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“On the way back,” his wife told him. “I saw something interesting at the feed store, though. It might help with the crows.”
“Sounds good.” The crows had been especially bad this year. Bob was afraid they might eat up the whole crop before it was ready to pick. Not that the rats were much better, mind you. Or the raccoons.
“You at your best right now?”
“Yup. Out standing in my field.” This was their little running joke.
“Good. Anyway, I got this flyer. I really think you should call.”
“Will do.” When Allie said I really think you should, there was always an unspoken or else.
• • •
“So here’s the bottom line.” The young fella was earnest enough, but he talked kind of quick and his outdoor clothes didn’t look comfortable on him. “We set up a Scarecrow Two Point Oh system for you. You let us know how it works, and let us come on your property to maintain the thing. Maybe once a week, unless something breaks. If it damages your crops or your property in any way, we make it right.”
“There’s gotta be a catch,” said Allie. “What’s in it for you and your people?”
“Well, ma’am, we do need to field-test the system,” he admitted. “You can do a lot on a test plot, and we fixed some problems that would have had you taking a shotgun to it.” That got a chuckle from Bob. “But we won’t know for sure how well it works until it’s deployed on a real, working farm. We’re sure enough about it to try it, now. If we thought there was a good chance it would damage your crops, we’d still be testing it on our own plots.” He slid a paper out of his folder. “This is the contract.”
Allie looked the contract over. “Huh. Not that legal gobbledygook? This looks pretty clear. Maybe we can work together after all.”
“Great.” The visitor gave them a happy smile. “Just show me a place to put the system, one where there’s lots of sunlight, and I’ll get to work.”
“You’ll need power, right?” Bob asked.
“Nope. It’s all solar-powered. Even we know there’s no outlets out in a cornfield.” All three laughed together.
• • •
A week later, Allie and Bob were congratulating themselves for taking a chance on this “Scarecrow 2.0” thing. The robot patrolled the cornfield and blasted varmints with its laser. Even better, it cleaned up after itself, depositing dead critters in a bin, where Bob counted them up and sent the tally to SC Research. Its best day was the third, with 147 kills; the tally was declining now, but Bob figured it was making a dent in the varmint population and finding fewer targets.
But by the end of the third week, Bob was seeing telltale signs of feeding again. There were only a few critters in the bin each day. “I think we need to call ‘em up,” said Allie.
“Okay,” they heard over the phone. “We see it in the telemetry. It’s tripping a ‘low battery’ fault, then it’s not getting much of a charge in the base station. Probably a defect in the charging system. We’re scheduled to come out tomorrow, we’ll check it out.”
“Holy sh—holy mackerel,” said the technician, wobbling atop a stepladder. “The solar panels are covered in guano.” He took out a rag and wet it with his water bottle. “Man. I’ve never seen one like this,” he grumbled, wiping bird crap off the panels.
Once the panels were cleaned, the charging system jumped right back up to normal, making the technician as happy as the farmers. “Yeah. Keep an eye on this, okay?” said the technician. “Maybe squeegee the panels every other day. I guess the engineers will develop counter-measures to keep that from happening.”
The next morning, Bob went out to check on the Scarecrow. He took a cellphone snap of what he saw, then called the company again. “I got a picture,” he said. “The damn crows are sitting on the solar panels and holding their wings out. It’s like they know what to do or something.”
“This is the kind of real-world info we were hoping to get,” said one of the engineers, after taking them off hold (Allie figured they were cussing the crows). “Sounds like we need to come up with better counter-measures than a wiper. But hang in there, we’ll beat this yet.”
Allie hung up the phone, looking pensive.
“What is it?” asked Bob.
“Well…” Allie trailed off, looking out the window at the cornfield. “They’re gonna come up with something to keep the crows off the solar panels, right? Makes me wonder what the crows will come up with to beat that.”