Drone Commander Tidek
“Mission has been accepted,” Eluard broke the silence. His tone was official but soft. Tidek wanted to imagine a note of sadness in his voice. She waved off that thought.
“All my readings seem normal from up here,” Eluard hastily continued. “But I have to ask you, are you up to date with your sensor pills?”
Ever since she had passed her basic flight training and entered duty, Tidek had to swallow pills with various bidirectional sensors inside. Each pill traveled through her body, powered by her gastric juices but undigested. She had a set of two pills: one she would find in her stool and sanitize, and the other she would swallow when she found the first.
“I’m up to date,” Tidek confirmed.
Tidek ran her right index finger along her biotattoos. They were almost transparent, but when she touched them they briefly changed pigmentation to dark green. She had a rhombus on the neck, behind her right ear, and another much smaller rhombus where her left biceps ended, right above the fold where they met with the rest of her forearm. A few centimeters below that, she had a third and last biotattoo: a tiny straight line that forked into three. Each of her hidden biotattoos allowed for further body monitoring. Together with the sensor pills, they worked with Mental Interface and her contact lens to tie her with her drones. If she was caught with such Anon technology, it was game-over for her.
“Biotattoos all OK,” Tidek confirmed.
“Good. Please, close your eyes.”
Tidek took a deep breath and closed her eyes. Her contact lens seemed to reset, closing and eliminating from view her DCI and all of her open windows apps and widgets, personal and not. In Battle Mode, she would be cut off from everything but the battle. In complete darkness, she swallowed hard and an urge to cry overcame her, making her shiver from head to toe. She wasn’t sure why. Anything but crying. I can’t ruin my chance with blurry vision. This is my moment!
And then there was light. Massive amounts of light. With her eyes physically closed, she squinted, looking around. All around. Gone was the small blocky projection from her drones. Instead, her lenses were projecting a life-like resolution image, and she was there, hovering over Santo Domingo. When she turned right, the world turned right. When she looked down and saw the river slums far below her, she felt she was losing her footing. At first, the experience resembled the best videogames, but there was more. She noticed she could feel the sun behind her, warming her back! She turned around. The air smelled of salt and pollution, and it was warm, even at this altitude. She could hear the wind howling as it passed through her drone’s crevices. And more than that, she could feel the wind, she realized, breaking into a laugh. She could feel the tiny almost invisible hairs on her arms tickling her as if she were standing 150 meters above the ground.
She extended her arms like a bird and lowered her right palm while elevating her left. Her drones turned right. Am I in Kanda? Tidek thought. And as she did, eleven images, from the rest of her drones popped into a neat, straight row on her lower peripheral vision. A myriad of other colorful indicators came to life all around her. Some she knew, others she had only read about. A shaky, lower resolution image of her drones, seen from way above in their neat Double Trail formation drew her attention. It must be from Eluard’s SwiftEye.
“Battle Mode enabled,” the DCI voice finally stated, as the last of her indicators came online.
Tidek thought her drones to standby again.
“How are you doing?” Eluard asked her. His voice was crisp and clear, as if he was right by her side. Startled, she opened her eyes, and suddenly she was back in her room, alone, surrounded by shadows. Her eyes strained to adapt to the radical change in ambient light. She closed them again, and just like that she was back, disembodied and in the middle of the air in Santo Domingo. She felt euphoric, but sick too.
“Keep your eyes closed, and take a deep breath,” Eluard suggested.
She did, reminding herself that the complete, high-resolution, immersive projection she was in was something only the richest people or the most elite of soldiers — and of them only a handful — would ever experience.
A whistle from behind her and on her left drew her attention. The DCI showed a new waypoint. She turned to face it. Is that smoke?
“Head to waypoint at top speed,” Eluard ordered.
“Copy,” Tidek replied, and she lowered her head and wished herself to be at the waypoint. As her drones accelerated, she stretched her arms and pressed her fingertips together, creating a V shape in front of her naked chest. Her drones assumed a V formation.
“What’s my mission?” she demanded. She turned the palms of her hands up and pushed upwards. Her drones lost altitude. She inhaled loudly, not used to Battle Mode’s immersive flight experience.
Eluard started briefing her: “Santo Domingo is home to our Alternet node for the Caribbean.”
“An Alternet node in a gamma city? Isn’t that supposed to be too risky?”
“That’s not important now. What matters is that we’ve been badly compromised.”
“GE has located the node and are trying to reach it as we speak.”
“What?” Tidek couldn’t help losing her soldier tone of voice. She thought about the implications of what Eluard had just said. This could mean the end of Alternet!
While Alternet could afford to lose plenty of picosatellites and relay stations, nodes were a whole different story. Nodes were the directories of Alternet. They were computers that maintained an updated list of available and trusted Alternet relay stations and satellites. Any device on Alternet had to query a node before it could build a circuit for traffic. In the hands of skilled corporate or government hackers, nodes could provide a window — a very short-lived one, but a window nonetheless — into the locations and configurations of the rest of the network. This made nodes and their operators Anonymous’ best kept secret. Having one revealed was a major problem.
“Destroy the node,” Tidek suggested. “Let peer nodes take over.”
“We can’t do that. Not yet. This sector requires uninterrupted Alternet connection, at least until 1500 hours local time.”
“I can’t tell you much… but what I can say is that I think this just might be the most important mission of our life, and I need you.”
Tidek fought for focus. Her heart raced. Eluard…
“You know how we talked a hundred times about Anonymous needing something that gives it the upper hand?” Eluard asked her. “Something that turns the tables against the staggering power of GE? We found it, Tidek. We found the opportunity to recover much of what we’ve lost this last decade, and from even before that.”
Bees flashed in Tidek’s mind. So much had been lost, indeed…
“We think we can turn it all around. It’s within our grasp!” Eluard went on. “As long as we keep the Alternet connection up for thirty more minutes. We can’t destroy the node just yet.”
“Can I be in Battle Mode for so long without being traced?” Tidek asked, flying lower, closer and closer to the sea of rusty metal roofs and dark solar panels. It surprised her to see the slums had trees and vegetation growing in the streets. The closer she got to the ground, the more she seemed to speed up.
“We think you can…,” said Eluard. “We’re pooling several bandwidth-intensive applications in several spots around your area to keep GE guessing. That should give us the thirty minutes we need… and there are a few other ideas making the rounds at the ARC channels as we speak. Everyone is being mobilized, Tidek. We’re trying to mask your trace as best as we can.”
Yet few people like me see combat twice, Tidek thought. “Good,” she said. “I’m assuming no combat-drone support on site?”
“Correct. You’re the only battle-ready drone wing in the area. We have no more assets. But I will be assisting you, and we have Anons on the ground.”
“Easily five hundred; it’s hard to tell. More are coming from all points around the city. They are setting barricades as we speak. I suggest you — ”
“Opposition’s expected tech level?” Tidek interrupted him. She grinned with satisfaction at cutting Eluard off. Then immediately felt childish.
“Low tech,” Eluard replied, unfazed. “Just local Riot Control Police, following orders from GE, as usual. Maybe some old repurposed K5 robots. Anti-drone tech is unlikely. They were as unprepared as we are.”
“Good. Is that it?”
“No, one more thing. We’re about to be broadcasted.”
“Of course we are,” Tidek said, but she was happy Eluard couldn’t see her face. She was sure she was blushing. “How many people are waiting for the feed…?”
“About a thousand and growing strong.”
I used to be one of them, Tidek thought. Tuning from anywhere, anytime there was a dogfight.
When she didn’t ask Eluard any more questions, he continued. “We’re live in three, two, one. The operation is yours. Good luck.”
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Eduard F. Vinyamata is a Catalan writer in development. He was made in Barcelona and educated in the US. He lives with his dog Trutx, who is a big time foodie like him. Eduard is a traveler, a bon vivant, a geek and taller than you.