Lady Prologue

So they’re listening to my phone calls, reading my email, recording every keystroke—and what have they learned? Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Stupid bastards! They probably got excited when I hacked the command center of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. I was just one step away from taking control of the Mars Rover. But I stopped. Some fool would have charged me with a crime. Wouldn’t have held up, but I didn’t have the time to fight it. Any schoolchild could tell you the United States doesn’t have jurisdiction on Mars.

Felicity! Felicity! She’s so coy. Always avoids me, but I know—I know she dreams about me. Likes to play hard to get. Well, what good does that do? And where is she? Haven’t seen her around, like she’s just vanished. Maybe off to visit that stupid brother of hers. Or hiding somewhere to tease me. She’s such a playful thing.

I said the Feds learned nothing, but that’s not exactly true. They must know I also like to play—one of the many things I have in common with Felicity. Before I left West Virginia, I had designed and built several robotic drones. Nothing like the Pentagon’s fleet of more than seven thousand, but terrific for high-resolution photography from fifty meters in the air. Also good for scaring the shit out of some of my noisy neighbors. The FAA has some rules, but in West Virginia, who cares?

Brooklyn, however, pays attention.  So my drone fleet has been temporarily mothballed. I came here at the invitation of a guy who calls himself Dmitry. Claims his father and my father were neighbors in Russia. Who knows? Maybe it’s true. Anyway, Dmitry calls me cousin, but that’s certainly a stretch.  He writes computer code and lives like a prince—lavish apartment, expensive cars, the works. So, I asked him how he does it. And he said, “Cousin Vlad, there’s big money in New York just waiting to be liberated. If you’re willing to share your computer skills for a few months, I guarantee you’ll be on easy street forever.” Well, I was beginning to like him.

He was so excited when I told him about the stuff going on at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. They call them UAVs or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, nothing more than a fancy name for drones. Big drones, little drones, even miniature drones. And those little ones are something to see.

Who am I kidding?   I couldn’t get near the place. If the Feds hadn’t revoked my security clearance, I would’ve owned it. The closest I got was a video that showed micro-UAVs that looked like winged, multi-legged bugs. These little babies could swarm through open fields, crawl into homes, and perch unobtrusively on a windowsill or picture frame. I told Dmitry they could take pictures, listen to conversations, and give you access to practically any space.

Dmitry practically begged me to relocate. I didn’t let on, but I had my own reasons to get out of Berkeley Springs. I’d be miles away from that insufferable old spy Thomas Scott and their two-bit sheriff Terry Hightower. And since Felicity had left town, there was no reason to stay. On the other hand, I’d end up in the same city as Detective Jorge Rodriguez. That fast-talking, double-crossing NYPD cop wasn’t content to have me arrested on some trumped-up charge, but also tried to screw me by sweet-talking Felicity. However, after weighing the pros and cons, I decided to move to Brooklyn, where I’d be far less visible, far more difficult to track by the FBI, NSA, or other government goons.

So I told Dmitry I needed a first-class lab and an income commensurate with my skills. He said his sponsors would resist paying me in advance. I told him his sponsors could kiss my sweet Russian ass, because I wasn’t some philanthropist. He said they were pretty sophisticated, claimed they were in cahoots with some distinguished New York lawyer. When he told me his sponsors were from Brighton Beach, I knew he was talking about the gang they call the Russia mafia. Kind of a slur if you ask me, because they aren’t some grease-ball Italians.

Then he gets all serious and says his sponsors can get downright nasty if you don’t show respect. And I said to tell them that unless they pay me exactly what I want, they can go fuck themselves. And you know what? They’re paying me. Guess they’ve decided to show a little respect.

Life would be perfect, if only Felicity would call. Until then, when I close my eyes I’ll see the face that launched a thousand drones.