Mount Royal Cemetery, Montreal, Quebec, Canada, Planet Earth, 2039 AD
The Indigo Bunting twitched when the sesame seed-sized nano-drone struck it just above the leg. The bird ruffled its feathers then continued to preen in a low bush.
“Wait, hang on…and the signal’s good, got it! And it’s a fresh lifer-tag, Jonas, no other birders have tagged it yet.”
“Well done Mairin, your L-T tally for the day must be getting up there, huh? You’re at what now?”
The retired accountant raised a coy eyebrow at her new birding companion’s prying.
“Oh, not sure. Hey, why didn’t you tag it? Your binoculars tracked the bird first, I mean—”
Mairin stopped mid-sentence when she got a proper look at the binoculars that hung from Jonas’s neck.
“Jonas, wait. You’re still using The Vortex K2Y binoculars? Without hyperfocus?
“That’s right, they just use the autofocus. And I only got that as an add-on app. My Shazam song-scanner is the original build too, ha ha. How’s that for old-fashioned?”
“Oh wow. So those don’t have a foliage scrubber either? Or even heads-up-display implant-lenses?”
“Hmph, as if I’d use a foliage scrubber. I like a little challenge, you know. These do have the Leica FLIR lenses on them though, the original ones. That’s it. I can deal with just seeing a bird’s silhouette through the foliage.”
“Geez, so no nano-drone gun or F-S. Huh. But what kind of targeting reticle do you use on those? Did they even do a retro-build for those?”
“What? How the heck do you get onto the bird without a targeting reticle?”
The professorly old man jabbed his index and middle fingers towards his eyes.
“Just with these bad boys.”
Mairin snapped her head back in laughter.
“Oh Jonas, you’re a piece of work. A real dinosaur. You’d never — oop, hang on, hang on.”
Mairin touched the heads-up-display toggle on her right temple and focused on several green blobs that were moving through the treetops on the opposite side of a small hill.
“The geosync drone-net picked up a mixed icterid flock heading towards us. Will be here in 30 seconds. Two…three Rusty blackbirds, Jonas! Incredible, I haven’t seen one for years. Get them on your tracker, quick, they’re almost gone.”
Jonas shook his head.
“But Mairin, do you not think it’s…it’s…unsporting? Where’s the challenge in standing here and logging birds we would normally have never seen?”
Mairin frowned and scrolled through the data coming in by rubbing her finger lightly down her temple.
“But Jonas, this is a bird-a-thon we’re in here, it’s all about numbers, and when — hmm, you may by right this time. All three Rustys have been tagged already. And by that nincompoop Jesse. I’m not a big fan of his, he’s always poaching my lifer-tags, trying to scramble them.”
Jonas had his binoculars up. He was not listening to Mairin. He grabbed her arm and hissed: “Wait! Shhhhh. What the hell is going on here?”
“Whoa,” Mairin whispered, hunching down behind her binoculars, “…what is that guy doing?”
The object of consternation was a middle-aged man down the hill. He had binoculars around his neck, but they were unlike anything the pair had seen. His optics were simply two black metal tubes connected in the middle, with no visible targeting reticles, nano-drone-guns, touchscreens, or other form of birding up-tech. He was looking down, flipping the pages of a field guide.
“Are those just…straight-up binoculars…” Mairin said, emphasizing the last word with an incredulous lilt, “…and he’s using a book?”
Jonas held up a shush hand. “Wait wait, what’s he doing now?”
As the two birders watched, the man pulled a small notebook from his pocket and wrote in it.
“I don’t believe this. A pencil? Where do you even get one of those?”
“Shhh, don’t let him see us.”
“Yeah, I’m thinking he must be a pretty creepy guy to be out here doing…that.”
When the man walked out of view, Jonas and Mairin shared a relieved laugh.
Mairin pointed to the FLIR screen on her binoculars and scoffed.
“Look at this. He missed three House Wrens, a Downy Woodpecker, and a Blue-headed Vireo in those little woods there. And then there was the Rough-legged Hawk above us there at 1,440 feet, but he wouldn’t have seen that, as that’d be beyond visual range for him.”
“Yeah, I’ll admit, even for a guy that enjoys the older stuff—“ Jonas patted his binoculars, “…that was weird.”
Jonas and Mairin laughed again and walked back towards their waiting Uber elecdrone pods.
A gentle chime sounded inside both of their heads at the same time.
“Good timing, looks like…well, looks like our time is up. It’s been fun. OK, I’ll see you next week. Same time?”
“Next week, he says. You’re funny. I’ll see you when they decide it’s time for our next daydream, friend.”
Mairin stepped into her elecdrone pod. She leaned back and touched a small illuminated pad and vanished, along with her entire world and everyone in it.
3039 AD, just outside the Alpha Centauri solar system, three light years from where the Milky Way System used to be
A battered grey oval carved through the blackness of space — Amazon Inc. Cryo-probe 44-1, with 1,230 brainstems on board.
The bio-gel orb that encased the brainstem that had been Mairin pulsed a happy green. Nearby, the orb around the brainstem that had been Jonas also lit up briefly, before fading into dormant red mode once more. The simnarios had been pleasant ones. It was critical to stimulate the brainstems periodically with simnarios, so the baseline personalities did not atrophy.
Cryo-probe 44-1 had been in a loose drift-orbit at the edge of Alpha Centauri for almost 300 Earth-years. It was deposited there in the hopes that a passing shuttle would pick up the brainstems and ferry them to one of the Amazon Inc. lifeboat outposts, where the last flotsam of the human race was said to be clinging on.
Matt Poll has spent most of the past decade living in South Korea, and has written a memoir about the shenanigans involved with being a foreign birdwatcher there, as well as a thriller/fantasy novel set on Korea’s DMZ. He has also started writing a series of bizarre stories about birding.