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They won't be as easy to take the next time, Ben."

"I know. There is always something to contend with. But it's Khamsin and his people that I'm concerned with at the moment."

"Ben? Remember Sister Voleta8"**

"How could I ever forget her? Don't tell me she's popped up again?"

"Oh, yes. With her son. You ready for this? Ben Raines Blackman."

Ben's reply was a grunt.

*Out of the Ashes **

Blood in the Ashes "Yeah, I knew you'd be thrilled. Anyway, Sister Voleta and son have a commune up in Michigan. Accurate intel is hard to get, but it was reported to me that she's got about a thousand or so people."

"You're just a regular fountain of glad tidings, Ike."

Ike's laughter boomed over the miles.

"Yeah, I know. Sam Hartline is really dead, Ben?"

"He's dead."

"That's good news. His men?"

"Most of them destroyed. I'm sure a few of those remaining will pop up around the country, but Sam's army is only history."

"I wish I could tell you something about the Russian, but he's keeping low."

"I'll see you in about ten days, Ike. Hold the fort." "What's the word?" Grizzly asked the trail-worn biker who had just roared into camp..

"This kookie Sister Voleta's got a hell of an outfit, Griz. She claims to be religious, but man, she's one mean bitch. She and her son run the place. Ben Raines Blackman."

"Are you serious?"

"She claims the guy is Ben Raines's son."

Grizzly and the other warlords smiled. "Let me guess. This Sister Voleta is claimin' that her son, Ben Raines Blackman, has some of the powers that the real Ben Raines is supposed to have, right?"

"You got it."

"And she wants us to join her group. I gotta ask, Why?"

"Protection. That's it simple. If we wanna link up with her, all we gotta do is abide by her rules. We don't have to pray with them or any of that shit. And the rules is easy.

We'll be her army-or at least part of it. Griz?

Don't sell this bunch short. They did better fightin' Ben Raines a couple years back than we just done."

"So I heard," Grizzly said, scratching his bushy beard, his fingernails seeking, unsuccessfully, a flea. "We'll vote on it."

Two hours later, the outlaws were riding toward Michigan.

"We should strike now!"

Khamsin's XO was unusually blunt with the commander of the IPA. "We could easily take Ben Raines's Base Camp in Georgia."

"Nothing worthwhile is ever done easily,"

Khamsin reminded the man. He tapped a huge pile of papers on his desk. "After studying all this intelligence about Ben Raines, I have discovered that in battle, for every Rebel killed, five of the opposing side are destroyed. Rebels do not surrender. They might, rarely, be overrun and taken, but they never surrender. They fight to the death.

They are fanatics. We all saw, or heard, firsthand, what the Rebels can do." Khamsin shifted uncomfortably on the pillow beneath his ass. He grimaced in pain. "No." He made his mind.

"We shall wait." He mopped his sweaty face with a handkerchief. Silently, he cursed this miserable climate. "Those are my orders."

"Yes, sir," the XO said, and left the room.

Ben and his Rebels made their way slowly eastward. And once more, Ben was amazed at the number of survivors they encountered along the way.

He was forced to upgrade the number of people who had survived the war, the disease, and the savagery and barbarism of the past decade.

But the majority of those Ben saw were notdoing anything. They were not striving to rebuild, were doing nothing-that Ben could see-to struggle out of the ashes.

He knew that there must be thousands of men and women, living off the beaten path, so to speak, who were rebuilding the country and their lives. Their own personal little part of the country, that is.

But how to pull them all together?

A question that Ben and the Rebels had been attempting to answer for years.

And sometimes Ben felt he was no closer to the solution than when he had started.

But he knew that was not true.

With a sigh, Ben knew he would have to postpone his dream of a chain of outposts stretching coast to coast.

The first step in rebuilding.

Someday. Always someday.

For now, his Rebels had to face the dark, evil threat of Khamsin. The Hot Wind.

The Hot Wind now blew over the cooling ashes, finding a spark in the ashes. Igniting it.

And only one thing stood between the Hot Wind and total enslavement of the survivors of war.

Ben Raines and his Rebels.

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