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  • [This is a long short story with multiple episodes. The seed of this one is That Unexpected Sound.]

    Federal Drug agents had come a-calling at Wellconomy Village, and Marjorie had the honor of receiving them. Everyone in the common room watched as she slowly walked across the room to the front door, introduced herself and said "How may I help you? Can we get you some coffee?"

    When the men declined, she went out on the porch to talk with them, followed by Pete and several other members. The rest of us sat in stunned silence, then one by one, we got up and went outside, forgetting to bus our tableware. Soon about 60 of us were standing around in the town square, gawking.

    The first thing we noticed as that our two visitors were not alone. Three other men and one woman in identical windbreakers with the letters DEA printed on their backs were standing around. Three grey vans were parked at the end of the drive. One had no windows and sprouted several antennae. It looked like most of the agents carried weapons.

    We couldn't hear the conversation happening on the porch, but we saw one of the agents gesturing, pointing at various locations. Marjorie also pointed. They were probably asking her what the various buildings around them were used for. After about five minutes, the two agents came down from the porch and Marjorie stepped forward to make an announcement.

    "As you can clearly see, these people are from the DEA. They say they are following up a report alleging the presence of illegal drugs on Wellconomy property, and will be looking around the village. They have not accused us of anything. Please cooperate with them, but do not give your permission for them to enter your dwelling or any other building. I have told them about our strict no-drugs policy and that nobody here has anything to do with illegal drugs. I also told them that if they intend to come inside, they need to produce a search warrant first, which they do not have today. So, please, go about your business and let the DEA people enjoy themselves searching for something that isn't here."

    Amidst our murmuring, an agent emerged from the windowless van with a metal case in one hand and a tripod in the other. He went to the middle of the square, where he seated the tripod. Opening the case, he secured it to the tripod. Inside the case was a military-style computer and something like a video game controller. He put on a headset and started operating the computer using the controller.

    Meanwhile, the other agents fanned out in pairs. Two of them went down toward the barn. Another pair disappeared behind the common house. Two more started walking in between the housing units. None of them talked to us.

    We became aware of the sound of a motor. Quickly the sound grew stronger and more distinct. It wasn't a truck or chainsaw. A small aircraft seemed to be approaching. Suddenly a helicopter skimmed over the trees behind the brook. It was unlike any I had ever seen – sleek and slender, all white, with no windows, with a large pod suspended beneath its fuselage.

    Ted was still standing next to me, also looking up as the chopper headed straight toward us. "Oh, my," he said. "That's a drone, doing surveillance." Ted flicked his thumb at the guy 25 feet away from us manning the three-legged computer. "He's controlling it, or else is patched in to the primary controller, who could be anywhere." The chopper paused above us, seemingly awaiting orders.

    It seems that in addition to being a car wizard, Ted is a military aircraft enthusiast. He was even able to tell me that this noisy bird was named Hummingbird Warrior, an autonomous aircraft built by Boeing. He added, "That's one of the only drones that can fly itself around obstacles once it's told where to go an what to do." As if on cue, the drone headed north, toward the farm, tossing our hair as it banked away.

    "I imagine it will image the whole settlement – the trees, the farm, rooftops, everything. It's got radar that can pick out moving objects and tell the animate from the inanimate ones. It's probably got thermal and IR scanners too. But no weapons."

    All this seemed incredible. Bringing such a force to bear on a community of dropouts didn't make sense – unless I totally misread these people. Could they be supporting themselves by making or distributing drugs? Maybe what Marjorie had told me about the MacArthur award being used to fund infrastructure projects was just a cover story.

    My paranoid fantasy was interrupted by someone tugging on my shirt. It was Iris, acting urgent. "Dad! Come away from here! I gotta tell you something. It's important!"

    She motioned to me to bend down, and whispered to me, "There are drugs here. I saw them."

    Continued in That Digging Sound

    [The original seed of this series is On Sustainable Power, May 31, 2012.
    To identify all the stories in the series, click the tag That Sound beneath the map.]

    @image: Boeing A-160T Hummingbird Warrior (YMQ-18) radar-equipped drone helicopter. According to Defense Industry Daily: "The autonomously-flown A160 is 35 feet long with a 36-foot rotor diameter, but it only weighs about 2,500 pounds. Initial target performance included a range of 2,500 nautical miles/ 4,620 km, endurance of 16-24 hours, and 1,000 pounds of payload. It will fly at an estimated top speed of 165 knots/ 305 kmh at ceilings up to 30,000 feet, which is about 10,000 feet higher than most helicopters can fly today."
    @audio: Helicopter fly-by from Sound Jay
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