Anarchy and chaos have erupted out of the devastation of World War III. Now, it is one survivor's duty to lead his nation out of the ashes: legendary soldier and freedom fighter, Ben Raines. Whatever it takes, he is going to rebuild America…and he is going to do it his way. From his secret outpost in the far west, Raines orders his Rebels to back him in one last desperate assault against the Russian invaders and the mercenary turncoat, Sam Hartline, who joined their brutal brigade. But until reinforcement arrives, Raines is forced to wage a one-man guerilla war against the enemy. It could be the first step toward a free America-or the kamikaze warrior's final showdown.
Ben stood in the deep timber that surrounded his camp and listened to the sounds of nature returned to pure nature. Was earth's destruction the work of God? he pondered. Back in '88, when the world's leaders finally decided upon the ultimate answer to everything--war--was God's hand guiding the human hand that pushed the button?
Had He tired of it all? Had He so wearied of humankind's continuous screwing-up that He, not mere man, decided upon the ultimate response?
Ben didn't know. But he strongly suspected his suspicions were correct.
I am facing so many problems, he silently mused. And not the least important of them is the matter of getting back to God. If this shattered and battered land is to ever pull itself out of the ashes and back to some degree of normalcy, the land and its people are going to have to have some divine help.
Not a very religious man, and certainly not a praying man, Ben felt impotent in his lack of ability to communicate with The Man.
He thought of Gale. He smiled. Or The Woman--whatever the case may be.
But, he thought with a sigh, I firmly believe the age of miracles is long past. And since God so loved His warriors, perhaps He is looking to warriors to aid Him. So--he touched the butt of his shoulder-slung Thompson--let us give God a helping hand.
But, he mused, looking heavenward, it is a two-way door, Lord. I can't do it alone. So don't leave me alone. Lend me a hand.
Amen. Or whatever.
Ike and Colonel Dan Gray stood several hundred meters back from Ben, watching him.
"I do believe the general is praying," Colonel Gray remarked.
"Probably," Ike agreed. "Ben never wanted the role of leader. He damn sure never asked for it. Everybody just thrust it at him without giving him any options. I'll say this, though: a hundred years from now, when this nation is once more functioning, and historians are writing about how it pulled itself out of the ashes of war, that man standing right over there will be the man they write about."
"Most assuredly. I do wish he'd carry a more modern weapon, however. That damned old Thompson has to be fifty years old."
Ike grinned. "There isn't an original part left in that thing. It's been reworked so many times it's practically brand new."
They watched as Ben touched the stock of the Thompson submachine gun and turned, looking at the men looking at him.
"Does Ben know that weapon is nearly as revered and feared as he is?" Gray asked.
"Yes. But he doesn't know what to do about either."
Ben walked toward his friends and fellow warriors.
"If he pulls this off," Gray said, referring to the upcoming confrontation with the Russian commander of the IPF, Striganov, and the mercenary, Hartline, "Ben will be more feared and revered than before."
"He knows that too. He also knows he doesn't have any choice in the matter. He's just got to do it, and he's going to."
Ben was fast approaching them.
"He's fully recovered from his wounds," Gray observed. "And you know what that means."
Ben settled it. "Assimilate all the recon intel thus far received," he ordered. "Ike, get on the horn and tell your motorized battalion to push it. Get here. Both of you meet me in my CP in one hour. We're jumping off in forty-eight hours."
Ike grinned. "Yes, sir!"
"It's going to be a bloody son of a bitch!" Ben told the Rebels gathered in his command post. He pointed to a spot on the map on the table. "Striganov and Hartline control everything, and I mean everything, from the Nevada line west to the coast in this area of California. In Oregon, Hartline's people control everything west of Highway Ninety-seven. Now both men have their people spread pretty thin. But even at that, we're going to be badly outnumbered."
"Ain't we always?" a young lieutenant muttered, caught herself, flushed, and glanced at Ben. "Sorry, General."
Ben smiled. "That's all right. And you're right. But right, I think, is the key word here. We're right, and they're wrong. Now, our recon intel shows that Striganov and Hartline have beefed up their own people considerably by enlisting a lot of these local warlords. Their people are, for the most part, ill-trained with a noticeable lack of discipline; but they're very savage. As much as I despise Hartline and Striganov, I will give them credit for having professional soldiers under their commands. But we must not discount the warlords. Bear that in mind--always!
"I hate to split our forces. But under the circumstances, I don't see any other way to accomplish our mission. We're not going to stand and slug it out, people. We try that, and we'll get creamed. As good as we are, we can't survive against these overwhelming odds in a stand-up, conventional type of war."
Ben paused, noting the grins of Ike and Gray. "You two apes find something amusing about all this?" he asked.
"Oh, quite, General," Gray said.
"Oh, just ducky, lovey," Ike mimicked the Englishman's precise manner of speaking. Something the Mississippi-born Ike had been doing for years.
The two men were very close friends, although that was hard to pick up from listening to them.
Dan looked at Ike. "Cretin!"
"Smartass!" Ike popped back.
"Barbarous pirate!" He was referring to Ike's belonging to the famous, or infamous, Navy SEALs.
"Stuck-up snob!" Ike told him. Dan had been a member of England's famous, or infamous, depending on one's point of view, SAS.
"Illiterate redneck!" Dan countered.
Ben let them have at it, knowing that when soldiers stop bitching and joking, you have a very bad morale problem.
Colonel Dan Gray drew himself up to full height and sneered at Ike. "Of course, my Scouts will lead the way into this upcoming fray."
"That's your ass!" Ike popped off. "Your Scouts couldn't find their way to the bathroom. SEALs go in first. My people will spearhead."
Ben put an end to it and brought everyone in the tent to full alertness and shocked silence. "Rangers lead the way," he said. "I'm picking a team and we'll jump in."
"Now see here, General!" Gray said, his tone shocked. "That is totally unacceptable. Generals do not lead the way. Why...!" he blustered.
Ike pounded on the table. "I'll be goddamned, Ben!" he shouted at his closest friend. "You'll jump in over my ass!"
The lieutenants and captains in the room stood and stared in shock at Ben Raines. The general's hair was salt-and-peppered with age. He had to be fifty years old. And he'd just been hideously wounded during the battle with Hartline.* If something happened to Ben Raines?...
*Alone in the Ashes
No one even liked to think about that. General Raines was the Rebels. General Raines was the very core of the movement to pull the ailing country out of the ashes. Many people throughout the war-ripped nation thought the man to be a god. The underground people worshipped him; altars had been built around the nation, erected to Ben Raines. The man was a living legend.
"I lead the way," Ben said quietly, calmly. He stared Ike into silence. "There will be no more discussion on that topic. Those of us who will be jumping in will use steerable dash chutes. See to them, Lieutenant Barris," he said, looking at the young woman who had spoken earlier. "You will lead a team in with me."
"Yes, sir." Like every woman she knew, she was in love with Ben Raines. Like every person her age, the young Rebel could not remember when the nation had been whole; when there were schools and factories and law and order and places of safety and productivity. She had been eight years old when the world exploded. As so many had done, she had forced the past from her mind, not wishing to relive the horror.
"Now, as to why these two jokers"--he cut his eyes to Dan and Ike--"were insulting each other. We will fight a guerrilla war once inside the areas controlled by the enemy. We will carry in as much as we can stagger with. And we're going to be heavily loaded. We're going to be forced to live off the land. I suspect this operation will take a long time. I'm looking at six months, minimum. We are not going to leave the enemy-controlled area until the Russian and Hartline are dead. They are the main stumbling block in getting this country on the right track back to normalcy. Dan, we'll go over the maps, then you'll send Pathfinders in to lay out the DZ."
"Ike, get on the horn and tell Cecil to get out here. He's going to have to take command of the battalion kept in reserve. We've got to pull all the stops out, people. All right, get cracking!" He glanced at Lieutenant Barris. "Stay."
"Yes, sir." She felt a flush of sexual excitement as she looked into Ben's eyes.
Perhaps they could ... "