Chapter 1: The Last Step
Tom Whorl decided at twelve years old, the night he met his father’s two friends at the Super Bowl party. They matched his physical conception—thick arms, straight backs, high-and-tight haircuts shaved short on the sides and just a little longer on top—but it was how they carried themselves that fascinated him: direct in speech but respectful, with a confidence that suggested they knew something about themselves and the world that many others did not. Leaving the party, Tom told his father he would join the Marine Corps.
He considered nothing else, and five years later he hustled off a bus in the early-morning darkness at Parris Island, South Carolina, and ran toward dozens of perfectly spaced pairs of yellow footprints painted on pavement, four abreast. He placed his feet on two footprints and willed himself to stillness as his heart hammered and men scrambled around him. Easy as that, the drill instructors had put their new recruits into neat rank and file. The recruits would soon do this on their own, moving in unison, as one organism.
Tom traded first person for the third. I and me and my vanished, replaced with this recruit, as in “Sir! This recruit does not know the answer, sir!” He picked that up quickly; those who slipped had the lesson reinforced with exercises in the sandpit that left them with trembling limbs and heaving lungs. The individual did not matter, except as an essential part of the whole. He was nothing on his own, and he knew nothing, until the Marine...