Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Drone Pilot (fiction)

Some of my readers might remember ERJC.  ERJC had some struggles in early January.  I had a conversation with him last night.  Right now he is meds-noncompliant but is hanging on.  He prefers the mood swings to the side effects of the meds.  He has them stashed in a safe place, though.  Just in case the moods incapacitate him again.

ERJC is a pretty good writer but needs some grease on the skids and a stout push from the rear to get going.  He suffers from perfectionism.

I offered to take some of his writing tweak the punctuation and flesh it out a bit. He agreed.  My hope is that I will set the bar low enough that he can look at it and say, "Hell, I can do better than that!"

Incidentally, ERJC will henceforth be known as Pelée.

Drone Pilot

Pelée was walking home from Kroger with two bags of groceries.  The walks had not been shoveled and he was negotiating the frozen slush, picking his way over the slick, fractured surface with care.  The frozen slush had captured the imprint of every foot-fall from the day before.  The impressions were deep, steep sided, bone hard and snot slick.

Walking reminded him of going hunting with his dad.  He hated it then and he hated it now.  Scan.  Look down.  Pick the next three places to place your feet.  Look up, scan.  Take your three steps.  Repeat.

Pelée did not expect to get mugged.  It was the wrong time of day and he had been here a year and was starting to become part of the neighborhood.  Muggers usually did not whack pedestrians on Washington Ave.  There was too much traffic.  Besides, the roads and sidewalks were treacherous with frozen slush.  Muggers shut down when a quick get-away was dicey.

Still, he was easy pickings at 6’2” and 120 pounds and he had quit smoking a few weeks ago.  Smoking calmed him down and he was a jumpy as a whore in church.

Pelée made it to the apartment building without incident.  It was hard to believe that the apartment building had once been a desirable piece of real estate.  65 years of hard use had ground off most of the glitter.  The poured concrete bones remained.  It was a solid building even if the amenities were dated.

Walking up the stairs he smelled somebody baking.  That was an unexpected bonus.  Usually it was boiled cabbage, rarely it was barbeque.  Today it was something sweet and redolent with the warm fragrances of cinnamon and some other spices he could not name.  It made him think of his mother.  She was a Godly woman who had firm beliefs about the redemptive powers of soap, hot water, fresh vegetables and baked goods made with real sugar and butter.

He entered the apartment he shared with his roommate.  Pelée did not have a job and was “crashing” with Stosh.  Pelée was chilled to the bone.  He made a couple of slices of cinnamon toast, a tribute to his mother.  Thank God bread was still cheap and abundant.

He turned on the TV.  The one truly astonishing thing about this dump was the cable TV.  The TV was huge and had very high definition.  The connection was blindingly fast and never glitched.   He did not know who Stosh had paid to hack the connection but he was glad.  Pelée did not have a job or friends nearby.  That TV was his life.  It gave his life meaning.

The TV had channels that nobody else’s did.  Pelée watched programs, docu-dramas, of FEMA death camps, radiation sickness, wartime atrocities. 

His favorite channel was an interactive game: Drone Pilot.

Pelée had been playing it forever.  And, beyond his wildest expectations, he was The Superstar.

In the beginning, Pelée’s timid style of play had been the butt of much derision.  But then the nature of the game changed.  It became a war of attrition as access to Neodymium-Boron magnets and monocrystaline PV panels was cut off.  Suddenly, the player who could dance at the skirts of the conflict and draw attackers into a firesack…and then turn invisible was held in the highest regard.

The new drones were crap.  Husbanding, hoarding and protecting the old gave him an immeasurable advantage.

And Pelée was the best.  A lifetime of being bullied paid off.  The skills he had learned on the soccer field, the tease, the feign and the jagged drive--juking to avoid getting hammered--were in demand.  The situational awareness of living in a dangerous city, the full 360 scan every few seconds.  Those were skills that had saved him many times.

Pelée was now Fatboy.  The irony Pelée, thin as dental floss, being know as Fatboy never occurred to him. Fatboy was the kernel of the mission.  The game would be over when Fatboy flew through the doors of the Prime Bunker.

That would be a while, yet.  This afternoon’s game was in mid-Pennsylvania.  Attacks were held in the afternoon when the batteries were fully charged.  Steep hills in the late afternoon combined to produce unpredictable thermals. He would have to remember that.  The attackers could gain more altitude and use it to their advantage. 

He was closer to the skirmishes now because they were getting closer to the Prime Bunker in western Maryland. 

He was still getting used to being Fatboy.  His drone was the best in the fleet, but now it was bogged down by the payload.  The other side knew who he was.  Pelée’s side was burning out the defense.  Small chunks of it were seduced out, cut off and chopped to bits.  That was one of Pelée functions:  Designated Decoy.

The other side knew who he was.  He was the irresistible target, the Queen Bee.  The endgame for one side or the other was near.  The next few weeks promised to be very interesting.