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Hatred in the Ashes [Ashes: 27] [MultiFormat]
eBook by William W. Johnstone

eBook Category: Historical Fiction
eBook Description: America had been consumed in the flames of anarchy. When the smoke cleared from a terrifying civil war, the Commander in Chief had vanished, a new constitution had been born, and a power-mad President had soared to infamy, vowing to crush everything Ben Raines stood for. Her party's first mandate: dead or alive, she wants the legendary soldier brought down for crimes of treason--unless he disbands his forces, abandons his dream for a new nation, and swears allegiance to a country under siege. That'll happen--Like Hell. Raines has the men, the weapons, the ammo, and the guts to start his own bloody revolution. With the fate of this people and his homeland at stake, that's exactly what he has in mind. And as far as Raines is concerned, dead or alive isn't even an option.

eBook Publisher: E-Reads/E-Reads, Published: 1999
Fictionwise Release Date: August 2007


9 Reader Ratings:
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* * * *
ONE

Cecil had a very worried look on his face when Ben stepped off the plane and the men shook hands. Ben smiled, gripped his longtime friend's shoulder with a big hand, and squeezed. "You look as though you're carrying the weight of the world around, Cece."

"And you look disgustingly healthy and tanned, Ben. God, but it's good to see you."

"And you look the same, Cece," Ben said with a grin. "Of course, you always have a nice tan."

That brought a smile to the black man's lips, then a big booming laugh. He punched Ben lightly on the shoulder. "The liberals would frown on that remark, Ben. You're not being politically correct."

The two walked across the tarmac toward the terminal, Ben's team and Cecil's security people all around them yet far enough away so the men could talk privately in low tones.

Even in the SUSA, at Base Camp One, the capital of the fledgling breakaway nation, security around Ben and Cecil was tight.

"I gather that there have been no hostile moves against us to date?" Ben asked.

Cece shook his head. "Not yet, Ben. Just some small probes at our borders. Nothing major. But intelligence says it's coming. All signs point to it."

Ben nodded his head. "And here we go again."

"Big time, Ben. Both Sugar Babe Osterman and Harlan Millard hate you ... intensely. They have both stated publicly that you're a traitor to the democratic way, and must be captured and tried as such ... taken alive, if possible."

"Fuck 'em," Ben said.

Cecil laughed at his longtime friend. "They have both sworn to bring the SUSA back into the Union," he added.

"They can both kiss my ass," Ben replied. "Don't those two whiny left wingers know we have the weapons and the delivery systems to nail the lid down tight on everything outside our borders?"

"They don't believe you'll do it."

"Then they're both bigger fools than I originally thought. What the hell is the matter with those two?"

"They claim you're bluffing. They say you won't harm civilians."

"I don't want to harm civilians. But I will if those civilians support a regime that is trying to destroy everything we've built."

"They're talking about the kids, Ben."

"I know it, Cece. And I especially don't want to harm any kids. What are they going to do, hide behind the kids? Use them for cannon fodder?"

"In some instances, I think the answer would be yes. We know that rabble-rousers are working among many of the people outside the SUSA, urging them to be ready to march on our borders when they get the word."

"Any idea when that word will come down?"

"Not a clue. But it's my belief that it will be very soon. I think you can safely bet on that." He glanced over at Ben as they walked. "Are you still planning to use chemicals to stop them?"

"Yes. It's the most humane way to go. You have the factories running around the clock?"

"For several weeks, now. We've got enough chemicals to stop a major invasion. The no-man's-zone around our borders has been enlarged, and it's mined. There are patrols on our sides of the zone twenty-four hours a day, plus eyes in the sky."

"We've got to be stretched pretty damn thin, Cece. Our borders run for a couple of thousand miles."

"Sure we are. And even with the addition of the arriving brigades we'll still be thin. When the mass infusion starts they'll be pouring across by the thousands. Perhaps hundreds of thousands of them."

"You have any better idea than mine, Cece? If so, I'm damn sure open for suggestion."

Cecil shook his head. "No, Ben," he said slowly. "I don't. I wish I did."

"So do I. Believe me, I do. But if we're attacked, our borders will be defended. Non-lethally, if they're civilians who try to cross--unless they shoot at us. By armed force, if Millard and Osterman use their army against us. I can't see that we have any choice."

"We don't, unless you want to consider rejoining the Union under their conditions." Cece laughed at the sudden and very startled expression on Ben's face.

"I hope you're joking, ole' buddy."

"I hope you know I am."

"I had to ask..." Ben paused and smiled. "Just to get your attention."

"You damn sure got it with that remark. Oh hell, Ben, if we're to survive we've got to be ready to fight, and if we're outnumbered, as we damn sure will be, there can't be any rules of engagement. We hit hard, and we fight to win. If Osterman and Millard want to call that dirty fighting, fine with me."

"Arrange a meeting with Osterman and Millard, Cece. That is, if they'll meet with me."

"Us, Ben. If they'll meet with us."

"I don't trust these people, Cece. They just might agree to a meeting with a killing in the back of their minds. If they feel they can take out both of us, they damn sure will try it."

Cece nodded his head in agreement. Ben had never trusted the left wing ... with good reason. Cece could recall only a very few times when they had kept their end of any agreement with the Rebels.

The men had reached the terminal area, and a door was held open for them. Ben returned the smartly given salute from the uniformed Rebel, and both men stepped inside the building. Cece said, "You want to go home and rest for a time, Ben?"

Ben shook his head. "No, let's hash this out right now. I think time is working against us. Besides, home is just an empty house."

Cece experienced a wave of sadness at that remark. One of the most powerful men on the face of the earth was in reality a man alone. The one woman Ben had truly loved was buried in a lonely grave in the far northwest. Cece understood that it had been a hopeless romance from the very beginning. Fate often had a dark sense of humor when dealing with the living ... and kismet had dealt Ben a lousy hand.

For all his aloneness, Ben was not an unhappy man. Just a lonely one at times.

The men went into a secure office--one that was electronically 'swept' periodically--and Cecil ordered coffee and sandwiches brought in.

Ben's team and Cecil's security people took up positions outside the office.

Ben pulled the phone over to him and looked at Cece. "White House number still the same?"

"It hadn't been changed a few days ago. But we don't know who is running things."

"We're about to find out." Ben picked up the phone and a Rebel communications tech immediately answered. "Get me the White House, please."

"Right away, General."

This office phone system was manned--personed, for all the gender sensitive types--by Rebel security, who had been briefed that Ben might be using this office.

It took only a few seconds for the tech to come back. "They want to know who is calling, sir."

"They know damn well where this call originated. Tell them it's Santa Claus. I need some advice. I just caught one of my elves fucking Mrs. Claus."

Cecil choked on a swallow of coffee and the tech began stuttering, not sure how to respond.

"Jesus, Ben!" Cece finally managed to gasp.

Ben grinned at Cece, and told the tech, "Tell whoever that is on the line to stop being so goddamned officious and get whoever's in charge of that liberal lashup on the horn, and do it damn quick before I lose my temper."

"Yes, sir!"

"Ben Raines on how to win friends and influence people," Cece muttered, wiping coffee spots from his shirt front.

A couple of seconds later a very prissy man's voice came over the line. "We do not like threats or vulgarity, General Raines."

"You have my totally insincere apologies," Ben said, punching the speaker phone button so Cecil could hear what was going on. "Who is this?"

"I am Clarence Adams, senior advisor to Madame President."

"Madame President? What happened, did the president have a sex change operation?"

"That is not amusing, General Raines. President Altman had to resign due to health reasons...."

"I just bet he did," Ben said. "Where is he now?"

"In the hospital. He is gravely ill. What do you want, General Raines?"

"I want to know what the hell is going on with you people. Do you have a clue?"

"I don't care for your attitude, General. Not one little bit."

"So you don't know nothing about birthin' no babies, huh, Adams?"

"I beg your pardon?"

"You must not be a Clark Gable fan, Adams. You never saw Gone With The Wind?"

"What? Oh, yes. Of course. Ha, ha. How amusing. President Osterman is unavailable at this time, General. She's in conference with members of CREW."

Ben and Cecil exchanged glances. Cece shrugged his shoulders. "What the hell is CREW, Adams?"

"The Committee to Rid the Earth of Want."

"Want what, Adams?"

"I beg your pardon?"

"Never mind. I'm getting confused. Who elected Sugar Babe to the presidency?"

"There was no time for an election. The nation could not go leaderless. Congress appointed her with the blessings of the new supreme court."

"What happened to the old supreme court?"

"It was dissolved."

"By whom?"

"Congress."

"They have the power to do that?"

"They do now."

Again, Ben and Cece exchanged glances. Cecil arched an eyebrow.

"Are you people operating under the guidelines of the Constitution?"

"We have a new constitution and bill of rights," Adams said very smugly.

Ben was silent for a moment. He sighed and said, "Why doesn't that surprise me? And who drew up these documents?"

"A group of patriots."

"Oh, I'm sure of that. All of them patriots to the core, right, Adams?"

"One hundred percent, General. Dedicated Americans who want to see this nation emerge from the chaos of war with a new vision for all people."

"I'm overcome with emotion. Excuse me for a moment while I puke."

"How crude!"

"Oh, do forgive me, Adams. I'm sure you're a man of fine sensibilities."

"Quite right, General. Now, Is there anything else? I'm really very busy."

"Tell Sugar Babe we need to talk."

"I must insist you refrain from using that ridiculous nickname, General."

"Why? She's had it all her life."

"It is not befitting a lady of her stature."

"Horseshit."

"I beg your pardon, General?"

"I said horseshit, Adams. She has no stature with me."

"She is the President of the United States."

"I'm not a citizen of the USA, Adams. I'm a citizen of the SUSA. We are a separate and sovereign nation, recognized as such by the United Nations."

"Wrong, General. Very wrong. You cannot secede from the Union. What you did was an act of treason, and it will be treated as such."

Ben's chuckle held no humor. "I suppose the new supreme court handed down that decision?"

"Yes. Just a few days ago."

"Goody for them. Now let me tell you something. As far as I'm concerned, your new supreme court is an illegal body, and their decisions are not worth a bucket of buzzard piss. And if you people have plans to use force against us, I can guarantee you a nationwide bloodbath. And you can quote me verbatim to Madame President Claire Sugar Babe Osterman."

"You are making a serious mistake by threatening us, General Raines."

"I'm not threatening. Just stating a fact, Adams. If you start a war with us, you're going to get a bellyful of it."

"I shall relay your message to Madame President."

"You do that, Poopsie."

The connection was broken. The phone hummed in Ben's ear. Ben replaced the phone in the cradle and looked at Cecil.

"What do you know about this Adams person, Cece?"

"I believe he was an aide to Osterman when she was in congress. Ben, you sure let the hammer down on him."

"I got his attention,"

"And now?"

"I'll start assigning troops to sectors as soon as they land ... and wait. That's all we can do for now. I won't make the first hostile move. Where are we the most vulnerable along our borders?"

"Hell, Ben, pick a spot, west or north. We don't have enough people to defend our borders."

"We will after we mobilize the Home Guard. But I don't want to screw up anyone's planting or harvesting, or severely cut into their income. Schedules are going to have to be worked out very carefully."

"I'll get people on that right now."

Millions of people lived in the former states that made up the SUSA, and everybody of age was in the Home Guard. It was an awesome force, for many of them were combat veterans, and all were solid believers in the Tri-States philosophy of government. They would fight to the death defending their right to live under the laws of the SUSA ... and to co-exist peacefully with the USA. If the USA would only let them.

Cece read Ben's mind. "They're never going to let us live in peace, are they, Ben?"

"Someday, Cece. After we kick their asses so hard their teeth rattle from the impact."

"And you think we're going to do it this go-around?"

"We're going to give it the old college try."

Cece was worried to the bone about the troubles facing the SUSA, and fearful of the outcome. He knew the Rebels would be outnumbered in any armed conflict, but that was only part of what was troubling him. It was good, decent Americans looking down a gun barrel at other good, decent Americans that troubled him--and Ben.

And while both knew that many of the men and women they would be facing in Osterman's armed forces would be no more than the dregs of society--punks and thugs and men with very checkered pasts--it was the civilians that Osterman's people would whip into frenzy against the SUSA, urging them to get involved. They would be sure to get hurt and killed, and that bothered both men.

But they also knew they had but two choices in the matter: surrender or fight. And neither man was about to take surrender under consideration. That was out of the question--unthinkable.

Ben sat quietly, deep in thought, while Cecil made half a dozen quick phone calls. After a few moments, Cecil finished with his last call. He poured a fresh cup of coffee from the carafe and leaned back in his chair.

"Do we unveil our little surprise for the folks, Ben? The men and women we've been training are at a razor's edge and raring to go."

Ben shook his head. "Not yet. I want to keep the wraps on that for a while longer."

"I thought you might say that. But I want to ease back on the training just a bit. We've been pushing them awfully hard."

"All right. Stand them down for a few days. I sure don't want them over-trained until they lose their edge. When the balloon goes up, they're going to get all the combat and pressure they want."

"You know that Osterman doesn't have much of an air force, Ben."

"I can assure you she won't have any when our people get through," Ben said, accompanying that with a very nasty smile like that of a hungry tiger.

Cecil cautioned his friend--"If she's stupid enough to start trouble with us--"

"She'll start it, Cece. If for no other reason than she hates me more than God hates sin."

"Even if she knows she can't win? Even if she knows all she'll accomplish is to destroy North America?"

"All that, Cece. And more. She's power hungry. Has been all her life. And she professes to hate guns ... but for years before the Great War she had a concealed carry permit. Packed a .38 in her purse. But was instrumental in leading the fight to disarm Americans."

Cecil nodded his head. "I remember all that now. Didn't you and Sugar Babe lock horns on a talk show once?"

Ben laughed as the memory of that came flooding back. "We sure did. I enjoyed that hour program more than I could ever explain. I verbally backed that left-wing bitch into so many corners she thought she was in a maze. She's hated me intensely ever since."

"And then the Great War came," Cecil said softly. "And nothing mattered much for several years."

"That's about the size of it, Cece. Nothing mattered much except for staying alive."

"That and your dream of a better society for those who had a modicum of common sense."

Ben smiled, drained his coffee mug, pushed back his chair, and stood up. "And we turned that dream into hard reality, didn't we, ole' buddy?"

Cece stood up and nodded his head in agreement. "We sure did, Ben. But it's taken a lot of sweat and blood and cost a lot of lives to keep it alive."

"It's going to cost a lot more before we're through. Get ready for that."

"I know," Cece replied in a low voice. "And I think everyone in the SUSA realizes that, too."

"Let's get ready for war, Cece."

"Again," Cecil said.

"Yes," Ben said. "Again.


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