That, and the Corps felt it would give the Riflemen even more of an edge if their loved ones were someplace on the surface of the hemisphere they were trying to keep alive. Josh admired the thinking, or hollow Josh did, at least.

Josh didn't have any living relatives that he gave a shit about. But, until very recently, he presumed, he had a wife in Bozeman, Montana/Glacier District. Unless Strategic Command was playing hide-the-ball and keeping her at home while making Josh believe she'd been relocated, she was now somewhere else that was definitely not Bozeman. And Strategic Command were more crush-the-ball types than hide-the-ball types. Bozeman was the one place she wouldn't be.

The Riflemen were all in place, because it was only minutes until the Eastern offensive, to be followed by the Western counteroffensive. With the weaponry each side had, it was reasonable to predict that the entire worldwide war would last somewhere around 15 minutes.

Josh relaxed his body, as he'd been trained to do. He visualized the interior of himself as hollow, absent, ready to fill to bursting with data. His shoulder itched, and he practiced ignoring it.

With his wife anywhere other than Bozeman, Josh would look at an inbound headed for Montana/Glacier the same way he looked at any other inbound.

Was the theory.

Left behind in Bozeman, disregarded by the Marines, was a Ryan Barder. Ryan Barder was the guy Josh's wife had had a fuckaround or two with. Something Josh learned just days earlier:

Gabriella, Josh's wife, was saying goodbye, her virtual hands in his, her 3D eyes moistening, when she unburdened herself of the fact that she'd fucked around with Ryan Barder. Josh knew the confession was cathartic for her. Something she needed to do with the world on the brink of war, and her on the brink of maybe never seeing Josh again.

Good for her.

Josh, an Infantry Weapons Officer in the Marine Corps, applied his training and his military discipline to the revelation, to manage his reaction to it. First, he determined that he should inform his superior officer, and let them decide whether Josh's judgment would be compromised, or whether they should relocate Ryan Barder, too – it having taken Josh about 20 minutes to surreptitiously verify that Ryan Barder hadn't left Bozeman.

Then, he determined that he was a goddamn Marine, and wore big boy pants, and could man his post without running to Mommy first.

He had spent two days with his stomach three feet lower, and his heart six inches higher, than they ought to be. In private, he yelled and broke things, and a time or two, he cried. On duty, he was a perfect mask of determination and excellence. By the third day – today, this morning – Josh realized that the experience had hollowed him out much more than his training had. He would have to thank Gabriella, if he ever had the opportunity.

He didn't want to thank Gabriella.

Nor did he much care to think at all about Ryan Barder. But the 15-minute world war loomed only minutes away, thoughts of Ryan Barder filled parts of him he needed to be hollow.

Ryan Barder, in Bozeman, Montana/Glacier District.

* * *

There was an electric hum when the war broke out, but beyond that, silence under the Galapagos. Josh and his fellow Riflemen were assigned incomings, and neutralized them – or, if there were too many at a time, neutralized some. They were trained and encouraged to see the annihilation being wrought over the western hemisphere as colors on a map on their display. Not as places, with people in them.

There was no easing into the war. When you're only going to be trying to kill half of the people in the world for 15 minutes, you get right to work.

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