Taking a break from the serial that I still have going about the treasure map to a cache of silver, here is another possible sci-fi piece I’ve had baking in the back of my head for a few years. Today’s daily prompt triggered it and I’ve got to get it out. We’ll see where it goes.


Amidst the branches and thorns, Chris stepped high to avoid the slicing cuts into his calves, holding onto the drone with both hands and ensuring it didn’t catch on anything. At his back were two members of Russian organized crime. They moved slowly as well but had rifles in their hands instead, but he was struck by how much the drone was similarly hefted with its black struts. Instead of balancing on a lower receiver and grip, it had a main body with a heavy battery and an electronics package.

They reached a small cleared area and Chris set down his drone in the middle, removing a smaller drone from his pack along with some additional equipment, and a computer. The two drones sat next to one another, with red lights blinking until they both changed to a green. It was late in the day – sun going down, but the heat still lingered and the scent of sun-baked nature was in his nostrils.

His two captors spoke to each other briefly in Russian. “Da.” said one, finally, and they dropped a bag clattering next to him. “As discussed. Proceed when ready.”

A wire with a carabiner clip connected to a hook on the bag.  A few commands typed into a laptop computer brought the first, smaller white drone to life, and it slowly lifted off until it whirred overhead and was almost lost against the blue sky. One of the men was now in front of Chris, the other behind. Even if he wanted to, he couldn’t come up with a way to confront the two men. They still held rifles.

The computer showed a “$” prompt in his terminal window connected to the large black drone, indicating it was ready for commands – it was running it’s own computer system. No different than any other computer really, but the only difference being it could fly. The connection from his laptop, to the wireless router, to the drone overhead and back to this drone was complete. The $ symbol indicating that the drone was ready for commands, running in a normal mode. One command activated the on-board camera system, obstacle avoidance system, and remote telemetry delivery programs. He started another program on his laptop and saw the image from the camera along with a feed with log entries and location data, pinging back through the connection.

“It’s ready.” He said to one of the men, looking back at the man behind him.

“Launch it then.” Said the man, chillingly cold.

Chris sat for a second, crouched in front of the laptop and looking at the bag attached to the larger bulk of the black drone. It suddenly looked like death to him. His hands were shaking. He looked back at the man, frozen.

“Do it. Now.” The rifle swung back at his face and took up his whole vision. His eyes closed involuntarily and his hand came up, he realized in a futile gesture that realistically wouldn’t be able to block bullets. When he opened his eyes again he saw the man with the rifle menacing him through his fingers, and for the first time noticed that he’d sliced open the back of his hand while moving through the thorny path.

“Ok, I’m doing it. Just put the gun down.” Said Chris, capitulating and gingerly touching the cut on his hand. The man lowered the gun slightly and nodded to the computer.

Looking back at the prompt waiting for instructions, he typed ‘./go.sh’ and hit enter, which should have started the program on the drone, a shell program meant to start other programs. Instead he saw an error and felt his heart go into his throat, imagining himself being killed. He looked up at the man in front of him.

With a quiet reassurance, the accented English of the man was cool and easy. “Don’t worry, they are only going to threaten people with guns. It’s all part of plan. They are political prisoners. I promise you, my friend. You aren’t hurting anyone. We spoke of this. You do job, and we will pay you.”

Chris took a deep breath and looked back at his computer screen. He’d forgotten to make the script executable. If he didn’t feel so tense he would have laughed, it was the kind of mistake that came back again and again no matter how many times you’ve experienced it. He suddenly realized he felt sweaty and too shaky to use the keyboard. He shook out his hands to help calm himself and began work again.

Quickly he typed the incantation to magically grant the computer the power to execute the his program ‘chmod +x ./go.sh’ to add the execution flag to the file containing the starting program. Hitting the up arrow key twice now he brought up his previous attempt to run the go program, a shell script written specifically for this job, and then mashed the enter button. Chris saw a few lines describing the child processes that were launched and the programmed returned complete, showing a 0 indicating no errors.

The large motors on the drone whirred to life and it immediately started to surge up into the air. Chris watched telemetry and video coming back as the bag was lifted, its contents clattering together into the bottom of the black canvas bag. The drone began to move downrange, it’s motors seeming to quietly die off into a distant whir. The two men crowded around the computer now, watching the wide angle video of the drone, with an overlay of GPS coordinates clicking with rapid changes. Some of the pattern recognition output was overlaid, and clearly marked the lines of the prison fences as it sped nearer to its destination.

Descending into the yard now, the program displayed an altitude and when the number showed a 10, the wire was release by a special solenoid command. As the drone began to take off two men ran towards the bag left behind on the ground – wearing orange. They became more indistinct as the drone flew up and away. Brandishing a rifle from the bag, one of the men waved to the drone before it flew out of site, back from where it had come.

The drone quickly flew away, returning to their location faster than before – lighter now it could move at it’s full speed of more than 40 miles per hour. In a moment it was filling their ears with the loud buzz of its approach, a kind of pestilence. Finally it touched down with the sudden power-down of its motors just a few inches from the ground, which was a mess of debris from the cut up brush. With the sound of the distant white relay drone still high enough above them to remain quiet, their ears suddenly took in a new sound, a distant series of pops. Chris stopped breathing, and looked in horror at one of the men, as he lowered the rifle from his shoulder and pointed it once more at Chris, this time with a different, sad look on his face.

The other man said quickly with his thick Russian accent, “Nyet, he hasn’t brought the other drone down yet.”

 

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