The planet is at war. Hawaii, the American fleet at Pearl Harbor, and the Panama Canal have been destroyed in sudden sneak attacks. All of South America has been conquered by the invading Japanese, under the rule of High General Hiro Wakisaki. It is six long months before the Free World can muster a response...and Hawk Hunter, "The Wingman" is at the fore. But driving the Japanese out is not the only problem Hunter must solve. Buried deep in the Falkland islands, scientists labor over a superbomb for a man with one goal-the destruction of the United States!
* * * *
The young man listened to his mother's screaming harangue, but paid scant attention to her shrieking. It was always the same. Everything bad that had happened was the fault of Ben Raines. Ben Raines was the Great Satan. Ben Raines this and Ben Raines that and Ben Raines must die.
The young man had known for some time that his mother was very nearly a basket case. But she was still his mother, and--What was that old saying? Blood is thicker than water, or something like that.
The young man stepped further back, in order to better inspect the crowd who listened with rapt attention to the woman's words. The expression on their faces was one of love and devotion and fanaticism.
Hell, they're just as crazy as she is! the young man thought.
Poor, misguided, foolish people.
The young man looked at the new additions to his mother's army. Those scabby, savage motorcyclists who had come roaring in from the west, after being soundly defeated by General Raines. He had listened to his mother speak to them when they first arrived.
Same old shit.
The young man backed further away from the mob and shook his head sadly. He thought: You made a mistake, Mother, when you insisted I be educated. When you insisted I learn languages and study the writings of the ancient intellectuals. Patrick Henry said it, Mother: I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided, and that is the lamp of experience. I know no way of judging the future but by the past.
And if I stay with you, Mother, I'll soon be as crazy as you are. And you, Mother, your babblings, are not the answer. Your hate has consumed you.
He saw movement to his right and just to his rear. He cut his eyes. An old man motioned to him. He walked to the old man.
"I see your motorcycle is ready for the road," the old man said. "You've made up your mind then?"
"Good. It's past time for you to get away from your mother, before she poisons you, like she has done so many."
"I fear I shall never see you again, old man."
"You won't. The cancer is growing. Sometimes the pain is almost too much to bear. I think I only lived this long to see you gone and free from your mother."
"Is he really my father, old man?"
"Yes. Of that I am certain. You have his eyes, his intelligence, his bullheadedness, and his drive to organize; to pull something better for all out of the ashes of this horror we've been living in for years."
"Should I, when we meet, tell him the entire truth, old man?"
"Oh, yes. Don't try to lie to him. He'd see through that instantly."
"Is he really a god?"
The old man hesitated. "I ... don't know. I rather doubt it; but I can't be sure." He gripped the young man's thick, strong arm. "Go now, boy. Turn away and never look back. And may the true and only God ride with you."
The old man limped painfully into the timber.
The young man walked swiftly to his motorcycle and cranked it into life. He toed it into gear and rolled out. He did not look back.
"How would you have changed history, General Raines?" a young Rebel asked Ben.
The Rebels were bivouacked by the shores of a small lake in Central Kansas. They had pulled over early in the day to make some much needed repairs to some trucks.
"That's a very interesting question, son," Ben said with a laugh. "What time frame in history are you speaking of?"
"Ten years before the Great War," another young Rebel said.
Ben started to ask, "Which Great War?" But he knew which one the Rebel meant. The world war that brought the entire world, free and otherwise, to its knees. The war from which the world had never recovered.
How would I have changed history? Ben silently mused. He hid a smile, thinking: I would have shot every goddamned liberal.
But he knew he would not have done that, for while Ben Raines sometimes leaned so far to the conservative right some wondered how he managed to walk upright, figuratively speaking, Ben shared many of the liberal views. The difference was, Ben backed up his views with gunpowder.
"What do you know about that time before the Great War?" Ben asked, looking at the young Rebel who had asked the question. The young man could not have been much more than ten years old, if that old, when the world collapsed.
Several hundred Rebels, including Ike McGowan, had gathered around. Ike had been with Ben from the outset; had been with him, working beside him, when Ben's dream, the Tri-States, had become reality. The ex-navy Seal was just about Ben's age; both men's hair peppered with gray.
Ike winked at Ben.
The young Rebel said, "I know that it was a time of great confusion. Of a lot of people being rich and a lot of people being poor, with not much in between."
Ben also knew the young man had no real knowledge of what being rich or poor meant. The dollar had not been in use for some time. And within Rebel-held territory, no one went hungry, or went in rags, or lacked proper housing or fuel to keep warm. But outside of Rebel-controlled territory in this, what was left of America, roaming gangs of thugs and punks and killers ruled. Men and women and children lived in daily fear for their lives.
Again, Ben had to hide a smile. Hell, he thought, maybe that much hasn't changed in this, the second decade after the Great War, and the government smashing of the Tri-States.
"It was a confusing time," Ben said. And the gathering of Rebels, young, middle-aged, and old, fell silent in order to better hear the words from General Raines. "It was also a time of great greed. The philosophy of many was: Give me more money for less work. I want everything my neighbor has. Many companies literally priced themselves out of existence while the quality of their merchandise went to hell in a bucket. Not all people felt that way, but enough did to tip the balance.
"It was a time when the criminal had more rights than the law-abiding citizen." Don't they ever get tired of hearing this? Ben thought. How many times over the years have I made this same speech? A hundred? More? Probably.
"The United States was surrounded by nations who called themselves our friends, but not so secretly hated us. Britian, and in some respects, Canada, stayed with us to the end. If the germ-carrying bombs had not come, we would have probably had to fight a war with Mexico. Communism had already crept up to that nation's southern borders. Our United Nations was nothing more than a cancerous wart sitting in New York City. All anyone would have had to do was count the votes against us every time a vote was taken, and they could have seen what was happening. Many of the so-called Third World nations wanted our money, our aid, and then turned around and farted in our faces every chance they got."
Ben took that time to roll one of the few cigarettes he allowed himself daily. Piss-poor cigarettes they were, too. Good tobaco, if there ever was such a thing, was no more. Like coffee, a free ride, welfare, Legal Aid, the ACLU, unions, the stock market, General Motors, apple pie, and the girl next door--all gone. When the government crumbled, it was the end.
"What would I have done?" Ben asked the question. "It was so complex, and yet so simple. I--"
"General?" an aide interrupted. "Sorry, sir. But we've got company."
Ben ground out his hand-rolled smoke and stood up. "Where and how many?"
"Comin' from the east, sir. Half a dozen cars and trucks. Scouts say four people to each car, the trucks are full of people."
"How far away?"
"Couple of miles out, sir."
Ben picked up his old Thompson SMG, knowing all eyes were on him as he did so. "Let's go see what we've got, people."
"Pitiful," Ike said. "No matter how many times I see it, it's still pitiful."
The men were beaten down; the eyes of the women frightened; the kids dirty and probably hungry.
"I know," Ben said.
"We don't mean y'all no harm," a man spoke from out of the ragged group. "But we'd be much obliged if y'all had some food for the kids."
"Alabama?" Ben asked the man.
"South Carolina," the man replied. "We don't look like much now, sir, but we was doin' all right until Khamsin and his people blowed in. We had us a coop farm, nice gardens, ever'thing. We'd fought outlaws, motorsickel gangs, white trash, and black trash and you name it, and we'd pulled through all right. But Lord have mercy! That Khamsin and his bunch of heathens was just too much."
All the Rebels gathered around had noticed the black family among the whites. One good thing had come out of the horror of germ and nuclear war: Blind prejudice, among most, was a forgotten thing.
From the intelligence Ben had received about Khamsin and his troops, the residents of South Carolina were indeed having a bad time of it. Ike had just returned from Khamsin's HQ, where the ex-Seal had led a small team in to rescue his ladylove, Nina. During the raid, the so-called invincible Khamsin, The Hot Wind, had been wounded in his Libyan ass.
Ben said, "You people get something to eat. We'll talk later." He motioned Col. Dan Gray to one side. "Find out as much as you can from these people, Dan. They seem like fairly decent folks to me."
"My first impression agrees with that, general," the Englishman said. "This would be a fine place to start another outpost, right, sir?"
"You're reading my mind again, Dan," Ben replied with a grin.
Gen. Ben Raines's latest dream was to build a series of outposts across the land, stretching from east to west, and eventually, from north to south, each outpost about a hundred miles apart. The outposts would be staffed by civilians, with a small contingent of Rebels to beef them up. Maybe then, yes, only then, could the nation begin the slow, painful process of pulling itself out of the ashes of ruin and war and desperation.
It damn sure was worth a try. The people certainly had nothing to lose and everything to gain.
Since the Great World War, no country had been able to pull itself out of the rubble and form even a semblance of workable government.
No one except Ben Raines and his Rebels.
Tri-States had worked. It had not worked to the satisfaction of all, but it had worked to the satisfaction of all those who lived within its borders. But then the struggling government of the United States, with all the fury and intolerance of a government toward any type of change, had smashed the Rebels' dreams.
Shortly after that, Ben Raines and his Rebels had taken over the government of the United States, and Ben had been installed as president. It was to be a short tenure, for after the horror of germ and nuclear warfare, there followed the plague that threatened to completely wipe out humankind worldwide.
But the human spirit is difficult, if not impossible to crush, and many more people than Ben and his Rebels first thought survived through the disease-carrying rats and fleas.
But there was not a stable government anywhere in the entire world. The world, the countries of the world, the government of those countries, large to tiny, from Russian to Monaco, were no more.
Ben had not traveled outside the boundaries of the United States since the Great War, but he had no reason to doubt the stories that had drifted to him. The stories were appalling. Many people around the world had reverted back, in such an amazingly short time, to barbarism. Even in what remained of the United States, warlords had risen out of the rubble and ruin, to claim all sorts of territory, to enslave the people, to rob and rape and loot. There were people within the borders of the United States who had reverted back to the caves, calling themselves the Underground People, rarely venturing out during the daylight hours. All sorts of cults and so-called religions had sprung out of the ashes, preaching all sorts of semi-religious bullshit. Most of it hate filled. And a lot of the hate was directed toward Ben Raines and his Rebels.
The far Northeast was out of bounds for anyone, human or otherwise--so far as Ben knew. That area of the country had taken several nuclear hits, along with a few other cities. Most had died from the germ warfare.
And there were mutants that roamed the land, products of the germ and chemical and nuclear bombs. Part human, part animal, and God alone knew what else. Great hairy beasts, the adults as large as the biggest polar bear, and twice as dangerous because the mutants had some capacity for thought and reason.
There was danger anywhere one ventured. No one dared to go unarmed. To do so, to be unprepared, to drop one's guard for even a moment, in this now savage land, was to court death--or worse.
And in South Carolina, waiting to spread like a wildfire, was the Libyan, Khamsin, The Hot Wind, and his thousands of troops. For now, Khamsin and his people were contained; Ben's Rebels and the civilian fighters along the borders of South Carolina were holding The Hot Wind, allowing it to blow within that state, but preventing it from spreading.
But while some of his people may have been kidding themselves, Ben Raines knew that Khamsin and his troops could break out wherever and whenever they chose to do so. Why they had not done so was something that still puzzled Ben.
But he knew that before he could really, effectively start his outposts across the land, Khamsin had to be dealt with. And dealt with in extreme prejudice.
In other words, kill the son of a bitch!
"Now I think I'm a good Christian man, General Raines," the spokesman with the group from South Carolina told Ben. "But I worship the God I choose. That damned bunch of heathens that's took over South Carolina is forcin' people to forsake Jesus Christ and God Almighty to worship Allah. Now, I ain't knockin' anybody's religion, but I'll worship my God, not somebody else's God. And I'll fight for that right, sir."
The man was ragged, but there was steel in his words, and the weapons they all carried were old, but well cared for.
Ben held out his right hand and the man shook it. "You're my kind of man, sir," Ben told him. "Are there any more following behind you?"
"Not many more, General Raines." The man had gotten over his shock upon learning that he was in the company of the legendary and famed Gen. Ben Raines.
Ben looked at his map. The column was just north of Great Bend, Kansas, a small city that had, before the Great War, a population of about sixteen thousand. Ben had briefed the newcomers of his plans of forming outposts across the country. The people from South Carolina were all immediately interested and eager to be a part of it.
"It won't be easy," Ben told them all. "And it will be lonely and dangerous."
"You lead, sir," the spokesman said. "And we'll follow."
Ben smiled. "Let's go!"