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Photo by Jay Hood.
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:
Shelly makes some real progress in her training.
Paul flies his first mission since joining Hell’s Eagles.
Abby and her companions reach Tequila City.
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Afterlife, Volume 2, Chapter 27
Ace McCoy was once again Honest Abe Miller in his dark blue suit and top hat as he sat at the poker table, lifting his two cards just enough that he could look at them through his circular red sunglasses. Annabelle was standing behind him dressed as Arlene Miller with her slinky red dress and her fur coat. Della and Abby were standing close enough to keep an eye on them. Abby was wearing her black sunglasses and her black leather jacket, and Della was decked out in drag with her silver dress and afro. Della’s hands stayed close to the two pearl-handled laser pistols on her hips. Ace and Annabelle were still their prisoners, after all. “I’ll bet seven fifty,” Ace said as he pushed several gold coins into the pile in the center of the red felt table.
“Way to make an impression,” the man seated to his left said. “I fold.” Several other men at the table also folded until only two remained in the hand with Ace. The dealer flipped over the queen of spades, the queen of diamonds, and the seven of spades as loud techno music thumped in the background.
Ace looked at the cards nonchalantly. “Looks like we have two seductive ladies joining us for this hand. Be careful, friends. They look pretty, but it just might be that they really belong to someone else.”
“Enough table talk,” a man across the table from him said with a frown. “What are ya gonna bet?”
“I’ll bet another seven fifty,” Ace said, pushing the coins towards the center of the table.
“I fold,” one man said immediately, passing his two face down cards back to the dealer.
The other frowned at Ace as the techno music continued pounding. He was a thin young man with leathery tan skin. Della figured he most likely worked outdoors. “I’ll raise two fifty,” the man said, pushing the coins into the pot. “You have the look of a man who enjoys bluffin’.”
Ace nodded. “And you have the look of a man who thinks everyone’s out to get him. I call.” He also pushed some more coins into the pot.
The dealer flipped the king of clubs and Ace nodded. “I check,” he said.
The tan-skinned man grinned like someone who knew he’d won already and pushed more coins into the pot. “I raise another five hundred.”
Ace pushed more coins into the pot also. “I call.”
The dealer nodded and flipped the last card, which was the king of spades, so the cards showing were the queen of spades, the queen of diamonds, the seven of spades, the king of clubs, and the king of spades. Ace pushed a huge pile of coins into the pot. “I raise three thousand.”
The other man coughed. “He might have somethin’ big, Rick,” one of the men who’d folded earlier said.
Ace shrugged, and Annabelle, who was standing behind him smoking a cigarette on a long holder, grinned mischievously. “I may,” Ace said, “or I may not. You make the call.”
Rick grimaced. “Ain’t no way in hell you’ve got two queens. No way in hell. All right. I raise you another three thousand. That’ll put you all in.” He pushed more coins into the center of the table. Della wasn’t a poker expert, but she knew Rick had just tipped his hand with his comment about the queens.
Ace looked at the backs of Rick’s cards, which Rick’s hand was hovering over, ready to flip. “I call,” Ace said as he pushed the rest of his coins into the pot.
Rick frowned. “Are you kiddin’ me?” He flipped over the ace and king of hearts as the techno music continued thumping. “Three kings.”
Ace flipped his two cards over, revealing the queen of hearts and the queen of clubs. “Four queens.” Ace started pulling the coins towards him. “And I’m afraid that’s all for me. I see the person I’ve come here to meet.”
“That ain’t all,” Rick said. “You gotta give me a chance to win my money back.”
“I’m sorry,” Ace said as he stood, “but I just don’t have the time.”
Rick stood with his hand hovering over a laser pistol in a hip holster, knocking his chair over behind him as the others at the table looked on nervously. “Make time.” Della stepped closer to Ace, her hands on the handles of her guns. She noticed that Abby’s hand was on the handle of her gun also, and Annabelle’s hand was inside her purse.
“How can one make time where there is none?” Ace asked. “Now, if you’ll allow my friends and me to leave, I’ll forget about you standing in such a threatening manner and chalk this up to some very good luck on my part.”
The man shook his head. “You ain’t leavin’.”
Della noticed a small, thin man with huge glasses walking through the crowded barroom towards Ace. He was wearing jean shorts with a belt, a tucked-in white t-shirt, and a brown lightball cap with a silver pickaxe on the front with and the letters “IT” behind it. The Iron Town Miners. Della recognized the symbol, though she wasn’t a huge lightball fan herself. The small man really stood out in a barroom where most of the men were in suits and most of the women were in dresses. Della noticed there were three computers strapped to each of the man’s wrists. She also noticed that he was missing all of the fingers on his right hand past the first knuckle. “It’s good to see you, Abe,” the newcomer said in a nasally voice.
Ace’s eyes didn’t leave Rick’s face. “Good to see you, Digits. I’m afraid you’ve arrived at a bad time. Or perhaps it’s a very good time for you to show up.”
“A friendly argument?” Digits asked.
“Ain’t nothin’ friendly about it,” Rick blurted. “Your friend here cheated me out of over eight thousand dollars.”
“So now you’re calling me a cheater?” Ace asked. “I’ve never cheated in my life. Not even on my high school sweetheart, Bertha Stanley. And she was an ugly one, too. Face covered in zits, overweight, and didn’t bathe much either…”
“Enough!” Rick said. “You better draw or I’m gonna kill you.”
Digits chuckled as he stood near Ace. “Do you know who you’re threatening?” he asked. “This here is Honest Abe Miller, the famous gambler and fastest draw this side of the Rockies. If you draw on him, it’ll be lights out before you get your gun out of its holster. He killed Weston Fats, Black Gabe Clark, Sheriff Parker Potts, and nameless others, some famous, some not so famous, like yourself.” Digits smiled as he looked at Rick through his round, oversized glasses. Rick was getting visibly nervous. “Now,” Digits continued, “I don’t know if you have a family, a wife, a girlfriend, a boyfriend, or what, but I assume you must have somebody in this world you care about. Is your life only worth eight thousand dollars? I know my friend here won’t hesitate to kill you, and quite frankly, he’d probably enjoy it. As a matter of fact, I have no idea why you’re still alive right now. I’ve seen him kill dozens of men for far less than you’ve just done, insulting him and calling him a cheater and all, but for whatever reason, he said he’d let you go. Now I suggest you take him up on his offer. There’s no sense losing your life over something so petty as a few dollars.”
Rick frowned. Della could see he was having second thoughts. “Now, Digits,” Ace said. “Why’d you have to go and talk me out of killing this gentleman? I haven’t killed anyone in several days now and my trigger finger’s starting to itch a little bit.”
Rick shook his head. “Take the damned money. But get away from me before I start getting’ angry again.”
Digits smiled. “You made the right decision, friend.” He motioned for Ace to follow him and made his way through the crowded bar to a booth. He sat down in the booth, with Ace and Annabelle next to him, and Abby and Della sat across from them.
“I was watching you like a hawk,” Della said to Ace. “I know you cheated somehow, but didn’t see a thing. Nobody has that kind of luck, honey. So what did you do?”
“A good magician never reveals his secrets,” Ace said with a grin.
“He’s a master when it comes to cheating,” Anabelle said.
Digits smiled. “And talking his way out of the consequences.”
Ace nodded. “Well, it’s better to cheat then to lose. Especially in those cases where your life is on the line.”
“So introduce me to your friends,” Digits said.
“The drag queen is Della Luscious,” Annabelle said. “And the short one’s Abigail Song.”
Digit’s eyes widened. “The Abigail Song. It’s nice to make your acquaintance. What brings you all to Tequila City?”
“Sightseeing,” Abby blurted.
“We’re back in business,” Ace said. “Abby and Della here need our services. They saved our lives and we owe them.” Della glanced at Abby. Ace said nothing about how he and Annabelle were Abby’s prisoners.
“And what’s in it for me?” Digits asked.
“Three quarters of what we take on each job is going to the resistance against Rennock Enterprises,” Abby said. “Of what’s left, you four will split it evenly.”
“So I get a sixteenth?” Digits asked with a frown on his freckled face. He adjusted his cap. “That deal sucks, quite frankly.”
Abby squinted at him. “I have Ace McCoy and Annabelle Rose working for me. I’ve never heard of you. Why should I pay you more than one sixteenth?”
“Everybody knows who Ace McCoy and Annabelle Rose are,” Digits said. “They were all over the news. They sent pictures of themselves to reporters. World famous bank robbers.” He smiled. “They couldn’t have done any of it without me. Sure, they have the guns, but I have the brains. I’m the one who opened all of the doors. When you go into a bank and the safe’s already open and waiting for you to just waltz in and take the money out, what do you really have to do?” He nodded towards Ace and Annabelle. “Quite frankly, they’re just glorified movers. They just carry stacks of money and put them in the trunk.”
“So what exactly do you do?” Abby asked.
Digits grinned at her. “Have you ever heard of the Shadow Net?” Abby shook her head, as did Della. “Of course not,” Digits said. “Not many people have. Well, when it comes to computers, you have the hardware, the physical stuff like hard drives, screens, nanobots, and stuff like that. Then you have the user interface, the way humans interact with the Satellite Net and other applications. So in between, there are several layers of code which allow you to ultimately communicate with the actual physical hardware. The lowest level of this code that communicates directly with the hardware is called firmware. There are other levels between application and firmware, but I don’t have to get into all of that for this example.”
“Is this going somewhere?” Della asked. Digits seemed to really enjoy hearing himself talk, but Della was tired of his nasally voice.
“Wait for the good part,” Digits said, glaring at him. “So the Satellite Net is a high level network that allows computers to interact with one another. Beneath that, in the shadows so to speak, and really controlling pretty much everything, is the Shadow Net. The Shadow Net connects devices on the firmware level, whereas the Satellite Net connects them on the application level.”
“So what does that mean to us?” Abby asked.
“Well,” Digits continued, “the Shadow Net is very secure, but it’s a way for people who work on computers to fix things and monitor things to make sure everything’s running properly. Also, if you’re a hacker like myself, you’re an expert at circumventing security measures. Now, in the world today, pretty much everything is controlled by computers. Hover cars, home systems, doors, windows, and of course, bank safes.” He grinned. “I basically hack into systems on the Shadow Net and from there, I can control pretty much everything. If there is a god, and I don’t think there is, then I’m the next best thing.”
“He opens safes for us,” Ace said. Digits frowned at him, obviously not happy with the straightforward answer.
“And remember,” Annabelle said, grinning at Digits, “we’d be nowhere without you, but without our guns, you’d be rotting in a cell or dead.”
Digits shrugged. “What can you do? I wasn’t blessed with reflexes or muscles, so I have to use my brain.”
“Anyway,” Ace said. “So do you know anything about the enforcer offices here in Tequila City?”
Digits nodded. “I know everything about the enforcer offices here in Tequila City.”
“We’re going to need at least two heavy repeating laser rifles,” Ace began, “two sniper laser rifles, six laser pistols, and one double barreled high powered laser rifle. And Annabelle and I don’t have any weapons as of yet, so we’d rather find an enforcer’s office that isn’t particularly well-manned.”
Digits grinned. “I know just the one. Gangsters are just starting to make inroads in Paradise Corner. The enforcer office there has lots of weapons, but there aren’t many enforcers stationed there as of yet. Probably ten at the most on any given day.”
“There are still only two of us who are armed,” Annabelle said. “Ten’s a lot.”
“Why don’t you have weapons?” Digits asked Ace.
“Long story,” Ace said, “for another time. Can you help us?”
“Back to money,” Digits said. “Why should I agree to one sixteenth?”
“Do it for us,” Annabelle said, putting her hand on his and smiling seductively. “For everything we’ve been through together.” Digits smiled back and his face turned red.
“We’re going to be hitting some big banks,” Abby said. “One sixteenth is going to turn out to be a pretty hefty sum.”
Digits shrugged. “I’m bored. So all right.”
Ace nodded. “So let’s talk some more about this enforcer’s station in Paradise Corner.”
Mavery tried her best to adjust her leather miniskirt. It was nothing like what she was used to wearing. The metal-plated leather vest felt heavy on her shoulders. She put on her glasses and looked at herself in the mirror she was holding. At least the light brown leather looked good against her dark brown skin. It was a good color for her, she decided. Still, she couldn’t help but think she looked ridiculous as she put the mirror down. She emerged from the tent opening to find Big Ed standing outside. He was already wearing leather pants with metal plating and a worn leather jacket that was too small, like most clothes were for him. He folded his arms as he stood in the morning sunlight, inspecting Mavery’s new outfit. It didn’t take him long to burst out laughing. “What?” Mavery asked. “I thought you might think it was sexy if nothing else. You’re the one who said I needed to wear this if I wanted to fit in.”
Big Ed tried his best to stop laughing. “You look… You look…”
Mavery glared at him. “How do I look? Spit it out.”
“Goofy as hell,” Big Ed said, finally getting control of his laughter. They were camped on a high dune with the IAO bandits they’d joined. Mavery and Big Ed had been the first to wake up, as no one else was stirring amongst the worn brown tents and dented sand bikes that made up the camp.
“Whatever,” Mavery blurted. “These outfits are ridiculous anyway. I mean, maybe they look mean and all, but how are leather and steel gonna stop laser blasts?”
“They ain’t there to stop laser blasts,” Big Ed said. “When you see someone with a laser pistol, you tell ‘em to drop it or you’ll blow his head off. The armor’s for when you in close searchin’ someone for weapons and money, and they pull a knife on ya. Bandits get more knives pulled on ‘em than anything else, and when someone pulls a knife on ya, leather and steel can make the difference between life and death.”
Mavery shrugged. “Well this is the most uncomfortable, dumbest thing I’ve ever worn in my life.”
Big Ed started laughing again. “The glasses are a nice touch, though.”
Mavery walked up to him and hit him in the chest as he cowered away, still laughing hysterically. “Now you’re acting like a bandit,” he said.
Mavery shook her head. “No man would ever understand what it’s like being a woman and not having clothes fit because of different body types and all that. Some of us have hips. Some don’t. Some have big boobs. Some have small boobs. You men have it so easy.”
Big Ed stopped laughing and frowned. “Look who you’re talkin’ to. You don’t think I have trouble findin’ clothes that fit? How many men out there are over seven feet tall and weigh over three hundred pounds? There’s maybe one other one out there somewhere. That’s it. There ain’t no clothes nowhere that fit me.”
Mavery looked Big Ed up and down and chuckled. “You do have a point. I mean, you look like a big potato stuffed into a tiny paper cup right now.” They both laughed at that one. “Can we go somewhere we can talk privately?” she asked when they were done laughing.
Big Ed nodded. “Let’s walk out to the end of the dune. Safer than inside the tent probably.”
Mavery nodded and followed him as they walked along the dune, away from the camp. When they were about a hundred feet away or so, they stopped. They were surrounded on all sides by white sandy dunes, but the beginnings of the Rockies were visible far to the east. “Now let’s get something straight,” Mavery said, loud enough to be heard over the wind, but not so loud she’d be heard in the camp. “We’re staying with these guys just long enough to get closer to Rose City. Then, I’m breaking off and going there to take over Barney Chambers’ operation. Do you understand?” Big Ed looked her in the eye and nodded. “Now I know you’re friends with Marv,” Mavery said, “but these guys are part of the International Anarchy Organization. They’re my enemy as far as I’m concerned. They’re not what I stand for. My heart will always be with the resistance because I believe in what they’re fighting for.”
“I understand,” Big Ed said.
“Now I remember what you said about the resistance,” Mavery continued. “I know how you feel about them, but they’re our best bet if we want to beat Rennock. They’re all we have. So these guys we’re with right now aren’t our friends. I consider myself a spy as long as I’m here. I’m going to try to learn about them. And if I get good information, I’ll give it to the resistance or publish it in Barney Chambers’ blog.”
“Your blog you mean,” Big Ed said with a grin.
“My blog,” Mavery said. “So we go as far as we can with these guys. We study them and try to learn anything of import. Then we head for Rose City. If you have a problem with that, you can stay here. But if you care about me, if you’re with me, then we’re heading to Rose City to help the resistance.”
“I do care about you,” Big Ed said. “I’m with you.” He put his arms around her and kissed her as the desert wind howled all around them.
It was a windy day in the outskirts of Dead Man’s bluff as Bobby made his way to Chuck Moore’s house. He and Chuck had planned to go out to get some breakfast at Maybelle Sampson’s before work. They had gone out for drinks after work a few nights ago and between that and work, Bobby was getting to know Chuck fairly well. Chuck was friendly and funny, but he did like his whiskey just a little bit too much, Bobby thought with a grin. Still, Bobby found his company enjoyable and besides, Chuck preferred Maybelle Sampson’s to the Crosshairs Saloon, so Bobby could avoid seeing Alicia. Grace, the woman they’d picked up in Carpenter City, was now a waitress at Maybelle Sampson’s also, so it would give Bobby a chance to catch up with her a little and see how she and her son James were doing. So far the boy seemed to have made a complete recovery, which Bobby had been glad to hear about.
He’d parked his bike at the bottom of a cliff and was now walking up stone steps which went up the cliff side to the house, which had been built next to a beautiful waterfall. The air was fairly cool as winds came up from the desert, and Bobby stopped walking for a few moments to enjoy the setting and listen to the rumbling water. He watched the white water tumble off the cliff as it emptied into a small lake far below, and that’s when he saw her. There was a beautiful, tan-skinned woman bathing naked beneath the waterfall. Bobby couldn’t take his eyes away from her curves and her long, slender legs. Her body was perfect, glistening in the water as she washed her long, black hair. She looked up at Bobby and smiled and he realized it was Alicia, the waitress from the Crosshairs Saloon. She smiled at him for a long time and continued bathing, being sure to put on a show for him as she washed her breasts and her inner thighs. Bobby finally pulled his eyes away and continued walking up to Chuck’s house. “What were you thinking, Bobby?” he asked. Still, he looked down again, and he continued doing so as he made his way up to the house.
He finally reached the front door of the small stone house and knocked. He looked down into the lake one more time to see that Alicia was gone. The door opened and there was Chuck, dressed in jeans and a blue button down shirt with his red hair slightly disheveled. His freckled face was even redder than usual and his eyes were half closed. “Oh, hey Bobby.”
“Did you forget I was coming?” Bobby asked.
“Oh, no,” Chuck said. “I knew.”
Bobby chuckled. “Hungover?”
“Just a little,” Chuck said, managing a grin. “Hey Alicia!” he shouted. “Hey baby! Alicia!” He shook his head. “Where the hell is she?”
“Who” Bobby asked, though he knew the answer already.
“My wife,” Chuck said. “Alicia. You may have met her at some point. She waits tables at the Crosshairs Saloon.”
“Oh,” Bobby said. “I may have seen her before. I do go over there sometimes.”
Chuck nodded. “Well, I guess I won’t get my goodbye kiss today. Oh, well. Let’s get goin’.”
Bobby nodded and the two of them started walking down the steep steps. Bobby was happy to see that Alicia hadn’t returned to the lake. He felt nervous as he followed Chuck down the stairs. How had he not known that Alicia was Chuck’s wife? He’d heard Chuck talk about his wife before, but Chuck had never mentioned her by name, and Bobby had never seen the two of them together. Bobby tried to forget about her as the wind howled, but he couldn’t get the image of her naked body out of his head.
Sergeant Bill Upham sat behind the counter of the Paradise Corner enforcer office in Tequila City, waiting for anything to happen. The past several days had been dishearteningly boring. It could be argued that for enforcers, that was a good thing, but Bill was dosing off. He caught himself as a squad of five enforcers returned from a patrol, coming through the glass revolving door one by one. Sergeant Hill smiled at him and tipped his cap as he entered last. “Good evening, Bill,” he said. “Not much going on today.”
“Tell me about it,” Bill said. “Not that I want anything to happen, of course.”
“Well, we didn’t join the enforcers to sit on our butts,” Sergeant Hill said with a chuckle.
“No, of course not,” Bill said, smiling halfheartedly. As the five enforcers stood in the lobby discussing something Bill couldn’t quite hear, he stared out the window at the buildings and the bright blue sky above them. He noticed two figures coming towards the office outside. As they entered through the revolving door, Bill saw that the first was a tall, thin, bald man with a brown goatee. He was wearing black pants and a black button down shirt. The second was a pretty girl with short red hair and seductive green eyes. She was dressed in a black tube top and a black miniskirt with fishnet stockings to show off her sexy legs. Bill knew they looked familiar, but he couldn’t quite place who they were. The five enforcers in the lobby turned to watch as the pair walked towards the counter Bill was seated behind.
The tall, thin man smiled at Bill and nodded. “Good evening. I’m Ace McCoy and this is Annabelle Rose.” Bill’s jaw dropped. Now he knew where he recognized them from. It wasn’t just the flyers all enforcers had received regarding the pair. Ace and Annabelle d been all over the news a few years back. There were pictures they’d sent to reporters where they’d been wearing very similar outfits to the ones they were now wearing. And there were documentaries and even movies made about the two which everyone, including Bill, had seen. Ace McCoy and Annabelle Rose were wanted bank robbers and ruthless killers who had killed women and children as well as men. They were the worst kind of scoundrels, though some media outlets tried to paint them as working class heroes who stood up for the poor and downtrodden against the greedy rich. Bill knew better, though. The five enforcers in the lobby drew their laser pistols and pointed them at Ace and Annabelle.
“Winston!” Sergeant Hill shouted. “Get in here! And bring your men. Ace McCoy and Annabelle Rose are here!” Five more enforcers immediately appeared from the hallway. All pointed their laser pistols at Ace and Annabelle, who now had ten guns on them.
Annabelle licked her red lips and winked at Bill. “We’ve come here to turn ourselves in.”
Continue on to the next chapter:
Afterlife, Volume 2, Chapter 28
Nat holds a meeting with the Moores and the Daytons.
Sera gives Shelly a gift.
Beretta deals with a prisoner.
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