Fiction: Afterlife (Chapter 14)

by Mike Monroe on April 21, 2014

in FICTION

If you’ve never read Afterlife before, click here to go to the first chapter.

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Afterlife is a sci fi/western action serial published every other week. Join us in a post-apocalyptic journey through a future where life has become little more than a struggle for survival. However, where there’s life, there’s always hope.


Read the previous chapter here:

Afterlife, Volume 1, Chapter 13

Where:

Pete fries several giant sand crabs with his van’s electricity.
The heroes reach Fort Samson, where Bobby visits a music store and has a fancy dinner.
The heroes leave town and find a river surrounded by Herman Rennock’s robots.

Find the Table of Contents page here.

 

Afterlife, Volume 1, Chapter 14

 

Devin Hellier stood next to Warrick Baines, surveying the destruction spread across the dune.  The sun beat down mercilessly on the sand bikes, all riddled with holes like sponges.  Six bloody skeletons lay in the sand near the bikes, apparently the aftermath of some scavenger’s feast.  Two of the six sand bikes had exploded.  There were also several dead giant sand crabs at the foot of another dune.  This scene was found by an EMPC scout which had been surveying the area.  The scout used the Satellite Net to match fingerprints found on a discarded chicken bone with fingerprints found at Doctor Thomas’ office and Warrick was contacted with the information.  Devin was glad robots were so thorough.  A human may have assumed it had been a battle between groups of bandits.  Warrick, Devin, and their fellow enforcers immediately backtracked from their previous course towards the Rocky Mountains and rode down to check it out.  “So the bandits attacked,” Devin said, “and Abby and her friends did this?  Doesn’t seem likely.  What kind of firepower do they have?”

“These bandits were using old world weapons,” Warrick said in his metallic voice, “so they were most likely also using disruptors, which Abby and her companions took, it appears, since they are no longer here.  Apparently, they’re smart enough to take the weapons of the people they kill.”  He waved his hand over the carnage as Noah Flyman and twelve other enforcers stood nearby, not too far away from their sand bikes.  “This was the work of a minigun of some sort.  Nat Bigum uses old world weapons.  I wouldn’t put it past him.  However, it’s also possible that they had help.  I’m certain they were here, though.”

Devin nodded.  “The fingerprints matched.”

Warrick gazed at each of the enforcers with his shining red eyes.  “Our quarry is heading southwest.  They most likely stopped at Fort Samson.  We’ll also stop there and see what we can find.  Who knows?  They may still be there.  Judging from the look of things, we’re only about a day behind them.”  His gaze zeroed in on an enforcer standing behind Devin.  “Eric, are you sure you’re okay with going on this journey?  Maybe you should be at home with your wife and newborn baby.”

The enforcer shook his head.  “I’m coming along, sir.”

“Very well,” Warrick said.  He looked around at the others.  “What about the rest of you who have families?  We’ll be gone for a while.  I can call for other enforcers to take your places.”  None of the enforcers expressed a desire to go home.  Devin didn’t envy those who had families.  He, Noah, and Warrick were all single and without children, but he knew it was hard on the ones who were married or did have children, being away from their families for so long.  They knew what the job entailed, though.  “How’s your son, Edward?” Warrick asked one of the other enforcers.

“He’s great,” Edward replied.  “He’s starting to walk again a little.  The accident was really tough on him, mentally as well as physically.”

“I could imagine,” Warrick said.

“Thanks so much for all of your help, though,” Edward went on.  “My wife and I couldn’t have done it without you.”

Warrick nodded, looking around at the men gathered before him.  “I’m always happy to help any of you.  I hope you won’t hesitate to ask.  Anyway, let’s check this area for anything the scout might have missed.  We can’t take too much time, though.  We want to try to gain on Abigail Song and eventually kill her and her companions, so we need to move faster than they do and take shorter breaks.  And it seems Abigail and her friends already looted the corpses, but if you find anything they left, feel free to take it.  Remember, the sooner we take care of this Abigail Song business, the sooner you can all return home.”  The enforcers answered affirmatively and started searching the area.

Devin wasn’t sure what they were looking for, so he decided to supervise the others rather than actually search.  Noah stood next to him as Warrick stood a few feet away, looking out at the horizon.  Two of the enforcers started arguing.  It was Henry Lovetree arguing with John Hobbes, of course.  Those two were always going at it.  Henry was holding a ring of some sort he’d taken off one of the corpses.  “You son of a bitch,” he yelled.  “I got it before you did.”

“But I was searchin’ the body,” Hobbes said.  “I turned around to sneeze and you bent down and took it.”

“Well who has it now?”

“You might have it, but not for long!”  Hobbes punched Henry in the face and Henry reeled backwards a little.  He regained his balance and lunged at Hobbes.  Devin rushed over to intervene, as did Warrick.

“You two had better stop fighting or I’ll shoot both of you!” Devin shouted, drawing his laser pistol.  Warrick, who was standing next to Devin, put a hand over the gun and pushed it down so its barrel was pointing at the ground.

Hobbes and Henry stopped fighting and looked up at Warrick from the sand.  “We have far more important things to do than fight amongst ourselves,” Warrick said.  All of the other enforcers were now nearby and listening to him as he spoke.  “We’re all friends here.  There’s no need to fight.  Remember, Abigail Song is on the loose.  She’s a threat to Herman Rennock and she’s a threat to us and everything we stand for, including your families, for those of you who have families.  She’s going to attempt to bolster a communist uprising.  If we let her, they’ll take down Herman Rennock, and with him, freedom.  We have the freedom to buy what we want, to work as hard as we want, and to make as much money as we are able.  If Song has her way, all of that will be over.  We’ll lose our precious freedoms we hold so dear.  Your children won’t be able to grow up and work hard for high pay.  Our individualism will be taken away from us.  We’ll all be the same.  We’ll all be poor.  Without competition, we all lose.”  He looked around at the fourteen men standing in front of him.  “Now, I understand that you’re angry, but that anger is misplaced if we direct it at one another.  We need to direct it at Abigail Song, where it belongs.  Our search is done.  Let’s head to Fort Samson and see what we can find there.”

The enforcers turned and walked back towards their sand bikes.  Devin wondered if Warrick actually believed anything he’d just said, or if he was just manipulating the enforcers’ political indoctrination to suit his own ends.  It was hard to tell with Warrick sometimes.  The words could have come from Herman Rennock’s own mouth, and probably had at some point.  Either way, Warrick had accomplished his goal.  Everyone was back on the same page, at least for the time being.

<>

Abby, Horseman, and Michelle had now joined Bobby, Nat, Earl, and Pete to see what the others were looking down at from the top of the high dune.  Abby was dumbfounded when she saw the river snaking between the dunes, and the robots patrolling its shores.  There were more trees than she’d ever seen in one place, but there were also more stumps where trees had been cut down.  “How can we get across the river?” she asked.  “I don’t know,” she answered.  “We need to think of something, I guess.”

“Abby, that’s enough with the talkin’ to yourself, okay?” Nat said.

“I’ll get that computer fixed,” Pete reassured her.  “As soon as we hit camp this evening, I’ll start working on it.”

“No, it’s fine,” Abby said, smiling at Pete.  “I know you really haven’t had time yet.”

Nat nudged Bobby.  “And we can start with your trainin’.  Don’t think I forgot.”

Pastor Earl was shaking his head as he looked down at the river.  “All the people dying of thirst, and Rennock has all this water to himself, and he’s selling it to make more money as if he needed more money.”

Michelle frowned.  “And he’ll say it’s not his fault children are dying.  Their parents need to work harder.  That’s what he’d say.”

“For he will deliver the needy who cry out,” Pastor Earl said solemnly, “the afflicted who have no one to help.  He will take pity on the weak and the needy and save the needy from death.”  He frowned.  “A leader’s first duty is to look after his or her people, especially those who are sick, hungry, or thirsty.”

“But we can’t force people to give up their water,” Abby said.  “If we do that, we’re as bad as Rennock.  We have to find some other way to get water to the thirsty masses.”

Nat chuckled.  “Spoken like a true child of the rich.”

Pastor Earl shook his head.  “Spoken like a true reconciler.”  He turned to Abby.  “Abby, that’s why I think you’re so important.  You could be a bridge between rich and poor.”

“Let’s get back to the order at hand,” Pete said.  “It doesn’t matter who the water belongs to or who it should belong to.  How are we getting across it?”

“I don’t think it would be possible to sneak across,” Horseman pointed out.  “For one thing, there are so many robots down there, one would be bound to venture past your camouflage nanobots and discover us.  Besides, they’d see the water displaced by our thrusters while we crossed the river, anyway.”

Abby nodded.  “I think I have an idea.”

“Well,” Bobby said, “we’re all ears.”

“Bobby, do you remember when those bandits were chasing us on your sand bike a few days ago and you rode into the canyon?” she asked.

“Sure,” Bobby said.  “What about it?”

“Well, you jumped a ravine on your sand bike.  Maybe we could find a way to jump this valley.”

Nat laughed.  “That’s insane.  You really think all these vehicles can jump this valley?  And how will we stay within the nanobot camouflage?”

Pete nodded.  “No, it’s possible.  We’ll need to find the shortest distance across.  I’ll calculate everything on the computer in my van.  How close together we need to be.  What speed we need to be going with the weights of our vehicles, where we need to start and where we land.  I think we could do it.  It’s a shot in the dark, but sometimes a shot in the dark is the best shot you can take.”

“We can’t turn back,” Horseman said, “and we can’t try to go around the river unless we want to risk getting stranded in the desert with no fuel.  I think this is the only way.”

Abby followed Pete back to the van and she sat in the passenger seat petting Sherry while Pete worked out all the calculations on his computer.  “I hope his computer’s as good as Einstein,” Abby said to Sherry as she petted her.  “Well, at least good enough.  I guess not many computers are as good as Einstein.”  The others went back to their vehicles and waited.  Once Pete was done with his calculations, he went to each vehicle one by one and explained to everyone what they needed to do.  Then, he got into the driver’s seat of the van and shut the door.  “Everything ready?” Abby asked.

“Sure is,” Pete replied.  “The computer says this will work, but I don’t know.  It does seem pretty crazy.  Hopefully Allah will bless us.”  He rode the van to the bottom of the dune and drove to the spot the calculations indicated as the starting point.  He checked a handheld remote he kept in his pocket to make sure the nanobots were in place and working properly.  Then, he started driving.  The other vehicles stayed nearby.  Their speed increased and the van and the other vehicles started swiftly ascending the huge dune at a diagonal trajectory.  Abby grit her teeth, looking out the front windshield as the top of the dune swiftly approached and they were flying through the air.  The other vehicles were still nearby.  “I’ll need to increase the thrusters so we can stay elevated,” Pete said.  “We aren’t as light as the sand bikes.”  He pushed a button and Abby felt an extra thrust.  She looked down through the window at the thousands of robots hundreds of feet below.  She knew she and her companions were taking a huge risk.  They were so dead if anything went wrong.  The fall would probably kill them, but if they somehow survived, the robots would have an easy time finishing the job.  Abby noticed an EMPC flying nearby.  It seemed to be flying straight for them, but at the last second, it shot off in another direction.

The jump went by quickly and all of the vehicles came down, hovering above the top of the opposite dune.  Pete drove the van down to the bottom of the dune where the others joined him.  He laughed with relief.  “Allahu Akbar!” he proclaimed.  “Thank Allah we made it.”

Abby nodded.  “Yeah.  Thank God.  I was sure we were dead.”

“Well, everyone knows where to go now,” Pete said.  “We’re going to head south towards the Dead Lands.  Hopefully everyone’s prepared.  This was the easy part of the journey.”

“Right,” Abby said.  “The easy part.”  On some level, she was excited about seeing the Dead Lands.  Not many had been there and very few had seen the area and lived to tell the tale.  As far as she knew, no one had ever gone as deep into the Dead Lands as they were planning to go.  “First time for everything, I guess.”

“What was that?” Pete asked.

“Oh, nothing.”  She wondered if they’d even notice the Dead Lands.  Would they look any different from the rest of the desert?  The dunes all looked the same to Abby as they flew by.  Minutes became hours as the sun shined down like an angry mother glaring at her children.  Time seemed to fade into a white-hot haze of desert.  Dune after dune whizzed by as Abby started to doze off.  She caught herself, not wanting to miss anything, and decided to start a conversation in order to stay awake.  “Do you have any idea why there are some places in the Dead Lands where electronic devices stop working?”

Pete bit his bottom lip, thinking.  “Well, there are some who believe it’s because of radiation, though that doesn’t make much sense to me.  As an example, it isn’t the radiation from a nuclear explosion that makes electronic devices stop working.  It’s the electromagnetic pulse, the same thing disruptors use.”

Abby nodded.  “Makes sense.  So how is this possible in the Dead Lands?”

Pete shrugged.  “From what I’ve read, the best theory I’ve seen is that there’s electrostatic discharge of some sort.  People have reported spontaneous lightning in the Dead Lands which wasn’t associated with a storm or anything.  Who knows why the electrostatic discharge would be there, but it makes sense.  Either way, if we see lightning, we need to stay away from the area where we see it.”

At noon, Pete stopped the caravan by calling everyone on their communicators.  He needed to do his salaat and it was also a good time for them to eat lunch.  Once they hit the Dead Lands, they wouldn’t be able to stop until they were out.  It would take them at least four hours to travel through, possibly longer since all of the data regarding the size of the area was estimated.  When everyone was done eating, they were on their way again.  It wasn’t long before the van’s air meter indicated that the oxygen levels were getting dangerously low.  Abby watched as Bobby, Nat, and Pastor Earl all put their oxygen masks on as they rode their sand bikes up ahead.  “Welcome to the Dead Lands,” Pete said.

At first, Abby didn’t notice any difference between the Dead Lands and the rest of the desert other than the low oxygen readings.  After a few minutes, she saw some sun-bleached bones strewn across the tops of some of the dunes.  Probably some poor animals that wandered into the Dead Lands unknowingly.  There were also several giant sand crab carcasses lying on the dunes and in the valleys beneath them.  Abby noticed a human skeleton wearing what remained of tattered rags.  She looked up and saw lightning ahead in the distance.  “Did you see that?”

Pete nodded.  “Looks like I might be right.”  The low rumbling of distant thunder sounded.  During their lunch break, Pete had told everyone to avoid any area where they saw lightning.  Nat, who was leading the way, turned slightly left so their course would keep them a safe distance away.  More white streaks spread across the sky ahead and Nat turned the caravan further left, which was east.  “I hope we don’t lose our course trying to avoid the lightning,” Pete said as thunder cracked again, sounding a little closer this time.

“Well it’s either that or losing our electricity,” Abby said.  She tried not to think of the implications.  It was making a lot of sense why nobody else did what they were now trying to do.  There was lighting to the left this time, followed by thunder.  Abby couldn’t help but notice that the path between the areas where she’d seen lightning was getting narrower and narrower.  The dunes continued to whizz by, with less carcasses the deeper they got into the Dead Lands.  Now, however, she was starting to notice rusty, disabled sand bikes on far away dunes.  Some had skeletons nearby.  Soon, it seemed like they were surrounded by lightning on all sides as they sped through the desert.  The thunder was almost deafening.  “I’m not liking this one bit,” Abby said.  “Turning back isn’t an option, though, is it?”  She paused, waiting for Einstein’s response.  Sometimes she still forgot that he wasn’t working.  “No, it’s not,” she muttered.

“Hopefully we can make it without hitting any lightning patches,” Pete said, and just as he was finished speaking, lighting struck a dune just in front of Nat’s bike and the thunder cracked so loud Abby’s ears rang.  Nat whipped the bike to the right and everyone else followed, turning sharply.  Nat increased his speed and everyone else did the same.  More lightning hit nearby, but soon the caravan was moving through a patch of dunes that was free of white flashes.  There was still lightning all around them in the distance.

Abby looked at the navigation system, which said they were heading due east now.  “We need to head south.”

Pete nodded.  “We need to stay alive first.  Then we can worry about other not-so-important things.”

Abby noticed a high dune ahead.  It was several hundred feet high and it reminded her of the dunes near the river.  As they approached, she realized that this one was even higher.  “I’m not so sure this is a good idea,” Abby said.  “We want to stay low, right?  Lightning strikes things that are up high.”

“Notice that there isn’t any lightning near that dune for some reason, though,” Pete pointed out.  “I think that’s why Nat’s heading that way.”

“Whatever,” Abby muttered as the caravan began ascending the dune.  It didn’t take long for them to reach the top, and Abby’s jaw dropped.

On the other side of the dune, there was green.  Green everywhere, as far as the eye could see.  It must have gone on for at least fifty miles.  There were mountains and trees, rivers and lakes, grassy prairies full of colorful wildflowers.  Neither Abby nor Pete said a word.  They just looked, taking everything in as Nat led the caravan back down the other side of the dune, towards the edge of a grassy meadow.  When he reached the meadow, Nat stopped his bike and let it lower down into the grass.  Everyone else stopped their vehicles near him.  Abby looked at the van’s air meter and saw the levels of oxygen were perfect.  “Where in the hell are we?” she asked.

Pete opened his door, a big smile on his face.  “Not hell.  This is Jannah.”  He looked around at the grass, the flowers, and the distant trees.  “Paradise.”

 


Continue on to the next chapter:

Afterlife, Volume 1, Chapter 15

Where:

Warrick Baines questions the owner of the motel where Abby and her companions stayed.
Bobby begins his training with Nat.
Abby and Michelle make Bobby feel extremely uncomfortable.

Find the Table of Contents page here.

Check out Michael Monroe’s page on Amazon to find other stuff he’s written.
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Mike Monroe

Michael Monroe was born in Baltimore, MD and has lived there most of his life. He’s a poet and fiction writer whose preferred genres are Science Fiction and Fantasy, and he’s always had a thing for Allen Ginsberg and the Beats. His poetry has been published in Gargoyle Magazine, nthposition, the Lyric, Scribble, the Loch Raven Review, Foliate Oak, Primalzine, and various other publications.

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