A string of drool splatted on the kitchen tiles. Despite my disgust for the food, the hungry dog inside me (or rather, outside me) recognized the growl of the can opener, the scraping metal and gears as the alien cranked the device in a circle, popped off the lid, and plopped the wet mush into the dish. It was literally Pavlovian. I knew of the Earth scientist: as preparation for my mission I had taken care to study human scientists who studied animals, especially dogs. I learned from it too; I’d been using the same principles to train the human.
“Assis,” the man said, and my rear plopped on the ground. “Laisse.” I looked up at him, waiting for permission. I had picked up command words in the human’s language, and snippets from the conversations and television I overheard. His tongue wasn’t the most popular language on the planet, but I chose it over Mandarin or English because I liked the throaty sound of it.
“D’accord,” he said, and I tucked my snout into the food. The taste and smell was foul compared to the wonderful aromas of the man’s cooking, which he occasionally fed me scraps of, but I had mostly adjusted to the animal’s enhanced sense of smell by now. Being able to detect thousands of scents and track them had advantages, but I could also smell every scrap of rotting food in the garbage, every particle emanating from the bathroom, everything my human stepped in and failed to scrape off his boot.
The man went to refill the bowl of water, then turned to the creation in the pan on the stove, which popping and crackling with oil and vegetables and the eggs of a small Earth animal. He turned the pan onto a plate, then brought the plate over to a chair and table near where I was sitting.
We ate in silence, him fiddling on a small device that was used for communicating and showing images and video. I tried listening to the sounds of the alien language, but the most I could pick up was a couple of words.
I thought back to what my mentor had said before I left for Earth. We were in the waiting room of the Dhudoxian hospital, where I was about to be transferred from my current host to the golden retriever that would be me for the next several years.
“The most important thing is relationships,” she had said. “Remember, they might be aliens, but they’re still people."
It was true; there was a reason Dhudox had chosen dogs as the host species to investigate the Earth aliens known as humans. The two species were capable of great mutual affection; they formed bonds together sometimes deeper than between two humans. It was a huge investment to make contact with a sapient alien species, so we always conducted extensive research into culture all over their world before reaching out. We had to be certain of a favorable reception.
For this reason, we usually chose an intermediary host to inhabit while we observed them. Most bipedal aliens have some sort of companion species similar to dogs - it’s convergent evolution. Ours have exoskeletons and compound eyes, but they’re around the same size, and similar in temperament - friendly, loyal, and obedient.
I padded over to the man when I was done with my meal, and he absentmindedly ran his fingers through the hair between my floppy ears as he tucked his fork into the last bite of the yellow concoction he had whipped up.
“Bon garçon,” he said, ruffling the fur on my head and getting up from his chair. I knew based on the day he was about to leave for work. I whined and nuzzled his hand, begging for more attention. He obliged me, and I jumped up on my hind legs into his embrace, tail wagging.
“D’accord, d’accord, je dois aller,” the man said, laughing as I licked his face. Okay, okay, I have to go.
I jumped down off him and saw him through the door, keys jangling as he locked it behind him.
Alone, I went over to the window and sat looking out, down over the city. The humans’ primitive wheeled vehicles crawled through the tree-lined streets below. It was my favorite spot to journal. I clicked the switch disguised as one of my teeth with my flat, useless for speaking tongue. Luckily, Dhudox had long since had the technology for recording and translating synaptic responses, so the nanoscopic device I had just turned on faithfully recorded my active thoughts.
“I think I’m making progress,” I journaled in my head. “I cuddled with him last night, and he started talking to me. I couldn’t get all of it, but he said ‘elle’ a lot, which I know is the female pronoun. He was talking about some woman I think I never met. He’s heterosexual as far as I know, but he’s never brought a girl home, at least since I’ve known him. I could tell by the way he was talking he wanted to though; his voice was so full of longing.
“I want to help him. I know I’m supposed to stay objective, but I’ve been feeling so...in character these days. There are times I forget I’m really just a Dhudoxian inside a dog host. I just feel like the more I act like a dog would, the more I just...start to feel like I actually love him.
“Enough about him! He’s just one person, and I’m supposed to be studying the entire human race. He doesn’t make it easy though. I don’t know how many butts I have to sniff in order to get him to actually meet more people. He’s a man of few words, but what can I do? I just try to get him to talk to other dog owners.
“I’m feeling okay generally, but I twisted my left hind paw on something yesterday while we were out on a walk. I’ve been feeling kind of depressed I miss home still. It’s been a month - I think in their time now - and I thought I would be over it. It’s pretty lonely staying in the apartment all day, doing the same thing day after day, and I miss being able to have a conversation.”
Ending on that sour note, I clicked the switch back off. I jumped down from the window ledge and stretched, legs out in front.
I spent the rest of the day studying French. I managed to pull down the TV remote with my teeth and press the buttons with my nail. He had been watching the news channel, so I decided to continue watching. There was a reporter standing in front of a stormy background, talking about flooding that was going on in another part of the country. There was another section about a string of crimes. I decided to chalk one up against humanity for that. I made sure to turn it off long before the human was due to come home.
When I heard the key turning in the lock, I jumped to my paws. I had grown accustomed to napping in the afternoon. I ran over to the door, barking. He opened the door and I leaped up into his arms.
“Bonjour, Milou,” he said, using his name for me. “Tu veux sortir?”
I barked affirmatively, and he grabbed the leash from the hook by the door.
I bounded down the stairs ahead of him, pausing at the bottom to allow him to clip the leash onto my collar. We headed out into the Paris streets, mist brushing tiny droplets onto my fur. The sky was gray and the cobblestones slick under my paws.
We passed a couple dogs I tried to befriend. Real dogs can smell something’s up with me, I’m pretty sure, but they’re mostly just curious. They stood sniffing me for a while, while my human made awkward small talk with the other owner.
When we got to the park he liked to take me to, he let me off leash and pulled a ball out of his backpack. This was something I enjoyed immensely. There were things I liked about this body, and running was one of them. It was so much faster than any host I’d had before. I loved to push myself harder, feeling the springing and coiling of my muscles. It was a break from my duties, since I wasn’t observing his behavior while I was busy chasing after a ball, but I wasn’t expected to be working 24/7.
A few more throws of the ball and the mist had thickened into a sprinkle. “Viens, Milou!” he shouted after me. When I ran up and dropped the ball at his feet, he put it back in his bag and clipped the leash back on my collar. “Il commence à pleuvoir,” he said. “Allons-y.” I couldn’t argue with him; my fur was becoming uncomfortably damp.
When we were a few blocks from home, I heard a woman shout his name from down the street. I stopped; he tugged on my leash, apparently not having heard. I sat down on the wet ground, refusing to budge.
“Antoine!” she called again when she was closer, and this time he stopped walking and turned around. A tall woman with a polka-dot umbrella was walking quickly toward him. He let her catch up to him, and she held her umbrella up to cover the two of them. She stooped to greet me as well. I sniffed her hand, vaguely recognizing the familiar scent of another dog on her - she was also a pet owner.
“Comment il s'appel?” she asked.
“Milou,” said my human.
The two aliens started talking very quickly, it seemed to me, and I only picked up a few words, but I was much more interested in watching their body language. I didn’t know if it was just the rain, but they were huddled up together quite closely. I wondered if this was the same woman he was telling me about yesterday.
She walked him all the way to his front door. The rain had grown to a patter by then, and my fur and their pant legs were soaked. “Au revoir,” she cooed, planting a kiss on his cheek and petting me on the head. I wagged my tail.