It was still dark outside, but Molly could feel the sunrise was but a few degrees of the planet's rotation away. The birds were up and singing away, trying to get as much business done before the day turned into a scorcher. She turned on the overhead lights in her workshop and sat down to test her special sunglasses. She taped a tiny controller to a willow twig and put the twig in her mouf pretending to chew on it. She looked around the room, and every time she focused on something, she pressed the sensor tied to the twig, and a pair of red markers converged on that spot. As she tested the controller, something whirred and clicked in a foam cooler sitting on the floor beside her. After a few minutes, she filled the cooler with ice, hoping to dampen the noises coming out of it.
Molly turned down the lights, sat in her chair, and took a sip of her morning tea. She resumed the exercise with her shades and the willow twig. The noise from the cooler subsided, but now you could hear the ice shifting about. Outside, the sky was getting lighter, and soon, Pancake would be up and out in the field, pulling weeds in the tomato patch.
After a while, Molly fell asleep in her chair, the willow twig slipped out of her mouf, and she didn't hear Pancake leave for work on their little farm. They were enjoying this forced vacation from flying. The Space Directorate temporarily grounded all the bunstronauts that were involved in the Behemoth incident. Thus, Molly and Pancake were making the best of it, and it tasted good. Tonight would bring another feast of homegrown fruit and veg.
Molly woke up from her nap a little agitated. She didn't mean to oversleep like that. Molly adjusted her shades, put that willow twig back in her mouf, and with both paws grabbed the handle of the cooler. Moving backward, she started pulling it outside onto the porch. The thing was heavy, very heavy, and Molly worried for a second that the wheels of the cooler would come off. But, they didn't, and she inched the cooler all the way to the end of the porch and set it next to her Adirondack chair. The day was a scorcher indeed, hot and sticky with humidity; it was birthing pop-up thunderstorms all over the sky.
Pancake heard the rumble on the porch and telescoped. There was Molly struggling with the cooler for some reason, looking like she was pulling a block of lead. Pancake thought, "Well, at least she's up," and disappeared behind the greens, pulling weeds, mowing the better ones, and inspecting the drip irrigation lines. Straight ahead, between her and Molly, a red cardinal landed on a tomato stake and kept looking at Pancake. She heard the flutter of his wings before she saw him and was glad the little guy showed up. He always did, rain or shine, he was there, the perfect companion to Pancake's garden toils meditation.
Molly was glad to be done pulling that heavy cooler. She opened its lid and took out her chamomile lemonade. The glass jar was cold, and moisture began condensing on it right away. For a split second, she glanced at the ice in the cooler sparkling with refracted lights of red and green and blue. All seemed to be in working order. She closed the lid, sat in the chair, and stretched out her legs. She moved about the willow twig in her mouf and felt for the trigger buttons.
Molly thought to herself, "Any second now." As if prompted, the red cardinal landed on one of the tomato stakes, straight ahead of her. Molly didn't move; she focused on the chirping bird. It kept moving; almost dancing restlessly on the tip of the stake. Molly's heart rate spiked, and she tried to take a deep, slow breath.
She watched as the two red dots, displayed on the insides of her shades, converged on the head of the Cardinal and followed the motion of the little guy. Molly bit down on the willow twig.
Pancake was looking around the roots of the tomato plant and found a small dandelion. She flicked off the little red lady bug from one of its leaves and noticed the juicy green.
She didn't understand the blood-curdling hiss that burned a hole in the sky over her head. She didn't know what that faint, dull thud meant or the sharp crack that followed. Pancake thumped hard as the blast of singing air threw her to the ground. She telescoped to see what happened and watched as a few red feathers gently floated down where the Cardinal used to be. He was gone, and something was thrashing feebly in the greens. She heard water pouring out onto the ground somewhere behind her and looked back.Water was squirting out of the rain barrel through a small hole.
Molly sprinted toward Pancake, stopped by the tomato plant, and looked for something frantically. Pancake stood frozen in place, dumbfounded and shaken, and watched Molly stand up and growl triumphantly, with the thrashing Cardinal in her raised paw. Molly hopped over to the rain barrel and slammed the Cardinal against it.
Horrified, Pancake watched as Molly tore the bird apart and held its head in one paw and the rest of its body in the other. She used the head to plug the hole in the rain barrel and, then, immediately turned and hopped toward the shack as fast as she could. Furious, Pancake followed her as fast as her shaking hind legs allowed. Molly disappeared behind the door of her workshop. Pancake hopped onto the deck of the shack and stared at what was left of the cooler. One whole side of it, the one facing toward the field and where the Cardinal used to be, was blasted out, and water from the melting ice was spilling onto the deck. A strange contraption inside was blinking with a few tiny red, green, and blue lights.
Pancake went inside the shack. There was Molly with a headset on, talking to somebun, oblivious to the whole world. She finally paused when she noticed the smell of singed fur. When she turned her head to look around for the source of the odor, she came face to face with the infuriated Pancake. Startled, Molly thumped and leaned back.
They stood in silence, interrupted only by the occasional thrashing of the headless cardinal on the table. Pancake looked at the little, mangled body and the tiny wires coming out of where the cardinal's head used to be. There were wires and metal parts coming out of where one of its wings used to be. Pancake blinked, and her mouf dropped.
"Hold on, Freddie; I'm in big trouble. " said Molly and her headset went quiet.
Sounding resigned, Molly whispered, "Our little friend here is a robot; they've been keeping a watch over us all this time." After another long silence, she continued, "Freddie was talking me through connecting the carcass to a breadboard. We're trying to figure out who sent it out here. Freddie wants to take control of this little drone and to communicate through it. I have a nice middle cuticle in ASCII text to send back to them as a thank-you."
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