“Two guys with an RPG on the right, on top of that hill,” Armando said over voice chat.
“I got ‘em,” Sam said. He rolled his mouse, and his on-screen avatar swiveled its railgun and shot a swarm of explosive flechettes on a long, whistling trajectory which ended in a flare of light and the tumbling bodies of two Red Team members.
Sam’s Blue Team comrades scrambled forward, their eight-legged avatars crossing the rolling plain with shocking agility. Explosive flechettes and electronic disruptor chaff shot out of their railguns in alternating rounds. Red Team bullets ricocheted off their metal armor plates.
Sam steered his avatar on an angle, clambering up a slope made up of rubble and building timbers. Before he crested the rise, he poked the camera view above a short wall and saw three Red Team human enemies milling about the objective, a black box with a glowing gold star over it.
Sam’s hands made a practiced sweep over the keyboard and his avatar hopped over the wall into the little square, flechette cannon firing. Two hostiles dropped immediately, their images spurting digital blood. “Take that from the Lo Ping Basterds!” he shouted into his voice chat mike.
Man, this game is great — America’s Warriors 6 rocks! he thought. Sam was glad he had spent his allowance on a videocard that could render the game in high-resolution gore. He was also glad he let Armand talk him into joining their gaming clan, the ‘Lo Ping Basterds’.
“Frankly, General Collins, your budget overrun seriously disturbs this committee!” Representative Jane Witstrom (D – Pennsylvania) held a blow-up graph of the department’s budget line. Even in this age of three-dee graphic displays, politicians enjoyed waving around posterboards.
“It disturbs us at the Advanced Recruitment Project, as well, Madame Representative,” the general responded smoothly into the microphone. He blinked, eyes watering from the video-camera lights in the committee hearing room transmitting the proceedings on CSPAN-48, or whatever. “We have a number of funding mechanisms we’re looking at to supplement Congress’ appropriations for next fiscal year.”
“‘Funding mechanisms?’” Winstrom said sarcastically. “What I don’t understand, general, is how your America’s Warriors program could cost nearly as much as some weapon systems! The ‘Mad Dog’ autonomous ground combat robot system’s budget is not much more than yours. All you do is produce an online shooter game to recruit young Americans into the Army!”
“We all try to do our part to increase America’s warfighting capability, Madame Representative,” the general said, trying not to grit his teeth.
“The ‘Mad Dog’ system has saved many soldiers’ lives, and has taken over front-line combat roles in the current Chernorus intervention.” The congresswoman loved to go on about the spidery Mad Dog robots — they were built in her district. “Railgun equipped, able to clamber over rough terrain; many fundamentalist fighters have been eliminated by the Mad Dogs — at no risk to our brave uniformed men and women.”
“A truly remarkable system,” the general agreed. A vein throbbed in his forehead. “America’s Warriors 6 has over three million online subscribers, you know…”
“And the Mad Dog Project is headed by a one-star general, sir!” The Congresswoman was not to be deterred. “Why do you have seniority over the head of that project?”
The general danced around that question for some time.
“Do you know what I think, General? It’s a two-syllable word for cow patties, that’s what!” The congresswoman’s fondness for crosswords was legendary.
The hearing continued in this manner, and the general felt relieved to finally be dismissed.
His adjutant, Major Svendra, held the door for him as they got in the big limousine for the ride back to the Pentagon. The general raged for a while about stupid, publicity hungry politicians, then calmed down and sipped the bourbon and branch water Svendra made for him.
“You know, major,” the general mused after a while, “I am not without a sense of irony.”
The major, wisely, said nothing.
“Even I, however, am tested when that… that — ” the general inserted several blunt obscenities unfit for a uniformed officer, “ — has the gall to run my project down while praising Berringer’s Mad Dog system!”
The major agreed on the injustice of it all. “However, general, you did insist on the secrecy of the project — ”
“Of course I did! Can you imagine the howling hordes of lily-livered moralists? They were bad enough when we just started developing America’s Warriors.” He took a deep drink of his bourbon. “Can you imagine if they knew that the players were actually remotely controlling Mad Dogs in battle?” The general shook his head. “No, that piece of intel remains the blackest part of our little black project.”
The two were silent as the limousine rolled on. The major swirled his own soft drink and said, “When you said we had other funding options, what did you mean?”
The general smiled and put down his glass. “The same way the Koreans funded their online ‘free-to-play’ shooters.”
The major was puzzled. “I don’t get it, sir.”
The general grinned like a hungry tiger. “A five-syllable word for shopping, my dear major.”
Sam fired up his browser, took a bite of pizza, and logged in to the America’s Warriors game. He hoped his friends were playing tonight; it was always more fun with a good group. Instead of the usual splash screen for selecting a server to join, however, something new came up.
“Personalize your walker?” he read. Skull faces, flame decals, so-cheesy-they-were-cool santa hats — all kinds of stuff to deck out your walker in-game. Everything could be bought quickly with a credit card, even a fluorescent-and-camo decal of your clan logo.
Sam stared at amazement, imagining a funky picture of the ‘Lo Ping Basterds’. “This. Is. So. COOL!” he yelped.
“MOM!” he shouted up the steps from his bedroom. “I need your credit card!”
Ramon Rozas III writes science fiction in West Virginia. He has previously appeared in Leading Edge Magazine, Aoife’s Kiss, Atomjack Magazine and Every Day Fiction.