​Julian Mortimer Smith

In Afghanistan in the not-too-distant future, US soldiers share their headsets and POV with spectators from back home. In order to get authorization to fire, all they need is enough upvotes.

Art by Gustavo Torres.

@JMitcherCNN: Corporal, first of all, let me thank you for agreeing to this interview. By now all of America has seen the footage of your amazing headshot last week. Could you tell us the story, in your own words?

@CplPetersUSMC: Well sure, Jim. As you know, things went kinda crazy after I made that kill. I'm pushing 12k followers now. At the time the most I'd ever had online at once was… maybe a couple dozen? Fact is, there were only two people with me when it happened—@PatriotRiot2000 and @FrendliGhost. This was the night of the assault on Peshawar, remember? So half the nation was following the boys from First Airborne. No one wanted to miss a jump like that. I appreciate all the fans who've been with me since the beginning, but I want to give credit where it's due. It was just me, Riot, and Ghost that night.

@JMitcherCNN: Interesting. So you didn't even have quorum for engagement?

@ CplPetersUSMC: No, sir. Not at first. But that night I wasn't even worrying about quorum. It was just a routine patrol and we weren't expecting any trouble. I was just chatting with Ghost and Riot. Both of those dudes have always had my back with nav and sit-reps and shit like that. But they were also just there when I needed someone to talk to, you know? That's even more important sometimes. When you're in the middle of a war zone, it's nice the hear the voice of some suburban kid from Detroit in your headset.

@JMitcherCNN: So how many other soldiers were taking part in this patrol?

@CplPetersUSMC: It was a six-man squad, but the tactical scale guys had split us up to cover more ground. Ghost and Riot both thought that was dumb, but they'd been outvoted in the war room. When the numbers are small, bad ideas can get through more easily. That's the whole point of quorum. I admit, we were doing a bit of trash talking. They told me there were a lot of tac-scale folks online who had never even really followed a soldier. They just spend all their time zoomed-out, looking at satellite feeds, moving us around like chess pieces. I'm not saying that's wrong, but it can be dangerous. No one who's spent time with a soldier on patrol would have made that kind of call.

@JMitcherCNN: So it was just you, alone in an alley. No backup.

@CplPetersUSMC: That's right. So then Riot notices this big black car parked in the alley. It was dark as hell in there. All the streetlights were out, so I didn't notice it. But Riot, he's a real tech-head. He has my feed running in infrared, thermal, and laser-gated, each in a separate window. He don't miss much. And he's from Detroit, so he knows his cars. Anyway it was a Lincoln. Most of the cars here are these shitty Soviet models from the 70s. Ain't that the ultimate irony? You can tell the guys on the Most Wanted list 'cause they all drive American cars.

@JMitcherCNN: So you knew someone important was nearby.

@CplPetersUSMC: Well, we suspected. Ghost is looking at the satellite heat maps, pulling up floor plans, checking the locations of windows. I knew I couldn't just storm in there by myself, but Ghost and Riot didn't trust the guys in the war room so they wanted to wait before calling in the cavalry. Those tac-scale yahoos would probably just send the squad in, guns blazing, just for the thrill of it. So Ghost guides me into this bombed-out office building across the street. I hoof it up five stories 'til I'm level with the building opposite. Sure enough, a light is on and I can see into the room. There are six or seven bearded dudes there with AKs slung over their shoulders. It looks like they're arguing and for a while I think they're going to shoot each other and save me the bother, but then another guy comes in. You can tell just by looking at him that he's some sort of head honcho—the owner of the car. I didn't recognize him myself. I ain't no racist, but with those beards they all look kinda the same. Riot, on the other hand, boots up some face recognition software and IDs him, lickety-split, as Jaques al-Adil.

@JMitcherCNN: The Jack of Clubs.

@CplPetersUSMC: Exactly. This guy's a face card. One of the top ten most wanted terrorists in the world, and I'm sitting in a window across the street from him, lined up for a perfect headshot.

@JMitcherCNN: But…

@CplPetersUSMC: But, as I mentioned, I didn't have quorum, so I couldn't take the shot. Legally. So, Ghost and Riot jump on their social networks and try to get the word out. Any patriotic American would upvote a shot like that, but we just didn't have enough bodies in the room. Of course all their friends are watching the assault in Peshawar, and not checking their messages. So you know what they do? Ghost goes and wakes up his parents, and Riot fetches his little sister and her boyfriend. Now, Riot's parents are real traditionalists who have never followed a soldier in their lives. Riot's always complaining about them, going on about how they're not upholding their responsibilities as citizens. They're old-timers, see? Got no interest in direct democracy.

@JMitcherCNN: Were they registered to vote?

@CplPetersUSMC: No! That's the thing. I think they were pre-screened through their driver's licenses or whatnot, but they certainly weren't registered for this theater. So I can hear Riot walking them through registration, trying to convince them how important this is, and they're trying to calm him down, and typing their email addresses wrong and having to start again, just like any other old folks. Have to laugh at it all, now.

@JMitcherCNN: I'm guessing it wasn't so funny at the time.

@CplPetersUSMC: It wasn't. But get this: the situation at Ghost's place is even worse. His sister is a hippie. A real peacenik, you know? She doesn't want anything to do with war. So I can hear him talking philosophy to her, trying to convince her to do the right thing for freedom and democracy just this once. And meanwhile I'm waiting with my rifle cocked and Jaques al-Adil's head in the middle of my sights. I've got to admit, Jim, I was sorely tempted to pull the trigger and just live with the consequences. But I thought to myself, if I shoot now I'm no better than he is. I'm here as a representative of my country. If I shoot without a quorum of consenting citizens, as the Rules of Engagement demand, then I'm no longer defending freedom and democracy, I'm just another terrorist.

@JMitcherCNN: Strong words, Corporal.

@CplPetersUSMC: Well, if I didn't believe them, I never would have enlisted.

@JMitcherCNN: So what happened next?

@CplPetersUSMC: Well then I hear gunfire coming from the next street over. I found out later that it was just Samuels and Gonzales showing off for some kids, but Ghost and Riot were too busy to keep me updated at this point, so it scared the hell out of me at the time. And it scared al-Adil and the rest of the folks around that table. They kill the lights and hit the floor. A minute later, I see the front door of the building open and four figures sprint to the Lincoln. One of them is al-Adil and he gets in the back seat. My HUD was still only showing Ghost and Riot online, but just as the car was pulling away three more followers blipped into existence. I had quorum. Now they just needed to upvote engagement. The car was already turning the corner of the street when the votes came through. Five-out-of-five upvotes. Riot had persuaded his sister's boyfriend to log in and vote. I couldn't even see al-Adil by this point, all I could see was the car, but I had seen him climb into the back right-hand seat, so I aimed for where I thought his head would be.

@JMitcherCNN: And the rest is history.

@CplPetersUSMC: And the rest is history. Although it would never have gone so viral if Samuels hadn't been just around the corner. He was the one who saw all the gore. It's his POV feed that's trending. Over 10M now, I think.

@JMitcherCNN: But seeing yours makes the shot all the more astonishing. I encourage all our followers to watch Cpl Peters's POV of the shot. If it had been a second later…

@CplPetersUSMC: Ghost and Riot have both made their screen-feeds public too. Be sure to check them out. Couldn't have done it without them.

@JMitcherCNN: So how do you think your job will change now that you have thousands of fans?

@CplPetersUSMC: Well, I certainly won't have trouble making quorum any more…ROFL. On the one hand, it feels great to have the support of so many patriotic citizens behind me. But it'll be harder to have one-on-one chats with my followers. I'll do what I can to keep that personal connection. I've already set up a private channel for Ghost and Riot, so they'll always be able to talk to me directly, no matter how much chatter is going down. How will it change the job? I guess we'll just have to wait and see.

@JMitcherCNN: Just one more question, Corporal, and then I'll let you go. Sergeant Pearson's recent court-marshal has sparked a grassroots campaign to eliminate quorum altogether. Do you wish you had had more leeway? More freedom to act on your own initiative?

@CplPetersUSMC: Well, that's a great question, Jim. A lot of the older guys in the unit complain a lot about the whole direct democracy thing, but I think I like things the way they are. Maybe if I had missed the shot I would feel differently, but it seems to me that getting your folks out of bed to vote and debating philosophy with your sister before letting a soldier take a shot—that's how it should work. That's democracy.

@JMitcherCNN: Well said, Corporal. And thank you for your service.

This dispatch is part of Terraform, our online home for future fiction.