by Eric James Stone
Part I: Finding the Boy
Maria's goggles synthesized a 3D perspective of the landing zone on her desk's viewing
area. The JumboRiver.com delivery drone software used a red circle to indicate a human in the
area. A boy about ten years old stood on the sidewalk at the delivery address, staring up at the
Maria smiled. Like many local pilots, she'd seen this boy before. He liked to watch drone
deliveries to his house.
"Please stay back as the drone lands," Maria said, her headset transmitting to the drone's
The boy waved and took a step back.
Maria reached toward the console button to start the autoland sequence, but hesitated as a
white van pulled to a stop at the curb. Better to wait. Make sure exiting passengers saw the
The side door slid open. Two people in gray coveralls jumped out. Were those ski masks?
One of them jabbed something into the boy's side, and his legs collapsed. They dragged
him into the van, which started moving even before the door shut.
After a couple of seconds to overcome her shock, Maria double-pressed the Emergency
Services button. An alert popped up: "Contact emergency services for this drone's location?" She
hit confirm, then took manual control of the drone and started following the van.
The ring tone sounded twice in her headset before a woman said, "Police operator 816.
What is your emergency?"
"I'm a drone pilot for JumboRiver. I just saw some men kidnap a boy. I'm following them
with my drone."
"You're sure it was a kidnapping?"
Maria bit back frustration at the stupid question. "The men were wearing ski masks, and
they grabbed the kid off the sidewalk and stuffed him into a van, then drove off."
"OK. You say your drone is following. What color is the vehicle?"
"White. No logos or markings I can see."
"Can you read the license plate?"
"I'll have to get in closer."
The drone floor manager, Teresa, arrived at Maria's console. "What's going on?"
Muting her phone, Maria briefly relayed the situation while piloting the drone lower.
"OK, you concentrate on flying. I'll do the talking."
After a few moments, Teresa said, "I'm the drone floor manager. So my pilot can focus
her attention, I'll relay any needed information and update you on coordinates." She must have
connected her goggles to Maria's drone, because she starting reading the GPS numbers, then
provided the original delivery address and phone number.
"The boy lives in that house--I've seen him there many times," Maria said. "About ten
years old. Brown hair."
Teresa passed that along as Maria looked at the map view, which flashed a red "Restricted
Airspace" a mile ahead. The drone's programming wouldn't let it fly into a No-Drone Zone, even
on manual, and if she detoured around, she would lose the van. She boosted the drone's speed to
maximum. Normally, that would get her drone pilot record flagged for recklessness, but these
were not normal circumstances.
As the drone neared the NDZ, Maria gestured to zoom in on the 3D display.
The drone's speed dropped. "Commencing forced landing," her console said.
Maria froze the image and zoomed it until she could read the plate. "It's California license