For decades, America has been ravaged by nuclear war, anarchy and disease; now it faces its bloodiest battle yet against the fires of religious intolerance. To millions of men and women, Simon Border is a saint who has the inside track to God. But to Ben Raines, Border is a dangerous hypocrite with an army of true believers who'll do anything they're ordered to do-like go on a holy war against Raines and the SUSA Rebels. Border has condemned Raines as the Antichrist and has vowed to destroy him, his followers and what remains of America. As the rabid religious leader puts into place the final piece of a chilling plan, Raines is going to need a miracle to stop him-and survive.
* * * *
Where once there were only a few hundred, now there are thousands, Ben thought, as he stood outside a building at the old Tucson International Airport that was serving as his quarters and HQ and looked at the hustle and bustle of Rebels going about their work.
Part of his command was billeted a few miles away at the old Davis-Monthan AFB and 16 Batt, under the command of Mike Post, was stretched out just north of the city as a first line of defense in case that religious nut, Simon Border, decided to attack.
The campaign to rid the western part of America of punks and thugs was over, and the back of the punk empire had been broken and the head cut off. That much, at least, had been a success.
But now Ben faced a religious war with the hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of Simon Border supporters and followers, and that was something he most definitely did not want.
But Ben could see no way out of it.
He had tried to talk some sense with Border, but the man was having none of it. He considered Ben to be the great Satan, and was determined to destroy him and anyone else who followed the Tri-States political philosophy of a common-sense form of government.
And when Simon tried that, just as the nation was struggling to its feet, the country would be plunged into a religious war ... a war that might not have an end, for even after all that had happened, factions were still fighting in Northern Ireland.
Ben turned and went back into his office. With a sigh of resignation he sat down behind his desk and looked at the pile of paperwork facing him. Ben hated paperwork, but knew he had to do it. He picked up a pen and went to work.
Hundreds of miles to the north, in one of his mountain hideaways, the spiritual leader of millions of people, the Most Reverend Simon Border, stared out the south-facing window and thought of Ben Raines.
He would not make the mistake of hurling untrained and untested troops against Ben again. That was foolish and very arrogant on his part and had cost the lives of hundreds of good men. Even as he pondered the situation, thousands of his people were undergoing intensive field training, learning as much as possible about the art of warfare.
Simon leaned back in his chair and smiled at the thought of the nation, under his spiritual rule. What a glorious day that will be.
Ben pushed aside the stack of paperwork and leaned back in his chair. He could not concentrate on the seemingly endless details of running a huge army. Besides, something else was nagging at him: why was Simon Border waiting? Why didn't he attack? The so-called religious leader had made his brags, but nothing came of them.
"We've been here for six weeks," Ben muttered. "Growing stronger each hour. Still the man does nothing."
"Anything from Mike?" the ever-present Jersey asked.
The very pretty and diminutive Jersey was Ben's self-appointed bodyguard. Wherever Ben was, you would find Jersey shadowing him.
Mike was the Rebel chief of intelligence.
"Not in a couple of weeks," Ben replied.
Corrie the radio tech, had left her radio in the hands of a relief operator and was relaxing with a cup of coffee. "High-level recon flights is still showing nothing. We're still getting reports that Simon's army is training, but they're in small units and it's a big area to cover."
Beth, the statistician, laid aside her journal and looked up from her desk. "And all action by Border's people east of the Mississippi River abruptly stopped about three weeks ago and no fighting has been reported since."
Cooper, the driver, said, "It just doesn't make any sense, boss. They start an offensive all over America, then just stop. Why?"
Ben shook his head.
Anna, Ben's adopted daughter, whom he had found as a dirty-faced little waif in Eastern Europe, turned her head with her close-cropped blond hair and cut her pale eyes toward him. Young/old eyes that had seen far too much for their age. "I am Catholic. Not a practicing Catholic, but Catholic nonetheless. I will never bow to someone such as Simon Border. If Simon does not want to bring the fight to us, we take the fight to him."
"I'm trying to avoid a religious war, Anna," Ben told her. "Not start one."
The young lady shrugged her shoulders. "Can't be avoided. You know as well as I, Border is up to something dirty--all in the name of God, of course. Personally, I think God turns His head and closes His eyes when wars start."
Ben grunted. Personally, he believed the same way. "Perhaps, Anna. But I'm not going to be the one to start this war."
Anna stood up, picking up her CAR as she did. "Did you ever consider that you just might not have any choice in the matter, General Ben?" She walked out the door.
"What did she mean by that?" Cooper asked. He shook his head. "Sometimes that girl spooks me."
"It's the Gypsy in her," Ben said with a smile. "It's said that some Gypsies are born with the ability to see into the future."
"The same is said of our medicine men," Jersey, who was part Apache, said. "Personally I think it's all a bunch of shit." She walked outside to join Anna.
Ben chuckled and returned to his paperwork. But in the back of his mind he wondered what Simon Border was up to.
Simon was having some trouble of his own in his so-called paradise. Hundreds of people who adamantly rejected his dictatorial type of religion were making plans to clear out of Border's territory. These men and women did not necessarily embrace the Tri-States philosophy, but they certainly didn't want to live under Simon Border's rule.
Only problem with their leaving was that Simon had sealed his territory tight; no one in, no one out.
"Then we have to fight," one leader of a small resistance group told his followers.
"With what?" a woman asked. "Shovels and axes?"
Simon had disarmed any person who did not attend his churches and swear lifetime allegiance to his rule.
Disarming a population and declaring the ownership of nearly all types of firearms illegal is one of the most effective methods of stilling dissent.
"We make bombs," Glenn Waite told his people. "We start blowing up army barracks and police stations and local politicians."
"I can make bombs," another of Glenn's followers said. "It's really pretty simple. With all of us working, we can make dozens. If the other teams go along with it, we can have hundreds of bombs ready to go in a very short time."
Glenn nodded his head. "I'll contact them. Most, if not all, will go along, I'm sure. Get cracking on it, Martin. I'd rather die fighting as a free man than live under the rule of Simon Border."
"Everything is calm back here, Ben," Cecil Jefferys, the president of the SUSA and Ben's long-time friend reported. "We had a few minor flare-ups here in the SUSA with some people who feel that Simon's way is the best way, but they were quickly shown to the border and kicked out. I'm sure we have others, but they're keeping a low profile and their mouths shut."
"Then they're up to something, Cec."
Cecil sighed over the miles. "Yeah, I agree, Ben. And it worries me. But we can't polygraph or PSE the entire population."
"No," Ben returned the sigh. "And I wouldn't want things to come to that, anyway."
"Any word from Mike?"
"Not a peep. He's found him a woman up in Utah, I think. She's with a guerrilla team, so Mike joined them."
"Ol' Mike's in love, huh?"
"Looks that way."
"Good for him."
"Everything is quiet here, Cec. And I still refuse to take the offensive in this matter."
"I think you're doing the right thing, Ben. But if Simon's people start slaughtering dissidents in his territory, you might be forced to change your mind."
"You know something I should know, Cec?"
"No. But I wouldn't put something like that past the lunatic."
"Nor would I. All right, Cec. I'll bump you in a few days."
Ben returned to his desk and sat down, propping his boots up on a stack of paperwork he just simply quit on. "Corrie, when is Thermopolis and his 19 HQ Batt scheduled to pull in?"
Ben pointed to the paperwork. "When they get here, give all that crap to them. That's what HQ is supposed to do, not me."
"Right, boss. Boss?"
Ben cut his eyes.
"Some of the people were wondering about Simon Border. They know that Border's country is based, sort of, on his weird philosophy, but other than that, what kind of government does he have?"
"Socialistic, for the most part. Everything is state run. Collective farming and so forth; everything that anyone does is for the state, not for the individual. The state, of course, being Simon Border and his inner circle and friends." Ben smiled. "I think the people can have tiny gardens all their own."
"Well, that's damn charitable of Nutbrain Border," Cooper said.
"It didn't work in Russia," Beth said, laying aside an old paperback novel she had found along the way. Ben took note of the author, Linda Howard. He had known her back before the world erupted into war. "It was beginning not to work in China--according to what I've been able to read. Capitalism is the only form of government that's worth a damn."
"Thank you, Professor Beth," Cooper said.
"You're welcome, Coop." Beth stuck her nose back into the book. Mackenzie's Mountain, Ben observed.
"What is so great about that type of government, boss?" Coop asked.
"Nothing, as far as I'm concerned," Ben replied. "Personally, I think it stinks. And Simon and his followers could have it, if they'd just back off and stay away from us."
"Message coming in from Mike," Corrie said, holding up her hand.
Ben took the mic. "Go. Mike."
"I'll keep this short, Ben," the chief of intelligence said. "Simon is just about ready to make his move against you. In addition, there are hundreds of people living in his territory who are ready to fight him just as soon as you give the word. I'll give Corrie the map coordinates for air drops. We need weapons and ammo in the worst way."
"You'll get them, Mike. There is no hope Simon will back off?"
"No, Ben. None. But what difference would it make if he did back off? He's sealed his borders and refused to allow dissidents to leave. He's using force to coerce people to worship his way. He's preparing to kill any who oppose him. Make virtual slaves out of those who survive the purge."
Ben sighed and shook his head. He had noticed today that the gray was spreading rapidly among his once dark brown hair. Well, hell, Ben thought, it was time for him to gray. "Then I guess that does it, Mike. His armies have been training hard, right?"
"Right, Ben. We've got twenty battalions to field, he's got a hundred and twenty and more in reserve. They won't be making the mistakes they did at first. Count on that."
"I'll never understand how he got so many people to go along with his nutty plans."
"Long story, Ben. I'm still piecing it together. Someday we'll sit down over a pot of coffee and talk it out. But for right now, you'd better get ready for the fight of your life."
"Good luck." Mike broke it off.
Ben turned to find his team looking at him. "Get the Batt Coms in here, Corrie. Let's start making plans."
"Are we going to carry the fight to Simon's people, boss?" Cooper asked.
"I guess so, Coop," Ben's words were softly offered. "I don't see that we have any choice in the matter."