Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer

There’s another rumble from the clear sky above. More lightning flickers about, and it’s a lot closer than anything produced by weather.
“Definitely a Smiter!”
I whip my head about. Line of sight to targets and sky are essential, so they’re close.
Chloe, my flanker, spots them.
“Ten o’clock! Flag mound!”
Spinning round, I see two figures up there. One is crouched, a loving arm about the shoulders of a little girl with eyes that glow like miniature suns. The other arm is pointing to those of us who mummy wants her to fry. I lower my rifle.
My deputy flattens her opponent and backflips my way. I point to the mound. She frowns, then points towards them. I see mummy swing her aiming finger to point at us.
Susan whispers: “Softest rest upon ye, mistresses.”
Mother and daughter slump sideways against the flagpole, then slide to the ground. I hear cries of horror. Their side think we killed them. No doubt a video clip showing our latest ‘atrocity’ will be circulating soon. I guess it’ll skip the part where they wake up.
I wave for Susan to roam. With their Smiter down, this won’t take much longer. No matter what the opposition say, religious fervour and arrogance are not enough to outmatch training and precision.
“7H? Balen. Sitrep.”
Switching my view from local to tactical, I see we’re good.
“Send evac. All targets rescued.”
Even got the pets.
There’s a gasp of relief.
“Way to go, 7H. See you later.”
‘7H’ – Seven Hotel – is our call sign, named for the seven hours between the announcement of magic powers being scientifically recognised and the first magic wielder being burned. They didn’t even bother with a stake: just torched the house and did for the whole family. A family just like them on the mound, except the daughter was called ‘witch’, not ‘blessed’.
I drop my goggles back into local mode and spot an ominous silhouette on the furthest roof. With an eyeblink I bring my designator up, and with a jaw flex I push the target to the support drone. Before the sniper can finish setting up, a Babyshark homes in on their heat signature. It’s like a soft, grey half-brick doing thirty metres a second. Probably non-lethal – unless you get knocked off a roof, of course.
A bulky pickup truck roars round a corner, driver plus three gunmen on board. No, two. The third is waving a big book. Wonder which one it is?
I nod to Chloe.
Extending my will, I reach for the constrained lightning within the truck.
Electricity is easiest, because we’re all born with it. Could say we’re only alive because of it. Anyway, there’s an affinity. Makes this almost unfair.
The truck lights die, along with the engine. It lurches to a stop.
The battery unloads through bodywork and bodies before crackling off into a nearby tree. A few drier leaves catch fire, but apart from scorch marks, it’ll be fine. The twitching foursome in the truck will have nothing but minor burns and awful headaches.
I suspect my ‘frying’ the truck will become infamous, too. A man in shabby fatigues, one hand extended, rifle cradled in the other – with roaring flames and vacant stakes in the background.
Nothing actually changed with that announcement, except the fear encouraged by western governments for so long reached flashpoint. Neighbours turned on one another without warning or mercy. It was medieval. Still is, in the places we can’t reach.
We’re not quitting. We’ve survived centuries of this.