Invasion of the Potatoes
“Get that bloody thing out of here! It might interfere with the equipment!”
“Sorry, Chief.” Teddy looked suitably abashed. “It’s been following me since the funeral, buzzing around and getting into everything. Nothing I can do about it.”
“They’re harmless, Clive,” Celia chimed in, from her position at the sound desk. “They’re even allowed in hospitals and on aeroplanes.”
“Well, you just keep a close watch on it, Teddy,” Clive growled, grudgingly accepting that he could not make the little floating potato-shaped alien spy-eye go away. “One of the residents is getting kicked out by public vote, today, so we’ve got enough on our plate, and we don’t need anything causing us extra work.”
“No problem, Chief. It can be annoying, but it’s usually pretty unobtrusive.”
“And stop calling him ‘Chief’,” Simon chuckled.
“And stop calling me ‘Chief’.”
Teddy took his seat at the primary video console.
“Anything interesting happen overnight?” he asked.
“Any shagging, you mean?” Celia grinned across at him. “Afraid not. They’re all in ‘take no chances’ mode.”
“Public votes always inspire them to bring out their best or their worst behaviour,” Clive mused, relaxing back in his seat as Teddy started taking over the camera commands. “The day before, everyone’s either a total saint or a total sinner.”
“Long as it keeps people watching.”
“Go. Away.” The little alien ball was hovering a foot in front of Celia’s face. She spoke to it like one would an overexcited puppy: slowly and firmly. It zipped back over to hover around Teddy.
No-one knew why the big ship had come by and dropped off all those little floating potato-shaped things – there must have been millions of them, world wide – but, five months later, pretty much everyone was more or less convinced that they meant no harm.
Of course, there was no end of theories as to why they were there, and no end to the discussions on the matter:
“They’re studying the Earth in preparation for a ground invasion!”
“Could be, except that only a few of them go near military bases, and even those don’t bother looking at armaments.”
“They’re spies, sent to steal human technology!”
“Yeah, right. They’ve got huge spaceships and can make floating potatoes, so they really need to steal our toasters.”
“They’re angels, sent by God to guide mankind!”
“So why do they follow people around, rather than lead them anywhere?”
But a lot of people, including Teddy, thought that the aliens were just curious, and wanted to see how Earth societies work.
Teddy liked that idea. He saw it as being like they say mankind will do in Star Trek – but without setting up holographic mountains to hide behind, and sneaky stuff like that.
For Teddy, they just wanted to “explore new worlds, and seek out new civilisations”.
There was no money in taking that point of view, though. You could screw money out of the government by talking military paranoia, screw even more out of businesses by talking industrial espionage, and really hit the jackpot by raining fire and brimstone down on the loonies; but, as always seems to be the case, talking sense would not make you a penny.
Everyone had different names for them, too. In Italy, they were called “bollicine”, the same as they call the bubbles in a soda; in France, “boules de l’air”. In the US, they were mostly known as “hi-balls”, “floaters”, and, unfortunately, “angels”. God only knows why the British called them “mekons”, but they also called them “spuds”, which suited their potato shape.
But, whatever they were and whatever they were called, they all did the same thing: They hovered around someone for a while – sometimes for a few days, sometimes for a week or two – then went off and floated around someone else. Bookmakers had started taking bets on the length of time they would stay with an individual, with ever-increasing incentives being offered for ‘pigeons’ to sign up once they started being followed.
Teddy had been tempted to take them up on it, but had not gone for it. It was bad enough being watched by a floating spud; he did not want the added scrutiny of the bookies.
He would not have been able to give a precise time when he had started being followed, anyway. It had happened at his grandfather’s funeral, on the Friday. During the service, the spud had left the person it had been dogging – a cousin from Montana, whom Teddy barely knew – and had spent the rest of the day flitting between Teddy and Charlie’s niece, who had just graduated high school, and was trying to get into a good college; so a to-the-minute pick-up time would be hard to pinpoint.
“Looks like Duane’s decided to make breakfast,” Clive said. “About time he did something useful.”
“What’s the betting he won’t do it again until the next kick-out day?” Celia sneered. “Even the commentator’s picked up on it.”
“They want us to find something more interesting.” Simon said, receiving requests from the director’s booth. “They don’t want to start showing highlights until later.”
“Easy for them to demand action,” Teddy replied. “We’ve got four sleeping, one picking her nose and reading a magazine, and one making a mess in the kitchen. Nothing’s happening.”
“We could hit the fire alarm. They agreed to drills.”
“Might have to, with Duane in the kitchen,” said Celia. “We should set off the sprinklers now: Play safe.”
“Debbie’s showing movement,” Teddy commented. “She’s always good to watch.”
“You dirty old man!”
“Celia’s calling me names, Chief! Tell her!”
“Don’t call him Chief.”
“Don’t call me Chief.”
“Put Debbie on four, anyway,” said Clive. “She might do something interesting.”
Teddy clicked the feed from Debbie’s room to line four, so the director could access it.
“Yep. Gotta give the couch-potatoes at home something interesting to watch,” he muttered. “No point following boring people.”
The little floating potato continued hovering around him. For a week or two, at least.
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