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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 talks with the Duke of Weston.
Sheriff Nat Bigum pays Richard Dayton a visit.
Abby and her companions travel to North Point.
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Afterlife, Volume 2, Chapter 19
Abby opened her eyes, realizing she’d dozed off for a second. She’d been having trouble sleeping lately, with everything on her mind and nightmares about her family, and it was starting to take its toll on her. The engine was humming and the dunes were going past like sand dropping in an hourglass, but when she turned to see the view through the front windshield of the truck, she could see brownish green tents covering the white sandy dunes ahead. There were thousands of them. Beyond them was a town consisting mostly of sandstone buildings and mud huts, and in the air, saucer-shaped aerial assault vehicles were zipping around using their electromagnetic propulsion systems. At first, Abby was scared until she noticed that the green dollar sign symbols of Rennock Enterprises had been painted over with the black and white stars and stripes of the resistance. “It looks like the resistance has occupied North Point,” Mark said, looking at the same view. “At least for the time being.”
“That’s a relief,” Ace McCoy said. “I was getting worried we’d be facing the gallows again.”
Mark glared at him. “What makes you think you won’t be? You’re no friend to the resistance.”
“We’ve done more to hurt Rennock over the years than anybody,” Annabelle chimed in.
“Yeah,” Juanita said, “but that’s only because they had the money. Don’t think we don’t know what you are.”
Annabelle frowned at her. “Keep your mouth shut, you little bitch.”
Juanita gritted her teeth in anger, her hand on the hilt of her laser pistol. “That’s enough,” Alex said. “Don’t feed the animals. They might bite.” He looked through the front window at the tents and the hover tanks that were parked near them. “General Rodriguez is here with his army. They just finished fighting a skirmish with some of Rennock’s forces from what I’ve heard, so now they’re here to provide security for the meeting. There’s no way Rennock’s attacking us out here.”
Mavery frowned. “I’m sure the people in Primrose thought the same thing.”
“General Schmidt’s army is still on the other side of the Rockies,” Mark pointed out. “Rennock doesn’t have that kind of firepower out here in the Disputed Lands.”
Jane nodded. “Thank God for that. I could do with some rest and relaxation without fighting for a few days.” Her leg was still injured and she was having trouble walking. Doctor Dayton had done what he could for her but it would take time to fully heal. Jane was never one to complain, though.
Abby watched as John parked the truck and two soldiers approached. Della and Big Ed waited nearby on their sand bikes. “What’s your pass code?” one of them asked, looking down at an electronic pad.
“9906753,” Alex shouted through the open window.
The soldier smiled. “Alexander Harris. We’ve been expecting you. You can park the truck and the bikes near those hover tanks.” He pointed to a nearby dune where four hover tanks rested, their concussion cannons gleaming in the sun. “Then someone will show you and your companions to your quarters.”
“We’ll need MP’s to escort some prisoners,” Alex said.
The soldier nodded. “We’ll send for them.”
John drove the hover truck to the dune with the hover tanks, then he parked it, letting it rest on the dune as a cloud of sand rose around it. Della and Big Ed parked their sand bikes nearby. Abby followed the others through the open back of the truck as Mark and Juanita kept their laser pistols aimed at Ace and Annabelle. Within minutes, a squad of MP’s came to escort Ace and Annabelle to a prison tent. Then, four soldiers walked Abby and the rest of her companions to a set of tents which would serve as their quarters. Alex walked to Abby’s tent before she entered to settle in. “We may have some time to rest until General Rodriguez sends for us,” he said. “I suggest you use it. You’ve been looking weary lately.”
Abby nodded. “So the meeting’s tomorrow?”
“Yes,” Alex said. “But the general wants to have dinner with us tonight.” He smiled. “He’s known for his hospitality. I think we’ll be in for quite a feast.”
Abby wasn’t sure how hungry she’d be. “Sounds great.” She ducked into her tent as Alex walked away.
Abby opened the door and saw her kitchen, just like she remembered it. There was her mother doing dishes. Her brothers Jimmy and Matt were punching each other in their arms and giggling while her sisters Susan and Sarah ate their cereal. Her dad was sitting at the end of the table like he always did, looking up market information on his wristwatch computer, Einstein. “Boys, stop fighting,” her mom said when she saw what Abby’s brothers were doing.
“Don’t you want to eat anything?” her father asked her.
Abby shook her head. “I’m not hungry. I just want to sit.” She pulled a chair out and sat at the table as she watched her family. They seemed almost like strangers to her now, but they were still a welcome sight. Abby wanted to get to know them all once again. She wanted to get to know them better than she ever had. She watched a laser blast through Jimmy’s face and he fell back in his chair. A blade sliced through Susan’s neck and her head rolled across the floor. The blade sliced Matt’s belly open and blood started gushing out. Then, a safe fell onto Sarah’s head and Abby looked away in horror. She turned to her father, helpless and paralyzed as a laser blasted through his head and then her mother’s. A dish broke against the floor as her mother collapsed. The kitchen floor had become a lake of blood. Abby started crying as the shadowy cyborg Warrick Baines stepped towards her. “Helter Skelter was a great song by the Beatles,” he said with his metallic voice as his red eyes bored into Abby. “It inspired Charles Manson to give his hypothetical race war the same name.”
Abby noticed strings attached to Baines and she looked up to see Herman Rennock pulling them. Standing next to him was another shadowy figure who was pointing at Abby’s dead father. Abby looked closely, but couldn’t make out who the person was.
Abby awoke to find herself in her tent, wrapped up in her sleeping bag. Tears were streaming down her cheeks. It was late afternoon and she was outside of North Point. Ace McCoy and Annabelle Rose were being held safely with other prisoners in a prison tent which was heavily guarded. Warrick Baines was dead and Abby was surrounded by armed militiamen who would guard her to the death. Herman Rennock was probably hiding in his tower, and the spy who’d betrayed her father was going to be with her tomorrow at the meeting. Abby’s thoughts turned to the spy. She’d find out who it was and she’d kill them. Just like one day she’d kill Herman Rennock. She started shaking as she looked around tent. There was a metal chair and a battery powered lamp. Her bag was resting on the chair. Einstein was inside but she was afraid to turn him on. She was tired of hearing about all of the mistakes she was making. She felt alone and vulnerable. She wished she had some pain killers on hand. Abby shook away the thoughts. “You idiot. Remember how hard it was to quit.” Still, they’d make the pain go away. And now the nightmares were back. They’d left for a long time, but they were back. Maybe it was because she knew the spy was so close. Abby huddled in her sleeping bag, afraid to sleep, but too exhausted not to. Her last thought before she drifted off was that she was afraid she was losing her mind.
The city lights were starting to come on like fireflies sparkling in the hot early evening. Herman Rennock watched them through the expansive window of his bedroom as he rested in his bed, holding Deanna Tralley in his arms. His mind was racing. His forces had started to make inroads in their fight against the IAO and they had the rebels on the run, aside from that pesky General Rodriguez west of the Rocky Mountains, but Rennock still felt uneasy. He’d left his tower very little over the past several days, and he feared that he was becoming lazy in his luxurious home, happy to spend days in bed with Deanna. Part of his problem was that he hadn’t heard from his spy who was traveling with Abigail Song for quite some time. He’d been getting used to the frequent messages, but apparently Song and her friends were traveling through barren areas where there was little or no reception. He hadn’t heard from any of his plants in Carpenter City recently, either, and Eileen Traymont was supposed to be there but there was no way for her to get a message to him. Rennock had heard from his spy within the Lead Council of the rebels that they were holding a meeting in North Point and Abigail Song was going to be there, but he knew very little other than that. Herman Rennock didn’t like not knowing things. He didn’t like feeling like his fortunes weren’t in his own hands. “Think on the bright side,” Deanna said. “At least we aren’t out there.” She was referring to the desert which covered most of the Earth.
Rennock nodded and looked into her pretty blue eyes. “Sure. But we may be someday.”
Deanna laughed. “You and me? Out there? Are you kidding me? Herman, whatever happens, we’re exceptional people. The cream always finds a way to rise to the top.”
“I guess,” Rennock said. What was wrong with him? He’d always been so confident in the past. He didn’t like feeling like he was a prisoner in his own home. The sooner the leaders of the IAO were in custody and executed, the happier he’d be. He wasn’t afraid of those communist resistance fighters, but the unpredictable IAO was a different story.
Something buzzed on his nightstand. Rennock looked over to see a red light on his phone. He picked it up to see there was a message. “Outside of North Point now. May have to split up from Abigail Song temporarily. We should join up with her later, though. More to follow when time permits.” Split up from Song? He’d have to get to the bottom of that. At least he knew Song was still alive. He’d considered sending an air strike or nuking North Point once he’d heard that was where the meeting was being held, but he didn’t want to risk killing Song and losing the location of the diamonds. Besides, General Rodriguez and his forces were there. They had some aerial assault vehicles they’d stolen, too. It would be some time before a significant force of Rennock’s troops got close enough to engage them, though General Schmidt was on his way. If it wasn’t a sure thing, it wouldn’t be worth the public relations mess. And who knew where Eileen Traymont and her enforcers were? Even if they were close to North Point, there was no way they’d get past the armed rebel presence there. And Rennock probably would have heard from Traymont if she was near North Point and its relay center. She wasn’t the type to keep him waiting. Rennock would have to send a covert operation in to abduct Song instead, especially if his spy was going to be leaving her. At least now he knew where Song was.
“You’re smiling,” Deanna said as she wrapped her thin, pale arms around him. “Good news?”
“Maybe,” he said. “There’s the potential for good news in the future. We’ll have to wait and see.” He dropped back into the bed and kissed her.
The sun was mostly gone and the tents on the desert dunes were mostly quiet, aside from the large tent Abby and Alex were standing in front of. Abby was excited about meeting the famous Hammer of the West. She tried not to seem too excited, though. She didn’t want to come off like a giddy schoolgirl. Loud voices and laughing spilled out from the half-open flap. Two guards in rumpled green uniforms were standing in front of the tent. They each had very large laser rifles. One nodded to Alex when he saw him and opened the flap the rest of the way, and Abby and Alex entered.
Inside, several men were seated in metal folding chairs around a long plastic table. The men were all wearing uniforms, most with several medals, and many were drinking from beer cans or whiskey bottles. Some empty bottles and cans scattered the floor of the tent, which was lighted by a lamp sculpted in the shape of a naked woman. The lamp stood prominently on the center of the table where several of the men were playing poker while others watched. The loudest of all was a chubby Hispanic man with a bushy black beard. His face was bright red and he seemed to have a permanent smile. He nodded when he saw Alex and Abby. “Hold it, everyone. Our guests of honor are here.” He gestured for them to come closer. “Come on over. We’re having a little pre-dinner poker game. Do either of you play?” He was slurring his words a little. Abby and Alex shook their heads. “Well that’s too bad. You can watch if you want. I’m losing horribly but I have the money to lose, and these poor gringos need it a lot more than I do.”
“Who you callin’ poor?” a man seated next to him asked. “You don’t have a penny to your name, Javy. You’re playin’ on credit.”
“Oh, yeah,” the fat man said. “I forgot.” He laughed and several other officers laughed with him. A thin, middle aged man with glasses bent over and whispered something in his ear. “Oh, Foxtrot. We can play a little longer. It’s not the end of the world.”
“That’s General Rodriguez,” Alex whispered to Abby, nodding at the fat man.
Abby frowned. “Really?” He most definitely wasn’t what she’d expected, but just then she noticed that his large chest was covered with more colorful medals than any of the other men had.
“Foxtrot, get us some women in here,” General Rodriguez said. “There’s too much testosterone. What’s a party without some pretty ladies? I’ve got nothing to do with my hands.”
“You’re holding cards, you idiot,” one of the others said and everyone laughed.
The general looked up at Abby. “Oh, I’m sorry, Miss Song. Please forgive my vulgar behavior. I forgot you were standing there.”
“We can come back another night,” Alex said.
“This is every night here,” General Rodriguez said, grinning. “We fight hard and party harder, right guys?” The other men nodded and muttered agreements. “No, no. Alex, you and Miss Song stay here. We have some good food on the way. And plenty more liquor, of course.” He held up a whiskey bottle and laughed and the other officers laughed with him. “Lick her? I barely know her!” Only the general was laughing at that one. “Yes, yes. What’s life without a bottle of whiskey in one hand and a woman’s tit in the other? Oh, I’m sorry, Miss Song. I keep forgetting you’re there. Come on, you two. Pull up some seats. Food’s gonna be here soon.”
Abby frowned at Alex, and the two of them pulled out chairs and sat. The poker game went on for another hour before the food started arriving. The whole time, General Rodriguez was making vulgar jokes and apologizing to Abby. Some of the other men spoke occasionally, but the general was the life of the party. When food came, it started with appetizers. There were crab balls which the general immediately made a vulgar comment about, bruschetta, cheese plates, and various tarts. All were very good, gourmet quality. For dinner, there was lobster and steak with some tasty seared asparagus and fresh baked bread. And for desert there was a very fancy crème brulee with fresh fruit. Abby picked at some of it, and it was very good, but she didn’t feel like eating. She didn’t want to drink anything but water, either, so she repeatedly passed on the alcohol, even with General Rodriguez constantly pleading with her to take a shot of whiskey. When they were done eating, Alex wiped his mouth with a napkin. “Can we talk now?”
“Sure we can talk,” the general said, laughing. “We’ve been talking this whole time. Let me tell you about a hooker I picked up in Tequila City.”
“Can we talk about the meeting?” Alex asked.
“The meeting’s tomorrow,” General Rodriguez said. “Tonight, we party.” He swigged from a bottle of whiskey he’d been holding. “Next week, we fight some more.” The other drunk officers cheered to that.
“I hear General Schmidt is going to be coming across the mountains,” Alex said. “Do you have a plan?”
“I’m a jazz musician,” General Rodriguez said with a smile. “I improvise. I don’t plan.” He nodded towards the thin man with glasses who was standing a few feet away. “Foxtrot is a classical musician. He does all my planning for me. He has a brilliant military mind. Very academic.” Abby wondered if anything would ever get done there if not for Foxtrot. He seemed to be one of the few men there who knew what was happening.
“General Rodriguez is an exceptional strategist and an unprecedented tactician,” Foxtrot said. “He leaves most of the details to me, though.”
“I’m an idea guy,” General Rodriguez said.
“But his ideas have helped us win many victories,” Foxtrot said.
“Couldn’t do it without you, though,” General Rodriguez said. “Colonel Frank Fife. We all call him Foxtrot. He’s my right hand man. And don’t ask what I’m doing with my left hand.” Several of the officers laughed. “Don’t worry, Alex. We have things very well under control. We’ve routed Rennock’s forces out of the Disputed Lands, and even took out some of those IAO punks for good measure. If General Schmidt is stupid enough to bring his army over the Rockies, we’ll be waiting for him with greetings in the form of laser blasts and bombs.” He laughed. “We’ll have a nice welcoming gift for him. So that’s it for official talk. Enjoy the evening! We’ve got some nice women coming later.” He noticed Abby. “And there are lots of men here already. It’s a good night for fun under the sun. Or the moon.”
“That’s all right,” Alex said. “I need to rest before the big day tomorrow.”
Abby nodded. “I should be going, too. Thanks for the food.” The two of them said their goodbyes and left the boisterous setting. “He’s the legend everyone talks about?” Abby asked as she and Alex walked beneath the stars towards their tents.
“He is,” Alex said. “And a lot of the stories are true.” He grinned. “But Javy made a lot of them up himself. I’m sure you can tell he has a flare for the dramatic.” Abby nodded and the two of them said goodnight and headed back to their tents.
“You’re getting around pretty well,” Shelly said.
Sera put the dirty dish in the sink and turned to smile at Shelly. “It was rough at first. I won’t lie. There were times during those first couple of days I thought my life was over. I even considered ending it. But I realized without eyesight, I’m learning to rely on my other senses more and they’re improving, and I’ve been teaching myself braille. I’ll find a way to get by. I always do.” She walked over to the faux wood table and sat across from Shelly. The top half of her face was still hidden behind bandages and the rest of her face was covered with burn marks but it was healing well. She’d moved from the doctor’s office to a room at the inn and seemed to be adjusting well.
“You’re teaching yourself braille?” Shelly asked. Sera was acting like she’d been blind for years.
Sera nodded. “Doctor Dayton helped me at first. I have a dictionary. I’ve been going through teaching myself words.”
“That’s impressive,” Shelly said.
“From what Juanita told me, you’re pretty impressive yourself. You’ve only been shooting for a week or so and already you’re almost as good as she is.”
“Not that good,” Shelly said with a chuckle.
“But very good all the same. Which brings me to a question I wanted to ask you.”
Shelly felt that Sera could see her as she sat facing her, even though she had no eyes. It was a strange feeling. “What’s the question?”
“Do you want to learn martial arts?”
“Martial arts?” Shelly asked. “What good would that do me?”
“Exercise,” Sera said. “And with the feud going on and the IAO and all, you can never know enough ways to defend yourself.”
Shelly shook her head. “Bobby wouldn’t like the idea. I keep telling him and Nat that Nat should take me on as a deputy. I’m a better shot than Bobby. Still, he says he doesn’t want me to get hurt.” She laughed. “What about him?”
Sera smiled knowingly. “He just wants to protect you.”
“Horseman was the same way,” Shelly said. “I could be helping them more than they know. But I’m sitting in the saloon with Juan singing songs while he plays piano. I won’t even mention that I could play better than Juan if he let me.” She sighed. “I just feel like people have been holding me back my whole life.”
Sera laughed. “Holding you back? As successful as you’ve been? Everyone in the world knows who you are, Shelly. You must really have a chip on your shoulder. It’s not always about who’s the best.”
Shelly shrugged. “Why not? If someone’s better at doing something than someone else, than why shouldn’t they be doing it?”
“Everybody needs to do something,” Sera said. “Bobby needs his gun. Juan needs his piano. Your brother needed his guitar. It seems you’ve spent your life showing everyone up, Shelly, or trying to.”
Shelly nodded. “You may be right.”
“Look at me, Shelly.” Shelly looked at the bandages, imagining there were eyes there. “I think you’re always trying to prove something. But it’s not anyone else you’re trying to prove something to but yourself. Why is that? Do you not think you’re good enough?”
Shelly grinned. “Good enough? What do you mean? I’ve always been the best at everything I’ve tried to do. Ever since I was a little girl.” She frowned. “Up until Warrick Baines sliced my face up and took my beauty.”
“You’re still beautiful,” Sera said. “Millions of girls would give anything to look like you.”
“Maybe the old me,” Shelly said with a frown. “Not now.”
“Still,” Sera said. “I feel like there’s something else there, hiding deep beneath all that. It was going on before Warrick Baines. Did your parents treat you with love?”
“What do you mean?” Shelly asked. “They were always there for me and Horseman up until the day they died. They bought us pretty much anything we wanted. And we had nannies who helped take care of us when my parents were off shooting movies or whatever. We were well taken care of. It was always the best for us”
“But your parents weren’t always there,” Sera said.
Shelly frowned and shook her head. “They weren’t always there.”
“It’s okay,” Sera said, putting her hand on Shelly’s shoulder and smiling. “Nobody’s perfect. I’m sure they did the best they could with what they had. Still, you need to learn to be okay with yourself. You need to stop trying to be better than everyone else. There’s nothing wrong with trying to be the best you can be at something, but let other people have their things, too. Let Bobby have his guns. Let Juan have his piano. Life isn’t a competition. Not if you want to be happy.” Shelly nodded. “Now, Shelly, I want to teach you martial arts. I can show you how to use your fists and your feet. And I can show you how to use swords. But it’s not for you. It’s for me.”
“For you?” Shelly asked.
Sera nodded. “I need something, too. Just like Bobby and Juan have. There’s so much I’ve learned through the years. I want to pass it on to you.”
Shelly smiled. “Okay. I think I understand. But what about…”
“I don’t need eyes to teach. It’s about the mind. Fighting is mostly about the mind. You’ll understand.” She leaned forward and Shelly felt like Sera was looking deep into her again. “Will you let me be your teacher?”
“I will,” Shelly said.
“Be outside Boot Hill early the morning after tomorrow for your first lesson. Six o’clock. Don’t be late. I’m a strict teacher. Don’t disappoint me.”
“I’ve never disappointed anyone in my life,” Shelly said.
“Except yourself,” Sera replied. They said goodbye and Shelly left Sera’s room, heading down the hallway towards the room she was sharing with Bobby. She thought about the possibilities as she walked. She’d done some kickboxing but martial arts was something she wasn’t an expert at yet. She’d become an expert, though. She got to her door and unlocked it, finding Bobby sleeping inside. Nat was working him hard, apparently. Sherry was curled up at the foot of the bed, also asleep. Shelly pulled the blinds up a bit and sat in a chair by the window, staring out at the moon and the stars as Bobby snored.
Continue on to the next chapter:
Afterlife, Volume 2, Chapter 20
Tommy Dayton pays Nat Bigum a visit.
Abby attends the meeting in North Point.
Abby and Della devise a plan to capture the spy.
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