Drone Commander Tidek
The river slums kept on meandering right. “Kanda, Barca and Coco,” she started to list the names of her drones. As she did, the blocky video stream cut to each of the drones’ live cameras. “Vasu, Étienne and Fajita. Haf, Paul and Rouge. Omega, Mandé and Foie.”
Despite naming her drones, Tidek knew that on each flight drill she commanded different machines. Her drone wing in Big Delta wasn’t the same hardware that had been printed and assembled in Cebu, or here in Santo Domingo. Each time she flew different drones, but each time they were the same high-performance, acrobatic, Hornet-class combat drones — the same modified d’Andrea Hive-Frames: half a meter in length and width, hexagon-shaped, with white plastic bumpers and magnets. They were lifted by the same four mechanically simple Anderson propellers and were equipped with the same minimal local-computer guts, the same wireless radios and the same sensors: mostly hacked out from the previous generation of Steam Box gaming controllers.
What made her drones her own, however, was that each time she flew, the drone wing was uploaded with the same bulk of algorithms, synthesized out of physics data and environment-dynamics paradigms, countless mathematical models, control theory, and — most importantly — Tidek herself. The way she interacted with her drones, the way she moved and thought and interfaced with each of her machines, was observed, coded and added into an ever-evolving, ever-improving personalized algorithm. An algorithm that could be uploaded and downloaded, and thus could survive even the destruction of her drones. It’s their soul. Tidek concluded. Our soul. Mine and theirs.
Despite their immortal soul, Tidek wasn’t comfortable with the idea of her drones’ probable destruction. She took a deep breath and cleared her mind. She made Kanda’s camera pan 180 degrees to take a look at the five drones behind him in line formation. Barca and Coco came first. Vasu, Étienne and Fajita completed the line.
When she started training she had flown only four drones. She called them Kanda, Vasu, Haf and Omega. They became her leader drones. As her training progressed, her wing grew, each leader drone receiving first one and then a second support drone. When left to their own, her drones worked in trios.
Tidek panned 180 more degrees to scan through her second line of drones, on her right, led by Haf and Omega. Like most people who interacted with robots, she had developed a pet-like relationship towards her drones. Tidek’s flight-training officer constantly encouraged this. Eluard had once secretly told her this was because they wanted her to have an especially conservative — even protective — stance towards her drones.
Hornet-class combat drones weren’t exactly defenseless though. One of their four propellers, the frontal one, was coated in graphene. Graphene, rare and expensive, was among the strongest materials ever synthesized — it could cut through almost anything. But it was the battery and not the graphene coating that made the Hornet almost as expensive as a car. In fact, despite the drone’s small size and minimal power requirements, Hornets ran on modified lithium-ion micro-batteries. Each high-power 3D battery, only about the size and weight of a cigarette case, could power an entire electric car. Such an ample source of power gave Hornet drones unheard autonomy and capabilities — at the cost of countless vandalized Tesla vehicles.
Eluard had told her about all this and more, so much more. She remembered how they would talk for days and nights on end about science, the stars and the future. Naked in bed, without even eating, barely sleeping. Just talking and fucking. They were old fashioned in that way.
And yes, he would disappear for days. ‘Duty calls’, he would say. So she would wait. And she would write in her expensive tiny Moleskine notebooks, transmuting thoughts and feelings into mementos to be hidden away, recalled or slept with at will. And one day, he’d be back. They would resume the talking and the fucking.
The memories of those days, scribbled in her notebooks and seared in her mind, made her wonder why Eluard had told her about drones and their heroic commanders. For me to eventually join Flight School, or only seduce me? Either way it was a waste of time. She had dreamt about flying years before meeting Eluard. But he made such an improbable thing possible, she thought fondly. He introduced me to people I would never have met by myself. The right people. He had coached her through the dangerous, treacherous twists and turns that the Cicada recruitment program inflicted upon every aspirant to get to where she was now.
And she had been impressed with Eluard from their very first date, when he had told her some silly tidbit about how to cook rice properly. It was at a sushi parlor: they ate Konnyaku tuna nigiri. Neither of them was rich enough to afford real factory-fish, but that was alright; the places they met at were always simple and empty. There wasn’t even human staff. Only us, robots and conveyor belts.
I shouldn’t think about those days, Tidek thought. That’s in my past, and I’m not that naive girl anymore. “People I’ve been before, that I don’t want around anymore,” she said, reciting a song from memory. Eluard will have moved on anyways, she told herself. He had broken up with someone right after I met him and he wasn’t heartbroken for long. “Not at all,” she said mindlessly. She imagined him in someone else’s arms already. Starting a new exciting adventure, full of possibilities… without me. I loved you first, she pictured herself saying to Eluard. He never said he loved me. He never loved me. Why do I still want him, then? Am I stupid?
Two short ascending buzzes cut through Tidek’s internal dialog.
“Fuck!” she screamed in frustration, making her hands into fists and punching the air. But immediately she paused, and listened. She stopped breathing. There was only the hum of her quadcopter drones, lazily sailing the skies above the river slums. Did I just…? She waited, tense, for no more than a couple seconds. She tried to remember the sound the DCI had made just a second ago, but she couldn’t come to terms with it. It hadn’t been a training mono-awareness warning.
Two short ascending buzzes cut through her drone’s hum. Her heart skipped a beat. She exhaled. It was a SwiftEye call! “What the hell?!”
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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.