08 July 2011

"Drive On"

By Curtis C. Chen

Debra didn't want to run over the kid, but he wasn't leaving her much choice. Blocking a military convoy wasn't directly threatening, but it was suspicious. It also kept them from moving, and that was dangerous.

She tapped the horn. The boy's mouth flapped, but his words were lost in the noise of the crowd.

"Move!" Debra waved and pointed. The boy pumped his fist in the air. Sometimes Debra thought she'd get more respect if she drove a cart and mule instead of a Humvee.

Base Command had anticipated a protest when the VIP convoy left the airport, but not a mob. The street was clogged with locals chanting, waving signs, and throwing whatever debris they could find at the Americans.

Debra ignored the projectiles. Glass bottles would shatter against the Humvee's energized defense field, and metal objects like tin cans would get deflected. Organic matter sometimes made it through, depending on its composition and velocity, but D-fields had greatly reduced casualties and vehicle damage in the field.

"Attention," said the dash computer. "Vehicle has been stopped for more than sixty seconds. Please check surroundings for possible threats."

"Thanksalot," Debra muttered. Was this just another random crowd, or had someone staged an ambush? She waved at the boy again. He raised his middle finger at her.

Then she saw what he was holding in his other hand.

No. No no no—

Debra switched the horn to ultrasonic and blasted it, forcing everyone outside to move farther away—except the boy. He stared defiantly through the windshield.

His left hand twitched against the trigger plate taped to his palm.

"Sergeant!" came the voice from the backseat. "Is there a problem?"

Debra didn't answer. She was busy with the dash computer, inputting her security override so she could manually redistribute the D-field. The screen flashed yellow, and she stepped on the accelerator.

The Humvee roared forward. The boy threw up his hands and yelped as the front bumper knocked him down. Debra stomped the brakes a split second after the boy's head disappeared from view, then smacked a button to deploy the Humvee's armor skirt.

"Debra!" The voice from the backseat was louder now. "What's going on?"

Debra opened her mouth. A small stone cracked the windshield.

Several pounds of high explosives detonated underneath the vehicle. The force field which Debra had redistributed to the undercarriage shaped the blast downward. The Humvee bounced up, then fell and landed inside the crater with a jolt.

Debra silenced the motion alarms and reset the D-field coverage. A Coke bottle sailed down and broke apart above the hood, glittering green fragments hovering for a moment before sliding away. She felt numb.

You just saved lives, Debra told herself. One dead instead of hundreds. Besides, if they court-martial you... at least you'll get to go home.

A hand touched her shoulder. She turned and stared into the scowling face of Congressman Wright.

"What the hell just happened?" he demanded.

Debra smiled weakly. "Sorry, Dad. Looks like you'll have to do another press conference tonight."


Image: U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Tyffani L. Davis, April, 2008