Hi I wrote this story before I discovered this forum, a year or so ago. I would be interested to hear what people here thought of it. I have posted ten chapters here; more will be forthcoming if people want to read them. Thanks for looking Chris Author’s Note <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-comfficeffice" /> The town of Ingalls, West Virginia, does not exist. Probably. For obvious reasons, I have played around with the geography and suchlike for the story. Anyone using this as a guide to Virginia is likely to end up in Texas. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. This book is dedicated to the real Edward Stalker and Robert C. McClelland III, barflies of long standing, for their help with the story. Thanks, guys. I The moving sun-shapes on the spray, The sparkles where the brook was flowing, Pink faces, plightings, moonlit May, These were the things we wished would stay; But they were going. II Seasons of blankness as of snow, The silent bleed of a world decaying, The moan of multitudes in woe, These were the things we wished would go; But they were staying. III Then we looked closelier at Time, And saw his ghostly arms revolving To sweep off woeful things with prime, Things sinister with things sublime Alike dissolving. (Thomas Hardy - Going and Staying.) Prologue There are many tales from the Final War and its aftermath that have been told, in books and movies and even face to face. The tale of Mike Harmon, of Georgia, is still a thrilling story for Americans. The stories about Patrick Hessessy, who led post-war recovery efforts in Panama, remain important to us today. There are hundreds of such stories, the lives of people who stepped forward to rebuild our country after the war, and yet, so many of them are deconstructed. Edward Stalker is one such person. He is, and remains, one of the most controversial figures in recent history. He has his friends and admirers who will not say or hear a word against him. He has won the grudging respect of others who would not normally have a kind word for the military. He is hated and loathed by many others, including some of the people who worked with him in Ingalls after the war. The stories about him – and he really did do most of what they said he did – have grown in the telling, but they are nothing, but bare facts. The detractors are free to put what spin on them they like. The book you hold in your hand was written, at my request, by Ed himself. I found it hard to convince him that it was worth the effort of writing it, although I was surprised to discover that I had the support of several members of Ed’s family in my efforts. The story covers the post-war world as he saw it, written in hindsight. Ed himself has asked me to make clear that he may have forgotten details, or altered his reasoning later, but it is the best that he could do. I have not altered details, with a handful of exceptions, mainly factual details relating to events outside Ed’s area of operations. You may like Ed, or you may grow to hate him, but he was a product of his time and he did what he thought he had to do. Not an angel, or a devil, but a man. Keith A. Glass MG U.S.M.C. (Retired) 2050 Chapter One No Better Friend, No Worse Enemy. -Motto, 1<SUP>st</SUP> Marine Division I wasn't going to write this book. Not, I should say right from the start, because I was afraid. My life is a matter of public record. There is very little dispute over what I did, perhaps not even over the why. No, I didn’t want to write the book because I didn’t feel that I had the right to tell the story. It is not, after all, just my story, but that of everyone who lived in Ingalls and contributed to the 2<SUP>nd</SUP> Reconstruction. Had I not been asked to tell the story, to write this book, I would have been happy to leave the past where it belongs, in the past. But then, those who do not learn from the past are condemned to repeat it. This story is, as might be expected, me-centred. Certain details have been obscured to protect others still alive. There are a few omissions, a few details that I believed at the time but later found to be incorrect, and not a few barefaced lies. I leave those as an exercise for the reader, as most of them will be easy to pick out from the narrative, an echo of exercises we had to do while in Boot Camp. They should provide an interesting challenge. And where, exactly, should I start? I was born in New York to Rupert Stalker and Mary Tam, who named me Edward Christopher Stalker. Most people just call me Ed. Rupert, my father, was a soldier who was, officially, a cook. Mom always found that hilarious. My father couldn’t cook to save his own life! Had he been in charge of cooking for thousands of hungry soldiers, he would have been lynched, assuming his victims survived the mass food poisoning. Dad was, as it turned out, a soldier who served in the Special Forces, fighting the twilight wars that no one was supposed to know about. It says something about the general level of attention paid to security in those days that too many of the details were known to just about anyone with an incentive to go looking. Dad went after terrorist cells in places that would have surprised the average American citizen, hunted drug smugglers in Central America, advised several tin-pot African governments on protecting themselves against their own ambitious subordinates and hundreds of other missions. I saw him, on average, about every six months. It still surprises me that Mom and Dad actually managed to have a life together, let alone raise four kids. Mom might have stayed at home, but she was no shrinking violet. My father’s salary was enough to pay for us four kids – or brats, as we were in those days – but it wasn’t enough for her. She worked part time to pay for additional stuff she wanted, mainly for us, while bringing us all up in the best of manners. She was our mother, our confident, and our disciplinarian. She was a fine woman and they don’t make them like that any more. God alone knows what happened to her – chances are, if you don’t know what happened to someone years after the Final War, they’re dead – but I miss her dreadfully. She kept us all going through some bad times. It was her who held the family together. And then there was Uncle Billy. He wasn't really our Uncle in the family sense, but he was an old friend of Dad’s who’d come to live in New York after – according to the official story – suffering a slight accident that had left him limping more or less permanently. Yeah, right. I saw his back once or twice, when he took us hiking or mountaineering, and it was covered in scars. He might have been handsome, once, but his skin looked as if someone had whipped him badly and then given him nothing in the way of medical care. Uncle Billy had been a British citizen, a Royal Marine, but he’d moved permanently to New York. I had the feeling that it wouldn’t have been safe for him to return home, although he could just have been bull****ting me, something he did from time to time. I still remember, with a shudder, him giving me instructions and forcing me to figure out what was wrong with them. It was Uncle Billy who taught me how to fight. I’d been in school for three years before I ran into Moe, a classic locker-room jerk. You probably know the type; rough, unpleasant to anyone he can get away with being unpleasant to, and a bully. He demanded my lunch money. I replied by punching him as hard as I could, but I lost the ensuring fight and had, to add insult to injury, a detention for fighting. When I got home – after the lecture from Mom on the subject of fighting – Uncle Billy started to teach me unarmed combat. The Royal Marines didn’t know the meaning of the word ‘fair’ and some of the tricks he taught me would have had me thrown out of the boxing ring and disgraced. I didn’t have any intention of becoming a boxer, but the next time I met Moe, I won the fight and beat the crap out of him. I got another detention, but so what? That pretty much set the tone for the next few years at school. I was a fairly isolated child, despite the attention of several girls, of whom more later. I wasn’t particularly interested in sports, although I enjoyed playing football and basketball for fun, and I resisted all pressure to join the football team. It gave me a certain kind of pleasure to know that I was better at it than the team members the school fielded for championships, but it wasn’t that important to me. The football jocks might have been the cream of the crop, but they were bastards to me, as far as I was concerned. I wouldn’t have willingly spent more than a few minutes in their presence without being paid. I went on survival courses, joined the mountaineering team – the team leader, by the way, knew less than I did, thanks to Uncle Billy – and learned to play Chess. What can I say? I was young, and unformed, and I didn’t have the slightest idea what I wanted to do with my life. And then came the day – or one of the days – that lives in infamy. Look, we were stupid back then, ok? It seems awfully silly to rank a minor terrorist attack as something that changed the world, but we were young and innocent, and we hadn’t fought the Final War. 9/11 changed the world, as far as we were concerned, just as I turned sixteen. The country was at war, everyone was sure that the next major terrorist attack was just around the corner, and I wanted to serve my country. I remembered Dad’s years of faithful service, and how my mother had waited for him to come home, and I wanted to follow in his footsteps. Maybe not literally – I didn’t want people thinking that I was a cook, or a deadbeat dad – but I wanted to serve. And, because I’d been more influenced by Uncle Billy than I liked to admit, I joined the Marines. I’d like to tell you that I aced my way through the training course and the dreaded Crucible. It would be an utter lie. Nothing in my life, not even Uncle Billy’s patented March of Death, came close to Marine training. The Drill Sergeant worked us all to death and flogged us onwards, further than we had believed possible, breaking us down and reshaping us into Marines. It was a good thing that I wasn't particularly vain, or I would probably have cried at the haircut; I looked ghastly. They pounded us and pounded us until we were at the verge of quitting, pushed us through hell…and then finally served us steak and eggs before declaring us United States Marines. I have never been prouder of myself than at that moment. One thing led to another and I soon found myself assigned to the 1<SUP>st</SUP> Marine Division, which was on its way to Iraq. I was assigned to Regimental Combat Team (RCT) Seven, 1<SUP>st</SUP> Battalion, 7<SUP>th</SUP> Marines, commanded by a Lieutenant-Colonel. The Lieutenant-Colonel and his subordinates managed to conceal their huge delight at seeing me in the midst of all the preparations for war. We were going into Iraq, all the way to Baghdad, and God help the bastards who got in our way. We trained, and exercised, and went though hours upon hours of live-fire targeting practice, just to ensure that we were ready. The difference between a soldier, of which Iraq had very few, and a thug, of which Iraq had a great number, lies in training and discipline. Iraqi training tended towards the “point this end towards the enemy, don’t look back and don’t run, or you will be shot” style. As you can imagine, thousands of Iraqis surrendered rather easily when the shooting finally started, although the war wasn't the cakewalk it was supposed to have been. Long story there, covered elsewhere. I don’t want to admit it, but I was scared. The closest I had come to combat action before was fighting Moe, and doing some hunting with Uncle Billy, and neither of them were anything like real fighting. Moe had been a coward – most bullies are cowards; hit them hard enough and they will fold – and dissuading him from picking on me had been easy, once I had prepared. The hunting trips had been fun, but the animals didn’t shoot back…and, indeed, I had never been under fire before. How would I cope, I wondered, when the **** really hit the fan? We moved out and advanced into Iraq. We took the oil refineries before the Iraqis could blow them, although several sensible Iraqis had decided that blowing them would…not be in the country’s best interests. I was relieved, despite myself, but Ambush Alley soon cured me of pre-combat jitters. You know those pictures of Marines advancing into An Nasiriyah? One of them was me. If nothing else – slight digression here – Ambush Alley showed the importance of training and exercises. The famed – it should be infamous - 507<SUP>th</SUP> Maintenance Company, which included the famed Jessica Lynch, failed its combat test rather spectacularly, although their Iraqi opponents didn’t do much better either. They hadn’t been trained properly and hadn’t been under fire before. Worse, an A-10 made a serious mistake in the heat of battle and strafed a company of Marines north of the Saddam Canal. They hadn’t been trained enough either, although one of the oldest jokes in the book covers precision weapons and friendly fire – they’re not. I won’t go through the campaign in blow-by-blow detail. We pushed north, getting more and more hacked off at the Iraqis as we moved, and eventually reached Baghdad. There were plenty of Iraqis who decided to fight, either through stubbornness, or through having a secret policeman holding a gun at their backs, forcing them onwards to death. We found that if we located and shot the secret policeman, the Iraqis attacking us tended to surrender or to try to run. Others, however, fought almost professionally. They had balls, all right. The worst of all were the foreign fighters who came into Iraq in hopes of killing an American. We killed them by the thousand and the locals refused to bury them, a gesture of contempt for fellow Muslims. We had to bury them ourselves. I spent the next two years, by and large, on counterinsurgency duty. I didn’t know at the time – no one did – that the early years of the Occupation would be so badly mismanaged. Remember what I said about some Iraqis having balls? The men we needed, the ones who could have helped rebuild their country, were tossed out onto the streets when we disbanded the army. There are so few things in life I want, but one thing I do want is ten minutes alone with the moron who convinced the President that it would be a good idea. It wasn’t. Oh, I do understand the political factors involved, but the bottom line was that it was a ****ing stupid trade-off and one that cost American lives. I fought in more tiny little encounters than I like to admit, and several really big fights like Fallujah…and then I was wounded. I hadn’t escaped unscathed during the previous years, but this time…the IED exploded under my vehicle and when I awoke, I was being evacuated back to the States. It was pretty bad. On the other hand, that’s where I met Mac. They operated on me as soon as they could, before shipping me into a hospital to recover, basically just pointing me to a bed. I didn’t mind. I’d several years worth of sleep to catch up on, even if I did feel like I’d gone ten rounds with the Corps fighting champion. I climbed into the bed, lay down, and sometime later was awoken by a voice. “Jesus Christ,” it said. “They’ve brought us the Doctor!” I opened one eye and glared at the speaker. All right, I did look a bit like David Tennant – who had been the Doctor for two years when I was wounded – but there was no call for something like that. “And who are you meant to be?” I demanded. Mac - Robert McNab, to give him his full name – was a short ugly sparkplug. I’d call him worse, were it not for the fact that he is proofreading this book. “Mike O’Neal?” He laughed and a beautiful friendship was formed. Mac was an Army Ranger who’d just been returned ahead of time from Afghanistan. Like me, he loved science-fiction and military history, while he introduced me to other kinds of fiction, including fantasy and alternate history. We spent many happy hours chatting away while they tried to nurse us back to health and, once we were allowed out of the hospital, we painted the town red together. I’d love to tell you some of the stories, but as I said, Mac’s proofreading this. I’ll leave everything we did to your imagination. As it happened, both of us were too badly wounded to return to combat at once, although Mac would and did recover fully. I don’t mean that we were walking around with a broken leg or some other such nonsense, but we were no longer at the peak of physical fitness. That wasn’t actually a problem and so we found ourselves being dragged into advisory roles. We had actually been in combat and had seen the elephant…and we were perfect to tell some civilians just what was wrong with their war-winning gadget. They didn’t have a ****ing clue! No, I don’t mean that they were bad people; I mean that they didn’t have the slightest idea of what real combat entailed. There was a firm, headed by this really hot babe – and boy, do I mean hot – which had come up with the perfect camouflage suit. It might not have been the Predator’s perfect cloaking device, but a soldier could wear it and he would be invisible. He would also be dead. It worked fine in the lab, but in the field the temperature just kept rising. Back to the drawing board, we said, and we made it stick. I don’t know how we got away with it. One thing led to another, again, and we found ourselves working on all kinds of committees. The military has to be a planner. Every so often, the media will ‘discover’ that the military has a plan to invade…well, insert your favourite enemy country here. They missed the point, of course. The Pentagon is supposed to have a plan for anything that they might be called upon to do. There was no sign of hostile intent in coming up with the plans. As you might imagine, they missed that point as well. We worked on nuclear war plans – more on that later – disaster recovery plans and pretty much every kind of contingency that you could imagine. Would you believe, really, that they even had a plan for alien invasion? They did. Some of the scenarios were truly depressing. There were some for expected civil wars in 2000, and again in 2008. I hadn’t believed that either would have been likely, although there were moments before both elections when violence loomed its ugly head. I even studied a book covering a civil war against an evil President and found myself wondering, grimly, where I would stand if it really came down to blows. We had all kinds of interesting debates on the subject. I might even have convinced a few civilians that I wasn't an asshole…and nor were the rest of the Corps. But I didn’t know what to do with myself. Don’t misunderstand. I was enjoying some of what Mac and I were doing, but it wasn't what I’d signed up to do. What good is a Marine with a punctured lung? The RCT had moved on without me, most of my friends had been promoted or had left the Corps – or had been killed, in a handful of cases – and I had been left behind. I spent a year as an MP in Afghanistan, but that wasn't really me, somehow. It was Mac who suggested the solution, in the end, and who pulled strings on my behalf. The town of Ingalls needed a sheriff and I, a Marine, was an ideal choice. The people in smaller towns tend to be more patriotic – it may be because they know more soldiers, proportionally speaking – and besides, Mac’s family had lived there for generations. I wasn't sure, at first, but hell, it sounded like a change. I moved out, settled in, learned the ropes, met the people and ended up enjoying myself… And then came the war.