Artwork by Joey Hi-Fi

Drone Commander Tidek

Chapter 5

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

SwiftEyes were Tactical Air-Born Surveillance Communication and Control drones. Unlike her Hornet-class quadcopter drones, SwiftEyes were big wing-flapping robotic birds with a wingspan of over three meters. They flew — or rather, mostly glided — at thirty thousand feet. Loaded with every sensor and camera that could possibly fit their bellies, SwiftEyes could spy and warn of anything peculiar in their assigned Air and Ground space, which usually spanned hundreds of kilometers. This made them ideal to act as local command or control and support during operations. So what is one doing in this backwater island? Tidek cleared her throat, pulled the black elastic hair-band from her wrist, and tied her hair together in a knot. She took a deep breath and waited for a third buzzing call.

Unlike their robotic ancestors, engineered for scientific and civilian purposes, a SwiftEye was an unauthorized deep modification on the original Festo Seagull model. SwiftEyes mirrored Alpine swift birds by recovering energy during their long glides. They were thus able to stay airborne, non-stop, for months. Their operators were mostly hikikomoris, Japanese home recluses. So, in Tidek’s mind, a SwiftEye always had a quiet, polite Japanese-accented operator behind it. Not all of them, she immediately contradicted herself. And then her heart jumped at the possibility. Could it be…?

The third buzzing SwiftEye call came in. She explicitly wished for the connection to happen.

Stop your drones and enter standby mode. Protocol.”

Tidek’s drones came to a sudden almost jarring stop — not because of the order, but because her whole body had stopped. Heart, mind and breath. Her drones just followed suit.

“Eluard! You remembered!” she cried.

“Control and Command Officer Eluard,” he corrected her with an icy voice. It stabbed through Tidek’s chest. “This is a Control and Command call,” Eluard explained in the same official voice. “Monitored,” he added. Which meant it was being relayed to someone up in the chain of command, live.

“Yes, sir,” she replied, confused, but with her best professional voice. A live monitored call was a serious, exceptional event. Only the topmost Elders could authorize them. Did I fuck up? With him? With my training? Tidek’s mind raced.

“This is not a drill, nor part of your training,” Eluard warned her, almost as if reading her mind. “We need immediate drone support from your wing.”

“What are my orders?” Tidek asked, not sure whether to feel more relieved or worried.

“Before I brief you, you have to…” — Eluard’s voice grew perceptibly fainter — “you have to accept this mission.”

Tidek became suddenly aware that she was shaking her head, frowning. Not today. Not now, she thought. I’m not ready, she wanted to say. But this was it. The moment of truth. The moment that could have come at any time or never at all! Accepting missions on the record meant this was an engagement mission. Meaning she would fight. Meaning her bandwidth requirements would multiply. Meaning there was a strong chance she would be traced and detained. And that could easily be ten years in jail. That’s if she collaborated with her captors, which she would not. She knew as much.

“We can’t flood Alternet and set up a stable enough connection in time.” Eluard was back to his icy cold, formal tone of voice.

Tidek felt depressed. Her life was hanging on her very next decision, on her very next words, but all she could think about was reading Eluard’s changing intonations and pauses to clue her in on what had become of their relationship. I’m so immature, Tidek reprimanded herself. Just ask him.

“Eluard,” she said, ignoring rank again. “Are we–?”

“We are Anonymous,” Eluard said, cutting her off.

A couple seconds of silence followed, the soft quadcopter humming on the background.

Anonymous. How much had it changed since those early days of Internet trolling and anarchic vigilantism! Today Anonymous was the poster child of private freedom of speech: the freedom to say whatever you wanted to say privately, in private.

In public, people tended to self-censor themselves for a whole bunch of reasons. Enough people did this that those in power rarely needed to control or bury dissenting opinions. Algorithmic filter bubbles did that for them. Thus, speech in public appeared to be relatively free, and had even improved around the world over the years. This fact was trumpeted as a victory over darker times.

In private, however, much had been lost. Individuals had too often traded their privacy to companies and governments for ‘better service’ and a ‘better user experience’. Sometimes privacy had been given up as the price for safety. Today it was more than reasonable to suspect that anything said in private — maybe even anything thought — was surveilled. It was certainly recorded. Openly so, as a feature in fact.

Unless you were on Alternet: Anonymous’ biggest achievement, and the cornerstone of what she and countless other people had been fighting for.

“Patch me in,” she said, in her soldier’s voice. And although she was as scared and hurt as she could remember being, for once her mind was quiet.

She was answered back with more silence and more humming.

Tidek had been told she was a member of Generation A: the Augmented or Alpha Generation. They were the first of their kind, a generation whose consciousness was natively extended through technologies that performed close to the speed of light. They were a generation for whom it was natural to be augmented beyond their body and into media, devices and robots.

In consequence, her generation was expected to colonize new planets, start new civilizations and transcend into the virgin quantum realms.

They were expected to do nothing short of rebooting humanity.

They had been given all the tools and all the means to do so, the older Millennials often lectured them. Silicon Valley and especially GE contributed to this view of the world by exalting the liberating power of technology. The page was blank in front of them all, they were told. The canvas, empty. The universe up for the taking.

And that was the problem, right there. Starting from zero, there was nothing to grab on to, yet everything to be responsible for. Tidek and her generation felt that for all that was asked of them, they lacked a simple instruction manual. Her generation yearned for a sense of structure, a sense of tradition. They didn’t find freedom or identity in the infinite choices and possibilities. They found it within the bounds of an established path, within things they didn’t need to build from scratch nor even understand fully, and from those who gave them the answers and solutions without expecting anyone to dig for them — those who told them, ‘Follow these steps, and it’s gonna be alright.’

For Tidek, that was Eluard and Anonymous: something solid to grab on to amidst the constant state of change and fluidity she felt was drowning her. With Eluard and within Anonymous, she felt she had suddenly found path and structure. A way towards something greater than herself that she didn’t have to figure out all by herself. A way she didn’t have to walk alone. Eluard was by her side, and the whole deep web as well. They were building a better world, just not the world GE wanted. A world where privacy wasn’t a dirty word. A world where every piece of data was treated equally, regardless of origin, destination or content.

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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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