The Last Frontier Civilization as we know it was shattered by the nuclear nightmare of the Great War. But out of the smoldering wreckage, Ben Raines has emerged as the courageous leader of a Rebel Army that will fight not only for its own survival, but to help rebuild a country out of the rubble that was once America. Ben's dream of a nation freed from the deadly grip of outlaw gangs and armies of terrorists is close to becoming a reality. Most of the forces of lust and murder that chose to remain in the lower forty-eight have been wiped out. Those warlords, thugs, and punks who survived the purge have taken their gangs north to the untamed wilderness of Alaska for one last showdown with America's famed soldier and survival expert. Raines and his rebel soldiers follow in close pursuit-until a sniper's bullet crashes into Ben's chest. Knowing this may be their only chance, the outlaw armies prepare to make one final all-out counter-attack on the forces of freedom, whose leader now lies near death...as the future of a free America suddenly hangs in the balance!
* * * *
The Rebels were getting restless and so was Ben Raines. He just hid his impatience better.
Ben Raines and the Rebel army had wintered in Central California. So effective had been their previous campaign against the criminal element, the street punks, and Night People in the state that during these past three months not one shot had been fired in anger.
The Rebels had rested, cleaned weapons, mended gear, stored the supplies that came in on a weekly basis from Base Camp One, and did the other small things that every garrison since the Roman Legions have done and bitched about. Now, to a person, they were bored out of their gourds.
The Rebels were not accustomed to this much inactivity, and Ben knew if something wasn't done to occupy their minds and bodies they were soon going to be fighting among themselves; it had happened before. When highly trained personnel turn on each other in anger, it can get rough very quickly--and sometimes it can get deadly.
Ben called together all his unit commanders one raw February morning.
"In six weeks we're going to be heading into some of the toughest fighting we've ever faced," he told them. "I want the troops in better shape than they've ever been in. That goes for everybody, and I include myself in that. We're going to start PT, people--in the morning, and every morning and every afternoon until the day before we mount up and shove off. We've spent a long, lazy, loafing winter, and it's time to shape up. We need to know who needs to be placed on limited duty for a while. Suggestions?"
"We'll start PT in two days, Ben," Dr. Chase said. "First we take physicals--starting in the morning." He pointed a finger at Ben. "And you'll be the first in line."
"I wouldn't have it any other way," Ben said with a smile.
Chase stood up and looked around the large room in the old courthouse that Ben was using for his HQ. "And you boys and girls," he said, eyeballing all the unit commanders, "will be next in line after General Raines. Tomorrow morning, 0700 hours. Sharp."
The doctor turned to leave the room. Ben's words stopped him.
"Of course, Lamar, you'll take a physical, too. And if you don't pass it, you'll be sent back to Base Camp One with the rest of those who flunk."
Lamar glared at Ben, knowing that Ben had just sandbagged him--again. "No one said a damn word about anybody being sent back to Base Camp One, Raines. I believe 'limited duty' was the phrase you used."
"Ahhh," Ben said. "Right you are, Lamar."
Chase, who was in his seventies, stomped out of the room.
Ben Raines and Lamar Chase, friends for as long as any Rebel could remember, had been playing one-upmanship for years.
It usually ended in a tie.
"We're moving toward Northstar March 15?" Ben's daughter, Tina asked.
"Right. And that date is not to be repeated again. It's just about two thousand miles from Seattle to the Alaskan border, and we're going to be facing hostiles all the way up. Flyovers confirm that a lot of people are living just across the border in Canada. The planes were fired upon. It's going to be a very interesting trip," he added dryly. "Dan, the first contingent of your Scouts will pull out a week ahead of us. Right now, let's start shaking the cobwebs out of our systems, people. Pass the word that playtime is over."
"Me ol' bones is a-achin' awready," General Ike McGowan said, standing up and looking like a bear.
"They'll be aching more three days from now," the mercenary, Colonel West, told him with a grin.
The Russian general, Striganov, whacked him on the back. "Come on, Ike, let's us middle-aged men show these kids a thing or two."
Laughing, the two men, who had once been bitter enemies, left the room.
Ben's son, Buddy, who looked like he ate anvils for lunch, walked to his father's side. "You watch that knee, Father," he cautioned him. "You haven't been that many weeks out of surgery."
Ben smiled. "It's fine, son. Better than it's felt in years. I should have had surgery done on it a long time ago."
"You also tell lies from time to time," Tina told him.
"I get no respect from my kids," Ben said, smiling. "Me and Rodney Dangerfield."
"Who's Rodney Dangerfield?" a young Rebel aide asked.
The world was in the middle of the second decade since the planet had exploded in germ warfare and limited nuclear warfare. When the clouds of devastation were swept away, all that remained was a world filled with anarchy. Then along came Ben Raines.
Ben hadn't wanted to command an army of survivors. He ran from that job for months. He had tried to tell those who sought him that he was the wrong man. But they knew he was the right man.
Ben finally agreed, and when he did, he threw himself into the job, forming the Tri-States. The Tri-States represented everything that liberal politicians had been saying for years wouldn't work. It worked. And the newly formed dictatorship that governed the United States from the new capital of Richmond couldn't stand it. They destroyed Ben's Tri-States. But Ben wouldn't give up. He formed another army, fought the dictatorship, and beat it. Then the plague came and once more ravaged the earth. From out of the ashes of despair came one man and a small army of dedicated men and women: Ben Raines and his Rebels.*
* OUT OF THE ASHES--ZEBRA BOOKS
They fought against anarchy, fear, darkness, devil-worshippers, cannibals, thugs, punks, street gangs, and all forms of lawlessness. Rebels lay buried from coast to coast, border to border--men and women who had willingly given their lives in pursuit of a dream of freedom and a life free of crime. Their names were inscribed on a marble wall back at Base Camp One, so they would always be remembered.
Down south, the Mexicans had banded together behind one man, General Payon, and were busy restoring their country--in a manner patterned after the rules and regulations laid down by one Ben Raines.
Canada, except for its westernmost province, was clean. And that westernmost area would soon be cleared, once the Rebels crossed over the border.
Alaska was the last frontier the Rebels faced in the Northern hemisphere.
During the winter, the entire Rebel army had been restructured from top to bottom. With the many new Rebels coming into the ranks, just out of training at several locations around the country, it had to be.
Ben commanded First Battalion. Ike led Second Battalion. Third Battalion was Cecil's. West's mercenaries made up Fourth Battalion. Striganov commanded Fifth Battalion. Rebet took over Sixth Battalion. Danjou commanded Seventh Battalion. Thermopolis was in command of Eighth Battalion, which included Emil Kite and the bikers called the Wolfpack. Tina commanded Ninth Battalion. Dan Gray and his Scouts remained independent, able to roam at Ben's command. Ben's son, Buddy, led what Ben called the Rat Pack, a hundred or so highly trained and expert manhunters and woodspersons, who usually got the toughest jobs.
Each battalion contained 850 personnel--more or less. And each battalion had armor assigned to it, which made them much more mobile and independent.
But soldiers are soldiers, whether they are a ragtag bunch of reactionaries or an army as well-trained and highly motivated as Raines's Rebels. They're going to bitch when faced with physical training. And bitch they did.
Physicals over--and something like ninety-seven percent of them passed--the bitching stopped when Ben stepped onto the raised platform and faced the huge army. He walked to the microphone.
The men and women of the Rebels fell silent.
"You've done what many felt was the impossible," Ben's voice boomed over the training and staging area. "You've cleared the lower forty-eight states of crud and crap and scum. And you've done it with your blood and sweat and courage. We've all seen friends fall; we've stood in silence over their graves. They did not die in vain. America is once more on the road to becoming a nation of law and order. Back in the fall, after Southern California became ours, I promised you a time of R & R. You've had it. Now it's time to get back to work. For you new people just joining us from Base Camp One and other training centers around the country, welcome to the Rebels. If I haven't met you all personally, I will. I want to shake your hands and look you in the eyes and know your faces. I've very proud of you all..."
Thermopolis, Ben's hippie-turned-warrior friend, stood with his wife, Rosebud, on the edge of the crowd. He smiled at Ben's words. "He'd have made a great evangelist. I can see it now: Brother Ben. Waving a Bible under the television lights and screwing the flock off-camera."
"Hush," Rosebud told him. "I want to hear this."
"...We've got a tough campaign ahead of us," Ben continued. "And a tougher one still after that. We don't know what we'll be facing once we start the Northstar campaign. We don't know how many of the enemy we'll be facing. But we will be outnumbered Get used to that. The Rebels are always outnumbered. The terrain will be rugged. Many times the weather will be working against us. Alaska is a place of contrasts, so we've all got to be in top condition before we strike. And we will be," he said without a smile. "Those that are not, will not go. It's just as simple as that. All right, company commanders, let's get this circus on the move."
Rain or shine, cold and wet or miserable and tired, the Rebels worked out for the next month. They were already in good physical condition, but if the lax months had put any fat on them, it was soon gone; hard muscle took its place as the instructors pushed the troops with a vengeance.
When they weren't training, they were getting equipment ready for the long push north, boxing and packing supplies and the thousand other things required before an army moves out.
Bitching and cussing, General Ike McGowan, an ex-SEAL and one of Ben's closest friends, managed to drop fifteen pounds from his stocky frame. He still looked like a friendly bear. But in combat Ike was anything but friendly.
With a week to go before the Rebels began their push-off, Ben called a halt to the training and stood his people down. There was nothing more that could be done as far as readiness and preparedness were concerned.
"Don't push them any more," Dr. Chase warned Ben. "They can eat nails now. How's your knee?"
"Fine," Ben told him.
"You're probably lying; but I expected that." The doctor poured a cup of coffee and sat down, taking his place among the unit commanders gathered in the room.
Ben said, "All right, Dan. What have your Scouts reported?"
Colonel Dan Gray, a former British SAS officer, stood up and took the pointer, moving to a large wall map. "We're going to hit some stiff resistance about fifty miles inside Canada." He pointed out the area, "Malcontents control a sector from Cache Creek all the way over to Golden. A lot of them are survivors from our assaults against Seattle and Vancouver. I would imagine they have smartened up and toughened up. We can expect a fight."
"How are they equipped?" General Striganov asked.
"Light weapons for the most part. Some mortars and heavy machine guns. My people could see no sign of tanks or heavy artillery."
"The Scouts halted their advance and backtracked," Ben added. "They came back across the border."
"Must be a sizeable force," Cecil Jefferys said.
"Quite," Dan told him.
"We'll eyeball the area once we get it in visual," Ben said. "But we'll probably shell it and smash on through. I don't intend to lose Rebel life unnecessarily. Lamar, did the lab people come up with a good insect repellent?"
Summer in Alaska was bug season, which included not only mosquitoes, but black flies and a pest called no-see-ums, also known as punkies. They all either bit or stung.
"We couldn't improve much on Diethyl-meta-toluamide," Chase said. "Better known as DEET. It's very effective against mosquitoes; less effective against the other bugs. A slight breeze and low humidity is our best hope."
"Make sure there is plenty of mosquito netting," Ben said to Beth, who was one of the people permanently assigned to him, part of a personal team which included Cooper, his driver, Corrie, his radio operator, Little Jersey, his bodyguard, and Linda Parsons, a trained nurse who was the team's medic. Smoot, his husky pup, rambled around the room, stopping every now and then for a friendly pat or a scratch behind the ears.
Ben said, "Let's double-check everything, people. Lamar, is everyone up to date on their shots?"
"Yes. I had records finishing up their checking on that yesterday."
"Corrie, order the planes up from Base Camp One."
"Commanders, put your people on low alert."
That was acknowledged.
"No one leaves the staging area."
That was noted.
"Who spearheads, Ben?" the Russian asked.
Ben's reply was a smile, although he knew he would never be allowed to do that.
Dan Gray nixed it. "Not a chance, General. As usual, my Scouts will spearhead all the way."
"Then I'll be right behind you people," Ben said.
"There will be a buffer of tanks between you and the Scouts," Ike told him. "And a team between the tanks and you. That's the way it's got to be, Ben."
Ben shrugged his shoulders. "I had to try."
The Rebels all knew that Ben Raines would personally take the point if they didn't watch him.
So they always watched him closely, doing their best to form a net around him--a net that Ben always managed to find a hole through.
"We met no resistance all the way to the line," Ben's son, Buddy said. He and his Rat Pack had just returned from a recon mission to the Canadian border. "We found survivors in many areas--they seemed to have crawled out of the woodwork, so to speak--after the area was cleaned of the criminal element last year. But they showed no desire to join in our network of outposts."
Buddy had told the people that if they did not join with the Rebels, they would receive no help from them--in any way, shape, form, or fashion. Ben Raines's way was a hard one, but it had to be if the country was going to get back together. The nation would never be whole if everyone pulled in a different direction.
"Children?" Ben asked.
"No infants," his son said.
"Then to hell with them," Ben summed up the Rebel position.