Copyright © 2014
The low, soft hum of the Quadrotor drone was drowned out by the squeals of delight of the children who had been invited to Dee-Dee's twelfth birthday party. Parents for Dee-Dee's five invited friends had dropped them off earlier and now all six of the girls were playing in our back yard as they awaited the announcement that the cake and ice cream were ready.
I sighed as I thought about that -- OUR back yard.
Yeah, it had been OUR back yard up until the final divorce decree about two months ago. Now, it was just MY back yard; unless you considered that it also belonged indirectly to my son, Dylan, age 14 -- who was sitting on the patio, looking on with a put-on air of indifference -- and my daughter, Deanne (we call her Dee-Dee), age 11 ... well, 12, as of today; thus, the birthday party.
Wow! My little princess was only a year away from teenage. God help me!
We had survived Dylan's rite of passage ... well, so far. Now, I just had to find a way to help Dee-Dee navigate her way through that minefield on her path toward womanhood without having the guidance and assistance...
Shit! This is Dee-Dee's special day; the last birthday party of her time of childhood; before entering into the dramatic, luxurious, and painful time of adolescence.
I had already decided in the days leading up to this that I would NOT let the joy of this day be soured by thoughts of Dee-Dee's bitch of a mother; my ex-wife, Donna. Instead, I would focus on giving Dee-Dee a memorable time; as well as preparing for the entertainment I had arranged with my friend, and now partner in our exciting -- and promising to be lucrative -- business venture, Nirmal Pradhan.
"Easy, Diz," I told Nirmal, as we guided our remotely-guided aerial platforms by means of the tablet controllers that each of us held. "You don't want to drop it too early. They might be able to scoot away and we would miss out on the full effect."
"Just make sure that you bring the other one in low over the back fence and hit the lights at the right time," replied my Indian-born friend. "Once y'all have them focused away from the real threat, then ... bombs away!" He had all but lost his sing-song sub-continent speech rhythm after his six years here in the U.S.; in fact, his living in Tennessee for four of those six years had caused a Southern softening of his pronunciation of English; and the introduction of terms like "Y'All" into his daily lexicon -- sometimes he even joked with me that he had learned in Knoxville that "Y'all" was singular and "All y'all" was plural.
The six preteen birthday party girls were now moving around the back yard as they looked up at the Quadrotor hovering over them. It emitted a low hum as it moved a bit in one direction for a short distance, only to hover again. The girls tracked it and followed in order to be under it. It moved again in another direction for approximately twenty meters, and the girls flocked in that direction.
Suspended beneath the Quadrotor drone that moved above them at an altitude of approximately eight meters -- the one we called 'Enola Gay' -- was a round object with ribbons streaming all around it. We had given the impression to the girls that it was an aerial piñata and that it would drop small candies on them at an appropriate time.
So far, we had kept the other Quadrotor -- the one that Diz and I called 'ET' -- out of sight. I was the one actually controlling it, and I had it shut down for the time being. It sat in quiet preparation in a small clearing in the woods just on the other side of our back fence.
I had lain my tablet controller down so that I could reach for my bottle of Budweiser Black Crown. I had selected that beer more often lately, since I was feeling a need for the slightly higher alcohol content ever since the unpleasantness of the events surrounding my divorce. But I was not going to get a buzz on today, since I would have to drive later; I just enjoyed the taste of it. Thus, I was limiting myself only to two.
I coughed as I swallowed wrong because of the momentary distraction of HER arrival. I knew that Dee-Dee had invited Donna, my ex-wife, to her party; but it still upset me to see her as she breezed out the back door to the patio as if she owned the place; still the arrogant queen bee, lording over any and all that came within reach of her evil sphere of influence.
She had surprised me, as I had not noticed her car arrive. I had to cough a couple of times to clear my breathing passage of the errant flow of beer that had worked its way in there when she had distracted me for a split-second.
Donna still looked good, but not quite as spectacular as she had looked only a few short months earlier. Her shoulder-length blonde hair, green eyes, and fantastic body had always been able to get traffic at least to slow down -- if not stop entirely. These days, she was still very attractive, but she had put on a little weight that I am sure she resented having. The status that she had claimed for most of her life, since turning fifteen, of being the most attractive female in sight was now in danger of slipping away.
After she had placed a wrapped package on the table that was set aside for Dee-Dee's gifts, she looked over directly at me. At first, showing no expression whatsoever; her face morphed quickly from brief delight to an absence of any emotion; then to a brief moment of sadness, followed by a clear look of resolve to face the moment. She gave a visible sigh as she made an attempt to put on a polite smile of greeting.
"Glenn," was all she said as she walked over to where I was standing.
"Donna," was the limit of my reply as I turned back toward our daughter and her friends.
I made a somewhat successful attempt at dissipating the tension that had crept into my body simply at her mere proximity. She could still stir me up, but it was a different type of stirring these days.
I looked at my watch and noticed that the time would be getting away from me if I were not more careful. I put my beer bottle down and picked up my tablet controller.
"It's time, Diz," I said to my friend standing a few feet away from me with his own controller in hand. With his focus on controlling Enola Gay, I could not tell if he even knew that Donna was here. I knew, though, that, apart from finding her presence here mildly distasteful, he would not really care one way or the other about her being here.
"Okay," he replied, simply nodding as he maneuvered Enola Gay closer to the back of the yard and nearer to the fence.
I picked up my own tablet controller and touched the spot that would activate ET remotely. I could not hear it hum to life just beyond our back yard fence, but I noted the system status indicator in my tablet that informed that all systems were "Go," as they would say at NASA.
With Diz moving Enola Gay around a bit to distract the girls, I lifted off ET from its holding site and sneaked it to an elevation that would just barely clear the trees in its path toward our yard. An inset screen in the lower left portion of the tablet's screen allowed me to see what ET was "seeing" via a miniature camera transmitting over a carrier wave in the wireless frequency band to my controller. With another onscreen set of controls, I could move the camera remotely so that its field of view could swivel in a 360-degree arc on a gimbal mount and even zoom in and out; but that was not really required today. Nor was the remote recording capability built into the tablet controller necessary.
The girls were now so focused on Enola Gay that they did not see ET descend from its altitude as it cleared the last trees en route to our back fence. I heard Donna next to me take a deep breath in her surprise at seeing ET; she was about to shout a warning, when I growled at her.
"Not a peep!" I was not looking at her, but I could tell she was slightly pissed. Up until our divorce proceedings had started, I had not been one to utter a cross word at her, and she was not used to being on the receiving end. I don't know if it was the determination in my voice or her surprised momentary outrage that got her to exhale instead of calling out to the girls and ruining the surprise. I only know that she chose, for her own reasons, to remain quiet as I guided ET remotely over the back fence and moved it nearer to where the girls were grouped -- but behind their field of vision.
I touched two spots one after the other on the control screen, rapidly engaging the two capabilities of ET necessary to carry off the surprise.
The two very bright red and green strobe lights began to flash alternately as ET hovered at an altitude that was safely just over head height of the tallest girl in the group. Just a split second later, the sound effect let loose.
"Whoop! Whoop!" came the loud alert that mimicked the chirp of a police cruiser.
The girls screamed and turned in unison to see the frightening display of two bright blinking strobe lights just above and behind where they had been standing. During that moment of paralysis, I heard Diz utter, "Bombs away!" and looked up from my tablet to see Enola Gay release the round, ribbon-festooned object hanging beneath it.
The object had fallen only about a meter when there was a sudden burst from within it with a mild 'POP,' and the object disintegrated above the heads of the girls. The pieces of ribbon fluttered down all around them, only seconds after the mild drenching they received from the water that had blown out in a six-meter-diameter cone of spray by the compressed CO2 plastic gas burster that had detonated within the balloon. As Enola Gay began its return toward the patio and Diz, I saw the filament with the remnants of the burster dangling below its undercarriage. None of the burster's components had blasted away from it to cause harm to the girls.
"Daaa-Deeeee!" I heard Dee-Dee scream, partially in outrage, and partially in humor, as she turned to see Diz and me laughing at them. I knew she was mostly reacting to being startled by the suddenness of the event that Diz and I had orchestrated. The water spray from the balloon was not of sufficient quantity to mess up their clothing or -- heaven forbid -- their hair!
Dee-Dee had begun to stomp her way over to where I was standing with Donna in order to express her displeasure, when I heard Donna, next to me, make what sounded like a gagging sound. Turning toward her momentarily, I could see that Donna's eyes were open wide and her mouth was hanging open slightly. She was obviously surprised, but there was something more. That 'something' became apparent as she turned toward me with a look of fury and contempt.
"It was you; you fucking bastard!" she said in a low murmur. Then she stepped close to me and slapped me soundly. It was a good thing that I did not touch the screen of the tablet controller when I reeled back from her strike, or I might have crashed ET or caused it to strike one of the girls as it moved. As it was, ET simply hovered in place.
She got herself a bit more under control and said, "You know, you can be a real class-A sonofabitch some of the time!"
Not known for my witty repartee or my ability to come up with quick comebacks, I surprised myself by responding rather quickly, "You mean as opposed to being a real class-A cheating slut whore bitch ALL of the time?"
Donna's face turned red and she stood very still, contemplating a reenactment of the slap of a minute before. But, as Dee-Dee reached my side and slid her arm around my waist at that moment, Donna got herself a bit under control and squatted slightly in front of Dee-Dee in order to get down to face level with our daughter.
"Happy birthday, Sweetie." She reached out to touch Dee-Dee's shoulder and my daughter let me go long enough to move to her mother and hug her around the waist. Donna, while not looking particularly comfortable with this public display of affection -- she had never been one to do the affection bit knowingly with anyone, especially me, in public -- nevertheless hugged Dee-Dee to her and said, "I'm afraid that I cannot stay, though. I just came by to bring your present and tell you that I love you; and, of course, to wish you a happy birthday."
Donna sounded pleasant enough, but she was looking daggers at me.
I didn't give a shit any more. And I did not care now whether she had figured out the source of her recent misery or not. I simply reached for my beer bottle and took a swig before putting it down on the table. I then touched the tablet controller's screen and landed ET, followed by touching the screen again to shut down ET's Wankel engine.
Donna turned and began to walk away as Dee-Dee let go of her mother and came back to stand beside me. I guess she was getting to the point in her life where it was not cool to hug your dad around the waist with your friends all standing there as witnesses to all that was transpiring.
Just as Donna reached the patio, Sandy Malloy stepped out the back door to the house and called out, "Who wants cake and ice cream?" The girls all began to run toward the picnic table where all the paper plates and plastic ware were laid out as Sandy set the cake down.
Seeing each other at the same time, Donna and Sandy simply held each other's gaze for a moment. Then, Donna glanced back at me, dipped and shook her head, flipped me the bird -- evidently not caring that her daughter and friends might see her do so, and stalked around the side of the house -- toward her car in the front, I guessed.
Sandy and I were not a couple now, or anything like that. This is not one of those stories where the cheated-on guy has a bevy of divorcées or office girls -- or even junior sisters-in-law -- waiting to try him on for size once he is finally divorced from his harpy of a cheating wife. Although, that might have been nice, it was just not the case here. Sandy was the single mom of eleven-year-old Virginia, the BFF of my daughter, Dee-Dee. Sandy had gotten pregnant in high school, but had never married. Seeing that I had my hands full with the party, she had volunteered to stay and help.
Sandy had been over to our house many times over the past three years, either to deliver or retrieve Ginny, or to be part of the 'parental control cell' for one of Dee-Dee's then-little-girl get-togethers where Ginny was invited. So, naturally, Sandy was privy -- through her daughter's close association with mine -- to more of the details than I would have preferred concerning the crisis that had developed in my marriage and the subsequent dissolution of same over the past year.
After Donna's departure, the girls -- along with Sandy, Diz, and me -- enjoyed cake and ice cream; followed by the opening of presents; and the dispensing of handfuls of small candies for which the girls had felt cheated a short while earlier, following the event involving the fake piñata and its wet surprise.
After that, Diz and I gave the girls a brief description and demonstration of ET and Enola Gay as we buzzed the two drones around the back yard -- of course, the more acceptable term these days is 'unmanned aerial vehicle' or UAV, since the term 'drone' had come into disfavor with civil liberties types objecting to the government's domestic use of military and police versions of them here in the homeland, and against nominal American citizen ex-pats fighting with terrorists against U.S. interests overseas.
While the FAA was still holding off on the approval and licensing of commercial UAVs until 2015, or even later, Diz and I were still doing all the necessary basic research and testing that we could get away with. We routinely maneuvered the two UAVs at minimal altitudes and on private land nearby so that we could be on the cutting edge of the business side of UAVs once the FAA's restrictions were lifted. We probably violated a whole bunch of regs in all of our activities, but we laughingly said to ourselves that we could keep it up as long as we stayed literally 'under the radar' (ha-ha).
We also had foreign contracts and monetary advances for production of more copies -- and even more advanced versions -- of ET and Enola Gay from Diz' two cousins in India. Those two brothers were already planning to put UAV delivery into effect there, unencumbered by Indian law; something only envisioned publically here in the U.S. so far by the executives at Amazon Dot Com and Domino's Pizza.
The two Indian entrepreneurs also visions of being the commercial leaders for all of South East Asia in the use of UAVs for such things as remote sensing (as in electromagnetic, biological, and chemical sensing). Commercial aerial motion picture filmmaking was also a lucrative field (Bollywood, the home of the Indian film industry, was already clamoring for their products). Add to these efforts those involving oil and gas exploration (and even minerals) and mountain rescue (many climbers coming from all over the world found themselves in need of emergency supplies while awaiting rescue in the Himalayas). We were talking about the potential for big bucks (or Rupees, as the case may be).
I had been rather surprised at the amount of the advance payment and the promise of lucrative remuneration yet to come. After all, Diz and I had only been at this since he had finished his master's work the previous year, while apprenticing with the UAV research program.
The FAA had finally approved extensive UAV research at only three universities: Texas A&M, Virginia Tech, and the University of Alaska at Fairbanks. Diz had been part of the program with UAF when he began renting a room from us.
Diz had worked diligently on his graduate degree requirements while he apprenticed at the UAF test sites near Pendleton (just a few miles south of Oregon's border with Washington) and Tillamook (on the Oregon coast, just west of Portland). He had come to us at a time when Donna and I had desperately needed some short-term additional income and had decided to rent space in the house. Diz had been the first to answer the ad and, although Donna had had some initial reservations about renting to a foreigner on a student visa, she had finally caved. Diz had moved in the week after our first meeting.
As my house was in Woodland, Washington -- just outside of and north of Vancouver, along the Columbia River -- this placed us about three hours from Pendleton and two hours from Tillamook. Diz only had to travel to those sites during the tests; the rest of the time, he had used to complete his postgraduate coursework via telecommuting from my home; but, since the divorce, I was now letting him live there rent-free.
Even though Diz' name was Nirmal, everyone called him Diz, and he did not seem to mind. Someone had learned that the word 'Desi' is a Sanskrit term for the people, cultures, and products of the Indian subcontinent or South Asia. From that point, it was not a far reach to calling him 'Dizzy' or 'Diz.' He had thought about it briefly the first time someone had called him 'Diz' -- actually for about five seconds -- before smiling and accepting it, realizing that his acceptance of the nickname was congruent with his new friends' acceptance of him as part of our collection of friends and associates.
Before my divorce, I had quietly gotten with Diz, after he had let me in on the potential financial tsunami that was approaching in the field of commercial application of UAVs. I was already having difficulties in my relationship with my then-wife, Donna, especially when it came to finances. She and I had some fundamentally different ideas about spending, saving, investing, and planning for our financial future. Thus, I had quietly gotten my lawyer to help me hide my investments in the UAV research and development that Diz was now doing for his cousins after his release from the NDA associated with his college apprenticeship.