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:
Warrick Baines reawakens and seeks revenge.
Herman Rennock communicates with a spy in Abby’s group.
Nat Bigum is reunited with Abby’s group and Abby and Bobby reflect on their mission.
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Afterlife, Volume 2, Chapter 1
In a living room in New Atlantis, Evan McMichael knelt on the floor while his parents sat on the comfy brown leather couch, watching the news as it was being displayed by the three dimensional hologram projector. The pretty blonde reporter was droning on and on, appearing as if she were in the actual room with them, while Evan played with his toy robot. He pushed the button to make it talk. “I’m Leveler 3000,” the robot said. “Prepare to be destroyed.” It flashed a beam of red light out of its left hand and there were some laser noises.
“Can you keep it down, Evan?” his dad asked, turning up the volume on the hologram projector. “We can’t hear.”
“And in other news,” the reporter said, “the results from last night’s lightball game between the New Atlantis Cowboys and the Iron Town Miners are in…”
The hiss of static filled the room as Evan’s dad pointed the remote at the projector violently. “What’s this?” The nanobots that formed the three dimensional image became a jumbled black and white mess of snow.
“Is the projector broken?” Evan’s mom asked.
Suddenly, the image of a skull and crossbones with the letters “IAO” scrawled across the middle of it appeared. The image was red, yellow, and blue on a black background. “Do not adjust your projectors,” a voice said. “There is nothing wrong with your system. There is, however, a problem with your world’s system.”
The three dimensional projector depicted a dark room as Evan and his parents watched silently. Four figures stepped forward from the darkness. In the back stood a very handsome white man who was wearing a fur coat, a tall Hispanic man who was wearing a gray cowboy hat, and a short, stubbly-faced black man who was wearing a bandana on his head and an eye patch over his right eye. The man standing in front had messy gray hair and glasses and he was wearing a rumpled black suit. His gray eyes had a craziness about them as they stared out at millions of viewers across the world. “We are the International Anarchy Organization, and we’re the ones who are destroying your system.” He grinned. “In this world, those who have power take from those who don’t. There have been many paths to power throughout history. There’s money, religion, politics, government. We take all of that out of the equation and make things what they truly are.” He waved his hand in a wiping motion as the three men standing behind him looked on. “No more rich and poor. No more my side and your side. Now it’s just we’ve got the guns and you don’t. You do what we say and we don’t kill you. It’s very simple, really. No more hypocrisy. No more us pretending to help you while we secretly stab you in the back. We’re not helping anyone but ourselves. We’re stabbing you in the front, and we’re telling you about it beforehand.”
He laughed as the tall man with the cowboy hat walked away and the projector followed him. Evan could see that the tall man was wearing patchwork clothes made from dirty brown leather and dull metal plates. He looked like a bandit. The other three men were soon out of the picture and the tall man was standing over a kneeling man who looked scared and confused. The kneeling man was wearing a gray suit and had short, brown hair and a cleanly shaven face.
The man standing above him smiled and looked out at the viewers. Evan saw that he was holding a laser pistol. “Say your name,” the tall man with the cowboy hat ordered.
“I’m Martin Greenwood,” the kneeling man said nervously.
“Now,” the voice of the gray-haired man said from off-screen, “we’re going to demonstrate that we mean business. This is Martin Greenwood, the wealthy owner of Greenwood Nanotech. He’s widely considered to be one of the most powerful men in the world.”
The tall bandit fired the laser pistol at Martin Greenwood’s head and blood shot out at millions of viewers around the world. “We are the International Anarchy Organization,” the gray haired man’s voice said, “and as of this moment, the world belongs to us.”
The sand bike moved swiftly over the high dunes. It was a speck in a vast expanse of white sand, flying over one wave-like dune and then the next. The desert sun was unrelenting as it blazed down from the cloudless sky, baking the endless sands with its maddening heat. Bill Higgins was the driver of the sand bike, and his new bride, Elaine, was seated behind him, her arms around his waist. It was hot out in the desert without the buildings of New Atlantis to help block the sun, but Bill felt like he was starting to get used to it. He hoped his new bride was also. They’d been riding for several weeks, stopping in various towns as they made their way to the Rocky Mountains, their ultimate honeymoon destination. Bill noticed five riders approaching on sand bikes of their own, so he stopped and let his bike hover down into the sand. “Who are they?” Elaine asked, watching over his shoulder through her sand shield as the men approached, their bikes reflecting the blazing sunlight.
Bill shook his head. “I don’t know. Bandits?”
“Don’t scare me,” Elaine said, tightening her grip around his waist. “Maybe we should keep moving.”
“I don’t know if it’ll help,” Bill said. “They’ll probably follow us. No, I’d rather meet with them face to face, on equal footing. I’ll try talking to them. If they want money, I’ll give them what’s in my wallet. We still have our hidden stash under the seat.” He took his helmet off as the five sand bikes came closer. He was wearing a black suit and a nice, air conditioned leather jacket and his wife was wearing a beautiful white sundress underneath a white air-conditioned jacket. Bill had a small laser pistol hidden underneath his jacket in case he needed it, but he hadn’t needed to use it yet and was hoping things would stay that way. Hopefully whoever these people were would be willing to listen to reason.
As the bikes approached, “Welcome to the Jungle” by Guns N’ Roses played from one of their sound systems. The riders of the beat-up bikes were wearing dingy clothing made from leather with dull metal plating. “Bandits,” Elaine said. “We should probably get out of here, Bill.” Bill noticed that each of their bikes had a symbol painted on each side. The symbols depicted skulls and crossbones with “IAO” written across them in bright primary colors. He swallowed as the bikes circled him and his bride and then pulled in front of him and stopped, settling into clouds of sand.
The leader was a muscular man with stubble on his face and mirrored sunglasses covering his eyes. He had a spiky orange Mohawk and the sun reflected off his otherwise bald, pale scalp. “Good afternoon,” he said with a sinister grin as he sat atop his dented bike. His voice was high-pitched and jarring.
Bill nodded. “Good afternoon.”
“And where might you be headin’?” the man with the Mohawk asked. The shoulders of his leather vest were studded with metal spikes.
“We’re on our honeymoon,” Bill said nervously.
“Honeymoon? So you’re newlyweds? How nice.” His smile was more than a bit unnerving. It wasn’t helped by his pointy nose and pointy chin. Bill thought he resembled a hawk, or possibly a devil or demon. The latter seemed fitting in the fiery desert with the sun blazing down.
Bill smiled back awkwardly. “Thanks.” Elaine shifted in her seat. Bill could tell she was uncomfortable.
“You ever heard of the right of the first night?” the bandit asked, his eyes hidden by the mirrored sunglasses as he glared at Bill.
Bill shook his head. “What’s that?”
The bandit snapped his fingers and the other four men got down from their bikes and walked over to Bill’s bike. “Back in the old days,” the bandit began, “kings and lords got to have their way with new brides before their husbands. I guess I’m a little too late for that, now. I ain’t picky, though. I’ll take your sloppy seconds.”
The four other bandits grabbed Elaine and pulled her off the bike. “Bill!” she shouted as he reached out for her helplessly, in shock at what was happening.
“Leave some for me,” the bandit with the Mohawk said, chuckling.
“Sure thing, Mickey,” one of the other bandits said as he wrestled with Elaine.
“Bill!” she shouted as she struggled to get away from the two bandits who were holding her. “Help me!”
Bill drew his laser pistol but the bandit named Mickey already had his own laser pistol drawn and he shot Bill in the hand, causing him to drop his weapon into the sand. Bill gritted his teeth in pain as his hand bled. “Don’t worry,” Mickey said in his jarring, high-pitched voice. “We ain’t gonna do it in front of you. You can stay here and we’ll take ‘er somewhere out of sight.” Bill held his bleeding hand and watched one of the men hit Elaine in the forehead with the butt of a rifle, knocking her to the ground. Bill angrily leapt down from his bike, but before he could do anything, another rifle butt hit him in the back of the head and he was out cold, lying spread-eagle in the hot desert sand.
A lone sand bike was riding over the rocky crags and crevasses of the Western Badlands as the sun baked the broken terrain. As the rider approached, Abby was happy to see that it was Nat Bigum returning from scouting the border. Big Ed and Della Luscious were standing beside her as the rest of Abby’s group relaxed. Bobby Brooklyn and Michelle Hemingway were resting on some nearby rocks while Mavery Thomas, Mark Gonzalez, and the rest of the Bloody Six listened to Alex Harris tell stories about the badlands and the Rocky Mountains beyond, which were barely visible now, just ominous shadows far in the distance. Alex was a professor and he looked the part as he spoke to the others, his gray beard moving with his mouth. Sherry, a shih tzu formerly owned by Pete Ahmad, seemed to have taken a liking to Michelle. It was curled up next to her on the brown rock she and Bobby were lying on.
“He doesn’t look happy,” Della said in an effeminate voice as he watched Nat approach. Della’s eyes were hidden behind sunglasses with black lenses and pink frames, but Abby assumed he was wearing his usual fake lashes and eyeliner to go with the pink lipstick which covered his lips. Della was a tall, thin black man, and he was dressed in tight black clothing. His head was capped with a black cowboy hat circled by a pink band. Two pearl-handled laser pistols were in holsters at his sides.
Abby nodded. “Nat never looks happy, though.” She looked beside her at Big Ed, a huge soldier in a tan uniform which barely fit him. The helmet he wore was too small for his head, but the translucent sand shield still covered his face. Big Ed had been a welcome addition to Abby’s group, even if he came with Mavery Thomas, a reporter who Abby still felt was more of a hindrance than anything else. With Abby and Alex Harris, they already had two noncombatants in their group. Did they really need another? Abby turned back to Nat, whose black sand bike with orange and yellow flames painted on the sides was in full view now, as was its rider, a tall, thin man in his sixties with short gray hair. Nat had the look of a man who’d spent his entire life out in the desert, with leathery tan skin. He wore a black vest with a silver star badge over his left breast and black jeans, and though his hat had gone missing after his shootout with Warrick Baines, he still wore his black sunglasses.
Nat rode his sand bike up to Abby and stopped, letting it hover down onto the brown rocks in a cloud of dust. They weren’t far from where the hover truck and the other two sand bikes were parked. “I don’t know what happened,” Nat said in a soft, raspy voice. His ugly, scarred face was frowning.
“What do you mean?” Abby asked.
“Well,” Nat said as he got down off his bike, “all the soldiers are dead. There were dozens of ‘em there at some point. Now there’s just dozens of corpses.”
“Bandits?” Big Ed asked.
Nat shook his head. “It would have had to have been a big, organized group. I don’t see bandits takin’ out a border outpost full of Rennock’s men. Even out here so far from civilization.”
“Well, it’s a gift,” Della said with a grin. “Now we don’t have to do it.”
Nat looked at him through his sunglasses and frowned. “I suppose you could look at it that way. But who’s to say whoever did this won’t come lookin’ for us?”
Della shrugged. “We’ll just have to be ready for them. I mean, for all we know it could have been other refugees from the resistance fleeing Primrose. They could be allies.”
Nat nodded. “Whoever it was took all of their weapons and anything else of use, so there ain’t really any reason for us to stop. I say we cross the border as quickly as possible and head straight for Carpenter City.”
“All right,” Abby said. “Let everyone else know.”
Nat nodded and walked away to where the others were resting. Alex stopped talking as Nat briefed the rest of the group regarding what he’d seen and they all started packing up their things. Under Sergeant Mark Gonzalez’ orders, everyone piled into the truck once again except for Nat, Della, and Big Ed, who got on their sand bikes. Nat and Della started their engines and led the way, followed by the hover truck and Big Ed, who looked sort of like an adult riding a tricycle, his huge body dwarfing the beaten-up silver sand bike which had once belonged to Pastor Earl. Ed’s huge legs stuck out from the sides of the bike as Abby watched him through the back of the truck. She glanced over at Michelle, who was sitting on the bench across from her. Shelly looked sad and exhausted, both physically and emotionally. Her beautiful tan face was covered with scars from Warrick Baines’ torture, and her once bright blue eyes seemed to have lost some of their glow. Abby frowned, remembering Horseman, Shelly’s brother. She remembered his handsome face and his smile. She remembered how his sense of humor had always cheered her up, and she remembered how beautiful the music he played for her had always been. Abby shook off the thoughts. Horseman was dead now and there was no time for melodrama. Abby watched as Shelly looked down at Sherry, who was curled up on her lap, and petted her as Bobby sat beside her with his arm around her. Abby nodded at Bobby and smiled and he smiled and nodded back. She owed him so much.
“Everyone be on the lookout,” Mark said as the caravan made its way through the rocky terrain. “We have no idea who or what we’re up against.” John Bernard was driving the hover truck, but the other members of the Bloody Six who were in the back with Abby checked their weapons to make sure they were charged. Abby was happy that the area they were riding through had decent air at least, even if it was mostly deserted. She was sick and tired of using her oxygen mask. There had been a patch before where they’d had to use their masks for nearly an hour, and heaven knew when they’d get the chance to refill their tanks again. It had been very uncomfortable sleeping on the rocks the night before, and Abby was still feeling it. Still, uncomfortable sleep was better than no sleep at all.
“Oh wow,” John Bernard said as he drove. Abby looked through the front of the truck as they rode over the rocky terrain and she saw bodies lined up as if they’d been executed, shot through the head. Some wore the blue uniforms of Rennock’s enforcers and others wore the black uniforms of soldiers in Rennock’s army. Abby turned and looked through the open back of the truck as they passed through the grizzly setting. There were other bodies lying around haphazardly and several metal structures were smoking. Some still had flames flicking through their tops. Abby noticed some graffiti spray painted on the side of the burnt-out husk of a brick building. It pictured a skull and crossbones in primary colors with the letters “IAO” scrawled across it. Abby had seen the graffiti before, but she couldn’t remember where.
“IAO,” Juanita Ricardo, the Bloody Six’s sniper muttered. “What in the hell is that?”
“I’m not so sure I want to find out,” Bobby said as the truck moved away from the demolished border station. Abby watched as the grizzly scene grew smaller and smaller, disappearing in the distance beyond rocky hills and crags.
“If they’re taking out Rennock’s men,” Paul Jacobs, another member of the Bloody Six, said, “then maybe they’re allies. Maybe we can work with them somehow.”
Abby shook her head, frowning. “I’m not so sure. I mean, they executed people. They didn’t take prisoners.”
“Maybe they couldn’t,” Michelle said. “Maybe they had nowhere to put them.”
Abby nodded. “Maybe.”
“I’ve seen that graffiti before,” Mavery said, looking at Abby through her glasses, “in New Atlantis. Not sure what it was, but it kept appearing near terrorist attacks. Well, New Atlantis News referred to them as terrorists, anyway.” She frowned. “They did target civilians sometimes, whoever they were.” She shook her head. “They weren’t necessarily linked, though. The graffiti and the attacks. The graffiti just had a knack for showing up after bombings and stuff like that.”
“I think we can assume they aren’t friendly,” Mark said, “whoever they are, so keep your eyes peeled.” He put his arm round his wife, Jane, who was seated next to him.
“Does Einstein know anything?” Bobby asked, referring to the tiny supercomputer Abby was wearing on her wrist.
“I know very little regarding this IAO graffiti,” Einstein’s kind voice said from Abby’s wrist. “I no longer have access to the Satellite Net, so my information regarding this matter isn’t up to date. I only know that this graffiti appears on buildings in New Atlantis from time to time.”
Abby nodded. “And I’m assuming you can’t make any guesses.”
“My data isn’t complete enough for me to make an educated guess,” Einstein said. Abby looked through the back of the truck at the horizon, where the brown rocks of the badlands met the stark blue sky. There wasn’t anything else for miles other than broken rocky terrain as the truck and the sand bikes continued their journey.
About forty five minutes later, the hover truck climbed a steep ridge and stopped. “Abby!” Nat shouted from his sand bike. “Mark! Get over here.”
Mark muttered something under his breath, shaking his head. He was a muscular, bald Hispanic man with scars covering his otherwise handsome face. He wore the tan uniform of the resistance fighters, and he was grimacing. Abby figured he’d probably been offended by Nat’s command. Sergeant Mark Gonzalez was used to being the one in charge, the one giving the orders, not taking them, but Nat Bigum didn’t take orders from anyone. Big Ed got down off his sand bike and Mark and Abby stepped down out of the back of the truck. The three of them joined Nat and Della, who were standing at the edge of a high cliff, looking down at a town below. The town was scattered with various brick and sandstone buildings and others with faded, dirty white siding. There was a single air converter on the outskirts of town, and further in the distance, Abby could make out the smoke of a small body pit, where the town’s dead residents were burnt. Several specks were circling above the pit, which Abby assumed were vultures. The town itself was scattered with towers. Abby looked closer to see that they were church towers. There were more churches than she’d ever seen in any one town. There were also crosses standing everywhere. Some were wooden and some were stone, some broken, some brand new. “Carpenter City,” Della said, looking down at the town.
Nat nodded and frowned. “Looks like a goddamned blast.”
Continue on to the next chapter:
Afterlife, Volume 2, Chapter 2
Herman Rennock reacts to the International Anarchy Organization.
Abby and her companions enter Carpenter City.
They meet some of the townspeople.
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