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:
Sera Knight is killed by the IAO.
Bobby and Shelly learn about Nat’s and Sera’s deaths and Shelly leaves town.
Paul Jacobs shoots down Tom Rivers but is also shot down himself.
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Afterlife, Volume 2, Chapter 39
Paul had tried to crawl back towards the mountains he could see in the distance, but his bloody leg had made any real progress close to impossible. He’d set off his flares shortly after he landed in the sand. He’d been trying his best to conserve his water and rations, but the wound in his leg had been worse than he’d originally thought, and though he’d cleaned and bandaged it to the best of his ability, he’d lost a lot of blood. He wasn’t sure how many hours had passed since his airship had gone down, but they’d definitely taken their toll.
When Paul had first hit the ground and released his parachute, he started with a flurry of activity trying to give himself the best chance of survival. He tried to stay optimistic by pushing negative thoughts out of his mind while he tried to keep busy, but he was also realistic. The sun was beating down and his flight suit’s air conditioning system was starting to fail. He was tired and he had limited water and rations. They’d last him maybe a couple of days at most, and that was with stretching them out as much as possible. Things were bleak. Paul realized that as he fell into the sand and lay on his back, looking up at the blazing sun. At least the air was breathable, which seemed strange to Paul, considering how far away he seemed to be from civilization.
He heard a sound like an engine of some kind. The sound wasn’t familiar to him, so he pushed himself up to a seated position and looked across the dunes in the direction the sound had been coming from. He looked east, away from the mountains, and noticed a vehicle approaching. It was a car, but it wasn’t a hover car. The vehicle had huge wheels with massive tires, and it was hauling a trailer of some sort. It was ancient and rusty, colored a ruddy red. The driver was in the open air with a large steering wheel in front of him. He looked as strange as the vehicle, wearing a brown robe with a cowl which hid his face, and sandals on his dirty feet. Paul closed his eyes and shook his head. When he opened his eyes once again, he realized the strange vehicle and its driver weren’t a mirage or hallucination. Paul fell back into the sand again. The pain from his leg was overwhelming, but the dune was strangely comfortable as Paul lay on it. He realized the comfort was an illusion, for the dune could have easily become his death bed. His only hope was that this new stranger had his best interests in mind.
The sound stopped and Paul looked up to see the man standing over him. “Can you stand?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” Paul said. He tried to stand and pain shot through his leg and body. As he fell, the man grabbed him by the hand and pulled him up, and Paul got a good look at his face.
His left eye was surrounded by a large, scaly growth, almost like a tumor of some sort. The rest of his face was otherwise normal, but as Paul rested on his shoulder and the man helped him towards the trailer of his vehicle, Paul realized that there was another such growth on his shoulder underneath the robe, and on his right hand. The man helped Paul into the metal and wooden trailer. “Rest in here,” he said, his voice strangely soothing to Paul. “We have a long journey ahead of us. Rest, but don’t stop fighting. I believe you’ll make it.”
As Paul lay in the trailer, the man disappeared from sight and the engine started up again. They were moving, and Paul turned to see what else was in the trailer with him. There were metal tanks, some plastic canisters, crates which appeared to hold fruits and vegetables, and water bottles. At least he knew he wasn’t going to starve or die of thirst, assuming the man would share freely with him. Paul tried to fight the urge to drift away to sleep as the vehicle traversed the desert, but as the sun finally started to drop, he could do nothing but give in, and he slept and dreamt of John Bernard and his time with the Bloody Six.
Abby thought about Bobby as she closed On the Road and put it back into her bag. She remembered talking to Bobby in a cave similar to the one she was in now when they first met, and that’s when she looked into his bag and first saw the book in there. This new cave was lit by a lamp similar to the one Bobby had used, only this lamp was owned by Ace McCoy. There was no motion detector, but Abby, Ace, and Della were all alert and ready. Einstein had used his sensors to lead them deep into the network of caverns, hiding them far from the entrance so if the Remingtons came in looking for them, they’d have a hard time finding them. Once the detectives found the crashed hover car, it wouldn’t take them long to figure out where Abby, Ace, and Della had gone, and Abby was sure at least some of the Remingtons would come in looking for them, as persistent as they were. And if the Remingtons did find them, there wasn’t much Abby and the others could do at this point. Leaving the way they came wasn’t an option, since Abby was also sure there would be some Remingtons, along with most of the enforcers, standing guard at the entrance.
The place they’d stopped to rest was a small dead end chamber about a mile into the cavern system. There was only one way in, which was good since they only had one entrance to watch. There were stalactites and stalagmites, but there was also enough flat surface that they had room for resting and eating. They wouldn’t be able to rest long, as they’d have to continue towards another entrance Einstein’s sensors had found. The constant driving and walking through caverns had been exhausting, though, so they decided rest was a necessity, even if it would only be a short rest. They were also eating some crackers Ace had in his bag, and drinking some of their water in order to refresh themselves. The RLR Ace had used to shoot down the EMPC was lying on the floor of the cavern, as was Ace’s double barreled laser rifle which had been strapped to his back, and another laser rifle Della had been carrying. Abby hoped they wouldn’t have to use the weapons any time soon. She glanced at Ace again as he grinned at Della. “This cave reminds me of another I hid in when I escaped from prison.”
“Which prison?” Della asked as he chewed on a cracker.
“Fort Sampson Penitentiary,” Ace said. “I was there for armed robbery, but I was able to escape after two years with a new inmate, who unfortunately was killed during the escape.”
“How were you able to escape?” Abby asked.
Ace grinned. “Della would appreciate this one.” He cleared his throat. “The other inmate had been able to procure a dress and some makeup from a young lady who’d visited him. During visiting hours, I went to the bathroom and came out dressed as a woman, pretending I’d walked into the wrong restroom. Later, I visited the other inmate posing as his, well, you know, his woman, and I was able to create a distraction. The rest is history.”
“You posed as a woman?” Abby asked, laughing. She couldn’t imagine Ace disguising his rugged masculinity with a dress. “Were those the dumbest prison guards in Numurka?”
“It was before I’d grown my facial hair,” Ace said, smiling. “And I was much younger. It was twenty years ago, after all.”
“I’ll bet you were a handsome young man,” Della said with a wink. “I spent some time in prison, too, actually. In Sandville. I was in for five years for possession of an illegal weapon. They tried to pin a murder on me, but it didn’t stick.”
“You were in prison?” Ace asked with a grin.
“Sure, honey,” Della said, smiling back. “I told Abby about this, but I used to be in a gang. I dealt drugs, stole, killed when necessary. We’re not as different as you might think, honey. Anyway, once in prison, I met a man who was able to turn my life around. That’s how I ended up with the resistance.”
“A lover?” Ace asked.
Della nodded. “He also helped protect me. He was older, wiser, stronger.”
“I wish I’d had someone to protect me,” Ace said. The look in his eyes told Abby that something terrible had happened to him while he was in prison. Ace took a swig from his water bottle and stared off into space.
Della ate the rest of the cracker he was holding and looked in Abby’s direction, his long fake eyelashes seeming even more prominent when he blinked. “So Einstein, are you sure there’s a way out of here other than the way we came in?”
“I am,” Einstein said from Abby’s wrist. “And I’m also sure there will be an armored hover car stopping to refuel at a town fifteen miles away from one of the cave’s exits in approximately four hours. This hover car will contain close to forty billion dollars in bonds and diamonds headed for Black Rock. In an attempt to keep his local finances secure from the IAO and also from your gang, Rennock is pooling his assets in Black Rock, where he believes he’ll have an easier time guarding his funds. The best time to steal it will be in transit, and this will be the perfect target for your next and last operation.”
“Are you sure?” Abby asked. “You’ll condone robbing an armored car?”
“Well that’s beside the point, isn’t it?” Ace asked.
“This armored car will be operated by Rennock’s men and guarded by Rennock’s enforcers,” Einstein said. “By my programming, I have been instructed not to advise anything that would put innocent civilians at risk. By your father’s parameters, these people are not classified as innocent civilians. We are at war with Herman Rennock and his organization, after all.”
“A fortunate technicality,” Ace said with a grin. He had been silent for a while earlier, and Abby thought she may have even seen a tear, but Ace was trying his best to hide any sorrow he had for his deceased girlfriend and friend. Abby figured focusing on the task at hand was at least one of his coping mechanisms. That had definitely helped her when her family had died. Still, there was something disturbing about his apparent lack of emotion.
“Where are you getting your information from?” Della asked Einstein.
“I was able to intercept and decode some correspondence between a local enforcer station and the bank at Black Rock,” Einstein said.
“How many enforcers are guarding the car?” Abby asked.
“Twenty,” Einstein said, “and they are sure to be well-armed, as it is a very large amount of money.”
“And we already have twenty or thirty men on our tail,” Abby said. “That could end up being potentially three against fifty.”
“What are our chances of success?” Ace asked.
“About the same as your chances of escaping the Remingtons,” Einstein said. “Approximately one in fifty, at best.”
“Not odds I’d ever play at the poker table,” Ace said.
“But they’re odds we have to play,” Abby said. “If we’re successful, and we’re able to escape, and if we can meet up with Alex Harris once again and get all of the diamonds to Valhalla, we should have enough to found our nation and seriously challenge Herman Rennock.”
“And I’ll tell you the location of the next set of diamonds after the robbery,” Einstein said.
“So as I said, these are odds we have to play,” Abby said. “Or at least I have to play them, if I want to keep alive any hopes of the resistance being successful.”
“Of course that doesn’t factor in the IAO, who are the proverbial wild card in all of this,” Einstein said. “Data on the IAO isn’t sufficient, even in the entirety of the Satellite Net, to determine what effect the IAO may have on any probabilities I calculate.”
“Well I’m going after this armored car,” Abby said, “whether you two choose to help me or not.”
“I’m with you come hell or high water,” Della said.
Ace shrugged. “I’ve taken gambles before. Let’s try to find every advantage we can, though. It’s not gambling if you can rig the game in your favor.”
“I do have my portable camouflage projector,” Abby said. “And we have Einstein.”
“Two very useful tools,” Ace agreed, “but we also need a foolproof plan.”
“While devising a foolproof plan would be good in theory,” Einstein said, “the fact of the matter is that there are six men approaching this area in the cavern system, so I suggest starting to make your way towards the exit.”
“How far away are they?” Ace asked.
“A quarter of a mile,” Einstein replied. “But they’re closing fast.”
“I guess we’re done resting, then,” Abby said. Ace quickly started packing up the food. He also turned off the lamp and started using the small flashlight once again. When they were ready, they put their backpacks on, strapped their weapons over their backs once again, and left the small space they’d been resting in, reentering the system of passages which had most likely been hollowed out by a water source they had yet to see.
As they walked, dodging stalagmites and stalactites, Abby’s mind wandered to Carpenter City as she contemplated her recent repentance. She realized that what she’d experienced in Carpenter City had really turned her off from Christianity, and she’d stopped thinking so often of Pastor Earl, which would explain why she hadn’t dreamed about him until recently. The cult of Carpenter City and their actions had highlighted the dark side of religion for Abby and they had put her in a particularly cynical mood, but she had to be careful she didn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Her thoughts were interrupted when she looked up at Ace and started thinking about how attractive he was becoming to her once again. As always, she shook off the thoughts, realizing the obvious: that he’d be nothing but trouble for her. He was a tool for her and nothing more, the same way the portable camouflage projector and Einstein were tools.
“Turn left here,” Einstein said and Ace led the way with his flashlight as they turned down another dark passage which was so narrow Ace’s shoulders touched the sides in spots.
“Are you sure this passage is safe?” Della asked.
“It appears to be traversable according to my sensors,” Einstein said. Abby hoped he was right as the three of them slowly made their way through the network of caverns. Abby also hoped the Remingtons weren’t somehow gaining ground on them. The passages seemed to her like an awful place for a shootout.
Marv glared at Big Ed. “And why do you want to hang back this time? You’re one of our best fighters. You need to be one of the ones in the front, goin’ in and bashin’ skulls. It’s what you do best, right?”
Big Ed frowned. “I ain’t feelin’ well. Besides, I need to stay back here with Mavery. I’ll be here in reserve if you need me.”
Marv shook his head as he eyed Big Ed suspiciously. “I’d call you chicken, but I know you too well. Fine. Stay here with Scope. We’ve taken bases before you joined us, so we’ll be fine without you. You don’t get none of the spoils this time, though.” He turned to Scope and smiled. “If he does anything questionable, kill ‘em both. Kill the girl first so he can watch her suffer.”
Scope nodded. “Sure thing, boss.” He grinned at Mavery.
They were attacking another rebel outpost, this one larger than the last one. Big Ed had promised Mavery he wouldn’t go in this time, but Mavery hadn’t been sure if he was going to keep the promise or not. She was happy to see him go through with it, though she was having some second thoughts. His actions may have put both of them in danger. Still, Mavery would rather have died than been a part of another attack against a resistance base.
Scope was aiming his sniper laser rifle at the makeshift metal building which loomed on a far-off dune as Big Ed and Mavery crouched nearby. There were rocks to the right, east of the base. Marv had been worried that the rocks could possibly hide an ambush, but the resistance base was too ripe an apple for the picking to let any worries get in the way of action. Marv expected them to have an ample stash of weapons and supplies, and since the last base had been so easy, he was expecting this one to be a cinch also. Mavery hoped he was wrong as she watched the other six bandits hide behind a dune between the dune she was on and the base. As planned, Marv, Chopper, and Vulture headed towards the base while Spraycan, Hawk, and the bandit they called “Wavy” Reed because of his tall, thin stature started firing at the base from the midpoint. Scope also fired, hitting a man situated on a metal watchtower. It was then that Big Ed drew his laser pistol and shot Scope in the head. He took Scope’s sniper rifle and aimed it at the bandits on the dune between him and the base, and fired several shots, taking out Spraycan, Hawk, and Wavy before they had the chance to react. They weren’t expecting lasers coming from behind them. When Big Ed was done firing, he smiled at Mavery. “I told you I was on your side.”
Mavery watched as the other three bandits entered the base through the front gate which Marv had shot open. They didn’t seem to be aware of what had happened on the dunes behind them. “I hope this wasn’t a mistake,” she said.
“How could it be?” Big Ed asked. “There’s three of them against us plus all the resistance fighters in that base.”
“How many do you think are in there?” Mavery asked, still concerned.
“I don’t know,” Big Ed said. “Maybe ten or so.”
Mavery nodded. “How many do you think Scope and the others have already taken out.”
Big Ed pulled her by the arm as he made his way down the side of the dune. “Come on. Let’s go meet these resistance fighters. I’m sure they’ll appreciate my takin’ out their enemies for ‘em.”
Mavery frowned as she and Big Ed ran through the sandy valley between dunes, making their way to the spot where the sand bikes were parked. “How’s Marv gonna feel about it though?” she asked as the eight sand bikes came into view.
“Marv’s probably gonna be dead before we even get there,” Big Ed said. He got onto his sand bike and Mavery got behind him as Big Ed started the engine.
They rode off towards the base, using the dunes as cover until Big Ed had to ride over a dune to keep driving in the right direction, exposing them for a split second. Mavery saw lasers fire from the base, one hitting Big Ed and another hitting the sand bike they were on. It sputtered out of control and flew down the side of the dune. Mavery fell off, rolling through the sand until she was at the bottom of the valley. When she found her bearings, she saw that Big Ed was lying in the sand not far off, his stomach bleeding. “Ed!” Mavery shouted. “Ed! Are you okay?” She stood slowly and started walking towards him.
That’s when she saw Chopper also walking towards him from the other direction, his meat cleaver gleaming in the sun. Mavery wished she had a gun, or something. There was nothing she could do but watch as the muscular bandit walked towards Big Ed, who was still on the ground. Mavery had no idea how bad his wound was. “Ed!” she shouted. “Get up! He’s coming for you!”
Big Ed slowly sat up and saw Chopper now running towards him. Big Ed stood and caught Chopper’s wrist as the meat cleaver came down at him. Big Ed twisted his arm back and put his other huge arm around Chopper’s neck, choking him. Mavery saw the laser pistol in the holster on Big Ed’s hip as he struggled with Chopper and she ran towards them. Chopper kicked Big Ed in the crotch, causing him to let go of his neck. Then, Chopper wrestled his hand away from Big Ed and swung the meat cleaver at him again. Big Ed dodged it and grabbed Chopper’s waist, pulling him to the ground. Mavery ran up to them as they wrestled in the sand and she was able to pull the laser pistol out from Big Ed’s holster. She aimed at Chopper’s head and fired, blasting his brains into the sand. Big Ed rolled away, lying in the sand as he tried to catch his breath. Mavery could see Big Ed’s wound better now, and it was bad. The leather covering Ed’s stomach was drenched in blood. The laser had caught him square in the middle of the abdomen. “We need to get you to a hospital,” Mavery said, still holding the laser pistol.
“That’s enough,” a voice said from the top of the dune to Mavery’s right. She looked up to see Marv and Vulture, the short white man with the long neck. Both were pointing laser rifles at her. “Drop the weapon,” Marv said. For a split second, Mavery considered turning it on herself to avoid capture and the unpleasant consequences that would accompany it, but she realized she was Big Ed’s only hope of survival. She realized she had no choice but to do what Marv said as the two bandits made their way down to her, so she let the laser pistol fall to the sand beneath her. “Good girl,” Marv said as he and Vulture approached her. Vulture picked up the gun and put it in his own empty holster.
“I bet you guys thought we’d be killed in there,” Vulture said. “That’s why you attacked, right? Well, we took them out easily. Resistance fighters are wusses. And there was only four left after our initial barrage. And now you two killed five of my friends.”
Marv stood in front of Mavery, a smile on his scarred face. “Boy do I have some plans for you.”
“And what would those entail?” said a voice from the top of the dune to Mavery’s left. “I know you weren’t planning on treating my sista there with anything but the utmost respect.” Mavery looked up to see a line of men standing along the top of the dune. The sun behind them made them appear only as dark silhouettes, but Mavery counted a dozen of them. They were all pointing laser rifles at Marv and Vulture. “I’m afraid now the two of you are going to have to drop your weapons,” the voice said. “And put your hands in the air. That goes for you, too, sista, since I don’t know what’s happening here, and you’re all dressed as bandits. But I can assure you, we’ll sort this thing out.” As the men came down the side of the dune, Mavery could see that they were all black men wearing black shirts and pants, and about half of them had black berets on the their heads.
Mavery looked down to see that Big Ed was also watching. “Nightstalkers,” he said, his voice strained.
“Who?” Mavery asked.
“That’s enough talking,” the leader said. Mavery could now see that he had a thick, bushy beard. He turned to one of the others. “Hendrix, go get a stretcher for the big fellow there.”
“I ain’t carryin’ him,” another man said.
“I didn’t say you were going to have to carry him,” the leader said. “Just get the damned stretcher and we’ll work something out.”
Mavery took a deep breath as she waited for the man to come back with the stretcher. It took six men to get Big Ed onto the stretcher, and they carried him up the dune, followed by Mavery, Marv, and Vulture. Mavery let out a sigh of relief. She didn’t know who these people were, but they were better than bandits, that much was certain, even if they were pointing guns at her. When they got to the top of the dune, Mavery noticed the black-painted hover truck which had been parked there. On the side of it, a flag had been painted. It resembled the old United States flag she’d seen in history books, with fifty stars and thirteen stripes, but it wasn’t red, white, and blue. This flag was red, black, and blue.
The soldiers lifted Big Ed into the truck through the back while others pushed Mavery, Marv, and Vulture in along with him. There were two benches, one on each wall. The soldiers also entered, taking seats on the two benches alongside Mavery and the two bandits. Once everyone was seated, the vehicle took off, speeding towards the rocks to the east of the base. Mavery looked ahead through the front windshield, and as the truck rounded the rocks, she could see hundreds of tents set up on the dunes beyond them. Near the tents, dozens of sand bikes and a handful of hover trucks like the one Mavery was in now were parked. There were hundreds, maybe thousands, of men dressed in black shirts and pants relaxing near the tents. They were all black men, just like Mavery’s newest captors. Beyond the tents, towering over everything else was a leveler, a huge metallic building on tank treads with two massive laser turrets, one on each side, and dozens of smaller laser turrets scattered throughout. Mavery’s heart sank as she remembered Primrose, until she realized that this leveler was painted black and a huge flag was painted on its side: the same red, black and blue stars and stripes as the flag on the side of the truck. Whoever these guys were, they had a leveler.
The fly crawled across the metal desk as the clock ticked. Bobby looked up at the wall clock to see that it was three thirty. Time was ticking away, though. No sign of Sheriff Calloway or his deputies yet. Bobby decided he’d give them until four. If they still hadn’t showed up, he’d look for help elsewhere, with Spencer Dayton or his son, Frank. Frank had quit his job as deputy after Beretta’s death, thinking he wouldn’t be needed anymore. He’d gone back to help his father with their gold mining operation, but Bobby figured with the current turn of events, maybe he’d be willing to come back. Bobby was even optimistic about Spencer. The older Dayton had promised he’d never fight again after all of his other sons had been killed, but surely the current threats to the town could be enough to change his mind.
Bobby had walked past Nat’s body on his way into the cellar. The IAO had it propped up against the outside of the house in a wooden coffin. The words “This is what we do to sheriffs around here” were written above it in blood, as Grace had described. Bobby didn’t want to look at it for too long, but it was headless and covered with blood. When all this was over, Bobby would be sure to give Nat a proper burial and wipe the side of the house clean. There were footsteps and Bobby looked up to see a tall, hefty middle-aged man standing at the bottom of the stairs. “You must be Bobby,” he said with a half-smile. “I’ve heard a lot about you.” He wore a black cowboy hat, and judging from the silver star on the left side of his leather jacket, Bobby assumed he was Sheriff Calloway.
“It’s nice to meet you, sheriff,” Bobby said with a frown. “So we need to rally your deputies, and I think we can get at least two Daytons to help us. That could be up to eleven men. Maybe even more. Once people in town see us, I think people will come out of the woodwork to join us.”
Calloway was looking at him with a frown. “What are you talkin’ about?”
“Our posse,” Bobby said. “We need to head to Boot Hill to kill Warrick Baines.” The fly buzzed at his nose and he swatted it away. “He killed Nat.”
“I loved Nat,” Calloway said, “as I’m sure you do. He was a good man. A tough man, a hard man. But he had a good heart. Not many people saw it, but I did. I think you probably did. He truly cared about the people in every town he was ever sheriff of, and he was willing to fight for ‘em, and he died for ‘em.”
Bobby nodded. “So we need to work quickly. I know midnight is a long way away, but we don’t want to be caught with our pants down.”
Calloway nodded. He took the badge off his jacket, walked over to the desk, and placed it down on the metal. “You can have it.”
Bobby noticed the bags against the wall that had been packed. “You’re leaving?”
“I am. My deputies are already gone. You ain’t gonna find a posse here, either, kid. Everyone’s leavin’ town. Me? I’m too old for this kind of thing. Most of my deputies never even knew Nat. You ask me, he had it comin’ to him. I loved the man, but he had it comin’. He was too old to be playin’ sheriff. So am I.”
“So you don’t care that the men who killed him are gonna roam free?” Bobby asked. “They’ll kill more people if we let them.” He thought about Shelly and the baby. “Leaving here won’t help, either. They’re everywhere.”
“They are,” Calloway said. “So what good’s killin’ a few more of ‘em here gonna do? I got no beef with the IAO. They killed Nat. He was at war with ‘em. I don’t want them comin’ after me. Do you know Warrick Baines? He’s relentless. He’ll keep comin’ for ya ‘til you’re dead.”
“That’s why I need to go face him,” Bobby said. “That’s why we need to go face him. I’m not safe anywhere. My family isn’t safe anywhere. None of us are.”
Calloway shook his head. “Sorry kid. I’m leavin’. If you got any brains, you will, too. And before it’s too late.” He picked up the bags and carried them back up the steps with him. Bobby looked up at the clock as it ticked, swatting the fly away from his ear. Three forty-five. He still had plenty of time. He started brainstorming names in his mind. Anyone who could possibly shoot a gun and be any help. He turned on the music player on the desk and it started playing “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” by Bob Dylan. Bobby grinned at the irony. It was a good song, right off his classic rock playlist, but it was the last thing Bobby wanted to hear at that time, so he turned it off. He stood and walked towards the steps, ready to seek out Spencer Dayton and his son Frank. Bobby was still optimistic, but time was ticking, and there were only so many options.
Continue on to the next chapter:
Afterlife, Volume 2, Chapter 40
Bobby continues looking for support against Warrick Baines.
The IAO bring the chaos.
Mavery meets the leader of her captors.
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