"Stuff" Originally published in the Florida Weekly Newspaper the week of October 22-28, 2015. It was my entry to a writing contest.
I didn't win, but they published the entry in the paper.
He stooped over, a reaction he immediately countered by quickly straightening up and slowly looking around. Everyone was busy researching computer data bases or involved in their scanners. No one paid attention to him. He stood on the staircase, confused by the diversity of the items carefully, almost lovingly, laid on the wooden steps that led up to the second floor. The items up there were being indexed by Orom's team. The two team's members did not interfere with each other as even the stair case had been politically divided into a lower half and an upper half. One of Orom's specialists, a female from the domestic anthropological research team worked several meters above him. She glanced at him, he could see her eyes shimmering through the clear environmentally secure face mask, but they did not communicate.
DonTel returned his attention to the items below him, His first scan had returned a positive on an item known as a “Doll,” laid a single increment above a vessel made of natural, woven material that ingeniously incorporated a carrying handle into its design. The contents of the basket confused him. They were obviously used to facilitate eating, but they were much smaller than the ones found earlier in the main food preparation area. InfoBase reported the items might be used for training the young, but they doubted the offspring used such an incomplete set of vessels as the actual utensils for nourishment. InfoBase had no idea how the white container next to it integrated into the scenario. The closest item in the data base was a fragile, oddly shaped device used to display flowers instead of containing a food stuff. That did not fit known parameters, especially since his diagnostic scan indicated the vessel was created roughly within the same time frame as the doll.
How did they select which food to eat and which ones to display, he mused. He once again focused on the doll, dressed quite differently from what the electronic media intercepts had led them to expect. The garment covering the doll held his stare, it was actually quite beautiful.
A light glinted to his right, from above, on the stair case. The female above him slowly pointed to another basket laying on the step below her. The basket was bigger than the one with the miniature food serving vessels. His scanner displayed “Sewing kit” as he focused on the basket that was daringly not in his authority to index. He felt his metabolism increase. It was the first time he interacted with a female member of the investigation team since they had entered earth orbit. He simply hadn't had the opportunity. The preparation for the on-earth probe had been intense and no time was wasted on anything but the task at hand. He looked up at her and stared directly into her dark eyes. She turned away to again look down at the artifacts. Her ID tag was orange-orange–green. He would look her up at the debriefing after they returned to the on-board laboratory.
He scrolled through the data on the sewing kit. It was a collection of components used to manually assembly clothing. He had seen such items during his in-depth holographic training, but this was his first encounter with the real thing. The female of the human species actually manipulated their five-digit extensions on the end of each arm to fasten different pieces of fabric together with a continuous filament of some sort to adorn themselves, and, oh, for warmth, he remembered.
He stared at the doll with new interest. Obviously, it didn't need to be kept warm, yet it was cloaked in one such manually assembled garment of shimmering blue. Cautiously he glanced around. His counterpart working above him again gave no sign of his presence, but she slowly turned her head to watch as he slowly stooped over and allowed his scanner to envelop the doll with its reddish force field. The doll was instantly recreated over three hundred kilometers away exactly as the scanner read it, atom by atom, molecule by molecule. His vision became intense and narrowly focused. He wanted more than to scan the doll, he wanted to touch it. He wanted to pick it up and hold it, an absolute disobeyal of orders! Under no circumstances were there to be any indication of their presence! Nothing was to be moved, or even touched. There would be no history, no clue to their visit. To disobey the order meant immediate removal from the exploration program. Nothing would be tolerated that would jeopardize the voyage. Betraying their presence on earth was a breach that could possibly end the entire visit, much less the data collection process.
The rules didn't encompass his desire. He was so excited he was afraid his vital signs would flag him for security monitoring. He couldn't contain his emotions as he shut off the scanner and slowly extended his upper left extremity, hovering just beside the doll. He paused, and as soon as the scan field completely collapsed, slipped his multi-jointed appendage under the doll and slowly lifted it off the stair case. The dolls eyes mechanically opened as he tilted the doll toward him and from inside the fabric and ceramic creature a bellows collapsed and the doll said quite clearly, “Ma ma.”
His analysis team responded immediately. Every probe team member's visor filled with red alarm warnings and the emergency recall was initiated before DonTel could look up. Both entire teams of twenty were gone within seconds.
Balanchine waited an hour before crawling out from behind the window curtains. She sat on the window sill anytime she wanted privacy from the humans who noisily dominated the house. She slowly crept to the edge of the stair case and laid down, tail twitching nervously. The strange energy was gone, except for a faint, strange odor that her owners would never detect. She cautiously sniffed the air and listened for any sound, her ears twitching and turning. The dog downstairs had slept through the entire probe, not even barking at the doll's unexpected call. Only a cat would know they were gone. Only a cat would know they were even there.
Port Charlotte, FL