art by M.S. Corley
The Frenchman's Jihad
by JT Howard
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 older of the two women moved half a step forward. "He's our husband."
"Orphans," the younger woman said. "We need this seed." Her eyes pleaded silently and unblinking in the severe beams of light.