North Dakota can be a lonely place...
|Andrew sat on the old, rotting, wooden bench outside his small home. The clouds were laid out across the sky like the soil in a tough drought. They were all thickly laid out, but breaking apart in many areas, letting beams of sun run across the long fields of corn, wheat, and other midwestern crops. The temperature was in the low seventies in the sun, and even cooler in the shade, mostly due to the breeze, keeping the air around the area circulated. Andrew was supposed to be reading his book for his eighth grade English class, but it was boring and made no sense to him. He considered looking up a summary of the story online, but having to use dial-up internet made it slow and very tedious.
Jared could feel his heart beating inside his chest. Excitement surged through him with every second. Finally, in the mail, his remote quadcopter arrived. The apparatus itself was sitting on his flat, concrete driveway. In total, it took up about four square feet of land, and was no more than two feet tall. The apparatus was touching the ground on its four, white legs in an X looking pattern. At the top of each one of the four legs was a shiny, chrome propeller, waiting to lift this apparatus into the sky. Each leg was connected to the center with a similarly shaped, white beam. In the center, a cone pointed upwards a bit higher than the propeller’s legs. All of the antennas, and a dock for an air-horn were located inside this cone. Underneath the center, was a long camera lens, designed for zooming in a good distance. At the garage entrance and the end of the driveway sat two tall antennas, about 250 feet apart. They both looked almost like the old analog television antennas used a while ago, but they were both colored blue and, of course, still actually used. Each one of the antennas were connected by a, so-called, “category 5e cable”. To Jared, they looked like slightly larger, slightly more expensive versions of phone cables. On the other end of the two cables, was a clunky, laptop-like device. Instead of it having a keyboard like normal laptops, it had a bunch of various controls, like altitude, propulsion, and air-horn sound. Jared could only guess what a quarter of the controls were, but he was too excited to study some manual. He wanted to find out on his own.
He trotted over to the quadcopter and flipped the switch underneath the center to power it on. It made four short beeping noises. Jared assumed that the battery was charged and it was ready to fly. Jared then trotted back to the laptop-like device and pushed the power button, located on the upper-right hand side of the device. The screen came to life with blue text on a white background, saying, “Pinging Apparatus”. The laptop would make a short beep, and less than a second later, the quadcopter would. The laptop then asked, “Did your quadcopter beep? (ALT+1 = Yes / ALT-1 = No)”
Jared had no idea how to input either of those commands, so he just started tapping buttons and pulling on levers. Finally, he pushed up on the altitude throttle control lever near the right of the device, and the screen said, “Finalizing Connection”.
Jared stood up against the old ping-pong table the laptop-like device was sitting on in anticipation. Finally, the camera on board the quadcopter came to life on the screen. It was pointed at his dark cluttered garage. Fueled by excitement, Jared grabbed the altitude lever and pushed it as high as it could go. Behind him, he saw the quadcopter rocket into the air at a surprisingly fast speed. Jared let go of the lever and it moved back to neutral. On the screen though, he could see that it was falling back toward the ground. Jared grabbed the altitude control lever and only pushed it up halfway, causing it to stop falling and start rising at a slower speed. Jared lowered the lever a bit more, causing the quadcopter to hover in the air. With his right thumb, he pushed the chrome button on the left side of the lever, which clicked like a pen. The lever was locked in its place. There were two joysticks on the left side of the device.
Jared grabbed the one that was farthest away from him. When he moved it around, he noticed the camera would pan around. He made the camera point downwards, and he saw his home and field full of corn from an aerial view. His rectangle of land was built up against a large forest preserve, that stretched up to the Canadian border. The boundary between his property and the preserves, was marked by a long incline in the terrain, where it leveled off at about 100 feet. With the quadcopter, he could now see above the forest preserve.
His hand then reached for the other joystick, closer to him. He pushed against the joystick and the quadcopter moved toward the preserve for a few seconds. As soon as he let go of the joystick, he noticed something. Against his storage shed, which was built right against the border of the property and the state’s, there was a long, slender strip of land where the plants were thinner.
Jared let go of the joystick and grabbed onto the one that controls the camera. He fiddled around with it some more, and found out that pushing downward on it causes the lens to zoom in. He aimed his view closer to the odd formation in the preserve, and he noticed some openings in the trees that were revealing exposed soil. Jared thought that was odd, mainly because the preserve was too thick with plants and shrubbery to see into it for more than a few feet.
He pulled the joystick upward, causing the lens to zoom out to where it was originally. There was one button in the center of the control panel, and Jared was able to tell what it was immediately. A the button was about an inch in diameter, bright red, and slightly indented. Above it in similarly colored text, read, “HORN”. Jared let go of the joystick for camera control and tapped the horn button. With a minor sound delay, he heard an air-horn go off above him.
A rush of adrenaline caused Jared to shudder, as a mischievous thought entered his mind. He grabbed onto the main control joystick and twisted it, realizing that it rotates the quadcopter. As soon as it was pointed south, away from the preserve, he pushed forward, and it moved toward Andrew’s home and crops. Although it took some maneuvering, the altitude controls, Andrew’s house came into sight.
Andrew was still sitting, not caring about anything. It didn’t matter to him if he was wasting any time. Summer felt like an eternity, anyway. That was until he began to hear a mechanical, high pitched whirring noise coming from above. Andrew got up from the bench and walked off the porch and onto the yellow, dried grass outside his house to see what was disturbing the peace. He saw what he initially thought was a helicopter, but he quickly noticed it had four propellers. It was a lot lower to the ground and smaller than he initially thought. An odd-looking tube on the bottom of it aimed at him and twisted around a bit.
The device lowered to approximately his head level while he just started at it, not really sure of what to do. After staring for a few seconds. The horn on the top of the device screamed in his face. Andrew grabbed his ears and cried out in pain. He glared at the device as it took off and pushed north. Andrew, not ready to let this device haunt him, chased after it angrily.
The device started to fly over Jared’s property. Andrew bolted across the street and onto Jared’s driveway. As he ran he noticed an oddly placed aerial at the end of Jared’s driveway, connected to a blue wire, leading to his garage. The device began to lose altitude, like it was going to crash into Jared’s garage, but suddenly, it stopped moving forward, and slowly descended to the floor. Andrew kept running toward the device, which was now on the floor. By the time he got to it, the sun had gone behind a cloud, and he could see Jared’s shaggy, black hair inside the darker garage.
Andrew trotted toward the garage, and noticed there was an aerial in there, similar to the one at the end of the driveway. “Jared!” he called.
Jared, having heard his name, turned around. He smiled, realizing it was the friend he just remotely blasted an air-horn at.
Andrew, rather annoyed that he had been disturbed, asked, “What is that thing?”
Jared happily responded, “It’s called a quadcopter. It was a gift from Roger.”
Andrew looked at Jared in a confused way. “It looks a bit expensive to just be giving away. How does it work?” he asked.
Jared notioned Andrew toward the laptop-like device silently. Andrew slowly walked into the garage, still a bit winded from chasing the quadcopter. He saw a laptop on top of Jared’s old ping-pong table, but it didn’t have a keyboard. Instead, it was covered by a bunch of complicated-looking controls. On the screen, he could see what the tube on the quadcopter was pointed at. It became apparent to him now that it was a camera.
Impulsively, Andrew reached toward the device and pushed the red button in the center of the control panel. Almost instantly, the air horn onboard the quadcopter sounded, causing Jared and Andrew to react in pain.
Jared then said, “Maybe you should just let me control the quadcopter.” He grabbed hold of the altitude control and movement joystick. “Why don’t we see what Tyler is up to?” he said.
Tyler was sitting in the center of his barn on top of an old stool. The barn was mostly used to store straw and hay that was later sold. He had taken a piece of wood and a sharp rock from the forest preserve against his property about a week ago. Since then, he had been trying to carve the wood into a knife. Having had measured everything, he wanted to give it a five inch long handle and a seven inch long blade. He was scraping the area intended to be the blade with the rock, hoping to give it a smoother and thinner look.
Jared was trying to maneuver the quadcopter so that the air horn would face the opening above the door of Tyler’s barn. Once he finally got it as close as possible, he ordered, “Andrew, hold down the red button!”
A loud, high pitched noise startled Tyler. His left arm, the one holding the rock, pushed downward and broke the blade in half. The noise stopped, and he sat there devastated. But instead of becoming enraged, he laughed. The wooden knife wouldn’t have been able to cut through butter, anyway. He stood up set the two knife shards on the stool. Assuming the noise was from one of his brothers, he thought to himself, “What idiot would give one of my brothers an air-horn?”
Tyler pushed the door open, expecting to see one or more of his brothers standing outside, smiling. But, no person was there. Above him, he heard a mechanical whirring sound, so he looked up, and saw a small helicopter with four propellers aiming some plastic tube with a piece of glass covering the end in his direction. Tyler was confused, he had never even seen a device like this. Suddenly, the plastic tube moved parallel to the ground, and the device started moving West, toward his neighbor, Jared. It seemed like it was trying to move at a speed he could keep up with, even though he was sure it could move faster. Tyler was not the most athletic person.
The device crossed the barbed-wire fence forming the border between Tyler’s driveway and Jared’s family’s crops. Tyler, not wanting to jump over the barbed-wire fence, just waited, as he saw the the device halt over Jared’s driveway as it came plummeting down. Tyler walked quickly down his driveway and turned left as soon as he got to the street, toward Jared’s driveway. It took him a minute, but, eventually, he made it to the foot of the driveway. He could see the garage door was open, and there were two aerials, both on either side of the driveway. The one closest to the road was connected to a light blue wire leading into the garage.
Tyler walked toward the device, and saw Andrew and Jared in the garage as he walked closer. Now ignoring the device, he proceeded past it and yelled, “Jared, is that you?”
Jared turned around, a bit surprised that Tyler came after the quadcopter. Looking back at Tyler, he said, “I thought I lost you when you stopped following the quadcopter.”
Tyler, now just entering the garage, said, “So that’s what it’s called. Were you controlling it?”
Jared stepped over so Tyler could see the laptop-like device. He then took hold of the controls again and said, “I have to show you two something.” He pushed up on the altitude control and the device rocketed into the air. A few moments later, he balanced the controls so that the quadcopter hovered in the air, and angled the camera to look into the forest preserve, behind his storage shed. Again, the stip of dark brown was visible between an obvious break in the trees.
Andrew pushed his face up toward the screen to look closer.
Tyler yelled, “Back up! Let me see.” He leaned forward, putting his hand down on the old ping-pong table. As soon as he shifted his weight onto the structure, it creaked, and then the leg closest to him collapsed. He toppled over and landed on top of the collapsed table. The laptop-like device was not damaged, but Tyler fell on the wire once laid out across the table which powered the device. This caused the plug to come out of the outlet, and the device to shut down.
“Tyler!” Jared yelled in rage. “Are you crazy? What makes you think this table can tolerate your w-”
With a loud crashing noise, the quadcopter slammed into the floor, sending little pieces all over the driveway.
Everyone turned around and froze, staring at the remains of the quadcopter. Tyler’s face was turning redder than his hair in guilt and humiliation.
Jared looked back at Tyler in disbelief, then at the laptop-like device, now resting on its side, on the floor.
“Wait!” Jared exclaimed. “I recorded that!” He trotted over to the remains of the quadcopter, and picked up a little, blue chip he found in the wreckage. It was a little SD card. “Come on!”
He opened the door between his garage and mudroom and bolted inside. His personal laptop was sitting on the clean, glass coffee table in his living room. He picked it up and sat down on the black, leather couch. Just after opening the laptop, Tyler and Andrew sat down on either sides of Jared. He put in the SD card as soon as the Windows 7 Desktop loaded.
Andrew noticed the wireless network access icon was on in the bottom right corner of the desktop. Quickly, he said, “How do you get wireless access over dial-up?”
Jared, realizing he forgot to tell his friends, said, “My mother got a job with CoaxNet. We get free telephone, internet, and television services now, all the maximum packages.”
Andrew was shocked. The closest place one could evade having to use dial-up internet was the library, and that was a few miles away. The main reason people avoided the only internet service provider in the area was because of how expensive it was. The only way to not have to pay a fortune monthly was to purchase their deal for dial-up internet which included unlimited domestic calls for ten dollars per month. Nobody really knew why, but satellite companies would refuse to cover the area. Cellular companies refused to cover the area as well. To cope, most people used CB radios to communicate. For television, most people would purchase digital TV antennas and receive the few local channels that come from Bismarck. Anyway, now, Andrew was hopeful he would no longer need to bike a few miles to watch an online video.
Jared said, “I would prefer you didn’t tell people. My parents don’t want this place to become an internet cafe.” The window containing all of the files on the SD card appeared on the glossy screen. While there were a bunch of fancy-looking files, probably containing flight information, there was one several minute long video. Jared opened it, and it started to play. The beginning of the video showed what the quadcopter was doing while Jared was trying to teach himself the controls. Once he began to play with the camera, everyone could see the the strange opening between the trees when he zoomed in. Jared continued by flying the quadcopter toward Andrew’s house. It was somewhat funny now, seeing Andrew’s reaction to the interruption. The quadcopter landed at Jared’s house again. Jared had to skip some pieces of the video, now that him and Andrew were just talking. Eventually, the video showed the quadcopter flying up to Tyler’s barn, and him slowly chasing it. Once it safely landed for the last time, it was another minute before it took off again. Jared skipped through the blank space. The video showed an aerial view of the forest preserve again. But, after a few seconds, it became clear that the quadcopter was dropping from the sky, quickly. The last frame of the video showed the blurry house coming back into view.
“Well,” Jared started to say. “That was depressing.”
Tyler, still pretty red in the face, pleaded, “I’m so sorry! I swear, I didn’t want to cause any damage!”
Jared smiled at him and said, “Relax. It was only a gift from Roger. And, besides, you he gives away stuff like that the as much as police officers give out speeding tickets.”
Tyler wasn’t quite as red, but he still felt rather guilty.
“How about we see what that thing is in the woods?” Jared asked.
Tyler and Andrew both looked at him like he was crazy.
“Are you kidding?” Andrew asked. “That isn’t our property. We have been told not to go back there as long as we could remember!”
“Who’s going to stop us? The police?” Jared asked.
They all sat in silence, thinking for a few moments.
Tyler said, “ I suppose I would be willing to go, but only as long as you all come with me.”
Andrew looked down at the floor, still thinking. “Fine,” he said. “But, at least allow me to get some CB radios for us all.”
“Get one for me too!” Tyler yelled as Andrew got up from the couch and bolted out the door.
Jared yelled, “It’s okay! I got my own!”
Andrew sprinted down Jared’s driveway without even thinking. Soon he was at his own house, in the kitchen, where several CB radios were docked, charging. Andrew grabbed two and, again, running on autopilot, darted back toward Jared’s home. By the time he got back, Jared was holding one of his own radios, sitting on the couch, staring at his computer.
Tyler was sitting next to him Jared. He looked up as soon as Andrew entered the room. Andrew handed him the radio and he turned it on. “Oh, cool!” Tyler said in excitement. “This is one of those dual frequency radios!” There were two dials on either side of the device. He turned it on and tuned the left side to channel 26, also known as 27.265 Mhz. That was the channel his family primarily used. It was also the channel other people around the area used, making it impossible to have a private conversation.
Andrew turned the dial on the left to channel 7, the one his parents primarily operate on. “Let’s use channel 13 so we can talk with each other if we get lost.”
Andrew and Tyler turned the right dial to channel 13. Jared did this with his radio too. He shut his laptop and asked, “You all ready to go?