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:
Herman Rennock reacts to the International Anarchy Organization.
Abby and her companions enter Carpenter City.
They meet some of the townspeople.
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Afterlife, Volume 2, Chapter 3
The hum of the five sand bike engines was putting Mickey the Rat to sleep as he passed countless dunes. The white sands and the blue sky above were all he’d seen for days, it seemed, aside from the honeymooners he and his friends had robbed the other day. Mickey and his four cronies were members of the International Anarchy Organization, as the skull and crossbones symbols on the sides of their bikes indicated. Mickey liked working with the IAO. They pretty much let him do his own thing as long as he gave them their share. He got to keep most of the money he stole, though. That was what was most important. There was a guy he had to meet in Las Uniones, a small village in the outskirts of Primrose, once a week. He gave the guy his percentage and he and his buddies were on their way. Sometimes the guy, who went by the name of the Bargainer, had jobs for Mickey and his crew, and he always paid really well. Things had actually gotten a lot better for Mickey since he’d started working with the IAO. He had no idea why any scroungers wouldn’t do it.
He felt in his pocket as he led the other four members of his group over the desert sands. The ring was still there. He’d taken it from the new bride he and his friends had taken turns with. She didn’t want to part with it, so he had to knock her out to get it. At least he didn’t have to saw this one’s finger off, though. The ring would be more than enough for the Bargainer’s cut. Mickey didn’t care, though. They’d gotten plenty of cash off her and her husband to make up for it. And there was the other thing she’d given up. Mickey smiled as he continued riding past white dunes. She was a pretty one, too. His thoughts were interrupted when he noticed a figure standing on a dune up ahead. What was this? A refugee from Primrose, maybe? Whoever it was probably didn’t have much money. Still, it was at least worth investigating. Mickey made a slight left towards where the figure was standing and the other four scroungers followed.
As Mickey approached, he slowed down. The figure was a shadowy man wearing a black trench coat. A black wide-brimmed hat cast shadows down over his face, which was hidden, but Mickey thought he saw two red lights. As Mickey and his friends got closer, he could make out the figure’s face better. At first, it just looked like a skull. Then, Mickey noticed the splotches of skin here and there and the metal. There was also a smoking bullet hole between the figure’s eyes. Mickey’s jaw dropped and he started shaking. “Turn around!” he shouted. “Turn around!” The figure, who Mickey now recognized as Warrick Baines from the stories he’d heard, drew a double barreled laser rifle and fired several shots. A blast hit Mickey’s sand bike with a violent jolt and it skidded along a dune and came to a stop in a cloud of sand, smoke rising from the side of it where the blast had hit. Mickey turned to see his four companions dead in the sand next to their bikes. Three of the bikes had been disabled by the laser blasts. The other was untouched and sitting sideways on the side of the dune, though its driver’s face was blasted through and there was blood splattered all over the white sand next to him.
Mickey got off his bike, which had been hit in the engine, and started running towards the only operational sand bike left. He heard the hisses of two laser blasts and felt sharp, burning pains in each of his legs as he collapsed face first into the sand. The pain was unbearable. He gritted his teeth and shouted, turning himself over onto his back. Warrick had blasted through both of his knees. Mickey tried to slow down his breathing as he saw the skeletal face above him through his mirrored sunglasses. “Good afternoon,” Warrick said in a metallic voice, looking down at Mickey as he pointed the double barreled shotgun at his face. Warrick twitched and some smoke came out of the bullet hole between his eyes.
“Don’t kill me,” Mickey whimpered in a high-pitched voice. “Please don’t kill me. I got money.” The pain made him cringe.
“I’m sure you do,” Warrick said, his red eyes shining in Mickey’s face. “I could use a new wardrobe and a day at the spa, but I should inform you that if I wanted your money, I could have it regardless of whether I kill you or not.”
Mickey cringed again and gritted his teeth. He could barely concentrate on what was happening. The sharp pain from his knees nearly drowned everything else out. “You don’t have to kill me. There’s no reason to.”
Warrick’s skeletal visage didn’t change expressions, but Mickey couldn’t help but sense some amusement. “I enjoy killing,” Warrick said. “Isn’t that reason enough? This world can be so boring, so hard sometimes. We need to fill our time with things that make us happy.”
“But I can help you,” Mickey muttered.
“That may be true, actually,” Warrick said, still pointing the double barrel laser rifle at Mickey’s face. “I’ve seen this IAO symbol everywhere. What does it stand for?”
“I can’t tell you about that,” Mickey said. He could barely keep his eyes open.
“I should remind you that if you don’t have any information I need,” Warrick said, “the only use I’ll have for you is the enjoyment I’ll get from killing you.”
“International Anarchy Organization,” Mickey said. “It’s the International Anarchy Organization.”
Warrick nodded. “And I assume you’re a part of this poorly named organization?”
“Yeah,” Mickey said. “You should join. You’d be perfect.”
“Why would I join a criminal organization?” Warrick asked. “I’m assuming that’s what it is, if a bandit like you is a part of it. With your Mohawk and that awful attire, I assume you’re not a business professional. And you were probably going to try to rob me before you realized who I was, so you must be a bandit.”
“We call ourselves scroungers,” Mickey muttered.
Warrick chuckled. “You do realize I’ve been a lawman for most of my life?”
“You’re out here by yourself in the desert,” Mickey said. “They can help you.”
Warrick continued staring at Mickey with his lighted red eyes. He twitched and some more smoke came out of the bullet hole between his eyes. He nonchalantly aimed his laser rifle at Mickey’s right arm and blew a hole through it, splattering the sand with blood as Mickey screamed. Warrick stepped back, as if he were unsure of himself. “Sorry. I really don’t know what came over me. There are brilliant cyberneticists around who can give you a new arm. I could give you the number of the one I used.”
“Ah!” Mickey shouted, cringing as Warrick once again aimed the laser rifle at his face. “Please!”
“Who’s your boss with the IAO?” Warrick asked. “Who do you report to?”
“I can’t tell you,” Mickey said through the pain. “I’m sorry. I can’t. I ain’t tellin’ you nothin’ else. Just kill me.”
“Double negative,” Warrick said. “You may not realize it, but what you just said indicated that you’re going to tell me something. How very true.”
Mickey gritted his teeth in anger. “I am not going to tell you anything!” He enunciated each word clearly, and spat at Warrick.
“That’s a shame,” Warrick said. “I’m going to have to torture you, then. I apologize in advance.”
“You can’t do nothin’ worse than you already have,” Mickey said, gritting his teeth in pain. “You can go to hell!”
“You first,” Warrick said. “Now, I’ve become an expert at torture through the years. There’s a secret to it. It’s not about causing physical pain. It’s about finding out what the most important thing in the world to someone is, and then threatening to take it away from them.”
“What the hell are you talkin’ about?” Mickey asked.
“Of course,” Warrick continued, “the threat has to be very real. If you’re bluffing and the person you’re torturing can tell, the threat is useless.”
Mickey was getting concerned as he lay in his own blood. “What do you mean?”
“In the past,” Warrick said, “I’ve killed people’s wives and children in front of them in order to get them to give me information. I’ve tortured family members in front of them. Some people are very materialistic, so destroying their possessions could be enough in some cases.”
“I don’t care about nothin’,” Mickey said, “and I ain’t got no family, so you’re barkin’ up the wrong tree.”
Warrick shook his head, still pointing the laser rifle at Mickey’s face. “You’re a man. You like women, right?” Mickey looked up at him with a confused grimace. “Then you like men? Well, either way, I don’t really know much about you, but I’m sure you enjoy sex. There are some asexual people in the world who don’t, of course, but I’m assuming you aren’t one of them. They’re fairly rare from what I understand.” Mickey was overcome with fear and pain. “Let’s talk about peperoni pizzas for a minute,” Warrick said, “shall we?”
“Pepperoni pizza?” Mickey asked. “What, are you orderin’ food?”
Warrick chuckled, hiding his laser rifle under his trench coat. “No, of course not. The peperoni starts in the form of a sausage.” A blade slid out from his right trench coat sleeve. “Then, you slice it into many extremely thin slices.” Mickey’s face was overcome with horror. “So,” Warrick said as he leaned over Mickey, “tell me who your contact is and where I can find him.” The nearby dunes were filled with the sounds of Mickey’s screams.
The Carpenter City Bank had an intimidating air about it, with its thick sandstone columns and sparse windows. Bobby Brooklyn thought it resembled a prison as he stood in front of it. Bobby was a black man of medium height and build with short, neatly trimmed hair. Before Michelle had started cutting Bobby’s hair, she’d called him a caveman and asked if archaeologists found him frozen in a glacier somewhere. Bobby missed her wisecracks and her sense of humor. She’d been so sad and serious since her brother Horseman died, and Bobby tried his best to help her get her mind off things, but though she’d laugh and smile every once in a while, she was understandably solemn most of the time. Bobby knew it would just take time. Horseman’s death had been a shock and Michelle was having a hard time dealing with it.
Bobby took a deep breath and walked towards the imposing iron front doors of the bank. He pulled one open with his left hand and walked in cautiously. Bobby’s right arm was still in a sling, which made things like moving heavy doors a bit troublesome for him, but he managed. As he shut the door behind him, the thud echoed throughout the cavernous room. It was almost empty inside. There were a few people at various windows where tellers were assisting them, but most of the windows were unoccupied. Bobby figured the bank had once been a bustling institution, but like Carpenter City itself, its best days were far in the past. He noticed that the other patrons were wearing white for the most part. The men wore suits and the women wore long dresses with long sleeves. Bobby hoped he didn’t look too out of place in his black leather jacket and jeans. He also realized he was the only black person in the bank. He’d have to make this quick if he wanted to avoid attention.
He noticed rows of locked safe deposit boxes on the far right wall so he walked towards them, searching for box number 1044. As he searched, he remembered the conversation Pastor Kenyon had with him and Nat. Bobby had decided to room with Nat and let Michelle room with Juanita since the good citizens of Carpenter City most likely wouldn’t approve of a man and woman who weren’t married sharing a room. Bobby was glad that Nat had kept quiet for the most part as Pastor Kenyon talked to them. The last thing anyone wanted was an incident that complicated things, though Bobby knew how hard it had probably been for an outspoken atheist like Nat to sit silently as Pastor Kenyon droned on and on about his church, infusing his speech with Bible verses here and there. Pastor Kenyon freaked Bobby out a little bit, as did most of the other people in Carpenter City. The place was surreal. They were almost completely cut off from the rest of the world, an oasis of creepiness in a harsh land. There weren’t any other villages or settlements for hundreds of miles.
When Bobby found the safe deposit box, he typed the code Einstein had given him into the keypad. He had a bag with him, but he really hoped the Jupiter Diamond was concealed in some way. He didn’t want anyone to see him grab what Einstein had referred to as the biggest diamond in the world’s history. If Bobby wanted to avoid attention, that definitely wouldn’t be the way to do it. He was supposed to retrieve the diamond and hide it in the secret compartment under the hover truck where all of Abby’s other bags of diamonds were hidden. When Bobby finished typing the code for the safe deposit box, he slowly pulled the drawer out from the wall. There was nothing inside but a folded piece of paper. “What the?” Bobby muttered as he looked down at the paper. Then he remembered Einstein talking about Gerald Messier’s eccentric nature. This was probably some sort of trick or riddle. It was too bad Abby hadn’t had the chance to talk with Messier.
Bobby reached into the drawer, took out the folded piece of paper, and closed the drawer, letting it relock. He decided to leave the bank before reading the paper, so he quickly shoved it into his pocket. There was no reason to open it there. Abby was probably meant to be the first person to read the paper anyway, so Bobby would take it back to her. He walked back towards the iron front doors of the bank, his hands in his pockets as he tried his best not to make eye contact with anyone. He did notice one teller quickly glance at him as he left the bank, but for the most part, everyone was going about their business, not paying Bobby any mind, just like he wanted.
Sera slowly moved her legs out of the lotus position and turned to sit on the side of her bed. Abby, who’d been lying in her own bed reading the Bible she’d gotten from Pastor Earl, put it down and turned to face her roommate. “Done meditating?”
Sera nodded. “For now.” She closed her eyes and stretched out her muscular arms.
“How’d you get into Buddhism?” Abby asked.
Sera glanced at her. “I’m from New Siam. At least I moved there at a very young age. My mother still lives there, actually.”
“Oh, okay,” Abby said. She’d learned a little about New Siam in school, and she knew Buddhism was the most common religion there, though Islam was making inroads.
“While I was there,” Sera continued, “I studied under a Buddhist monk who taught me a lot about the religion and life in general. I thought about becoming a monk myself for a while, but my life took me in another direction.”
“What made you leave your mom and come over here?” Abby asked.
Sera shrugged. “Adventure calling out to me, I guess.” She chuckled. “Really, I ended up falling in love with the monk. I had to get out of Dodge, you know?”
Abby frowned. “Why did you have to leave, if you were in love with him? He didn’t love you back?”
“He couldn’t date and he wouldn’t change his stance on it,” Sera said with a frown. “He considered leaving the temple where he taught, but I decided to leave instead. I couldn’t let him do that. I came here to fight in the army. I figured what better way to seek out adventure, right?” She shook her head. “The monks taught me martial arts along with religion and philosophy. I learned to use my hands and swords both, along with lots of other weapons. I came here and learned to shoot guns and ended up being good at it, so now I’m with the Bloody Six.” She smiled at Abby. “So what about you? I guess your parents raised you Christian?”
Abby nodded. “They were Catholics. We lived in New Atlantis and people there sort of frowned upon religions of any type, so we were fairly secretive about it. My dad had a high standing and all. He didn’t want to jeopardize it. People would have thought he was a quack if they’d known he worshipped god.”
Sera shrugged. “As far as I’m concerned, whether there is a god, or isn’t, we can all live good lives and try our best to treat ourselves and others with respect.”
“So do you think there’s a god?” Abby asked.
“I don’t know,” Sera said. “None of us do, really. Some think they know. Some would claim to know that they know. But they really don’t.” She frowned. “That’s one of the things that pisses me off about people like the people in this town. They think they have all the answers.”
“I know there’s a god,” Abby said, her piercing eyes fixed on Sera. “I don’t claim to have all of the answers, but I do know there’s a god. At least I strongly feel that there’s a god. I feel like he’s affected my life. Sometimes I can almost feel his presence. Like he’s guiding me or protecting me.” She frowned. “But other times I feel so distant.” She’d felt that way since her family had been murdered, though Pastor Earl had helped her find her way back a little. Pastor Earl’s death hadn’t helped things.
“And that’s your own personal experience,” Sera said. “Don’t assume others share it.”
“I don’t,” Abby said, looking into Sera’s eyes. The two sets of piercing eyes met for a few seconds and the two women smiled at one another. The moment was interrupted by a knock on the door. “Who is it?” Abby asked.
“It’s Bobby and Nat,” Bobby’s voice said.
“Come in,” Abby said, realizing that Bobby had probably just returned from the bank. She really hoped that everything had gone smoothly.
The door opened and Bobby walked in, followed by Nat. They both had perplexed looks on their faces. “The diamond wasn’t there,” Bobby said. “Just this.” He handed Abby a piece of folded paper.
“What’s this?” Abby asked.
“I don’t know,” Bobby said. “I haven’t looked at it yet. I figured you should see it first.”
Abby nodded and unfolded the paper. There were several sentences scrawled on it. Abby read them aloud. “Seek the temple of the forty niner. Time is on your side: eleven plus four. Remember Lot’s wife. Only through death will you find life. The prize will be yours for chump change.”
Abby looked up to see Bobby and Nat looking at her with confused expressions, as was Sera, who was still seated on her bed. “What the hell is that supposed to mean?” Nat asked.
“Who knows?” Abby asked. “Must be riddles of some sort.” She leaned over and took Einstein off the nightstand. She unplugged him and turned him on. “I need your help with something.”
“Always happy to be of service,” Einstein’s kind voice said. Abby read the note once again. “Forty niners were gold miners during the California Gold Rush of the late eighteen forties,” Einstein explained. “I assume their temple would be a gold mine. I know the location of Gerald Messier’s gold mine, which is now deserted. As for the other clues, I won’t be able to help without more information. Perhaps once we arrive at the gold mine, I’ll be able to shed more light.”
Abby looked over at Bobby and the sling his right arm was still in. “Bobby, this might be too dangerous for you with your injury. I think we should send someone else this time.”
“Maybe we can all go when we leave tonight,” Bobby suggested. “We can all go to the mine and just leave straight from there once we get the diamond.”
“We’ll have to make sure we aren’t followed,” Sera pointed out. “We don’t want that diamond falling into the wrong hands.”
Abby suddenly felt nervous and looked around the room. “Maybe we should continue this conversation elsewhere.”
Nat frowned. “Why? The townspeople could eavesdrop just as easily if we’re outside. Besides, I’m sick of all this sneakin’ around.”
“I don’t know,” Abby said.
“You’re right for not trustin’ these people, though,” Nat said. “I’ve never heard a better idea than Bobby’s. We need to get the hell out here, and soon, diamond or no diamond.”
“We’ll be fine,” Abby said. “We’re definitely getting the diamond, though. If there’s one thing I learned in Primrose, it’s that the resistance will need all the money they can get.”
“I’ve calculated the approximate amount of money it will take to start a viable nation capable of challenging Herman Rennock,” Einstein pointed out. “Your father used this information while making plans for the resistance, and since the Dune Post diamonds were confiscated, every diamond shipment in every city is essential for your success at this point.”
Bobby nodded. “Well, we should get going as soon as we can, though. The longer we stay here, the greater the chance something crazy will happen with these people.”
Abby wanted to trust the people of Carpenter City, but she knew Bobby was right. “Okay. But just remember, just because these people are a little weird, they aren’t necessarily dangerous.”
“Look,” Nat said, glaring at Abby, “I know you follow Pastor Earl’s imaginary god and all, but these people are crazy. And I don’t think they’re harmless crazy, either.”
Abby’s eyes pierced into him. “Imaginary god? He’s not Pastor Earl’s god. I was a Christian long before I ever met any of you.”
“Well,” Nat muttered, “whatever. These people ain’t like Pastor Earl, Abby. I know you want ‘em to be, but they’re not. They’re nuts. Earl was mostly harmless, but these people are pure evil. I can smell it.”
“Don’t you think it’s weird they don’t have any hologram projectors or television sets of any kind?” Bobby asked. “They seem cut off from the outside world. Completely cut off, I mean.”
“I thought it was just because this was a cheap hotel,” Abby said.
“The rooms are actually pretty nice,” Sera pointed out.
Abby frowned. “The people here seem nice enough, though, and mostly harmless. You’re right, though. We should get the diamond and get out of here. We should all probably start packing.” There was another knock at the door. “It’s turning into a party,” Abby joked. “Who is it?”
“John,” John Bernard’s voice said from the other side of the door.
“Come in,” Abby said.
The door opened and John entered the room with a frown on his face. He was sweaty and his tan uniform had some black stains on it. “Abby, I was checking the truck to make sure it’s ready for when we leave tonight. It won’t start.”
“What’s wrong with it?” Abby asked.
“I don’t know yet,” John replied as he took off his glasses and wiped sweat off his face with a handkerchief. “I’m still trying to figure it out. I figured I should let you know, though. We probably won’t be able to leave until tomorrow, now.” He put his glasses back on.
“So we’re stuck here,” Sera muttered.
“Abby,” Nat said with an ugly frown, “these people here are up to somethin’.”
“You really think it was them?” Abby asked. “Let’s not jump to conclusions. It wasn’t necessarily tampered with, and even if it was, we have plenty of enemies.”
“I wouldn’t put it past ‘em,” Nat said. “I don’t trust these people one bit.”
Abby nodded with a frown. “Well, that puts a damper on things. We still need the diamond, but I guess we’ll have to just send three people to get it, since there are only three sand bikes. Unless of course John can fix the truck quickly. Then maybe we can all still go.”
“And if he can’t, which three people should go?” Bobby asked.
“Well,” Abby said, “Nat and Big Ed should go. I’d like Della to stay here, though. I want him nearby in case things turn ugly for some reason.”
“Paul should go,” Sera suggested. Everyone else looked at her.
“Why Paul?” Abby asked.
“He’s the shortest one,” Sera said. “If this thing’s hidden in a mine, we’ll need someone small to go in there. Who knows how big the tunnels are? He’s done stuff like this before, clearing out tunnels of enemies and stuff like that.” She chuckled. “He’s a little crazy, too. He’ll probably enjoy it.”
Abby nodded. “Okay, so it will be Nat, Big Ed, and Paul. So I guess the rest of us are stuck here for now. We’ll have to try to make the best of it. Since it doesn’t look like we’ll be able to leave tonight, I guess we’ll get the diamond tomorrow. That way we can all get one more good night’s sleep.” She smiled at Nat. “I guess you lucked out, Nat.”
“Why’s that?” Nat asked.
“You won’t have to go to Pastor Kenyon’s church service tomorrow morning,” Abby said. “The rest of us will, so we don’t arouse too much suspicion. We’ll say the three of you are sick or something.”
“Are you sure that’s a good idea?” Bobby asked. “For you, I mean? What if someone recognizes you?”
“I’ll try my best to blend in,” Abby said. “I think it would raise even more suspicion if I stayed here, though. We’ll already have three people missing.”
“I don’t know,” Bobby said.
“Yeah,” Nat said, glaring at Abby. “You should definitely stay in the hotel.”
“I already talked to the pastor,” Abby said, “just like the rest of you did. He’ll be expecting me.” Plus, on some level, Abby felt like a sermon might do her some good. She’d felt spiritually and emotionally bankrupt since the rebel defeat at Primrose. Since Pastor Earl died. She wasn’t going to say that out loud, though. Not in front of Nat. “Besides,” she continued, “if these people are as cut off from the outside world as they seem, they might not even know who I am.”
“Maybe,” Bobby muttered.
Sera shook her head and frowned. “Can I go with them?” She nodded towards Nat. “The last thing I want to hear is that weird guy give a sermon.”
Abby chuckled. “No, we all have to go. Besides, the whole town will probably be in church. It’ll be the perfect time for Nat, Big Ed, and Paul to go out to get the diamond.”
“Can’t argue with that,” Bobby said.
“It’s settled, then,” Abby said. “I suggest we all try to get some sleep. We’ve got a big day ahead of us.” The others agreed and Nat, Bobby, and John left the room.
Sera looked at Abby and shrugged. “Let’s hope John gets that truck fixed soon. Bobby’s right. The longer we’re here, the more likely we are to find trouble.”
Abby nodded and frowned. “I always seem to find trouble. It follows me like my shadow.”
Continue on to the next chapter:
Afterlife, Volume 2, Chapter 4
Abby and her companions attend Pastor Kenyon’s church service.
Paul Jacobs enters the Messier Mine in search of the Jupiter Diamond.
Warrick Baines pays a visit to the Bargainer.
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