If you’ve never read Afterlife before, click here to go to the first chapter.
Art by John Blaszczyk
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:
Abby and her companions enter the Rocky Mountains.
Bobby is attacked by a giant rattlesnake.
Abby confronts Alex Harris.
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Afterlife, Volume 2, Chapter 11
Alex looked at Abby with fear and shock in his eyes. “I don’t know what gave you this idea, Abby, but…”
She continued pointing the laser pistol at his face. “Just confess and get it over with. I’m not gonna let you prolong this.” The air was still and hot as stark brown peaks loomed in the background.
Alex was breathing heavily. “Abby, I know you think you know something, but I swear to you, your father was one of my closest friends…”
“That made it easier for you to spy on him, didn’t it?” Abby asked, glaring at him with her piercing eyes. “And it makes your betrayal all the more treacherous. It has to be you, Alex. You’re the only person who’s both a member of the Lead Council and a member of our group here.”
Alex frowned. “That just means there are two spies, then. Is that all you have to go on?”
There were tears dripping down Abby’s cheeks now. They were tears of anger. “Why else would you want to join me? And why did you need to know the location of the diamonds?”
“You already know the answers to those questions,” Alex said. “I wanted to join you for several reasons, one being friendship for your father. I thought he’d want me to help you. Along with the Bloody Six. And I needed to know where the next diamonds were so we could figure out where to meet. That’s all. I’m no spy, Abby. I’m loyal to the cause, through and through, and I can prove it.”
“How?” Abby asked. She wiped the tears off her face with her left wrist while she continued pointing the gun with her right hand.
“Have you heard of Karl Bergson?” Alex asked her.
“The businessman?” Karl Bergson had been her father’s mentor, and at one point had been one of the wealthiest businessmen in Numurka. Some said his wealth and success had once rivaled Herman Rennock’s, but he wasn’t as ambitious or power hungry, so he stayed out of the spotlight. Her father had loved Karl and talked about him all the time, calling him “Uncle Karl.” Unfortunately, his fame and shy demeanor drove him to become a recluse, and he pretty much disappeared. Some said he went into hiding in Mexico. Others said he was dead. Abby had never met him. He’d disappeared shortly after she was born.
Alex nodded. “The businessman.” He paused and smiled through his graying beard. “I’m him.”
Confusion came over Abby’s face as she continued pointing the laser pistol. “If that’s true, why wouldn’t you have told me sooner? How do I know you’re not lying to me out of desperation?”
Alex smiled through his beard. “Because of the spy, for one thing. I wanted to keep my secret from Herman Rennock and his enforcers. I figured I’d tell you when the time was right, but it appears you’ve forced my hand.” He frowned. “Anyway, there’s more to it than me being Karl Bergson. I have a lot of money in Las Colinas. That’s where I ran my business from for a while once I went into hiding. It’s a financial holding company with investors throughout the world. The Warner Company.”
Abby nodded as she continued pointing the gun. “I’ve heard of it, but isn’t William Warner the CEO and owner?”
“Only on loan until I take it back from him,” Alex said. “He’s actually my CFO. So I moved to Primrose as the rebel presence grew there and started teaching philosophy at the university as a cover.”
Abby looked into his brown eyes. They looked earnest. He seemed to be telling the truth. She lowered the gun, but still looked at him with suspicion. “So there are two spies if what you’re saying is true. One here with us now, and one with the Lead Council.”
Alex nodded. “There are some people I trust fully in the Lead Council, but some of the others, I’m not so sure about. We can talk about that closer to the meeting. However, back to the money in Las Colinas.” Abby nodded. She sat on a rock across from him. “I’ve been thinking since the Jupiter Diamond was stolen,” he continued, “that I may need to head there and sell off my company and get all the money I have there as well to add to what you’ll have. I don’t have anything close to what your family has amassed over the years, or even anything close to what Rennock has now, but it will help. Especially with the loss of the Jupiter Diamond. It may not be enough, but it’s something.”
Abby nodded. “I’ve been trying to think of ways to make up the losses. Einstein says we won’t be able to successfully challenge Rennock unless we have close to one trillion dollars to spend on our military and government. And that’s just to get started. Even then, our chances are fairly low. I forget the exact percentage he gave me. Still, that’s based on old data anyway.”
“Either way, the money will help,” Alex said.
“Immensely,” Abby agreed. She looked down into the deep gorge they were seated near. The brown rock walls were sheer, and there appeared to be the remnants of a riverbed in the gorge far below. There wasn’t even a trickle left. “Alex, I’m sorry.” She grinned. “Or should I call you Karl now?”
Alex smiled at her. “Your father called me Uncle Karl. Still, Alex is fine. You’ve always known me as Alex. Besides, you’re the only one here who knows about this. It’s not information I want falling into the wrong hands. People will know when I’m ready for them to know.”
Abby nodded. “Well, I’m sorry, Alex.”
“I know,” he said softly. “I couldn’t imagine what you’ve been going through. But be careful you don’t attack your friends. We’re on your side, remember.”
“Somebody isn’t,” Abby said.
Alex nodded. “Somebody isn’t. But I assure you, it’s not me. Your father trusted me with his very life. And Abby, you can, too.” Abby looked into his kind brown eyes and smiled. She nodded assuredly. She hoped he was right. Still, she didn’t fully trust him. He’d been lying about his identity for years, after all, if what he was saying now was true. She wasn’t going to kill him, but she didn’t fully trust him, either.
Bobby ducked just in time as the huge rattlesnake came at his face, but the snake darted back and snapped again. Before Bobby could move, the snake’s teeth dug into his right calf and he felt pain shoot through his leg like a million bee stings. Everything went black for a few seconds and Bobby watched the snake pull back again. In a frenzy of fear and adrenaline, he quickly drew his laser pistol with his left hand and fired awkward shot after awkward shot. He wasn’t sure if he’d hit the creature or not, but he’d at least frightened it, because it quickly slithered down the side of the rock it had been curled up on and disappeared underneath an overhang.
Fighting the pain, Bobby put his laser pistol back into its holster. He was a much better shot with his right hand, but that arm was still in a sling. That was the least of his worries, though. At least the creature had bitten him in the same leg that had been blasted by a laser the night before. He still had one leg and one arm to try to crawl back to camp with, but he was certain that he was poisoned. And that snake was huge, so he didn’t have much time. He could barely think through the burning pain and he was feeling weak and a little lightheaded. He started crawling up the rocks towards the camp, his leg burning the whole time. He moved at a slow, painful pace, and he was tiring quickly. The rocks hadn’t seemed steep during his descent but they definitely did now. “Help!” he said as loud as he could, but it was hardly a shout. He was soon out of breath and feeling sick, so he stopped crawling and breathed heavily for a few seconds, looking behind him to see that there was no sign of the snake in the rocks below. He continued crawling, wondering how much time he had and how long it would take him to get back to camp. It seemed so much further now than it had when he’d scrambled down the rocks to find the perfect spot to sit and enjoy the view. His lightheadedness was getting worse and his breathing was getting more laborious as he tried his best to crawl through the burning pain.
Michelle and Jane were talking in Shelly’s tent while Sherry rested outside, her leash tied to the tent post. Shelly figured she and Jane would have the most privacy there. Bobby had gone off to enjoy the view and Shelly had slept in a little. Once she’d woken up, she went outside for breakfast and found Jane talking with her husband, so she asked if she had a minute. Now they were in her tent and Jane was looking at Shelly inquisitively. “So Juanita said you worked as a counsellor before?” Shelly asked timidly.
Jane nodded. Her warm smile was calming, and there was kindness in her blue eyes. Her bandaged right leg was stretched out in front of her as they spoke. “I actually worked on a degree in psychology for a while, but I thought my best chance to really help people would be to join the resistance. I didn’t quite finish the degree, but I know a little.”
“That’s cool,” Shelly said, looking down at the floor of the tent. “I didn’t realize that.”
“What can I help you with?” Jane asked, concern in her eyes.
Shelly frowned and stared off into space. “Well, it’s Horseman. I mean, once my parents died, he sort of was all I had. I was a teenager and I didn’t think I needed anyone.” She chuckled. “But he was always there for me. And now he’s gone.” The tears welled up in her eyes. She wiped them away with her right forearm. She wondered how long it would take the pain to go away. Maybe it never would. “I guess I just felt like maybe you could help me. I guess maybe I feel like, I don’t know, I need someone to talk to.”
Jane reached out to her, putting her hand on Shelly’s shoulder. “It’s okay, Shelly. I know it’s hard. It’s okay to miss him, though. And it’s okay to be scared.”
Shelly grinned. “Scared?”
Jane nodded. “It’s okay.”
“I’m acting like a little girl, aren’t I?” Shelly asked as she wiped away more tears. “Scared because now I’m left to fend for myself.”
“There’s Bobby,” Jane said.
Shelly nodded. “There’s Bobby. But I don’t want to be a burden to him.”
“I’m sure you aren’t.” Jane smiled. “You’re a beautiful, intelligent, creative young woman. Bobby’s lucky to have you and I’m sure he knows it.”
“Beautiful?” Shelly asked. She moved her hand over her face, pointing out the scars. “Even with these?” She frowned and shook her head. “I used to be beautiful.”
“I know a hundred women who’d kill to be as beautiful as you,” Jane said. “Don’t sell yourself short, Shelly. You’re a proud, strong woman. And I think people have been trying to take care of you your whole life, but you don’t need it. You’re a mature woman, and a smart one, too. You can take care of yourself.”
“I know,” Shelly said with a smile. “But I never really have. I’ve never really had to.”
“You were never given the chance,” Jane said. “Maybe now’s your time to shine.”
Shelly grinned. “I’m sorry. You don’t even really know me and I’m saying all this stuff to you.”
“It’s okay,” Jane said. “Remember, I used to work as a counsellor. I’m used to people telling me things.” Shelly nodded and smiled at her. “So tell me a little about Horseman,” Jane said. “What was he like growing up? If you don’t mind me asking of course.”
“No, I don’t mind,” Shelly said. “I actually like talking about it. I mean, he was my big brother. And he was always a troublemaker.” She chuckled, remembering all the times he’d gotten in trouble when they were kids and their parents were still alive. He’d played with matches several times, once almost burning down their mansion when he dropped a match in his bed. The sheets caught on fire and their nanny robot appeared just in time to put out the flames with a spray of water.
“You’re smiling,” Jane said. “Do you want to tell me about a specific memory?”
“Sure. Well, when I was about fourteen and he was sixteen, my parents grounded me for getting drunk at a party.”
“At fourteen?” Jane asked. She looked concerned.
Shelly nodded. “Yeah, I guess I started early. Anyway, so Horseman found out one of his friends was having a party one night and he felt bad for me, so once my parents were asleep, he helped me sneak out through the window and he took me to the party with him. Well, there were these two guys there who were trying to, you know, get in my pants, and Horseman wasn’t so happy about it. So he got into a fight with both of them. It turned into a brawl and the cops came and everything. I was horrified. I thought it would make the news and my parents would be so pissed.” Shelly remembered that was often the main thing her parents were always worried about. Her and her brother showing up on the news and giving the family bad publicity.
Jane nodded. “So what did you do?”
“Well, while everyone was fighting, we snuck out through the back door. The guys who Horseman had originally picked the fight with had forgotten what the fight was about and they were just hitting everyone they could find, they were so drunk.” She laughed. “So Horseman managed to get me back home and we snuck in through the window, and there was my mom sitting on the side of my bed.”
“Did you get in trouble?” Jane asked.
Shelly shook her head and snickered. “My mom said ‘Shelly, at least you had the good sense to take your brother with you. Sleep it off and I won’t tell dad.’” She laughed. “She spoiled us. So did dad, but he was a little stricter than mom was. And then…” Her smile disappeared. “…then, they died. And it was just me and Horseman.”
Jane nodded, deep in thought. “Horseman loved you and he was always there for you, but you strike me as an independent woman. I know how hard it can be dealing with loss, though.” She smiled and looked into Shelly’s eyes. “Shelly, if you ever need anything, I’ll be here.”
Shelly thought about that for a second when she heard Sherry yapping outside. The yapping grew louder and she frowned. “Maybe I should see what’s out there. That’s not her usual bark.” Jane nodded as Shelly unzipped the tent. There was someone on the ground at the edge of the camp. When Shelly realized it was Bobby, she quickly sprung through the tent’s opening and ran towards him. Mark and Nat were already there. “Bobby!” Shelly shouted as she ran. Jane followed, limping on her injured leg.
Bobby was face down on the ground with his left arm reaching out in front of him like he’d been trying to crawl. His eyes were closed, but he was breathing. His right calf was bleeding just below the bandage where Jane had dressed his laser wound. Jane knelt next to Bobby and pulled the leg of his jeans up, revealing bloody brown skin. There were four wounds in a square pattern on his calf. “It’s a giant rattlesnake bite,” Jane muttered. “He’s been poisoned. Quick, get him to my tent.” Nat and Mark lifted him and carried him to Jane’s tent as Shelly followed.
Jim Brantley stopped his beat up orange sand bike next to Warrick Baines’ dented silver bike with the IAO symbols on the sides. They were parked at the top of a cliff, looking down at a town in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. They weren’t far from the Mexican border, and the town they were looking down at was a small one known as Los Demonios for the smoldering heat of the desert sun. It was like any other Mexican town, with small shacks and mud huts filling out most of its expanse with a handful of wealthier homes in the center; there was nothing notable about it, which was probably why the IAO had chosen its outskirts as the location of their headquarters. The hideout was in a network of caves in the cliffs just outside of town, but Jim had heard some of the wealthier members of the organization had homes and mansions in the town itself. “So where’s the headquarters located?” Warrick asked as smoke seeped out from the wound between his red cybernetic eyes.
Jim pointed to a black speck in a cliff across the valley. It was actually a cave opening. “Right there. At least that’s where I’ve always dropped off the Bargainer’s tributes. It’s heavily guarded inside, though. We won’t get within a hundred yards before the welcoming committee comes out.”
“And who or what would this welcoming committee consist of?”
Jim frowned. “A group of guards led by a guy they call the Headhunter. He’d come out with ten or so men. Then, he’d give the guy I knew as Long John a call, and I’d meet him inside and give him the bag. There were always even more men inside, in the foyer they called it. It’s really just a big cavern.”
Warrick nodded. “And this Long John. Is he the leader?”
Jim shrugged. “I don’t know. He’s the guy who always took the bag from me, though. Then I always left. It wasn’t the type of place you’d want to spend more time in than you absolutely had to.”
“Sounds like my kind of place,” Warrick said. “Lead the way.”
Jim drove his sand bike along the edge of the cliff and down into some rocky terrain. He rode over the rocks and up another steep incline until he and Warrick were riding along the cliff where the cave was. The town was in the valley to their right now as Jim and Warrick rode along the cliff. There was a rocky plateau ahead of them and a dozen men were standing in a line across it with laser pistols drawn. All were wearing the tattered leather and rusty metal garb of bandits. A short man standing towards the center of the line stepped forward and held out his hand, motioning for Jim and Warrick to stop. The other eleven men pointed their guns at the approaching sand bikes. Jim and Warrick both stopped and turned their engines off as the twelve men approached, guns still pointed at them. “You ain’t alone this time,” the short man said. He was a Latino with a badly scarred face and he was wearing black sunglasses. He wore a headband which appeared to be made from light-colored leather but Jim had heard rumors that it was human skin. This was the man Jim knew as the Headhunter. “You’re only allowed to come alone. Explain yourself in the next five seconds or you’re both dead. Five. Four.”
“We have two million dollars for each of you,” Warrick Baines said.
The Headhunter scowled at him. “What are you talkin’ about?”
“Do you know who I am?” Warrick asked.
“I do,” the Headhunter said. “But it don’t matter.”
Jim was visibly nervous. He was starting to wonder if this had been a good idea. He questioned Warrick’s sanity and his own for following him. “Well I have something in this bag that’s worth a lot of money,” Warrick said, nodding down towards a plastic bag which had been hanging from the side of his sand bike. As Jim and Warrick were riding away from Las Uniones, Warrick suddenly said he’d forgotten something and asked Jim to wait. Jim waited, and when Warrick came back, he had the plastic bag with him. Whatever was inside was about the size of a large bowling ball. “I need to present it to your leader,” Warrick said to the Headhunter. “But I’ll only present it to him.”
The Headhunter laughed as did the other bandits. They were all pointing their guns at Warrick now. “That ain’t how this works,” the Headhunter said. “You show me what’s in the bag. If I likes it, I calls my boss and he comes and takes it from you. Otherwise, you both die. And we gets what’s in the bag anyways.”
Warrick nodded and twitched as some smoke seeped out of the bullet hole between his eyes. “No, you’re wrong. Let me tell you how this works.” Neither Jim nor Warrick had guns drawn, but eleven laser pistols were pointed at Warrick, and the Headhunter’s hand was on his laser pistol, though it was still in its holster. Jim was trying to think of how to escape. “I’m going to kill all twelve of you,” Warrick said, “and my new friend Jim Brantley is going to wait outside while I walk into that cave and kill everyone inside until I find your leader.” Jim swallowed and felt his stomach sink. He started shaking. He knew he was dead after the twelve men killed Warrick. There was no way the cyborg could take them all out.
The Headhunter laughed some more, as did the men with him. “Warrick Baines, I had no idea you had such a good sense of humor. They don’t usually say that when they tell the stories.”
Warrick nodded. “But they do talk about me killing twenty men single handedly, right?”
The Headhunter frowned. “But you usually had Nat Bigum with you.” He nodded towards Jim. “And that ain’t Nat Bigum.”
“No, it’s not,” Warrick said. “And it doesn’t need to be.”
“I’ve had enough talk,” the Headhunter said. “Time for you to die.” He drew his laser pistol and there was a clanking sound, like metal on metal. Warrick leaped from his sand bike as the men fired at him. Some shots hit, but they blasted holes through his clothing and thudded against metal, leaving no blood. Warrick landed on his feet some twenty feet or more away from his bike, right at the edge of the cliff. Jim had seen people with cybernetic legs jump far, but not that far. Warrick was now standing at the end of the line of twelve bandits. He swiftly drew a double barrel laser rifle out of his trench coat and fired. The blast cut through all twelve men, blasting several of them in half and leaving others maimed and screaming. The ground was flowing with blood.
Warrick walked down the line, blasting the heads of each man who was still alive. Jim was still a little queasy, but he took a deep breath. He was going to live through this, at least for now. Warrick stopped at the Headhunter, who was screaming and squirming in his own blood, his pale, bloody intestines hanging out of his blasted open belly. “So you thought you were a badass,” Warrick said as he aimed his double barreled laser rifle at the man’s head. “You thought you were going to kill me and make a name for yourself. Well, it appears you didn’t have the stomach for it.” He fired and the Headhunter’s head exploded in a mess of blood, skin and bone. Jim vomited into the sand next to his bike. Warrick turned and glared at him with his red eyes. “What’s the matter, Jim?” he asked as smoke seeped out of the bullet hole between his eyes. “I told you we were friends. You have nothing to worry about. You hitched your ride on the right train.” Jim nodded and slowly got down off his sand bike. “Now let’s investigate this cave,” Warrick said as he hid the laser rifle under his trench coat once again. He walked back to his sand bike, grabbed the plastic bag, and started walking towards the opening in the cliff as Jim followed.
Continue on to the next chapter:
Afterlife, Volume 2, Chapter 12
Warrick Baines continues his assault on the IAO hideout.
Mavery and Big Ed enjoy the view in the Rocky Mountains.
Jane tries to help Bobby.
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