Drone Interlude

I spent a lot of time thinking about the issue of drones. Having swarms of cheap semi-autonomous flying robot eyes would make locating and tailing someone extremely easy. Add facial recognition software into the mix, and it seems to me that remaining incognito would be quite the challenge. I thought I'd put Spider through his paces, really make him work his ass off to get past those using technology to find him. The end result was more slapstick comedy than high-tech intrigue, and it had to go.

-- Beej

A cab arrived and opened its door, and Spider slid in, continuing to watch the sky. The cab had barely taken off when he noticed another pair of drones vectoring in towards him. Persistent bastards, he thought as he changed his destination to Westfield Mall. By the time he got out of the cab there were at least four drones tailing him.

Spider glanced up at the camera inside the elevator from the roof. Ditching the drones didn’t make him safe. Every inch of the mall would be covered by thousands of cameras, all monitored by a facial recognition system that would lock on to every person entering the mall and track his or her location continually until they left. If security wanted to find a suspected shoplifter, they’d only have to select the individual in question and the system would provide their location.  Any pro hacker could easily tap into the mall computers and track their quarry continually and pick them up with the drones again when they left.  Spider was counting on it.

There was a candy kiosk on the second floor, and after browsing for a while, asked for a small bag of lemon drops. He sucked on one as he continued to window shop casually. He stopped outside a boutique called Farmer Brown’s that specialized in gardening clothes and tools. Spider chuckled. Are there really enough people in the city with gardens to support a place like this?  He stepped inside.

“Can I help you?” The kid running the counter couldn’t have been much more than 16, and was the very image of a freckle-faced farm boy in overalls. The only detail missing was a stalk of wheat clenched in his teeth.

“Uh, yeah,” Spider grinned. “I’m just getting into gardening, but I don’t have any appropriate clothes.”

The kid’s expression showed he had trouble imagining Spider working in the dirt but wasn’t about to quash a sale. “You’ve come to the right place! What did you have in mind?”

Spider looked around, then back to the clerk. “I like your overalls. Let’s start there.”

“All right!” He led Spider to a table covered with multiple brands of denim coveralls, which all looked alike. “These are OshKosh, super comfortable and durable.”

Spider looked at the price tag and goggled “Seriously? I thought poor people wore these?”

The kid scowled. “Working people wear these. A good pair of overalls is an investment that can serve you for years.”

“Yeah, yeah, I get it. Which are the cheapest ones?”

The boy’s frown deepened, and he pointed at another brand. Spider looked them over, and picked up a pair. He forced himself not to laugh when he found he could actually feel how much thinner the denim was. “Yeah, these are fine.”

“Um, sir, those are way too big for you.”

Spider smiled. “Yeah, I like a nice relaxed fit.”

The kid shrugged. “Anything else?”

He looked around the store, then pointed. “Yeah, if I’m going to be out in the sun all day, I’m gonna need a hat. The bigger the better.” He walked over to a rack of straw hats and picked up one with a comically large brim with a ragged, unfinished edge. He put it on and looked at himself in a nearby mirror. This time he couldn’t help laughing at how ridiculous it was, but he quickly swallowed it. “Yeah, this is perfect. Do you have sunglasses?”

The clerk nodded and lead Spider to the register. There wasn’t a huge selection, so Spider just picked the largest, darkest pair of women’s glasses and put them on and looked in the mirror. They covered most of the upper part of his face. He nodded, satisfied. “Can I try these on?”

Inside the tiny changing room, Spider took off his jacket and put the baggy overalls on over his regular clothes, and slung his deck so hit was hanging over his belly inside the bib.  He looked himself in the mirror, combined with the hat and glasses he looked like a rodeo clown. He shook his head, amused. Lastly, he quickly slipped off his left boot and tossed a lemon drop in it and put it back on. He put his weight on it, and the hard candy dug into his arch painfully. He stepped out of the dressing room and limped back to the counter. “Yeah, this is good. I’ll take it all.”

Surprised by the bizarre ensemble, the boy rang up the order, and Spider paid without hesitation. “Would you like a bag for that?”

He held up his leather jacket. “Do you have one big enough for this?”

The kid nodded and pulled a large bag emblazoned with the Farmer Brown’s logo, and Spider stuffed the jacket in. “Oh, one last thing, my allergies are acting up. Have you got a couple of tissues I could have?” Farmer Brown Jr. brought out a box from under the counter and held it for Spider to pluck three tissues from. “That’s perfect. Thanks so much for everything!”

Spider turned his back to the clerk and pretended to blow his nose, but instead wadded up the tissues and stuffed them into his upper lip, making him look buck-toothed. He then powered down his splice so he couldn’t be tracked by his connection to the network.

Recognize this, Spider thought as he tilted his head to the side and headed back out into the mall. The lemon drop under his foot hurt like hell, but threw off his gait enough to confuse any kinematic identification system.

He felt ridiculous as he rode down the escalator to the ground floor, but knew that as far as the security system was concerned, he was a new shopper with no connection to the person who entered the mall earlier.   He stopped briefly to glance at a directory, then casually walked to the nearest rest room. As expected, he found them in a side alcove off the main promenade, next to the doors that lead behind the scenes to a maze of service corridors. He ducked through them, closing them slowly behind him. As soon as he was out of sight, he stopped to dig the lemon drop out of his boot and tossed it into a trash can. If he were caught, he’d pretend to be a lost shopper, but wanted the option to run if needed.

The service corridor opened into a large loading bay. On the opposite side, a robotic forklift was catching pallets of freight from the robot inside a delivery truck. They worked in an intricate and perfectly timed ballet, completely oblivious to his presence. He crossed the bay as casually as if he owned the place and strode out through an open sliding door.

He scanned the sky. There were plenty of drones whizzing around, but none of them stopped to follow him. He nodded and walked off down the street.


Once he was within a few blocks of the office where his interview was, he stopped behind a dumpster to take off his comical disguise. He’d just wriggled back into his regular jacket when he was startled by someone appearing beside the dumpster, and much to Spider’s surprise, he was familiar. It was the homeless guy he’d encountered outside his old apartment, going through the detritus of his old life.

The vagrant seemed just as startled to find someone else behind the dumpster. He stood with his mouth open a moment, then his eyes went wide. “OH SHIT! I know you! You’re crazy! I didn’t take nothin’ from you!”

Spider raised his hands. “No, it’s OK, I know that. Look, man, I’m sorry about before. I was having a really bad day. I shouldn’t have yelled at you.”

He relaxed a bit, but still seemed dubious.   “Ok, OK. I just don’t steal stuff. I don’t take nothin’ that ain’t been thrown away.”

Spider nodded, then looked down at his hands. “Hey, do you want a pair of overalls?”

The bum looked alarmed again. “No! I ain’t takin’ nothin’ from you!”

Spider thought a second, then spoke, enunciating every word carefully. “OK, look, hey, I’m throwing this away now.” He folded the coveralls loosely and sat them down on the ground. The man watched him suspiciously. “I’m throwing away this hat too. And these shades.” He stacked them on top of the overalls. “I’m done with them. Anyone who can use them is welcome to them.” He remembered the lemon drops. “And this bag of candy too. I’ve had enough.” Spider took a step backwards from the stack. The vagrant watched him confused and interested, but did not move toward the pile. “All right then. I’m leaving. Take it easy.” Spider waved and stepped even further back, then turned and walked around the dumpster to the sidewalk.

His foot still hurt, probably bruised from the candy, but he felt good about shaking his tail. He paused a few yards down the road and glanced back, and smiled when he saw the homeless man clambering awkwardly into the huge overalls.