Agent Todd Doyle was 14, the day of his first confirmed kill. The event itself was a complete catastrophe that set US military training exercises back 40 years.
It was supposed to be a routine simulation — no live rounds, within a controlled setting. But this was Todd Doyle, a living round unto himself.
“That’s some good sim-room combat there, Doyle,” General Ganje said, punching the intercom button from behind a two-way mirror. “Next time rip the hologram’s throat out after you incapacitate him. We didn’t pay extra for real-life throats on these hologram terrorists for nothing, you know.”
“Sorry General,” 14-year-old Todd Doyle answered from inside the simulation room, which was rebooting between exercises and now resembled an axis grid splashed against the walls, ceiling and floor.
“You’re wasting taxpayer money by not ripping out those throats,” the General reiterated.
“I understand, sir.” Doyle said.
“And stop picking up the hologram garbage, son.” The General said. “Refuse is only there to heighten the simulation’s believability. It isn’t real trash.”
“Yes sir,” Doyle said, unconvincingly. He would never betray his instincts. He would continue to tidy, even if it was fake garbage. Even if it got him killed.
Ever since the biological treatments began in supplement of his training exercises, Todd Doyle’s innate sense of environmental preservation presented itself more and more. As Todd Doyle progressed through his formative teenage years, his heightened abilties grew more attuned with nature.
An unforeseen byproduct of the genetic tampering, or a natural part of Todd Doyle all along? Neither Todd nor the program’s geneticist could know for sure.
“We’re going to restart the simulation,” General Ganje said from behind the two-way mirror, nodding to several men in lab coats at various computer stations. “This time, try to isolate the threat within the five minutes. And remember, collateral damage is encouraged. So feel free to pummel any children or innocent animals along the way.”
Todd Doyle scowled. There were no morals within The Program. It was simply executing your mission. Never once did a candidate use his mental capacity to help others. Just fulfill a mindless, savage task. And more times than not, that task was to murder a completely stranger.
Before Todd Doyle could postulate on the injustices further, the simulation shimmered into life. A brief restart boot screen, not unlike the SEGA startup jingle from Todd Doyle’s youth, hummed into being. “AR-MY!” it sang.
The simulation’s grid was replaced by a war-torn urban setting. Todd was situated in the center of the room as buildings, pedestrians and an increased amount of litter rendered before him.
Much more litter than before, almost as though the default setting had been adjusted for a higher litter display.
“Goddamnit.” Todd Doyle muttered.
He resisted the urge to pick up a holographic discarded cigarette butt and drop it in the holographic garbage. Todd Doyle knew the General was intentionally rousing his anger, but had no advantage to turn the situation in his favor. Instead, Todd Doyle raged inside like a furnace.
The mission was this: armed with only his wits, Todd Doyle was to infiltrate “Downtown Kosovo” and thwart a phantom threat. Each time the simulation started, the target was randomized among the several hundred tactile holo-people. The target was not known to anyone. Not even those running the simulation.
Once Todd Doyle identified the target, he was to engage in hand-to-hand combat with him/her, overpower it and kill it.
If the target screamed “I’m not the target, get off of me!” in broken English, then Todd Doyle was to rip his throat out, to completion.
If children surrounding the target screamed “Get off our dad!” Todd Doyle was to tell them to shut up, or punch them in the stomachs. They were only holograms, after all. And this was all standard practice, textbook field operations for recruits.
This was Todd Doyle’s mission. And in under two minutes, Todd Doyle successfully isolated and killed an innocent janitor.
“All right Doyle,” General Ganje said. “Clock starts now. Let’s see what you got!”
Todd Doyle marched swiftly through the simulation. Speed-walking, then jogging, and finally sprinting. His concentration was scattered, his pulse racing. The lab coats observing noticed this immediately.
“His biometrics are off the charts, General!” one man shouted.
General Ganje said nothing.
Todd Doyle reached the simulation’s border within two minutes. Without flinching, he punched through a partition labelled “Warning: Simulation Area Access Point,” and wandered off into a backstage area. He isolated a sole figure sweeping up real-life debris and emptying it into a basin.
“What’s he doing?” a scientist asked. “He’s off the grid!”
“Let him work it out,” Ganje said.
“He could hurt somebody!”
Todd Doyle was possessed. In his post-litter rage, he could see only crimson red. And witnessing a janitor tidying garbage — real garbage, more than Todd Doyle could do — triggered his murderous instincts.
“I’m not the target, get off of me!” Alejandro the janitor cried.
“Get off our dad!” the janitor’s adorable children yelled. Because it was bring your adorable child to work day.
Todd Doyle said nothing, just fed into his anger. And raged.
Todd Doyle returned to the two-way mirror. He waltzed toward the nearest hologram garbage basin and made a show of throwing the torn throat into the trashcan.
“There you go, General,” Todd said, slowly coming out of his trance. “Another hologram throat for your collection.”
While the lab coats picked up their phones and shouted into receivers, a sole figure cackled from behind his cigar. It was General Ganje.
The boy had just murdered a man, and he didn’t even realize it, Ganje thought. Todd Doyle was more of a machine than he could’ve ever imagined. At just the age of 14, the boy perfectly resembled the perfect soldier, more so than any of the other recruits.
Alejandro was days from retirement — a beloved janitor among all who knew him. A loving father, and a generous Secret Santa. Todd Doyle had killed him, efficiently, without remorse. All it took was the simple trigger of some idle litter, and sensitive sweet Todd Doyle was reduced to a cold-blooded murderer.
Yes, the lad would do nicely, thought Ganje.by