Faisal didn’t immediately perceive the missile impact. He couldn’t feel it and he couldn’t immediately see it, either, what with the FLIR camera being mounted on the underside of the fuselage. He understood the impact first as a loss of control, then as the unified series of the drone’s sensors and control mechanisms flying apart. All the warning indicators seemed to trip at once. It was as if one moment he was sitting in a dark room and the next someone flipped a switch to reveal it had been strung with blood red light bulbs that all came on at once.
The FLIR image spun wildly. Chunks of drone fell away toward the ground. The FLIR pitched up and Faisal found himself looking skyward while at the same time knowing he was hurtling down, down toward the ground as if he were falling in a dream. Flames blossomed at the edges of the screen, glowing white hot in monochrome.
Fuck fuck fuck he thought and was about to disengage from the drone’s hardware when he caught sight of something familiar in the flames lapping at the FLIR. They weren’t just flames.
Warped faces with deep black pits for eyes that twisted with the flames. Warped, bearded faces like the faces Faisal stared up at all those years ago when they were flogging him in the street in Gaza. Then, as now, nothing to be found in those black eyes but inflexible, implacable purpose, al-hamdu’lillah.
Faisal screamed the way he screamed when he was falling in a dream and he suspected (no – knew) it was all a dream but was scared shitless anyway because wasn’t there something to the notion that if you died in a dream you died for real? A long, silent scream that set the microchips rattling around inside his head.
And meanwhile those twisting, black-eyed faces multiplied, crowded closer and merged till Faisal was staring into total darkness, screaming.