Jackie stood stooped down behind a some bushes, peering through a pair of binoculars. A snap of cold hit her, and she zipped up her jacket tighter. It was a cold day for early spring, even with her fur. She wished they could've done this in the back of a warm car or something, watching with a drone and a mic on Lucas - but the others had been very adamant that Seth wasn't that foolish. He'd have tech that would detect any kind of listening devices.
Thankfully, Jackie had her canine ears, which were perked up to hear all the sounds she could. Another cool breeze came, leading to the odd sensation of her ears shivering. She adjusted her ponytail. Gosh she wanted to pull up her hood, but it would dampen her hearing.
She and Meaghan were the only other canis people watching, the only ones who could listen for what would be said. The others sat in a car in the a parking lot across the road, hopefully mixed in with signals of other devices where anyone working with Seth wouldn't be able to detect them. Another car was waiting in a more hidden location, which she did not know, which would move into action once the other car gave the signal.
Lucas stood some distance from her, down a path that ran the perimeter of the park. He had his hands in his jacket as he waited, the wind flapping against it and his fur. He stood calm, determined, completely undeterred by the cold weather.
Just after her watch hit noon, a jeep drove into the parking lot, and pulled up to the curb. A man stepped out of it that matched the description Jackie had been given by the others. Lucas walked up to him. Jackie perked up her ears to try to hear all she could.
"Long time no - "
Lucas punched him square in the chest. Lucas shook violently, crying out a loud of grunt of pain and falling to one knee. Seth only staggered back slightly.
"Well, I felt judgemental doing it," Seth said, "but it seems wearing some protection was, unfortunately, a good idea. Perhaps I should've taken the motorcycle and worn my helmet as well."
"You called me here Seth," Lucas said, standing back up, holding his likely very pained hand. "What's your game? What's your trap?"
"Trap?" Seth laughed. "Traps are for when you're trying to catch your target. You however, like the nice little hound you are, have knocked on my door asking to be let in."
Lucas was not amused. He licked his nose.
"Damn, I don't know how you could get used to that," Seth said. "With all due respect, you look like a freak of nature."
Jackie wanted to throw her binoculars at the man. Instead, she gripped them tightly enough that it felt like she'd crush them.
"Funny how the odd behavior from me," Lucas said. "Is more inhumane than whatever it is you think is acceptable."
"Interesting," Seth smiled. "Perhaps this is why we don't see eye to eye, hm? I desire to help humanity, though you've obviously left it behind."
"Enough small talk Seth," Lucas said. "You called me here. If I'm the hound that knocked on the door, if I come inside, will you let the pups go free?"
"Of course," Seth said. "You come with me, the pups go free. Are you in agreement to this then?"
Lucas extended his paw, and Seth shook it. Gosh, Jackie didn't like this. Were they just going to let this conniving lunatic run off with Lucas? Wasn't Lucas going to try to fight back? She sighed. No, she had to stick to the plan. They had to follow the jeep back to where Seth was holding Matt and Ashley.
"How about we discuss the terms over some lunch?" Seth asked.
Huh. Seth's nonchalant attitude about exchanging prisoners was making Jackie very, very annoyed.
"Fine," Lucas said begrudgingly.
Seth gestured to the jeep, and Lucas got in. As Seth got in, Jackie's heart skipped several beats. The man's bright, piercing eyes looked briefly in her direction. He made no reaction, closing the door behind him, and the vehicle began driving off.
Jackie waited silently for several minutes, as she'd been told, then Meaghan came to her, and they quickly jogged across the street to where the others had parked.
Following behind the jeep was hardly an easy task. It took odd paths, driving through neighborhoods, parking lots, a gas station... eventually after tailing the jeep for around a half an hour, they saw it stop at a sort of sub shop cafe place.
Jackie jumped out of the car as soon as it stopped, only for Patrick to grip her arm tight.
"Woah, slow down there," he said. "We need a plan."
"The plan is," Meagan said, "she is the only one he doesn't recognize. She goes in, buys some food, and watches as she eats.
"Just act natural," Patrick whispered.
Jackie breathed deep, and pulled on her jacket, walking at a normal pace towards the cafe. Anxiety crept over her. Seth just looking at her had felt like an encounter with some dangerous predator, and now she was drawing even closer.
She carefully looked around, then spotted them sitting outside. Seth was eating quite a big sub sandwich, and spilling onions all over the laid out sandwich wrapping. What kind of maniac gets that many onions on a sandwich?
Jackie shook her head, and as confidently as she could, walked into the cafe. She ordered the first thing that came to mind, a grilled cheese sandwich, and some chips. She hadn't thought until this moment the important detail that she was canis, and people still weren't used to that. Many people were staring at her as she ordered. Whether it was fear of the unfamiliar, or fear that she was contagious, she wasn't sure what they were thinking. Without Matt by her side, she felt like she shouldn't be allowed in this place, around normal people. This... this was going to be how she lived for the rest of her life.
Yet for some reason she actually claimed to want this. Seeing that cute dog girl in the mirror... it just felt like who she was deep at her core. Despite telling herself that, she had so many conflicting feelings that just wouldn't let her be happy. She wished that she at least could accept herself, even if others wouldn't. But the two went hand in hand. She wasn't like other people, who'd get insulted and be able to just take it.
As she waited for her food, fears crept into her mind of things years down the road, if a cure was ever found. As people would take the cure and "go back to normal," she would choose to stay the same - and immediately stand out even worse. These days people, even if unwary of her, might take pity on her "sad state."
But if a cure came, she would immediately be recognized as an oddity. A person who wanted to stay a dog. They might start wondering why. They might see her as creepy, unnerving...
"Jackie?" an employee called out.
"Oh," Jackie snapped out of the awful stream of thought, "here."
She accepted her sandwich and chips. Huh, she'd forgotten to order a drink. Maybe she could go back and - no wait, that wasn't important. She wasn't here to get lunch. She was here to watch what was going on.
She went out the door to the outdoor eating area. A chilly breeze passed by as Jackie sat down in the shadow of the building away from Lucas and Seth. In the cool weather, they were the only other people eating outside. She wondered if Seth was doing that one negotiating tactic where you make your opponent uncomfortable in some way - in this case, the cold, so you have leverage over them. If so, he was really stupid, because Lucas had a coat of fur in addition to a jacket.
"So," Jackie heard Seth say, "how's the research been going?"
"So uncivilized," Seth said, "I thought you were the kind of man who wanted to share your research with the world."
"I do," Lucas said, "but you don't apply because you're obviously not from this world, you're from hell."
"I'm personally quite happy with where my research is going," Seth ignored the insult, "your children have been very helpful, they just need a bit of - ha ha, prodding."
Lucas was quiet.
"I apologize," Seth said, "inside joke. And I shouldn't joke about that. Very rude of me. Your children are fine. I think the work I've done with them will have very valuable results."
"Valuable for humanity," Lucas said, "or valuable for your wallet?"
Seth laughed. "Is it too much to ask for both? Others have gotten rich off of good things. I want to use that money for further good causes."
"You're a crook Seth."
"Insofar as I operate somewhat outside the law, perhaps. But you are operating outside the law yourself. You've a number of illegal things. You do them to find a cure. I do them to push the tech forward. Both require sacrifices."
"My illegal experiment though, are not harming others," Lucas said.
Seth was saying some retort, but Jackie's ears perked up higher in surprise. Wait... Lucas wasn't doing illegal experiments. She knew he'd stolen data from Generation... but she didn't think that he was hiding experiments from everyone... was he?
No. She knew that was not who Lucas was. He was only operating in this legal gray area grudgingly. And also... Lucas didn't use wild arm gestures like the ones Jackie was seeing him use.
She jumped up from her chair, and without a thought in the world, ran straight to Lucas and Seth.
"Um, excuse me -" Seth said to her.
But the ruse was out. At this distance, Jackie could see the seams forming the projected overlay on the fake Seth's face, as well as the fake Lucas. She stared at the two gaping men, breathing hard. She'd been tricked by deepfaked faces and voices.
"Um," fake Seth said, "I do not know -"
Her mind was completely blank as she ran back to the car at full speed. By the time she stopped at the car and caught her breath, the tears immediately began to flow.
"Jackie," Patrick grabbed her shoulders, "what's going on?"
"We messed up," she sobbed, "they tricked us. The real Seth and Lucas are long gone."
Gone. Vanished without a trace.
A golden retriever that knows how to use a computer
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