The Scout Sniper team had been holed up underneath a small granite outcropping, overlooking a lush valley for days. Intel received indicated the target would be traveling to a nearby village along a given road about a kilometer from where they were hiding, as the crow flies. The team had taken turns surveiling and observing the target area, making sure they were ready to go at a moment’s notice.

It’d taken days to carefully insert into the territory, set up “camp” at the outcropping, and place wind markers in inconspicuous places in the optimal kill zone. All done without leaving any sign of their presence.

Despite the sun shining on this clear day, it was early spring and they were cold and miserable from a heavy rain storm the night before. They were hungry, living minimally off the rations they’d packed in.

“Target Acquired. 1.5 klicks from the kill zone, entering from the East.” The Scout said in a low and calm voice. His partner was barely a foot away to his left.

“Copy.” The Sniper looked through his scope, trailing the road from the West until he met the target and began following it on it’s approach from the East.

Breathe. His old man’s voice coming back from his early years of learning how to shoot.

The Scout had already began factoring in the current wind conditions, speed of the vehicle, etc., and relayed his calculations to the Sniper who in turn began adjusting the reticles.

Click. Click. Click. Click. Click.

Breathe.

The first round took about two seconds from the time it left the muzzle to impact the front right tire and lodge itself in the engine block. The vehicle slowed to a stop just inside the kill zone. Three armed guards hopped out and took up positions in the front and rear of the vehicle as the driver inspected the tire.

“Target acquired. He is sitting in the middle of the back seat. Confirm.” The Scout requested.

“Confirmed. Target acquired.”

Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Readjusting the reticles for the vehicle now at a dead stop.

“At your pace. Engage the target, then radio man to the rear. Then clean up the remaining insurgents.”

“Copy.”

Breathe, now take up the slack on the trigger. The voice of his old man echoing in his mind again.

The radio man heard the report of the rifle about three seconds after the bullet had found its target in the back of the vehicle. From the Sniper’s viewpoint, five seconds had already passed since he pulled the trigger and he had already acquired a clear sight picture on the radio man and was slowly squeezing the trigger. The radio man didn’t even have a chance to react before Death came.

The other two guards and the driver, however, had a little more time to react. The driver made a mad dash for cover near the driver’s side door, he observed from the cover of the vehicle but hidden enough, he believed, to render him an invalid target of whoever was shooting. Little did he know, that he wasn’t included in the target list as he was a civillian, non-combatant, forced into servitude as a driver and mechanic. Intel had confirmed that much about him before the mission. As the driver looked on, he saw one guard blindly firing towards the tree line about fifty meters away from the vehicle, the other running for the deceased radio man.

The Sniper waited until the latter guard paused in front of the radio man, frantically grabbing at the radio to try and call for help. He felt nothing as the bullet found its target through the back of his head. The Sniper took his time to survey the three downed bodies, the Scout checked on the driver as the last armed guard frantically reloaded his weapon. He could see his eyes frantically looking about and for a moment, he swore the driver looked right at him.

Having reloaded, the last guard turned and saw that he was the last man standing. He made a run for the driver’s hiding position, as he rounded the vehicle, the Sniper and Scout observed a short burst of rifle rounds riddle the guard’s chest. Somehow, the driver had acquired a rifle and killed the guard.

The Scout and Sniper scanned the area around the kill zone for incoming vehicles, finding none. Coming back to the vehicle, the driver was leaning against the side of the vehicle that faced the Sniper and Scout. From both of their scopes, it looked like he was looking right at them.

“He did that earlier… while you were waiting for the guard to reload. Looked right at me.” The Scout said.

“It’s an optical illusion based on our elevation and distance. He can’t be looking at us.” The Sniper replied. “We’ll wait until dark if no further activity happens and ex-fil to the extraction zone across the border.”

The Sniper scanned up and down the road again, looking for vehicles and movement and came back to the driver, still leaning there, looking their way.

“But yeah… it’s creepy.”

A moment later, the Sniper/Scout team’s location was vaporized.

In separate cities, the simulation ended. Jason, the Sniper, and Rodney, the Scout, blinked awake, removing the goggles and ear pieces, readjusting their eyes and ears to the blinking lights and noise of the arcades as the simulation recliners returned to an upright position. They held similar conversations.

What happened?

How long was I out?

Really?

Damn… this is the best simulation game on the market!

On-lookers watched screens to the right, left and above the players. The game had lasted all of five minutes and all they saw was the altercation and then a high elevation rocket come screaming down and vaporizing the team. They didn’t see weeks of infiltration, waiting, rations, etc. All of that had been implanted in the player’s minds during the load time.

Further away, their country’s government as well as an insurgent force in a far off land were separately debriefing the same event. AI and Virtual Implantation Simulation had come a long way in the last hundred years. Jason and Rodney’s government, while displeased that the VIS units had been destroyed, they took it as a win. The targets were eliminated and low altitude satellite drones had confirmed that nothing identifiable had been left when the VIS units were destroyed. The insurgents had been experimenting with AI replicant type machines as well as misinformation. Both worked well for their purposes. Their leader was secure in a safehouse, the opposing government had taken the bait of the transport as well as the driver. The driver, an AI replicant, had been looking at the VIS units and had communicated with nearby drones to destroy the units.

AI, VIS, even Deep Fake had become so real that nobody could tell the difference between a news broadcast, a movie or even a video game. The governments and corporations, the rich and powerful of the world used this greatly to their advantage.

Every day citizens lined up to pay to experience countless VIS games, story lines, movies. It was a 22nd Century equivalent of bread and circuses for the masses.

And it worked.

All too well.