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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:
Warrick Baines attacks the IAO hideout and kills the Capo.
Mavery and Big Ed enjoy the view in the Rocky Mountains.
Bobby and Michelle talk about the afterlife.
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Afterlife, Volume 2, Chapter 13
“This is a nice little town,” Devin Hellier said with a grin, “especially considering it’s in the middle of nowhere.”
“It is,” Randy Halloway agreed. The sun was unrelenting as ever as he walked down the street with the man who was in charge of the enforcers who’d just arrived in Carpenter City. “We all really like it here. You may decide to stay. We’re very kind to Herman Rennock’s enforcers here in Carpenter City.” Randy had been the top deputy in Carpenter City until Sheriff Bear Phelps was murdered two nights ago. Now he was the sheriff, as the shiny new silver star badge on his left breast attested. There was a new Chief Pastor, too, now that Oral Kenyon was dead, but word was he preached the same things and had the same fiery delivery. Different sheriff, different pastor, same town.
“I’m sure,” Devin said. “But remember, you did let Abigail Song and her people escape. Someone is going to be held accountable.” Devin was a thin, wiry man with a stern, close-shaved face. There was another enforcer walking behind them named Frank Hammer. From what Randy could tell, he must have been a new guy. Devin often said things to him as if he were training him.
“We did everything we could to stop them,” Randy said. “They killed lots of our folks. They killed Sheriff Phelps, and they killed Pastor Kenyon.” He frowned. “I hope you get ‘em and kill all of ‘em, especially that gay one.” He knew that was the one who killed Sheriff Phelps. He’d seen him in the bar earlier in the evening.
“Oh, we will,” Devin said. “So do you know anything about a package?”
“A package?” Randy asked as they walked past rows of small houses with white paint peeling off the siding.
“Yeah,” Devin said. “We’re supposed to be picking up a package here.”
“I don’t know anything about it,” Randy said, confused.
Devin shrugged. “Well, that’s unfortunate.” Devin had arrived with eight of his men shortly after another group of twenty enforcers came to town. It almost looked like a police state with so many men in blue suits walking around town. And supposedly there would be more coming soon with Eileen Traymont. At least Randy felt safe. Being a fellow lawman, he was doing his best to work with them and not against them. The last thing he wanted to do was get in their way. “Nothing here’s as we were expecting it,” Devin continued. “Oh well. If life hands you lemons, you make lemonade.” He smiled at Randy as they walked. “Is there a good place in town to get a cup of coffee and a croissant?”
Randy nodded. “Nellie’s. She makes the best pastries. And her husband drives down over the border and gets his coffee from some Mexican down there.” He chuckled. “Them Mexicans are good for somethin’, right?”
Devin grinned. “I’m sure my associate Jorge Bautista would appreciate that comment.”
Randy frowned as they turned a corner down an alley. “I didn’t mean nothin’ by it. I was just tryin’ to lighten the mood, ya know?”
Devin chuckled. “It’s all right. So tell me about these pastries Nellie makes. Do you have any recommendations?”
“Oh, yeah,” Randy said as they walked down the alley. “Get the chocolate croissant. It’s the best anywhere. And the donuts is good, too. And reasonably priced. Yeah, definitely. Very reasonable.”
“Sounds great,” Devin said as they approached a metal door. “Okay, you can stop walking.”
“Here?” Randy asked as he stopped. He was starting to get a little frightened. As far as he knew he hadn’t done anything wrong.
“Sure, here. Open the door.”
Randy looked at the metal door. “The storage room?”
Devin nodded. “I want to show you something.”
Randy shrugged and opened the door. His stomach immediately dropped. There was blood everywhere. And bodies. Mangled faces. Donnie Jordan was lying there with his face half blown off. Somebody underneath him was unrecognizable, a mess of blood and bone. And Mary from the hotel had laser blasts through her nose and right eye. Her shoulder length brown hair was caked with blood and Randy could barely tell that her dress had once been white. “Oh my God.”
“You shouldn’t have let Miss Song get away,” Devin said. “It’s considered treason to assist a fugitive running from Rennock Enterprises.”
Randy turned with horror on his face. “I didn’t try to help them. We were gonna keep ‘em here. It’s just…” He watched as Frank fired two laser blasts through his forehead and the burning pain overtook him.
The hum of the engine had an almost soothing sound to it. Sera frowned as Grace moaned in pain, breaking the monotony. Grace’s arm was taking a turn for the worse and her son James’ coughing was pretty much constant. At least Bobby was feeling better. He was sitting across from Sera with his arm around Shelly as the hover truck zoomed through the mountains. Shelly’s dog was sleeping on her lap and she was petting it. Sera looked through the open back of the truck at the jagged rocky peaks they were traveling through. The Black Rock Pass was probably the easiest way through the mountains from Carpenter City, but the caves made Sera feel uneasy. She noticed one in a nearby cliff that had a metal awning extending out from it. “There,” she said, pointing.
“I see it,” Juanita said. “Someone lives there.”
“I wonder who it could be,” Jane mused as she placed a cool washcloth over James’ forehead.
“Bandits,” Mark grunted. His scarred face was suspicious.
“Or lepers,” Bobby suggested.
Paul chuckled. “Or bandit lepers.”
“We need to keep our distance,” Juanita said. “Those lepers are cursed.” Nat circled his sand bike around and rode behind the truck, motioning to those inside that he’d seen the caves. Mark nodded.
“Those tales you hear about cursed lepers are all tall tales,” Alex said as he looked out at the caves. “There are hermits in the mountains, but they’re not cursed. They’re diseased, if anything. There are no such things as curses.”
“The hermits are said to have skin lesions and various other deformities according to my data,” Einstein said from Abby’s wrist. “There are several possible diseases which have been proposed. Leprosy is a possibility, as is cancer. A severe allergic reaction has also been suggested, as has radiation sickness, though the radiation levels in the mountains where the hermits are supposed to live appear to be minimal. Another possibility some have suggested is a genetic mutation of some sort.”
Alex nodded. “Whatever they have, it’s not contagious. From what I know, no one who’s ever found them and written about them has come back infected.”
“People have found them, then?” Abby asked Alex.
Alex nodded. “A historian named Harold Clarke spent a year with them, actually, and wrote a book about it. His hover car broke down in the mountains and the hermits helped him. They took him in and fed him and he decided to stay with them to study them. He wrote about their caves, but he also wrote about cities hidden in the mountains. Old, forgotten cities from the old world.”
“Really?” Bobby asked. “From the old world?”
Alex nodded again. “And the lepers Clarke found were deformed and misshapen like the legends have always said, but he attributed it to some rare disease. He stayed with lepers far north of here, though. Who knows? They may or may not be the same people as the lepers who are supposed to live here. And the different groups may or may not know about one another.” He glanced at the caves in the now faraway ridge. “My friend Winston Cooper, who’s also a historian, had some run-ins with lepers, too. He told me some stories, but he didn’t actually stay with them. I think he was traveling with trade caravans when he came across them.”
Mark frowned. “Well whoever they are, we should be ready for anything. We don’t know if they’re friendly or not.” Sera looked down at the laser pistol on her lap and frowned. The fanatics in Carpenter City had taken her swords. At least she still had her electromagnetic disruption belt, though. It was hidden in a compartment under the truck with the diamonds. She hadn’t thought she’d need it in Carpenter City. She chuckled at the thought. “Something funny?” Mark asked her.
She shook her head, frowning down at her laser pistol. “I just wish I had my swords. That’s all.” She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She thought of Nanda, her old teacher. She could see his handsome, round face in her mind’s eye. He would have told her to let go of the attachment to her swords which caused her suffering. Like the sands of a dune blowing away in the wind, let them fade and disappear. By chasing attachments, she herself would become sands blowing away at the mercy of the wind. While if she relieved herself of attachment, she would become the dune. Nanda liked to use metaphors like that. With her swords, it would be easy, but she still found it difficult letting go of Nanda and her memories of him, even after all these years.
The hover truck was descending now. The highest peaks were in the distance behind them, and the cliffs on both sides of the pass were spotted with more caves. It was hard to tell if they were inhabited by humans or not. None of these had awnings like the one Sera had seen earlier. The cliffs provided good cover for any would-be attackers trying to mount a surprise assault, but Sera still preferred the mountains to moving through the open desert. The mountains also provided cover for the hover truck. It would be harder for a passing EMPC to spot them surrounded by rocks and cliffs than it would be in the open desert. “Oh, that’s great,” John muttered as he drove. “Just great.” The hover truck slowed down and Sera looked through the front windshield to see that the pass ahead was clogged with huge boulders and rubble. “An avalanche,” John said.
“Manmade,” Mark said as he glared through the windshield. “Caused by explosives at the top of these cliffs, probably. Can we get over it?” Sera looked through the front windshield at the top of the cliff to the right and saw that Mark was probably right. The brown rock looked scarred and broken and there was what appeared to be a large crater near the top several hundred feet above them.
“The sand bikes might be able to get over it if we’re lucky,” John said, “but this thing’s not meant to fly like that. That pile of rock’s probably thirty or forty feet high, and probably too steep.” He paused. “I mean, maybe if we get a fast moving start, but it might be better to see if we can find another way around through the mountains or something.” He brought the truck to a stop several yards away from the rubble and let it settle down onto the rocky ground.
“This thing?” Abby asked. “Do you think we’ll find a mule trail wide enough for this thing?”
“I’ve calculated a one in four hundred and sixty eight chance that the hover truck will be able to get over those boulders,” Einstein said from Abby’s wrist, “but the required speed would make it very dangerous and if we aren’t able to clear the boulders the hover truck will likely crash and explode. I am detecting a fairly wide smaller pass to the north.”
“Can we get to it somehow?” Mark asked.
“There is a trail nearby I believe we’ll be able to use,” Einstein said.
Abby nodded. “We’ll need someone to scout ahead probably.”
“I sense a trap of some sort,” Mark muttered.
Sera grinned. “I’ll go. I’ll be careful. And I can use my EMD belt just in case someone’s waiting for us.”
“What if they have old style weapons?” Paul asked.
“Nat can go with you,” Abby said. “He has his revolver.”
Nat walked up to the back of the truck, joined by Big Ed and Della. Their sand bikes were parked near the hover truck. “The two of us can go,” Nat said. “You can use my rifle.”
“I’ll go too,” Juanita said.
Mark shook his head. “Nat and Sera should be enough. They’re just scouting. Besides, we’ll probably need as many guns as we can get right here. Whoever set up this barricade probably isn’t far away.” He glanced at Nat. “If it seems like too much for you to handle up there, you can come back down and get us.”
Nat nodded as Sera hopped out of the back of the truck. John opened the cargo bay under the truck and Sera rummaged through some bags and boxes until she found her belt, which she strapped around her waist. She also grabbed a hunting knife and slipped it through the belt for good measure. Nat handed her his rifle. “The trailhead is twenty yards behind us to the north,” Einstein said. Nat nodded and he and Sera started walking in that direction.
They eventually reached the rocky trail, which zigzagged steeply up the side of the cliff. It did appear to be just wide enough for the hover truck, though. Sera wondered if the hermits had carved it as a means of accessing their caves. “Well this ain’t gonna be easy,” Nat said.
“Nothing worth doing ever is,” Sera said with a grin.
“That truck could get stuck on this trail.”
Sera shrugged. “Well it’s definitely stuck right now.” She turned her EMD belt on and the blue lights that lined it started flashing. “I’ll go first.”
Nat shook his head. “I’m goin’ first.”
“Haven’t you ever heard the expression ‘ladies first?’”
Nat grinned his ugly, scarred grin. “I ain’t the chivalrous type.” He shoved her out of the way and started scrambling up the rocky trail. Sera shrugged and followed. She figured she probably knew enough Jeet Kun Do to easily kick his ass but she didn’t want to cause unneeded commotion. As they ascended the cliff, Sera heard some laser blasts.
They reached a ledge and she looked down to see Big Ed and Della pinned behind the truck as lasers hit the ground nearby. “Looks like the ambush has started,” she muttered. Nat nodded and the two of them picked up their pace. He drew his revolver and Sera held the rifle ready as the two of them continued walking. There was a large rock outcropping near the top of the cliff so when the two of them reached it, they ducked down behind it. Sera peeked around it to see two attackers. They were wearing leather bandit garb and they were crouched near the ledge, aiming their laser rifles down into the pass. One of them muttered something and looked down at his laser rifle. Sera grinned, knowing her EMD belt had shut the weapons off. She was definitely within range of them. Nat aimed his revolver at one of them and fired, hitting the man in the back. The bandit fell off the ledge, screaming as he plummeted hundreds of feet down into the ravine with a thump. The other one dropped his weapon and raised his hands in the air.
Nat stepped out onto the ledge with him, followed by Sera who quickly looked around to make sure there were no others hiding. There was a cave entrance in the cliff nearby so she kept an eye on it as Nat aimed his revolver at the man’s head. “Don’t kill me,” the man said.
“Whether I kill ya or not depends on how cooperative you are,” Nat said. “Were you two alone?”
The man nodded. “It was just us.” Sera glanced at him. He was a short white man with scraggly blonde hair. There was definitely fear in his eyes. She noticed the letters “IAO” painted in red on his leather vest over his left breast.
“Are you workin’ for someone?” Nat asked.
He shook his head. Out of the corner of her eye, Sera noticed something flash in the cave entrance. She aimed the rifle. There wasn’t anything she could see at first. She looked closer and saw what looked like a thin metal pipe jutting out of the cave. Whatever the pipe was attached to was hidden behind the rocky cave wall. There was a swoosh and before Sera could react, an orange fireball shot out of the pipe and it blew up in her face. She screamed as the heat bit her hard. The burning was intense and when it was over, Sera was on the ground, writhing in pain. She heard yelling and gunshots. The burning pain didn’t stop. Sera tried to open her eyes and she realized they already were open. Still, she only saw darkness.
Continue on to the next chapter:
Afterlife, Volume 2, Chapter 14
Abby and her companions wait for Nat and Sera to return.
They search for a place where the wounded can find treatment.
There’s trouble at the poker table in a small town saloon.
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