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art by M.S. Corley

The Frenchman's Jihad

JT Howard is a former Marine counterintelligence specialist. He currently lives in Seattle where he is completing his final year at the University of Washington and authoring stories for the Institute for Soldier Healingís Visions of the Future Project. This is JTís first published fiction. More information and entertainment can be found at therealjthoward.com.

Jean Muhammad Rishawi's legs were still tingling from the vibrations of the turbofans when he stepped off the transport. The titan rotors whined as they slowly skipped to a halt, the displaced air kicking up a cloud of dust that made Jean Muhammad glad his armored suit was sealed from the outside environment.
"Hey, rookie," the lieutenant grunted. "You're on point."
"Roger that, sir." Jean Muhammad thumbed his carbine, cracking the chamber open to see the glint of brass in the waning afternoon sun.
The four men walked cautiously towards the farmhouse, measured steps on the barren yard. The place looked deserted. The aluminum door of an outbuilding banged closed and bounced open again in the wind kicked up by the transport. Jean Muhammad had grown up on a farm like this, knew the interior of the outbuildings would smell like greased electric tractors, and he thanked Allah everyday that he had gotten a job with HRSD after his stint in the Marines. He would never be able to go back to the farm and look at the spot where his father had been gunned down by thugs demanding payment for contraband crop seeds.
The front door of the farmhouse swung open. "Movement, sir." Jean Muhammad raised his rifle as he spoke through his helmet's built-in exaphone.
The man held his hands up shoulder high as he stepped away from the door and down the creaking wooden stairs. "You IP men?" The lieutenant must have nodded. "All our seeds are HRSD-approved," he said in a shaky voice.
"There anyone else in the house?" the lieutenant asked.
The man just stared past Jean Muhammad, his dark eyes blinking in the still-swirling grit. He finally shook his head. "Nah. Just me."
"Rishawi. Go check the outbuildings." The lieutenant's voice was flat.
Jean Muhammad's heads-up display (HUD) overlaid a map of the farm. The building housing the illicit seed blinked a soft red. He slung his rifle and used both hands to pull the massive, creaking door open a few feet. "Here we go," he muttered to himself before raising his rifle and ducking into the building. The lights on his helmet and rifle turned themselves on in the darkness and beamed across motes of dust.
The HUD chirped three times as it began outlining human-shaped objects in the room. Jean Muhammad swung his rifle around and bathed nearly twenty little faces and two women in harsh, blue-white light. None of them moved, but Jean Muhammad saw little hands clutching other little hands in tight grips, and the women trembling like winter branches.
"The man?"
The older of the two women moved half a step forward. "He's our husband."
"The kids?"
"Orphans," the younger woman said. "We need this seed." Her eyes pleaded silently and unblinking in the severe beams of light.
Jean Muhammad could see the biopolymer crates, a long, low stack that stretched into the darkness at the back of the shed. All of them were marked HRSD in stylized block letters. "This is Conglomerate property, ma'am." He paused, looked at the flushed faces of the children. "These kids should be in a government home."
"A government home?" the older woman hissed.
The exaphone beeped; Jean Muhammad held up his off-weapon hand to quiet the woman. She kept talking as the lieutenant transmitted. She was louder. "You want these children in a government home?"
"Shut up," he told her, pronouncing each word sharply. "Say again, sir."
"I said, 'What's the deal,' Rishawi?"
"Twenty juves and two women, sir." He played his helmet lights across the crates of seeds. "And it looks a hundred bushels of seed. All corn."
"Good job. Bring them all out. Higher wants this place sanitized."
"And the seeds, sir?"
Jean Muhammad heard a sigh over the exaphone. "I said sanitized, Rishawi. The whole place."
He was about to request clarification when he heard two rifle shots in quick succession. His HUD registered them as "friendly." He started to realize what "sanitized" meant.
"Bring the children," he told the women. The children had started to make some noise, brief fits of high-pitched sound. "That way," he pointed to where the lieutenant and other two IP men stood near the body of the farmer.
"Oh God," the older woman moaned when she saw her husband.
The younger woman started herding the children towards the lieutenant, her back straight.
Swallowing down a knot in his dry throat, Jean Muhammad started toward his three comrades. He carefully judged the distance between each man. He had taken this job for the pay, yes, but also to stop the thuggery that sprang up around black market seeds. He would not become a thug himself, the same kind of man that killed his father a decade ago. His mind was spinning at the thought of "sanitizing" the farm.
"Allah's will," Jean Muhammad whispered to himself.
The lieutenant's rifle was still slung. "Line them up--"
Two cracks from Jean Muhammad's carbine and the two other IP men went down, carefully placed shots tearing through the unprotected expanse of their necks. The lieutenant hesitated only a second before he started to unsling his rifle. That second was too much. Jean Muhammad batted the man's muzzle aside with his own carbine and put two shots up through the lieutenant's jaw.
The two women began shooing the kids toward another outbuilding--one large enough to house a grain transport. The younger one held back for a moment. "Thank you," she said before turning away.
Jean Muhammad's exaphone beeped a long trill. Higher. "Rishawi. What happened? The other three men on your team just flat-lined."
"Yes." Jean Muhammad replied. "I flat-lined them."
There was a pause. Then, "I see." His suit began powering down, servo-enhanced joints freezing, locking him into place as sure as if he were encased in cement. "We'll be there to get you soon."
Jean Muhammad closed his eyes, felt the bunched muscles in his thighs and shoulders loosen in his suit. "Yes," he said, feeling the corner of his mouth curl upward. "But I'm the only one you'll get."
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, June 27th, 2013

Author Comments

The internal struggle is the greatest of struggles. In Jean Muhammad's case, there were only a few moments to come to terms with that conflict.

- JT Howard
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