Playing Dead

Zeke disguised himself as one of the small furry things he’d seen playing with the humans in the park.  Pretending to be a pet was a textbook infiltration technique he’d learned in the academy.

He double-checked his translation and recording devices and ambled up to a tidy-looking front step.  When a human came out, he barked and wagged his tail.  A small human peeked around the human standing in the doorway.  “A dog!  Can we keep him, Dad?” the small human said.

“He might already have a family, Paul,” the tall human dad said.

“We can put some signs up just in case,” Paul said.

“Okay,” Dad said.  Zeke was in.

Fortunately, the humans were happy to teach him what was expected of him.  His duties included fetch, shake hands, roll over, and play dead.  Careful observation of the humans told him that these duties were expected of other small furry things, so he wasn’t surprised.

He had hoped that he’d be able to use his duties for more than just amusing humans.  So, he watched closely.  Humans did shake hands on formal occasions to say hello or goodbye.  His humans were rarely formal.  Humans do not roll over on the ground.  Humans do throw balls for other humans to catch.  He did not see them throw sticks for each other.

Playing dead was a large part of human culture.  Every evening, his humans would sit down in front of their communication screen and play dead.  The first time he watched his humans do this, he was slightly alarmed.  He soon became accustomed to this strange ritual.

Sometimes he would join them in playing dead.  He would watch the screen and try to understand the messages.  They were communicated as stories and advertisements and sporting events.  Sometimes his humans would sit up and yell back at the screen, but the messages continued to play.  Their responses didn’t seem to be heard.

At first, he thought the messages were recordings of events happening somewhere.  He realized his mistake when he saw the story about humans in space.  He knew that humans had not yet developed space travel.  Perhaps this message was requesting support in developing the necessary technology?

His current theory was that humans sometimes strengthened their communications with emotion, and the stories were meant to evoke the emotion that best conveyed the message.  Zeke wasn’t entirely sure.  His humans did seem to like the messages best when they reflected the conveyed message most strongly.  If they looked passive, they’d switch to a new message soon.

Zeke studied many aspects of human behavior.  He surveyed local plant life and structures when out on walks.  He slept on Paul’s bed and monitored his sleep patterns.  Paul was also most helpful in passing him samples of human food.  Paul was especially eager to share any plant matter from his plate.  Zeke was fairly sure this was because Paul didn’t like the plant matter.

Then one day, too quick for his humans to see it, a message from his mission commander flashed across the human communication screen.  At the same time, his communicator buzzed under his fur.  It was time to go home.  That evening, he shook hands with Mom, Dad, and Paul.  Then he barked and wagged his tail for good measure.

After they were asleep, Zeke let himself out the back door.  He briefly wondered if they would put pictures of him up again.  Well, time to write up his mission report.  He took off his furry animal suit and returned to the ship.