Drone Commander Tidek
“Copy that,” Tidek replied, trying to sound like those she had watched a thousand times in years past. “Going down to street level,” she added, moving her waypoint indicator away with a flicker of her eyes. “Guide me.” Without waiting for a response from Eluard, she dived to the unpaved, dusty street in front of her.
Her drones screamed down the street at top speed, only about ten feet above the ground, leaving a cloud trail of brown dust behind them. As she’d seen from above, there were misshapen but green trees here and there. From street level, they were just a green blur at her sides. Pedestrians jumped out of her way. She didn’t have to worry about tree branches, the random old motorcycle or unaware people because her whole wing would automatically adjust its formation to avoid crashing into anything. She had to focus on only two things: keeping the drones moving at maximum speed, and following Eluard’s directions: “Take a right in fifty meters. Immediate left after that.”
Tidek took a hard right, and suddenly the slums were over, slashed by a four-lane highway, excessive for today’s standards.
“Left and straight ahead,” Eluard said.
At once, she pressed her palms downwards and her drones shot up like an arrowhead, gaining altitude as they crossed the highway, beyond which the slums didn’t survive. The other side seemed like a normal last-century city. Poor, unmistakably Caribbean and in rather bad shape, but with its uncharacteristic four-to-five-floor residential buildings, paved streets and vehicles parked by the sidewalks. They still have so many cars, Tidek thought. There was no traffic though. In fact, few people were on the streets. Stores and businesses had their graffiti-laden metal gates lowered. Tidek smelled smoke in the air.
“You’re almost there,” Eluard told her. “Fly straight forward, take one more right, and you’ll be entering the barricaded area. I took you to the barricade’s back entrance…”
Eluard didn’t have to clarify. Tidek knew what was coming next: a fly-by.
As she turned the corner, there it was, at the far end of the street: a barricade made out of bricks and stones, trash containers on fire and what seemed to be random salvaged materials. Like busy ants, people were coming in and out of the barricade, piling up anything bulky and pointy, all in order to seal off the street. Here I am, Tidek smiled. Let everyone know. And as soon as she thought this, her drones resumed their race towards the barricade. Over their loud-speakers, they screamed the Anonymous bungle call, ‘Auuuuuuuu, auuuu, auuuuuuuu.’
As Tidek flew over the back barricade, she made a little “o” in the air with her right index finger. Maintaining a perfect V formation, her drones made a roll, rotating around their center and coming back to their original position. It’s important to give everyone a show. From Tidek’s point of view, the barricade turned upside-down and back again.
Behind the barricade was a little army of Anons. They filled every square meter of the sealed street. Tidek violently pushed both her elbows back and pressed her hands into fists. Her drones accelerated towards the front barricade. ‘Auuuuuuuu, auuuu, auuuuuuuu.’ And for a few seconds, she felt like a wave of rage and retribution flying over a sea of angry people. As she flew over their heads, she caught a half-second glimpse of them all turning to look up at her, most of them wearing dark hoodies and homemade anti-surveillance masks. Their fists were clenched in the air. She could hear from behind her, over the bungle call, loud cheering and screaming.
The main barricade straight ahead was at least twice as tall as the one at the back. At the center of the main barricade was what seemed to be an ancient minibus, now pushed on its side across the street, its guts spilling outwards. Around the bus, a tangle of bent metal roofs, smoking trash containers and more rusty metal beams than Tidek could count filled the street. The wreckage was piled up against the surrounding buildings, cutting off all access beyond the barricade. It all looked chaotic but solid: a mess of pointy and flaming rubbish. The closer she got, the more people she could see, packed in increasingly tighter below her. Those who weren’t strengthening the barricade or destroying the surrounding paved streets by harvesting stones were busy watching their devices. Probably getting orders from them, or maybe just watching themselves through her drones and Eluard’s SwiftEye.
The second her drones flew over the main barricade, Tidek, her hands still clenched into fists, made a hammering motion downwards. Her wing stopped. She let the bungle call die away and looked at the scene below. It was a mess of smoke and lasers. Groups of Anons were on top of the barricade right behind her, getting into position, ready with sticks and stones. The police were forming up. Like Eluard had told her, they were fully equipped but low-tech Riot Control Police. The ones up front had huge hard-plastic shields that covered them completely and made a simple but effective wall, protecting them and anyone close behind them. Tidek counted at least fifteen shield-wielding policemen.
Behind them, what looked like twice or thrice that number of agents were coming out from big blue armored vans. They hurriedly shoved away bystanders and set up a perimeter, swarming around in squads a few meters shy of stone-throwing reach. Most agents, however, seemed to have forgotten about the barricade and were instead warily looking up at her drones. They haven’t seen Anon combat drones much. Although other drones were there too, of course. Tidek spotted civilian media drones and a couple of old police observation drones. They were all helplessly hovering around, trying to avoid the blinding green lasers coming from the windows and barricade. For Anonymous, blinding police drones was important — never mind that it was a serious offense anywhere in the world — but blinding media drones was equally as important, if not more so. Their idea was that, if the world wanted to watch what was going on at the frontline, they should only have one option: the Anonfeed.
“In position,” Tidek confirmed.
“Let’s do this. In five,” Eluard replied, and Tidek could sense his eagerness.
Tidek spread her arms to her sides. Her drones broke V formation and stretched out into a straight line, mirroring the wall of shields in front of and below her.
Her drones made a wailing ‘Auuuuuuuu’, and the crowds behind the barricade went silent. Even the yelling from the police ranks seemed to flatten with expectation.
Behind the fading bungle call, the only sounds remaining were the sirens and, far away, the faint loudspeaker commands reverberating from street to street, warning citizens not to get close to the clash area.
“You stand in violation of three truths we hold to be inalienable,” Tidek and Eluard yelled together. Her drones amplified and distorted both their voices, projecting them loudly enough to be heard from both ends of the street.
“Knowledge is free.
“Data is equal.
“Privacy is sacred.
“We are the deathless, gray, tiny farmer in your system.
“We are the sword that cuts through your bandwidth.
“We are the shield against the dark arts for the digital realm.
We are Anonymous, and today we fight you.”
As an answer, a deafening roaring came from behind the barricade. It made Tidek shiver. Seemingly at the same time, from each building around Tidek, from each window and each balcony, residents started to bang pots and pans and whatever they had in hand. Tidek noticed that the Riot Police shield-wall wasn’t holding up. The agents behind it looked around, seeing enemies at every window.
Tidek was startled to hear a loud bang and feel a push on her right shoulder, like a hard tap. A warning signal immediately brought her attention to Paul, whose camera gained the spotlight, returning from what seemed to be a backflip and stabilizing again. The rest of her wing remained hovering in place. Anons started to cheer. A police officer was down on the ground, his shotgun still smoking. He was scrambling backwards and trying to regain his feet.
Broadcast feed, Tidek thought. It came up on her upper-left corner. Already over five thousand people watching, Tidek couldn’t help but notice. The feed showed an instant replay image featuring her drone wing. Probably taken from some Anon behind the barricade. The camera zoomed in and slowed down as a rubber ball approached Paul. Her drone back-flipped right on time to give his protected tummy to the rubber ball and bounced the ball back to its exact point of origin. The ball hit the shooter right on the chest.
“Kanda!” Tidek yelled out loud. Her view switched back to her leader drone. “Let’s show them our teeth.” As she said that, all her drones ejected their frontal plastic bumpers. Some police agents tried to duck below the shields. Most others pointed their rubber-ball guns at Tidek’s drones. With their frontal bumpers ejected, her drones’ graphene rotors were showing, loud and naked. Below each rotor, a red light, like some sort of eye built-in solely to intimidate, gleamed menacingly at their targets.
Tidek opened her arms. Wall, she thought, and her drones made three lines, one on top of another but well spaced out all along the length of the barricade.
“Shoot at me, bitches,” she said, forgetting for a second she was on broadcast. She heard some laughs from the Anon crowd behind her.
Her police enemies seemed unsure about what to do next, so Tidek took a step forward. Her wall of drones made a deep grumbling hum and advanced half a meter.
The police wall trembled and seemed to retreat a bit, but finally stood in place.
Tidek took another step, and her drones advanced once more. The first bang came from her right and was quickly followed by others. Puffs of white smoke rose from the police wall, marking where the rubber balls were being fired from. Each ball that came close — many did not — was bounced back, and with every bounce Tidek felt a tap. At least twenty rubber balls bounced back, hitting as many shields and armor. The smell of gunpowder soon overpowered the smell of burning trash and reminded Tidek of fireworks on Bastille Day. Anons behind the barricades showered stones and trash upon the police. Friendly fire hissed in the air all around as her drones bounced back rubber balls and avoided incoming projectiles from behind.
For every well aimed rubber ball fired, the police had to prepare to receive it back, with a couple stones to go with it. It didn’t take long for some agents to break formation and try to hide behind their armored vans. Others pressed themselves behind the plastic shield-wielding agents up front. At least five policemen were kneeling on the ground or limping to the back of their ranks.
“Tidek,” Eluard called out, his voice startling her. “Two inbounds approaching the rear barricade. Armored police vans. ETA thirty seconds.”
She had forgotten about Eluard. Damn, what’s with you thirty-something men, seducing baby girls like me? “Copy,” she said, making an effort to focus.
Incoming from the back… She took a step back and to her side, her left arm raised and extended with an open hand, holding the main wall formation. Vasu, yes. To the back, she decided. She extended her right arm and pointed to her right. Vasu and his support drones Étienne and Fajita broke formation and darted toward the back barricade. The nine remaining drones spread out to cover the spaces left by the missing drones.
Tidek focused on Vasu, and his feed became Tidek’s point of view. The back barricade seemed to be holding up but a lot could change in the few seconds Vasu would take to get there. She thought herself above the barricade and, turning her right palm downwards, ordered her drones to get into a straight line formation.
Her awareness came back to Kanda, but she kept Vasu in mind. The result was that her field of vision became a blend of both Kanda’s and Vasu’s video feeds and sound, one superposed over the other. As she focused on one, the other would fade. She tried to keep them both sharp at the same time, being aware of both at the same time.
The police formation at the main barricade seemed to be waiting for orders behind their vans. They had figured out that shooting rubber balls at her drones was not going to work. That gave Tidek some time. She didn’t make her drones advance, preferring not to force the police to make their next move.
At the back barricade, two scores of riot police had spilled out of their police vans and hidden themselves in clusters behind civilian cars, trees, and anything else that offered them protection. Tidek smiled. They’ve been watching the Anonfeed. She noticed the police forces at the front barricade were putting on masks. Only then she realized the police at the back barricade were wearing them already.
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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.