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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:
Alex Harris reveals to Abby that he is Karl Bergson and has access to a large fortune.
Bobby scares off the giant rattlesnake but he’s bitten.
Warrick Baines finds the main hideout of the IAO and kills the guards outside.
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Afterlife, Volume 2, Chapter 12
As Warrick approached the cave entrance, he turned to look at Jim. “You wait here. I think I’ll be able to handle this. I’ll come back to get you when it’s safe.” Two vultures appeared in the sky and started circling above the dead bodies lying nearby. Jim opened his mouth to speak, but he was afraid to say anything. “It’s all right,” Warrick said as his red eyes shined at Jim. “Tell me what you’re thinking. What good are friends if they can’t be honest with one another?” Warrick’s skeletal grin made Jim even more uneasy than he already was.
“Well. It’s just that, are you sure you’re going to just walk in there?”
Warrick nodded. “Don’t worry. You’ll be fine. Like I said, you’ll just wait out here until it’s safe.”
“All right,” Jim said. Warrick turned and walked towards the cave entrance, his black trench coat flapping behind him. He disappeared inside as the passage turned left. Jim waited far enough away that he wouldn’t be seen unless someone came out of the cave. He was prepared to make a break for his sand bike if things went sour, and that’s what he was expecting. He was regretting doing this. Even if he escaped, the IAO would find him and kill him. By following Baines on this foolish escapade, Jim Brantley knew he’d forfeited his life one way or the other. The two vultures landed on one of the bodies and started feasting.
Jim watched the stone cave, zoning out as he considered his fate. Jim was a muscular man of medium height, with short brown hair and a goatee. His bare arms were covered with tattoos picturing snakes and dragons, and he wore a leather vest with steel shoulder pads and black leather pants. Anyone seeing him would have thought he was someone not to be trifled with, but he hadn’t felt that way since meeting Baines. Still, he knew when Baines confronted the Bargainer, he didn’t have a choice. He had to join Warrick’s side or be killed. He knew the legendary stories about Baines, and even if they were just stories, they must have had some basis in reality. If Jim was going to gamble his life, he wanted to pick a winner. In the game of life and death, if the legends were true, no one had won as often as Warrick Baines. Jim was starting to think he’d taken the hand too far at this point, though. He was thinking maybe it was time to fold. He looked at his orange sand bike as he heard the first laser shots from inside the cave. There was some shouting he couldn’t make out and more hisses. Some fizzes and swooshes. There was the high pitched hum of a repeating laser rifle. A couple of explosions and some screams. Jim swallowed and felt his knees shake a little. He paced back and forth a few steps and took a deep breath. A man came running out of the cave and Jim’s knees buckled. It was a bandit in black leather with a steel breastplate. There was a hiss and a laser blasted through the man’s head, splattering blood in the sand as he flopped forward. Jim stood still and watched as Warrick Baines emerged from the cave.
Warrick’s black trench coat was in tatters and it was smoking. There was some blood dripping from a wound in Warrick’s side and his black wide-brimmed hat was missing. His bald, bony head was splotched with leathery skin and metal just like his face was. Some of the metal appeared scratched and dented now. The red light which was his left eye had gone out, but the one on the right was as bright as ever. Warrick was holding his double barreled laser rifle in one hand and the plastic bag he’d brought with him in the other. He slipped the rifle into a long side holster which Jim could see now that Warrick’s trench coat was in tatters. His laser pistol was in a holster on his left hip. “Well, I need a new wardrobe. I have a headache and someone needs to fix my left eye. But I’m alive and ticking.”
Jim swallowed. “How… How many did you kill?”
Warrick shrugged. “Twenty five? Thirty? Who knows? It’s time for you to join me, though.” Jim nodded and followed Warrick into the cave. “Remember,” Warrick said as they walked through the rocky passage, “stick with me and you won’t regret it. Show me loyalty and you’ll be rewarded. But…” They walked into a large cavern with rocky walls splattered with blood. There was broken furniture scattered everywhere and metal filing cabinets against the walls were riddled with laser blasts. Two gun racks were empty and the floor was scattered with various laser rifles and pistols. Mangled bodies and parts of bodies filled the room and the red of blood was everywhere. The bodies were more object now than human, some with dead eyes staring off into space, but most faces were unrecognizable. “…cross me and you end up like them.” Warrick raised his hand and made a sweeping motion across the carnage.
Jim nodded slowly. “No, I’m definitely on your side now.” There were several exits from the room; passages which had been carved through the rock.
“So where to now?” Warrick asked as he twitched and some smoke seeped out of the bullet hole between his eyes.
Jim thought hard and pointed to the second passage on the right. “After I handed Long John the Bargainer’s tributes, he’d always go through there.”
Warrick began walking in that direction. “Then that’s where we go.” Jim followed him cautiously. He was going to let Warrick lead the way.
Four men emerged from the passage, all holding laser pistols. “What in the hell happened here?” one of them shouted. Warrick swiftly drew his laser pistol and fired four shots. Two of the men had a chance to fire back. One blast grazed Warrick’s left arm while the other barely missed his head, but the four men were on the floor with laser blasts in their heads and blood pooling around them.
“They must have heard the commotion,” Jim said.
Warrick nodded as he walked into the passage, stepping over the bodies. “Can we expect more?”
“Who knows?” Jim asked. “There must be a limit somewhere. I mean it’s not like these guys are Herman Rennock.”
“No,” Warrick said as he walked. “Indeed they aren’t.”
Jim followed him down the passage, which was lighted by an occasional bare bulb hanging from the ceiling, until they reached a bend in the passage as it turned left. Warrick cautiously crept to the corner and peeked around. A laser blast slammed into the stone wall to the right of the passage and Warrick hopped backwards, leaning against the wall near the corner. Jim slowly crept up and joined him. “Nice day, isn’t it?” Warrick asked.
There was silence for a few seconds until a voice spoke from around the bend. “Some of those men out there were friends of ours. I assume you killed them all.”
“I did,” Warrick said. “I’ve done enough killing for one day, though. If you’re smart, you’ll drop your guns and let us pass so you don’t end up joining your friends.”
“No such luck,” the voice said.
“We’re at a standoff, then,” Warrick responded.
“For now. Until we decide to come out there and kill you.”
“You aren’t coming out and I’m not going in,” Warrick said. “At least not until you’re dead.” There was the sound of a laser blast and a thud as something or someone fell to the rocky floor.
“They weren’t friends of mine,” another voice said from around the bend. “And he wasn’t either.”
Warrick peeked around the corner again, then walked out into the passage, followed by Jim. At the end of the passage around the bend was a metal door. There was a man standing next to it, holding a laser pistol. Another man was lying on the ground, his head bleeding out onto the floor. “Very well,” Warrick said to the remaining guard.
“I’ll let you in,” the guard said. “I don’t have a vested interest in these guys. It’s all just money to me. It ain’t worth dyin’ over.” He opened the door and Warrick walked through, followed by Jim, who was still nervous.
As they entered the room, Jim saw what looked like a cross between an office and a throne room. There was a man seated in an elaborate, high-backed wooden chair dotted with gemstones and there were men standing to either side of him. In front of him was a huge wooden desk, and it wasn’t faux wood, either. It was the real deal. Guards lined the walls in front of the desk and there were also some shelves with books, and a red carpet led through the center of the room. The man seated behind the desk was wearing a rumpled gray suit and he had disheveled gray hair. The thing Jim noticed most, though, were his insane gray eyes which starred out from behind wire-rimmed glasses. The guy looked like he was about to draw a gun and kill everyone in the room at any second. His crazy eyes were fixed on Warrick as the cyborg approached the desk. “That’s far enough,” the man said, and the eight guards in the room all drew laser pistols and pointed them at Warrick and Jim.
Jim noticed Long John standing to the right of the seated man. He looked just like Jim remembered him, a tall Hispanic man with a gray cowboy hat. Like the guards, he was wearing the patchwork leather and metal garb most desert bandits wore. On the left side of the seated man stood a shorter black man who wore a cloth bandana and had an eye-patch over his right eye. His left eye was cold and black, looking at Jim as if he were a piece of meat about to be butchered. His garb consisted of a sweaty white tank top and torn jeans. There was a third man Jim hadn’t noticed when he’d first entered the room. This man was leaning against the wall in the far left corner. He was tall and handsome, with curly blonde hair, blue eyes, and an arrogant half-grin. Strangely, he wore a fur coat. For whatever reason, Jim felt like he was the most dangerous. “So you must be the leader of the International Anarchy Organization,” Warrick said to the seated man with the crazy eyes as the eight guards continued pointing their laser pistols. There were four lined up on each side of the room.
The man glared at him. “We don’t have a leader. We all share in the leadership. I’m the founder, and my ideas are behind everything we do.”
Warrick nodded. “Then you’re the leader. What should I call you?”
“Call me? I’m all to some and some to all. You can call me anything.”
“I can?” Warrick asked. “All right, then, Chuckle Head…” Jim noticed the man in the fur coat trying to hide a laugh. “…so what can I give you for ownership of this organization?”
“Ownership?” Chuckle Head smiled a crazed smile. He seemed to be enjoying the situation. “No one owns our organization. We’re simply a group of people who’ve come together to declare ourselves official outsiders. From now on, we make the rules and we can choose whether or not to follow them. The people out there in control of everything, the ones pulling the strings behind the invisible walls that hold us in, they’ve been leading us for too long and taking their hacks at the great gold goblet in the sky. They see us in our dreams and speak to us in our waking hours. Their technological magic is pervasive. Well, I tell you now, it ends. And we’re the ones ending it.” He pointed a finger at Warrick. “And you’re one of them, I know. How dare you come in here, you imposter? You’re in league with the devil. With the conquerors. With those who’ve written the rules since before time. But it all ends here.” Jim was convinced this man had lost his mind.
“Are you finished?” Warrick asked. “I’ll repeat my question in another way. Actually, I’ll make it a statement. All your base are belong to us.”
The crazy man frowned at him. “As I said, this is just a part of a bigger whole. I don’t own this organization. No one can own or lead the International Anarchy Organization. We’re ideas. We are the legend and the saviors. We are the chosen few, the golden children. And we know no leader, no owner. We are all our own.”
“So in reality, you should be called the International Anarchy Mess. I see.” Warrick glared at him with his one remaining red eye. “This is becoming tiresome. What should I call you?”
“Those who know me call me the Capo,” the man said. “And I agree. It is becoming tiresome. I’m assuming you’ve killed my men, since from the look of you, you’ve been fighting, and there’s no way you’d be here if they were still alive. Oh, don’t worry. I have plenty where they come from. My men are as plentiful as the sea. They spawn from the ideas in my infinite mind.” He frowned. “Still, if you don’t tell me something that interests me very soon, both of you are going to be dead men.”
“If you thought you could kill me,” Warrick said, “you’d have done it by now.”
The Capo shook his head. “I just figured it would be a waste to kill a man of such talent.”
“Well, anyway,” Warrick said as he flung the contents of the plastic bag out onto the floor, “let’s get down to business.” Jim gasped as he looked down at the Bargainer’s massive decapitated head. The mouth full of missing teeth was half open and the dead eyes seemed to be looking in the Capo’s direction.
The Capo smiled. “How did you expect me to react to that? You killed my men and now I see you’ve killed one of my best earners.”
“You can react however you want,” Warrick said. “You should be scared though. Because you’re going to end up the same way if you don’t play your cards right. So we’re going to make a deal.”
“What’s this deal?” The Capo folded his arms.
“You give me the IAO. I let you live.”
The Capo laughed. “Long John, kill him.”
“I ain’t gonna kill ‘im,” Long John said, a wicked grin on his face.
The Capo frowned. “Guards, kill his friend.” Jim swallowed as the eight guards aimed their laser pistols at him.
“Drop your laser pistols,” Warrick said. “If you kill him, I’ll kill all of you. If you drop your weapons, I’ll let you live.” The men continued pointing their laser pistols at Jim, who was shaking and breathing heavily. After a few seconds, they all dropped their weapons and the Capo was now the one starting to get nervous. “Are these guards working for you?” Warrick asked.
“They were before they betrayed me!” the Capo said, glaring at the men. “It doesn’t surprise me. They’re in league with the powers also, it appears.”
“Well, you had your chance,” Warrick said. He twitched and smoke seeped out from the bullet hole between his eyes. He swiftly drew his laser pistol and shot the Capo between the eyes, blasting his brains into the back of his throne. He slumped forward onto the desk. Warrick looked around at the rest of the men. “You’re all free to do as you please. He said you had no leader? Well, it may not have been true before, but it is now.”
The man in the fur coat smiled, his face radiating charm. “So you want to join the IAO?”
“I do,” Warrick said. “And my friend here Jim Brantley is also joining.” He nodded towards Jim. “What was your deal with the Capo? Split everything evenly?”
Long John shook his head. “He took forty percent and we split the rest.”
“Awfully greedy,” Warrick said as he walked towards the desk. “I don’t want anything. Just enough to survive. You can split the rest four ways between the three of you and Jim.” He glanced at the eight guards. “You all can work with us, too, in which case you take your own cuts of whatever business you do. I only ask that you pay ten percent tribute to my four friends here.” The guards nodded. Warrick walked around the desk to the throne and threw the Capo’s body to the floor. “I hope none of you mind if I get rid of this rotten piece of trash.”
The men in the room shrugged. “Not at all,” Long John said.
“His elevator didn’t quite reach the top floor,” the man in the fur coat said. “There was some talk of taking him out soon, anyway.”
“And the men I killed?” Warrick asked. “I hope they weren’t friends of yours.”
“They were the Capo’s men,” the man in the fur coat said.
Long John nodded. “We have our own men.”
Warrick nodded as he sat on the throne. Jim walked around and stood beside him, near the man with the eyepatch. Warrick looked around at the eight guards. “How about you? Were any of them friends of yours?”
One of the guards shook his head nervously. “Just coworkers.”
“Well, then,” Warrick said. He turned his attention to Long John, the man in the fur coat, and the man with the eyepatch. “So what can I call the three of you?”
“The Duke of Weston,” the man in the fur coat said. “The Duke for short.”
“People call me Long John,” the tall Hispanic bandit said. “And if you think long and hard, you’ll be able to figure out why.”
Duke chuckled and nodded towards the black man with the eyepatch. “They call him Beretta. He’s a mute.”
Long John nodded. “He don’t talk.”
“Is that what mute means?” Warrick asked sarcastically as he looked into Beretta’s cruel left eye. “I’m glad they haven’t gone and changed the definition on me.”
“He doesn’t talk,” Duke repeated, “but his baseball bat talks for him.” Jim now noticed the bat dangling from Beretta’s left hand. It was wrapped with razor wire.
“Very well,” Warrick said as he crossed his feet on the desk in front of him. “Business as usual. You take your cuts, and you can fill me in on what’s been happening over the next few days. There are some things I’ll ask of all of you, though, and of everyone else in the organization.”
“What’s that?” Long John asked.
“Find me Nat Bigum,” Warrick said. “And also find me Abigail Song, Devin Hellier, and Herman Rennock. Bring them all to me, alive if possible, but dead if necessary. I only ask that if someone kills any of them, draw it out. Make it as painful as possible. Come to me if you need any advice on how to torture someone effectively.” He looked around the room with his remaining red eye. “And bring me their heads so I can add them to the collection I’ve started.” Jim looked down at the Bargainer’s severed head. The dead eyes seemed to be staring at him now, so he stepped several paces to his left. “And one more thing,” Warrick added. “I want you to find me the woman from West Ridge who used to call herself Anna Ballin. She must be about forty years old now. Do you think that’s possible?”
Duke shrugged. “Finding anyone’s possible if enough people are looking. The Duke will do what he can.” Jim thought it was a weird way to refer to himself.
“Good,” Warrick said. “I don’t want any harm coming to her, though. If someone harms her, I harm them.”
“The Duke understands.” Long John and Beretta nodded.
Warrick leaned back against the throne with his feet crossed on the desk in front of him. “Is there any champagne?” he asked. “I think drinks are in order.”
“I’ll see what I can drum up,” Long John said, and he walked around the desk and down the red carpet towards the door. Jim still felt like the Bargainer’s severed head was staring at him. He tried not to look, but he could feel the lifeless eyes.
Something moved on the cliff nearby. Mavery looked closer and saw that it was some sort of rodent. It was about the size of a cat and had a ruddy coat of fur. It looked at her for a second with shiny brown eyes and disappeared behind a rock. She wondered what it could be eating to get so big since there were no noticeable plants anywhere, and when she started thinking about scorpions and other creepy crawly things, she decided to try to think of something else. She shifted her gaze to the mountains in front of her and the massive Watcher statute which loomed over them. Then, she smiled at Big Ed, who was seated next to her. “You’re awfully quiet today.”
He was still wearing the tan uniform, eating peanuts from a brown paper bag. The Bloody Six had many such bags in storage compartments in the truck, and Big Ed had taken to eating them often, so much so that John Bernard now called him “Peanut.” The name was ridiculous considering Big Ed’s massive size. “I don’t know,” Big Ed muttered. “I talk when I need to.”
“Well when I asked you if you wanted to come with me to enjoy the view, I was hoping we could talk a little, too.”
Big Ed shrugged. “Well okay then.” He reached into the brown bag he was holding with his injured hand.
“Well,” Mavery began, looking out at the jagged brown peaks, “you were gone most of the time we were in Carpenter City. And while we were traveling, I was in the truck and you were riding Pastor Earl’s old bike…”
Big Ed frowned and shook his head. “I wish I’d taken my bike. I figured I needed to stay in the truck with everyone else when we left Primrose, though. I could have told Pastor Earl to take my bike, though. His old bike don’t even fit me. It’s uncomfortable as hell ridin’ on that thing. And now my bike’s back in Primrose and I ain’t ever gonna see it again.” He shook his head again.
“That’s not the point I was trying to make,” Mavery said. She turned to face him. “So now I thought we could talk some, you know? There hasn’t been much time.”
“I’m sorry,” Big Ed said. “I ain’t much for talkin’.” He smiled at her. Though he was large and would seem intimidating to most, he had a kind smile. Mavery thought he was sort of cute in a way. His looks had definitely grown on her over the weeks they’d spent together.
“I seem to recall you saying there was some flirting that was going to be coming my way,” Mavery said, smiling back. “Did you forget about that, or was that just the talk of a man heading out to battle?”
“No, I didn’t forget,” Big Ed said. “I remembered. I just ain’t the best with women, you know?”
“It really doesn’t take much,” Mavery said. “All you have to do is be there. Listen to what I have to say. Give me a compliment from time to time. All this talk about being suave and charming and all? It’s not about that. Not to those of us who really know what’s going on.”
Big Ed smiled and scooted closer to her. “I can do those things.” He ate some more peanuts.
“Put the peanuts down,” Mavery said.
Big Ed did as she said and he leaned down and kissed her. They kissed with the mountains looming in the distance until Big Ed pulled away with a smile. “Well that was nice.”
Mavery chuckled and smiled back. “It was a good start.”
“Good start?” Big Ed asked. “What was wrong with it?”
“Well,” Mavery said grinning, as she looked into his big brown eyes, “for starters, maybe don’t eat a handful of peanuts just before you kiss me next time.”
He frowned and threw what was left of the bag of peanuts over the ledge in front of them. Mavery watched the peanuts spill out and disappear as the now empty bag fluttered down the rocky cliff. “That better?” He leaned down and kissed her again. When they were done kissing, Big Ed put his massive arm around Mavery and they looked out at the view together. “Maybe you can sleep in my tent tonight,” Big Ed said with a grin.
Mavery grinned back at him and shook her head. “I’m a good Christian woman, remember? Besides, I don’t know how much longer we’ll be here.”
“Well any place is good as the next,” Big Ed said.
“I guess so,” Mavery said. “But it is pretty out here, though.”
Big Ed nodded and gave Mavery a squeeze. “Dangerous, too, though. Do you think Bobby’ll be all right?”
“I hope so.” Mavery frowned. “I couldn’t imagine what it would do to Michelle if he’s not. I worry about Grace, too. Her arm’s pretty bad. And her son and that cough.”
Big Ed frowned. “Yeah, we won’t be stayin’ here too much longer. We probably need to get all three of them to a doctor.”
Mavery nodded. “Question is, where are we gonna find a doctor out here?”
Big Ed shrugged and pulled her closer. Mavery leaned into his massive chest and closed her eyes. The view was amazing, but it had been a long time since she’d felt a man’s arm around her. She tried her best to forget about everything and just enjoy the setting and the company.
“Do you think there’s an afterlife?” Bobby asked as he rested on the floor of the tent he’d been sharing with Shelly. He was feeling much better after Jane had administered the antivenom, but she said he had to rest for the rest of the day and they’d have to leave early the next morning to try to find a doctor for Grace and her son. Grace’s arm had been nearly blown off by a laser blast, and though Jane had done what she could, it was still pretty bad and needed more advanced medical treatment. Still, they had to wait for Bobby to recover before they left. Jane said she’d hopefully be able to treat Grace’s arm for another day before things got out of hand. And then there was Grace’s son James, whose cough only seemed to be getting worse.
Shelly smiled at him. “An afterlife? You’re going to be fine, Bobby.”
“No, I know.” Bobby smiled back. “Still, I just wanted to know what you thought about it.”
Shelly shrugged. “I don’t know. There’s a theory I always thought was interesting.”
“What theory is that?”
“Well,” Shelly said, “just before death or during, there’s a massive release of DMT from your pineal gland, a gland deep inside your brain that’s well shielded from most wounds and injuries. Some people think this DMT release can cause what people think of as a near death experience, and possibly even what equates to a sort of short afterlife.”
Sometimes Bobby forgot how smart Shelly was. She didn’t wear it on her sleeve like some people did, namely Alex Harris in their group. “DMT?” he asked.
Shelly nodded. “It’s a drug, a very powerful hallucinogen.” She grinned mischievously. “I tried it a few times. It was so long ago, though. All I remember was the world being blown open, and I couldn’t cling to language or senses in the usual sense, and everything was sort of flowery and mechanical at the same time, and then there were these little people, like friendly amazing aliens or something, and they gave these unspeakable, unimaginable gifts…” Bobby was looking at her like she was nuts and she laughed. “They did these crazy things. The gifts, I mean. They were wonderful but I didn’t understand what they were.” She seemed to really be enjoying relating the story to him. “I’m sorry. It’s so hard to describe the experience. There really aren’t words for it, and I write poetry. Anyway, so DMT messes with your perception of everything, including time, sort of like dreams. So it’s possible that right at death, you have a sort of death dream that could seem to go on for years, or eternity.”
“That’s sort of crazy,” Bobby said, chuckling. It disturbed, him, however, that Shelly had been talking about using drugs. He really hoped she didn’t use them anymore. “So then you don’t believe in any kind of supernatural afterlife or anything like that?” he asked her.
“It’s possible,” Shelly said. “I’ve always believed that anything’s possible. But I can only be sure of what I’ve seen with my own two eyes, or what I’ve experienced for myself.” She smiled at him. “Why are you asking this, Bobby?”
He shrugged. “It was something that crossed my mind just before I passed out. I started thinking about my life and everything was flashing before me, and I wondered if there was an afterlife, and I thought about you, and then things went black.” He frowned and shook his head.
Shelly nodded and stared off into space for a few seconds. Her face took on a melancholy expression. Bobby knew she was probably thinking about her brother, so he felt like changing the subject to lighten the mood. “Have you ever been to the disputed lands before? I’ve traveled quite a bit, but never there. I’m sort of excited about seeing it, actually.”
Shelly shook her head. She stared off into space for a few more seconds and then she was back. “Well you should get some rest, Bobby,” she said, giving him a gentle hug. Her soft body always felt so nice against his. He ran his fingers through her long, silky hair. “We’re leaving early,” Shelly continued. “I’m gonna go stretch my legs a little.”
“All right,” Bobby said as she moved away from him and unzipped the tent.
She looked back at him and smiled on her way through the opening. “You’d better be sleeping when I get back.”
“Hopefully,” Bobby said. He closed his eyes. Jane had given him some mild pain killers, but his leg still hurt. He didn’t want anything stronger, though. Not after his experience with his uncle and seeing what Abby had gone through. He thought about what Shelly had said about dreams and the afterlife as he drifted off into sleep.
Continue on to the next chapter:
Afterlife, Volume 2, Chapter 13
Devin Hellier pays a visit to Carpenter City.
Abby and her companions continue their journey through Black Rock Pass.
The way out of the pass proves more treacherous than expected.
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