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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:
Herman Rennock learns of Abby’s whereabouts.
Bobby and Michelle finally get the chance to go on their date.
Pete Ahmad is captured during a scouting mission.
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Afterlife, Volume 1, Chapter 32
Devin Hellier was sitting in an uncomfortable metal chair in the living room of the home Warrick Baines and his enforcers had occupied in the name of Herman Rennock. It was a quaint sandstone farmhouse and the living room only had a lumpy old couch and a few metal chairs. The television was antiquated and could only get one or two channels, and it didn’t even get those very well. The three dimensional image it projected didn’t look real at all, which meant there probably weren’t many nanobots. The main reason Warrick had chosen this house was its proximity to Primrose. Devin was bored out of his mind as he waited, watching a cockroach slowly make its way across the dusty floor. Noah and his men had intercepted a group of Rennock’s soldiers who were escorting one of Abigail Song’s companions and they’d managed to talk the soldiers into releasing him into their custody. Noah had been monitoring messages sent from Rennock’s scouts, and once they heard talk of a hover van that had been linked to Miss Song, they acted immediately. Warrick Baines had rode out to meet them and now Devin and the other men sitting in the room were waiting for the others to return with their quarry.
Devin heard the engines of sand bikes outside. “They must be back,” Henry Lovetree, one of the other enforcers in the room, said. Devin nodded, watching the door.
The front door opened and Noah Flyman walked in, followed by Warrick Baines and a muscular man of Middle Eastern descent who had a bushy black beard and was wearing a black tank top and jeans. His arms were tied behind his back as Warrick and Noah led him into the room. Warrick nodded towards Devin, who stood and took several steps away from the chair he’d been sitting in. “Please have a seat,” Warrick said in his metallic voice. “Make yourself comfortable.” Noah pushed the man into the metal chair Devin had been sitting in and stood behind him with his hands on the man’s shoulders. The man tried to wiggle free but Noah tightened his grip. The prisoner was muscular, but Noah was obviously stronger. “This gentleman has chosen not to tell us his name,” Warrick said as he paced back and forth in front of the seated prisoner, “but that’s a problem that will soon be rectified.”
The man smiled through his beard. “I’m not telling you anything, you metal bastard.”
Warrick nodded, his red eyes fixed on the prisoner. “That’s fine. You have every right to be silent. I’d enjoy that more, actually.”
“Enjoy it or not,” the prisoner said, “you’ll get nothing out of me.” He spat in Warrick’s direction as the skull-faced cyborg continued pacing. Devin chuckled as he watched. This man either had no idea who Warrick was, or he was trying to be brave, which was pretty stupid.
Warrick nodded and stopped pacing. “Are you familiar with the term acephalous?”
The prisoner shook his head. “Are you familiar with the term silence?”
“It means no longer having a head,” Warrick continued, ignoring the prisoner’s remark, “which implies that the subject once had a head, but now doesn’t have a head any longer. Of course, it can also mean having part of the head removed, but that’s not the definition we’re going to concern ourselves with right now.”
The prisoner frowned. “If you’re trying to intimidate me, Baines, it won’t work.”
Warrick nodded. “Well, your people are notorious for beheading prisoners. But we’ll start somewhere else. There were traces of some of Herman Rennock’s weapons in your van. That makes you a thief. Are you familiar with what your people do with thieves?”
“My people?” the prisoner asked. “You’re lumping us all together, I see. Only an insane handful of Muslims on the fringe of society do the things you’re probably referring to. Those aren’t my people.” Noah’s grip on the prisoner’s shoulders tightened. Henry Lovetree walked up to the man, and as Noah held him down, Henry untied the man’s hands and held his right wrist forward. A long, sharp blade slid out from the cuff of Warrick’s trench coat. With a fast movement, Warrick sliced the prisoner’s right hand off. It dropped to the floor as the prisoner shouted and gritted his teeth in pain, pulling his bloody stump towards his chest.
“Not so defiant now, I see,” Warrick said. “I guess you’ve grown rather attached to your hands. Now, I know you’re a traveling companion of Abigail Song’s. We’ve traced your hover van to her. If you tell me if she’s currently in Primrose, who’s with her, and where she’s going next, I may let you keep your other hand.”
“Go to hell!” the man shouted through his pain. “I won’t tell you anything.”
Warrick nodded to Henry, who pulled the prisoner’s left hand out and held it forward. With a swift slice, Warrick also chopped off that hand and it dropped to the floor with a thud. The prisoner gritted his teeth and shouted again as blood dripped onto the floor from his stump. “So,” Warrick said, “you have no hands, but you still have your head. If you want to keep it, tell me what I want to know, and I’ll be especially kind if you give me any details you know about Nat Bigum.”
The man gritted his teeth and closed his eyes, holding the bloody stumps where his hands used to be close to his chest. “Allahu Akbar!” the man shouted.
Warrick nodded and took a few steps forward. His blade sliced through the man’s neck and the prisoner’s head toppled off and rolled across the floor, his defiant eyes looking up at the ceiling. Noah let his headless, handless body slump forward and flop onto the floor like a sack of potatoes. “We’ll leave him out for the vultures,” Warrick said. “I’m going to go out on the dunes for a while to make myself available for any rebel scouts to see. I want them to bring back word that I’m here. That should draw out Nat Bigum. After I kill him, we can look for Abigail Song in the aftermath of the battle.”
Devin looked down at the pool of blood forming near the headless body’s neck. “So we’re going to stay put then?”
Warrick nodded. “At least until the battle’s over. We’ll let General Schmidt do most of the work. Then, we’ll swoop in like vultures when the time is right.”
Bobby woke up to find himself wrapped in his blanket with Michelle and they were both naked. It hadn’t been a dream, then. It had really happened. The sun was quickly rising as Bobby sat up and stretched. Michelle snuggled closer to him. “Let’s sleep a little longer,” she said.
“Don’t you want to see the sunrise?” Bobby asked.
Michelle shook her head, her eyes still closed. “Some other time.”
Bobby looked out at the metal walls that surrounded Primrose. He could see a long way from the top of the hill they were on. Fear came over his face when he realized there was an army surrounding the city just outside of the wall. Legions of robots fired lasers over the wall, but their blasts were deflected back. Must have been electromagnetic shields of some sort. Bobby noticed several towers along the wall with glowing pink orbs on top. These must have had something to do with the force field. He could see thousands of troops in black uniforms outside the walls quickly approaching. There were also huge metallic structures the size of buildings which were rolling on tracks. There were legless robots hovering, firing repeating lasers from their arms. Bobby noticed the resistance army rushing towards the wall to defend the city. It was obvious that they were outnumbered by at least five to one. Bobby quickly slipped his pants on and put on his shirt and his sling for his right arm. Michelle stirred. “Shelly,” Bobby muttered, “get dressed. We’re in trouble. The battle’s starting.”
She sat up and looked down towards the soldiers rushing around the hill towards the wall. She quickly started putting her dress on as Bobby rolled up the blanket. The sun had mostly risen now and the morning darkness had disappeared. Several of Rennock’s attack ships flew across the sky. They looked like small jets with various weapons spread across their wings. They flew low and managed to make it through the force field. “Get down!” Bobby shouted, pulling Michelle down into the sand. The ships began dropping concussion bombs which filled the area with loud humming booms. One hit the ruined fort near where Bobby and Michelle had been sleeping and sand and rock flew everywhere. Bobby was deafened by the loud sound and his ears hummed. It took him a few seconds to find his bearings again. Rocks landed all around him and Michelle as they huddled close to the ground. Several more explosions hit the ground surrounding the hill and Bobby watched as sand and bloody limbs flew through the air as resistance soldiers shouted and screamed and ran in different directions. Several more attack ships flew through the force field as attack copters which had been stolen by the resistance flew up to meet them in battle. The skies above were soon flooded with laser fire.
“We need to get out of here fast,” Michelle said.
Bobby nodded, looking down as soldiers in the resistance army rushed past the hill. “I’m not sure where we can go, though. This just might be the safest place right now.” He frowned as he looked out at the army of robots, hover tanks, and giant siege weapons approaching the walls of Primrose. “I’m sorry, Michelle, but I don’t think the resistance stands a chance.”
“They’re attacking,” Michelle said. “We’re defending from fixed positions with good defenses. That has to account for something, right?”
Bobby shrugged. “I guess so.” He noticed a gray cloud moving towards the wall. A nearby hover tank in Rennock’s army fired its cannon and another gray cloud came out, also approaching the wall. The first gray cloud hit the wall and swiftly ate a hole through it. The first group of Rennock’s soldiers started running through, firing at the defenders waiting on the other side. Resistance fighters mowed them down with repeating laser rifles, but there were too many of Rennock’s soldiers and they kept pouring through the breach in the wall.
Bobby rushed over to his sand bike and grabbed his laser pistol. Michelle ran over to his side. “You want to try to blast your way back to the main city?”
Bobby shook his head. “I really don’t know what to do. We should probably stay here for now, though, and pray Rennock’s army doesn’t decide to storm this hill any time soon.” More and more soldiers and robots poured through multiple breaches in the wall as the fighting approached the foot of the hill Bobby and Michelle were on. Rennock’s forces definitely seemed to be getting the best of the resistance fighters, at least for the time being.
Pastor Earl opened the door to his room and walked out into the stone hallway. Soldiers rushed past him as he made his way towards the cavern where the group’s vehicles were parked. Sergeant Mark Gonzalez intercepted him on his way. There was an anxious look on his scarred face. “What’s going on out here?” Pastor Earl asked. “I heard some commotion and it woke me up. Is Rennock attacking?”
Mark nodded. “Our forces are already defending the walls. It’s up to our group to keep Rennock’s troops out of the city if the walls are breached. I’ll fill you in on our exact orders once we get everyone together.”
“Our main goal should be keeping Abby and Alex alive,” Pastor Earl pointed out.
“It is,” Mark agreed, “and we won’t be able to do that if Rennock’s troops invade the city and come in here and kill us.”
Pastor Earl frowned. “So we’re running into the center of a battle?”
“We’re in the center of a battle,” Mark said, “whether we like it or not. Now go get your friends together.”
“Have you seen Nat this morning?” Pastor Earl asked.
“He already left,” Mark said. “I tried to stop him, but he’s no soldier, so I can’t give him orders.”
“Where did he go?” Pastor Earl asked.
“Our scouts found Warrick Baines and his group holed up in a farmhouse just outside of town,” Mark said. “Reports say your friend Pete Ahmad was brought there this morning. Nat left out as soon as I told him.”
“You shouldn’t have told him that,” Earl said. “Now he’s walking into a trap.”
“Look,” Mark said, “that’s none of my business. Nat asked me to let him know if I got any intel on Warrick Baines. Now I have to get going. I’ve got troops to rally. And so do you.”
Pastor Earl frowned and nodded as Sergeant Gonzalez rushed down the hall. Earl walked as quickly as he could to Abby’s room and knocked on the metal door. He heard some grumbling on the other side. “Hold on,” Abby’s voice said. The door opened and she was standing in a white bathrobe, her hair all askew and a frown on her tired face. Pastor Earl noticed Horseman lying in her cot behind her, the covers pulled up to his naked chest.
Earl didn’t have time to comment on Abby and Horseman, though he was more than a little disappointed. “Abby, we’ve got to get ready to leave. Rennock’s men are attacking.”
Abby glared at him with groggy eyes. “We’re gonna stay and fight.”
“Are you sure that’s a good idea?” Pastor Earl asked.
“No,” Abby replied, “but it’s the right idea. What sort of leader would I ever be if I ran away when my people needed me most?”
“A living one,” Earl replied.
“If we die fighting,” Abby said, “at least we leave a good example to follow. Others will take up arms and fight after us. Who knows? It could cause the chain reaction that could topple Rennock once and for all.”
Pastor Earl shook his head. “Well, whatever we’re doing, we need to meet in the room where our vehicles are so Mark can tell us his orders.”
“All right,” Abby said. “I’ll get dressed, then.”
Pastor Earl nodded and headed down the hallway towards Bobby’s room. On his way there, he found Della Luscious in the hallway wearing a new black cowboy hat with a pink band. “Della, do you know about the attack?” Earl asked.
Della nodded. “I’m all dressed up and ready to go.” He put his hand on the hilt of one of his pearl-handled laser pistols and winked at Pastor Earl.
Earl put his hand on Della’s shoulder. “Della, I want you to promise me something.”
“What is it?” Della asked.
“Look after Abby,” Pastor Earl said gravely. “Stick by her side no matter what. Like glue. She’s too important to let anything happen to her.”
“Of course,” Della said, “but you’ll be around, too. You’re as good a bodyguard as anyone.”
“I’m old,” Pastor Earl said. “So is Nat. I’ve seen you in action. I know you’re a good fighter. Just promise me. For my peace of mind.”
Della nodded. “I’ll stick to her like glue.”
Earl smiled. “Good. Now have you seen Bobby?”
“Bobby and Michelle are gone,” Della said.
“Gone?” Pastor Earl blurted. “Where?”
Della shrugged. “I sang a gig at a club last night. Ran into them on my way out. They went out on a date and didn’t come back.”
Pastor Earl frowned. “Well I hope they’re okay.”
“Me too,” Della said. “It’s not a good morning to be waking up in a strange place.”
“Well come with me,” Earl said. “We need to meet with Sergeant Gonzalez and his group to figure out what’s going on.” Della nodded and the two of them walked down the hallway towards the room where their vehicles were parked.
Mavery and Big Ed walked down the stone corridor towards where they were going to meet with Mark Gonzalez to hear his orders. Big Ed had officially joined the resistance army and had gone through training for the past few days. Mavery had decided she’d stick by him and the Bloody Six during the battle as a sort of field reporter. People would want to know what really happened in Primrose. So many people only heard the one-sided stories of Rennock and his soldiers after they attacked cities and towns. This time, Mavery hoped to tell a different story. She hoped to tell the real story. “You know,” she said as she and Big Ed walked, “I’ll understand if you want to leave. You didn’t sign up for all this. You know, the battle and everything. Sounds like we could be fighting for a lost cause.”
Big Ed looked down at her and smiled. Mavery couldn’t help but think he looked pretty good in his tan uniform. “I’ve always been a lost cause. And I’ve gotten you this far. I’m not leavin’ you now.”
Mavery nodded. “I had a feeling you’d say something like that.”
“Then why’d you say what you said?” Big Ed asked. “If you knew what I was gonna do?”
Mavery smiled. “I just wanted to give you the option. Just in case you wanted out.”
“I wouldn’t have joined the army if I wanted out,” Big Ed said. “This is somethin’ I believe in. Rennock’s a big part of the reason people like me had to turn to stealin’. If we can get rid of ‘im, maybe things’ll be better.” He held Mavery’s hand as they walked and smiled at her. “I ain’t leavin’. You mean too much to me, Mavery. I ain’t lettin’ your pretty face outta my sight.”
Mavery grinned. It was the first time he’d given her that sort of compliment. “Are you flirting with me, Ed?”
“There’s more where that came from,” he said. “Hopefully we live long enough for you to hear it.”
“Yeah,” Mavery said as they walked. “Hopefully.”
Abby looked around at the group Mark Gonzalez was addressing. Della Luscious was wearing a new black cowboy hat with a pink band as he leaned against his hot pink sand bike. He’d gotten black skulls custom painted on each side of the bike since reaching Primrose. Abby thought it looked pretty badass. Pastor Earl was standing next to him, listening intently as Mark spoke. Mavery Thomas and Big Ed were there, as were all of the other members of the Bloody Six. Alex Harris was leaning against a military hover truck of some kind. And then there was Abby and Horseman. They’d had a great time the night before. If it was her last night alive, Abby couldn’t have picked a better one. Abby had immediately noticed that Nat, Pete, Bobby, and Michelle were all missing. Apparently Nat had left in search of Warrick Baines, Pete had gone on a scouting mission and reports said he’d been captured, and Juanita Ricardo said Michelle had sent her a message stating that she and Bobby were heading out to the desert just outside of town to sleep under the stars. There was apparently some fierce fighting out that way and Horseman was visibly anxious. Abby was worried about them, but she was also worried about Pete. She’d left Sherry in her room with some food and water and before Pete left, he’d moved all of the diamonds to Abby’s room and they hid them under her cot. Still, if he was captured, she wasn’t sure if she’d ever see him again. She frowned as she listened to Mark Gonzalez speak.
“Our orders are to take up a position with General Crenshaw’s main group on the eastern side of town,” Sergeant Gonzalez said to the group. “Our position is next to the old Catholic church there. Sand bags have been placed and a makeshift wall has been built. We need to try to keep Rennock’s forces out of town at all costs, but if our position is compromised, we need to retreat back to the signal tower near the canyon. As a last resort, we retreat into the canyon and try our best to defend the entrances so the civilians can find their way out of town. All of the civilians are currently in shelters in these caverns.” He looked around at the faces he was addressing, eventually fixing his eyes on Abby. “My men all know all of these places, so the rest of you, don’t get separated from us for any reason.”
“My sister’s out there,” Horseman muttered. “I’m going to get her.”
“You’re a fighter in the resistance, lieutenant,” Sergeant Gonzalez said. “You outrank me, but for now, you’re with my group, so you need to follow my orders. They come from higher up.”
“Screw your orders,” Horseman said angrily. “I’m getting my sister back here safely. Then, I’ll meet you at one of the positions you just mentioned.”
Mark glared at Horseman for several seconds. “You’d better do as you’re told.”
“I’m in charge here,” Abby said. “Even General Crenshaw answers to me. Bobby and Michelle are important to my mission, so Horseman needs to go out and find them.”
Mark looked at her and frowned. “Well, he can’t go alone.”
“I’ll go with him,” Juanita said. Abby remembered Michelle saying Juanita had been giving her shooting lessons. Apparently, the two of them had grown fairly close.
“And Sera can go with you, too,” Mark said. “I don’t like it, but I guess it’s necessary.” He turned to Sera, who was standing nearby. Abby noticed she had two swords in scabbards hanging from her belt, along with a laser pistol, and a leather band full of throwing knives came down across her chest. Abby also noticed that Sera’s belt was lined with strange blue lights of some sort. “But as soon as you find them,” Mark continued, “get back to us. You know where to find us. We’ll need everyone we can muster.”
Sera had a confident smile on her dark brown face. “Don’t worry. We’ll find you.”
“All right,” Mark said. “Well let’s get going, then. If you’re coming with me, you’ll come in our truck.”
Horseman nodded. “And I’m taking my hover car.”
Abby smiled at him as everyone else gathered near the hover truck and started checking to make sure they had everything they needed. “I want to come with you,” Abby said to Horseman.
Horseman shook his head. “No way. You know you have to stay with these guys. It’s too dangerous coming with me.”
She frowned. “You be careful, then. Get them back in one piece, but get yourself back in one piece, too.”
“Don’t worry about me,” Horseman said with a grin on his handsome face. “I’ve been doing this for a while. I know what I’m doing.”
“Have you ever been involved in a battle like this, though?” Abby asked.
“I’ve been involved in battles,” Horseman said, “though I’m not sure if there’s ever been a battle quite like this one’s going to be.” He leaned down and kissed her. They kissed for a long time as soldiers rushed past. “You be careful, too,” Horseman said when they were finished.
“Don’t worry,” Abby said with a grin. “I’ve gotten used to having people trying to kill me.”
They kissed again and Abby turned and walked towards the truck Mark and his men were piling into. On her way there, she nearly ran into Paul Jacobs, the shortest member of the Bloody Six. Abby remembered that Mark had told her during their lunch that Paul was a grounded pilot who was also an explosives expert. He handed a gun of some sort to Abby. “It’s a repeating laser pistol,” he said. “An RLP. If any of Rennock’s men come near you, just aim at their belly and shoot. Keep shooting until they fall down.”
Abby grinned. “All right. Thanks.”
“It’s really no problem, ma’am.” Paul said with a smile as he turned and walked towards the hover truck.
“There’s a less than one percent chance that the resistance fighters will win this battle,” Einstein said from Abby’s wrist. “I suggest that at the first sign of real danger, you and your friends find a way to leave Primrose immediately.”
“I don’t think that’s an option at this point,” Abby said, looking at the small laser pistol Paul had just handed her. She tucked it into her pants beneath her white jacket.
“Surrendering is not on option,” Einstein said, “since Herman Rennock’s men have orders to execute you. However, retreat is always a valid alternative to death.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” Abby said. She turned and watched as Horseman got into the driver’s seat of his sports hover car. Juanita got into the passenger seat and Sera got in the back. Horseman smiled at Abby and waved as he turned on the car’s engine. Abby waved back as Horseman drove down the tunnel, disappearing from sight. Abby said a quick prayer for him as she got into the back of the hover truck and sat on a bench next to Della. Everyone else who’d been listening to Mark’s orders, including Pastor Earl, was piled in with them. Everywhere Abby looked she saw big guns, concussion grenades, and weapons of all types. John Bernard, who was driving, started the engine and drove through the tunnel Horseman had just disappeared through. Abby closed her eyes. This was it. This was her first real battle.
Continue on to the next chapter:
Afterlife, Volume 1, Chapter 33
Abby and her companions reach their defensive position and start fighting.
Horseman, Juanita, and Sera search for Michelle and Bobby.
Rennock’s forces get the upper hand against the resistance fighters.
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