Sending a plume of spray, the vessel turned sharply into the oncoming wave. Her captain steadied himself against the main bulkhead, smiled grimly at his crew and gave the order to return fire. As torpedo tracks streaked away from the ship, he could see out of the corner of his eye similar bubbly contrails racing past as the rest of his armada followed suit. This was his throw of the dice, it was now time to see if the gamble paid off.
Being put in charge of a 13 craft fleet at such a tender age could have been a crushing weight for young Patrick. Many who’d been placed in such a position previously had felt that weight all too keenly, becoming burnt out well before their prime and needing rotation to a gentler occupation. Patrick it seemed had no such issues. Perhaps he just didn’t realise the enormity of the situation and so the responsibility sat lightly on his shoulders. Or maybe he was just made of sterner stuff. Whatever the reason, his superiors were content, they’d found their man and he was doing brilliantly.
This latest conflict had arisen very quickly even by modern standards and, while he was fully committed to the cause, Patrick still hadn’t been given the privilege of knowing why he was fighting today. One minute he’d been relaxing at the end of a long day and seemingly the next he was here plotting strategy and entering the fray. Who knew what went through the minds of those in charge?
Still it looked to be going well, that latest salvo of torpedoes slammed home with a satisfying thud. A massive crack appeared in the side of the enemy ship and it then split neatly in two, both halves sinking immediately to the depths. Bodies littered the water, their forms stiff and unmoving as they bobbed on the surface refusing to follow their vessel in defeat.
In his mind’s eye, Patrick could imagine the cries of dismay and pain emanating from his foe. As his fleet bobbed their way over to the scene of victory, he mimicked the sounds he imagined coming from their prone forms.
“Blub blub blub blub”
For such a young mind, it was fertile grounds for invention giving so much scope for experimentation. An infinity of new ways to battle open to be explored. A dreamer’s paradise of wondrous new weapons, ones that no-one had thought up before. Like a giant under-water claw that reaches up and drags unsuspecting ships down!
Suddenly, excitement getting the better of him, Patrick re-enacted the explosion. Arms flailing, energy welling up from some hidden internal reserve, he brought his hands slapping down on the surface of the water.
“Patrick stop that”, came the exasperated cry. “You’re getting water all over the bathroom floor and now you’re towel is soaking.” His mother came bustling over, weary exasperation born of countless past experiences etched on her face. “If you don’t calm down right now, I’ll take your toys away.”. It was the standard routine.
At the other end of a secret camera feed, a black suit clad agent smiled wryly to himself and muttered under his breath, “Not likely”. His partner glanced across at him and asked, “What was that?”.
“I was just saying, it’s not likely his toys will be taken away. What would the world do then to solve disputes?”
With his face a carefully constructed mask of innocence, his partner responded. “You know I’ve been thinking about that. Why is it again that we spy on this kid every night at bath time to see whether the lego or rubber ducks win his imaginary battles?”
“Because he’s the best of the best obviously. We haven’t found any other kids who repeat the same type of battle night after night with such a low degree of bias for either side. He’s the ultimate proxy for real battles. He’s invaluable – I don’t know what we’ll do when he grows out of it.”
“Oh right. Of course.” The second agent subsided to quiet contemplation for a while before trying again, “Yeah, but what I don’t get right, is why we have need a proxy in the first place? Kinda seems a bit silly using a kid’s imagination to decide who gets to keep possession of say Afghanistan.”
“Agent J, we’ve been over this. It saves lives doesn’t it. Back in the old days, we used to send soldiers over to fight the battles for real. But all that would happen is the team with the most luck or the best weapons would win, and who says that they were right. Just because you were lucky at fighting, or stronger than the other bloke, or could make a bigger bomb, it doesn’t mean you right. And then when it’s all over, the loser just decides that if he tries a bit harder next time he might come out on top, so why not take another crack at it. It all just didn’t work.
So one day, Ling Zu Chi turned up to the United Nations with a radical idea. Since a real battle is no guarantee that the right side wins, and all it does is get people killed, why not run all future battles by proxy. Pick some mechanism for randomly deciding the outcome of the battle and then each party agrees to be bound by the outcome. It just makes sense, because then if you’re going to lose you’ll at least not be slapped with the massive economic and human cost of actually fighting a battle on top of it.
So after extensive research, it turns out that Patrick here is the perfect man for the job. Seemingly without bias, but with that human touch just to make people feel like we’re still masters of our destiny.”
“Oh yeah”. Another minute passed as they stared at the picture, mum mopping up the mess on the floor before bundling Patrick out of the bath, into pyjamas and whisking him off to bed. Lastly the light went out accompanied by the gurgling sound of the remnant grey water journeying down the plug hole.
In the silence that followed, metaphorical mental cogs could still be heard turning. “Yeah ok, but why are WE watching?”
“Because, if we can call our Bosses with the tonight’s result before Patrick’s mother gets on the phone to the UN, we just might be able to negotiate better terms of surrender after this loss. Now snap to it, they usually spend about 10 minutes saying their bedtime prayers.”