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:
The hanging in Carpenter City is interrupted by Abby’s friends.
Abby and her companions escape from Carpenter City.
Some captured members of the IAO are executed in public in New Atlantis.
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Afterlife, Volume 2, Chapter 10
By the light of the moon and the stars, Bobby watched the rocky crags and crevasses of the badlands zoom past through the front windshield. He and everyone else in the hover truck were all wearing oxygen masks since the area they’d been traveling through for the past half hour or so had no breathable air. Bobby had heard rumors of huge air converters built in the Rocky Mountains, but the truck was apparently out of their reach wherever it was now. There were no relay centers for communicators, no air converters, and no other signs of civilization of any kind. Bobby watched as the dark silhouettes of mountains in the distance ahead grew larger against the indigo night sky and a smile appeared on his face. He’d finally get to see the Rocky Mountains up close. He pulled Michelle closer and smiled at her, careful not to grab her injured arm. His own leg was hurt also, but it was definitely feeling better since Jane had cleaned it and bandaged it. She had medical training, so she’d fixed up everyone’s wounds the best she could, including Bobby’s wounded leg, Shelly’s arm, Grace’s arm and ankle, and her own wounded leg. She’d also bandaged up a wound Big Ed had gotten in his hand earlier at the Messier Mine. She’d done what she could for James’ illness, but she wasn’t a doctor or even a nurse for that matter. Jane had field medical experience and could treat wounds, but she knew little about whatever illness James had as he continued coughing and sneezing. They were a battered bunch, but they were all still alive.
Bobby thought about Uncle Joe and his stories about the Rockies as the hover truck approached the looming shapes. The specific mountains they were heading towards were known as the Black Peaks, and a famous pass known as the Black Rock Pass led through them. The pass was the stuff of legend. A turf war had been fought there ages ago between rival families who were now long gone, and the surrounding peaks were also supposedly home to the mysterious Lepers of the Black Peaks. No one knew much about the lepers, but legends said they were hideously deformed and some believed they’d lived there even before the apocalypse. Uncle Joe had been a sucker for tall tales and he’d loved scaring Bobby, so Bobby wasn’t sure how much of those stories he could believe. Still, the mountains themselves sounded amazing from Uncle Joe’s descriptions, and the animals which lived there sounded interesting, too. Bobby had never seen a marmot. He’d also never seen a giant rattlesnake or a giant scorpion, but those he could do without seeing. “We need to be ready when we get to the Disputed Lands,” Mark said as he cleaned his laser pistol, interrupting Bobby’s thoughts. “While Rennock will definitely have a weakened presence there, we can expect more lawlessness and more war. General Rodriguez and Rennock’s forces have been fighting for years there, and there’s Phillip Brevington and also the Broken Coast, who’s staked a claim there. And don’t forget about bandits and other outlaws like the Nightstalkers. This is by no means going to be a safe place.” Bobby recognized some of the names Mark had mentioned, but others were new to him.
The truck continued moving through the dark badlands, flanked by the three sand bikes. The mountains seemed to grow in size as the truck moved closer, until it was steadily going up as it climbed the first of the rocky foothills. They weren’t using headlights since the moon and stars were bright and they didn’t want to draw unwanted eyes, so the land was dark, but Bobby could still make out jagged rocks all along the pass. Through the back of the truck, he could see mostly darkness. He couldn’t wait to see the view in the daylight. The truck wound its way along cliffs as it continued riding through the rocky peaks, until John, who’d taken over driving duties from Juanita shortly after they’d escaped from Carpenter City, took off his oxygen mask. “Oxygen levels are okay now,” he said to everyone behind him. “Must be air converters somewhere up here after all.”
Bobby took off his oxygen mask and took a deep breath as everyone else also took off their oxygen masks. “Be careful, though,” Shelly said. “As the altitude gets higher, the air gets thinner. We don’t want anyone passing out.”
Mark nodded. “She’s right. We should stop soon and let our bodies get acquainted to the air up here. Camp for the night. It’s going to be slow moving through these mountains, but we need to be safe.”
“I’ll stop as soon as I find some somewhat level ground,” John said. He continued driving until he found a small plateau with a basin in the center that had probably one day long ago been a lakebed. Jagged peaks rose into the night sky on all sides as Bobby and the others began setting up their tents.
Bobby smiled at Michelle as they worked on the tent they’d be sharing. She smiled back wearily. “You look tired,” Bobby said.
“I’m not that tired,” she said with a wink. “Not too tired for some recreational activity, if you know what I mean.”
Bobby’s grin widened. “I know what you mean.” He began working a little faster, though it wasn’t easy with his left arm in its sling. Bobby held the tent up as Shelly hammered the stakes into the ground. He looked up at the full moon and the stars, happy to be sleeping outdoors again after the Carpenter City craziness, and happy to be sharing a sleeping bag with Shelly once again.
The huge stone figure stood on a distant peak, looking out across the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. The statue, carved out of the side of a mountain, was probably five hundred feet high or more. It was the tallest statue in the world, known as “the Watcher.” No one knew who made it or who it represented, a robed figure holding a book, a long beard hiding his chin, his stone eyes locked through eternity in their wise gaze. Abby wondered whether he’d been there since before the apocalypse, or if he was a more recent addition to the landscape. Someone had to have known his secrets. Something that huge doesn’t just appear one day out of thin air. It must have taken decades to build it unless people were working with some forgotten technology lost to time. The Watcher was just one of many mysteries hidden in the Rocky Mountains, but he was the most immediate one to Abby as she sat on a rock atop a high cliff, gazing out at the beautiful morning view.
The cliff was at the edge of the plateau where Abby and her companions had camped for the night. The Watcher hadn’t been visible the night before, but everyone had noticed him the next morning, staring in awe for several minutes and talking about who he may have been while Mavery took picture after picture with her camera glasses. Alex said the most likely possibilities were that the lepers of the mountains, if they really existed, had carved him out over hundreds of years, or that he’d been a relic left over from the old world. Otherwise, people would have known who he was. Einstein agreed with Alex’s opinions, but Mark suggested that he could have been created by people who’d been conquered by Rennock’s ancestors or citizens of the Broken Coast. There were endless possibilities, but Abby preferred to leave him shrouded in mystery. Regardless of who he was and how he got there, there he was, towering over the landscape, a silent sentinel, watching and keeping his secrets.
The mountains were beautiful, but barren, just like the rest of the world aside from the oasis they’d found and various parks planted in cities that could afford them. Not a tree or green thing in sight; just brown, red, and gray rock. Still, Abby felt that she could see for miles. She could even see sand in the far distance past the badlands. Behind her, the mountains rose higher and higher. They still hadn’t reached the tallest peaks. Comfortable in the breathtaking setting, Abby looked down at Pastor Earl’s Bible as it rested on her lap. “Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” There it was plain as day. Abby wasn’t sure what to do with those verses. She’d remembered them from Oral Kenyon’s sermon so she decided to research them for herself. How did they fit in with everything else she believed, with the rest of the New Testament? She knew context was king, and that in the letter containing those verses, Paul had been writing to a specific group of people in a specific time, but it still had merit. It was still a part of the universal, timeless whole. Still, she considered Della her friend and he was one of the people she felt she could trust the most, perhaps because he’d been traveling with her a little longer than some of the newcomers. She remembered him shouting and firing at the Carpenter City men as they left the town. She closed her eyes and remembered Pastor Earl always telling her to love first. That’s what she’d do. She’d show Della love and let the rest be between him and God. It wasn’t her place to judge; it was God’s. She looked out at the mountains again.
As she sat with the Bible on her lap, she thought about Pastor Earl and Alex Harris. She remembered Alex’s words about championing the poor, his political and philosophical ideas he’d shared with her when she’d first met him in Primrose. She realized that she had a lot of philosophical beliefs and ideas, but she was doing very little to really help anyone. Ideas were empty if they weren’t acted on. Sure, they’d brought Grace and her son James along with them, but what had they really done to help those in need other than that? Very little, really. Abby had always told herself that her mission was to help those in need, that once she founded her nation, she’d be helping others. But what was she doing now? She felt that she could be doing so much more than she was. Faith without action was meaningless.
She looked up at the stark blue sky. She felt so guilty about her failure at Primrose. She realized the failure wasn’t entirely on her, but so many people had died there, and for what? Did she really stand a chance against Rennock and his endless finances? Her friends had lost loved ones. John Bernard had a brother with a family in Primrose and he’d been unable to contact them since the battle. Juanita Ricardo also had family there. At one point, she’d wanted to head back to look for them, but Mark and John talked her out of it. They said she’d be able to contact them later, but she’d never been able to. Everyone knew that going back was a lost cause, though. Anyone left there was dead. Most of the refugees had probably been killed, too. Sometimes Abby thought she and her group were actually doing more harm than good. She gritted her teeth in anger. This was the first time she’d allowed herself time to really think about things in a long while, and now she was regretting it. If only she had Pastor Earl to talk to, or her father. But Pastor Earl had been another Primrose casualty and Warrick Baines had ended any chance she’d have of hearing her father’s comforting advice anywhere but in her dreams.
And there was Horseman. What had happened between her and Horseman? Had she just been with him because he was there and he was handsome, or was there more? Her emotions were a mangled mess she didn’t want to deal with. She kept pushing them away, forgetting. She’d learned to do that after Warrick Baines murdered her family. Her brain was going to a very dark place. She remembered the pain killers and the heroin, and how they had made all the pain, all the dark thoughts, all disappear. In some ways she longed for that numbness, but she remembered her recovery with Doctor Long, how hard it had been, and how long it had taken. There was no way she was going to make it all for nothing. She shook off the thoughts and her mind drifted to her father. It had all started with her family. The main emotion associated with their deaths was now anger. Anger against Warrick Baines. Anger against Herman Rennock. And anger against whoever it was who’d sold her father out as a leader of the resistance. Then she remembered the meeting she was going to in one week in North Point. The spy would probably be there. Abby had gotten Doctor Long’s message finally. He said he was coming and looking forward to seeing her again, and Alex had told her that most of the other leaders were also going to be there. Abby wondered if the spy was maybe one of the ones who wouldn’t be showing up. There was also a spy in her current group, apparently, if Nat’s instincts were right, and they usually were. How else had Rennock’s men known about the Jupiter Diamond and the Messier Mine? Abby’s eyes widened. There was only one person who was both in her current group and a member of the Lead Council of the Free Society Federation.
She opened her mouth and tried to breathe as the anger built up inside her. She balled her fists, breathing through her open mouth. It had to be Alex, unless there were two spies, which didn’t seem likely to her. Besides, it had been Alex who’d approached her in Primrose and asked her if he and the Bloody Six could accompany her on her journey. It would make sense that he would want to be close to her if he was the spy. And in Carpenter City, he’d tried to get her to tell him the location of the next diamonds. It was under the ruse of figuring out where to hold the meeting, but it was all falling into place. She was almost certain that Alex was the spy who’d betrayed her father. Abby had vowed that she would avenge her family by killing all those responsible for their deaths. She no longer saw the view in front of her. Her mind was blank with rage as she stood and turned slowly. There was a gun in her tent. An extra laser pistol that had been in the hover truck. She looked behind her at the camp and saw Mark and Jane standing near their tent, talking. Nat and Della were trying to get the stove started. The rest of the group was scattered around the camp, some resting, others standing. Alex was standing with his hands in his pockets, looking up at a nearby mountain. Her tent wasn’t far from where he was standing. She’d go get her gun and then ask him to talk privately. She’d get him to confess and then, she’d do it. It wouldn’t be hard. She’d killed before. There were the two men in the basement in Primrose. The one she’d blown to bits with the repeating laser pistol and the other one she’d kicked with her cybernetic leg. “Your heart rate is rising,” Einstein said from her wrist. “Is everything okay?”
“It’s fine,” Abby said as she pushed the button under Einstein which turned him off. She closed the Bible, stood slowly, and started walking towards her tent, her mind fixated on the gun inside.
Bobby smiled as he looked out across the brown mountain peaks as the sun continued rising into the cloudless sky. He’d found a secluded spot and left Shelly in the tent to catch up on some sleep. Then, he just sat and took in the view. He was finally here, and he was going to enjoy every second of it. Everything was visible in the morning light, unlike the dark of the night before. The mountains were just as beautiful as he’d imagined, from the manmade “Watcher” statue to the endless peaks spread out to the north, south, and west. The western peaks were higher than his current altitude, but if Bobby looked east, he felt like he could see the end of the world beyond the foothills and badlands, where dunes reached the horizon. He knew the dunes spread further, reaching New Atlantis, and finally the cesspool known as the Gulf of Mexico and the equally toxic Atlantic, and even past that there was New Europa and the Republic of Africa. Still, those places were so far away. This was the farthest he’d ever been able to see in his life. The view was stunning, and it reeked of possibility. Bobby leaned back against a rock and continued looking out, awestruck and grinning uncontrollably.
He stretched and sipped his coffee. Then, he leaned back and closed his eyes. The previous night with Michelle had been amazing. Maybe she was finally coming out of her sorrow a little. It had been even better than their first sexual encounter on the hill in Primrose. That was another reason for Bobby’s good mood as he leaned back with his eyes closed. Maybe they’d sleep out under the stars next time. His thoughts were interrupted by what sounded like running water at first. Bobby realized it was more like a rattling sound, and when he opened his eyes he saw the source of the sound. On a nearby rock, there was a massive coiled snake as thick as Bobby’s leg. Its head rose up as two huge black eyes glared at him and a tongue flicked out of its mouth. The snake’s head was almost as big as Bobby’s. Its tail rose behind its head and Bobby watched as the rattle shook back and forth and he listened to the unnerving sound. He tried to move back away from the creature, dropping and spilling his coffee in the process, but he found his way blocked by the rock he’d been leaning against. The creature’s head shot forward without warning, its jaws open wide and its dagger-like fangs flying at Bobby’s face.
Alex was talking as he and Abby walked towards a secluded cliff on a ridge just above where they were camped. He was talking, but Abby wasn’t listening. She was trying her best to hide her anger. She was finally going to be able to get revenge against one of the people who had brought down her family. One of the people at least partially responsible for the murders of her siblings and her parents. Warrick Baines was dead and Herman Rennock would have to wait. Alexander Harris, the spy and the traitor, was right here right now. He’d sounded so convincing with all his talk about class warfare and constitutions. His speeches about how the greedy were systematically oppressing the poor. It had all just been a front, though. He was one of the greedy ones. He’d sold her family to murderers for what? Probably some gold or some diamonds. He was a businessman as well as a philosophy teacher. He’d told her that himself. He wanted money as much as the next man. Alex said something about how beautiful the setting was as he walked. He was smiling, apparently clueless as to what Abby was about to do. Her laser pistol hung from her side in a hip holster John had given her. “Don’t you think so, Abby?” Alex asked.
“Yeah,” Abby agreed as she walked next to him. She’d have to think of a story to tell everyone else. She’d probably have to hide the body. She’d give him a chance to explain himself, but she knew there was nothing he could say. Once she got him to confess, Alex Harris was a dead man. Abby had killed before. It wouldn’t be the first time. Maybe she could just tell everyone else the truth. Once they realized he was the traitor, they’d understand why she had to kill him. They were working for her, after all. She’d confront him first and get him to tell her the truth, just so she could be sure, but he was the only one it could be. None of the others were in both circles that the spy was obviously in.
Alex walked over to a large rock overlooking a gorge and sat down. “This is as good a place as any. We’re far enough away from the others. So what was this important thing you needed to talk to me about?”
Abby stood in front of him and drew the laser pistol. She pointed it at his bearded face. “If you move, I’ll splatter that rock with your brains.”
Alex looked utterly shocked. “What are you talking about? What’s going on, Abby?”
“I know you betrayed my father,” Abby said. “I know you’re the traitor. And now you’re going to confess so I can kill you.” Alex looked horrified, but he wasn’t saying anything. Abby thought about her father as she aimed the laser pistol at his face and prepared to shoot.
Continue on to the next chapter:
Afterlife, Volume 2, Chapter 11
Abby continues her confrontation with Alex Harris.
Bobby tries to escape from the giant rattlesnake.
Warrick Baines finds the main hideout of the International Anarchy Organization.
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