McKinney could now see a close-up infrared view of her own bungalow and its corrugated tin roof. There, hovering around her window, was a dimly visible object. A pizza-pan-sized four-rotor flying… thing. She could barely make it out as it moved from window to window with the thoroughness of a bee at a flowering bush.
She stared at the screen in disbelief. “None of this makes any sense.”
“Looks like a modified Chinese F50 airframe, but that doesn’t really tell us anything about its firmware or who sent it. I could buy a hundred of these off the back of some truck in Dubai or Moscow.”
She was still watching the evil-looking insect float outside her living quarters, her own glowing heat signature visible in bed through the window.
“As near as we can tell, the parent drone sniffs out its victims by their IMEI.”
McKinney still watched the screen. “I don’t know what that is.”
“International mobile equipment identity. Every mobile phone has a unique number burned in at the factory. That ID can be used to pinpoint the location of a specific phone anywhere in the world within fifty meters.”
McKinney had a vivid image of her iPhone charging next to her bed.
“But that’s not accurate enough to deliver ordnance. So the parent drone carries a spotter that it launches to confirm the presence of the target. The spotter descends, and we think it searches the vicinity, looking for the victim’s face-probably uses a cheap pocket camera face-detection chip to make a list of human faces that it compares with target photos it already has in memory.
“Where would it get my photo?”
“Facebook, LinkedIn, university profile. That’s a trivial problem.”
She watched in horror as the spotter drone suddenly projected a grid of hundreds of infrared dots across the interior of her cabin-across her very body-in a light spectrum she hadn’t seen as she lay in the darkness.
“Registration grid. Once the target is confirmed, it uses an IR laser to send a coded signal back to the parent, clearing it to attack. That’s how we knew when to make our move.”
McKinney saw her own form shining an LED flashlight beam out her screen that didn’t show up in infrared, but the video focused on the quadracopter spotter drone, which floated away. A bright light blinked rapidly on its back in a complex sequence.
“The spotter then moves to a safe distance to film the strike, confirm detonation of ordnance, fatalities, so on. ELINT suggests that it then connects to the nearest Wi-Fi hotspot it can hijack to upload the video to a predetermined Web domain before the spotter also self-destructs...
“Can’t you trace it”-she rolled her hand in thought-“by radio signals or something? Find out who’s controlling it?”
Odin looked grim. “That’s the problem: No one is controlling it. These drones are autonomous-programmed to find and kill their victim, and then to self-destruct. So far it’s been impossible to get a good look at one, much less capture it intact. But we’re working on that last part, and thanks to you we made some progress tonight...”
...immediately after they attack, these drones climb to about twenty or twenty-five thousand feet-then self-destruct. And when I say ‘self-destruct,’ I mean they shred themselves. Explosive residue on the few pieces we’ve found shows it’s pentaerythritol tetranitrate-Primacord-basically explosive rope. Used for cutting steel.”