Why We Fight

I guess Hakan is spending about three hours a day at war: an hour in the morning before he goes to work, and then at least two hours when he gets home in the afternoon, before he goes out for the evening. Some of his friends think he’s wasting his time, but not because they aren’t patriots, just because they aren’t interested. Everything’s been turned into a game now, but war was just a game to begin with, so who’s into that?

Hakan says, fuck his friends. He says, fuck his enemies. He says, I get to do something that I love. He says, I get to do something that’s important. I get to do both at the same time, he says. It’s a dream come true for a skinny Turkish kid from the suburbs. None of his friends listen to a word he says when they’re talking about gaming now, but that’s only because all they talk about is games and everybody has their own and his war is just another game.

I stop by his apartment while he’s at war. The Bundeswehr subsidised his console – they stopped doing that pretty soon after the scheme started because demand was so high, which gives you an idea of how early he got in. So it’s one of the early designs, one that looks like a rejected FX model from the first Terminator movie, except with decals and mods all over. You can’t see the surface features now for Dresden Diggers metattoos and XXSquaredXX stickers.

It looks pretty odd, actually, compared to newer consoles, even by military standards. You’d never guess he was ranked second in the world for kill stats. He slides into it like it was a bath, wriggling those skinny hips into the worn and shiny plastic bucket that serves as the seat. He told me that when he started, he used to get sores on his arse, that seat was so badly designed; but over time he won that battle as well, and now it fits him like a glove.

Like most of the early adopters, he’s a drone pilot. I asked him why he didn’t switch to one of the sexier infantry units when they came out – all legs and arms and guns – and he told me that he wasn’t that interested in ground wars in Asia. “Air superiority is still the foundation of modern warfare” he told me, but he didn’t explain what he meant. This was a week after we’d met, and he was still nervous about letting me see him play. I told him it turned me on.

I’d dated a soldier before, way back when. I call him a soldier, but he was a technician working at the [redacted] military base, a system administrator working shifts to manage data flow from drones. He’d never been in combat and didn’t expect to; that’s why they’d crowdsourced the actual warfighting, wasn’t it? Demand was greater than supply, and he was continually turning down access requests due to lack of drones in the air.

Can I call him a soldier, even though he’d never been in a fight in his life? Can I call Hakan a soldier, even though he’s not in the army? Who gets to be called a soldier now? Anybody with an internet connection and enough disposable income to afford a military console. I wasn’t lying when I told Hakan that it turned me on, though; even the sysadmin I dated for two whole months got the full package when he came off shift.

So Hakan shimmies into the console and wires up. It’s goggles and gloves time – old school, none of that direct porting bullshit – and then snap to power. The console takes a while to warm up, but he has time. His ranking means that he rotates in whenever he wants, no waiting time. He told me that they probably keep a drone free just for his use, but that doesn’t sound like it would be an efficient use of funding. They probably tell him that to keep him happy.

And now he’s – well, where is he? The North American borders? The ruins of the Korean peninsula? He gets to choose his battlefield, of course – another privilege of rank – so he could be anywhere. He could be somewhere he’s not supposed to be. He signed a document a long time ago telling him that he could never discuss the details of his gaming, but he ignores it just like everybody else. What are they going to do, arrest him and lose one of their best players?

I’m a Sick Fuck. That’s not meant to be descriptive, at least not just descriptive; it’s the name of my clan. We’re post-post-post-Courtney eighth generation daughters of Riot. If we’re talking about the foundations of modern warfare, sex is our superpower, a weapon of mass destruction if it gets into the wrong hands. I like to think of myself as the wrong hands, and Hakan is in those hands even while he sits in his console.

This is going to be something new for both of us. I ask him to tell me what he’s doing, first person narration all the way to the kill zone and back, a play-by-play account if he doesn’t mind. He doesn’t mind, and soon I’m flying away on a magic carpet over a distant desert for the thousand and first night of the war. This is wonderful, hypnotical, chemical stuff, much richer than anything my old sysadmin ever gave me.

Sure enough soon enough he’s acquired a target, roleplaying it for me as a composite plastic cock with wings skims the earth ten thousand miles away. It all happens so fast, and the closer we get to the end, the faster it seems to happen. The bad guys look up as dust kicks in his wake, but it’s too late: dust is dust, and so are the bad guys. I keep pumping my fist as Hakan showers bonus points all over his console, while somewhere else a drone screams towards a sky full of shadows.

Everybody gets to feel dirty for a few seconds. Hakan won’t look me in the eyes afterwards, as if he’s ashamed of what he’s done; as if a few seconds of dirt forces him to look himself in the eye for the first time in a long time. That doesn’t last long, and he asks if I want to come over again. I make a weak joke about whether he wants to come over again, and then I leave him in the dust just like he left those unnamed men who’ll never get to fuck me.

I’m out of the door, I’m down the stairs, I’m into the street before he catches me. He’s slower than his drone twin, as if he left all his speed up in the air; he’s weaker than his drone twin. I shake him off like a tragically misguided pop-up ad, but he grabs at my arm again. Why are you leaving, he asks, and I turn on him screaming. This is the other half of the equation: you don’t get something for nothing. I’m not nothing.

The truth is, I wanted to get out of there before the damage was done. I wanted to be a long way distant when the sexually transmitted computer virus that I just gave him got to work. I wanted to leave before his drone burnt out its flightpath like a bird in a wind turbine. I wanted to be in another city-state before the Bundeswehr traced the virus back to his console, and had a friendly postman from Kommando Spezialkräfte deliver a message.

The virus won’t hurt him, but they’ll ban him from ever taking command of the drone again. Do I feel sorry for him? No, I do not; no, I will not. The virus will squat in the Bundeswehr network, a troll under the bridge, popping up at randomly determined intervals to snatch another bird from the sky. It won’t end the endless war, but it will save a few lives – even if the lives it saves will go on to take more lives – lives upon lives upon lives.

Hakan chases me into the street; he won’t understand a thing I say. He was born long after Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, long after all those wars to end all wars, long after the sort of war where people cared about what they were fighting for. I’m a Sick Fuck, remember: we don’t want to end war, we just want war to mean something. I remember, you see; I listened to the stories my father told before he got out of Ladakh for good, found a way to bring his family halfway round the world.

A quadracopter gazes down on us with a single black bulbous eye. It could be Bundeswehr, but it could just as easily be some hobby kid looking for windows to peep in. The black eye is a crow’s eye; the crow represents the Pitris, our long-departed ancestors; the ancestors represent my father, watching his daughter destroy everything he tried to build. He wouldn’t understand either. He would do anything to avoid going to war again, even ignoring the fact that the war was coming to him.

I stop in the street, let Hakan catch me, and I shout the truth to the rooftops. It’s the only way I’m allowed to say these things in public: an argument between lovers is the only speech left that isn’t prohibited. Maybe the passers-by will stop and stare, maybe the neighbours will come to the window, maybe somebody will hear what I have to say, and in them something will change. Faint hope, I admit, but if I was saying these things on the internet, they’d lock me in a box deep underground for deep time.

What are these things that I say to him – to anybody who can hear – in these last minutes before the drone tells its tale to the army, and the both us are done? I tell him that war has infected us, the same way I’ve infected him. It has crept into every nook and cranny it can find. Its language has taken over our media, its ideals have taken over our entertainment, its technology has taken over our cities. All must bow before Indra. I tell him that the price of our freedom is their deaths, but that we sold our freedom for security; for the chance to play the game ourselves.

I was right: he can’t understand what I’m saying. It’s just a game to him, something he’s good at, something he’s the best at. It’s something that lends weight and meaning to his life, just like war always has. I don’t understand why we’re fighting, he says, and I laugh in his face, and I say, that’s the whole point, isn’t it? You’re the bad guy here, and I’m the drone, and it’s too obvious to be a metaphor, and then the Bundeswehr barrel down the street in armoured cars, and the war is over for both of us.