2033 - Out in the redev.
Reid finally started to acknowledge the persistence of the call sign when The_Gnome had reached a final frenzy of activity and swearing. He fumbled forward for a pad, knocking the holographic avatar out of the way and swiping a finger over the screen.
“Yeah, Gnome, I'm here!”
“About time! You're going to miss the show, and I need you to see this.”
“Show? What show?”
“I'm sending you a screen.”
A tab appeared on a brightly lit taskbar in mid-air above Reid's pad. It flashed between red and white til Reid pinched it between his thumb and forefinger, drawing it up like chewing gum and stretching it out into a lightscreen.
“It's trajectory data, Gnome. What the hell are you into?”
“Fuck that! Look at the feed!”
Reid moved the data out of the way and dabbed at a line of bright blue spidery squares down the side. A picture came up behind the slow river of white readout text. It was a milky soup of dark blue blotches with clusters of white dots, like the careless splashes of white paint from an uncontrolled brush. He played with the controls that had subsetted themselves from the button and the image stuck, froze and moved on in lagging steps. A grid appeared across the picture in thin orange lines. The squares lit randomly in transparent orange, text dropping down around them and disappearing to be replaced by stats and annotations. Something like a river of white caught Reid's eye and he realised he was flying.
“Christ! You've got into one of the surveillance drones!”
“Look closer. Think about it! That is very, VERY high up.”
The_Gnome was getting impatient.
“No, you prat. Listen, I was after an SD, you know, Surveillance Drone? They're so dumb they're easy to climb into. The ranging signals are on permanent sweep, so I can't lose it. But they're too low to send telemetry straight back to base so they're sending the swept data back up into the sky.”
“So... a satellite?”
“Eventually, but between the two. What you are looking at, or should I say through, is a high altitude UK Space Agency Border Patrol drone. They're monitoring the SDs and it's like a rock solid connection between them. It's a gift!”
Reid never failed to be amazed by the insecurity of government tech.
“Jesus! You know, I really love the Internet of Things. There's a million ways to hack anything when every component has an IP address and a link back to its manufacturer. What are you going through to get the feed?”
“Oh, I'm in the camera housing right now. It's totally unprotected. Default passwords, guessable engineering IDs, it's a joke.”
“OK, well now we're playing with some serious tech. You think you can find data we can use?”
“Data? Who gives a shit about the data? I can get all over this thing. Guidance, speed, targetting, comms...”
“Er... wait a minute. I hope you're not thinking of wiping this thing out or turning it into a guided missile. You don't know what you're going to be starting if that thing goes rogue and crashes out of the sky.”
The gnome graphic was back and strutted around the desk responding with wild gestures to the tone of voice transmitting through it.
“Tinfoil, I am so disappointed. Why would I want to destroy this beautiful thing? It is the game changer, the answer to all our problems...”
“OK Gnome, you're starting to drivel...”
“Wake up! Do you not know the spec of these high altitude drones? What is their prized feature?”
“They fucking fly high! I don't know, enlighten me!”
The hologram Gnome sighed and took a seat in front of Reid's screen. It folded its arms and wore a wry expression.
“They stay up in the sky indefinitely. That thing could have been up there for years already. I'll find out when I get into the flight logs. But... BUT!... the biggest feature is that they use a satpack power unit.”
“Er... well, hang on, satpacks are nuclear shit... those things are viable for about fifty years!”
“Eighty seven point two years according to the specs. One of those would power the village.”
“Are you completely insane?”
“I'm putting you up a schemo.”
A new tab appeared on Reid's taskbar. He scrolled it up and found himself looking into a maze of CAD shapes, exploded diagrams and tiny notes, typed into blocks.
“OK, you got it?”
“See the power unit, in that shielded compartment behind the data controllers? It's a self-contained, silver metal unit, hot swaps into a transformer bay. It's a roughly thirty centimeter cube with a twenty mill thick case, it's maintenance free and it just works. For eighty two beautiful years.”
“OK. Glossing over, for just one moment, the fact that we have no idea how to operate or deploy that kind of unit or how to control and harness the power to our benefit... that thing is several miles up in the sky and we would have to get it down here - in one piece - without alerting the military forces of Great Britain and NATO of our brilliant plan to steal their nuclear technology. Are you with me, so far?”
“Why is your glass always half empty?”
“In order to make room for all the common sense.”
The hologram shook its head.
“Tinfoil, my man, we need to converse. I have a plan.”
Reid looked from the schematics to the night lit view of England crawling under the scanners of the drone. It was impossible... wasn't it?
Random Skies: US3R Of The Darknet is the third episode in a series of speculative fiction set in a parallel world where the surely unthinkable has already started to happen.