"If you'll follow me, Senator?"
She followed the official-looking young man down a non-descript hallway. She had received a strange invitation at her office the previous day, telling her to come to a particular address. She had been told to come alone, and that she would learn things imperative to her presidential campaign.
And so, here she was. The young man leading her seemed nervous, and became more so the further they went, leading her to the conclusion that she wasn't supposed to be there.
Finally, they came to a large glass window, overlooking what appeared to be a converted warehouse. Several thousand young men and women sat in the most comfortable chairs she'd ever seen playing video games on state-of-the-art entertainment systems. They seemed to all be playing the same combat simulation game. She looked over at the nervous young man.
"And?" she said, eyebrow raised.
"Do you know what you're looking at, Senator?" the young man asked her in a low voice, glancing around.
"A bunch of kids playing video games?"
"Yes," the young man nodded, "but there is more to those games than you see at first glance."
"Well, for one thing, those graphics seem awfully life-like, don't they?"
She shrugged. "I'm afraid I don't follow the technology that avidly. But I understand such things are always improving, yes? And I'm beginning to think these kids are all playing some next-generation game system?"
"Not quite. You see, these young men and women have been recruited by the Pentagon for this."
The young man sighed, looking down. She began to suspect she was talking to a whistleblower. He had the look of someone who's conscience had finally gotten the better of him.
"These people are engaged in what has been officially named 'Remote Asset Optimization'," he said.
"Really," she said. "I assume you've brought me here to explain exactly what that is?"
"Yes," the young man nodded. "You see, these young people are among the best gamers in the country, recruited by the Pentagon after achieving a certain level in the latest Operation Global Empire combat sim game."
"I'm familiar with the title," she said dryly.
"I know," he said, beginning to get excited. "Your opposition to violent video games is well-known, so I thought you would be best to bring here. Perhaps you can expose what's going on over the course of the campaign."
"Perhaps," she said. "Why don't you tell me what's really going on, so I know what I'm dealing with."
There was a pause, while the young whistleblower gathered his courage. "You're familiar with the new nanotech battle gear that's been developed for combat troops, yes?"
"Of course," she said. "That stuff is common knowledge. Lightweight polymer body armor, submolecular performance enhancers, medical implants, etc."
"What is not commonly known," the young man said, "is that the suits, the performance enhancers and the medical implants make it possible to reanimate dead soldiers for a limited span of time."
"Do they," she said, staring down at the mass of gamers. She noticed they were hooked up to a collection of tubes, which were in turn connected to a series of machines and plastic sacs.
The young man noticed her attention and nodded. "They're being intravenously fed a nutrient rich caffeinated glucose solution. Essentially a liquefied form of the typical gamer diet of snack foods and soda, though I should point out that the solution they're being fed has higher nutritional value than what they'd normally be eating. They're also hooked into a waste removal system, thereby preventing the need for bathroom breaks."
"I see," she said. "And I suppose you're going to tell me that these kids are controlling the reanimated bodies of dead soldiers in our various combat zones throughout the world?"
"Yes, actually," the young man said. "Once a soldier dies in the field, his or her nanotech activates the reanimation sequence and initializes control functions, at which point their bodies fall under the control of these gamers. A miniature camera mounted on the soldiers' armor can provide first and third person perspective, depending on the gamers' preferences."
She nodded, continuing to survey the room below. "Hmm. I assume they've made some progress in utilizing the wounded as well?"
"Oh, um, yes," the young man responded. "Even the reanimation technology can only stave off decay and rigor for so long," he explained. "At best, the gamers have use of a dead asset for most of a day. Less, if the body takes too much damage. A wounded soldier can be kept in a coma indefinitely and used for as long as its gamer can avoid damage." He gestured to the people hooked up to the game consoles. "Of course, these people were chosen for their extremely high proficiency, and manage to avoid serious damage for a considerable time. But, should their asset take too much damage..."
"A nanobomb implanted in the soldier is activated, leveling a 5-mile radius," the Senator said.
"Um, yes," the young man said, looking up. "But how did you..."
The Senator aimed her pistol at the young man. "Why do you think I singled out the Operation Global Empire games for particular criticism? Everyone knows the quickest way to get young people to do anything is to tell them they shouldn't. I've known about this plan since its inception. I've been assisting in the creation of the necessary cultural triggers to generate enough willing gamers for the project."
She smiled, "Why do politicians do anything?"
He didn't have time to answer, as the bullet from her gun sprayed his brains all over the window.
She pulled out her cell phone and dialed. Down on the floor, a high-ranking supervisor answered his.
"I'm here," she said. "No, my visit wasn't scheduled. One of your people brought me here, hoping to expose the project. Tend to your security, general. I don't have time to clean up your messes."
She hung up her phone and looked down on the rows of gamers, a slow smile spreading across her face.