COUCH, WITH A LABRADOR
What Garry didn’t expect, as he affixed the cap of electrodes to the dog’s shaved cranium and took up the ham sandwich from the bench beside him, was for the translation box’s first words to be, “Are you going to eat all of that?”
Garry dropped the sandwich. The dog, a Labrador retriever, surged forward like a golden sea-lion and ate the lot. It then sat primly before him. “Got any more?”
Garry stared at the capped dog and then over at the box. “It works,” he breathed.
The dog tensed, head tilted. The translation box registered the animal’s confusion.
“It’s okay, Kyle,” Garry said.
Kyle backed away from him, hackles lifting from neck to tail. A warning growl floated out that required no machine interpretation.
Garry dropped to his knees. “It’s just me, Kyle. We’re talking.”
Interpreting Garry’s posture, the dog gave a low tail wag, but did not approach. “We haven’t done this before,” the box said.
“No. It’s new. Something I made. It interprets your thoughts for me and my words for you.”
Thanks to the box–Garry had already trademarked the name: Speak-Up–lonely people would now have pets to talk back to them. Veterinary visits would be a breeze. And cat videos on the internet would take on an entirely new dimension. From police and drug detection dogs to therapy cats and race horses, the applications were boundless. The technology just needed more testing.
It was hard to know what to say. Garry had owned Kyle since he was a pup, but now it seemed like their relationship was starting over from scratch.
He was at home on his couch with the dog by his feet and, though this had been their way for nearly six years, the arrangement seemed wrong somehow. Almost rude. A common language implied a measure of equality. Yet there was his subject on the floor, with his head on Garry’s slipper.
What did one even ask another species? Questions of the universe and philosophy seemed appropriate—this was a form of first contact after all—but somehow those questions seemed way too big for a living room and a creature whose first priority had been his sandwich.
“Sooo … do you mind if I ask you things?”
Kyle lifted his head, the detectors in the cap flaring in the light. “If I can ask things back.”
“Oh. Well, you start then.” If Kyle knew how this conversation should begin, so much the better.
“Where do you go when you get up?”
Garry blinked. “Where? Oh, um, I go to work.” Realising Kyle couldn’t relate to the term, Garry added, “I do things for other people and they give me things for my efforts.” Garry was part of an R-and-D team working on applications for brain mapping technologies. The Speak-Up was a side project.
“Like when I sit and you give me Schmackos.”
Garry grinned. “That’s not far wrong.”
“You are away a long time. You must get a lot of Schmackos. You don’t share that many.”
“They don’t reward me with Schmackos.” Garry dug through his wallet and brought out a twenty-dollar bill. “They pay me in this. It’s called money.”
The dog sniffed the note.
“I can swap it for Schmackos and other things, like our house and food and those big bones you like.”
The Labrador seemed to ponder this a moment. “No wonder you hate it when I destroy the money in the go-poo room.”
Go-poo? Garry was confused. Go-poo was Kyle’s command to toilet on the lawn—
“Oh, the toilet paper! No. That’s not money, bud. That’s what I use to wipe my bottom.”
“I use my tongue. You need to get more flexible, Garry.”
Garry laughed, wondering if the dog’s humour was deliberate. The internet had long decided pets had a sense of humour, but the truth was harder to prove.
“I miss you when you’re at work.”
“Me too, bud.” Garry ruffled the dog’s thick fur. “Hopefully the long hours won’t be for much longer.”
If his side project took off, he would have more money than he knew what to do with. He could step back from other projects and focus his efforts on bringing the Speak-Up to market. Just like his friend, Toddy Doherty, had when he’d perfected proprioception on the bionic leg.
Kyle nibbled the underside of his forefoot, his tongue probing between the toes and main pad.
“Hey, that’s something I’ve always wanted to know,” Garry said. “When you lick your feet the vet says it’s because you’re itchy. Is that true?”
“I like the taste of my feet. Particularly after I’ve scratched my ear.”
“I also like the taste of your socks. They really are as good as they smell.”
“You sniff my socks?”
“Garry, you sniff your socks. I’ve also seen you taste your own nose. So let’s not point paws here.”