Without warning, the box explodes. Birds pour out, flood the room, then settle. I prod one; it whirs, re-settles. Not birds at all, but yellow, fist-sized drones.
Kathy dashes in. “What’s going on, grandpa?” Her eyes light up. “Hey, Dronedogs!” A latecomer rises from the box and lands on her head.
My ten-year-old granddaughter rolls her eyes. “Flying sheepdogs. Do you live under a rock?”
To her I am Methuselah.
“Are they for Fuggles and Dot?” she asks. The mists clear.
Responding to a call for Amazon reviewers, I flexed the truth: my urban back garden became a hobby farm. My two geriatric ewes were a flock. A review of flying sheepdogs is not going to be simple.
Sifting through the remnants of the box, I discover partly shredded instructions: CAUTION – DRONEDOGS imprint.
“What’s imprinting, Kathy?”
She sighs theatrically. “Whoever they see first becomes boss” she says, as if instructing a six-year-old. “The last Dronedog that appeared will follow my orders. The rest are yours.”
I try to piece together the instructions, but they are in Chinese.
“Let’s just give them a try” she suggests, so we move to the garden.
“Dronedogs,” I say carefully, “come here, please.”
“For heaven’s sake grandpa, they aren’t royalty. Just order them.”
The withering look hurts; I switch to prison officer mode. “Dronedogs. Get the damned sheep. Now.”
Perfect. They flood out, circle around to get their bearings, then head for the sheep. Within moments, Fuggles and Dot huddle beside us, bemused and nervous.
“How do they know what to do? Where’s their leader?”
“They chat” says Kathy, whose Dronedog is performing acrobatics over her head.
Dronedogs have chats? I don’t like the sound of this.
I order my Dronedogs to check out the neighbourhood. Relishing the opportunity they flood away, leaving my garden Dronedog-less. Without them, a review would be impossible, so I am relieved when, twenty minutes later, they sweep back like a flock of starlings. Their flight is mesmerising, but I wonder whether I will be able to control them.
People say you cannot herd cats, but that’s nonsense. Before I leave for the shops, I tell the Dronedogs to take some down time. (Stupid, I know. I am feeling the pressure.) When I return, they have corralled a hissing crowd of tabbies in the dahlias. Herding Fuggles and Dot was trivial; the Dronedogs appreciate a proper challenge.
I cannot allow the flock to wander, hoovering up cats, so I impose myself. “Dronedogs,” I command, “Stay in the garden”. Kathy says they will obey me, but I have been imprecise: they disappear over the horizon. Apparently, I need to define where my garden ends.
After a night on the town, the flock returns, enlarged. This is intimidating: I cannot control my own flock, let alone one boosted by red Dronedog reinforcements.
My Chinese neighbour arrives to piece together the shredded instructions. Apparently, it is possible to make a virtual fence to keep Dronedogs from escaping. We create a fence around the garden, but the red newcomers are not fooled. They create a virtual hole in the virtual fence, my yellow Dronedogs flood through the gap and are gone once again.
I cannot handle this. As the Dronedogs return after another night away, I pack them in a fresh box, binding it with layers of reinforced tape. I open my PC to begin my Amazon review, focusing on the problems facing tech-challenged senior citizens.
My heart skips a beat. I notice new directories on my PC: “Dronedog_clips_MON”, “Dronedog_clips_TUES” and more. I didn’t create these, but I can guess who did.
The directories bulge with videos. There is the inside view of a disintegrating box, several of ancient sheep being driven around my garden, of cats being chased across flower beds, and of roads and backyards in the neighbourhood.
Then I find some that really spook me: detailed shots of my neighbors sunbathing naked. A stranger would think that I live in a nudist colony. The Dronedogs may just have recorded whatever they flew over, but it would be madness to keep such videos on my PC. I start to delete them.
Immediately, the Dronedogs begin to buzz angrily in their box. Is it possible they are talking to my PC as well as to each other? Can rotors slice through cardboard? Might they get out and attack? I work fast.
My Facebook pages are awash with the nude neighbour videos. They will go ballistic. Frantically, I delete more files, but I have hardly started when I hear pounding on the door.
My Chinese neighbour is at the head of an angry mob. As I rush to escape out of the back, they force their way in, discover the box of Dronedogs and set about destroying them.
I shelter in the garden, waiting for the frenzy of destruction to play out. I can only hope that Amazon’s refund policy on destroyed Dronedogs is generous.