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:
Juanita and John enjoy their time together in Las Colinas.
Bobby and Shelly have dinner together and Shelly tells Bobby she’s pregnant.
Nat goes to the Crosshairs Saloon to meet Anna Ballin but he’s shot.
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Afterlife, Volume 2, Chapter 38
Rose petals were scattered across the bar and floor in what was left of the Crosshairs Saloon, some resting in pooled blood. The last notes of “Gimme Shelter” by the Rolling Stones played, then the room was silent. Nat Bigum’s body was spread out over fallen, broken barstools, every inch soaked with blood. The cybernetic right arm and leg were sparking and smoking. There was a hole in the right sunglasses lens through which blood was dripping. The jaw was broken, the face misshapen and bloody, and there was a massive hole in the abdomen through which intestines had spilled out onto the floor. Jim Brantley lowered his RLR and stepped aside, making room for Warrick Baines to pass him and stand over the body. Stan Styles, another man who was standing nearby with an RLR of his own, smirked. “He always had guts.”
Warrick turned to look at him. “You need to be more creative with your one-liners, Stan. That one’s been done to death.” He looked down at Nat’s body. “Sorry it had to be like this, old friend, but I know I never could have beaten you in a fair fight.” He twitched and smoke seeped out of the bullet hole between his eyes as he drew his double barreled laser rifle out from under his trench coat, aimed at Nat Bigum’s head, and fired. The head exploded in a mess of bone, blood, and brains. “And that’s how you finish someone off.” Warrick looked around at the six remaining IAO men who were there, his red eyes ending on Jim. “Send word out throughout the town. Anyone who wants to stand up to me can feel free to meet me at Boot Hill at midnight. After that, we’ll return to town and take over.”
Stan smiled. “I guess the bad guys won this time, huh?”
Warrick turned to face him. “I’m not such a bad guy, Stan. Not once you get to know me.”
Sera walked over to where she knew the sink was, but just as she reached for the faucet, she heard a sound. It sounded like a door latch clicking into place. There was someone in her home. She listened closely for footsteps. It wasn’t Shelly. Shelly would have knocked or said something. There’s no way she would have quietly snuck into the house without alerting Sera she was there. Sera felt on the counter for the two kitchen knives she’d placed there earlier and she crept over to the spot where she knew the couch was situated. She ducked behind it and waited, listening intently.
After she’d bought her home and moved in, she explored every square inch, feeling with her hands and remembering the placement of every piece of furniture. It had been a good exercise for her, and now she could traverse every room quickly without worrying about tripping over anything. There were times when she’d lose her place and have to feel around for where she was to reconfigure her internal map, but those times were becoming fewer and farther between. When Shelly had been staying with her, at first she’d wanted to help Sera often, but she came to realize that Sera knew the home better than she did, even though Shelly could see and Sera couldn’t.
She heard a very faint footstep. The intruders were stealthy, but not stealthy enough. There were definitely more than one. Sera could hear them in the hallway. She could hear one of them breathing. Sinus problems, maybe. She readied the knives. She’d wait for the first two to get close, then she’d kill them and take one of their laser pistols, or whatever other weapons they had. For a second, Sera found herself wishing Shelly was with her, but she shook off the thoughts. No sense putting Shelly in danger. Sera could still take care of herself, eyes or no eyes.
She heard the breathing approaching, and the faint occasional footsteps. The two men were coming towards the couch, one on each side. Sera continued to crouch with the two knives, silent and still like a praying mantis waiting for a fly. The heavy breather came up to the edge of the couch and Sera quickly threw one of the knives where she figured his abdomen would be if he were of average height. There was a grunt and the footsteps hurried towards her on the other side. She leapt towards the footsteps and punched the man hard in the stomach. She then found his neck and slit his throat, grabbing his laser pistol and firing where she’d heard the grunting sound from the other man. There was another grunt and a thump as the man fell to the ground.
Sera crouched behind the couch once again, the laser pistol in her right hand and the knife in her left. She felt the blood from the knife dripping down her wrist and forearm as she listened for more sounds. More footsteps at the doorway. She aimed the laser pistol where the doorway was and fired several times. There were some grunts and two more thuds as bodies fell. She didn’t hear any shouts, so she figured they were both dead rather than wounded. She heard the hisses of laser blasts and there was a sharp pain in her right side. They’d fired through the couch. “There she is,” someone shouted. She fired the laser pistol at the voice and he grunted. There were several more hisses and Sera felt a sharp pain in her chest and another in her forehead as the pain intensified, overtaking her as she fell to the ground and felt herself drift away. She pictured herself as a snowflake settling into a warm lake.
The sun had come up and Bobby’s eyes were still adjusting to the light. Shelly was next to him beneath the sheets, her naked body pressed against his. Sherry was still sleeping at the foot of the bed. Everything seemed right again. Shelly turned to face him and smiled. The bandage hid the empty socket where her right eye had been, but her left eye showed her happiness. “I had a dream,” she said. “I’d say it was a nightmare, but maybe bittersweet is a better way to describe it.”
“What was the dream?” Bobby asked.
“Well,” Shelly said, snuggling up against him, “do you remember when I told you about the DMT that’s released from the pineal gland at death?” Bobby nodded. “And how some people believe it could lead to a sort of death dream or perception of a sort of short afterlife?”
“I remember,” Bobby said, wondering what that had to do with her dream.
“Well,” Shelly said, “I dreamed that I died.”
“Wait,” Bobby said. “How is that possible? I thought if you die in your dream, you die in real life, too.”
Shelly laughed. “Bobby, that’s one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever heard. It doesn’t make any sense. Either way, I died in my dream, but I’m still here, right?”
“Sure,” Bobby said with a smile.
“So I died in a hover car accident, like my parents,” Shelly said. “And my death dream was about you. We were together in a wonderful little house, with a little boy. And there was grass, and trees. It was so beautiful. Maybe that’s what our life could be like.”
“Maybe,” Bobby said. “I’m still disturbed that you dreamed about being dead.” He wondered what Chuck Moore’s death dream had been. Maybe it involved Alicia. Bobby shook off the thoughts and looked once again at Michelle’s scarred but beautiful face.
“Let’s go house shopping today,” she said.
“Really?” Bobby asked. “You don’t want to talk to Nat first?”
Shelly shook her head. “Why? We’ve already decided what we want to do, right? Nat’s not gonna need us here much longer. Let’s start our own life. Let’s leave all this behind us.”
“Now?” Bobby asked.
“If not now, when?” Shelly asked.
“I don’t know,” Bobby said, resting his cheek in his hand. “I was thinking we’d at least let the dust settle a little after the IAO war and all.”
“There’s always going to be something,” Shelly said as there was a knock on the door. Shelly and Bobby looked at one another. “I can get it,” Shelly said as she went into the bathroom and put on a bathrobe. “One second!” She walked over to the door and opened it a crack as Bobby stayed under the covers.
“Horrible news,” said a female voice. She sounded familiar to Bobby, but he couldn’t quite place who she was. “Nat’s dead. So is Sera.” Bobby’s heart sank. He realized the woman speaking was Grace. Bobby wondered if maybe the news was being spread by the IAO to cause panic or something. Maybe Nat was actually still alive.
“What?” Shelly asked. “What happened?”
“The IAO, I guess,” Grace’s voice said. “They have Nat’s body out in front of the sheriff’s office for everyone to see. There’s a sign that says something like ‘This is what we do to sheriffs around here’ or something. His head’s gone, but it’s definitely him. He’s wearing Nat’s clothes, or what’s left of them, and he has his revolver.”
Bobby took a deep breath. “What about Sera?” Shelly asked.
“They killed her in her house,” Grace said. “Doctor Dayton paid her a visit this morning and he found her body. All shot up and bloody, on the floor.”
“What’s happening now?” Shelly asked. “Are there IAO here in town?”
“They left,” Grace said. “But they sent a message to everyone in town and it’s being spread by word of mouth. They said anyone who wants to fight can meet Warrick Baines at Boot Hill at midnight. After that, they’re taking over. And they’re gonna kill any Daytons they find and any deputies, and anyone else who crosses them.”
Shelly glanced back at Bobby. “I wouldn’t be surprised if Bessie Moore’s behind this somehow.”
“It’s Warrick Baines,” Grace said.
“He’s dead,” Shelly said. “Nat said he killed him.” She touched the scar on her right cheek and the one near her chin.
“He didn’t,” Grace said. “He’s the one behind everything. Somebody saw him leaving the Crosshairs just after Nat was killed.” Shelly nodded. “Come to Doctor Dayton’s office,” Grace said. “You and Bobby, and bring anything important with you. And you can bring your dog. Try to pack light, though. I’m bringing James and we’re leaving town. We’re heading for Easterville about ten miles north of here. Hopefully it’s safe there at least for a little while. We can figure out what to do next while we’re there.”
“What if the IAO’s taken over up there, too?” Shelly asked.
“They haven’t,” Grace said. “At least not yet. Doctor Dayton’s been in touch with someone up there. You really should come, Shelly. You and Bobby. Don’t stay and fight. It’s not worth it. This town’s dead. Leave it to die. Don’t get yourself killed, too.”
“When are you leaving?” Shelly asked.
“Soon,” Grace said. “Everyone else is leaving town, too. Pack your things and come to Doctor Dayton’s office. Or if we’re gone when you get there, head for Easterville.”
Shelly nodded. “I’ll talk to Bobby.”
“Good luck,” Grace said.
“Good luck,” Shelly said as she closed the door, and turned to Bobby with a frown. “They were looking for me at Sera’s house,” she said. “They were trying to kill me, like before. It won’t be long before they figure out I’m here. They’ll be after you, too.”
Bobby nodded. “I can’t just leave, though. I have to stay and fight.” He frowned. “I at least have to try. I’ll get Nat’s old friend who came to town to help him, Sheriff Hank Calloway, and his men, maybe some Daytons, and anyone else I can find, and we’ll go to Boot Hill to face Warrick Baines.”
“Then I’m coming, too,” Shelly said.
Bobby shook his head. “We’ll be all right, Shelly. You need to go with Grace and Doctor Dayton, though. You’re pregnant, Shelly. You need to protect yourself for the baby’s sake. Besides, Doctor Dayton, Grace, and James could use you with them in case they run into trouble on the way to Easterville.”
“But what about you?”
“I’ll be all right,” Bobby said with a grin. “I’ll meet you up in Easterville after it’s all over. Please don’t argue with me about this, Shelly. Not this time, I beg you. There’s more to this than me trying to hold you back. I can’t lose both you and the baby. How would I be able to live with myself if I let you come?”
“If things are looking bad,” Shelly said, “you need to get out of town. Don’t wait until the last minute, either. Don’t try to stay and fight if it’s obvious you’re going to lose. Nat wouldn’t want that.”
“I know,” Bobby said. “You’ll see me in Easterville one way or another.”
Shelly walked over to Bobby, sat down on the bed next to him, and kissed him. “I better see you. If I don’t I’m gonna come looking for you.”
Bobby smiled. “Heaven help the world if it comes to that.” He kissed her again and the two of them fell back into the bed.
An hour later, Bobby was watching Doctor Dayton’s big white luxury hover car head north along the main road that ran through Dead Man’s Bluff. He watched Shelly wave through the back windshield and he waved back as the car zoomed off to the north, disappearing around a bend in the rocks just outside of town. Bobby stood in the road thinking about who to turn to first, and he headed towards the sheriff’s office, hoping to find Nat’s old friend Hank Calloway there. Bobby wouldn’t have felt right just leaving after Nat’s death. Leaving the town in the hands of the IAO. Not after everything he’d done. Not after Alicia and Chuck. Maybe this was his chance to redeem himself.
The Remingtons were there again, far in the distance and barely visible, but they were definitely there. Digits had thought he’d lost them at one point, but Abby knew better. They always seemed to be there, and now they’d been joined by several more black hover cars. Abby figured those were enforcer reinforcements. The vultures were still there, too, though they looked like two tiny specks in the sky. Digits was still trying to outrun the Remingtons as he’d been doing all day the previous day and through most of the night into the morning. Ace took a short shift to relieve him so he could get some rest, but it was mostly Digits driving. Now the hover car was getting low on fuel, and though Ace had bandaged up his and Annabelle’s wounds, Annabelle wasn’t looking good. She was sweating and sleeping a lot as she sat in the front seat next to Digits. “There,” Digits said as he pointed to some rocky hills up ahead. “We’ll head for those hills there. If we need to make a stand, at least we’ll have some cover.”
Digits had been successful in his attempt to reconnect Einstein to the Satellite Net before they left El Paraiso, so Einstein was more powerful now than he’d been since Warrick Baines killed Abby’s family and she escaped into the dessert. Rennock’s people had almost immediately severed his connection, but Digits had managed to find a way to reconnect him using a proxy physical address via the Shadow Net. He then went on to tell Abby all about how Einstein was so powerful now that they were possibly closing in on a technological singularity, where artificial intelligence is able to recreate itself and create technology so advanced, it goes off the scale and approaches god-like power. He assured Abby that they weren’t quite there yet, but the potential was there. The last thing Abby needed was something else to worry about. Still, even with Einstein’s newfound computing power, he’d been silent regarding any escape plans. Abby was afraid to ask him for advice, too, at this point. She knew all too well what his silence probably meant. She watched as Digits increased the acceleration as they headed towards the hills.
So this was probably going to be it. Digits had been trying to conserve fuel, but now he was going full speed and sand was flying all around them. Maybe it would decrease the Remingtons’ visibility and make it harder for them to track them. Abby didn’t have much hope. These guys seemed persistent and competent, and Abby knew there was going to have to be a showdown at some point. And there was a good chance that Abby, Della, Ace, Annabelle, and Digits would all be killed. Annabelle was halfway there already with the wound in her side.
Just as they entered the hills, a silver, saucer-shaped EMPC appeared in front of them and zipped up into the sky. “Great,” Digits said. “Not what we needed. Einstein, see if you can hack into its systems. Use the Shadow Net.”
“I’m already trying,” Einstein said. “The ship’s data is encrypted using a method I haven’t seen before, but I’m scanning the Satellite Net for any useful data.”
“Hopefully it’s not too late,” Ace said. Abby found herself looking at him again. Part of her thought that once Annabelle was dead, maybe she could make a move. She quickly nixed those thoughts, though. They were wrong in so many ways, and Abby was intent on turning over a new leaf. No more doing things that made her feel good just to try to forget her problems for a while. It didn’t matter anyway at this point. It was very likely that Annabelle wasn’t going to be the only one dying if they couldn’t find a way out of their current predicament.
There was a hissing sound and several thuds as lasers hit the side of their hover car. The vehicle wobbled a little but Digits was able to maintain control. They sped through some rocky terrain, heading towards a valley between two high hills as Abby noticed the EMPC in the sky ahead of them. It zipped towards them and several red lasers came at their hover car, melting through the windshield. A blast grazed Abby’s left arm and another hit her cybernetic leg. Blood splattered all over the inside of the car, but Abby didn’t see from where as the vehicle spun out of control and crashed through several rocks, coming to a stop near a ledge. Abby was a little shaken up, but she noticed Ace getting out of the car and she heard the trunk pop open. Abby watched through the side window as Ace fired an RLR, filling the sky with light. The EMPC zipped from place to place trying to dodge the lasers, but the RLR was too much for it, firing too many shots too quickly, and the EMPC caught fire and plummeted towards the rocks far below, ending in an orange fireball.
Abby looked in front of her to see that Annabelle had been blasted through the head and she was motionless, leaning back in her seat. That explained the blood. Digits was slumped over the vehicle’s controls. He’d been blasted twice through the chest and he wasn’t breathing. He’d been shot through the heart. She looked beside her to see Della unscathed, but shaken up a little. Ace appeared in front of the car, still holding the RLR. He had no wounds other than his bandaged right arm. “Let’s get out of here!” he shouted. “There’s a cave on the ridge over there.” He pointed to a nearby hill.
“What about Annabelle and Digits?” Abby asked. “Shouldn’t we bury them or something?”
Ace shook his head. He was doing a disturbingly good job of hiding any sorrow. “If we don’t get out of here, we’ll be joining them.”
“We need the bags out of the trunk, though,” Abby said, “or all of this was for nothing.” She was referring to the bag she’d been carrying with her form the beginning and three backpacks which contained all of the money and diamonds they’d robbed from the banks. They’d exchanged the heavy gold they’d found in Sunset City for lighter diamonds while in El Paraiso.
Abby opened the car door and she, Della, and Ace rushed to the trunk and each grabbed a backpack. Abby slung her bag over her shoulder and she and Della followed Ace down into the valley as they headed towards the cave. They ran through the valley and up the side of the other hill. Abby’s cybernetic leg was functioning fine despite the surface damage, but there was a big hole in her jeans. She looked behind her to see if there was any trace of the Remingtons, but rocks and hills blocked her view. She did notice the two vultures, though, as they descended to what was left of the hover car with Digits’ and Annabelle’s bodies inside. She turned back to Ace and Della as they scrambled up to the cave and entered. Ace turned on a small flashlight which revealed stalagmites and stalactites, and a dark passage that led down into the earth. He shrugged. “I don’t like going anywhere I don’t know how to exit from, but sometimes necessity trumps personal rules.” He led Abby and Della into the cavern, and Abby wondered if and when he’d stop to mourn the deaths of his friend and the love of his life.
Paul Jacobs looked down at the battle being waged far beneath him. The armies looked like pixelated blobs from his altitude, moving towards one another slowly between the wrinkles in the Earth that became mountains when viewed from a closer vantage point. Tom Rivers’ saucer-shaped ship was nearby in its usual position, slightly ahead and to the left, and Tom’s new wingman Darryl Stephens was to the left of him and positioned back where Paul was. Their job was to provide air support for the army below, which was squaring off against the first part of General Schmidt’s army to attempt to cross Vulture’s Pass. Paul suspected that it was a decoy of some kind, and there would be another larger attack at some point. General Rodriguez, being the experienced leader he was, most likely suspected the same thing, so he was holding a portion of his army back in reserve. “Lock onto me,” Tom ordered. “We’re going to go down and cause a little chaos in the ranks of Schmidt’s forces.”
Paul did as Tom said and he zipped down to an altitude of hundreds of feet, where he could see men firing lasers, blood splattering, and men running. The pass was already littered with bodies. The chaos of war was more apparent from a closer vantage point. The mountains rose high on both sides of the pass. Tom moved to a spot above General Schmidt’s army, as did Paul and Darryl. Paul locked onto a group of enemy soldiers and fired his lasers, watching them fall like bloody dominos. There was a blast from above that almost hit Tom’s ship and Paul immediately knew that Rennock’s own air cover had arrived. Paul looked above him to see six enemy AAV’s, but there were three AAV’s with resistance markings just behind them. It was Frank Waters and his group. They fired at the enemy ships and two of them began dropping rapidly. Tom zipped to a spot near Frank’s ship, joined by Paul and Darryl, and Paul started firing at the enemy ships. Three more of them fell from the sky and Paul watched as a parachute ejected from one. The other pilots must have been hit by laser fire and injured or killed. Tom shot down the last of the six ships. “Now,” Tom said over the formation channel.
“What?” Paul asked in confusion. He watched in horror as Tom started firing at Frank Waters and his wingmen. Lasers were also coming in Paul’s direction, so he zipped to the right, barely dodging them, and saw that the shots had come from Darryl’s ship. Paul quickly reacted, firing at Darryl’s ship until it plummeted towards the battle down below.
He watched in horror as Frank’s ship and the ships of his two wingmen fell towards the rocks. “Mayday,” Frank’s voice said over the all wings resistance channel. “I’ve been hit by my own…” Tom fired some more shots at Frank’s ship and he was silent as his ship hit a rocky cliff and exploded. Both wingmen dropped to the rocks and also exploded. There were no parachutes.
“What are you doing?” Paul asked Tom over the formation channel. Tom started firing lasers at Paul’s ship, so Paul zipped up towards the open sky above, not sure what to do next.
“For the IAO!” Tom shouted as more lasers flew at Paul’s ship. One grazed the side of it, and Paul flew towards the mountains to the north, hoping to find some cover somewhere. He zipped up to thirty thousand feet and shot out over the mountains. When he stopped, he spun to see Tom close behind him and he fired his lasers. Tom’s ship zipped out of view and Paul checked his scanner to see that Tom’s ship was above him and behind him. Paul quickly zipped above Tom and behind him and the two ships started leapfrogging one another until they were at the maximum safe altitude.
Tom went higher still and Paul smiled. “So we’re playing this game.” His adrenaline kicked in as he zipped up to a spot above Tom and behind him once again. He looked down to see the mountains and the desert surrounding them. Tom was nowhere to be seen, though.
“Danger,” Paul’s computer said. “Danger. Please lower your altitude.” Paul was having trouble breathing, so he zipped back down and checked his scanner.
Lasers came at him again and he noticed some clouds up ahead so he flew towards them. “That’s strange,” he muttered. “You don’t see clouds very often.” He decided to fly into the clouds so he wouldn’t be visible. Once he was well hidden, he checked his scanner. Tom was above him and to the left. Paul noticed the position of the sun, and he zipped to a place that was directly between Tom and the sun, so when Tom looked up, he’d be blinded. When Paul was there, he fired and kept firing until several lasers hit Tom’s ship. The ship plummeted downward and Paul followed it, still firing until the ship caught fire and exploded in the sky.
Several lasers hit Paul’s ship and he started losing altitude. He felt a sharp pain in his right leg and he realized one of the lasers had blasted his leg open. He winced and looked behind him to see an enemy EMPC. While he’d been distracted by Tom, the enemy ship must have found him and locked in. Paul watched as objects on the ground below quickly grew larger. He was plummeting towards desert dunes. He hit the eject button and the cockpit flew away. For a second, Paul felt the force of the wind, then he was falling. His parachute opened above him and he slowly dropped towards the ground below as his ship plummeted into the sand beneath him and exploded. He looked around in all directions to see there were no visible towns or settlements of any kind. He’d chased Tom miles away from the battle and he had no idea where he was. He’d be alone in the desert with a wounded leg. There was no way he’d survive long without help of some kind.
Continue on to the next chapter:
Afterlife, Volume 2, Chapter 39
Abby, Ace, and Della plan their last bank job.
Mavery, Big Ed, and their IAO group are attacked.
Bobby tries to drum up support to face Warrick.
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