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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:
Mavery recites a poem for Big Ed.
Pastor Earl talks Nat into leaving Devin Hellier alive.
Abby and Bobby are shot in a gunfight with Skinny Hayes and his men.
Afterlife, Volume 1, Chapter 25
The holographic billboards whizzed by like dunes in an urban desert. They were more colorful than plain white sand, but to Herman Rennock, they were just as tiresome and monotonous. Luxury sky cruisers, two week stays in the most expensive hotels in the most exotic locations like New Persia and the Republic of Africa, a family sedan hover car… A family sedan hover car? Rennock chuckled. The personalization system in the billboards apparently hadn’t been perfected yet. And it was a cheap family sedan hover car, at that. Cheap for Rennock at least, though admittedly for most people it would have been at least a year’s salary. For Rennock, it was less than pocket change.
The billboards supposedly obtained information from passing hover cars via license plate scanning systems which determined who owned each vehicle. From this information, the billboard control systems could determine which stores the vehicles’ occupants preferred, and various other personal information linked to credit used to purchase the vehicles. The systems drew from data such as addresses of vehicle owners, previous purchases, and various other accumulated tidbits of data, much of which were made available through databases containing information obtained from Satellite Net purchases and site visits. The holographic displays then showed images determined to be the most applicable to the people viewing them. Some people had complained about the invasion of privacy, but the benefits the system granted businesses outweighed the few people who spoke out against it. There was always somebody unhappy with just about everything. “Family sedan hover car,” Rennock said with a chuckle, shaking his head. The only thing he assumed could be possible was that perhaps one of the nearby hover cars traveling in the early morning hours had a devoted husband and father driving it.
Deanna Tralley, who was snuggled against Rennock in the backseat of his luxury hover car, smiled at him. “They’ve got you nabbed as the true family man you really are.”
Rennock shook his head again. “Have they seen my family?” The moving holograms continued whizzing by, one after the other, as the chauffeur drove the hover car through the center of New Atlantis. Rennock and Deanna were on their way back to Rennock Tower after a date which had included dinner at el Vaca Lujoso, the most expensive restaurant in the city, a midnight showing of “Shades of Irony,” the latest Michelle Hemingway movie, and drinks at the Window Bar, where drinks were often a thousand dollars or more each. Rennock grinned as he thought about the fact that in one night drinking at a bar, he and Deanna had blown through enough money for an entire family of poor saps living outside New Atlantis’ walls to live comfortably for almost a year. He grinned at the fact that they were begging for his money while he enjoyed the luxuries they could only dream of. They were looters and he was a producer. That’s why those poor saps were starving and he was being flown through the center of New Atlantis with one of the richest, most beautiful women in the world beside him.
“So regarding what we were talking about earlier,” Deanna began, “you don’t think there’s any possibility of alien life? With all the space out there?”
Rennock shook his head. “People explored space for hundreds of years, darlin’. Probes as well as manned spacecraft with quantum vacuum plasma thrusters have been all over the place out there, as far as it’s possible to travel. We’ve seen it all, babycakes. There’s nothin’ out there.” He looked into Deanna’s pretty blue eyes. “This is the only world where chance happened to create life. Do you realize how low the probability is for the right conditions to exist for life to appear? And then even if the conditions are there, it still has to happen. No, there’s nothin’ out there but more nothin’.”
“That seems pessimistic,” Deanna said.
Rennock shook his head. “I think it’s optimistic. It means we’re the greatest livin’ things in the universe.” He chuckled. “People used to speculate about aliens, teleportation, and time travel. It’s all hogwash. There’s so much to discover and create without worryin’ about those silly daydreams.” He smiled at Deanna. “Take time travel, for instance. Science has proven it impossible. First of all, nothin’ can move faster than the speed of light. Not even the fastest subatomic particles in the universe. Second, time’s woven into the fabric of space and is inseparable from it. However, to speed up or slow down time, one would need to remove oneself from space and move outside of it, since all space is confined by the linear rule of time. Everyone knows it’s impossible for us to move outside of space without dying.”
“It’s all gibberish,” Deanna said. “Your thoughts are confined by your own linear thinking.”
“My thinkin’s gotten me pretty far in life, sweetums.” He smiled at her again. “Now, take teleportation. Some quack scientist named Cal Humber or somethin’ like that tried it first, movin’ atoms from place to place. He started with inanimate objects. Worked every time. So he tried teleporting his dog once he was fully convinced his machine worked. He moved all his dog’s atoms to a new spot, recreatin’ it to a tee. The dog was there, but it was dead. Lots of others tried it with mice, insects, and all sorts of other living organisms. Same result every time. So either there’s somethin’ to life we don’t know about, or it’s just impossible to get all the atoms right. Either way, nobody’s tried it after hundreds, maybe even thousands of other failed attempts centuries ago.” He shook his head. “Nah, we’re stuck here, babycakes. This is it. It’s damn good, though. I mean money’s all there is and we’ve got all of it, right?”
Deanna smiled and nodded. “Right.”
Rennock’s mind started drifting to Primrose and Abigail Song. He still hadn’t heard from Baines. Where the hell was that crazy cyborg bastard? And what was he doing? There was a rumor from Sheriff Wellington Moore of Silver City that Baines had been there at some point, but Rennock hadn’t heard anything else. When he told Sheriff Moore to find Baines, he hadn’t been able to turn anything up. However, Rennock had been contacted by Skinny Hayes, who said he’d found Abigail Song and her companions in his town. He was going to take her out, but that’s all Rennock heard. At this point, he assumed she escaped. He tried calling Skinny back a few times, but there was no answer. This cemented Rennock’s belief that Abgail Song was headed for Primrose, though. South Edge was a stop along the way.
As far as Primrose went, for a while Rennock had considered nuking the useless town and getting rid of the rebels there with one massive explosion. He had the nukes to do it, but several years ago, he’d nuked a town in the Northwest Territory and there was a major uproar. The numbers of resistance fighters skyrocketed and many major news outlets spoke out against it. The people in Primrose were worthless, poor looters, not wealthy people like many in the Northwest Territory, but Rennock figured sending nukes their way could still be enough to push some folks over the edge. Sending troops in wouldn’t be quite as bad. A few people might complain, but nowhere near as many. It was the grandeur of the thing. Big explosions and bombs drew attention. Army invasions seemed to sit better with people for some reason. The result would be the same, though. General Schmidt’s army would methodically kill everyone in the town. No prisoners or survivors of any kind necessary. Rennock was certain he was making the right decision this time.
Rennock had talked to General Schmidt earlier that day, and though his army had hit some bumps, Rennock was still pleased with their overall progress. They had hit heavy resistance from the Mexicans, but apparently had butchered most of the People’s Army of Mexico and were now well on their way to Primrose to take out the rebels. The People’s Army of Mexico was nearly destroyed, the rebels in Primrose were soon to follow, and if all went as planned, Abigail Song would be dead within the next couple of weeks. Rennock couldn’t sleep easily yet, but he’d be able to soon. He pulled Deanna close and kissed her.
“What was that for?” she asked.
“Oh, I don’t know,” Rennock said with a grin. “I’m just in a good mood, I guess.”
“Oh, no,” Pastor Earl said as he watched the smoke coming off Abby’s head. “Please no.”
She opened her eyes and sat up as Pastor Earl, Nat, and Pete watched. Upon closer inspection, Pastor Earl saw that the laser blast had grazed the top of her head. A line of her hair was missing straight down the middle and there were burn marks and a little blood on the skin that was showing on the top of her head, but it didn’t look life-threatening. “Oh, God,” she said as she looked around at the three men who were still standing in the early morning moonlight. Pastor Earl watched as she felt the top of her head with her hand and found the bald spot running down the center. “Oh, God. I probably look like a complete idiot.”
“You’re alive,” Pete said. “Praise Allah.”
“Your wound is not severe,” Einstein said to Abby from her wrist. “Your chance of survival is approximately ninety eight point three percent.”
Abby nodded. “I guess that’s comforting.” She seemed to be in a daze as she continued looking around at her surroundings.
Nat rushed over to Bobby, followed by Pastor Earl. “He’s in bad shape,” Nat said. “We need to get him medical attention now.” Bobby was moaning in pain. There was a hole blasted in his chest near his right shoulder and there was a small puddle of blood forming under him. Pastor Earl prayed that the shot had missed any vital organs. Either way, though, it looked pretty bad and Bobby was in grave danger.
“If he doesn’t receive help,” Einstein said, “my calculations say he’ll live for between two and three more hours, since he appears to be an otherwise healthy thirty-two year old male. The wound doesn’t appear to have punctured his lung or any other vital organs or arteries, but loss of blood could still be deadly.”
“Genius observation,” Nat muttered.
“We can’t stay here,” Pastor Earl said, “but we need to get him help somewhere.”
“Where can we take him then?” Nat asked.
“I think I know a place,” Pete answered. “It’s a rebel safe house between here and Silver City. It’s not far. I’ve taken people there before. There’s an excellent doctor there. One of the best in Numurka.”
“Doctor Elias Long lives approximately forty miles from our current location,” Einstein added. “I believe this is who you’re referring to.”
“Well, let’s get Bobby there, then,” Pastor Earl said.
“We need to get the diamonds from my room, first, though,” Pete pointed out. “Otherwise, all of this was for nothing.” The others nodded in agreement.
“We’ll have to leave Bobby’s sand bike behind,” Nat said, “and we’ve got to be real careful movin’ him.” He looked at Pete. “We can put ‘im in the back of your van.”
“All right,” Pete said.
“But keep an eye on ‘im,” Nat said. “I don’t want anything happenin’ to that kid.”
Pete nodded. “He’ll be fine.”
“I’ll be in there, too,” Abby said. “Don’t worry, Nat. My eyes will stick to him like glue.” Pastor Earl noticed that Abby still seemed to be out of it. He wondered if her eyes were capable of focusing on anything.
“Well let’s go, then,” Pete said. “We don’t have much time.” He ran to his van, got in, and drove it near where Bobby was lying, where he let it hover down onto the dirt road. Meanwhile, Pastor Earl, Nat, and Abby tried to get everything valuable off Bobby’s sand bike and once Pete’s van was parked, they put it all inside. The vultures flew down from the building they’d been perched on and started feasting on the remains of Skinny Hayes and his men as Pastor Earl and his companions worked as quickly as they could. Abby laid a blanket down on the floor in the back of Pete’s van and Nat and Pastor Earl carefully moved Bobby on top of it as Sherry leapt through the open back doors and ran past them towards the front of the vehicle.
“For best chance of survival, somebody should apply pressure to the wound at all times,” Einstein pointed out.
Pete nodded. “There’s a pressure bandage in the box up there with the red cross on it.” He was pointing at one of the overhead shelves.
Abby found the box and handed it to Pete. He rummaged through it until he found what appeared to be a thick white loop with an electronic mechanism of some sort attached to it. Pastor Earl watched as Pete lifted Bobby’s arm and slipped the bandage around Bobby’s shoulder, making sure part of it covered Bobby’s wound. He pushed a button and the loop squeezed as Bobby squirmed and moaned in pain. It wasn’t the first time Pastor Earl had seen a pressure bandage in action. He’d helped medics apply them to many of his wounded friends back when he fought with the New Brazilian Resistance Army. Once Bobby was situated, Pete and Abby got into the front of the van and Nat and Pastor Earl got on their sand bikes and they all started their engines and headed for the hotel with Pete’s van leading the way.
Abby adjusted the white cowboy hat she was wearing. Pete had given it to her to cover up her bald spot until her hair grew back. Abby hoped the burns weren’t so bad that it wouldn’t grow back. The doctor needed to look at her head and Pete’s hand and side which were also wounded, but the priority was definitely Bobby. They’d picked up the diamonds from the hotel and now they were headed for the safe house, moving as quickly as possible. Abby watched from the passenger seat of Pete’s van as the dunes whizzed past in the moonlight. Her head was pounding and the nausea was coming on strong. She hoped the doctor had some pain killers available. “How much longer until we get there?” she asked Pete.
“Not too much longer if I remember correctly,” he answered.
“It’s only about five more miles,” Einstein said.
Bobby was no longer moaning in the back, but Abby could see his chest was still moving up and down so he was breathing, at least. He was either unconscious or asleep. “It’s funny in a way,” Abby said as she looked at Bobby. “It doesn’t seem like too long ago that he was the one rushing me to a doctor. I survived. I really hope he does, too.”
“He will,” Pete said. “Just keep praying about it. Allah answers the prayers of those who follow him.”
Abby glanced at him. “So you don’t think the God I’m praying to is different from yours, then?”
Pete shrugged. “I believe Islam is the only true religion, but prayer is prayer, and when you’re in dire straits, I believe Allah will listen.”
Abby nodded as the hover van continued speeding over desert dunes with Nat and Pastor Earl close behind on their sand bikes. Soon, a house appeared on the horizon ahead. Abby could barely see it in the darkness at first, but she could make out more as they got closer. It was a large sandstone building, three stories tall. Abby’s jaw dropped when she noticed a sports hover car parked near some other vehicles on the dune outside. By the house’s porch light, she could see that it was red. “It couldn’t be,” she said under her breath. There was a hot pink sand bike parked next to it. She wondered if Horseman had met somebody. She started wondering if she’d made a mistake when she’d given him the cold shoulder. It didn’t matter. It probably wasn’t even his. There were probably thousands of red sports hover cars around.
“Horseman’s here,” Pete said.
“How do you know that’s his car?” Abby asked.
“There were only five Franco 7000 sports hover cars ever made,” Pete said. “The chances of one of the others being here are very slim.”
“Approximately one hundred thousandth of a percent,” Einstein added.
Abby frowned. She wasn’t so sure she wanted to see Horseman. She’d cut him off the way she did because she was never expecting to see him again. “Oh, that’s nice.”
Pete parked the hover van next to Horseman’s car and Nat and Pastor Earl stopped their sand bikes next to it. Pete and Abby got out of the van and Nat and Pastor Earl got off their bikes and they all stood near the front of the safe house. “I’ll go to the front door,” Pete said. “They might recognize me. We probably shouldn’t move Bobby any more, though. Let’s let the doctor’s people take care of it.”
Everyone agreed and Pete went to the front door and knocked. The door opened and a short, brown-haired woman wearing light blue scrubs smiled at Pete. She appeared to be in her forties. “Can I help you?”
Pete nodded. “We have a man with us who was wounded by a laser blast to the chest. He needs immediate medical attention.”
“All right,” the woman said with a concerned expression. “I’ll send some of our people out to get him right away. The rest of you can come inside.”
Pete stayed outside with his van and Sherry, waiting for the people who were coming to get Bobby, while Abby, Nat, and Pastor Earl walked into the safe house with the woman. “You can sit where you like,” she said. They were in what appeared to be a large living room with comfortable recliners, couches, and a 3D television projector. There were several doors leading to other rooms and there was a long hallway that led through the center of the safe house. Abby noticed a sign on the wall above the hallway entrance which read “You have never really lived until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.”
“We have rooms for all of you where you can stay while you wait for your friend to recover,” the brown haired woman said. “Make yourselves comfortable. I’m Ginny. I’m here to make sure your stay is as pleasant as possible. Come to me with any questions or concerns.”
Pastor Earl looked at her inquisitively. “I have a question,” he said. “How do you avoid Herman Rennock’s enforcers and other unsavory elements? I’d think what you do here is pretty dangerous in some ways.”
“We have a saying here at Long’s Safe House,” Ginny answered. “If you help others, you will be rewarded. We help whoever needs our help, regardless of what side they’re fighting on in some war.” She smiled at him. “We even help bandits if they’re injured. We don’t discriminate here. Anyway, several decades ago, Doctor Long saved Joshua Rennock, Herman Rennock’s uncle, from death. He’d been wounded in some sort of accident or something. And Herman Rennock has promised to never look into what we do here. He was grateful for our help with his uncle.”
Abby frowned. She was certain he’d change that attitude if he knew she was there. Ginny turned and disappeared through one of the doors. Another door opened and an effeminate black man emerged. “I would have kicked your ass if you weren’t so sexy,” he said. “You were distracting me the whole time.” He was of average height, thin but muscular, and his head was shaved. He was wearing jeans and a black tank top, and Abby noticed his fingernails were long, manicured, and painted pink and he was wearing dark eyeliner and lipstick.
Horesman Hemingway came through the door after him. “Shut up, Della,” he said with a grin. “You just suck at holoball. Stop trying to make excuses.” He stopped in his tracks when he saw Abby and her companions. Abby had forgotten how handsome he was. “Hi, Abby,” he said with a smile.
“Hi, Horseman,” Abby said, smiling back.
Continue on to the next chapter:
Horseman and Abby talk about what’s happened since they last saw one another.
Warrick finds Devin and they decide to head for Primrose.
Horseman tries to impress Abby.
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