October 2035. Tidek commands a wing of twelve quadcopter drones using her body and her mind as interface. Training drills are easy for Tidek but today she’s doing poorly. She’s heartbroken about Eluard, and it’s hard to focus. An emergency call startles her: Alternet, the lifeblood of the resistance and the last bastion of privacy is under attack. If she accepts the mission, Eluard is to be her liaison. Doing so, however, could also reveal her location, and that would mean the end of her freedom.
“Patch me in,” Tidek says.
Drone Commander Tidek
Drone Commander Tidek is a novelette by Eduard F. Vinyamata
The hum of quadcopter drones reminded older people of bees.
I never heard a real bee in person, Tidek thought.
Bee colonies had started to dwindle at the turn of the century. About a decade later, by the time she was born, bee colonies were collapsing all around the world. No one really found out why bees died out in such dramatic numbers. Pollution was blamed. Mass agriculture too. Even cell towers were considered. Nobody cared much. Little was confirmed, and less was done. Only bees in labs ever saw year 2020.
Watermelon, passionfruit and cacao were the first crops to expire. They had relied on bee pollination for reproduction. Then cola nut, cherries and avocados became extinct in the wild. Yet none of the fruits disappeared from the supermarkets from one day to the next. They faded, almost leisurely, becoming a bit more expensive every week, discretely transitioning from market stalls to gourmet shops to luxury hotels, before finally hitting the black market and then vanishing.
The science community tried tackling the problem. Most notably, Japanese scientists. They took it as a matter of national pride to bring back cherry trees from their barren state. Japanese political parties won elections by promising cherries and blossoms for next spring, only to lose their support the following summer when weather factors proved too complex for robotic bees to plot effective cross-pollination patterns. In the meantime, all over the world farmers and a new batch of startup companies fought to keep the expiring crops alive. There was money to be made. Kaiima Limited was remarkably successful increasing the yield and life spans of pumpkins, but it wasn’t enough to make up for the loss of bees.
The markets too, scrambled at the new opportunities. Most bet on Monsanto, thinking they’d make a killing. Instead, the biotech company almost went broke investing an empire to save cucumbers. In the end they succeeded in keeping the cucumber alive. “At the cost of taste,” Tidek’s mom would complain. In any case, the Monsanto shareholders decided not to get embroiled in trying to save any other crops. And so, when coriander took the last stand, it was just left to wither and die, to the quiet joy of some and the wailing of others.
Tidek didn’t know which side to be on. Maybe I wouldn’t like real coriander… but I like its synthetic counterpart. She also found ‘chocolate-like’ cricket bars and artificial fruit flavors tasty enough, despite the moaning and nose-ruffling from older people. The very same people, in fact, who let the bees die out in the first place, even as they gorged — if old media was to be believed — on bowls full of ripe, mashed avocado, tomato and onion. ‘Guacamole’ was a delicacy only a very few could still source, and even then only under exceptional occasions. Musk’s Villa was said to serve it in small portions, on a tiny silver spoon, but no one Tidek had ever met had tried it.
Thinking about such things, Tidek produced a closed-mouth sigh. She marginally ignored the live video feed projected on her contacts in the upper-right corner of her field of vision. It showed two stripes of blue. Almost imperceptibly, Tidek shifted her weight to her left leg, arms on her sides, palms facing down. Seven thousand kilometers away, twelve quadcopter drones mirrored her action and turned slightly left, maintaining a perfect double-diamond formation. The blue stripes fell smoothly to the left.
What Tidek couldn’t wrap her head around was how science had just managed to bring back the woolly mammoth — now roaming the Russian steppes — yet some fruits, even a simple apple, were still luxury items.
Eluard gave me an apple for my twentieth birthday. It was shiny green and so surreal to hold and to smell; its presence seemed to fill the whole room! Ah, to think about it! Tidek still quivered a bit, a full year later, remembering how it felt to bite into Eluard’s green, juicy, crunchy apple. Or maybe she quivered thinking about how they made love soon afterwards. How we looked so intently at each other’s eyes. This very night, a year ago…
Two short, nasty buzzes rudely interrupted Tidek’s thought pattern and brought her back to the present moment.
“Right,” she muttered, tilting her head sideways a little and briefly focusing on her undone bed, the nightstand with the picture of her as a baby with mom in the background, and the closed door in front of her. Stretching her neck, Tidek felt the dark-red henna tips of her long black hair tickling her breasts and almost, but not quite, covering them. Long hair down to my breasts, just like Eluard likes it.
Flying naked made sense to Tidek in the same way that taking their shoes off when at home made sense to other people. More importantly, flying naked made Tidek feel unencumbered, a bliss too sporadic to her these days. For tonight’s flight drill she was standing, wearing nothing but a black elastic hair-band on her wrist and black see-through panties, in the middle of what used to be her mother’s room. It looked like the rest of the flat: classical furniture, ornamental crowned high ceilings and aging parquet flooring.
It’s getting dark, Tidek thought. The revolving shutters at the window behind her responded automatically by coming down almost all the way, stopping at just the spot Tidek liked them: allowing for slits of blue light from the street to project on the wall in front of her and on her naked back. Her two Clyde lamps purred, stretched, looked around and silently crawled into the darkest corners of her room, just barely pushing away the shadows with their soft orbs of dim blue light.
Tidek’s attention focused back to the live video feed projected on her contacts. From cadets to veterans, most recruits found flight drills boring. In a way, that was the point of them. But her? She still got goose bumps just by flying, seeing the bright skies above and the slightly violet-blue sea below from her drone’s pinhole-like live-feed. Who needs an artificial horizon when you can fly a real sea like this one? Wish I could be there… Wish I could show Eluard my true home… Wish I could see it better. The second her awareness worded that last thought, the live-feed projection adapted to her desire, taking the center stage on her field of vision with a blocky, pixelated feed that partly hid the bed, the nightstand and the door.
Like the rest of her extended self, the contact lenses layering the video feed over her eyes responded with almost no delay between registering her desires and reacting. Such quick responsiveness unnerved Mental Interface non-natives. Nowadays, if there was any delay at all between desire and device reaction, it was thanks to the nuttiest of the non-natives, who seemed to believe that without the current half-a-second delay — it was down to 0.2 seconds for military operations — people wouldn’t be able to distinguish whether they were being fed something because they’d wished for it or wished for it because it had already been fed to them.
“Waypoint reached,” a soft, enticing female voice whispered in Tidek’s ear. They couldn’t possibly make her voice sexier.
“Horny bastards,” Tidek said, shaking her head a bit and picturing the teenage engineers who built and maintained the DCI, the Drone Commander Interface
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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.