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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Short Story: From a Distance


From a distance, all you hear is the persistent drone, barely audible, like somebody else’s mosquito. I guess that’s why they call them drones. They can linger up there for days, watching and waiting, probably relieving each other like on-duty patrol cops — like slow-motion tag-team wrestling — like owls, waiting for a mouse to make a careless move.
From a distance, the sound recedes into the background cacophony of fans running, children playing, dogs barking, and thin shrill horns of motor scooters in traffic. It blends into the sound of life that comforts grandmothers that all is well when they wake momentarily from their afternoon nap. It is the sound of sudden and inescapable death — the thunderbolt of foreign gods thrown from heaven in retribution for unknown sins.
From a distance, remote operators watch, and guide, and drink Coca Cola, and decide who will live and who will die and when. You cannot know the faces of these nameless watchers. You cannot invite them to your daughter’s wedding or your uncle’s funeral. You cannot explain that you are loaning your shovel to a neighbor down the street and helping him plant a shade tree by the curb. You cannot explain or negotiate or fall on your knees to beg for understanding or plead for mercy.
From a distance, a house is being watched. Adult males have begun arriving, alone, at three-minute intervals. Bill and Joe (for lack of true names) record the coordinates and lock them into the user interface of a targeting algorithm. They also log the exception-in-progress into their operations log and review their rules of engagement. This is all very routine, actually. Usually, nothing comes of it; this is all part of the process; its how things are done.
From a distance, the remote operators cannot read the minutes from the meeting of town elders, gathered in fearful caution, concealing their meeting as if they held some collective guilt. Elders — gathered to coordinate aid to the bread baker while he recovers from a broken ankle. Elders — gathered to plan repairs to the aqueducts that bring vital water from the nearby mountains. Elders — gathered to decide on discipline for the disorderly young men with too little to do and too much anger to be content with doing nothing.
From a distance, a new star is born — flaring briefly before streaking directly to its designated coordinates — like the lightning of Zeus - with the fury of Jove — consuming itself and everything within its blast radius in a momentary orgasm of annihilation beyond any concept of any hell ever.
From a distance, heads turn; spoons pause and tremble halfway to their destinations; women begin screaming; men begin cursing; small children begin crying; tears well up in the blind and empty eyes of a veteran of past wars; spoons finish their journey to mouths thankful that they are still there to receive another meager morsel… this time.
From a distance, Bill turns to Joe and demands,”Dude, did you do that?” and Joe replies, “I’m sorry bro, I got cola bubbles up my nose and sneezed.” They look at each other earnestly for a few moments before Bill suggests, “I say you saw your shot and took it. And, hey, first kill of the new year.” Joe agrees, “Thanks man, I owe you one.”