I fell through the cracks in time before I was finished with my training. I was, as every other E-Dog destined to be a combat specialist. The main reason for that is that ever since the big crash the world has been at war. I don't mean just in some far off place but nearly total war in all nations at all times.
Of course there are places that are reinforced where research takes place, and things like myself are created. I suspect that it was in some one of those labs that someone came up with the effect that had cracked time. Maybe it had started as a weapon, or maybe it was just an experiment, no one had told me and since science was not in my area of specialty I might never know what had caused time to fracture and randomly dump people and animals backward and forward in time from the original fracture point. I'm not sure that we would even know what was happening with the fracture of time if some of the disappearances from the future had not ended up here and now.
I knew that the theory was that what ever had fractured time had been deployed as a weapon as several battlefields had been rendered places of peace because armies could no longer operate there without losing more people to the cracks in time than to the battles. Without going too much further into details I have never learned, what I do know about the fracture of time is that until I fell through a crack while on a training exercise there had not been an instance of cracked time anywhere except on a battlefield.
Of course a MOUT course that might just have had an enemy, not just OP-FOR sneak in overnight was closer to a battlefield than I'd ever been before. Thus I was rushing from cover to cover when I saw the shimmer that had been described by people who had fallen from an up-time crack. I didn't have time to change direction or otherwise dodge as I was rushing directly for the spot that had become an unstable locus of time. I had no choice except to go forward into the crack in time with no more idea of what was on the other side than I had of the weather at any moment a week from today.
I did my best to make myself smaller as I went through the rift in time and hoped for the best on the other side. If I went forward I'd be adopted into some unit that existed then and continue to train to be a dog of war. If I slid backward through time there was a small chance that I would slide to a time before the conflict that had fractured time began. Until I saw what was on the other side of the rift though I could make no decision except to keep moving.
The first thing I became aware of when my stomach stopped trying to eject everything I'd eaten for the last week was the absence of the stench of war. The stench of civilization had not disappeared though so I hoped I had not been spotted appearing essentially from thin air. I was I had a moment to notice coming from either an alley or an alcove onto a rather busy side walk. I didn't have time to think more than that I was glad I had not been dropped into the middle of the traffic in front of me, and that I had not as some of those who had arrived from my future been dropped from a height that was either injurious or deadly.
The next thing I became aware of is that my momentum had carried me into a street where I'd knocked a lad of indeterminate age from the path of an approaching vehicle. For an unplanned entry into a new area I could only have done better if I'd not been dropped into a city. After I got untangled from the youth's legs and had a chance to evaluate him I realized two things. First that he was most likely a beggar and second that he was deaf. I deduced that the youth was a beggar because of the stench of his unwashed body. The fact of his deafness I learned from the passing foot traffic some of whom kicked as us and cursed the fact that the deaf lad had not managed to get himself killed today.
I suppose that I could have had a worse first contact in my new home but as I was still alive and in possession of all of my personal survival gear I would not complain. I decided while I waited for a few more minutes for my system to settle down that the youth who I'd bumped out of traffic could use my help since there have never been any records of a person returning to the time from which they slipped when they enter a time rift.
As soon as the youth I'd knocked out of the road way began to struggle to get to his feet I used my body bulk to move him further from the traffic way that we'd just barely managed to avoid being killed in. I could tell by the general tenor of the voices around us that there were those who were all for completing the job of killing at least the youth.
I spotted an opening in the faces of the buildings that lined the sidewalk where we were. I decided that moving us both into that area would be a good idea if it wasn't subject to the heavy traffic that the sidewalk where we were now essentially causing a ripple in the flow of humanity that was at least benevolently ignoring us now that I was moving my boy along and he was avoiding at least the people to his front. A quick survey of the setback showed that it was closed off by a gate which made it perfect for getting out of the foot traffic that I wanted desperately to avoid while I evaluated my situation.
When I stopped pushing my boy he sat down and began to beg from the people who were passing by which confirmed my estimation that he made any living he had as a beggar. He had a sign that had been among the noisome rags he wore that said, "Help, I'm deaf and hungry."
He sat barely out of the traffic stream while I evaluated my options. I could attach myself to him, and probably would. I also wondered who had made his sign. As he was deaf and apparently did not have a coherent sign language I took that to mean that the time I'd been transported to was either far enough in my future or past that such a possibility had not been exercised in the life of my boy.
The data that my nose brought me beyond the fact of my new companion's lack of hygiene was the fact of nonexistent civil hygiene as well. There was an overwhelming miasma of ordure pervading the place that I knew would damp down my ability to detect danger and opportunities to provide myself and my companion with a living beyond the few meager coins that were being hurled rather like stones at my boy. I hesitated to leave him but after an hour in which the only movement he made was to stand, turn his back to the sidewalk and piss on the gate of the setback I decided that a short reconnaissance of the area was in order.
I first explored the gate at the back of the setback and noted that there was room enough for me to squeeze past it. I didn't do that immediately but took the time to poke my head out of the alcove and examine the street as well. I could see the signs of a tailor's shop and that of a milliner as well. I was hoping to see either a butcher's shop or a bakery but saw neither from my place on the sidewalk. I looked around for a way to get above the level of the sidewalk as I rather thought that would be better than standing on my hind legs and possibly revealing how different I was from a normal dog.
I spotted a set of steps about ten meters from where I'd holed up with my boy and decided that I would observe them for a while to estimate the amount of traffic that passed up and down them. Therefore is sat next to my boy and kept one eye on him and the other (so to speak) on the stairs I wanted to explore. Patience is a virtue that is not easy for the young of any species to exercise and I expect that if my boy had not been on the edge of starvation he would not have been nearly so willing to sit still and be bombarded by hard flung coppers in a desperate effort to survive.
I knew that if I could find a place where food was stored or prepared I could make a fair living catching vermin. Heck I wouldn't even have to use traps for a while if the vermin were unused to being hunted. I sat down next to the boy I'd bowled over and now claimed as my responsibility. I listened to the passersby for information that they might give us both, though my boy could not hear it. Sitting up I soon learned attracted the sort of attention that I wanted to avoid. More than one passerby commented on the fact that I looked like I could not possibly belong to the beggar boy with whom I was sitting.
A couple of times when some one reached for my harness and pack I showed them my teeth. I really would rather not have done so, but I could ill afford to let anyone investigate the contents of my pack or the items that were attached to my harness. For if I'd fallen to an earlier time the discovery that I was carrying a watch, a pistol, a knife and a small but very effective crossbow would raise many questions that would not be healthy for me.
I laid down in a hope that I would attract less attention. I didn't want to abandon my pack or my Load Bearing Equipment (LBE) because it had many tools that would make survival easier for me. Of course I had to weigh the convenience of keeping my tools versus the attention that their carrying apparatus was drawing. With that in mind I began backing subtly toward the gate that closed this setback. I really wanted to get out of sight. I wanted to take my boy with me if I could. Not that I thought that was likely since he was getting some small change, but if I could get out of sight I would get under one of the nearby buildings and secrete my gear there if possible. Taking my boy with me would excuse to anyone my ability to remove the gear without revealing the fact that my front feet had been modified by genetic engineering into hands. My fingers might be somewhat stubby but they were every bit as useful for tool use as those of any ape.
Judging by the interest that my boy was showing in the coinage that was landing near him I doubted that I could drag him away from his stand even if I dared to do so. Therefore once I was against the gate I concentrated on squeezing through an opening in it that consisted of a couple of loose boards. I was just in time with that move too as someone was reaching for my tail as I headed through the fence.
The walk way that the gate closed off was a godsend though. There was an opening just large enough for me to get under the building to the right of the walk way and a nasty puddle that would do to roll in to make me look less well kempt without doing me much harm. I hurried under the building and searched around to find a place where my gear could be put out of sight an easy reach. I saw a bit of a confined crawl space and after doffing my gear in order to fit into it discovered that it was a cul-de-sac. I gathered my gear and pushed it into the space a large stone that lay loose on the ground made an adequate plug for the hole and further concealed my work from anything that was apt to be too interested in it.
I examined my cache and decided that it was as good as it would get without getting some clay to mortar the stone in place. I could do that if I had a chance to find some clay but it might also make retrieving my gear nearly impossible. I hoped that there was no fire hazard near the building I had used, something I could not be sure of because I had no way to investigate the interiors of it or the surrounding buildings since neither I nor my boy would be welcome there.
I rolled in the mud a bit to give myself a scruffy look and looked back through the gate to see how my boy was doing and to evaluate when the best time to reenter the situation on the far side of the fence. My escape had apparently been accepted at face value and the only change was that there were a couple of nasty boys who were pitching dung at my boy. I considered how to deal with that. It was too bad I did not have a rubber band powered slingshot because if I had I'd have peppered them with flung stones.
One possibility remained to break off the obvious tormenting that was going on. If I could some how convince my boy to move on. I doubted he would though because even though it meant getting things thrown at him he had been doing what seemed to be well from his appearance and odor. I poked my head back through the fence and a hand full of offal hit e on the side of the face prompting me to come the rest of the way through the fence so that I could dodge a little while standing somewhat between my boy and his persecutors.
I came through the fence with a surge that caused the boys to back off a bit which got them some abuse as they stepped into the still hurrying traffic that was passing on the sidewalk. Indeed lady luck must have been with me just then as one of them just happened to manage to step on the shoes of a passing policeman. That was unfortunate for them. Whether or not it was unfortunate for me and my boy remained to be seen. Attracting the eyes of authority is not always wise even if the reason is not something you have actively done.
The policeman looked us over after he chivied the brats who had been harassing us along. He read my boy's sign then seemed to talk to himself since it was fairly obvious that my boy didn't really hear anything, "You aren't supposed to be here. And from what I just saw it isn't safe for you to be here," he mused. When he realized that my boy wasn't really reacting to anything except his presence by cringing away from him the policeman squatted down so that he was at eye level with my boy. He slowly reached for my boy to make sure he didn't frighten him though I rather thought from my boy's body posture that that was a vain hope.
Since the policeman didn't smell either angry or aroused I wasn't too worried but that was not something I could communicate to my boy very well. I did push up against his side which seemed to comfort him. The police man gently put his finger under my boy's chin and drew his attention to his face. "I can't let you stay here. It isn't safe. I know a place that will be better for you," he told my boy slowly and far more distinctly than I suspected was normal. This man I decided had some knowledge of how to deal with deaf people. My boy didn't seem to follow any of the words but did relax a bit when he wasn't hit.
The policeman shook his head when he realized that my boy didn't understand anything he was saying. He gently pulled my boy to his feet and started walking him away from the area where we'd been sitting. I went along though the policeman did try to discourage me. I might not be able to do anything to keep something bad from happening to the boy I'd adopted but at least I'd know I did my best if I was with him.
I soon realized that we were being taken to either the worst or best place I could hope to see someone like my boy go to. I recognized the cross on the door of the otherwise nondescript building. The people who ran this place would be either extremely good or extremely bad. For the most part there seemed to be no telling which it would be until you were under their hand. I guess that some how some of them managed to justify all sorts of wickedness and cruelty with the excuse that they intended to do good.
The cross also told me that it was more than likely that I'd slid backward in time rather than forward. The policeman's uniform gave me the same impression as well. All of which gave me little hope that I'd be allowed to maintain contact with the boy I'd been with for the few hours. The policeman was greeted as soon as he opened the door by an older man with a tired face. One thing that assured me the most about the newest person I had to deal with in my life was that I could smell no hidden vices on him. Indeed he seemed to smell the most of a sort of well maintained poverty. What I mean by that is that he didn't smell of rich food or soap nor were his clothes of any rich material though they were well made and clean as was his body in general. All in all I estimated that this mission and its attendant was barely eking out a living.
"What do ye have there, Paddy?" the man asked.
"A deaf beggar, he was over on tailor street being pestered by a couple of brats I'll end up having to crack the heads of one day," Paddy, the policeman said.
"We don't usually allow people who stay here to beg," the attendant said.
"I know that, and I agree with you padre," Paddy said, "I brought this boy here 'cause he needs a place away from tailor street. Maybe even something to do that would provide him a living without begging."
"I can see what he'll do if he'll stay here but every man has to make his own choices," the priest said. At least from the way that Paddy had addressed the man I thought he was a priest.
"Well whether you can keep him or not, I'll give you this for his keep," Paddy pulled out a wallet and handed the priest some paper money. Inside I rejoiced, I could smell the money and knew that I could find lost money at the very least to provide for my keep in an emergency. I could hunt vermin too, which were probably a problem in this area of town as it was a good deal poorer than the street where I'd emerged from the fissure in time. Therefore I had a means of support for myself and possibly my self-appointed charge.
The priest seemed to notice me for the first time or maybe he was taking care of what he considered important. Anyway he turned his eyes on me and asked, "What with that dog, Paddy?"
"I don't know," Paddy told the priest, "but she was guarding the boy and she won't be discouraged from staying with him."
"Again we don't usually accept pets because they're a luxury," the priest said.
"You might look at that dog like the experiments they're doing with dogs to assist the blind," Paddy suggested.
"Do you think she's been trained to something like that?" the priest asked.
Paddy knelt and started trying to coax me to him. I had to decide then if I would go or not. When I'd hesitated quite a bit leaning against my boy for his comfort mostly as I could smell his fear even over his unwashed body odor Paddy explained to the priest, "Usually a dog that has been working like that has been in a harness enough that you can tell if you examine them for marks."
I wasn't quite ready to get that close to Paddy no matter how sincere he sounded. Besides it just seemed like good practice to stay near my boy. Paddy got up and said, "Why don't you try to feed them and see if the dog will let me get closer to her while the boy is eating."
The priest took one more hard look at my boy and said, "I'd better go easy with the food, that boy is a starveling." When the priest had finished speaking he took my boy's arm and steered him into a room with several long tables set up in it. He seated my boy at one of the tables and left to get something from a kitchen that I could smell in the direction he headed.
In a short time he returned with a couple of bowls, one he set on the table for the boy and one he set on the floor for me. With the appearance of food my boy seemed to lose all of his wariness. He sat and gulped the small amount of what seemed to be soup in the bowl that was handed to him when he sat. For the first time I allowed myself to be separated from my boy. Mostly that was so I could observe what occurred. But I also wished to avoid being examined by either of the men.
In a way it was my avoidance of the men that was my partial undoing. The priest watched me and said, "Paddy I've never seen a dog that wouldn't take food from someone when it was acting the way that one was with the boy you brought in."
"Huh!" Paddy grunted, "That's certainly true. But she sure hasn't stopped watching that boy like a shepherd with just one charge."
"I can't imagine what it would take to give a dog that sort of restraint," The priest mused, "But I think that the way she is behaving certainly says that she's had extensive training. The question then is: How did a beggar like this," he gently tapped my boy, "come to have a guardian with that sort of training?"
"We'll never know that," Paddy mused.
"Do you suppose you could get this boy and that dog into the outdoor shower?" the priest asked.
"I'd rather not, if I mess up my kit without a good reason the sergeant or Lt. will be on my case about it," Paddy demurred.
"Then go into the pauper's closet and get me something to put him in for clothes, I'll see if I can't get him out of his stuff and get him washed so that we can begin to get rid of whatever vermin has made his body a home."