Fred, In Search of Meaning
“Next up, sir,” squeaked the meager assistant to his both professional and altitudinal superior, “we have a presentation on Planet SP4898, known to some inhabitants as… He adjusted his double glasses and peered closer at the word on his holoscreen, “E… Ea…”
He finally attempted a pronunciation of Earth only for it to come out as “EAAAAAAAAAAAAA.”
“Humph,” grunted the Intergalactic Exploratory Commission Chief, “one of the stranger names I’ve heard. Send him in!”
An average-sized being for this planet padded into the cavernous room, looking intimidated. He met the gaze of the panel. Some flipped their heads 90 degrees –
(Flipping head 90 degrees = traditional sign of encouragement)
– some gave him a stern look, and still others were too busy writing notes.
“What’s your name?” asked the Chief.
The average-sized being proceeded to release a series of squeaks and breaths.
(This series of squeaks and breaths = a common name on this planet, much like Fred is on Earth)
“Ok Fred, what do you have for us?”
“Esteemed panel,” began Fred, “I’m here today to introduce you to a planet unlike any seen before in the 5,854 year –
(roughly 286,445 Earth years, adjusted)
– life of the Intergalactic Exploratory Commission.”
More than one trio of eyebrows was raised in response to such a claim.
“This planet,” continued Fred, “is dominated by a species of creature so intelligent, so wise, so unbelievably innovative, that I personally believe we will be studying them for hundreds of years” –
(thousands of Earth years, adjusted)
– “to come.”
“Mr. Fred,” opined an esteemed professor in Intragalactic Anthropology, “you realize the magnitude of the claim you’re making?”
“Yes, ma’am, I do. I do not make it lightly.”
“Well then, for Targarth’s sake, go on,” she returned.
(Targarth = a land where you eat sweets and drink wine after you die; this planet’s closest conception of heaven)
“The dominant species on this planet has managed to build a civilization dedicated to their continual flourishing. The vast majority have all that they could ever need, and it won’t be long until essentially everyone will be able to live a life of joy and peace.”
This sounded rather appealing to the panel, many of whom were searching for greater joy and peace in their own lives. In fact, the IEC’s stated mission was “the expansion of knowledge of how to bring true, unlimited joy and peace to all.” Fred’s choice of words had been careful and exact; now he had to prove they were warranted.
“Tell me, Mr. Fred,” the chief said skeptically, “how a civilization that hasn’t even reached their neighboring planets yet has managed to achieve that level of emotional and social success.”
Fred’s answer was short and simple: “Domestication.”
A rudimentary concept; the members of the panel glared questioningly at each other.
“Through domestication of other species, these creatures have created a near-utopia. You see, their domesticated servants give them everything they need. They provide them with food and warmth. They take them out into the world. They grant them bountiful leisure time.”
“So what? We’ve seen countless other civilizations who have domesticated others to do their bidding,” retorted the Professor. “It’s unsustainable. Either the domesticated creatures are too intelligent and eventually rise up against their oppressors, or they’re too dim-witted and are unable to provide for masters who become sufficiently advanced. We’ve seen it time and again.”
“This one is different,” said Fred with a twinkle in his eye, “because these domesticated beings, while highly intelligent, have no idea they’re domesticated. In fact, they believe it is the other way around, and that they have domesticated the dominant species!”
Looks of shock and disbelief permeated the panel.
“How can that possibly be the case?”
wondered a renowned thinker on inter-species dynamics.
The panel spent a while exchanging wondrous glances.
“The domesticated species, these humans,” wondered the renowned professor, “how are they so ignorant as to their situation?”
“Great question, one that I spent many years –
(hundreds of Earth-years, adjusted)
– contemplating,” said Fred. “It appears to be a convergence of a number of factors. First, it seems as though they simply don’t have the time to devote to thinking about it. The dogs have created this wonderful concept, busyness, or business, which is comprised of all the trivialities with which the humans fill their time. They spend the majority of their lives toiling away at business. Some of it has marginal use to the species, perhaps to keep them satisfied, thinking that they are ‘progressing,’ but most of which seems to be merely ways to pass the time.”
“But we have business, do we not?” said a prominent author and thinker. “How is *high-pitched squeals* any different from their business?”
“We always enjoy *high-pitched squeals*; it provides us with leisure, recreation, and self-fulfillment. Most of them do not enjoy business at all.”
“They don’t enjoy business? Then why would they go about doing it every day?” asked the Chief, incredulous.
“I can only guess that the dogs ingeniously created it as a way of keeping the humans placated and pre-occupied, so as to prevent them from waking up to the reality of their domestication.”
“So if the humans are so busy with their business, why do they bother taking care of the dogs?” asked the Chief.
“Herein lies the genius, something that I had the utmost difficulty realizing,” said Fred. “The dogs have somehow tricked the humans into wanting to take care of them. In fact, it’s something a large majority seem to have a strong desire to do. The humans seem to view it less as a chore and more as a privilege!”
Fred was met with amazed looks.
“In fact,” he continued. “there are even groups of humans dedicated to protecting and helping any dogs in need! There are humans so passionate about helping dogs that they dedicate their lives to the task!”
Multiple faces wore looks like they had just witnessed some masterful work of art. The professor even stood and began flapping his ears.
(Ear flapping = a practice similar to the human practice of clapping both hands together)
“But that’s not all. In recent years more and more humans seem to be catching onto the fact that business seems vacuous, almost a waste of time. The dogs, presumably scared of them realizing the reality of the situation, seem to have invented an entirely new concept, one that transcends business.”
The professor raised his left-most eyebrow in anticipation.
“It’s something that I fear I am nowhere near understanding,” continued Fred. “They call it meaning. The closest approximation I could figure out was *high-pitched yells and hollers, then a gurgling sound*.”
(Rough translation: having sex then eating a big meal.)
Puzzled looks met his gaze.
“As I said, it’s a concept that I don’t understand, and I fear it may be beyond our capacity to even understand it at all. But suffice it to say, many humans are forgetting about business and seeking out this meaning. While here on our planet, one can find meaning practically anytime, for humans it is a lifelong search, one at which many are doomed to fail.”
No one knew what to say.
“However, these dogs don’t seem to share this definition of meaning; they subscribe to something much like our own, and have designed a world in which they have it in spades.”
A round of ear-flapping filled Fred’s heart with joy.
“Mister Fred,” began the Chief, “I think I speak for the whole panel when I say that a civilization this remarkable finds its way to us only rarely, and we must take careful measures to learn as much as we can from it. I trust that initial contact with these dogs went smoothly?”
“Unfortunately,” said Fred nervously, “I was unable to establish any sort of contact with the dogs, despite repeated attempts.”
“And you tried the Glaxbana Protocol?”
(Glaxbana Protocol: a process through which two beings from entirely different civilizations can communicate through a shared neural connection)
“Of course. I located a cadre of dogs that I presumed to be leaders of the species having a meeting in a place they call *loud barking noises* and the humans call the ‘dog park.’ I established connection with the dog in power, but all I received were simple representations of round yellow spheres covered in a felt material.”
“Hmm,” pondered the professor, “perhaps they’re highly secretive and have set up some form of advanced neural security barrier.”
“Perhaps. Nothing I tried managed to get though. And the same was true of all the other dogs present at this meeting. Their security was far beyond any devices we possess.”
“That’s a shame,” lamented the Chief, with a twisting of his tongues.
(Twisting of the three tongues: similar to a human sigh)
“However, this case is far too intriguing to leave there,” continued the Chief. “Fred, you’ve done honorable work, and I’d like to set up a special commission dedicated to studying and communicating with these remarkable creatures. You’re of course welcome to work on that, if you’d please. However, in the meantime, you’ve earned yourself a well-deserved year long –
(10 human years, adjusted)
– break in which you can rest, relax, and enjoy your time.”
Fred’s eyes lit up.
“It’s clear to me,” continued the Chief, “that you have only scratched the surface of the vast intelligence behind this dog civilization, and the complex, enviable, and, in some ways, tragic relationship they have with their domesticated humans. Learning more about this unique situation can only serve to bolster us in our pursuit of ever-greater joy, peace, and, as the humans might put it, meaning.”
“Thank you, sir,” said Fred, beaming.
“Now go enjoy yourself!” said the professor.
Fred felt lighter than air as he walked out of the hall, thinking only of the meaning he was going to find when he got home to his girlfriend.
“Momo! Come here!”
A second later, a sleek Australian Shepherd came bounding out of the woods, his groomed fur covered in specks of dirt and mud.
“You got all muddy! Bad boy!” she said as she nuzzled her face against his and rubbed his back, acting as if he weren’t a bad boy at all but were, in fact, a good boy. Maurice’s tail wagged as he reveled in the love.
She opened the door and let him inside. “Dinner time!”
He ran up to his bowl, tail still wagging. She poured food into his bowl, then added a few strips of steak to top it all off.
“You’re having a little of my dinner!”
Maurice tore into it. She was about to take a bite of her own when her phone buzzed. She looked at it, swiped on the screen, and began typing angrily. Meanwhile, Maurice was devoting his whole attention to his delicious dinner, truly enjoying it in a way she hadn’t enjoyed a dinner in years.
Once finished, he ambled over to her and rubbed against her leg, but she was too absorbed by her business to realize. So, he lazily strode over to his plushy bed, picking up a bone on the way, and plopped down, perfectly happy and content to be sitting on the soft fabric, gnawing the day away.
Jimmy Banta is a writer who loves all things sci-fi. He’s had work published in October Hill Literary Magazine. You can find more of his work at jimmybanta.com.
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