“Aw, Keiki, if I could find the fun button in your brain, I’d switch it to permanent on. You’re always working. You should’ve come hiking with me. Fresh air would do you good.” Shelly tisked then smiled. “Not that there’s anything wrong with loving your work, but you have an old man psyche trapped in a young woman’s body.”
“Thanks, Shelly, but no.” Keiki manipulated her latest drone to perform the simple but intricate task of picking a flower. The outing did sound nice, but Shelly needed private time to mourn the loss of her sister.
“The next time you fall asleep working, I’m going to town with my entire set of permanent markers.” Shelly held her hand out to accept the offered blossom pinched from its low-growing stem and giggled. “You’d look good with cat whiskers and exotic pink eyes.”
“Test that theory, and I’ll replace your scented shampoo with baby oil.” The threat of laying waste to makeup or hair products usually ended any debate. “I’m about out of battery life. Can you bring it in?”
“Sure. Turn off the motors.”
Damn. The soft whirr from the small rotors altered in pitch as they shut down one by one.
Malevolent shadows crawled along the edges of the surrounding woods, receding with the rising sun. Even from miles away, Keiki’s skin crawled.
“I hear something.” Shelly rested a palm beside her woodland flower plot to lean forward.
Through remote viewing, Keiki watched her doppelganger freeze then tilt her head to the side, wrinkles of concern marring her forehead.
“What?” Thanks to the hilly terrain, two-way communication crackled off and on.
“Huh, must be a rabbit or squirrel. Anyway, as I was saying. Become a spinster with hundreds of drones instead of cats. I’ll keep you in contact with the outside world.” Again, Shelly paused and tilted her head as if listening to something off in the distance.
“Hey, why don’t you come back now and we’ll have breakfast?”
“Yeah, okay. I’m coming. Can you extend the range on this thing’s transmission ability? The video feed isn’t so great.” Lips nibbled between her teeth marked Shelly’s worry when she leaned forward to whisper.
“I’m working on it. What’s wrong?
“I’m kinda spooked. Something doesn’t feel right.” Her fingers’ wobble shook the drone’s body. It listed sideways with a squeak.
“I’m fine. It’s just my clumsiness in challenging gravity… Oh, about the frat party tonight, wanna go?”
The viewing angle changed again as Shelly stood.
“No. And before you start, I do have fun. I just don’t have time to party with you and Gabby. Some people stay focused on their future,” Keiki grumbled as she monitored her prototype’s efficiency on her laptop and sipped a caramel latte.
A distinctive metallic snap coincided with her device’s struggle to function.
“Oops. Sorry, Keeks. An arm broke off above your tracker thingy. I’ll stick it in my pocket, and you can glue it back on, or whatever. Do we still have audio and visual feed?”
“Yeah, just bring the rest of it back in one piece, okay?” Keiki groaned, predicting the hour it would take to fix. “Careful. That thing is one of two prototypes, but that one gets the best reception.” Keiki set her coffee down, the cup tilting when settling on her friend’s access card. “Oops, your work ID now has a brown ring on it. You really should be more careful with it.”
“How rude of me to leave it where you’d drink your coffee.”
“That’s why we get along so well. We think alike. I’ll stick it on my dresser. It’ll be safer there.”
“If you’d stop losing yours, you wouldn’t have to borrow mine… shit. Something is coming.” Fear coiled through Shelly’s voice. “Sounded like a branch snapping down the trail. Something big and heavy.”
“Is it a black bear? You know what to do.”
A silent moment passed.
On screen, the image shook.
“Uh… who are you? What do you want?” Shelly’s wrist rotated, tilting the angle of the drone’s camera to the trampled weeds.
Through the odd angle, booted feet shuffled backward to leave two furrowed tracks. No one had ever intruded on her friend’s private sanctuary.
“I’m a messenger, here to show your boss what happens when he refuses to work with us. We tried being nice. Now we’ll do things my way.”