Roxy's Rule


(editor's note: This is a stand-alone story. If you would also like to read its prequel, you can find it here: Roxy)



Teva peers out the front window at the quiet street, then glances at her wrist chronometer. "It's early, yet, Phoenix" she says, as if reassuring herself.

I pad across the area rug and reach my muzzle up to gently nose her hand. Blessed by the enhanced intelligence granted by my AI implant, I understand what worries her. But being canine rather than human, there are limits to how much I can help. Troubled by these thoughts, I begin to pant.

Teva flashes me a tight smile, tells me I'm a good girl, and scratches behind my left ear. I stretch my mouth into a grin, leaning in to help her reach the right spot.

I'd meant to provide Teva with a distraction, for every line of her posture bespeaks tension. But all too soon, she resumes her anxious pacing back and forth, back and forth, across the living room. I watch, my brow furrowed with worry, noting the dark circles under her eyes.

I wonder now whether it's such a good thing that Rupert insisted on picking us up this morning. Perhaps if Teva were more in control of her own schedule...

The low rumble of a large vehicle slowing as it approaches our driveway interrupts my musings. I woof gently to alert Teva. She looks out the window again. This time, she heaves a sigh of relief. She strides to the foyer, grabs her jacket, and opens the front door so I can dart out into the misty rain.

When Teva and I reach the black SUV, I can see that Rupert has opened the hatch for me. I leap up into the back of the vehicle to join Sarge, a dark-faced, tawny-coated German shepherd with aristocratic ears.

Normally I'm more comfortable working with fellow border collies, but Sarge's superior bulk came in handy on several cases we worked together, so he's okay in my books. After we exchange a few quick sniffs by way of greeting, Sarge and I settle in. Sarge positions himself at the right-hand window while I peer vigilantly out the left one. If any vehicles approach too closely on my side, I'll bark to warn them off. Sarge will do the same. It's a self-imposed duty we take seriously. Anything to keep our humans safe.

The trip to headquarters is quiet aside from the steady beat of the windshield wipers as the rain begins to sluice down. I can hear Rupert muttering encouragement to Teva up front. She's replying with mumbled grunts, which become marginally more upbeat until we see the grey brick building of Police Headquarters looming in the distance. Then, both Rupert and Teva fall silent.

Rupert stops the SUV in front of the HQ building. I think he offered to drive to minimize the length of time Teva would be exposed to the protestors, but I notice with surprise that they haven't shown up today. Maybe the rain has dampened their enthusiasm.

I pop to my feet, stretch, and wait for Rupert to open the hatch. I detect a sly grin on his tanned face as he lifts the tailgate. I stare at him suspiciously for a moment. But his expression isn't a mocking one. Rather, it's as though he's harbouring some delightful secret he hasn't let Teva in on.

Teva, Sarge and I make a break for the door, shoulders hunched against the rain. We reach the overhang without enduring too much of a drenching and wait there for Rupert, who's gone to park the vehicle.

The four of us encounter our first hitch when we stride across the broad marble atrium toward the corridor leading to the Tribunal Hearing Room. A uniformed aide stops us, politely informing Teva and Rupert that there'll be a slight delay before this morning's session commences. When I glance at Teva's face, I see that she's biting down on her lower lip. In her fragile emotional state, Teva might easily be derailed by as simple an obstacle as this loop thrown into the schedule. I press against her legs, offering comfort.

Finally, the aide returns. 

"We're ready now," he says with brisk authority. "Come this way."

He leads us down a corridor to a sturdy metal door and swings it open with a flourish. I stop at the entry-way, sniffing. I've detected the pungent pong of wet dog and I think, panic-stricken,can't stink that much--can I?

I feel a slick substance on my paw pads. Water. A sodden trail leads in from the side door. Clearly, we are not the first to pass this way.

I look ahead. There's a long aisle leading downward, between rows of seats. I prick up my ears. I hear feet shuffling, the crinkle of rain gear rustling.

And I note with relief that I am not the source of the smell. Well, not all of it, anyway.

I raise my head and begin to walk down the aisle.

This is a change, alright, from the past two days, and thinking that, I can't help but cast my mind back to the Tribunal's opening session.

***

The first day of the hearings did not start in an auspicious manner. A crowd of scowling protestors gathered in front of the building greeted us with cat-calls and muttered insults.

Then, once we reached the atrium, we met up with Oliver Karm. A former colleague of Teva's who'd since wangled his way to headquarters, Karm offered a sneeringly dismissive opinion of the case she'd chosen to bring forward.

"Are you crazy?" he asked, bouncing on the balls of his feet as he paused to face her. I noted with satisfaction that he had to look up to meet Teva's gaze she's got a good four inches on him height-wise. "You know you're blowing up your career." With his hands, Karm mimed debris rising from an explosion. Shaking his head, he strode away.

Thankfully, Rupert, Teva's co-complainant in the case, arrived just then. "Ignore Karm. He's a corporate-ladder-climbing jerk, always has been," Rupert muttered.

"What are we doing?" Her green-brown eyes wide, Teva turned toward Rupert.

"We're doing what's right," he replied. "We're speaking for those who can't speak for themselves."

And with that, he led the way to the small meeting room where the Tribunal awaited us.

Behind a sturdy wooden table sat three high-ranking and highly-decorated uniformed officers The woman with dark brown skin seated at the left I recognized as Tashel Morgan. With a gracious bow of her head, she flashed a tight grin in our direction and offered a gently-spoken welcome. She made sure her eye contact included not only the two humans at our table, but Sarge and me as well. I knew from listening to Teva and Rupert's discussions that Tashel had served in the K-9 unit earlier in her career. Because of this, I allowed myself to harbor a hope that she would feel some empathy for our case.

To the far right sat Chad Lang, his lips compressed into a line as he nodded tightly in our direction.

Occupying center spot at the table, Bruno Weber, Head of the Tribunal, scowled at our small party. Leaning forward on his muscular arms, he addressed his remarks toward Teva and Rupert, ignoring Sarge and me.

"It is your right to bring your case forward to the Tribunal." His acknowledgement came reluctantly, as though pulled from him. "Yet it is not too late to defer, if you have changed your mind."

Rupert scowled and replied, "We haven't."

"You realize this is your last recourse."

"We do."

With a dissatisfied air, Bruno leaned back. "Then let's begin."

I won't claim that I took in every word. I'm a dog, after all, and the intellectual enhancement provided by the AI implant only goes so far. Besides, some of the chatter seemed as dry as old bones, long buried and not worth gnawing on.

But I caught the gist, and through body language, tone of voice, and scent I sensed the flow of emotion.

I'll keep my recap short, for your benefit.

For over twenty years, select police dogs have been given AI enhancement. This allows them to link to the Cloud to access information. The AI implant also exponentially increases reasoning capability. The Force's current practice calls for mandatory retirement when police dogs reach eight years of service.

And now, the sticky part.

Due to concerns about the AI technology falling into the wrong hands namely, the hands of criminals the rules require surgical removal of the AI device at the end of active duty.

I can't say what that removal will actually feel like. I haven't been through it. Still, I have lived, for a time, with an aging dog who had once been an AI-enhanced operative. While I could see that she still seemed something more than a normal dog--a trifle keener and more intuitive--I also knew she was less than I, myself.

I still remember the day, seven and a half years ago, when I received the AI implant. The flood of words and images. The ability to sense the nuances of colour. The intoxicating power of logical thought. And overarching all of that, the ability to understand those things which heretofore had been mysteries.

And so, when the AI implant is removed, I fear it will be like having a juicy, meat-covered prime rib bone yanked away just when one is poised to enjoy it.

I get chills whenever I think about it.

As a dog, I understand the fundamental concept that any pack must have rules. In the Police Force, there's a process to challenge the rules and to propose new ones. That's what Rupert and Teva are striving to achieve--a change in the rules. Their proposition, quite simply, is this: police dogs should be allowed to retain the AI device after retirement.

I heartily endorse their point of view.

They've stepped through every level, every channel open to them, and been denied each time. The Tribunal is the final step open to them.

The point, for me, is far from moot. I am six months away from the eight-year service mark, and so is Rupert's dog, Sarge. I suspect it was this pending deadline looming over us all that jump-started Rupert and Teva's decision to move forward with the Tribunal, daunting though it seemed.

On the first day of hearings, the team defending the current practice put forward objection upon objection, some so ridiculous they made me yawn in disdain. They did their best to argue that the entire case should be thrown out.

I watched the Tribunal members vigilantly. Tashel took careful notes, her face thoughtful. Chad fixed his silent and slightly disconcerting blue-eyed scrutiny upon whoever was speaking at the time, tapping his fingers on the table impatiently whenever he felt the speaker dallied too long before making their point. Bruno leaned forward when the defense spoke, nodding from time to time.

Of the three, I found Bruno the most intriguing. I tested the air, sensing a hint of the acid odour of fear emanating from him. Yet, glancing around the room, I saw nothing that even remotely suggested a source of menace. During the morning recess, as Sarge and I sniffed the grass and dandelions that formed the patch of lawn behind the building, I asked for his take on it.

"Ambitious, like Karm," Sarge, a dog of few words, grunted. "Heard Rupert talk about it. Bruno hungers for a higher power, outside the Forces even. Politics. He fears this case'll cause ill will, if public opinion supports the other side."

I nodded, resolving to watch Bruno even more carefully when we returned to the room.

When we arrived on the second day of the hearings, the protestors' numbers had swelled. Teva's pace slowed as we approached the group. Security staff had erected stanchions to keep the crowd back. At least, we wouldn't need to walk directly through them.

"Spend money on humans, not dogs," Teva whispered to Rupert, reading out the signs. "The AI program is an abom--oh look, they've spelled that wrong."

"Ignore them," Rupert growled through gritted teeth. He squared his shoulders and fixed his gaze resolutely forward.

I was about to follow suit when I glimpsed a dark figure on the fringes of that gathering--a man with a mask covering the lower part of his face. Above the fringe of green cloth, the hatred blazing in his eyes made his emotions clear.

I realized as I sniffed the air that his scent seemed familiar.

I nudged Teva's hand with my muzzle and gestured toward the man. She gasped and tugged Rupert's sleeve, pointing.

The mask-clad man turned and fled. Sarge sped after him, traversing the ground in leaps that bespoke his relief in finally being called to physical action.

When we caught up with Sarge and his quarry, the shepherd was standing on top of the man, whose struggles to escape ceased when Rupert, puffing, caught up with the duo.

"Well, well, interesting to see you here, Mr. King," Rupert said, eyes narrowed.

Corey King had narrowly escaped the net that closed around the Front Street Gang during a raid on a drug warehouse. The Force currently had warrants out for Mr. King on two counts of armed robbery and one of drug trafficking. His capture counted as a significant achievement, and would have been an occasion of celebration had our hearts not been weighted by other matters.

Rupert handed King over to the on-site officers at Headquarters and our small party proceeded to the Tribunal room.

Buoyed by that victory, Teva and Rupert radiated energy as they took their turn presenting arguments for their case. Around mid-morning, Rupert placed a half-dozen devices on a plastic cafeteria tray which he carried to the Tribunal's table.

"What're we looking at here?" Tashel asked in a friendly tone.

"One of the arguments against allowing retiring dogs to retain their AI capabilities is fear that the devices will fall into the hands of criminals." Rupert paused for effect. "This tray contains six examples of devices with similar function that are readily available through the underground market. There are more out there."

"Offered for purchase through the dark web?" Chad asked, looking up briefly before returning to his examination of the objects.

Rupert nodded.

"Do our experts concede that this technology is equal or superior to ours?" Tashel asked, gesturing toward the tray.

"Yes."

"My background's in Information Technology," Chad commented quietly. "Just giving these a cursory examination, that wouldn't surprise me."

Rupert turned to Teva, grinning. Before they could present their next argument, though, a tall lean young man wearing an unadorned uniform entered the room and whispered a message into Bruno Weber's ear.

The head of the Tribunal frowned, rubbed his forehead with his right hand, then stood.

"There's been a development that we need to consider," he said, his tone somber. "We will recess until tomorrow." Without further explanation, he whirled and left the room, followed by the other two Tribunal members.

Rupert looked at Teva and shrugged.

I rested my head on my paws, feeling the skin over my brows crease into a worried frown. The recess would leave Teva with time to stew, and that was the last thing she needed.

As if thinking the same thing, Rupert studied Teva's face for a moment, then opened his mouth as if to say something. He glanced up toward his right, as though pondering. I saw a slight grin quirk the corners of his mouth.

***

With a jerk of my head, I bring myself back to the present. We've almost reached the front of the room, now, and I know why the smell of wet dog permeates the room.

The lecture hall is filled with uniformed men and women, accompanied by their canine partners.

The room previously allocated for the Tribunal held only a handful of seats for spectators. The number of observers who've shown up for today's session has clearly occasioned a change of venue. That's why we're in the lecture hall, which is normally devoted to training sessions and group presentations.

It's my guess that after seeing Teva's downcast expression at the end of yesterday's session, Rupert called in the troops to show their support. If so, they've responded in a major way.

As the four of us make our way down the narrow aisle toward the front of the room, the officers stand and salute while their dogs sit, statue-still, beside them. Teva nods acknowledgement and offers a discrete wave when she recognizes a familiar face which, given how long she's been in the Forces, happens often.

I see Francine Hebert accompanied by her border collie Ginger. We worked the G'nosi case with her, I tell myself. And there's Benjamin McDow, from Halifax, Nova Scotia, with his blue heeler, Frisco. And there's--there are too many friends and familiar faces to name. I pace at Teva's left, head high, leaning into her every now and then to let her know I'm there for her.

I glance up at Teva's face. Tears, unshed, gleam in her eyes, but her chin juts forward with a new resolution. I recognize that expression. She's ready for battle.

***

As the morning wears on, Teva takes her turn facing the Tribunal. 

"One of the reasons we brought this case forward," she says, resolution making her voice ring clear, "is to stand up for those who cannot speak for themselves." She nods toward me, then gestures toward the silent listeners in the room behind her.

"What is the nature of working animals? It is to work, to perform a task, that is true," she acknowledges, hands moving as she speaks. "Yet we believe there is an obligation after that work is done. After the world wars, many of our service dogs and horses were abandoned overseas, like tools to be discarded when their use was done. And yet," she pauses, "they are living, feeling beings."

"The dogs will still be alive and well cared for after the AI linkage is removed," Chad counters, frowning. "I don't see the problem."

"They will live diminished lives," Teva retorts, her voice trembling with passion. "What right do we have--"
 
"It's our technology," Chad shoots back. "We give it, we can take it away."

"We're not gods." Teva's voice rises. Behind me, I sense restlessness. Low growls are uttered and the room takes on an electric quality. My hackles rise of their own accord and I raise my head to glare at Chad.

"Order!" Bruno, the Tribunal leader, commands. Silence blankets the room. Yet that quiet contains an element of menace, like the restless undercurrent of humid summer air before a storm. "There will be a short recess. We resume in ten minutes."

Bruno shoots a glare at Teva, and the message, if unspoken, is clear: when we resume, everyone had better have a grip on their emotions. Or else.

Teva's hands shake as she slumps behind the table.

"Do you have the jump stick?" Rupert asks, his voice gentle.

She nods, rummaging in a uniform pocket and handing him the small red device.

"I'll cue it up," he offers. "Why don't you take the dogs out for some air?"

Taking the hint, I scramble to my feet. I'm eager to visit the patch of grass behind the building. Maybe by now the rain has stopped. I have to hope that something will brighten Teva's mood.

***

We're back, now, and the break appears to have calmed the mood. At Rupert's gesture, the lights dim and the intelliscreen at the front of the room brightens.

Images play across the screen's large surface, and though my eyes have some difficulty following them, I can decipher the story well enough.

The images start with a close-up of a border collie pup's face. The camera zooms out to show Teva, her hair dark brown rather than the current salt-and-pepper mix, lifting the pup gently. When the youngster reaches Teva's eye level, the woman whispers, "We're going to be partners, you and I, Roxy."

Roxy, I think to myself, feeling my pulse quicken. I lived with her for a time, when I first came to work with Teva.

The video shows Roxy  going through the increasing rigors of training. Roxy with a bright glow in her eyes, the glow of intelligence. Roxy taking direction and yet also thinking on her own. Roxy, her posture and actions expressing her delight at the wonders of an expanded world.

Roxy, operating at a level that I'd never seen. Because that special gleam in her eyes had vanished, by the time I met her. I suppress a whimper.

Now, the screen shows Roxy prancing beside a young girl. Wait a minute, I think. That's Mia, Teva's daughter. Mia, who now lives in a downtown apartment and practices law with a small but highly respected firm. Here, though, she is a carefree child dancing to music, and Roxy cavorts beside her, busting moves that compliment Mia's and laughing, laughing, with her pink tongue lolling out of her face.

I glance at the audience, human and canine. They're eating this stuff up. They identify with it to their very fibre.

Then I turn my attention to the Tribunal, whose backs are to us as they look at the screen. Tashel's posture portrays watchful interest, Chad is a mixture of openness and defensiveness, and Bruno--Bruno is steadfastly inarticulate as far as his body language is concerned, as if carefully schooling his gestures, like a hardened poker player.

Like summer blending into autumn, the images change.

A party, a gathering of officers and dogs at the Precinct. A cake and a tin of dog biscuits. Farewell pats.

Roxy's retirement.

And then, the final images. The camera shakes, sometimes, as if some extreme emotion held the videographer in its grip.

I'd always known Roxy to be different from myself. But seeing the contrast juxtaposed so closely, through the images... After the device is removed, Roxy's eyes appear duller. Human conversation that would have been followed with ease is now met with a cocked head and a goofy expression. When Mia goes out to play with Roxy, the girl throws the ball and Roxy brings it back. Throw and retrieve, throw and retrieve.

Would it be fair to say there is no joy? No. It would not. I knew Roxy to be a bright, if subdued, spirit. Even the audience can see that Roxy's tail is up, and her posture bespeaks simple pleasure.

But it is also clear Roxy is seeing the world through a different lens, and the world that she experiences is neither as rich nor as complex as she once found it.

The screen fades to black. In the background, canines whine and humans sniffle as the audience struggles for composure.

"She doesn't look unhappy," Chad protests, his hands outspread.

Teva reluctantly concedes that point. "It's in a dog's nature to make the best of things." There is pleading note in her voice as she adds, "But can't you see how she has fundamentally changed?"

"The Tribunal will recess to consider the material presented," Bruno intones. "We will return when we are ready to present our findings."

***

There's been a steady hum of conversation in the background as we wait. Teva rests her arms against the table in front of her. She slumps, her posture indicating how much emotional strain she's endured simply watching the video.

Suddenly, the buzz of chatter stops, as if someone has hit a sound control.

The Tribunal files in and I study their faces. I think I see Tashel wink in my direction and I thump my tail hopefully, just once, against the floor.

Bruno clears his throat, sensing the attention of the crowd upon him. He squares his shoulders and his voice sounds sonorous as he begins to speak. I feel as though I am caught in a spell, and at this moment I can firmly believe Sarge's assertion that Bruno aspires to be more.

"We are now ready to render our decision," Bruno relishes his moment in the spotlight, that is clear. "We applaud Officers Teva Perry and Rupert Melvin for bringing their case forward. After deliberation, we rule that the practice of removing the AI device from retiring police dogs--"

By now, the tension is so thick you could cut through it with the swipe of a dull dew-claw, and yet he pauses there, as though to ratchet things up one more notch. Finally, like a dam bursting under the inexorable pressure of a flood, he concludes, "should be stopped. From this day forward--"

Whatever he would have said next is drowned out by whistling, hollering, and woofing. When I glance behind me, the human audience is high-fiving one another. Human officers exchange hugs. Canine operatives yip excitedly, prancing in place. Then the assembled officers, facing forward, salute Teva and Rupert with a full minute of sustained applause.

Bruno sits, finally allowing a grin to crack his face. Tashel, in turn, stands, and a respectful silence falls once again.

"We also concur," Tashel says softly, "that this decision will be referred to as The Roxy Ruling."

If she intends that remark to restore order, she has grievously misjudged her audience. Pandemonium reigns once more. No-one seems to care.

After a time, the bedlam subsides to a buzz. This is followed by coats rustling, keys jingling, and paws and feet shuffling--the myriad small sounds of a large group of people and animals preparing for departure.

Bruno approaches our table. "No hard feelings, I hope?" he asks, shaking hands with Rupert, then Teva. He is all politician now, and if there were babies or puppies handy, I am certain he would be puckering up even now.

Bruno's expression turns rueful. "My ten-year-old daughter caught my wife and I talking about the case after supper last night, and boy, did she give me grief that we were even discussing this issue, as opposed to just changing the rule." He rolls his eyes, and Teva and Rupert chuckle. "She'll be happy to hear the outcome. It'll keep me out of the doghouse at home."

"By the way," Chad comments, arriving to shake hands as well. "The reason we cancelled yesterday's session was to look into some information regarding the protestors. It appears the Front Street Gang and their counterparts, working together for a change, staged the whole thing. They wanted to create an impression that public opinion opposed the existence of the AI-enhanced dog program." He shakes his head. "Actual opinion polls show us nothing could be further from the truth."

I dart a glance toward Bruno. So that's why he seems so relaxed now! I allow myself to wonder, just for a moment, whether he would have fought harder against the decision if he still feared public opinion opposed our existence. I shake myself, as if in so doing I can loosen the thought, send it flying free from my mind. It doesn't matter, I tell myself.

Tashel makes her way over, her expression thoughtful. "Thank you for bringing this case forward," she says, her voice heavy with emotion. "I just wish..."

"I know," Teva says. I'm sure she's thinking of Tashel's German shepherd, Atticus, who endured the same post-retirement surgery as Roxy. "I know."

The two women exchange smiles, and the Tribunal departs. Rupert moves toward the aisle, to make his way back to the Atrium. Teva stands for a moment, gathering her composure, then follows.

Me, I am thoughtful as I trail behind them with Sarge pacing at my side. I think about my own pending retirement, which clearly now is no longer something I need to dread. I find it pleasant to think that I will still be myself, as I am. I will still be aware.

I take a quick glance around. No-one behind me. And so I express my delight by performing three tight circles, as though I am chasing my tail, my feet flying faster and faster 

I stop suddenly, swaying and dizzy, as Sarge glances back over his shoulder.

I grin at him, then stretch.

"Race you to the humans," I say.

Before he can answer, I'm off.

We catch up with Teva and Rupert just in time for them to hold the door open for us, and before stepping into the Atrium we adjust our pace so that we might seem, to the casual observer, to be models of decorum.

Through the large windows I can see that sunlight has won out over the morning's clouds and rain. The marble-floored reception area is packed with people and cavorting dogs. I apply both my nose and my eyes to scan the crowd, seeking Ginger and Frisco.

It's time to catch up with old friends. Old friends who I will continue to remember. Even after my years of service are over.

And with that thought, I perform one more tail-chasing circuit, out of pure joy. This time, I don't care who is watching.




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