Terror in the Ashes [Ashes: 15]
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by William W. Johnstone
Category: Historical Fiction
Description: Having reclaimed American soil from the savage armies of terrorists, lawless punk street gangs, and mutant Night People who once ruled the land, Raines and his Rebel army turn to the tyrannized people across the sea who also dream of freedom. Their first mission: the liberation of the British Isles from the nightmare of evil oppression. After Rebel invasion forces establish a successful beachhead at the Irish seaport of Galway, Raines orders a massive armored spearhead assault to drive out the mercenary army of the insidious warlord Jack Hunt. The Rebels' search-and-destroy mission crushes enemy resistance ... but reinforcements for Hunt's crumbling army bring with them the most hideous foe Ben Raines has ever faced: bubonic plague. Raines and his Rebels must choose between saving themselves or sacrificing their cause to save the lives of innocent civilians trapped in a beleaguered land...
eBook Publisher: E-Reads/E-Reads, 1992
eBookwise Release Date: August 2007
5 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [396 KB]
Reading time: 254-355 min.
* * * * ONE
It was late spring when the Rebels pushed inland from Galway, Ireland. General Jack Hunt had shifted his mercenary army around and also made a pact with the creepies. The Rebels would save the cities for last.
The Rebels had also learned that approximately ten battalions of European mercenaries had sailed across the Irish Sea from England to link up with Hunt and his people. And other warlords and gang leaders were sending troops. The lawless element meant to destroy Ben Raines and his Rebels once and for all.
But Ben and his people had been fighting unbelievable odds ever since the day the Rebels were formed. Being outnumbered fifty-to-one was something they had grown to expect.
"Big deal," the tiny Jersey said, when she heard the news. Jersey was one of Ben's personal team and his self-appointed bodyguard. "When ain't we been outnumbered?"
"We have nine full battalions and one short battalion," Cooper, Ben's driver, reminded her. "Hunt now has thirty-three battalions. And they're at least semi-professional fighters."
"Yeah," Jersey agreed, reassembling her M-16. "But we got something goin' for us that those on the other side don't."
"We're right and they're wrong."
Ben smiled as he listened to the exchange. His personal team, with the exception of Linda Parsons, who had joined them about a year back, had been with him for a long time. They worked together like a well-oiled machine.
His radio operator, Corrie, called from across the room. "Ike on the horn, General."
Ben took the mic. "Go, Ike."
"Everyone is in place, Ben."
Ben looked at his watch. It was seven o'clock in the morning. The Rebels almost always launched a campaign well before dawn, but not this time. This time they were in unfamiliar territory and facing thousands of well-equipped and reasonably well-trained troops.
The Free Irish, newly armed and raring to go, were to secure County Clare, then join with Ben's battalion.
Other Free Irish were being trained, but they were not yet ready to go into battle against what Jack Hunt had to throw at them.
Ben and his First Battalion were to drive straight across Ireland, stopping on the outskirts of Dublin. Ike's Two Battalion was heading first to Limerick, then pushing on to Kerry and the sea, then cutting east and taking Cork. Dan Gray commanded Three Battalion and would push south. Four Battalion, headed by West, was to secure County Mayo, then join Striganov's Five Battalion and push up through Roscommon and Sligo, securing that area. The objective of Rebet's Six Battalion was Tipperary and Waterford. Danjou's Seven Battalion was to stay north of Ben, pacing his movements, while Thermopolis' Eight Battalion stayed just to the south. Tina and her Nine Battalion would strike south through Offaly, Laois, and Kilkenny. The Outlaw Battalions, Ten, Eleven, and Twelve, were split up and used to beef up other short battalions. Everyone would secure, then some would link up, turn, and push east, toward the coast of the Irish Sea. Beerbelly and his Wolf Pack would roam about, wreaking havoc and all sorts of bloody mayhem as they went. And that group was very good at doing that.
"Well, it looked good in theory," Ben muttered. "Let's see how well it's going to work." He lifted the mic. "This is Eagle to all units. Strike!"
From locations all around and in Galway, the Rebels surged forward, while men and women and children stood on the sidewalks and by the side of the roads and in the meadows and pastures and waved them on. Most of the men and women were middle-aged, for the outlaws and warlords had taken the younger men and women to use as slaves, or to swap them to the creepies in the cities, for breeding or to fatten them for food.
"Scouts report that we'll hit the first resistance on the Suck," Corrie told Ben, once they were under way in the big nine passenger wagon, armor-plated and with bulletproof glass all the way around.
"On the what?" Cooper asked, behind the wheel.
"Don't think, Cooper," Jersey told him. "Just drive. Thinking strains you too much."
"It's a river, Coop," Ben told him. "About thirty miles up the road. Chances are we'll be hung up there for a day or two. Jack's people will surely blow the bridge."
"Scouts report the bridge is wired to blow," Corrie said. "Engineers are to the rear of this column."
"I love this country," Linda said. "It's so beautiful."
A bullet whanged off the side of the wagon, causing everyone to cringe just a bit. "Five miles out of town and they're shootin' at us already," Cooper bitched, bringing the wagon to a halt by the side of the road.
They all bailed out the left side of the wagon as Scouts pulled up in hummers, officially known as high-mobility, multipurpose wheeled vehicles, the hummers were outfitted with .50 caliber machine guns. Ben's husky, Smoot, stayed in the wagon as she'd been trained to do.
The fire, now coming from a machine gun, picked up and everybody ducked. But Ben had already pinpointed the location of the hostiles.
"The fire's coming from that stone hut right over there," Ben called to Scout. "Get a couple of tanks up here and drop some calling cards in on them."
The Scout grinned. "Like a Valentine's Day card, General?"
"Yeah," Ben returned the grin. "Sort of let them know we're here."
Two main battle tanks lumbered up, swiveled around on the roadbed, and lowered the muzzles of their main guns while the enemy machine guns rattled, the slugs bouncing off the heavy armor-plate. A booming heartbeat later, there was nothing left of the stone hut.
"Check it out," Ben ordered.
Scouts raced across the meadow. Moments later, Corrie's radio crackled. "Scouts report all enemy dead, sir. Do we bury them?"
"No," Ben replied. "The people living around here will take care of that. Move out."
Back on the road, moving slowly due to the badly deteriorated highway, Ben again picked up a map. "The town Athenry is supposed to be deserted. But I have my doubts about that. I suspect Jack has moved in troops over the past couple of weeks. I've told the Free Irish that we wouldn't destroy on a wholesale basis; but I also told them that I wouldn't give up a Rebel life to save a building. They understand that."
"It's so green and lovely," Jersey said, looking out the side window. "And so peaceful-appearing."
"Scouts report the crossroads up ahead is clear, General," "Corrie said.
"Stay on the road to Athenry, Coop," Ben said. "Corrie, have Scouts check out the southern route down to Loughrea. Advise them not to get themselves in a bind. We've got plenty of time and equipment to do this right."
"Have the Scouts check it out and if they hit trouble, back off immediately and call in. Make that a direct order."
Ben had vowed that this operation was to be done slowly and cautiously, keeping loss of Rebel life to a minimum. Dr. Chase, the Chief of Medicine, had hit the ceiling when he'd learned the Rebels would be fighting on so many fronts. But Ben was used to Chase's bitching and yelling.
"How in the goddamn hell do you expect me to provide quality medicine on six or seven fronts, Raines?" he had roared.
"I have complete faith in your ability to do the impossible, Lamar."
"Raines," Lamar said, in slightly less than a roar, "this country is approximately the size of Maine, for Christ's sake. The roads are in horrible shape, it's going to be a very slow campaign, the people are malnourished, we have our hands full just trying to keep these poor children alive, there are creepies all over the damn place, it rains all the time..."
"It does not rain all the time, Lamar. Just ... more often than we are accustomed to, that's all."
"Don't interrupt me. And I want you to finally realize, get it through that thick, hard head of yours, that your place is in the rear, directing operations from behind a desk, you overage Huckleberry Finn."
"Go suck an egg, Lamar."
"Damn it, Ben..."
"I lead troops into battle, Lamar. The Rebels expect that of me. Now is there anything else you want?"
"About a hundred more doctors would be delightful, Raines. And nurses, too."
"Canvass the people, Lamar. I'm sure Ireland had plenty of very fine doctors and nurses before the Great War."
"Oh, thank you so much, great and noble leader. Goddamn, Raines, I've already done that in this area. I can't very well go wandering out into the fine green hills of Ireland looking for more until you start clearing zones. Right?"
Ben grinned and pinched Lamar on the chin. "You're so cute when you get angry--you know that?"
The Rebel encampment was startled to see the chief of medicine, with a very large surgical knife in his hand, chasing the commanding general through the tents and vehicles. Lamar was cursing and shouting out exactly what parts of the general's anatomy he planned to cut off.
Luckily, Ben was younger and had longer legs.
Ben halted his battalion just outside of the town of Athenry and got out to study the village with his binoculars.
His son, Buddy, and part of his Rat Pack had joined him on this run ... at Colonel Dan Gray's insistence. "The name means Town of the King's Ford,'" Buddy told his father.
Ben looked at his ruggedly handsome son, heavily muscled, with a mop of dark hair, always with a bandana tied around his forehead. "I didn't know you were a student of Ireland."
Buddy grinned and held up an old tourist brochure he'd found back in Galway. "It was founded in the thirteenth century and much of the medieval town wall and keep of the castle still survives. Population of about fourteen hundred before the Great War. What is a keep, Father?"
"The strongest or innermost part or a central tower of a castle." Ben returned to his inspection of the supposedly deserted town.
"Thank you, Father," Buddy said with a mischievous grin on his lips. "You are a veritable well of information. Of course, when I reach your advanced age, I plan on being just as intelligent. However, that's well in the future."
Ben groaned and shook his head.
Jersey said, "You may outrank me, Buddy-boy, but watch your smart mouth around the general."
Ben grinned at the expression on his son's face. Buddy could have jerked Jersey up and broken her in two without much effort. "Yes, ma'am," he said.
Ben chuckled. "You have anything else to add, boy?"
"No, sir." He looked at the diminutive and dark-eyed Jersey, staring smack at him without one ounce of backup in her. "At least, not with her around."
"Fine. Never bad-mouth the general when the general's bodyguard is around."
"She's always around!"
"That's right," Ben said cheerfully and handed the field glasses to his son. "Take a look at that village and tell me your first gut hunch."
"I was only kidding, Jersey."
"The town, boy. The town!"
Ben looked at Jersey and she winked at him. Jersey's jokes could sometimes be a little grim. But most soldier humor is.
Buddy studied the town for a moment, then slowly lowered the glasses. "It's a trap."
"Why?" his father pressed.
Buddy pointed to some tiny birds that were flitting along a row of wild roses. The birds paid them no attention. "Wild roses down there, Father. But no birds."
"Maybe they got tired of those roses," Ben said with a smile.
"And just maybe some of General Jack Hunt's people got careless and drove right through a mud puddle this morning," his son said, returning the smile and pointed to the town. "Leaving vehicle tracks that lead right up to that closed garage door down there in the village."
Ben nodded his head. "You're good, boy. You're in command. Take the town."
Buddy's mouth dropped open. "What?"
"You heard me!" Ben said sharply. "I said you're in command. Take the damn town. You don't expect me to live forever, do you? I could catch a bullet any moment. I could step on a mine. I'm a middle-aged man, son. Not some strutting rooster like you." He turned to Corrie. "Advise the battalion that Buddy is in command for this operation." He looked back at his son. "It's your show, boy. Do it."
Buddy gathered the CCs and PLs around him, while Ben leaned up against a fender and rolled a cigarette. Dr. Chase, whose MASH unit was attached to Ben's command, walked up and gave the cigarette a disgusted look. "Damn things are going to kill you, Raines. What's this about Buddy taking command?"
"Time he stopped running around like a wild heathen and began taking some responsibility." Ben lit up and inhaled.
Chase peered suspiciously at him. "Are you sick, Raines? Have you been smoking funny cigarettes? You are actually giving up command?"
"For an hour or two or three. He's got to learn how it feels to make mistakes. He's got to learn how it tears a man up inside when men and women die on his orders. I can't teach those sensations, Lamar. He's got to experience them on his own."
"There's more to this than you just told me."
"Yes. Lamar, should something happen to me, Buddy would have to take command. Now Ike or West or Georgi could stand behind him and keep him propped up, but a Raines has to lead. You know that as well as me."
"Not me. I."
"Oh, forget it. He's just a boy, Ben."
"Damned if that's so. He's twenty-five years old, give or take a year or two."
Buddy walked up. "I'm taking one company in and some armor, Father."
Ben shrugged. "Don't tell me. Just do it."
Buddy hesitated for a second. Sighed. "And what if I'm wrong, Father?"
"Then you get people killed and possibly yourself along with them. The day isn't getting any younger, boy, and the road is long. Take the town."
Buddy wheeled about and walked off.
"You're a hard man, Ben Raines," Chase said.
"And don't tell me it's hard times! You say that and I'll stick a stethoscope up your nose."
Ben looked at Sergeant Major Adamson, standing nearby, and jerked his head toward the town. The former French Foreign Legionnaire smiled and nodded. He walked toward the company Buddy was leading into the village and joined the group.
"Buddy's led troops before, Ben," Linda said.
"But not with me so directly looking down his throat. Oh, hell, people. He'll be all right. Those Rebels won't let him make a mistake." I hope, Ben silently added.