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Michael Swanwick

The Dog Said Bow-Wow

The dog looked as if he had just stepped out of a children’s book. There must have been a hundred physical adaptations required to allow him to walk upright. The pelvis, of course, had been entirely reshaped. The feet alone would have needed dozens of changes. He had knees, and knees were tricky.

To say nothing of the neurological enhancements.

But what Darger found himself most fascinated by was the creature’s costume. His suit fit him perfectly, with a slit in the back for the tail, and—again—a hundred invisible adaptations that caused it to hang on his body in a way that looked perfectly natural.

“You must have an extraordinary tailor,” Darger said.

The dog shifted his cane from one paw to the other, so they could shake, and in the least affected manner imaginable replied, “That is a common observation, sir.”

“You’re from the States?” It was a safe assumption, given where they stood—on the docks—and that the schooner Yankee Dreamer had sailed up the Thames with the morning tide. Darger had seen its bubble sails over the rooftops, like so many rainbows. “Have you found lodgings yet?”

“Indeed I am, and no I have not. If you could recommend a tavern of the cleaner sort?”

“No need for that. I would be only too happy to put you up for a few days in my own rooms.” And, lowering his voice, Darger said, “I have a business proposition to put to you.”

“Then lead on, sir, and I shall follow you with a right good will.”

The dog’s name was Sir Blackthorpe Ravenscairn de Plus Precieux, but “Call me Sir Plus,” he said with a self-denigrating smile, and “Surplus” he was ever after.

Surplus was, as Darger had at first glance suspected and by conversation confirmed, a bit of a rogue— something more than mischievous and less than a cut-throat. A dog, in fine, after Darger’s own heart.

Over drinks in a public house, Darger displayed his box and explained his intentions for it. Surplus warily touched the intricately carved teak housing, and then drew away from it. “You outline an intriguing scheme, Master Darger—”

“Please. Call me Aubrey.”

“Aubrey, then. Yet here we have a delicate point. How shall we divide up the . . . ah, spoils of this enterprise? I hesitate to mention this, but many a promising partnership has foundered on precisely such shoals.”

Darger unscrewed the salt cellar and poured its contents onto the table. With his dagger, he drew a fine line down the middle of the heap. “I divide—you choose. Or the other way around, if you please. From self-interest, you’ll not find a grain’s difference between the two.”

“Excellent!” cried Surplus and, dropping a pinch of salt in his beer, drank to the bargain.

It was raining when they left for Buckingham Labyrinth. Darger stared out the carriage window at the drear streets and worn buildings gliding by and sighed. “Poor, weary old London! History is a grinding-wheel that has been applied too many a time to thy face.”

“It is also,” Surplus reminded him, “to be the making of our fortunes. Raise your eyes to the Labyrinth, sir, with its soaring towers and bright surfaces rising above these shops and flats like a crystal mountain rearing up out of a ramshackle wooden sea, and be comforted.”

“That is fine advice,” Darger agreed. “But it cannot comfort a lover of cities, nor one of a melancholic turn of mind.”

“Pah!” cried Surplus, and said no more until they arrived at their destination.

At the portal into Buckingham, the sergeant-interface strode forward as they stepped down from the carriage. He blinked at the sight of Surplus, but said only, “Papers?”

Surplus presented the man with his passport and the credentials Darger had spent the morning forging, then added with a negligent wave of his paw, “And this is my autistic.”

The sergeant-interface glanced once at Darger, and forgot about him completely. Darger had the gift, priceless to one in his profession, of a face so nondescript that once someone looked away, it disappeared from that person’s consciousness forever. “This way, sir. The officer of protocol will want to examine these himself.”

A dwarf savant was produced to lead them through the outer circle of the Labyrinth. They passed by ladies in bioluminescent gowns and gentlemen with boots and gloves cut from leathers cloned from their own skin. Both women and men were extravagantly bejeweled—for the ostentatious display of wealth was yet again in fashion— and the halls were lushly clad and pillared in marble, porphyry, and jasper. Yet Darger could not help noticing how worn the carpets were, how chipped and sooted the oil lamps. His sharp eye espied the remains of an antique electrical system, and traces as well of telephone lines and fiber optic cables from an age when those technologies were yet workable.

These last he viewed with particular pleasure.

The dwarf savant stopped before a heavy black door carved over with gilt griffins, locomotives, and fleurs- de-lis. “This is a door,” he said. “The wood is ebony. Its binomial is Diospyros ebenum. It was harvested in Serendip. The gilding is of gold. Gold has an atomic weight of 197.2.”

He knocked on the door and opened it.

The officer of protocol was a dark-browed man of imposing mass. He did not stand for them. “I am Lord Coherence-Hamilton, and this—” he indicated the slender, clear-eyed woman who stood beside him—”is my sister, Pamela.”

Surplus bowed deeply to the Lady, who dimpled and dipped a slight curtsey in return.

The Protocol Officer quickly scanned the credentials. “Explain these fraudulent papers, sirrah. The Demesne of Western Vermont! Damn me if I have ever heard of such a place.”

“Then you have missed much,” Surplus said haughtily. “It is true we are a young nation, created only seventy-five years ago during the Partition of New England. But there is much of note to commend our fair land. The glorious beauty of Lake Champlain. The gene-mills of Winooski, that ancient seat of learning the Universitas Viridis Montis of Burlington, the Technarchaeological Institute of—” He stopped. “We have much to be proud of, sir, and nothing of which to be ashamed.”

The bearlike official glared suspiciously at him, then said, “What brings you to London? Why do you desire an audience with the queen?”

“My mission and destination lie in Russia. However, England being on my itinerary and I a diplomat, I was charged to extend the compliments of my nation to your monarch.” Surplus did not quite shrug. “There is no more to it than that. In three days I shall be in France, and you will have forgotten about me completely.”

Scornfully, the officer tossed his credentials to the savant, who glanced at and politely returned them to Surplus. The small fellow sat down at a little desk scaled to his own size and swiftly made out a copy. “Your papers will be taken to Whitechapel and examined there. If everything goes well—which I doubt—and there’s an opening —not likely—you’ll be presented to the queen sometime between a week and ten days hence.”

“Ten days! Sir, I am on a very strict schedule!”

“Then you wish to withdraw your petition?”

Surplus hesitated. “I . . . I shall have to think on’t, sir.”

Lady Pamela watched coolly as the dwarf savant led them away.

The room they were shown to had massively framed mirrors and oil paintings dark with age upon the walls, and a generous log fire in the hearth. When their small guide had gone, Darger carefully locked and bolted the door. Then he tossed the box onto the bed, and bounced down alongside it. Lying flat on his back, staring up at the ceiling, he said, “The Lady Pamela is a strikingly beautiful woman. I’ll be damned if she’s not.”

Ignoring him, Surplus locked paws behind his back, and proceeded to pace up and down the room. He was full of nervous energy. At last, he expostulated, “This is a deep game you have gotten me into, Darger! Lord Coherence-Hamilton suspects us of all manner of blackguardry,”

“Well, and what of that?”

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