As America continues its struggle to rise from the ashes of apocalypse, Europe is slowly dying. Cannibals, looters and vandals have overtaken the streets of the once-great cities. And Bruno Bottger, the Neo-Nazi monster, has brought forth a new Reich-bigger, stronger and more chillingly efficient than ever. There is no force in Europe that has a snowball's chance in hell of stopping him. Only one force in what's left of the world can do the job: Ben Raines and the SUSA Rebels.
* * * *
Ben had gone off to sit by himself on the roof of the newly remodeled and refurbished hotel in the city. He had just had his head filled with a lot of facts--and they were facts--that he really didn't want to hear.
He sat for several hours on the roof of the building before returning to the designated conference room in the hotel. He met the President of the United States, Homer Blanton, on the way, and the men walked silently together for a time down the long hallway. General Bodison, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, joined them on their walk.
"How's the First Lady taking all this grim news, Homer?" Ben asked.
"I'm sorry to hear that. I really am. I know she doesn't like me..."
Homer waved that off with a curt slash of his hand. "That's her problem, Ben. Don't worry about it. We have more important things to concern us."
General Bodison caught Ben's eyes and smiled knowingly as they walked. Both men knew Homer Blanton had matured dramatically. He was still a Democrat, and always would be. But hard reality had slapped him right in the face more than once over the past year, and many of his liberal views had gone flying right out the window with each slap ... much to the chagrin of his wife, Vice President Harriet Hooter, and many members of Congress. Homer would probably never adopt the hard-line political views of the Rebels, but he would never again return to the totally liberal outlook he had brought with him into office.
The three men sat down in the conference room and were silent for a moment, occasionally looking at one another. General Bodison finally broke the silence. "Mr. President, if you will allow the law-abiding citizens of the United States to use force to protect what is theirs against the criminal element, without fear of arrest, prosecution, or civil suit, I could free up several more full battalions of troops to aid General Raines over here."
Blanton shook his head. "I don't have the power to do it. That would be up to the courts and Congress, not necessarily in that order."
"The people could vote on it, sir," the general said.
Blanton smiled, a rather sad curving of the lips. "And how do you suppose the vote would go, General Bodison? Ninety-nine percent of the lawyers who survived the bad times are living in the states that still fly the stars and stripes. Ben ran most of them out of the SUSA. When we reestablished the Supreme Court, Congress stacked it with liberals..." He grimaced. "With my help. I have to admit that. Besides, how can we have elections when we don't even know how many voters are in what district? All the records were lost--destroyed, probably. It's going to take months--years, perhaps--to get things back to some sort of normalcy. The only smoothly running part of the world is the SUSA and those states that aligned with them."
Ben kept his face expressionless and drew little doodles on the yellow legal pad in front of him.
"That wasn't meant as a criticism, Ben," Homer said.
"I know, Homer. I didn't take it as such."
"What the hell are we going to do about Bruno Bottger and these hideous threats of his, Ben?" Homer asked.
Bruno Bottger now controlled all of Germany, and half-a-dozen other countries. He had a standing army of a quarter of a million men and a reserve of over a hundred thousand, and his scientists were close to perfecting a drug that would make any who consumed it sterile. Bottger had laid it all right on the line to those attending the meeting in Geneva: He planned to control all of Europe before he was through; and if the Rebels were not out of Europe within twenty-four hours, Bottger's men would drive them out.
Secretary General Son Moon had joined the men in the room, and they talked quietly for several minutes. Coffee and sandwiches were brought in.
"We can't clear Europe in twenty-four days," Ben said. "Much less twenty-four hours. Bottger knows that. He's just looking for a fight. Besides, I've talked to my people about this. They don't like the idea of running--unless it's straight ahead."
Blanton looked at Ben. "Bottger said he'd use that serum if we didn't get out."
"I'm betting he doesn't have that stuff. I don't think he's even close to having it. He's bluffing."
"You are betting the lives of millions and the possible extermination of an entire race, General," Son Moon said.
"I'm open to suggestions."
"If Bottger is not stopped here, he will continue to overpower other nations on the continent," Blanton said. "In a few years, he'll be so strong nothing or no one will be able to stop him. He'll conquer the United States--I believe that is his ultimate goal."
"I agree," General Bodison said.
"Yes." Son Moon spoke softly. "I concur."
Ben reheated his coffee and added sugar. He stirred the murky liquid for a moment and said, "Homer, I'm going to get my thoughts together here and then tell you something, and you're not going to like it--"
"What else is new?" the President asked with a genuine smile.
Ben chuckled and took a sip of coffee. He looked at General Bodison. "Is the military willing to back the President, one hundred percent and all the way?"
Bodison hesitated for a second, then nodded his head. "I'll play this game," he added, "Yes. One hundred percent and all the way. Whatever it is."
"It's something that any sitting President could have done, should have done thirty years ago. I'm sure several Republican Presidents have considered it, or at least entertained the thought. I doubt if any Democrat ever did..."
"Certainly sounds interesting," Bodison said.
"Homer, when you get back to the United States, you call the major networks and set up a nationwide radio-TV hookup to be followed with the entire text of your speech in the newspapers. Publicize it for a couple of weeks. When you feel that as many people as possible have heard about the broadcast and will be listening, you get on the air and you tell the American public that from that moment on, they control their own destinies..."
Blanton leaned forward, his coffee and sandwich forgotten.
"...No citizen has to fear being arrested, prosecuted, or being subjected to a civil lawsuit for protecting family, self, home, or possessions against thieves or intruders. Criminals have no constitutional rights until they are arrested by a duly constituted officer of the law or the military, which will be assisting the police and sheriff's deputies. In short, Homer, just take a page from the Rebel philosophy and apply it to the United States. I give you my word that crime will drop by seventy-five percent within sixty days of your broadcast."
"But the lawyers--"
"Fuck the lawyers and the liberals and the Congress and the Supreme Court. They won't be able to do anything because the entire nation will be under martial law. The instant you get back, start a recruiting drive to beef up the military. You've got millions of people out of work; you should have no trouble finding good men and women to fill the ranks."
"Ben, what about those fifty thousand or so armed men and women who have surfaced in the Midwest ready to attempt to overthrow the nation?"
"Use as many of them as you can in the military."
"What? Ben, they're racists!"
"Some of them, yes. But I'll wager not the majority. You don't have a choice in the matter, Homer. You've heard the reports from both your intelligence people and mine. Your nation is on the verge of collapse until you do something and do something damn quick. I'm telling you how you can keep your nation intact, Homer. I can't force you to do it; I can only suggest."
"What is my alternative, Ben?" the President of the United States asked.
"After we finish up here, I return to the United States and start kicking ass and picking up the pieces. Before long, the Rebels will be in control of the entire North American continent and you'll be out of a job. You want that?"
"You're not serious, Ben!"
"The hell I'm not."
Homer Blanton slowly shook his head. "All my life I have wanted to be President of the United States. Now I have to say it is the shittiest job on the face of the earth. You say those people in the Midwest are not racists, Ben. They want to round up all the blacks and put them on reservations. Now, if that isn't racist, will you kindly tell me what is?"
"I said some of them were racist, Homer, and some of them are. But the majority are just plain ol' Americans who will give anybody a decent shake if they think they deserve it. They were frustrated before the Great War; they've managed to live through the hard times, and now they see the government in Charleston going back to the same old dog-and-pony show they had to endure before the world fell apart a few years ago. They're not going to put up with supporting what they perceive as an entire underclass. You might as well get that through your head once and for all."
"I might, Ben. But many of those around me won't."
"Then they're going to be in deep trouble. Oh, hell, Homer. Americans are probably the most compassionate and giving people on the face of the earth. You know that. But you also know that just before the Great War, many believed America was teetering on the brink of a race war."
"If that is true, and I think it probably was, it was due entirely to racism," Homer said stubbornly.
"On both sides of the color line, Homer. On both sides."
General Bodison and Son Moon had both sat silently, keeping their expressions neutral as the President of the United States and the commanding general of the Rebel Army argued.
"No, Homer. Fact."
"Time, gentlemen, time," General Bodison finally said since both men were getting a little hot under the collar. "You are both right to a degree. But this is not the place to discuss it."
Homer struggled to get his famous temper under control and Ben nodded his head and leaned back in his chair.
"Being who and what I am," Son Moon said softly, "I am certainly not unfamiliar with racism. But I have never experienced the terrible racism that so many blacks say they have to endure. I wonder why that is?"
Ben smiled, and that smile infuriated Homer Blanton. General Bodison sighed, knowing the argument was not yet over.
"Perhaps, Mr. Secretary General," Homer said, "it is because of your education."
"In part. But only in part," the Secretary General retorted. "I think by and large it is because, while I am quite proud of my heritage, as all people should be, I do not flaunt it in the face of others. My God is how I perceive Him to be. I do not sit on television shows and tell others that their God is Oriental and they must accept that as fact. I can prove my heritage; I have no need to engage in half-truths and pure myths."
Son Moon leaned back in his chair, folded his arms across his chest, and half closed his eyes. The inscrutable Oriental.
Ben chuckled; General Bodison exhaled, and Homer Blanton got up and started for the door, clearly angry.
"Homer!" Ben said. Blanton turned and faced him. "We still have a war to fight and decisions to be made. And we either make them right now or everybody goes down the toilet. Including those who put you in office and whom you believe can do no wrong."
"Goddamnit, Ben!" Homer flared. "You wanna get off my ass?"
"Are you going to sit down and work with us on this matter?"
Homer walked around the table twice, getting his temper under control, and then returned to his seat. He stared at Ben for a moment. "Have you been playing devil's advocate in this discussion, Ben?"
"No, I have not. I'm just trying to get you to face facts. Not myths, not lies, not half-truths, just facts."
But Blanton wasn't through. "Facts as you see them, Ben."
"Ah, shit!" General Bodison muttered.
Ben shrugged his shoulders. "Are you going to declare martial law and give the people the right to defend themselves against criminals, Homer?"
"No," Blanton said.
"That's firm?" Ben asked.
"That's firm. How you conduct this war over here is your business. How I choose to run the United States of America is my business."
"Do I still get those four battalions of troops?"
"Yes." He looked at General Bodison. "Get them moving, General."
Blanton left the room.
"I suppose we should be grateful for small favors," Ben said.
"The man can separate the trees that make up the forest," Son Moon said. "But he cannot see that each tree is different."
Son Moon stood up. "I fear for the world," he said, and then walked out.
"I'll get those troops moving, Ben," Bodison said. He pushed back his chair and left the room.
Ike McGowan, the ex-SEAL who commanded two battalions of the Rebels, entered the room and sat down, noting the glum look on Ben's face. Ike and Ben had been friends for years and kept nothing from each other.
"How bad is it, Ben?"
"Just about as grim as we've ever faced, ol' buddy."
"This push have a name?"
"Yeah. Operation Hopeless."