By Rob Phayre
Downtown Tokyo, and the street food market was packed as usual, even at that time of night. The sumptuous smells of delicious freshly cooked food, hot cooking oil and spices competed for each other amongst the more pungent smells of body odour in such a confined space. The high summer, with stifling temperatures were perfectly normal for the residents, but for Reepaman it was about ten degrees above his comfort zone.
The neon lights, bright flags and banners rivalled with the cacophony of the street market. As he wandered past the stalls, he gave begrudging respect to the way that some of the stall owners tried to attract him for business. At the lower end were the efforts from those who tried to use thumping pop music, flashing lights and TV’s showing the latest sports. But the winner was clearly the stall at the end of the row. It was the character of the chef, the visible display with the huge cleavers flashing through the air, and the liberal doses of neat alcohol sprayed from his mouth directly onto the burning flames of his cooking appliance. The ooh’s and ahh’s of the crowd took nothing away from the fresh seafood seared in hot, flaming spit.
Reepaman walked past the stall, though his mouth surprised him by wanting to stop. He had no time. He kept his head down and his dark hoodie raised over his head. Reepaman glanced behind him before he turned down the alley. It wasn’t nearly so bright down there he thought, and no tourist in their right mind would wander that path. He slowed his walk, his senses alert. Whilst he expected to be challenged, it wasn’t by an eight-year-old boy wearing grubby clothes that probably hadn’t been washed since the day he’d put them on.
The boy didn’t say anything, just put out a grubby paw with his fingers outstretched. Reepaman reached into a pocket with a gloved hand and pulled out a tiny hexagonal token. It certainly wasn’t legal tender anywhere that he was aware of, but it paid the price for entry into this particular world. The boy looked at the token, and grinned cheekily before putting his hand out again. Unsurprised, Reepaman reached into his other pocket and pulled out a fifty Yen coin. The boy, clearly delighted with the profit for the night, gave Reepaman a mock bow and disappeared into the same crevice from which he had emerged.
Reepaman, assumed that he should just keep walking, and though he couldn’t see anyone, he knew he was being watched. He had only walked about twenty paces, past a foul-smelling pile of rubbish, when a rusting metal door to his right opened. A little light spilled into the alley, though it was blocked briefly as Reepaman stepped through.
The world inside was very different to what he was expecting. For one it was clean, it was almost fragrant and it was packed from floor to ceiling with computers.
“Come on through Jimmy!” an accented voice called from the back somewhere. “You obviously met Ho?”
Reepaman didn’t reply but walked past the networked towers into a clearer space. A young Japanese man, wearing loosely fitting black samue, was sat at a computer terminal. Judging by the number of video monitoring feeds shown on displays on the wall, Reepaman had been spotted the moment he had walked into the alley. In fact, he thought, he had probably been watched since he’d arrived at the airport last night.
Reepaman looked to his right. A pair of industrial sized 3D printers were churning away at something unrecognisable. There was something odd that made the printer on the right stand out though. The printer nozzle had a trio of high-powered boron lasers that appeared to heat the resin, or whatever it was, as it spewed out of the printer head.
Reepaman was fascinated and walked over to it.
“I wouldn’t stare at them for too long,” Chen said, watching Reepaman carefully. “You should probably put some glasses on.”
Reepaman nodded before turning away from the machine, “Thanks Chen. Is that what you used to produce the rotor blades?”
“Uh huh. We’re basically 3D printing a metal alloy powder, applying enough thermal energy to melt it, whilst allowing the layers to bond. It’s super light, and seriously strong.”
“And how about sharpening? Did the materials take it?”
Chen grinned, before walking over to a cabinet on the wall. He opened the door, reached in, and pulled out a small quadcopter drone. At first glance, there was nothing special about it. A standard black plastic body, about the size of Reepamans fist, spindly landing legs, and four arms reached out from the corners. The flight motors at the ends of the arms were surprisingly chunky though, and the clear difference, to the type of drone that little Billy might get under the Christmas tree, was the rotor blades.
Reepaman reached out to take it from Chen. “Careful!” Chen said, “They are really sharp!”
Reepaman held the light body of the drone and marvelled at the weight. Clearly the rotor blades were made from metal. They were buffed, polished, shaped and honed to a gleaming edge. The points of the blades were needle sharp. He manipulated the drone, tilted it back and forth, up and down as he stared at it. “And the aerodynamics are right? It flies?”
“But you have managed to get the rotors to keep their shape, whilst being able to sharpen the edges and the tips!” Reepaman was very pleased.
“It took a lot of trial and error. Initially the blades were too heavy. We had to make a honeycomb structure in the main spar and trailing edge of the rotor, but then print solid leading edges so we could sharpen them.”
“Any change in flight characteristics?” asked Reepaman.
“Yes, It’s not as nimble in flight as it looks, but the main difference is that it takes longer to spool up. The blades are heavy, and despite the augmented electrical motors, it takes a few seconds to get to flight speed.”
Chen moved over to his computer, clicked a few icons on the screen. As he did so, he continued talking. “It does have some other limitations, the main one being it’s a single use drone. If you were to actually use it, the rotor blades would lose so much inertia so quickly, they would trash the motors they’re mounted on. The drone wouldn’t fly again. You would need to make sure you collected it somehow.” On one of the large wall mounted screens Reepaman was able to watch a video of a similar drone in flight.
Taken by a high-speed video camera, he saw the drone approaching what was obviously a pigs carcass hung off a meat hook in an abattoir. The spinning blades approached the outstretched neck of the pig and made short and messy work of its throat.
Reepaman cocked his head to the right a little as he processed what he had seen. The Associate had told him that he wanted to send a message about people keeping their mouths shut, and this tool would certainly do that.
“Do you want to watch it again?” Chen asked.
“No, once is enough,” Reepaman replied as he pulled out his device. He pressed a couple of buttons. “It looks like good work. Your payment has been made as agreed.”
Chen beamed. “Excellent. Remember to collect the drone please after its… task. It’s possible that someone might recognise my work, and then there would be awkward questions.”
Reepaman looked at him. “It’s possible that I may not be able to. Have you taken sufficient precautions with it?”
Chen looked a little unhappy, “Yes of course, but there are very few people that can do this type of work. People will recognise the art of the master!”
“OK, I promise you this. I will try to retrieve it, but if I can’t, I will double your fee.” That didn’t cheer Chen up as much as Reepaman thought it might, but he continued talking anyway. “Does it come with a carrying case?”
Two days later, Reepaman was in Karuizawa, a part of Japan where the wealthy and famous had holiday homes. The steep-sided valley with villas on both sides was a playground for the rich. The private estates, with their huge houses, swimming pools and underground parking for their luxury cars was inaccessible to most. Reepaman had rented one of the villas for a month. It wasn’t quite where he wanted it, directly opposite his target, but it was near enough. Half a mile away was plenty close enough for what he had in mind.
The sun had just set and Reepaman had settled himself down on a lounge chair on his terrace. He’d used the nearby BBQ to char grill some vegetables and a decent steak. All that had been washed down with a gallon of Coke Zero, chilled with a lot of ice.
The target tonight was a politician. The name was all that had been given to Reepaman by The Associate, and it had been down to him to do the planning work. Mr Wing-Wah was one of ‘those’ politicians. From a poor household originally, he now owned the gin palace that Reepaman was currently studying in the view finder of his telescope. It was gaudy and excessive even for someone as corrupt as Mr Wing-Wah.
Tonight, Wing-Wah was hosting a party. He did it every year on his birthday, according to his social media profile, and given the obvious setting up that had been going on on his terrace for the past two days, this year was no exception.
Reepaman, still sitting on a chair on his terrace, watched the guests through the telescope as they mingled. He had seen Wing-Wah pressing the flesh and oozing charm. It looked like there were a couple of well-known movie stars, more politicians, and even a South Korean boy band crooning it out on a brightly lit stage. Music floated across the valley but by the time it reached Reepamans ears, it was well out of sync with the lead singers’ movements as seen through the telescope.
Making a decision, Reepaman pulled out an iPad. The murder drone, as Reepaman thought of it, was already unpacked and it just sat there silently on his terrace. Reepaman opened an App, did a final couple of checks and hit an aptly marked button with the word ‘Execute’ on it.
The drone spent a few seconds on the ground as it spooled up. It was certainly a little noisier than most drones of its size, but the rotor blades needed the inertia not only to fly, but to do their job at the far end. The drone followed its pre-set flight path and moved to hover about a hundred meters away from Wing-Wah’s house. With the noise of the party, it was highly unlikely that the drone would be heard, and it was important that it was close enough for what Reepaman intended to do next.
On the iPad’s screen, Reepaman watched the video feed from the drone. It had only taken a few minutes for the murder drone to reach its loitering point, and once it was there, Reepaman picked up a disposable iPhone. He dialled through a Voice Over Internet Protocol which spoofed his number to look like the one that he wanted it to be. An App on the phone, using very simple AI, translated his words and digitised his voice as he spoke.
Reepaman hadn’t spotted the countries Prime Minister on Wing-Wahs terrace, but photos from last year showed them to be very close. This was one open ended risk that Reepaman had decided was worth taking. There were plenty of voice samples online, and the app produced a very passable version of the Prime Ministers voice in real time.
With the iPhone on handsfree mode, and resting on the table in front of him, Reepaman waited for the connection. Watching through the telescope, he saw Wing-Wah reach into his jacket pocket to look at the screen. He saw the hurried excuse to a beautiful starlet as he answered the phone.
“Wing-Wah. How is the party!” Reepaman didn’t need to hear the reply. He had his next line already prepared. “It’s so noisy! Can you move to the edge of the terrace!”
He saw Wing-Wah walk away from the bulk of the party to the edge of the terrace and a point where he was standing on his own. Reepaman switched to the drones’ eye view on his iPad. With his thumb controls he began the swoop. He heard Wing-Wah talking through the speaker on the phone. Reepaman could see the body language of the repeated questions through the drones camera view. He saw Wing-Wah hold the phone away from his ear and look quizzically at the screen, double checking the signal. But now, the drone was less than twenty meters away. It arced down, lethal rotors spinning like blender blades at twenty thousand revolutions a minute. It covered the final few meters in the blink of an eye. Wing-Wah didn’t even have enough time to bring an arm up to defend himself.
As the drone struck, there was a rotor blade either side of Wing-Wahs neck. The sharpened alloy brutalised his throat, severing arteries, and destroying vocal cords. He collapsed quickly, though it was a few more moments before the first party quests screamed.
The drone fell to the floor, damaged beyond flight, though oddly the camera remained pointed at Wing-Wahs face as he bled out. Reapaman turned off the iPad and moved to the BBQ behind him where, with a little more charcoal, it would make short work of the electronic devices that were literally burners.
A little later, having tidied up, and as he picked up his bag, he reflected briefly that the whole task might have been easier if he’d had a wingman, literally, but that just wasn’t the way Reepaman worked.
If you enjoyed this short story, you can start at the very beginning of the series. It’s all free and available on the authors website www.reepaman.com.
This is a work of fiction. All characters, scenarios and events are imaginary, and any coincidences are unintended.
Having said that.
The technology to execute the events described is here, now.
There are those with the capability and intent to use it…
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