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art by Agata Maciagowska

A Last Resort

The boy scratched his chin. He nodded to himself; then he moved a group of pieces a few centimeters on the board. Seconds later, the computer reacted by rearranging the opposing force into two separate, smaller groups. The boy thought this was a good sign. He would know better after two or three more moves.
Philip used to play the game frequently with his father. His father was a great strategist--he taught Philip well. His father had praised Philip's skills. Philip was an exceptional player--especially for one so young. Indeed, at eight years of age, he could outplay most adults. He wished his father were still alive so that they could play the games together.
Philip paused the computer program for a moment.
"Swishhhhh," Philip cried, as he waved two aerial attack vehicles through the air with his hands. "Bah-bah-bah-bah-bah!" Philip made firing noises at the opposing ground troops of the enemy's 12th mechanized battalion and 5th armored cavalry. Thanks to the elaborate modeling program, the pieces were accurate in every detail.
Philip picked up more pieces representing the 101st laser assault group and positioned them near the 12th mech. "Zappppp! Zappppp! You're dead! All of you!"
The boy imagined the enemy's vehicles and artillery upended like toys, disintegrating under the merciless fire from his aircraft and laser batteries. Men were vaporized, leaving only tiny wisps of smoke. Although Philip had never witnessed a man die, he had listened to the colorful stories told by his father and uncle, both seasoned warriors and veterans of many successful campaigns.
Philip caught himself.
"No," he said, out loud. His father had taught him that wars were ugly, awful affairs to be undertaken only as a last resort when all peaceful and diplomatic efforts had failed. It was not right to glorify the slaughter of men. Even in pretend play.
The little boy abruptly stopped playing soldier and shut down the machine. He sat down in the magnificent leather chair that was once his father's. Philip put his head down in his lap and held on to his knees, gently rocking to and fro. He suddenly felt a tremendous sadness. He felt very small.
Moments later, Philip noticed that his uncle, Seymour, was standing in the doorway. Seymour had been studying the young boy intently.
Upon seeing Philip's gaze, the old man snapped to attention. "A thousand pardons," Seymour delivered his response crisply, eyes staring straight ahead.
"At ease, General," said Philip as he slipped out of the chair, walked over to the war board, and turned it back on. "Thank you for coming."
Philip selected a simulation from the day before. He motioned the General to observe.
"I want our 101st moved forward approximately 10 kilometers, and reinforced by the 23rd cavalry. I want a flanking motion against the enemy's 2nd mechanized division. The battle will take place here--and here. The enemy will counter with elements of the 5th and 7th, but we will have gained a substantial tactical superiority. You see this, yes?"
Uncle/General Seymour stared at the board for a few seconds, then he nodded, approvingly. "Yes, I see it! Bravo!"
"Operations will commence at 0100 tomorrow. There can be no margin for error. Is that clear?"
"Yes, Your Majesty."
The man clicked his boots together, bowed low, and performed an abrupt about-face. He left the young King, hurrying quickly to the command center.
Philip sat back down in the chair, heavily. He thought longingly of his father, of skipping stones on the large lake, of pulling Elizabeth's hair at last year's festival.
His childhood was over.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, December 3rd, 2012
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