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:
Shelly is attacked in the Crosshairs Saloon sand loses an eye.
General Rodriguez has a chat with Paul Jacobs.
Abby robs another bank with Ace and Annabelle.
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Afterlife, Volume 2, Chapter 34
The air was damp in the wine cellar that was now Nat’s office. Bobby felt confined by the dark stone walls of the Bomb Shelter. He was alone, with a few barrels of wine and the metal door that led back to the rooms where the IAO prisoners were being held. The newest prisoner had recently given Nat the location of the IAO’s local base, where Beretta and his men were holed up, and Nat, Lazy Fillman, and Frank Dayton were out scouting the mountains so they could later come up with a plan of attack. Nat rarely left the bomb shelter for fear of IAO retaliation, but he felt this was too important for him not to lead the scouting mission. They left Bobby behind to hold down the fort while Chuck Moore patrolled the town outside. The only other deputy was Shelly, who was recuperating in Doctor Dayton’s office after the recent incident at the Crosshairs Saloon. She’d taken out another seven IAO men, though. She was probably number two on their hit list after Nat now, possibly even number one. That made Bobby uncomfortable, but he knew he needed to learn how to let her make her own choices. He knew he had to find a way to support her in order for their relationship to survive.
Bobby’s mind drifted to Alicia and Chuck Moore as he watched the still stone stairway that led down into the cellar. He hadn’t seen Alicia since the night he’d spent with her, but he’d heard from Frank Dayton that she was covered with bruises and had a black eye after falling down the stone steps in front of her house. Bobby knew better. She’d already had a black eye the evening he was with her. It couldn’t have all happened from one accident. And Alicia had already told Bobby where the black eye had come from. It didn’t take a genius to figure out the bruises had come from the same source, especially since Bobby knew that Chuck knew that Alicia had cheated on him. Bobby was angry with Chuck for how he’d reacted, but he also felt guilty on some level. He felt like it was all his fault. The sound of footsteps coming down the stairs interrupted Bobby’s thoughts. He watched as Annie Dayton, dressed in a white dress, descended the stairs and entered the office. There was a smile on her pretty, innocent face, and her long, brown hair was tied back in a ponytail with a white bow. In contrast, Bobby remembered how angry she’d looked when she’d threatened Nat. “Hi, there,” she said cordially as she stepped towards the desk Bobby was seated behind. “May I come in?”
“Sure,” Bobby said.
“I was expecting to find Nat here.”
Bobby frowned. “He’s out on business.” He didn’t want to tell her any more than that.
“Oh, okay. Well, can you leave this message for him?”
“What message?” Bobby asked.
Annie stood uncomfortably in front of him. “I know I said some nasty things last time I saw Nat, but now my family’s workin’ with him. My cousin Frank is one of his deputies, as you know. If I’m helpin’, it’s because of Frank.”
Bobby nodded, though he was very suspicious. He’d take everything she said with a huge grain of salt. “All right. So what’s the message?”
Annie smiled. “Well, my aunt was workin’ outside her house, when she saw some IAO guys up on Rattlesnake Mountain. Just over the pass up there. She was thinkin’ if y’all hit ‘em before they’re expectin’ it, you could probably take ‘em all out. But if you wait too long, well, they’ll establish a stranglehold on the pass and we won’t be able to get to the mines back there anymore.”
Bobby nodded. He was almost certain she was setting them up for an ambush. “Thanks for the info. I’ll pass it on to Nat.”
“You should probably head up there today,” Annie said. “If ya really want to be successful. I ain’t no deputy or nothin’, but I know enough to know surprise is key in situations like this.” Even if she did want Nat dead, Bobby couldn’t believe she was helping the IAO after what they’d been doing to her family.
“All right,” Bobby said, managing a smile. “Thanks again. Is that all?”
Annie nodded and smiled again. “Well thanks for listenin’. I’ll see ya around, then.”
“See ya,” Bobby said. Annie turned and made her way back towards the steps. Bobby was fairly certain that anyone going into that pass wouldn’t come back alive. When Nat and the others came back, they’d come up with a plan for hitting the IAO base. That would wipe out most of the IAO presence in the area and take the teeth out of any possible ambush. It would probably be best to wait until then to clean up the pass. Bobby leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes.
He dozed off, but he woke in time to see Chuck Moore standing in front of him, a grin on his freckled face. “Sleepin’ on the job, Bobby?”
Bobby stretched. “Nope. Just resting my eyes for a few seconds.”
“More like a few hours,” Chuck said.
“How’s the town?” Bobby asked. “Are you done with your patrol?”
“For now,” Chuck said. “Things are surprisingly quiet with Nat gone.”
Bobby nodded. He couldn’t get the thoughts of Alicia’s bruises out of his mind. He felt like punching Chuck in the face. That would just add more fuel to the fire, though, if Chuck ever found out Bobby had slept with her. “So how are things with you, these days?”
Chuck frowned. “Well they ain’t great, Bobby. But I just found out Madge was at the Crosshairs the night Alicia cheated on me. She probably saw who she left with. I tell you what Bobby, when I find out, I don’t care who it is, I’m gonna kill the son of a bitch. No talkin’. No nothin’. I’m gonna just draw my gun and kill ‘em.” He put his hand on the hilt of his laser pistol. “Wouldn’t be surprised if it was IAO scum, anyway. Or a damned Dayton. I know we’re workin’ together, but that only changes things so much. There’s some bad blood between us, Bobby. They probably slept with her to get back at my family for somethin’. Well, whoever it is, they’re gonna regret it. I tell you what. They ain’t gonna be alive too much longer.”
“Don’t go doing anything brash or illegal,” Bobby said.
“Legal or not,” Chuck said, “it’s what’s right and everyone knows it. No one’s gonna hang me for killin’ someone who slept with my wife.”
Bobby frowned. “Don’t be so sure about that. So you’re gonna talk to Madge about it?”
Chuck nodded. “She’ll know for certain. Matter of fact, I’m goin’ over there soon as I get off work.”
“I have one more thing for you before you go,” Bobby said.
“Well,” Bobby began, “apparently there’s been some IAO activity in the mines on Rattlesnake Mountain. I was hoping you could take your sand bike through the pass up there and check the area out.”
“Nat and the others supposed to be getting back any time soon?” Chuck asked.
“I don’t know,” Bobby said. “It’s just you for now, though. I need to stay back here.”
“I hope those new guys Nat hired show up soon,” Chuck said. “We could sure use some new guns after all the casualties we’ve had lately.”
“Yeah,” Bobby said. “We need to make sure they’re people we can trust, though.”
Chuck nodded. “Yup. All right, then. I guess I should get goin’.”
“Be careful,” Bobby said as Chuck walked away.
Chuck smiled at him. “I’m always careful.” He turned and walked up the steps.
Bobby bit his lip and shook his head once Chuck was gone. “What are you doing?” he asked the empty room. There was a chance Chuck could come back alive. Maybe he’d see the ambush coming, just like Bobby had. Bobby could have told him the information came from Annie Dayton. He could have warned Chuck about the ambush he knew was waiting for him, but he didn’t. He didn’t and he’d have to live with that, no matter what happened. Either way, there was a good chance Chuck wouldn’t be going to the Crosshairs to talk to Madge any time soon.
“Have you ever actually seen a giant scorpion?” Marv asked as he chomped into the turkey leg he was holding.
“No,” Big Ed replied, “but I’ve known people who have.”
“Knowing you, they were probably thieves and liars, though,” Marv said, “so you probably can’t believe a word they said.”
Big Ed shrugged. “Big as a house, he said. With claws that could snip a man in two. And lasers just bounced off its shell.”
One of the other bandits sitting around the fire frowned. Mavery couldn’t remember his name, but he was the short one with the longish neck. “Is there a hero holdin’ a sword out there somewhere lookin’ for it?” he asked. “Maybe King Arthur or Perseus? Or one of them hobbits?” He laughed and several of the other bandits laughed with him.
“Hey,” Big Ed said, “laugh all you want, but I’ve seen some huge sand crabs out there. Why couldn’t there be a giant scorpion?”
Marv was smiling at Mavery. “You’re awfully quiet over there. What do you think?”
Mavery shrugged. “I don’t know.” She didn’t feel like talking. She didn’t feel like eating either. They were camped out under the moon and stars, and though the cool air felt nice and the turkeys they’d stolen from a local farmstead looked tasty, Mavery had lost her appetite since Big Ed had helped the bandits attack the resistance watchtower a few days before. She’d been sticking to bread and water.
“You all right?” Scope, the bandit with the eyepatch, asked.
Mavery shook her head. “No. I’m sick to my stomach. Must have been something I ate.”
“You ain’t ate nothin’ substantial in days,” Marv said.
Big Ed leaned over towards her, but Mavery pushed him away. They were seated together on a blanket. “She’s okay,” Big Ed said.
“That time of the month?” Scope asked.
Mavery snarled at him. “I said I was sick, okay? I’m goin’ back to the tent to rest.”
“You ain’t even had any bread yet,” Marv said.
Mavery got up and walked towards the tent she was reluctantly sharing with Big Ed. She ducked inside and pulled the flap down. Then, she got into her sleeping bag. She’d been hoping to sneak away from the group as soon as they reached a settlement of any kind, but they were smack in the middle of the desert and all she could see in any direction was more sand. She should have known better than trusting Big Ed. Sure, he fought for the resistance for a few weeks, but he’d been a bandit his whole life. The IAO was a natural fit for him. The tent flap opened and Big Ed ducked into the tent with her. He curled up in the corner like a big bear as Mavery tried to rest. “You’re torturin’ yourself. You ain’t touched no substantial food for days. You ain’t touched me, neither, for that matter.”
“Go away,” Mavery said. “You’re a murderer.”
“I am?” Big Ed asked. “You don’t think they would have killed me if I hadn’t killed them first? They didn’t know who I was.”
“We should have joined them,” Mavery said. “That was our chance. Now we’re stuck out here in the middle of nowhere with a bunch of criminals.”
“You gotta stop bein’ so defiant,” Big Ed said. “I can only look after you to a point. You know if I wasn’t here, they’d have raped and killed you long ago.”
“That’s why I need to leave,” Mavery said. Thoughts of the bandit trying to force himself on her outside of New Atlantis came back to her all of the sudden and she shuddered.
“We need to stick together, though,” Big Ed said. “Don’t do nothin’ crazy. Remember, you’re dead out here without me. It’s just like it was when we first met.”
“Remember what you did to those bandits?” Mavery asked.
“What?” Big Ed asked. “You want me to kill these guys in their sleep? There’s too many for me to take on my own, and nothin’ personal, but you ain’t gonna be no help.”
“Well what do you suggest we do, then?”
“We wait,” Big Ed said. “Until the time is right.”
Mavery shook her head. “You wanna know what I think?”
Big Ed frowned. “I’m not so sure I do.”
“I think you’re one of them,” she said. “I think you don’t want to leave. I’m not sure what you think’s gonna become of me if I stay with this group, but I think you’re set on staying with them and working with them regardless. Anything you say to me that says otherwise is just because you want to placate me.”
“Placate,” Mavery repeated. “You just want to keep me quiet, basically.”
“That’s what you think?” Big Ed asked. “Look, baby. I’m with you through and through. I risked my life for you before and I’ll do it again, but not in such a way that it would put you in danger. You have to trust me on this.” He looked her straight in the eye. “I know what the plan is. We leave this group and head for Rose City so you can take over Barney Chambers’ blog. Now I might not hold too much stock in those resistance leaders, but I believe in you, so I think what you’ll do there is gonna be good. It’ll be good for the world. So I’ll stick by you. I’ll protect you. But I can’t do that if you won’t let me. So you’ve got to trust me.”
Mavery nodded. “So what about the resistance fighters you helped kill?”
“I only killed them because they was tryin’ to kill me,” Big Ed said. “But if I would have turned on Marv and these guys then, they’d have killed me easily along with the resistance fighters. And then they would have had their way with you. So I ain’t gonna let that happen. Not ever again. So do you trust me?” He held out his huge hand.
“If we don’t leave in the next five days,” Mavery said, “then I’m leaving by myself. I’m leaving them, and I’m leaving you. For good.”
Big Ed frowned. “What if there’s no opportunity in five days’ time?”
“There will be. That’s plenty of time.”
“All right,” Big Ed said. “Five days. So do you trust me, then?” He continued holding out his hand.
Mavery managed a slight smile. “It trust you.” She put her hand in Big Ed’s, which dwarfed hers as he squeezed it gently.
Juanita glanced at Mark’s tent as she finished folding up her own tent. “He still hasn’t come out.”
“He’s probably really upset,” John said. “He just lost his wife. I mean, we’re all upset, but him most of all.” He put the stove into its box and carried over to the hover truck.
Juanita followed him and threw the tent into the open back of the truck. It landed underneath one of the benches. “Maybe you should go try to wake him again.” Alex was in his own tent getting dressed and Ayman had already packed everything and he was now doing his morning salaat prayers on a nearby dune. Mark was the only person who didn’t seem to be stirring.
“We can let him be a little longer,” John said.
Juanita walked closer to John so she could speak softly without being heard by anyone but him. “Don’t you think Mark’s actions yesterday were strange? I mean, he just lost his wife in a storm supposedly, but he seemed more adamant about leaving than looking for her.”
“There was a storm coming,” John said.
“Still,” Juanita said. “I mean, they seemed to love each other so much, and Mark’s the type of person who definitely takes risks for the people he cares about.”
“Are you thinking she might still be alive?” John asked. “Or at least she was when we left?”
Juanita shrugged. “Who knows? I mean, Mark does have a legendary temper. Who knows what could have happened.”
“You think Mark could have left her on purpose?” John asked.
“Maybe they had another fight or something,” Juanita said. “Or maybe… I don’t know. What if she was already dead?”
“You think Mark could have killed her?”
Juanita shrugged. “Like I said, maybe they had a fight. Maybe it was an accident.”
“And he’s hiding it from us?”
“He seems to be hiding something,” Juanita said.
John shook his head. “No way. Not possible. I mean, he’s still in his tent. The guy’s obviously in mourning. We all miss Jane. We all loved her, Juanita. Don’t let your heart cloud your judgement.”
Juanita frowned. “Something just doesn’t seem right to me. Call it women’s intuition.”
John rolled his eyes. “There you go with that again.”
There was some rustling in Alex’s tent, and the zipper opened. Alex emerged, only it wasn’t Alex. Or at least Juanita didn’t recognize him at first. The man standing in front of her and John was the same average height and build as Alex, but he had short gray hair and his handsome face was cleanly shaved. He also had the same wise brown eyes as Alex, but he was wearing a sharp gray business suit with a blue silk tie. His shiny black shoes looked like they alone were probably worth thousands of dollars. “Alex?” Juanita asked.
The man smiled and shook his head. “Karl Bergson.”
The name rang loud bells in Juanita’s mind. Karl Bergson had been one of the most successful and famous businessmen in the world, but he hadn’t been seen or heard from in decades. “What?” John blurted.
“I’m Karl Bergson,” the man said. “Alex Harris was a disguise I’ve been using to hide my identity while I worked with the resistance. Now we’re going to head to Las Colinas so I can sell my company and take the money to Valhalla.”
“Okay,” John said, obviously baffled.
“Get the truck started,” Karl said with a smile. “Let’s get going. We’re less than an hour away, but I’d like to get there this morning so I can get started with making the necessary arrangements.”
“Okay,” John said, still dumbfounded.
“Does Mark know?” Juanita asked.
Karl shook his head. “Abby was the only one who knew.”
John went to Mark’s tent to try one last time to wake him as Ayman walked back towards the truck, having finished his morning prayers. Between Jane’s death and Alex’s revelation, or Karl’s revelation, Juanita felt like her world had been turned upside down. She helped Karl take his tent down as Mark finally emerged from his tent. Juanita was excited about seeing Las Colinas for the first time. She’d heard so much about the city. It was the one oasis of prosperity in the economic desert of the Mexican Territory. It was the one place in the communist Mexican Territory where businessmen had been allowed to prosper, and where Mexican companies and government entities were allowed to do business with the outside world. It was one of the wealthiest cities in the world, and supposedly one of the most beautiful with its elevated rivers and its glass gardens. And soon, Juanita would be there to enjoy it. And John would be there too. She really hoped he wouldn’t do anything to piss her off while they were there.
Bobby wasn’t happy that Shelly was with them. He still hadn’t had a chance to talk with her, and here she was, her face bandaged up, getting ready to attack the IAO base along with the other deputies. Bobby was hiding behind some rocks just outside of the previously abandoned farmhouse that Beretta was now using as a base of operations. The farmhouse was on top of Bald Rock Peak, a rounded plateau in the foothills outside of Dead Man’s Bluff. The house’s position made it impossible to sneak up on since it was right smack in the center of the rounded, rocky plateau, so Nat had decided they’d surround it. Shelly was on the other side with Frank Dayton. Nat was behind another rock formation to Bobby’s right, and Lazy Fillman was to his left. Some IAO thugs on sand bikes had dropped Chuck Moore’s body in front of Nat’s office earlier in the morning, riddled with laser blasts probably from an RLR, so there were just four deputies attacking with Nat, and who knew how many IAO men were in the house. Bobby hoped they at least had surprise on their side. They’d taken out a lot of IAO men over the past several days, so Nat wasn’t expecting there to be too many more left in the area.
Bobby was trying not to think about Chuck and the role he’d had in his death. The last thing he needed was a distraction, but his thoughts were holding him hostage. He aimed his laser rifle at the front right window on the second floor of the house, waiting for Nat’s signal to start firing. It was a white farmhouse with paint peeling off the paneling, and there were five sand bikes parked on the right side, but there could have been more men inside. The plan was for everyone to open fire, taking out the windows. They’d fire until the firing from the house stopped. Then, Nat would go in while the others covered him. Once the coast was clear, the others would converge on the house also. Bobby was aiming, waiting patiently for the sign. He’d petitioned for them to wait until the reinforcements Nat had hired showed up to help, but it would be days before they’d arrive. Apparently Nat had contacted an old friend in Iron Town who was a retired sheriff, and he was going to be showing up to help with some of his former deputies. Nat wanted to attack before the IAO found out he’d discovered the location of their base, though. He was hoping to run them out of town once and for all. Apparently Beretta was one of their top guys, and Nat was hoping with him gone, the town would be free from IAO activity, at least for a while.
A curtain moved and a laser fired. Soon lasers were hitting the windows of the house from all directions and the glass shattered. Nat was firing bullets from his old school rifle and the cracks echoed through the foothills. Bobby fired several times at the window he’d been aiming at. A blast from the house hit the rocks he was hiding behind and he fired several more shots. There was a shout to Bobby’s right and he turned to see Lazy Fillman lying on the ground with a hole blasted through his head. Bobby aimed at the house and fired through each of the windows. More blasts came his way, some hitting the rock he was hiding behind and others flying past. Bobby fired several more shots. He saw a man’s head pop up in the right upstairs window and he fired, missing the window completely. He cursed himself as more lasers came his way and he ducked as far back behind the rock as he could. He peeked over again and watched another head pop up. There was a loud crack from Nat’s rifle and a man fell through the upstairs window, flopping onto the rocky ground below. Bobby fired more shots and there was some shouting from inside the house. The shouting stopped as lasers and bullets blasted the inside of the house to pieces through the windows. “Hold up!” Nat shouted, and everyone stopped firing.
The plateau was eerily quiet. Nat slowly emerged from the rocks he’d been hiding behind and Bobby started firing at the windows, giving Nat cover. Nat ran up towards the house and leaned up against the front door. He motioned for Bobby to follow and Bobby emerged from his own hiding place and ran as quickly as he could across the rocky terrain as Shelly and Frank fired at the house. Bobby joined Nat on the other side of the door. “I’ll go in first and head to the left,” Nat said. “You go right. Look in each room. Then we meet and go up the stairs and do the same upstairs.” Bobby nodded and Nat kicked the front door in, aiming his rifle into the house. He walked in and Bobby followed.
Nat went left and Bobby went right, aiming his rifle in front of him and searching every corner as he walked. There were two bodies in the first room, which appeared to be a dining room of some kind, though the table and chairs had been torn to pieces by laser fire. Broken glass and splintered wood covered the floor, and the two bodies were near the front window, one slumped over the other. There was one doorway, so Bobby crept up to it, peeked in the next room, and only seeing another body and more shattered glass and splinters, he entered. Someone else came into the room from another doorway and Bobby aimed his rifle. It was just Nat, so the two of them found the stairs in a hallway in the back and slowly went up, aiming their rifles ahead of them. When they got to the hallway at the top, Bobby went right again as Nat went left. There was even more shattered glass on the second floor, and there was a shredded bed in the room Bobby was sneaking through, and the white stuffing was everywhere, some blackened and burnt. There was also a fire that was spreading to a dresser. They’d have to search quickly.
Someone appeared in the doorway to the next room and Bobby aimed his rifle. It was a short black man wearing a bandana and an eyepatch over his right eye. He fit the description Bobby had been given for Beretta. His chest, arms, and legs were bloody as it appeared that he’d been hit several times. Bobby aimed at Beretta’s head and pulled the trigger, but nothing happened. His gun was malfunctioning. Beretta grinned at him, his left eye cold and black as it stared maliciously, and aimed his own laser rifle at Bobby’s chest. Bobby thought about Shelly as he stumbled backwards, waiting for the laser blast. A silver gun barrel appeared from the other side of the doorway and fired with a loud crack, blasting Beretta’s brains across the room as his body violently flopped into the broken glass on the floor. Nat appeared in the doorway and he was frowning at Bobby. “What happened?”
Bobby shrugged. “My gun jammed.”
“Well you better get that fixed,” Nat said. “That could have meant your life if I wasn’t here to save your ass.”
Bobby glanced at the body on the floor. “Well that’s it for Beretta.”
Nat nodded. “And hopefully once we take out any stragglers left in that pass where Chuck had gone, that means that’s it for the IAO in Dead Man’s Bluff. At least for a while.”
“So what now?” Bobby asked.
Nat shrugged. “Maybe we should go to the bar and get ourselves some drinks.”
“Maybe,” Bobby said. As long as it wasn’t the Crosshairs Saloon. He knew better than to say that out loud, though.
Nat glanced at the burning dresser. “Either way, we need to get the hell out of here.” Bobby nodded and followed him towards the stairway as the fire spread through the room. They ran down the stairs and rushed out the front door as flames flickered through the window of the room they’d just been in. Shelly and Frank joined them in front of the burning house. Bobby smiled at Shelly and she smiled back, but looked away quickly.
“Lazy didn’t make it?” Frank asked.
Nat shook his head. “We took out everyone inside, though.”
“Well let’s get Lazy’s body and head home,” Frank said. Nat nodded and they walked towards the rocks Lazy had been hiding behind.
“You want to go out for drinks tonight?” Bobby asked. “Or something?”
Shelly looked at him with her blue left eye and smiled. The socket where her right eye had been was covered with white bandages now. To Bobby, she was as beautiful as ever. And there was something sexy about the tattoos on her arms. “I could do that,” she said. “Crosshairs Saloon at seven?”
“How about Maybelle Sampson’s Inn instead?” Bobby asked.
Shelly grinned. “That would be better.” They both had some bad experiences at the Crosshairs recently. The two of them walked towards the valley where they’d parked their sand bikes as the farmhouse burned behind them.
Continue on to the next chapter:
Afterlife, Volume 2, Chapter 35
Herman Rennock hears from Devin Hellier.
Karl Bergson returns to Las Colinas and has a reunion.
Abby struggles with her inner demons.
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