Fiction: And the Band Droned on

Ho ho, hum hum. Another drone dove and dropped its payload. Another home reduced to rubble. Another day, another drone. Life in the village was getting dull.

Manchi swept what was left of his front door off into the gutter. “Such a nuisance!” he cried, “to have to clear a path to take out the trash. Why couldn’t it be the back door this time?”

Across the way old Jarna who owned the tea shop awoke to find herself pinned to her bed beneath a pile of tiles that had once protected her roof from the elements. “Tonight of all nights!” she bemoaned, for the forecast called for heavy rainfall. Annoyed at being roused by first the detonation and then the complaints of his mother, Yamu in the room next door grumbled his way out of bed and readied the stretcher to carry that old drama queen down the steps to the jeep. He would undoubtedly have to spend the rest of the night with her at the hospital and be overtired all day at work afterwards.

“Can’t it wait?” he called out to her, louder than was necessary given the gaping hole in the adjoining wall.

“What, my legs?” she said back at him. “Forget my legs. Fix the roof! Or else it will rain in and get everything wet.”

“Must we go through this every night?” he responded without even trying to disguise the weariness in his voice.

“Only the nights when it might rain,” she said. “If not for the rain I wouldn’t mind falling asleep like this under the stars.”

An engine overhead signaled a second run incoming. Said Manchi, still sweeping, “If this one doesn’t kill me I think I might die of boredom.”

This one killed him, a direct hit. Across the way old Jarna complained, “Not another funeral! My mourning clothes aren’t back yet from the wash.” The rain was beginning to fall, bringing down with it the dust clouding the air with debris. It was cool like the evening, and old Jarna shivered beneath her ceiling tiles. “Lucky bastard,” she muttered, feeling around for a tile enough intact to shelter her face from the rain.

Manchi’s wife found him smiling contentedly several feet away from the rest of his body. “You did this on purpose, didn’t you?” she scolded. “Now what will I do with the other ticket to the theater tomorrow tonight? I’ve have a mind to drag you along with me as is.”

The rain fell heavily. In return, the villagers rained down curses upon the rain, for they knew that if it kept up much longer it would pool in the craters in the road and make for crowds in the morning commute. Said old Jarna, “If only a drone would come and bomb away the rain. Now there’s a true terrorist if I’ve ever seen one.” With that she died from internal bleeding, leaving her son to deal with the wet rugs and the roof repair on his own.

“Thanks a lot, Mom,” said Yamu. “Now I’ll have to wait up all night for the coroner. And the reporters will be all over the place clamoring for first hand accounts and photographs. At this rate I’ll be a complete zombie at my desk in the morning.”

Grumbling even more than earlier, he set about brewing a pot of tea for the pesky company that was sure to arrive at any moment, attracted by the explosion like mosquitos to bare ankles.

He hadn’t even yet considered what was to be done with the tea shop. “If the skies are good,” Yamu mused out loud when the thought did come to mind, “there will be a third run this evening and it will rid me of that responsibility.”

For years now old Jarna had been wheedling and needling him about taking over the family business like a good son. Wouldn’t it be just like her to up and die just to get her way? No, he would hire a worker if he had to–better yet, he would hire adrone strike if he had to–whatever it took to save himself from a life wasted in hot water and gossip.

The sound of tires on rubble announced the arrival of the first wave of groupies. Here first was the fire crew, thrilled with the uptick in opportunities and eager to show off their shiny new rescue equipment before it got bombed into oblivion. They always had shiny new rescue equipment thanks to the international aid community, and it always got bombed into oblivion. Ho hum.

Besides the fire crew here came the public officials arm in arm with the photographers. “How many dead! How many wounded! And the missing, we must of course include the missing in the preliminary tally!” The deputy mayor was posing in front of Manchi’s ruined front door with a shovel in one hand and a bag of emergency provisions for Manchi’s wife in the other.

“You wouldn’t happen to be interested in accompanying me to the theater tonight now, would you?” she asked him with more hope in her voice than she felt given that the evening’s performance was a Noel Coward original.

“I beg your pardon,” the official replied, eyeing the camera crew with its lenses trained intently upon him, “but would it not be more prudent if your husband or legal male guardian were to accompany you?”

“Who, him, that good-for-nothing?” said Manchi’s wife, gently prodding his grinning head with her big toe.

The official looked down, recoiling in horror at the spectacle. “This simply won’t do!” he said. With that he knelt and pressed his palms to Manchi’s face, massaging the muscles into a more suitable expression of horror and surprise. “Poor fellow,” sighed the official, standing and pointing down at Manchi for the cameras.

Here now were the reporters. Here, too, the propaganda men. “Make it quick,” snapped one at Yamu, son of the former old Jarma, who was having difficulty remembering the age of his mother. They had several more drone strikes to attend that evening, and all the good coffee shops were closed.

“How about some tea, then?” Yamu said, immediately loathing himself for it when he saw their sleepy eyes widen in anticipation of the caffeine.

Just when he had all but given up hope, the drones returned for round number three and obliterated the whole block.

With no staff reporting in on the latest figures, the editors back in headquarters had to guesstimate the extent of the damage.

“Just dig up a rerun out of the archives,” said the editor in chief. “It’s not like anyone reads this ho hum anymore.”

The news staff settled on 10 dead, 22 wounded, and five unaccounted for, and set off in search of coffee. The coffee shops were all still closed at that hour, at least the good ones were, but there was a pretty decent tea shop, someone suggested, and it was often open late.

They loaded the address into their GPS and hopped aboard their jeep. Despite circling what was left of what had been the block for at least fifteen annoying minutes they gave up and settled for Starbucks. Ho hum coffee at the end of a ho hum night.

There was the sound of something fierce and menacing hovering close by outside the door as they added cream and sugar to their coffee. What could it be, what could it be? Pulses quickening, they left off the lids and elbowed each other for the best view. The slumped shoulders of the winner said it all.

“Surely not another one!” said his colleagues. He nodded. Stirring their cream and sugar in disappointment, the news team together sighed a final ho hum for the evening and braced for impact.

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