Part 1 "It was written I should be loyal to the nightmare of my choice." -- Joseph Conrad Then Cambodia The four men waded through the thick brush towards their destination. Five past three in the morning and it was still humid enough that the sweat stuck to their bodies. They were dressed in jungle camo with a stripped down field kit that consisted of an M16, a .45 sidearm, a radio, one day's worth of C-rations, anti-venom and malaria pills. The leader of the soldiers stopped the group short just before they emerged from the brush. He activated his radio and held it close to his mouth. "Big Duke to Eagle Eye,"whispered Sergeant Frank Castle. "Roger Big Duke,"the radio operator droned in the earwig stuffed into Castle's ear. "Fire Team Delta has reached the boundaries of our orders. Ready and awaiting further orders" The line buzzed with static. Castle knew what was going on on the other side of that line. A major was running an order up to a colonel, who ran it up to a general in Saigon, sitting in a plush office with a CIA man whispering in his ear. They weren't supposed to be in Cambodia. The official line stateside was that the United States would never go into a neutral country during this war but everybody in 'Nam knew what was really going on. The parameters of the mission had changed, the communists were running men and guns through Cambodia. Covert special forces action and overt carpet bombing from the Air Force had threatened to turn what started out as a "police action" into a two-country war. The more the United States struggled, the more it got stuck in the quicksand that was Southeast Asia. "Big Duke, you are approved to move forward with mission as ordered. Eagle Eye out." Castle cut off his radio and looked at the three men in the dark. Even though at twenty-one he was almost the youngest member of the fire team, he was their unquestionable leader who led them through many questionable missions. "Let's move." ***** Boston Now Castle came to on the third floor landing of an apartment stairwell. The side effect of his "condition" was that time had a bad habit of running together. One moment he was in 1985, drowning a mobster in a toilet in a memory so real and vibrant he could smell the piss in the bathroom and feel the water splashing on his wrist, the next moment he was thirty years in the future and back in the present. It was the thing inside him's fault. He could feel it stir every time he relived a violent memory, especially one that was painful to Frank. It lived to torture him. A prisoner forced to witness his worst memories with crystal clarity for the rest of eternity. Punishment for the Punisher. Frank continued up the stairs to the apartment's fifth floor. The thing inside him became restless the closer he got to the door at the end of the hall. The trail that led him to the city was leading here. Castle was unsure of why he had been called to Boston, but it made sense the day he arrived and saw the newspaper headline screaming murder, the fifth victim of the brutal serial killer the papers dubbed Bunker Hill Butcher because he dumped his victims near the war monument after hacking them to bits. The entity inside Frank champed at the bit and actively sought to get out when Frank stepped forward and passed through the door. The moment he set foot inside the apartment he knew this is where the Butcher was killing his victims. Images flashed through his mind, screaming mouths and severed limbs and blood spatter. The apartment was perfectly empty and pristine, no trace of the carnage that had taken place inside its walls. What was inside of him had the power to knew exactly who did this, but neglected to let Frank in on it. Instead, it thrashed and pointed him in the right direction to find the person responsible for the deaths of five people. While the Spectre like to torture him, they had a lot in common. Together they would make sure this serial killer faced the punishment he so sorely deserved. ***** Then Camboia "Chó chết tiệt American," groaned the tiny Vietnamese man. He lay flat on his back, desperately trying to keep his intestines from spilling out of the gaping wound on his abdomen. Smoke and screams filled the air. The burning huts illuminated the night. "**** you too, Papa San," Frank said as he stood above the dying man. "How far into Cambodia does the supply line run? Understand me, ****er? Làm thế nào đến nay vào Cambodia hiện nó đi?" "**** you," the man said in heavily accented English. "Understand word, mother****er?" Scowling, Frank put two more shots into the man's stomach. He groaned loudly and spat up blood. Not dead yet, but in immense pain. Frank kicked dirt on him before turning around to check the progress of his team. They were working their way through the huts, killing anyone they found inside before gathering the guns and ordinance they found inside. So far they were coming up empty and Frank was getting antsy. "No joy, Sarge," one of the men reported. "We can't find a goddamn thing. No guns outside of the one that ****er with the belly wound had. No ordinance and not even traces that they were smuggling Horse or any of that other **** they like to run in from Cambodia." "Found a buncha farm equipment," one of the other men said from across the small encampment. "Hoes, rakes, soil. Looks like this may have been one of them work camps. We're just a half klick from a rice paddy." Frank looked down at the Vietnamese man. He was still now, color draining from his face while his blood ran into the dirt. There was nothing for them to find here. The men that had died were innocent and now all that the owned and worked for was being destroyed by the hated Americans. Those were the perfect conditions that made more VC. "Carlton, call it in to Eagle Eye. Radio the coordinates to the camp and give them the green light to go ahead with the airstrike." "Sir? I thought this was--" "An enemy encampment? You bet your ass it was, and once they drop those bombs, there'll be nothing left of this place but a crater. Nobody will be able to say otherwise. Understood?" The men nodded. Frank stepped away and walked out towards the edge of the camp while the bombing was called in. In the dark, he dropped his facade and let his teeth chatter and let the smile slip on his face. Thousands of miles away from home, surrounded by death and madness and destruction. This horrible place that was destined to be the rock upon which American exceptionalism would break... He wished that this would never end.