|Publication Date||July 16, 2017|
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When not writing, J.P. can be found frying anything he can get his hands on in his deep fat fryer, shooting tons of guns and losing himself in a good book at the most inopportune times (around the dinner table, at baseball games, during heartfelt emotional conversations).
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A Justice Incorporated Short Story
Also by J.P. Medved
Other Libertarian Fiction
Under the Heel of the Aether Imperium
Imagining Liberty: Volume 1
Defiant, She Advanced
The Great Curry Contest
To Rescue General Gordon
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The kid was supposed to be with the others. He should have been hiding in the basement of the madrasa, huddling underground as a precaution against errant artillery shells and stray bullets. He was not supposed to be directly in the path of an advancing army of religious fanatics.
Eric Ikenna cursed. He patched his smart glasses into the bird’s-eye perspective of his company’s observation drone, a high altitude E7e model circling thirty thousand feet above. A quick rewind of the video footage showed exactly what had happened.
He followed the miniature figure of the boy as he peeled off, unseen, from the group of other children being shepherded to safety by an old woman with a cane. He saw as the skinny, ragged figure ducked into a doorway, waiting while a pair of peshmerga rushed past to the front lines, and then darting after them down the narrow streets. He cursed again when he saw the kid slip right past the line of defenses on the edge of town, and climb to a vantage point along the rocky hills by the side of the road.
The footage showed the outcrop below the boy give way, causing him to lose his footing and tumble down the hill in a cloud of dust and scree. Eric switched back to a real-time view, where he saw the boy lying, his leg pinned under a rock, his frail body right beside the road that, even now, Mohammad Shadid’s ‘Army of God’ was advancing along.
The miniature rock slide had thrown dust and gravel into the air, there was no way the peshmerga, watching the road intently, could have missed it. Still, Eric hoped. Maybe they didn’t realize what it was. Maybe they wouldn’t do something stupid to jeopardize the defense plan and the boy’s life. Maybe none of his customers would die today.
“Ravi,” Eric spoke quickly into his mic, “Can we move the targeting brackets back, hit ’em farther out? Keep ’em from getting too close to the kid?”
Seven thousand miles away, in the air conditioned Mississippi offices of Justice, Incorporated, company CTO Ravi Garudi replied, “Yeah, gimme a second.” His high voice betrayed a nervous excitement.
Another window opened up in Eric’s glasses display and Will Jonas, his blue eyes and square chin right out of an army recruitment poster, said, “Eric, we’ve got a problem.”
“Yeah I see him, we’re going to—”
“Not the kid. Khatun. Look at grid K11.”
Eric switched the view again, until he was looking down on the line of built-up defenses he had helped reinforce on the edge of town. From one of the fortified houses, fattened by sandbags and bristling with light machine gun barrels, he saw a group of five men picking their way forward, past the foxholes and barbed wire, toward the road and the supine figure of the boy.
“Goddammit,” Eric switched to the radio channel he and Salar Khatun, the peshmerga commander, had agreed upon, “Salar, where are your men going?”
The reply, curt and scratchy, came immediately, “To get Alaz.”
Eric muted the radio, “Shit.”
Alaz Khatun was Salar’s grandson, and the wiry, dark militia commander, eyes locked in a perpetual squint against years of harsh desert sun, doted on the boy immensely. Eric remembered he’d even let him sit in on the planning meetings, as Khatun and the American CEO went over fields of fire, approach probabilities, and fallback positions. The young boy had looked on in unconcealed awe, as much for his grandfather as for the burly, exotic American, towering in his reactive bio-ceramic body armor, eyes hidden behind the flickering light of smart glasses, clean-shaven black head glistening with sweat.
This wasn’t how things were supposed to happen.
No plan survives contact with the enemy, Eric thought wryly.
Hell, he’d be lucky if this plan survived contact with his allies.
He didn’t need to ask Will if his men were in position. The map overlay in his smart glasses showed the five blue icons of Jonas’s fireteam arrayed along the hills on the western side of town, overlooking the road.
Eric’s own team was opposite Will’s, concealed behind scrub brush and within shallow, hastily dug foxholes. Khatun’s hardened peshmerga lined the defenses along the edge of town, forming the flat of the anvil to Justice Incorporated’s two hammers. Eric was on his belly in the dirt, settled in next to Buck Severance, a former marine who insisted on calling Eric ‘sir’ despite the private sector informality of the security firm.
“Negative, Salar,” Eric spoke frantically, “Hold location, we’ll ensure the column never reaches him.”
The Kurdish commander didn’t reply, and he and his men continued moving through the defenses toward the road.
Communication with Khatun had been tense, at times. He’d viewed the security company’s operators, and Eric especially, with poorly concealed suspicion when they’d first arrived, flying in flamboyantly aboard a surplus Sikorsky tiltrotor. That the Americans had stuck around this long meant nothing to him. Justice Inc. was just one more empty Western promise until the bullets started flying.
Not that his suspicion of such promises wasn’t justified. When Mohammad Shadid’s army swept into the Fertile Crescent the previous year, bringing another particularly virulent strain of Sunni Wahhabism and leaving the torched ruins of cities and bodies in its wake, Western governments had been quick to promise aid and air strikes. They wanted to salve their consciences, but do it at a sterile distance.
Shadid’s followers had torn forward unabated, and the Kurdish Autonomous Zone’s army had been forced back, with heavy losses. Neighboring Duhok had already fallen, and now the Army of the Chosen was just a few miles outside the little town of Zawita. No one in America had even heard of it until a report by a west coast newsblog went viral. Zawita was the doorway to the Sinjar mountains, guarding the narrow pass as it had for two thousand years. And it was about to be obliterated, unless Someone Did Something.
The usual suspects, NGOs and governments, dithered while talking an awful lot about how they weren’t dithering. And Eric Ikenna, CEO of the new, and not yet profitable, Justice Incorporated, received an email from a desperate Kurdish expat. A woman born and raised in the little town, who had seen his company’s philosophy and unique business model, and who hoped he could help.
Despite a crowdfunding campaign, outside donations, and cryptocoin payments from the townspeople themselves, the economics didn’t quite work out. The costs of transportation, ammunition, fuel, and labor would put this operation solidly in the red, even if successful. But Eric hoped the recent Detroit contract could cover the shortfall. Besides, the PR and brand goodwill from a success here in Kurdistan would bring enough other contracts to make the operation pay for itself several times over. He hoped.
“Dammit! Will, see if you can talk some sense into Khatun, I’ll try and buy more time.”
The overhead view in Eric’s glasses showed the plume of dust where Shadid’s army was advancing along the road. He picked out scores of technicals, captured Humvees, several tanks, and hundreds of soldiers on foot, AK-47s slung casually over their backs. The attackers expected little resistance from any civilians who remained in the tiny town.
Ikenna spoke again into his radio, “Ravi, everything still green?”
“Super green, Eric. I got full control of the BE3s you guys set up, and the aerostats are locked and loaded. No countermeasures or dampening coming off the enemy, either.”
“Good. Drop the LE5 and patch me into its speakers.”
“Yup,” the twenty-four year old sounded like he was talking to a gaming buddy, rather than his boss.
Eric brought up the window showing the camera feed from the drone and watched as it angled tightly towards the crawling line of men and vehicles below, guided expertly by Ravi and $10,000 of off-the-shelf flight-stabilization software.
It was close enough now for Eric to pick out individual figures, faces covered with bandannas and scarves, rifles glinting darkly, black flags with Arabic lettering fluttering atop beat-up technicals. Several heads turned upward.
He engaged the speakers, his Arabic just barely up to the task, “Attention: you are entering territory owned by Justice Incorporated subscribers with apparent hostile intent. Turn back now or be fired upon.”
He was about to repeat the message when a dozen flashes flared up simultaneously from the ground, and the picture from the drone skewed violently before cutting out to black.
He breathed out, “Ok, Ravi, bracket ’em.”
Almost immediately twin explosions ripped through the column of tanks and trucks, sending up bright orange fireballs, visible even to Eric on the ground without the amplified view from the overhead drone. Four more explosions sounded in quick succession, and Eric saw thick columns of black smoke pouring skyward. The kinetic darts, dropped from aerostatic balloons hovering on the very edge of the mesosphere, were cheap. Their targeting software was not. But it was cheaper than the five M1 Abrams and T-72 tanks it had just obliterated.
As Eric watched through his smart glasses, switching to a thermal view to see through the clouds of smoke, the column became a flurry of activity. Blooded by the Saudi, Iraqi, and Kurdish national armies, Shadid’s troops knew what to do under artillery fire. They spread out, technicals and tanks veering off the road, men hopping out of trucks and shaking out into staggered lines, keeping space between each soldier, and then surging forward.
Or, trying to. Ravi’s choice of targets had left the road ahead and behind the column choked with blackened wrecks that the other vehicles had to maneuver around. It slowed them down, and another half dozen deadly missiles slammed home in the space of a few seconds. Wreckage, debris, and bodies shot skyward. The thunder of the impacts rolled over Eric an instant later.
But slowed down or not, they pressed forward, infantry coming up at a dead run, perhaps thinking the hellfire would stop when they reached the sparse buildings of the town.
And now they were close enough to see Khatun and the other four peshmerga fighters, still running to Alaz’s prostrate form. Eric saw puffs of dust kick up around the feet of the sprinting Kurdish militia as bullets whipped towards them. One man staggered, hit in the shoulder, but lowered his head again and kept running, moving forward as though through a heavy rainstorm.
Khatun and his men had already passed under the JI fireteams to either side. As Eric watched, they reached the pinned boy, diving into cover behind the small rock. It was scant protection from the machine guns and other small arms fire now concentrated on their little force.
The thunderclap of explosions farther down the road ceased, their final echoes fading into the hills. The kinetic darts had run dry. Eric didn’t have many options left.
“Ravi, the BE3s.” The swarm of armed drones would rip through the enemy in an instant, relieving the mounting pressure on the exposed Kurds and the boy.
“Yeah. Eric, there’s a problem.”
“What problem?” He tried to quell the panicky bile in his throat.
“I’m having trouble controlling them. Could be the dust storm north of you. Signal strength is cutting in and out. It’s also affecting their location sensors. If I fly them now and I lose control, they all could end up crashing into the side of a mountain, or dropping into the desert.”
Ikenna ground his teeth, “Okay, keep trying.”
He switched channels, “Will, we’re gonna be without air support for a while. Lay down covering fire for Salar and his men, concentrate on anyone getting too close.”
“Sure thing, boss.”
The five JI men on the other side of the small valley opened up with a hail of auto-aimed rifle fire, 5.56mm rounds singing through the sky and felling a half dozen enemy fighters in an instant. The groups of infantry along the road turned to meet this new threat, a machine gun atop a rusted technical firing into the hillside while black-clad fighters worked their way up the incline.
In his glasses display Eric zoomed into the little knot of peshmerga near the road. He saw Khatun’s gruff face as he crouched behind the rock, barely big enough to protect him or the boy, let alone his other four men. Two of them were pushing, leaning their shoulders into the stone, the boy was screaming. One of the fighters, lying prone and firing his AK-47 at nearby targets, suddenly jerked and slumped forward, his body still.
“Buck,” Eric turned to the man on his left, nodded.
As the ex-marine signaled the other operators down the line, the CEO lifted himself into a crouch and brought the slide back on his rifle, checking that there was a round in the chamber.
The roar of the rifles from Buck’s fireteam rolled over him and Eric sprang up, charging down the hill, his head forward like a bull’s.
He didn’t look up to see the carnage Buck’s men were inflicting. His singular focus was on the little band of men huddled around the rock beside the road.
Before he was even halfway there he heard the distinctive double crack of bullets being fired in his direction. One whistled past his head, another slammed into the packed dirt of the roadway in front of him. He ran faster, forcing his legs to push harder. As he reached the rock he slid on his side into the scanty cover beside the other men.
Khatun’s wide eyes showed he hadn’t expect the American to risk his life like this.
Eric grabbed his shoulder and shouted to be heard over the racket of bullets hitting stone, “Where do I push?”
The militia commander pointed, and Eric joined with him and two of the others as they heaved against the stubborn rock. Ikenna’s feet dug into the dirt. Khatun grunted. Finally, it moved, lifting slightly into the air. The fourth peshmerga pulled the boy back, sliding him out from underneath the rock. He screamed again. As soon as he was clear the men let go and the rock crashed down.
“We need to get out of here!” Eric shouted, “Get his arms, I’ll cover!”
Khatun and another man scooped up the boy between them as Eric turned back to the advancing enemy. He brought the rifle scope to his eye and squeezed off five rounds at a group of men coming up the other side of the road. The auto-aiming software timed the shots perfectly, firing each a split second after Ikenna pulled the trigger. The rifle bucked in his shoulder, and three of the oncoming enemy staggered backwards and fell.
He risked a glance behind him in time to see one of the peshmerga take a round to his neck, blood spraying the others as he crumpled, losing his grip on the injured boy and pulling Khatun down with the sudden unbalanced weight.
Without thinking Eric stood, firing rounds off blindly behind him as he ran to the exposed Kurds. The hammer clicked and his smartglasses display showed an empty magazine in the rifle. He swung it to his back and kept running, even as return fire picked up.
He was almost there when a round like a sledgehammer hit him in the leg, knocking it out from under him and sending him tumbling forward into the hard dirt. He looked back, the body armor had held, but a sudden blooming of pain told him the fall had twisted his ankle. He struggled to his feet and limped the last few yards to the others.
Eric was helping Khatun to stand when another slug hit him, this time full on the back, and shoved him forward. Both men went down again, dozens of bullets chewing up the road around them. Eric tried to shift to cover the boy with his body armor. Khatun was yelling something but the noise of the enemy rifles, and the answering thunder of JI’s men on the hillsides, desperately trying to keep the attackers from getting closer to their CEO, were too loud for Eric to hear him.
But he heard something else. Something on the edge of his perception. Something familiar.
Ikenna stopped, looking around as he listened. Then he saw them, a swarm of a hundred miniature drones like bats against the horizon. They swept over the town in a minute and buzzed into position over the front-most buildings. There they stopped, ordered like a diamond above Eric’s position. A split second later and a sound like tearing paper cut through the hum of their miniature engines.
Eric didn’t need to use his glasses to see the devastation they wrought; each .17 caliber gun on each drone fired at a rate of two hundred rounds a second. Visual recognition algorithms ensured there was virtually no overlap between targets. Bodies disappeared in dust and blood, men screamed, fell, were thrown violently to the ground. The advancing human wave stopped cold. Black clad soldiers, covered in the gore and viscera of their fellows, threw down rifles and ran, or ducked into even the faintest of hollows in the ground for cover, hoping to be spared.
In his glasses, Eric could see the remaining trucks and technicals beating a hasty retreat, not even stopping to pick up the infantry that chased after them. He let out a breath. It was over.
In the aftermath of the battle Salar Khatun was the mirror image of his previous, surly self. Despite the hell he had just been through his jubilant smile revealed a missing tooth and he hugged Eric fiercely, slapping his back and shouting like a school child. He couldn’t stop talking about the magnificent drones, and the pinpoint destruction of JI’s atmospheric artillery.
The young boy was quieter, having been brought to a makeshift hospital behind the school. He looked up from his cot at Eric as the American approached. His leg was straight out in front of him, set in a quick-hardening poroplastic splint by JI’s expert medic. Eric smiled, but the boy didn’t return the expression.
Instead he looked down, fixing his brown eyes intensely at a point on the floor, “You will leave, now?”
Shadid’s army hadn’t been broken, just beaten. They’d be back.
“No, we won’t. Not until you want us to.”
The boy still didn’t smile, but he raised his eyes to meet Eric’s.
Eric hoped the kid could see the sincerity in his own face. He meant what he said. Because Alaz, and Khatun with his ragged peshmerga, and all the other inhabitants of the town, they weren’t just faceless strangers on the other side of the planet anymore, they were customers now.
And Justice, Inc. always met the needs of its customers.
I hope you enjoyed this short story with Eric and the other employees of Justice, Incorporated. Please be sure to share it with your friends and don’t hesitate to drop by your local online bookstore and leave a review (these little things help an author immensely!).
If you’d like to know when the full-length Justice, Inc. novel comes out (and have the chance to download another FREE short story) please visit my website:
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Thanks for reading!
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A great many thanks go to everyone who helped me throughout the process of writing these stories with encouragement, critiques and editing. A special thanks to:
And, of course, my parents.