Un-Un-Cat — Episode 5. Lonely Dog from a galaxy far, far, away, learns how to make friends on the internet.
Earth was a lonely world as a Dog from another planet human people mistook for a werewolf. For those first few years Lee howled sadly at the full moon to comfort himself and because it also made his only friend, Utah Green the Cat-person, smile. Lee explained to U.G. that howling at the moon was not what Dog-people on his home planet did. They didn’t have one moon and their moons were not orbiting as a solitary rock, but in clusters. Howling at Earth’s moon was something Lee had seen werewolf’s do on screens reflected in humans’ minds-eye.
Because the Dog-people’s computers were biological Artificial Intelligence-Creatures the AICs’ had no trouble at all triangulating or translating any data, signals or languages on the smelly little planet of Earth. The telepathic critter wasn’t reading the TV signal or radio frequency or even computer code, it was reading sensory data right off of the eyeballs of anything that its extraterrestrial Dog-person host wanted data about. Technically it didn’t matter if what it was reading was blind as a mole because the furry starfish shaped AIC’s didn’t have eyes. Any creature that sensed or smelled was easily “readable” to the AICs. What is more difficult to explain is how a biological computer could sense motion, gravity, chemical composition and temperature of things without a brain, like the-moon. Earth’s moon, gently pulling all the oceans into tides that ebbed and flowed subsiding in rippling waves of nearly constant motion. The AICs never got used to the roar of the oceans of Earth. The Dog-planet a jigsaw puzzle of tectonic plates almost twice the size Earth, didn’t have oceans. Many lakes, rivers, and springs from underground water tables, enough moving water for life to thrive, but, nothing even as big as the Great Lakes of North America or the Caspian Sea.
In 1977 when Lee arrived the ARPANET was up and running in a few universities via the Department of Defense, but internet communication was isolated to those networks. Lee found HAM radio interesting but struggled with being heard on-the-air within the networks of disconnected voices. The same for the first Cell phone networks in Japan and the Nordic countries of the world, who started talking to each other around 1981. But, it wasn’t until the spread of the internet in the 90s that Lee found conversations he could join in to remotely. In chat rooms, nobody knew the person typing was a Dog evolved on another world from a galaxy far away.
After the 80s instead of passively watching TV, Lee experienced the spread of a nearly global interactive consciousness. Different groups of people joined conversations, usually clustered by subject. Very few of the topics being discussed by Earthlings in forums interested Lee, not being of the same species was a very confounding hurdle for a social and friendly Dog-person. But the few threads that spiked his interest sounded worth the effort to join.
With the AIC and his Dog-computer Lee had no trouble reading any data anywhere around the world, uploading data to share required an interface. It took the AICs, Lee and U.G. a few months to adapt a server PC (personal computer) with parts of Lee’s Dog-computer, install chunks of an early Linux kernel booted from a floppy-drive as a bridge to the AIC’s biological operating system to their screenless box, (screenless because the AIC’s and Lee couldn’t figure out how to pack even part of the data they saw onto any screen). Then because they were so far away from the nearest photo-lab they bought a Polaroid camera and splurged on a flatbed scanner to post 32-bit avatars with 256 colors.
Lee was very happy to find many people liked his profile pic, the smiling blue-grey dog, got a lot of positive feedback. He was simultaneously disappointed to realize the people on the websites he hacked into thought he was a human who owned a dog of a breed called Irish Wolfhound. Folks assumed Lee used images of his pet dog for his profile photo instead of sharing his actual face.
“Makes sense to me.” U.G. the Cat-person quipped, finding Lee’s predicament funny. “When in Rome,… “Then quickly shifting her tone from joking to empathy to keep her Dog of a friend from whimpering. “Do you want me to post chat texts with you?”
Lee helped her to upload profile pics and join in some forum groups as herself, the Cat-person in an attempt to make him feel better. “Look the Cat and the Dog are friends!” Tho U.G. had her own agenda, to find out if any of the Cats on the internet were sentient, not just people personifying their domesticated cats.
True to his mission, Lee was most interested in the human glamourization of food. The Dog-people’s highest art form is food. Food finite and entangled in its season, the best foods are often perishable, there for a bite and then gone, transformed into part of us. Lee was very disappointed how the people of the most industrial nations seemed to rarely appreciate the connectedness of life and food, he theorized this was perhaps because human technology shared no sense of smell or taste? The internet in the early 90s didn’t have very many photos yet, and most of the conversations were entertainment related, so Lee read a lot of science articles.
There is no way to ever describe how horrified Lee was trying to comprehend the scope of cruelty and waste of life via the meat industry. The data on factory farming, slaughter-houses, and animals confined in their own waste was so bad for him emotionally that his AIC refused to go there.
On their hilltop homestead with no neighbors on two sides and wilderness for miles as a “backyard” U.G. and Lee raised “wild” food. Mostly succeeding in keeping the ducks, chickens, rabbits, and turkeys, out of the garden. Lee had the advantage of being able to tell the males and the age just by smell when hunting up some dinner. Except for the ducks that could fly and migrate, most of their food had nowhere to go except for woods patrolled by cougar and wolves, so the animals would return to their feeder troughs and the safety of the barn, especially in bad weather.
Lee’s focus gradually began to shift away from food towards how to save life on the smelly planet in case an expedition party of Dog-people arrived within the next thousand years.
The span of 1,000 years seemed realistic knowing the nosey-social Dog-people. Before he ever agreed to pilot their spacecraft all those centuries of stasis travel ago, Lee knew, unless the Dog-people found a way to drastically speed up their intergalactic communications there was correspondingly going to be no reply from home reaching Earth in his lifetime. It would be over four centuries from when he sent his first messages, warnings about human’s weapons and pollution and another rotation of the Dog-planet 400+years and a day for that first clove of garlic and his update about finding a safe first contact to reach the descendants of the scientists and engineers who sent him off on his mission into space. He often wondered if that ancient frost bitten clove of garlic or any of the other little snacks he sent would retain any subtle nuances of flavor. But then, he was here, alive after a much longer trip relative to the bigger size of his spacecraft. The smaller packets he sent home skipped faster and in bigger hops following the return path he had charted. As U.G. the Cat-person would say after skillfully skinning a freshly killed rabbit. “That’s that. No going back.”