Bionic Bug: “Nationals Park” (Chapter 2)

Back to Chapter 1

At the crack of ball against bat, Lara leaped to her feet, hotdog in hand, and cheered as the Nationals player on third slid into home plate. Some relish plopped onto her shoe, but she didn’t care. The baseball park was filled to the brim and full of tension. With the series tied 2-2, this game would determine if the Atlanta Braves or the Washington Nationals advanced to the World Series.

Her mouth watered at the smell of grease wafting under her nose. When she’d jumped out of her seat, she’d accidentally squished the bun a little, but her hotdog, slathered with condiments, still looked delicious. As she leaned forward to take a bite, a large man standing next to her bumped her arm and knocked her off-balance. Fighting to regain her footing, she nearly tripped over her motorcycle helmet on the cement floor below. Then something wet hit her leg, and she cringed.

And that’s why I wear black.

She carefully wiped the glob of ketchup from her leggings with a napkin. Glancing at her feet, she groaned. A large drop of mustard had landed on her lucky baseball glove tucked inside her shiny black Harley Davidson helmet.

“I told you not to pile on so many spices.” Vik chuckled next to her.

“Condiments,” Lara retorted. Suppressing a glare, she rubbed the glove clean with her sleeve before straightening up again to watch the game.

“Whatever,” Vik said, grinning from ear to ear as if nothing could bother him. “Say, were you able to reschedule the meeting with the Langstons?” A uncertain look on his face replaced his grin. He must have just remembered the source of his good fortune.

Lara nodded, not making eye contact. She didn’t have the heart to tell him that the Langstons had dropped her for someone else.

“That’s good. I’m going to get something to eat.” Vik motioned he was leaving. “For some reason, I have an unrelenting hankering for falafel.” He grinned broadly and raced up the stairs.

Falafel? The kid was always hungry. She wasn’t sure if any ballpark vendor served deep-fried balls of ground chickpeas, but she remained silent on the matter. She’d never met anyone so infatuated with different foods—all vegetarian of course.

Lara kept her eyes fixed on the game and finished her supper before it could cause any more damage.

At the bottom of the sixth inning, the score was now tied 3-3 with two outs, and the bases loaded for the Nationals. She clenched her teeth and kept her eyes glued on the pitcher.

Her cell phone buzzed. What now?

Glancing away from the game, Lara scanned the news headline flashing across the home screen of her smartphone:

Wealthy couple, accused of using gene editing tools to create a designer baby,
faces ten years in prison

Lara shook her head in disbelief. The technological changes on the horizon promised enormous benefits. The drawback was all the new ways people could commit crimes and screw with society. She shoved the smartphone in her pocket. I should be savoring the game, not worrying about the future.

She found it strange that in the middle of dramatic technological change, some things stubbornly remained the same—like hot dogs and baseball. Familiar tastes and sounds in the ballpark comforted her, giving her the elusive feeling of home.

What’s taking Vik so long?

Lara turned her head away from the game to scan the mezzanine level for him. She wanted him to have the full experience of her favorite pastime even if it wasn’t as good as cricket. She’d purchased season tickets to the Nationals to schmooze with prospective clients. That way she could write off the tickets she would probably have bought anyway—in theory, it was a win/win.

I guess I could write it off as team building if Vik ever gets back up here.

She massaged her temples. Every time she thought about the failed Langston contract, her head began to throb. There was no backup plan. Nothing else waiting in the wings to pay her bills. Lara squeezed her eyes shut.

C’mon. Just relax. It’ll be okay. Enjoy the game. She opened her eyes and decided to live in the moment.

Her season tickets were located on the first base foul line and offered a great view of the entire ballpark. From this vantage point, she had a decent shot at catching a foul ball or a home run—that is if she had her glove ready. She looked down at her lucky charm near her feet. Bittersweet memories surfaced. Her father would’ve loved these seats. He’d given her the glove on her sixth birthday, taught her the right way to break it in, the right way to oil it, and the right way to catch a foul ball, or if she was really lucky, a home run.

Lara shook off the pang of her father’s absence and looked once again for Vik.

He’s missing the best part of the game. Lara sighed heavily. For the hopeless mission of finding falafel.

Vik never listened to sense when he had his mind set on something. This determination, or “grit” as she liked to call it, was one of the reasons she’d hired him. After a year of his help, she didn’t know how she could survive without him.

Vik was a graduate student at Georgetown and took the job to help pay his way through school. Lara hesitated to hire him at first, but he won her over when she learned he’d turned down a full ride to MIT for electrical engineering and computer science to study criminal justice instead. His family never let him forget it, and for good reason. He could’ve made a lot of money with his tech skills. Lara had seen him do some amazing things.

Lara bit her lip as the “Nats” all-star hitter, Kyran Farrell came up to bat at the bottom of the sixth inning. Farrell had already hit a home run in the first inning, and a grand slam would likely seal the win for her team.

The crowd became silent with anticipation. She sat on the edge of her seat, inhaling the crisp air and trying to calm her nerves. To stay warm, she wore her prized leather riding jacket, which fit snugly over her baseball jersey. As superstition demanded, she adjusted her baseball cap, which kept loose strands of her sandy blond hair in place.

You’ve got this.

The pitch flew straight and fast. She clenched her teeth as the crack of the bat echoed around the ballpark. The crowd murmured in unison. It was too close to call. She followed the trajectory toward center field, but lost the ball in the bright stadium lights. Her eyes anxiously scoured the air.

There it is… it’s going… going… GONE. 

The crowd went wild, jumping to their feet and screaming in celebration. Farrell had done it. With the grand slam, he’d likely clinched the National League Championship. Elated, Lara turned to congratulate her fellow fans and nearly jumped out of her skin. Vik stood right next to her, beaming with a wide, goofy smile.

Sheesh, he’s so sneaky.

“Where have you been? Did you see it?” Lara asked, lifting an eyebrow.

“Oh yes, that hit was nothing short of full blooded,” Vik said. “I was up there in the stands watching the batsman—”

“What?” Lara wrinkled her nose. “Full blooded?”

Vik nodded. “Yep. It’s a good thing. Trust me.”

Lara shrugged. “Did you find your falafel?” she asked as they both sat down.

Vik shook his head vigorously and held out a bag of buttery popcorn. “No, I looked everywhere.” He pointed toward the food vendors in the park. “Eventually, I asked someone, and they looked at me like I was mad or something. I mean, how can they not have falafel? It’s an essential staple. You’d think those new automated food machines could manage something as simple as falafel. But no, they only do things like burgers, pizza, and hot dogs. Where’s the variety? I simply don’t understand this country sometimes.”

If she ever made it to India someday, she’d likely say the same about his country. Lara chuckled and grabbed a handful of popcorn. “I totally get it, Batsman.” Vik either ignored or didn’t hear her teasing.

On the field below, the game moved by rather quickly, at least for baseball. Lara wanted the game to be over before the Braves could recover from the Nats’ quick surge. With the score 7-3, the loudspeakers announced the 7th inning stretch.

“Take Me Out to the Ball Game” blared over the speakers a few feet above her ears as fans began getting up out of their seats. Some people stretched out their arms and legs and moved about in the aisles. Others raced up the stairs to make a final beer run before the end of the game.

Something small appeared in the sky, high above left field. Lara squinted, trying to decipher what it could be. At first, she thought it was her imagination.

What the…?

And then another came into view… and another… and another… and another. They kept coming. Her heart began to race.

Are those mini UAVs?

In seconds, hundreds of quadcopter drones were buzzing high above the stadium seats. In a flash, the stadium lights grew dim, and the familiar ballgame tune stopped mid-song. Bright colors filled the air—blue, green, red, and yellow beamed down from the drones. The crowd fell into a hushed silence, entranced by the show.

A few seconds later, the opening notes of Beethoven’s Symphony no. 5 came over the loudspeakers at top volume. Instantly, the drones began flying in unison, changing their formation and colors to the beats of the music.

Her eyes widened. It was mesmerizing.

And terrifying.

Lara gripped her armrest as a distant memory of the Afghan desert sky coming alive with armed drones flashed through her mind. Swallowing hard, she focused on her breathing, trying her best to suppress the dark memory. Her arms came to her chest as her entire body tensed. No Lara, this is not the same thing. She took a deep breath and pushed it out as fast as she could, releasing tension. As the breath escaped, her muscles relaxed.

Vik glanced at her, worry in his eyes. “Are you okay?”

“I’m not a fan of drones—at least not anymore.”

Vik looked back at the show. “But they’re beautiful.”

Lara refused to look up at them. More like incredibly agile platforms, capable of ever-greater distances, carrying heavier payloads, and effortless navigation. Capable of killing…

“I’m not sure I’d use the word beautiful, Vik.”

For the first time in human history, nearly anyone could project power into the air—for good or for bad. She never understood why the U.S. government allowed drones with significant capabilities to become mainstream. In the early years of the drone revolution, the Army underestimated the threat, and her comrades had paid the price with their lives.

Until recently, the District of Columbia and most of the surrounding areas had been a no-drone-zone. At least until Congress approved nationwide commercial drone delivery. The change relaxed the rules to allow citizens in the nation’s capital to benefit from speedier delivery services, but key segments of the District, including the ballpark, remained strictly “no-drone” zones for national security reasons.

“This is the most amazing thing I have ever seen in my entire life,” Vik said, his eyes wide as he gazed at the sky in complete awe. “Lara, can you imagine how much work went into programming the software that instructs them to follow certain flight paths, turn their lights on and off, and move so precisely in coordination with one another?”

Of course, he sees the code.

“Yes, I can,” Lara replied, her jaw clenched tightly. What she couldn’t imagine was the bureaucratic and security nightmare of getting such a stunt approved. Authorities would never permit a swarm of drones to take flight this close to the U.S. Capitol Building and the White House.

Squinting to see in the dim light below, she studied the behavior of the security personnel. From their frantic body language, constant radio chatter, and how they pointed their flashlights into the sky, she could tell they knew nothing about this so-called “show.”

“Something’s not right with this picture,” Lara said, abruptly getting out of her seat.

“Lara, why must you always think there is a conspiracy behind everything?” Vik asked. “Enjoy the show for once. The ballpark management obviously arranged it as part of the 7th inning break.”

Lara snorted. “It’s the 7th inning stretch, and you’re right. This was planned.”

Just not by park management.

Read Chapter 3

Kickstarter advertisement

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense or the U.S. Government.

3 comments

Leave a Reply