Corinne was almost done completing her Health Enforcement Legal Procedure (HELP) statement. Soon, her neighbor’s health profile would be compared to the Pijoon’s record of anonymised DNA samples most commonly collected at this address. To be fair, she did not want to do it, but it had become inevitable. The condescension, the disrespect, it had been bordering on harassment for weeks, she had to put an end to it.
Breonna was sipping her tea when she noticed Corinne storm back towards her house simultaneously reaching for her phone and scrambling to get her voice recognition to let her back into her house. What had happened? The Pijoons were just buzzing about, as always, this time, sniffing around Fiona’s trash. Breonna could not remember how many had been dispatched over the past five years. She took a sip of tea, she didn’t particularly like the taste but it helped keep her asthma in check. A handful? A dozen? These new-age neighborhood watchers had earned her sympathy but not her trust. Their appearance was so uncanny… Were they real pigeons?
Sometimes she worried their eyes could remotely shoot laser beams… But she had seen enough kicked around and forcefully man-handled by clumsy kids to know there were neither weapons nor organic matter in these little pigeon-esque robots. It was nice to know that unlike humans, these little guys could never directly cause her harm. Shit, a tea leaf got stuck between her teeth. They spent their day trotting or flying about, pecking at the floor, diving into trash, if she didn’t know any better, she’d have thought they were racoons. But what were they doing exactly? How could any of their commotion ensure the neighborhood remained healthy? Wasn’t that what the health commissioner had said? And what was she doing exactly? Did she believe in the preemptive health benefits of this medicinal tea? Was she even really just having tea or had this morning ritual become more about reading the micro-signs of her streets? Frustrated by her own lack of focus, Breonna got up and emptied her tea leaves into the compost.
It’d been days since Fiona had gotten a good night sleep. It seemed as if her hands were glued to her computer. The rest was a blur. The deadline was so close, even if she couldn’t see the end of the tunnel, it was palpable, or would have been had she been able to pry her hands from the keyboard. Chores, people, family, they could all wait, this article needed to be finished. Of course, being diligent and generally civic-minded, she took out her trash, avoided disposable packaging when doing groceries, and always kept her mask on when leaving the house. But she did all of this without quite being there. Her eyes swollen, in pain, her mind consumed by the promise of a Pulitzer. Fiona could tell something was off, had been off, for weeks. But what? All she could tell was that Pijoons had been hanging around her house more than usual. How much more fallen hairs and dead skin samples did these creeps need? What were they doing with them? The other day, she saw two of them tangled in a plastic bag, struggling to fly, it had made her laugh. In a flash she had thought of her last relationship, of Magritte’s lovers, of humans’ clumsy grappling with fatality that drives them to copulate. Chuckling, she turned around, walking towards her door. Her eyes crossed Corinne’s, the neighbor with whom she shared a disposal spot. Too weak to wave, Fiona feigned a smile as she walked into her house. Making her way back to her computer, she kept wondering why Corrine was making such a face this morning.
Corinne had the final word. With her HELP, the Pijoon social workers were soon dispatched in full hazmat and disinfection gear. They evacuated Fiona and vaped her at-risk home. Harmless for humans, vaping helps efficiently disinfect surfaces. They also vaped Breonna’s home, the saliva collected on the tea leaves in her compost showed she was healthy but a medium risk profile nonetheless. A couple of other houses on the block and individuals from the grocery stores that Pijoons were able to establish spatio-temporal overlap with were issued warnings.
Corrine, although conflicted about the brashness of the events, felt that much safer. Once again the neighborhood was safe she thought, “Thank you Pijoon, thank you contact-tracing, thank you innovation!”
Fiona on the other hand was shaken and disoriented by the intrusion. Standing in front of her house in Breonna’s arms, she was wrapping her head around the events. Had she screamed? Didn’t she refuse? Her dry eyes shed a single tear. The only one she could afford for the article she had been unable to backup before the health squad had vaped her house and inadvertently fried her computer. Breonna too was grappling with the events and had trouble breathing, she could feel the asthma attack coming. Popping in her inhaler, she cursed the health enforcement forces.