Valor in the Ashes [Ashes: 9]
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by William W. Johnstone
Category: Historical Fiction
Description: A decade has passed since the nuclear nightmare of the Great War that brought America to the brink of destruction. Out of the smoldering ashes, Ben Raines has emerged to build a new society in the once proud land. But in this hellish new world there are devils among men who will stop at nothing to destroy the dream of a new America. Leaving a small rear-guard detachment at their home base in Louisiana, Ben Raines and his rebel army begin an overload expedition to New York City--the armed citadel of the cannibalistic mutants known as the Night People. For Raines and his rebels, it means clearing skyscrapers floor by floor and stalking endless labyrinth of underground tunnels--a perilous search-and-destroy mission that will decide the fate of freedom's cause.
eBook Publisher: E-Reads/E-Reads, 1988
eBookwise Release Date: August 2007
3 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [426 KB]
Reading time: 269-377 min.
* * * * ONE
"Seven major bridges, six rivers, five boroughs, four stadiums, three airports, two states, and what was once a very exciting and beautiful city."
Then Ben had to explain to the younger members of his contingent of Rebels exactly what a borough was. And it wasn't something that groundhogs did.
Some of them had to go back to school, Ben concluded. They were going to have to be pulled off the line and given the chance to gain more knowledge. And like it or not, they would do it, if Ben ordered it.
Maybe after New York City.
The sheer magnitude of what lay ahead of them, the awesomeness of the job, was mind-boggling ... at least to Ben and some of the older Rebels, who had visited New York City before the great war a decade past, and who understood that the cleaning out of the mutant, cannibalistic Night People, headquartered in the Big Apple, was not going to be a short-term operation.
It would certainly take all of the fall and all of the winter, and could well extend into spring or even summer ... or longer.
But it was something that had to be.
The Judges were here, somewhere within the concrete-and-steel canyons of the city: those men and women who ruled the Night People, who dictated the terrible deeds that they did.
They had to be destroyed.
And there was only one army on the face of the earth--that Ben was aware of--that had the capability to tackle and ultimately accomplish that task: Ben Raines and his Rebels.
Ben stood in the cool fall air and looked over the watery distance that separated St. George, on Staten Island, from lower Manhattan.
When the Rebels had first arrived on Staten Island, they had--Ben included--mistakenly believed the place was deserted.
Came the first night, and they were proved wrong. Bloody wrong. The Night People crawled out of the basements and tunnels and dark musty places to attack in stinking, foul, human waves. The fighting had been fierce, but with the Rebels always, slowly, pushing the Night People back. Sometime during the third night, the Night People had decided to retreat back into the city, leaving silently, their dead behind them.
"Handle the bodies with extreme caution," Ben had ordered. "Gowned, gloved, and masked. Stack them up and burn them."
The bodies had been loaded and transported out to the edge of the Atlantic Ocean and burned. Staten Island was secure.
But still Ben hesitated to send his people into New York City. Doubts assailed the man: Was it worth it? Would whatever they would find there compensate for the Rebel lives lost in securing that great city?
Ben sighed. He just didn't know.
His daughter, Tina, commander of a contingent of Gray's Scouts, came to his side. "What's the matter, Dad?"
"Second thoughts, girl. Seconds thoughts a hundred times over."
"The treasures in that city, Dad: the recordings, the paintings, the knowledge ... all the things you told us about. Those alone would be worth it."
Would they? Or had vandals destroyed it all? Ben inwardly shuddered and was sickened at the thought of some two-bit street punk slashing a Renoir, simply because he or she was too damned ignorant--voluntarily and eagerly so--to care what was ruined. He thought of the hundreds of master tapes and CD's stored in the vaults. Great treasures of music. The millions of books, some of which would be lost forever if not salvaged now. The medical knowledge contained within that seemingly silent and dead city.
Ben looked at the World Trade Center, jutting up a quarter of a mile into the sky. He had been on the observation deck there several times, and remembered that on a clear day a person could see for nearly sixty miles. And the elevators would take your breath away: from the 107th floor to ground level took less than a minute.
And if, or when, his people went into the city, they would have to climb every damned step of the way up in every building. And then back down.
"What's the word from your brother, Tina?"
"He's recovering fast. He'll be up here in a couple of weeks, on limited duty."
Ben's son had been badly wounded by a pack of rednecks while attempting to secure a piece of land down in Louisiana and bring some education to the ignorant.
Ben had killed them all.
Ben Raines had absolutely no patience or tolerance for people who are ignorant, know they are ignorant, are proud of being ignorant, and intend to remain ignorant until the day someone does the world a favor and shovels dirt in their face.
Ben turned to face his daughter, a slight smile playing around his lips. "You feel like taking a ride, girl?"
She cocked her head to one side and mentally braced herself. Her father, if he made up his mind to do it, would charge Hell armed only with a glass of water. "Ah ... what do you have in mind, Dad?"
"You game, or not?"
She sighed. "OK. Now tell me where we're going?"
Ben was amused. Half the camp had gone into hysterics when he walked into his CP and announced that he and Tina were going to take a little drive into the city.
"The Scouts haven't even gone into the damn city, Ben!" Ike had yelled at him.
"Perfectly ridiculous idea, Ben!" Cecil snapped at him. "I won't hear of it."
"I say, General," Dan Gray--the ex-British SAS officer--put his two cents' worth in, "I find that suggestion to be quite unreasonable and not fully thought through."
Doctor Chase muttered obscenities under his breath and glared at Ben.
Little Jersey, about four feet ten inches tall and a Rebel to the core, summed it all up. "You might go into the city, General; we don't have the right to stop you. But you damn sure ain't goin' in alone!" She turned to face him, the top of her bereted head hitting him just about chest high.
Ben laughed at her. "All right, Jersey. What'd you have in mind?"
Now he was rolling along, stuck in a damned greasy old APC, with tanks in front of and behind him.
"It would seem," Ben said sourly, "that since I am the commander of this army, I might have some say in my method of transportation. I cannot see one lousy thing!"
They were rolling along over the just-cleared Bayonne Bridge. What they were going to encounter once the bridge was past them was anybody's guess. Gray's Scouts had only advanced as far as one block past the bridge, and were waiting there for the convoy.
"It's for your own good, General," Jersey told him.
"That's what my father used to say, just before he beat my butt with a belt."
Little Jersey laughed at the expression on his face, thinking: Yeah, and you probably deserved it, too!
"As far as we go, General," the driver called. "Scouts are signaling for us to halt."
"Good," Ben muttered. He banged his head on the way out and was muttering curses as he walked up to the Scouts, already in a confab with Dan Gray.
"J. F. Kennedy Boulevard is a real mess," Ben was told. "A squad just came back from checking it out. Not worth the effort, at this time, to clear it."
Ben looked at an old map. "Five-oh-one?"
"Scouts are only a block up now, General," Dan told him. "It's slow work."
"Any sign of life?"
"No, sir. Nothing. But lots of skeletons that have been picked clean. Scouts report the bones appear to be old."
Ben nodded and spread his map on the hood of a Jeep. "All right, people. We'll have to do this by the numbers. I want all the bridges cleared and passable. And heavily guarded at both ends around the clock. Round up portable generators, especially near the waterline. I want the bridges lighted at night. Ike, see if you can find some Navy or Coast Guard vessels and get them running. And block off the subways. They've had years of neglect and no telling what shape they're in. I also don't want these Night Crawlers to come at us from them."
Ben turned to Dan. "Tell your Scouts to return. We don't move until our pilots have done extensive flybys of the entire city." To Cecil: "Contact Joe at Base Camp One and have him fly up some heat-seekers. Let's just see what we're up against.
"Maggie Thatcher's girdle!" Dan blurted, looking at the pictures from the flybys. The heat-seekers showed almost entirely red on any grid they chose to look at. "There must be several hundred thousand people left in the city."
"But which ones are friendlies and which ones are bogies?" Cecil asked.
"And how do they survive?" Doctor Chase asked.
"Probably with human farms," Ben told them all. "Their outriders bring back prisoners and they force-feed them until they're nice and fat. Then the Night People eat them." He glanced at Chase. "Don't look so startled, Lamar. You were briefed on the dietary habits of the Night People."
Doctor Chase drew on nearly seventy years of living--although he neither looked nor behaved like a man that age--to sum up his opinion of the Night People. Not one word of it was in the least complimentary.
"You through?" Ben asked him.
"Perverted, savage, Godless, despicable bastards!" Chase finished it.
"Thank you, Doctor, for that highly professional summation of our immediate enemy." Dan smiled at him.
"Up yours, too!" Chase stalked away, Ben's current ladylove, Doctor Holly Allardt, walking fast to keep up with him.
The Rebel commanders once more bent over the pictures taken from spotter planes; but this time they were looking at blown-up black-and-white photos.
Ike pointed a finger. "Look there. Hand me that magnifying glass, Jersey." He grinned at her. "You appoint yourself General Raines's personal bodyguard, half-pint?"
"He hasn't complained yet," she fired back.
Grinning, Ike studied the picture. He compared the picture to a detailed map of the city. "On top of the Solow Building, Ben. That's a man and a woman, both of them neatly dressed and both of them armed. Take a look."
Ben bent over the picture, using the glass for magnification. But he only briefly studied the man and woman. He moved the magnifying glass upward, north, into Central Park, past the Pond, carefully studying the area. "Gardens. Gardens all over the place, and damn well tended. Look how clean it is, people. From Fifty-second at ... ah..." He checked the city map. "...Madison, all the way over and including Columbus Avenue. Then north all the way up to ... ah ... Seventy-second Street. Nearly spotless. What the hell is going on here?"
"Who do you suppose they are, Gene?" the woman asked the man.
"Hopefully, Ben Raines and his Rebels. But I can't be sure. It might well be some invading army. Maybe the Russian. Could be the Libyan. Might be that mercenary bunch from up in Canada. Monte what's-his-name. I just don't know."
"Whoever they are," another man said, "they're very carefully doing an air rec of the city. They haven't tried to come in."
"Do we try to contact them, Gene?"
"Not yet. Let's be sure just who they are and what their intentions might be before we attempt some lines of communication."
"General Ben Raines," the woman said with a sigh. "God, please let it be so."
"Do you want me to lead a team in, General?" Dan Gray asked softly.
"Hell, no, Dan! But I wish we could get our hands on some choppers."
"I'm working on that, Ben," Cecil told him. "I've got people working around the clock trying to piece some old birds together." He shrugged his muscular shoulders. "A week at least before I'll know anything for sure."
Ben nodded and glanced at Jersey. "Half-pint, notify the commo people and tell them to try and make contact with those inside the city."
She nodded and walked out of the room just as a young Rebel was entering.
Ben turned. Noted that the young woman's face was pale and she appeared to be shaken.
"What's wrong, Sandy?" Dan asked the woman, one of his Scouts.
"I got a prelim report on one of the subways our people entered, sir. It seemed ... well, not plausible, so I personally checked it out."
"And?" Dan prompted.
"It seems the Night People have been using the subways--at least this particular subway--as a repository, sir."
"A repository for what, Sandy?" Ben asked.
"Bones, sir. Must be a couple of miles of bones in the one I looked at. Scattered all over the place. Human bones."