Bath thought back to the last time he assumed the form of a human. He couldn’t remember how long ago that had been, but it was a time when humans were still beholden to angry gods. Their years revolved around ceremonies and sacrifice. Bath, in curiosity, had assumed the form of a human to explore their ways.
He didn’t hold a grudge for what had happened soon after his appearance. The humans were primitive and superstitious, after all. They had shrieked at him in fear and rage.
After studying the humans for the past year or two, he realized that he had made a few mistakes back in the day, namely integrating parts of other animals into his appearance for the sake of efficiency. Humans didn’t take well to differences, such as reflective retinas or claws. No other animals had ever cared about his little inconsistencies, so long as his scent, general appearance and behavior matched their own.
Had he not been in the form of a beetle, Bath would have laughed. Had he really been so clueless of the humans and their peculiarities? He grinned, which as a beetle meant rubbing his wings together. This time, he was going to do the human act correctly.
He looked up human adoption and found that most babies were abandoned at police stations. From there they would be sent to various adoption agencies.
Bath left the internet cafe and found a few items needed to complete his appearance as an abandoned baby. He procured a blanket from a small shop on the street, carrying it away in the beak of a seagull. Then he found a piece of paper blowing about in the wind and found a pen that had been dropped on a sidewalk. He wrote his name in phonetic English—Bath— on the sheet of paper. He rolled the sheet of paper and cloth into a bundle which he carried in his squirrel paws as dark descended on the city.
He found a police station and quickly morphed into the form of a human infant. He swaddled himself in a blanket and tucked the note into the cloth. He then waited outside the police station’s door.
Bath didn’t anticipate the wait being as long as it was. He waited a full two hours before the police officers changed shifts and opened the door.
“Ron!” one of them shouted. Bath had his eyes closed in his best imitation of an infant. “There’s a little guy in front of the door! How did you miss him?”
The other man, probably Ron, replied as though shocked: “What!? There’s a baby?” Bath heard the man’s quick approach. “He didn’t cry at all. Is he sick?”
Oh, Bath thought, internally cringing. Babies cried, didn’t they? He began to sniffle a bit. As one of the men reached to pick him up, he began to cry. He hoped that would be realistic enough.
“Shh,” the man who was not Ron hushed as he cradled Bath’s infantile form. "Don’t worry little guy."
“Bill, does he have a name?” Ron asked.
“I don’t—” Bath nudged the little paper out of his swaddling with a meaty fist. Bath heard Ron bend down to pick up the little sheet of paper.
“It says Bath,” he said warily. “Is that his name, y’think?”
“Well, it’s something to call him,” Bill replied. “Bath, huh? Weird name.”
“Weird kid,” Bill guffawed. “I can’t believe that he didn’t cry to get our attention.”
Bath was brought inside and after a time was given a bottle with a warm, milky substance. He grimaced while he forced the liquid down, but nobody around him seemed to make anything of his expression.
He heard the humans make phone calls revolving around himself and adoption and whatnot. In the end, a car came and picked him up. A woman brought him into the car and sat with him in the back seat while her partner, another woman, drove off. They brought him to a building where other little human infants lay in tiny beds. Many of them were crying.
Bath realized very quickly that babies were usually either sleeping, eating, or defecating. He had never impersonated an infant before—human or otherwise—though he had been around them in the past. Having never raised an infant, he just assumed that they did more than those three main functions, but apparently not.
Hmm. Bath felt an inkling of frustration, though quashed it as he remembered his purpose. Integrate with the humans. Understand their knowledge and capabilities. Prevent the premature onset of the next extinction.
Bath had always been terrible at judging the passage of time. Being stuck in a windowless room without any kind of schedule predictably worsened his temporal awareness. He spent much of his time thinking about what a human couple would be like and wondering about how to prevent Global Warming.
One day, he heard a couple of humans come his way, accompanied by one of the woman caretakers at the adoption facility.
“Is this him?” a male voice inquired.
Bath made a pair of tiny, insect-like eyes appear on his hand where nobody would see. He watched the humans as they approached. A man and a woman, both of them with pale skin and brown hair, were being led over by the caretaker Bath recognized as Andrea. The couple appeared to be young, but Bath was admittedly terrible at guessing human ages. Their ages could have been anything from twenty-five to forty.
“He’s sleeping?” the woman asked. Was he supposed to be asleep now?
“Probably not,” Andrea replied tentatively. “He’s just quiet.”
“Is he healthy?” the woman asked, worry creeping into her voice.
Bath realized this was his cue to cry.
“Shh,” the man said. “That’s more like it,” he grinned. Bath didn’t understand why humans wanted babies to cry; he personally found the sound insufferable and had more than once disabled his hearing while in the adoption complex.
“Awe, he’s so cute,” the woman cooed, coming close. Bath quickly removed the eyes from his hand as she reached for his tiny fingers.
“Mr. and Mrs. McLane, he’s perfectly healthy, so far as we can tell. He’s very young, after all, so it’s difficult to do mental diagnostics on him. But his brain shows no indications of abnormal stunting or retardation.”
Bath heard both parents step closer to him yet again.
“Can we hold him?” the man asked.
“Sure; just remember how we instructed you to hold him,” Andrea replied.
The couple took turns holding him. They talked a bit more with Andrea and each other before leaving the adoption agency.
The day finally arrived when the couple took him away from the adoption place and brought him to their home. Like before, Bath planted a pair of eyes on his hand, which he moved around as they drove. He realized that the pair had a house in what humans called suburbs, and that the house was quite nice.
Their garage door lifted up and the man parked their car next to another already in the garage. When the car stopped, the two quickly disembarked, liberated Bath from his car seat harness and carried him into the house, closing the garage door behind them with a little device that clicked.
They fawned over Bath for a good while before settling in and making themselves a meal. While it was sizzling on the stove, the McLanes came over to Bath—whom they had put in a little basket-chair obviously constructed for the purpose of holding infants—and watched him with worried eyes.
“He’s so quiet,” Mr. McLane said.
Bath began to cry.
Mrs. McLane put a finger to her chin. “He’s too loud,” she stated.
Bath’s cry became a whimper. He wasn’t sure how babies were supposed to act around their parents, but assumed obedience was likely a route that ensured survival.
“That’s the strangest thing I've ever seen,” Mrs. McLane said. “It’s as though he can understand us.” Bath saw her coming in closer.
“Maybe he’s older than the agency thinks,” Mr. Mclane suggested. “And he can understand basic human speech.”
Mrs. McLane scoffed. “Honey, does he look older than two months to you?”
Mr. McLane paused. “No.”
“Then that’s that.”
Bath now realized his error. Human infants clearly didn’t obey their parents until much later. He would need to be more cautious in the future, so that they would assume his past behavior a fluke.
The couple tried to test him for the next few minutes, but Bath had disabled his hearing so he wouldn’t slip and obey their words. After a while, he saw the couple shrug and go to eat their dinner, which they had only just taken off the stove. Bath saw the two smile as each other warmly as they ate, periodically laughing. Bath found his infant mouth turn up in a matching smile. Interesting.
Later, Bath re-enabled his hearing and decided to eavesdrop.
“...Sure you want to keep his name?” Mr. McLane said.
Mrs. McLane raised an eyebrow. “If that’s the name his mother gave him, I wouldn’t feel right changing it.”
“She must have had a reason,” Mrs. McLane stated, expression uncompromising.
Mr. McLane eventually gave in, much to Bath’s relief.
- The Timeless
Bio: I am a 4th year student in college on the U.S.'s East Coast (though originally from Chicago). I'm a biomedical engineering major, and while science/engineering is great, my true loves are reading and writing (I'm also a total computer science nerd who should probably start a new church called COL, or Church of Linux). Feel free to PM me in English, my native language; Chinese, or French (which are not my native languages, but I'm comfortable with them after years of study). Things I love that you can probably reference in comments/PMs: wuxia/xianxia novels, anime, manga, popular MMOs, popular console/PC video games, popular English-language tv shows, kdramas, fantasy/science fiction novels, and classic rock. I'm currently doing neural network and brain imaging research which is pretty cool; you might see this come into my writing. Fun fact is that I wrote chapters 1 through 101 of Apex Predator, my main webfiction, in a text editor (Sublime).