In the fiery aftermath of apocalypse, America, as we knew it, disappeared-and was reborn as the Tri-States. Under the Rebel law of Ben Raines, there are no slums, no gangs, and no crime. But a new breed of anarchists and malcontents have banded together to destroy everything Ben Raines and his army have risked their lives-and the future of a new America-to build. As devastating civil war turns race against race, brother against brother, and the nation's once-peaceful citizens into a modern-day barbarians, the Tri-States explode in a firestorm of violence and chaos. Now it's up to Ben Raines and his Rebel Army to put the Red, White and Blue democracy back into business…before the red dawn of Armageddon.
* * * *
Ben was glad when he could no longer see the smoke from the fires of discontent. The big transport plane had entered Rebel-controlled territory. For hundreds of miles, the scene had been even worse than Cecil had described.
"We should never have left the country," Ben muttered. "I went against my own philosophy."
But he knew that even had he stayed, he could not have changed the course of events.
Ben dozed off and was awakened by the pilot's voice. "We'll be landing in about twenty minutes, General. The airport is secure."
"Landing into what?" Ben whispered.
Chaos. Rebellion. Upheaval. Mindless acts of violence and destruction. Civil war. Mobs of people running amok, after having reverted back to barbarism. Burning and looting and killing and raping. White against black. Black against white. White against white. Black against black. Senseless brutality involving all races.
"Everything we fought for, destroyed," Ben whispered. "The nation in ruins."
Back to the ashes.
Ben looked at his reflection in the window. His hair was streaked with gray. He was middle-aged and, for a man his age, in superb physical condition--but now, for the moment, he felt old.
As the plane slowly descended, Ben allowed himself to wallow, briefly, in self-pity, something he almost never did. His personal team, Jersey, Corrie, Beth, Cooper, and the teenage girl he had adopted while in Europe, Anna, sat away from him. They knew that when Ben was in a lousy mood--as he was now and had been ever since receiving the communiqué from Cecil--it was best to leave him alone.
Ben's plane was the first one down, a dozen other huge transports coming in right behind his. Ben stood up and stretched the kinks out of his muscles and joints and deplaned. He spotted Cecil Jefferys standing on the edge of the tarmac and walked over to him. The men stood in silence for a moment, content to look at each other, as good and old friends will do. Ben had to struggle to hide his shock at Cecil's appearance. The black man's hair was now completely white, his face deeply lined.
Cecil put out his big hands and gripped Ben's shoulders in an unusual display of affection. "God, but it's good to see you, Ben."
"Same here, Cec."
"I've got a fresh pot of coffee, some food. We'll talk while we eat. Come on."
In a private room off the main terminal building in what had once been a major American airport, the men sat and talked and ate.
"What happened, Cec?"
"The whole damned country just fell apart, Ben. With practically no warning."
Cec shook his head. "We don't know where he is. We don't know if he's alive or dead or hurt or what. We do know that most of his staff, his inner circle, are dead. We think he and his wife might have made it out. But we don't know for sure."
"The new capital?"
"In a shambles. Taken over by malcontents. It's bad, Ben. Real bad. We've lost about two thirds of the SUSA, including the old Base Camp One. But we deactivated the missiles there before we pulled out. They can't be launched. I doubt if these idiots can even find the silos, much less get into them. In all our years of war, Ben, I have never seen anything to equal this. The slackers, the malcontents, the give-me-something-for-nothing bunch, and all the rest must have been planning this for months--maybe years. And they've got some real brains behind this movement."
"Sure they have," Ben said sarcastically. "All those ultra-liberals we read the riot act to several years back. I should have seen this coming."
Cecil stared at him for a moment. "Ben, do you really believe...?"
"I damn sure do."
"But Blanton was one of them!"
"Was is the key word, Cec. He changed. He and I became friends. Friends as much as we ever could be. Certain members of his old party just couldn't take that." Ben shook his head. "I should have seen this coming."
"Oh, hell, Ben! Nobody could have seen this coming. We've got the best intelligence network in the world, and we didn't see it coming. If what you're saying is true, then the old ultra-liberal wing of Blanton's party just sacrificed God only knows how many thousands of people."
"They don't care about that. To them, the end justifies the means. They want back in power. They don't give a damn how that comes to be."
"Yes, it certainly is. I preached for years that liberals were a greater threat to individual freedom than communism. Now tell me what happened."
Cecil drained his coffee mug and sighed. "People began peacefully gathering along our borders. One day there were five thousand, the next day a hundred thousand, the next day half a million. Then they started pouring across and rioting and looting. They came across our borders in human waves, thousands and thousands of men and women and children. Hell, Ben, we couldn't open fire on unarmed civilians and little kids. We used rubber bullets and gas but they kept coming; our people were overwhelmed by the solid crush of humanity. We were spread thin as it was and the rioters broke through in dozens of places and began circling, trying to trap our people. But now they had weapons--"
"Carefully planned out, wasn't it?"
"It damn sure was. Communications became impossible. Our people had to keep falling back, fighting a rear-guard action over hundreds of miles of border. All this happened in a day, Ben--one day. Blanton's military was trying to contain the rioters in their territory, but they were spread much thinner than we and were quickly overwhelmed. Once the rioters became armed, we started using deadly force. Our field reports show that we killed probably twenty-five thousand rioters and wounded that many more before we were finally able to stand and hold."
Ben sighed and nodded his understanding. "I'm leaving a token force in Europe. Bringing the rest of them home. But it's going to be weeks before we have all of our equipment back Stateside. We're just going to have to do the best we can until then." Ben smiled. "Hell, Cec, we've fought worse odds."
Cecil leaned back in his chair and rubbed his face. "Jesus, ol' buddy, I'm tired." Then he smiled and it was the old Cecil once more. "I've been out of the field for a long time. I don't see how you do it."
Ben returned the smile. "For the most part, I've never left the field. That's how I do it."
Cecil cut his eyes to Jersey, Ben's bodyguard, standing silently by the door. The diminutive Jersey, all five feet of her, was as lethal as a spitting cobra. Trained in martial arts, she could kill with her hands, as well as being expert with gun, knife, or garrote. Everyone knew she was in love with Ben, but it was a love that was not to be, and Jersey knew and accepted that.
"I hate to hit you with this, Ben ... I know it's early. But what's the agenda?"
Ben looked down at the map before him; the territory the Rebels had lost was highlighted, and it was huge. "We start reclaiming our territory. Slow and easy. But this time we're going to be fighting a political war as well as a fire-fight. I hate to use the term, but we're going to have to win the hearts and minds--"
Cecil groaned and Ben laughed. "Sounds familiar, doesn't it?"
Cecil said, "I don't believe these people we'll be fighting, many of them, even want a government, Ben."
"Maybe so. But this nation can't exist without some form of government. We certainly can't have anarchy. And the liberals don't want that either ... in the long run. But for now they're using anarchy for their own gain. We have a government, Cec. As long as there are people working together to make something better, to pull something useful out of the ashes, we have a government. But when we start our push, we're going to take it easy. We're going to talk to the people and listen to what they have to say. That's something that hasn't really happened since town meetings went out of style. Maybe we'll never be able to put this country back together again. Maybe we'll die as old men trying to do it. Maybe we'll die tomorrow trying to do it. But we've got to try. It can't be business as usual. We did something wrong, Cec. Blanton did something wrong. But our basic Tri-States philosophy works; we proved that. At least it works for us. But how about the millions of people who say they can't live under that type of open government? What about them? Is it that they can't live under our rules, or that they won't live under them? We won't be able to solve the problem until we understand it."
Cecil stared at him for a moment, then chuckled. The laughter took years from the man. "What is this, a new Ben Raines?"
"In a way, perhaps it is. Might be better, might be worse. We'll just have to see." He looked over at Jersey. "What do you have to say about it, Little Bit?"
"Well, the way I see it, we're going to kick them in the ass and then extend a hand to help them up."
Ben laughed. "That about sums it up. Now let's go see if it works."