“What on earth is that?”
The comments went with the territory. Bring something new and unusual into mundane and conventional surroundings, and you're bound to hear something of the sort. Not that a large case in the pack of a pickup was that unusual.
“Oh, that's some new fangled gizmo that's supposed to help us with the search. I don't know why they couldn't spend the money on getting us a few extra bodies out here, or even a helicopter or two. I mean this is a kid we're talking about here for crying out loud!”
Criticism also went with the territory. Derek hadn't been given many opportunities to show the potential of his machine, but if today worked out as he hoped, he'd be able to write his ticket.
He opened the case and raised the lid. Secured inside was a small craft, made mostly from plastic and carbon fibre. It had no wheels or tracks, but instead sported four ducted propellers. Hovering flight was inefficient energy-wise, but for speed and flexibility over rough terrain, it couldn't be matched.
“Yeah I know what you mean. Waste of tax payers money if you ask me. Just how much chopper time would that thing pay for?”
Admittedly quite a lot, but then once the unit was developed and fully working, it would pay for itself quite quickly. There would always be people who would resist progress just because it was different. Best not to argue.
Derek flipped a few switches. Lights came on, flashing in intricate patterns as the system booted up and ran through its system checks.
“Hello Derek. What are we going to do today?”
The voice was calm – neutral without lacking emotion.
“We're looking for a little girl, Lucy.” He'd tried hard to think up a decent acronym, but in the end the machine's multifaceted eyes and Derek's love of the Beatles had decided a different name.
“Her name is Gillian. She's ten years old, four foot three and just over four and a half stone.” Derek refused to bow entirely to the European requirement for metric measures, and had included a subroutine to translate others in common use. “She has blond hair and brown eyes.”
“How did she go missing, and how long ago?”
“Her parents think she wandered away from the car and got lost. They don't know for sure, but it could have been two hours ago.”
“Do you have anything of hers?”
Derek held out a girl's sweater and a photograph. The image was studied, measurements of salient features taken and stored. Tiny engines whirred, drawing in air and the all important complex chemicals which made up the girl's scent. A moment later, the robot craft released the bolts that had held it in the crate and launched into the sky. That was all it took.
Fuzzy logic subroutines examined the surrounding terrain and estimated a ninety five percent chance of locating the subject within three miles. The machine climbed until it could scan the entire search area and turned on its infra-red imaging. Further subroutines eliminated heat sources that were either too large or too small, and identified nine possible targets.
Choosing a route that would cover the nine targets in the shortest time, the machine dropped out of the sky. At closest approach to each subject, it sampled the air, searching for that elusive combination of chemicals that would match those on the sweater.
The first contact investigated was a sheep, as was the second, Lucy veering off as soon as imaging confirmed a non-human profile. The third was stationary and huddled underneath a fallen tree. Lucy moved in at speed, tasting the air as it approached.
“Hello, you must be Gillian.” It spoke in a quiet, friendly voice, prompting the girl to look up. Even through the mud and tears, both the face and smell were recognisable. Identity confirmed, ninety eight percent match. Lucy activated its locator and settled to the ground. “Don't worry, people will be here soon to help.”
Derek's PDA pinged. A quick check showed a GPS map with flashing dot to show Lucy's position. He approached the leader of the search team, who was only just briefing his men.
“She's about a mile and a half in that direction,” he said, pointing. The whole operation had taken just ten minutes. “Not bad for a waste of taxpayer's money."
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