I watched as Sybil skipped down the dirt road, circling bits of crumbled ruins, her step light. She had never known anything other than the dirt that twirled around her; never seen drone strikes collapse a building full of her neighbors; never known war; never known anything other than the dilapidated buildings that the community she lived in called home. At seven, Sybil was enamored with her dusty world.
The wind blew, picking up dirt that hadn't seen water in weeks. Sybil ran from the cloud, then changed her mind and charged through it.
Just above her shoulder, there was a metallic gleam. As she moved, it moved, seemingly dancing with her. Less than a foot in length and half as small in width, her metal companion was with her day and night. Sybil seemed to think of her follower fondly; never really understanding its purpose, just accepting it as a part of her, and everyone's, lives. Every person in the small town had a follower like hers, each one identical to the next, that would follow that one person's actions forever.
She reached out to touch it.
"You're going to be late for school!" I called out, noticing how her hand fell back to her side, "Get going!"
Sybil nodded, a faint "Esmond, c'mon!" reached me on the front porch of our makeshift home.
Esmond. I remembered the day she had named her drone Esmond. A year ago some of the children her age had started naming their drones. She had been helping me hang up laundry in the backyard on the clothesline, her light brown hair growing ever lighter in the uninterrupted sun, when she had pinned me with her brown eyes and asked:
"Our drones watch over us, right?"
I paused, my drone paused, her drone paused. Whoever was watching would expect a good show.
"Of course." I smiled, feeling the way my upper lip caught on my teeth.
"And you always say Grandpa is looking after us, right? Like he did--"
I cleared my throat.
"Yes, Grandpa Esmond did fight for us. A long time ago."
Sybil looked down and then back up at me. "Then I'll name my drone Esmond! So he'll always watch over me, like Grandpa!" She smiled, everything about her, from the way her eyes sparkled to her arms swinging at her sides suggesting the innocence of naivety.
I remembered holding back the urge to single-handedly tear apart our drones and take her aside. Even now I found myself grinding my teeth together. My father had fought for us to be free, to live a life without a corrupted government that had tried to treat its citizens as slaves. And for my father's efforts, for everyone's efforts, we were rewarded with drones. Drones to make sure we never stepped out of line, and if we did, we would be dealt with before another insurrection could bring the people together. The drones were our punishment for thinking we could take back control of a flawed 'democracy'.
We had received a warning letter that night for not properly slandering my father's name.
You have been observed telling a falsified history. Continued grievance will result in immediate reassignment.
Government of Defense
Government of defense—the boogeyman come to life. Reassignment was their scare tactic. No one had ever been reassigned to our city of Marfeld, though a few had been reassigned from. To be reassigned was to be stolen from your home and family and put 'somewhere else.' Those who were reassigned were never heard from again.
An arm wrapped around my waist, pulling me back to the present. I fell into the man behind me. Blake's beard grazed the top of my head, making his way down. He kissed my neck, and slowly moved to my ear.
I turned and wrapped my arms around him, burying my head in his broad chest, the rough fabric of his shirt scratching my cheek.
* * *
I sat in a chair, hard metal back digging into my skin. Blake sat to my left, the red bristles on his neck and chin contrasting with the ivory of his skin. Looking at him was like admiring a sculpture from school books long ago. Where mine and Sybil's skin held a permanent deep tan, Blake was either marble white or red with a sunburn blazing across his face and arms. There was no in-between.
Sybil was outside, with the other children. Town meetings never took too long, with only twenty to thirty capable adults in attendance on any given week. Tonight was an exception, the concrete building was packed, people lining the back wall. Drones hovered each member's shoulder.
I wonder if they ever get tired of sitting there, wherever they are, watching us? How bored they must be, having watched the same two people share a bed every night, eat the same meal over and over, dress their kids every morning. My curiosity turned to anger as my thoughts turned to them watching Sybil. Watching my little girl get dressed, go to the bathroom, go from one shoe size to the next. A person in a room somewhere would watch my child grow up. Someone I never knew—never would know.
The electrical engineers took the first row tonight, signaling that they part of the reason this meeting had been called. When Grace Wasche stood from the first seat and walked to the makeshift podium in the center of the room, the people hushed. I squeezed Blake's hand.
"I know you all have been concerned about the roaming power outages, and I am pleased to say that tonight at midnight, we will be resetting the system."
The thrum of excitement was palpable. There were whispers across the room of 'Tonight?,' 'So soon?,' 'Finally...' followed by heavy silence. We all understood what this meant.
I squeezed Blake's hand.
For years, maybe even decades, there had been coded letters and messages passed along whenever trade or shipments of supplies came in. Just over a year ago new blueprints on how to upgrade our city's power grid had made their way to us, only in the middle of the papers were instructions on how to make a 'power saving device.' Following through the instructions, it became obvious that this device wouldn't just save power—it would knock out all electronic devices within a short distance for an undetermined amount of time. The instructions stipulated that it was 'strongly advised' that every household have one to 'save the city from using too much electricity.'
Once rumors had made their way around the town, a meeting was called. We were all asked to vote on if we would like these power saving devices, and after a majority vote of 'yes,' a flurry of planning began.
The townspeople who were not interested in participating, were not forced to. They simply stopped coming to the meetings and kept to themselves. The other started trying to puzzle out where they might go; some wanted to stay and reform Marfeld into a rebel area, but that was ruled out quickly. There were people loyal to the government that kept them barely fed who were staying, plus Marfeld was going to be under scrutiny for some time after the EMPs went off.
It wouldn't be safe to stay.
Others started whispering in code about a haven, a place in the desert nearby, hidden under the sand. It would be a gamble, but they decided to spend a few days searching for it, and if unsuccessful, they would march on until they found the river that supposedly ran a week's walk to the east.
At the front of the room, Grace gestured to the table next to her, covered in what looked like haphazardly taped up rods made with bits of metal and plastic.
"Everyone, remember to take one of these on your way out. They are the emergency power saving devices we've been working on. Remember to turn them on at midnight, with the reset to sync them to the power grid."
That last part was false, the power would be turned off, and in the dark we would all switch our EMPs on, killing our drones, and escape into the night.
It always amazed me how easily Grace lied. At no point in any of our meetings had her smile twitched, had she glanced at the drones while speaking. She executed her part of the plan flawlessly, never failing at masking our plans with plausible cover stories. At one point, even gathering the parts for the EMPs had been disguised as an electronics recycling event, each person who brought in a disassembled piece of old tech had received an extra food voucher. All the usable parts were then harvested by the engineering team for use later down the line, most parts going into making the devices now on the table.
The rest of the meeting went quickly, people keeping up appearances, talking about which buildings to restore next, what buildings to finish tearing down, and how the latest drought had affected the water supply. Underneath the normality was the buzzing of shared thoughts.
As the meeting ended rain started to fall, and the children came rushing in.
* * *
I sat next to Sybil on her bed while she slept, back towards me. We would do the right thing by her. She would be free from the oppression. One day she would be old enough to understand, to recoil at the thought of Esmond. I curled some of her hair between my fingers, watching the way the strand always unwound at the end, breaking free from my fingers and thumb.
"Adira," the whisper broke me from my reverie, I looked at the small crack in the door. "I made some coffee, come on out here."
I left, leaving Sybil's door cracked not wanting to wake her.
In a few short hours we would have to wake her and run.
The smell of coffee wafted in from the kitchen. Coffee was the one thing we always received a steady supply of when the food transports came through. There had been one year when I was a child when all our meals were black coffee and the occasional slice of bread; hopefully Sybil would never have to live like that.
Blake placed a white mug, the rim cracked from almost a decade of use, on the counter, liquid steaming.
"I'm going to check on the back-up generators for our block with Jerome a bit before the reset at midnight, just to make sure everything goes smoothly."
We made eye contact, his dark eyes holding mine steady. We both knew he and Jerome were lookouts. After the power went out and the drones dropped, we wouldn't have much time to move. We weren't sure how fast the government could mobilize units and get them to Marfeld, but we weren't going to chance them sneaking up on us while we were leaving.
I nodded, "Stay safe in the dark."
"I'll be back before the light."
YOU ARE READING
Drone GirlScience Fiction
Where there were once great cities, there are now ruins that people live in and around. Sybil and her family live in the ruins of Marfeld, under strict supervision. Decades ago, after the government won the great war between the government and it's...