Tim Dowling: an alien object crashlands into my life – who sent it?


It’s mid-morning, and I’m sitting alone in my office shed. The sun has come out, and the air is a few degrees warmer than the forecast promised. I’ve got the door open, so I can hear the birds as I type.

I’m enjoying a rare moment of concentration, so I don’t notice the buzzing at first. It’s coming from somewhere above me, and it’s getting closer.

I cannot place the noise. It sounds like a wasp the size of a fist, or maybe two plum-sized wasps having a fight. Either way, there’s a lot of aggression in it. It seems wise, for the moment, to remain inside the shed. I pause to listen. Then something heavy drops on to the roof directly over my head, and I jump out of my skin.

Whatever hit the roof bounces across it. I look up in time to see the shadow of something falling past the window above my computer screen. For a long time, I do nothing.

Eventually I step out of the door and peer round the corner. That’s when I see it, lying on its side in the rubble-strewn gap between the shed and the garden wall, twitching helplessly. I know I can squeeze myself in there, but I don’t want to.

My wife is not home. I call up to the youngest one’s room.

“What?” he says.

“I want to show you something,” I say.

“Show me what?” he says.

“Bring shoes,” I say.

He does not bring shoes. I lead him into the garden and point to the gap between the shed and the wall. I can still hear a fitful, dying buzz.

“Back there,” I say. “Look.” He leans round the corner. Then he turns back to me.

“It’s a drone,” he says.

“I know it’s a drone,” I say. “It crashed into my office.”

“One of the propellers is still going,” he says. “Sort of.”

“You need to get it,” I say.

“You want me to go in there with it?” he says.

Related: Tim Dowling: I’ve outwitted the cat, the tortoise and the coffee maker

“I won’t fit,” I say. He sidesteps barefooted over the stony ground, supporting himself with one hand on the wall, and crouches down. The buzzing stops.

“OK, I’m coming out with it,” he says. He passes me the drone, which is the size of a large dinner plate. I hold it at arm’s length with the camera’s lens pointing away from my face.

“I’m kind of weirded out by this,” the youngest one says.

“Me, too,” I say. “What does it want? Why is it surveilling me?”

“Shh,” he says. “It’s listening.”

“How far can they go?” I say. “A mile? More?”

Suddenly the drone lights up. All four of its propellers surge to life, tugging my hand upward.

“Ahh!” I shout, letting go.

“Holy shit!” the youngest one says. The drone shoots straight up, into the branches of a tree, where it gets caught. We watch for a while as it bucks and twists, trying to wrench itself free. Then it goes dead.

“What now?” the youngest says.

“I’ll knock it down,” I say. “But you have to catch it.”

“Cheers,” he says. I give the drone a whack with a rake, and it falls into his arms. He sets it down on the grass, upside down so it can’t escape.

“Now we wait,” he says. We watch the drone. It watches us back.

“Stay here a minute,” I say. I run into the house and up the stairs to look out of the top bedroom windows. The street in front is deserted. When I lean out of the back window, I hear a conversation taking place below me, between my son and the disembodied voice of an adult male. I can’t see either of them.

“Sorry, I’m looking for my drone,” the voice says.

“Yeah, it’s here,” my son says. “It crashed.”

“I’ve only just got it,” the voice says. “I’m still trying to figure it out.” I wonder how many drone owners last see their machines on the day they take it out of the box.

“OK, ready,” the youngest one says. I hear a whir.

The drone wobbles up into view like a large, concussed hummingbird, before weaving drunkenly over one back garden, and the next, and the next.

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