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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 settles into his new home in the IAO headquarters.
Nat and Della witness a bomb murder Sheriff Eric Moore.
Nat and Eric’s brother Danny gather a posse to deal with the Dayton issue.
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Afterlife, Volume 2, Chapter 16
As the seven gunfighters walked down the road to Boot Hill, leaving Dead Man’s Bluff in the distance behind them, Della could barely make out five men standing ahead in the moonlight. “Five men,” Mark Gonzalez said, “but this is definitely an ambush.”
“Most definitely,” Honest Abe agreed. “I see plenty of cover.”
“We can use the cover just as well,” Nat said. “Juanita and Della, once we get to where you can make out clean shots in the moonlight, hide in the rocks. The rest of us’ll go on ahead.”
“Why them?” Danny Moore asked.
“Because they’re the two best shots I’ve ever seen,” Nat said. “I seriously doubt anyone here is better. Ain’t no time for agruin’.” Danny shrugged as they continued walking.
“We don’t know y’all from Adam,” the other deputy said.
“But you need all the help you can get,” Mark said. The deputy didn’t argue with that.
When they reached a point where Della thought he could get a clean shot, he hid behind some rocks near the side of the road. Juanita noticed him do so and hid behind a small boulder across the road from him. She was dangerously close to the cliff edge, but she was small so she had no trouble fitting on the ledge. Della watched as Nat and the other four gunfighters approached the men standing near Boot Hill. They stopped several yards away and Della was close enough to hear most of what was said, especially since they were speaking in loud voices. Della drew his two laser pistols and aimed them at two of the shadowy enemies. He wished he’d gone back to get his rifle when Abe had gotten his, or that he’d had the money with him to buy the one he’d seen in the store, but the pistols would have to do. He noticed Juanita was also without her rifle and she was aiming a laser pistol. “This ends here,” Danny said as he stood facing the five shadowy men.
“You’re right,” one of them said. “But it ain’t gonna end how you want it to.” Della noticed some ledges in the dark cliff that rose above the graveyard to the left. He made sure to be aware of what was happening there as well as he watched and listened.
“Who the hell are you?” one of the shadowy men asked. Della could see he was directing the question at Nat. “This ain’t none of your business.”
“You made it my business when your men attacked my friends in the pass,” Nat said.
“Oh, that was you? You killed two of our men there.”
“And you blinded one of ours,” Nat said.
“Well let’s call it even then. I’ll let you and the other strangers walk away. This is between Danny and my family. You ain’t got nothin’ to do with it.”
“We’re not walking away,” Mark said. “Like the man said, you made it our business.”
“You didn’t answer my question,” the first speaker said. “Who the hell are you?”
“Clint Wayne,” Nat replied.
Della could see the five men chuckling. “That’s the stupidest name I ever heard,” one of the others said.
“Not near as stupid as Damion Dayton,” Honest Abe chided.
“Enough talkin’,” Danny Moore shouted. “Y’all killed my brother. You’re gonna pay.”
“That wasn’t us.”
“Like hell it wasn’t,” Danny said. “I know y’all are workin’ with the IAO now.”
“It wasn’t us,” the man said sternly. “That’s what we come here to tell ya. That wasn’t us. And the shootin’ yesterday. That wasn’t us, either.”
“Then who was it?” Danny asked.
“Hell if I know.”
“Well, either way,” Danny said. “You’re the ones who’s gonna pay for it.” He drew his laser pistol and blasted one of the men in the stomach. Just as he did, the other men drew their weapons and Della quickly reacted, firing two shots and hitting two of the enemies in their heads. Juanita fired also, hitting another in the head. There was a loud crack as Nat fired at the last man’s chest, killing him before he was able to draw. Three lasers fired from a ledge above the cemetery and Nat and the others quickly ran for cover. It was too late for the deputy, who had been hit twice in the stomach and was on the ground moaning in pain. A laser blasted through his head, silencing him. More laser blasts hit the rock Juanita was hiding behind. Della looked up at the ledge and when he saw movement, he fired, as did Juanita. Two bodies fell about a hundred feet into the road below. Della knew there had been another blast fired from the same place, so he waited, aiming his pistols.
Time passed as Nat, Danny, Abe, and Mark continued ducking beneath an outcropping in the cliff. Della watched as Nat slowly stood and started sneaking along the bottom of the cliff, looking for a way up. Honest Abe went with him. Before Della knew what was happening, Abe fired his high powered laser rifle towards Nat. At first Della thought he’d been aiming at Nat, but then he saw the man fall to the ground in front of the former sheriff. The man had been hiding behind a bend in the rocky cliff waiting to ambush Nat, but Abe saw him and killed him before he could do it. Della continued pointing his guns up at the ledge. “Is that everyone?” Mark asked.
“Who knows?” Nat asked. He was eyeing Abe suspiciously.
Danny stepped out from the cover and walked towards the cemetery. “I guess it was everyone,” Abe said. He put the laser rifle back under his trench coat and followed Danny. Della and Juanita emerged from their hiding places and walked towards where the others were now congregating.
Danny checked on the deputy. “Hal’s dead.”
“So are Damion Dayton and his brothers Phil and Alex,” Abe said as he stood over the bodies. “I don’t know those other unfortunate fellows.”
Nat put his gun back in its holster and glared at Danny. “I’m not sure that was killin’ that needed to happen.”
Danny stood and faced him. “Look, stranger. You wanted to help. And I thank ya for helpin’. But don’t think for a second you know what’s goin’ on here because it’s been happenin’ long before you arrived.”
“I have a pretty good idea of what’s happenin’ here,” Nat said. “It don’t take a genius to figure it out. It seems you Moores are lookin’ for any excuse to kill a Dayton.”
Danny frowned. “Just like Daytons are lookin’ for any excuse to kill a Moore. Don’t forget they killed my brother less than an hour ago.”
Nat nodded. “And they said they had nothin’ to do with it. I saw the men on the bikes. It wasn’t any of these guys.”
“Hired thugs,” Danny said. “What’s the difference?”
“Well whatever the case,” Abe said. “If we didn’t have a war before, we do now. These three fellows have six cousins and two uncles who aren’t going to be happy about what’s happened to them.”
Danny nodded. “And I’ve got an uncle and two cousins left. I’m gonna do everything in my power to protect ‘em, as well as our wives and daughters.”
“What about Doctor Dayton?” Mark asked. “What’s he got to do with any of this? He’s treating some of our people as we speak.”
“He’s a distant cousin of these three,” Abe said. “He claims to have no stake in the feud.”
“Or so he says,” Danny muttered.
“He’s always been fair to the best of my knowledge,” Abe said.
“Well,” Nat said, “we should have waited to hear ‘em out. I don’t want any more killin’ around here ‘til we get the chance to talk with the rest of the Dayton family.”
“It’s a little late for that now, don’t ya think?” Danny asked.
Nat shrugged. “I’ll sort through this.”
“It ain’t none of your business, friend,” Danny said. “Like I said, I thank you and your friends for helpin’, but you’re finished now. You can leave this to me from here on out.”
“Well,” Abe said. “We ought to go get the undertaker. This will make for good business for him tonight.” He started walking back towards town. Nat and Danny glared at each other until Danny turned and followed Abe.
“I think our involvement in this mess is over,” Mark said.
“Agreed,” Della said, glancing at Nat. The former sheriff shook his head and started walking back to town. Della shrugged and followed. Mark and Juanita were close behind.
Abby sat beside Grace’s bed as the young woman looked up at the neon light shining down from the ceiling, her long brown hair spreading haphazardly across her pillow. There was an IV in her arm, but she was definitely looking much better. Doctor Dayton had even managed to save her arm, which had been blasted pretty badly by a laser shot. “You checked on James?” she asked.
Abby nodded. “He was sleeping when I went in.” Sera had also been sleeping, and Bobby was with Shelly, so Abby hadn’t wanted to disturb him. She’d decided instead to check on Grace.
“That’s good,” Grace said with a smile. “It sounds like Doctor Dayton’s going to be able to help him. He said it’s a normal infection for kids to get in these parts. From spores in the sand or something. Antibiotics should clear it up, though.”
“That’s good,” Abby said. “How about you? How are you feeling? You look way better.”
Grace nodded. “That wouldn’t be hard, though. Anyway, I do feel much better now. The pain killers are helping a lot.”
“Just be careful you don’t rely on them too much,” Abby said, remembering her own ordeal. At least Grace had a doctor to help her through it. Grace nodded. “I’ve been meaning to ask you about something,” Abby said.
“Go ahead,” Grace said. She smiled, looking at Abby with tired blue eyes.
“Do you know anything about the International Anarchy Organization?”
Grace frowned in thought. “No, no more than any of you.”
Abby nodded. “I saw a bracelet on Pastor Kenyon’s wrist. That’s why I asked.”
“It doesn’t surprise me that he was involved with a shady organization,” Grace muttered. “He was a criminal, pretty much. I guess it’s not stealing if you get people to give things to you willingly, but he was a con artist all the same.”
“I don’t know much about this organization,” Abby said, “but I want to find out more. It seems they’re making their presence known more and more, and they’re becoming a thorn in my side. Not like Rennock, but they’re getting there.” She thought about her dead family. There was really no way any organization could ever do worse to her than Rennock had done.
“Are you all right?” Grace asked.
Abby realized her facial expression probably showed her anger. “As all right as I can be right now. It’s been a long road. I haven’t had a lot of time to process things lately. I feel like I’m being spread thin.”
“You need to rest,” Grace said. “Go back to your hotel room, Abby. Go get some sleep.”
Abby smiled at her. “Okay.” The smile quickly turned into a frown. “I don’t know how I’ll be able to sleep until Nat and the others get back, though.”
“At least try,” Grace said. “Good night, Abby.”
Abby stood and walked towards the door. “Good night.”
“And thanks again,” Grace said. “You may not realize this, but you saved my life and my son’s. In more ways than you could know.” Abby nodded as she opened the door and left the room. She still felt like there was so much more she could be doing. She just needed to find the right opportunity.
The stone buildings of Dead Man’s Bluff loomed in the moonlight as Della and the other gunfighters approached. He wasn’t sure if it was because he’d just left a graveyard, but the buildings strangely reminded Della of tombs. He saw that Arlene Miller was standing in the road to greet Abe. Abby was also walking towards the returning gunfighters. Townspeople were slowly coming out from their houses, trying to see what was happening. “Thank God you’re all okay,” Abby said.
“Not all of us,” Danny said with a frown as he stopped walking.
Mark stood facing Abby. “The other deputy was killed. We took out all the Daytons, though.”
Nat’s arms were crossed over his chest. “It was an unnecessary confrontation.”
“What do you mean?” Abby asked.
“The confrontation may have been necessary,” Della said. “It didn’t need to turn violent, though.”
“It would have turned violent no matter what I did,” Danny said.
“Those Daytons are violent folk!” one of the townspeople shouted.
Abe walked to where Arlene was standing and hugged her. She was wearing the same fur coat and red dress Della had seen her in earlier. “I was worried sick,” she said.
“You know you needn’t worry about me, darlin’,” Abe said. “I never walk into a situation there’s no way of walking out of.”
Abby was still looking at Nat. “What happened? Who fired the first shot?”
Nat pointed at Danny. “This guy did.”
“They killed my brother,” Danny blurted.
“You don’t know that,” Nat countered. There was the hiss of a laser blast and a red line shot through Danny Moore’s chest, splattering blood at Nat’s feet. Another shot through his head, spraying more blood as he fell to the ground. Della wasn’t sure where the shot had come from, but he watched as Arlene Miller quickly spun, pulling a small laser pistol out from under her coat. She fired two shots through a nearby second story window which had been open and a man tumbled down into the dusty street below, thudding near some of the gathered townspeople. Arlene spun the pistol on her finger and returned it to the holster in her fur coat. Everyone else looked on in awe except Abe, who was kneeling over Danny.
“He’s definitely dead,” Abe said. “That’s it, then. This is war, like I said.”
“It was the Daytons!” one of the townspeople said. A murmur of agreement went through the gathered crowd, which now included about twenty people.
“How’d you make a shot like that?” Juanita asked Arlene. “I didn’t even see where that shot came from.”
Arlene smiled and shrugged. “Luck, I guess.”
“Experience,” Nat said, glaring at her. “You’ve been in many a shootout. You could tell where the shot came from by watchin’ the laser hit ‘im.”
“Whatever you say,” Arlene said.
Nat shook his head. “A woman like you would have a big diamond weddin’ ring if she was really married. Where is it?”
Arlene looked at him with a confused expression. “What does that have to do anything?”
“I know ya ain’t who ya say you are,” Nat said. “I only know three people alive who could make a shot like that. And two of ’em are standin’ here with me.” He nodded towards Della and Juanita.
Abe walked over next to his wife, where he stood facing Nat. “Are you accusing my beautiful wife of something, Mr. Wayne?”
Nat nodded. “I am. And you, too.”
“I’ll remind you that I saved your life earlier,” Abe said.
“Sure ya did,” Nat said, “but I also know you wouldn’t hesitate to take it if the opportunity arose and ya thought you’d stand to benefit from it.”
“What’s happening here?” Abby asked, confusion on her face.
“We’re in the presence of Ace McCoy and Annabelle Rose,” Nat said, “the two most notorious bank robbers and murderers alive.”
“That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard,” Arlene said.
Abe nodded, his arm around his wife. “Especially coming from someone who’s quite obviously not who he says he is.”
“The gig is up,” Nat said. “I spent five years of my life trackin’ the two of you. I saw the carnage ya left behind. I also came to know you really well. Well enough to know who I’m lookin’ at right now.”
“We don’t even look like them,” Arlene said.
“Nothin’ some wigs and disguises can’t fix,” Nat said. “And Ace, I knew that was a disguise the second I saw it. Nobody dresses like that.”
“Suppose you’re right,” Abe said. “What can you do about it? You don’t have any jurisdiction here, Nat Bigum.” Nat frowned as Abe stared at him through his red glasses. A murmur once again went through the gathered crowd. “That’s right,” Abe said. “I’ve had you figured out from the moment I saw you. And then when you started talking, it couldn’t have been more obvious.”
“So what do we do now that all the proverbial cats are out of the bag?” Mark asked. The gathered townspeople looked on with nervous eyes. Della glanced at Abby. He hoped Ace and Annabelle hadn’t yet figured out who Abby was. They’d probably know she had access to a fortune if they did.
“We’re gonna take both of ‘em to jail,” Nat said.
Annabelle cackled. “What jail?” She pointed to the rubble that had been Sheriff Moore’s office. “That jail?”
Nat shook his head. “We’re gonna find a new jail in town. And then we’re gonna hang these two criminals. After a trial, of course.”
“Who made you sheriff?” Ace asked.
“Whoever killed Eric Moore,” Nat said, “and his brother.” He nodded down towards Danny’s body.
“Well the undertaker’s gonna have a busy night,” Ace said, “that’s for sure. Let’s not add any more bodies to the count.”
Nat nodded. “You know who I am and I know who you are. My friends here are better shots than I am.” He nodded to Della and Juanita again. “You won’t try anything. You know we’ll kill ya.”
“No,” Annabelle said with a sly smile. “We’ll come peacefully, officer.” Her sarcastic tone implied she’d do what she could to change that as soon as the opportunity arose.
Della drew both of his laser pistols and pointed them at Ace and Annabelle. Juanita also drew her weapon, as did Mark. “Well, then,” Nat said. “Where should we take ‘em?”
“I’ve got a wine cellar,” one man in the gathered crowd said. “It’ll serve as a jail in a pinch.”
“All right, then,” Nat said. “Lead the way.” The man nodded and Nat followed him down the town’s central road. Ace and Annabelle followed as Mark, Juanita, and Della walked behind them with their guns aimed at the notorious criminals’ backs.
“What about the Daytons?” one of the townspeople asked. “They killed our sheriff. They need to pay.”
“I’ll figure this mess out,” Nat said as he walked away. “Don’t worry. There’ll be justice in Dead Man’s Bluff. I’ll see to that.” The townspeople started heading back to their homes, and soon the streets were empty again.
The hum of the engines filled the streets of Carpenter City with sound. It was morning and the sun hadn’t quite finished rising. The sandy streets were still full of shadows. Before he even saw anything, Devin Hellier was sure Eileen Traymont had arrived. The engines stopped and Devin waited, seated in a metal folding chair on the front porch of the large white house which had served as the town’s sheriff’s office. After a few minutes, the engines started back up. Devin watched as three Cranster 35 hover trucks appeared from around the corner of a large building and stopped in front of the porch he was seated on. They were big gray trucks with a utilitarian, military look to them. The back of one of the trucks opened and a ramp lowered to the ground. Four blue-uniformed enforcers walked down the ramp, followed by Eileen Traymont, who proceeded to walk up the steps of the porch until she stopped in front of Devin, her arms folded and her round face wearing the same stern expression Devin had gotten used to. The four enforcers stood near the truck, their weapons ready.
Eileen was a very short, thin woman who couldn’t have weighed much more than eighty five pounds, but Devin was under the impression that she’d never been intimidated by anyone. Her black hair was pulled back tight as always, and her blue uniform was spotless as she glared at Devin through her circle-rimmed glasses. “I said not to kill anyone.”
“What do you mean, ma’am?” Devin asked.
“I mean what I said.”
Devin nodded. “I haven’t killed anyone here.”
“We shall see,” Eileen said. “The woman I just spoke to said several people have disappeared since you and your men arrived. My men are going to scour the town. If they find any bodies, there will be trials, and for those responsible, there will be consequences.”
Devin tried his best not to seem nervous. “Is that all, ma’am?”
“No,” she said. “It isn’t. Where’s the package?”
“I don’t know.”
She glared at him for a few seconds. Devin couldn’t remember a time in recent memory he’d felt so uneasy. “You don’t know.” He shook his head. “You don’t know,” she repeated once again. “That package was very important.”
“I never saw your man,” Devin replied. “No one here knew anything about the package, either.”
“If it was stolen,” she said, “there will be dire consequences.”
Devin nodded. “Consequences” seemed to be her word of the day. “Is there any update on Abigail Song?”
Eileen shook her head. “Not recently. Have you found anything from the townspeople? I’ve heard if nothing else, you’re a good interrogator.”
Devin grinned. “Thanks, ma’am. All I’ve been able to find, though, is that they drove off west towards the mountains.”
“Any idiot could have figured that out,” Eileen said. “They’re going for the Disputed Lands. They probably think they’ll be safer there.”
“It’s outside our jurisdiction,” Devin said. “Herman Rennock doesn’t own that territory.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Eileen said.
“You mean to follow them?” Devin asked.
“I mean to do whatever it takes to bring Abigail Song and her companions to justice,” Eileen said. “They’re a threat to everything we hold dear, Mr. Hellier. Everything I hold dear, at least.” She paced in front of Devin as she spoke. “I’ve committed my life to being a champion of freedom, and to seeing that justice comes to those who would take that freedom away from anyone. When chaos trumps order, the world falls apart. Abigail Song represents chaos. She’s no different from the International Anarchy Organization. And before I’m finished, their influence will be wiped away. Justice and order will prevail. I ask you, Mr. Hellier, do you represent order? Or chaos?” Her brown eyes shot lasers through Devin’s face.
“Order, of course,” he answered.
The door to the sheriff’s office opened and Jorge Bautista walked out. He was huge, especially when standing near Eileen. The sleeves of his uniform were rolled up, showing off his silver metallic arms. “Good morning, sir,” he said when he saw Devin.
“Good morning, Jorge,” Devin said.
“Jorge Bautista,” Eileen said, looking him up and down. “I’ve heard a lot about you.”
“I’ve heard a lot about you, too.” He gave Devin a sideways glance.
“Nothing good, I’m sure,” Eileen said, fixing her gaze back on Devin. “I’m going to take Mr. Bautista with me. I have need of a competent bodyguard.”
Devin frowned. “He’s my employee.”
“And you’re my employee,” Eileen said. “So you do what I say. And remember what I said about how to address me.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Devin muttered. He looked at Jorge, who looked back and shrugged.
“Jorge, come with me,” Eileen said. The large man nodded and followed her towards the truck. Eileen turned once again towards Devin. “My investigation into the disappearances in this town had better not reveal any wrongdoing on your part, Mr. Hellier. I’m still determining where to go from here. It would be a shame if you weren’t a part of my plans. I’m sure you’d rather be helping me track down Abigail Song than rotting in a cell.”
Devin nodded. “Yes, ma’am.” She nodded and disappeared with Jorge and the four enforcers into the back of the truck. Devin waited for the trucks to disappear as they turned towards the inn and he proceeded to curse Eileen Traymont under his breath.
Continue on to the next chapter:
Afterlife, Volume 2, Chapter 17
Nat has a big decision to make.
Abby and Nat discuss what to do with Ace McCoy and Annabelle Rose.
Abby sets out for the meeting in North Point.
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