Droning On by Richard Reese

Sometimes we tend to get way, way ahead of ourselves, don’t you think? Well, that’s how a small battle morphed into a helluva war. Not just any war, either. But the Big One! The kind which hurled mankind right over the edge of oblivion. In fact, as you and I are bullshitting about what happened, perhaps you’ve noticed that the ground we are squatting on is desolate. Not a living creature hereabouts. And look at the foliage nearby. Stripped bare, and bleak like the horizon over there. Our little fire is all that separates what’s left of mankind from the cockroaches and lizards now taking over what is left of Ole Terra Firma. Did you know what made the conquest of nature and the earth by us possible in the first place?


Not tool making or language. Kid stuff. Chimps, beavers, ants, and termites can make tools, even houses, for themselves. It’s the mastery of fire that gave mankind supremacy over all other creatures and made civilization possible. We were the only intelligent species on this planet to use fire for light, warmth, cooking, and killing.

Especially killing.

We took fire from burning grasslands and tree forests for starters. By 1945 in the last century we took fire from the sun. And now look at us. Or what is left of us. Sure, we ended up way, way ahead of ourselves, you might say, almost since that time. Now we finally have.

Three-Star General Bob Williston leaned back on his swivel chair. On his massive red oak desk in the Army Ring portion of the Pentagon rested a model drone. The man selling the US Army’s next “air force” looked at the many plaques and pictures of the man who could make AreoDrone Corporation immensely rich in the next few minutes. A soft whir from Williston’s desk clock brought both men back into their conversation.

Richard “Dick” Matheson leaned slightly forward in his chair in the silence following the clock. Only 27 years old with two PhDs from MIT in materials science and computer science, the creator of an innovative drone sweated the next few seconds wondering if this guy with three stars would say what is what. He only blinked once, when Williston spoke.

“Well, Doctor, from what DARPA tells me, the Army has its newest fleet of lethal flying weaponry.” Searching his guest’s face and finding growing disbelief and mounting joy in the younger man’s face, 46-year-old Robert Edward Lee Williston, Class of 1990 at West Point and First Cadet, smiled back.

“General, Sir, on behalf of my colleagues at AreoDrone Corporation, the Army will never be sorry. Our model has all the capabilities you need for the battlefield of today and tomorrow.! I promise you.” With that Dick Matheson breathed a sigh of relief. The deal is done! We will be gazillionaires! Shit, I can’t wait to tell Sam that the Brass bought our Ass! And other emotions fluttered across Matheson’s brain like starlings flitting here and there.

Williston said nothing. Outside his large office, muffled sounds of ringing phones or quiet words between his aide-de-camp Major James Banner and Rosemary Goff could be vaguely made out. Stabbing his intercom, the General requested the presence of Major Banner “at once”. When Banner slipped in through the door, Matheson turned around and waved slightly in greeting. The Major nodded an acknowledgment of politeness and then asked his boss what he needed.

“Jim, have the paperwork drawn up for Doctor Matheson to review with his lawyers on the purchase of his toys. Also, get Charlie Bankston from Procurement on board. Then set up a briefing with the Chief and the usual civilian suspects up on the E Ring. Once our top man gets the news, he will hoof it over to the White House along with us for the usual dog and pony show. I am sure some gang in Congress will love another line item to fight over.”

“Yes sir. Anything else?”

“Doctor, are you free for lunch this afternoon? I think you might like to meet some of my friends in the Navy and Air Force.”

“Yes, General, I would love to.”

“Fine. Major, would you make reservations in the E RING for 1300 Hours? Make sure the invites go out to the names on your computer.” With that, the major slipped out the same way he came in. After a few more back-and-forth congratulations and mutual compliments, the general escorted the doctor around to meet and greet their luncheon partners.

Aiguo Heng studied the map before him. China was ringed by states great and small for millennia. Yet, this country equally ringed all adversaries within her shores, deserts, mountains and plains. Except the greatest adversary of them all in recent times.

The United States.

Since the Great Revolution of 1949, America has stood four square and irresolutely against the People’s Republic of China. Three wars between the two powers proved inconclusive. The fourth must be decisive, and in China’s favor.

It must be.

General Aiguo Heng commanded the newly formed Drone Air Force. While his friend and rival Boqin Huang still had the upper hand with his jet fighters and bombers in the highest councils of government in Beijing, Heng was confident that his “air force” of potentially millions would overcome and replace jet fighter craft. Perhaps, Aiguo Heng mused to himself while pouring over his map again, sooner than you think, my old friend. Sooner than you think!

Changhe Aircraft Industries had its own liaison with Heng’s Drone Air Command. Former Air Force General Fa Jian was once Heng’s CO years ago when the latter was moving up, because of the former spotted a future leader China would need in her hour of peril. Fa Jian was no man to trifle with. He earned his wings against Russian and American pilots back in the 1990s when this secret, three-cornered war began some two generations ago over Korea. As the link between industry and military, Executive Vice President of Changhe Aircraft Industries, Fa Jian appeared to those who did not know him as a “salesman” when he walked the halls to see his Protégé General Aiguo Heng.

That’s how both men preferred the ruse to be convincing.

In an hour both strategists would huddle and discuss the latest drone under production. Using gained top secret photographs of the American “Beast Killer” drone, Aiguo Heng and Fa Jian were convinced that the newest Chinese design “NIU”, or the “OX”, would crush its Western version from brute strength and clever thought.

Drones were mere housing for highly advanced computers themselves bordering on independent artificial intelligences. All three nations possessed in this part of East Asia the greatest engineering and mathematical minds to wage cyberwars on any scale game designer would salivate over to dominate their commercial markets. Only one other country on the Mediterranean shores of West Asia could match AI computing prowess with the other three.


The Israeli drone “ADIRA” certainly earned its name. This magnificent drone was for its size and capabilities truly “Powerful”. Arab air forces and military or naval bases had no defenses at present against what this drone could do when deployed. Only Iran was feverishly competing for her own drone to use against Israel when the “Day of Reckoning” arrived. Jerusalem well knew of Tehran’s drive to acquire drone technology and acted in every way espionage and sabotage could thwart this quest.

Naturally, the Chinese played their cards carefully in this poker game between the Middle Eastern gamblers. Oil and industrial access were Iran’s strongest suit. Brains and technological trade-offs were Israel’s. Of course, China could throw chips into the pot from her combination of all these resources in her bank.

And, to be sure, the Americans played their competitors in these high stakes game for everything they could. After all, a marked deck that is anything but, is a powerful asset to boost the odds of winning hands!

hese Chinese strategists were familiar with American drone doctrine.

What most interested all drone planners was the “swarm strategy”. A fleet of 1000 drones with a mix of delivery capabilities in theory could overwhelm conventional air and ground forces with more deadly and expensive weaponry. Like locusts attacking a crop and stripping it bare, drone swarms could do the same to military forces within reach. No matter how many drones got disabled or destroyed, more and more would come and swallow whole all resistance to them except tactical nukes. And there was the ability for “pregnant drones” to open their bodies and release dozens to hundreds of little drones to wreak havoc on the battlefield or in against urban targets. All these ideas and innovations were possible in the foreseeable future.

That is why Aiguo Heng wanted this meeting today with Fa Jian. Each man could bring the military and industry into unity with such dreams and possibilities. The Chinese form of military-industrial complex surpassed the Russians by far; and now was reaching close parity with the Americans. Aiguo Heng and Fa Jian wanted more than parity, they craved superiority and supremacy against the clever Americans!

“So glad you could spare time to talk,” Heng opened to Jiang. “Our ministers are most eager to work even closer with your firm these days.”

“Of course! We have something to discuss today.” Jian replied. “Something very important.

Heng knew what his mentor and friend was referring to. Since the late1990s and turn of the century, material scientists and engineers in the United States were moving carbon as a replacement for light-weight aluminum and titanium alloys for vehicles. Carbon epoxy led to carbon filament technology. The dream was to make a structural material with the tinsel strength of five tons per square inch; comparable to what a house spider spins to catch flies! Now, in the closing decade of the 2020s, military aircraft and battle vehicles on land or in water were being designed and built using carbon atoms in configurations material and chemical engineers dreamed were possible only a few years ago.

With the hundreds of Chinese exchange students attending the best universities in America from Berkeley to MIT, old fashioned espionage with all its attendant risks and few successes was a thing of the past. True, cybe respionage still had a place in penetrating rival computers of targeted private industry and government agency systems. And all four cyber powers spent massive sums to acquire any intelligence which might put any of them ahead while crippling the rest. But “humint” graduates possessing PhDs and Master degrees from top- notch schools were better, cheaper, and valuable. Especially, since few Americans or Russians knew any Mandarin to attend China’s best technological universities.!

English was the perfect means to penetrate universities, industrial laboratories, and hungry corporations.

Now the carefully cultivated orchards abroad were about to bear splendid fruit.

“Our intelligence friends obtained the molecular engineering of the newest Nano-Carbon model, and I must say the Americans are brilliant… and stupid.”

“How do you mean?” Jian asked.

“In terms of brilliance, they are years ahead of our own work in this field. By stupidity, not knowing we have their latest design material for any weapon we choose.”

“I think labeling the Americans ‘stupid’ in terms of security watchfulness might be careless,” Jian replied. “After all, they have spies among our own students and engineering personnel. Are we ‘stupid’ in that regard? I don’t think so. Let us get to the point of this visit, shall we?” Heng responded.

“In terms of weight, strength, stealth and production capabilities, our corporation can work with any design the Drone Command wishes us to manufacture. The prototype for ‘NIU II’ will be in your hands, say, six to eight months from today.” With that Jian reached in his coat pocket for a cigarette. Heng watched his friend light up and then blow a smoke ring toward the ceiling before saying anything.

“Fa, we need to see NIU II as she is being put together. I understand the basic specifications will pose no problem for your people. But I have generals and Party ministers most eager to be in on the ‘ground floor’ as the Americans like to say. I can keep most at bay, however, Liu Yang is not one. She can be most persuasive, and a careful friend to keep on your side.”

Liu Yang was both Defense Minister, and a powerful voice in the male-dominated Politburo of the CCP. It was rumored that she might be the first woman premier of the People’s Republic of China in the foreseeable future. Outwardly quite comely, men knew she possessed a steel spine and an iron will in whatever Liu Yang set her sights on. NIU II’s success in revolutionizing drone warfare would redound to her credit and positioning to grasp ultimate power one day. It also helped Heng’s cause she was a ferocious bed partner, and confidant to his goals of succeeding her as Defense Minister one day.

Only if the stars were aligned just so, and for both.

Muhammed Al -Haqq glanced at his laptop at the incoming story from AL-JAZEERA. Usually, he avoided the Arab-language propaganda sheet. But not this early afternoon. A story blared out he could not ignore. According to “reliable sources high up in certain active circles”, the Revolutionary Islamic Caliphate of Arabia now had talons to rip apart the hated Jewish-Zionist state. Soon Caliph Ibrahim ibn Ahmad Fawza would send fire and death down on the heads of all Jews first and then incinerate “the Great Satan” in its lair to hasten the Day when all the world submitted to Islam at last!

Not paying any attention to the tables nearby and bustling waiters serving their customers lunch, Al-Haqq crumpled his napkin and tossed it aside. These idiots who leaked this story don’t know what they have done! Al-Haqq cursed in his mind. The Blades of Allah are supposed to be propaganda, myths, to bedevil our enemies. And this fool in Mecca…. How the Devil did he let out the existence of our drones at this time? Before he could answer his own question, a waiter approached his table with a note.

“Sir. A gentleman across the room asked me to give this to you. Shall I wait for a response?”

Al-Haqq quickly scanned the note and looked in the direction where its author boldly returned his stare.

“No, Qassim. There is no reply you have to carry back to the gentleman. It is enough you brought it to me. Thank you.” With that, the waiter moved away and returned to the sender’s table. They exchanged a few words, and Qassim returned to his normal duties.

uhammed Al-Haqq was one of the most powerful men close to Ibrahim ibn Ahmad Fawza, the Caliph of the Revolutionary Islamic Caliphate of Arabia. Recognizing the table patron who sent the note, the recipient knew the signal being sent to him in an out of the way Damascus restaurant was more important than the message it contained. He was being summoned for an important meeting in a few hours.

One he and so many Palestinians prayed the Day would come.

The Death of Israel.

As nightfall descended on the Syrian capital, Al-Haqq took a vacant bench and waited. A boy ran past him chasing another. Two men were putting away their backgammon game and bidding one another good byes as they headed on their separate ways. Muhammed realized a presence right behind him. As he turned to see who was there, a slender man dressed in skinny blue jeans and a polo shirt was standing over him within inches over the top of his head. Silently, the new arrival moved around the bench and sat down on Al-Haqq’s right. For a moment, no one said anything. Then the young man crossed his right leg over his left, nodded his greeting, and watched Muhammed intently with his hawk-like eyes as he began.

“I bring a message from Amman.” The stranger whispered. “When can you arrive at Amman?”

Al-Haqq knew that “Amman” was code for his people to ready their drones to fly. “I can leave in two days. I have business left to attend before I catch a flight to Amman. Will my customer be willing to wait for my representatives to show what they want for manufacturing?”

“One day is most imperative,” the young man spoke softly. “It seems your competitor knows of the opportunity here and means to bid quite highly for market share. Surely, your firm cannot let its competition dictate market terms like before? One day is most vital for the bidding to stop.”

Muhammed Al-Haqq walked away. As he strolled back to his hotel, Al-Haqq knew with all certainty that on the day after tomorrow many Jews and Arabs alike would be in ashes.

So did the Caliph. But Paradise was worth it.

The Israelis would hurl their own spears that day to hasten the martyrdom their enemies desired.

And to avenge the Second Holocaust as it unfolded.

Prime Minister Rachel Bennesavitz sat at one corner of the triangular shaped table, waiting for her Defense Minister and the Director of Mossad to meet with her this morning. She set aside the blue covered folder with a heavy sigh. The news inside it was confirmed. While she stood up to go to a window overlooking the sea skyline of Tel Aviv to clear her head, a gentle knock outside disturbed her quiet moment of reflection. Miriam, her administrative aide, quietly announced her visitors. Nodding, the PM turned to greet Defense Minister Moshe Fine and Mossad Chief Yoav Shtern as they entered her private office. After the three took their seats, Miriam brought in a carafe of coffee in a tray with mugs for them to partake. Once the door closed, then Rachel Bennesavitz got down to business without the usual chit chat. This meeting was most important in its immediacy; and time was of the essence.

“Moshe, Yoav, let me be candid. I’ve read your reports and spoken with the rest of the inner cabinet some two hours ago. They’ve a mind for us to preempt the RICA drone pending strike now. I agree. However, my question to both of you is this: Are you absolutely sure of your intelligence, of your sources, and analysts?”

The DM smiled slightly. Then he answered. “Madame Prime Minister, you asked three questions in one. So, let me give you one answer for all three from my vantage. Ken! Yes!” Looking at the Mossad Chief, the DM saw his colleague pick up on the cue to reinforce his answer. Yoav Shtern did not disappoint.

“For my part, Madame Prime Minister, Mossad is in complete agreement with Defense on this one. In fact, our sources on the ground updated us that the drone launchers are being revved up as we speak. I believe your decision to preempt is sound -- and necessary with all immediacy.”

Rachel sipped from her mug, looking at Yoav first. How she wanted to take him in her arms and be held by him tightly in return. A few friends in and out of her office knew about their special relationship on off hours. But now she had to put on her official face; and be direct as was her wont with any man working for her Government.

“Yoav, I want your people to assassinate Ibrahim ibn Ahmad Fawza, no matter if our preempt strike works or not. Moshe, get the general staff moving from their side. I want the Caliphate levelled. By the time the Americans hear of our defensive measures, President Elizabeth Caldwell will have made the usual noises to the media and Congressional leaders, while she dampens down the Doves in her Administration. I already placed the call to the White House and got the usual “tut tuts” and “plausible deniability crap” from her. However, we are good with her on this.”

Moshe Fine glanced at Yoav Shtern and then at their PM. “I assume you will bring in the key KMs on this? Before or after the preempt, if I may ask?”

“I placed a few calls to the right members from the two major coalition partners, and they all agree on one thing.”

“That is?” asked Yoav Shtern.

“I should have ordered this more than a month ago. I wanted to, but there were considerations in the way. Now they no longer are.” Letting the two prepare to leave and follow through their missions, she had one more thing to say. “God Willing, we can save Israel from this storm. If not, then the Arabs and Iranians will not be alive to rejoice in our Second Holocaust!”

The Israeli Air Force was in the air as the DM settled in his office. Sitting across from him were those generals and their Chief putting the finishing touches for the second wave of attacks briefing. A large flat screen showed dual split screens. One screen depicted Israel and her forward installations of fighter planes and nuclear drones. The other screen projection looked like red measles speckling over much of the Occupied Territories, neighboring Arab states, and Iran. As soon as “Come Retribution” unfolded against the combined enemies of Israel - - and The Revolutionary Islamic Caliphate of Arabia in particular - - the matter of preventing or punishing those trying to carry out another Holocaust was out of his hands.

In the meantime, while the PM looked at the blue folder again, she looked up at the flat screen. What she saw were yellow blooms appearing on Israeli soil. It was the last thing she saw when her private office and much of Tel Aviv caught amidst explosions, burned in the hurricane-propelled fiery maelstrom.

Once the madman caliph from the other side first soon preempted the Israeli preempt, the war of drones vanished amidst miniature mushrooms obliterating the once habitable Middle East.

You know, I guess, that the last war in the Middle East where we and the Chinese tag-teamed the Russians sort of went badly at first. The Russians fooled us with their drone weaponry. It didn’t help they had some “inside help” through their Iranian ally. Iran had her fingers in every European and Japanese R&D facility. Tehran could buy, bribe, or steal the technology she needed to make drones at home, or for sale to certain “clients” like the Russians or Indians. Israel, naturally, kept tabs on Iran as much as they could in those days. Unlike the old MAD “balance of terror” with ordinary rocket nukes, drone nukes were far worse, and available even on the black market to the highest buyers.

I digress.

This war of wars began predictably. Russia was the strongest ally of the Iranians. The United States on behalf of Israel. The Chinese played the Iranians and the Israelis in their own version of chess. The wild card was The Revolutionary Islamic Caliphate of Arabia. It seems that China, Russia and America each courted Mecca for their own individual purposes. Once the RICA got a hold of nukes from Pakistan and the North Koreans to arm Hezbollah, Israel went ballistic, so to speak. And you couldn’t blame them, either.

A nuke drone exploding bear Dimona in the Negev was all it took. When the IDF determined that the hardware and package were Irano-Arabian and not anyone else’s, that’s all she wrote. They didn’t wait for apologies or excuses. Tehran and Mecca vanished in mushroom clouds. Very big mushroom clouds. Then the whole place went nuts. Before Israel went down swinging, most of the Middle East acquired a new desert on top of the old one.

A radioactive one.

In just five days over 190 million folks were dead, dying, or fleeing from the carnage.

Armageddon passed from biblical fantasy to technological reality.

And here you and I sit, staring at flat screens showing blips circling around and around. Armadas of drones poised to fly deep into their assigned territories from homeland bases.

Russia. China. The United States.

Once any armada got launched, the other two would surely follow. And did.

Russia. China. The United States.

Three-Star General Robert Edward Lee Williston stared back and forth at the multiple screens on the wall opposite his master console with a growing sense of cold shock. More blips than he cared to know were streaking on trajectories crisscrossing the Eurasian and North American continents, like something out the old movie “War Games” back in the 1980s. President Jennifer Lynn Hollister gave the “release order” almost three hours ago from her bunker in the West Virginian hills northwest of what the remains of Washington, D.C. were.

No one said a word. There was nothing more to be said.

Thousands of drones from China, Russia, and America would do the proverbial speaking.

Leaning over to Brigadier General Tabbatha Johnson on the console next to his, Williston whispered in her ear, “Can you believe this shit?!” His subordinate nodded slightly, and kept her eyes on the duplicate master screen she owned. DROCOM nestled deep underground in the nine thousand four-hundred-foot Mount Neacola topping the Aleutian Mountain Range. Totally impenetrable from nukes smaller than 20 megatons, DRONE COMMAND hosted the most sophisticated control systems ever developed by the Pentagon. Her satellites were the best in the world. In trying to blind or knock any of them out, the Chinese and Russians were foiled again and again. But no matter. These drone adversaries need to ensure the United States could not completely take out most of theirs.

And when the firing started, there was no stopping whether anyone’s satellites worked!

The Third World War ended twenty-six hours later.

Three-Star General Bob Williston and his sidekick Brigadier “Tabby” Johnson were out of business. Safe underground with stores lasting a full year for all personnel, DROCOM could ride out all storms—be they earthquakes or residual radioactivity -until relief came.

In this case, there would be no relief coming. Finishing rubbing his eyes from staring too long at the screens showing death arcing back and forth, Williston got up and excused himself. Johnson returned a wan smile and then retreated into her console. Her folks were in Petersburg Virginia. Her husband and three sons just outside of Houston Texas. She knew they were all dead, or soon would be. So was Williston’s wife, Betty Jean. And his two daughters just outside of what was left of Anchorage Alaska.

Just to make sure what the telecommunications were showing before finally shutting down, Williston ordered a small party to accompany him “upstairs” to have a looksee outside. When the elevator came to a stop before the tunnel leading to the massive steel round blast-proof door, he glanced over the faces reflected on the corner mirror and saw grim looks return his way. After pressing the correct digits, the steel shield slowly slid into its slot to allow the party to egress.

Standing at the head of the reconnaissance party, Three-Star Bob Williston saw the magnificent sweep of mountain below, and the forest surrounding its craggy base charred to stumps and ash by some fiery havoc earlier. A cold wind blew in his face. The symbolism of Death’s breath crossed his mind. A noncom standing beside him genuflected, and whispered a prayer to a dead god far away from this hell. The others spread out in a wing formation to give the semblance of protection to their general. They needn’t bother. Other than a lone eagle floating high in the slowly setting sun slipping behind Mount Neacola, nothing in the gathering dusk could harm them in the slightest.

The harm they caused to others was over for them.

A quick sweep of the man-made ledge where Williston and his group stood, convinced the Three-Star to order his people back inside.

You know, nobody outside will ever read what I wrote here. Sure, millions of people out of some eight billion humans the day before, might survive where drone nukes never flew in their direction. And, again, probably less than that. We equipped drones not only with nukes, but with godawful germs for which there are no cures known outside of the crazy labs they were made. When the last bug kills the last person, then will the earth belong to the insects, reptiles, birds, feral mammals, and whatever swims deep in the oceans and seas outside of our granite and basalt tomb.

Me? Don’t ask. I just want to finish this long-winded “after-action report” no one outside could read or give a quick damn about. As I see it, DRONCOM is defunct. Hell, the United States of America is now defunct. I have two choices on hand.

The first is to use my .45 in the head and join the rest of mankind already in oblivion where I am heading after I shoot myself.. The second is to live and make love with General “Tabby” Johnson. After all, we both have no families left to stop us.

What do you think?


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