Part 35

The trapdoor was still a tad open, and pushing it ajar, we crawled into the warehouse. The lights were on. Again, nobody had bothered to turn them off. It was a promising sign that also the computers were on, and I thought I could hear them humming.

When I had cleared the door, Elena pulled it shut, inch by inch. With each creak, she stopped and listened before carrying on. After a few agonizing minutes, she closed it, and the eye of the lock at the door aligned with the hook on the frame at the side I was standing. I carefully slid the clasp through the eyelet, and Elena did the same on the other side.

We stood still, our ears pricked up. There was nothing but silence around us except for a steady murmur, confirming that the computers were running. Reassured, I signaled Elena to search for something we could use to dry off my fur.

While she started at the other end of the warehouse, I looked everywhere in between but didn’t find a single thing. Then, I saw Elena slithering backward from under a computer station, dragging a box of tissue paper with her. 

The box was almost empty, and it took all our ingenuity to paw the leftover tissues noiselessly out from the bottom and not rip them to shreds. With me stretched out flat on my belly, Elena, using one sheet at a time, dabbed as much moisture as she could from my head, neck and back and then carefully polished Sergi’s tag.

She stuffed the wet tissues back into the box and slid the box silently back to where she had found it. My skin still felt damp, even around my neck, but I hoped that only the tag had to be bone-dry for making the connection with the USB port. I knew Elena had dried it off completely and did the best she could with the rest of my fur. Since we were good to go, I doubted that the moisture around my neck could seep onto the tag.

Quickly, I led the way back toward the trapdoor and stopped in front of the computer closest to it. Like all the others we passed, it was running.

Elena jumped on top of the console while I crouched down in front of the computer. I wiggled my body back and forth until I found the perfect position to press the tag on Sergi’s collar effortless against the USB port and to make it easy for Elena to climb on my back.

We had it well synchronized. The moment I was ready, I felt Elena touching my back and pulling herself high up. Holding on to me like a vice, she whispered in my ear, “Let’s go.”

I bent my neck toward the USB port, and Sergi’s tag clicked against it. The computer fan revved, but it never hit full speed. Gurgling and rasping, it slowed down. As it chugged along, a pitiful breeze blew out of the USB port, lacking the velocity and strength to suck Elena and me into the Internet.

The second I decided to pull my neck away and try again to get a connection, a pop hit my ears and a blazing light stung my eyes. The computer rattled and spit out a whirrrfffttt, whirrrfffttt, whirrrfffttt, clashing with the hiss of a sudden gust of air.

Lickety-split, the wind gathered momentum. It lashed out at me, then swirled around me, tighter and tighter with each spin, and finally whisked me off my paws, and Elena and I were on the way to the Internet.

To be continued

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A fable by Bruny Hudson

The more you love a memory, the stronger and stranger it is.
Vladimir Nabokov

Part 37

Elena caught my eye and shook her head. “We don’t need the directory. The warehouse destination is programmed into the tags so the courier dogs return automatically to it.”

I should have known better than to suspect Elena of harboring an ulterior motive, but momentarily derailed by her answer, it took me a second to comment on it. “You mean it works like the automatic return when you arrive at a computer and instantly leave again from it?”

“Exactly,” she said, “but it also has an extra safety feature built in. So, if for some reason there’s a delay, the tags send the courier dogs to one of the relay stations over here. From here, the dogs can only go back to the warehouse, nowhere else.”

I frowned. “A system similar to the one my friend Ludwig fell victim to, only he’s now stuck in India.”

Elena nodded. “It’s to keep them under control and to make sure they find their way back, but it also serves as a deterrent not to visit other places or to play hooky. So, to get around it, some of the courier dogs loiter at their delivery stop in order to end up at the relay station and then fool around in the Internet tunnels. But only very few dogs know of it, and those are the latecomers Sergi told you about.”

“I admire your knowledge about all this stuff,” I said. “I feel like a rookie at it compared to you.”

“It’s only because I’m so nosy and Sergi explained everything to me.”

“For having a bunch of archaic computers, the Russians are surely up-to-date with the technology to control others and hold them hostage.”

“They are spymasters, no doubt about that.” Elena sighed.

Making sure I hadn’t misread her after all, I said, “You know, you have a chance now, right here, to get away from it all, from Russia. I could help you.”

Without missing a beat, Elena answered, “Nah, thanks for the offer, but I never would take off on Sergi like that and leave him alone in Russia. Besides, we have a pretty good life over there.”

“I knew you wouldn’t go for it. But if you two ever decide to defect, let me know. I’m sure I can arrange something.”

I gave Elena my email address. Thanking her again for hers and Sergi’s help, I bent down to hug her, but something else entered my mind. “How are you going to leave the warehouse when you get back, now that the guards will be snooping all around there?”

Elena shrugged her shoulders. “I’ll just wait and sneak out through the trapdoor in the morning when the warehouse opens and the guards are gone. And I’m sure I can sweet-talk Boris into locking the door later so there will be no evidence of someone having used it.”

“You are thinking of everything, aren’t you?”

This time, I gave her a big, long hug, and she returned it. As we wished each other the best of luck, Elena stepped to the computer, held her neck against the USB port and set out on her solo Internet travel back to Russia. 

To be continued

Part 36

The ride went relatively smoothly. It was quite a difference having to carry a small and lightweight load like Elena than a big and heavy one like Ludwig I’d done some time ago. While the landing in the relay station was a little bit bumpy, Elena kept her hold on me without tumbling down.

“Wow,” she said as she slowly slid off my back. “What a ride.”

“But we’ve made it.” I gave out a sigh of relief. “And thanks to you, I’m out of that Russian hellhole. Are you still in one piece?”

Elena hopped in front of me. “See, I’m all here. But I admit, at one point, I thought the wind would tear me apart.”

“It’ll be a little bit less turbulent when you go home traveling on your own power instead of riding piggyback. I want to thank you and Sergi with all my heart for what you’ve done for me and the risks you’re taking for me. But I’m scared of what Olaf might do to you as revenge.”

“Don’t worry, we’ll be fine. Nobody will ever know what we did and that you escaped from Russia. You’re sure you have a way to get home from here?”

“Yes, I have a friend here in the Internet tunnels who can help me, one way or another.”

Cocking her head, Elena said, “I wonder, though, if we shouldn’t have gone to your home instead of here to the Internet.”

“No,” I answered, “it’ll be easier and faster from here than from home to set the wheels in motion to rescue my friend lost in India. I need a couple of things for doing it, and they’re only available in the kiosks here in the tunnels. Even if I don’t get another tag for traveling the Internet right away, I’ll get a temporary one to get me home.”

“I hope you’ll find your friend, and soon. So, let’s not waste time. Lie down, and I’ll take Sergi’s collar off.”

Elena unwound his collar from mine and gave it to me.

I sat up. “I’m going to fasten it right around your neck, next to yours. That way it won’t flip around or tangle up. I doubt I can do as good a job as you did tying it tightly around my collar.”

“That’ll be fine. Sergi just hung his collar around mine because it would be more convenient for you to snap it off from there than from my neck. When I’m back home, Sergi and I will have all the time we need to remove it.”

“It really was a fantastic idea you had to get me out of Russia. I don’t know how I can ever thank you for helping me. I only hope you and Sergi won’t get into any trouble for having done it.”

“I know I won’t. And if Olaf gives Sergi too hard a time for whatever reason, I’ll have Sergi move in with me and have my parents support him. It might take a bit of convincing, but they’ll give in. They always do.”

“Well,” I said, “if you’re ready, let me help you look up the Russian warehouse URL in the directory for your return.”

I prodded Elena to move, but she didn’t budge. Perplexed, yet alert, I threw her a questioning look.

To be continued