It is the near future, in an aging urban corridor where congestion brought on by antiquated city planning and high gas prices has destroyed the 20th century notion of the car as the great liberator of the modern American.
The city has become a near impenetrable bivouac of occupied human spaces. Residential mated to commercial, with storage and food spaces hanging off them like lampreys.
Between those spaces, there is a noise: the ceaseless thrum of plastic and metal rotor blades pushing against the air.
This is the noise of the drone swarm. Of a million wirelessly controlled delivery and service machines moving products for us. All on modular frames with solar panels and high density battery packs, and nary a carbon toeprint amongst them.
For they are the servant class of the digital age; ferrying our take-out food, our Amazon purchases, our dry cleaning, all of the consumptive bits of our lives, to and fro so we don’t have to. All of it controlled and maintained by a joint commercial and government cooperative to ensure that economic stimulation is as easy as it could possibly be.
But, there is something else in the skies, too. Something newer than the drones in the swarm…something malevolent.
Instead of being simple pack mules, these drones prey upon their pacifist kin, seeking the profitable treasures held within their cargo nets. iDevices, physical media, designer clothing, anything that can be sold quickly and easily over the local Internet grey market is what the hunters are after, but, in a pinch, the prey drones themselves can be torn down and sold for parts.
Their method of capture varies wildly, from nets to signal scramblers to firewall-penetrating viruses. Some drone predators are even large enough to simply scoop up their prey whole and deliver them back to their criminal handlers, the smaller drone struggling the whole way.
Local and federal security agencies have fielded drone-hunting counter measures, with mixed success. Larger attack drones are able to eliminate the drone predators, but are hard to maneuver in tight urban spaces and destroying drones doesn’t generate leads toward finding the drone’s handler. Interdiction and tracking operations can score individual successes, but tactics used by the security agencies are quickly countered by the handlers and how-tos spread like wildfire through the darknets. Evasion is the most low-tech solution, but it remains the most effective countermeasure. Drone delivery paths can be randomized, destination data encrypted, and redundant protective systems installed.
It is still a numbers game, though. And some percentage is always going to get caught.
Which is why for a small service fee, most retail outlets will gladly insure your package against drone-theft.
This is the shape of the future, and of the new ecosystems forming in its cracks.