Slaughter in the Ashes [Ashes: 23] [MultiFormat]
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eBook by William W. Johnstone
eBook Category: Historical Fiction
eBook Description: After the apocalypse destroyed what was left of America, Rebel leader Ben Raines helped create the Tri-States. But no system is perfect: criminal gangs still roam the land, spreading havoc and violence. The punks, thugs and creeps have had a free hand for too long-especially in untamed Northern Maine, where a secret sect of underground cannibals threatens the new nation's freedom. It's time for them all to meet judge, jury ... and executioner. If the new U.S. President agrees, Ben Raines and his Rebels will clear the land of the scum that have made life a living hell for hard-working, law-abiding citizens. But the gentle white snow that begins to fall is the first hint of what will be the hardest winter in years, and the deep woods hold more than a few surprises ... as Ben Raines and his SUSA army take on their greatest challenge of all.
eBook Publisher: E-Reads/E-Reads, Published: 1997
Fictionwise Release Date: August 2007
This eBook is part of the following series:
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How many times are we going to have to do this? Ben questioned silently. How many times must we fight others' battles for them? When do I call a halt to it?
His eyes were on the passing landscape but his mind was pondering many issues as the long convoy began their pull-out of West Virginia. For the most part, the state was clear of large bands of thugs and outlaws. Ben knew a few small bands remained, as they did in every state the Rebels had cleared outside of the SUSA--the Southern United States of America. But in the SUSA, any band of thugs remaining there would not last long, for Raines's Rebels and Rebel supporters had a very short tolerance for lawbreakers of any kind.
After the Rebels had pulled out of Europe, returning to North America to once more clean it out of thugs, punks, warlords, outlaws, creepies, and other bits of more or less human crap, Ben had found the nation cut in half. Simon Border, a self-proclaimed religious leader and his Army of the Democratic Front, with the help of several left-wing senators and representatives representing the New Left Party, had staged a coup against President Blanton, and the result was the nation was once more leaderless and in chaos. When Ben and the Rebels returned from Europe, Simon and his people beat it across the Mississippi River. Simon now claimed much of the Western United States: 16 states, with the exception of Texas, which was a part of the SUSA. The new capital of the United States, Charleston, West Virginia, has been destroyed by looters and other lowlifes, and was nothing but a shambles. Simon Border, whose face bore a striking resemblance to a cottonmouth snake, wanted to be king of America.
On the eastern side of the Mississippi, America would, again, have to be rebuilt from the ground up, once the Rebels cleaned out the nests of outlaws. And it was solely up to the Rebels to do it. Again.
Ben began by clearing out the SUSA and starting his factories running 24 hours, seven days a week, pumping out medicines, munitions and field rations and all other necessities needed for a protracted war.
After his Rebels once more reclaimed their old Base Camp One, Ben got in touch with President Homer Blanton--who was now out of a job--and offered him the position of Secretary of State of the SUSA, a position that Blanton quickly accepted. Then, after the Rebels began their push to once more clean out America, Senator Paul Altman, at Ben's urgings, was sworn in as President of the NUSA--the Northern United States of America. Many of the states that would make up the NUSA had yet to be cleared. With a smile, Ben assured Altman that they would be cleaned up ... be patient.
"Do I have a choice?" Altman asked.
"Not really," Ben replied. "Where would you like your new capital to be?"
Altman sighed. Ben Raines moved very quickly. "As a matter of fact, I've given that some thought. How about Indianapolis?"
"Fine with me. Consider it done."
Ben did not believe in wasting time.
As often as it takes, I suppose. Ben answered his own question, as he pulled his eyes from the passing landscape and brought his mind back to the present.
"Word must have spread fast," Jersey spoke from the second seat of the big wagon. "I can't believe all the punks have left the state."
Word had indeed spread fast about the Rebels. They had encountered no resistance as the long convoy snaked its way through West Virginia. They had received some very hostile looks from a certain type of person as they moved northward, but no shots had been fired at them.
Cooper moaned in dismay as the wagon lurched over a particularly bad spot in the cracked old highway.
Highways all over the nation were in rough shape, having received no maintenance for years. Only in areas controlled by the Rebels were roads in good shape. There, any new people who had applied for resident status and were not yet qualified to do anything else, and were physically capable of hard work, Ben put to work assisting road crews during the day. Then they went to school for several hours at night and all day on Saturday to learn a trade. If they objected to that schedule, they were escorted to the nearest border and kicked out and told not to come back.
In the SUSA, for years called the Tri-States, everybody capable of doing so worked at something. Nobody laid up on their asses and did nothing. There was just too much to do to put up with shirkers.
"They haven't all run away, Jersey," Ben said, unfolding a map. "A lot of them are hiding in the timber and the hills and hollows. They'll surface as soon as we clear the state. But they're going to be in for a very rude surprise when they do surface with stealing and raping and killing on their miserable little minds."
Now, when the Rebels left an area that had agreed to align with them, they left behind them local men and women who had sworn to uphold the Tri-States philosophy of law and order. That meant that the life expectancy of criminals was about 20 minutes, max. Under the Tri-States form of government, law-abiding citizens have the right to protect and preserve life, loved ones, and personal property by any means at hand, including deadly force, without fear of arrest, prosecution, or civil lawsuit. Citizens were certainly not required to use extreme measures in protecting what was theirs, but they were encouraged to do so.
"We keep chasing these assholes and pushing them back and back," Corrie said. "And when we get them into the northeast part of the country, they'll cut up into Canada and scatter. Seems like we've done this before."
"Yes, we have," Ben said with a sigh. "This is certainly covered ground. Most of it anyway. We've been fighting to restore order in this beat-up nation for years. We clear one area, and I'll be damned if the citizens don't allow the thugs and punks to move right back in with near impunity. Tell you the truth, I'm getting weary of it."
There was a finality in Ben's voice that his team had not heard before. The boss was getting tired of fighting other peoples' battles for them. As Ben was found of saying: Enough is enough and too much is an amplitude of sufficiency.
"When this push is over," Jersey asked, "are we going to stand down?"
Ben smiled. "Now, I didn't say that, Jersey. As long as I have the stamina to stay in the field, the field is where I'll be. But the next time we're asked to trace old footsteps ... well, hell, I don't know what decision I'll reach."
Ben's team relaxed. With the exception of Anna, the blonde, pale-eyed young lady Ben had brought back from Europe and adopted as his own, the rest of the team--Corrie, Beth, Jersey, and Cooper--had known nothing but the field for years. All of them had joined Ben while still in their teen years. Corrie, the communications expert. Cooper, the driver. Beth, the statistician. Jersey, Ben's personal bodyguard.
"Don't scare us like that, boss," the usually quiet Beth spoke from the rear seat of the big wagon, where she had her nose stuck in a book, as usual. She was reading a novel written by Robert Vaughan. "You'll make us think you're sick, or something."
Ben smiled. "I never felt better in my life," he informed them. And that was the truth. Ben always felt like a million bucks when a push began. He loved the field, even though he was middle-aged and knew he was approaching the time when he should think of getting out of the field ... or at the very least, slowing down some.
But he wouldn't seriously entertain that thought For years he had known, somehow, perhaps as a premonition, that when his time came to face the Almighty, he would die in the field, in combat. That was his destiny, and Ben realized it.
Corrie broke into his thoughts. "Receiving from Scouts, boss," she announced. "What is left of Pittsburgh is filled with creeps. And fly-bys confirm that the punks have broken up into small groups and have taken to the countryside."
Ben nodded his head. "Just like we figured. What about the citizens?"
"Militia and survivalist groups are holding in spots around the state. But they need to be re-supplied ASAP."
"I bet they do." Intelligence had informed him that a few of the militia and survivalist groups were racist--some even aligned with notorious anti-Semitic and anti-black organizations--but not the majority. However, right now, Ben and his Rebels needed all the help they could get. He would sort it all out later. Besides, it sure as hell wouldn't be the first time he'd shaken hands with the devil in order to complete a mission, nor, he was sure, would it be the last time. "All right, Corrie. Find out what they need and arrange for airdrops. I want to know the exact location of each militia group and I want to meet with the leaders head-to-head later on."
"Right," Corrie responded. A moment later: "Bivouac area one hour ahead. We'll be right on the Ohio line. Approximately 50 miles from Pittsburgh."
The long column pulled off the interstate just outside of what was left of a small town on the West Virginia side of the state line. Before the Great War, the town had boasted a population of about 700. Now there was nothing except looted, trashed, picked-over homes, and a few burned-out hulks of what once were businesses.
Scouts had inspected the ghost town and declared it free of hostiles.
"Hell," Cooper remarked. "It's free of everything. Place is spooky."
"Be sure and look in your sleeping bag before you crawl in there tonight, Coop." Jersey stuck the needle to him. "There might be a creepie in there just waiting to give you a great big sloppy goodnight kiss."
Cooper flipped her the bird and otherwise ignored her. Then he shuddered and said, "Yuck!" at just the thought of the Night People. He walked away.
Some years back, after the dust had settled from the first collapse of civilization and the Rebels were just getting organized, bands of what the Rebels would eventually refer to as "creepies" began surfacing. They were the most disgusting people the Rebels had ever encountered, and the Rebels hated them with a passion that was unequaled, for the Night People were cannibals. The adults either could not or would not allow themselves to be rehabilitated, and the children simply could not be rehabilitated. Ben's scientists were still trying to determine why the creeps lived as they did. But so far, no luck.
The Rebels learned about the offspring of the Night People the hard way. After several Rebels had been killed and more than a dozen maimed by vicious attacks, the Rebels were forced to cease their attempts to rehab the kids they captured. Since none among them wanted to shoot a child, the Rebels, if they could possibly do it, just let the kids escape, knowing full well they would someday have to face them in combat as adults. Ben just didn't know what else to do with them.
And now the Rebels knew for sure that within the ruins of Pittsburgh the creepies were waiting for a fight to the finish, for the creeps never surrendered. Retreated yes, surrendered no.
As dusk began spreading over the land, Ben sat outside the large motor home he had begun using as his CP. His team sat away from him, knowing without being told that he did not wish to be disturbed.
Just give it up, Ben, a quiet voice spoke inside his head. You and the Rebels don't owe these people anything. They're adults, they can fight their own battles. Just stand everybody down and go on back to the SUSA and let everybody else fight their own battles.
You can't do that, another voice said. You can't let one area of the country tear itself apart with anarchy while another section prospers.
Give me one good reason why not? the first voice demanded.
Because if you allow the creeps and the punks and the gangs and the human vermin to flourish, it will only be a matter of time before they'll be strong enough to attack the SUSA and those areas aligned with the Rebel philosophy.
They might be strong enough to attack, but they won't be strong enough to defeat the Rebels.
Perhaps not the first time, or the second time, or even the third time. But how long can the SUSA stand alone and hold out?
The second voice was silent, having no reply to that. Ben angrily shook his head, momentarily clearing it of the arguing voices only he could hear. He stood up and walked around the motor home several times, taking long strides, his big hands balled into fists.
His team watched in silence for a time, then Cooper said, "The boss is pissed about something."
"I don't think so," Beth said. "I think he's waging some sort of inner conflict."
Cooper cut his eyes. "What do you mean by that?"
"For once, I agree with Coop," Jersey said. She looked at him. "Don't let that go to your head, Coop. What do you mean, Beth?"
"I'd guess the boss is trying to make up his mind whether to go forward or stand us down and head on back home. I think."
"Now I am confused," Cooper said.
"Your normal state," Jersey told him. She looked at Beth. "He's maybe wondering if going on is worth it?"
"That would be my guess."
"Fight the creeps and the punks and the assholes now, or fight them later," Corrie spoke up. "Either way, we're going to take losses. But this way it isn't little Rebel kids who will be dying. If the boss pulls back and we bunker in, sooner or later we'll be attacked and Rebel kids and elderly will suffer."
Those who subscribed to the Tri-States philosophy never thought of themselves as anything other than Rebels.
"I have never known anything but fighting," Anna said. "I would think it would be very strange to live in peace."
"Tell the truth," Jersey replied, "I been scrapin' for survival ever since I was a little girl. I remember very little else. If we weren't fightin', what the hell would we do?"
"You could always come live with me and we could have lots of little Apaches," Cooper said hopefully. He was ready to leap up and head for parts unknown should Jersey make a move toward him.
But the diminutive Jersey only smiled. "Coop, what do you figure the odds are of any of us living long enough to settle down and have a family?"
Coop's returning smile was sad in the quickly gathering night. "Not too damn high, Jersey."
"Then we won't bring up the subject of family again, Coop," Jersey spoke softly. "It's just damn depressing."
"Yes," Beth said. "I never think about that."
"Me either," Corrie said. "Anna?"
The teenager cut her wise and young-old eyes to Corrie. "I have never thought about anything like that. In my country, it was a day-to-day struggle just to stay alive. Nobody really planned for the future."
Ben had paused in the shadows by a corner of the motor home, listening to the exchange.
"You believe in destiny, Jersey?" Cooper asked.
"Heavy subject, Coop. But, yeah. I've thought about it. I guess I do. Why?"
"Is this our destiny? I mean, what we're doing?"
"Do you think it is, Coop?" Corrie asked.
"Yeah, I think so," Cooper replied softly. "We're still together after all this time, aren't we? I mean, we could have transferred out, but we didn't We may fuss and argue and get on each others' nerves every now and then, but when the shit hits the fan, we hang tough--right?"
Jersey started to tell him that was what being a team was all about, but she held her tongue. Besides, if Cooper wanted to think that was destiny, fine. Hell, maybe it was.
The team fell silent and Ben slipped back, deeper into the night, and walked over to the mess tent. There, he pulled a mug of coffee and wandered around until he found the tailgate of a pick-up truck open and sat down.
Destiny? Well, Ben thought, I've often pondered the same question. Maybe it was their destiny to wander about like warrior gypsies from fight to fight, making the land safe for decent people--and it made no difference whether or not those people subscribed to the Rebel philosophy. Ben smiled in the night: Robin and his 25,000 Hoods.
Maybe someday, when conditions around the nation reached some level of normalcy, somebody would make a movie about the Rebels. Then Ben shook his head. But Hollywood was gone, reduced to rubble. He chuckled softly as another thought popped into his head: Maybe that was just as well, for the left-leaning producers and writers and directors who had controlled the scripts and purse-strings of Hollywood would surely have portrayed Ben and the Rebels as the bad guys, waging war against the poor misunderstood criminals, who surely must have been spanked as children and that, of course, was the cause and therefore the excuse for their violent, anti-social behavior.
Ben laughed softly and slid off the tailgate and stretched. He really didn't give a big rat's ass how history painted him. If he had ever worried about that, he'd stopped years back. He doubted that historians would show that he and the Rebels had brought dignity back to all law-abiding citizens who lived in Rebel-controlled territory, as well as returning a high degree of honor and truth to government and to the business community and their relationship with the consumer. He rather doubted that historians would show that not just violent crime was practically nonexistent in any Rebel-controlled area, but all types of crime, and if they did mention that fact, it would be that it was accomplished at the point of a gun.
So what? would be Ben's reaction to that. The point is, it was accomplished.
Ben sipped his coffee and stared into the night. He sighed as he realized the Rebels just couldn't pull back in their quest to purge America of those who preyed on the weak, the old, the helpless. Even though all mixed in among those who truly needed the Rebels' help were strong, capable, able-bodied men and women who simply refused to pick up a gun and take care of the problem themselves.
It was difficult for Ben to hide his contempt for those types of people, and he usually didn't even make the effort.
Ben walked back to the motor home and opened the door, then turned and looked at his team, sitting within conversation distance from him. "Get a good night's sleep, gang. We'll start clearing the ruins of Pittsburgh tomorrow."
Ben stepped inside and closed the door.