The Power Plays series was created by Tom Clancy and Martin Greenberg, and Berkley Publishing holds the rights to the material. I guess they have the legal right to take this text and lock it away in a safe, if they want to.

'Wherefore take unto you the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.'

-Ephesians 6:13

No one knew exactly when the backslide began, but it seemed to begin as a cultural revolution. We do know it roughly started in the best of times, when a wealth of families made good on saving enough capital to leave the urban traps they loathed so much, and uprooted into a more idyllic setting. In this land the phenomenon wasn't all that unusual, but perhaps, like a twig, the youths snapped under the strain of this latest uprooting, in a long series of re-rooting.

Without a past, these admittedly cultureless orphans of older worlds decided they'd endured the unendurable for too long. They left home yet again on their own volition, to create their own culture in the streets. They placed values on things their parents didn't see as valuable, and experimented endlessly to find something that would make their newly woven culture unbreakable. They rallied behind a series of social causes, and more significantly, united against numerous injustices, for we all know the journey is the real meat of story, and that journey is only memorable if a conflict breeds obstacles to overcome.

They looked far and wide for injustices, but their parents were benevolent toward them, and made these evils disappear as soon as they were pointed out. Travel became safer, food became more plentiful, and generally, men lived more equally for a time. So the newly self-exiled band searched beyond the protective seas guarding over their own land, and overlooked how their countrymen could improve things in distant lands. They found people with many core similarities, but their lives were not prosperous and just. The exiles found that their fellow countrymen lent assistance to these people, but treated them differently, too. The parchment that granted the countrymen freedoms in their own lands didn't apply to people living elsewhere, so when the conventional countrymen lent distant people help against others, they didn't necessarily bless these needy people with the rights given in the parchment.

Instead, they treated these people as they treated themselves, under their own laws, and these laws were different, indeed. These conventional homesteaders thought this was best, but the outcasts disagreed, and clashed for the cause of punishing their countrymen for not extending their own freedoms abroad. This conflict at home soured the conflict overseas, and the conventional countrymen, who doubtlessly meant well, came home, seen as tarnished by their other countrymen, but they picked up their broken lives, and rebuilt new ones, thus completing the cycle again.

Most did this while the formerly cultureless outcasts reintegrated into society not quite as victors, but with a measure of power strong enough to preempt their countrymen from effectively outreaching across the seas again.

This new status quo saddened many of the returning conventional countrymen, who didn't see themselves as tarnished, and didn't see the world the same way as the usurpers of power. They saw themselves as the cheated good, the ones most engaged against injustices. They quietly rebelled against the walls placed up, to the disgust of their new enemy, their own citizens.

So over the years, in the same nation, a force of good fought another force of a different good, until the conventional good rediscovered ancient methods of circumventing the prohibitions placed on them.

Their leader was Rodger Gordian, a man imprisoned by evildoers in the very distant land that started it all. His band of warriors proudly carried the moniker Sword, a fitting name for a group committed to swiftly unknotting trouble spots wherever Gordian's contacts found them.

The group had resolved problems around the world with scant attention from those at home, but then they encountered a more protracted mission, one with similarities to the conflict that indirectly led to their existence in the first place.

It was widely believed that civilization began on the riverbanks of this place. Men from antiquity built the first homes here, a wise ruler wrote the first book of laws here, and remnants of the first city were still testament to the proud indigenous peoples' claims.

The armed forces from back home, bound together by brave men, nevertheless seemed too shriveled and atrophied to bare the full burden of the task asked of them. So Gordian, the figure intensely loved and hated by the two rival camps in his homeland, offered his best men and resources to bond with armed forces he'd worked and suffered with in his youth.

He charged his two noblest warriors, Tom Ricci and Pete Nemic, as the spearhead of a committed force.

Paul Evens didn't process life the same way most parents did. He never told his daughter that violence never solved anything, because he personally didn't accept that lesson in life. If Evens believed that, he wouldn't have ever volunteered to fly AH-1z Cobras in the Marine Corp, wouldn't have taken part in interdicting the escaping Iraqi Army in 1991, wouldn't have served on the ground in Somalia two years later, and wouldn't have come back as a flight instructor when his phone rang one September day in 2001.

If Paul Evens believed all disagreements could be solved peacefully, he probably wouldn't have insisted on seeing action in the graveyard of the Soviet Empire, even if they had him pounding on the ground. The marines didn't embed him with the Marine Expeditionary Unit on the ground, but he accepted their judgment.

After the military released him back into civilian life, Paul Evens, a retired Marine Master Sergeant, tried catching up on his education; first, in something really soft, like humanities. Some Professors objected to a marine's outlook on life, so he failed some of his early classes, and Paul quickly discovered the subtleties of faking agreement with philosophies that didn't pass his BS tests. The dogma courses were boring, but his day job, repossessions, made up for dulling his wit in school.

Evens had a wife, whom he didn't know very well, and a daughter, a stranger to him. Darlene Evens seemed cold and detached even to Paul, whom doctors diagnosed with slight autism after he came home from Gulf One. Darlene restlessly changed vocations like hygienic people change clothing, and was currently teaching sales practices at a small school.

When Evens mused over his wife's odd pattern of behavior, which was rare, he concluded she just couldn't tolerate co-workers. Paul, on the other hand, enjoyed his handpicked crew of repo men. They too were marines, all veterans, if only in the loosest sense, though the others had never flown an aircraft.

He liked his job, hated school, and felt content toward his family. Evens lived frugally, using mostly free software in his PC, tending his own vegetable garden, practically building his entire home single-handedly... and living on nearly valueless land, in the northern part of Arkansas. But hey, Memphis Tennessee wasn't that far away!

The community was small and reasonably safe, but Paul Evens felt compelled to resort to violence, in retaliation for violence against his family. Well, maybe he didn't feel the need, rather, he decided a shopkeeper needed to die.

A shame, really, because from what Paul could tell, the thrift storeowner was a pretty good guy. He was Mormon, actually, donated tithes to the Church of Latter Day Saints, abstained from alcohol, led the neighborhood crime watch, always lent a hand when asked, and tied yellow ribbons all over town. His death will outrage the community, but Paul's daughter let him in on a little secret: this all-American good Samaritan became addicted to pornography some time back, and became so contaminated by it, sought release from it's hold in Paul's little girl. For that, he no longer has the right to exist.

Paul, because of his autism, if he believed the doctors, felt no malice toward the shop-keeper, he simply made a judgment call to visit the thrift store while the target used a straw broom to cleanup his sidewalk. Evens, always the actor, forced a smile, and offered his usual greeting.

"How's your world?"

The thrift store-owner smiled with recognition, and stretched out his hand. Paul's own hand bypassed the store owner's, pressed flatly on his chest. Paul's left foot snapped up behind the other man's heel, returned, dislodging his balance. The flat hand pressed ahead, reeling the man's center-of-gravity into traffic, where a barreling jacked-up 4x4 truck shattered the ribcage and the spine.

Paul Evens knew the cameras atop the red light had recorded the incident, but also knew his back and several cars obscured their view enough to plant reasonable doubt. Evens, like most people in the town, knew magnetic coils embedded in the road could operate the motion lights just fine, and that a camera system was simply superfluous. They did something else, surveillance, and no policeman or city spokesmen could convince the public otherwise.

They played the tape for him.

"See that, marine? He sees you, plunges into traffic. Are you seriously going to plead innocent?"

That wasn't the proper way to interrogate someone wired to a lie detector, but what the heck? They don't work, anyway.

"He confessed to me that he craved after women that aren't his wife, and that his illness grew, until he realized he'd never be cured. He told me his fornication became so serious, he couldn't even hide it from his family, and that his wife had given up, and planned to leave him. Do you know a Mormon has to disclose exactly why he or she is leaving the spouse?"

The lead detective scribbled it down.

"I see, so why'd he tell you?"

This is the part where he'd have to disclose his motive for murder, highly dangerous. He hedged a very careful lie.

"A while back, he admitted engaging in sinful activities with my wife. Since then, I've been motivating him to buck his habit, but even with the help of myself and God, he concluded he couldn't stop."

Everyone in town understood the good shop-owners convictions, and all would have no problem accepting this fiction as truth. The weary detective sighed, and cut the marine loose.

"Okay, marine, get."

And that's how Paul Evens removed a sexual predator from his community.

Not long after this incident, Uncle Sam contracted a chunky Cajun, who didn't disclose his name, to knock on the repo man's door.


Paul focused on the voice, interpreting the voice with considerable difficulty.

"The government needs you for a special assignment, Marine. Good deal with that shop-keeper, the government is impressed."

His curiosity beckoning, Paul pursued him to the Towncar or whatever it was. He didn't care for brands.

"Where are we going?"

"Fort Sill. There's a radioman there you'll want to meet."

The driver erected a barricade of tinted glass, and the two men resumed talking.

"We couldn't help noticing that your humanities classes bored you so much, you took up Arabic as a challenge."

Paul understood, or at least thought he did.

"I picked up Urdu really fast to teach some Afghans a little about calling in chopper support. Thought it would help to know some Arabic in advance, should Uncle Sam asked me to instruct somewhere else.

"I hear you. That's nice that you planned to come back. Makes things easier on us now."

To laymen paying casual attention, Fort Sill is just a base for boring old rocket artillery and some military police, but Special Forces Command teaches people how to use radios here, as well.

The barrier lifted for them, and the driver settled into a reserved space near the radio shack.

"Wait here, I'll rejoin you shortly."

The door opened, then reopened, and a little dude cut like a diminutive lumberjack came out with a green beret and woodland fatigues.

"This here is 165 centimeters of death, a little man that fulfilled a big job with the fifth Special Forces group in CENTCOM."

The little man offered his hand, and Paul accepted a shake.

"I know a little about what we're doing, enough to understand ranks don't apply. I'm Robin Molina, of Roswell, New Mexico. As you probably guessed, the whites in the army actually think my Hispanic features give me an Arabic appearance. Also, for some reason, no one in the world thinks an American could possibly be this short. How odd is that?"

The Cajun added some more tidbits.

"You guys served purdy close t'gether in Tora Bora. Robin here was in Taskforce 121, until loosing a foot on an undisclosed part of the border. Paul here chased the convoy responsible, so from a point of view, y'all worked together before."

Roger Gordian lectured a flock of students at Baylor, one of the two finest schools in Texas. It wasn't lost on anyone that the President was as close by as Crawford, but somehow couldn't make the time to make the Thanksgiving visit. They understood something vital must have come up, but doubtlessly, the Young Republicans were disappointed.

"Howdy students, I know y'all expected someone else to visit, but I'm going to make the most of it. I am recognized as Roger Gordian, former CEO of a real important arms contractor. Anyway, I'm here to make a speech about the global war we find ourselves in. How many of you precocious kids had a tree house as a kid?"

"Not that old story again," commented Tom Ricci, leaning against the back wall with Pete Nemic, "he may have played chicken with top Soviet missiles in 'nam, but now the old man's seriously dull."

Nemic may have agreed to a point, but sparred with Ricci out of boredom.

"C'mon, Tom, this is the first time he's told the public this. And besides, he has to saturate the hour with some boring material."

Ricci crossed his arms.

"Here comes that dry old Jefferson quote: The price of freedom isn't... yada yada yada. I'm telling you, Pete, these students don't care about old dead guys in wigs, they want to hear him justifying offensive actions and arms buildups with good old Darwinian Biology. That is what gets a Baylor student turned on."

Pete's face lined with a smile.

"Agreed. I've always been enticed by the market capitalists arguments, myself, but either argument is more appealing than Jeffersonian cheerleading."

"I read you loud and clear, so why can't we convey this to the evolutionary dropouts around the world?"

Nemic closed his eyes.

"Edging that around the shouted 'Rambo mentality' libel? I have no idea."

The Cajun directed the driver to catch a direct flight from Will Rodgers to Waco, and the driver made it so, driving the big black sedan past a barn, an oil pump, and a cowboy museum, before finding Terminal Drive.

"Not there, driver, that's the Fed Ex entrance. Up to that four way, and turn left."

He complied, and picked up a receipt for free one hour parking along the way. The Cadillac, or whatever they were driving- again, Evens didn't know cars- found a place up the ramp.

Robin Molina peered at the Air National Guard base several hundred meters away. A big gray C-130 taxied along the tarmac.

"Quite astounding, isn't it? A certain Ryder truck should have changed the military's defensive posture in OKC, but nothing but a chain-link fence and a short sprint separates all the people here, from all uniformed people over there. Screwy, isn't it?"

Evens had a quip ready for this occasion.

"Well, look at your hometown. Interstellar invaders crash in your backyard, yet I haven't seen you checking the sky for tractor beams."

A sidewalk path with an open roof separates the Will Rodgers terminal from the parking lot. Once the three men dismounted the top levels, they crossed this gap, where a lady customs officer with a silver revolver glanced over, saw no luggage, and dismissed them.

The three passed simple museum displays of Native Americans, settlers, the airport's namesake humorists, and Wily Post.

"This state is landlocked, isn't it?"

The question came from Molina.

"Yes, it is."

"So why do they have a display featuring a pirate?"

Evens followed Molina's finger to Post's image, and shuddered.

"Shut up, Molina."

Paul Evens made model planes when he was a kid, but couldn't remember if Fokker was a Dutch, or a German business.

Whatever it was, the plane they took to Waco was a Fokker type that seemed a near clone of the 737 shuttle.

"Is there a chance we'll see Air Force One in Waco? I here the President is keeping it there, 'cause it won't fit on his ranch."

Evens, trying to catnap, leaned in his reclined seat, and rested a moist towel on his face. Flying isn't fun when he isn't the pilot.

"I don't think Waco can support a 747-400, but yeah, there is a chance we'll see whatever he flew in on."

The chunky Cajun, who finally revealed his name as Thibodeau, Rollie Thibodeau, corrected him.

"Why, Waco's got a runway, uh, eight thousand feet, I think, that will accept anything less than a B-52H. I do know it can accept the President. You were thinking of the Clintons' vacation getaway. Different president, different place."

"Hey, wasn't that Margaret's Garden?"

"Martha's Vineyard," bit Evens, "now shut up."

Later that night, Rodger Gordian appeared via satellite on Larry King, following up on an episode with Ross Perot. King took the night off to observe the holiday, so a junior reporter discussed Afghanistan with the boss.

"Well I'll tell you why our current force capability is adequate for the Afghan mission. Afghanistan is a land-locked country, unable to support a long-term occupation. We have even fewer friendly countries surrounding Karzai's State than Iraq. If we tried to sustain a major presence in the country, we would be compelled to maintain an uncomfortably large "air-bridge" (cargo plane supply line) over Pakistan, The Peoples Republic of China, India, Iran, or Russia. I'd rather keep such traffic down. Search-and-destroy type operations continue around Bin Laden at the division level at all times. Such divisions may be marine expeditionary forces at one time, or may be an airborne division, like the 82ed "all Americans" and the 24th Mech, some of our best. The other half of the Eighteenth Air Corp, by the way, is in Iraq.

Army Special Forces are popularly called the "Green Berets," though an SF guy will protest, "I'm not a hat!"" The cub reporter inserted a brief joke, and let Gordian finish.

The Green Berets are working closely with the new afghan Army to multiply our strength there.

In my view, the Pro-US Afghans are far better at policing their country than the Iraqi police will be in five years.

True, Karzai doesn't have the support to control much more than Kabul and Kandahar, plus the area in between, but he really doesn't have to, according to SF "hearts and minds" doctrine. Under the plan, our coalition can win by demonstrating that we better understand the indigenous villagers than the Taliban and Al Queda. Basically, we fight as Robin Hoods as a battle tactic by mending fences, going on patrols with local militia, and subtly educating communities by giving friendly advice.

Air support can return any time, if necessary, and opposition currently can't even mass a fight at the battalion level around government strongholds, even around Tora Bora."

Gordian had done the impossible; he'd expressed a fairly competent view of military doctrine on cable TV. Unfortunately, no one watched the news on Thanksgiving, except news junkies. Be fair, Rodger, Ross and General Shelton were also pretty smart.

"Thank you, Sir. Rodger Gordian, former CEO of UpLink Technologies. Coming up next, what was Brittany thinking? Hey, does anyone want to hear about the Laci Peterson case after that? Stay tuned to Larry King Live!"

Oh boy.