The Drone Keeper by A. R. Shaw
by A. R. Shaw
(Rough draft sample. Subject to change and revisions. Copyright reserved.)
In the blackness, their bodies were muted against the night sky. No detection or reflection of bouncing lights off lakes or oceans gave away their position. Not that there were any bodies of water nearby for miles. There once was. Or at least that’s what the researchers indicated when he’d taken over the deserted observatory. In fact, in the exact spot Steve Glenning stood, there once was a body of water that was filled with giant prehistoric sharks that had a conveyor belt of razor-sharp teeth for a lower jaw. He’d seen the digital semblance and the Helicoprion was a thing of utter nightmares. Some animals needed extinction, there he’d said it or at least thought it. That was all right by Steve, because the thought of swimming in the same water with those guys, gave him the heebie-jeebies.
A quick little shutter ran through him at the thought as he stood on a rocky ledge with only a digital topographical readout to keep him from dropping off into oblivion. He listened for any sounds from the test run above but heard nothing. Not even a whir. He’d welcome the hoot of a desert owl or a cry of a bobcat or even a coyote, animals once in numbers there, but now there were none. They’d long become history like the nightmare shark. The crickets, however were still abundant and cockroaches; you could never quite get rid of those guys. Some would say man had a way of eliminating all great things but kept the annoyances. But not him. Steve knew it wasn’t only man’s fault for the dying planet. Sure, they had a part, but it was just the evolution of the planet itself. No one wanted to talk about that reality though. Just like a man ages, so too does a planet, a universe…even cockroaches died of old age after a certain time. But that explanation left no one blameless and guilt was a commodity that had too much use to give away. Without it, there was no power over others. A simple fact of the way the world works, Steve’s father taught him years before. And because Steve wanted nothing to do with politics, he chose a career that kept him as far enough away from such things as possible and instead found acceptance among the creatures he’d created instead of the ones he’d longed for.
“Glenning…are you still out there?”
He hated it when Anabelle used the break through call. What if he was in the bathroom or making out with a beautiful woman? Chuckling to himself over the last thought, he answered, “Yes, five more minutes.”
“I’m not your mom. Don’t give me five more minutes.”
“I…just a few more minutes and I’ll return. I have to go through a few more calibrations. There’s a slight wind from the east. Where’s it coming from? Do you see that on the radar?”
He could see her in his mind checking the screens, whipping through them. Barely a second spent on each one and yet her mind flew through the data until she spotted the culprit.
“There’s a windmill 5.98 kilometers southeast, but you knew that. I saw you enter the data before you left.”
And though she couldn’t see his face at the time, he closed his eyes and shook his head silently. “I…I know.”
“Then why did you ask the question?”
He swallowed even though his mouth was dry.
“Because, when I left it was 4.3 knots and now it feels like 5.2 at least according to my readings and if that’s the case then it’s possible there are more turbines turned on since I left in similar locations? Have we checked with the farm down the road? They’re supposed to alert us, it’s in the contract.”
“They get annoyed. They were here first. At least that’s what they say.”
Letting out a breath, Steve gave the return order and closed his readout, folded the screen and slid it into his jacket pocket and began walking back to the office. “Be that as it may,” he gave a slight smile because he’d succeeded in his diversionary tactics this evening at least, “you still need to make the effort. We’ve talked about this. We have to build the relationship before they trust us. You know how this works.”
“They’re wind farmers, Steve. It’s not like they’re social beings either. Or they wouldn’t be out here just like us.”
“Just a minor correction. You’re not out here either, technically.”
“I concede your point. Now please return before you need supplemental oxygen like last time. I don’t want to have to call you in.”
Darn. He wasn’t as successful as he’d thought. Rolling his eyes, he walked through the door. “Already beat you too it, hard ass. I’m in.”
“Fine. See you tomorrow.”
He didn’t bother to say goodbye or see you too, because like always, she just hung up with the abruptness of an earthquake. Steve entered the airlock door and once it sealed behind him with a swoosh, a charged silence ensued.
He stood there…wading in it like a swimmer in the deep end of a pool, at times he thought he could do this forever. The not moving in the absolute silence but then something reminded him he was human and not nothing. His stomach growled and since it was past 1900 hours he realized if he wanted to avoid another break through call from Anabelle tonight, he’d better check his oxygen levels and eat something.
Setting down his pack, he flipped his wrist and checked the pulse oximeter reading and noted that 92 wasn’t exactly bad considering but not great either. Still, he felt fine. Then he opened the cupboard and grabbed the meal of the day. They tried varying them to keep food fatigue at bay when you were deployed for long periods of time without dinning facilities. But despite their best efforts, when Steve ripped the top off the mylar bag, he pulled out the chalky white 3D-printed biscuit made of insect flour and groaned. “Not you again.” But he took a bit anyway. It was more like a beehive looking ring and he wasn’t sure why they made them that shape but assumed it was easier to transport that way. Who liked eating broken insect biscuits? He flipped the package over while he munched and wondered just what kind of insects were pulverized in the bug protein flour but as his finger scanned the ingredients it came to rest on insects au gratin. Nice. At least it’s not the lab grown meat this time because that stuff tastes and smelled like dog food in spite of all the marketing. He made a face and shook a little and then opened up his newsfeed shaking head wishing he hadn’t and then checked his email instead.
At the top of the list he saw the one he’d been expecting for days, hoped for at least. But without touching it, he took another bite of his biscuit and leaned back in the chair, letting it hold his weight in the darkness for the time being. The news within that digital folder might change things forever. He wasn’t sure he was ready for a career change. Actually, change was rather hard to deal with and who volunteered for such transitions especially when politics were involved. But then he thought of Anabelle and knew she wasn’t the only one who struggled with the rest of them. That’s how he thought of the populous…the ones that were left. There was him, and then there was the rest of them. And it was his job to take care of the drones. It was not his job to deal with the living world and that was how he liked his life. Just him, the drones and the occasional disembodied voice of Anabelle. And that was all…but he reached out a finger to open the email and let the scanner read his print anyway.