Proto had been going by “Parker” for a while now. He knew it wasn’t a great choice, that it wasn’t something his Father would have called him, and that it still got him some funny looks, but it was better than being called “Proto” in your average human city.
Parker was determined to be average. He lived in a basement apartment with a small yard and driveway just outside the front door, which sat at the back of the house, contained by a slightly rusty chain link fence. The only functional window was by the door, which left the apartment dark more often than not, and the ceilings were low, but it was cozy in its own way and he was proud of himself for having a place of his own. Despite the comparatively cramped space, he was comfortable there. The landlord lived upstairs and liked his odd, quiet tenant very well. He never had loud parties—indeed, he never seemed to have anyone over at all—he didn’t burn things badly enough to smell when he cooked, and he always paid his rent on the first of the month.
The house was a couple of blocks from the bus stop he walked to every morning to go to work, He worked for a construction company doing whatever needed doing on their various projects. He didn’t have any special training or licensing, but he threw himself into whatever task he was given with unusual enthusiasm, and wasn’t afraid of heights or at risk of hurting himself when a job involved heavy lifting.
He kept to himself for the most part, and that made him a bit odd among his co-workers, but if that didn’t bother him it didn’t bother the boss, either. Some of the men had eventually taken to affectionate teasing when it was noticed that he only ever seemed to bring donuts, slices of cake, and other pastries for his lunches, calling him “Sweets” and chuckling softly when he shrugged at the name with his strange, slow-moving good humor. He couldn’t say he really had friends on the job, especially with as often as he was moved from one site to another, but he didn’t have any enemies, either.
It was a bright, clear day, and he was walking home from work when it happened—it had seemed too nice out to take the crowded bus back. He saw the red and blue lights of a police van from half a block away, the refracted beams bouncing crazily around the graffiti-stained brick walls and magnified through the windshields of other cars. He hesitated, hands jammed into the pockets of his worn out red leather jacket, and cocked his head thoughtfully. It wasn’t on his way, strictly speaking, but it wasn’t far out, either. The lights piqued his curiosity; no one knew the reason here, of course, but he was completely free from any fear for his own well-being, and the workings of a real police force intrigued him. He could take ten minutes to see if he could figure out what was going on.
A small crowd had gathered around the van; folks from the neighborhood, a small and harried- TV crew, and a handful of fearful-looking men and women in their late twenties, staring anxiously from their side of the police tape. Once he got within a dozen yards, he heard the sound that was taking the place of sirens here—the vicious snarls and snapping of jaws that he recognized from a story on the news several weeks back. It had to be a dogfight.
The police were arresting the small group of men left behind who had been standing around the makeshift ‘ring’ of chain link fence within a larger yard protected by a tall privacy fence. One side of the outer fence had been knocked down to reveal the gruesome scene, and as he drew up even with them he realized that the fearful group were wearing matching t-shirts from a rescue organization whose name he didn’t recognize. There were two dog still in the ring—the rest had either been removed or found beyond help—and no one dared to approach them.
The bigger of the pair was a rusty golden brown brindle color with dark eyes, ears cropped so close they scarcely existed. He made the most noise, but he wasn’t really the clear winner—the smaller, red-and-white with honey brown eyes and its ears still taped up from a previous injury, was quicker and seemed much more able to wriggle free of what should have been a fatal grip. Proto stared at the dogs, transfixed by their pure anger, so badly misdirected against one another instead of the men who beat and starved them, and felt a similar rage building up behind his ears, pounding through his head. He gritted his teeth and acted without realizing he had made a decision; pushing past the rescuers and the police tape, he pushed the unlocked gate of the ring open and waded directly into the fight.
He could hear someone shouting at him, but he wasn’t sure who it was and didn’t really care. All he knew was that he had to stop the dogs from tearing each other apart, and that he could, since he wasn’t soft and fragile like the humans around him. He reached out automatically for the bigger pit bull, with its back to him, and grabbed the dog by the scruff of its neck to haul it bodily away from the other. Both dogs seemed to sense his complete lack of fear—or maybe they saw him and recognized him as one of their own, in a way. Whatever the reason, the result was that they both stilled immediately. The bridle didn’t even try to turn and snap at him.
He smiled grimly and hauled the dog back out of the ring. The barking and shouting had stopped, and everyone was staring at him. He flushed, suddenly unsure if he had done the right thing, and paused as he shut the gate on the second dog to keep them apart. He was holding on to a pit bull—a dog that had been engaged only moments before in a life-or-death struggle with another one—by nothing more substantial than a little loose skin and bristly, short fur and standing stupidly in front of a crowd of gawkers with no idea what ought to be done with the dog now that it wasn’t trying to kill another one.
The cops were still busy writing up their arrests, so it fell to the nervous-looking rescue group to approach him once it became clear that the dog was done lunging. It had sat down on the steel toe of Proto’s boot and was panting unevenly, a cut over its eye bleeding sluggishly. A girl with wide blue eyes and dark blond hair finally scooted unhappily around to Proto.
“I’m really sorry, but we can’t take either of these ones. Too violent.” she told him, eyes downcast. “We’ll have to call animal control, and they’ll come pick them up if you wouldn’t mind waiting around a few minutes.”
“Animal control?” Proto repeated, unfamiliar with the term. “What will they do?” He didn’t like the idea that these two dogs weren’t worth rescuing.
“Well, you know. They’re going to have to put them down. They’re not adoptable, they’re too dangerous for anybody to take—”
“I’ll take them.” he interrupted. He wasn’t about to let either of them be killed; what had he stepped in for, if not to prevent them dying? He didn’t know exactly how one was meant to take care of a dog that wasn’t mechanical, like Rush, but he felt certain he could learn. She looked him up and down skeptically.
“Do you have any experience working with traumatized dogs? It’s probably better if they just—”
“No. It’s fine. I’ll take them. I can handle it.”
He didn’t know if he could, but he’d be damned if he wasn’t going to try. The brindle looked up at him, still bleeding, and lolled its tongue out in a dopey canine smile that sealed the deal.