| The Network Revenant
Boston grumbled quietly to itself in the bass tones of a city after dark. I was lying on the hood of the Toyota on the parking deck at work, post-run haziness in my muscles, staring up at the sky. True to form, it was cloudy, the lights of the city area causing most of it to glow softly white. Scripplepaint covering millions of square feet of the city's surface offered up all the colors of the spectrum, with basic white predominating. Here and there, neighborhoods glowed brownish-orange, indication of unrestored public infrastructure and the associated mercury and sodium vapor floodlights. I thought about the thousands of light poles that sprouted along old roadways, most unused; about the wattage of electrical power wasted, especially before nanostacks could replace the hydrocarbons that made up the bulk of the supply, and about old technology.
That thought caused me to sit up, lifting my back from the cool hardness of the windscreen in order to swing over the side of the flitter. I stretched a couple of times before opening the door and sliding into the warm familiar space, reaching forward and taking the pager from its baseclip on the dash console. The LCD was still fogged, but the clock display was legible, barely. I'd had to hack a clockchip into the pager, which had for some reason been built to keep time only from its supporting pager network the decades ago when it had dropped off its assembly line. Since that wasn't available, a nanobuilt clock chip inside the case provided a constant time signal, listening to the atomic clock radio beacon broadcast from what was NIST.
There was no network for the pager, really. There was just me, and it was time to do weekly maintenance on my very own tin can and string.
That's what Clotho had called it, when I showed her. She'd laughed, and said it reminded her of two kids living next door to each other with tin cans, connected with string across the space between their bedroom windows, talking secretly in the night. I had shrugged. It wasn't all that different.
The Toyota shuddered as the fans broke inertia and sliced air on their way up to lift speed and gyrostabilization. I went through a quick preflight, something I still do religiously no matter how often flitter companies tell you you don't need to. Just like a car. Sure. They were starting to drop that line of marketing, though, as the last automobile generation faded.
I finished the quick list in my head as the dash console backlit green, indicating lift was available. Dropping the pager back into the clip on the dash, I waited a moment until an icon on the carcomp indicated that it had read the coordinates out of the pager's tiny memory.
"Time to go work the wire."
I sighed. "Lift, please. Automatic to input coordinates, AirCon approved routes class C or under."
The Toyota rose smoothly from the parking deck, anticollision lights strobing the white-white-red of a rising volantor. Lifting. Setting waypoints for flight to input coordinates using AirCon approved routes of class C or lower. Complete. Authorize flight plan.
"Approved." Bad form not to check it, no matter that it was one I'd flown (or rather the Toyota had flown) some dozens of times. I leaned back and rubbed my eyes as the fog outside swallowed the ground outside into a haze of light and the flitter turned on its axis, still rising. The turbines spun up behind me.
Six minutes into the flight, the carcomp bonged pleasantly at me. I was busy pulling on dark gloves at the time. Approaching flightplan switchover. Mode programmed deviates from legal minimums. Navigation computer record interception in place. Transponder drone ready. Please give password for flight profile continuation.
"Those magnificent men in their flying machines."
Password accepted. External systems to low-visibility. Entering hover. Drone away.
The turbines whined down and the light outside dimmed as the flitter's lights went down. There was a slight thump! and quick whining noise; a blinking light shot away from the top rear of the hull off along the Toyota's prior course. I swung the door up into a wind-torn confusion of light, making sure the safety line was clipped to my belt. The fans spun down slightly and the flitter settled onto a surface; immediately, a display on the carcomp lit with a countdown clock which began to drop from 3 minutes, 25 seconds.
Touchdown. Three minutes, fifteen seconds until drone recovery.
I swung out of the flitter and onto the crowded tiny space. Thin metal structures fluttered in the wind from the fans, some of them making hollow clanging sounds. I moved between the antennas a few meters and came to the edge of the small platform. Getting down onto my hands and knees, I reached over the tiny parapet and felt around for a moment before finding the lumpy shape. A sharp pull detached it from its base, and I lifted it up to my face.
It looked like a misshapen smoke alarm from before the Downtime; a rough disc shape that rested in my hand. I opened it with a practiced twist, removed the scap pack, and shoved the replacement in before closing the transmitter beacon and replacing it carefully on its mount.
Then I retraced my steps to the flitter, got in, closed the door, and waited. When the countdown clock reached fifteen seconds, the Toyota rose smoothly into the air and began to accelerate. At zero, there was another small thump as the drone nestled home into its housing, and the running lights blipped back up along with the transponder. The drone's identical signal had moved out over the Harbor in a wide loop, a standard sightseeing route along the shoreline, taking the three minutes-plus to return - all the while squawking the transponder code of the Toyota.
I swung the flitter right, away from the harbor, heading south, and made for the warmth of home. Behind me, on top of the rusted skeleton of an unnamed office skyscraper, my homemade pager tower waited patiently among the few still-functional relay antennas for the next call to come in along my private string. I reached out to pat the tin can of my antique pager, still sitting in the dash clip, and pulled the Toyota into a tighter turn towards my loft, a beer, and bed.
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