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Trapped in the Ashes [Ashes: 10] [MultiFormat]
eBook by William W. Johnstone

eBook Category: Historical Fiction
eBook Description: Trapped in the smoking rubble of what was once New York City, Ben Raines and his ragged band of followers are up against their biggest challenge. The terrorist Khasmin is marching north to join the cannibalistic Night People and the forces of Sister Velora, with the final annihilation of Ben's hold-out army as their goal. Defeat seems a certainty. But Ben Raines has made crucial decisions in the face of overwhelming odds before. Now, he must gather what forces he has to strike one hard, crushing blow ... or American will die, taking the last hope of freedom with it.

eBook Publisher: E-Reads/E-Reads, Published: 1989
Fictionwise Release Date: August 2007

4 Reader Ratings:
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* * * *

The Rebels dug in deep and tight and waited. They were facing impossible odds and all knew it. But the alternative was unacceptable; all preferred death to surrender.

They had fought hard and well over the past weeks, locked inside the concrete-and-steel canyons of New York City. And their bulldog tenacity and stand-or-die tactics had cost the Night People hundreds of dead and wounded.*

*Valor in the Ashes--Zebra Books

Now they were cut off from the outside, locked inside New York City in the harsh dead of winter, with thousands of the cannibalistic Night People under the city, ready to pour out of the subways and tunnels, erupting like an ugly festering boil. Khamsin, the Libyan terrorist, was knocking on the door with a full division of troops.

Sister Voleta, the mother of Buddy Raines, and her Ninth Order had joined the fight against Ben Raines and her son--such was her hate for Ben Raines.

The Rebels were surrounded. To a person, they had adopted the French Foreign Legion's motto: Stand or die.

Just a few hours before Ben would order tear gas pumped into the bowels of the city, he made one more check of his people. Taking a contingent of Rebels, with Cooper his driver, Jersey his bodyguard, and Beth with the radio, Ben headed south to the tip of Manhattan Island, leaving the Russian, Georgi Striganov, in command. The war had made allies of old enemies.

"I thought they'd hit us today, Ben," Ike said, shaking Ben's hand.

Ben, tall and rangy, looked at Ike, built like a fireplug. The ex-SEAL, although pushing middle age, was still a very powerful man. "That means Khamsin is not yet in position. As soon as I complete this tour, we start pumping in the gas."

"We're ready, Ben."

"Ready, General," Danjou, the French Canadian, said.

Ben nodded and climbed back into his Blazer. They headed to the east side of Manhattan Island to meet with Cecil and Rebet, the Russian colonel.

"We're not going to have much breathing room for the next few days," Ben told him.

Both men nodded. They knew the hard bind they were all in. All the Rebels and their allies knew there was no turning back.

Ben shook hands with the men. "Good luck, gentlemen."

No one among them had any illusions from the start that the assault on New York City would be easy. But none had thought that Khamsin would ever leave South Carolina and join forces with the Night People. The Rebels had fought their way across the shattered nation to the great city. They had taken Staten Island and prepared to launch their assault on the Big Apple.

They had thought they were facing perhaps a few thousand Night People. They soon found they were up against thousands and thousands of the black-robed, unbathed, and stinking cannibals.

But the numbers of the known enemy had not rattled Ben Raines so much as once more coming face-to-face with the only woman he had ever truly loved.

Jerre Hunter.

He had not seen her in years.

Seeing her had shaken the man right down to his boots. He had put her out of his mind--almost. Far enough back in the dark reaches that she did not daily haunt him.

Now he looked at her every day. And she was still as beautiful as that day he had first met her, so many years ago. She had been a sophomore in college when the germ and nuclear bombs had hit America. Ben had found her wandering around in Virginia, and they had traveled together for a few weeks. And Ben, twenty years her senior, had realized only after she had left him that he was in love.

"Life is certainly full of bumps and surprises," Ben muttered, looking out the window of the Blazer at the cold vastness of New York City, with sudden death lurking under the streets.

"Beg pardon, sir?" his driver, Cooper, asked.

Ben smiled at the young man. "Just talking to myself, Coop."

They were on Third Avenue, just passing 116th Street, when Jersey yelled, "Stomp on it, Coop! They're all around us!"

The sidewalks had suddenly filled with creepies.

"Order the attack, Beth," Ben instructed. "All personnel into gas masks and start the pumps. Floorboard it, Coop. Run over them."

Slugs hit the armor plate and the bulletproof glass of the Blazer. It was a very uncomfortable sensation.

Cooper rammed the Blazer into a mob of black-robed creepies, crushing half a dozen under the big knobby tires. The sounds of screaming filled the interior of the Blazer, and the breaking of bones was felt more than heard by those inside.

"Turn west on One Twenty-fifth, Coop," Ben told him, consulting a map. "Then north on St. Nicholas."

"And Merry Christmas to you, too, sir," Cooper said with a grin.

Ben laughed aloud. One thing about his Rebels: fighting while badly outnumbered, a sense of humor would help keep them going.

They cleared the few blocks full of creepies, and Ben rolled his window down. Already the smell of tear gas was sharp as it drifted down from the north.

"Masks, people," he ordered, slipping his gas mask over his head and adjusting the straps and earpieces. "Never wore one in my life that was comfortable," he muttered, forgetting that these were mike-equipped, thanks to Katzman and his communications people.

"Me, neither, General!" Cooper and Beth and Jersey all said.

They roared into Rebel-controlled territory and up to the block where Ben's CP was located just in time to see a mob of choking, coughing Night People come staggering out of a building, nearly blind from the strong gas.

"The crud had hidey-holes right across the friggin' street from my office!" Ben said. "Damn!" He bailed out of the Blazer, Thompson at the ready.

He knelt on the sidewalk and leveled the SMG, holding the trigger back, fighting the rise of the powerful old weapon.

Ben sent a dozen of the cannibals into that long sleep before he had to let off; another second more and he'd be shooting out windows on the third floor.

The street was filled with black-robed crud, as far as one could look in any direction. Coughing and staggering, they walked and ran into death from the guns of the Rebels. The air was thick with tear gas and gunsmoke and the stinking, almost overpowering odor of the unwashed bodies of the Night People.

One jumped on Ben's back, knocking him sprawling, making him lose his grip on the Thompson. Ben kicked the creature in the balls, doubling him over, a silent shriek cut off in his throat as vomit filled his mouth. Ben clawed out his .45 and shot the offensive subhuman in the face, the slug striking the man between his eyes, knocking him backward.

Ben grabbed up his SMG with his left hand and went racing up the street, Coop, Jersey, and Beth right behind him.

"We sure flushed them, all right," Ben panted.

"Flushed them all over us," came Jersey's voice through the tiny speakers in the mask.

Ben ran up the steps to his command post and through the door, running up the steps to the second floor and into his office. Jerre was crouched behind a window. She had shattered the window with the butt of her M16 and was firing into the mob of creepies. Ben stepped to a window down the line from her and knelt down to insert a full drum into the belly of his Thompson.

He lined up a row of black-robes and pulled the trigger, letting the old "Chicago Piano" roar its Wagnerian death chant. The line of choking, nearly blinded black-robes went down like fallen dominoes.

Jerre was picking her shots carefully, using select fire, and each time she pulled the trigger a black-robe hit the concrete.

Nothing like one's life being put on the line to turn a peaceful poet into a Valkyrie, Ben thought. Then he turned his attention back to the bloody street.

The fighting had subsided in this sector, the street littered with the fallen bodies of creepies. "We can't let up," Ben said, and Beth nodded her head, telling him she was receiving the transmission. "Order search and destroy to begin immediately. Hunt them down and hit them while they're still half blind."

Beth relayed the orders to unit commanders, and the Rebels left their secured positions to enter the buildings.

"Patch me through to Ike," Ben said.

"On the line, General."

"Ike. What's it look like in your sector?"

"Got 'em layin' in the streets like pins in a bowlin' alley, Ben. But they've taken to the buildings, just like we knew they would. S and D?"

"Ten-four, Ike. We can't let up now. Eagle out." To Beth: "Get me Cecil."

"General Jefferys on the line."

"Cec. Search and destroy. Hit them hard now. Eagle out. Beth, radio all units to enter the buildings in their sector and destroy the creepies."

"Yes, sir. Engineers want to know if they are to keep up the pumping?"

"Reduce it by half but keep pumping in the gas until I give the orders to stop. We've got to push it down as far underground as we can."

"Yes, sir."

"General?" Jerre's voice entered his ear. He looked at her, irritated that she used his rank instead of his name. Another of the ways she had of annoying the hell out of him. "Have you considered the possibility that you may have to destroy this city in order to win?"

"I have. But to do it now would only mean our deaths. In case you've forgotten, we're trapped in here."

"I assure you I have not forgotten, General!" she popped back at him.

Jersey, Cooper, Beth, and all the other Rebels in range of the battery-powered mask mikes could do nothing except try to ignore the exchange.

"Fine," Ben told her shortly. "I was wondering if you should be hospitalized to check out that memory loss."

"My memory is just fine!"

They exchanged heated looks through the visors.

"Unfortunately," Ben said, "so is mine."

Jerre narrowed her eyes and glared at him.

The voice of Ben's son came through the speakers. "If you two don't cease this childish quarreling, your visors are going to fog over and someone is going to have to be assigned to lead you around."

Very few people would have dared speak to Ben in that manner. Buddy was one of the few.

"Thank you, Buddy," Jerre said sweetly. "Your capacity for reason must have come from far back in the Raines genes."

Ben's sigh was very audible. "What is your location, Captain Raines?"

Buddy laughed. "Standing behind you, Father."

Ben turned his head. His ruggedly handsome son was standing in the doorway, leaning up against the jamb. The boy could move like a damn ghost.

"I was under the impression that I assigned you to Dan's team, boy."

"Oh, you did, Father. And I have completed my assignment for the morning. Colonel Gray sent me back here to remain with you. He felt I would be more useful with you."

"Is that right?"

"Yes, sir."

Ben stood up. "Fine. Up, people. We're going to clear a building."

"Precisely why Colonel Gray sent me back here," Buddy muttered.

"I heard that, boy," Ben growled, heading for the door. He paused at his son's side, looking into Buddy's eyes. It was like looking into a mirror. While Ben was tall and rangy, Buddy was a few inches shorter and stocky. But in the face, their resemblance was startling. "Let's go."

On the sidewalk, crouched behind a rusted and long-abandoned pickup truck, Ben said, "Now the fun begins, people. We flushed them up from their holes, now we get to search the buildings."

The sound of gunfire was much more muted now, as the Rebels found the Night People in the buildings and shot them.

"Everybody hook several CS grenades on your harness," Ben ordered. "Make sure you have your asssigned fire-frags. We'll take that building on the south corner of this block. Let's do it."

They couldn't tell what type of business it had been, but Ben guessed a clothing store. It had been looted. Ben assigned several Rebels to stay on the ground floor, and found the door leading to the lower level. He held up a CS grenade, signaling Jerre and Jersey to follow suit. They pulled the pins and tossed the tear gas into the darkness.

Cursing and coughing drifted up as the gas teared eyes and tore at lungs.

Shapes came lunging up, trying to escape the choking gas. The black-robed figures ran into a hail of gunfire. The coughing and cursing ceased. Bodies lay in heaps on the stairwell. Ben closed the door and pointed a finger at Buddy, then pointed upward. The young man nodded and took the point.

The door which opened onto the second level of the building had been kicked open. Buddy took two CS grenades from his battle harness and tossed them in, one left and one right. He rolled in, staying belly-down on the floor, another Rebel following him, covering Buddy's blind side.

Footsteps echoed in the dusty and gas-filled hall. A door slammed. "Heading for the next level," Buddy said.

"Why?" Ben pondered his own question before ordering people to follow the fleeing creepies. No man voluntarily runs to his death unless he feels he can take some of his enemies with him.

"Buddy?" Ben spoke. "Direct some fire at the door leading up."

Buddy's Thompson spat lead in the hallway. An explosion followed, knocking out windows and bringing plaster and paneling down in the hall.

"Booby-trapped," Ben said. "Now go."

Buddy was back in a moment. "Hallway is blocked, Father. The explosion tore down the stairs. There's no way up."

"We can't leave them up there," Ben said. "Beth, as soon as we're clear, order a tank up here and destroy this building."

"Yes, sir."

Back on the sidewalk, a platoon leader walked up to Ben. "This block is clear, sir."

"Except for this building," Ben told him. "And it will be shortly." He looked up as an Abrams clanked up and wheeled around in the street, elevating its 105mm cannon. The Rebels moved across the street and Ben signaled for the tank commander to start pounding the building at street level, destroying the foundation and bringing the building down.

Ben and his group walked away from the booming of the cannon.

"Sir," Beth said. "The friendlies living underground are up and have grouped on Broadway and One Sixty-third. About five hundred of them. Men women, and kids."

"I guess the gas did penetrate throughout the system. Are they finally going to join this fight?"

"Scouts report they said they would hold that area where they surfaced."

Ben nodded. "Advise our artillery to mark that area as friendly. What's the word on Khamsin?"

"Getting in position to start shelling us. Spotters report they're working on boats, New Jersey side."

"That will be a night attack. They'll eventually be able to punch through the tunnels, unless we destroy them, and I really don't want to do that. We may be forced to use them."

"General Ike on the line," Beth told him.

"Go, Ike."

"We creamed the hell out of them, Ben. I'd guess that in this area, we cut them down by a full twenty-five to thirty percent."

"About that here," Ben acknowledged. The Abrams had ceased firing. "Tell your people to get ready for shelling from the New Jersey side."

"Ten-four, Eagle. Shark out."

"General Jefferys on the horn, sir."

"Go, Hawk."

"I copied that transmission between you and Shark," Cecil said. "I figure about the same number of dead crud here. We've hurt them, no doubt about that."

After he had spoken with the mercenary, West, and with several other unit commanders, Ben turned to Buddy. "I can't help but wonder what happened to the prisoners being held underground."

Buddy glanced up. "I try not to think about that, Father."

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