By Sarah Cooley
Plyll had been in deep cover with the K’alopeon Observation and Infiltration Corps. for an entire planet-cycle, and they were hopelessly bored. They had originally volunteered for an assignment to the newly discovered planet XB-24357–the natives called it earth–because it had sounded like an exciting opportunity to finally get off their cramped, research-class vessel, and their only other assignment option had been a much colder planet with less moisture in the atmosphere. An all around bad time. But now, here they were stuck in a frustrating routine of putting on physical-enhancements, attending an academic institution, going through the motions of being a human youth with friends, and then coming back home to take the enhancements off and relay reports to their superiors.
The enhancements were a hassle, but “for the best” they had been promised. Their entire species had eyes with more visual similarity to earth felines than to humans, completely lacked body hair, and hadn’t exhibited outward signs of sexual dimorphism in millennia.
So, Plyll was outfitted with makeup, wigs, contact lenses, and a stupid looking chest harness that was meant to suggest the presence of mammary glands. Sometimes, when observing themself in the mirror at night before taking everything off they became painfully aware of how much they disliked the appearance of their disguise. Everything about it rubbed Plyll the wrong way; the blond hair, the protruding chest, the spidery false-eyelashes. Despite the countless complaints from colleagues about the artificial facial-hair used for masculine-issue disguises, they gladly would have suffered through it rather than lipstick. They were also given the feminine native name Jessica, even though they were still a bit shaky with their pronunciation of the English letter J. But, these were all very basic nuisances of espionage, so they did their best not to complain.
Plyll just felt like there wasn’t actually much they were achieving here. They did their best to interact with their peers, but even with the crash course they had been given before relocation, getting others to trust them was very difficult. Humans seemed to favor organizing into small sub-groups, and didn’t care to let newcomers inside their circles without ridiculous games involving references to popular media, and strangely regulated behavior. Plyll was slowly but surely getting to understand some of the finer social-nuances of the human community they had been dropped into, and were prideful of their progress–but that wasn’t the same thing as happy. Maybe if they had been giving a mission involving travel–where they were never in a single place for too long–they would have felt better about their work, but as it was, they felt that their reports were too stagnant and boring.
One of Plyll’s longer-lasting acquaintances approached them unprompted during the lunch-hour one day.
“Hey Jessica, do you happen to like dogs at all?”
They knew what dogs were, but felt mostly ambivalent. That wasn’t what Samantha wanted to hear though.
“Uh, yeah, of course I do!”
Samantha clapped her hands with satisfaction. “That’s great! Because Brad and I adopted a sweet little guy a few weeks back, and our cat can’t stand him. We would feel like monsters if we had to take him back to the shelter, so we’re asking around to see if any of our friends are interested in adopting him.”
Plyll picked at their salad very unenthusiastically. They didn’t need the responsibility of animal-keeping added to their plate. Although, a pet might be good for keeping up appearances.
“I’d love to meet him then!”
“Sweet! You’ll adore him, I promise.”
Plyll was skeptical at best about anything this human promised.
“He’s certainly… Substantial.”
Plyll was facing down a furry creature nearly more than half their own mass. It was panting loudly and salivating all over their lap. Ugh.
“Yeah, Rigby’s a pretty big boy,” Samantha prattled, while scratching behind the dog’s ears, “but he’s as sweet as a baby, I promise.”
Plyll didn’t care much for infants, of any kind.
“He does seem… Very friendly.” The dog tried climbing into Plyll’s lap and they firmly shoved him away. Too friendly.
“Yeah, that’s probably some Labrador in him somewhere. He looks like he’s mostly Rottie, though. Who’s a great big sweetie-pie? That’s right Rigby, you are!” Rigby’s tail wags increased in speed twofold and made an incessant thumping noise against Samantha’s leg.
“You said I’m the only one that’s taken any interest so far?”
She sighed. “Yeah, no one else is really biting, and I’m starting to feel really bad about bringing him home. Travis has been a little terror to poor Rigby. He deserves to feel safe in his own home, you know?”
Plyll wished to sigh as well, but for much less sympathetic reasons.
“Well. I’ll go ahead and take him off your hands if it will help.”
“Really! Oh thanks so much Jess, you’re a lifesaver!”
Plyll wasn’t really in the business of saving human lives, but that was on a strictly need-to-know basis.
Rigby liked the new people that had brought him home with them, and he felt a little bad about leaving, but the cat would not be missed. He had been raised near cats as a pup and therefore considered them kin, but this cat didn’t play very nicely and would sometimes sneak up to scratch him when his guard was lowered. No, bidding the cat adieu was a good riddance. This new-new-home would take some getting used to as well, though, for a completely different reason.
Rigby thought his new not-person smelled kind of funny, but not funny enough to completely deter him from trying to gain head pats. They were a not-person after all, it would be rude to write them off completely just because they smelled funny and couldn’t help it. They did eventually give him a couple pats when he persisted long enough, but they seemed very timid, and honestly left a lot to be desired. He would have to work on teaching them better technique.
He had never met a not-person up-close before, so he wasn’t quite sure what he was sensing that was so off about them. They didn’t smell like salt, or blood like people did. He couldn’t smell if they were a mother or a father. They didn’t really smell like anything–and for a dog, that’s a terrifying realization to have. They didn’t speak to him the way people did, and their skin felt pretend where they stroked him. They were an altogether bewildering creature.
But Rigby was now inside their home–his home–for better or worse, and decided to try making the best of this new situation. They gave him food and water each day, and took him outside when he needed it, so they couldn’t be all that bad. Besides, they still needed help learning how to give a head-pat properly, and who else would teach them?
Plyll went from peacefully enjoying a dreamless sleep to bolting upright in bed in the span of 2.8 seconds. A miserably slow reaction time–if they were on a more backwater colony they’d have been dead already. Looking around frantically, they spotted what had woken them up.
Laying across the foot of the bed was a 100 lb. canine, staring up with doleful eyes and a hesitantly swinging tail.
“No, no, absolutely not. Get down.”
Rigby let out a high, wavering whine, and didn’t budge an inch.
“You’re lucky you’re even in a sentient-being’s home. Livestock on my world doesn’t get to live indoors.”
This statement received another few feeble wags. Dogs unfortunately lacked the same complexity of reasoning that humans possessed–something that Plyll would always have a grudging respect for. The humans, not the dogs.
A drawn out whimper was all the response that their scathing tone garnered. The dog did not show any sign of fear for being reprimanded.
Pinching the bridge of their nose, Plyll considered their options. The first couple of weeks they had locked the dog out of their bedroom, only to be kept awake for hours by it’s pitiful noises of discontent. A few days prior they had finally broken, and opened the door–the dog darted past them and immediately curled up on the ground near the bed and began snoring. Tonight it seemed that it wanted to take a bit more.
Was it really worth all the trouble to keep the creature at arm’s length? In the long run they were losing out on precious rest while being so preoccupied with making sure the canine knew the difference between subjugated and subjugator. He was obviously cleverer than Plyll had given him credit for; so easily breaking down their will. This dog was just a tiny dust mote in the grand cogs of the machine, it couldn’t hurt the overall mission to just let the beast share sleeping arrangements. Regardless of how repugnant the concept was.
“Fine, go ahead. Maybe I’ve wanted you to get here the whole time. Think about that for a minute, that you’re playing right into a trap.”
Rigby gave his tail a final circular spin and laid his head down between his paws with a wuff of breath.
“This does not mean you win dog, remember that.”
Rigby was proud of his not-person for finally realizing what was best for themself. The closer he slept to them, the safer they would both be from bad-things. It took them some great deal of time to figure it out, yes, but they did it eventually, and that was all that mattered to him. It had taken him a long time to figure out how doors worked, so he couldn’t really fault them much. To be fair, doors still seemed like an amazing feat of technology.
They had even started patting him more! It was mostly just an idly formed habit–in the evenings he would stand by their side as they used their word-and-sound-box, and they would usually reach down and set their weird smelling hand on his head. But progress was progress, they were getting in some beneficial practice time while working; what good multi-tasking.
Soon he would begin phase-two of operation: better head-pats–wiggling his face under their hands while they sleep–and the real training would begin.