A non-sequential series of fictional shorts:
The waitress wore traditional 50’s garb and looked for all the world like a nurse with the exception of the waitress hat in stead of the nurses’ folded cloth cap. She was plain, and it seemed that her estrogen supply had just about been exhausted in that menopausal way. She laughed at another customer with that cigaretty chuckle that inevitably dissolves into a hacking cough.
Gary’s Diner was classically laid out in a color scheme of red and white. A counter ran along one wall and individual booths ran along the other. The big, lighted sign out front said, “Eat.” A smaller sign, set in a window announced to those concerned whether Gary’s was open or closed.
The waitress saddled down the lunch counter to where I sat. The nametag read, ‘Marge’. The cliché was complete. “The apple pie is on special but we’re out of ice cream.”
The waitress turned yelled though the serving window, “Luther, we got any Swiss Cheese?”
A deep voice boomed back after ten seconds or so, “No, we’ve only got the Velveeta.”
“That’s like cheese wiz. I’ll pass on the pie and the cheese.”
She flipped up her receipt book and scribed my bill. “Suit yerself.” Marge tore the bill from the pad, reinserting the carbon paper. Then she expertly slid the bill, wedging it under my plate containing a half-eaten slab of over done meatloaf and a pool of soggy mashed potatoes floating in real margarine, and a floater of gravy.
I dug in my pocket for change and tapped fifty cents in dimes on the counter, took the bill and walked to the cash register.
Nobody paid any attention to me standing there, standing stupid and looking foolish, so I dinged the bell.
A big balding man with a drooping moustache and a lazy eye, wearing a filthy, greasy apron, who must be Luther, came out of the kitchen through swinging bar doors, painted with years of accumulated greasy hand prints. I handed him a sawbuck as soon as he arrived and he made change, dropping it in my hand without counting it out to me. I smiled, “Thanks.”
Luther muttered something intelligible under his breath and lumbered back through swinging bar doors into the kitchen.
The first step out of the diner into the night was refreshing. The stars shown brightly, the landscape, wooded in all directions.
Lights blinked on around me and I shed my human skin immediately, departing through the skullcap of the drone, leaving the hatch open, brown hair tumbling to the side. My crew of five departed on gossamer wings and assembled, hovering in front of the drone, in a tight military formation, our hand-weapons presented for inspection.
The hand-weapon is referred to as a lance in the parlance of the soldiers of light.
My commanding officer, a shimmering lady before me floated in the evening, luminescent, hovering like a dragon fly, her hair cascading down her shoulders luxuriantly.
“Troop has debarked from the drone and awaits evaluation.” I barked. It is a pattern of speech, not the way I speak all of the time.
She smiled. “You all performed remarkably well. You will be awarded the highest marks.”
I tried not to beam with pride, but it was impossible not to feel immense satisfaction in my team’s work. We crewed our drone through ten different scenarios, meant to demonstrate that we were able to interact with humans in a way that would not arouse suspicion. The sex drill was the most difficult. The drone had to be maneuvered in many different ways to fulfill the demands of the Kamasutra manual and it took all of us working in close coordination to make it happen.
We lost early drones to impacts with automobiles. That led to a manual evasion program whereby I, as commander, over-rode the crew and navigated the drone myself in sprints across transit paths. Retrofitted radar helped identify threats when the drone’s head was pointed in a direction away from the threat itself.
Other drones failed in their missions because they were unable to interact with the complex human behavior patterns. The Gary’s Diner scenario was a test to examine our interactive skills against actual humans who didn’t know they’d been transported to a test facility.
Many years ago, we came to Earth without drones. We came in peace. The savage environment led to the deaths of many fairies. Worse still, some were kept as slaves, performing magic on demand to amuse potentates.Walt Disney captured at least a dozen of us and called it his “imagination” when he tortured us to get scenarios for all of his animated features. Our people went into hiding and contacted our home planet, some 53 light years distant. It took the elves many years to create the sophisticated drones like the one where my crew and I lived and worked.
The drones are not only vehicles for exploration of the strange and dangerous planet but they will some day be the means of conquest as we slowly supplant the leaders of the world with our drones, specially designed with trained crews.
My first operational mission came shortly after my team completed the Gary’s Diner training scenario. The olfactory sensors detected carcinogenic vapor to the left as we emerged from the door in the basement of the long abandoned railroad maintenance facility. The journey from our enclave, deep within the Earth’s crust was arduous. As we approached the surface, there were many tunnels, many choices of paths in a maze designed to thwart any who would attempt to retrace our route.
I disengaged the navigational computer and went to manual control.
“Commander,” my principal engineer called over my headphones, “I’m having a problem with the left leg. It’s no longer nominal to profile.”
True to his warning, the drone was lurching. “What’s wrong?” I tried to keep concern from my voice.
“The problem is external,” the engineer deduced, “we’re working on it now, but it may require an inspection of the exterior of the drone.”
Mission guidelines forbid any departure from the drone unless circumstances were dire.
“Maintain course and speed, maybe the problem will work itself out.”
I was paying attention to the malfunctioning drone and made a rookie mistake. The source of the carcinogenic vapor was a cigarette dangling from the mouth of a man, sitting in a pile of rags there in the old railroad yard. Rusting panels of metal flanked his resting place. A bushy, black beard and a sweat-stained slouch hat concealed most of his face.
“New here kid?”
“Yes, I admitted, I haven’t been here before.”
“Sit down a spell,” the rail yard dweller advised. “Take a load off your feet.”
The drone sat, crew working furiously to make it happen in line with the extensive training we’d received.
“Hoist the left leg.” I called down to the assistant engineer.
“Left leg coming up, do you want it crossed at the knee?”
A small patch of red goo attached itself to the bottom of the left shoe. I could see it clearly now that the leg was over the knee. The ancillary pilot moved the left arm and hand in position to try and pry the goo from the bottom of the shoe. It’s a maneuver we never practiced and the crew was awkward.
Looking at my efforts from his perch on the throne of rags, my bearded companion laughed coarsely. “Better gum than dog shit.”