5. Fagen's first taste of combat

It happened so suddenly the startled American soldiers barely had the presence of mind to take cover. On some unseen signal forty rebels opened fire, and in a second the silent field was shattered by the harsh bark of Mauser rifle fire and the air filled with gun smoke. Fagen knew instantly this was the moment he'd waited for. He'd always wondered how he'd feel when he first experienced real combat, and now he'd find out.

His first sensation at being shot at was the unreality of it, the semblance of illusion, as though it happened to someone else, or perhaps to him, but not in that time. Later, he remembered thinking the bullets that zinged past his ear and clipped the grass to his left and right were not really aimed at him and not fired in anger by someone wanting to kill him. He felt in no danger at all. From his perspective, time slowed, almost stopped, and he contemplated the details of the battle raging around him.

He saw the Filipino insurgents rise up from their hiding places and noted how the dark bandoliers around their necks contrasted with their white peasant clothes and broad-billed straw hats. As they shouldered their rifles and let loose a volley, he saw the volumes of smoke from the muzzles, but barely heard the reports and experienced nothing more immediate or compelling than a curious fascination. He saw the men around him, confused and panic-stricken by the sudden ambush, scatter and dive for cover, but he stood there unconcerned, an invisible, incorporeal observer.

He watched Lieutenant Alstaetter run among the men, furiously urging them to return fire. He turned to look for Ellis, to see whether he'd witnessed this spectacle, whether he shared this special point of view. But Ellis not to be found, Fagen stood alone in the grass while those other things took place around him.

The spell was broken suddenly when he took a hammer blow to the back of his neck and fell to his knees. "Get down fool! You want to get killed?" Ellis pinned his cousin to the ground while the Filipinos fired another volley, and then broke for the safety of the jungle.

Lieutenant Alstaetter came through the grass then, shouting orders. "Advance men! Fire in rushes! Advance!" Sometime during the ambush he'd lost his hat, and his yellow, sweat-soaked hair made him look younger even than he was. On his order, first platoon rose up and rushed the left flank all the way to the village, Filipino guerillas running away before them.

Second platoon, in the center, had fallen behind leaving a gap in the formation. Seeing this, Captain Baston raced up and down the length of the advancing line, his horse rearing in fright. "To the charge, boys! Come on! We'll whip those gugu bastards!" Third platoon reached the village next, but Sergeant Rivers held the men back and waited for Captain Baston so they all entered at the same time.

Fagen sensed sudden movement to his left. The Filipino rebel had been hiding behind a rotted nipa stump and came out fast swinging a long, curving bolo knife. No time to think, Fagen reacted from instinct, spun left and used the barrel of his rifle to parry the blow. Much smaller than Fagen, the rebel soldier was quick and had the element of surprise. He lunged again, tried to get under the American's defense, and Fagen heard a dull thud as the sharp edge of the big bolo struck his canvas daypack. He felt the force of the blow all the way across his shoulders, and it occurred to him it was only by God's grace he was still alive.

Suddenly Fagen's subconscious took over again, and he stepped outside himself. Even then, engaged in hand-to-hand combat with an enemy soldier, he couldn't shake the notion it wasn't happening to him. He was witnessing a fight for his life, but wasn't involved in it, wasn't a participant. The Filipino came at him again, this time with an overhead strike, and Fagen saw the determination in the man's eyes suddenly shift to desperation. He'd used both hands on the hilt, and his blade traced a high, sweeping arch and came down fast.

At that moment, that precise instant, Fagen realized for him battle was different than for other men. He'd looked forward to this time, dreamed about it, waited so long, and now life's defining moment had finally arrived, and just then, locked in a death struggle with a man trying desperately to kill him, he suddenly realized God had granted him special power. He'd been endowed with the virtue of great courage. He knew then he was no ordinary man, and armed with God's power, could not die at the hands of another. He felt destined to great and noble deeds, to accomplish without witness everything other men only try before the entire world. He saw the sun reflect off cold steel, drew a ragged breath and tasted immortality.

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1. Fagen arrives in the Philippines

2. White soldiers bring their prejudice with them

3. Fagen hears another side of the story

4. Dinner with Colonel Funston

5. Fagen's first taste of combat

6. Fagen meets Clarita

7. More than fair?

8. The water cure

9. Fagen gets his fortune told

10. Imperialism exposed

11. Sergeant Rivers speaks his mind

12. Genocide

13. Fagen meets El Presidente

14. Bad news comes to Fagen

15. Fate takes over

16. San Lazaro leper hospital

17. An offer Fagen can't refuse

18. Funston makes a plan

19. "Capitan" Fagen

20. Funston assembles his team

21. Morality, ethics and war

22. Jungle encounter

23. Commencement

24. Benevolent assimilation

25. Colonel Bloody Shirt pays a call

26. Fagen declares war on God

27. Major Baston tastes his own medicine

28. Funston on the march

29. Fagen goes home