I've been rereading Tuf Voyaging By George R. R. Martin (1986) over the last few days. I'd forgotten how much I loved the character Haviland Tuf. If you haven't gotten around to this one and you enjoy science fiction, you should check it out. A warning of sorts--it's a dark comedy and doesn't present the human race or its future in a very positive light. In fact, decency and ethics (along with numerous other valuable resources) seem to be in short supply. However there are solutions and Tuf has full command of them.
Disclaimer concerning the following chapter: Establishing a back story is never easy. I am not satisfied with this section yet, but it is necessary to the plot.
Twelve years before
The Old One had stepped into the role of protector younger than most. Before he even really understood that it had been ordained. All he knew as a pup was that he had been saved from an ending that had taken most of his litter mates and his mother. That his world had gone from cold concrete and uncaring hands to a warm bed and the sense of belonging to something larger than himself. He knew he’d been saved, but more than that, somehow he knew it was his job to save her as well.
He saw his first Creeper the day his last baby tooth came out. The urge to tear and rip and growl had overtaken him and he was in the throes of a high energy romp through the house carrying one item on a list of forbidden toys—woman’s sock. He did so love her smell.
In those days the only other dog in the house was a small brown beast the humans called Random. The Brown dog growled at him when he got in her way, but otherwise acted as though he didn’t exist. The only time he saw her tail wag was when the Woman invited her to ride in the car or go for a walk.
It was mid-day, the man person was gone to wherever he went when the sun came up, and the Woman was asleep in her bed. He was aware that a kind of fluid darkness had overtaken her in the previous days, the weight of which made her sleep more than usual and move more slowly through her day. He’d tried in his puppy-way to chase away the darkness with toys and affection, but today it had not worked and soon after breakfast, she’d returned to her bed.
His eyes were half closed as he ran as fast as he could, leaping off chairs, bouncing across cushions, sliding across the vinyl kitchen floor, when he sighted the black mass as it floated over her. Curiosity and surprise stopped him.
The mass took on form. Limbs, a body, and a head emerged—it looked at him. He was young, he was afraid of many things—trash bags on the curb rippling in the breeze, clumps of grass at dusk, and the sound of thunder. But this thing—it made him more afraid than anything he’d confronted in his young life. He growled and stepped backward, considering his avenue of escape, thinking of his safe, distant kennel, or the spot at the back of the closet in the spare bedroom.
The woman stirred and murmured. The mass turned its attention toward her, extending a limb as though it was going to reach into her. She whimpered, drawing her arms up around her head as though warding off an attack.
A new, unfamiliar emotion rose from the depths of him and overrode every self-protective instinct he possessed. He leaped from his position in the doorway, clearing the distance with ease and grace that belied his puppy clumsiness and landed on the woman’s chest, snarling, teeth bared.
The Brown Dog materialized at the foot of the bed, leapt, slashing silently at the intruder. The Creeper uttered an animalistic profanity and the Shepherd realized it was more of his world than the woman’s and this made him less afraid and more angry.
The woman rose from sleep shoving the forty pound puppy off her chest with a shocked, gasping cry. Instantly, the Brown Dog withdrew to her bed as though she had been there all along.
He continued charging at the mass. What are you and why are you here?
It retreated into the shadows and mocked him. We are the Many. You are only one and can do nothing against us.
The woman who seemed to finally orient herself and catch her breath, shook off the cloud of sleep enough to grab him by his collar. “What on earth are you barking at you little idiot?"
He was old enough to know she did not understand him, but he didn’t know why she couldn’t see the thing he had driven into retreat. He stared into the shadows on the far side of the room, continuing to growl.
There may only be one of me, but I have many teeth. Would you like me to show you?
The thing hissed and seemed to melt into the shadow itself.
“I think you need a time out,” the woman said, dragging him backward. But she didn’t seem in a hurry to stand. In spite of herself, her eyes were tracking the path of his gaze.
He wanted to wiggle loose, wanted to use his nose to make sure the enemy had truly gone, but he could feel the strength the woman was taking from his wish to protect her, even if neither of them understood what he was trying to protect her from. For the first time in days, he could feel the fluid darkness ebbing out of her. He stopped barking and grew quiet in her arms.
“I was having the worst dream,” she whispered. “Everything was wrong. I was alone and I wanted to die. But you woke me up.”
He turned to study his favorite face. She met his eyes and shook her head. “You couldn’t know that, right?”
He licked her nose and pressed closer and returned to staring where he'd last seen the mass. I will be watching.
There was no reply, but he sensed that it had heard him and that it was not happy.