The woman exploded in the middle of the street. It wasn’t a boom, more like a loud pop, sort of muffled as if she had swallowed a half-stick of dynamite.
Pulse weapons were based on the principle of molecular disruption. How it was discovered remained a secret, as well as manufacturing details. Both materials and processes were tightly controlled by commercial monopoly. In essence, it was a burst of power that created a minuscule nuclear explosion from common materials, including live vegetation and flesh. It had a distinct frequency range that hindered affecting air molecules, but moisture and particulate matter in the air could leech off some of the pulse’s power before it reached the target. Thus, the weapons all required a certain amount of automated sensing for density of such things between the emitter and the target. It was also modulated so that the explosion itself released no significant amounts of gamma rays or dangerous particles. While it could burn up particulate matter in the air, it remained invisible to anyone except the shooter. It required a solid object of some minimal size, and simply caused things to explode on contact.
More than a combat firearm, it was a terror weapon. Needless to say it could be messy when used as sniper weapon, but that was partly intentional, since the grisly results served to persuade people to avoid the kind of behavior that made them a target. Snipers tuned their pulse rifles to enable killing one person without actually harming someone next to them, but the splatter was appalling.
Franklin was up on a bluff above the village and almost a kilometer away. This required attaching a peripheral display to the sensor device standing on a tripod just to his left. Naked eyes weren’t that much good at such distances, and normal optics distorted the perspective, spoiling depth perception.
He had asked the driver of their team’s small utility truck to park in such a way that it stood against a solid background preventing anyone approaching from the far side. The sensor collated data from other sources and displayed the scene with extra markers, just as you might see in a video game.
Franklin had learned to absorb the patterns of normal human traffic in an open marketplace like this one. Why the contract supply driver insisted on meeting here was likely nothing more than his own convenience, because it was bad OpSec. This is why Franklin had come out before dawn to set up his nest, so he could watch and construct in his mind a model of what was background for capturing anomalous behavior that marked threats.
It was approaching noon and traffic had picked up. There were old men strolling together or sitting at small tables sipping tea and smoking. Kids ran around playing their usual games. Women strolled along market stalls, most of them carrying baskets. Franklin had noted the village was close to a seasonal swamp that sported tall reeds perfect for making such baskets. His brain was organized to pull in such details.
So it was he spotted a woman who entered the marketplace with her basket already heavily weighing on her arm. All the other women had arrived with baskets clearly empty, often swinging gaily at the end of one arm. This woman with the heavy basket stopped here and there at booths and open tables, but didn’t buy anything, nor even haggle, just looking at the wares quietly. That was quite unusual to Franklin. He poked at the display and marked her for the sensor to follow. Then he kept an eye on others to see if there was anyone else seeming out of place; the woman might be part of a team.
The sensor beeped when the woman left the open market area and began walking toward the far end of the lane where the utility truck was parked. Franklin raised his rifle and watched closely. His eyes tracked the aiming point on the larger display he was using for this mission. The rebels had been moving away from using bomb vests because it was harder to get recruits these days. The bombs were more often hidden in common objects that the bomber could leave behind and make their getaway before detonation. The woman shifted her load to the hand on the same side as the truck. There was nothing else in that direction and she was almost the first human on foot that day to walk out of that side of the market. As soon as her path veered toward the truck, Franklin pulled the trigger.
Her basket hit the ground and rolled upside down. His sensor told him what he already knew, that she was not a walking vendor selling food or contraband. It looked for all the world like a homemade bomb. When people who noticed the explosion came to see what happened, some of them yelled, pointing at the thing that had rolled out of her basket. Most of them fled back until a couple of middle-aged men approached, probably local tribal enforcers. They would likely know how to handle it.
She hadn’t gotten all that close to the utility truck, but in the display Franklin saw the driver lean his head back, puff out his cheeks and blow through narrowed lips in relief that the bomber had been taken down. The two locals carefully moved the device onto a long piece of cloth they laid beside it, then they gently lifted the ends and folded the corner together, suspending it between them as they hauled it off outside the village toward an open area set in a depression. The woman’s remains took a lower priority. Franklin left it to them and kept watching to ensure there were no follow-on attempts.
It was only a half-conscious thought for him that most Western snipers would not have been as comfortable as he was having to kill a woman, much less to observe the effects of his weapon.