Night Flight. Outlaw. Panzer / The Nerd, Session Nine

“Anything new?” Native asked in front of the café on Main Street, Laguna Beach. The sun was already way up.

“Nah,” C. J. replied tiredly. “We can probably count Whispymound Drive out.”

“Got ya. So, I’ll continue today with Catalina.”

“Yep. Listen, can I maybe borrow that drone of yours tonight?” C. J. asked and blushed immediately deep red.

Native frowned. “I guess so. But handle her with care. You break it, you pay for it. You most likely know what a decent piece is worth on the black market today.”

“No worries. Your toy will be in the hands of a professional,” C. J. replied confidently.

Native chortled aloud and he felt—much to his own resentment—the blood rushing right back to his cheeks.

***

In the evening, Fronk slumped into the gaming chair and opened a can of energy drink skillfully with his left hand. He had spent the day mainly napping and wolfing down fast food. Heaps of greasy sandwich wrappers, empty cans, and paper bags had slowly occupied every corner and surface of the room. The bathroom was in foul condition. Fronk couldn’t care less and grabbed the VR headset off the desk and put it on top of his head, firmly.

***

C. J. sat behind the wheel of a blue sports car and raced on the coastal highway. Having reached Laguna Beach, Native handed him the drone while giving the same boring lecture on extreme caution and possible compensation for any damage done. C. J. mumbled agreeingly and rushed Native to leave. Then he grabbed his cell phone and opened the list of all the target streets of the town. He sneered by himself. Tonight he would head for Mystic View.

After finding a good peaceful spot near the target, C. J. lay down on the lawn and placed the drone in front of him. He took the controller in his hands and started up the machine. Soon he was watching as the drone ascended higher and higher above the ground. It made a much louder noise than he had expected. All of a sudden C. J. felt himself very vulnerable in the sleepy little neighborhood and regretted that he hadn’t asked for any more advice on drone-spying someone.

The flying apparatus disappeared in the black night sky and C. J. began observing the built-in screen of the controller that provided live footage from the heights above. Laguna Beach had hit the sack for sure, only an occasional vehicle drifted in a maze of brightly lit streets. A popular game from many decades ago, Pac-Man, came vividly into C. J.’s mind. Only this time, he was the ghost who tried to catch his agile prey.

In order to monitor the target, C. J. had to drop significantly the flying altitude of the drone. He felt somewhat uneasy as it descended at the level of the nearby rooftops. He was used to operating with his back against the wall and the open surroundings didn’t please him a bit. He tried to shelter the drone behind the trees which was of course quite pointless as the whirr of rotor blades carried easily into the nearby houses through open windows.

On the screen, there was a shadowy, still living room of the bungalow. A large bookcase, some easy chairs, a dark-colored low table… From the somewhat blurry footage, it was rather difficult to make accurate observations. C. J. flew the drone around the house, peeping through all of the windows. In the bathroom, he spotted a young naked couple. They were all caught up in bathing and didn’t realize that they were being filmed. C. J. made sure not to miss a second of the session before he continued his round to the next house.

Once again, the night shift was dull as dishwater. At the break of dawn, C. J. had peered at the residences of Mystic View ad nauseam. Having a drone certainly came with a bunch of benefits. For instance, you could pretty much keep an eye on the whole neighborhood at once. At around 8 a.m., the middle class families started flooding in for school and work. Soon the streets were filled with bright-colored SUVs and station wagons. The very same hassle five days a week. All year round. Like a fucking clockwork. C. J. stood up and stretched his tired limbs. He turned to face the beach that spread out just a few blocks away and for a moment just enjoyed the serene ocean view. As he looked back at the controller, he noticed that the screen had suddenly gone blank.

“Da fuck,” C. J. swore and grabbed the controller with both hands, shaking it properly.

The screen stayed pitch-black however and he could only see the pale reflection of his own face.

“Stay still, sir!” An order came unexpectedly behind his back.

C. J. looked over his shoulder and saw a cop approaching him.

“Oh, morning officer. May I ask what I’m being suspected of?” He inquired.

“There have been complaints about some creep flying a drone around the neighborhood all night long. Keep your hands where I can see them,” the cop commanded.

C. J. noticed that the officer was keen on the controller that he was holding.

“Oh, you mean this little thingy. Listen, I’m gonna be honest with you. My motives here are purely collegial. You don’t trust me, ask the Feds!”

“That’s what they all say anyway,” the cop replied. “I’ve been working for this department for the past fifteen years or so. I’m no fool no more. Don’t move, sir.”

C. J. bit his lip in frustration. A dumbo. It was seemingly pointless to try and talk this brainless cop on your side. After all, she was a mere puppet of the program, a hapless piece of code. He turned his body inch by inch to the right until he was standing sideways to the cop.

“Don’t fucking move!” She repeated and took a step forward while fumbling for her holster.

The cop had just crossed a line and C. J. felt obliged to act. He knew only one way out of the situation.

He released his grip on the controller, drew a Colt from his back pocket—fast as lightning—and shot the cop in the leg. A loud bang drowned out the thump caused by the plastic controller hitting the ground. C. J. was in a hurry now. He reached for the controller and disappeared into the bushes. The cop was left behind lying on the lawn and screaming her head off on police radio. No doubt there was an APB already out on him.

The drone lay motionless on the front yard of a house at the end of Mystic View. By the apparatus, an alert cop stood on guard. Probably a partner of the one that C. J. had already handled. As he saw C. J. coming closer, he didn’t really hesitate but raised his pistol and pulled the trigger. The bullet swept through the air a few feet away from C. J. The next shot only barely missed his left ear. He pulled out his Colt and fired back.

The cop collapsed on the ground. C. J. rushed to the guy and emptied the rest of the magazine at him. Then he snatched the drone in his arms and ran back to the car.

“Shit, oh shit,” he groaned as he started the vehicle. He was quite aware of the fact that all the patrol officers in the area were currently after him.

C. J. sped on his sportscar through the town and down Main Street. The sirens were howling somewhere not too far away. He glanced at the drone that lay on the front seat next to him. It seemed to have taken heavy damage in the crash, some of the rotor blades were severely twisted. It had been probably shot down.

At the border of the town, just before the entrance on the highway, there was a roadblock. A spike strip had been spread out across the street and behind it there were four cop cars waiting in a neat row. C. J. smacked the steering wheel in a fury and pulled over. He leaped out of the door just as heavy gunfire rained down on him. The bulletproof vest was a goner now. C. J. flung himself behind a Chinese restaurant to take cover. The sportscar burst into flames.

Soon a massive explosion shook the neighborhood. The cops were yelling over megaphones and urging him to give up. However, C. J. had no intention of backing off. He reached for his grenade launcher and took advantage of the short gap in firing to peek around the corner and aim promptly at the nearest cop car. A single grenade flew in the air, followed by another boom in the street. The roadblock had turned into a sea of flames. At the opposite direction, the wail of the police sirens signalled the approach of yet another patrol.

“Cocksucker!” C. J. snapped. “Where the hell do all these cops arise from?”

He pointed the gun at them and launched another grenade. In the following turmoil, the cop car rolled over and landed on its roof. C. J. bailed out of the scene and broke into a car that was parked behind the restaurant. Then he pulled off, drove past the spike strip, and headed towards the highway, burning rubber.

The cops were on his tail again. C. J. opened the window, loaded his SMG, and shot a few rounds in their direction. He weaved nimbly through the traffic and succeeded quite well in increasing the distance from his chasers. A plan of some sort started already forming in his mind: first, quickly as hell to the City and then underground, in quite a literal sense. Somewhere near downtown, he would dive into the concrete channel, get rid of the vehicle, and continue his run in the city’s sewage system.

As C. J. barrelled along the highway, suddenly something unpleasant appeared at the range of his vision that scared the pants off him. A gray, mean-looking blob of steel continued to grow steadily. Even from the distance, he could recognize a tank and his adrenaline levels went instantly up. Apparently the federal government had paid attention to his misdeeds too. C. J. damned his own reckless tendencies for which he was about to pay the bitter price. Anyhow, it was too late to turn around also.

He steered the car into the adjacent carriageway and began driving the wrong way, trying to take cover behind the passing vehicles. The traffic had however drastically decreased since the tank had rolled by. A doomed attempt. The massive, deadly turret turned steadily, following its target. C. J. took a worried look at the damaged drone next to him and prayed for a miracle. Then a great orange fireball swallowed up the view, bending the metal and melting down the leather seat covers, skin and hair, ultimately evaporating them all into thin air.

***

A couple of hours later, C. J. walked to the familiar rendezvous by the café. He was wearing a worn-out denim jacket.

“Yeah yeah. Add your lame-ass drone to the expenditures,” he answered irritably to the puzzled look on Native’s face.

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