Bionic Bug: “The Drone Show” (Chapter 3)

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A distant rumbling of engines and rhythmic thumping of rotors filled the air. Seconds later, two helicopters from the D.C. metropolitan police arrived. They hovered above the stadium for a moment before flying in a circular pattern and shining spotlights onto the baseball field.

As she scanned the crowd, something caught her eye in the field-level seating down below. A tall black man wearing a navy coat and a red baseball cap stood in the aisle facing the field and holding up some type of gadget with two thick antennas. He directed his gaze upwards and appeared to be interacting with the drones.

This show is over. If she hurried, maybe Lara could catch him and end this spectacle.

As she turned toward the aisle, the drones turned off their lights, stopped their formations, flew straight up, and disappeared out of the stadium. Down below, security personnel scrambled in all directions as the police helicopters raced after the drones, the thumping already far in the distance.

Screams for more rose from the crowd as they broke into a standing ovation. The commotion blocked her sight of the man. The stadium lights switched to full power, and pop music blared from the speakers once more.

Lara pushed through the crowd just in time to see the man with the gadget turn toward the section exit. Lara thought he looked oddly familiar.

Is that? No, it can’t be Sully.

The man stumbled up a few stairs and stopped to rub his eyes with vigor. Slamming into an empty seat, he bent down and vomited onto the floor. Several people jumped out of his way to miss the projectile. As he tried to find his balance, he looked up toward the next level. Their eyes met for a moment. Lara gasped in dismay and spun on her heel, ready to jump into the aisle and make her way down to Sully. Before she could move, Vik placed a hand on her arm.

“What’s wrong?” He asked.

“I don’t know, but Sully is down there, and he doesn’t look good.”

“Do you need my help?”

“Not with this. I’ll check on him, but I want you to go down to the field level and talk to security personnel, give them your card, and ask them if they knew about this spectacle. Then offer them our investigative services. They’re going to need our help on this one.”

“Okay, whatever you say, boss…” His tone revealed his hesitancy.

Lara ignored Vik’s narrowed eyes and pursed lips. He could be skeptical as long as he did what he was told.

She grabbed her motorcycle helmet and sprinted up the stairs. At the top of the stands, she caught her breath and then made a beeline toward the nearest stairwell. Descending two flights of stairs, she burst through the double doors into the field-level corridor and raced toward the section where she’d seen Sully.

“Ma’am, do you have a ticket for this section?” a female attendant asked sharply. Her whole body was tense, and sweat beaded on her forehead. She planted herself in Lara’s way and crossed her arms, possibly trying to hide the fact that her hands were trembling slightly.

Maybe she also knows the drone show was unauthorized?

Lara shook her head. “Please, my friend is in this section. He’s sick and needs my help.”

The attendant swallowed audibly and looked over her shoulder. She dropped her arms and bit her lower lip. Then she nodded. “Okay, ma’am, help your friend, but then come right back out. I’ll radio for medical assistance, and I’m going to keep an eye on you.”

Lara held her hands up and nodded. “That’s fine. I just need to help my friend.” The attendant let her by, but the stairs were blocked by a stream of people hurrying to get whatever they needed before the next inning began. She jumped into an empty row of seats and stood on her tip toes, surveying the section as best as she could. Sully was nowhere to be seen.

Maybe he made it out already?

Lara turned around and charged back into the corridor. Her heartbeat went wild as her instincts screamed at her; something was wrong. She scanned the entire area, looking for any sign of Sully.

There were people everywhere, queuing for beer and food. Other fans, celebrating the Nationals’ lead, filled the corridor in droves. She’d be lucky to catch him before he disappeared into the masses.

About fifty feet away, a group of people made a hole in the crowd, jumping back as a figure stumbled through them.

“Sully!” she called as his red baseball cap and navy coat came into view.

Mothers pulled their children close, teens pointed and giggled, and a few older fans shook their heads in disapproval as Lara’s friend passed. They probably thought he was drunk. She was slightly surprised security hadn’t picked him up yet, but then again, they had bigger problems at the moment.

She strode forward, but a group of college-aged guys filled the corridor and blocked her path. “Sully!” She pushed through them and caught a glimpse of Sully staggering away from her. He teetered awkwardly against the wall.

“Sully,” Lara called out again, trying to get his attention. She moved toward him. “Hey, Sully!”

He didn’t appear to hear her voice over the noise. Before she could reach him, he lurched down a dark hallway and out of sight. Instinctively, Lara reached for her sidearm before she remembered she’d left it at home. Guns at the ballpark drew unwanted attention and required cutting through mounds of red tape, so she never bothered with it.

Lara darted quickly toward the dark hallway. A few moments later, she turned the corner to check if it was clear. The hallway dead ended. Lara pulled out her smartphone and clicked on her flashlight app. A small beam of light illuminated the hall, and that’s when she saw Sully on the ground. Next to him lay the large, black device he’d been using.

He lay face down, convulsing on the concrete. Foam formed at his mouth, his eyes wide and crazed. She sprinted the short distance and fell to her knees beside him.

“Sully, what happened?” Lara shook his shoulder, but he was unresponsive. “Talk to me!”

Sully coughed, gasping for air, and then his eyes seemed to recognize her. He opened his mouth but only gurgling came out.

“Take it easy, I’ll get help.”

He shook his head and reached into his pocket. The convulsions returned, his entire body in their grip.

Lara dialed 911. “Hang on, Sully!” The phone rang.

Sully opened his eyes wide again and gaped at her. “Feh has… the Buh…” Sully gurgled. “Cy—”

“What are you saying? Talk to me,” Lara pleaded.

“Daarp… ” He pawed at her leg, and as their eyes met, his rolled back showing only the whites. In less than a minute, he stopped shaking and laid completely still.

“Sully!” She shook him but there was no response. Panicked, Lara felt for a pulse, but couldn’t find one.

She dropped her smartphone and started chest compressions. More foam bubbled out of his mouth. Still no pulse.

“911, what’s your emergency?” Lara’s smartphone chirped on the cement next to her.

“Noooo!” Lara screamed. A burst of energy coursed through her body. “Sully, you’re not leaving me… I’m not going to let you.” She continued the chest compressions and breathed into his mouth several times. She felt for a pulse again. Nothing.

Her chest tightened, and tears welled in her eyes. She squeezed them shut, allowing a single tear to escape and roll down her cheek.

This can’t be happening.

Opening her eyes again, Lara felt lightheaded. She climbed to her feet and staggered backward a few steps into the wall.

Lara braced herself against the cold, cement wall, her body shaking. The faint 911 operator’s voice persisted through the phone’s speaker, asking for a response.

She bent over and picked up the phone with her shaking hands, nearly dropping it a few times as she brought it to her ear. As she answered the operator’s questions, her own voice sounded distant, as though she wasn’t the one speaking. Her heart pounded in her chest as she disconnected from the call and dialed Vik’s number.

“Yes, boss?”

“I need you to come here,” Lara said, a slight tremor in her voice.

“I’m still trying to make contact with security.”

“Vik—”

“The guards are all in quite a tizzy about the drone show, and I haven’t been able to get their attention.” She tried again to cut in but Vik continued, “They keep brushing me aside like a pesky fly that—”

“Vik… Sully’s dead.”

There was a pause. “What?” Vik asked. “How?”

“I don’t know. I found him convulsing in a hallway. Foam was coming out of his mouth. I couldn’t save him.”

“Like he was poisoned?”

Lara looked at her friend’s lifeless body. Could it be poison?

“Lara, are you still there?”

If he was poisoned, who could have done it and why? She replayed the scene in her head. He had slid his hand into his pocket.

Sully tried to tell me something. Was he also trying to show me something?

Kneeling next to Sully, she placed her smartphone on the floor and pulled his hand out of his pocket. His discolored fingernails clutched the Star Wars Storm Trooper keychain she’d given him for his birthday.

She stared at the dangling keys. Were you trying to give these to me? Lara carefully opened his hand and pocketed them.

“Lara, I think I lost you.”

Shivering, Lara glanced down at Sully’s body. Sully is gone. The heavy numbness in her limbs and chest prevented the horrible truth from sinking in. Her mind floated above her, struggling to make sense of it.

Then she remembered his strange behavior at the bar. The creepy kid. Sully had wanted to tell her something. Now he wouldn’t get the chance. Looking at his hands, she examined his purple finger nails.

This is not normal. A hint of anger rose in her chest. Her heart pounded, and her spirit filled with determination. Someone did this to you, Sully. I’m going to find them.

“Lara?”

She grabbed her phone and took a deep breath. “Sorry. I’m still here. Scrap the original plan. I need to go check out his townhouse, but I can’t leave the scene. I need you to come to the concessions area behind section 137 and wait here with Sully’s body until the police arrive.”

“What’s at his place?”

“I don’t know, but nothing feels right about this, and I’m not waiting for the police to mess it up.” Lara glanced at Sully’s body again. Her chest tightened, choking out a shallow gasp.

“Are you sure you shouldn’t wait for the police? To answer questions…” Vik asked. “I don’t think you should interfere with the investigation… I mean—”

Lara clenched her fists to stop them from trembling. “I’ll be of far more use to Sully by tracking down his killer. By the time, the police figure out this was a homicide, the bastard will be long gone. There’s no time to lose.”

Vik heaved a sigh. “Okay, I’ll be right there… uh, Lara?”

“What?”

“I’m really sorry about Sully. He was a good man.”

Lara gulped, holding back tears. “Thanks, Vik. Let’s just get some answers, okay?”

She climbed to her feet and rested against the cement wall in a daze while she waited for Vik to arrive. For a few minutes, she watched numbly as baseball fans walked by the hallway entrance with arms full of craft beers and fatty foods, oblivious to the dead body lying on the ground in the dark corridor, mere feet from them.

Inside the ballpark, the crowd shouted with fury. She briefly hoped her team hadn’t lost their lead already, but as she looked back at Sully, she quickly dismissed the thought.

It isn’t important.

Staring down at him, her arms and legs felt paralyzed. Out of nowhere, a high-pitched ringing pierced her ears. For a moment, it felt as if she were back there roasting in her gear under the desert sun, recovering from the explosion and searching in desperation for her unit. The sudden ringing made no sense. Back then, there had been a bomb. Now, foam trickled silently from Sully’s mouth, shockingly white against his dark skin.

C’mon Lara, this is no time to freeze up. Shaking the tension out, she battled the urge to recoil and regretted stuffing the hot dog down her throat earlier. As a military officer in the National Guard special forces, Lara prepared herself for grizzly situations. But she’d never prepared herself for this.

Somehow this shocked her even more than losing her entire unit to Afghan insurgents. Experiencing death on the battlefield was expected. She would never forget the smell of burning flesh—the foul stench was permanently seared into her memory. Her unit died while she’d survived with only a minor injury. And now Sully was dead, and again she was left alive.

Snap out of it Lara. Sully needs you now.

Feeling a renewed sense of determination, she began searching the scene for clues and snapped a few pictures with her smartphone. She picked up the gadget Sully had been using in the park, and her hand dipped from its weight. In all her years of experience with electronics, she’d not seen anything quite like it.

The gadget had two thick antennae and a rugged construction, both which suggested it was military grade. With the previous display in the park, her gut told her it was a remote-control device for maneuvering drones, but she would need to take it apart to know its real purpose.

Sully, what were you doing with this? Were you running the drone show?

Lara rummaged through his pockets, searching for some evidence of his activities in the ballpark, but they were empty except for a game ticket. Reaching into the chest pocket of his coat, she found his wallet and dug through it. She pulled out a personnel ID hidden inside an interior pocket. Sully’s picture and name were on it, but upon closer inspection, the slightly uneven edge of the photograph suggested it was a forged ID for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). At the very least, Sully committed a felony simply by being in possession of a fake federal ID.

You must have had a good reason to risk getting caught. What could’ve been so important there? She rubbed her thumb over the hard plastic. The ID was in pristine condition, definitely new. You must have used this recently.

“Hey boss,” Vik said, coming around the corner.

Lara nearly jumped out of her skin. Without turning, she shoved the ID in her pocket, hoping Vik hadn’t noticed. What he doesn’t know can’t hurt him when the cops arrive.

“Where have you been?” Lara winced at the harshness of her own words.

Vik shrank back slightly. “I’m sorry. You were hard to find. There are a lot of dark hallways back here.”

Lara took a breath to calm herself. “Well, I’m glad you’re here now. I’m going to check out Sully’s townhouse. Tell the cops I couldn’t stay, but I’ll follow up with them later.” She handed Vik the wallet. “Also, keep an eye on that remote. I have a feeling about it, and I don’t want the cops losing it in their evidence locker.”

“I’ve got it from here, Lara,” Vik said reassuringly.

Lara nodded. She glanced one more time at Sully, her eyes lingering on him for a few moments, unable to leave him until she caught the familiar squawk of a police radio approaching. She tore her eyes away, whispered a last goodbye to one of the best friends she’d ever had, and forced her legs to move. She had a murder to solve.

Read Chapter 4

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.

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