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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:
Nat holds a meeting with the Moores and the Daytons.
Sera gives Shelly two swords and her EMD belt.
Beretta beats Tommy Dayton with his bat.
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Afterlife, Volume 2, Chapter 29
Bobby returned to his hotel room to find Shelly sitting on the bed with Sherry on her lap. She smiled up at Bobby as she petted the shih tzu. “How was work today?”
He grinned. “Big meeting. Not as boring as you’d expect a meeting to be, though. How was training with Sera?”
“She gave me some gifts,” Shelly said, nodding towards a bag on the floor.
Bobby could see the hilts of two samurai swords sticking out through the opening in the long bag. He watched Shelly’s beautiful face as the orange light from the sunset peeked in through the window. She looked distant like something was on her mind. “Did you want to talk about something?” Bobby asked, sitting next to her on the bed.
Shelly frowned as she continued petting Sherry. “I think I’m gonna ask Nat if he’ll take me on as a deputy.” Bobby gritted his teeth. They’d talked about this before. Not only did Bobby hate the idea of working with her since everyone always said it was best not to work with your boyfriend or girlfriend and see them at both home and work, but he also didn’t want her in harm’s way, even if she did know how to fight and fire a gun. “Go ahead,” Shelly said. “Say it. I know you’re thinking it.”
Bobby looked into her eyes and he could see the frustration. “We’ve talked about this before.”
“I know we have. And just like before, I think your reasons for me not to do it are unfounded.”
Bobby frowned. “So you’re saying I don’t have a say. You’re gonna do whatever the hell you want anyway. Just like you always have. Whether it’s me, Horseman, your parents…”
“You aren’t my father,” Shelly said. “Like I’ve told you a hundred times, it’s what I want to do.”
“And what about your singing?” Bobby asked. “And your acting and everything? Those are the talents you should be using. People need that.”
“I’ll still sing at the Crosshairs some evenings,” Shelly said. “But I’ve been training for a reason. I’m going to join the fight, whether you want me to or not. I can’t just sit and watch as more people I care about are killed.”
“We aren’t going to be killed,” Bobby said with a grin.
“Really?” Shelly asked. “You can be so sure? What do you know about the IAO? What kind of numbers do they have? They aren’t like Rennock. They’re unpredictable. They use shady tactics like bombs and they’ll stab you in the back. They have no morals, Bobby. How can you defend against something like that?”
“How can you, Shelly?” Bobby asked.
“I can do more than I am now,” she said. “They’ll come after me regardless. They target civilians too. They don’t discriminate.”
Bobby shook his head. “But if you’re on the front lines, you become an even bigger target. We’re gonna start hitting them. We aren’t just gonna sit around and wait for them to attack us anymore.”
“All the more reason why I should be there with you when you do,” Shelly said. “I can shoot better than anyone in town. And I can use my fists and my feet, too, and pretty soon swords. And Sera gave me her EMD belt so they won’t be able to stop me. And they won’t see me coming.”
“What if they do?” Bobby asked. “I just don’t want you to get hurt.”
“I don’t want you to get hurt either,” Shelly said. “But I’d rather be with you where I can do something about it instead of sitting around here petting Sherry or twiddling my thumbs at the Crosshairs with Juan.”
Bobby was even angrier with her mentioning that name. “You spend an awful lot of time with him these days.”
“What?” Shelly shouted. Sherry jumped down off her lap and ran towards a pile of blankets on the floor where she settled down. “Now you’re jealous, too? The only reason I spend time with him is because I’m not out there with you. You just told me you want me to sing more.”
“I do, but…”
“But what?” Shelly looked furious. “You want me to sit in this room and sing acapella to the walls? You’re really pissing me off, Bobby. Don’t you know I hate being told what to do?”
“I’m not telling you what to do,” Bobby said.
“Like hell you aren’t!” She stormed towards the door and opened it.
“Where are you going?”
“Somewhere else!” Shelly shouted as she slammed the door behind her.
Bobby looked down at Sherry, who was trying to go to sleep. At least it was quiet now. He took a deep breath. Why couldn’t Shelly see that he just wanted to protect her? What kind of man would he be if he couldn’t even protect his own girlfriend? He thought about going to the Crosshairs Saloon to see if she was there, but that was the last thing he needed. Alicia was probably there and running into her right now would be a terrible idea. Bobby started thinking about Juan. What if Shelly was going to see him? He hoped she knew better than to go to his place alone with him. Bobby sat in his thoughts for a while until there was some commotion outside. He looked out the window and saw several people rushing down the street. There was a far-off scream. Bobby felt it was his duty as deputy to see what he was happening so he left the room, locking the door behind him, ran down the steps to the lobby, and left the hotel.
Everyone seemed to be heading towards the far end of town near the road to Boot Hill so Bobby also headed in that direction, rushing past the stone buildings until he found a crowd of people who were surrounding something. He pushed through to see what they were looking at. There was a large faux wood cross jutting out of the ground, and draped over it was Tommy Dayton. He was wearing only boxers just like Richard Dayton had been, and he was also covered with bruises and bloody cuts. His face was smashed to a bloody pulp and there was a sign over him which read “This town belongs to the IAO. This will happen to anyone who disagrees.” A woman threw up in the street. Bobby looked next to him to see Nat standing there. “Stay calm, people,” Nat said. “They’re scared. That’s why they’re doin’ this. I have ‘em just where I want ‘em.”
“Yeah right,” someone said.
“You’re part of the reason they’re doin’ stuff like this in the first place!” someone else shouted.
Nat looked around at the faces in the crowd. “Don’t let these punks scare ya. I’ve dealt with worse. I’ll deal with them, too.” John Bracken and Lazy Fillman started trying to disperse the crowd as Nat frowned at Bobby. “Who was on guard duty this evenin’? How were they able to do this?”
Bobby nodded towards Tommy’s body. “Tommy was supposed to be on guard duty.”
Nat nodded. “We need to act fast. We need to hit ‘em and hit ‘em hard. Before people start leavin’ town.” Bobby watched as a Spencer Dayton and his wife walked towards the cross. “Get them out of here,” Nat said.
Bobby tried to get in front of them but Spencer pushed him out of the way, his handsome face full of anger. His wife Carol, a pretty woman with long, blonde hair, fell to the ground beneath Tommy’s body and started sobbing. Spencer looked at Nat, his brown eyes full of fire. “I’m bringin’ my sons with ya when you hit ‘em. I’ll kill every last one of ‘em.” Nat looked him gravely in the eyes and nodded.
The bar was in a little town near Vulture’s Pass. There was a larger bar at the other end of town, but Paul had chosen this one because he figured Tom Rivers would be at the other one. Paul didn’t even know the name of the town, but it didn’t matter. It was a small town like many others in the foothills of the Rockies, and it was just outside of General Rodriguez’ camp. Captain Frank Waters, the man with the beard Paul had met that first night he met Tom Rivers in the club, was sitting across the table from Paul, a kind smile on his bearded face as he sipped his Scotch on the Rocks. Both men were dressed in their tan uniforms as they sat in a corner of the hole-in-the-wall bar. Some drunks were sitting at the bar, getting pretty loud and laughing as they drank. Paul had the impression that many came to the bar every night. “So how was your first mission?” Captain Waters asked Paul, bringing him back to focus.
“It was interesting,” Paul said.
“Interesting?” Captain Waters asked.
Paul nodded. “That’s why I asked you to meet me here. I had something I wanted to talk to you about.” Frank Waters was the leader of one of the other “V” formations in Tom’s squadron. Frank had been one of the men who helped Paul with his simulations and Paul felt that they hit it off well, so if he could trust anyone, Paul hoped he could trust Frank.
“Yeah, sure,” Frank said as he sipped his drink, a serious look in his green eyes. “What’s up?”
“Well, do you trust Tom?”
Frank shrugged. “He’s all right I guess. A bit arrogant, but most pilots are. We go out drinking from time to time. Sometimes he rubs me the wrong way.” He frowned. “He’s one of those types who likes to mess with people when he sees weakness, you know? I guess you could almost say he’s sort of a bully.”
Paul nodded. “Well, there were three of our men who were shot down during the mission. I feel like we could have done something to save them.” He frowned. “But Tom didn’t move to help them. It was almost like he let them die.” Paul shook his head. “I feel like we could have done something.”
“I mean,” Frank began, “I don’t think Tom would intentionally let people in his squadron die. Are you sure it wasn’t a mistake?”
Paul shook his head. “No way. I even said something. But Tom ignored me.”
“Who were the pilots?” Frank asked.
“Perry Helms, Steve Saturn, and Greg Austin,” Paul said. He’d found out their names after the fact in an announcement over the camp PA system.
Frank thought for a few seconds. “Well Tom didn’t have a problem with any of them that I know of. Even so, like I said, that just doesn’t seem right. I don’t think Tom would intentionally let people in his own squadron die.”
Paul wondered if Frank believed him. He was hoping he could still trust Captain Waters, but Paul wasn’t sure if there was more going on here than it had seemed at first. “Well I know what I saw. I saw the EMPC’s attacking them. I said something to Tom about it, and he ignored me. Like I said, there was plenty of time for us to help, but we didn’t.”
“Well it’s weird, but if you want me to, I’ll file a report with General Rodriguez and he’ll have it investigated. It would probably mean more coming from me since I’ve been with the squadron longer.”
“You’d do that for me?” Paul asked.
“Sure,” Frank said. “I mean, I don’t know if they’ll turn up anything, but they’ll at least investigate.”
Paul figured that was better than nothing, but with the IAO and all the craziness going on recently, Paul wasn’t sure who he could trust. He’d keep his eyes open and watch his back regardless. He chugged his cola. “Well, thanks for coming. I’ll see you around.”
Frank nodded. “Leaving so soon?”
“Yeah,” Paul said. “I need to get some rest.” In reality, Paul felt uncomfortable in places like bars. He just figured it would be a good place to talk with Captain Waters and now they were done talking.
“Okay,” Frank said. “See you later then. Take care of yourself.”
“See ya.” Paul walked back towards the door and left the bar, stepping out into the small town. He was soon on his way back to the camp through the dark foothills of the Rockies, his mind on what had happened and his conversation with Captain Waters. He still wasn’t sure whether he could trust Frank or not, but at least he had told someone. If nothing came of it, perhaps Paul could talk to General Rodriguez himself.
The first bank Abby was robbing with Ace and Annabelle was in Dark Trench, a border town not too far from Tequila City. Ace and Annabelle said the way they used to do it was rob a bank in the Disputed Territory, cross to Mexico, rob a bank there, and keep going back and forth. They said it was the best way to throw off the authorities. Dark Trench looked just like one would expect a town with a name like that to look. There were a few sandstone buildings, there was a dried up riverbed, and there were some farmsteads here and there. Coming into town, an air converter was visible in the distance, but other than that, the town was dead, surrounded by miles of dry dunes. Dark Trench was so small it didn’t even appear on any maps. Digits had told Ace and Annabelle about the town because he’d travelled there in the past, and they all agreed it would suit their needs. The bank wasn’t much, but it was owned by Rennock, so Ace and Annabelle agreed it would be a good first attempt.
Abby followed Della, Ace, and Annabelle as they walked into the bank through the large metal front doors. The bank was a stone one story building with a basement vault, and there was only a handful of customers waiting in the lines for the three tellers. As they entered, Annabelle and Ace drew their laser rifles and pointed them at the crowd. “Everyone on the floor!” Annabelle shouted.
People turned and when they saw the robbers with laser rifles pointed at them, most dropped immediately but one woman started to panic. She was crying and shaking, her hands up near her face. Ace pointed his laser rifle at her. “I suggest you do what she says. My girlfriend has an awful temper. Take it from me. I once watched her feed a woman her own eyeballs just for looking at her the wrong way.” The woman dropped immediately after hearing that, and Abby wondered if Ace’s story was true.
“And employees,” Annabelle said as she looked over at the teller windows. No one was visible. Abby hoped it was because the employees were on the floor, and not that they were going to try something. “Don’t bother hitting any alarms or anything like that,” Annabelle continued. “You’ll find they don’t work.”
“Let’s make this easy on all of us,” Ace said. “You’ll find us to be very friendly people as long as you stay on our good side.”
“And you stay on our good side by doing as we say and not trying anything stupid,” Annabelle added.
Abby and Della made their way past the people on the floor to the stone stairs that led down to the basement. She and Della were going to get the money and diamonds while Ace and Annabelle stayed upstairs and took care of crowd control. When Abby asked what “crowd control” meant, Annabelle told her “If anyone in the crowd acts up, we’re the ones who blow them all to smithereens.” Abby made it clear that she didn’t want anyone killed or injured unless it was absolutely necessary and Annabelle just shrugged and said “Of course.”
As Abby descended the stone stairs with Della, she couldn’t help but feel she was in a dungeon. “I think next time I’d like you to help with crowd control,” she said. “Maybe you and Annabelle can be crowd control and Ace and I can get the loot.”
“Why’s that?” Della asked. He was wearing black pants and a black shirt, not the drag he’d been wearing in Tequila City. He’d decided to stick to his dress when Ace and Annabelle were in their disguises to help throw off anyone searching for them.
“I don’t trust them,” Abby said. “I think it’s better to split one of them with one of us. I think there’s less likely to be any sort of catastrophe that way.”
“Makes sense, I guess,” Della said as Abby made her way to the open vault at the end of the stone hallway. Even in a rinky-dink town like Dark Trench, the vault was controlled by a computer. Digits said the company that sold the systems to Rennock had apparently told him they couldn’t be hacked. Digits, however, often noted that any computer system could be hacked by someone smart enough who had enough time on his or her hands. Digits had also turned off the alarm system, so it would be impossible for the bank tellers or the manager to alert the authorities. The hall was dimly lit, adding to the dungeon ambiance as Abby and Della entered the vault.
There wasn’t much there. Mostly some stacks of bills on shelves and a bag Abby opened to see some diamonds. She figured there was probably a few million at most. Hopefully the bigger banks would have far more lucrative scores. Otherwise, their efforts would do very little to truly help the resistance. Abby still hoped to take the money they made robbing banks to Valhalla, though she knew it would be very tough getting the location of the mysterious town from Einstein now, and Abby had no idea how she’d be received by the resistance leaders now that she’d killed one of their friends. Still, she was holding out hope.
She dropped the last stack of bills into the bag she had with her and she and Della quickly exited the vault. As they reached the top of the stairs, Abby was happy to see that everyone was still on the floor and nobody was bleeding. Ace and Annabelle were still standing with their laser rifles pointed at the crowd. “All right,” Ace said. “Stay down everyone. I’m sorry to say we have to say goodbye now. Let’s leave on good terms, though.” Abby, Della, and Annabelle left the bank and hopped into the open doors of the hover station wagon waiting outside with Digits at the wheel. Ace was the last to go, pointing his laser rifle at the bank door even after he got into the car and Digits started speeding away. Abby watched as the small town disappeared in the distance. No resistance, just like Digits had said. It almost seemed too easy, though Abby knew things would get harder later as they hit larger banks in larger towns. She watched the town disappear behind a high dune as the car sped off towards the Mexican border.
Alex Harris was happy that his group would finally be reaching Las Colinas as he sat on the dune they were camped on, looking up at the stars over the desert. They’d been stuck for a few days when the hover truck broke down and John was forced to take one of their sand bikes to the closest town to get some parts. When he returned, it took him almost an entire day to fix the truck, but now it was fixed and they were planning on leaving the next morning. Alex had planned on being in Las Colinas at least two days ago, but things rarely went as planned.
He wondered what it would be like returning to his old company after so long. He wondered what William Warner would do when he saw him. William had been running the company well in Alex’s absence. Alex would be sure to give him a nice chunk of change when he saw him. And then there was his old butler, Winfred. Hopefully his mansion was in good order. He was sure it was. Winfred was the best in the business. Alex was excited as he looked up at the stars. What would it be like becoming Karl Bergson once again after so many years? Alex looked beside him to see Juanita standing still, looking out at the dunes. She put her finger up to her mouth to shush him and waved him back towards the truck. “Take cover,” she whispered. “There’s someone out there.” She rushed back to the truck, got her sniper rifle out of the back, and started looking through the scope at the dunes.
Alex rushed to take cover behind the truck next to her. “Did you see how many?”
Juanita shook her head. “I think Mark and Jane are asleep. You should go wake them up.”
“Where’s John?” Alex asked.
“He’s in my tent. I’ll get him.”
Alex nodded and crept towards Mark and Jane’s tent as Juanita snuck off in the other direction. It was quiet. Alex couldn’t hear the far off sounds of animals that you could sometimes hear in the desert, or even the wind for that matter. If there was someone out there, they were silent. Though it was night, the moon and the stars provided enough light for Alex to see fairly well. He couldn’t make out anything as he watched the dunes where Juanita had said she’d seen someone. Still, she had excellent eyesight and was a combat veteran with lots of experience so she knew what to look for. Alex was willing to take her word for it. He knelt down beside the opening of Mark and Jane’s tent. “Mark!” he whispered. “Jane!” Someone moaned. “Mark!”
“What is it?” Mark’s voice whispered back.
“There’s someone out on the dunes,” Alex said. “Juanita saw them.”
“Bandits?” Mark asked. “Holy Warriors? The IAO?”
“I don’t know,” Alex said. He crept back towards the truck and took cover once again.
Within a minute or two, everyone was taking cover behind the truck with their weapons drawn. Juanita was peeking around the side, scoping out the desert with her sniper rifle. “Do you see anything else?” Mark asked. Juanita shook her head as she continued looking. “Are you sure you saw someone?”
Juanita nodded. “There was a flash. Probably metal. And I saw movement.”
“How far away?” Mark asked.
“I don’t know,” Juanita said. “A thousand feet maybe, give or take a few.”
John chuckled. “You can’t see anyone at a thousand feet in this light. It could have been anything.”
Juanita glared at him. “I saw it.”
“If Juanita said she saw something then she saw something,” Mark said. He peeked around the side of the truck with a pair of binoculars and a red laser blast hit the back of the vehicle, not far from his head. He jumped back. “Well there’s definitely someone out there.”
“Could you make out how many?” Jane asked.
Mark shook his head. “Jane, Juanita, Alex, you all stay back here. John and I are going out there to see if we can surprise them. Juanita, keep us covered.”
“All right,” Juanita nodded.
“Wait,” Jane said. “I’m faster than John. Why don’t I go with you?”
“I need you back here,” Mark said. “In case someone’s wounded.” Jane glared at him as he and John scrambled down the side of the dune, disappearing from sight.
Juanita kept her eye in the scope, continuously monitoring the desert. She fired a shot. “What happened?” Alex asked, watching her as she continued looking through the scope.
“I got one,” Juanita said. “I think he’s dead. I counted four others I think.”
“What if Mark and John are walking into an ambush?” Jane asked.
“I’ve got ‘em covered,” Juanita said with a grin. “They’ll be fine.”
Alex sat with his back against the truck, looking out at the sand and the stars. As with most military operations he found himself in the middle of, he felt useless. He had a laser pistol at his side, but he’d never been a very good shot, and with four members of the Bloody Six with him, he figured he’d just get in the way if he tried anything. Juanita fired another shot and he heard some far off shouting. He peeked around the truck again to see four figures walking back towards him. As he looked closer, he realized two of the men were pointing guns at the others’ backs. As they approached, he realized that Mark and John had managed to take two prisoners. He assumed the rest of the attackers were dead. Mark and John walked the men up to the back of the truck and stopped. “There were six of them,” Mark said. “Juanita took out two of them, John and I got two others, and here are the other two. I plan on asking them some questions. I want to make sure none of their friends are around trying to join our little party we’ve got going on here.”
Alex nodded and looked them up and down. Both were of Middle Eastern descent. They had black beards and were wearing white baggy shirts and pants. One was tall and thin, the other short and stout. The shorter man was smiling while the other glared at him. Alex had a good idea which of the two was going to be more cooperative.
As Abby watched the dunes speed past through the window of the hover wagon, she remembered the frightened face of the panicking woman in the bank. She also remembered Judith Israel’s face just before she pulled the trigger. She’d seen people’s most desperate fears, and it made her uncomfortable. Abby had never thought of herself as a criminal. She’d never thought she’d be someone who’d cause such fear, but it had happened twice now. And the woman in the bank had been an innocent civilian. Sure, she’d been keeping her money in one of Rennock’s banks, but as far as Abby knew, that was the extent of her association with Rennock. Abby kept telling herself it was all for the greater good. It was all to help the resistance, but she remembered her father telling her that most people thought what they were doing was right, including many of those who committed the world’s most evil atrocities.
She eyed Ace and Annabelle as the hover car zoomed through the desert. They weren’t necessarily evil people, but they did evil things. And Abby was working with them now. She was even starting to become friendly with them. Ace had a charming personality and made her laugh, and Annabelle had lived a rough life. She was getting by the only way she knew how. Abby opened her bag and glanced at Pastor Earl’s Bible. She wondered what he’d have thought of what she was doing now. He probably would have tried to talk her out of it, just like Nat had, but he would have stuck by her no matter what, just like Della was doing. She looked behind it to see Bobby’s copy of On the Road he’d let her borrow. She wondered if she’d ever see him again to give it back. She thought about reading it but decided against it and closed her bag. She’d wait until they reached camp.
The Grateful Dead were blaring from the music player as Digits sped through the dunes. It reminded Abby of Horseman. They’d been one of his favorites. “Can we listen to something else?” Annabelle asked. “You’re always playing this crap.”
“The Grateful Dead is not crap,” Digits said. “And besides, I’m the driver. I get to pick the music. If one of you ever drives, you get to pick.”
“You always drive,” Ace said.
“Exactly,” Digits said with a grin. “So I always get to pick the music.”
“That’s fine,” Ace said. “If you enjoy listening to a bunch of old men trying to pick their way through some scales.”
“Just because all the pictures we have of them now show a bunch of middle aged men,” Digits argued, “doesn’t mean they were always old men. They were actually pretty young when they recorded this.”
“Whatever,” Annabelle muttered. “This music’s ancient either way.”
“It’s still better than anything anyone’s playing now,” Digits said.
“Well any music is better than listening to y’all argue,” Della said. “Are you gonna be doing this for the next two hours?” Abby leaned back in her seat and started to doze off as Jerry Garcia maneuvered his way through a guitar solo. She watched the dunes for a little while longer before her eyes closed and she was asleep.
Continue on to the next chapter:
Afterlife, Volume 2, Chapter 30
Alex and his companions discuss what to do with their prisoners.
Eileen Traymont receives news regarding Abigail Song.
Bobby tries to forget about his problems for a while.
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