Drone Attack Pilot: A Vignette

Nicholas Powers Jun 24, 2009

The gates of Creech Air Force Base open and a pilot drives through waving absently at the guard who grimaces and points ahead. An old woman rattles a sign: DRONES KILLING CIVILIANS SAFELY. He reads it, sees the accusing eyes of bearded men holding flowers, priests and hippies then turns to face the road. “Can you believe that,” he grabs his phone and dials. “Hey sis, you won’t believe, protesters at the base. Yep the drones…what else. Jesus I’m saving their lives and their families and they don’t even know it.”

He buckles the belt, glances at clouds, bug-stains on the hood, at protesters in the side-view mirror that warns; OBJECTS IN MIRROR MAY BE CLOSER THAN THEY APPEAR. He watches them for too long and looks up and jerks the car back into his lane. “Damn it. No I’m okay. Do they know if the bad guys get a nuke, we fry? If they take Islamabad we have to send in our boys and hello that’s Iraq the Sequel and that’s three wars and that means a draft and my son’s fifteen. What, no the volume’s not up. C’mon you know I get loud.” he laughs. “Oh that’s sarcasm, ha ha.”

He thumbs the phone off and remembers his father, a bronze man who sweated in the fields, who had to be tapped on the shoulder to stop filling his basket because his ears were broke. Every year he’d yell louder so his father could hear him. Along the way he forgot how to speak soft. What little dad heard he remembered like that Mom loved fireworks and when she died, he embarrassed the family by lighting them at the funeral saying she loved them. He was right but everyone yelled until he pointed to his ears and said “Sorry I can’t hear you.”

“Dia de los Muertos,” he mutters, remembering the showering orange sparks and in the haze silhouettes moving but somehow inside a video screen and one silhouette crawls away without legs. He blinks. Three weeks he fired his first missile but sees the steaming hill as if it’s happening again. Smoke clears and a combatant stumbles falls and rises to wave arms back and forth, back and forth as if saying stop.

Does a man wave his arms like that? In the paper they said it was a school but those papers lie and anyway don’t Muslims want to die? The order came to eliminate targets. He fired again, sipped cold coffee and thought, I couldn’t do this in a real plane. I couldn’t drink and fly. He remembers the ripples in the cup. Am I even a real pilot?

He sees his driveway and blinks away the memory. The door is ajar which means his son is home. Of course gunshots from the video game he bought echo the hallway. Of course he’s playing in the dark again. He said not to, it’s bad for the eyes but waits before scolding, wanting to watch his son without responsibility.

“Yo my dad killed like thirty towel-heads! Yeah it was all up in the news!” and ducks as the TV becomes a strobe light of gunfire shot by X-Box terrorists. He watches his son play war, cell phone wedged between cheek and collarbone boasting, “Well how many did your dad kill? Yeah I thought so, thirty less than mine.” The screen lights up with explosions. His son yells, “No don’t kill me,” and waves his arms back and forth, back and forth and his father’s palms soak with sweat because wherever he looks he sees fireworks.

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