"The truth of the matter is, we always know the right thing to do – the hard part is doing it." ~ General Norman Schwarzkopf

"So, I hear there's some big, bad shit going down in Copenhagen."

Corporal Marcus Recara shot the speaker a sidelong look. "That's European territory, James. I highly doubt that we'd be messing around up there. And the Russians aren't that crazy!"

Private James Arlington chuckled. "That's what they all say. Didn't stop them from reabsorbing the Ukraine and Belarus, did it? And what about the Baltics?"

"They allied with Poland and the Balkans," Recara objected. "That's a lot more sane than they've been!"

James chuckled. "Whatever you say, corporal." He waved his hand, taking in the panoramic vista of forests and rivers before them. "How do you like the view?"

Recara laughed. "Beats all hell out of Arizona, that's for sure. And you say you grew up here?"

"Since I was a babe," James smiled. "The Shenandoah Valley. Virginia's a hell of a place, isn't it?"

"Don't fish for compliments!" Recara gave James a warning look. He patted the couch they both sat on. "I hear the driver's from West Virginia."

"Charleston," a voice confirmed over the intercom. "West VA beats the crap outta East VA."

"But it was an Arizona man who invented this thing!" Recara jumped in. James and the driver both protested their respective Virginia's superiority over Arizona.

"Enough!" Recara laughed. Perhaps he was a little too friendly with his squad. He was fully prepared to admit that. But hey! It was a calm world – no risk of nuclear war, the Forgotten Army destroyed, those wacky eco-terrorists all but finished. Besides, it was simply who he was – not even his time in the Ghosts had changed that.

Recara had never seen combat. Neither had James, or anyone in Vampire Company. The Vampires had been a security force performing ops in the Carolinas for several years now. They were mobilized during the mess at JFK Space Center back in April, but it was all over before they could arrive.

"Where's the Colonel?" James finally asked. Recara looked at him quizzically.

"I don't spend all my free time hobnobbing with the Colonel, James," he finally said. "I don't imagine anyone in this . . . bus . . . IFV . . . whatever you call it . . . does!"

"Fastback," the driver corrected.

"I know that!" Recara retaliated. "I just . . . how does it fit in the saying?"

The driver didn't reply, but Recara got the feeling that he was smiling.

"It'll be a while before we hit DC," James said. "I've got some music for you guys."

The other soldiers, who had simply been observing the conversation and laughing, finally perked up.

"What is it?" Private Chelsea Blair asked. "Like, rap or hip-hop?"

"Better!" James declared. "Bon Jovi."

The stares shot his way would probably have caused a tree to wither and die. The Fastback IFV they rode in swerved slightly, hinting that the driver was more than a little surprised.

Recara glared at his friend like the man had grown a pair of wings. "Bon Jovi?" he choked. "How old are you? Eighty?"

James smiled and pulled out his phone, beginning to select a song.

Chelsea put her hands over her ears. "Corporal, I'm sure it's against regulations for a Ghost to torture his companions!"

"Bon Jovi is not torture!" James protested. A second later, "Living On A Prayer" filled the cabin.

Recara seriously considered invoking his rank. In the end, though, the driver dealt with that.

"I will not listen to that crap all the way to DC!" the driver roared. A moment later, Eminem blasted from the IFV's speakers. Chelsea clapped her hands, but James groaned and frantically dug out earbuds.

"Keep your crap-music!" he shouted, plugging the buds in and placing them in his ears. He smiled a moment later.

Recara was caught between two hells. Bon Jovi – or Eminiem?

In the end, it was no contest. He leaned over to his friend.

"Say, James – you wanna keep one of those earbuds and lend me the other?"

"Sure!" James smiled broadly. He passed one over, then immediately started singing along to "You Give Love A Bad Name."

Recara wondered how long this trip was going to take.

"Merde!" Natalie Durant screeched, ducking behind the defensive walls of the uplink. She grabbed her G36 rifle from the ground, then poked back up, trying her best to ignore the whizzing bullets. A chunk of concrete blew apart a ways up the uplink's side, and she ducked again, swearing even more obscenely.

"Ja, I know," Corporal Hans Adler replied. He raised his own rifle and fired a long stream of bullets, then dropped behind cover adroitly as another tank shell chased him.

"They have three Schwarzkopf tanks out there," Hans reported. "Plus those Regular infantry."

"We're dead," Natalie moaned. "There's just eighteen of us left against those tanks and fifty men!"

"Shut up, Private!" Hans hit her on the back of the head. "We're not dead until I say we are! Fight, you worthless girl!"

Natalie gulped, battling the rage that filled her at Hans' last comment. She actually rather liked the German, but he'd seen service in the Forgotten Army's attacks, whereas she hadn't. He had to know what he was doing. Surely he did!

Natalie raised her rifle and leaned over the wall. Hordes of Americans – or so it seemed to her – filled her vision. She settled the crosshairs on one and let out a short burst. The man collapsed, obviously dead. Two of his companions darted out from behind one of the tanks to try and retrieve him – perhaps thinking he was alive. Natalie moved the crosshairs slightly.

A sudden realization struck her. Enforcers Corps training dictated that you didn't move to recover a comrade without someone providing covering fire against whatever took him down. Why should the US Army function differently?

Nataie dropped hard to the ground, barely avoiding the blast of gunfire that seemed to cause the very wall to shake. Hans chuckled.

"So that's what their new Squad Automatic Weapons can do."

Natalie grabbed a grenade from her belt, hissed angrily at the Americans, then pulled the pin and hurled it out. She didn't see what happened when it went off but Hans started grinning.

"Well, Natalie, maybe not so worthless after all!"

Another tank shell exploded nearby and Natalie saw three Enforcers fly through the air. One began to crawl away after a moment, a bloody trail behind him. The others simply lay on the ground, dead.

"Where is our fucking support?" Natalie demanded, ejecting the clip from her rifle and sliding in a new one. "We're dying here!"

Hans laughed. "Any minute now."

There was a sudden explosion from the Americans, and a wave of screaming. Four Cheetah gunships soared overhead, rocket pods blazing as they wreaked havoc on the American formation. Natalie felt a hoarse cheer escape her throat as the chainguns opened up.

"Now!" Hans roared, rising to his feet and opening fire. Natalie did the same, gritting her teeth.

No fear, she thought desperately. No fear.

She shot at a cluster of Americans fleeing for a stand of trees, and three of them went down. She was pretty sure she hadn't hit anyone, though. Two of the Schwarzkopf tanks were burning, and the last was making a futile run for safety down the road. A missile struck it even as Natalie watched, and it swerved, flipping over and resting on its side. Flames poured around it.

Three men leapt from inside, pulling a fourth away from the wreck. Natalie turned and fired a burst, cutting two of them down. The last man dove behind cover, while the wounded one raised a pistol. Natalie dropped, reloading. Hans fired as she did so, along with several other Enforcers. When Natalie came back up, there were no survivors.

She fired at the fleeing US infantry, but they were using cover well and she didn't score any hits. Someone else tossed a grenade to no effect.

"Stand down!" Hans yelled. Sergeant Ferrara was dead. "They've been beaten and they know it. Tend to the wounded."

With that, the big German calmly reloaded his rifle, then grabbed a Spanish woman who'd been hit in the shoulder and began treating her. Natalie envied him the smooth shift from fighting to medical work.

She collapsed against the uplink, sinking to a seat. Numb fingers eventually caught the magazine release on her G36, but she couldn't bring herself to load a new clip.

"You alright, Natalie?" someone asked. Natalie looked up, trying to keep herself from shaking.

Private Elsa Rosenthal regarded Natalie with concern in her Aryan blue eyes. She dropped to one knee and put a hand on Natalie's shoulder.

"It's alright, Natalie," she said, her accent almost unnoticeable after the eight years she spent studying in France. "The fight's all but over. The Americans aren't getting away. We just need to hold this uplink until it's official."

Natalie forced herself to nod. But it wasn't the idea of the Americans escaping that bothered her – no! It was the fact she was a coward!

Not entirely fair, she reasoned. This was my first battle. Of course I was scared to death! That doesn't make me a coward! I bet Hans and Elsa were both terrified on their first fights!

She kept repeating that mantra to herself. Somehow, it didn't seem to help but so much.

"If you're sure you're alright," Elsa stood up, staring with a worried expression. "Are you?"

"Yes . . . I mean no . . . I mean . . . ." Natalie trailed off.

"Natalie," Elsa said, grabbing Natalie's rifle and reloading it. "It's perfectly alright to be in shock - this was a hell of a blooding! I at least got some small peacekeeping actions in the Balkans before Rozenburg and now Copenhagen. Just don't let it destroy you, mon amie."

Natalie chuckled, accepting her rifle back. She pulled her canteen from her belt and took a long drink.

Then she saw a text message flash up on her visor - marked Priority One Alpha. She opened it.

"Attention all European Federation units continent-wide: Rovaniemi Air Force Base was attacked by the Forgotten Army earlier today. High casualties on both sides. The Forgotten took over several uplink bunkers and remained dug in for nearly an hour before being ousted by reaction forces from Helsinki. THEL #14 has begun repositioning itself over the United States' John F. Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Florida. All units be prepared for similar movements from other THEL units that may have been hacked by the Forgotten Army, as well as conventional assaults upon major uplink centers in: Wilstermarsch, Ramstien, Paris, Le Ceito, La Mancha, Arrabida, Matera, Bedford Level, Macgillycuddy, Glen Albyn, Rondane, Rovaniemi, Scania, Copenhagen, Rozenburg. Expect attacks on major cities such as Stockholm, Oslo, Berlin, Hamburg, Nurnburg, Magdeburg, Le Havre, Calais, Gibraltar . . . ."

"Mein Gott," Elsa and Hans breathed at the same time - they were seeing it too.

"Gott in Himmel," Elsa expanded. Natalie shivered, biting back her own comments.

I think the Forgotten are going to kill us all - with our own THEL system! The Americans seem to be in for a strike too, but they'll never believe us.

Natalie got the distinct feeling that Judgment Day was just over the horizon.

Hello, everyone! I'm Lighthearter, and . . . well, this is my first fanfic. I like to think of myself as a professional author – I have two complete 100K word novels on my hard drive, and a bit of the third – and I've done some online writing. I had a blog about how to write, but it kinda died. So have most of my forum stories.

This work really was inspired heavily by Peptuck's Command and Conquer 3 fanfic. I've enjoyed reading it for a year or so, but it didn't occur to me until recently to write a fanfic of my own. Then, at the risk of sounding cliché, I booted up EndWar on my US game as Sixteenth Armored and obliterated the last Euro holdout, and drove into Russia. As the victory cinematic started . . . well . . . I got the itch!

So, I'm going to put the usual disclaimer here(I wonder why I didn't think of this myself?) – There may be long, long gaps between updates. Days, weeks, months, years, even! I have a life, I have professional demands, and I have books to write and schooling to finish. Plus, I need at least a little time to play EndWar and get ideas :-P

But, with that out of the way, I'll try to provide at least a few chapters within the next few weeks, and hopefully get us through the prologue.

Anyway – Enjoy!