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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.
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Herman Rennock sends General Schmidt and his army to Primrose.
Pastor Earl has a talk with Abby about Horseman.
Pastor Earl and Nat Bigum get into a fistfight in the desert.
Afterlife, Volume 1, Chapter 18
Nat managed to get Pastor Earl on his back and started slugging him in the face with his left hand. His face and head throbbing, Pastor Earl somehow managed to pick up a fistful of sand and throw it in Nat’s eyes, blinding him and making him cough. Earl kicked Nat off of him and leapt to his feet. “You fight dirty for a pastor,” Nat said once he was standing, brushing the sand off his face and out of his eyes.
“What are you talking about?” Earl asked. “Pastors fight dirtier than anyone.” He swung at Nat several times, and Nat blocked the blows. Nat swung some punches of his own which Earl managed to block. Nat was now also fighting with his robotic right hand and Pastor Earl was starting to get a little nervous. He went for Nat’s feet again with a swift kick and Nat fell over. Earl jumped on him and started punching him in the face with both fists. Nat swung his upper body up and head-butted Earl in the nose. Nat pushed Earl off him and into the sand. Pastor Earl’s nose bled as thunder cracked loudly, signaling its closeness. Lightning struck a dune not very far away from where Earl and Nat were fighting.
“You don’t fight dirtier than me,” Nat said with a crooked grin. He leapt to his feet and kicked Pastor Earl, who was still lying in the sand, hard in the stomach. Nat stomped on Earl again, and Earl rolled over several times and managed to stumble to his feet. He threw another fistful of sand in Nat’s face and started punching him repeatedly while Nat stumbled and coughed. Both men continued slugging it out in the sand and they both were starting to tire out as thunder sounded and lightning struck, further away this time. Earl and Nat circled one another sluggishly, guards up, surrounded by dunes of sand. Pastor Earl rushed at Nat and knocked him over. He tried to kick Nat while he was down, but the former sheriff rolled out of the way and got back to his feet. The two men swung at one another several times and both collapsed.
They lay in the sand for a while, both breathing heavily. Earl felt pain all over. He knew he was covered with bruises. Nat got to his feet again and lunged at Earl, who was just getting up. Nat flew on top of him and punched him in the face again. Earl managed to get his own uppercut in, smashing Nat in the mouth and busting his lip open. They slowly stood and Earl punched Nat again, this time clocking him in the eye. The two men started clumsily lunging at one another, punching each other with whatever strength they had left, one fist after the other. They were soon leaning on one another, throwing weak punches until both men fell into the sand again. Pastor Earl looked up at the relentless blue sky. He tried to catch his breath. “How long are we gonna do this?”
“As long as we need to,” Nat replied, also trying to catch his breath.
A few seconds later, Nat was on his feet again, swinging at Earl as both men breathed heavily. Earl blocked the punch and kicked Nat in the back as he stumbled past. They faced one another, hunched over, swinging clumsy punches, hitting one another in the face and chest until both men collapsed again. Pastor Earl was breathing so hard he thought he might die. He could barely move, and his body was aching all over. He wondered if Nat felt the same way. He probably did. Earl had gotten some really good punches in. He could hear Nat breathing as heavily as he was. Both men lay on their backs in the sand, just a few feet away from each other. “So are we done now?” Pastor Earl asked between breaths.
“Sure,” Nat said, his voice labored. “I guess so. You’re one tough son of a bitch.”
“So are you,” Earl said.
“How old are ya?” Nat asked.
“Seventy. What about you?”
“I ain’t too much younger. I’m sixty-four.”
Earl smiled. “I wish I could have fought you ten years ago. I’d have beaten the snot out of you.”
“I don’t doubt it,” Nat said. They both continued breathing heavily for a while, looking up at the sky as they lay in the sand. “So just answer one question for me,” Nat said eventually. “Why is it you believe in god? And don’t give me some intellectual nonsense, either.”
Pastor Earl slowly sat up in the sand. “Well,” he said, looking up at the sky, “when I was fighting in the war in New Brazil, my platoon got pinned down against a dune and we were in trouble. I saw several of my closest friends killed. Brains blown out right in front of my face. I was just about to give up and accept my death when I said what’s known as a trench prayer. I said, ‘Lord, if you’re up there, if you get me out of this, I swear I’ll follow you the rest of my days. I’ll even become a pastor.’”
Nat laughed. “I’ll be damned. So what happened?”
“Well,” Pastor Earl continued, “I know you’re probably not going to believe this, but another platoon showed up in the nick of time and took out the guys who had me pinned there. I was the only one from my platoon who survived.” Earl frowned. “A lot of good men died there that day. I kept to my word, though. I went to a secret seminary in the Mexican Territory and learned the Bible. Then, I came here and started a church.”
“I believe it,” Nat said with a grin. He was also sitting up now. “It doesn’t mean anything, though. It could have just as easily been chance or coincidence that saved you as some made-up god.”
“It could have been,” Earl said, “but I don’t believe it was. So what about you? How come you don’t believe in God?”
“My dad was a Christian,” Nat said, spitting blood out into the sand. “He always tried to push it on us kids. I went to church and all, but it didn’t mean nothin’ to me. My dad prayed and prayed, though. And he went to church every Sunday. God didn’t help him when he got killed by bank robbers, though. Happened right in front of me. God wasn’t there that day, and I realized he was never there because he don’t exist. Everything I’ve learned since then’s only made it clearer to me.”
Earl frowned. “I’m sorry to hear about what happened to your father. You have the right to choose not to believe, but I hope you realize you’re the one responsible for that choice.”
“I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Nat said with a grin.
“As for me,” Pastor Earl said, “I truly believe that I’d be dead if it weren’t for God. Several times over, probably.”
“That’s crap,” Nat muttered. “Why would he save you and not my dad? And why didn’t he save your friends who got killed?”
“I don’t know,” Pastor Earl said, shaking his head as he looked at the ground. “Maybe He has plans for me. Maybe He has plans for you.”
Nat chuckled. “I make my plans myself. If anyone else has plans for me, they’re gonna be highly disappointed.”
Pastor Earl nodded and looked at Nat with a serious expression. “Well, I believe I owe everything to Jesus, so I believe in God and there’s nothing that can change that. He’s given me everything. He’s given me my life. If you show me proof that God doesn’t exist, I’ll still believe in Him. If you show me irrefutable historical evidence that Jesus never existed, I’ll still believe that he did. God, by definition, can’t be explained or understood through reason or rationality. That’s what you guys never seem to be able to understand.”
Nat laughed. “So you’re sayin’ you have to be nuts to believe in god?”
Pastor Earl smiled. “No, I’m saying there are things which cannot be rationally or reasonably explained, and for these things, we must have faith.”
“Well for me,” Nat said, “truth is what I perceive and experience.”
“For me also,” Pastor Earl said, “and I experience God every second of every day.”
Nat chuckled. “Well I don’t. Most people don’t. There’s a thing we call people like you who experience things that ain’t there. It’s called crazy.”
“You base everything on your five senses,” Pastor Earl said. “With religion, we base things on revelation. God reveals things to us, though scripture, through the Holy Spirit.”
“Well he ain’t revealed nothin’ to me,” Nat said, “you crazy son of a bitch. I believe what I experience through my senses because that’s reality. I believe in reality.”
Earl nodded. “You have every right to go by what you experience with your five senses, ignoring any others. You have every right to make that choice.”
“There ain’t any others.”
“And you have every right to believe that,” Pastor Earl said. “Don’t challenge that I believe otherwise, though. There’s no way either one of us will ever win this argument.”
“Whatever,” Nat said. “You have every right to be crazy.” He smiled his crooked smile.
Pastor Earl smiled back. “I do, and so do you.”
“You didn’t tell me what happened to your eye and lip,” Bobby said as he and Nat took another break. Nat was showing Bobby how to defend himself against a man armed with a knife, but Nat was taking a lot more breaks than usual. Bobby had also noticed Nat’s black eye and fat lip.
“I said it ain’t none of your business, kid,” Nat said. “I fell on some rocks. That’s all ya need to know. Now, we’re done for the day. You’ve learned plenty. We’ll continue tomorra.” Nat walked over to a fallen tree at the edge of the clearing where they’d practiced every day and sat down on its trunk. He took a swig from a water bottle that he’d placed there earlier.
Bobby sat down next to him. “What made you want to become a lawman originally?” Bobby was glad he’d gotten Nat to open up a little. He was hoping to learn more about his mentor, though. Nat handed the water bottle to Bobby and he also took a swig.
“My dad,” Nat said. “My brother became a mechanic. My sister became a lawyer. And I became my dad’s deputy. I was with ‘im when some bank robbers shot ‘im down. Everything changed after that. I became sheriff.”
“I’m sorry,” Bobby said.
“It happened forty-five years ago,” Nat said, looking down at the grass. “Ain’t nothin’ to be sorry about. I took out the guys who did it decades ago.”
Bobby nodded. “Which town was it?”
“That was Rogue Town,” Nat replied, “but I went from town to town for several years. Back then I worked for Tom Rennock, Herman’s father. I went wherever he needed me most. He was a decent man. Better than his son, anyway.”
“So you worked for Herman Rennock when his dad died?” Bobby asked.
“Don’t remind me,” Nat muttered, shaking his head.
“So what made you stop working for Rennock?” Bobby asked.
“I warned one too many towns that were on his kill list,” Nat said. “He found out about it. Wasn’t too happy about it. When he confronted me, I cussed him out and said I was through.” He chuckled.
“This was after your falling out with Warrick Baines, I assume?” Bobby asked.
Nat nodded as he took another swig of water. “Well after.”
“So you think Warrick told him?” Bobby asked.
“I know he did,” Nat replied. Bobby could hear the anger in his raspy voice. “If I ever see his metal ass again, I’m gonna do what I shoulda done so many years ago. I’m gonna kill ‘im.”
Bobby drank some more water from the bottle. “How many towns did you warn?”
“Seven,” Nat said, looking down at the ground through his sunglasses.
“So how many people escaped those towns?”
Nat shrugged. “Who knows? Several thousand probably.”
“So there are several thousand people who are alive today thanks to you?” Bobby asked.
Nat chuckled and glared at Bobby through his sunglasses. “Don’t make me out to be some sort of hero, kid. Nobody’s that great. Heroes only let people down. Heroes get killed. And they say if you’re a hero and you live long enough, ya become a villain. I did what I had to, that’s all. I did it and that’s that.” He handed the water bottle to Bobby. “Here, the rest’s yours.” He stood and walked towards the trees in the direction of the camp. Bobby drank the rest of the water and followed.
That evening, everyone sat by the campfire and ate dinner together in the oasis one last time. Horseman and Michelle had to leave for Silver City early the next morning. Abby didn’t want to leave the oasis until Pete was finished fixing her computer, but Bobby knew they’d probably be leaving soon, also. They’d been in the oasis for almost three days now, and they needed to get moving. It was a shame. The oasis was such a wonderful place and Bobby wasn’t sure if he’d ever see anything like it again. They hadn’t even begun to explore the vast wilderness. Everyone had stayed fairly close to the edge, near the desert. Maybe one day Bobby would be able to return. He glanced over at Michelle, watching as the flames of the campfire kissed her face with flickering light. She noticed him looking at her and smiled and he smiled back. She turned away and said something to her brother who was sitting next to her. Bobby was finally starting to feel more comfortable around Michelle. Too bad she was leaving the next morning.
“I need everyone’s attention,” Abby said. Bobby turned to face her. “Since I have everyone here,” she began, “I feel I need to let you all know what my plans are.” She smiled at Horseman and Michelle. “You two can come join us when you’re finished in Silver City if you want, so I’ll fill you in, also.”
Horseman nodded. “I’ll need to see what my next orders are, but we’ll join you if we can.”
Abby smiled and looked around at the other faces gathered around the fire. “I’m sure you’re all wondering why we’re heading for South Edge. I realize I told you all we’re going west to the Rocky Mountains.” She glanced at Bobby and he nodded. “Well,” she continued, “the Rockies are our ultimate destination, but we have to make some stops along the way. My father hid over a trillion dollars’ worth of diamonds in various cities throughout the Southwest Territory and the northern edge of the Mexican Territory.” Bobby’s jaw dropped and there was a collective gasp.
“A trillion dollars?” Nat asked. “How the hell are we gonna collect all that?”
“We can keep the diamonds in Pete’s van as we get them,” Abby said.
Nat frowned and glared at Pete. “Is that so? That’s an awful lot of money to trust to one man.”
“What am I going to do?” Pete asked. “Run away with it?”
“Yeah,” Nat said. “You can use your camouflage nanobots and your radar jammers and disappear forever.” He turned to Abby. “Bad idea.”
Abby shook her head. “I trust him. Why should I trust you any more than I trust him? Besides, I’m going to continue riding with him.”
“I want to bring Rennock down as much as you do,” Pete said to Nat. “Besides, if I run off and start spending billions of dollars’ worth of diamonds, don’t you think Rennock will notice eventually?”
“So the diamonds are in five towns, the first of which is South Edge,” Abby said. “My father and my ancestors have spent centuries saving up this fortune. Now we’re going to use it to found a new nation. A trillion dollars should be a good start. From there, we’ll raise taxes like any other nation.”
“Which other towns are the diamonds in?” Bobby asked.
“I’m not sure,” Abby said with a frown. “The information’s stored on Einstein, so as soon as Pete finishes fixing him, we’ll be ready. I guess we could go to South Edge now, but I’d rather wait until Einstein’s ready. Besides, why would we want to leave this oasis before we had to, anyway?”
“It’d be nice to stay here forever,” Pastor Earl said, “but this is far too important for us to waste much more time here.”
Abby nodded. “There was a shipment of diamonds sent to Dune Post, which was supposed to be the first city, but it was intercepted by Rennock’s enforcers. There are still plenty left, though. My father sent two hundred billion worth to each city and rebels hid them in safety deposit boxes. They didn’t know what it was they were hiding, or for what reason.”
Nat frowned. “So it’s possible there may be some missin’.”
“I don’t think so,” Abby said. “My dad sent the diamonds to people he fully trusted. They wouldn’t have tried to open or steal the boxes. Besides, my dad wasn’t the type of person to leave anything to chance. Those diamonds were well protected I’m sure, and locked up like nobody’s business.”
“But it’s still possible,” Pastor Earl said, glancing at Nat.
“I guess so,” Abby said. “My dad suspected there was a spy who warned Rennock about the Dune Post shipment.”
Bobby frowned. “If the boxes were locked up, how will we get the keys? And what about the safety deposit boxes?”
“They’ll be combination locks,” Abby replied. “Einstein knows the combinations. Another reason we’ll need him working.”
Nat shook his head. “I’m not sure about this whole idea.”
“Well, when it comes to beating Rennock,” Abby said, “it’s the best we’ve got.” She looked around at the faces gathered around the fire. “My dad left me with Einstein so I’d know where to find the diamonds, and he left me with a bag of diamonds to get me started off. He gave me a copy of the constitution he and the other rebels were working on. It may not be much, but it’s a good start. He wanted to do this himself, but he left these things with me also, just in case something happened to him, and it did.” She frowned. “Something happened to him. So all this fell in my lap.” She looked around at everyone again. “I’m asking for your help. I know you all want to take down Rennock as much as I do. Well, every revolution has to start somewhere. We’re it. It’s up to us.”
“I’m in,” Bobby said. “I told you I wanted to join you before, and I’m in it for the long haul.” Pete and Pastor Earl also expressed their acceptance of her plans.
“Like I said,” Horseman reiterated, “it all depends on my orders. I’ll do everything in my power to support what you’re doing, though, even if it’s from afar.”
Nat nodded. “And I’m in, also.”
“All right,” Abby said. “So that’s all. Let’s enjoy the rest of the evening, then.”
“Just one thing,” Nat said, his stern green eyes locked on Abby’s face. “You’ve said you don’t want money to be a part of your political system, so why are you goin’ from town to town collectin’ money?”
Abby grinned at him. “You know as well as I do that a country needs at least some money. A nation can have money to pay soldiers and fulfill other obligations without money being involved in the electing of officials. A nation can have money to build institutions to help its poor, teach its children, and cure its sick. When I say I want to keep money out of the political system, I’m referring to corrupt spending during elections, what used to be called pork barrel spending, political bribery, corrupt use of earmarks, and things of that nature. We don’t want our politicians bending to the whims of whichever corporation has the money to pay them off. It’s all in the constitution I have in my bag.”
Pastor Earl nodded. “As long as there’s a balance and the government doesn’t become too powerful.”
“Of course,” Abby agreed.
“Not enough government regulation allows greed to take over,” Pastor Earl said, “but overregulation breeds a lust for political power. Both are evil, and in my opinion, sinful. We don’t want laissez-faire capitalism or pure communism.” He smiled at Abby. “The freest nation would be somewhere in between, perhaps leaning more in the direction of capitalism. Still, total freedom is impossible when more than one person is involved, due to human nature and the fact that different people will always have different desires reflecting their own self-interest on some level. Those desires are bound to compete with one another at some point.”
“Nice speech, Earl,” Nat said, chuckling. “I agree with most of your points, college boy.”
“Well that’s enough politics,” Abby said. “Like I said, let’s enjoy the night. It’s Horseman and Michelle’s last night here and the rest of us probably won’t be here much longer, either.”
They sat and talked for a while longer. Then, Nat and Pete went into their tents to sleep. Bobby watched as Abby followed Michelle to Horseman’s hover car. Michelle had said something about playing music on the car’s sound system and Abby seemed to like the idea. That left Bobby, Horseman, and Pastor Earl sitting by the fire. “Love is a Battlefield” by Pat Benatar started playing from the speakers of Horseman’s car. “What is it with you and eighties music?” Horseman shouted at Michelle.
Michelle started dancing to the music. Bobby was mesmerized by her swaying hips and radiant smile. “It’s fun and easy to dance to!” she shouted back. Abby started dancing, too. Michelle appeared to be teaching her some moves.
“It’s cheesy!” Horseman shouted, laughing. He shook his head and grinned at Bobby. “She’s a nut.”
Bobby smiled and nodded. She was a beautiful nut, though. “She’s a great dancer.”
“She’s always had an effortless beauty,” Horseman said. “She never even had to wear makeup.”
“She has a beautiful voice, too,” Pastor Earl noted. “I really enjoyed the music you two played last night.”
“She has a beautiful voice and she’s a great actress, too,” Horseman said. Bobby thought he may have detected a hint of jealousy. “She can sing, she can dance, and she can act. She can write poetry and paint, too. She can do it all.” Horseman smiled, shaking his head. “I come from a very talented family. It’s in our genes. But she has more talent in her little finger than any of the rest of us ever had. She’s the star. And she’s beautiful.” Bobby was starting to realize how out-of-his-league Michelle really was. Horseman glanced at him and Pastor Earl. “Do you know what it’s like being the brother of the most beautiful girl in the world? Do you realize how many men I’ve had to fight off?”
Bobby shook his head. “No, I guess not.”
“Just think of all the times I’ve had to stick up for her. I had to learn to fight at a young age.” He looked at his sister and smiled. “I do love the kid, though. She’s a handful, but she’s always had a good heart.” He stood and walked over to where Michelle and Abby were dancing and he started dancing, too.
“Why don’t you join them?” Pastor Earl asked Bobby with a grin. “Have a little fun.”
“I don’t know,” Bobby said. “I don’t dance.” He continued watching Michelle’s body move gracefully.
“Well,” Pastor Earl said, watching Abby, “everyone needs to have some fun from time to time, even the most important person in the world.”
Bobby turned to face him. “What was that?”
Pastor Earl smiled at him. “You may have saved the world when you saved Abigail Song’s life.”
Bobby chuckled. “I don’t know. I just did what any decent person would have done.”
“My point exactly,” Pastor Earl said. “There aren’t many decent people left in this world.” He patted Bobby on the back as he stood and walked to his tent.
Bobby’s attention shifted from Michelle to Abby. She seemed so carefree, smiling and laughing. Was she really the person who was going to lead a revolution against Herman Rennock?
The party was over and Abby was walking to her tent, ready to get some sleep. Besides, her pain killers were wearing off and she needed more. Her head was aching and her stomach was turning a little. Horseman walked over to her and stood in front her, smiling his charming smile. Abby smiled back and shook her head. “Well, good night, Horseman.”
“What do you mean, good night?” he asked. “Don’t you want to come listen to some music in my car for a while?”
“Not tonight,” Abby said. Her conversation with Pastor Earl was fresh in her mind. “I’m not in the mood.”
“I don’t know,” Abby said. “It’s not a good idea. I think I just want to sleep tonight.”
“Not a good idea? It’s not like we haven’t already done it. That bird’s already flown, sweetheart.” Horseman was visibly frustrated. “It’s my last night here. We may never see one another again after tonight.”
“I’m just not up for it,” Abby said, looking at the ground. “I’m sorry.” Saying no to Horseman was hard. Not only was he upset, but he was so hot.
Horseman moved closer to her and she backed away. “Just a kiss?” he asked, looking down at her with wounded blue eyes.
Abby frowned. “I’m sorry, Horseman. It’s been fun. It’s over, though. It was fun while it lasted.” She was beginning to wish she’d never started anything with him in the first place.
Horseman shrugged. “Well, I’m not someone who’d try to force you since it’s obvious you don’t want it, so good night, Abby.”
She smiled at him. “Good night.” He walked off, shaking his head, and Abby made her way back to her tent, wondering if she was doing the right thing. On some level she knew she was, but she really hoped she hadn’t hurt Horseman’s feelings. She remembered telling Pastor Earl that maybe she’d be the one to break his heart and she frowned. It wasn’t like he loved her or anything. She had the impression that women were a dime a dozen to him. She unzipped her tent and crawled inside.
Continue on to the next chapter:
Afterlife, Volume 1, Chapter 19
Horseman and Michelle leave the oasis.
Pastor Earl talks with Pete Ahmad.
Abby learns that the oasis isn’t as safe as she thought.
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