At 225 feet above the city, Travis studies the view of the Rocky Mountains from his operator cab atop the construction crane at 23rd and Glenarm. According to the Denver Business Journal, the tower crane he operates helps Denver make third place on the list of U.S. cities with the most construction cranes. The sprawling city is investing in new construction, both commercial and residential to keep up with the influx of people moving to the Mile High City. A speaker crackles to life in the cab.
A man’s voice funnels through a speaker. “That’s the last beam, Travis. You can take lunch while we connect this one.”
“Roger that, Steve.” Travis returns.
“You coming down from lunch?” Steve says.
“No. I’m going to stay here so we can pick up whenever you’re good to go.” Travis says.
“Ring us if you see anything good.” Steve says.
Travis locks the control panel and reaches for his backpack, a small Kelty containing a blue Coleman thermos, his lunch, an issue of Popular Mechanics, binoculars and his orange screw-top Nalgene water bottle. He selects the orange Nalgene bottle with a band of black duct tape displaying a series of white skull and crossbones. He unscrews the lid of the bottle, sit forward in his seat, unzips his jeans and relieves himself into the bottle. He closes his eyes and relishes in the satisfaction. When he finishes, he ensures the lid is secured tightly and replaces it in his bag before extracting his lunch pal. After extracting a chocolate chip Clif Bar, he tears the wrapper and takes a hefty bite.
The Colorado sky radiates blue, sprinkled with a few white clouds. He sniffs the air from his port side window, slid open to take advantage of the cool November air. When the sun is bright, as it is today, the cab can get hot. In the distance, he sees a small object flying between apartment buildings.
“Damn drones.” Travis says, reaching for his binoculars. He focuses the lenses on the object and it zooms out of frame. He pulls the binoculars away.
“Where’d you go you Peepin’ Tom?”
Drones have grown controversial due to the expanded ownership but also for a property owner’s right to shoot them out of the sky.
Travis pushes the intercom. “Steve, we might have a duck.”
The radio crackles. “I’ll get the shotgun.” Steve says. The shotgun referenced is an anti-drone weapon, a signal jamming blast that forces the drone to the ground. It’s become a construction site pastime along with creative name calling and keeping tabs on any apartment with open windows. Travis takes another bite of his Clif Bar when an object startles him. Outside his starboard window, a drone is hovering less than 10 feet away. Travis reaches for the intercom.
“Steve, it’s right outside my window. Engage.”
The radio crackles but no voice returns. Travis watches the drone, expecting it to fall at any moment. The drone hovers, undisturbed for another 30 seconds. Travis studies the object noticing now that it doesn’t have traditional propellers. He pulls out his phone to take a picture and his phone is off. He holds down the power button. He peeks at the drone and it stares back. He checks his phone’s display and nearly jumps in his seat when the radio crackles to life.
“Travis—are you there? Come in.”
Travis punches the intercom. “I’m here. Did you get my message?”
Travis checks on the drone. It’s flown away.
“We shot that sucker.” Steve voice crackles through the speaker. “It’s flown away. We couldn’t bring it down.”
Travis frowns. “Maybe next time.”
He scans the horizon, checking the top floor of the Parkview Tower, apartment 20A. There’s activity on the balcony. Travis grabs his binoculars and aims them at the balcony. A woman is sitting on a beach chair, straightening a beach towel on the back rest.
“Eve is in the garden.” Travis says into the microphone.
He studies the woman, as she relaxes on the chair to get her daily dose of vitamin D. Travis nicknamed the couple Adam and Eve for their common practice of hanging out on their balcony in the nude. Sometimes they played dominoes or cards in their birthday suits. Sometimes they enjoy morning tea with their newspaper. Sometimes, like today, Eve sunbathes. Travis checks the time on his phone, which has rebooted.
Back to his binoculars, he searches the sky for the balcony but catches a dark cloud coming west from Boulder. He swivels the dial on the bridge of the binoculars, focuses the lenses. Over the crane’s jib—or long horizontal arm—the cloud appears to be moving toward the city, covering a growing area of blue sky.
“Steve, I think a storm’s coming.” Travis shares.
It didn’t look like a typical storm cloud. It just looked dark and it’s moving quickly. Travis frowns.
“Steve.” He says again.
He grabs his phone off his lap and navigates to the camera. He zooms in, ready to snap a picture. The cloud grows wider and approaches. He snaps a picture. The resulting photograph is black, like he forgot to remove the black electrical tape he keeps over his camera lens. The tape was off. He tries again. Before he snaps a picture, the camera app closes and the phone dies. The screen is black.
“What the—“ Travis mutters.
The cloud grows closer and wider, expanding across the sky. The drone is back, hovering again outside his window, ten feet away in the opposite direction of the cloud. Another drone joins it, hovering a few feet away. Then another.
“Steve!” Travis calls into the microphone.
A few blocks to the west, he sees a fellow crane and there are drones hovering next to the cab. He looks north to the Martin Construction lot. More drones circling the operator’s cab. The drones begin circling the cab. Movement draws his eyes to the drones outside his cab. They are circling him.
He spins in his seat trying to get a view of the flying objects as they circle. He feels a jolt as the jib begins to turn. He grabs the steering knobs but the lights are off on the control panel. The power appears to be off. The crane is now rotating slowly, spinning counter clockwise, on its own power. He checks the other cranes and they are also spinning, counter clockwise. The Martin crane is whipping around, increasing in speed.
When the cab is facing west, toward the foothills, Travis’ eyes open wide at the sight. The cloud, he realizes now, is not a storm cloud, but a swarm of drones. It must be millions of drones similar to the ones circling nearby. He is spinning faster now, he fumbles with the controls which have lost dominion over the arm. A crane to the west is spinning like a top, it’s slewing unit under a burden from the speed. As Travis rotates, he sees tower to the west. Its base sways before buckling. He reaches again for the radio. “Steve! Tower down! I’ve lost control.”
More drones arrive near his tower. There are no propellers. They float weightless as Travis spins. He feels a growing vibration, and the noise is deafening. The blue sky turns gray with the infestation of drones. The air vibrates with humming of the swarm. Travis looks below and see the construction crew scrambling around, a fury of confusion. The tower cracks and Travis feels his weight shift. He squeezes his eyes to avoid the image of the ground below closing in on him.