If you’ve never read Afterlife before, click here to go to the first chapter.
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:
Horseman and Michelle leave the oasis.
Pete Ahmad fixes Einstein.
Abby is attacked by giant hornets and a saber-toothed cat.
Afterlife, Volume 1, Chapter 20
“Good luck!” the escort shouted from the MAC-car’s window as the aerial vehicle hovered back up into the sky.
Mavery Thomas frowned. The escort knew as well as she did that luck wouldn’t help her. The metal wall that surrounded New Atlantis rose fifty feet into the air above Mavery’s head, sheer and foreboding. She looked along the bottom of the wall to see skeletons and rotting bodies strewn across the sand and her stomach dropped. One nearby woman’s body seemed to be sleeping restfully, eyes and mouth closed peacefully, but another next to that one, which was partially decomposed, had the grotesque grimace of a madman. Vultures were having a field day, picking at scraps of flesh and muscle, their gangly wings flapping in a clumsy, almost comical manner. Television cameras never showed anything like this within the walls of the city. Mavery had never known the bodies were there until now. This knowledge was accompanied with the hard realization that she’d probably soon be joining them. She looked away, trying to ignore the bodies, but she started breathing heavier. The enforcers had let her take her clothes with her and one bag, in which she packed more clothes, some food, some bottled water, and what little cash they’d let her withdraw from the bank. Rennock Enterprises confiscated everything else she owned, saying that her treasonous actions forfeited her property rights. She was as good as dead and she knew it, but she couldn’t think like that. Her mom would have told her to stay positive.
Her mom. What would her mom think? Mavery hadn’t even had the chance to say goodbye. Once the sham trial was over, she was whisked out of the city in a matter of hours. A few days ago she’d been sipping wine at a party with some of her closest friends, complaining about men and talking politics. Now, she was alone in the desert outside the city walls, her only company dead bodies and vultures. She was wearing jeans and a light jacket fitted with an air conditioning system. It would help her live at least a little while out in the hot desert sands. The dunes seemed to roll out into eternity. There was nothing out there, just sand, wind and sky. The sun was a stark white ball of heat. Mavery turned and looked at the sheer metal wall that rose behind her. She looked at the bodies on the ground and the skeletons. Only one way to go. She started trudging through the sand, walking away from New Atlantis. Her glasses were already fogging up. “They probably won’t help me anyway,” she muttered. “There’s nothing to see out here.” Still, she took them off, rubbed the sweat off, and put them back on.
Mavery walked down one dune and up the next. The effort required to do this in the hot desert was extraordinary, and she found herself stopping to rest. She’d barely moved, and was already starting to get tired. “I have to stop thinking,” she said between heavy breaths. “Just keep walking.” She took her water bottle out of her bag and drank some, then continued walking along the top of the dune, her feet trudging through the sand. She walked down the edge of the dune and up the next one. Before she knew it, her mind was blank and she was sweating like crazy. Everything was a blur. She sat and rested for a while, drinking more water. At this rate, it would be gone in a day. She stood once again and continued, walking slowly up and down dunes. She noticed three vultures following her in the sky above. “You’re gonna have a long wait if you want any of this,” she said to them, not sure if she actually believed it.
After some time, she saw what appeared to be a house on the horizon. She headed in that direction, up and down dunes, stopping frequently to rest in the hot desert sun. Each time she stopped, the vultures flew down to a nearby dune and watched her closely. As she walked, she looked behind her to see the walls of New Atlantis and the skyscrapers towering above them. She saw the donut-shaped top of Rennock Tower, and a little further, the mirrored sides of the Gorman Building, the tallest tower in the city. It didn’t seem like she’d gone very far, but she was already exhausted. She turned to the house she was walking towards and it didn’t seem much closer. She didn’t let it discourage her. She continued trudging through the sand as the scorching sun shone down. There wasn’t much else she could do.
She stumbled and fell down the side of a high dune. She lay in the sand for a minute, thinking it had probably been easier and faster than walking down the side of the dune. The vultures circled above. “Get the hell away from me!” Mavery yelled at them. She stood and continued walking until she found herself walking up the side of the next dune. She could see the house was definitely getting closer. After several more dunes, she was standing within shouting distance, breathing heavily. “Hey!” she shouted. “Can you help me?” There was no answer. She sat and rested for a minute, trying to catch her breath. She was soaked with sweat and her glasses had fogged up again, so she wiped them off. Then, the door of the whitewashed hut opened. Mavery stood slowly, a smile on her dark-skinned face. “Hey!” she shouted with every ounce of strength she could muster, waving her arms.
“Get out of here!” an old white man shouted.
Mavery frowned and took a deep breath. “Please help me! I just want a place to stay tonight! I have some money!” Who knew how many hours she’d been walking?
The man raised a laser rifle and aimed it at Mavery and she swallowed hard. “I said get the hell out of here, nigger!” the man shouted.
Mavery felt like someone just punched her hard in the gut. “Please!”
The man aimed the laser rifle and fired, hitting the sand not far from her. “Get as far away from my property as you can get, or the next shot’ll blow your brains out!”
Mavery turned away from the house and started walking the other way as fast as her legs would take her. The hiss of the laser rifle sounded again and she started running. Her legs soon gave out and she fell down the side of the dune, tumbling to the bottom. She lay in the sand for a while as tears dripped down her cheeks. She was alone. She was sure nobody had ever been more alone. The sand seemed to close in on her like the walls of a tomb. The vultures flew down next to her and one of them started picking at her shoe. “No,” she said as the tears dripped down her cheeks. “No, I won’t give up.” She kicked at the vulture as another flew down and landed on her arm. She screamed and flung it away. She stood and flailed her arms at the huge birds, scaring them off. They flew to the top of the nearest dune. “I won’t give up!” she shouted, shaking. “You hear me? I’ll never give up!” She started walking again, up the side up the dune. She was disoriented. She didn’t even know where she was going at this point, but she knew it was somewhere. She’d stay on the move until sundown.
She collapsed on the side of the dune and started trying to climb it. Her arms moved through the sand like it was thick water. She managed to pull herself up and she continued walking as the vultures circled above. Mavery walked up dunes and down dunes, and it was clear to her that she was doomed. She was surrounded by oceans of sand on all sides. The sun had lowered a little, but it was still far from setting. She smiled a madman’s smile as she looked ahead at the dunes which spread out to the horizon. Then, she heard engines. Five sand bikes. They sped towards her and surrounded her, flying circles around her. The riders wore patchwork clothes made from metal and leather, and they all had laser pistols at their sides. Bandits. What was bad had gotten worse. The bandits circled her for a while, then stopped their bikes and let them hover down into the sand. The five men got off their bikes and surrounded her. There was a short Latino man, two white men of medium height, a short black man, and a huge black man. One of the white men, who was particularly muscular, stepped forward and grinned at Mavery. He was missing his top two front teeth. She figured he was the leader. “I don’t have much money,” she said in a strained voice. “I’ll give it to you if you want it, though.” The food and water were more important, anyway.
The leader laughed. “Oh, we don’t want your money. We want somethin’ else you got.”
Mavery realized one of the men who’d been standing behind her had grabbed her shoulders and he pulled her down to the sand with a hard thud, knocking the wind out of her. He slapped her hard across her face, knocking her glasses off, and held her down in the sand. She struggled and kicked as the leader leaned forward over top of her. She squirmed and kicked him as hard as she could. Two of the other men rushed over and held her legs down. She tried to kick again, but it was no use. The leader slapped her hard in the face. Her cheek was throbbing with pain. “You fight it and it’ll be worse,” he blurted. “This is the last thing you gonna do before you die. You better enjoy it. If you’re good, we might even let you stick around a while.” He started kissing her face as she gritted her teeth angrily and spat at him.
Mavery screamed. Everything seemed surreal. She closed her eyes and imaged that she was somewhere else as the strong arms held her down. Anywhere else. With someone who loved her. It was no use. All she could see was the man’s grin with the two missing teeth. “No! Stop! Please don’t.” Tears were dripping down her cheeks. There was a hiss and the leader’s full weight was on top of her.
“What are you doin’?” someone shouted. There was another hiss, and then two more. Then, somebody pulled the leader off of Mavery and flung him away.
She looked up to see the big black bandit towering above her. He must have been almost seven feet tall and three hundred and fifty pounds. Mavery was crying and shaking. She couldn’t speak. “Are you all right?” the man asked with a deep voice. Mavery shook her head and the man sat down in the sand next to her. She curled up, shaking and crying. “I didn’t sign up for that,” the big man said. “Stealin’, well, you do what you gotta do. Even killin’. Sometimes you have to. But I ain’t never raped no one and I aint’ gonna help nobody else do it.” He shook his head. Mavery looked around and realized he’d shot each of the other four bandits in the head with his laser pistol, killing them all. “We can sit here as long as you want to,” the man said. “We can wait ‘til you’re ready. But you stayin’ with me from here on out, lady. The desert ain’t no place for a woman who’s by herself, especially not a black woman. A white woman might find help out here, but not you. I’m sorry, that’s just how it is.”
Mavery continued shaking, her knees pulled in near her chest. She breathed heavily as the tears dripped down her cheeks. After some time, she sat up and breathed in deeply. She felt violated. The man hadn’t even started, but she still felt violated. She looked next to her at the towering mass of a man who’d saved her. “Thanks,” she muttered.
“I wasn’t gonna let that happen,” the man said, shaking his head. “I just met them a few days ago. I didn’t know it was like that. You gotta stick with people out here if ya wanna stay alive. That’s why I was ridin’ with ‘em.” Mavery nodded. “You ain’t gotta say nothin’,” the man said. “You can just sit there as long as you need to.”
“Okay,” Mavery said.
“Where were you headed, if ya don’t mind my askin’?”
Mavery shrugged. “I don’t know.” She shook her head, chuckling. “I don’t even know.” Then she remembered the recent news stories. “Primrose. I’m going to find Abigail Song.”
The man laughed. “It’s a long walk to Primrose, lady. The Mexican border’s a thousand miles away or so. Primrose is another two hundred after that. You’d have been walkin’ a long time.” He shook his head. “You wouldn’t have made it fifty miles.”
Mavery nodded. “Yeah. I found that out.”
“You lucky,” the man said. “This desert’s full of the bones of women who wasn’t so lucky.”
Mavery frowned. “I don’t feel lucky.”
“You alive,” the man said. “You lucky.”
Mavery glanced at him. “What’s your name?”
“Do you have a last name?” Mavery asked.
Big Ed shook his head. “Just Big Ed.”
“I’m Mavery Thomas.”
“Well, Mavery,” Big Ed said, “it’s nice to meet you, but if you ready, we better get movin’. We can steal Willy’s sand bike. He was the white man that tried to…”
Mavery cringed. “I know who you mean.”
Big Ed frowned and nodded. “His bike’s the best one. We’ll take his.” He walked over to the nicest bike of the five. It was big and sporty, painted dark green. Big Ed opened a compartment under the handlebars with the help of a pocket knife and started fiddling with some wires. After some time, he had the bike’s engine started, and Mavery jumped on behind him. They rode off southwest, leaving New Atlantis behind them as they sped over the desert’s dunes. The three vultures feasted on the dead bandits as Mavery and Big Ed rode off.
Abby watched in horror as the massive saber-toothed cat leapt towards her. She closed her eyes and put her hands in front of her face, expecting the inevitable, and she heard the hissing of laser blasts. She moved her hands away from her face and opened her eyes to see the beast on the ground in front of her, its head bleeding as it twitched. She quickly stood and backed away. “Don’t worry. It’s dead.” It was Bobby. He put his laser pistol back in his holster as Nat emerged from the trees next to him. He’d been running.
“I’m glad you showed up,” Abby said, smiling at Bobby. “And I’m glad your shooting has improved. How’d you know I was in trouble?”
Bobby grinned. “Nat and I were training nearby and I heard lots of rustling in the woods and I thought I heard you scream, so we came to see what was happening.”
“Glad we did,” Nat said.
Abby nodded and noticed one of the six-inch hornets hovering near the boulder. “We need to get out of here.” Bobby glanced at the hornet. “There’s a whole swarm of those things,” Abby said. Three more of the giant hornets appeared from the trees. Bobby started shooting at them with his laser pistol, hitting a few of them. Abby stood and her left hip was throbbing with pain. “We need to get out of here,” she repeated. “There are too many to try to shoot.”
“There’s only approximately a one ten thousandth of a percent chance you’ll successfully be able to kill the entire colony,” Einstein pointed out.
“What was that?” Bobby asked.
“Einstein,” Abby said. “Don’t worry about it for now. Let’s go or we’re dead.” She started running and Bobby and Nat followed her as she ran through the woods and into a clearing. Nat turned towards some trees to the left. “This way!” he shouted. “Back to the camp!”
Abby and Bobby followed him as he ran through the trees, emerging into the meadow where they’d set up their camp. The three of them stopped running and Abby noticed Pastor Earl and Pete getting the grill ready for a late lunch. Sherry was running through the tall grass nearby. “We need to get the hell out of here,” Abby said, “now.”
Pete frowned. “We were just getting ready to eat.”
Abby shook her head. “No time for it. There’s a swarm of six-inch long hornets coming this way. If we stay, we’re dead. Einstein’s working again, so we don’t need to stay here any longer. We need to head for South Edge right now.”
Pastor Earl nodded. “Let’s get packed up, then.”
“We need to do it quickly,” Nat stated. Pete turned off the grill and everyone started taking down their tents and packing up their things as quickly as they could. Abby didn’t see the hornets in the meadow yet. She wondered if they went back to their hive. Either way, she didn’t want to sit around waiting for them to show up again. Once everyone was packed, Pastor Earl, Nat, and Bobby put on their oxygen masks in preparation for their journey through the Dead Lands and Abby got into the van with Pete and Sherry. Everyone started their engines and they took off south in the direction of South Edge, the sand bikes leading the way with Nat in front.
Bobby noticed vultures following the caravan as he rode his sand bike behind Nat and Pastor Earl. There were three of them following in the cloudless sky as the dunes went by and the oasis grew smaller and smaller in the background. Bobby was going to miss the beauty of the natural setting, but it seemed now to be a dangerous place, just like the rest of the world. Lightning was striking all around as Bobby sped through the desert. He noticed the vultures turn and start flying back towards the oasis. Either they’d given up or they were afraid to go where Bobby and his friends were heading. Bobby looked at his air meter and noticed the air was no longer breathable. That explained it. Bobby hadn’t noticed because he’d been wearing his oxygen mask. There was far more lightning than Bobby had noticed before they reached the oasis. He assumed it was because they were going through a different part of the Dead Lands. There must have been a lot more electrostatic discharge here, at least if Pete’s theories about the lightning were correct.
Lightning flashed nearby and thunder sounded. Lightning was striking dunes all around, filling the area with white webs of light. Nat was turning this way and that, trying hard to avoid the lightning, and the rest of the caravan followed. There were white flashes and bright light filled the area all around Bobby. Thunder cracked and his ears rung. Bobby’s sand bike slid through the sand and came to a stop on the side of a dune. All of the bike’s lights and electronic meters went dead. “This is great,” he muttered. His oxygen mask had stopped working, too, and Bobby was having trouble breathing. Nat and Pastor Earl’s bikes were also on the side of the dune in the sand, as was Pete’s van. They’d all suffocate before Pete’s van would have time to recharge using its solar cells. The lightning continued streaking across the sky and thunder filled the area with ominous cracks and booms.
Horseman Hemingway stood outside Danby Tower in Silver City as people in business attire walked past. Horseman was wearing a fake moustache and sunglasses. The fake mole on his right cheek also helped mask his true identity, as did the navy blue fedora which matched his expensive suit. The fake moustache and fake mole weren’t just movie props. They were parts of a high-tech disguise which also included makeup and a nose attachment, all designed by the experts in the Southwest Resistance’s tech wing. Horseman had met a contact from the tech wing as soon as he got to Silver City, and the operative had given him all of the equipment he needed to complete his mission. Nobody would recognize Horseman, even with him being a famous actor with one of the most recognizable faces in Numurka. When he’d first been given a high profile job with the resistance, he declined, but the leaders of his branch talked him into it, thinking his skill with weapons and superior acting ability would trump any danger his fame might cause. Up to this point, they’d been right.
Horseman had spent a few hours meditating in the hotel room he shared with Michelle, clearing his mind of disruptive thoughts, letting them pass through and drift away so he’d be able to concentrate on the task at hand. He and Michelle had met a Buddhist monk during a trip to New Asia years ago, and while Michelle showed some interest, Horseman incorporated many of the teachings into his life and considered himself a Zen Buddhist. He knew he had a lot of work to do, but that was part of understanding. Everyone had a lot of work to do. Horseman believed that what he was doing now would alleviate the suffering of thousands, so it was something that needed to be done.
He’d had some trouble getting Abigail Song out of his mind while meditating. He still didn’t understand her actions, but he chose not to focus on that situation, since it was in the past. He had to keep his focus on the present with such an important task ahead of him. Still, he wondered if Abby and the others had left the oasis yet and if so, whether they’d been able to make it out of the Dead Lands all right. Horseman’s dealings with Abby aside, she was the most important person in the world as far as the resistance was concerned. Horseman and Michelle had made it out okay, but they had the help of Horseman’s Franco 7000 sports hover car, which was capable of unmatched speed and maneuverability, so Horseman had been able to navigate his way through the lightning storms. They’d had some close calls, though. Abby, on the other hand, had Pete and all of his technology, and the help of three other very capable men. Horseman cleared thoughts of Abby from his mind. Whether she was safe or not, there was nothing he could do about any of that right now. There was only one thing he needed to worry about.
He looked at his watch. Five-thirty. It was almost time. He took a deep breath and walked towards the front door of the skyscraper. He walked through the revolving door and stepped into a lobby with a marble floor, walls covered with expensive-looking paintings, and a high vaulted ceiling. There were a few businessmen and women making their way out at the end of the workday, but the lobby wasn’t particularly crowded. The round-faced guard at the wooden desk smiled at Horseman as he approached. Horseman smiled back and raised an ID badge from his pocket. It said he was Edgar Winestead, a prominent business man working for the Lindburn Corporation. The man at the desk read the fake badge and nodded. “Welcome, Mister Winestead. I believe you’re expected on the fourth floor.” Good. The intelligence branch of the resistance had worked everything out perfectly.
“Thank you,” Horseman said with a smile, putting the badge back into his pocket. “I need to use the restroom first, though. Can you tell me where it is?”
The security guard nodded and pointed towards the elevators at the end of the large entry hall. Horseman didn’t have to use the restroom, but he knew Willard Danby would. Danby left his office at five-thirty every evening and stopped in the restroom on his way out, accompanied by four guards. Two always stood outside of the restroom and two stood outside the stall. Horseman had gotten the information from spies during his phone briefing. They’d been watching Danby for months. Danby was one of the wealthiest men in Numurka, and Danby Enterprises developed weapons and robots for Herman Rennock. He was a key player and an enemy to the resistance.
As Horseman approached the restroom, he saw the two guards in black suits standing by the door. They smiled as he approached. Horseman could see that beneath their suits, both men were muscular. He smiled back and walked through the door. The other two guards were standing by the stall at the end of a line of four. The stalls were gold-plated, showing off Danby’s legendary extravagance. Horseman chuckled. A man who needed to take a crap in a gold-plated bathroom stall was just the person he’d joined the resistance to fight. He feigned going into a stall next to the one Danby was in and he whipped a small laser pistol out of a breast holster and shot each guard in the head before they had time to react, splattering their brains on the white tile wall. He kicked the door of the stall in to see a surprised middle-aged man with a thin moustache looking up at him, his pants down around his ankles. “I have money!” the frightened man said as Horseman pointed his gun at his face. “No, please don’t,” Danby said as Horseman fired, hitting him in the mouth. The man spit out blood as Horseman fired again, hitting the man in the forehead. He hunched forward on the toilet.
The front door of the restroom had opened now and the other two guards rushed in. Horseman fired his laser pistol and hit one of the guards in the heart, but the second was able to get a shot off. It grazed Horseman’s right arm and he winced. He tried to fire again, but his gun was jammed. The guard prepared to fire again, but Horseman dove at him, knocking the laser pistol out of his hand. He punched the man hard in the face and bashed his head into a nearby ceramic sink. The guard was able to trip Horseman and he fell hard onto the tile floor. He kicked the man in the crotch from the floor and leapt to his feet, pulling a knife out of a sheath hidden under his left sleeve. Horseman grabbed the man by his hair and slit his throat. Blood spilled out all over the bathroom floor as Horseman wiped his knife off on the dead man’s suit and put it back in its sheath. He picked up the guard’s laser pistol from the floor and put it in his breast holster. Then, he brushed off his suit and walked out of the bathroom, noticing two feet under one of the other stall doors as he left. Horseman chuckled, wondering what the stall’s occupant thought of what had just happened.
As he entered the lobby, Horseman tried to hide his injured arm from the desk guard. It was too late. Either the guard had heard the commotion or he suspected something when the other guards went into the bathroom. He stood facing Horseman with his laser pistol drawn, a smile on his round face. There was no one else in the lobby and an alarm was sounding. “I’m not sure what you’re up to,” the man said, “but its over. The enforcers are on their way.”
Horseman chuckled. “Look, there must be some sort of misunderstanding or something. I’m not sure what you’re talking about.” He continued walking towards the exit.
The guard’s smile turned into an angry frown as his grip on his laser pistol tightened. He was pointing it straight at Horseman’s face. “One more move and I’ll fill you so full of holes, you’ll be leakier than a bad condom. I see that hole in your arm. Don’t try to lie your way out of this. It’s plainer than day.”
Horseman grinned through his fake moustache. “Come on now, don’t you want to go home to your friends and family? Don’t get yourself killed over something that has nothing to do with you.”
“Are you on crack or somethin’?” the man asked. “I’m the one pointin’ the gun at you.”
“You may be now,” Horseman said, “but you won’t be for long.”
The man sneered at Horseman, who curled up his toe and pushed down hard on a switch in his shoe which activated a smokescreen, another gift from the tech wing. The smoke quickly filled the area as Horseman dove to the floor. The guard fired several spastic shots. Horseman rolled on the floor a few times until he was clear of the smokescreen. Then, he aimed his laser pistol at the guard and fired twice, hitting the man in the chest. Horseman ran through the front doors, noticing four enforcers on sand bikes pulling up in front of the skyscraper. They’d cleared the crowded street. “You there!” one of them shouted. “Stop!” Horseman ran down the steps away from the enforcers and he heard their engines start as he ran down the dirt road that cut through the center of Silver City’s business district. He turned down an alley and ran as fast as his legs would take him, but he knew the enforcers would catch up to him in a matter of seconds on their sand bikes. He had to figure something out quick.
He rushed into a coffee shop at the end of the alley just as the enforcers’ sand bikes appeared around the corner. Horseman pushed through the line of people as they protested, making his way to the back door. A robot on wheels tried to block his way. “What would you like, sir?” Horseman rushed past the robot and rushed to the back door, which he pushed on to find that it was locked. He kicked the door open with all of his strength and ran down another alley, soon finding himself on another crowded street. Everyone was wearing suits, like him, all leaving work at the end of the day. Horseman quickly blended into the crowd, trying his best to cover his wounded arm. He looked around to see no sign of the enforcers. He’d have to find a public restroom so he could get rid of his disguise as quickly as possible. He wouldn’t return to Michelle until he was certain the coast was clear. The last thing he wanted to do was put her in any kind of danger.
Continue on to the next chapter:
Afterlife, Volume 1, Chapter 21
Abby and her companions are stranded in the Dead Lands.
Sherriff Skinny Hayes introduces himself.
Horseman and Michelle have a night out on the town.
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