I wrote a story inspired by Murmurations:
“Dad, look up!” I had just gotten my son, Billy, from his school in the East Village. My gaze was on the ground, hopping over slushy puddles, but there was a whine in the sky like a billion angry hornets. Billy stopped and pointed up. Ten thousand black specks made a haze above us, making the sky look like static, until they converged in a moving black cloud.
“Whoa!” Billy said. Other parents and their kids stopped in their tracks on the snowy sidewalks. One nearby mom took out her phone and started recording the swarm. “Look, Lilly, it’s a murmuration,” she said to her daughter, who stood in a pink coat and green boots and stared in delight at the spectacle.
“Murmuration?” I asked her.
“Yes, a flock of Starlings. I saw them where I grew up in England. They briefly take over the sky. I didn’t know you had them in Manhattan,” she said. “Me neither.”
The swarm folded over itself in a twisting shape, like a double helix and then flew apart, atomized across the sky. It reassembled in a long column and flew down closer to the street. That’s when the high pitched whine grew louder. They came closer and closer.
“They’re helicopters,” Billy said. He was right. These weren’t starlings, they were quadcopters, and the whine was becoming a roar. Traffic was stopped and people got out of their cars to record the scene, all holding their phones up as if they were making an offering to the Gods.
“It’s a flashmob in the sky. An art project,” another mom shouted over the din. She had two delighted boys in tow and her phone up in front of her. The column rolled and twisted, converging in and over itself like a fluid. Then it spread out and descended into the streets. One broke off and went down behind some building. There was a loud boom.
“What was that?” Billy asked. A river of copters flew just overhead. Another copter broke from the stream and shot straight down. It hit a cab driver a block away and exploded. I covered Billy’s eyes and pulled him back. There was a scream. Then another explosion very close and sent cubes of broken windshield raining down on us.
Some people stood still in the street, some kept recording with their cameras, others just stared. The children were crying. The copters were everywhere, ducking and weaving, picking targets and then breaking from the swarm to attack. “Making a bee line,” I thought. “So that’s what that means.”
A copter on 12th Street and Avenue C locked onto us. It shot down Avenue C, straight for us. A column of smoke rose in front of us when one of the drones hit a guy on a Citibike. I shoved Billy under a parked UPS truck and dove after him. The icy slush seeped into my clothes, instantly starting a shiver. The drone shot through the smoke and into the English woman and her daughter. I covered my head and held Billy under the truck. The explosions went on for a while, until all the copters had either found a target or ran out of battery and exploded where they landed. That was the first time it happened, back when people didn’t know to hide when they hear the whine of a drone. Back when people didn’t know better than to hide when they see something beautiful that they don’t understand.