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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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Abby and her companions leave the safe house.
A sneak attack separates Abby and Horseman from the others.
Mavery and Big Ed arrive in Primrose and meet Alexander Harris.
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Afterlife, Volume 1, Chapter 29
The six soldiers who were sitting closest to Alex Harris stopped what they were doing and turned to face Big Ed and Mavery. “I suppose I should introduce you to my friends,” Alex said with a smile on his bearded face. Though the beard hid his mouth, Mavery could tell he was smiling through his kind brown eyes. He motioned to the six soldiers. “I guess you could say these are my bodyguards. With the coming battle, General Crenshaw, the leader of the resistance here in Primrose, thought I should be well protected, so he left me with these folks. Around here, they’re known as the Bloody Six, and they’re the six most famous soldiers in our army, or infamous depending on which side you’re on.”
The first soldier to introduce himself to Mavery was a muscular, bald Hispanic man with some nasty scars on his face. Mavery could tell the face had once been handsome, but it had seen one too many battles. Like the others, he wore a wrinkled tan uniform with gold insignia on the sleeves. “I’m Sergeant Mark Gonzalez,” he said with a slight accent. He motioned to the woman sitting next to him, who was a pretty, but rough-looking young woman with short, blonde hair and blue eyes. “This is my wife, Jane.”
She nodded at Mavery. “Nice to meet you,” she said in a tired voice.
Mavery wondered how sincere she was. Still, she smiled back. “Thanks. Nice to meet you, too.”
The soldier seated to Jane’s left was a wiry-looking black woman with short hair and intense eyes. Her tan shirt was sleeveless and there was a tattoo of an eagle on her left arm. “I’m Sera,” she said with a kind smile.
A man with dark, curly hair was the next to introduce himself. He was the shortest of the bunch and didn’t look particularly menacing, but Mavery knew looks could be deceiving. “I’m Paul Jacobs,” he said. “At your service, ma’am.”
The man seated to Paul’s left was a muscular black man with glasses, short hair, and a goatee. He wasn’t as big as Big Ed, but he was the biggest, most muscular man of the six. “John Bernard,” he muttered as he nodded at Mavery. She smiled and nodded back.
The final member of the Bloody Six was a thin Hispanic woman with long, black hair which she wore in a ponytail. With a thin face and big brown eyes, she was the prettiest of the women, but there was still something intimidating about her. Mavery thought maybe it was her facial expression or just the way she carried herself. She seemed like she was sizing everyone up for a fight. “I’m Juanita Ricardo,” she said.
“So,” Alex said to Mavery as the other soldiers in the room continued with their various leisure activities, “did you have a rough trip?”
Mavery shrugged. “It could have been worse, I guess. Ed and I were lucky enough to find some help along the way. It took a little longer than I expected, but we managed.”
“Did you have any trouble at the border?” Alex asked.
Mavery nodded. “A little. Before that, though, we were held up in Silver City for several days. Rennock’s men were weeding out resistance members there, and we had trouble finding a way across the Rio Grande. We eventually found someone to take us through one of the tunnels. Then, like you said, we had to find a way across the border, so we were stuck in Las Fronteras for a while.”
“How’d you end up getting across?” Alex asked.
“We just had to find the right merchant to pay off,” Big Ed muttered.
Mavery nodded. “We came across the border with a merchant caravan. I had a little money I took with me when they kicked me out of New Atlantis, but I had to use what little I had left. It wasn’t much, but it was enough.”
“It’s all right,” Alex said, smiling through his thick beard. “We’ll take good care of you here.”
“As long as those levelers don’t show up,” the muscular black man named John said.
“Levelers?” Mavery asked.
Sergeant Gonzalez nodded. “Rennock uses massive robots to level towns and cities. We call ‘em levelers. Some of our scouts saw a few with the army approaching, along with the usual hover tanks, EMPC’s, attack copters, and robots.” He frowned. “It’s gonna be a tough battle.”
His wife, Jane, frowned also. “I don’t know if we have the firepower to stop them.”
“What we lack in firepower,” Alex said, “we make up for with ingenuity and desperation. We’re defending our turf, remember? Anyway, I won’t mince words.” He looked at Mavery and Big Ed gravely. “This battle’s not going to be easy, and there are going to be lots of casualties, on both sides.”
Mavery nodded. What was she getting herself into? “Well I can report on it, and I think I should be able to find a way to get your story back to Liana Pinkney so we can publish it in the Mountaintop Herald. The more the public knows, the better. It can only help your cause.”
Alex frowned. “You don’t know, then.”
“Don’t know what?” Mavery asked.
“The Mountaintop Herald was shut down,” he said. “Liana was found dead in her apartment from an apparent pill overdose.”
“Really?” Mavery asked. “Liana didn’t take pills. She wouldn’t even take cough medicine when she was sick.” She thought for a few seconds. “It was murder. Rennock’s people must have done it.”
“That’s what I figured, too,” Alex said. “You’re lucky they didn’t kill you. I guess they saw you as less of a threat, and it’s a lot harder to cover up two murders.”
Mavery frowned. That put a huge damper on her plans. “Well, I can still find a way to get the word out there. As long as I can get on the Satellite Net. I can start a blog or something if nothing else.”
“We have some hackers that can get you on, I’m sure,” Alex said. “You’re right, though. It is important we get the word out regarding what’s happening out here. Barney Chambers has a blog he’s been running for a while. He’s helped get the resistance lots of new recruits. The people need to know what’s happening.”
Mavery nodded. “Rennock hasn’t shut Barney Chambers down yet?”
Alex shook his head. “He hasn’t been able to find him. Besides, Barney has some of the best hackers in the world working with him. Problem is, so does Rennock. He just calls them programmers. You’re only a hacker if you’re on the wrong side of those in power, apparently.”
“So it’s always been,” Big Ed muttered. “When CEO’s do it, it’s a corporate takeover. When I do it, it’s stealin’.”
Alex looked at him curiously. “Well, we should get the two of you rooms. How long will you be staying here?”
“As long as we can, I guess,” Mavery said. “I’ve heard Abigail Song is on her way here. I’d like to find her and see if she’ll let me tell her story.”
Alex nodded. “I’ve heard those rumors, too, but we don’t have any official word yet. Just speculation and some disjointed tips from various operatives. Anyway, go with Juanita. She’ll find rooms for you.” Mavery nodded and she and Big Ed followed the prettiest of the Bloody Six out of the room through the metal door, leaving the soldiers to their snacks and card games.
Horseman’s sports hover car accelerated to six hundred miles per hour as laser blasts sprayed sand from all directions. The world outside was a white blur as Abby was pushed back against her seat, praying that she somehow survived this. She felt as if her face was melting away. “Sorry!” Horseman shouted. “Don’t move, and don’t relax! Stay alert!” The speed continued to increase and Abby saw sand flying everywhere. She could see in the view screen that the EMPC’s were still there, following them every step of the way. “We just broke the sound barrier!” Horseman shouted. Abby noticed the speed was at eight hundred miles per hour as they slowed down considerably and shot into darkness.
“Please don’t kill me,” she said when she realized they were flying through a cave, slowing down to three hundred and then two hundred miles per hour. “Please don’t kill me.”
“The Franco 7000 has advanced life support and environmental control functions,” Einstein said from Abby’s wrist. “It’s the safest hover car on the market. Also, its advanced navigational control systems should keep us from crashing at the speed we’re now traveling.”
“I need to concentrate, though,” Horseman muttered. “Stop talking, both of you.” They zipped around tight corners with ease as laser blasts continued hissing past them, meaning the EMPC’s were somehow still following them. Abby turned and looked out the rear window to see one of them smash into a rocky cave wall and explode. The other was still there, though.
“You’re outmaneuvering magnetic propulsion crafts,” she said. “More power to you.” The hover car slowed down more as it zipped past two tight curves. Abby barely felt the movement. The hover car’s environmental controls changed air pressure to compensate for fast movements, cushioning the occupants’ bodies at the same time.
The last EMPC exploded as it crashed into the cave wall and Horseman let out a deep breath and slowed down some more. “Well, we’re alive, but who knows where we are, and who knows where everyone else is. Maybe we should stop to rest.”
Abby shook her head. “Not until we’re out of here. I’ve had bad experiences with caves.”
“We’ll stay in the car,” Horseman said.
“No way,” Abby blurted. “I only have one leg left. Let’s get the hell out of here.”
Horseman nodded and continued driving through the darkness, using the car’s advanced navigation systems to find his way through the dark cave. The car’s lights were on the brightest settings, and Abby could see that this cave was very dry. It appeared natural, not like the sewer she and Bobby had found. There were some stalactites and stalagmites, but they were fewer and farther between than the other cave she’d been in. She noticed something hanging from the ceiling. There were several grayish shapes she could see as they zoomed past. She realized they were large bats the size of small children and she shuddered. “Maybe Pastor Earl’s story about the giant bat was true after all,” Horseman said.
Abby shrugged. “I don’t remember what you’re talking about. The farther away we stay from them, the happier I’ll be, though.”
The cave narrowed as Horseman flew his hover car past stone walls and side passages, trying to use the navigation system to head towards the Mexican border the best he could. There was soon an opening in the cave ahead and Horseman’s hover car shot out into the dunes once again, beneath the blazing desert sun. The bright sunlight reflecting off the white sand blinded Abby at first. She rubbed her eyes and watched as Horseman brought the hover car to a stop in a valley between two dunes. “I’m not detecting any more EMPC’s,” Horseman said. “As a matter of fact, I’m not detecting anything. The air’s not breathable here, either.”
“Where are we?” Abby asked.
“We’re about fifty miles from the Mexican border,” Horseman said. “I hope we’re not too far from Michelle and the others. I’m not detecting anything in a thirty mile radius. And even past that, what I’m seeing on the scanners just looks like air converters and maybe farms and small villages here and there.” He frowned. He tried to call Pete on his communicator. “The communicator’s not working, either. We must be out of range of any relay centers.”
“We’ll find them,” Abby said, putting her hand on his arm. “If nothing else, we can head for Primrose and find them there.”
Horseman nodded and smiled at her. “Yeah. We just need to figure out how we’re gonna cross the border with every soldier and enforcer Rennock has looking out for us.” He sighed. “Well, at least we’re alive.”
Abby smiled back and leaned in and kissed him. They kissed for several minutes, relieved to be out of harm’s way, at least for the time being.
“Can you drive a hover van, Bobby?” Pete shouted as he steered the vehicle away from the laser fire from the EMPC’s.
“I can,” Bobby shouted back.
“Then get up here. I’m gonna go back and see if I can shoot those EMPC’s through the back doors using my surface to air laser blasters.”
“Okay,” Bobby shouted. He smiled at Michelle, who smiled back, and made his way up to the front of the van. Pete put the van on auto for a few seconds and got up from the driver’s seat, where Bobby sat down and took over driving duties. He steered with just his left hand, since his right arm was in a sling. Pete made his way to the back of the van and started shuffling through the stuff on one of the overhead racks. Bobby saw laser blasts hitting the dunes all around him. He kept swerving from side to side, following Nat’s lead as the former sheriff led the caravan on his black sand bike with the orange and yellow flames painted on the sides. Sand was spraying everywhere and the lasers were getting awfully close. Bobby knew they wouldn’t last long if they couldn’t do anything to stop the EMPC’s. “Can you use your electromagnetic force field?” he asked Pete, remembering their first encounter when Pete had saved him, Nat, Pastor Earl, and Abby from a different set of EMPC’s.
“No time to charge it up,” Pete said. “I’ll just have to shoot them down with the laser blasters while you do your best to evade them.”
Bobby nodded and tried his best to keep up with the sand bikes in front of him. Nat led them in and out of a valley, when Bobby suddenly noticed that Horseman and Abby had disappeared. “I don’t see Horseman’s hover car anywhere.”
“What?” Michelle shouted from the back. Sherry, who’d been sitting on her lap, perked up and barked.
Bobby realized saying anything had probably been a mistake. He’d been right, though. The three sand bikes were up ahead now, but there was no sign of Horseman’s red sports hover car. “It’s all right. They can’t have gone far.”
“We’ll find them after I take out the EMPC’s,” Pete said as he lifted a large weapon with multiple barrels and opened one of the doors in the back of the van. The EMPC’s appeared on a computer screen on top of the weapon. Bobby heard the air rushing by as Pete held the door open and there were several fizzing sounds as Pete fired repeating laser blasts at the EMPC’s. Pete struggled to keep his balance as he fired out the back door, but he managed to get several shots off without falling out into the dunes. Eventually, there was an explosion, soon followed by another. “They’re gone!” Pete shouted. “There were only two left. The other two must have gone after Horseman.”
He pulled the door shut, put the weapon back on one of the storage racks, and made his way back to the front, relieving Bobby, who went back to sit on the bench next to Michelle once again. Her scarred face was draped with worry. “We’ll find them,” Bobby said, putting his arm around her.
She nodded. “Yeah. I sure hope so.” She petted Sherry, who was curled up on her lap. Pete tried to call Horseman and Abby on their communicators, but there was no answer. He contacted Nat, Pastor Earl, and Della, and everyone agreed that the best course of action would be to head towards Primrose. Pete would continue scanning for any vehicles resembling a sports hover car, and they’d meet up with Abby and Horseman in Primrose once they got there if not before then. “I just hope they’re okay,” Michelle said. “Especially if those other two EMPC’s followed them.”
“They’ll be fine,” Bobby said. “If there’s one thing I know about Abby, it’s that she’s resilient, and Horseman seems to be pretty resourceful. I’m sure they’ll both be fine.” Michelle rested her head on his shoulder, but she didn’t sleep. She stared off into space, her face still showing her worry.
They sped through the dunes towards the border, passing broken down villages here and there. Bobby also noticed a scorched body pit in the distance through the front windshield. He could barely make out the hundreds of blackened bodies piled up inside it. He looked away quickly. “I detect something,” Pete said. “I think it could be them.” He contacted Nat and they started heading southwest towards where Pete’s sensors detected an apparent vehicle. Bobby looked out through the front windshield as the dunes whizzed by until he saw a red speck in the distance. “It’s them!” Pete said.
Michelle smiled. “Thank the heavens.”
Bobby nodded, also smiling. “Yeah.” Horseman’s sports hover car came into view, and Bobby was happy to see both Abby and Horseman inside.
Continue on to the next chapter:
Afterlife, Volume 1, Chapter 30
Abby and her companions cross the border and reach Primrose.
They meet Mavery Thomas, Big Ed, Alex Harris, and the Bloody Six.
Abby finds herself in an uncomfortable situation.
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