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relayed by Feech

        The earth is whimpering below me, just a few paces in front of myself and my partner, who relays to the rest of the company. I focus on the whine as of distant aircraft tickling or skimming the inside of my brain, and make an image for myself before I see it; then I catch a glimpse in the dull orange light from beyond the thick trees.
        {Right there.} I alert my partner, who holds up a hand for the rest.
        "Where?" He takes a step forward, pressing into the bent and broken trail grass with his heavy boot, and I shove myself against his knees and jerk us both backwards a half-step. I glance up at him, then pull his eyes along with mine.
        {_Right_ there.}
        He places a tired hand lightly on my shoulder and looks again, this time more in the direction of the whine, and the wire. He whispers, "Good boy," because his throat is too tight to speak aloud. It takes a moment for him to stand up, but the others hold, and now we back off like puppies, always with apprehensive eyes on the thing that sends us trotting backwards. The wire and its explosive, whose scent begins to be clear to me on the edges of its oblong of existence in the grass by the trail, set and wait, they would wait forever, but the men trigger them purposely from a cautious distance, and our ears scream back at the noise. But no one is hurt except for their ears, and since being drafted I've grown almost used to the thunder and torturous cracking of traps, rifles and other explosives.
        This whole country reeks of them, and sings with the whining wires. When the company shudders and regains its order after reeling from the noise and the envisioned potential of the blast, there is nothing to do but move on, and wait for the next one.

        My name is Asa. That is what my partner mumbles to me when he puts me down in my kennel, rubbing my smooth shoulders while I eye him to make sure he's up to the next day, and the next. No one of these men would voluntarily leave us in the overgrown, trapped world that we make our way through with their thumbs and triggers and our noses, ears and eyes and agile leaps. He really could not see a wire beneath his feet, but more, he could not hear it, could not detect it until so close that even to see it may be to next bend it beneath his toe. Wires... Wires wait, but the men not of our homes, the ones who rose up from this ground we live on (if we live), fire guns that seek us out. When the guns are rifles, we can disarm them individually. Sometimes one of the sentries has taken down two or three before getting smacked with crossfire. My partner and I came into our latest assignment because their sentry took a bullet in this way.
        "You're my best friend here, Asa," says my partner, touching the back of my tattooed ear. "I told you about my home. Am I your best friend here?"
        {You are now, yes, since my first assigned partner was killed when I couldn't be with him. Otherwise you're my best friend here.} I place a paw in his palm.
        "That's good..." He's whispering in that tight way again. I touch him with my nose, not enough to be a kiss, but enough so he knows I would if things were different. My friends back in the country we were all brought from used to giggle when I licked them, and here I fear he would not giggle at all.
        My partner touches a finger to my nose, to show that it was good that I connected in this way, then he slides his palm once over my head and goes down the gentle dirt slope to the men's resting quarters. I listen to the other sentries settling in for the night, and climb into my box, turn around, lap my paws over the edge of the entryhole and blink at the line of night-color coming down over the trees in the wet and smouldering horizon beyond the base.

        I wake with a leap and a terrible crack in the beats of my heart to the feeling that my whole spine and skull have been shaken violently, in a massive vibration, away from the rest of my body. Still with blood pounding, I tear from my box, intact, yet the sleepy sizzling detachment of my body remains. Then the next gun is fired and I know it was this sound and its reverberations that woke me, and shook my body so profoundly.
        "Call for back-up!" screams a German Shepherd named Jackdaw, in the run to my right flank, scuttering back and forth on his floor. Lights flash up out of the land behind the kennels. "Call for back up! Trey! Trey! Help!"
        "Shut up, you fool, they'll kill us all," growls the thin Bootblack desperately from my other side. But down the length of the kennel, sentries are hollering to alert their partners and beg for back-up-- we can't help anyone when we're in the runs, away from the humans, but if Trey, or my partner, or any other human comes, the blasts will kill them all just as surely. We turn towards the human quarters. Some of us begin climbing the chainlink, anything to avoid with our eyes the sunlight rings that spin up out of each crash of ammunition as it hits the earth.
        "No," I choke, knowing that at the most the dog the humans call Bootblack, to my left, may be able to hear me, but I'm probably talking to my own throat. "Bark. Scream and holler, it doesn't have to bring anyone." They want the kennels, my partner said they pay as much for an ear as a patch. "Let them know we're here. Then they might not hit the human soldiers in some random attempt on us."
        The dog to my left does see and hear me, and begins screaming as if he has wanted to scream for a long time. His partner's voice cries in shreds out over the ground between dogs' quarters and men's; we shout all the more at the distress of our partners. Then there is an involuntary shriek, from further down the kennel. They have found us indeed, and are beginning to--

        A rending call dies in my throat. Shells are splitting up in shocking light all along the line of the slope where the kennels are, and I can see them. I can't see the sentries, it's too confused for that, I'm too-- Asa. Asa. I am calling it over and over, beginning again once it has died, but this is not my voice. Beside me is Bootblack's partner, grasping for the dirt ahead of us with a long, sweat-damp arm as if to climb to his dog, weeping and repeating, "Bootblack! They're attacking the kennels, oh God..."
        "Asa..." My harsh voice is not my own, it is all distorted in my ears which are in the wrong place but still thundering inside from the explosions, but it _sounds_... it _sounds_ like my... it cannot be... my _partner's_ voice. Bootblack's partner is clawing at the ground, but for some reason he cannot move; I turn my head around and there is our Sergeant, squeezing as much of the man's shirt in his left hand as he can, holding him back and ordering, "Stay here! No, you-- you _stay here_." The concussions of the firing begin to all become one and I do not jump when new ones fall. The Sergeant doesn't know what to say, it's so obvious why the men want to go and so obvious too that they'll be killed if they do.
        Balled up behind me is the Sergeant's other hand, over my neck. Then I realize why everything sounds so strange, why my eyes are so seared by odd colors and my nose is so dulled to the sweat on the men. I am my partner, and he too has been struggling to rush to the kennels, but the Sergeant has taken hold of his shirt-collar as well, and somewhere... somewhere...
        If I am my partner, where is he? For a moment his voice spoke for me, now it is gone. I thought sure our men's enemies would go for the kennels, and they would be safe. Now, I was in the kennels and am here, where is my partner? I begin to holler and scream again, much as I did in my run until a second ago, and the booming and firing begins to die down, but the other sentries still are screaming, except there are less of them now, and some of the screams are not sensibly voiced. Men cry out and beat their hands and even their heads against the ground in front of us. Clouds, dust, and a resounding hum hang in the air as the gunners recede. Now the human soldiers dash up out of our shelter, through a smattering of mortar and wind-spattered dust, taking me with them in a run on the kennels, shouting out names that fall strangely on this awkward body's ears.
        My God, my Creator, they _are_ virtually without a sense of smell. I had an idea before, but I never _knew_.
        I _can_ see, in sharper contrasts than ever I have before, but it's so hard in outlines and so undifferentiated as to what is _important_ that I must blink and shake my head and blink again and finally close my eyes, to take in the scents and sounds. Someone, I have to look to see, someone who turns out to be Trey, takes my arm which I press out onto nothing but air as I walk on my long flat feet to the line of kennels that shone so stark in the attack. "Oh let them be okay let them be okay," he is saying again and again, but Jackdaw is one whose cries have become high, senseless wails. I cringe as I hear him, and the ringing silence of so many of the runs.
        And now I am truly afraid. For here I stand, towering over the path, huge and open to the Enemy, and my senses are dulled almost beyond recognition. I am not deaf, but everything sounds far away and there are no details of the layout of the ground. I may as well have lost my sense of smell. The strongest scents surrounding me cannot compete with leftover layers from the attack. I shake, and almost fall to my haunches, or, perhaps my knees; where everything is placed is awkward. How am I supposed to find the tripwires with human ears? How am I supposed to scent the snipers and the nests without my _sense of smell_? How am I to leap with any effectiveness, when my hindparts are devoted to keeping me so far up off the earth when I stand or walk, never to thrust me forward and upwards in a leap? What has happened to my partner? My God, what has happened to him? "Come on." Trey hoists me to my partner's feet, and I move his body along some more. "Oh Jackdaw, no let him be okay..."
        I open my eyes and stare at the line of chainlink, bent out in spurts of shining wire like flesh wounds, and the pouring battle-red that slinks around any intact kennel structure and onto the ground. The sight hurts my eyes, though they are made for these colors, and the howls of one or two of the sentries are so piercing even in these ears that I shudder to think what the dogs are feeling.
        Trey falls away from me and runs his hands flutteringly over Jackdaw's moaning, semiconscious Shepherd body. I didn't know Shepherds had such lines of color on them. From beneath him flows more of that red, and it spreads in time to a canine heartbeat. But so distant and dulled is the smell of iron and flesh that it has not registered, until just now, what that is.
        Breathing hard, feeling put off balance by the way my ribs move my whole upper body and make me seem to list backwards, I move my gaze over the lines of link and shrapnel, pausing on one box and the men who tug at a chunk of its roof that has penetrated the dog therein. I scan dumbly the tearful men who clutch dogs overjoyed to reunite with them or too far gone to even return a look. Bootblack is unhurt in body, and shivers and whimpers as his partner wipes first one cheek and then the other on his midnight ruff. Between Jackdaw and Bootblack, it must be my body, it must be Asa. So now I face my kennel run and see why I have not noticed him before; in the night, and without my hearing or sense of smell, what is left of his coat is black and obscured, his breath is shallow, faint, and blood is mingling with that of other sentries, until it is impossible to tell whose is whose. The light over him does not spark his dull eyes, and I try to lower myself to him to examine him. I find I do not know how to do this quickly or voluntarily, so finally I let my legs buckle and I fall beside him almost where I want to be.
        He twitches an ear, a mostly intact one. I didn't realize one could see my tattoos from the outside; just looking at him, now, I can see the dotted marks in the thin skin of his outer ear. So this is what I was using, this body, during those assignments. I wonder what it smells like to another dog.
        Someone fires a single shot, startling us all along the row. Jackdaw ceases his wailing. His partner fills in the spaces in the sound. "Asa." This came from directly before me. The smooth black dog has choked out a sniffing word, almost a plain breath, but it makes that name and I know its sound. I stare, ready for anything he may tell me to do. I feel trickling down the sides of my face, thinner than blood but warm. {Tell me, what should I do, I should have been there where you are and you in this form, and you would have been safe as I had predicted. I can't imagine how this could have happened.}
        My partner does not whisper again, but I hear something, not in my ears, but somehow from the back of this human head as though a part has opened up, and a husky sort of voice speaks without his using any breath. "I didn't know this would happen, either. Please don't be afraid."
        {I am afraid. But since you ask, I'll give it my damndest.}
        "Good. Asa, I didn't know this would happen, but I asked for it, because I knew... I knew, I don't know how but I knew, there would be no way to go home with you. I was seeing the attack on the kennel and I had a sinking feeling, like I never had before. I could see myself leaving you in a run like that one, I could see myself walking away from you, and I remembered too much to do that to you."
        There is a long pause, or there is none, the night and sound all buzzes together and my partner speaks into my mind as if on a long wave of air or sound, as if the ripped-up parts or even the untouched parts of my body don't matter to him. I know he is inhabiting that thing which should have been mine to die in for him, and the grit-seeded muscles and blood begin to penetrate even this nose with their smell.
        Still he obliviously speaks. "I believed with all my soul that you could go home too, if you survived, and I know I lied to you with that belief, because you know my every thought, just like you do now."
        {No, if it wasn't true I felt it too, I was not deceived by your belief. If we were deceived it was by the idea someone planted in your head, and I will never blame you for not having taken me home.}
        A decision has been made, not so swiftly as that for Jackdaw, but nonetheless the result is the same, and another gunshot cracks out from behind the men's quarters. The partner of the dead dog stays where he is, so he won't have to see. Across from me, over the dog's body my partner is now in and through some mutilated chain link, Bootblack and his partner are still embracing. Not much time has passed at all.
        "No worries. You are going home, if you and my clunker of a body can make it through. At least this way I can't be the one to walk away."
        I growl at him, in my thoughts.
        "Your body is as good as dead. I'll be rising from it now."
        {Oh no you won't. You came here for different reasons than I did. I came only to give my life for you. You came to die or go home.} I cannot let his being slip past me, or he really will have gone, and it will be my fault. I feel as though some part of my consciousness has gripped him in its teeth.
        "Asa, get out of my way."
        I'm holding him, however this is. He can't move any more than if I were pressed physically against his knees on a trail.
        "You idiotic strong-willed dog."
        {Thank you.}
        "Maybe I want to see what it's like."
        {If you did, I could have let you step on a mine.}
        A pained chuckle, not made out of vibrations.
        In that instant, while his mind is distracted, thinking of that, I push one more time with my will and what seems to be my shoulder, although nothing is really there at all, and I nudge past him into my body. "Asa!" The call does not prevent him from falling back into the energy and space that I vacated.

        "I let him die!" My weeping partner is cradling my head, which can barely feel him. I scrape a paw up over his wrist, but I don't know how I managed it, for it seems an impossible feat as soon as it is done. He groans and kisses my paw.
        "He's dead, he's almost dead..."
        Blood is the only scent flooding my nostrils, that and a burning that I have never sensed in any way before. Someone clomps up behind my partner. It seems to be the Sergeant.
        He lays a hand on my human friend's shoulder. "Shh, shh, kid, there's nothing you could have done. You'd be a goner too. I'm sorry."
        I've always wondered about it, too. I cannot convey even this message in any expression to my partner; he holds me and I have no more power with my body to do a shred of what my will desires.
        That's it, then.

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