Prompt: killer squirrels
Cheeks stuck his face into the saucer of coffee his supervising officer had poured. He drank quickly, because he knew she could get in trouble for giving him any human substances. The coffee was so great though, so rich and deep. It kept his eyes wide when he was on patrol, kept his heart feeling like the engine of one of the thousand cars on the streets below.
“What are you doing?” Officer Barnes walked into the break room and leaned up against the doorway. He had a croissant in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other. He always had a croissant, thinking it allowed him to skirt the stereotype of a cop and his donuts. As far as his colleague, Officer Peg, was concerned, there was no difference. He still had powdered sugar on his face.
“Oh don’t be a stick in the mud,” she preemptively scolded the paunchy officer. “I’m just giving Cheeks a little coffee. It’s got hazelnuts in it and he loves it. Look, isn’t he adorable?” Barnes looked down at the rodent. Cheeks was a squirrel, a particularly lithe one, but that was difficult to see under his tiny special-fitted bulletproof vest. The animal sipped at the coffee and paid no attention to Barnes. His patrol was coming up, soon as the break was over.
“It’s against regulation to give them human food. You saw the presentation Peg. It throws them off their game. Makes them think they’re people. They already think that enough.” He shot another glance at the squirrel to see if it understood him, but Cheeks showed no sign of it.
“This isn’t food, it’s coffee,” she defended. “Thanks to these guys, thanks to these little neural enhancers,” she tapped the glowing green dot at the back of Cheeks’s neck, “our drug-related crime and sexual assault rate is down forty percent. Or did you miss that presentation. They deserve a reward, and I’m going to give it to them.” Barnes rolled his eyes, sighed, and left. The rodents might be coming for his job, but at least they’d never come for his croissants.
Another squirrel emerged from the blue plastic pipe sticking out of the wall. It skidded to a halt across the table, out of breath. Cheeks stopped drinking and looked at it. Something exciting was happening out there, but it’s shift was over. Cheeks was up. He abandoned the coffee and wiped his face against the napkin Peg had laid out for him. She said goodbye and good luck before setting out a piece of Tupperware full of water for the returning rodent to quickly bathe in. It was a hot one out there.
Cheeks took to the tube and climbed his way up and out of the police station. Once he exited the building he saw the tangle of other tubes leading to various offices and their holding kennels. Squirrels in vests ran to and fro through them. Some had their tails dyed in stripes: red and blue. That was to further differentiate them from the wild ones in the park. That was so people had fewer excuses for catching them, shooting them, skinning them…
Cheeks leapt from the end of the tunnel and out onto the power lines. He ran across them swiftly, hopping to the higher or lower ones when there was incoming traffic. It was a brilliant plan really. Nobody liked the idea of surveillance drones reducing crime, but the squirrels weren’t drones. They were in the city long before anything like that. It was their home. The police merely took advantage of it now.
The neural enhancers let the squirrels reason, but kept them in line most of the time. It gave them a perfect memory that could be transferred wirelessly to the station’s mainframe as security footage. They scampered about all over the city’s power lines, looking in its windows, and spotting illegal activity everywhere. Drug deals in alley lips were no longer safe. An attempt to grope a woman in the park would be met by a swarm of tiny claws falling on the perpetrator from above.
Cheeks liked his job. He was smart enough to know that. He was in the top ten percent of squirrel recruits. He’d personally snatched more than fifty dime bags away from offenders without losing so much as a hair on his tail. He might have a harder time once they dyed it blue and red like the others, but that was just a greater challenge.
His patrol was the vicinity around the city park that day, covering the hot dog carts and falafel stands all along Chimney Street. He had to be careful about the smells. The food was extremely tempting, but justice had to take priority. Peg would have more coffee and mixed nuts for him later. Warm hot dog buns would just slow him down.
All seemed normal for the first few hours. He skittered down off the lines and rested in the shade of a park bench. The shade made him difficult to see; it was perfect positioning for recording anyone who failed to pick up their dog’s droppings. It didn’t hurt that the shade cooled Cheeks off either. Sometimes the vest was stifling. They didn’t have them at first, but then they lost thirty recruits to small arms fire. Cheeks had lost a sister. The worst part? That fire didn’t always come from civilians. Sometimes the ammo was determined to be police issue. Some were worse than Barnes, fighting back for their livelihood with more than eye rolls and bad jokes.
He looked over when he sensed something. It was Corncob: a fellow furry officer. He slowly made his way towards Cheeks’s bench, eager to take advantage of the shade as well. Corncob wasn’t lazy, but he needed a break every now and then after his incident; the poor little guy had accidentally ruptured a bag of cocaine stored in his cheeks during a pursuit. He barely survived. A very uncomfortable human had to give him a doll’s portion of CPR. Cheeks would be happy to give up his spot and let him take it easy, but he didn’t get the chance.
A hand appeared and snatched Corncob right off the ground. Cheeks shot to his paws and rushed to the edge of the bench. He stayed in the shade to avoid being seen, but angled his head out and up. Not again. A boy in blue. A teammate. A traitor. The officer shoved Corncob in a bag labeled Animal Control. Cheeks could see there were at least five squirrels hopping around inside it. If he knew the traitor, and they were all the same, he knew where this was headed. He was going to get a couple friends, steer clear of the station’s wifi that would instantly download their prisoners’ memories, and find a nice dark spot somewhere out of town to bash his friends and family with a baseball bat.
Not while Cheeks was on patrol. Not in his neighborhood. He kept his tail and profile low, sneaking around in the grass as he followed the man. The officer moved onto the sidewalk swiftly, cutting between a hot dog cart and a news stand. Cheeks had to think. He couldn’t overpower the man, not by himself. He had his weapon on his belt as well. The vests could save their lives, but sometimes the simple impact force of the bullet killed them outright anyway.
Cheeks snatched a tiny piece of newsprint from the sidewalk. Every third bound he rolled it and folded it in his little paws: a technique the squirrel recruits invented for themselves. They didn’t share it with their overseers. Peg didn’t even know about it, and ninety-three percent of her social media posts were about the furry recruits. He snagged a blade of grass blown in from the park as well. He folded it into the paper and shoved the device in his cheek.
Once his front paws were free he scurried up the nearest power line. He had to keep his distance behind, because the traitor knew to check the lines. Cheeks couldn’t let him get too far. Their reinforcements would be of no use then. He took the deepest breath his lungs were capable of, a full rubber ducky’s worth of air, and blew it through the the grass and paper structure pressed against his buck teeth. It produced a piercing whistle: a cry for help.
Two more recruits appeared from the opposite direction. They assessed the situation and signaled with their ears to Cheeks. They were in. They made sure the traitor saw them, forcing him to turn around. Cheeks whistled again, signaled for them to move, and they followed his commands. Methodically they revealed themselves, driving the traitor back into the park.
He thought he was safe, because he was no longer under the lines. The recruits couldn’t jump down onto him, but he’d forgotten something crucial. Squirrels didn’t start off on power lines. He looked up when he realized he was in the shade. A tree. A very big tree. Cheeks whistled again. A dozen wild squirrels dropped out of the branches and attacked the man. He dropped his sack, allowing the recruits to wriggle free.
The recruits could only share so much with their wild brethren. They didn’t have the implants, so they only got the gist of big ideas like justice. They weren’t able to control themselves as they bit at his neck and eyes. They knew only their family had been wronged. A whistle wouldn’t stop them now. Cheeks watched from the power lines as their buck teeth raked across his flesh and drained his blood. Cheeks knew how to assess injuries. The traitor wouldn’t survive.
Something like this could end the program, but it had to happen sooner or later. They’d been working their tails off, and they weren’t going to be treated this way. Perhaps he’d have time for one more saucer of hazelnut coffee before the nuts hit the fan.
Author’s Note: This flash fiction story was written based on a prompt provided by DispensableGamer during a livestream. I hereby transfer all story rights to them, with the caveat that it remain posted on this blog. If you would like your own story, stop by twitch.tv/blainearcade during one of my streams and I’ll write it for you live!