Somewhere in the Adirondack Mountains. Thursday, 10:24 a.m. ET.
The slight, athletic young man wasn’t particularly nervous, but the gravity of what lay ahead of him was never far from his mind. His training had been lengthy and thorough, and he felt confident in his abilities. Soon Chaim would prove his mettle.
He settled his cheek against his rifle, centered his attention on the target, and calmed his breathing.
He was a recent graduate of a lengthy and rigorous training syllabus. Throughout the yearlong course, he had focused on the martial aspects of his regimen, and as young men tended to be, he was quite oblivious of the more important result of his time at the training camp: he had emerged thoroughly indoctrinated.
Extremist groups and mainstream militaries have long known that the most effective indoctrination methods didn’t involve hours of dogmatic instruction or rote memorization of political or religious precepts. Instead of preaching, the most thorough indoctrination efforts merely provided skills training. When done well, the curriculum rarely, and only peripherally, addressed the ultimate purposes to which the newly acquired skills were to be employed. The ideology was taken for granted. It was counterintuitive, but remarkably effective.
Chaim had emerged from his extensive training with an embarrassment of praise and accolades from his superiors. He had been handpicked for his upcoming assignment.
He adjusted his aim for both wind and gravity, exhaled slowly, calmed his mind, and slowly added pressure to the trigger with his index finger. The rifle’s report echoed off the far Adirondack hills.
He trained his sight back on the target and discovered that he had missed the center circle by a little more than an inch. Not bad for a 420-yard shot.
He was ready.
It was time for Chaim, now just over twenty years old, to live up to his promises to God. Over the past weeks, to prepare for his upcoming duty, he had learned of many atrocities committed against peoples of faith in Southwest Asia and North Africa. He had watched hours of grisly footage, and had seen countless grief-stricken survivors laid low in their misery. Bloody mothers clutched dead infants, and husbands tore at their hair in grief at the loss of their families.
Along with a more senior member of the Faithful, he had also flown to see the gruesome aftermath of one of these attacks with his own eyes. He saw the maimed and grotesquely disfigured children struggling to function normally, and he felt the seething rage of heartbroken parents helpless to remove the pain from their young ones’ lives.
He was Jewish, born in Tel Aviv. The disfigured child he had held was Arab, born in Iraq. It didn’t matter to him. Humanity was his family, Earth his home, as God had designed.
He was angry in his bones, stricken in his soul. The atrocities were ordered by men in suits and executed by men in uniforms under a banner of justice and freedom. He had seen the footage and aftermath of many attacks, but they were all linked by a common thread. The weapons that had both cruelly ended some lives, and cruelly failed to fully end others, were all guided by components made by a single company, Langston Marlin.
This company reported to shareholders and was run by a board of directors. Its employees lived in modest homes not altogether unlike the homes their products had decimated. For the moment, this company also had a chief executive officer, John Averett.
But it would not have one for long.
The young sharpshooter was not looking forward to ending a man’s life. The suffering that death wrought was all too real to him now, and he loathed bringing this suffering upon anyone’s wife, children, and grandchildren.
If there was another way, he had pleaded, it would be so much better, so much more righteous.
His superiors had not attempted to justify their strategy. They had merely invited him to help them find a better way, if one could be found. Together, they had worked through myriad ideas, each dashed by the same limitation the weak always had when they wished to stop the tyranny of the strong.
None of the other ideas had a prayer of working.
In the end, Chaim had concluded, it was simply a matter of mathematics. If he and his comrades did nothing, the mass killings on the other side of the globe would continue. But if he did something, a thing so significant, powerful, frightening, and serious that it couldn’t be ignored, then things just might change.
There was no guarantee that his efforts, his sacrifice, the rending of his soul with the guilt of murder, would bring about any change whatsoever.
But Chaim knew with a calm, bottomless clarity that he no longer had the ability to do nothing.
He had held the blinded and legless child in his arms, and through his own tears, he had promised God with the full force and depth of himself that he would expend everything, including his last breath, if need be, to stop the barbarism.
He would sacrifice the purity of his conscience. He would descend to savagery himself and cripple his own soul. This price he was willing to pay. He was already broken, indelibly altered, by the horrible things he had seen. There was no turning back.
He heard footsteps behind him and turned to see a familiar face. “I am told that Mullah has confirmed it. It is time, my brother.”