Artwork by Joey Hi-Fi

Drone Commander Tidek

Chapter 3

Drone Commander Tidek is a novelette by Eduard F. Vinyamata. Check out previous chapters here.

Anytime Tidek flew, it was the highlight of her week. I get to be with my boys, with my little fighters! But today it was even more than that: she was flying over a city! Over a city she loved! Even so, a sad sigh escaped her, and almost on cue, ‘Chan Chan’ started to play. She didn’t make it stop. Instead, she chuckled at Mental Interface’s ability to pick up even what was beneath the surface of her unconscious mind. ‘Chan Chan,’ with that slow haunting bass… its rhythmic maracas… and the sad guitar: it was the perfect soundtrack to fly over Santo Domingo’s river slums.

But it wasn’t the slums that had triggered the song. A jumble of flashes of her and Eluard at the summer Ferris wheel. The way they held hands. The sense of their relationship inexplicably reaching its end. It was such unruly memories that made ‘Chan Chan’ stream into her ears.

When she was younger, her first boyfriend had taken her to an oldies Cuban concert right before they broke up. A cover of Compay Segundo’s ‘Chan Chan’ was the star of the show. Years later, she apparently connected agonizing relationships with that song. The first time Mental Interface streamed it when she was with Eluard, without her being aware she wanted to hear it, she knew her unconscious mind was telling her their relationship was nearing its end. Not too long after that, she’d accidentally thought about Eluard with one of her previous ex-lover’s name. He is in that same mindspace to me now, Tidek concluded. And that gave her a sick sense of loss and vertigo.

Two short nasty buzzes startled Tidek. The DCI again, trawling her attention back to the now.

“Diablos!” she complained in her father’s native Spanish. She waved ‘Chan Chan’ away. Unlike pilots, who had to master unwavering focus, drone commanders like her were required to play music during flight drills, and even to play games and bask in — but not sink into — random thoughts. And that’s what she had been trying to do.

Eluard once told her that commanding a wing of drones was similar to playing the piano. A pianist had to be able to move both hands in different ways at the same time without losing the beat. Much like a pianist, Tidek was expected to be able to do two different things at the same time, and in a harmonious, elegantly synchronized manner — except she had to do this in her mind. She wasn’t expected to be a good multi-tasker. That didn’t cut it. She was expected to be able to split the stream of her focused thought at least in two. Mono-awareness could control only one drone at a time: a waste of micromanaging. Drones were smart enough to do a better job at flying and targeting than a human could. On the other hand, treating a wing of drones as a whole was a waste of potential. Instead, she would learn to be in two or more places at the same time, simultaneously thinking attack orders here and defense commands there, and jumping from drone to drone, sending parameters and directions while drones took care of the minutiae.

For relative noobs like her, using her body and her mind to issue separate sets of instructions was about the only shortcut she had. Beyond that, there was only multi-awareness. Routine flight drills like today’s were meant for her to practice this with live drones. In training mode, the DCI had all sorts of safeguards on. It spelled out each of Tidek’s moves and, most importantly, kept an eye on her train of thought. Whenever she invested herself too much in one single stream of thought — even if this was the flying — the DCI snapped her out of it.

Today, Tidek wasn’t doing too well. Two warnings in such a short time… The river slums took a long smooth turn right, and so did she and her drones. It’s too easy for me to slip into the one single, strong stream of consciousness that rules my emotions these days, she thought.

And to think how much better she had been doing as of late! “My mojo is back,” she recently told a friend. And, at first, today had seemed to confirm that. Her day started the best way she could imagine: at around noon, she awoke but did not rise; she simply stretched like a cat and remained in bed, savoring every half-awake minute. A celebratory long shower came next, and then brunch. She unintentionally burned her toast reading a priority update: she would be flying later on that night! And not just anywhere: Santo Domingo, the city where she was born. An unlikely, unexpected birthday present, she thought happily, biting into her toast. The taste of burnt toast reminded her of past lovers in her mouth.

It wasn’t just having a flight drill in her childhood home that made her mood soar. She was smart enough to admit as much. Her brighter mood was also about the possibility of Eluard getting back in touch with her for her twenty-first birthday.

Tidek spent the rest of her day watching bad movies. They used to be her favorite time-waster, but now she was watching them as part of her training. She had taken a gap year from university to learn to fly and dogfight, and her training officer had told her movies were perfect for practicing multi-awareness: keeping careful track of a movie while doing other things in her mind at the same time honed her abilities.

Today those other things were answering birthday congratulations. Throughout the day, Tidek’s friends and family had kept getting in touch to congratulate her, only to be puzzled about why she couldn’t make it out, not even for a drink, later on that night. But Eluard, the only one who would understand, the only one who knew about her confidential responsibilities, hadn’t gotten in touch.

Ever since he had returned from his last assignment in Thailand, she had seen him log in and log out from all the casual venues, but he had barely exchanged a word with her. In fact, she had been the last to message him on all channels. This change of behavior from Eluard had Tidek grasping for meaning. They hadn’t had ‘the talk’ — and they hadn’t even fought. In fact, their last date amounted to the most amazing night of her life. They had just inexplicably lost touch despite her best efforts. It was, Tidek hated to think, a Schrödinger’s Cat situation: Their relationship was dead and alive, at the same time. She just didn’t want to look too much into it, fearing that doing so would materialize the final status of whatever they had into something she’d rather not even think about…

“My drones, I have to think about my drones!” Tidek said, alarmed, to no one in particular. She snapped herself out of her thoughts, surprised the DCI hadn’t warned her this time. Weird, I went pretty deep.

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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.

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