Doubt thou the stars are fire;
Doubt that the sun doth move;
Doubt truth to be a liar;
But never doubt I love.

Hamlet, Act II, Sc. II,
William Shakespeare

From the Author: A story of immense personal meaning to me. It may not be what your used to as SC fans, but I wrote this more for myself. It's dedicated to the woman I love.... and lost. To my muse. Leigh M. Thank You for showing me what love can be. 14022012.

SC: Loveland

LV1959Z, Hudson River, New Jersey Territorial Waters, Free America, Earth [Sol] 11102064

The landing craft lurched violently to its starboard side as it took the full concussive force of an artillery shell detonating a few feet away as it hit the choppy waters of the Hudson River. The soldiers who were tossed about inside of the landing craft reacted differently to the close call. The veterans yelled out in jubilation as if they were riding a roller coaster and some went as far as taunting the enemy artillerymen for their poor marksmanship. The soldiers fresh from boot camp vomited all over themselves or worst. Others prayed to their deities or sat quietly lost in their thoughts. One such soldier pulled out a laminated paper from his rucksack and stared at the worn paper inside of the plastic that was torn from a coloring book. The colored in page featured a dog from an old Disney movie that was colored in and had the words, “I just met you, but I love you. Allison,” scrawled in crayon at the very bottom.

“You're thinking about her aren't you?” Corporal Rivera said as she reached over and placed her hand on his shoulder to comfort him.

“Hey Ramses what the hell you got there? Is that from your kid?” Private Clayton said as he pointed to the paper with the handle of his pistol from just across them of the landing craft. Clayton slid the German made Luger into its holster and smiled.

Corporal Ramses said nothing as he stared at the paper. Rivera finally replied for him, “No. It's not from his kid Clayton.”

The light inside of the landing craft flickered on and off as it took machine gun fire that bounced harmlessly off of its six inches of hardened steel. “We're passing into occupied New York! We hit the seawall in four minutes!” The landing craft driver bellowed over the ships PA.

“Ramses you know your chances of finding her in there are astronomical?” Rivera said as she pointed towards the direction of New York City. “Let's say you find her, than what? You think she'll just jump into your arms?”

Ramses said nothing as he stared at the worn page and knew she was right. He had accepted that he had lost her forever and although he wished it wasn't so, all the wishing in the world didn't make it reality. “I have to make sure she's okay,” he said meekly.

“You sure it's just that? Is that the excuse you're going to tell her when you suddenly pop into her life? Leave her alone and move on.” Rivera said as the landing craft took another near hit from an artillery shell. “Besides, we have bigger priorities. Like when that door opens.” Rivera pointed towards the landing craft door and shook her head in disgust.

Ramses put the torn page back into his rucksack and looked up towards the door. The red light flashed as the door slowly opened. Both water and the deafening roar of war flooded the landing craft. Ramses snapped out of his seat and rushed towards the opening with the others. The light from the enemy spotlights blinded him as he moved forward. He felt the super compression of air as bullets whizzed by his body and heard as they connected with other unlucky souls around him.

Barnes and Noble, New York City, United States, Earth [Sol] 26012059

The light from inside of the delivery truck made him squint his eyes from its brightness. “Jeez its pitch black out and then they have to go to full bright in here. It's really screwing with my eyes.” Michael said as he lifted his hand to shield his eyes from the light.

“Michael stop wasting time. We need to get these books on these pallets and into the store for the midnight launch.” Greg said as shuffled uncomfortably in the foot high snow that covered most of the back street of the store. Another worker appeared with a loading jack and a pallet as Michael tossed the first box at Greg.

After a few boxes Michael stopped and took the time to read the side of one of the boxes aloud. “'Hive Academy: The Wheel of Anna Belle?' What do people see in this?”Michael said as he tossed the box at Greg in disgust.

“How the hell should I know? All I know is that it sells and books like that keep us afloat.” Greg replied as he took another box.

“I am so glad paper and binding books are still around.” Michael said with a smile.

“Why? Because if they weren't you'd be out of a job and on the breadlines.” Greg said with a laugh.

“No. That's not it at all. Have you ever read '1984' or 'Fahrenheit 451?'”

Greg stopped working and stood up tall in his ragged winter jacket and said proudly, “Do I look like I read books?”

“Well I thought working in a bookstore you'd pick up a few.”

“I don't have the patience for these things. I'd rather play a video game.”

“Well in those two books the main characters live in worlds without paper books and instead everything is computerized. The original books have long since been lost due to book burnings and censorship while the oppressive governments in those books use the loss of the free flow of information to change the computer versions of the books to suit their needs. Words like 'Liberty' becomes 'obey' and thoughts about freedom is snuffed out with each successive generation. Until your left with nothing, but drones. Who not only do not have a word for freedom, but have no idea that it ever existed.”

Greg took the last box from Michael and wrapped the pallet full of boxes in a thick plastic. “Mike you seriously need to get a girlfriend or something. You have way too much time on your hands to be reading that kind of shit.” Greg lifted the pallet up with the loading jack and with Michael's assistance brought it down to the stores basement. Once there they ripped the plastic off and began tearing apart the boxes with the other receivers. Pulling each book out, sorting them in neat piles for distribution and adding them into the pricing system. The work was tedious, but the men downstairs made the most of it by ripping on each other and talking about everything from last nights game to the hottie's that worked upstairs. The door to the sorting room opened and three women walked into the room. Greg said loud enough for only the receivers to hear, “I guess the first-floor booksellers came to see real men at work.” Michael chuckled and opened another box.

“Are those the new 'Hive Academy's?!' Of course they are. When will they be ready? We need to start setting up for the midnight launch.” The bookseller who moved towards Greg and his pile was a tall lanky blonde who was the lead for the first-floor. She picked up a copy and began thumbing through it.

“Janet, you know your not supposed to read it yet.” Greg said with a smirk.

“Yeah, plus we all know Dumbledore dies in the end.” Michael said without looking up from his work. A sweet giggle reached his ears and he looked up and smiled at the woman. She smiled back and walked towards him. The other raven-haired woman looked around and made herself busy shuffling a few books around in a distant pile. He went back to work and started sorting the books in his boxes as the woman hovered over him and picked at the books. “Can I help you?”

“Just looking at what you got here.” She said with a wide smile. “Hi, I'm Allison.” She said pointing to herself.

“Michael.” He said pointing at himself. “I know who you are. I've seen you around a few times.”

“Oh. Well I thought I'd introduce myself since we work together.”

“That's nice.” He said slightly annoyed at her for messing up his book piles.

“Come on Ladies! Let's go upstairs.” Janet called out and both women followed her out of the room.

Greg stared at Michael and shook his head. He had been watching him for some time after he spoke with Janet. “Well we need to pick up the pace gentlemen. Two hours to midnight.”

LZ Nimrod, Greenwich Village, New York, Occupied America, Earth [Sol] 11012064

Ramses struggled to swim in the cold water of the Hudson River. The extreme cold was making his body cramp as he tried to swim to the surface. Another drowning soldier who was caught in the kelp at the bottom grabbed on his right leg and started to drag him down. Ramses turned in the water and kicked the soldier in the face with his free leg. Without the weight of the other man Ramses shot up out of the water and welcomed air into his lungs in one big gasp. As soon as he finished taking his breath a hail of bullets rained down on him and he scrambled to swim to the seawall. With much effort and a lot of luck he reached the crumbling seawall that the Hegemony built to prevent the Allies from directly depositing soldiers in Manhattan. Thousands of other soldiers who made it to ashore hid behind the towering concrete structure and began placing the high explosives necessary to punch holes through it. The Hegemony was well prepared for them and placed thousands of anti-personnel mines along the walls edge and just as many automated guns to devastating effect. Hegemony artillery zeroed in behind the wall where the Allied soldiers were taking cover and shot over it into the mass of Allied soldiers. A shell landed a hundred meters from Ramses and ripped apart fifty Allied soldiers with shrapnel and fire. Their bodies lifting in the air in one piece and raining back down in hundreds of pieces. Ramses felt the warm mist of blood spray across his face before he heard the bloodcurdling screams of the survivors. He had heard screams like them before in other campaigns, but no matter how many times you heard it. You never got used to them. You couldn't shut it out or forget them. The screams were nothing like the movies he had seen in his youth, that was all fake and this was real. It reached deep down into your very soul and left you feeling completely helpless. Helpless to help them and very much aware that at any moment you could end up like them. A mangled mass of flesh screaming for help that will never come as the life flowed out of you.

“RAMSES! WHAT TOOK YOU SO LONG!” Rivera screamed as she shook him back to reality. “DO YOU GOT ANY HIGH EXPLOSIVES?”

Ramses nodded and handed her some from his rucksack. As he pulled out the last of the explosives the torn page fell out and landed on the water. The page floated away from the shore and without thinking Ramses jumped in after it. He hit the cold water with a loud splash and sank straight to the bottom. He hit a few bodies and swam up towards the artificial man-made lights shimmering through the water from thousands of explosions and guns going off. He broke the waterline and looked around for the page. The river was filled with hundreds of landing crafts going back and forth from New Jersey. The landing crafts plowed through the dead bloated bodies that floated all along the river and was the focus of most of the Hegemony fire from the island. High above Allied artillery shells from Weehawken and Hoboken whistled past and hit targets far into New York City. Allied aircraft's mainly A-10's, Apache and Lumbee helicopters swooped above the fray and dove down tearing apart Hegemony targets of opportunity. Ramses spotted the page and swam towards it. He reached out and grabbed it. When he reached the seawall a hand reached out and helped pull him towards the wall.

“DID YOU GET IT?!” Rivera said with a smile. Ramses nodded as he stuck the page back in his rucksack. “YOU'RE CRAZY YOU KNOW THAT?!”

Spanish Harlem, New York City, United States, Earth [Sol] 02042046

Michael felt uneasy. His mother would be home soon and he knew exactly what that meant. His teacher had told her he had failed his NYS Third Grade Reading Comprehension Test and that he will most likely be left back a grade. He was in the principle's office when the teacher made the call to his mother. His mother politely listened to the teacher speak on speaker and said nothing during the entire conversation short of “Thank you for telling me this.” He knew what waited him when she got home and he dared not say anything to the principle or teacher. He had tried doing so before and at first they took him seriously, but after they confronted his mother they didn't believe him. She had somehow convinced them that she wasn't what he had made her out to be. That he was a liar and a child begging for attention. All he got from the episode was detention and another beating worst then all the others. Now his mother had a real reason to beat him and he was scared.

The door opened and his mother walked in. She looked tired and completely ignored him. She took off her coat and dropped it on the coach. She went to her room and disappeared as she changed out of her work clothes from the supermarket and into her pajamas. He breathed a sigh of relief and knew if he didn't get his beating yet that he was in the clear for another day. She was in her room and she was going to watch her Univision and then sleep. Like usual.

“ANIIIIIMAL!” His mother bellowed from her room. His mother never called him by his name. It was just always, “animal.”

Terror filled his little body and he shook as he walked towards her room. He wanted to run away, but he was completely helpless. No one would help him. He had nowhere to go and so he opened the door. “Yes, Mommy?”

“Can you get my coat?” She said as she lifted herself off of her bed and switched on the television. She didn't order him to do it and she said it sweetly as if she was singing. It confused him.

He ran to the coach and ran back to the room with her coat. She stood with a plastic hanger and motioned for him to bring it to her. He lifted the heavy coat up to her. He heard it before he felt it. The plastic hanger whistled across the air and hit his side with such force that he slammed against the bed post. He felt her long nails dig into his hands and lift him up. Exposing his bare legs to the relentless strikes from the hanger. “You think I forget?! Estupido!” He squirmed with each blow and wanted the pain to stop. The more he screamed and cried the harder the blows came. Soon he could only muster a meek yelp that was easily drowned out by the television.

The plastic hanger broke against his arm and she kept hitting him with it until she realized that it wasn't as effective. She let go of his hand and he landed on his bottom. The pain from sitting hit him like a ton of bricks. He got on his knees and silently thanked God that the hanger had broke and that he was now free from more pain. His mother pulled another hanger from the closet, a steel one, and approached him with a smile. “I love you! Please don't! I love you!”

She laughed at him and hit him on the shoulder with the hanger. The sting was sharper then the plastic hanger and he went limp. The blows kept coming until he pissed himself. His mother pulled the hanger back and looked at him laying on a pool of his own piss with disgust. “Get out of here Animal! Clean up!”

He limped towards the bathroom and stepped up towards the mirror. His body was covered in bruises and painful red welts. He stared at himself in the mirror as if he didn't believe it was himself looking back at him. The air stinging his open wounds brought him back to his reality. He entered the shower and the water stung far worst than sitting on his wounds. The blood from his open wounds flowed with the water down the drain and he cried. He cried silently, using the sound of the shower to mask his cries as not to provoke her again. The one person that should have loved him unconditionally and teach him what true love is... wasn't. He was alone. Helpless and unloved.

Barnes and Noble, New York City, United States, Earth [Sol] 05022059

Michael stood alone sorting through a pallet of boxes full of books in the basement. He opened each box with his box cutter and went through each efficiently trying to finish as soon as he could. The door to the sorting room opened and he took little notice of it. He was fixated with his work.

“Hi.” Allison said in her usual cheerily demeanor.

“Hi.” Michael said without looking up. Allison came up close to him and started peering at the piles of books he had sorted.

“Allison, please let me work.”

“Oh. Well... I am working.” Allison grabbed a few books from the pile. “See. I need these. They ran out upstairs. You know how it is.” Allison smiled and walked away with the books in hand. Greg walked into the room and Allison waved at him as they passed.

“Michael are you blind?” Greg asked.

“What?” Michael said barely lifting his eyes up from his work.

“Are you blind?”

“No. What did I do wrong?” He said angrily.

“That beautiful girl likes you. Why don't you ask her out?

“Allison?” He said completely caught off guard.

“Yes. Do you like her?”

Michael thought for a moment. He had never thought of her in that way. In fact it had never dawned on him that she was attracted to him, although it would have been obvious to any other man. He didn't know what to say to his friend and boss. Finally he spoke and said still in denial, “Are you sure about this?”

“I'm sure you'd regret not asking her out.” Greg turned and started to make his way out of the room and said as he left, “She may be the best thing to ever happen to you or she may just be screwing with you. Find out.”

Michael stopped working and let out a smile. “I will.” He said to himself.

LZ Nimrod, Greenwich Village, New York, Occupied America, Earth [Sol] 11102064

Ramses rushed through the breach in the seawall and dove for cover as machine gun fire rained down into the breach. A few soldiers who weren't fast enough were shredded by by the wall of lead. The machine gun fire continued until Allied snipers silenced them, easily locating the machine gun by its muzzle flash. The remaining enemy machine gunners quickly adapted, letting out a short damaging burst and then immediately moving into a new position high above in the buildings surrounding the breach. Ramses slowly moved forward on his belly until he reached an overturned MTA M11 Bus. The bus was completely gutted and burnt, but its heavy metal undercarriage was providing ample cover for dozens of soldiers. He spotted Rivera and Clayton in the mass of soldiers and slapped them in the back of their helmets to get their attention.

“Good to see you both made it this far!” Ramses screamed trying hard to be heard over the ding of battle. They both nodded to let him know they heard him and pointed back towards the breach. A loud cheer erupted from the soldiers when a towering Allied armored walker smashed through the breach. Making the hole in the seawall twice as large as it was before. It stood high on its mechanical legs and lifted its cannon strapped arms up towards the buildings above. The walker let loose a firestorm of lead and missiles that decimated the enemy held buildings. It moved forward down the street once it had finished single-handedly destroying the enemy resistance. The giant war machine tossed cars aside as it moved further up into the city.

It suddenly had become very quiet. Only the sound of small arms fire in the distance and aircraft high above was heard. The highest ranking officer still left alive, a second lieutenant, screamed out, “Vacation's over! Follow the walkers and provide cover. We don't want the Hegeemos to get a lucky shot and bring it down.” The officer went off towards the walker with all of the other soldiers following closely behind. Only Ramses remained. He walked out from behind the bus and started heading in another direction.

“Ramses, didn't you hear the LT?” Rivera said as she approached him with Clayton nervously looking around with his gun scope in the off chance one of the enemy survived and wanted to take the opportunity to hit them while they all stood out in the open.

“Don't follow me. I've got to do this by myself.” Ramses said as he stripped off heavy pieces of armor from his uniform.

“You think your going to go find her by yourself?” Rivera asked. “She may be dead. She may have evacuated. You have no idea.”

“Who does he want to risk killing himself over? His wife?” Clayton asked.

“His Ex.” Rivera stated matter-of-factly.

“Get the fuck out of here? Really?” Clayton said making no effort to conceal his amusement.

“Dammit, I still love her!” Ramses said as he removed the extra ammo and the torn page from his rucksack and stuffed them inside of his webbing. He left the rucksack on the ground and checked his rifle again.

“You sound obsessed.” Clayton said stating the obvious.

Ramses said nothing. He pulled out the torn page again and smiled at it. “I need to know shes okay. I know she hates me. I know we've broken up, but I owe her. She gave me something I never had before.” Ramses carefully placed the page in his webbing and started to walk away.

“Michael. Wait. I'm coming with you.” Rivera said as she started to unload her gear and armor.

“No! I don't want to be responsible for your lives. You could get killed.” Ramses said.

“Ramses, you know you can't do this alone. I am coming with you.” Rivera removed the last of her armor and dropped her rucksack. “We're in a war zone, the chances I will die is pretty damn high. Why not die helping a friend?”

Ramses nodded. “Thank you.”

Clayton shook his head, “Well I won't leave you two to die on a fool's errand. I'll come along.”

Rivera walked up to Ramses and smiled, “What's the plan?”

Spanish Harlem, New York City, United States, Earth [Sol] 01092051

He came back tired from working all day in the shop and quietly shut the door behind himself. He sat down on the coach and removed the bundle of cash he hid inside of his coat. It felt light in his hand and knew his mother would notice. He was scared, but he came back like a good boy. He thought about just taking off with the money and staring again. Somewhere far away from here, but like his mother always told him... He didn't have the balls. As if like clockwork his mother came out of her room and snatched the bundle from his hands. She immediately noticed its light weight and threw it back in his face. The bundle exploded and floated down like confetti.


“It was a slow day. I swear to God!”

“USELESS! Your shit and your useless.” She reached out and grabbed him by the arm. She was surprisingly strong for her age and size and tossed him to the floor. She pummeled him with her fists and although he was a teenage man that could have easily fought back. He never did. He wouldn't dare. The thought of his older brother being dragged off by the cops for domestic violence fresh in his memory. He was also afraid of God's wrath, those that strike their mothers, they went straight to the deepest darkest parts of hell. His mother told him so. “Pick it up, estupido.”

He stood up. Wiped the blood from his nose and started to pick up the money off of the floor. “I'm sorry mommy. I'll do better.”

“You can't do better. You'll always be nothing.”

He gave her the money and she raised her hand high up in the air as if to hit him across the face. He instinctively fidgeted and she smiled. She walked back into her room and switched on her television. He looked in the fridge and found some leftover arroz con pollo and heated it up on the stove. He switched on the radio, careful to keep the volume low as to not provoke his mother. His dinner finished heating up and he served it on a plate on the table. He sat down to eat and paid no attention to the music on the radio. He was lost in his own thoughts.

“Bunker Hill Military Academy is opening enrollment for the Fall Semester and we need new recruits. Join the elite line of Grey that has defended America since 1928. Fast track to West Point, Air Force Academy, and Annapolis. Become an Army officer in just two years. Do you have what it takes to join our ranks?” A commercial played on the radio that came through to him loud and clear. He had never heard of the place, but it had come when he was desperate for a way out. Anyway out. It had never crossed his mind before, but he had just had the overwhelming thought of grabbing a knife from the rack and plunging it deep into his chest. The commercial was a sign from God. That's where he needed to go.

“Bunker Hill Military Academy.” He said in a whisper.

Barnes and Noble, New York City, United States, Earth [Sol] 08022059

Michael walked into the first floor of the store before opening and waved at Allison and her raven-haired friend, Heidi, who never ever waved back to him. He went downstairs to his work area and discovered a pallet of books already waiting for him to sort. He was very happy. Today would be the day he asked Allison out. He had already planned it out in his mind. During break he would find a time they were alone and pop the question. He spent the day before asking around for great places to take a date and he was certain he had a few gems that she would enjoy. Since he discovered Allison liked him, he had started to talk more openly to her. Slowly eking out her likes and dislikes. Happily discovering that she was into a lot of the things he was into. The day went by slowly and the break couldn't come fast enough for him. It did finally come and he rushed to grab a meal from the cafeteria on the third floor and made his way back to the break room. He wanted to get there before Allison did. He normally didn't have the same break time as her, but he spoke with Greg and he let him take his break later than usual.

He sat down and to his delight there was no one there yet. He looked at the clock in the far end of the room and counted the seconds off. Allison hadn't arrived yet and the more time she took the more a familiar sense of self-doubt kept creeping back up. He knew where that self-doubt came from and quickly banished it from his thoughts. He was no longer the scared young man he once was.

Allison after what seemed a lifetime for Michael walked into the break room with an eye catching red coat on. Michael had never truly looked at her like he did now moments before he would ask her out. Her blonde shoulder-length hair the color of the sun at its highest station in the day, each strand waving like ripples in a golden pond. Her beautiful pale skin glowed radiantly as she smiled at him from across the table. Her wide smile filled him with awe and tranquility. He was speechless. He had practiced what he was going to saw a million times before, but in this moment of truth it didn't come out. He had locked eyes with Allison and was lost in her intense eyes. They reminded him of a total lunar eclipse and mesmerized him, just as if he was staring at that force of nature, that comes only a few times in a man's life or if at all.

“Allison I have to tell you something.” He finally mustered. More coworkers poured into the break room, but he didn't care.

“Yes Michael?” Allison said smiling wider.

“Want to go out this Friday?”

“This Friday?” Allison looked down and giggled. “That's Valentine's Day.”

Michael wanted to punch himself in the face, he didn't realize it was Valentine's Day. She probably had plans already for the holiday. “I didn't realize, but is that still okay with you?”

“Michael I would be happy to go out with you this Friday.”

“I have to go back to work Allison, but I'll call you tonight.”

Allison smiled and said “I can't wait.”

Michael smiled back and left the room feeling happier then he ever had in years. He was slightly disappointed that his prepared speech didn't come out, but instead was replaced with an awkward mess of words that somehow worked. He walked back to the sorting room and was welcomed by the claps of the men there.

“Soldier got himself a date!” Greg shouted.

Michael chuckled, “You ass.”

Spanish Harlem, New York City, United States, Earth [Sol] 06012055

“ANIMAL! Get in here!” His mother ordered him to her room and he obeyed. He had no idea why he was there, but he had gotten many beatings for no reason at all. “I got a call from a GENERAL Puyans today about you going to college. I told him to go to hell since your not going.”

“I want to go to college.” He muttered meekly.

“Que cabrone? Speak LOUDER!”

“I WANT TO GO TO COLLEGE!” He screamed for the first time in his life against his mother. He fidgeted expecting a blow to come at any time, but it never came. His mother was just as surprised at him as he was of his sudden outburst.

“College? You want to go to college? Your a fucking idiot. Your stupid. What makes you think you can do it? Your worthless and won't amount to shit. So put away those fantasies and go to sleep. You have to work in the shop tomorrow.”


His mother stared at him and smiled. Seeming to relish the little display of defiance he had and the challenge it would be to crush. “General Puyans says you want to go to Bunker Hill MILITARY Academy. The military? They break your back. They get you killed. No one likes them. You want that?” He stood stone-faced and still defiant. His mother immediately knew that that was ineffective and changed her tactics. “So you want to be in the military? The military only take men. You? Your no man. Your a scared little boy who has no balls. You wouldn't survive a week in the military. You'll cry like a girl everyday and you'll quit. That is... if they don't toss your faggot ass out first.” As if to further prove her point his mother hit him with a swift back hand to the face. “What are you going to do?” She hit him again. “A man would have done something!” Then another hit. “Just what I thought. A coward.” She lifted her arm up again and as she swung it he caught it in midair. He held the arm in place and squeezed tight. “Let go of me ANIMAL!” She tried to kick him and pummel him with her free arm, but he caught that arm also and held her far enough away that she couldn't reach anything. She hit him where she could, but still he held on and did nothing. “FUCKING HIT ME YOU FAGGOT!”

“Calm down Lucy.” Is all he said until like a Warner's Brothers cartoon she tired herself out kicking and thrashing from beyond range. He let her go and they both locked eyes.

She now knew that she had lost him. That his mind was set and that things would never be the same again. Her pet had gone feral. Her slave was now free from her control. She turned in desperation towards her closet and ran into it at full speed. Crashing through its doors and sending bits of wood everywhere. She lifted the rod that used to hold her clothing up and smashed herself with it. “DIOS MIO!!! MICHAEL STOP HITTING ME!!!” She dropped the rod and started to scratch at her face and arms with her nails. “MICHAEL STOP!!! POR FAVOR!!! HELP!!!”

He turned and left his mother's room. He sat on the coach and waited. The heavy knock that he expected came on the door. “NYPD!!! OPEN UP!!!” He opened the door and two police officers came in. “Do you live here?”


“Whats going on here? We have multiple reports of screaming and domestic violence coming from this residence.” One of the officers said as the other looked around. The other officer went into his mother's room and came back a few seconds later.

“We need a paramedic unit here. I found a battered woman in one of the bedrooms.” The other officer said as he pulled out his gun and aimed it at Michael.

“You are under arrest. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law...”

SC: Loveland
A soldier fights through Hegemony occupied New York City and comes to terms with his life. A story that spans a hundred years. Set in WW3 about love, regret, and finding peace after losing the love of your life. Dedicated to my muse Leigh M.
Unknown, NYC Sewers, New York, Occupied America, Earth [Sol] 11102064

The three soldiers squeezed through the water pipe on their bellies as they held their rifles just above the black sludge that flowed below them. It took them five hours and a lot of bodily effort to make it through to the other side. At the end of the water pipe they dropped into a pool of festering sewage. They struggled to swim in the heavy substance and made it across the pool to a platform. They shook large chunks of sewage off of their uniform and began to strip and clean their rifles.

“That taste is not going to go away anytime soon. I think I drank some of the shit.” Clayton said as he forced himself to vomit.

“We all did Clayton.” Ramses removed a small package of baby wipes from one of his pockets and wiped his face and hands with it. When he was finished, he tossed it to Ramirez and she started to clean herself off with them.

“How much further?” Ramirez said as she tossed the last baby wipes to Clayton.

“My guess is we are somewhere under Union Square. We have to get to the Upper East Side. That's about five miles or so if we just walked. Considering we may have to take numerous detours. It could be much more then that.” Ramses answered.

“New York City is too fucking big.” Clayton said in disgust. The platform violently lurched and all three soldiers were tossed to the ground. “What the fuck was that?!”

“We're two miles underground. That must have been one hell of an explosion on the surface.” Ramses said as he rose back to his feet. He reached out and helped Ramirez up.

“You don't think they nuked the city?” She said.

“I don't think anyone would. There's no reason for that.” Ramses said not completely sure.

“You can never underestimate the Hegeemo's.” Clayton said shaking his head.

“We'll find out when we get back up there. Let's move.” Ramses moved down the platform and into a dark sewer. His helmet, the only piece of his armor that he kept, had a visor that adjusted to the darkness and he was able to see. He studied the fading etchings on the walls and figured out the direction and location from its numbers. The numbers were placed there nearly a century ago to help the engineers who worked in them find their way around the labyrinth that was New York City's underground. Ramses took point and his other two companions silently followed. They took special care not to disturb anything. The sewers may have seemed to be abandoned, but they all knew that very real dangers lurked in the darkness. Booby traps, unexploded ordinance, Hegemony patrols, PLA HKs, feral dogs, and gangs of survivors. The hours went by in total silence with only the occasional sound of distant small arms fire echoing off the stone walls.

“Check this out.” Clayton said just above a whisper. He pointed at a small steel cage in the distance with his rifle. The cage shook, but was bolted securely to the ground. Upon closer inspection the cage was filled with dozens of kitten sized rats. They swarmed inside trying to get out, but were trapped.

“That's someone's dinner. We better get out of here.” Ramses said as he took a detour down another tunnel.

“Rats? Rats? They eat rats?” Clayton said angry at the thought of his countrymen forced to eat vermin to survive.

Further down the tunnel they found more rat traps and the occasional booby trap. They bypassed them all and tried to leave the area as fast as they could. There was no way of knowing if these survivors were friendlies or had become twisted in the darkness. They all heard the stories of men who had become monsters, who attacked everyone like wild dogs and consumed their flesh. The struggle to survive under the occupied city had made many people slip into insanity. They didn't want to find out if the stories were true. They moved quickly through the tunnels until they no longer found any signs of human life.

Bunker Hill Military Academy, Wayne, Pennsylvania, United States, Earth [Sol] 14032055

He stood as straight as he could and squinted in the harsh sunlight. Behind him were three flags flying in the wind; the flag of the United States, the flag of the state of Pennsylvania, and the yellow flag of Bunker Hill. Before him were hundreds of spectators, mostly parents, who came to see them off. He didn't bother to look. He knew no one in the crowd was there for him. A Colonel in a neatly pressed U.S. Marine Corps dress uniform walked up to them from the spectator stand and slowly made his way through the lines of new recruits. He nodded approvingly and returned back to the stand without saying a word as a U.S. Army First Sergeant rushed forth and demanded them to raise their right hands.

“NOW REPEAT AFTER ME!” The Sergeant waited for them to all raise their hands into the air and continued, “I, state your name, solemnly swear that I will support and defend the constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, that I bear true allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.” After all the new recruits finished speaking the First Sergeant turned towards the crowd and called out in a loud booming voice, “We welcome the new recruits into the 128th Corps of Cadets!” The crowd erupted in cheers and many called out to their sons and daughters. “We love you John!” “We're proud of you Leslie!” With each call Michael felt more and more alone in the world. No one was calling out for him and before he could dwell on the thought further more sergeants appeared out from the spectator stand and broke the recruits into small groups and ordered them to move. Once they left the parade grounds and were away from the view of the spectators the sergeants demanded them to move faster and faster until they were all running. Some fell and the sergeants lifted them off the ground and pushed them back into formation.

They ran up a steep hill until they reached a dilapidated red brick building at the top. The recruits were lined up outside of the house and the First Sergeant appeared again in front of them. “My name is First Sergeant Schwartz and I will be your head Plebe trainer. You are no longer with your mommies and daddies and I will not be your goddamn babysitter. Here you are Plebes until I deem fit and as Plebes you are no longer an individual. You may not refer to yourself as 'me,' 'I,' or even use the word 'mine.' If you slip up and refer to yourself as a goddamn human being then you will get smoked. You are all now, 'this plebe' or 'these plebes.' Do you get me?!” All of the new recruits responded and he continued, “Forget everything you once were and all of the things you once had. Here you're all pathetic slime that might have what it takes to be molded into leaders of men. You will learn by the numbers or you will learn by pain. If you make my life harder by not learning or being a pain in the ass then I will make your already pathetic lives a thousand times worst. Now I can't trust any of you shitbags with a weapon just yet, so you will all be entrusted with a 'cap shield book' instead. Keep it with you at all times and memorize it word for word. If you lose it or leave it behind in the barracks. You might as well pray for our Lord and savior Jesus Christ to strike you with lighting, because you will be smoked until you die. Now I'm looking at some of you and y'all look like you don't know what being 'smoked' is. Anyone want to find out?” No one said anything. “Let's find out together!” He looked around and shouted, “FRONT LEANING REST POSITION!” The recruits stared back at him blankly and he shouted, “ON YOUR FACES! NOW!” The recruits tossed themselves on the floor and the slower ones were helped down by the other Plebe trainers with a “gentle” push. They performed push-ups, sit-ups, flutter kicks and mule kicks until they were all exhausted and barely able to keep up with the cadence of the First Sergeants commands. Satisfied that he had made his point the First Sergeant ordered them all to stand and many of them found it hard to. “Line up again Plebes.” The Plebe Trainers handed each a small blue book and then he said with a smile, “Time for your hair cuts.”

Spice, New York City, United States, Earth [Sol] 14022059

“And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor shall be lifted – nevermore!” Allison smiled as she finished.

Michael clapped approvingly and nodded. “I'm impressed. You memorized 'the Raven.' I don't think I ever memorized any poem that big. If I did. I've long since forgot it.” Michael sat back and drank from his Pina Colada.

“Well I did major in English so I guess it comes with the territory, but I love Edgar Allen Poe and memorized it on my own.”

“You majored in English? It makes sense. You're always reading at work and you seem to know about every literary classic from the works of Shakespeare to the Iliad. I like that.”

“Thank you. What do you like to read?”

“Historical non-fiction mostly, but occasionally I read fiction usually romance.”

“Wait... really?” Allison said.

“Yah, I get pointers in romance from them.” They both laughed and the waiter came to their table with their meals. They ate and Michael took special care to eat slowly. He didn't want to look like a slob in front of her although he usually ate very fast, a bad habit he picked up at Bunker Hill. He took a moment in the silence as they ate to sneak a peek at Allison. She was the most beautiful he had ever seen her before. She had little makeup on, but she didn't need any because of her natural beauty. She wore a white sundress with gold earrings that dangled and shimmered in the candlelight. Her blonde hair hung down to her shoulders and flowed like a golden tide with each of her subtle movements. Allison looked up from her plate of Pad Thai and both of their eyes met. She smiled at him while she lowered her head down, but still their eyes stayed locked together. Her blue eyes glowed and he smiled back at her. A feeling inside of him he did not fully understand or ever felt before swelled up inside of him. He knew he had just met this woman, but something about her made him happy. Made him feel like a man. No other woman before had conjured up those feelings in him. He whispered to himself, “I have asked and you have answered. Thank you.”

Unknown, NYC Sewers, New York, Occupied America, Earth [Sol] 12102064

“Where are we now?” Ramirez asked Ramses as he studied the numbers etched on the sewer walls.

“67th and Lexington. The subway line should be above us.” Ramses replied.

“Well we made excellent progress for today and we're not dead yet. I'm impressed.” Clayton said as he sat down on an old pipe and stretched his tired legs. “I think we should take a ranger nap. My legs are killing me and this is the first place we've run into that doesn't smell like shit.”

Ramirez was about to say something to Clayton, but Ramses stopped her. “He's right. We've been trudging through these sewers for almost twenty-two hours now. It is time to rest. We're going to need it for the last hump to the Upper East Side. God only knows what awaits us when we go back topside.” Ramses leaned up against a large water pipe and lifted his rifle up like a sentry would. “I'll take first watch. Ramirez will take second and Clayton you will take third. Two hour shifts. After that we're moving out.” Ramirez and Clayton both nodded and sat down on the cold damp ground. They leaned on each others backs with their rifles on top of their laps and quickly fell asleep. Ramses stood alone in the darkness listening to the soft snoring of Ramirez as he slowly paced around their position. He planted a few pen sized motion triggered explosives on two of the three entrances to their position and focused most of his time guarding the entrance without a booby trap. He swore he heard the sound of the train passing overhead and he found himself reminded of better days.

M Train – Brooklyn Bound, New York City, United States, Earth [Sol] 14022059

“How many can I kill, Chino? How many, and still have one bullet left for me?!” Michael landed on his knees for dramatic effect and smiled, “I told you I know my West Side Story.”

Allison giggled and smiled, “I swear I would have never guessed you were this goofy.”

“It's my professional cold and stern facade.” Michael said suddenly returning back to his feet and staring intently outside of the subway cars window as if deep in thought. Michael swung his vision back to Allison and smiled sweetly.

“This is it.” Both of them left the train and walked out into the cold street. Allison wore her heavy red wool coat and a white scarf to try and shield herself from the cold. Yet, she still seemed cold and he embraced her as they walked. He rubbed her as the wind picked up and drastically lowered the temperature. “Thank you Michael.” They tried to speak in the wind and cold, but found it impossible. Finally they reached the doorway of her apartment building and walked into the relative warmth of the lobby.

“Allison, I had a great time and I hope you did also. I better get going before it gets too late.” Michael turned to walk away.

“Wait.” Allison called out to him, “before you go. Would you like a cup of hot chocolate?”

Michael stopped just short of the door and said, “I would like that.”

“Come on up.” Allison and Michael both walked up three flights of stairs and Allison opened the door. “My roommates may be asleep so we have to be quiet.” Allison led him inside and motioned for him to sit on a couch in the living room. He sat down and nervously played with a bracelet he had on his right arm. Allison called out from the kitchen, “I don't have any more hot chocolate. Will a beer do?”

“Sure.” Michael said.

Allison walked over and handed him an open beer and he took a swig from it. She smiled at him and drank from a large green cup full of water. “I had a great time today Michael.”

“I'm glad you did. I had a great time with you also.” Allison sat next to him and both stared into each others eyes. Michael held Allison's hand and smiled.

“Oh my God! Your hands are so cold!” She laughed and covered her mouth realizing she had just woken up everyone in her apartment building.

“Leelee? Is that you?” One of her roommates came out of her room rubbing her eyes as if she had just been woken up. Michael recognized her as Emily Rose from a party he and Allison had attended before they had dated that was hosted by one of their co-workers. Emily was a pretty young woman from Wisconsin with brown curly hair that hung just above her shoulders. She wore a tight white shirt and pink pajama bottoms. Her eyes focused to the light and she noticed a man in her house. “Hi, Michael!” Her midwestern accent slipping through.

“Hi, Emily. It's so good to see you again,” he said as Allison inspected his hands.

“Your hands are amazing.”

“Well I've heard people say I have doctor hands.” Michael replied with a chuckle.

“Michael, can I paint your nails?” Allison said excitedly.

“What?” He said taken aback.

“Pleeeeease!” Allison said with a wider smile.

“Um.. sure.” Michael said giving in.

“Emily get me the new nail polish I bought. You know, the one with the glitter.”

“Wait, you said nothing about glitter!” He said as he begun laughing.

“Hush you. You'll look great.” Allison lifted his right hand up and Emily soon returned with the nail polish. Both of them worked on each hand as some random horror movie played on the television. When they had finished, they backed away to marvel at their handiwork and Allison asked, “What do you think?”

Michael lifted his hands into view and smiled. “I think I look and feel like a pretty pretty princess.” They all chuckled and Allison broke out the nail polish removal. She was about to remove the nail polish when she was stopped by him, “No. I'm going in to work tomorrow with these on. As a badge of courage and a sign of my affection for you.”

Allison chuckled and rolled her eyes. “That movie we saw got to your head.”

Michael stood up and satisfied that the nail polish had dried thanked them both for their company and made his way to the door with Allison closely behind him. She let him out and as he was about to go he placed his right hand over her cheek and sweetly smiled. “Good-bye Allison.” She gave him a long hug and he descended the stairs and out into the frigid cold. He didn't feel it at all as he happily made his way home. He was more then three hours away from his brothers place in Union City, but he didn't mind. The entire way there he thought of her and he knew he had met someone special. Someone he had been waiting all of his life to meet and someone he couldn't wait to see again.

 Bunker Hill Military Academy, Wayne, Pennsylvania, United States, Earth [Sol] 21042055

“RAMSES! Front and center!” First Sergeant Schwartz demanded as Ramses backed up from the formation and ran towards Schwartz. He stopped just short of him and reported in. “Ramses recite the general orders.” Ramses stared at him blankly and said muttered something, but Schwartz couldn't hear him. “Goddammit Ramses you should know this shit. You can't have a general idea of your general orders!”

“Sorry First Sergeant,” Ramses muttered meekly.

Schwartz took a step back with a look of horror on his face. “What did you say?!”

“Sorry First Sergeant,” Ramses repeated louder.

Schwartz looked around to his other Plebe Trainers as if insulted, “Did you hear that?!”

Sergeant Wilson shook his head and said in a heavy Carolina accent, “Ramses just called you a sorry First Sergeant.”

“The hell he did. Get on your asses! ALL OF YOU!” Schwartz ordered and all of the cadets dropped to the ground without question. “Ramses, you stand up. I want you to watch.”

Ramses stood up and watched as his battle buddies were smoked until they had no strength left to stand up straight. Sweat poured from their faces and he caught glimpses of hate as they glared at him from the ground. Ramses knew that if he didn't stop screwing up that he would either be beaten by them in the middle of the night or washed out of the Academy. He didn't want to fail. He didn't want his mother to be proven right. He wasn't a worthless sack of shit that wouldn't amount to anything. Those were his mother's words not his. He had to prove it to himself that he could succeed. That he was a man. “First Sergeant Schwartz, this Plebe is sorry for insulting you. This Plebe asks that his Plebe brothers not be punished further for this Plebes stupidity.” Ramses said standing tall.

Schwartz sized Ramses up and nodded to the other trainers. “Take the other Plebes to the barracks for some cleaning detail. I'll deal with this one.” The formation of new recruits struggled to their feet and marched off to the barracks. “Ramses, start double-timing around this parade track and don't stop until I tell you too.”

Ramses started to run and Schwartz followed closely behind him. Ramses ran a few laps before his legs and lungs screamed for him to stop and quit. Schwartz noticed that he was slowing down and screamed encouragement, “Hurry the fuck up!” “You run like a woman!” “Move it wide body!” He kept pushing himself further and further as it felt like his heart was going to explode inside of his chest. He felt a ball of vomit rise from his stomach and it poured out of his mouth and onto the pavement. He fell to the ground and began to cry. He cried as he knelt in the pool of vomit and Schwartz stopped. Schwartz stared at Ramses uncomfortably and said, “What the fuck is wrong with you?” Schwartz pulled an official release form from his uniform and showed it to him. “All you have to do is sign and you can go home. You can quit right now and be back with your momma before supper. Your holding your battle buddies back. You just aren't making it here.”

Ramses muttered nonsensically and tried to speak, but couldn't, instead he cried harder. Ramses stood up and spoke in a quivering voice, “I don't want to quit. I don't want to quit. I am not a failure. I am not a failure. I can't go back. Not like this. I can't go back!” He cried again and seeing the completed release form made him fall into despair. They had expected him to wash out or they wouldn't have gone through the motions of filling out the release form. He had never succeeded in anything in his life and how he had fooled himself into believing he could succeed in Bunker Hill was beyond him. All he had to do was sign and confirm that this was his grandest failure. That his mother was right and that he wouldn't amount to anything. Sign and return back to the hopelessness and abuse. “Please... I don't... can't quit.”

Schwartz looked at him with almost a look of pity, but his face quickly changed back to stone. “Ramses what does it say on your shirt?”

Ramses looked down at his gray PT shirt and said, “Bunker Hill.”

“Below that.”


“Exactly. Your in the military now. Your a soldier so cowboy the fuck up. I don't know what happened in your past or why the fuck you have such a low self esteem, but keep that shit locked up. This is your family now and if you're going to succeed in the military you're going to have to have confidence in yourself. It begins with you and frankly I am surprised you lasted this long. Its been three weeks and your still here, when many others have long since left. Michael.” Schwartz's face softened and he placed his hand on Ramses shoulder. “Don't give up. I can tell you want to do this, but it requires that you change what's up here.” Schwartz tapped his head with his free hand and then placed the paper back into his uniform. “Don't make me have to take that out again or I will make sure that you quit if I do.” Ramses nodded and wiped the tears from his eyes. “Now get your ass back to the barracks.”

Unknown, NYC Sewers, New York, Occupied America, Earth [Sol] 12102064

“Why didn't you wake me up for second watch?” Ramirez asked Ramses in the darkness.

“I didn't want to wake you. You need your rest.”

“Your thinking of her aren't you?”

Ramses lowered his rifle and looked up towards the pipes above. “Ramirez am I really that easy to read? I was thinking about my past... about her most of all... I often wonder if she still thinks about me. Like I do about her almost every day now. I can't stop thinking about her and I want to forget about her and move on with my life, but I can't. I want to do what she did and convert that love into hate so it'll be easier to let go, but I can't find a reason to hate her.”

“She hates you. Shouldn't that be enough?”

Ramses looked down towards the damp ground. “She has good reason to hate me.”

“What did you do?”

“Where do I start?” Ramses was about to begin to speak again when one of his booby traps went off and filled the darkness with light and heat. Another bomb went off and Clayton woke up from his sleep and without thinking unleashed a salvo of bullets in the direction of the explosions.

Dozens of shadowy figures approached them at blindingly fast speeds and all three of them shot at the mysterious invaders with their rifles. Theses figures moved like creatures from a zombie horror movie and yelled out in a soul piecing cry that made them retreat back into the only open entrance. The first wave of creatures were taken down by the soldiers, but another wave climbed over the bodies and quickly closed the distance between them. Ramses was tackled by four of them and fell to the hard ground and was hit in the stomach by the creatures. He opened his eyes and gasped in horror as he realized that these creatures were actually human beings. Their skin was covered in blotches and pale from the lack of sunlight. Their mouths were filled with rotten teeth and smelled worst then the worst sewage pile he had ever encountered. Most of them were naked, but a few had on rags of clothing from their former lives. Ramses grabbed a bloody tie one had around its neck and twisted him into another female that was pounded him with her fist. He lifted his leg and kicked another in the face, breaking its neck and stood up with the fourth, a child, still clinging on his back. The child bit him on his bare neck and he tossed him into another group of fast approaching feral humans. The Ferals trampled over the small child and Ramses lifted his rifle and sprayed them with lead until he ran out of ammunition. He tried to pull another clip from his pocket, but the Ferals ran up to him and grabbed him by his helmet. They threw him against the wall and he cried out, “LEELEE!” As they jumped on him.

A light filled the sewer and he was blinded by it. The Ferals screamed in terror and he was pulled up from the ground. He looked up and saw Ramirez fire from two rifles into the cowering Ferals. Clayton held Ramses by the hand and tossed him over his shoulder. Clayton ran down the sewer with Ramses on his back as Ramirez followed closely behind. The Ferals screams filled the tunnels and they raced after them in the darkness.

Mess Hall, Bunker Hill Military Academy, Wayne, Pennsylvania, United States, Earth [Sol]

Ramses sat six inches into his chair with his back straight and his head leveled with the deck. He lifted his fork to eye level with some meatloaf and in a crisp rigid motion stuffed it in his mouth. As soon as he lowered his fork and arms he began to chew without ever having to look down at his plate. He had learned the hard way what would happen if he had broken protocol. They would take away his meal and certainly smoke him later. If he wanted to eat he would have to follow the rules. Ramses hit the table with hand and extended it out as if to shake someones hand.

“What is it Ramses?” Sergeant Wilson said slightly irritated.

“Can this Plebe and his Plebe brothers have some hot sauce?”

Wilson gave Ramses a hard stare and then said, “Granted. That meat loaf tastes like shit. I don't blame you.” Wilson tossed the hot sauce to Ramses and he put some on his food. Ramses handed it to the other new recruits in the table and it was passed around. Wilson took a big bite out of a chocolate cake slice and smiled. “Not gonna lie. It's delicious.” He took another bite. “Too bad y'all can't have any.”

The Cadet Second Captain, the second highest ranking officer in the Academy entered the Mess Hall with a cadre of a dozen uniformed officers and civilian personnel. He motioned for them to wait by the door and he marched to the front of the assembled Corps of Cadet. He wore a black uniform with large golden buttons, red piping, a red sash, and two bloodlines that ran down the length of his pants. His shoes were highly shined sounded like a galloping horse as he walked. He pivoted as he reached the front of the Mess Hall and barked out, “Officers and NCO's assemble your Cadets and head to the chapel.” The cadets murmured to themselves at the usual call to chapel on a Tuesday morning.

“De-Tierra, what an asshole.” Wilson said loudly as he passed by their table. De-Tierra didn't hear or care as he walked by.

First Sergeant Schwartz crept up behind Wilson and smacked him hard behind the back of the head. “Remember to respect the chain of command Wilson.” Schwartz looked at him hard and said, “you heard the Second Captain. Get them to the Chapel.”

“Okay Plebes. You know the drill.” Wilson stood up and so did the men on the table. They pushed in their chairs in unison and cleaned the table in a few seconds. They all turned together and marched out in a single line. Outside they formed up into their respective squads and marched into the Chapel by their companies. They filled the pews of the Chapel just leaving room for one person on both ends of the pew. Soon the officers marched in and took the remaining seats on the outside of the pews. The flag bearers entered with the yellow flag of Bunker Hill and the flag of the United States and placed it high on the alter just below the cross. When everyone was settled, the Second Captain appeared and took the eagle shaped podium.

“Today you are assembled here to honor and pray for your brothers and sisters who have died defending Taiwan from China. Last night as we all slept the People's Republic of China attacked the Allied Fleet in the Strait of Taiwan. Dozens of Allied ships were sunk and thousands of American sailors and marines have lost their lives. Of those men and women, two-hundred and six were graduates from Bunker Hill. Those among the dead include our First Captain and numerous other current cadets who were reservists deployed to the Pacific.” De-Tierra stopped as if to prevent himself from crying. “Cadets from Bunker Hill have fought and died in every conflict America has been in since World War Two. Participating in every major battle our country has ever fought from the Battle of the Bulge, to the Chosin Reservoir, to Mogadishu, to Fallujah, and even losing a graduate who was a firefighter during the World Trade Center attacks nearly a half a century ago.” He motioned for them to rise and they all did so in unison. They held their caps over their hearts and the Second Captain spoke again. “Today we add two-hundred and six more names to the book of remembrance. The single largest addition in Bunker Hill's history. They died so that we may be able to call ourselves American.” A bugler played TAPS in the distance and De-Tierra stomped his left foot into the alter making a thunderous sound that echoed across the chapel. De-Tierra called out each new name slowly as the chaplain wrote their names into the book of remembrance. The book was enshrined in a glass case by the alter and was a heavy leather bound book with golden edges. The chaplain wrote in the book carefully with an old colonial pen made from a Bald Eagle's feather.

“Alexander L. Jacobs, Class of '54, Battle of Taiwan!”

“Linda N. Pollard, Class of '52, Battle of Taiwan!”

“Ron G. Lin, Class of '51, Battle of Taiwan!”

“Hamatha T. Madras, Class of '42, Battle of Taiwan!”

“Alejandro C. Torres, Class of '49, Battle of Taiwan!”

“Kevin L. Benjamin, Class of '21, Battle of Taiwan!”

De-Tierra continued to call out each name as the Bugler lightly played TAPS just outside the chapels open door. Many of the cadets lost their military bearing and softly wept as the endless precession of names was read aloud. Ramses found himself one of those crying. He cried for his dead brothers and sisters. This was his family now and each name was a loved one he never met. When the names were all called out the chaplain said, “let us pray that God shine his perpetual light on them and as they served America on Earth may they serve God in Heaven.”

All the chapel went silent as the entire Corps of Cadets prayed and cried in silence. One female cadet began to spontaneously sing, “Hail Alma Mater dear. High wave thy colors clear. Thee we shall er revere, all through the years.” Other cadets began to sing along with her. “Let courage be our stand. Honor our guiding hand. Conquer throughout the land. Bunker Hill for thee!” Soon everyone inside of the chapel was singing with them. “Lead us with beacon bright! Guide our steps firm and right. So we may always FIGHT! Buff and blue for thee!” Their voices resonated across the academy and found its way to the neighboring residential houses that bordered the academy. “WHEN OUR LAST TAPS ARE PLAYED! MAY THOU BE NOT DISMAYED! WE PRAY AS ONCE HE PRAYED! BUNKER HILL FOR THEE!!!”

Skyrink Pier 51, New York City, United States, Earth [Sol] 02212059

Allison landed on the ice on her butt for the third time. She looked up at Michael and just shook her head in disbelief. “Why did you think ice skating would be a good idea for a date?”

“Honestly? It gives me an excuse to hold you. How was I supposed to know you were so lousy at it?” Michael held his hand out and pulled Allison back up to her feet.

“Well I'm not the best skater. I probably did it twice in my life.”

“Hold my hand. I'll help you.” Michael took Allison by the hand and they skated together across the rink. The Hudson river and Jersey City skyline surrounded them in the panoramic windows as they moved together across the ice. After another hour Allison got the hang of it and started skating on her own. “See, its like riding a bike or something.” The lights dimmed and it was time to go and they both returned their skates to the booth.

Once outside Allison twirled in the cold air and smiled. “It feels so good to be standing on my own two feet. Where to next?” Her blond hair swaying in the wind and her red wool coat fluttering in the wind.

“I know this great places a few blocks from here that has these amazing Tapas.”

“Spanish food? Good choice.” Allison smiled and hugged him. “Thank you for taking me here.”

“When I was a kid this was one of the places I remember loving to go. It made me so happy to come here and lose myself on the ice. I am glad you got to share it with me.” Michael changed the subject from his past. “I'm not glad that you tumbled five plus times. Are you always this clumsy? Because if you are I might have to plan less complicated dates.”

Allison laughed and shook her head, “I like going to museums. Not trying to give you any hints or anything.”

It didn't take long to walk the distance to the restaurant and once there they were taken to their table by the hostess. They talked for hours about themselves as the server brought over different Spanish dishes. When the check came Michael was trying to calculate the tip he should leave behind when he noticed Allison rubbing her left ankle. “Are you alright?”

“My ankle hurts. It must be from one of those nasty tumbles I took on the ice.”

Michael reached out and rubbed her ankle. “Yah, it feels like there's a bump there. I'm sorry about that.” He messaged the ankle and she grinned. “Lets take you home.” Michael helped Allison off of her seat and left money on the table. He held her close and she laid her head on his shoulder. They entered the subway station and he heard the train pulling into the station. “We'll get you home soon.” He said softly, kicking himself inside for hurting her. He was careless and he felt horrible for putting her in that situation. The doors to the train closed and they both sat down. Allison snugged up against him and he brushed his hands through her hair. He felt more for Allison than any other woman in the world and he wanted to do everything to protect her.

Unknown, NYC Sewers, New York, Occupied America, Earth [Sol] 12102064

Ramses woke up on Clayton's back and saw a crowd of Ferals chasing them. Ramirez was just besides them still shooting quick bursts from her two rifles into the closest Ferals. The Ferals howled and more of them appeared out of the tunnels. Ramses tapped Clayton on the back and he let him down. Ramirez tossed him one of her two rifles and he caught it in midair. Ramses and Clayton turned and shot at the fast approaching beasts. They ran backwards as they shot, occasionally looking behind them to make sure they weren't walking into a hole or pipe. Ramses switched on the tactical light on his rifle and it temporarily forced the Ferals back as he slapped his last clip of ammunition in. Ramirez ran out of ammunition herself and was now using her sidearm.

“Fuck it! Let's just run!” Ramses shouted above the sound of gunshots and wild howling. Clayton and Ramirez broke off and ran as fast as they could down one of the tunnels. Ramses sprayed the last of his clip into the first batch of Ferals and they tumbled to the floor. The Ferals just behind them tripped on their bodies, but quickly corrected themselves and began to pursue them again. His heart raced as he moved swiftly ahead, pushing himself harder then he had in years. His tired body wanted to quit on him and his mind felt dizzy from the lack of sleep. He knew he couldn't give up. If he stopped running he would certainly die and if he stopped running he would never see Leelee again. He pushed harder then he had ever pushed fueled by the thought of her.

Museum of Natural History, New York City, United States, Earth [Sol] 02032059

“Stop running Michael.” Allison said as Michael ran up the massive stairs to the Museums entrance.

“I'm pretty excited to be here. I can't wait to see the dinosaurs!” Michael made a motion like a tyrannosaurus on the hunt. “I remember the last time coming her was for a fourth grade school trip.”

Allison laughed and reached the top of the steps. Michael hugged her and they both smiled. “You are so silly, but no more of that or I'll have to put you in time out.” They both laughed and entered the museum.

Michael grabbed a map of the museum off of the wall and then grabbed a dozen more of them in different languages. Allison gave him an odd look and he smiled as he stuffed them inside of his navy blue trench coat pocket. “I collect maps. I have like 2,500 plus of them back home.”

Allison looked at him with wide eyes, “wow. That's a lot of maps.”

“Do you collect anything?”

“Not really.” Allison looked up at the signposts above and tugged at his coat. “Let's go here first. I want to see the gem and mineral exhibit.” She led him to the gem exhibit while holding his hand. She stopped in front of a massive car sized red and brown rock that was bathed in pink light. She reached out and felt the rock with her hand. She closed her eyes as she did and smiled.

“M-1987L. Martian Tholeiitic Basalt mixed with sulfur and amethyst . Four metric tons. From the Plains of Utopia. Donated to the people of New York City from the people of New Eden, Mars.” Michael read the gold plaque out loud and she opened her eyes and they gleamed in the pink light. “I take it you want to go to the colonies?”

“One day I will go. I don't know how, but I will.”

“Everyone is trying to go nowadays. I want to go, but unless your rich, a scientist, or a soldier...” He stopped speaking and said, “well not now, but maybe in the future.” They moved on to the gems and jewels exhibits and slowly moved through the large display of riches from ancient times and the colonies. “Who knew the colonies had so many jewels? Some of the stuff from there makes the ancient stuff look like costume jewelry.”

“Yah, but the old stuff are the classics with history.” Allison stopped at in front of the Star of India Sapphire and stared at it for a few minutes. “Michael get a picture of me with it.” He lifted the camera up and had to pause. Allison's blue eyes shone just like the golf ball sized sapphire on display. She waved at him and he recovered from his momentary paralysis. She made a silly pose and he snapped a few pictures of her.

Valley Forge National Park, Pennsylvania, United States, Earth [Sol] 28042055

“IN A BIG BIRD UP IN THE SKY, ALL WILL JUMP AND SOME WILL DIE!” The company of new recruits shouted together as their heavy ruck packs weighed them down as they marched together through the wilderness. “OFF TO BATTLE WE WILL GO! TO LIVE OR DIE, HELL I DONT KNOW!” Every step they took was perfectly synced even after they had marched almost twenty miles in full battle rattle and clutching an M-16 rifle. “HAIL O' HAIL O' INFANTRY, QUEEN OF BATTLE FOLLOW ME! AN AIRBORNE RANGERS LIFE FOR ME, O' NOTHING IN THIS WORLD IS FREE!” Ramses felt exhausted, but the sound of his brothers singing together filled with with strength. He belonged and although it was very hard he was making it. Many expected him to wash out, but he doggedly stayed on. Enduring the constant smoke sessions and hard stares, but he was determined to prove to himself that he was a man. “EARLY AT NIGHT ITS DRIZZILIN' RAIN, I AM HIT AND FEEL NO PAIN! BUT IN MY HEART I HAVE NO FEAR, BECAUSE MY RANGER GOD IS HERE!” The company slowed to a half step march and soon stopped.

“Can all you Plebes here me?” First Sergeant Schwartz broke off from the back of the formation and walked to the center of both platoons which made up India Company. “Today as you may have noticed begins 'Health and Wellness Week,' but lets not pussyfoot around what it really is, 'HELL WEEK!' If you think you're cadets yet and that you've made it. Guess again. If you survive the week you will be presented in front of the honorary Cap Shield Board. There you will earn this.” Schwartz lifted a golden shield high above his head for all to see. The shield was the same emblem on the flag of Bunker Hill. It was worn by all cadets as a mark that they had endured and passed the basic training portion of their career at Bunker Hill. Afterward they could wear it on their covers and were officially members of the Long Gray Line. It was an honor that could not be taken away. “You better know your shit. Those books we gave you before, you better know by heart. You better know your weapons top to bottom and you better know your drills. You know what else is expected of you so it would behoove you to study, study and study.” Schwartz looked around and shouted, “Wilson! Move 'em back to the barracks.”

“Y'all heard the First Sarge. FORWARD!” Wilson paused longer then usual for dramatic effect and yelled, “MARCH!” India Company moved swiftly through the forest and reached Younghusband Hall before nightfall. Wilson looked at his watch and smiled, “I'm feeling generous. Y'all have three minutes to get ready. Fall out for shower formation!” Ramses and all the other Plebes broke off from the formation and ran inside like men possessed. Ramses entered his spartan room and was soon joined by his roommate Rippin. They both shed their soiled uniforms and heavy rucksacks in record time. They stripped naked and put on their bathrobes and flip flops. Both of them assisted each other without even having to speak in fixing up the room to be inspection ready. Rippin broke down the rucksacks while Ramses deposited the dirty uniforms in the hamper, retrieved their shower kit and cleaned the room up.

“You ready?” Rippin asked Ramses. Ramses nodded and tossed him his shower kit. “Let's go!”

Both of them raced down the stairs with dozens of other men. One of them stopped in place and shouted, “Shit I forgot my towel!” Another Plebe tossed him a towel and the Plebe was immediately relieved. “Thank you DiCave. You just saved me from an ass kicking.”

They reached the showers all the way down in the basement with only a few seconds to spare. They all formed up into a long line stretching from the shower room as the Plebe trainers herded them into the showers ten at a time. Wilson stomped up and down the long hallway screaming, “Y'all make sure you clean your filthy balls. Get behind your goddamn ears too!” Ramses and many of the other Plebes began to lather their bodies with soap already. There was no time to ever do that. Ramses poured shampoo over his bare head and it soon was his turn. “Y'all have two minutes!” Wilson pushed him into the shower room and he found himself an open shower head. There was no partition and everyman was exposed. Ramses laughed at himself remembering how at first everyone would cover up their genitalia with their hands or tried to hide in the corner, but it only made it harder to shower. After a few weeks no one cared and just showered as if there wasn't nine other naked men in there with you. “Y'all have thirty seconds!” Ramses cursed to himself. He knew it had only been twenty seconds, not a minute and a half. As he finished that thought Wilson began to count down from ten seconds. Ramses finished cleaning the important bits of his body and ran out of the shower. Ramses picked up his bathrobe and went up to his room. His entire room was destroyed. All of the contents of his wall locker tossed to the floor and both bunk beds completely ruined.

Schwartz peered into the room and smiled, “Your room is jacked up. You better square it away Plebe. You have five minutes.” Ramses knew that was impossible. “Oh, and your out of uniform.” Ramses went off to do the impossible and fix the room up to be inspection ready all the while slipping out of his bathrobe and into his uniform. Rippin walked in and shouted a loud expletive.

“They're fucking with us. We have about three minutes to fix it.” Ramses said as he folded up the shirts and uniforms to the Academies specifications. Rippin jumped up and started fixing the beds up. Six inch lengths and hospital folds. They worked together, but the task was indeed impossible. Schwartz stormed into the room and tossed everything again and demanded they try again. He did this to every room and everyone numerous times. After the sixth room tossing he ordered all the Plebes out of the room and they complied.

“This is embarrassing. You should have gotten the hang of it by the fifth damn time. You will now learn through PAIN!” Schwartz pointed at Wilson who gleefully stepped forward.

“Y'all all get on your backs right now!” Wilson ordered and all of the men dropped on their asses. “BACK!” They all broke into flutterkicks. “FRONT!” They all broke into push-ups. “GO!” They all ran in place. Wilson kept switching up the exercises until the men were exhausted and groaning in pain. “FRONT! Ramses you better get with it!” Wilson pointed at Ramses who was having a hard time keeping up with the pace.

Schwartz walked up and down the hallway full of sweaty exhausted men with a taunting voice mimicking a babies cry, “WAH! WAH! WAH! I WANT TO GO HOME! WAH! WAH! WAH! I MISS MOMMY! WAH! WAH! WAH!”

Wilson stood in front of Ramses and glared at him, “Keep up Ramses! FRONT!” Ramses dropped from his run and tried to do push-ups. His arms refused to bulge. “FRONT RAMSES!” Ramses lowered himself and his body cried out in pain, but he couldn't give up. He was less than a week from being a cadet, a soldier. Ramses felt himself let go and his body was now running on autopilot. It was going to be a long week. He wondered if he would survive it.

Unknown, NYC Sewers, New York, Occupied America, Earth [Sol] 12102064

Ramses ran as fast he could with what seemed to be hundreds of Ferals behind him. He had no real weapon left except for a long knife and two fragmentation grenades. He could drop one of the frags on them, but he decided against it because of tight quarters. It would most likely kill him also. Ramses had no idea where Ramirez or Clayton went, they had ran off ahead of him and now were nowhere in sight. He saw a light shine just ahead and spotted an arm come down from it. It was the hulking ex-football player arm of Clayton. Ramses ran towards the light and jumped up. He grabbed Clayton's arm and was pulled up. The Ferals leapt up towards him blindly, but he primed one of his grenades and dropped it down on them. Clayton and Ramses rolled away from the hole and the frag went off with a loud bang. Ramses stood up and looked down into the hole he had just been pulled from and turned away. The Ferals which had fallen victim to the grenade were now being torn apart by other Ferals. They ripped chunks of their flesh off with their teeth and fought over shredded limbs.

“Thank you Clayton.” Ramses sat down trying to catch his breath. He was about to ask where they were, but he recognized that they were now inside a subway tunnel. He stood up and Ramirez hugged him. “That was close.” Ramses began to walk down the tunnels and said aloud what everyone was thinking, “There sure are a lot of those things down there.”

“Well now we know that they're not myth,” Clayton said.

Ramses laughed and stopped. He noticed a number six train in the distance. He ran up to it and climbed aboard. The first car was crammed with over a hundred decomposing bodies. He took special care to carefully step over the bodies and not disturb them. He saw the bodies of women and children who were unlikely to run into a Hegemony HK during the evacuation. The entire side of the car was riddled with bullet holes. They never stood a chance. The HK had to have been lying in wait and sprayed the entire train as it passed. A sound like a long dormant machine coming back to life filled the tunnel. Ramses stood up fully and looked out of the subway cars side window and cried out in terror. The car was filled with a bright light and he felt himself pissing himself out of fear. The machine called out in Mandarin in a harsh metallic voice, he had no idea what it was saying. The machine stood up and moved forward with its dual Gatling machine guns spinning up to attack.

Allison's Apartment, Brooklyn, New York City, United States, Earth [Sol] 14032059

Michael lifted Allison up and spun her around in his arms. He lightly placed her back on her feet and she smiled up at him. She took his hand and led him to the couch. He took a seat and she went to the kitchen to find some beers. Allison sat back down next to him and gave him an open beer bottle. He took a sip and laid his head down on her lap. He looked up at her and she stroked his hair. “I've been thinking about giving you a 'nom de affection' and I couldn't think of any. I think its important I have a cute name for you. I can't go around calling you 'honey,' 'baby,' or 'sweety' since every other guy calls their girlfriend that and I think your better then that... you get what I am trying to say Baroness?”

Allison shook her head and laughed, “Is that what you came up with?”

“Yah, it sucks doesn't it?”

“A little.” Allison drank from her bottle and placed it on the floor by her feet. “Well my roommates call me 'Leelee' sometimes. Maybe you can use that?”

“Why do they call you that?”

“Well its a nickname I've had since I went to high school in Loveland. Its a play on my middle name and it just stuck and has followed me around ever since.”

“Leelee. I like that.” Michael suddenly sprung from her lap and declared in a semi-drunk slur, “Henceforth let it be known to the world that I shall call thee 'Leelee.' So sayeth me. Sir Michael the First of New York!”

Allison gave him a strange look and giggled, “what the fuck?” She motioned for him to lay his head back on her lap. “You're so goofy. I swear to God I had no idea you were like this when I decided to date you.”

Michael laid his head back to rest on her lap and he said, “you know you were pleasantly surprised by this discovery.”

“I was. I like this Michael so much more then the guy at work.”

“Quoth said the Raven never more.” He looked up at her with a guilty smile on his face.

“For the hundredth time! Quoth means 'said,' so it's unnecessary AND your ruining a classic.” Allison pushed him off of her lap and onto the floor. He went limp and they both laughed.

“I prefer my version of the Raven so much more.” He climbed back on the coach and took hold of her soft hands. He looked up into her radiant blue eyes and smiled. She squeezed his hands and they stared into each other eyes for what seemed like a lifetime. He didn't know what to do. He wanted more than anything to kiss her, but he didn't want to hurt her. He didn't want to drag her into his world. His inner turmoil.

“It's okay. You can kiss me.” She said in a whisper.

He still hesitated. She squeezed his hand and closed her eyes. He leaned closer and kissed her gently on the lips. Her soft lips met his own and he felt a spark rise inside of him. He had kissed many other women before, but this was the first woman he had ever kissed that he had any real feelings for. Just one kiss from her filled him with delight and other feelings he had no idea how to word properly in his mind. He pulled his face from hers and she smiled. Slightly licking her lips, and said with a laugh “your lips are so kissable.”

He raised his right hand and caressed her face with it. She moaned lightly with his touch and he leaned in again. He kissed her longer and more deeply this time. He soon let go of his fears and passionately kissed her again and again. Their hands wildly moved about each other clothed bodies well into the night. The light of dawn soon peaked through the window and he rose up. “I have to go back home Allison. I have to go to work in a few hours.”

She reached out to him and sat him back down on the coach. “You don't have enough time to go all the way back to Jersey and then to work. You won't get any sleep. Please stay with me.” He nodded and she led him to her bedroom. He didn't dare to overstep himself so he just removed his shoes and laid down. Allison left the room and returned in her pajamas. A sky blue tank top and a blue pajama bottom with circus elephants printed all over it. Allison crawled into the bed and snuggled up next to him. It was a small bed so they both had to sleep on their sides. She rose up slightly, propped up by her elbow and stroked his hair with her other hand as sleep began to overtake him. For the first time in his entire life he felt safe, loved, and no longer alone. He only slept four hours, but it was the best sleep he had ever gotten.

Bunker Hill Military Academy, Wayne, Pennsylvania, United States, Earth [Sol] 06052055

“FALL OUT! FALL OUT! FALL OUT!” Ramses rose up from his top bunk and leapt off. He instinctively fixed his bed and tossed on his uniform. Rippin was doing the same and neither had any idea why they were being called to formation before reveille was sounded. They both double checked each others uniforms and then formed up outside of their room. One to each side of the door. Wilson was walking up and down the barracks hallway slamming the doors of cadets who hadn't fallen out yet. “HURRY UP! HURRY UP! WAITING ON YOU! WAITING ON YOU!” Wilson ordered them all to get into the front leaning rest position and they all dropped to the ground. “YOU PLEBES PUSH! Push until your goddamn battle buddies decide to grace us with their presence!” It didn't take long until everyone was outside in the hallway. Wilson had them all push anyways, completely ignoring or not caring that they were all outside now. “Oh good. We're all here.” Wilson led them outside of the barracks and they marched off in formation to the parade grounds in total silence.

First Sergeant Schwartz was out on the grounds in his PT's covered in sweat. He had been running and he stopped in front of the formation. “Good morning Plebes!”

“Good morning First Sergeant!” They shouted back.

“That was pathetic. Say it again and this time with some goddamn motivation!”

“GOOD MORNING FIRST SERGEANT!!!” They all shouted together in unison. Their voices so loud that hundreds of birds who were asleep in the trees beyond the parade grounds burst up in a panic and flew away as fast as their wings would carry them.

“Much better Plebes! Tonight you will all go up in front of the honorable Cap Shield Board and you will prove yourselves to them. You will earn your shields or go home. Those of you that make it will participate in the FTX known as 'the Crucible' and afterward you will graduate.” Schwartz turned to Wilson and said, “Alright, Sarge, get them out of my face.” Wilson formed them up again and marched them off to the mess hall.

The day slowly passed with the usual amount of combat training, ceremony, drill, smoke sessions and the occasional run. After third mess the recruits were allowed back into the barracks and were given one hour to prepare for the Cap Shield Board. Ramses and Rippin drilled each other on the material they needed to know verbatim and as they reviewed they prepped their parade uniforms for the Cap Shield Board. Ramses meticulously polished every golden button and piece of brass on his heavy wool uniform. He placed a piece of cardboard between the button and the uniform to prevent the brasso from staining the uniform. He rubbed the buttons and brass vigorously with the harsh smelling chemical until the buttons and brass shone with the dimmest light. Ramses satisfied with the shine on his uniform then began to work on the shine on his shoes. He took out his wax and a dirty oil stained rag and gave his shoes a spit shine. The shine of the shoes soon began to show until it had a glassy sheen on them. Ramses set his uniform and shoes aside and motioned for his weapon. Rippin tossed one of the M-16's to Ramses and he caught it in midair. Ramses broke the weapon apart to its fundamental parts to clean its insides. He quickly reassembled it and added the ceremonial bayonet and white parade strap to the weapon.

Ramses began to put on his parade uniform. He started with his black wool pants with the red blood line that ran down both sides. He secured the pants on himself with its suspenders and then tossed on the black blouse with red piping over his white regulation cap shield shirt. He buttoned up all of the buttons on his blouse and had Rippin help him close the clasp around his neck. He wrapped the white parade belt with the large gold buckle between the two bottom buttons of his uniform and put on his white dress gloves with the grips. Ramses slipped into his freshly shined shoes and securely tied them to specification. He carefully put on his service cap, which noticeably was missing the golden shield of Bunker Hill, and made sure it fit properly over his head. Half of his field of vision was blocked by the visor of the service cap and it forced him to lift his chin up to see normally. Ramses walked over to the mirror that hung behind his door and smiled at what he saw. He loved who he had become. The uniform empowered him and filled him with a pride he had never had before. Only one more obstacle stood in his way to being a full cadet of Bunker Hill and a soldier for the United States of America. He was determined to pass this final test. He had endured months of brutal physical training and survived where many expected him to fail including his own mother.

Ramses turned to Rippin and helped him clasp his uniforms neck guard. “You ready Rippin?” Rippin nodded and both of them walked out of their room with their rifles at port arms. They squared the hallways like they had done for months during training, out of Bunker Hill tradition for Plebes. They hugged the wall and kept their right shoulder always situated with it as they advanced forward and around as if marching. A simple walk across the hallway was impossible and unnecessarily made more difficult and longer by having to square the halls. Many Plebes at first broke this rule the most often, but many were caught and the punishment was always severe. Unless given a direct order not to or assigned a duty to perform the Plebes always squared the hallways and Ramses didn't dare breaking any rules prior to entering the Cap Shield Board. He made it across the hallway and down the stairs to the first floor of the barracks. Once there he joined a long line of Plebes waiting outside of two doors behind which the boards were being held. The line slowly moved forward and he noticed that the Plebe would enter in their immaculate black uniform, but leave a complete wreck. As he waited in line he silently reviewed what he needed to know in his mind.

The hours passed and he found himself next in line by the first door. The Plebe that went in before him left with his blouse hanging from his left arm and blood dripping from his nose. He looked at Ramses and nodded to him as if to say, “good luck.” A minute passed and finally a loud, “Let in the next candidate” was heard. The MP who had been standing guard between the two doors looked at Ramses with a grin and opened the door for him. Ramses entered the pitch black room with a confident stride, but was scared even with the rifle in his arms. The MP slammed the door behind him and he was now alone in the dark unable to see anything. “Plebe Michael M. Ramses, India Company, Second Platoon, Second Squad reporting his presence to the honorable Cap Shield Board!” Ramses snapped his rifle from port arms to a military salute. A bright light shone in his eyes and it blinded him. It took all the discipline in himself not to break his position. The light shut off and his eyes began to adjust to the darkness. He could make out four figures sitting behind a long desk.

“Plebe, what is your Second General Order?” A voice called from the dark which he seemed to recognize, but he wasn't quite sure from where.

“This Plebe will obey this Plebe's special orders and perform all of this Plebe's duties in a military manner.” Ramses recited it from memory, but took care to replace the words “I” and “my” with “Plebe” and “this Plebe's” since he was still not considered a human being. The men on the board made sounds of approval when he finished.

“Plebe, what is your First General Order?”

“This Plebe will guard everything within the limits of this Plebe's post and quit this Plebe's post only when properly relieved.”

“Moving on. Recite the Cadet Creed. Feel free to speak normally for this answer.”

“I am an Army Cadet. Soon I will take an oath and become an Army Officer committed to defending the values which make this nation great. Honor is my touchstone. I understand mission first and people always. I am the past – the spirit of those warriors who have made the final sacrifice. I am the present – the scholar and apprentice soldier enhancing my skills in the science of warfare and art of leadership. But above all, I am the future – the future warrior leader of the United States Army. May God give me the compassion and judgment to lead and the gallantry to win. I will do my duty.”

“Name your chain of command starting from top to bottom.”

“First Captain De-Tierra. Second Captain Santos. Regimental Training Officer Captain Klein. India Company Commanding Officer Captain Benjamin. First Sergeant Schwartz. Training Sergeants Wilson, Sing, Makos, and Moss.”

“Recite the Cadet Resolution.”

“This Plebe's goal in life is to achieve honorable success in this Plebe's profession and to become a citizen of the highest integrity in this Plebe's community. To this end, this Plebe resolves that: Honesty and integrity in thought, word and deed shall characterize this Plebe's relationship with others. Excellence shall be the hallmark of all this Plebe's endeavors. Respect and consideration for all persons and their property shall be this Plebe's resolve. Strength of character shall be this Plebe's objective and the highest physical, mental spiritual and moral development at Bunker Hill. Responsibility shall be this Plebe's watchword, both in this Plebe's obligations to others and in this Plebe's commitment to this Plebe's own objectives and ideals. Remembering that noble thoughts inspire noble deeds, this Plebe shall aspire to a life of honorable service.”

“Impressive Plebe Ramses. Now recite the Cadet Honor Code.”

“A Cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do.”

“Is honor just a word or do you actually believe in it?”

“This Plebe believes in honor, Sir.”


“Honor can still exist among men and this Plebe wishes to be an example of it.”

“Excellent. Plebe, parade rest!” The mystery man shouted and Ramses finally figured out who the man was, it was First Captain De-Tierra. Ramses had never heard him speak normally before, he had always heard him bellowing out orders or leading ceremonies in his usual deep authoritative voice. Ramses in his nervousness hadn't realized that he still held the rifle out in a salute and when De-Tierra reminded him of the position his arms were in he suddenly felt the pain he was in for holding his rifle up for so long. Ramses lowered the rifle down in parade rest and his arms thanked him by stopping sending signals of pain to his brain. “Plebe, explain your weapons capabilities, parts and maintenance.”

“This Plebe's weapon is a M16A2 with a weight of 7.18 pounds unloaded and 8.79 pounds loaded. It has a length of 39.5 inches from butt to muzzle. It fires the 5.56 millimeter round at a rate...” Ramses went through the weapons capabilities, individual parts and performed a quick cleaning of his rifle without being prompted. He wanted to make sure they knew he had mastered every aspect of his weapon.

“You seem to have put in the time to master your basic military skills and you've shown us that you know the Cap Shield book front to back. We'll cease with those questions and begin asking you more personal questions. Answer truthfully and don't bullshit us. Why are you here?”

Ramses hesitated and he replied trying hard to attempt to conceal his trembling voice, “This Plebe wants to prove that he's no failure.”

“You are a failure.” The taunting voice of First Sergeant Schwartz called out from the darkness. Those words hit Ramses like a violent blow to his gut. “Don't look so hurt Ramses. You know its true. You're the last man in every goddamn formation and have the hardest time grasping the simplest tasks like you have some sort of mental retardation. You came in here a fat fuck and you'll regain that fat the moment we chuck your ass out of here. Accepting you as a cadet here would lower our standards. Bunker Hill has a reputation to maintain. Go back home and cry to your mother like you cried to me that day on the parade grounds and like you do almost every night in your rack like a fucking pussy.” The other men in the room burst out in roaring laughter and Ramses felt like he was back home being torn apart by his mother.

“I'm no failure.” Ramses said under his breath.

“What was that Plebe? Say it aloud like you have a pair.” Schwartz said tauntingly.

“I'M NO FAILURE!” Ramses said angrily and as he shouted he raised his rifle up to port arms.

“'I'm?' Who the fuck said you could use that word?! I sure as hell didn't. I didn't hear anyone else say anything so you just gone and fucked up Plebe. Yet again you've failed in a simple task. I think it's best we send you home to your mother. Your just not cut out to be a soldier.” As if to further prove his point Schwartz walked up to Ramses and swiftly disarmed him of his rifle. “Your weaponless Plebe.”

“This Plebe is a soldier, this Plebe is the weapon.”

Schwartz laughed in Ramses face, “Your lying to yourself kid. I just showed you that you have no balls. You left them in your mothers purse on your way here to Bunker Hill.”

“This Plebe wants to be a cadet and a soldier. This Plebe won't quit and this Plebe doesn't care what you say about him.” Ramses stood up and looked poised to jump on Schwartz.

“You think you're tough?” Schwartz smiled and looked back towards First Captain De-Tierra who nodded approvingly. “Okay. We'll see just how badly you want this.” Schwartz lifted a new gleaming cap shield from the desk the board sat in, even in the darkness it seemed to glow and he tossed it to Ramses. Ramses caught it in the air and looked at it in complete shock. “If you can hold on to it for a minute... it's yours.”

Schwartz pounced on Ramses and punched him in the genitals. Ramses doubled over in pain, but clutched the shield inside of his hand. Two other members of the board joined Schwartz as they pummeled him with fists and kicks. Ramses dropped to the floor and wildly kicked up, hitting one of them in the face drawing blood. Schwartz jumped on top of Ramses and pinned him on the floor as the other two attempted to peel his fingers from the shield. Ramses reeled his head up and bit hard into Schwartz's arm. He screamed out and released him. Ramses used his other free hand to grab a loose shoe that one of his assaulter's had lost in the struggle and slammed it hard against the temple of one of them. They backed off his bleeding hand and with an angry Schwartz they all kicked Ramses hard in the side of his chest. Ramses curled up into a ball on the floor shielding the cap shield with his body until the lights went on and De-Tierra finally called out, “That's enough!”

The three men who had moments before been attacking him helped Ramses up to his feet. Ramses could barely stand on his own two feet and lifted his right hand up to his face. The two pins that was supposed to hold the cap shield to his service cap had dug deep into his hand and was bleeding profusely. Schwartz extended his hand out and firmly shook Ramses's hand causing him to almost scream out in pain. Ramses bit his tongue and smiled through the pain. “Cadet Michael M. Ramses, welcome to the long gray line.” Schwartz patted him on the back and leaned close so that only he could hear him, “I knew you had it in you.”

96th Street Station, 6 Train Subway Line, New York, Occupied America, Earth [Sol] 12102064

The hulking Hegemony HK stood up and its dual Gatling guns spun up to attack. Ramses stood paralyzed in the middle of the subway car surrounded by decomposing bodies and couldn't move. All he could do was say a loud curse in Spanish and smile at the machine. It unleashed a short burst that barely missed him and forced Ramses to fall from the concussive forces. He fell on top of two dead children and he screamed out as his hands easily broke through their soft festering flesh. The HK walked over to the subway car and ripped through the metal carriage with its large three clawed hands. It reached in for Ramses but recalled as it was hit by small arms fire. The bullets bounced harmlessly off of the killing machines armor. The HK turned towards the source of the fire and unleashed a long loud salvo of bullets towards it. The spent casings of the bullets rained down on Ramses from above and the stinging heat from them spurred him to action. Ramses pulled his hands out of the two bodies and reached for his last grenade. He primed it and held it out in his hand as he swiftly moved out of the carriage. The machine shot again into the darkness and then turned back towards where Ramses was. He wasn't there and it combed through the pile of bodies inside of the train car for him. Ramses silently crept up on the machine and planted the grenade on its torso. The HK instantly swerved around to face him and it unleashed a long burst as he ran away. He ran behind a concrete pillar and the HK's armor piercing rounds started to chew through his cover. The grenade went off and the machine fell silent. Ramses cautiously crept out from behind of his cover and shook his head. Another second or two and the HK's bullets would have passed through the pillar and into his soft flesh. He patted himself down to make sure he was in one piece. Aside from some burns he was fine. He then did a quick search in vain to find the colored in picture of the dog that Allison gave him, but it was gone. He cursed in the darkness and knew he couldn't go back to find it.

“RIVERA! CLAYTON! SOUND OFF!” Ramses cried out in the darkness now suddenly remembering his compatriots.

“Ramses, come here quick!” Rivera called out. Ramses followed the sound of her voice and when he found her he dropped to his knees. Clayton was laying on his back severed into three pieces. His rifle still smoking from the shots that probably saved Ramses life.

“Clayton. I'm sorry.” Ramses didn't know what else to say to the dead man. His friend had died saving his life and helping him chase an impossible dream. Clayton and Rivera had volunteered to come along and knew the chances of survival were slim, but that still didn't make Ramses feel any better. Rivera hugged Ramses and pulled the dog tags from Clayton's body.

The sound of whirring machinery coming to life filled the tunnel. Both Ramses and Rivera turned to see the Hegemony HK come back to life. It lifted itself up with some effort and shouted out in harsh Mandarin. The machine wildly shot towards them, but two missiles flew over them and smashed into the machine. The HK wobbled to the side and slammed into the subway car in a ball of fire. The fire from the burning HK lit the entire tunnel up and both Ramses and Rivera were startled to see two dozen ragged partisans coming towards their position. They were covered entirely in blue and black colors and carried a large assortment of both Allied and Hegemony weapons. The partisans surrounded them and lifted their rifles up in a threatening manner as other partisans went off to the subway car to make sure the machine was destroyed. A man who appeared to be the leader of the group muscled his way through his men and stood over both Ramses and Rivera. He wore the colors of his men, but also had large chains of gold around his neck and a gold plated AK-74. He looked down at them and said, “Who the fuck are you?”

“I am Corporal Ramses of the United States Army and this is Corporal Rivera also with the U.S. Army.” Ramses said standing up. He helped Rivera up as the men cautiously eyed them.

“What you doin' so far uptown? Uncle Sam ain't here yet.” He said with a malicious smile.

Ramses had no idea what side of the war these group of partisans were siding with so he had to be very careful with what he said until he knew for sure. He didn't want to end up in Hegemony hands or dead in the side of the tracks. “We're scouts. We're part of an advance force pushing its way through the tunnels.”

The partisan leader was looking at Rivera with hungry eyes as if he was undressing her with his eyes. “For real?” He shifted from Rivera to Ramses and smiled again. “Aight, come with us. No stupid shit.” The man went back into the crowd of armed men and Ramses felt the barrel of a gun press into his back. He followed the men and looked over to see Rivera with a blank expression on her face. She was probably thinking the same thing that he was. “Where are they taking us?”

Fat Cat, 75 Christopher Street, New York City, United States, Earth [Sol] 04042059

“Can I see both of your I.D.s?” The shaggy haired man by the door said extending his hands towards the couple. Michael already had his card out and waited patiently for Allison to find hers out of her purse. Once they both had it in hand they let the man inspect it. He barely glanced at the cards before he asked for the twenty dollar cover charge.

“Twenty? Wasn't it five dollars last week?” Allison pointed out. Michael pulled out forty dollars from his wallet and handed it over to the bouncer.

“It was, but you know the dollar sucks. It changes everyday. If you got any of them Chinese Yuan's it's only one of those to get in here.”

“You guys accept Yuan's?” Michael said surprised. He knew most big businesses and retail outlets accepted the Chinese currency, but he didn't expect a rundown college dive bar to start asking for them.

“Yup.” The bouncer said as he handed back their National I.D.s. They both descended the stairs underground into the dimly lit bar and Michael looked around. The bar was built in a large cavern with more then a dozen billiards and ping-pong tables scattered about. There were two large traditional bars with bar stools on opposite ends of the cavern. A large stage in the far side of the cavern had a live Jazz band playing. Dozens of ratty sofas and metal chairs filled the rest of the space. Michael noticed many of the patrons playing chess, cards and shuffleboard in the dim light.

“This is certainly an interesting place.” Michael said out loud.

“Oh hush.” Allison looked around the bar and waved at her friend far in the distance playing at a ping-pong ball table. “I didn't pick the place. Erica did.”

“You mean the black haired German girl from work who never returns my hello's?” Michael said slightly annoyed. He must have said hello to her a hundred times at work out of politeness, but each time she greeted him with the same cold stare.

“She's really nice. She just doesn't know you and once she does she'll open up to you.” Allison said.

“I don't know. I find that very annoying that she doesn't say 'hi' or at least give me a slight nod as if to say 'I acknowledge your existence.'”

“Your looking to much into it.” Allison ran off and gave Erica a big hug. Erica smiled and gave Allison a beer she had been saving for her. Erica's ping-pong ball partner was another woman from work named Brooke who was now busy searching for the ball.

Michael walked up to Erica and smiled. Erica wore a black Gothic dress with a flowing cape and metal studs. Her raven hair matched her black nail polish. She proudly wore a Wicca amulet and an upside down watch. “Hello Erica.”

Erica stared at him with her intense black eyes and then turned to Allison. “Remember that thing I told you about? I'm going to do it!”

Allison yelled out in delight, “I'm so happy for you!”

“I know right? It's going to be awesome!” Erica said as she finished off her own beer and left the empty mug on the floor. “I start training next month.”

“Where's the training?” Allison asked.

“Memphis!” Erica said.

“Sorry ladies, but what are you two talking about?” Michael asked clearly oblivious to what they were talking about.

“Erica got accepted to work for United Express as a Flight Attendant.” Allison answered.

“Wow, that's amazing. Congrats Erica. I'm jealous. You'd travel the world and maybe even get a chance to go to the colonies.”

“United Express is regional and doesn't go outside of the United States. Only mainline goes beyond Earth's orbit.” Erica told Michael as if she was explaining to a child and then turned to speak directly to Allison. “It's my stepping stone to one day being an airline pilot.”

“Allison!” Brooke came and gave her a hug and pulled her by the arm towards one of the bars. “Erica I'm taking Allison with me to bar for peppermint shots!” Allison smiled and went along with her.

Both Michael and Erica stood awkwardly on opposing sides of the ping-pong ball table until Michael said, “So how about a game?”

“Depends if you're any good.” Erica replied.

“I'm good enough to kick your butt.” He said trying hard to sound friendly.

“I highly doubt that.” Erica said as she shrugged her shoulder.

“So lets find out. I'll even let you serve first.” Michael stared into Erica's black eyes and gave her a mocking smile. “You aren't worried I'll win and embarrass you in front of my girlfriend and Brooke. Are you?”

“You're sooooooo going down.” Erica whipped a ball into the air and slammed the ping-pong ball past Michael in a blur. “That's a point for me.”

Valley Forge National Park, Pennsylvania, United States, Earth [Sol] 07062055

“Drop your rucks!” Sergeant Wilson said as he spat chewing tobacco on the ground. “Second Platoon on first perimeter watch!”

Ramses dropped the hundred pound ruck sack on the frozen ground and rubbed his sore shoulders. He removed his E-tool shovel from his ruck and slung his M-16 on his back. He split off from the rest of the regiment with his squad and they dug shallow foxholes along the perimeter of where the regiment was camping for the night. The ground was hard from frost but with the help of a bonfire fueled by wood and newspaper they were able to make the ground soft enough to dig into. It didn't take long for Ramses to build his fox hole. It was a simple four foot deep trench that was as long as a small compact car. Ramses took his position inside of the hastily built foxhole along with three other of his squad mates and waited in the cold and snow. Alongside Ramses was Rippin his barrack mate, DiCave a large man built like a professional linebacker, and Sharpe who was the seventh generation of the Sharpe family to attend Bunker Hill.

A few hours passed before anyone said anything. They were all exhausted and cold and had little appetite for small talk. Ramses spent his time rubbing his bandaged right hand and contemplated cleaning out his wounds again, but decided against it in the blistering cold. A loud crash was heard deep in the forest beyond their perimeter and they all stared at one another clueless to what created the sound. “You think we should call for a flare?” Ramses said aloud.

“If we do you'll give up our position to the enemy.” Sharpe said.

“What if we're about to be attacked? Or if its a big ass bear?” Rippin said.

“I'm calling it in. This may be a simulation, but that sounded very real.” Ramses lifted the radio and called for a flare over their position. Less then a minute later a loud thud was heard and just above them a blinding white light erupted, turning night into day and revealing the entire area around them. All along the treeline six soldiers in white winter uniforms were creeping up on them, but stopped in their tracks as the flare slowly floated down. The defenders of the foxhole stared at the six soldiers and did nothing until the flare burned out. Someone shouted “Shoot dammit,” and the area erupted in gun fire. The small flashes from the M-16s muzzle and tracers were all the light they needed to quickly eliminate the six man group. Ramses was chosen to confirm the kills and he cautiously left the relative safety of the foxhole to investigate. He found the first man covered in red paint and smoking a cigarette on the ground.

The man looked up at him and smirked, “I'm dead.”

Ramses found the other five men clumped together behind a broken snow dune and all of them had been “killed.” They patted Ramses in the back and quietly slipped back into the woods. Ramses returned to the foxhole and jumped inside. “Did any of you know they did this in the crucible?” Everyone shook their heads and said nothing.

“It could have been added, because you know, there's a real war going on.” DiCave said.

“You think this is how it really is like out there? In the war?” Rippin said pointing towards the dark forest beyond.

“No, its probably a hundred times worst and we would all be dead. That flare went off and we all stood holding our dicks until it went off. The Chinese or the Russians would have torn us apart.” Sharpe said disgusted.

“Why didn't you shoot first?” DiCave said.

“I did. I was also the one to wake you all up.” Sharpe retorted.

“Everybody chill the fuck up and drive on. We do these kind of simulations so we're prepared for the real thing. We'll learn from this and fortunately for us we came out on top this time.” Ramses said with a shrug. For a time no one said anything, they were lost in their own thoughts about what just happened. If it had been real, would they have survived? Would they have been just as lucky to hear the enemy creeping up on them?

“You know the war is going poorly for us and in a few years we'll be right in the middle of it.” Sharpe said with a sad resignation.

“How do you know the war is going poorly? We're still Plebes. We're not allowed to watch TV or even listen to the radio.” Rippin said.

“Old Men talk and it doesn't sound good for us or our allies. I think we may actually lose this one.” Sharpe said.

“Come on Sharpe. That's crazy talk. We're America. We've won every war we've ever fought in.” DiCave said trying to reassure everyone.

“Does that include the Vietnam War and the Second Democratic War?” Sharpe replied.

“Fuck you Sharpe. That was because of weak leadership. We won those wars on the ground, but not on paper.” DiCave said angrily.

“You sound like my father. We lost and its very possible we'll lose this one also.”

“You're full of shit Sharpe.”

“Did you know that the Chinese, Russians and the Holy Islamic Empire have all formed the largest military alliance in human history called 'the Hegemony.' Between all three of those nations that's about five hundred million troops that we'll be fighting against. The Hegemony can raise even more troops if they start conscripting their male populations. Did you know that every country in Asia, Oceania and Africa is falling one by one to the Hegemony after they kicked our asses in Taiwan. Nothing stands in their way in the Pacific and the only allies putting up any sort of fight are the Indians and the Aussies. The Indians are taking on the full might of the Chinese and the Islamists in their homeland and God only knows how long they'll hold out. The Aussies are fighting island to island, but with the Allied fleet destroyed, that won't last long.” Sharpe sat down in the foxhole and let out a deep sigh.

“You forgot the European Union. Surely they got our backs. We saved them twice before.” Ramses said hoping for good news.

“The European Union voted to stay out of the war and is officially a neutral power.”

The other three men howled insults into the cold wind and couldn't believe it. “That's fucking bullshit. What about the Brits? No one is coming to our aid?” DiCave demanded to know.

“There are a few volunteers joining us from the European Union, but clearly not enough. The E.U. is just scared. It borders both the Russians and the Holy Islamic Empire. Why join a war that they clearly see us losing?” No one said anything and Sharpe continued, “it is said that the Hegemony also is far more superior then us in military technology. While we're still dicking around with hundred year old M-16's they have new weapons of war capable of horrific damage.”

“Like what?” Ramses asked.

“Ever hear of an 'Armored Chan?'” Everyone shook their heads and Sharpe went on, “its what surviving American soldiers that encountered it call them. They are hulking man-sized machines or even men in armored suits... no one knows, but these black armored men have these red eyes that glow that make them look like demons from hell. They feel no pain and take hundreds of bullets to put down. They have super human strength and have been known to easily wield tree sized machine guns in each arm. These creatures move so fast and silently through the night they are like ghosts. I've heard that only one of them was able to kill an entire regiment by itself.”

Sharpe continued to speak well into the night about the war, but Ramses stopped listening. He was thinking about his life and how he had nothing worth living for. He was alone in the world and if he was sent off to fight the Hegemony he would surely die. Who would cry for him then? Who would mourn him? His brother probably would be the only one. He felt a deep emptiness in his soul and he didn't realize it, but he had begun to cry. Rippin saw him and made his way to Ramses and gave him a hug. “Don't worry about it man. We'll kick their asses together and I am glad you'll be there with me.”

“Really? How can you say that? I made you guys push unnecessarily because of my fuck-ups.” Ramses said surprised that Rippin would say that.

“You screwed up a lot. So what? We all knew you wanted this and weren't purposely doing it. You were our inspiration Ramses. You kept at it and in the end you made it. Not many did, but you made it. I am honored to share a foxhole with you.” Rippin patted Ramses in the back and went back to his position.

Ramses smiled and he knew that amongst these men he belonged and he was family. He would gladly die to protect them. He would do everything to bring them back home and he knew they would do the same for him. This was going to be his life from now. He would be a soldier and he would defend his new family until his last dying breath. Ramses looked up into the sky and watched as new snow fell from the sky. He knew he had to keep preparing for the coming storm and that if what Sharpe had said was true, it was going to be a long winter for America.

Unknown, NYC Sewers, New York, Occupied America, Earth [Sol]

Ramses tried to stand up, but found it impossible to do so. He was bound by chains to a water pipe and inside of a dark damp room. He didn't remember how he got there, but his last conscience thought was of him and Rivera being escorted through the sewers by partisans who were most likely bandits. As they were paraded through the tunnels one of the partisans hit him in the back of the head and he awoke later in chains. Ramses looked around the room, but saw nothing aside from a clump of sewage in the corner and a few dozen mouse sized cockroaches scurrying about in the darkness. The door to the room swung open and Rivera was struggling to be free from the arms of the same man as before, the man with the malicious smile. The leader of this group of bandits in the blue and black. He was sweaty and naked aside from his torn Superman boxer and the AK-74 he had strapped to his back. His chest and arms was full of horrific scars and he had a fist sized tattoo on his chest of the People's Republic of China emblem with a number written under it. “Feisty little ho that one is.” He said in a heavy Jamaican accent as he tossed a naked Rivera into the dark room. “I'm done with you Miss. It was good.” He laughed again and Rivera turned and gave him a cold stare. “You two will fetch us a lot of new weapons from the slant eyes.” The partisan leader slammed the door shut and they were both now locked in the room.

Rivera said nothing but instead hugged Ramses and wept. Ramses tried to move, but he couldn't move much because of his chains. He comforted her as best as he could and told her that she was safe, although he knew that was a lie. They were in the hands of traitors and were going to be handed off to the Hegemony to most likely be tortured to death for information neither of them had. Especially since Ramses had told them before that they were advance scouts for an Allied attack through the sewer system. The Hegemony would certainly want to hear about that instead of how he decided to go off on his own in a desperate attempt to find his ex-girlfriend.

Hours passed and the door opened again. Rivera had fallen asleep leaning on Ramses and was using his uniform shirt to cover her naked body. They both looked up to see a Chinese Ministry of Occupation and State Security officer hovering over them in his long black trench coat. “I assume you know what I am so I don't need to explain.” The Chinese officer said in perfect English. “My name's Johnathan Khan. What are your names?” He asked as if he was asking old friends.

“I am Ramses and this woman here is Rivera. We're both U.S. Army soldiers and prisoners of war here.” Ramses said as he struggled in his chains.

Johnathan looked at Rivera and shook his head in disgust. He whipped off his trench coat and gave it to her. “Wear this. It'll cover up your body. You'll be out of here soon enough. I gave them specific instructions not to harm any captives and they went ahead and fucked that up.” Johnathan stood up tall and smiled, “these men are the worst kind of scum and we will deal with their kind in due time. Unfortunately they still have their uses to the Hegemony and we still have a war to win.”

“Why are you being nice to us?” Ramses asked suspicious of Johnathan's motives.

“I can beat you if you like? Would you prefer that?” Johnathan said with a smile.

“Actually... Yah. I was expecting you to since the moment you came in the door. I didn't expect a nice MOSS agent.”

“Well, I will get whatever useful information I can from you. That I promise, but extreme violence and torturing right now would be useless and counterproductive.”

“Where will you be taking us for the interrogation?” Ramses said.

“The PLA headquarters in New York City, Fort Skyscraper or what once was called the Empire State Building. It's where these kind of things are done.”

“You don't seem like the rest of them.” Rivera said as she she clutched the black trench coat Johnathan had given her.

“It's because I'm not. I was born here in the United States. I am what my Chinese born brothers and sisters call a 'roach born.'” Johnathan relied.

“Why side with them?” Rivera said.

“I have my reasons Mrs. Rivera.” He turned and walked to the door. “I will make the arrangements to get you both there. Until then sit tight.” Johnathan slammed the metal door hard and it opened. He walked out and grabbed the guard by the collar, “Get them some food and water.” The guard ran off and the door closed. Leaving both Ramses and Rivera in the dark.

Midtown Manhattan, New York City, United States, Earth [Sol]

Michael walked past the long food line and tried his best not to stare at them. He felt sorry for the people who stood on the line, but there was nothing he could do for them. What everyone was calling the Second Great Depression was supposed to be over with the colonies resources flowing back into Earth, but it was slow going and tens of millions of people were still hopeless, jobless and hungry. The line stretched nearly ten city blocks, only breaking for cars to pass through. The line started at 44th street and ended at the American Food Distribution Center of Central Manhattan on 54th Street and Broadway. People from every walk of life stood silently in the line waiting for their daily rations. Men in dress shirts and ties as if they had just got out of the office and women holding small children waited together. Surprisingly the line was orderly and those waiting in it waited patiently for their turn. The line moved slowly, but it moved and those waiting were content.

Michael reached Allison's new workplace just a block north from the Food Distribution Center and breathed a sigh of relief as he had just made it in time. All of the workers of the massive glass skyscraper seemed to all have poured out of the office building at the same time. He looked around the crowd for Allison and finally spotted her in her red overcoat. He sneaked up on her and hugged her in the middle of a conversation with her roommate Emily. They both looked at him in surprise and before they could say anything he said, “Congratulations baby on your new job! You've been trying to get this for ages and now you have. This calls for some sort of celebration.” Michael turned to Emily and smiled, “Can I borrow Allison for tonight?”

Emily looked stunned and soon smiled also. “Go ahead Michael.” Emily walked towards the subway station and called back, “but bring her back!”

Allison laughed as Michael tried to kiss her. “Nope. Not here. These are my co-workers.”

“Ah. Okay.” He led her further north up near Columbus Circle to a small bar and restaurant that they both ate at as he listened to her describe her first day. Her face lit up as she spoke of her new job. “You finally made it. I'm proud of you. Your a professional now.” He placed his hand on her cheek. Caressing her and she kissed his hand. Michael saw a green blur outside of the window and immediately recognized what it was. It was a convoy of heavily armed soldiers heading south towards what was most likely the Food Distribution Center. The center must have ran out of food and the people must have rioted, it happens a lot more frequently nowadays. Allison had her back to the window and didn't see what he saw. He was glad for that. The waiter arrived with their desserts and placed it in front of them. Allison began to eat her cake as he just stared at his.

“I thought you wanted cake?” Allison asked worried.

“I suddenly don't feel hungry anymore.”

Bunker Hill Military Academy, Wayne, Pennsylvania, United States, Earth [Sol]

“Ramses I heard you made Expert on the firing range?” Rippin said slapping Ramses hard on the back as they walked down College Hill back towards the barracks.

Ramses laughed, “who told you that? That's an exaggeration. I made sharpshooter. I hit thirty six.”

“Shit, just a cunt hair away from Expert. How's a city boy like you get so good?”

“When I was a child I would always go to the arcade before I went back home after working at my mom's place. It was a way for me to blow off some steam. Apparently all those years of playing 'America's Army X' translated very well to the real world.” Ramses said with a smile.

“No shit?” Rippin said in astonishment.

“Rippin we got incoming.” Ramses said warning his battle buddy of the fast approaching officer. They both stood to the side of the sidewalk leading down College Hill and gave a sharp salute to the officer as he passed. The officer gave a half-hearted salute back and continued up the hill.

“Thanks Ramses. I wasn't paying attention.” They both reached Younghusband Hall, their barracks and home for the last six months. “They're letting us have leave tonight.”

“That's tonight?” Ramses said.

“Where have you been at? Of course its tonight. The first order of business is to go out there and get some pussy. I'm starting to forget what women even look like.”

Ramses laughed, “Well, I don't know. We got to study.”

“You sound like a goddamn fag.”

“No. It's just not smart. We have two tests tomorrow. Global Terrorism 101 and Military Tactics of the Golden Horde. Did you forget about those?”

“I didn't forget, but I haven't gotten laid since I got here. It'll do you some good also. You can't stay focused on the Army every hour of the day. Do something for yourself for once. Stop acting like this is all you have.”

“This is all I have.”

“Look. Come with me and have fun. I know about your mom and about your shit childhood. You told me, but its time you lost your virginity and live life while your young.”

“Wait, I never told you that.” Ramses said trying to recall if he ever did.

“Doesn't take a genius to figure that out. Don't worry. It'll be easy. We're fit, we're soldiers and we have kick ass uniforms. The women around here are going to melt all over us.”

Ramses laughed, “this sounds like trouble but I'll go. Whats the plan?”

Unknown, NYC Sewers, New York, Occupied America, Earth [Sol]

Ramses felt his feet get heavy as he marched through the sewage laden waters of the sewers of New York City surrounded by two dozen heavily armed bandits. A few paces ahead of him was Rivera wearing only a PLA MOSS trench coat and boots that Johnathan Khan gave her. Johnathan Khan, the PLA MOSS agent, walked behind them both and said nothing as they moved together towards the PLA headquarters on the island of Manhattan, the Empire State Building. The Chinese had converted the building into a stronghold because of its central location on the island, it had the best vantage point because it was the tallest building still standing in the city and they knew that after the destruction of the Statue of Liberty, Freedom Tower, Time Warner Towers and the Chrysler Building that the U.S. would refuse to destroy the historic structure. Their gamble had paid off and the U.S. indeed avoided hitting the ancient structure with artillery, mortar or airstrikes. Even as the PLA used the building to snipe Allied soldiers below, call artillery strikes on their positions and take out landing crafts with their two powerful MAG turrets built on the top floors of the building. New York City had lost so much of its skyline and its rich architectural history lay strewn in the streets. America was determined to protect and preserve some of history for future generations.

“Johnathan, I know why you're siding with the CHICOM's.” Ramses said while moving forward in the dark sewage. “You have family.”

“I won't tell you twice to shut up.” Johnathan replied clearly irritated.

“The PLA got them out of this hell hole didn't they? How'd they get past the blockade? Submarines?”

“That's none of your business Soldier.” Johnathan said dryly.

“I understand. You love them and wanted them to be safe. Away from this shit.” Ramses pointed towards the direction of the surface and the sewer shook as if to help him drive his point home to Johnathan. “I respect that. I'd have done the same thing to protect her. I know that now. The sad thing Johnathan is that both of us are dead men and we'll never see them again. They'll kill me at the Empire State Building and my guys will eventually take this island and kill you for being a traitor.”

Johnathan sighed deeply and nodded his head in agreement, “my family is safe back in China. That is all that matters.”

Sig Ep Fraternity House, Villanova University, Pennsylvania, Unites States, Earth [Sol]

Rippin and Ramses stood across the street from the raging frat party but could hear the music from nearly six blocks away. They both stood in awe at the decadence and extravagance of it all. The front lawn of the three story complex was filled with half naked men and women dancing under bright hot lights. The trampled grass was strewn with crushed beer cans and the occasional undergarment. A man vomited into a small kiddie pool that was filled with Vaseline, the two women who were wrestling in it shrieked and jumped out of the pool in disgust. The crowd groaned loudly and began to beat the drunken man who ended their entertainment.

“This may not be the best idea.” Ramses said out loud.

“It'll work. We'll just waltz in like we own the place and no one will say shit.” Rippin turned back to Ramses and excitedly said, “It looks just like one of those college movies. You know like the one with that guy who screws that pie and that spawned fifty shitty movies.” Rippin looked down at the grass and shook his head. “I can't remember its name.”

“I don't watch those kind of movies. I hate being reminded of how good some kids have it.” Ramses replied. Ramses knew even during the worst years of the Second Great Depression there were still the privileged few who somehow seemed unaffected by the economic collapse and made sure everyone around them knew that they were doing so well. His mother's restaurant catered to them in New York City and he remembered serving them. Happily treating him like shit with an adoring buxom beauty wrapped around them. He had to swallow what little pride he had to serve them. If he didn't bring in the cash for his mother he would get beaten and to do that he had to allow himself to be tormented by them. Their insults still burned through him like it had been yesterday.

“Ramses? You okay?” Rippin asked.

“Yah. I was just thinking.” Ramses said.

“You looked like you were about ready to kill someone.”

“Lets just do this.” Ramses said as he looked both ways before crossing the street, but before he could two old military trucks pulled up in front of the fraternity house and two dozen men with a few women in tow poured out of the trucks. Ramses instantly recognized the trucks to be from Bunker Hill Military Academy and also recognized some of the men including First Captain De-Tierra. The men had to all be from Bunker Hill since although they wore civilian clothes they all still walked like soldiers and sported close cropped hair which no one outside of the military wore. The fashion for civilian mens hair was long and shaggy. The party instantly stopped the moment they all disembarked from the trucks and word spread fast as more Ep Sig men poured out of the frat house. The men of Bunker Hill soon found themselves outnumbered four to one, but that didn't stop them. De-Tierra went up to what seemed to be the leader of the Ep Sig group judging by how the Ep Sig members looked towards him for what to do and began to speak with him.

“Hello Sir. My names De-Tierra from that school up in the mountains,” De-Tierra said as he pointed up towards the general direction of Bunker Hill, “and these are my fellow cadets. We're looking to have a good time since they don't let us out much and judging from the looks of it, there are plenty of women around for all of us. We brought more then enough alcohol for ourselves and possibly even your men so you don't have to worry about us mulching off your stores. Can we join the party?”

The leader of the Ep Sig group looked at De-Tierra with suspicion and asked, “you're all from that military academy aren't you?”

“Yes Sir, we are.” De-Tierra said proudly.

“In that case,” the Ep Sig leader said with a smile in his face, “crawl back into that shithole you all came out from.”

“Excuse me?” De-Tierra said.

“Fuck off and die, murderer. Is that clear enough for you G.I. Joe?” The Ep Sig leader said to loud laughter from his fellow fraternity brothers and guests. De-Tierra said nothing and turned back towards the trucks. The Ep Sig leader pointed at De-Tierra and two burly Ep Sig members rushed him. De-Tierra turned and in a flash ducked between them. He hit the ground and kicked both men off of their feet. As they landed on their backs he kicked them hard in the face and jumped back on his feet with little effort.

“Big mistake my friend. We're going to have a good time and you're not going to like it.” De-Tierra lifted his arm up. “Gentlemen! Form ranks!” The men he came with instinctively formed into two columns and interlocked their arms. “Forward! MARCH!” They menacingly moved forward into the front lawn of the Ep Sig fraternity house and pushed everything out of their way with ease. De-Tierra joined their ranks and the Ep Sig men on the lawn stepped back in fear at the suddenness of the soldiers advance. A few Ep Sig even quietly retreated back into the house.

“Don't be pussies! There's only twenty-five of them and a hundred something of us. Let's kick their baby killing asses!” The Ep Sig leader lifted a folding chair from a nearby table and rushed towards the line of Bunker Hill cadets. His fellow fraternity brothers spurred by his example all rushed forward in a mob. The Bunker Hill line braced as the Ep Sig men slammed into them and pushed them back. The cadets gave them ground but suddenly stopped and in unison cried out an unintelligible war cry. The Ep Sig men flew backwards as all twenty-five cadets tossed them off together. The mob of Ep Sig men fell on top of themselves and the first line of Bunker Hill cadets pounced on the closest fallen Ep Sig men. The cadets went straight for their heads and kicked the men hard in the temple or chin. Knocking many out as they lay on the debris strewn grass. The Ep Sig who weren't knocked out recovered and assaulted the cadet lines again. A brutal hand-to-hand brawl ensued and the women who were at the party ran away in various states of undress.

Ramses and Rippin both looked at each other and laughed. They weren't the only ones from Bunker Hill to have the bright idea to crash a frat party and they thought they're plan was foolproof. They had dodged a bullet and probably would have got their asses soundly kicked for doing it. “You think we should help our battle buddies?” Rippin said with a smirk.

“I suppose.” Ramses said as they both crossed the street and joined the melee. Ramses found a short Ep Sig latched onto the back of a man he recognized as Arena, the CO of Alpha Company. Arena was busy pounding a man twice his size with his fists as the short Ep Sig man repeatedly punched him in the back of the head. Ramses grabbed the short Ep Sig on Arena's back and tossed him to the grass. Ramses kicked him hard in the genitals and as he lifted himself to scream he punched him square in the jaw. Ramses felt a beer bottle explode in the back of his head and he turned to see where it came from when he spotted De-Tierra engaging three men in the distance. De-Tierra was easily handling himself against the men, but Ramses spotted the Ep Sig leader sneaking up on De-Tierra. He caught the unmistakable glimmer of a knife in his hand and cried out to warn De-Tierra, but it was no use shouting over the cries of a hundred men locked in battle. Ramses rushed through the mob of sparring men, and occasionally had to punch a Ep Sig member to advance, but he closed the distance in twenty seconds flat. Ramses roared as he tossed himself on the Ep Sig leader. The Ep Sig leader was caught completely off guard and thrusted his knife forward as he fell. The knife sliced through De-Tierra's shirt and cut into his arm and he cried out in pain. De-Tierra clutched his bleeding arm and turned to see Ramses subduing the Ep Sig leader with numerous blows to his face. De-Tierra picked up the bloody knife and stared at it in disbelief. He realized just how close he had come to death and as he contemplated his mortality a hulking Ep Sig member punched him in the face. The knife fell harmlessly to the ground and the unmistakable sound of police sirens filled the air. Ramses took De-Tierra's hand and picked him up from the grass. “Let's go Sir.” De-Tierra nodded in agreement with Ramses and they both rushed back to the trucks. The cadets all disengaged and jumped back into the trucks and as soon as all of the men were accounted for, they sped off back to Bunker Hill.

The cadets in Ramses truck excitedly boasted about the battle and how much damage they dealt to the enemy. One told about how he knocked out five men in under a minute and another told how he took a punch to the stomach without doubling over in pain because of his rock hard abdominal muscles. Only De-Tierra didn't celebrate with his men. He sat in silence with his hand over his bleeding arm. Ramses found a first aid kit and patched up the wound. “Only a flesh wound Sir. That'll heal up into a respectable man scar.”

De-Tierra chuckled and then looked into Ramses eyes. “I remember you. You're the kid that wouldn't quit. The one that Schwartz trained from New York City. Ramcy is it?”

“Very close Sir. My names Ramses.” Ramses said as he put all of the disinfectant and bandages back into the trucks first aid kit.

“Thank you Cadet Ramses. You saved my life.” De-Tierra said.

“We don't know that. He could have been trying to spook you.”

“Don't be so modest. He was sneaking up on me with a knife. Civvies these days would kill a man from behind without a second though.” De-Tierra felt the bandage with his hand and continued, “hundreds of soldiers, marines, sailors and airmen are dying everyday while they live like kings and fuck all day. They don't even give us thanks or acknowledge our sacrifices. Some of them openly mock us and treat us like shit.”

“They're just ignorant and sheltered. You and I both know it wasn't always like this. There was a time when we would have been considered heroes.”

“You're right Ramses. It wasn't always like this, but there will be a time when they will need us and when that day comes... I'll laugh in their faces.” De-Tierra promised out loud and he looked determined to keep it.

Valley Forge National Park, Pennsylvania, United States, Earth [Sol]

“Twenty rounds? For two days? That's bullshit.” DiCave said as he slammed his only magazine of simunition rounds into his M-16.

“DiCave shut the fuck up!” Sergeant Wilson shouted over the sound of hundreds of heavy boots marching up a dirt round in full battle rattle. “You're lucky we have anything to train with!”

Ramses reached out and patted DiCave's back. “Yah, man. The D.O.D. Ain't giving us shit. It's all those budget cuts. Almost all the stuff we get now is donated or from money raised by Alumni.”

“In over a year we're going to be out there and we're in the middle of a goddamn war with the Hegemony.” DiCave said genuinely worried.

“We'll be ready for them.” Ramses said with a grin.

“You look happy that you're going to war.”

“Aren't you?” Ramses replied.

“Fuck no!!!” DiCave shouted but toned down his voice when he got the evil eye from Sergeant Wilson. “Look, I don't want to die. I want to live a long life full of pussy. When I've finally had my fill I'll settle down and churn out three screaming bastards for America. That's my plan.”

“You're going to die to eventually. Why not die on your own terms? Die like a man and be honored for your sacrifice.”

DiCave stared at Ramses as if he was a madman, “You sound like you have a death wish.”

Ramses shook his head, “I don't want to die, but if it comes, I'd rather it come while protecting you guys, because you're my family. My only family. We all came here knowing we'd be sent off into the war and I've made peace with that. There is nothing here for me. It's not like I have a loving family at home, a wife, children or even a dog to hold me here. I just want to get as far from here as possible and do my part. Should I die, I'd be remembered in the Book of Remembrance and I'll get the respect and love I never got in life.”

DiCave said nothing for a long time and then said, “I'm sorry.”

“Don't be.”

Bunker Hill Military Academy, Wayne, Pennsylvania, United States, Earth [Sol]

“The Vietnam War was one such example. Can anyone give me another?” Major Murray asked the thirty-six gentlemen cadets assembled in his classroom. Major Murray may have carried the rank of major in the Army, but he rarely wore his uniform. Instead he usually wore civvies consisting of a wrinkled sports coat and a faded dress shirt that made him look more like a senile old man than the brilliant professor of war that he was. No hands were raised, so Murray volunteered a cadet, “Cadet Roper. Can you answer the question?”

“No, Sir.” He replied after he stood up from his desk into the position of attention.

“Think about it. It's recent history.”

Roper thought for a moment and then answered, “No, Sir.”

“You dumb ass. Who the hell thought it was a good idea to give you command over men Roper? You're going to be an officer for America. Start thinking like one.” Murray said angrily to silence as Roper sat back down. “Ramses. Do you have an answer?”

“The Second Democratic War, Sir?” Ramses stood up into the position of attention and said with uncertainty in his voice.

“Are you sure Ramses?” Murray asked.

“Yes, Sir. It's my answer, based on the criteria you set forth.” Ramses said.

“Please explain Ramses.” Major Murray asked.

Cadet Ramses thought for a moment and then spoke with a bit of hesitation, “You asked for an example where the United States fought a war that caused a fundamental shift in military policy, devastated the U.S. military as an institution, and changed the way Americans viewed the military. Only the Second Democratic War meets the criteria because after the war the U.S. military pulled entirely out of the Mideast and went into a long period of isolation from world events included abandoning longtime allies Iraq, Kuwait and Qatar to what is now called the Holy Islamic Empire. The U.S. armed forces were demoralized by the outcome of the war and when they returned home they came back to a very hostile population. Americans were ashamed by the military's poor performance in the war and this added to the already tarnished reputation the U.S. military gained violently suppressing the food riots and enforcing the peace within the U.S. during the worst years of the Second Great Depression. A clear violation of the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 and the Insurrection Act of 1807. Today we serve in an American military still dealing with the fallout from that war.”

“Why do you think we lost?” Murray asked the entire class. “Anyone?” Murray looked around and pointed at First Captain De-Tierra. “Do you have an answer De-Tierra?”

De-Tierra snapped out of his seat and stood up immediately, “Yes Sir. We lost.”

“Why young man?” Murray asked De-Tierra.

“Many fret over the fact that we were using outdated weapons because of the massive defense cuts during the Second Great Depression, while the Hajji had top-of-the-line Russian and Chinese weapon systems. That may have had something to do with it, but I suspect the main reason is because our leaders have become mentally weak. Once the war became hard and the bodies started to mount they had us packing out of there like a dog with its tail between its legs. We're Americans. We're fighters. Even with forty year old rifles we could have held our own against the Hajji. If we stayed committed we would have won and countries like Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar, and Afghanistan would still be free and not part of the Frankenstein monster superstate known as the Holy Islamic Empire. China and the Russians wouldn't be walking all over our interests around the world and the people stateside would respect us more.”

Murray looked at his wrist watch and cut De-Tierra off, “Sorry De-Tierra we'll continue this discussion tomorrow. It's time to dismiss the class.”

De-Tierra being the highest ranking cadet led the class in the ceremony by becoming even more rigid and shouting, “All rise!” The cadets in the class jumped to their feet, collected their things and stood in the position of attention. De-Tierra looked around to make sure everyone was in position and then asked Murray, “Sir, may we be dismissed?” Murray nodded and De-Tierra saluted him. “Dismissed!” The entire class fled the room as fast as they could, many had to get to their classes on the other side of the campus within five minutes. “Ramses! Walk with me, I need to talk to you.”

Ramses was close to leaving the room, but he stopped and waited for De-Tierra to come alongside him. “Yes First Captain?” He asked while they continued to walk together out of the building.

“This is my last year here before I get my commission in the U.S. Marines and I need to make sure next year Bunker Hill has the best possible leadership. I've been watching you since you're cap shield board Ramses and I'm impressed. You excel in your military bearing, discipline, studies and most important of all you have the respect of command and your fellow cadets. I'm going to give you a squad and see if you can handle the responsibility.” De-Tierra extended his hand and Ramses shook it.

“I don't know what to say, Sir.”

“Say that you'll accept your new rank.” De-Tierra reached in his pocket and pulled out a small black box. He handed it to Ramses who happily accepted it.

Ramses opened the box and looked at the two small golden collar ranks with a wide smile. He followed the lines of the three chevrons and one rocker with his fingers. Never in his life had he ever been acknowledged for doing good. That box represented so much for him. It meant that he was worth something. It meant that he was a man and that he was going somewhere in life. Although so many had doubted, including his own mother. He was proving them all wrong with each success he obtained. “Sir, I would be honored to accept.”

“Congratulations First Sergeant Ramses.”

1957, Upper East Side, Manhattan, United States, Earth [Sol]

Michael had spent the entire day lifting heavy boxes and assorted furniture down three stories into a rental truck from Allison's old Brooklyn apartment. Then from that very rental truck he moved the furniture and boxes into Allison's new Manhattan apartment six stories up. Fortunately for him there was an elevator, but it was still hard work none-the-less. Allison and her three roommates all helped in the move, but what started at dawn didn't come to an end until well past midnight. Michael unloaded the last box from the truck labeled simply “kitchen” and carried it into Allison's new apartment. Before he could even drop it off in the kitchen Allison ran up to him and gave him a kiss. Michael was caught off guard and smiled at her. He couldn't believe even after a full day of moving she would be so full of energy.

“Thank you Michael!” Allison kissed him again and gave him an open beer just as he carefully dropped the heavy box in the kitchen.

“Thanks Lee.” He replied with a tired smile. He walked over to the living room area full of boxes and made space for himself on the coach. He sat down with a heavy thud and drank the beer. He looked down at the coach he sat on and smiled. It truly was a pain to move the damn thing he had done it with some help of course, but it made him proud to have finished. “Must be nice having a boyfriend. Have him move all your heavy stuff.” He said sarcastically with a chuckle.

“Must be nice having a beautiful girlfriend who loves you and just gave you a cold beer.” She said happily as she gave him another beer.

Michael laughed, “It is nice. Very nice indeed.”

Allison's other roommates circled around him in the living room and only Emily spoke, “Thanks Michael. You were a big help. Are you hungry?” Allison's other roommate nodded in recognition of his help. Allison was now living in a four bedroom apartment with three other women. Emily was a pretty curly haired woman from Wisconsin who had a slight Midwest accent. Amy was a large woman from Massachusetts (if he remembered correctly) that he had met only twice before who was sweet and extremely smart. Him and Allison secretly felt bad for her that she couldn't find herself a good boyfriend. She deserved one. The last roommate Lindsey was a new one to the group since the previous fourth roommate moved back to Virginia to go back to college. Lindsey was a amazonian tall blond woman who towered over even him. He tried hard not to make mention of her height or stare.

“I could eat.” He said.

“I'll cook.” Allison said excitedly. “I have something special in mind.” It didn't take long for Allison to cook a meal for all of them. She served them each a bowl of hot chili.

Michael wolfed it down and loved it. It was unlike any other chili he had ever tasted. “This is great. What did you do to this chili?”

“It's Skyline Chili, its only sold in the Cincinnati area. My parents sent me a batch of it.”

“Tell them to send more.” Michael chuckled as he spoke. “Is there more?” Allison let him have the last of the chili and when he finally felt up to it he readied himself to go back home, but she wouldn't have it.

“Come.” Allison tugged at his arm. “You don't have to go back to Jersey. Stay with me.” She led him to her room and tossed a pile of clothes off her bed and pointed at it. “Go ahead and sleep. I'm going to stay up a bit and organize my room.”

He laid on the bed and quickly went to sleep out of exhaustion. He awoke sometime later in the middle of the night to the sound of Allison climbing on the bed. He felt her warm body wrap around him and she snugged up tight against him. She whispered something to him he couldn't quite hear, but he didn't need to hear it. He knew what she meant and it meant everything to him.

Bunker Hill Military Academy, Wayne, Pennsylvania, United States, Earth [Sol]

First Sergeant Ramses patrolled along the east wall of the campus with four other men. The other night an unknown number of assailants had somehow breached the outer walls, snuck past the MP's, vandalized the Battle of the Bulge Monument and broken into the chapel in an attempt to destroy the Book of Remembrance. The assailants had gotten away but to supplement the MP's the cadet's were all rotating night watch sentry duty in an effort to prevent further damage to the campus. Each company of Bunker Hill (Alpha Co., Bravo Co., Charlie Co., Delta Troop, Echo Battery, Foxtrot Co., Gulf Co., Hotel Troop, India Co.) contributed two squads each night to the campus defense. One squad watched from TAPS to 0200, and its relief watched from 0200 to Reveille. Tonight Ramses and his squad were outside representing India Company on second night watch. The night had begun with scattered showers, but nothing else out of the ordinary. Ramses and his men along the east wall encountered the squad from Echo Battery, who wore their characteristic high black leather boots and pointed kaiser helmets. Ramses saluted the men of Echo Battery as they passed and their squad leader returned the salute.

Ramses and his men approached the east gate and stopped for a moment to talk to the MP's stationed there. The two groups of men spoke briefly to merely exchange SITREP's and Ramses squad moved off back into the campus heading northwards. They approached the Battle of the Bulge Monument and seeing it once again filled them with righteous anger. The large white granite monument that represented the 600,000 men and women who fought in the battle was hit numerous times with a large sledgehammer and the phrase that was etched into the stone “A TRIUMPH OF COURAGE,” was defaced with red spray paint to read “A TRIUMPH OF KILLERS.” The four seats of stone that represented the four Allied nations that fought in the battle were all spray painted with the Nazi swastika. Seated on one of the stone seats was a shadowy figure staring at the monument.

Ramses signaled his men to halt and cautiously walked up to the stone monument drawing out his only weapon, a long steel baton. “Identify yourself!!!” He yelled when he came within ten feet of the man.

“Ramses is that you?” The man in the shadow of the monument called back.

“First Captain?” Ramses said as he returned his baton to its holster.

“Ramses, please take a seat.”

“Yes, Sir.” Ramses signaled his squad mates to secure the area and they all spread out and formed a perimeter around the monument. Ramses approached the monument and sat on an empty stone seat opposite of First Captain De-Tierra.

“Look at that wanton destruction First Sergeant.” De-Tierra said pointing at the ruined monument. “What did they do to these people to warrant this? You don't need to answer Ramses. Nothing. They did nothing to them. The men who fought in the forests of Belgium fought more than a hundred years ago against the Nazis. They stopped the greatest threat to humanity in a war that everyone agrees was a just one. This war we're now fighting, one I'm only a few months from entering, is another such example of a just war. We're trying to stop the advance of the Hegemony and yet they don't see it. They ignore the millions already dead in Vietnam, Taiwan, India, Israel and the Philippines. They choose to believe the bullshit propaganda the Chinese air on television and the anti-war faggots in their flashy rallies. Its hard to accept that the very people you're sworn to defend and die for hate you this much.” He pointed at the word “KILLERS” on the stone. “I've just started to accept that fact, but they destroyed THIS monument, one meant to honor men who no longer live. Men who even in today's fucked up world view are still considered heroes.” There was a long pause until De-Tierra spoke again, “You know they tried to destroy the Book of Remembrance?”

“I heard, Sir.”

“Thank God the book was secure in the chapel's safe that night. Of course, that didn't stop them from causing thousands of dollars in damages. Destroying the alter for the book, smashing pews, shattering the stained glass windows and probably even pissed on the goddamn flags.”

“I didn't know the extent of the damage, Sir. That's horrific.”

“First time I saw it. I wept like a fucking girl. That's saying a lot. I haven't cried like that since my parents were killed when I was a kid. It felt like my family dying all over again. Seeing the smashed glass and the... it brought me back. After that happened my life went to shit. I ended up in a foster home where I was deprived of everything and forced to endure every sick form of abuse. The state couldn't do shit. They didn't care or they didn't have the resources to care. I came here to change all that. To leave it all behind. Bunker Hill became my family. The family I never had. Seeing it hurt like this, I just can't take it.”

Ramses knew exactly how the First Captain felt, “If it wasn't for Bunker Hill I would have killed myself by now. I know what it's like to be beaten to an inch of your life by someone who's supposed to care for you. I know the feeling of being constantly put down and treated like an animal. The hopelessness of living for nothing and expecting life to lead you nowhere. This place gave me my life back. It gives me a purpose in life. Look at you now, you're the First Captain of Bunker Hill. You command seven hundred cadets and in a few months you're going to be a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Marines.”

De-Tierra looked at him with a mix of surprise and awe. “Now I know where you got the strength to survive you're Plebe system. Why you remind me of myself. I couldn't quite figure it out. Ramses tell me more about yourself.” De-Tierra and Ramses spoke for many hours under the shadow of the monument until the bugle call of Reveille blared throughout the campus. “So she tried to get you arrested? What the fuck happened after the cops came?”

“I had to call my brother who vouched for me. He's a Marine who enlisted to get the hell away from her and she pulled the same stunt on him just before he left for boot camp. I told the cops I was going to Bunker Hill and thank God that was enough for them. They told me to pack my shit and leave. I grabbed all I could carry and lived in the streets for a few days until it was time to come here. I couldn't go back. It was succeed here or go back to that living nightmare.”

First Captain De-Tierra stood up and shook Ramses hand, “First Sergeant you should get back to your men and to the barracks. Thank you for guarding the monument with me. You are dismissed, Soldier.” De-Tierra saluted the First Sergeant and Ramses went off to rejoin his men. As he ran off De-Tierra turned towards monument and felt the gaping holes in the granite with his hands. “I'm sorry. I'm so sorry I couldn't protect you.”

Unknown, NYC Sewers, New York, Occupied America, Earth [Sol]

Ramses and Rivera came to a stop in the tunnels. The gang of black and blue clothed partisans in the lead of the human convoy heading to the Empire State Building began to shout to someone or something up ahead in the distance. Johnathan Khan, their PLA MOSS agent, tossed them both into the murky waters below. “What the fuck is going on Khan?!” Ramses shouted as a bullet whizzed just above his head.

“I don't fucking know! Keep your fucking head down!” Khan said as he lifted his rifle up. The Chinese agent unloaded an entire clip in the direction of the unknown assailants and as he was reloading he took a direct hit in the chest. He fell into the water alongside Ramses and Rivera and struggled to stay afloat. The water seeped into his gushing wound and Khan screamed out in pain. Ramses swam over to him and helped him keep his head above the water. More bodies fell into the water around them splashing the heavy mucky water onto their faces. With the gang of Hegemony sympathizers distracted by the shootout Rivera and Ramses swam away from the group. Ramses trailed behind Rivera since he both struggled with the chains bonding his hands and trying to keep Khan afloat. Rivera found a ladder and climbed up.

Ramses grabbed the ladder with one hand and tossed the dying MOSS agent on his back with the other, “Hold on Johnathan!” He lifted both of them out of the water and Rivera reached down and helped pull them back to the ledge. Ramses set Khan down and ripped his first aid kit open. He quickly disinfected and bandaged the wound as Rivera paced nervously.

“Ramses! Let's go!” Rivera screamed. She tugged at his arm as he finished working on Khan. Khan opened his eyes and weakly patted the top pocket of his uniform shirt. Ramses reached into the pocket and found the keys to the chains bonding his hands. He unlocked himself and tossed the keys to Rivera who did the same. They both turned and ran but a shot rang out and they instinctively tossed themselves to the ground. Ramses felt himself being lifted off the ground and a heavy fist slammed into the back of head. He went limp and landed on the floor with a heavy thud. He was unconscious for what could have been no more than a few seconds, but saw Rivera cowering in a corner. A tall black man he recognized as the leader of the Hegemony partisans stood over her in his dirty superman boxers and laughed. He lowered his boxers and tossed it aside.

“'Ello Miss. Remember me?” He slung his AK-74 to his back and grabbed his other weapon and stroked it as he approached her. Rivera cried out as he grabbed the coat Johnathan gave her and ripped it off of her. Ramses stood on shaky legs and ran full speed at the man. The partisan leader suddenly turned and backhanded him. Ramses staggered and corrected himself.

“Come at me you piece of shit!” He stood up tall and beaconed the giant man to come for him.

“Time to die little boy!” The partisan leader dropped the half-naked woman down and rushed towards Ramses. Ramses wasn't fast enough and got two sharp blows to the side of his gut. He fell down on his knees and the giant kicked him hard in the side of the head. Ramses twisted and fell on the cold ground. The partisan leader jumped on top of him and wrapped his rough hands around Ramses neck. Ramses struggled to breath and bit hard down on the man's arm. Drawing blood, but it did nothing but cause the man to squeeze harder. He felt the fight in him leave his body as his body screamed for air. He tried to continue the fight, but the man was far stronger then him. His arms and legs were pinned under the weight of both men.

His vision faded and he saw her face again. Her sweet smile welcoming him to the afterlife. He saw her and instead of being happy a wave of shame and guilt hit him. He cried out and looked down unable to look at her. “I'm sorry Allison.”

She said nothing as she approached and morphed into a horrifying abomination, “I fucking hate you Michael! You did this to me! You think sorry changes things?!”

“Please. Leelee. I was selfish. I didn't mean to hurt you.” He said to the abomination in his head.

“You hurt me and I fucking hate you!” She screamed as she disappeared into the air.

Sweet air filled Ramses lungs again and he opened his eyes when blood poured on his face. Ramses looked up and saw a look of surprise on the partisan leaders face. His eyes were wide and he was looking crossed eyed at his forehead. A small smoking hole was in the middle of his forehead. Ramses pushed him aside and struggled to stand up. He turned towards Rivera who was hugging Khan. The Chinese MOSS agent lowered his sidearm and smiled. “I fucking hated that guy. You two get the hell out of here.”

Ramses grabbed Rivera and headed back into the sewers towards uptown, but before he did he turned to Khan and said, “Thank you Johnathan.”

Bunker Hill Military Academy, Wayne, Pennsylvania, United States, Earth [Sol]

Another Sunday and another long ass day of formations, chapel, parade, and more parade. He felt that it was completely unnecessary to even hold military parades. No one showed up to them anymore, except for old alumni and the assorted parents. It was a long, hot, boring and elaborate affair. They would all suit up in their dress blues and march along with their rifles in long columns in cadence. It was a tremendous sight for anyone to see, but it was a huge pain for those involved. This Sunday Ramses would have nothing to do with it and he had a plan to skip out on it. As soon as the First Mess formation was over and roll call was done, he would duck out of formation to go to the latrines and would hide there. Once the mass of cadets moved off to chapel he would sneak up to DiCave's room and link up with the others.

Everything went smoothly, he waited until roll call was over and asked the CO if he could go to the latrines. As expected the CO gave him his permission and he went off to the latrines where he hid in one of the toilet stalls. He stood over the toilet and waited. He heard as the mass of cadets marched off together towards chapel. Their feet cracking together like thunder against the brick road and then fading as they moved further into the distance. He still wasn't in the clear just yet. It didn't take long for the MP's to come and search the latrines. He heard them pace up and down the latrines, flashing their flashlights under each stall looking for legs and feet. They came to his stall, flashed it and seeing nothing, moved on. He waited until they left and gave it a few more minutes just to be sure and crept out of the stall. He snuck up the stairs of the barracks and reached DiCave's room on the third floor. He looked around and punched in the code to enter. Once inside he got a slap in the back and a cold drink in his hand. Inside the room was DiCave and his friend Queen who Ramses had never met before. He was a hulking black man who was built like a silver back guerrilla. Also inside of the room was Delgado, another one of his plebe brothers. He was a small but very muscular man with a sharp intellect. They all laughed together and mocked the stupidity of those outside in chapel. They were now all free men with the rest of the day to themselves. They spent the next few minutes debating what movie they should watch first on DiCave's computer, until they heard a faint sound in the distance. They all quieted down and strained to hear what was the source of the sound. The sound came back and it sounded closer. It kept repeating and kept coming closer until Delgado realized, “Holy shit, they're going room by room.”

“Did you know about this?” Ramses said to DiCave.

“I swear to God this is the first time this has ever happened.” DiCave said with Queen nodding acknowledging that it was true, since the two were master AWOL rangers. The four men rushed to the window and they all cursed one another. They all realized that they were on the third floor and that jumping out the window would result in broken bones at the minimum.

Ramses looked around the spartan room that every cadet had and tried to think of a place he could hide. Under the bunk bed would be too obvious. The two wall lockers every room had was jam packed with uniforms, weapons and gear so it'll be impossible for him to fit. The only two other pieces of furniture in the room were two desks, but the space underneath was open and he would immediately be caught. Ramses became desperate and rushed to the door. He placed his ear on it trying to gauge the distance of the MP's to see if he could make a run for it, but they were literally next door. He turned around and meekly said, “I guess we're fucked Gentlemen.” To his surprise the other three had completely disappeared. The door behind him rung as the MP's punched in the code. Ramses looked around desperate for a hiding spot and spotted a large overseas bag filled with dirty laundry.

He tossed the contents of the bag on the floor and squatted in the corner. He gathered all of the dirty laundry on the floor and tossed it over his body until he was completely covered in someone elses dirty cloths. The door swung open and he could hear the heavy boots of the MP's as they entered the room. Ramses held his breath, both from the overwhelming smell of funky cloths and as to not give away his position. The MP's stopped in their tracks and burst into hysterical laughter in the middle of the room. Ramses felt a sharp blow to the side of his stomach and he rolled out of his hiding spot into the arms of two burly MP's. They laughed so hard as they dragged him out of the room that they completely ignored Queen barely fitting under the bed and Delgado and DiCave peering out of each wall locker snickering silently as the MP's dragged Ramses into the hall. The laughing MP's dropped him on his back and De-Tierra stood over him with a look of disappointment.

“We found this dumbass under a pile of dirty laundry. He would have gotten away if it wasn't for his shiny parade shoes sticking out.” The two MP's began laughing again and the other MP's in the hall joined them.

De-Tierra looked down angrily at Ramses and said, “if he doesn't want to go to parade. We will bring the parade to him.”

Bunker Hill Military Academy, Wayne, Pennsylvania, United States, Earth [Sol]

Ramses felt like he was going to die. Three brutal nights with no sleep and only marching. He was marching tours, a time honored tradition at Bunker Hill that served as a way to punish those that broke the rules. Ramses marched in his heavy wool full dress around in a wide circle with dozens of other men who also angered the chain of command. His heavy M1 rifle digging into his shoulder as it sat at left shoulder arms. He prayed for the NCO in charge of the tours to call for right shoulder arms, but that command didn't come for another hour. When it did, Ramses whipped the rifle to port arms and then rested it on his other shoulder. His left shoulder felt bruised and pricked like a thousand needles were poking it from the flow of blood now gushing back into it without a heavy rifle laying on it.

“Y'all done and fucked up! There's a goddamn war going on and y'all fucking act like shitbags! Y'all better wake the fuck up! Goddamn it Ramses stay in cadence!” Master Sergeant Wilson yelled as he rushed towards Ramses and kicked him in the shin. “Wake the fuck up and stay in formation!” Ramses looked at him angrily, but said nothing. “You think you're tough cocksucker?!” Wilson snatched Ramses rifle and held it up in the air. “I got you're weapon soldier. What are you going to do about it?”

“Wilson stand down!” De-Tierra said as he approached the tour formation. Wilson snapped to attention and lowered the rifle. “Ramses front and center.”

Ramses grabbed his rifle back from Wilson and ran to the First Captain. He saluted De-Tierra and said, “Sergeant First Class Ramses reporting as ordered.”

“Cut the shit Ramses. I should de-rank you. I'm very disappointed in you.” De-Tierra reached out and touched the rank bars on Ramses uniform. “You have rank and you're supposed to be a leader of men who should be leading by example. What kind of example are you setting for your command with that little stunt you pulled? Hiding under a pile of cloths to get out of parade? REALLY?!” De-Tierra looked at Ramses who lowered his head in shame. “I saw something in you. I still see it, but you have to promise me now that if I let you keep your rank that you won't embarrass the corps again.”

“Sir, I swear on my sacred honor that I won't embarrass the corps again.”

De-Tierra nodded accepting his apology. “You're a good man Ramses and you're an even better soldier. I'm expecting so much good things from you, but you have to pay for this. You will serve out another twenty-four hours of tours. So don't expect to get much sleep for the next few days.”

Ramses saluted and before he turned he told the First Captain as a friend, “I'm sorry and thank you for the chance to redeem myself.”

1957, Upper East Side, Manhattan, United States, Earth [Sol]

She danced playfully with him in the hall of her apartment complex as he hummed a classical waltz. “What a great night. Thank you Michael.” Allison kissed him and looked down in her purse and found her house keys. “We need to be quite. My roommates might be sleeping.” Allison opened the door and both of them stepped inside. The apartment was dark and Allison checked for her roommates, but they weren't there. “That's weird. They're not here. They could be out on the town.”

“Call them and find out.”

Allison giggled, “That's okay. I got a better idea... Michael do you want to see a very good movie?”

“HA! I know that look. Its one of 'your' movies isn't it.”

“Come on Michael.”

“Leelee I love you, but please don't subject me to this torture.”

“Oh stop. Its just a movie.”

“Which one is it this time?”

“Its called, 'Love Actually.' Starring Hugh Grant.”

“Honestly, I don't want to see it.”

“But it has British actors in it and its a classic. You'd like it mister history buff. Do it for me. Pleeeeease.”

“You know I'll do anything for you... so I guess I have no choice.”

“You never had a choice honey.” She gave him a kiss and ran off to make popcorn. He picked up the news tablet on her coffee table and immediately turned to the daily casualty list from the war. He scanned it for his friends names. Most days he didn't recognize any of the names, but every now and then he would spot a familiar name. He found one on the list he knew from Bunker Hill. Second Lieutenant James A. DiCave, 2nd Army Infantry Division killed in action by the Chinese Hegemony in Northern India. He pressed his name on the list and a large picture of the man in his Class A Uniform floated over the list. DiCave was smiling in his picture. He always had a smile on his face. Even in this picture, the official military identification picture where most men stared ahead stern faced. He smiled. He was always a rule breaker and a jokester. Michael read the caption below his picture to himself, “Second Lieutenant James A. DiCave of Pennsylvania, graduate of Bunker Hill Military Academy, killed in action ****DATE****, Northern India. 2LT DiCave with his platoon were on a joint patrol with elements of the Indian Army when ambushed by the enemy. Suffering heavy casualties and forced to retreat to a better fighting position DiCave returned to rescue a wounded soldier. Braving heavy fire he dragged the unidentified soldier back to safety. In his attempt DiCave suffered numerous small arms impacts and shortly after succumbed to his wounds. DiCave has been posthumously awarded the silver star for valor.”

“Michael?” Allison stood over him and took the tablet away from him. “Why do you torment yourself with that? You can't change the way things are. You're not a soldier.” She placed the tablet back on the table and sat down next to him. She laid her head on his lap and he began stroking her hair. “Forget about the war. Forget about the past. You have me.”

Michael said nothing. He just stroked her hair and watched the movie in silence. He wasn't paying attention to it at all. His mind was a whirlwind of memories and second guessing. He thought of his friend DiCave and he wondered if he could have saved him. If he was out there in the war with his battle buddies would he have been able to bring them back? Would he have been the one to have died? He felt an old feeling bubbling up inside of him, shame, shame that he wasn't fighting. That he was sitting watching a movie in comfort while men he trained with and some he trained himself were out there in the shit. Dying for each other and he was doing nothing. He felt helpless and he couldn't help but shed a tear. Not just for the passing of his friend DiCave, but because at the same time he felt conflicted. He was safe at home with a beautiful woman that loved him and what if he had the opportunity to go off and fight this very day. Would he leave Allison? Could he live without her?

“Michael?” Allison said looking up at him worried, she placed her soft hand on his face. “Are you alright?”

Michael looked down and kissed her forehead. “I'm thinking of you Leelee.” He wiped the tear from his face and smiled. “You're the best thing that's ever happened to me. I'm glad I had to stay. I never would have met you.”

Allison's smiled up at him, “I love you Michael.”

“I love you too Leelee, but don't ever make me watch this movie again. It's awful.”

“Oh Lord. There you go ruining a special moment.” She giggled sweetly. “Well you're watching it mister. I don't care.”

“Dammit!” He said trying hard not to laugh.

Valley Forge National Park, Pennsylvania, United States, Earth [Sol]

Ramses dodged behind a fallen tree and landed on top of a large rock. He screamed out in pain, but as much as he wanted to stand up, he couldn't. Simunition rounds whizzed above him and bounced off the tree he was using as cover. The West Pointers launched a counter-attack in the middle of the night that caught the cadets of Bunker Hill completely by surprise. Throughout the three day multi-school exercise the West Pointers had been nothing but predicable, attacking at dawn or sundown. Never in the A.M., but today on the last day of the FTX they had completely changed their tactics and strategy. The cadets of Bunker Hill set up a perimeter defense for the night, but it wasn't enough to withstand a concentrated attack. Ramses squad made initial contact with lead elements of the West Point attack and was easily overwhelmed. As far as Ramses knew he was the only one left. His radioman Rippin had managed to give off a warning message to the rest of the Bunker Hill cadets and from the sounds of it they were finally fighting back. The West Pointers may have broke through, but the cadets of Bunker Hill weren't going to make it easy for them to capture their flag.

Ramses suddenly lifted himself up and shot into the darkness at the direction of the enemy. He dodged back as soon as he unloaded a burst and was followed by a large amount of enemy fire. He was surrounded and he knew the West Pointers shooting at him were only there to keep him pinned, others would be flanking him. They were trained just as well, maybe better in the art of war and he knew it wouldn't be long before they got him. He thought of his chances and knowing he had none, he jumped over the fallen tree and rushed towards the enemy. They opened up on him, but missed. He lifted his rifle up and lined up his shot on the first West Pointer he saw. He was about to pull the trigger when his vision suddenly blurred. Ramses became disorientated, lowered his rifle and stopped. He felt the impact of several simunition rounds hit his body and he collapsed on the ground in pain. The West Pointer he was a trigger pull away from shooting approached him and kicked his side.

“You okay Bunker Hill?”

“Yah, dick.” Ramses said as he removed his prescription lens combat goggles and began rubbing his eyes. He opened his eyes and they still refused to focus.

“No need to be a goddamn cunt.” The West Pointer extended his hand and helped Ramses up. “Now get your ass off the battlefield.”

Bunker Hill Military Academy, Wayne, Pennsylvania, United States, Earth [Sol]

Ramses woke up in the middle of the night coated in sweat. He stared up at the ceiling with fresh tears rolling down his cheeks. The memories he tried hard to suppress and forget had found a new way to resurface in his mind. The one place he had no control over. His dreams. Throughout the day he would force those dark experiences from his past out of his mind with the only mission he had, preparing for war. He had no time in the day to revisit the past. It was all spent learning, drilling and training for the war raging in the Colonies, Northern India and the South Pacific. He had a little over a year left before he would be a commissioned officer in the U.S. Army and would be deployed into that war. The war which seemed to get bloodier and bloodier with each passing day. There was no room for dwelling on past trauma's that could bring him down and hinder his training. He needed his mind to be right and away from that dangerous place that could lead him down that dark road laced with depression, self-loathing, and self-destruction. Yet, the dreams did come and he could do nothing but helplessly replay the past in his head as if he were reliving them. Those nightmares always seemed to be the most real to him, he lived them and the universe would not let him forget them.

He heard the soft snoring of his battle buddy and roommate Rippin sleeping below on the bottom bunk and Ramses used that sound to assist himself back into sleep. It didn't take long and when he did the dreams came back with it. Ramses found himself standing in clothes to big for himself and standing in the middle of his old Spanish Harlem living room with his big brother holding him. Protecting him. His Mother and Father were loudly arguing about something in the kitchen. He couldn't make it out. It could have been about money. It was almost always a fight about money. His Father didn't make enough of it and his mother always wanted more.

His father stormed out of the kitchen and was clearly angry, but he stopped as he passed his two sons. He looked down at Ramses and smiled in an effort to calm him since he was shaking. “It's okay, mi hijo.” He patted him on his head gently and although he was only six he understood that gesture clearly. His Father loved him and he would make everything okay. He loved his Father. He was always good to him. He would give him small gifts with what little money he had. He would call him such wonderful things and show him that he cared. He would often beat him so his mother wouldn't. His mother always hurt him so much and she didn't stop hurting him even if he bled or cried. His Father always made a big show of beating him so his mother would be satisfied, but the strikes were always light and the belt always soft. One night in particular his Mother wanted his Father to beat him so bad for some long forgotten infraction and his Father instead beat the wall violently with the belt. His Mother was in the bedroom watching her television with the door open, as if she liked to hear the sound of him getting beaten. The sound of the belt crashing down echoed throughout the apartment and like a good boy he cried out in anguish with each strike as if he was actually getting hit. The two went on with this bizarre play for a good ten minutes. At the end his Father would always smile at him to remind him that he didn't mean what he was about to say, he shouted angrily “That's what you get for being so stupid Michael.” He also rarely saw his Father, he never saw him because he was always working. When he did manage to see him it was only for a few minutes every night before he slept. Those few minutes he always felt safe in his presence.

His Mother busted out of the kitchen screaming nonsensically in Spanish. Ramses didn't notice it, but his Father did. His Father placed himself between his two sons and their mother. She stood wild eyed clutching a large butchers knife and pointing it at them. He shouted back in Spanish and they went back and forth for a few moments. His older brother Cliff grabbed Ramses and slowly backed away from their parents. His Mother began waving the knife around the air and approached his Father who stood his ground.

“LUCY!!! Calm down! Drop it! You're scaring the kids!” His Father screamed.

“FUCK YOU!” She said as she pointed the knife at her husband. “This is all you're fault you fucking bastard!”


“CRAZY?!!! CRAZY?!!! I SHOW YOU CRAZY!!!” She lunged at her husband with the knife and plunged it deep into his belly. “CRAZY!!!” She held the knife in him and sneered. He looked down at the blade in his stomach and groaned. He staggered backwards and she pulled the knife out unleashing a large splatter of blood on the ground. Both Ramses and Cliff cried out for their badly injured Father. Their Father clutched his bleeding belly and dropped on his knees. She came back at him with the knife and he lifted his arms up to protect his face. She connected with his right arm and tore into it. She leaned back for another strike and he grabbed the blade with his right hand and ripped the knife out of her hands. He tossed it aside and it slid under a coach. She backed away from him and finally realize what she had just done. She ran away into her room, pushing her children aside and locked the door behind her.

Ramses and Cliff ran up to their Father and helped him reach the door to the apartment and then out of the apartment complex. He left in his car, but before he did he turned to his children and smiled with much effort. “I love you mis hijos, but I have to go.” The car pulled out and he drove off. Ramses wept and his older brother held him tighter. Ramses looked down on his shirt and realized he was covered in his Father's blood. He touched the still wet stains on his ruined shirt and cried harder. The only person who ever protected him was hurt and he could do nothing. He didn't know it then, but that would be the last time he would see his Father.

“DON'T LEAVE ME WITH HER!!!” Ramses screamed as he awoke suddenly.

“I'm trying to sleep!” Rippin shouted angrily. Ramses had just woke him up with his screaming.

“I had one of those dreams again.”

“Goddamn, that's the fifth time this week. Which one was it?”

“The one where my mom stabs my father.”

“Ramses, get that crazy bitch out of your mind.”

“I'm trying.”

“Try harder dammit.”

“I want to. I can't help it. I do miss him.”

“Whatever happened to your Father?”

“He lived. The cops asked him how he was stabbed and he told them that he was mugged and it went bad. The cops believed him at first went back to our apartment to tell my mom the bad news. She sees them at the door and assumes they're there for her and sobbingly tells them that she stabbed him in self defense. She tells them that he constantly abused her and that this time she feared for not only herself she also feared for the safety of her kids. The cops verified the stabbing occurred at the apartment and seeing how my Father lied to cover Lucy's ass they assumed her side of the story was true. He not only went to prison, but the state gave full custody of us to that woman.”

“That's fucked up.”

“That's life.”

“Did you ever see him again?”

“No. He did manage to send me birthday gifts in the mail for a few years after. I know he was still alive because Lucy would receive his child support payments in the mail. Even when she was rich and had no need for the money she still made the poor bastard pay her. She would laugh about it. She would show us the check and tell us how it wasn't even enough to pay for the 'strings on our shoes' and I knew that was all the money he had. He worked so hard for us and got shitted on by the world.”

“You're Father sounds like a good honorable man and I can see you have his traits.”

“Thank you Rippin I really appreciate that. I just hope the world doesn't shit on me like it did on him for being a good man.”