(An Odyssey Journal)
Marco yawned, affixed his ID badge to his labcoat, raised a fist and knocked on the convincingly realistic plastic polymer that made up the bark of a towering giant sequoia.
“Shave-and-a-haircut, two-bits,” he mumbled in monotone. He had to say it–could never remember the damn secret knock otherwise. Not for researcher’s pay, anyhow.
A peephole concealed in a knot squeaked open, and a moment later a door in the tree swung inward, revealing a fat man in a labcoat and badge identical to Marco’s own, only with a much rounder person depicted in the snapshot.
“How are the little bastards this morning?”
“Full of chatter and verve,” deadpanned the fat man. “Can I go home now?”
“Pleasant dreams,” said Marco, as his counterpart trudged off over the soft astroturf needles in the direction of the parking lot. Marco went into the tree, shut the door, and had a seat at the surveillance console. On the Canopy Cam, five adorable little sequoia tree-rats lay curled up in their nest, spooning, fast asleep. He noted their number, position, and apparent health condition in the log. One of them yawned and rolled over. He made a face, erased something, and wrote something else.
“Stupid endangered species, last mating pair of its kind.”
On the Branch Cam, Mamma tree-rat fluffed her bushy tail and cleaned her whiskers.
“Stupid loggers, hacking down perfectly good natural habitats.”
He turned a crank, pushed several buttons, and opened up the bag of donuts he’d brought with him. He selected a Raspberry Jelly. Motors whirred softly. In another plastic sequoia somewhere a speaker clicked on, spewing tinny birdcalls into the crisp morning air. A red fox with the words “Synthetic Predator Inc” inscribed on its titanium ass appeared from its foam-rubber underground lair on the Lair Cam, and prowled among the massive root systems, peering upward.
“Stupid UC Berkeley, no funding for brilliant grad students, making us babysit rats on a Sunday morning in June to earn a buck!”
Marco stuffed the donut whole into his face, and with powdery fingers flicked a switch. Several hundred feet up a feeding tube ejected a synthetic pinecone stuffed full of fertility-enhancing nutrients and erection-prolonging pharmaceuticals into free-fall. Mamma leapt and spread her membranous wings and intercepted the pinecone in midflight. She lighted on another tree, scuttled up the trunk and sailed back over to land at the edge of her nest. The babies woke with a sudden chorus of cheeping. The branch cam’s instruments pumped it down to the surveillance console in gloriously rendered five-channel digital surround.
“Aaaaarg!” wailed Marco, spitting bits of donut everywhere.
Pappa Flying Squirrel stretched and shook his bushy tail and jumped from the tippy top of a towering sequoia. He wooshed through the air like a hang-glider, membranous wings billowing. Pine-scented air rushed past. The rays of sunrise flashed all around him, the colors of gold and cream and sparkling wine. Adrenaline thundered through his veins.
“I feel like a squirrel-ling again!” he chittered. “The wood is my playground!”
He swooped down through broad branches spread like God’s hands, and landed beside his lovely wife. Her fur gleamed in the morning, burnished and groomed to a shimmering russet. Her yellow teeth shone strong and sharp as she chewed a tasty pinecone, and spat it back up in organic smoothie form for their five cheering children in.
When the feast was done, Papa placed a paw on Mamma’s rump. “Now, run along, little ones! Mamma and I have some chattering to do!”