The Smile of Paeony 3rdfield

Les Sklaroff

Acacia albida owners - BEWARE.

The first one to be filmed (to use the archaic term) was spotted at dawn by a roving reconnaissance pod over Ratman’s Fork, a desolate spot where the rough edge of urban sprawl gave way to the broken shells of long-abandoned warehouses. The route of the old motorway was still just detectable under the accretion of brambles, weeds, hardy grasses and the detritus of ancient wreckage. The images were automatically filed at Central, but left unprocessed for some sixty days. Ratman’s Fork was not listed among priority scanning zones.

Weeks passed before another one was detected, this time in the early afternoon, amid the affluent parkland on the outskirts of Snoak City, where Paeony 3rdfield, jauntily buoyant after a late light breakfast of joyflakes, was walking Topaz and Chartreuse, her stylishly expensive modifidos. Along with all other nearby electronic devices, they abruptly deactivated and, despite Paeony's optimistic pleading, remained stubbornly inert. She tried to summon the emergency service, then her friends, and finally her parents, but her e-screen stayed blank.

Reports of fused circuitry began filtering through to Central, where a hologrid displayed the telltale 600-metre radius of malfunction, its source apparently lodged in the crown of an Acacia albida, imported generations ago from Malawi. A dozen-strong team of Detechs arrived in protective gear, armed with powerful spring-loaded tranquilliser dartguns. They ignored the forlorn Paeony and her unmoving pets, and with swift precision positioned themselves strategically around the tree. Unfortunately they were too late; their target had moved on.

At Central, over the next few months, analysts sifted through a spate of reported sightings and dead-zone instances, for the most part in thinly populated areas. Allowing for nerdy hoaxes and sophisticated criminal sabotage, there was an undeniable core of of genuine cases, including the Ratman’s Fork images, which though belatedly discovered, turned out to be invaluable. These showed a fast-moving quadruped about the same size as a domestic cat, and at first glance not dissimilar in features, apart from markedly recessed eyes, and a kind of mesh above its lipless mouth. Closer scrutiny revealed it to be acaudate, covered not with fur, but with chitinous or quasi-metallic scales, and having two pairs of flexible segmented digits. Combined with less distinct images from other sources it was also seen to possess retractable wings.

No specimen is known to have been caught, and the creature’s origin is still speculative, as are its numbers, its social organisation, its ability to communicate, and its reason for being here. It has no niche in any known terrestrial ecosystem. If bioengineered, it is well in advance of our current technology. The characteristic damage caused to electrically-powered systems, while inconvenient, is now believed to be unintentional, and its preference for deserted areas may imply its awareness of and attempts to minimise these effects.

Rumours still abound, some inevitably of the child-frightening variety. Is it controlled from elsewhere? Is it a scout, an emissary, a refugee, an accidental visitor? Is there a vast undiscovered hive, a lurking mothership, a secret rift in the space-time continuum? We simply do not know. It will be interesting to find out, as no doubt we will in due course. Meanwhile at Central they are still puzzling about the Acacia albida event, and continuing to search for meaningful patterns in the other confirmed appearances. On the positive side, at least Paeony 3rdfield can smile again. She has been seen flaunting a sumptuous pair of top-of the-range operatic paraparrots, following the successful insurance claim on her defunct modifidos.

© L J Sklaroff 2012 All Rights Reserved

Date and time of last update 18:25 Wed 22 Aug 2012
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