Part 1 of "World War C"

It goes by many names: "The Onslaught," "The Blue Wave," "The Serpent Terror," as well as newer and more "hip" titles such as "World War C" or "C War One." I dislike that last one because it overlooks those one hundred or so small-scale conflicts we had previously fought against Cobra. That word, Cobra, is considered by some too narrow a term to encompass the variety of enemies that sought to enslave the world. That may be, but it is the word at the root of this conflict and a word that evokes powerful memories and emotions, and memories and emotions are the subject of this book.

I was originally given the task of compiling a factual report on the war for the Senate Budget Oversight Committee almost a full decade after the end of hostilities. Some in the new government were claiming that we had spent our nation's treasure too freely during the conflict and they demanded an accounting. In the process of compiling that report I interviewed hundreds of eye witnesses and survivors on both sides of the war. I wanted to include their testimony in my work, but it was deemed inappropriate by my superiors at the GI Joe Accounting Office. General Filing and Major Deduction were both very particular about what information I could include.

After the report had been completed, Major Deduction pulled me aside and suggested that I use the interviews and testimony I had amassed as part of a new book, one that could win the hearts of the American people, or even the people of the entire world. After all, this was a war we all endured, a terrible affront to mankind that was suffered, in the end, united.

This book is not about me or my experiences, remarkable though they may be. I have attempted to minimize the presence of my voice in the interviews and interrogations. This is not a story about one person. This is a story about us all.

Vernadsky Research Station, Antarctica

[It snows 250 days out each year on Galindez Island, the home of the Vernadsky Research Station. It is snowing heavily the day the Argentinean icebreaker Borneo shears through the winter icepack that meets the island's rocky coast. I am lowered by ladder onto the creaking ice and walked ashore by a pair of men in crimson parkas with white fur fringe. They are heavily armed, their eyes are hidden by anti-glare goggles, and their noses and mouths are covered with eerily-familiar masks.

Vernadsky station has fallen into disrepair. Corrugated steel buildings slump beneath the weight of months of heavy snow and the doorways are entombed within ten-foot drifts. All activity on the island is now focused on a polished black hemisphere roughly the size of Disney's Epcot Center. It bristles with gun turrets and more men in red parkas stand to attention outside its pressurized entryway.

The so-called Sinistrodome is climate-controlled perfection, heated by deep reserves of geothermal energy. It is just the visible tip of the industrial iceberg that honeycombs the stone beneath Galindez Island. These upper levels have the relaxed atmosphere of a modern office, but within the bowels of the earth a fanatically loyal army is being prepared for a siege that may never occur. I am ushered into the spacious chambers of the Sinistrodome's chief executive emperor. It is half throne room and half executive suite. He extends a mailed hand and greets me warmly. His real name is unknown, but his polished chrome mask would be recognized by a child.]

Coffee? Tea? There are some excellent cranberry orange peel scones.

[I accept his hospitality. An attractive woman wearing a crimson skirt enters the office pushing a cart heaped with steaming pots and buttery scones.]

Am I not the most cordial villain you have met?

[He laughs, a basso profundo rumble that compliments his Scottish brogue.]

I have read some of the things that are said about me in the newspapers. We receive satellite broadcasts here; I know what you Americans think of me. You think I am a death merchant, a petty warlord who built the knife that Cobra sank so deeply between your shoulders. I understand it. Images are powerful things, even if they don't really tell the right story. You see the same thirty second clip of one of my tanks blasting through the gates of the Whitehouse and like that I am forever linked with this terrible event.

I built this empire on failure. Not mine, you understand, but his. Each time one of his schemes ended in tragedy, I received a big fat paycheck to replace dozens of aircraft, tanks, rifles and even the occasional logistics base.

Here is this guy with limitless money. Lord only knows where he got it, but he had it. He literally had an honor guard whose only job was to carry around briefcases of cash and pieces of treasure.

He has hundreds of millions, billions even, and he has this deep-seated need to conquer the world. He could buy thousands of Soviet tanks off the open market with that kind of money, but he's an egotist. He wants everything to be a certain way. He wants his own tanks and his own aircraft. The R&D profits on something like a Rattler or a VAMP helicopter are astronomical. I mean with the Rattler, I just took an A-10 and gave it the VTOL capability he demanded. The thing was a sack of doorknobs in the air, but that didn't matter to him. Just paint it blue and make sure it can take off from a helipad and he's happy.

I had guys just sifting through the wastebaskets at the Skunk Works. They'd snag the schematics for some failed prototype and I'd bring it back to my drafting table, slap on a couple engines or a laser turret, and this guy would go nuts for it. "Just make sure it has an ejection seat," he'd always say.

What about your involvement in World War C?

Is that what they're calling it now? My involvement in the big war is what I just described to you. I am an independent arms supplier, totally legit. I do the same thing as every major weapons developer in the world, the only difference is that the customer who gets first bid on my new product lines just happens to be a megalomaniacal terrorist leader. The other guys, they suck at the teat of whatever nation hosts their home office, but they all sold to Cobra when it suited them.

As for my involvement in your so-called World War C, I did nothing out of the ordinary. Cobra had bounced a few checks with me and I was making cash hand over fist in the Middle East. Every nation state was hedging their bets on the next brushfire war and I was there with a lovely selection of state-of-the-art merchandise. When the call came in that Cobra needed 5,000 HISS tanks I just laughed. I told him that I'd deliver when I had a check in my hand from Extensive Enterprises. No more credit extensions.

I did fill an order for about a million old-style laser rifles, but that was easy enough. I had two factories in India churning those things out at the rate of about 2,000 a day. I thought it was a lot for one order from him, but I had the inventory just filling up my warehouses in Hyderabad. You can wag your finger at me over that one all you want, but the reality is he could have purchased five times that number of Kalashnikovs for the same price. Besides, once he started operating in the United States that sort of thing was irrelevant. There were more than enough guns just sitting in people's closets to equip his new army.

When did you decide to stop dealing with Cobra?

I didn't even really become involved. I wasn't even visiting until the European campaign. I had seen all the reports on the news - zombie armies, chaos in the streets - but I wanted nothing to do with it. Then she called.

The Baroness?

Yes, that's how you would know her. She was such a contradiction. One moment beautiful, gentle and even contemplative and introspective. I remember one night in Paris, while the city burned, tangled in the sheets together she brought up pre-reflective consciousness. When you deal with global markets you don't really have time nor inclination to think about existentialism, but it was marvelous. It was…well maybe it was just the wine or the afterglow talking, but it is one of my fondest memories of her. She said things were spiraling out of control, she wanted me to ground him. To stabilize and guide him.

I tried, for her, I tried. I think I met with him three times. Once in Europe as that campaign came to a close and then again twice during the North American campaign. He wanted me to lead one of his vile battle groups. He eventually convinced me to take command of the "Python" battle group in the Dakotas. I flew there to survey the forces under my command and it was all too much. Children, the elderly, there were people still in hospital gowns dragging rifles. It was grotesque. They were assembled, as much as they could be, in one of those huge agribusiness cornfields that just goes on and on for miles. They had trampled all of the corn into the muck and the stench was hideous. I could smell it from a thousand feet. Death and shit and piss. It was a nightmare.

I couldn't lead them, I couldn't save them. I guess you can call me a coward for that. I didn't even land. I flew straight to Miami and took my private jet back to Scotland.

How did Cobra Commander react?

Predictably. He broadcast a half-hour of histrionics to every television in the world, declaring me a traitor of the new world order. You would think that might help me with the public opinion, but I hear the Hague is still trying to get their claws into me for some sort of vague war crimes. I just…I wish I had stayed by her side. The courage of that betrayal, it was, you know you, we, we all owe her our lives. If she hadn't shot him in…in the…

[An echoing sob emanates from his chrome face mask.]

I'm…I'm sorry. I believe we will have to continue this interview at another time. You can…help yourself to a sauna. Vanessa will show you to your room

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