If you’ve never read Afterlife before, click here to go to the first chapter.
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:
The International Anarchy Organization takes over the New Atlantis News.
A pair of newlyweds is attacked by bandits.
Abby and her companions ride through the ruins of a border outpost.
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Afterlife, Volume 2, Chapter 2
Herman Rennock was sitting in an extremely comfortable leather chair. He closed his eyes and smiled. He’d been sitting in the cushioned chair for over an hour, and he wanted to just sink into it, to disappear into luxury. The chair had been custom engineered to fit Rennock’s measurements, using the latest technology to determine the exact amount of cushioning so that his body would feel as relaxed as possible while nestled in it. He opened his eyes, grabbed the Scotch on the rocks from the chair’s cup holder, and took a long swig. It was so smooth Rennock felt lightheaded for a second from the amazing smoky, full-bodied taste. It was the finest thirty year old single malt Scotch in the world, Dowager’s. Rennock breathed out and put the Scotch down, trying his best to find whatever enjoyment he could. His news room was on the top floor of Rennock Tower, right next to his holographic entertainment chamber, where he was planning on going after he took in his afternoon news. His chair was one of the most comfortable in the world, and his Scotch was the absolute best, but no amount of comfort would help cushion the blow from the news Rennock had been watching and hearing about from his advisors for the past few days.
Rennock dreaded getting messages and calls. He’d been ignoring most of them. With everything going on with the International Anarchy Organization, Rennock had asked Deanna Tralley to move in with him so he could make sure she was safe. She was currently resting in his bedroom downstairs. Several floors beneath her were the wife and children Rennock cared nothing about. He’d considered finally kicking them out and giving Deanna their living space, but he still had to keep up appearances. Rennock himself hadn’t left Rennock Tower in three days and he didn’t plan on leaving as long as this IAO nonsense was still going on. The lobby was currently being guarded by an army of enforcers and soldiers, both human and robot, so there was no way anyone would be able to get inside and try any ridiculous terrorist shenanigans. Rennock let out a sigh and watched the pretty blonde reporter whose three dimensional image was projected in front of him.
“We have people at the scene of the West Hill High School bombing,” the reporter began as images of a burning building appeared behind her. “David Brevin, the Director of Public Safety in West Hill, was speaking to an auditorium full of townspeople regarding the IAO and what they were doing to deal with the problem, when he suddenly opened a trench coat he was wearing, revealing explosives strapped to his body. Reports say the IAO symbol was also painted on one of the bombs. The explosives went off, killing dozens and injuring hundreds more. Also, there was a shooting at a homeless shelter in the East Park neighborhood of Silver City.” The images behind her were now showing a boarded up brick building. “One of the volunteers showed up to help at the shelter this morning, and he found a grizzly scene. All of the homeless people who’d stayed there the previous night had been executed as had all of the volunteers. They’d been shot in the head, and the letters ‘IAO’ were scrawled on the wall in blood.” Rennock frowned. This all seemed completely random. They’d attacked businesses, churches, homeless shelters, and schools. Important members of society were being murdered, but random nameless civilians were also being killed on the street. There was no method to their madness. The only order behind it was complete chaos. “Also,” the reporter went on, “John Lynn, the CEO of Westport Bank was found murdered.” A bank official. At least that made some sense. Attack the financial sector and you hit society where it counts.
Rennock turned off the projector and sat in darkness, sinking deeper into the comfy chair. He had no idea what to do about the IAO situation. He’d upped security at his most important factories, banks, and institutions, but panic was spreading. They’d gotten to him. The sheer chaotic randomness of their attacks made them unpredictable and hard to defend against. Rennock had been spending all of his time and resources trying to deal with the Abigail Song problem and the rebels, and now it seemed something far worse had sprung up in her place. Rennock stood and stretched. He’d spend the next couple of hours immersing himself in the fantasy of his holographic entertainment chamber. Whether he’d be a treasure hunter or a pirate, a space explorer or a sex god living out his deepest, darkest fantasies and desires with the most beautiful women imaginable, it would get his mind off real life for a while. He’d emerge refreshed and ready to deal with this IAO problem. He would deal with them. That much was certain. He had all of the money and all of the power in the Southwest Territory. These upstarts had no idea who they were messing with. Their butchered corpses were going to be burning in body pits out in the desert before the week was over with.
Abby looked down at the church steeples and crosses of Carpenter City from her position on the cliff high above. “Nat, I don’t want any trouble here.”
Nat chuckled. “I won’t start any trouble. They might start it with me, though, and I ain’t gonna back down.”
“Remember why we’re here,” Abby said. “We need the diamonds.”
Nat nodded. “Yeah, whatever.” He turned and walked back towards his sand bike. Big Ed and Mark Gonzalez also turned and headed back towards the vehicles, leaving Abby alone with Della, standing near the edge of the rocky cliff.
Abby glanced at Della, her eyes fixed on his pink-framed sunglasses. “Della, I hate to say this, but maybe you should tone it down a bit here. Like I told Nat, we don’t want any trouble.”
Della turned to her and frowned, glaring at her through the black lenses of his sunglasses. “Tone it down? What exactly do you mean, honey?”
“Maybe don’t wear makeup, cut your nails, leave off your sunglasses. You know, stuff like that.” She frowned. She knew Della wouldn’t be happy about it, and he obviously wasn’t as he continued glaring at her. He seemed to be shocked by what she was saying. “I don’t know,” Abby said, “I didn’t mean to offend you. You know how it is. Who knows what these people think of gay people?”
Della put his hands on his hips. “Who cares what they think? I sure as hell don’t.”
“I just don’t want any trouble.” Abby regretted bringing it up. “We’ve had some tough times, you know? I’d like this to be nice and easy. We go in, get the diamonds, and leave.”
“Okay,” Della muttered. “I’ll quote, unquote, tone it down. For you. Just as long as we’re here. But I have my limits.”
“It’s for your own safety, Della,” Abby said with a frown.
“Yeah. Well. I can take care of myself. I’ll probably be the one saving your ass before all’s said and done, honey.” He turned and stormed off towards his sand bike, a pink one with black skulls painted on the sides. Abby kicked some dirt and walked back towards the hover truck. She didn’t mean to single Della out. She really hoped the people in this town were welcoming and friendly. Judging from all the churches and crosses, they looked like they were good Christians. At least they had that going for them. Hopefully it would be an asset and not a hindrance. Abby climbed into the back of the truck and John Bernard started the engine. Soon, the caravan was moving down towards the bottom of the cliff. They turned around a bend and headed towards Carpenter City.
“What can you tell us about Carpenter City, Einstein?” Abby asked as the truck rode past rock formations and brown hills.
“Carpenter City originally sprang up as a gold mining village,” Einstein’s kind voice said from Abby’s wrist as the other faces in the truck watched Abby attentively. “There was gold found in the nearby foothills of the Rocky Mountains. There was also a creek which provided water. The gold was mined until it was mostly gone, and after some time, the creek dried up. For several centuries, the town experienced financial difficulties. Over the past decades, several churches sprang up throughout the town which have drawn new people within its confines. As you know, my data is no longer completely up to date, so I can’t tell you about more recent occurrences.”
“That’s fine,” Abby said. “That’s plenty for now.
“Keep your eyes peeled,” Mark said, looking around at everyone in the truck. “Be ready for anything. A town that’s seen hard times like this one is bound to be a den of thieves.”
“Let’s try not to be so paranoid we start something, though,” Abby said. “I’d like to have a peaceful stay for a change.” She looked through the front windshield of the truck as it approached the buildings, church steeples, and crosses of Carpenter City. John Bernard was driving. He was a tall, muscular black man with a goatee and glasses. Abby thought he looked like an intellectual hipster. He was wearing the tan uniform and helmet of the resistance fighters as he pulled some levers, slowing the truck down as it entered the town. The first thing that came to Abby’s attention was how empty the town seemed. There weren’t people out in the sandy streets and there were very few vehicles parked near any of the sandstone buildings. Just a stray sand bike here and there, and the ones she saw looked dirty and beat-up, like they hadn’t been used in years. She looked through the open back of the hover truck and saw a sign posted next to a wooden cross which jutted up from the sand. “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind,” it read.
Abby noticed Bobby reading it also. “Renewing of your mind,” he muttered.
“This place is creeping me out,” Juanita said with a slight accent. “Why’s it so deserted?”
“Maybe everyone’s at church,” Sera joked, chuckling to herself.
“Not sure that’s a joke,” Jane said, “judging from the looks of this place.”
Everyone seemed uneasy. “Let’s not get freaked out over nothing,” Abby said, looking through the back of the truck at the empty, sandy streets. “At least wait and see what we find.” She was thinking of Pastor Earl and missing him.
She noticed some graffiti on the side of one of the buildings. It was the same skull and crossbones “IAO” graffiti they’d seen at the destroyed border station. “That’s unsettling,” Sera said.
“We don’t know what it is yet,” Abby said. “Everyone be on the lookout, though, like Mark said before.” Mark, Jane, and Paul gripped their laser rifles tight. Juanita raised her sniper rifle, looking through the scope through the back of the truck, and Sera’s wiry body looked ready like a compressed spring. Mavery and Bobby both looked nervous, and Michelle was petting Sherry, but looking out the back of the truck with cold blue eyes. Abby thought they were the eyes of a killer, and it made her feel uncomfortable. She looked through the front of the van and now she noticed what looked like a house with faded white siding and a large porch to the left of the sandy road. There were two men sitting in chairs on the porch, eyeing the truck as it approached.
“I think I’m gonna stop,” John said from the driver’s seat. “Maybe we can ask these guys if they know a place we can stay.”
“Sounds good,” Abby said.
“Sure,” Mark agreed. “Just be careful.”
The van came to a stop. “Hey!” John shouted through the window. Abby decided it would be best for her to stay quiet and not show herself, just in case people had seen her picture in the news or something.
“Hey yourself,” said a husky voice.
“Can you tell me a good place to stay?” John asked. “A hotel or something? We’ve got fourteen people. We’re fleeing the Mexican Territory.”
“Fleeing the Mexican Territory?” the husky voice asked. “And y’all are comin’ here? I hope you’re not plannin’ on stayin’. We already got too many Mexicans showin’ their faces ‘round here.”
“No, just passing through,” John said. “Now if you could direct me to a hotel…”
“Go up the street. Make your first left. Look for the big buildin’ on the right. Its address is 12 Topeka Street.”
“All right,” John said and he continued driving.
Abby noticed that Big Ed, Nat, and Della were all following them now on their sand bikes. Della was riding to the right of the truck, trying to hide himself from the men on the porch as much as possible. Abby could see the men on the porch more clearly through the back of the truck as it rode away. They were both sitting in metal folding chairs. The first thing that she noticed about the first man was his bushy, gray handlebar moustache. It covered most of his mouth as he puffed on a long cigar. He was a chubby man with a gray ten gallon hat and a gray vest which had a silver star badge on the left breast. “The sheriff,” she said softly. The other man was younger, probably a deputy since he also had a star over his left breast. Like the first, he was wearing a gray ten gallon hat and vest. Both men had silver crosses hanging from their necks. Their eyes didn’t leave the truck and the three sand bikes until the truck turned the corner and the porch and the men sitting on it disappeared from view.
Once they’d reached their destination, John, Nat, Big Ed, and Della parked their vehicles and everyone piled out of the truck. A large stone building which had been painted white dwarfed everything else around it. The red painted red sign on the front read “Newcomers Welcome Here.” Abby glanced at Bobby, who happened to be standing next to her, and shrugged. “I guess we should go in,” she said.
“I don’t like this,” Nat muttered. “I say we keep lookin’.”
“You don’t like much,” Abby said.
“We’ll go in,” Mark said. “But everyone be on alert.”
“I’ll stay in the back, hopefully out of sight,” Abby said. “Mark, you do the talking.”
Mark nodded and led the group to the front door, where they all entered. The lobby was clean, with walls painted with peeling white paint and couches patterned with flowered cushions. The woman behind the counter had a welcoming smile on her kind, pale face. She was average height and build, with straight brown hair which reached her shoulders. She was wearing a plain white dress. Abby thought she looked like a grandmother even though she was only in her thirties. “Welcome!” she said excitedly. “We’re so happy you’ve come to stay with us.”
Mark nodded as he and the rest of the group approached the counter. Abby stood behind Big Ed, hoping her face was the only one that had been shown on all the news stations. She adjusted her white cowboy hat, pulling the brim down a little to hopefully hide some of her face as she hung her head down. “We’ve got fourteen people and we all need rooms,” Mark said. “Sorry our group is so big. We have the money to pay.”
“Oh, it’s no problem,” the woman said. “We’re so happy to have all of you here. Sorry about the welcome. Most of our townsfolk are in church today. It’s Sunday, as I’m sure you know. We sort of make a whole day of it here. Too bad I can’t be there. I’ve got welcome duty today, though, which I also love. I get to meet wonderful newcomers like you all.”
Mark cleared his throat. “It’s fine. We don’t need any more of a welcome than we got.”
The woman nodded, still smiling. “Well, Pastor Kenyon will want to meet each of you later this afternoon, probably. We’ll serve meals in the cafeteria for you. We have running water for showers, air conditioning, anything you want, really.” Abby looked over at Nat to see that he was frowning, but staying quiet. She hoped he knew enough to act civil towards the pastor when he came to meet him.
Mark nodded. There was an uncomfortable smile on his scarred face. “Sounds great.”
“You can pay when you leave,” the woman said. “Don’t worry about money. And you can have the first seven rooms on the third floor. 3701 through 3707.”
Nat stepped forward. “Those are some strange numbers. Why the sevens? Why not just 301 through 307?” Abby grew nervous as Nat glared at the woman through his sunglasses.
The woman smiled at him. “Seven is God’s number. Anyway, you all can pick your rooms yourselves out of those. Enjoy your stay.”
Nat bit his lip and nodded. “Sure.”
Mark and the rest of the group thanked the woman and walked towards the stairway at the end of the hall. Abby looked to her right as she walked and saw the cafeteria, which was currently empty. It was a large room with plastic white tables surrounded by black metal folding chairs. There appeared to be room for hundreds. Abby walked down the hall and up the steps with the others as Mark led the way. The woman had seemed welcoming enough, and all those amenities she’d mentioned were definitely hard to come by outside of New Atlantis and a few wealthy cities. Still, Abby felt the uneasiness of her group. She wanted so much to trust the people of Carpenter City, but she knew things could go wrong fast, so she didn’t plan on showing herself outside of the hotel as long as she was in town unless it was absolutely necessary.
After lunch, Abby decided to meet with Mark, Nat, and Bobby to discuss getting the diamonds. Abby considered Mark and Nat to be the other leaders of their group under her, and Bobby would be the one retrieving the diamonds, so she wanted to meet with them before making any important decisions. They met outside near the hover truck, just in case the rooms happened to be bugged. They all kept an eye out for passersby as they spoke. “Gerald Messier,” Einstein said from Abby’s wrist, “is the man here in Carpenter City who your father sent the diamond to. He’s a friend of your father’s and I suggest finding him before you send someone to retrieve the diamond from the safe deposit box.”
“You keep saying ‘diamond,’” Abby said.
“There is only one diamond here in Carpenter City,” Einstein said. “It’s the Jupiter Diamond, the largest, most valuable diamond in history. It was found deep in a mine in Africa approximately two thousand years ago and ended up in your family’s possession, Abby. It’s a ten thousand carat purple diamond approximately seven inches in diameter and its value is estimated to be close to two hundred billion dollars according to my most recent records.”
Abby nodded and looked around at the others who were standing with her. “So the lady at the front desk said the pastor would be coming to talk to each of us. When he comes into my room, I’ll ask him about Gerald Messier. If he’s a pastor, he may know where people live.”
“That’s as good a plan as any I guess,” Bobby said.
“I’ll give Bobby the code for the safe deposit box, as usual,” Abby said, looking around at the others. “That way I won’t have to go out in public. When we’re done this conversation, I plan on going back to my room and staying out of sight.”
Nat nodded. “As you should.”
“Let me know if I or any of my soldiers can be of any use to you,” Mark said.
“Hopefully you all won’t be needed,” Abby said, “but I will. I’m really hoping this is just a simple case of retrieving the diamond and getting out of town as quickly as possible.”
“I should let you know,” Einstein said, “that Gerald Messier is seen as sort of an eccentric. He’s a wealthy banker and art collector with an affinity for games and riddles. He once hid millions of dollars in the desert and sent people on a sort of scavenger hunt looking for it. Your father was a friend of his though, Abby, so I believe he will trust you. That’s why I suggested you look for him before anyone attempts to retrieve the diamonds.”
Abby nodded. “Well, hopefully I can talk to him soon, then.” With that, Abby and her companions made their way back into the hotel.
Abby was resting in her bed in the quaint but clean hotel room she shared with Sera, and she was just about to fall asleep when there was a knock on her door. She slowly sat up and noticed that Sera was sitting on the other twin bed across from her. Abby quickly put her white cowboy hat on to hide the bald spot she’d gotten from a laser blast in South Edge. Sera closed a book that had been on her lap and placed it on the end table between the beds. She was a black woman in her forties who had short hair and intense eyes. She wore tan uniform pants and a dark brown tank top which showed off her muscular arms as she stretched and stood, walking towards the door. She put her right hand behind her back, where a throwing knife was tucked into her pants, as she opened the door. Standing in the doorway was a tall, thin man in his early forties who was wearing a pristine white suit. He had a round, tan face and ears which stuck out profoundly from the sides of his head. His brown hair which he wore in a bowl cut made his head seem even more round than it actually was. Abby thought he had an almost cartoonish appearance. Part of it was his unnatural smile. He adjusted his white tie as he nodded at Sera and then Abby. Abby noticed a golden cross hanging from his neck. There was a rather large diamond in the center of it. “Hello, ladies,” he said with a strong southern accent. “I’m Oral Kenyon and I just wanted to let ya know that I’m here to make your stay in Carpenter City as pleasant as possible. May I come in?”
Sera shrugged, eyeing him suspiciously. “Sure.”
Oral nodded. “I’m the Chief Pastor here, sort of like a mayor, if ya wanna look at it from a political perspective. Do y’all have a minute? I’d like to tell you a little bit about our fine town.”
Abby nodded. “Sure.” She hoped he didn’t recognize her.
Pastor Kenyon strutted into the room confidently, pulled a metal folding chair out from under a metal desk near Abby’s bed, and sat down. Sera also sat down on her bed and she and Abby faced Pastor Kenyon as he spoke. “Now your group seems nice, from what I’ve heard from Mary, the woman workin’ downstairs when you came in.” Sera nodded.
“You’ve all been nice to us, also,” Abby said.
“Don’t mention it,” Pastor Kenyon said, gazing at her with kind, green eyes. “And everything’s on the house. The hotel rooms, the food. All of it. It’s on me.”
Abby and Sera looked at one another. Sera shrugged and the two of them turned back to the pastor. “Thanks?” Sera said as if it were a question.
“I know,” Pastor Kenyon said with a chuckle. “You’re not used to havin’ people treat ya so nicely. Not the way the world is today. Well, things are different here. You can stay as long as ya like. It’s a sort of desert paradise.” His smile grew even wider, which Abby hadn’t thought possible. “We treat one another kindly here in Carpenter City. It’s like the Lord says. So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. I’m just feedin’ his sheep. That’s all.”
“Well, thanks,” Abby said.
Pastor Kenyon nodded. “It’s really no problem. By the way, what are your names?”
Sera eyed him suspiciously. “Sera.”
“Ruth,” Abby said.
“That’s a fine, biblical name,” Pastor Kenyon said. “Well, there’s a service tomorra mornin’ at ten. I’d like you and all your friends to come, if ya don’t mind. You can learn a little more about our town. Will I see you there?”
“Sure,” Abby said, not waiting for Sera’s answer.
Pastor Kenyon nodded. “Great! My church is the Carpenter City Church of the True Christ. Mary’ll tell ya where to go. Now, ‘til then, if ya want anything at all, go see Mary downstairs. If you need me, she’ll tell ya where to find me.”
Abby nodded. “There is something I thought you might be able to help me with.”
“Sure,” Pastor Kenyon said. “What is it?”
“Do you know Gerald Messier?” Abby asked.
Pastor Kenyon’s smile faded. “He passed away a little over a year ago.”
Abby frowned. “What happened?”
Pastor Kenyon shrugged. “He was old, you know? I’m sorry, I don’t remember exactly what he died of. Was he a friend of yours?”
Abby noticed the slightest hint of suspicion in his gaze. She shook her head. “No. He was a friend of a friend.” She didn’t want to say too much.
Pastor Kenyon nodded. “Well I’m sorry for your loss all the same. Anyway, like I said, let me or Mary know if ya need anything. I’m gonna go introduce myself to your other friends.”
Abby nodded as Pastor Kenyon strutted out of the room, shutting the door behind him. Abby wondered how Pastor Kenyon’s talks with her fellow travelers would go, especially Nat and Della. All she could do was trust their discretion and hope for the best. Sera glared at her. “Something doesn’t seem right. He was too nice. And I’ll bet he knew more about Gerald Messier than he was letting on.”
Abby frowned. “Maybe you’re right.”
“And church service tomorrow?” Sera asked. “On a Monday morning? Isn’t that a little weird?”
“We don’t want anybody to get suspicious of us,” Abby said. “That’s why I told him we’re going. Bobby can get the diamond before the bank closes today. Then, we can sneak out later tonight. Hopefully there’s no trouble.”
Sera nodded. “The rest would be nice, but I’m with you. We need to get out of here as soon as possible. The sooner the better.” Abby nodded and lay back down in her bed, staring at the white ceiling as she sunk into her thoughts. Sera sat in the lotus position on the other twin bed and began meditating. She’d told Abby earlier that she was a Buddhist and Abby had noticed that she spent a lot of time meditating, as had Horseman, who’d also been a Buddhist. Abby figured meditating must have been sort of like their version of prayer, though Sera said it helped her strengthen mindfulness and concentration, among other things. Abby’s own mind was a mess. She hoped Bobby didn’t run into any trouble picking up the Jupiter Diamond later. His right arm was still in a sling. He hadn’t fully recovered from his chest wound yet. Abby wondered if maybe she should get someone else this time. She convinced herself Bobby would be fine. Of everyone in the group, he was probably the one who would have the easiest time blending in with everyone else and not arousing any suspicion. And Abby trusted Bobby more than anyone. Those thoughts didn’t stop her mind from racing, though. It fluttered from Bobby to Pastor Earl to Horseman. Abby frowned. Michelle had taken Horseman’s death so hard. Why hadn’t Abby been more affected by it? Perhaps because she was numb to death. She shook off the thought and tried her best to find rest.
Continue on to the next chapter:
Afterlife, Volume 2, Chapter 3
The IAO finds a new target.
Bobby goes to the Carpenter City Bank to retrieve the Jupiter Diamond.
Abby is reminded that nothing is ever easy.
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