Home to Roost (Part 1 of a mostly fictional tale)

Tomas clung to his bagel and eyed the Sheriff’s deputies who manned the metal detectors. Not safe yet. They’ll see me. And if they see me, they’ll KNOW. Tomas could not let that happen. He ducked behind the last pillar before the courthouse exit door and waited. The deputies pretended to check people’s briefcases as they slid through the x-ray machine. They took their time taking people’s buckets of metal belongings and plopping them on the other side to await their owners. But Tomas knew better.
The detector doorway had sniffed metal during an older lawyer’s third attempt to slip through without shrill beeping. A young deputy with a buzzcut pointed to his colleague, whose furious moustache guarded the exit door. Older Lawyer sighed, rolled his eyes, and dutifully took his place alongside the line with arms outstretched as Officer Moustache left his post to grab his metal-detecting wand.
Tomas shoved his bagel into one of the many pockets of his puffy Raiders jacket and sprinted for the exit door. Warm sunshine greeted him as he stumbled into the plaza out-front. Tomas looked back; no pursuers. I made it! Now they’ll never know! He shuffled to the cross-walk as he passed another older man with suit and briefcase trundling toward the courthouse door with the aid of an aluminum cane. Tomas felt his eyes on him.
“You never saw me, cane mother-fucker!”
The old man winced but moved on as though he had not heard Tomas. That’s right! Keep walking. Eyes are the windows to the soul, Tomas had heard once, and windows just let people in. Now he’ll never know!
Tomas crossed the street and returned to his home: Santa Asphalt City Park, in the heart of the city of Santa Asphalt, California. He passed by the familiar statue of William McKinley holding a top-hat. On that very spot during the election of 1900, McKinley had proclaimed his devotion to the Constitution as a sacred instrument; he had spent the remainder of his campaign warning against debt relief for poor farmers. His most famous accomplishment had been taking an assassin’s bullet and making way for Teddy Roosevelt; bronze replicas of mourning bouquets lay at the statue’s feet to assure people that, at one time, people cared about the loss of their President. A white mop of dried bird droppings hung from the statue’s bald head.
Tomas flopped onto his favorite bench and the birds noticed. They were his birds. His flock. The pigeons came to get their share before the big black crows muscled them out of the way. Tomas smiled and unwrapped the bagel that he had bought with his pocket change in the courthouse café. “Easy there amigos. I’ve got some for all of you.”
A mechanical whiz drew his eyes upward, with the first pinch of bagel crumbs still in his fingers. Above the trees came the eye, held aloft by four spinning propellers. The drone’s metal frame pivoted toward Tomas. The telescope lens wheezed as it stretched toward the bench.
Too late! Now they all see. Now they all know. Tomas leaped from the bench and bounded toward the nearby light-rail train as quickly as his limp allowed. Startled pigeons fluttered away as the braver ones stayed for the bagel dust that had fallen to the ground.
Oh yeah, baby.
Chip shared the basement of the Santa Asphalt Police Department with 4 other silent drone pilots. White noise from Chip’s headphones blocked the constant buzz and flicker of the fluorescent tube bulbs that ran in rows above their cubicles. Instead of dozens of other Air Force officers fluttering about relaying body counts in hushed tones into telephones, his handful of colleagues sat silently at their desks in their identical SAPD polo shirts patrolling the streets from their computer terminals.
It almost felt as though the war had not come home with him.
Chip had nearly completed his patrol of the streets that bounded the university campus. Science majors, Chip thought as he spied students with backpacks pushing their way through the dormitory dorms with the hustle that comes from being slightly late for an 8:00 lab. The women’s crew team, however, had left for the water 3 hours earlier. Now they swam upstream, returning home from morning practice, their deltoids barely contained by spandex strips.
And so, Chip had begun his final strafe of the dorm’s sixth floor. His screen showed the corner room and right on time, Ponytail peeled off her sweaty uni in preparation for her morning shower.
“Plain view” was the phrase that the District Attorney had sprinkled throughout their training. Anything in plain view was fair game; no effort to hide meant no right to privacy. And any effort to hide was a sign to keep watching until their target’s suspicious activity spilled into the public square.
From 50 feet above the street, the plain view of the 6th floor was fine indeed.
A gasp from the next cube. Chip jammed his joysticks to the left to change the view on his screen to nearby Serra Parkway before removing his headphones and peeking over at his neighbor.
“There are 3 eggs in the nest now!”
Angie clenched her joysticks, her voice giddy. Her drone hovered high above the old mission church on Santa Camilla, which ran parallel to Serra Parkway, lens trained upon the falcon’s nest atop the defunct bell tower. Three orange spackled eggs sat in a web of twigs. Angie’s fingers darted across the keyboard to capture the screenshot. Within moments, Angie opened the SAPD’s Instagram page and began to post the picture to the Department’s 20,000 followers.
Hearts and minds, Chip thought.
WHOOMP went Chip’s tinny computer speakers. Chip spun to see the view on his screen spinning wildly. His terminal blinked its red MALFUNCTION light, as though the situation were not obvious. Chip landed in his chair but hit the edge, causing the chair to roll away from underneath him. The back of his head hit the desk, tipping his enormous cup of coffee onto his side. Twenty steaming ounces of Americano popped the lid and sizzled down Chip’s face. Chip shrieked and flailed with closed eyes to knock the coffee cup to the floor. His hands found the control sticks first and shoved them aside.
Angie stepped on her file cabinet and swung one leg over the cubicle wall. She landed in a kneel, untucked her polo, and dabbed Chip’s face before helping him to his feet.
“Omigod omigod omigod, are you ok?!” Chip whimpered in reply with left hand over left eye. “Can you see?”
Chip gingerly peeled his hand away.
A scream rang through chip’s speakers, its pitch soaring so high that it turned to static. Chip and Angie shared a shriek before Chip ran to the bathroom clutching his face. On Chip’s screen Angie saw the drone’s view, spinning wildly against the dorm window of a terrified, topless co-ed.
Angie wondered for a moment whether this was Chip’s usual patrol route.
Thin snaps announced that one of the propellers had finally splintered; the drone fell and soon all Angie could see was an upside down view of 3 gawking college kids.
Angie walked to the breakroom and plucked her frozen lamb vindaloo from the freezer for Chip’s face. With her free hand, she replied to a text from her mom before looking for Chip. She found him in the men’s room gingerly prying his left eye open. But for the angry red drip pattern, Angie might have thought he was sunburned. Chip turned and gratefully took the instant Indian food and pressed it to his eye.
“I think I’ll be fine,” Chip said before thanking Angie for the cold compress. Angie led Chip back to his cube with cold dew dripping down his neck. He soured looking at his screen. “I’d better call Timmons.”

The time had come for Officer Timmons to pounce, but his foot had fallen asleep.
At 9:30, Officer Timmons had strolled into the lobby of the EZ-8 Motel with an extra coffee and croissant for Harpreet, the motel clerk. Harpreet offered his guest sign-in sheet, and Officer Timmons ran his finger down the list looking for familiar names while listening to how Harpreet’s kids were doing in school.
Timmons’ finger paused at the name Jorge Castaneda. Timmons knew Jorge. Jorge had just gotten off parole; Timmons had learned this the last time that he tried to search Jorge during a traffic stop. Timmons also knew that Jorge lived with his mom, which meant that he was probably up to no good at the EZ-8. Timmons had spent a half-hour in his squad car waiting for Jorge to leave Room 106 and return into plain view.
At around 8:05, the door to Room 206 opened, and Jorge Castaneda emerged shirtless, wrapped in a hotel sheet to smoke a cigarette. Timmons threw the car door open only to have his right leg buckle. He thumped it against the ground until the blood returned with the pins and needles of sensation.
And then his cell phone rang.
Jorge turned and saw Officer Timmons stomping and fumbling for his phone among his many uniform pockets. “Fuck you, Timmons,” Jorge called. A dragon tattoo coiled around his forearm, its fanged mouth open across the back of his hand, flames licking their way to the tip of Jorge’s fully-extended middle finger. “Come back with a warrant!” Officer Timmons mashed the screen on his phone as Jorge tossed his cigarette over the second-floor handrail and returned to his room.
“What?!” Timmons barked into his phone. It was Chip. His drone crashed. Timmons hung up and returned to his car.
The EZ-8 was close to the university campus; Harpreet advertised discounts for students and their families in town for graduation, but none had ever accepted the offer. Timmons turned onto Serra Parkway and passed the infamous pedestrian corridor that divided two competing movie theaters, between them the pedestal for a commissioned statue of an Aztec god that was blocked as an “ethno-centric waste of public funds.” Blocked, that is, after the pedestal had been built.
Crystal and opiates had become the drugs of choice for Santa Asphalt’s addicts, but a devoted following for crack-cocaine lingered around the downtown area. Many of its users have regular routes: a government office, a liquor store, a bench, a court date, a squad car. The empty pedestal sat at the juncture of several routes, and passers-by shared knowing glances and made swift trades.
Timmons thought back to four years earlier, when he had just been assigned to the M.E.R.G.E. unit. Municipal Engagement…something something or another. His first assignment was “recon” strolling Santa Asphalt’s semi-occupied downtown in plain clothes, getting to know the local fauna. Timmons had not had one meaningful conversation with anyone for the first 6 weeks of his patrolling. Timmons carried a Vitamin Water in a brown paper bag and sat next to a transient named Thomas on a bench in Santa Asphalt City Park. He listed to Thomas’ aches, pains, and religious convictions, and told Thomas that “we need to look after our people out here.”
Thomas snorted. His finger pointed to each of the pockets on Timmons’ pants and counted.
“You’ve got 8 fucking pockets. Eight fucking pockets on those pants. Only cops think they need to carry all their shit on them all the time!” Thomas raised an aluminum can. “No disrespect, Officer.”
He had ordered the pants online from a “tactical undercover” cop supply store. His Sergeant had gotten him a 20% discount.
Timmons stopped reminiscing, turned right, and then U-ed into a red zone near the dorm’s back entrance. Four students stood around the drone as it wheezed angrily against the sidewalk, the remaining two propellers scraping the ground. Nine months earlier, Chip and his colleagues had joined the department as civilian pilots for the Department’s new camera robots. M.E.R.G.E. used them the way that the team had used rookies; mapping the routes of the Department’s repeat customers between arrests and looking for patterns.
Timmons pressed his boot down on the Department’s hope for a bold new policing strategy and used his key to detach its battery. He stuffed the drone’s heart into one of his pockets and turned to the students. He pointed. “Put those cameras down, right now, all of you!”
Two students stowed their phones in their front hoodie pockets. A third held steady, his phone upright, fingers laced through the brass knuckles of a novelty phone case. Each finger snaked through a hole to the back of the phone, with each finger emblazoned with a letter: P A I N. Timmons aimed his finger while his left hand flipped down his lapel flap over his badge number.
“I said put the phone away!”
Still filming.
“It’s a public street, Officer. What have you got to hide?”
“Hey!” Timmons barked as he curled his bicep and pointed again. “I’m here to recover damaged police property, and now you’re delaying me, by being a smartass, and by showing a deadly weapon to me. Now put it away before you delay and obstruct me any further!”
Still filming.
“Well then stop delaying and pick up your drone, Officer,” the Third chortled as his fingers stretched across the screen to zoom the view. Timmons’ Krav Maga teacher had once disabled a Palestinian package courier who tried to cross a checkpoint while holding a boxcutter. Timmons remembered the lesson and seized the student’s wrist, pulled him close; he then pinched the student’s phone arm above the elbow between forearm and bicep. And now one quick twist, his teacher had said. Timmons refrained, but plucked the student’s phone from his flailing fingers and sent it skittering across the sidewalk. He released the student’s elbow, reached back, and clutched the student’s hoodie while sweeping his leg behind the student’s calf. The student clung to Timmons’ wrist to avoid being dropped to the pavement.
“Stop resisting!” Timmons yelled with one final shove. The student abruptly met the sidewalk, followed by Timmons. Timmons rolled the student around clicked his handcuffs around his wrists.
“What’s your name, kid?”
“Trevor,” the student wheezed.
“Trevor, you are under arrest for resisting arrest.”
“The fuck?!”
“PC 148. Do some homework and write me an essay on it.”
High above, Angie’s drone whirled while Angie and Chip shared her monitor in the Department’s basement.
“Jeez, what did he do,” Angie asked. From that height, the drone’s microphone did not catch anyone’s words. Chip snickered in anticipation of his own quip. “When we find out, you should add it to the Insta blotter.” Angie glared but turned back to avoid Chip’s face. “Maybe not,” Chip said, “‘Emo kid fails the attitude test’ isn’t worth a post.” Chip peered into the screen. In the distance, above the horizon of Serra Parkway, a lone crow. Not moving. In mid-air. Chip gingerly opened his burned eyelid and looked again. The crow hadn’t moved. And it looked bigger than before.
It was flying straight toward the drone.
Below, Timmons sat Trevor down and left him to study the curb through his hair. He turned to the remaining students, their hands empty of anything but compliance. “Now, did any of you happen to see what happened to our drone before it crashed?”
A woman with a high ponytail hesitated before raising her hand, as though her professor had asked her a difficult question.
“Your name, miss?”
“What did you see, Tasha?”
“I…I was getting ready to shower before class when it slammed into my window,” Tasha said as she pointed six stories up to a web of cracked glass. Timmons squinted as sun bounced from the window down to his eyes.
Timmons nuzzled the radio clipped to his shoulder. “Hey Angie, can you get an eye up there?”
“The best view’s right there in front of you, Timmy.” Angie shoved Chip on the burnt side of his face and snatched back the microphone. She let her scowl linger as Chip cursed and rolled the cold beads from her Coke can across his forehead. As it was, Chip was about 5, maybe 6 weeks from a tense meeting with HR, and Angie made a mental note to write this down for when they started asking her questions.
“Disregard, Timmons. I’ll be there soon.”
“I’m used to disregarding Chip, Angie,” Timmons replied while watching the approach of Angie’s drone.
On the other side of the dorm high-rise, the big black crow dipped below the drone’s flightpath, but swooped up from underneath, talons first, and seized the drone by one of its propeller arms. The crow sank, but flapped until it flipped the drone upside down, with the crow perched on top.
From the SAPD basement, Angie double-mashed the buttons that told the drone to somersault mid-air.
The crow clung to the drone, and the two adversaries twirled like two spinning children holding hands. They twirled toward Tasha’s window, and the crow’s head hit the window with a sickening crunch; the bird plummeted to the sidewalk below as the drone righted itself and resumed a wobbly hover above the sidewalk. Timmons had not noticed the dozen-or-so crows and the handful of pigeons perched upon the dorm roof until they took flight and dove downward. Four crows seized a propeller apiece, leaving only the birds’ wings to slow its descent to the street below.
Tasha shrieked. The crows cawed with contempt as the biggest one parked atop the drone and pecked at the drone’s lidless, high-definition eye. The pigeons kept their distance, but puffed their chest feathers, spread their wings, and danced around the metal carcass. Timmons swung his arm to his left hip and doused the flock with pepper spray.
All eyes fell upon the writhing mass of damp feathers as it squawked in pain. Camera lenses emerged from dorm windows, parked cars, and taco truck customers. And above these, unnoticed and unheeded by the river of humans that spawned to their classes and jobs, dozens of crows, pigeons, rock doves and blue jays turned and tried to pierce Timmons with their eyes.
When that failed, they tried their beaks.
Caws and squawks rose from the trees and rooftops and powerlines and descended in fury.
“Get to my car!” Timmons grabbed Tasha by her shoulder and pushed her into the backseat cage. Timmons then turned and hoisted the captive Trevor and lowered him headfirst into the seat next to Tasha. Timmons scrambled around to the driver’s side door and slammed the door just as the flock descended. After a few manic pecks at the windshield and windows, they decided en masse to perch and wait on the hood, wipers, and side mirrors.
“Fucking Hell, you lunatic,” Trevor spat through metal webbing, “why’d you go and do that?!”
“How was I supposed to know that every fucking bird was going to try and murder us?!”
“Murder you,” Tasha said. “You’re the one that pissed them off!” Tasha’s eyes darted across the aluminum crisscross and tried the door handle, which did not open from the inside. “And why are we in here?! Why did you trap us in here with you?!”
Trevor crinkled his nose. “And why does it stink like bleach?”
Clorox wipes, to be exact. The plastic seat bench had no upholstery, which made for easy removal of…anything that suspects left behind.
“You are SAFE in here with me,” Timmons barked. He turned to the windshield, and then to the sidewalk. All the eyes watched, daring them to move. Timmons unhooked the radio mic from the center console.
“384 to station!”
Arianna Allende, Chief animal control officer for the city of Santa Asphalt, had never seen an honest-to-God arsenal. And she had never suspected that one lay in the old microchip plant that the Santa Asphalt Police Department had purchased 10 years prior after a quiet, unanimous vote by the city council to approve the funding. Her uniformed guide plunked the code into the keypad that tickled the lattice of belts and chains in just the right way to lift the ponderous metal door, and Ari saw the tools that a city needed to repel an invading army. Armored vehicles with treads lined the sealed doors that, at one time, probably received and unloaded freight. She might have mistaken them for small tanks but for the hydraulic pistons of massive battering rams in lieu of mounted guns. Old shipping containers had been repurposed as storage closets: for body armor, riot shields, bludgeons, batons, collapsible batons, and staves with openings on the bottom for power supplies and twin metal prongs on the tip. Ari winced as though stung by something. Another container had bins of “less than lethal” ammunition: beanbags, rubber shotgun slugs, and the like. One bin had a warning about the risks of phosphorus exposure.
Ari made a mental note to Google that later when she saw the Lieutenant approach, tablet computer in hand, seeming to speak aloud to nobody: her shoulders squared, her hair pulled tight across her skull and bound into a bun that bristled with bobby pins. Her boots squeaked across the floor; Ari glanced down at the brown clay that had dried on her hiking boots during yesterday’s walk around the reservoir and glanced backward to see if she had tracked any of it across the floor. Ari turned forward again just as the Lieutenant clicked the button on the Bluetooth in her ear and shot out her hand.
“Carla Escher.”
“Ari Allende. Nice to finally meet you in person.”
“You too. Let’s talk and walk; our officer and two civilians have been waiting and we’re ready to move.”
“We’re…moving?” Ari trotted alongside Lt. Escher as they approached a comparatively normal looking parking lot of police vehicles beyond the loading bay doors. “I was hoping we’d have a chance to talk before anyone does anything.”
“I don’t know what there is to talk about,” Lt. Escher said as she turned toward a pair of unmarked, black SUVs, flanked by four police officers in tactical vests and helmets. “I have an officer in danger from…” she paused because what she had to say sounded silly in her head, “…angry wildlife. Aside from that, some very expensive police equipment has been targeted by these animals for violent attack.” Escher gestured toward the black cars. “And we have the tools to deal with it right this moment, which is exactly when we need to be dealing with it.”
Carla finally observed the equipment that the officers were loading into the SUVs. Several large canisters with tail fins. Ari wondered. Rockets? A large metal tripod and a small crate of accompanying cables and switch boxes. A long metal tube that unscrewed for easy storage. Ari imagined what they might look like assembled, and news clips about mortar fire in distant warzones replayed in her mind. And finally, what looked like an oversized radar gun that Ari could only imagine being used to issue speeding tickets to a rampaging triceratops.
“With all due respect, Lieutenant,” Ari said, “Animal control is my department’s jurisdiction, and whatever happened to your flying robots, my job is to make sure that…conflicts between humans and animals are handled humanely.”
Escher opened the rear passenger door to the right SUV. “Did you bring your car here?”
“No. I took an Uber.”
“Then let us give you a ride. I’ll explain on the way.”
The rear gates closed, stuffed with gear, and one of the officers removed his helmet and climbed into the driver’s seat. Once they had been chauffeured past the chain-link gate, Lt. Escher woke up her tablet from the nap it had been taking inside its boxy carbon-fiber shell case. Even her computer has a bulletproof vest? “Let me show you what we have in mind.”
Ari held the tablet, and a video began to play. The screen filled with the torso of a man wearing a camo polo shirt whose cure for baldness had been shaving the entire surface area of his vast, shapeless head.
“Hello, and congratulations on your purchase of the Omni Corps Crab Cage 2XE, one of our most innovative rapid-delivery systems for non-lethal, temporary imprisonment. In this video, we will demonstrate the core functionalities of the Crab Cage 2XE, and guide you…”
Lt. Escher’s finger crossed into Ari’s lap and began sliding across the video progress bar on the bottom to move the video forward. “He goes on like that for a while,” Escher explained. She stopped once the screen displayed an animated man with no facial features amid beige buildings…one of which had the unmistakable silhouette of a minaret. An unmarked pick-up truck barreled toward the man; in the truck bed was, presumably, a “bomb.” It looked more like a giant black ball with a lit fuse sticking in the top.
“Is that Wiley Bin Coyote,” Ari chuckled. Lt. Escher missed the reference and scrunched her face instead.
The video continued speaking.
“The radar array on the 2XE can detect single or multiple targets, from the size of small animals to large vehicles, and accurately predict their trajectory. Once the target, or targets, reach a distance pre-determined by the user, the patented Omni Corps cage missile launches…”
At this point, the video’s hero covered the ears he didn’t have as the rocket left the tube, attached to the tripod. The rocket soared and then split, sending a bevy of spheres in all directions that fell to the ground around the truck, dragging with them a massive web.
“…and a flexible cage of tempered carbon fiber descends upon your enemy, rendering them immobile. Hostile vehicles will find a nasty surprise if they try to continue their attack.” At this point the truck dragged the patented Omni Corps carbon crab net with it only a handful of feet before its tires flared into blossoms of rubber. “The webbing features a series of barbs that are harmless to targets that have the good sense to remain motionless once trapped; however, you will find them capable of shredding most car tires with contemptuous ease.”
Escher closed the video just as the darker-skinned figure in the video found himself surrounded by faceless men with assault rifles.
“They probably won’t hurt the birds,” Escher explained, “they’re mostly at the base of the net so that they pop tires as soon as someone tries to drive over them.”
“Is this…really necessary? My department has people and equipment for dealing with birds. Nothing…flashy, like this, but this is well within our capabilities.”
“I’m sure you do, Ms. Allende,” Escher said, “this isn’t about your department or what it can or can’t do.” Their car had just pulled into the parking lot of the main SAPD station downtown. “But every year we get more of this military surplus equipment because we tell the city we need it, and if we don’t use it, we don’t get to keep our budget for next fiscal year. One bureaucrat to another, you understand?”
Escher tried the door handle. The driver left and walked around to open the door. “I forget these things don’t open from the inside,” Escher said. The door opened and both women slid across the seat to stand in the parking lot. “Here’s your stop. You’ll watch the whole operation from the drone command center in the basement. Go in the lobby and say that you’re there to see Angie. I told them to expect you.” Ari met Escher’s hand for a farewell shake. They agreed that it was nice to meet each other, and Escher returned to the car before Ari could protest that she had not been invited to see the action personally.
Ari had plenty of practice asserting herself in workplaces. But apparently, this was a battlefield.
“Look alive, Timmy! Help is on the way!”
Minutes of radio silence had felt much longer. Timmons patted himself, found an empty pocket, and slipped his phone into it. He peered into the side mirror as Trevor twisted and pressed his face against the rear window. Three crows appeared upside down from the car roof and squawked in disapproval.
A thin mechanical wheeze grew louder. The birds on Timmons’ roof craned their necks around just as another SAPD drone dipped low for a fly-by that mussed the feathers on top of the birds heads.
From below the SAPD headquarters, Ari scolded Chip. “Watch where you’re aiming that thing!”
Chip kept his eyes on the three monitors that he and Angie had set up at his command station, giving him a panoramic view of his flight path. “Those little bastards took out half our drones.” Chip turned then turned the burnt half of his face toward Ari in hopes of making her uncomfortable. “Blue robots matter, you know.”
“Then maybe don’t crash it into them before leading them to the trap site,” Angie snapped back. Ari left Chip to stand behind Angie, who herself had a triple-screen array that showed the view from her drone, far above the fray.
The flock took flight en masse to chase the interloper. Timmons turned the ignition, hit the lights and sirens, and gave chase before realizing that the green and white puddles of chunky bird guano blocked his view of traffic. Timmons pulled the lever to release a spray of washer fluid, but the wipers smeared it into a sickening mess of suds that was no easier to see through. But Timmons didn’t brake. The mess cleared just enough for Timmons to see the traffic signal turn red 50 feet ahead. Timmons gunned his engine and narrowly missed a Prius trying to complete its left turn. Trevor veered into Tasha, and Tasha shoved him back onto his side.
The windshield cleared enough for Timmons to see the swarm in hot pursuit of the drone as it weaved under lampposts and light-rail cables. The drone turned north onto Santa Camilla and the birds followed. Angie kept a safe distance. Timmons did not; lunchtime traffic on Santa Camilla could not pull to the right quickly enough, causing Timmons to lean into oncoming traffic in order to keep pace. It its haste to get right, one car hopped the curb and came to rest wedged in the doorway of the Old Mission Church. The hinges of the old doors groaned and popped in an instant. High above, the bell tower sighed with the slightest resonant tone.
Ten blocks ahead, Angie could see a police roadblock. Ari peered over Angie’s shoulder and saw the silhouette of the Lieutenant’s cage launcher, primed for what might have been its first use in an American city.
“Is that…” Angie turned the drone’s camera upward. “No way…” As Angie watched, a voice played inside her mind. A voice that had lulled her boyfriend to sleep many a weeknight as they cuddled together on the couch of their apartment watching nature shows: the kindly, sonorous voice of Sir David Attenbourough.
The Peregrine Falcon is among Nature’s most thrilling predators. From above Chip’s drone, the crescent wings of Santa Asphalt’s resident mommy falcon folded inward, and the falcon began to dive. The falcon’s prey rarely thinks to look for attacks from above, and this agile hunter can spot a vulnerable target from up to two kilometers away.

“Chip! You’ve got a bogie above you!”
Ari looked over the cubicle at Chip. The police roadblock raced toward him as Santa Asphalt’s newest condo developments towered on either side.
Chip was humming the Star Wars theme.
The falcon’s signature hunting maneuver is the stoop. The stoop is among the most breathtaking displays of brinksmanship in the natural world.
During the stoop, the falcon can reach speeds as high as 200 kilometers per hour.
At the end of Santa Camilla, Escher’s team trained the mobile radar canon at the pursuing flock. The 2XE’s cage missile twisted automatically on its tripod to match the birds’ flight path.
Just before impact, the falcon tucks in its head, and delivers a tremendous blow of force into its prey.
Angie gasped as the falcon slammed into Chip’s drone, severing one of its propeller arms and sending it skidding across the empty lanes of Santa Camilla.
If the first impact fails to break the hollow bones of the falcon’s prey, the sudden impact with the earth will often finish the job.
“Mother fuck!” Chip howled.
The remaining birds scattered in all directions. Timmons’ police cruiser squashed what life remained in Chip’s drone and careened toward the roadblock. Escher’s team checked the radar screen, and gaped as the Crab Cage 2XE automatically selected its new target.
The 2XE launched its payload. As promised, the missile’s hull split midair and its patented mobile imprisonment system descended upon Timmons’ police cruiser. Timmons had no time to brake before his tires exploded. The stench of hot rubber flooded the passenger cabin as the police cruiser came to rest. Timmons gawked through his driver’s side window. Through the gray carbon webbing, Timmons made out dozens of construction workers on the open third floor of what would be Santa Asphalt’s newest condominium development, training their phone cameras on the fiasco that had unfolded beneath them.
“Well…that was something to see,” Angie said.
“Maybe we’ve seen too much,” Ari replied.
Several blocks away, at Santa Asphalt City Park, Tomas emerged from a light-rail train car. He had to. He had bought a round trip ticket. And only the benches at City Park had not been fitted with the small metal rails every 18 inches to keep transients from napping. Tomas kept his eyes to the sky as he trudged to the nearest bench. As he plopped down, a small gathering of birds fluttered down from the trees in expectation. Tomas looked up one last time. Clear skies. He removed a bag of Doritos from his bag, crumpled three chips in his fist, and sprinkled them across the ground.
“We’re safe this time, amigos. We need to look after our own out here.”

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