Montag touched the muzzle. .
The Hound growled.
Montag jumped back.
The Hound half rose in its kennel and looked at him with green-blue neon light flickering in its suddenly activated eyebulbs. It growled again, a strange rasping combination of electrical sizzle, a frying sound, a scraping of metal, a turning of cogs that seemed rusty and ancient with suspicion.
“No, no, boy,” said Montag, his heart pounding.
He saw the silver needle extended upon the air an inch, pull back, extend, pull back.
The growl simmered in the beast and it looked at him.
Montag backed up. The Hound took a step from its kennel.
Montag grabbed the brass pole with one hand. The pole, reacting, slid upward, and took him through the ceiling, quietly. He stepped off in the half-lit deck of the upper level. He was trembling and his face was green-white. Below, the Hound had sunk back down upon its eight incredible insect legs and was humming to itself again, its multi-faceted eyes at peace.
Montag stood, letting the fears pass, by the drop-hole. Behind him, four men at a card table under a green-lidded light in the corner glanced briefly but said nothing.
Only the man with the Captain’s hat and the sign of the Phoenix on his hat, at last, curious, his playing cards in his thin hand, talked across the long room.
“Montag . . . ?”
“It doesn’t like me,” said Montag.
“What, the Hound?” The Captain studied his cards.
“Come off it. It doesn’t like or dislike. It just `functions.’ It’s like a lesson in ballistics. It has a trajectory we decide for it. It follows through. It targets itself, homes itself, and cuts off. It’s only copper wire, storage batteries, and electricity.”
Montag swallowed. “Its calculators can be set to any combination, so many amino acids, so much sulphur, so much butterfat and alkaline. Right?”
“We all know that.”
“All of those chemical balances and percentages on all of us here in the house are recorded in the master file downstairs. It would be easy for someone to set up a partial combination on the Hound’s ‘memory,’ a touch of amino acids, perhaps. That would account for what the animal did just now. Reacted toward me.”
“Hell,” said the Captain.
“Irritated, but not completely angry. Just enough ‘memory’ set up in it by someone so it growled when I touched it.”
“Who would do a thing like that?.” asked the Captain. “You haven’t any enemies here, Guy.”
“None that I know of.”
“We’ll have the Hound checked by our technicians tomorrow.
“This isn’t the first time it’s threatened me,” said Montag. “Last month it happened twice.”
“We’ll fix it up. Don’t worry”
But Montag did not move and only stood thinking of the ventilator grille in the hall at home and what lay hidden behind the grille. If someone here in the firehouse knew about the ventilator then mightn’t they “tell” the Hound . . . ?
The Captain came over to the drop-hole and gave Montag a questioning glance.
“I was just figuring,” said Montag, “what does the Hound think about down there nights? Is it coming alive on us, really? It makes me cold.”
“It doesn’t think anything we don’t want it to think.”
“That’s sad,” said Montag, quietly, “because all we put into it is hunting and finding and killing. What a shame if that’s all it can ever know.”‘
Beatty snorted, gently. “Hell! It’s a fine bit of craftsmanship, a good rifle that can fetch its own target and guarantees the bull’s-eye every time.”
“That’s why,” said Montag. “I wouldn’t want to be its next victim.
“Why? You got a guilty conscience about something?”
Montag glanced up swiftly.
Beatty stood there looking at him steadily with his eyes, while his mouth opened and began to laugh, very softly.
One two three four five six seven days. And as many times he came out of the house and Clarisse was there somewhere in the world. Once he saw her shaking a walnut tree, once he saw her sitting on the lawn knitting a blue sweater, three or four times he found a bouquet of late flowers on his porch, or a handful of chestnuts in a little sack, or some autumn leaves neatly pinned to a sheet of white paper and thumb-tacked to his door. Every day Clarisse walked him to the corner. One day it was raining, the next it was clear, the day after that the wind blew strong, and the day after that it was mild and calm, and the day after that calm day was a day like a furnace of summer and Clarisse with her face all sunburnt by late afternoon.