In the Grip of the Silent Falcon

A family of mechanical birds takes flight to see, record and fight

by Mike Hasler

The need for war is maybe easier to understand than its mechanics are, but the practice of men devoting their lives to kill other men for men who sit safely at headquarters may be a practice standing on the border of revolution, with reliance on hand-held machines to deal death thankfully gone the way of trench warfare, cavalry rushes and finger-over-the-button diplomacy.

But what are those antiquated methods being replaced with? Enter the Silent Falcon, proud parent of two more Unmanned Aerial Systems bearing the name of the company that created them. New Mexico’s Silent Falcon UAS Technologies has created the solar-powered drone and is conceiving its cousins in co-operation with Bye Aerospace to achieve “longer duration intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance,” but there’s also a weaponized variant being designed to further the goal of replacing men on the battlefield.

In an Americana nod to boys playing with Radio Controlled airplanes, with just a touch of the Lego experience included, the Silent Falcon can be fitted with one of three available wing spans (to increase speed and shorten flying time or to sustain longer flight) then launched by hand. The nose has a propeller attached but the power that makes the prop’s electric motor spin comes from photovoltaic paneling created by Colorado’s Ascent Solar Technologies. Their absorption panel stretches across the top of the wings, and the longest set can drink enough sunlight to keep the Falcon flying fourteen hours. Ascent’s PV paneling has a non-reflective coating to defeat glare, and the thin, flexible strip (visually reminiscent of camera film) retires the fragility and weight of traditional glass solar panels.

The Silent Falcon looks and flies like a plane, but one small enough to put in the back of a pick-up to truck to the launching pad. After a city, field, or mountain is under it, an operator can fly the mechanical bird with a hand-held control box and wear a video screen on the wrist to monitor the drone’s status and returning sensor information. The Falcon’s low noise and cool heat signature allow it to soar over a target area without enemy radar betraying its flight path, and when it dives into the action it can cruise through a militarized zone undetected as it inspects supply lines and strategies.

Hidden in the Falcon’s lightweight, carbon fiber composite body are lithium polymer batteries to hold the sun’s charge. A retractable payload encases a high resolution camera powered by “FalconVision,” a “dual-imaging, gyro stabilized, high-definition set of cameras” that can send information to ground-based controllers in real-time. Short-wave infrared lets the Falcon see greyscale images in HD, even without the assistance of sun, moon, stars, or streetlamps. The Falcon’s motto is “Fly Silent, Fly Longer, See More” and, like its internal camera, but unlike any animal or human counterpart, the Silent Falcon is nocturnal, diurnal, and even crepuscular, making it the perfect solider for deployment any time of the night, day, dusk or dawn.

In an age where the things being described can actually be built and bought, it’s comforting to know some traditional methods are employed to land the Falcon. A landing strip will receive it as though it were a manned plane and, if it’s coming in too hot, a good old-fashioned parachute can be deployed to bring the bird down with ease.

The Silent Falcon proper spent over two years in development, but like anything that seemingly takes off overnight, there’s a longer history behind the cover story. The Unmanned Aerial Vehicle was born the ‘Silent Sentinel,’ introduced by Bye Aerospace in 2009 and coated in Ascent Solar’s pliable PV paneling, but the film, with its signature grid design, was at that time applied over a curved wing. (The wing piece on the Silent Falcon is flat on top, presumably a step in its evolution allowing for even ray absorption).

Three years later the Silent Sentinel evolved into the larger ‘Silent Guardian’, a UAV drawing power from a hybrid system. The Guardian couldn’t long protect its name however, as that same year, the line of design evolved to its final variant before commercial production, the twenty seven pound Silent Falcon.

When the Falcon is fitted with weapons and camouflage, it will also receive a new name. The ‘Snipe’ looks like the Falcon, except that this planned bird-of-prey will carry an extra propeller and point them both backward. The weaponized variant of the Falcon is designed for deadly accuracy and precision, having among many other uses the ability to seek and destroy individual soldiers without making the civilian mess that larger UAV’s create with their nasty Hellfire missiles. The Snipe doesn’t surrender firepower for stealth, though; hidden on board is a fully automatic machine gun that can inject any human or vehicle of war with 900 rounds per minute from as far away as two football fields. If your country has a pipeline, border, or coast, the Snipe can be sent to protect them all.

Every good idea gets a Version 2.0, and the Silent Falcon is not M.I.A. in this category. Like most sequels, the Silent Falcon Heavy Payload does everything bigger. Bigger payload, larger motors, longer wings, all pointed at specializing in geographical surveys, a journey often necessitating long hours in flight and the muscle to carry heavier sensor and camera equipment.

The Silent Falcon and its variants may soon give us a version of war where Generals can get a good night’s sleep knowing only the other side lost a lot of good men today. Beyond that, if we can create a machine that will defeat war altogether, we’ll have truly made progress in the field.

In Search of a Few Billion Friends

Facebook and Google compete to complete the Internet

By Mike Hasler

To someone living in a major center, it’s easy to forget not all the world has internet. Maybe that’s because the world wide web isn’t quite yet world wide. Of the planet’s seven billion potential customers, only an estimated three billion people can currently log on, sign in, and download its digital wonders. Just 16% of Africa’s population used the net in 2013, compared with 75% in Europe, so stats like that have started a quest for global connectivity, and there are two champions running a race for supremacy. But with the ground pretty well covered, their starting line is…the sky.

Facebook and Google have both launched into the troposphere with big ideas. “In our effort to connect the whole world with Internet.org, we’ve been working on ways to beam internet to people from the sky,” Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg wrote on his FB blog, “(with) drones, satellites … and lasers to deliver the internet to everyone.” The man who was born just twenty years before the world’s largest social networking site and whose prodigy has 1.15 billion users living their lives online, is leading the “Internet.org Initiative” against Google’s “Project Loon,” a balloon-based competitive attempt to finish spinning the world wide web. But, just like Nintendo used to wait to see what Sega was doing so they could release a superior console, the tortoise might win the race.

Facebook recently purchased New Mexico’s Titan Aerospace for a breezy sixty million American dollars, and prior to that sent a friend request and twenty mil to Somerset’s Ascenta to connect with some of the UK’s finest minds on the matter. The social networking superstar’s ambition to connect the billions of people who currently have no access to the web so far puts the win on Facebook’s wall.

Currently the internet’s information flows through fiber optic cables and satellite beams, but everybody’s BFF FB is locking on to the current fascination with Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, or, as they’re commonly called, drones, to take status updates to the skies. “Our team is actively working on building our first aircraft now,” Zuckerberg said in a published paper entitled Connecting the World from the Sky. “Key members from Ascenta, whose founders created early versions of Zephyr (the world’s longest flying solar-powered unmanned aircraft) will be joining our Connectivity Lab to work on these aircraft.” Zuckerberg expects to have a prototype to post “in the near future.”

But right now appears to be a great time to fly. Recently a major advance in drone usefulness has made UAV’s a viable option for delivering photos, music and video to Earth’s deepest cave, darkest forest and hottest Savannah. Titan’s Solara 50 and 60 models can be launched at night on power from internal battery packs, then, when day fills them with solar energy, the Solaras can store enough to ascend to 20KM above sea level, where they can fly five years without landing nor pulling into a Sky Station for a coffee and magazine. The benefits of solar power pile from there. Assuming North Korea keeps its head, we shouldn’t be having any nuclear wars in the next few years, so solar power will not only remain a renewable resource, but sun-powered drones prove superior to their battery-driven ancestors by not having to carry fuel nor recharging equipment, and with no pilot, the plane isn’t trying to lug the extra Doritos and Coke bottles solo fliers might comfort themselves with in lonely skies.

Shine some rays over on Google’s approach, a strange mix of forward-thinking and old-fashioned application. Their Project Loon is launching high-altitude balloons over New Zealand to create an internet signal ring around the southern hemisphere’s 40th parallel. South Dakota-based Raven Aerostar has crafted the solar powered balloons for Project Loon, and, although featuring panels powered by the sun, the balloons don’t yet boast the impressive flight times of Titan’s Solaras. Raven Aerostar’s best time in the sky carrying “a large scientific payload” is 55 days, 1 hour and 35 minutes. That’s about 4 years, 310 days less time spent in the sky than a Solara; not high enough to catch Facebook but it might be enough to get to the land of Oz. Raven’s balloons look made of clear plastic and are officially listed as being “pumpkin-shaped”. Now what design – plastic pumpkin balloons or sleek composites combining elements like Tritanium and Kevlar – will better survive the careening of a drunk vulture or the talons of an eagle who can’t get good GPS?

Between robots and balloons…Facebook gets the Like, at least until Twitter finds a way to take everything and reduce it to a single superior update.

Sun to Earth Resuscitation

Saving the Planet and People through Solar Powered Jet Skis

By Mike Hasler

Long an icon of cool for not only traditional water enthusiasts but also gun-toting comic book anti-heroes, the Jet Ski once packaged high speed on the seas with head-turning performance. Although conceived and marketed many tides ago, it wasn’t until the early ‘90’s that Jet Skis – in tandem with Roller Blades – not only emancipated our land and sea travel restrictions but allowed David Hasselhoff all kinds of opportunity to resuscitate good-looking women. But gas-powered Jet Skis were loud – Balls to Mary they were noisy – and the nautical novelty followed the way of all Old World vehicles by dumping its gasoline exhaust into once-clean waters.

But that is on the wave of change. Originally designed for use under the sun, British Inventor Ross Kemp is fleshing out jet ski prototypes powered by the sun. The “ASAP” (which, in a course plotting twist, stands for exactly what you think it does) is a solar-powered personal watercraft with marine rescue for a mandate. Kemp has designed and redesigned the watercraft for the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, a charity rescuing lives at sea around UK coasts. Fearing Intellectual Property theft by the competition, the ASAP’s specs are still top secret and will be until the production model slides off the boat trailer, but the latest design brags a slick top layer (for a prototype, the machine is surprisingly stylish) and a sea foam Green concept: instead of a combustion engine, the smart hybrid of surfboard, water ski, and catamaran runs on an electric motor, which means the craft gets it legs from the source of a sun worshiper’s delight. The yellow orb of English legend increasingly powering cars, concept boats, and unmanned aerial vehicles is now offering its power to seaborne recreationists, but will the sun-powered ASAP be an instant market replacement for its gas-powered summer cousins, or is Kemp just dipping a hot toe into a cold ocean?

If you’re a gasoline junkie coming clean to solar power, you may be afraid to ask the simple question, “Can photovoltaic paneling really absorb solar radiation, convert it into direct current electricity, employ an inverter to convert that DC to AC for distribution throughout a device and continue to do so on a cloudy day?” Duh. Two words. Batteries. Blue skies provide the power, internal batteries store that juice for withdraw on days when water plans are covered in cloud.

Due to the need for production secrecy, Ross Kemp can’t publish the intended means of energy storage for the ASAP, but the current technology for collecting solar power in photovoltaic cells (which continue to decrease in size from the monoliths you may have seen in the 80’s) combined with the steadily declining cost of equipping things with PV panels and the Green generation’s quest for cleaner mechanical operation will mean the ASAP won’t cost a mint upon its market breakout, unlike other products to hit the mainstream in the 1990’s. (I’m looking at you, Laser Disc). In fact, the first black ink being typed on tickets states the craft will launch at a third of a traditional Jet Ski’s price tag.

Thrill seekers probably care less about gasoline consumption and How it Works than they do The Race, so this potential replacement for petrol-powered water fun begs the Big Question: is it fast? Well, no, unless you consider 15 miles an hour to be breakneck speed the way old ladies once considered the steam engine dangerous for that same unholy velocity. The ASAP won’t outrun any bored Great Whites, but it will get lifeguards to a desperate hand faster than their own two arms (and victims will be saved from gulping the tail stream old school ‘skis jet out). Plus it’s a prototype, so you know ASAP 2.0 (due yesterday, Ross) will focus on getting successive models up to competition speed right quick.

The ASAP’s design has won Ross Kemp an award for Best Start-up Business in the UK and attracted the investment attention of men like Sir Richard Branson. But before you can say Virgin territory, Kemp wants to see the craft used altruistically, and has added another item to the checklist of inventions inspired by necessity. “While doing my (lifeguard) training,” Kemp says, “I found it incredibly hard to tow a body in the water.” Rather than lift more weights and text Michael Phelps for stroke tips, Kemp, “…saw an opportunity to design something from scratch.” Don’t give up on your dreams, kids.

And don’t you give up on other people’s dreams, Kawasaki. While universally referred to as a Jet Ski, it’s interesting to note that title is actually the brand name of Kawasaki’s Personal Watercraft, (as Jet Skis are officially categorized) but like the words Escalator, Zipper, and Kleenex, people will generally recognize the brand name in discussion before they’ll recognize Moving Staircase, Slide Fastener, and Facial Tissue. The Japanese company coined the Russian-sounding name after they stole the craft’s concept from Arizona’s Clayton Jacobson II (of whom, it could be argued, stole his name from his dad. Karma!). Jacobson was the man to mold Ben Franklin’s original idea into reality, and vacationers seeking iced tea and a little CeeLo Green have paid for it since.

In sixty degrees of separation, Kawasaki also makes a Ninja, and it is to that ancient hero and modern source of humor that Ross Kemp’s ASAP takes its Quiet cue from. Reports have the completely electric-powered ASAP maneuvering a body of water without almost no sound, and what little aural action is caused by the spinning of its encased propeller and the natural lapping of its wake will probably disturb water creatures more than weekenders. Normal operation noise definitely won’t get the ASAP banned from any national parks (unlike legal action taken against many of its gas-fueled ancestors) unless those parks have a law against innovation. Added to everybody’s vacation highlight of jet-skiing-done-quietly is that the solar-powered wave rider emits nothing but efficiency:

  • no exhaust fumes
  • no oil slick
  • no coins at a floating gas pump.

If you still think solar power can’t work on a cloudy day, and you think other things, like, even at fifteen miles an hour there’s a good chance of jet skiing off the edge of our flat planet, fear nothing! You can either reschedule your vacation or send a request to Ross Kemp to install a charger A.S.A.P. Then, while you wait out the rain and await Ross’ automatic reply, you can rediscover the joys of other aquatic vehicles built for recreation and later re-purposed as lifeguard aids, such as the surfboard (historically used as a rescue paddleboard) or those rigid orange cylinders that did nothing but slow Pamela Anderson down. Just don’t eat before you enter the water, or The Hoff may come running, and nobody wants that anymore.

Hot on the Tail of a Flying Cat

By Mike Hasler

“Why do you need to go to California?” my editor asked coldly, too busy to crane his neck my way so that our eyes could meet. His coffee and laptop got more face time than his least-favorite reporter, but this story was going to blow that old notion out of the office and into my new corner one.

“To interview a…” It sounded good in my head, but out loud? I swallowed, my throat narrow. Life was lived in the moment. This moment was one of danger. Danger called for courage. The ability to summon courage made me something of a patriot. It was my duty to declare that I wanted to interview…

“…a Puma, sir.”

Boss lowered his cup slow, giving cold eyes time to pierce the personal force field I’d invented after my last travel request. “Only if this cat can fly.”

How did he know? Didn’t matter. He thought his clever retort killed my story and my travel plans. He had no idea that when I got promoted to Editor-in-Chief and wrote him directions for the social assistance office the old boy would land on his feet, finding success as a sidewalk psychic. “Slip me the travel money, sir. This cat does just that.”

I made us some celebratory coffee, grinding the beans by hand. Boss was going to do okay. I was going to California to interview a cat.

They had to borrow energy to do it, but the Golden State gave the world good things: Apple, singing raisins, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Cher. They even flirted with putting an actor in political office and wisely chose a guy who had experience fighting unmanned machines for the fate of the free world. Now, the boys on the beach were putting cats in the air.

I donned my wingsuit and flew to Aerovironment, a technology solutions provider headquartered in Monrovia. With the industry’s affinity for naming these mechanical beasts after vicious animals, my interest was kindled to see what kind of claws Aerovironment’s “Puma” brandished.

Right from the landing I got that ‘you’re not wanted’ vibe. It wasn’t anyone at Aerovironment’s fault. I had been an ugly child and we had gotten the reconstructive surgery on sale. The dyed-blonde receptionist told me the Puma would be available some time this year, so I took a seat in the waiting room to review my notes.

Their brochure knew a lot more, and I learned the Puma AE (Puma was an acronym for Pointer Upgraded Mission Ability, AE for All Environment) had been designed for land and sea operations, and it could take off or touch down on either surface. Since 2008, the Unmanned Aerial System had been making a name for itself with America’s Special Operation Command where it proved effective in scouting ambushes, detecting roadside bombs and warning of weather conditions not conducive to home team victory. What brought me down here though was a rumor they had found a way to greatly increase flight time. How? I asked that too. I was here to pull the curtain back on this scientific marvel and discover the wizard behind the wonder.

Something itched my brain. Despite improved sky endurance, the new time still fell short of…. I flipped to the research points I had made last week while visiting Silent Falcon UAS Technologies in Colorado. Boss let me do a piece on their “Silent Falcon” drone (and its cool weaponized variant, the “Snipe”). My notes reminded me the Silent Falcon could fly fourteen hours on… solar power. I’m no cardiologist, but that seemed like more time in the sky than the improved Puma was getting. Was this solar power responsible? And if so, what other secrets was Outer Space keeping from us?

An intern too slight to fill his dress shirt opened the door leading to the main hangar. I looked past him to the welding, clanging, banging, expecting CEO Tim Conver or maybe even legendary founder Paul MacCready to emerge from the shower of sparks. Nope. This guy. I shook his soft hand and read the sticker that said, “Hi My Name is: John Smith.” Really? John Smith? Husband of Pocahontas? Did this kid even work here, or had he escaped his school field trip to play a prank on a poor reporter just trying to write The Big One? John kept glancing over his shoulder, eager to end my intrusion so he could get back to Facebook. I couldn’t blame him. Most people acted that way when they met me.

I followed the young man into the hangar, past Aerovironment UAS family members Raven, Wasp, and Shrike. There was an awkward pause as I hung around the three drones hoping to meet Wolverine, Cyclops and Beast. They didn’t show. X that off the bucket list. Stepping over the battery-powered Puma AE, I stopped dead. Spread before me was the big prize, the showstopper, the state of the union, the solar Puma. I stroked its thirteen pound re-enforced fuselage and let fingers trail over the nine foot wingspan before sitting cross-legged on the concrete for my once-in-a-lifetime chance under this employer to ask a cat some questions.

I cleared my throat. “Thanks for seeing me, cat. How do you do that, by the way?”

For some reason, the young man who had ushered me in talked before the Puma could answer, an annoying interjection he would continue throughout our time together. “The Puma’s equipped with a GP HD EO IRC + 860 nanometer laser illuminator.”

“I see. And does that come in English?”

“Do you?”

I squinted, as if that would help deduce his logic. We weren’t clicking yet, unlike the three sizes of wing you could snap onto competitor Silent Falcon. Head ducking either side, I studied the solar Puma for similar clips, but the wings seemed to only come in the one length. “For our readers,” I coughed, “who don’t work here, could you stretch those letters out?”

“The Puma’s equipped with gimbaled payload, high resolution electro-optical infrared camera and this little light that lets it see in the dark.” He reached to the Puma’s underbelly to give the cat’s payload a scratch. When he stood, it seemed like he wanted to make a break for it.

“Am I wasting your time?” I asked the young executive who looked like he should be presenting these facts to his eleventh grade science class instead of touring professional writers around an established Technology company.

“Yes.”

“Allow me to continue.” I knocked on Solar Puma’s casing.
“What’s she made of?”

“The Puma is a battle-proven unmanned aerial system dedicated to intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, with military and civilian application. Aerovironment has delivered thousands of new and replacement UAS to branches of the armed forces, customers within the United States, and to more than twenty international governments.”

“I feel like I could have read that in the brochure.”

“We prefer the human touch here, sir,” said the man telling me about a robot plane. That’s why our motto is ‘AV: Human Power™.’ He jiggled as he drew me the little TM in the air.

“But I meant what is she made of? Looks like plastic.”

“Oh, the Puma’s a lightweight mixture of composite materials. The two-blade propeller there is probably Kevlar and epoxy.”

I stood, if just to get a little closer to this man’s strange brain. “Probably?”

“Well, it’s not papiér mâché.”

“Shouldn’t you know what the thing you’re explaining is made of?”

“I’m testing you.”

Indeed.

“Do you know everything there is to know about your field?” the kid asked.

“Well…”

“I do, but there’s always room for psycho spirituality, don’t you think? We’re all composites, if you get deep about it. Who knows what really makes us up? Could be a writer. From Space.” He leaned in, flashed brown eyes. “A Ghost Writer.”

This interview was off to a weird start, but nothing a little alcohol couldn’t straighten. I was still waiting for my aide to offer me a beverage, so I dropped a not-so-subtle hint in the general direction of the plane-shaped Puma. “What are you drinking, big cat?”

Again the kid cut him off. “The solar Puma runs on a hybrid system of battery and solar power, with the solar component provided by Alta Devices in Sunnyvale, California.”

“It doesn’t come from the sun?”

“Uh…the energy does. The PV strip —” He bowed, extended his hand. “I’m sorry, to you that’s Photovoltaic paneling—is the means by which we collect sunlight and convert it to electricity. The name is derived from the Greek phos meaning ‘light,’ and from ‘volt,’ meaning the unit of electro-motive force, so named for the Italian physicist Alessandro Volta, inventor of the electro-chemical cell.”

I didn’t know that. I didn’t tell him. My face must have.

He lowered his chin but not his glare. “The battery. With Alta’s help, Aerovironment has shattered the time a UAS can stay aloft. The Puma AE’s longest flight was 3.5 hours.” My guide stamped his foot proudly, stood taller at attention, almost saluted. “Solar Puma’s been up there nine hours eleven minutes.”

I looked at the ceiling. No it wasn’t. Used the glance to grab a comeback. “FAA hasn’t decided how to regulate drone usage yet, so what good is that stat?”

“What’s FAA?”

Don’t jump in the stove, Junior. You can’t handle the kitchen.

“Oh!” he caught up, snapping fingers to dramatically emphasize his accomplishment. “Federal Aviation Administration. Clever, but this will sink your ship; Aerovironment recently received a ‘Restricted Category’ rating for the Puma AE. It’s a first-of-its-kind certificate, permits operators to fly her for commercial missions.”

“Where?”

He seemed to swallow harder than necessary. “Uh…so far, just the… Arctic.”

“You fight a lot of battles in the Arctic? A lot of snow battles?”

“People live there…”

“Only when their planes crash.”

My guide adjusted his tie, not that it had moved. “Alta manufactures the thinnest and most efficient solar cells in the world. Have you heard of Gallium Arsenide?”

“No. Is that your poison?” I winked. “Mine’s those chocolate-covered cheezies, the ones you get —”

“You might want to employ the microelectronics in your mobile device to semi conduct some research prior to future plant visits, sir.”

“You might want to shut up.” Oops. The filter.

John Smith flinched, clenched a fist, but then glanced at a passing co-worker and popped back into business mode. “Alta’s proprietary solar technology greatly extends the battery life of any application, and the additional weight is negligible. Alta has a couple of world records for their single and dual junction solar cell, no big deal. Their thin, mobile power technology is applied to a flexible substrate -”

“What’s proprietary mean?”

“They own it.”

“So they won’t tell. What’s a substrate?”

“Google it.”

“I am. I mean, I would, if you had Internet here.”

“Where? America?” Without using his phone, the Cub Scout recited, “Substrate is a ‘substance or layer on which a process occurs or which underlies a thing’. He waved his hand over the Puma, like Vanna White might. “In the case of Unmanned Aerial Systems, the PV strip is applied to the top of the wing, which, by the way, has curved edges, for increased aerodynamics.”

Guy’s answer was so long I forgot what I asked him. I wanted a new tour guide. I stared the kid down (not easy to do when you’re shorter than your opponent) then I hit him with my own version of the Switchblade tactical missile system hanging on display behind him. “So, the Snipe has weapons. This thing weapons-ready?” I asked, cocking my chin toward it to look tough but trying to dissolve the situation before I went nuclear.

“Are you?”

Puzzlement. Was this guy advocating pistols-at-dawn? I couldn’t take this kid anymore, and swiveled with a pointed finger.
“Look, Junior…if I wanted to talk to you, I’d look at your face. I’m here to hear from the cat.”

My Guide Dawg puffed his lips gang member-style and hoisted finger guns. “You wanna bring the shizzle?”

I wasn’t hungry. I pulled at my collar to vent the heat, shocked at the disrespect of kids today. Although, for a black man, his white was convincing. A guest pass gave me much, but it probably wouldn’t clear me to—

“Hey Boss, you got a message from Mark at the Facebook,” a man younger than the one I was about to fight shouted from the office. “They might want to buy us. Some kind of global domination scheme…”

“I’ll be right there.” He turned back to me. “You got everything you need?”

I hadn’t heard a big cat speak, but I had indeed seen the future. Couldn’t let this guy know that, though. I put my sunglasses on, looked to either side slowly, for effect, scanning the hangar like this state’s former Governator would. “No. I might be back.”

Back in The City, Boss was unusually invested in my story; as I related the harrowing adventure he actually looked at me. “And then it flashed its claws,” I said, “and there were some girl workers who needed protection, so… I did what any responsible reporter would do in the face of a big story. I hauled out of there.”

“You carried civilians out? Workers got hurt?”

“No, I mean I ran.”

“Into the thick of it, to get up close and personal with the action?”

“No, to get to safety.”

“Get who to safety?”

“Me!”

The bubbling respect popped. “You were afraid of a robot cat plane? We got you that special pass and everything. What a waste.”

“No sir,” I said, striding to the window to look out over our once-safe city. Iterations of the Puma would soon fill these skies, watching people, writing tickets, taking long-distance drink orders and launching missiles at jaywalkers. “I’ve seen the future. It’s here. And it’s powered by the oldest thing on earth.”

“The sun?”

“No, Boss. Human Power™.” I walked back to his desk. “Now if only we could get a machine to make us coffee,” I said, crushing another bean under a sore fist.

“Yeah. Speaking of humans, Aerovironment sent a Thank You note this morning.”

I smiled. “For showing the world their awesome ideas and innovation.” It wasn’t a question.

“That, and for exposing a mole in their operation. Apparently two high school kids escaped the job fair down the road and were pretending to work there?”