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Desert Heat

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Dannie Marsden's book Desert Heat

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Future Perfect Chapter 1

PROLOGUE

Scootie — The Early Years

 

CHAPTER 1

 

 

THE ROOM WAS FILLED with cages and reeked of disinfectant and animal waste. No matter how advanced the technology, science had yet to come up with an adequate way to mask the smell of feces and urine.

 

“How do you stand the stink in here?” Dr. Jim Edwin asked.

 

“You get used to it,” Alicia replied, plucking a puppy from a cage and putting it on the scale. Noting the weight on her computer, she checked the eyes, ears and mouth. “What can I do for you, Dr. Edwin?”

 

“Stacey said you have a promising candidate for the Xeno Program. I’d like to see her.”

 

Her meaning Stacey or the puppy?”

 

Alicia hated the company she worked for but enjoyed her job, as much as she could under the circumstances. She had always had an affinity with animals. Working for Future Dynamicon provided her an opportunity to care for a variety of species she’d never have been able to come in contact with otherwise.

 

As head of the breeding program, she had state-of-the-art equipment to insure the offspring were healthy, well-cared-for and loved. At least for the first two to three months of their lives. Then, they were transferred to the Xenolab to be tested, accepted or disqualified from their program, depending on whether they suited the company’s parameters.

 

Disqualified, Alicia thought. Destroyed is the real word, and the fucking world believes their crap about finding homes for the ones we don’t want. At least when they’re dead, they aren’t being abused.

 

“You know who I mean, Alicia...and stop blaming Dr. Bartlett for everything that happens to the animals after they leave here. She’s got a job to do just like you.”

 

“Yeah, but I’m not into playing God. She gets too much pleasure poking around in animal brains.”

 

“Playing God? I’m surprised at you. You’re a scientist like the rest of us. Surely you don’t believe in some superior being?” Dr. Edwin gave her an odd look.

 

“It’s a figure of speech. You know what I mean.”

 

“In fact, I do. Tell me, Alicia, why do you continue to work here? You’ve made it pretty clear you don’t like your job.”

 

“I love my job. I just don’t enjoy what happens to the animals after they leave the nursery. It’s disgusting what the Company does with most of them.

 

“As for why I’m still here, at least the babies are going to experience a few months of kindness before they’re disqualified. Who thought up that term, anyway? It’s as bad as the military’s use of ‘collateral damage’...and you know why I’m still here. If I left, I’d be unemployable. Our employment contract prohibits us from working in the same job or anything related for ten years after we leave.”

 

“Unless you’re laid off, of course,” Dr. Edwin said. “Not that you’re in any danger of that. Their lawyers made sure all the bases were covered. Quit and you lose, retire and you can’t work in the same field. The only way you can have the final say here is to kill yourself.”

 

“You mean like Dr. Branson,” Alicia said sarcastically.

 

Glancing around nervously, Dr. Edwin grabbed Alicia’s arm and pulled her after him to a nearby corner.

 

“I’d be careful about your sarcasm or mentioning her name too loudly. She was an embarrassment to the Company.”

 

“You mean her ‘suicide’. Come on, Charlie, we both know she didn’t kill herself. It’s another Company cover-up.”

 

“Maybe so, but no use stirring up trouble. Now, where’s that puppy I came to see?”

 

Alicia knew Dr. Edwin was right. Plenty of rumors were flying around about the so-called suicide. Most people didn’t care one way or another, but that didn’t stop the quiet whispers among those who knew Carley Branson...especially when two other employees disappeared around the same time period, and the former CEO was found murdered in his own residence. Something was going on. Something no one wanted to talk about.

 

“Over here,” Alicia said, shrugging off the hand gripping her arm.

*  *  *

Snuggled in a tight ball against her brothers and sisters, the puppy was sound asleep. An occasional whimper would escape her mouth and then her front paws would twitch wildly.

 

“She’s dreaming,” Alicia said, gently picking her up. Scratching behind her tiny ears, she held the puppy out for Dr. Edwin to examine.

 

“What a pretty little girl,” he said, taking the bundle of fur and turning it on her back. Immediately the tiny legs began kicking. The dog let out an unhappy yelp. “It’s okay,” Dr. Edwin said, rubbing her warm belly soothingly. Rolling her back over, he massaged the puppy’s neck. Once it settled down, he checked each ear and the eyes. “She’s healthy enough. How well does she interact with her littermates?”

 

“Abbey’s bossy, but not mean. She likes to talk a lot... meaning she’s quite vocal when she wants something. Our tests, so far, put her AIQ at the higher end of the scale. At least an 8 out of 10.”

 

“Wonderful! She should have no problem qualifying for the Xeno Project.” Handing Abbey back to Alicia, he gave the puppy one more caress. “Any others of interest?”

 

“We have three older dogs ready to be transferred...and a gibbon. They’re being moved next week.”

 

“Not very many to show for the amount of money spent on this breeding program.”

 

“I’d say it’s a cheap price to pay to avoid publicity,” Alicia replied acerbically. “Animal rights activists would be all over this place if they knew what was really going on here. I’m surprised someone hasn’t leaked information on the Xeno Project.”

 

“Yeah, me too. Well, I need to get back to work. One of their experiments isn’t going well. The dog’s having seizures. Some of these assholes think they can just push a probe into a brain and everything will be fine. I don’t know where the Company gets these people nowadays, but it can’t be from any credible university. Oh well, not my problem. I’m just a vet, not a miracle worker. I’ll be back in a few weeks to check on...Abbey, is it?”

 

Alicia nodded and placed the puppy back in the box with her siblings. Shifting into a more comfortable position, Abbey yawned and then opened her eyes momentarily. Golden brown, they stared dreamily at the two creatures in front of her before closing again. Within seconds, she was asleep. Her front paws began twitching.

 

I wonder what puppies dream about. Alicia turned toward the next cage. Other babies needed her attention.

*  *  *

At three months, Abbey was a seven-pound ball of excitement. Every time Alicia walked past her cage, Abbey would jump and bark at her, trying to get her attention.

 

“Arrr rarr rrahh.”

 

“I see you,” Alicia said and opened the door to pick up the wriggling puppy. “Settle down.”

 

“Rahh rarr rrrooof.”

 

“Okay, okay. Let’s go to the exercise pen and burn up some of that energy.”

 

Today would be the last day she would see Abbey. The dog was being transferred to the Xenolab in the morning. Alicia always made sure she wasn’t around when her favorite babies left the nursery.

 

“I’m going to miss you, little one,” she said, scratching the puppy’s back. “If I could take you home with me, I would.” Giving Abbey a hug, she put her into the play box and began teasing her with a small stuffed squirrel, her favorite toy. Alicia spent forty minutes exhausting the puppy before returning her to her cage.

 

This gets harder and harder. One day I’ll either quit this fucking job or go postal and blow the damn place up. Sadly, Alicia knew it would never happen. Clocking out, she drove home and cried herself to sleep.

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