War Games - Lido Giovacchini

April 1, 2014

Robert inhaled slowly as he flattened out his body on the hard ground.  Up above, the harsh sun beat down on him; the sun had always felt more brutal here in Afghanistan, certainly more brutal than Robert’s home in Cincinnati.  He tightened his grip around the hard plastic stock of his smart rifle, wiping the sweat from his brow with the other hand.  In his ear, his com radio buzzed dimly with his squad’s chatter as they formed a perimeter around the small village below.  

In a few minutes, they’d be in position to open the level for shooting.  Slowly, Robert reached around to pull up his small LED tablet, pressing his thumb against the sleek black screen; the targeting board glowed to life.  The tablet immediately slaved the rifle to its programming, streaming the gun’s scope to its screen, overlaying Robert’s hub stats and info across the telephoto image.  Robert settled the rifle for a long shot of the town square. Lots of open ground, lots of easy targets.

At the bottom of his screen, the tablet listed his time of service and number of confirmed kills in little red numbers— 27 confirmed kills over the last 6 months.  Before the smart rifles had become standard, that would’ve been an impressive number, but now, Robert was only third best in his squad.  A thick green meter ran just below his kill counter. That was Robert’s progress bar.  Every time he filled it, he’d advance another rank and open up more rewards for himself.  

“Just 3 more,” he muttered to himself in anticipation as he swept his fingers across the screen, pulling up the rewards menu to survey his future options: incendiary rounds, extra R&R hours, iTunes gift card, and, of course, the big one: End of Active Service.

That was the military’s big promise now: a smart rifle for everyman, and, once you reached a high enough level, you got out.  An alert pinged on the side of Robert’s screen, summoning him back to the targeting menu.  His squad had all checked in to join the battle, each soldier listed in order of kill count on the right hand side of the screen.  

Davison on the East Ridge sat comfortably at the top of the list with 38 confirmed kills; he was gunning for his EOAS.  Robert wasn’t concerned with that, though. That was too far ahead for him. At the moment, he was fine just trying for one of the gift certificates.  

The voice of staff sergeant Alvarez squawked over the com system.

“Alright, team. Twenty-minute firing window. All targets valid, countdown in five...four…three…two…one…shoot!” 

Robert’s fingers moved with mechanical precision. He zoomed in for a tighter shot, tapping a figure to highlight them for targeting, waiting a few seconds to give the tablet time to align the gun.  Just as he was about to shoot, the display shifted to a closer zoom. 

This happened sometimes, when you tapped too hard on a target and the tablet thought you wanted to continue zooming.  As a result, the red counters got in the way of the sight, and you couldn’t see the kill with the gun in the way.  Rather than realign and waste time, Robert decided to take a chance and pull the trigger.

He held his breath for a few seconds after firing and watched the counter on the screen, till, sure enough: 28 kills.

His level bar increased.  

“Two more” he muttered.

Two more kills and that iTunes gift certificate was as good as his.  


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