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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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Nat buries Pete and leaves Warrick Baines on the dune.
The Battle of Primrose comes to an end.
Pastor Earl sacrifices himself so Abby and her companions can leave Primrose.
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Afterlife, Volume 1, Chapter 36
Three vultures picked at what was left of Warrick Baines. One began picking at one of his red eyes, a light which had shut off. The hole between the two eyes where Nat Bigum’s bullet had entered was smoking as another vulture picked at Warrick’s leather glove which covered his left hand and the other was perched on his chest, picking through his trench coat. The first vulture continued picking at the eye when there was a sudden burst of electricity and a shock which made the large bird flinch, flapping its huge wings. The other two vultures also stirred and flapped their wings clumsily. The red lights of Warrick’s eyes came on once again as the smoke continued coming out of the bullet hole between them. Warrick jolted and jerked and there were chaotic flashes of electric light around his patchwork face of skin and metal.
A gloved hand reached up and grabbed the closest vulture by the neck, squeezing and snapping the neck, letting the dead bird fall into the sand. Another hand reached up with lightning speed and snapped the neck of the vulture who’d been perched on Warrick’s chest. The third vulture flapped its wings and started flying away. Warrick sat up, twitching as there was a small explosion of electricity on his face and more smoke came out of the bullet hole. He picked his laser pistol up out of the sand, aimed it at the third vulture, and blew it out of the sky in a puff of blood and feathers.
Something was wrong with Warrick’s mind. He had a nasty headache and he couldn’t stop twitching. He slowly stood and looked around for anything else he needed to kill. He noticed that all of the sand bikes which had been parked near the farmhouse were gone, including his. Warrick’s friends had deserted him, even after everything he’d done for them. Devin Hellier had turned out to be a backstabbing weasel, just like Nat Bigum. Nat Bigum. Warrick was going to kill that bastard if it was the last thing he did. Then, he’d kill Devin Hellier, Noah Flyman, Herman Rennock, and everyone else who’d betrayed him, leaving him for dead out in the desert. And Abigail Song. That little bitch. This had all started with her. He was going to kill her, too, and all of her friends. But first, and most importantly, Warrick needed to take care of Bigum. He twitched and slowly stood, then started walking along the dune as his trench coat flapped in the desert breeze, his mind fixed firmly on Nat Bigum.
Herman Rennock was sitting at a table in a rooftop café in the center of New Atlantis. He adjusted his white ten gallon hat to better block the sun off his face. He was enjoying the nice weather. It wasn’t especially hot, and there was a cool breeze coming up from the southwest. Deanna Tralley was seated across from him, her blonde hair in a ponytail. She smiled at him, her blue eyes gazing through black-rimmed glasses. “You’re distracted,” she said softly, reaching out for Rennock’s hand. “The battle will be over soon, right? Can’t you keep your mind off it for two seconds and enjoy this nice weather and this wonderful wine.” She sipped from the two hundred dollar glass of wine in front of her.
Rennock chuckled. “Sure, darlin’. I guess General Schmidt’s got things well under control. When was it I last talked to ‘im?”
“Twenty minutes ago,” Deanna said with a pointed grin. “And you’ve been calling him almost every half hour. And he keeps telling you the same thing.”
Rennock nodded. “They’ve destroyed Primrose and they’re rootin’ out the last remnants of rebels. They still haven’t found Abigail Song, though.”
“They will,” Deanna said. “Stop worrying. I’m sure they have lots of rubble to sift through. Give it some time.”
Rennock smiled at her. He didn’t want to mention his spy, who’d recently joined Abigail Song’s inner circle. That was top secret and only Rennock, General Schmidt, and a couple of others knew about it. They didn’t want the spy’s identity leaked, so they mentioned it to as few people as possible. Rennock was awaiting word from the spy even more anxiously than anything General Schmidt had to say. That information would definitely shed light on things. His phone buzzed and he lifted it and read the message on the screen. “Leaving Primrose now. Still with Abigail Song. Heading for Western Badlands. Abigail Song is alive and uninjured. She has 400 billion dollars in diamonds. I’ll send coordinates and possible destinations when I can.” Rennock frowned and clinched his fist. So the Dune Post shipment Rennock’s men had captured years ago wasn’t the only one. He needed Song alive, now. He had to find the whereabouts of the rest of those diamonds. Then, he’d kill her personally.
Rennock usually didn’t respond to the spy’s messages. He didn’t want to alert anyone nearby of anything suspicious. However, this was too important not to respond to immediately. “Change of plans,” he typed into his phone. “Do not kill Song. Keep me posted on her movements. Try to stay with her as long as possible. I want those diamonds. There are also probably more. Update me with any info regarding Miss Song and/or her diamonds. The other people with her are expendable. Do not hesitate to kill any of them if you have the opportunity.” He pushed send.
“What’s wrong?” Deanna asked.
Rennock shook his head and smiled a fake smile. “Oh, nothin’.” Still no word from Warrick Baines. It had been weeks now. Rennock had given up on Baines and officially made Eileen Traymont the new leader of the enforcers in the Southwest Territory. She’d stay loyal. He knew that for a fact. She was as loyal and idealistic as you could get, and Eileen was a staunch believer in economic freedom. Rennock would call her later and fill her in on Abigail Song. He didn’t want to mention the diamonds, though. No need for a corrupting influence that could possibly turn people against him.
“Well,” Deanna muttered. “I’m enjoying this wine, regardless.” She took a swig from her glass, finishing it off, and grabbed the bottle from the center of the table, pouring herself another glass.
The view from the Skyscraper Café was breathtaking. The building it was perched atop wasn’t the tallest skyscraper in New Atlantis, but it was high enough. From the café, patrons could see all of the buildings in the southern half of the city, the green parks far below, the wall surrounding the city, and the stark dunes stretching out to the horizon. Rennock wasn’t interested in the view he’d seen so many times before, though. His mind was racing. Abigail Song or no Abigail Song, the rebels had been dealt a crushing defeat in Primrose. It was now only a matter of time before the rebellion was a thing of the past. Besides, now that he knew about the diamonds, he was glad Song wasn’t dead. Rennock’s phone buzzed again. He looked down to see that it was Devin Hellier and he grinned. News from Warrick’s group at last. He smiled at Deanna. “Sorry, babe. I have to take this.”
“Of course,” Deanna said, rolling her eyes as she finished off another glass of wine.
Rennock made his way past tables and other patrons until he reached a secluded spot by one of the guardrails. He pushed a button on his phone and tiny nanobots rose out of it and formed a small three dimensional image of Devin Hellier’s cleanly shaven, severe-looking face. “Rennock, Sir.”
“Hellier,” Rennock blurted. “Why hasn’t Baines contacted me?”
“He’s dead, sir,” Devin responded.
Rennock frowned and nodded. “I should have known.”
“Should I take over for him, sir?”
Rennock shook his head. “Take over your group. You have the special task of tracking down Abigail Song. Eileen Traymont’s your boss, now.”
Devin nodded. Hellier was trying hard to hide his disappointment but Rennock could tell he was a little shocked that he wasn’t going to be in charge. It took Devin a few seconds to collect his thoughts. “I’ve been leading the interrogation of the citizens of Primrose,” he said. “We’ve gone through most of them. Very few know anything about Abigail Song other than silly legends and stuff like that.”
“Legends?” Rennock asked.
“She’s become a sort of a folk hero,” Devin said. Rennock snorted and shook his head. “Anyway,” Devin continued, “we’ve killed pretty much everyone who was still here. There are a few we’re still trying to find information from.”
Rennock shook his head. “Kill them. I’m leaving you in charge of eradicating anyone still alive there. Once you’ve finished, head for the Western Badlands. That’s where Abigail Song is headin’.”
“How do you know?” Devin asked.
“Don’t question my orders,” Rennock commanded. “Just go. And I want her alive, now. By no means kill her. She needs to be interrogated. She dies, you die. Understand?” Devin nodded and Rennock hung up. He headed back to his table, where he sat down in front of Deanna once again. “Sorry, babe. Everything’s good now. You’ll have my full attention the rest of the afternoon.”
Deanna nodded. “Is Song dead, then?”
“Let’s just say,” Rennock said as he filled his glass with wine and smiled, “things are in good hands.”
Abby’s face was in her hands. On the one hand, Pastor Earl’s death seemed so pointless. On the other hand, she knew he had sacrificed himself so she and her friends could live. Maybe they would have escaped whether he lived or died. Either way, his sacrifice made it a definite. And he may have died anyway, with his wound bleeding out and no access to a real doctor. She looked up. There were no tears on her face. She’d lost two of the people she was closest to within hours, but she was getting used to loss. That was the cold, hard fact of the matter. She’d always remember them, but she didn’t have time to mourn them. Not now. Not when there was so much to do. There were no tears on her face; just a blank look of numbness. She looked through the back of the truck at the distant dunes and noticed something moving towards the truck. “What’s that?” she asked.
“I’ve been looking at it for a while now,” Della said.
Juanita was looking through her sniper scope. “It’s Bigum.”
Abby smiled. She had wondered if he’d made it. “Is he alone?” Juanita nodded and Abby frowned. Too bad. That probably meant Pete was dead. Abby had feared as much. She glanced at Sherry, who was curled up on Michelle’s lap. As the sand bike approached, Abby’s eyes confirmed what Juanita had said. It was Nat, in his black vest and jeans, riding his black sand bike with the orange and yellow flames pained on the sides. There was something missing, though. Abby noticed his short gray hair. His hat. Nat always wore that hat. Must have lost it or something. “Can we stop?” Abby asked. “To meet him?”
Mark shook his head. “We need to get to the badlands. We’re sitting ducks out here. In the badlands at least we’ll have some cover.”
“It’ll just take a few seconds,” Abby said. “I need to talk to Nat. Now.”
Mark frowned. “He can catch up.”
Jane, who was sitting beside her husband, put her hand on his knee. “Mark, it’s all right. We can stop for a little bit.”
“Whatever,” Mark muttered, shaking his head. “I guess my orders mean nothing now.”
“They mean something,” Abby stated, glaring at him. “But you’re following my orders now. They trump yours. You need to get that through your thick head.”
Mark shrugged. “I’m stopping,” John said from the driver’s seat and the truck came to a stop on top of a dune and settled into the sand.
Abby, Bobby, and Della got out of the back of the truck to greet Nat as he rode his sand bike up onto the dune and stopped. He smiled an ugly smile as he sat atop his bike. “Glad to see you’re all okay. Where’s Earl?”
Abby frowned. “He didn’t make it. Neither did Horseman.”
Nat frowned and nodded. “Neither did Pete. I did manage to kill Warrick Baines, though. The rest of his men got away. What happened with Earl?”
“He sacrificed himself,” Della said, “so the rest of us could get away.”
Nat nodded. “Well he was always a badass. He was an idiot, too, but he was a badass. What about Horseman?”
“A sniper got him,” Bobby said with a frown.
It was the first Abby had heard of that. She let out a deep breath and was angry with herself for not asking before or being more concerned. Still, she could process those feelings later. “Well,” she said, “we need to get out of here before more of Rennock’s forces come looking for us. We’re heading west towards the Western Badlands. You’ll have to ride, Nat. We only have two docking stations.”
Nat nodded. “I prefer ridin’ anyway.” Abby smiled at him and she, Bobby, and Della got back into the truck. The truck started moving again and Nat followed on his sand bike.
A breeze rustled the flowers at Abby’s feet. She was standing by a lake, looking down at a four leaf clover that was growing in a colorful wildflower patch. “It’s beautiful here, isn’t it?” Abby turned to see who the voice belonged to and saw Pastor Earl standing beside her, a few feet away. His long, white ponytail hung down over his grey t-shirt in the back and his wooden cross hung down over his chest.
“Why did you do it?” Abby asked.
“He did it for you,” her father’s voice said. She watched as her father walked up next to her on the other side. He was wearing the same black suit he always wore in her dreams. “He realized your importance.”
Pastor Earl nodded. “Abby, you have to see this through. Your father and I have faith in you. We know you can do it.”
“You’ve hit a setback,” her father said, “but it’s not the end. Keep fighting. I know you’ll find a way.”
“I guess it’s starting to set in,” Abby said. “This is going to be a lot harder than I thought.”
“Not impossible, though,” her father said. “You’ve faced bad odds in the past and haven’t let it rattle you.”
Abby frowned and nodded, looking out over the rippling water. Leaves of trees surrounding the lake rustled and birds tweeted as they flew from branch to branch. “Herman Rennock’s so rich and powerful, though,” Abby said. “He has all the weapons and all the technology. And he has a much bigger army. What can we possibly do against him?”
“He’s making lots of enemies,” Pastor Earl said.
“He can only fight so many foes at once,” her father added with a smile. “Chip away at him. Primrose was more than just a hindrance for him. He was legitimately weakened.”
“This war won’t end in one day,” Pastor Earl said. “There will be other battles to fight.”
“We’re not telling you anything you don’t already know, though,” her father said.
Abby nodded and chuckled. “Of course not. This is my own subconscious talking to me, after all.”
Pastor Earl laughed. “Can you be so sure? You do believe in an afterlife, right?”
Abby chuckled. “Yeah, I guess so, but…”
“Look Abby,” her father said. “You know the next destination. Carpenter City.”
“Be careful there,” Pastor Earl said, looking at her gravely with his steely blue eyes. “Don’t trust anyone you don’t know. Don’t even trust the people you do know.”
Her father nodded. “Abby, I wanted you to know that I’m proud of you, I love you, and you will be okay.” She hugged him as the dream faded out.
Bobby was sitting on some rocks, watching the sun rise over the badlands. He’d gotten up early and couldn’t get back to sleep, so he left Michelle sleeping in their tent and he was enjoying the view, lost in his thoughts. The tan rocks rose up like jagged teeth, covering the landscape ahead of Bobby with cracked, broken shapes. There were deep canyons and dark chasms twisting their way through the savage landscape, but Bobby could see mountains rising far in the distance. They were approaching the foothills of the Rockies. He heard some stirring near the tents, which Bobby and the others had set up near the parked hover truck and the three sand bikes. They’d parked on the least rocky, most level area they’d been able to find, but it had still been an uncomfortable place to sleep. Bobby turned to see Abby’s tent open. She got out, stretched, and walked towards him, wearing her jeans, a blue t-shirt, and her white cowboy hat. She sat down next to Bobby and looked out towards the horizon. Bobby noticed that she was holding a book. “Carpenter City,” she said. “That’s where we’re heading next. I’m not sure what Rennock’s presence there is like, so I’ll need you to get the diamonds for me this time. Maybe you can get Mark or John to help you.”
Bobby nodded. “That’s fine. How many more cities was it after Carpenter City?”
“Just two,” Abby said. “And then Valhalla.”
“And which cities was it?”
Abby shook her head. “I told Einstein to tell me the locations as I get the diamonds, for safety’s sake. In case I’m captured and interrogated.”
“So you don’t know, then?” Bobby asked.
“Even I don’t know,” Abby said. “I don’t know the location of Valhalla, either. It’s all in Einstein.”
Bobby looked at her wrist and noticed the computer wasn’t on it. “Where is he?”
“Back in the tent,” Abby said. “Don’t worry. He’s well hidden. If anyone were to get ahold of him and figure out how to hack into him, we’d be screwed. They’d know everything.”
Bobby frowned. “We’ll have to make sure that doesn’t happen, then.”
Abby nodded. “How’s Michelle.”
Bobby shook his head. “I don’t know, Abby. I mean, she was pretty bad off after Warrick Baines tortured her, but she’s even worse now with, you know…”
Abby nodded. “I know. Now that Horseman’s dead.”
“You seem to be dealing with it pretty well,” Bobby said.
“I’m not dealing with it.” Abby looked at Bobby and frowned. “Bobby, Michelle’s going to be okay. You have to give it time. I got better after my family was killed. She’ll get better, too. You have to show her love. Love brought me out of it. It’ll bring her out of it, too.”
“Love for Horseman brought you out of it?” Bobby asked.
Abby smiled at Bobby and shook her head. “Maybe a little, but it was you guys. My friends. You, Pastor Earl, Nat. I know it sounds corny, maybe. But I have people to care about again. I have people worth fighting for. That’s what brought me out of it.” She frowned. “It took years for me, though. Hopefully it’s not like that with Michelle.”
“Well, I’ll stick with her, no matter what,” Bobby said.
“I know you will,” Abby said. She looked out at the horizon. “We’ve got a long road ahead of us.”
Bobby nodded. “We’ll keep going, though. We’ve made it this far. Most of us have, anyway.”
“But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,” Abby said, reading from the book on her lap. “They shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”
Bobby chuckled. “You sound like Pastor Earl.”
Abby smiled and nodded. “He left me his Bible. I spent a good part of last night reading from it, and I read some more this morning.”
“So you believe that stuff?” Bobby asked, shaking his head.
“You sound like Nat,” Abby muttered.
Bobby shrugged. “I guess I believe in something. I just don’t know what it is.”
“None of us really know,” Abby said. “That’s why there’s a thing called faith.”
Bobby chuckled. “Earl would be proud.”
“Be strong and courageous,” Abby read. “Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.” She looked out at the sunrise.
“What’s the deal with those quotes?” Bobby asked.
“Pastor Earl had them bookmarked and highlighted,” Abby said. “I can’t help but think maybe he meant for me to see them.”
Bobby nodded. “Well, maybe we should get some breakfast started. We can surprise everyone when they wake up.”
“What kind of food do we have?” Abby asked.
“I think I saw some bacon,” Bobby said. “They’ve got a camping stove in the truck and a big cooler full of food.”
“Sounds good,” Abby said with a grin. “I’m starving.” The two of them stood and made their way towards the truck as the rays of the sun spread across the broken rocks of the Western Badlands.
This is the end of Afterlife Volume 1.
Continue on to the next chapter:
Afterlife, Volume 2, Chapter 1 (the beginning of Volume 2)
New Atlantis News experiences technical difficulties.
A pair of newlyweds find themselves in an awful predicament.
Abby and her companions continue their journey.
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