A Spear Has No Branches

Summary: A mercenary recruit becomes the unwitting target of automated social manipulation.

Calling home was an order of magnitude harder since he signed onto the private military sector. Carlos Ortega tried calling once more, and he spent the next half-minute shouting into the phone. His girlfriend's voice only came through sporadically, with entire words being cut off. The call dropped at multiple points, until he hung up in frustration. He tried texting her instead, but the messages lagged for minutes.

What Carlos did not realize was that it was no mere lack of coverage responsible for his problem. When he joined up, his social media network data was purchased by his employer. The mercenary company could afford far more resources than the cash-strapped national armies of earlier decades, so such investments were easily worth it. They combed over his data, and they found those friends and family members he kept in contact with. A tried, true algorithm then strategically worked to cut off each.

It was not without precedent. Long distance relatives and relationships were already harder to maintain, but they had to be cut to make the raw recruits easier to mold. Such algorithms were first honed in the early years of social media, but now commonplace. Unlike the old national militaries, the mercenary companies needed to isolate their recruits from their country of origin. Like the isolation tactics used by cults, the mercenary company cut those branches connecting each soldier to the larger society. After all, a spear had no branches.