Fiction: Afterlife (Chapter 19)

by Mike Monroe on June 30, 2014

in FICTION

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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 18

Where:

Pastor Earl and Nat Bigum fight to a draw.
Nat and Bobby talk about Nat’s past and being a hero.
Abby tells everyone about the diamonds spread across several towns.

Find the Table of Contents page here.

View the Map here.

 

Afterlife, Volume 1, Chapter 19

Bobby filled his cup with coffee and took a sip.  Pete’s coffee was some of the best he’d ever had.  It was strong, but still smooth.  He closed his eyes and smiled, letting the full taste sink in.  When he opened his eyes again, he noticed Abby sitting on the same hill she’d been on when they’d experienced the rain.  This time, she was watching the sunrise.  Bobby walked up the hill and sat next to her in the grass.  “I noticed you haven’t commented on me drinking coffee lately,” he said with a smile.

“I guess everyone has one vice or another,” she muttered.

“Is everything okay?” Bobby asked.

Abby seemed distant, almost in a daze.  She shrugged.  “I guess.”

Bobby nodded and took another sip of coffee.  “Are you still using the pain killers?”

“The doctor said I could take them for two weeks.”

“Are you really gonna stop after that?” Bobby asked.

“Sure,” Abby said, glaring at him.  “Are you ever gonna stop drinking coffee?”

“Coffee’s one thing,” Bobby said.  “Pain killers are something else entirely.  They’re extremely addictive.  And they can kill you if you’re not careful.  I didn’t save your life just to let you die of a drug overdose.”

“Bobby, please don’t lecture me,” Abby said.  “I’ve had enough lecturing for one week.”

“You mean Pastor Earl?” Bobby asked.

“He means well,” Abby said.

“Did you notice both him and Nat have bruises?”

Abby shrugged.  “You think they got in a fight or something?”

“I’m sure they did,” Bobby said.  He turned and looked down at the camp, where he saw Nat and Pastor Earl joking with one another as Horseman and Michelle packed up their things.  Pete was throwing a stick, playing fetch with Sherry.  “They’ve been really friendly with one another this morning, too,” Bobby noted.  “Sort of weird.”

“I wouldn’t think anything of it,” Abby said.  “We all have our squabbles from time to time.”

“Sure,” Bobby said.  “I guess so.”  He looked at Abby and frowned.  “About the pain killers.  I’m really not trying to lecture you.  It just hits really close to home with me, that’s all.  My Uncle Joe died of a heroin overdose.”

“They’re prescription pain killers,” Abby said, “not heroin.”

“Yeah,” Bobby said, “but he started the same way.”

Abby frowned and nodded.  “Were you close?”

“I guess you could say that,” Bobby said.  “My parents died when I was five.  Killed by bandits.  Uncle Joe took care of me after that.  I guess you could say he taught me the ways of the world.”  He shook his head.

“He was a scavenger, too?” Abby asked.

Bobby nodded.  “He got hooked on drugs and died when I was sixteen.  I’ve been on my own ever since.  Uncle Joe wasn’t the nicest guy in the world, but I guess he stuck with me.”  Not the nicest guy in the world was a huge understatement.  Bobby still remembered the beatings sometimes.  Still, Uncle Joe hadn’t been obligated in any way to take care of Bobby, but he did.  Then he died.  It was his own damned fault, though.  Practically a suicide.

“I’m sorry,” Abby said.

“It’s all right.”  Bobby smiled and shook his head.  “It’s in the past.”  He looked at Abby with a serious expression.  “You have to stop with those pain killers, though.  No one’s invincible, Abby.  The same thing could happen to you.”

Abby nodded.  “Yeah.  I guess you’re right.”

Bobby looked out at the sunrise beyond the trees and the hills.  It filled the sky with streaks of orange and pink as a breeze brushed Bobby’s face and blew through the tall grass that covered the hill and the meadow.  “It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”

“It is,” Abby said.  “Everything here’s beautiful.  Maybe we should just stay here.  What is there for us out there?”

“Nothing,” Bobby said.  “Just miles and miles of sand.  Enforcers and bandits, all trying to kill us.  But you have the ability to help thousands, maybe millions of people.”

“I could be selfish and stay here.  No one would ever know the difference.”  Abby picked up a twig and started digging around in the dirt.

“Herman Rennock would,” Bobby said.  “He’d find you eventually.  He’s got the means to do pretty much anything he wants.”

“So how are we gonna beat him, then?” Abby asked, glaring at Bobby.

“You once told me ideas are more powerful than weapons,” Bobby said.

“I guess,” Abby said.  “Those were just words, though.  Rennock’s got the money and he’s got the army.”

“Well one tiny poisonous spider can kill a very large man if it bites him in the right place,” Bobby pointed out.  “You know as well as I do we have to leave.”

Abby nodded and went back to digging in the dirt with the twig.  “I’m gonna miss this place, though.”

“We all are,” Bobby said as he finished his coffee.  He stood and descended the hill, making his way back to the camp to pour himself a second cup.

Once Michelle and Horseman were done packing up their stuff, everyone gathered to say goodbye.  Bobby’s eyes were fixed on Michelle, as usual.  He knew he’d never forget her warm smile, but he wanted to look at her as much as possible in these last minutes.  “We should be in Silver City by the evening,” Horseman said, “as long as all goes well.”

Bobby stepped up to him.  “Good luck,” he said, shaking Horseman’s hand.

“Same to you,” Horseman said with a grin.

As Horseman said goodbye to everyone else, Michelle walked up to Bobby and smiled and he smiled back nervously.  “Well, I’ll see ya around,” she said.

“See ya,” Bobby said as Michelle leaned in and hugged him.  Bobby timidly hugged her back, the softness of her body pressing up against him.  She smelled like sweet flowers as her silky hair brushed Bobby’s hand.  He didn’t want the moment to end, but he didn’t want to seem weird either, so he let go of her and watched as she said goodbye to everyone else, hugging them all the same way.  He’d never gotten the chance to try to ask her out or anything like that, and now, with everyone there, it would have been too weird.  He wondered if he’d ever see her again.  Maybe Horseman’s orders would allow him and Michelle to join Abby later.  Bobby hoped that would be the case.  Out of his league or not, he really wanted to see Michelle at least one more time.  He noticed the awkward farewell between Abby and Horseman.  Horseman leaned in to hug her and she backed away, shaking his hand instead with an awkward half-smile.  As Horseman walked away, he grinned and shook his head, visibly annoyed.  He and Michelle got into his sports hover car and he started the engine.  Soon they were driving away, “Angel” by Jimi Hendrix trailing off as they flew across the meadow and over the dunes of the desert.  Bobby watched the car disappear over the horizon.

<>

Pastor Earl knocked on the back door to Pete’s van.  “Coming!” said a voice from inside.  A few seconds later, the door opened and Pete’s smiling, bearded face appeared.  Behind him was a folding table with several tiny tools and Abby’s wristwatch computer spread across it.  Speakers were playing Arabic hip hop music.  Pastor Earl couldn’t understand the words, but it had a catchy beat.

“I’m sorry to disturb you,” Pastor Earl said.

“No, it’s fine,” Pete said.  “I was getting a little frustrated, anyway.  I need a break.”  He stepped out of the van and stretched his muscular arms.  Sherry leapt out from the back of the van and ran out into the meadow.  Pete looked at Earl’s face and frowned with concern.  “Are you all right?  What happened to you?  I noticed the bruises last night but didn’t want to say anything in front of everyone.”

“I’m okay,” Earl said.  “Nothing major.  Just a little mishap.”

“Well I hope it heals quickly,” Pete said.

“Thanks,” Earl said with a smile.  “So are you getting close to fixing Abby’s computer at all?”

Pete shrugged.  “It seems like once I’ve solved one problem, three more spring up in its place.  That always seems to be the case with computers, though.”

Earl nodded.  “I’m not a computer expert, but I’d venture to say that’s the way of the world, and not just with computers.”

Pete chuckled.  “Very true.  The biggest issue was that sand particles found their way through one of the vacuum seals, but that caused a myriad of other issues.”  He smiled.  “So are you here to check on my progress or is there something else?”

“Well, there is something.”  Pastor Earl said.  “No one else is going to be willing to have this talk with you, so I know I’ll have to do it.  I hope you won’t take offense.”

Pete frowned.  “I can’t promise you what I will and won’t take offense to until you’ve told me what it is you’ve come to say.”

“Okay.”  Earl looked at Pete gravely.  “I’m somewhat familiar with the Qur’an and Islam.  I’m by no means an expert, but doesn’t Islam prohibit you from befriending Christians and those you see as nonbelievers?”

Pete grinned through his beard.  “My understanding is that there are some who believe we should not befriend those who are not Muslims, but where I come from, they never taught us that.  How could a religion spread if its people were not allowed to befriend those outside of their own religion?”

“Good point,” Pastor Earl said.

“We were taught to be wary,” Pete explained, “and to look out for hypocrites, but we were also taught that Allah loves and rewards some people who are not Muslims, if they are pious.  So how can we not befriend such people?”  Pete smiled.  “Besides, I believe what you all are doing is ultimately for the benefit of Islam.  We are not allowed to ally ourselves with enemies of Islam, but in this case, I believe you are friends.”

Pastor Earl smiled.  “We do have a lot in common, as I’m sure you know.  We both believe ourselves to be descendants of Abraham, whether physical or spiritual.  We both serve the same God.”

“I suppose,” Pete said, “but don’t minimalize the differences, though.  For instance, what makes Jesus better than any of the other prophets?  Why do you treat him differently from Moses or Elijah?”

“Because we believe that Jesus is God,” Pastor Earl said.

Pete glared at him.  “Your religion claims to worship one God.  Yet, you worship the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  I count three Gods.”

“We believe that those three are one and the same,” Pastor Earl said.  “Think of them as different facets of the same diamond.”  Pete continued glaring at him.  “I know,” Pastor Earl said with a smile.  “It’s hard for anyone to understand, including me.  It’s a mystery.  That’s where faith comes in.”

Pete shook his head.  “It just makes no sense to me that you can believe this.”

“Well,” Pastor Earl said, “you say Jesus was a prophet, but not God.  However, in the gospels, Jesus himself said that he’s God.  He says that he and the Father are one.  If he isn’t God, he was either a liar or he was insane.  Either that, or the gospels are faulty.”

Pete frowned.  “Your gospels are faulty.  They’ve been altered over time and much of the true meaning has been lost.”

“That’s a convenient out,” Pastor Earl countered.  “Why can’t the same be said of the Qur’an?  They’re both very old books.”

Pete folded his muscular arms and stood silently for a few seconds, still glaring at Pastor Earl.  “I suppose there are things we’ll never see eye to eye on.”  He took a deep breath.  “However, I’ll still fight alongside you as long as our enemies are the same.  If that’s what you were worried about, don’t worry about it any longer.”

Pastor Earl nodded.  “I just wanted to be sure that I can trust you.”

“And?”

“Well, as far as I can see,” Pastor Earl said, “I can.”

“And I trust all of you,” Pete said.  “You seem like good people, for the most part.  We all have our issues, right?  Besides, maybe one day you’ll all accept Islam.”

Pastor Earl chuckled.  “Not a chance.”

“I won’t ever give up hope,” Pete said with a grin.  “Either way, as far as I’m concerned, you’re all friends.”

Pastor Earl nodded.  “Then I’m glad to be working with you.”  He held out his hand.

Pete smiled and shook it.  “May Allah bless our cooperation.”

“Yes,” Pastor Earl agreed.  “May God bless us, and may He bless Abby.”

“Of course,” Pete said.  “Well, I need to get back to work.”  He whistled and Sherry ran back towards him.  “Break’s over,” Pete said with a smile as he disappeared into the van with Sherry, shutting the doors behind him.

<>

Abby took four pills and washed them down with water.  Then, she got into her sleeping bag and waited, gazing blankly at the side of her tent.  She was tired.  Otherwise, she’d be out exploring some more.  She closed her eyes and waited for the pills to kick in.  “Abby.”  It was Pete’s voice from just outside the tent.

“Yes?”

“I have great news,” Pete said.  “I’m done fixing Einstein.  Allahu Akbar!”

Abby’s excitement overtook her tiredness as she got out of her sleeping bag.  “Really?  That’s awesome!”  She unzipped the tent and emerged, smiling at Pete.  He handed her the wristwatch computer and she strapped it around her left wrist.  “Einstein, you’re back!”

“It’s good to be back,” Einstein’s kind male voice said.

“There’s one problem,” Pete said with a frown.  “He’s no longer connected to the Satellite Net, and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t reconnect him.  Rennock’s people must have figured out a way to block him.”

“I still have plenty of data stored in memory,” Einstein stated.  “My storage capacity is eight hundred yottabytes.”

“It won’t update real-time, though,” Pete pointed out.  “Some of your information may be a little out of date.”

“It’s all right,” Abby said.  “He’ll still have what I need most.  And he still has a lot more data stored in his memory than any of our brains do.”

“The storage capacity of the average human brain is two-hundred and fifty-six exabytes,” Einstein said.  “However, the average adult human only uses approximately one billionth of that storage space effectively.  This means my knowledge capacity is approximately three thousand trillion times that of your average human.”

Pete smiled and shrugged.  “Well, he’s there, all the same.”

“Pete, you’re a lifesaver!” Abby exclaimed.  “Several times over, actually.”  She leaned in to hug him, but Pete backed away, raising his hands.

“I’m sorry,” he said with a smile.  “I can’t hug you.”  Abby stood still, a perplexed look on her face.  “Some Muslims think my being in a van alone with a woman is haram,” Pete explained, “but I don’t take it to that extreme.  I have to cross the line at hugging, though.”

Abby shrugged.  “All right.  Thanks, though.  I can’t even begin to tell you how grateful I am.”

“It was no problem,” Pete said.

“Abby, it’s been a while,” Einstein said.  “How are you doing these days?  Your heart rate seems good, as do your blood pressure and body temperature.”

“I’m all right,” Abby said.  “I’ve seen better days, but I’m definitely better now that you’re working again.”

“As am I,” Einstein said.

“And now I won’t sound like an idiot talking to myself all the time,” Abby added.  “I was so used to you always being there.”

“Well then,” Pete said with a grin.  “I’m going to do salaat and then I’m going to enjoy this oasis while I still can.  I’ve been working so hard, I’ve barely had the chance to do anything here.  I’ve taken some breaks and gone swimming a few times, but I want to enjoy this glorious day.”

“I’m sorry,” Abby said.  “I didn’t mean for you to stay cooped up in your van like that.”

“Don’t be sorry,” Pete said.  “You’re paying me well.”  He turned and walked away and Abby went back into her tent.  Bobby was off training with Nat and Pastor Earl was resting in his tent.  She wanted to wait for everyone to be around and awake before she told them they’d be leaving the oasis the next day.  She got back into her sleeping bag and rested for a while.  Her pain killers were working and she felt the euphoria, along with the excitement of knowing Einstein was working again.

After resting for a few hours, Abby decided to go for a walk and explore the oasis a little.  If she was leaving the next day, it would be her last chance.  Plus it would give her some time to get used to having Einstein working again.  She could ask him about any strange plants or animals she came across.  She took a few more pills and left her tent.  Abby walked through the trees to the river and walked along the bank, further than she’d walked before.  She felt more confident with Einstein on her wrist.  She went around a bend in the river and noticed a small black and white bird pecking at the ground.  It flew away is she approached.  “What kind of bird was that?” she asked.

“A white-collared seedeater,” Einstein replied.  “They are of the genus Sporophila and were once native to the Rio Grande Valley.”

“Is that where we are?”

“We are in the former site of the city of Laredo, Texas,” Einstein said.  Abby nodded and continued walking.  She noticed some ruined buildings in the trees to her left and walked towards them.  Most of them were crumbled and overgrown beyond recognition, but one appeared to be what remained of an old church tower.  Abby walked towards it, taking in the beauty.  “Be careful,” Einstein said.  “There could be dangerous wildlife in unexplored wilderness areas.”

Abby nodded.  “You’ll tell me if you detect anything, right?”

“Of course,” Einstein answered.

Abby pushed through some shrubs and brushed aside some vines hanging from nearby trees, and she could see that the massive stone structure was larger than what she’d first seen.  One entire wall had collapsed, but even the husk that remained was magnificent.  There were empty spaces where windows once were, some elongated and others circular, and even part of a vaulted ceiling remained high above, though there were scattered holes where the sky peeked through.  The whole structure was covered with vines and ivy.  “This is beautiful,” Abby said.  “It must have been awe-inspiring when it was actually still in one piece.  How old do you think this is?”

“Judging from the state of the stone,” Einstein began, “I’d estimate that this was built not long before the end of the old world.  The year may have been 2100 A.D. or so.  It’s impossible to estimate very accurately since we aren’t sure when the old world ended.  The most accurate estimates seem to place the apocalypse at approximately 2125 A.D. or so.”  Abby nodded as she took in the ruins.  “Danger,” Einstein said.  “You should start walking back the way you came.  I detect hundreds of aerial creatures approaching.  They may be either bats or birds, but I cannot be sure.”

Abby nodded and started heading back towards the river.  When she reached its bank, she was startled by a large, winged insect hovering towards her.  Her eyes widened with horror when she realized it was a huge hornet that was at least half a foot long.  An inch-long stinger jutted out of the back of its abdomen as it flew towards her.  Abby turned and started running through the grass along the river as fast as she could.  She saw a swarm of hundreds of the giant hornets ahead flying across the river towards her.  They were everywhere she looked.  “Turn right,” Einstein said, “and run through the trees.”  Abby nodded and did as he said, trying not to trip over any shrubs or tree roots.  The forest was swarming with the giant insects, their buzzing filling the area with ominous sound.  She noticed one right in front of her and she screamed and flung it away as she continued running.  One managed to land on the side of her left leg and jammed its stinger through her pants.  At first she was horrified, but as she continued running she remembered her left leg was robotic now.  The wasp flew off and Abby ran harder.  Her left thigh was throbbing where it met her robotic leg as she ran.  The bees were still after her and a five-foot-high boulder was now blocking her path ahead.  There were trees, thick shrubs, and hanging vines on both sides, so she was blocked on all sides.  She continued running and jumped, hoping for the best.

She launched off her left leg and flew to the top of the boulder, landing hard on her right foot.  A jolt of pain shot through her body.  She jumped again, launching off her left leg again, and flew through some branches and bushes on the other side of the boulder, rolling across the ground through vines and shrubs.  Her whole left side was throbbing with pain, especially near where her robotic leg met flesh.  Even the pain killers couldn’t mask this.  She seemed to have lost the hornets, though.  Abby looked behind her, realizing she’d jumped over thirty feet from the top of the boulder without even really trying.  Her body was bruised and the pain was extraordinary, but Abby could jump really, really far now.  Before she had time to think about it, she saw a massive beast emerge from another group of boulders ahead of her.  It was a mountain lion, or a saber-toothed cat, or who knew what it was, really.  It was definitely a cat, though, with golden hair and shoulders that rose seven feet above the ground.  Its top two fangs were razor sharp, jutting more than a foot out of its mouth.  “I’ve never come in contact with an animal of this sort,” Einstein said, “but it appears to be a relative of the cougar, also called a puma or mountain lion.”

Abby nodded slowly.  “What should I do?” she whispered.

“If you run,” Einstein said, “you’ll only trigger its hunting instinct.  It will have no problem outrunning you and catching you as its prey.  Since it appears hungry, if you stay still, it will probably pounce.  If you play dead, there’s a high probability that it will eat you, though I can’t calculate a useful percentage due to a shortage of accurate data on this animal.  I have no helpful suggestion for your action at this time.”

“Great,” Abby muttered as the giant cat closed in on her, growling softly, its big yellow eyes fixated on her as it stalked its prey.

 

 


Continue on to the next chapter:

Afterlife, Volume 1, Chapter 20
Where:
Mavery Thomas is expelled from New Atlantis.
Bobby and his companions leave the oasis.
Horseman takes care of some business in Silver City.

Find the Table of Contents page here.


View the Map here.

Check out Michael Monroe’s page on Amazon to find other stuff he’s written.
Like Afterlife on Facebook to find out when the next chapter is posted.
Follow Afterlife on Twitter to get updates on new postings and other news.
Follow Afterlife on Tumblr for access to supplemental material.

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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