimme the ball! He jumps in playful circles around his handler, hoping the fuzzy ball he holds will be tossed so he can chase it. Buck gets his attention with a sharp nudge of his muzzle. He knows JD won't get that ball until he finds a thing that smells right. Buck has seen JD's handler bury something for the pup to find, so that he can learn. Buck catches JD's eyes and with a cock of his head and a subtle touch of a paw, he directs JDs attention to the spot. JD is a smart pup and recognizes the scent immediately. He begins to bark and jump in circles. Gimme the ball! His handler praises him and tosses the ball into the air. JD leaps joyfully and catches it. He's too young to know this isn't a game.

The time drags on, and still I watch them work. They are tired now, except for JD, who has enough energy for two pups.

The black lab, Nathan has his own grim job to do. Nathan is a cadaver dog. He looks for the shells left by People who have gone on. Man doesn't see death the way we do. When one of us leaves our body, it no longer is of importance to any of us, unless some other dog is hungry enough to eat it. Man though, he treasures the shell, even when no one lives there anymore. Nathan, like the rest of us, does not understand why this is so, but he knows it's an Important Thing. And, he's found something. There is no barking or jumping or puppy silliness. He sits calmly and looks to his handler with dark, knowing eyes. Men rush over and begin to dig. Nathan quietly moves away, and is rewarded with a simple pat as its discovered he has done his sad job well. As the body is uncovered, he returns to work, looking for another.

Like Nathan, Ezra is a dog with a unique purpose. He's a drug dog. You don't see too many poodles in this line of work, and he's just as tough as the rest of Larabee's pack, he just doesn't feel he has to look the part. Ezra's mother is a show dog. Best in Show several times over, too, make no mistake about it. Seen her a couple of times, groomed to look more like a toy than a real dog, and oh-so-sure of how elegant she is. Ezra's job has spared him from all the combing and clipping inflicted on show poodles. His curly coat is neatly and evenly trimmed, so he still looks like a dog. Not surprisingly, though, you can see some of that show dog spirit in Ezra as he prances through the rubble, wearing boots on all four paws. He won't work without them. Can't even drag him out of the unit unless he knows he won't get his toes dirty. Don't let any of it fool you, though. He's as smart as drug dogs come, and that patch of white fur on his side? That's where he put himself between his handler and a drug dealer's knife two years ago. That's why Ezra gets steak and bottled water now, and regular trips to the best groomer in town. Ezra likes those baths, too. If you want to get him upset, tell him you see fleas on him.

Vin is the total opposite of Ezra. No pedigree here. Like Chris, Vin came from the pound. Not even sure what breed he is. Maybe a little bit of husky, a little bit of lab... some say he might be part wolf, and I suppose that could be true. Got a wild streak in him, that's for sure. He's a good dog, though. Not all that big, but lean and sleek and smart. It's said Vin had a family once, too, but a new kitten came into the house and one day it was found dead in the yard - mauled by a dog. Vin got sent away for that. Couldn't tell his People that it was another dog who did it, and they didn't stop to think maybe it wasn't Vin. Just got rid of him, they did. Vin doesn't trust the People now. Doesn't trust anyone but himself. His job is to find any that are still alive under crumbled buildings. He's the youngest dog in the pack besides JD, but he had a rude start. His first job was New York City, the Day the Skies Fell. The scent of human was everywhere that day, and yet it was nowhere. Vin looked and looked, until his eyes were red and his paws were raw, and so did more other dogs than can be counted. But there was nothing to be found. No one alive under the weight of that Great Sorrow. Vin would have found them if there had been. He's the best rescue dog around. Even Chris knows that. Vin submits to Chris as alpha, but only because he likes Chris. If the black shepard weren't here, Vin would lead the pack.

There is a faint yip from where the dogs are working. Vin has stepped on something, and momentarily holds one of his front paws in the air. His handler didn't see, but Chris walks over, sniffs at the paw with concern. Ezra passes by and sniffs also, then goes on his way secure in the knowledge that his fancy boots will protect his pedicured toes from injury. Nathan moves towards Vin, also. Strange that for cadaver dog, Nathan is bothered by the scent of blood. Human blood doesn't bother him too much, but dog blood, that's another story. He tries to muzzle in close to inspect Vin's paw. Vin nips at him and limps away, and continues to work. Seconds later, Vin freezes and sits where he is, then barks twice. Men rush over - more quickly than last time, for Vin not only detects the smell of a human, he listens for the sound of a beating heart, and that's what he's found. Now, what Vin knows that Man does not is that the one who is buried here is the one who caused all of this. The other dogs know this, too. They smell the scent of explosives mixed with the human smell. Doesn't matter though. What this human has done is for Man to ponder. Vin has done his job.

The day ends and we head home, the Seven and I. My place is in the big house now, but my job has just begun. Chris leads his pack to the familiar comforts of warm shelter, fresh food and clean water. Home. Where they are free to be just dogs until they are called upon again.

Each has his own kennel, but is free to come and go into the large exercise yard. Josiah and Nathan know when it is time to rest, and each takes to his own compartment and curls up along the divider between them, backs touching through the chainlink. In minutes, they are asleep.

Ezra tugs and pushes and paws at the cushion in his foam padded bed. It has to be just so, for sleep will evade him until it has been properly adjusted.

Buck is tired after the long day, but forgoes his rest for romp in the yard with the pup, JD. JD sets his tug toy down and dares Buck to take it, which Buck could easily do. Instead, the big bloodhound moves with deliberate slowness so that at the last moment, JD snatches the toy and runs with it. Buck gives chase and wrestles him playfully. I think he is having as much fun as JD.

Vin returns from the big house with a bandage on his paw. Sometime around sunrise tomorrow morning, he will rip it off, but for now, he's content to leave it be. Vin has a compartment and bed in the kennel like the rest, but most nights, he sleeps in the yard under his favorite bush, and tonight is no different. As he settles down, Chris walks over and sniffs the bandage. Vin greets him by licking his face. Chris nuzzles him back and then lies down beside him, so that Vin can rest his head on his neck, and the two friends drift peacefully to sleep.

"Travis! Here boy!" I hear my name called.

The master hands me treats. Bacon flavor tonight. My favorite. Scratches me behind my ears, too.

"You're a good boy, Travis," he says. "One of the best there ever was."


I sigh. Too old now to sniff through rubble and face the dangers hidden there. That's the Seven's job now. And as they rest, my new job begins. I will keep watch while they sleep, stand guard and keep them safe so they can be heroes another day.


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