Tech by VICE

Reunion

A near-future fairy tale about a long journey, a drone, and a family border separation.

by Shannon Chamberlain
Jul 5 2019, 5:02pm

Glenn Harvey

As you nurse your 4th of July hangover—either literal or figurative—here's a timely speculation about borders and technology to put all that patriotism in perspective. The less said about this dark, surprising, yet not unhopeful tale, the better, so I'll leave it there. Enjoy. -the ed


Once there was a girl who walked and walked and then walked a little farther. She held the right hand of her papa and the left hand of her mami and first they walked through places she knew, through the neighbors’ yards and underneath the towels and clothes that whipped and danced on the lines, which Mami said were like clouds, only the girl didn’t think so. Clouds were higher up and you could only see them during the day, when the sun beat down and the buzzy insects buzzed and the flying ones slept in the shadows under the arches of the house where she lived.

But it was night now and they took off their shoes and ran between the buildings, like the game where the floors were made of lava. Then Papa carried her and she slept, too, and when she woke up, she wasn’t in the city anymore with its popping sounds and roaring engines and the men that Mami said were like wolves and dogs who could walk on two legs. Now she was in the red rocks and the spike forest and Papa said she had to be careful of the black bugs who could sting her whenever she walked. Just like that! he said, and he made his hands into the snappy black bug and the girl laughed. But then she was hungry and Mami and Papa said to pretend that the water was a birthday cake, and the girl tried very hard, closing her eyes and imagining the cake: sweet and rich and soaked with milk, and the secret plantains underneath. But she was so hot, and so hungry, and she couldn’t pretend like they wanted her to. The dark spots swam in front of her eyes and her tongue stuck to the roof of her mouth.

Sometimes they got to ride in the back of a truck for a little bit and Mami would hold the girl in her lap and whisper about a new place, where there was food and all of the water you could drink and you could go out and play in the yard and no wolves or dogs would come to eat up little girls or hit them with their big black sticks. But the girl didn’t believe her: not really. She had already learned the difference between real and make believe.

#

--EMERGENCY BULLETIN--
Subject: Aerial Transport Services B8901456 Drone (Make/Model: “Family Reunion”)
Error type: 56-A-145
Origin: 31.965370, -106.347280 (“Railroad Park North”, El Paso, Texas)
Current location: [UNDEFINED]
ALL SYSTEMS BULLETIN
Status: Unresolved

ALL FEDERAL AND STATE AGENTS SHOULD BE ON THE ALERT FOR AN ATS B8901456 LAST SEEN WEST OF EL PASO, HEADING SOUTH DUE SOUTHWEST. MINOR INSIDE. APPROACH WITH CAUTION. SOURCE OF MALFUNCTION UNKNOWN.

#

There is the castle tower, said Mami, and the girl gave her a sigh full of everything. It was true that the girl had never seen a castle except in a book that her Grandmami gave her, and she wished she had it now so that she could show Mami that it was different. This tower was dark and black and there was no castle behind it or the wall of stripes: just more red rocks, the same red rocks, and the same spiky forest. Same, same, same. The girl’s hair itched and her feet had red polka dots but she was too tired now to tell Mami or Papa and then she fell asleep again.

When she woke up, Mami and Papa were gone. All of the other children were crying, so she cried, too, and scratched her head and cried a bit more because she thought that maybe if she had believed Mami about the castle, Mami wouldn’t have gone away.

#

Incident Report
Subject: Aerial Transport Services B8901456 Drone (Make/Model: “Family Reunion”)
Error type: 56-A-145
Origin: 31.965370, -106.347280 (“Railroad Park North”, El Paso, Texas)
Current location: [UNDEFINED]
ALL SYSTEMS BULLETIN
Status: Unresolved
Agent assigned: Cristina J. Hendrix, F.B.I.

ALL UNITS ARE ADVISED THAT MINOR CHILD REBECKA CALLAGHAN IS STILL MISSING AND BELIEVED TO BE ALOFT. CALLAGHAN BOARDED ATS B8901456 YESTERDAY MORNING, 4/21/22 AT 0746. ALMOST HALFWAY TO DESTINATION ATS B8901456 OVERRODE PROGRAMMING AND REVERSED DIRECTION, DISABLING GPS LOCATOR. MINOR CHILD’S TAMPERING NOT SUSPECTED DUE TO AGE AND LANGUAGE. UNIT LAST SEEN HEADING FOR SOUTHERN BORDER. MINOR IS 7 YEARS OF AGE, APPROXIMATELY 40 INCHES TALL, 35 POUNDS, BLACK HAIR AND BROWN EYES. LAST SEEN WEARING A PINK SKIRT AND WHITE SHIRT.

#

They tell her she will have a new mami now, and she knows that this is make believe, too. They bring her to the fake mami and fake papa but this time maybe it does look a little like the castle in the movie that she saw with the other children when Mami and Papa went away, the one with the princess who fell asleep. It has a big staircase that goes up up up forever. Fake Mami tells her that she is not to climb it, and she puts up a gate in front of it. This place is nothing but gates. Gates and doors. And there is a dungeon here, too, just like the movie. It is full of long, warm coats. Fake Mami tells her that she must only speak anglo now and when she doesn’t know the word for something and she speaks her real language, Fake Mami puts her in the dungeon and tells her not to be dirty. She puts her face inside the coats and pretends that they are Mami’s skirts: bright and soft and smelling of spices and heat and the dried peppers that they hung in the doorways at Christmas.

Some things are the same, and some are different. Her polka dot feet have gone away. She has so many clothes now but Fake Mami and Fake Papa (who tells her she must call him “Daddy”) say to her that if she gets them dirty or wet, she will go in the dungeon again. She has to make believe that she has a new name, which she does because she is learning that sometimes make believe is fun. On Sundays they go to a place that they say is a church, but that is make believe, too: there are no painted statues, no altares, no priest, no friendly santos at all to smile at her. There is just a man in a suit who shouts at them. There is music, though, and that is her favorite part, even if she doesn’t understand the words. She sways back and forth and mouths words of her own invention in her real language and when Fake Mami looks over, she pretends that she is singing along with the others.

#

Incident Report
Subject: Aerial Transport Services B8901456 Drone (Make/Model: “Family Reunion”)
Error type: 56-A-145
Origin: Origin: 31.965370, -106.347280 (“Railroad Park North”, El Paso, Texas)
Current location: [UNDEFINED]
ALL SYSTEMS BULLETIN
Status: Unresolved
Agent assigned (NOTE CHANGE): Richard Sanderson, U.S.C.B.P.

MINOR CHILD REBECKAH CALLAGHAN STILL MISSING AND BELIEVED ALOFT. VISUAL REPORTS OF ATS B8901456 MADE NEAR I-10 INTERCHANGE. B8901456 BRIEFLY PINGED SATELLITE AT SOUTHERN BORDER. ATS B8901456 BELIEVED TO HAVE CROSSED INTO MEXICAN AIRSPACE. U.S.C.B.P. AND STATE DEPARTMENT ARE COORDINATING WITH MEXICAN GOVERNMENT FOR RETURN OF DRONE AND MINOR CHILD.

#

She is tired of playing dungeon. Fake Mami is tired of it, too, the girl can tell. Fake Mami used to teach her at the castle but she was not quick enough so now she must go to school, Fake Mami says. School is far far away, Fake Mami says, and Fake Mami doesn’t have the time to take her there. Fake Papa sighs and says they will get a flying machine even though it is too much. She thinks at first that this is more make believe but then it is here and Fake Papa shows her how it works. She climbs inside and it is warm and safe. When they close the door she is afraid: is it like the trucks that made her mouth sticky and smelled like the spot in the yard where the dogs pooped? But it is not. It is warm and soft inside, and when she cries, the flying machine sings her a song and tells her to drink her juice. And best of all, she is flying. At first she can see Fake Mami and Fake Papa through the window but then they are falling and she is looking at trees from the top and she didn’t even know that trees had tops! She hates the school but for a while every day she is real-life flying!

That was when she started to talk to the flying machine and tell it about real Mami and real Papa. She tells it her true name, not the Rebeckah name, and the flying machine says that they have the same name. And she laughs and laughs.

When the trip is over the doors open with a swish swish and the flying machine says, “Your journey is complete.” That is the worst time of the day but soon she knows she will fly again.

#

El Paso Times
June 4, 2022

No Reunion in Case of Missing Child Last Seen Aboard School Transit Drone

RAILROAD PARK NORTH, TX—

Rebeckah Callaghan, 7, is still missing after her school transit drone reversed course and disabled its GPS systems in April.

The disappearance has raised concerns over the latest trend in school drop-offs and pick-ups: transport by drone service.

Local firm Aerial Transport Services (ATS), manufacturer of the “Reunion” model of school transit drone, is one of the area’s most profitable new companies, as more families retreat from what they say is an increasingly crowded and unsafe urban center. Many families have come to rely upon the drones for personal transport as well as transport of goods. Callaghan’s school, Dunes Christian Academy, was one of the first to partner with ATS to transport students from the suburbs and exurbs near El Paso, where most of their parishioners live, to the city center. Until Callaghan’s disappearance, the program had operated seamlessly for over a year.

The school has suspended the partnership with ATS pending further investigation of what went wrong with “Reunion” drone transport flight. The U.S. Customs and Border Control refused to comment for this article, but the F.B.I.—which was assigned to the case before the drone pinged a border tower before immediately shutting down its GPS module again—said that a rare instance of data sharing likely led to the malfunction.

On the morning Callaghan’s family put the child into the drone, ATS carried out a security sync. ATS drones recently introduced an extra layer of security into their operations meant to assure that children were returned to their correct origin locations. The security system was based on DNA “thumbprints.”

Normally, Rebeckah’s DNA would have been paired with the DNA signature of the Callaghans and geolocated to their house in Anderson. However, ATS had recently agreed to sync their own DNA database with the database that U.S.C.B.P. has assembled from border migrants seeking asylum. Rebeckah was adopted last year after the U.S.C.B.P. concluded that they could not locate her birth parents.

“It appears that the U.S.C.B.P. did not anticipate that with so many children no longer with their actual parents, the ATS drones might get confused,” said Cristina J. Hendrix, the FBI agent originally assigned to Callaghan’s disappearance.

ATS declined to comment for this article.

“We are of course very sorry for Rebeckah’s family,” said Dunes Christian Principal Mark Fluverson. “It was especially tragic timing because the Callaghans, who are long-time parishioners, had just been getting to know their daughter, who was an abused refugee that they took into their home.”

As for the Callaghans, they are grieving but said that they do not blame the school or ATS for Rebeckah’s disappearance. Another child, a boy they are calling Kayden, has already been placed with them and if his parents are not located within three months, the placement will become permanent.

“It’s so sad that these parents bring their children here and leave them, but we’re happy to help out,” said Forrest Callaghan, Rebeckah’s adopted father. “Maybe with time and the wonders of modern technology, Rebeckah will come home.”

#

The girl touches down lightly, and the flying machine opens its doors for her. Your journey is complete, it says, like it always does, but this time it is not make believe. She can see Mami and Papa through a window in the little pink house, and Tía Francesca, just like Mami said. They are making flautas but Mami and Papa look sad. She hesitates, digging the toe of the shoe that pinches her toes into the dirt.

“Your journey is complete,” the ATS B8901456 reassures her as they arrive. “Avanza, Reunión.”