Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

“Teatray!”

We all duck behind or under solid objects until the sound of a small crash landing gives us the all-clear. Wandering over to check the corpse, there are expressions of dismay. We’ve just clocked our first RAPTOR. I don’t know what the slang acronym means, but basically it’s a drone using ducted fans within a body designed to resemble a city hawk.

“Somebody’s lost a very expensive toy.” Mitch is unsympathetic: rogue drones cause more mayhem than any other form of technology.

I grin at him: “Looks like his birdie took a QR to the CPU. Someone won’t know we hit it.”

Mitch nods. He points toward the dot drifting high above and makes a circling movement with his index finger: “Hunt ‘someone’ down.”

That dot is Nils. Early experiments in drone policing used trained eagles. They were effective, but the wounds to the birds were increasingly horrific as drone operators started sharpening the edges of their rotors. Nils is an Osprey, brought into the program as they are the only eagle with reversible outer toes, giving them better grip to deal with drones. He was effective, but barely survived taking down a drugbug – drone full of heroin – losing both legs and part of a wing.

That was when Colonel Mitchell ‘Mitch’ Everton-Masham of MI22 – Cyber Intelligence, an evolution of MI16 – stepped in and gave me a new friend to work with. I’d handled a few birds of prey, but the first cybereagle was a whole new level of challenge. Thirteen months later, a rogue over Buckingham Palace got a photo of its killer that went viral: sunlight reflecting from the steel pinions of an otherwise-silhouetted giant bird of prey. Nils had arrived.

He’s also got a clever QR code between his wings, so drones with defensive scanning can read the encoded low-level command and obey the ‘land immediately’ directive. However, as rogues are frequently hacked to get around safety restrictors, some just fall out of the sky. The ‘teatray’ warning is one of ours, taken from the Mad Hatter’s song.

I nod and tap my comms: “Nils. Trace commsig.”

Nils spirals out westward, following the frantic commands being sent by the drone’s operator. A Metro chopper paces Nils about eight hundred metres behind: operators can turn aggressive when their getaway is interrupted.

When Nils gets within a hundred metres of the ground, his visuals sync with our main board and we get an HD view of two blokes in slouchies and donkey jackets staring in awe as Nils sidle-hovers with an eerie blades-from-scabbards noise made by his rapidly moving wings.

The audio pickups filter the noise so we get to hear the word that accompanies the operator’s stunned expression.

“Beautiful.”

I tap my comm twice to speak via Nils’ speaker: “Do not attempt to flee. Armed response is inbound.”

The two figures look relieved. There are whoops of glee behind me: these lads were leasing their expensive drone. They’ll take custody and anonymity to save themselves from mutilation by the crime lord who is out of pocket. We may well be able to roll up an entire rogue wing, right back to production facilities and related smuggling operations.

Mitch slaps me on the shoulder: “Tell your boy it’s steak ‘n’ giblets tonight.”

I grin and tap my comms: “Nils. Good lad. Come home.”

A piercing whistle of joy in my headset accompanies our display wheeling in an arc that lays London’s skyline out for us as my friend Nils, a.k.a. Pandion One, puts the sunset behind him and heads for dinner.

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