The power had stayed on all night just as PDRA promised but shortly after sunrise it went out. Even though the computer had a battery backup the router for the internet went out. Nevers shut it down to conserve what reserve there was in case he needed to review the stored database. There was almost no way to get enough information to feel truly comfortable from it because it was static. What he really needed was some current imagery.
Rubbing his eyes he heard Maggie walk in the room. “What did you find out?”
Turning to face her he started, “The layout of the building is good, but…” As he completed his turn he stopped. “Where did that come from?”
In her hands, Maggie held a four-propeller drone with a camera. Setting it down she turned and headed back into the kitchen. “He bought this thing back before we moved here and used it a lot. It wasn’t cheap, it’s a professional set up with fly by wire integration.” Her voice tapered off as she entered the kitchen but came back as she returned holding the remote and a tablet device. “The base doesn’t allow any aerial drones anywhere over the island because it controls all the Aragon airspace so even if Mark had had time off he couldn’t have used it anywhere. This thing was buried in the back of the garage.
“Last night when the tv said the power would be on all night I fished it out and plugged it in.” Nevers started to interrupt, “You were immersed in the computer there. I didn’t know if it would work, if we could fly it or if it would help. I wasn’t even sure the battery would charge. As it started it had three hours of updates to load. But they finished. And it’s charged. So now we see. . .”
“We see if it works, if we can fly it, and if we can use it to help.” Finished Nevers. He admired the drone while walking around it and began to form a plan.
A test flight would be too risky. Skim reading the owner’s manual and hoping they understood it was all the time they had. The bells in the church tower just off post were chiming 9 o’clock when Maggie opened the sliding door and set the drone on the deck. The backyard faced a creek with heavy vegetation on two sides since the house was at the end of the street. The other side abutted the neighbors, but no one was going out. There was no telling where the enemy PDRA troops might be and even the spouses knew how to make themselves smaller targets.
Nevers sat next to the door and leaned against the wall. He could look left and see the drone. He took a deep breath and held it as he punched the start button. As Maggie shut the door, he could hear the whir of propellers starting. The tablet connected as the remote asked if he wanted to take off. “Yeah, why else?” he mumbled.
Outside the drone lifted a meter off the ground and hovered. The tablet asked, “Ready to fly?”
He glanced out the window, still holding his breath. “Just go!” he said as he turned back tot he tablet and hit yes.
“Are you sure?” flashed the remote.
“What is this thing, powered by Microsoft? Yes! Yes! Yes!” he stabbed the button and the drone rose quickly into the air. The quiet hum they had heard through the glass was gone replaced only by the sound of the children playing down the hall.
There was an option to cast the scene on a television, but with the power off that was not possible so the small tablet screen had to suffice. Maggie sat next to Nevers with a “Welcome to Logue Air Force Base” map she had gotten on arrival that she opened and lay on her lap. Looking at the drone’s video feed on the tablet she began to orient the map to match.
The drone could fly at an altitude of three kilometers but a height of 100 meters was all it took to render the noise inaudible. At 150 meters it was imperceptible even against the darkening clouds in the sky. The video feed was incredible though. With a quick glance at the now oriented map, he directed the drone towards the post center.
Nevers had seen, from the ground, how the creek connected with the training area outside the post fence, now he could see that it provided a lush highway into the heart of the base. He stayed over the creek bed as it left the housing area. It wound around the golf course with motor pools on one side then orderly rooms and offices. The trees thinned out but the gully deepened as it went past the MedComm and Base Headquarters buildings. After that the creek went left while the base went right. At the MedComm building, he hovered the drone. His heart bean to race. If someone on the ground looked up at just the right time, or with binoculars they would see the drone.
Putting his fears aside he scanned the building and parking lot with the camera. The lot was littered with cars, people who had driven in yesterday not knowing they would not drive home last night. Several tactical vehicles were there. The shoddy way they had been parked was evidence that they belonged somewhere else but also that the occupying PDRA troops had driven them in. Several Hummers took up two spots, a few were over the curbs. Two five ton trucks were parked in the grass off the lot. He zoomed in on one of them closest to the building. A glimpse made him dare to lose elevation and come in for a better look.
“Wait!” Maggie interjected, “If you want a closer look you can just zoom the camera.” She reached over to grab the remote. Hesitantly she touched the controls until the image on the tablet began to move.
“That one,” Nevers said pointing at the five ton on the left. The feed from the drone got closer and closer until the maximum focal length was met. “OK, good enough. Zoom back out and we’ll get out of here.”
He flew the drone higher while she re-adjusted the camera to normal. At 500 meters he was certain that no one could see the drone but the high definition camera continued to make the surveillance mission work.
Turning the camera around for a wide angle shot they could see outside the fence line and into the surrounding areas of the base. Smoke rose from an area near the signal tower on the hill. He flew that way. This was outside the map on Maggie’s lap but looked like the bunkers he remembered seeing on the GIS. A fire was burning, a large fire in a ring. The tablet beeped.
The controls read 3.3 kilometers. The drone was reaching its limit. Maggie zoomed in the camera on the fire. Inside the ring of fire she could see trucks and men scrambling. The bunkers were visible intermittently between wafts of smoke. The battle for the bunkers was raging. She shivered. “Let’s get it back.”
The drone turned to head for the housing area as she again adjusted the camera to normal. Outside and on the screen it was becoming noticeably darker because of the clouds. A flash of lightening lit the sky followed closely by the thunder. A storm was brewing at sea.
Nevers took the roundabout path to return. Even at this height there was no point taking chances. Flying over the forested area then along the creek bed he took the path he had recently run. Then came the moment of truth. The drone was ready to land. On the tablet he pushed the “Return to Initial Position” button and the descent began.
They both held their breath. Maggie moved to the other side of the door and opened it wide, not sure how close the drone would land and ready to snatch it quickly. The drone rotated and landed precisely where it had taken off from as she grabbed it and rolled back inside the house. Nevers closed the door then shut the blinds. Exhaling loudly neither moved for a full minute. Listening closely they heard nothing. No footsteps, no trucks, no one had stormed to the house. For now they had done it.
The storm that hit the island of Aragon was not yet a hurricane but it was still a named tropical depression, Tropical Storm Anne. The early nature of the intense storm had people on the mainland using it as a justification and proof that manmade climate change was wreaking havoc with the evolutionary pattern of the world. On Aragon itself, though, people were content to survive.
It was not the worst storm, but it was not the lightest storm either. It seemed to flare with a biblical intensity at times. Once the fright of a fierce storm wears off, or the realization sinks in, a scientific minded person can revel in the beauty of such an act of nature. The swirling winds and driving rain produce patterns and dance methodically. A less analytic mind will notice things blowing down the street, then after the eye of the storm passes the same or similar debris blows back up the street. Without power or telephone there is nothing left to do but watch, and wait, and live.
The creek behind the housing area became swollen and angry. Logs and branches whipped past in a hurry headed to their final resting spot in what would become a tangled dam of brush and refuse.
Sitting in the house, the kids huddled with their mom in an inner room while Nevers walked from room to room. Several windows and the sliding door were open. There had been no warning of the storm and no one was around to distribute supplies to button up the buildings. Each house had a stash of water and food already, more a function of living on post in a semi-stable region than of storm preparations.
The breeze that blew through the house was cool and damp. Occasionally a tree or fence would crack and fall down startling everyone in earshot but amazingly none of the houses were hit.
A night time tropical storm contains a mystery of darkness. The shroud that covers the destruction and keeps the extent of the damage hidden until the light of day. The inherent desire to fix, clean up, and rebuild is postponed which increases its intensity and mystique through the remainder of the night until the full gamut can be seen. But this storm was a day storm containing none of that cover. The debris whipping through the air was visible through sheets of water. The air itself could be seen twisting and fighting with itself tearing apart trees, sheds, and anything that was outside.
The storm ended as the sun set and an eerie quiet settled over the neighborhood. Everything was cut off from everywhere. Nevers peered through the front windows and scoured the road. No one stirred, no one ventured out, but more importantly, no one was venturing in. Taking a deep breath he opened the door and walked out.
Small branches littered the ground. Some larger ones lay over the fences and road. The gutters of the road flowed with runoff while the gurgling of drains made the only sounds. No dogs, no birds, no children. Only the rush of water going past. Others walked out of their houses like Nevers to survey the damage.
Military families are unique in their ability to overcome whatever is thrown their way. Spouse and parent gone for months on end, no issues. Move to a foreign land with unknown food, language, or mannerisms not a problem. Leaving behind all you know to move in next to complete strangers means new people to meet and no time to waste doing it. But this time was different. There were no complete families in the housing area. The soldiers and airmen had all been at work when the attack hit and had not come home. They were not deployed, just gone for the day. There had been no time to shore up the family member’s intestinal fortitude. The resiliency and strength of military spouses had been already diminished before the storm because of this. It was not just a war fought on some distant continent. This was their home. This was where they lived. And now with family, not far away, already in a compromised dangerous situation, the force of nature had multiplied the concerns.
Yet even that uncertainty failed to keep down the spouses who so regularly found a way to rise up in the face of questionable circumstances. Slowly the tide turned in the housing area. As more family members came outside to survey the damage their resolution hardened. An anger was growing in the minds of those left standing.
The road was a dead end, the cul de sac was littered with branches and leaves but the other end of the street was blocked by a huge tree that had fallen across it. No one was getting in or out without crawling through a tangled mass of leaves and branches. The houses and yards were amazingly undamaged but it would be quite some time before anyone, friend or foe, could come back down the street. No outside help was coming, the neighborhood was solely reliant on each other. Just the way they felt they always were. Even if the PDRA forces felt generous and turned back on the power, nothing would be reaching this street for quite some time.