Tolerance has never brought civil war, intolerance has covered the earth with carnage.
We have guided missiles and misguided men.
-Martin Luther King, Jr.
The Day of the Drones
Monday, August 10th, 2020
The father and son sat in the air-conditioned car during heavy morning traffic outside of downtown San Diego. Through the smog the silver skyscrapers of that sweltering city could be seen snaring and pulsating in the haze. Swelling the freeway were thousands of cars that crept along like termites in the heat of a vast mirage. The hot sun rose high above the Cuyamaca mountain range as hoards of vehicles inched along the fuming, concrete inferno. The searing traffic was unbearable.
“Jesus Christ,” the father sighed, “we’re stuck in a parking lot.”
From the back seat his son let out a moan of frustration, having expected that they would have reached their destination by now. “How much farther?” his son asked.
“Not too far, we have to get through this mess first. Don’t worry, you’ll be sticking your hand in a dolphin’s mouth in an hour,” his father said.
“Why is there so much traffic?”
“Because, everyone’s going to work at the same time for some reason.”
In the car to their right, the driver was dozing off. On the highway outside, the rumbling clamor of innumerable cars reverberated off the tall noise-barrier walls – behind which sprawled mundane housing labyrinths and suburban strip malls, verdant golf courses, and then more highways and roads that stretched out into the desert. The man and the boy were only five miles away from Sea World, but at this rate it would take them an hour to arrive. There was a puttering sound sweeping through the sky above the traffic. They glanced up and saw a small aircraft that looked like a miniature helicopter – it was about five feet long and had rotor blades– flying roughly two hundred feet over the cars on the freeway.
“Is that like the one you fly?” asked Danny.
“No, that’s a surveillance drone, I fly a different kind.”
“Is it bigger?”
“It’s about three times that size. It doesn’t have propellers, and it goes a lot faster and flies much higher.”
Almost as soon as the drone passed out of sight, another one came into view and was heading their direction, flying above the cars on the other side of the freeway. The man had his focus on the incoming drone as the car hit a pothole.
“How come that one flies so low?” Danny asked.
“Because it’s trying to get close to the cars so it can scan people’s license plates. Those are police department drones. They’re looking for cars that shouldn’t be on the road, or for drivers that owe fines.”
“Will it shoot them?”
“No, it doesn’t have any guns on it. It’s just looking at people. Those devices on it are cameras so it can record things. It can see the dark with them. It can also recognize faces and has x-ray vision, but these ones don’t have any guns.”
Danny thought for a moment and then said, “But your drone has guns on it.”
His father looked at his son in the rear-view mirror. Danny was five years old and beginning to understand what his father did for a living.
“Yeah,” said his father, “the drone I fly has guns.”
Danny slumped into his seat and they continued to wait in the traffic.
“Close your eyes Danny, rest a little while, we’ll get there.”
Danny closed his eyes for a few moments and then opened them again. “Does your drone shoot people?” he asked.
“Only the bad guys. Now close your eyes kido.”
The child fell asleep and the car proceeded through the stop-and-go traffic. The father thought back to when he himself was a child, when his father took him to Sea World. The country was a brighter place back then. The problems of the past, though formidable, had always seemed surmountable. Certainly there were struggles at home and wars abroad, but there was not this crippling sense of hopelessness which presently gripped the nation. The father glanced at his sleeping child – whom perhaps views the world as a bright place – and considered that despair may come with age. The reassurance offer by his son (a reminder that he had at least done a few things right) was overshadowed by an immense fear of what lies ahead. He was beset by a dreaded sense of uncertainty and isolation, of some impending doom destined to shred the world apart beyond repair. Though there were serious threats throughout his own childhood, they had always originated from outside and were addressed beyond the country’s borders. But now the threats seemed to come from within: the corporations, the government, the military, the police and criminals, this miserable traffic – he didn’t feel safe outside of his home. (As of three years ago he began to carry a concealed firearm whenever he went out. Today it was a Colt Rail Gun, issued by the Marine Corps.[i]) Yet even in his own house he felt as though his private life was being infiltrated by some prying, technological force, he felt that the digital interfaces were somehow working against him. He acknowledged that he may paranoid, but that didn’t curb his suspicion about the computer screens in his home. He didn’t trust them because he didn’t know who was behind them. Similar to how he didn’t know who his neighbors were. As a child he could name each resident on his block. And back then, each house in the neighborhood didn’t have a metal fence barricade surrounding it. There weren’t security cameras on every street corner and there certainly weren’t any drones in the sky.[ii]
Several lines of cars were queued up to enter Sea World’s massive parking lot, covering about the same area as the park itself. Many visitors had traveled for days to see various captive marine species, most of which were extinct or critically endangered in the wild.[iii] The parking lot was packed with thousands of cars and people. The child awoke as his father rolled down the driver’s seat window upon reaching the automated ticketing booth, the speakers of which crackled and said, “Hello, Welcome to Sea World! Parking for two-axle vehicles is fifty dollars. Please pay by credit card or via Faceport.”
“We’re not going to be here all day,” the father said to the machine, “is there a cheaper rate?” He knew there was not, but wanted to test the machine.
“We’re sorry Mr. Rousset, there is not. Parking for two-axle vehicles is fifty dollars. Please pay by credit card or via Faceport.”
He paid the machine by card and said to the machine, “It’s Captain Rousset.”
The machine responded, “Thank you for you payment Mr. Rousset. Welcome to Sea World!”
They parked in a space at the end of the parking lot, far from the entrance to the park. Aware that he wouldn’t be able to bring his gun into Sea World, Captain Rousset unstrapped the harness and put it under his seat. He and Danny got out of the car and they could see the park in the distance, over a half-mile away. They joined a line of people awaiting the arrival of a trolley to ferry them across the parking lot to the park entrance.
“We’re almost there,” said Captain Rousset to Danny, whom he had on his shoulders.
“I can see the trolley coming,” said Danny, “it looks like a whale!”
Indeed, the trolley was colored black and white to resemble an orca. The driver of the trolley was an animatronic dolphin, named Switcher, which welcomed the crowd aboard and shuttled them to the entrance.
There were hundreds of people gathered in separate lines that lead to the ticket booths. Soon after Captain Rousset and Danny joined a line, a harsh grinding noise was heard in the air. As the sound intensified, many people put their hands over their ears and looked toward the sky. A Homeland Security Viper Drone was flying a hundred feet above the crowd. It was as large as a motorcycle, had multiple rotors blades that allowed it hover in place, and was armed with lethal and crowd control weapons. The Viper Drone had a negative reputation among the public due to repeated interventions that have gone wrong.[iv] As such, the man standing in line in front of Captain Rousset booed as the Viper passed overhead. In response to the offense the drone swooped back around and then simply hovered over the crowd, brooding above them for a moment before flying away over Sea World. The people in line could once again hear themselves.
“You know why they fly so low?” Captain Rousset said to the man in front of him, who stood in line with a woman.
The man turned around and said, “Yeah, to scare the hell out of us.”
“True. But it’s also to provoke people into doing what you did.”
“They’ve got no business around here. It’s Sea World for Christ’s sake.”
“Well, I’m just suggesting that there are better ways of getting rid of them.”
“Maybe, but I don’t own a rocket launcher, and I’m also not keen on spending the rest of my life behind bars,” said the man.
“I’m not talking about shooting them. I’m talking about changing the politics of the situation, getting the people who support these types of drones out of office.”
“You gotta be kidding me,” said the man. He then turned around toward the ticket booth. A digital woman materialized on the big screen embedded in the wall of the booth, and before she could finish talking the man said, “Faceport,” and his faced was scanned. The woman he was with also had her face scanned and they proceeded toward the park.
Captain Rousset paid by card and walked with Danny to the security line. Here, guards wearing hats and armed with tasers were directing people through a body scanner. Captain Rousset and Danny stepped forth. A gorilla-like guard wearing a ridiculous whale hat motioned with his nightstick for them to walk though the body scanner. Captain Rousset said, “We’re gonna opt out.”
The gorilla guard yelled out, “We’ve got an opt out!”
An elderly guard came over and escorted Captain Rousset and his son to the side of the security zone. The guard – a frail old man with brown spots on his skin, his shirt loosely tucked – lazily explained to Captain Rousset how he was going to pat him down, and then asked him to remove his shoes. The guard ran his gloved-hands along the Captain’s arms and torso, grunting as he bent down to frisk his pant legs.
“You’re good,” said the old guard who then turned to Danny. “Come on sonny, just put your feet right on top of these here marks and hold out your arms with your hands facing up like this. I’m gonna give you a little pat down.”
Danny stepped onto the yellow footprints on the floor mat and the guard started to touch him.
“You like Shamu, son?” the guard said as he ran his hands across Danny’s shirt and shorts. Danny nodded solemnly as the guard breathed heavily and said “Yeah, that’s a good boy.”
It was hard for Captain Rousset to watch the old man touch his son. He wanted for it to stop, he wanted to apologize to Danny and pick him up and take him somewhere else. However, they had come this far and they wanted to see the whales.
“Okay boys, you’re clear,” said the old security guard.
He put his shoes back on and Danny took his father’s hand as they finally stepped into the park. On a large screen a cartoon orca appeared and said, “Welcome to Sea World, Danny!” Danny smiled as they walked by the screen, the cartoon whale was waving bye, saying, “Don’t forget to visit the gift shop before you leave!” They made their way past the grass lawns and pavilions at the entrance. The walkway was lined with flowers and packed with happy families laughing under the bright sky. The immense scale of the park was established by the distant roller coasters, the lofty blue tower in the center of the park, and the massive stadium terraces and amphitheater bleachers that rose high into the sky. Seagulls squawked through the air, which smelled like bleach and fish and churros. They walked across a moat where remote-controlled toy boats swerved across the water. Danny was smiling and saw many other children at their fixed remote control stations steering boats and said, “I want to drive a boat!”
“Okay,” said his dad.
They made their way to a control station and Captain Rousset pressed his bank card against the payment pad. The small boat that was floating in front of them in the water let out the sound of a boat horn and a little green light lit up on the stern. Danny was at the controls on the bank of the moat, and his boat initially wavered in its trajectory, but once he got a hang of things he beelined it toward another boat.
“Look daddy!” he said, “I’m driving a drone boat! Pew-pew-pew, I’m gonna shoot you!” he shouted as he crashed his boat into another one and laughed.
“Alright Danny, don’t hit the other boats like that…you want to go see Shamu?” his father asked.
“Pew-pew-pew!” Danny exclaimed, gunning for the next boat.
“You want to go feed the dolphins?”
“Yeah!” said Danny, and he let go of the controls.
They made their way to the Dolphin Zone. It was a large pool filled with dolphins and surrounded by hundreds of people. There were seagulls flying everywhere above them. Dozens of people held red and white checkered cartons filled with dead anchovies that they were feeding to the dolphins.
“Oh boy!” exclaimed Danny.
Captain Rousset bought a carton of three anchovies from a vending machine and they stepped to the wall of the pool. The dolphins straggled up to the side of the pool with their mouths open and they tossed their heads up and down. They seemed sickly and lethargic and made feeble clicking noises. One swam up to Danny and stretched its mouth open and Danny could see its pink tongue and small yellow teeth.
“What’s he saying?” asked Danny.
“He’s saying ‘feed me.’ Give him a fish, Danny,” said the father.
Danny tossed an anchovy in the dolphin’s mouth. “Good dolphin,” he said as it swallowed the fish and opened its mouth again.
“His head’s all scratched up,” said Danny.
Raked across the dolphin’s heads were numerous scars caused by a combination of things, like running dolphins into the sides and bottom of the cramped tank, fighting and digging their teeth into one another, as well as people scratching them with their fingernails over the years.
A seagull swooped down and stole the anchovy from Danny fingers. “Hey! That was for the dolphin, you seagull!”
Captain Rousset laughed, and said “It’s okay, we still got one more.” He gazed up at the seagulls, and beyond in the distance a drone was patrolling in the skies. “Come on kiddo, feed that dolphin and let’s go see if we can find Shamu.”
Danny fed the last anchovy to the dolphin and said goodbye to them. He and his father washed their hands and made their way to a colossal, open-air stadium, amassed at the side of the park. The bleachers extended several hundred feet into the air. An enormous awning covered the thousands of spectators sitting near the top of the stadium. In the center of the arena was an Olympic-size pool of cobalt blue water, and positioned about the pool was jumbotron. Giant speakers on each side of the screen announced that the show was getting ready to begin. Captain Rousset carried Danny up the stairs and along the rows of bleachers. Danny was looking over his father’s shoulder, trying to catch a glimpse of an orca in the holding pen that was located behind the entertainment screen and speakers.
In front of each seat position were vertical, metal rods that held a headset, attached to which was to a pair of thick, computerized eye glasses. Captain Rousset and Danny sat near the stairway in the upper bleachers. Danny reached for his headset and Captain Rousset caught his breath as he gazed upon the panorama before them. From his viewpoint he could see out to Mission Bay, where tremendous cargo and cruise ships coursed along the aquatic paths carved out by the dredges. Tendrils of grey smoke rose up from the oil rigs stationed off the coast, and inland, the city of San Diego was choked in blanket of smog.
The booming stadium speakers were playing dramatic music and an announcer instructed spectators to wear their augmented reality headsets in order to view the Prehistoric Marine Predator Show, the prelude to the main performance.
“How do these work?” asked Danny as he put on his headset.
“They’re not turned on yet.”
Captain Rousset secured Danny’s headset and then put his on. It fit snuggly over his head and was much lighter than the type he wore at work. The clear glass lenses of the headsets flickered and, thereafter, bubbles could be seen forming beneath the surface of water in the pool. Suddenly, enormous sea beasts appeared to be rising up through the water – they emerged roaring and snarling. Some had long necks and pointy heads, sharp teeth and bulging eyes, others resembled monstrous piranhas with dark plated skin and flat heads. These animated holograms of ancient creatures lashed about and snapped their illusory jaws in close proximity to the crowds. The audience gasped and screamed in delight as each of the creatures postured ferociously or jumped out of the water as it was introduced: “Kronosaurus, the vicious giant of the deep… Dunkleosteus, the marine menace… The fearsome Megalodon…” and a few other prehistoric sea creatures were presented and explained. This show went on for about ten minutes and then the holograms faded away.
There was a slight break and then announcer prepared the audience for the whale show. Danny and Captain Rousset were finally going to see Shamu, albeit from very far away. “For your convenience, you may choose to operate the zoom function on your headsets to get a closer view of the miraculous creature that you are about to see.” The audience was on edge, craning their necks and gripping their cameras – this was likely to be the only time that many people there would ever see a live whale. The music was blasting. “Ladies and Gentleman, Sea World presents to you, Shamu!” The killer whale swam out slowly and the crowd went wild. The cheers poured down upon the whale. “That’s Shamu!” cried Danny.
“It sure is,” said Captain Rousset, who had placed his headset back onto its station and was squinting down at the pool.
In the pool, the orca swam up to the trainers who held buckets of fish and they tossed some into its mouth. The speakers crackled and the announcer said, “Shamu eats almost half a ton of fish each day! Hey, Shamu, why don’t you give the crowd a wet welcome?”
Shamu swam around the edge of the tank and sent some water splashing over the sides and into the audience. He then swam back to the trainers who fed him handfuls of fish. “Let’s give him a round of applause!”
The audience cheered and rose up in their seats.
Barely visible in the distance was a drone flying over the perimeter of the park.
“Our dedicated and highly experience team of trainers have spent years with Shamu. Watch as Charlie the orca trainer takes a little ride on Shamu. Surf’s up!”
Charlie jumped into the water and climbed up onto the orca’s back and they started a lap around the pool.
The crowd applauded.
Captain Rousset was watching the approaching drone. It was one of the hover drones that patrols the city and border, and it had just made an unusual move: it seemed to have stalled for a moment but then caught itself before changing direction toward Sea World. It traveled fast over the parking lot and above the park, heading directly toward the stadium. It was close enough that the Captain could make out the DHS seal and see the barrel shroud of the machine gun attached to its belly. The blaring stadium speakers were drowning out the noise of the incoming drone, and only a few people paid any attention to it.
The Captain watched as it flew toward the pool and stadium and he said to himself, “too low,” as the drone opened fire and rained bullets into the crowd in the lower bleachers, continuing to fire as it swung away. Bloodcurdling screams and hysteria erupted in the stadium. The pandemonium escalated as the drone hooked around over the pool and doubled back towards the stadium. It opened fire again, pumping linear rounds of bullets through the water and ripping apart the bodies of the trainer and killer whale. The path of bullets riddled across water and traveled up the bleachers, tearing into the manic crowd once more. That instant, Captain Rousset scooped up Danny and rushed down the stairway. The whole stadium shook as thousands of terrified people leapt up from their seats in a panic and stampeded toward the exits. The orca was flailing in agony as the music continued to blast from the speakers.
With Danny in his arms, Captain Rousset sprinted toward the emergency exit doors. He caught a glimpse of the people scrambling to assist with the dead and wounded on the bleachers below, he saw the whale sinking through a cloud of blood in the pool, and in the air the drone was veering back again. Danny cried as his father carried him down the stairs and out of the stadium.
“Why did it do that!?” cried Danny.
“I don’t know,” yelled his father, “Someone at the controls must have gone nuts!”
“It killed Shamu!” exclaimed Danny.
Dozens of people had gathered outside of the stadium to observe the commotion. Captain Rousset ran past the bystanders and yelled, “Get out of the way! The drone is killing people!” As he said this, the drone swept over the top of the stadium and opened fire into the crowd that had gathered outside. Bodies were torn apart and people fled screaming. At this point, the drone assumed a stationary position in the air and bucked back as it launched a missile into the main gate of the stadium. A fireball erupted and chunks of the stadium wall came crumbling down. It turned and fired another missile toward the center of the park, striking the pod of the sky tower, which burst into flames. The drone then sailed off across the park, its machine gun blasting apart scattering and huddling masses alike. Emergency sirens were ringing throughout and a frantic evacuation began.
Captain Rousset dashed passed the frightened and confused families that were making their way across the bridge that spanned the moat. He stopped on the bridge to catch his breath and he gazed beyond the parameters of the park, toward the San Diego skyline in the distance and he said, “Oh my God.” Plumes of black smoke rose up from the skyscrapers in downtown San Diego. A dozen drones could be seen weaving like harriers through the mayhem, launching missiles into buildings and firing down into the city streets. In Mission Bay smoldering cargo ships floated aimlessly in the water and the docks were burning. Further off the coast, pillars of smoke ascended from the oils rigs that had been attacked and set ablaze in the siege.
The Captain sprinted over the bridge and ran toward the Sea World exit. He passed the gift shops where visitors were scrambling to purchase souvenirs.
Danny saw the frenzy of people shopping and he said, “I want a toy!”
His father was panting and said, “Not now…we’ll come back next year.”
They reached the parking lot and Captain Rousset scanned the encompassing sky. The coast was clear and he made a run to the far end of the lot where the car was parked. He passed dozens of evacuees who were crowding into the trolley near the entrance. At the head of the trolley the animatronic dolphin was refusing to leave, saying that there were too many people on board. People were fighting in attempt to force each other off, and a few were attacking Switcher, demanding that he move the trolley.
Acrid fumes from the burning city swept through the parking lot. Captain Rousset arrived at his car and put Danny in the back seat. Once inside the car, the Captain reached for his pistol and placed it on the passenger seat. He took out his phone and saw that he had two missed calls from the air base and three from his wife. He made a call, his wife answered.
“You okay baby?” he asked.
“Thank God, yes, where the hell are you?” she cried.
“I’m leaving Sea World with Danny right now.” The Captain Rousset started his car. “Are you still at work?”
“Yes I’m here, I don’t know what to do, people are leaving and some of them are taking shelter in the basement. I can’t --”
“Honey, listen to me. I want you to go home. I want you take the back roads, don’t get on the highway, and go home and wait for Danny and me to get there.”
His wife began to cry, “God, baby, this is insane. The drones are killing people everywhere, the hospital was hit, the whole country is under attack.”
The potential magnitude of the situation was beginning to occur to Captain Rousset.
“Listen to me, baby” he said to his wife, “you get in your car and you go home. I don’t know how much longer we’ll be able talk over the phone. You take the back roads and you’ll be safe. The drones won’t strike out there anymore. You hear?”
“I hear you honey. I’ll go home. I love you.” she said,
“I love you too baby. I’ll see you at home.” Captain Rousset handed the phone to Danny and said, “Tell mommy you love her.”
Danny picked up the phone, and mimicking his father her said, “Mommy, you go home. Okay? We’ll see you at home. I love you, Mommy.”
Captain Rousset kept his eyes on the sky as he drove out of the parking lot. His was one of the first cars out. There were fire trucks and ambulances speeding down the opposite side of the road toward Sea World. Once the emergency vehicles passed, Captain Rousset sped inland, away from the bay and toward San Diego. As he navigated the side streets adjacent to the freeway, he answered a phone call from the air base.
“This is Captain Rousset,” he said.
“Where the hell are you Captain?” It was the Major.
“I’m at Sea World, sir.”
“What the hell are you doing at Sea World? The country is under attack. Get your ass over here!”
“It’s my day off, sir.”
“I don’t give a damn if it’s your Mommy’s birthday – we got a national emergency on our hands! We’ve lost control of our drones Captain!”
“I see that, sir. Do we have any idea who’s behind this?”
“Not a goddamn clue, but I’ll bet my daughter’s virginity it’s those cagey Chinese!”
Captain Rousset could see the burning control tower at the San Diego International Airport to the south. Beyond the airport, black fumes billowed up from the naval base on Coronado Island, where drones had launched missiles into the runway, preventing any fighter jets from taking off and responding the attack.
“So what’s the plan then, Major?” Captain Rousset asked.
“Shit,” said the major, “we need pilots here who can operate any drones that we get back in control – that means you!”
“Have we recovered any units so far?”
“Hell no, Captain! The computer programs and satellite systems have been hacked. All D-O-D and D-H-S drones have been hijacked! Every major city is under attack. Utility plants have been targeted and the base is operating on power generators. These fucking chinks are going to pay! This is war and we need you! Report to the operations center immediately, Captain! That is a direct order! All hands on deck! Semper --” the line cut out.
“Shit,” said Captain Rousset. He tried to call back but the network was not responding.
The Captain weighed his options. Even before he spoke to the Major, he had decided that he would not be going to the base. His son and wife were his main concerns, and he intended to get home as soon as possible. The San Diego freeway was quite calm as a result of air strikes having demolished portions of the freeway and immobilizing traffic further south. He entered the freeway onramp and drove north. Danny was peering back through the rear windshield, watching the assault rage down upon the city, bearing witness to the havoc unleashed the by hellfire missiles and relentless rounds of bullets which had transformed San Diego into a war zone in less than half an hour.
“Daddy…” said Danny.
Captain Rousset saw Danny looking back and said, “Danny, sit down and face forward.”
“Daddy,” his son said, “when you flying your drone, do you… is this what happens to other places?”
Captain Rousset looked at Danny in the rear view mirror. Behind the child the smoke from burning structures swirled into the air as the drones reduced the city to ruins. The Captain felt betrayed by the drones, he became lightheaded and sick – not because of what was happening, but because of why. He had a wretched feeling that the chickens had come home to roost, that they were now getting a taste of their own medicine.
“This isn’t what I do,” Captain Rousset said to Danny.
“Why are they doing it?” asked Danny.
“I don’t know Danny. We lost control of them.”
“Because, we weren’t careful,”
“Then are other people controlling them?”
“Yes, I think so.”
“Who are they?”
“We don’t know yet.”
“But why do they want to hurt people?”
“Because Danny, they don’t like us.”
Danny thought for a moment and then said, “But just because you don’t like someone, that doesn’t mean you have to hurt them.”
At this point Captain Rousset turned onto the Mt. Soledad Freeway and began driving east. There was light traffic along the freeway – if it became any worse he intended to exit onto the local roads, but they maintained a steady speed of about fifty miles an hour. He kept and eye out for any drones in the sky.
About a mile ahead, smoke was rising up from tarmac of the Marine Corps Air Station Miramar. Though the air station had endured moderate damage, a few helicopters and tilt-rotor planes had lifted off and were flying around San Diego. The Miramar air station was where the Captain worked and where he had been ordered by the Major to report. It was where, for the last seven years of his life, Captain Travis Marcel Rousset would pilot drones through countries he had never visited, to kill people he had never met.
“What’s going to happen?” asked Danny.
“We’re going home. Remember? Mommy will be there.”
“Is it going to stop?”
“It will stop, of course. They’ll run out of missiles and bullets and fuel, they can’t keep this up for much longer. They’re not gonna take us down.”
But as Captain Rousset learned when he turned on the car radio and listened to the emergency alert system broadcast, the impact of the universal drone hijacking was already sufficient enough to bring the United States to its knees.[v]
A wave of brake lights illuminated on the freeway before him as the cars ahead slowed down. Captain Rousset hit the breaks and swerved onto the right shoulder of the highway and sped on in the hopes of making it to the next exit. Considering the situation and their proximity to the base, he was half-expecting to see a checkpoint up ahead on the freeway. To expedite his transit home, he was prepared to lie and claim that he was going to report to the base. But there was no checkpoint.
As Captain Rousset drove down the highway shoulder past the traffic, he could see an exit ramp about a quarter-mile ahead. Smoke was rising up from the freeway and he slowed down. Several people had gotten out of their cars and were rushing toward an accident in the left lanes. He passed the accident site and then pulled over beside the noise barrier wall. He looked up through his windshield and then out his window – there were no drones in sight.
“Stay here, Danny.”
“No Daddy.” Danny cried.
“I’m going to make sure those people are okay. I’ll be right back.”
“No Daddy, I want to go home!”
“Danny, we have to make sure those people are okay. You don’t move, you hear me? I’m going to go right over there and then I’m coming right back.”
Tears were pouring down Danny’s face.
“You stay put, do you hear me!?” yelled his father.
Danny nodded and cried in affirmation.
Captain Rousset got out of his car and ran through the streams of the slowly moving vehicles on the freeway. The accident involved three cars, one of which was flipped to its side on the concrete divider. About a dozen people from both sides of the freeway were assisting in the rescue effort. Captain Rousset came to the car that was turned to its side at the divider. Inside, the woman in driver’s seat was bawling, though she appeared uninjured. A man had managed to open her passenger side door and he held it open as Captain Rousset and another man began to pull the woman out. And even through the woman’s wailing and all the chaos of the traffic accident Captain Rousset heard it coming.
As they lifted the woman out from the car the Captain turn his head up to the left and saw a Viper Drone launch a missile into the aggregation of cars behind the accident. The explosion knocked him and the others onto the shuddering concrete, and for an instant the impact had lifted some cars into the air. The Captain had slammed into the concrete and blood was pouring down his chin and forearms. Limping quickly, he scuffled past idle cars back toward his own. The drone was rapidly firing its rotating machine gun from a stationary position above both lanes of traffic, raining bullets down into vehicles and the people fleeing across freeway. As Captain Rousset neared his car he heard the firing pattern change. He looked across the freeway and saw, immediately beyond the noise barrier wall there was a man standing on the roof of a house, shooting at the drone with a rifle. The rifleman was hollering like a madman and had managed to strike the drone, which, though still operational, was smoking and steadily gliding toward him on the roof. The man attempted another shot with the rifle and then the drone opened fire and blasted his body to pieces - the fragments of his body fell to the roof as a cloud of blood traveled upward. The drone then shifted back to its former position, hovering over the divider and firing furiously into the carnage below. Though it struck with less accuracy, due to the bullet hole that the slain rifleman had shot through one of its rotor blades, the drone spared no ammo as it mowed down people who sought cover in and beside vehicles.
Captain Rousset crouched low as he hurried back to his car. He approached the car and saw Danny banging on the back window in terror. He darted inside and yelled for him to get down.
Danny shuffled down to the floor of the car and he was crying uncontrollably. He stared in shock at his father’s bloodied face. From the driver’s seat, Captain Rousset turned and leaned back to comfort his son.
“Danny, calm down, Daddy’s here. We have to be quiet, okay? If you be quiet the drone won’t be able to find us.”
Danny was gasping and tears were streaming down his face as he attempted to suppress his fear.
“It’s gonna be okay, just stay down away from the windows and be as quiet as you can.”
They could hear the drone hovering around and firing into the roofs and windows of cars outside, hunting down any visible targets. They heard frantic people wailing like madmen amidst the bloodshed on the freeway. Captain Rousset could see the drone passing back and forth in this side-view mirror.
“Danny, listen to me. I’m going to be right back.”
Danny eyes filled with dread upon hearing this. The boy had his hands clasped over his mouth as he shook his head back and forth and pled no from the car floor.
“You’re gonna stay put, you hear? You just remember to stay low and be silent. Wait for me.”
He reached for his pistol and checked the rounds, he then looked back to confirm that the drone was still behind them. Before he opened the door he saw that Danny had clenched himself into a ball on the floor of the car – he had buried his face into his knees and pressed his palms against his ears. Captain Rousset left his car and ducked beside the neighboring vehicle, looking back to make sure his son was not watching him and to again check the position of the drone – it was moving slowly and firing away from him. The Captain then dashed around several cars toward the center divider and hunkered down next to an empty sedan. The sporadic ballistics of the drone and the moans of the injured resonated across the freeways. Captain Rousset has seen several living occupants cowering inside their vehicles and some watched him hunched there beside the car holding his pistol. He removed the safety and looked to the sky. The drone was shooting into various cars, out from some of which surviving occupants fled before they were gunned down like prey on the freeway. The terrifying scenes unfolded before the Captain like a nightmare, he was struggling to grasp the reality the situation. He felt as though he was removed and was witnessing this massacre from an altogether separate place. This distanced sensation felt familiar, and he realized that it was similar to how he felt when he piloted the drones. The Captain shook his head in order to regain control of his thoughts. He looked toward the sky over the base in hopes of seeing an auxiliary aircraft but nothing appeared.
The drone was wavering slightly as it hovered and a faint plume of smoke emitted from the damaged blade section. It shifted sluggishly above the cars and the pools of blood on the freeway, firing upon anyone that moved. The drone then reversed its course and hovered back toward the traffic accident.
Captain Rousset knelt beside the car, positioned his arms across the hood and steadied the pistol in his grasp. The drone was about one hundred feet away from him and it would soon be hovering over his car, where Danny was. The Captain aimed for the center of the drone, he fired and missed. Immediately he fired again. It was another miss.
“Goddamnit,” said Captain Rousset.
Having spotted him, the drone sailed forth toward the Captain, passing over his car and the accident site. The drone began shooting and the Captain fired another shot, he then quickly ducked beside the car as bullets ripped across the hood. His last shot had penetrated the belly of drone, which came roaring above him. The drone bypassed him and spun around, wobbling and firing the machine gun wildly. Black smoke surged from the broken machine as it went down shooting in the direction of Captain Rousset. He rolled toward the back of the car and as he started to dash away, a searing pain burst through his back and seethed up into his skull. He then fell to the ground and tried to move but his limbs were paralyzed. He was consumed by a crushing pressure and he gasped desperately for air as his lungs collapsed. Blood flowed profusely from the bullet holes that the drone had riddled across his back and through his torso. As he bled out, he felt the hot concrete quiver below him as the drone plowed into the freeway in a grinding crash. Silhouettes came rushing over Captain Rousset and he thought of his son as he died. Danny was curled up on the floor of the car, staying as quiet possible, waiting for his father to return.
[i] Along with the state and local police, as well as officials from various federal agencies, members of the armed services are permitted to possess and carry firearms. Though most federal and states laws prohibit civilians from bearing arms, an estimated seventy million civilians are believed to be in violation of these laws by illegally possessing firearms.
[ii] Over 50,000 government drones were known to be operating in the United States (there were at least 20,000 drones in the air at all times, but it was not uncommon to have twice that many flying during periods of high-alert); about half that many were operating separately overseas – the majority of which are attack drones. Domestic drones were being used for many different purposes, but overwhelmingly were applied toward surveillance and border protection. Since domestic operations began a decade ago, many drone accidents and misfires have occurred, resulting in an unfavorable view of drones by the public. On numerous occasions, drones have inflicted serious (albeit accidental) harm to persons and property, and were notoriously intrusive of citizens’ privacy. Yet the rationale for their presence has always been that the ends justify the means; that the problems they’ve caused have been far less than the problems they’ve prevented and resolved. Their ubiquitous presence in society is well known, enough so that when an average adult observes a drone in a sky, they will more than likely be able to identify the particular model by name. The drone models have contemporary names like Reaper, Predator, Shadow, and Zenith, while other models are given esoteric names like Osiris, Azrael, and Samedi.
[iii] Killer whales, for instance, were on the verge of extinction – one to two hundred are estimated to exist in the wild. Due to human interference (poaching, commerce, recreation, oil tanker spills, oil rig explosions, nuclear reactor meltdowns, sonar, cruise ships, floating garbage patches, toxic effluence, blast fishing, et cetera), killer whales were expected to soon follow in the footsteps of the narwhal, the nautilus, the blue fin tuna, and numerous other marines species, and be declared extinct in the wild.
[iv] A dozen intervention mishaps have occurred involving the Viper model drone alone. Commonly, on these tragic occasions, Viper drone pilots who had intended to activate the sound cannon or fire rubber bullets into unruly crowds had accidentally pulled the machine gun trigger instead, killing and wounding numerous people in each instance. (The most famous of these incidents occurred in New York City on September 22, 2018, when twenty-three protestors were killed and scores more were injured during a demonstration, ironically, against the domestic use of military drones.) Additionally, like other types of drones, many Viper drones had accidentally crashed, causing severe damage.
[v] The emergency alert system broadcast was initially playing a message on a loop from the President of the United States, who had issued the briefing to Americans from an undisclosed location. (The White House Emergency Operations Center was disabled because the sections of the White House were burning down and lay in rubble.) The President described the severity of the attack. Over 30,000 federal government and military drones, the majority of which were armed, had been hijacked. The drones had heavily damaged or destroyed thousands of critical infrastructure assets and facilities across America. The brunt of the attack was endured by people in large cities on the west coast and eastern seaboard. The President urged calm in areas of high unrest, especially in Los Angeles and New York City, where blackouts and network outages, compound with rampant looting and internecine violence, had turned those two places into certifiable deathtraps. (Martial law had been declared in California, New York, Florida, Texas, Louisiana, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Washington, Illinois, and the District of Columbia, where the Sidwell Friends School was hit. Widespread violence and plunder in major cities continued for many days following the drone strike, often with more deaths resulting from homicides committed in the subsequent disorder than from the drone strikes themselves.) The Hoover Dam was had been hit and severely damaged; the United Nations had been hit and was on fire; One World Trade Center, which had only opened for business last year, was attacked; the granite faces of Mt. Rushmore had been destroyed; Washington D.C was under heavy attack; the Las Vegas strip was burning; water treatment and sanitation facilities were targeted; hundreds of power transmissions lines and substations were down. Thousands of hospitals, police stations, military bases, bridges, and highways were attacked, and, most disconcertingly, several nuclear power plants were fired upon. At the time of the initial emergency broadcast, it was unclear how many people had been killed. The intensity of the attack appeared to be subsiding – this deduction was based on the fact that those drones that had depleted of ammunition were themselves operating as missiles, crashing into structures like kamikaze planes. The President was urging people to stay inside, and to not, as many were doing, make a stand against the drones by standing outside and firing at the drones with personal handguns or rifles. Lastly, the President vowed retribution for the attack, saying it was unmistakably and an act of war, and he promised a swift and brutal military response against those found to be responsible.
I would like to thank Skip Beery for his help in developing this story concept and helping to shape it properly.