“The old rage in colder ways, for they alone decide how to spend the young.” – Pierce Brown Dark Age
The toy soldier guarded the corner of the commander’s makeshift field desk. The faded tin sentry with chipped red jacket, high peaked cap and bent bayonet stood upon the order.
Especially in the age of cyberwar, such an order was on paper. Hand written. Delivered by flesh and blood. A reminder of what was real and what was to be spilled.
The commander concentrated on the little toy. Its eyes fixed and sure. A plaything of the past, a steadfast harbinger of battles to come. War made fast in the hands of children. It changed little. An order given. Received. A decision needed. A sacrifice demanded.
His tactical screens displayed the grids under current assault. A counterassault had been ordered: a hype and wipe. Jacking systems beyond their breaking points, then a massive takedown of security redundancies and fail-safes.
Homes, hospitals, schools, critical infrastructure and industrial sites would implode, explode. Many would suffer.
Though not the commander. Not his soldiers.
What were soldiers anymore?
In cyberwar there was only the enemy. The other side. Imaginary lines within which the ordinary comforts of modern life—all manner of integrated systems, machinery, devices, appliances, transport—were turned against any and all. Faces pressed into pillows or pushed out windows. Silent and fraught.
That was the commander’s charge: take it down, take them down.
He imagined them. No different than himself. So much like the teenage daughter he’d lost to them. A casualty of an attack intended to jack fleets of spy-and-die drones. High on a mountain pass in winter, her autonomobile’s systems were collaterally blitzed. Her vehicle accelerated wildly and plunged into a deep ravine. Lost in snow and ice, she froze. He did not know how slowly.
He picked up the toy soldier from his desk, from atop the order. He held it lightly in his bare hand. Felt the chill of metal. A shiver of recognition.
The commander gave his command. There might have been other ways, but he did not know them. There might have been some who did not need to pay, but he did not owe them.
He put the toy soldier back in place. Upon the desk. Atop the order. In the middle of war unlike any other. Still child’s play.
A grim piece, well-wrought.