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Afterlife is a sci fi/western action serial published every other week. Join us in a post-apocalyptic journey through a future where life has become little more than a struggle for survival. However, where there’s life, there’s always hope.
Read the previous chapter here:
Ayman Ali emerges from the restroom to find the aftermath of the shootout.
Shelly heads for Dead Man’s Bluff, finds Bobby’s body, and kills Bessie Moore.
Abby, Della, and Ace begin their attempt to rob an armored car.
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Afterlife, Volume 2, Chapter 43
Another building was burning. The view through Herman Rennock’s bedroom window was full of flames, as opposed to the city lights that usually filled the nighttime skyline of New Atlantis and the stars above them. The stars were mostly blocked out by smoke. Rennock thought he heard some screams, but that couldn’t have been possible. His imagination must have been playing tricks on him or something. Both the walls and windows of his tower were soundproof. The news stations were dead, and Rennock was in his bed, covers over most of his body. The ultrasilk of the covers and the perfectly soft bed did little to comfort him. “Kay,” Rennock blurted. “Are you still there?”
“Yes sir,” said the soothing voice of Rennock’s home computer.
“Has there been a breach in the tower? Are the guards still downstairs?”
“As far as I know,” Kay said, “the guards are still there. There are no unrecognized intruders I know of.”
Rennock nodded. “Can you put me through to Deanna downstairs?” She’d been sleeping in the guest bedroom since Rennock had been staying up late working in his own room.
“One moment, please.” There was a pause. “I’m sorry, sir. But Miss Deanna is busy right now and unable to use her communicator.”
Rennock frowned. “Busy doing what?”
“She didn’t specify.”
Rennock shook his head. “Can you put me through to my wife or daughters?”
“Sir,” Kay said, “you haven’t spoken to your wife or daughters in this manner in over five years. Are you certain?”
“Don’t question me,” Rennock said. “Just put me through to them.”
“Very well, sir.” There was another pause. “I’m sorry sir, but your wife and daughters are also busy.”
Rennock frowned in confusion. “All of them?”
He took a deep breath. “Let me know the second anyone enters the tower. And as soon as Deana’s able, tell her to contact me.”
“Very well, sir,” Kay said.
Rennock felt like he was living in a nightmare. He couldn’t communicate with anyone inside or outside of the tower. The news stations had all gone blank, and New Atlantis was burning. He didn’t dare to leave his room, though. He was nervous enough being near the window. As far as he could tell, there weren’t any drones or ships flying around, but someone could have fired a shot at him from a nearby building, even if they were all going up in flames. Still, Rennock’s room was the safest place he knew of. The security systems of his tower were unrivaled, and there were guards stationed throughout the building, though he didn’t allow any in his private residence. He’d stay where he was and wait for whatever was happening to hopefully pass. He didn’t think it was the rebels. It was most likely the IAO. They had been very active in recent days, and things were now reaching a crescendo. He knew his forces would stamp them out eventually, though. There was no way they’d ever get to him in his tower.
Abby looked down to see that the lights on her camouflage projector had gone off, indicating that it was out of power. Everyone could see her now. She ran down the alley full speed as voices shouted behind her. She turned a corner to her right, then turned another quick corner and continued running past sandstone walls. She stopped when she found herself at a dead end cluttered with trash cans. She turned to see ten blue-uniformed enforcers and two white-suited Remingtons blocking the way out of the alley, laser pistols drawn. Abby was trapped. “Come with us,” one of the Remingtons said. “We’ll take you to Eileen Traymont. You won’t be harmed.”
“Not until they hang me, at least,” Abby blurted.
“You’ll be an important political prisoner,” the Remington said. “As long as you cooperate, you’ll be treated like a queen.”
“I have a past history of not cooperating with greedy dictatorships,” Abby said.
“Okay, then,” the Remington said. “We’ll take you by force, then.”
The ten enforcers started walking towards her. Abby bit her lip. The wall behind her was probably about twenty feet high. She started walking towards the approaching enforcers. “Okay. I’ll surrender.” When she was about five feet away from them, she turned and ran at a full sprint towards the sandstone wall. With all of her might, she leapt up from her cybernetic left leg and shot up into the air, landing painfully on the roof of the building. She rolled several times through the dust and was able to stop herself just before she fell of the other side of the building. She stood slowly, seeing flat sandstone roofs all around her. The enforcers and Remingtons were shouting from below. Her right hip ached, but she knew she’d have to fight through it. She started running north across the rooftops.
As Sheriff Jethro Rawlins walked down the alley towards the door to the wine cellar sheriff’s office, he realized the two wooden coffins were missing. Someone had scrubbed away the bloody writing, also. He stopped in his tracks and looked around. The two guards were also gone. He drew his laser pistol. He’d just returned from Boot Hill, where he’d stationed four guards for the night, and there was definitely something fishy going on. He walked to the door and opened it, finding blood dripped down the stone steps. Gun drawn and ready, he slowly crept down the stairs.
Once in the cellar, he felt sick to his stomach. The four men he’d left in the office, Stan Styles, Wilfred Parks, Vaughan Mills, and Derrick Jordan, were dead, their arms and heads severed and scattered around the floor. Blood and guts were everywhere, and written in blood on the wall was the message “This is what we do to murderers around here.” Jethro noticed the open door to the cells in the back and he started backing away from it towards the stairway. He aimed his laser pistol at the doorway as he slowly stepped backwards.
A woman with a black eyepatch emerged from the cells. Prominent scars covered her face and her bare arms were covered with tattoos. He aimed his laser pistol and pulled the trigger, but nothing happened. She was holding two swords, and in an instant, one of them was touching his neck as a muscular arm held him against the stone wall. Jethro swallowed, and he felt the blade cut his Adam’s apple a little. “Where’s Warrick Baines?” the woman asked.
“I don’t know,” Jethro said. Warrick had just made him sheriff. He wasn’t about to sell him out, even to someone like this.
“That’s the same answer they gave,” she said, nodding towards the butchered bodies on the floor.
Jethro was shaking. “Baines’ll kill you if you go after him.”
“No,” she said. “I’m gonna kill him, and I’m gonna kill every one of you punks I find along the way.”
“You’re insane,” Jethro said, tears dripping down his face. “Please don’t kill me.”
“You aren’t doing a good job of convincing me not to by insulting me,” the woman said. “Where’s Warrick Baines? I’ll give you another chance.”
“I… I wish I could say.”
Her other blade sliced through his right wrist and his hand and the laser pistol in it thudded to the floor. He winced in pain and the sword cut his neck a little more. “You’d better tell me where Warrick Baines is soon,” she said. “You only have so many appendages for me to slice off.”
“He went north,” he said through his tears. “To Easterville, I think. Looking for Michelle Hemingway.”
“Thanks,” she said. She pulled the blade across his throat and he felt a storm of pain as blood gushed down his neck and over his chest.
Della and Ace were still on the floor of the house when the firing stopped. Della noticed an enforcer’s shiny helmet peek through the window and he fired, blasting a hole through the smooth sand shield. “They’re still alive!” someone shouted.
“We’re gonna have to find a way out of here,” Ace said. “They’ll blow us out with grenades if it comes down to it.”
Della nodded. “Any ideas?”
“Were there any RLR’s?” Ace asked.
“RLR’s?” Della asked. “Yeah, why?”
“An old trick,” Ace said. “If you hit the red light just above the trigger, it starts a chain reaction that causes an explosion. Nothing major, but it could take out a couple of them and cause a big enough distraction to allow for our escape.” Ace grinned. “Annabelle and I used the tactic to get out of worse predicaments than this.”
Della nodded. “And we can kick in the door across the alley and try to escape through the other house.”
Ace frowned. “I never walk into a room I don’t know how to walk out of.”
“We’ll find a way, honey,” Della said. “We don’t really have a choice.”
“Well,” Ace said. “Whenever you’re ready.”
“What?” Della asked.
“Go ahead and fire at the RLR,” Ace said.
“I’m doing it?” Della asked.
“You’re the better shot,” Ace said. “If we don’t get it right, we’re both gonna die anyway.”
Della shrugged and crawled towards the window. “This is your final warning,” the female voice said through the loudspeaker. “If you don’t come out of the house by the time I’m done counting down from ten, we’ll kill you both. Ten.” Della stood and fired through the window at the closest RLR, aiming at the red light Ace spoke of. There was an explosion and Ace and Della rushed out the front door in a cloud of smoke and sand. Della kicked in the door across the alley as lasers came at them from both directions.
They rushed into a house to see an old woman sleeping on a couch. She looked up suddenly as Della and Ace stumbled through her living room. “I’m gonna call the cops!” she shouted.
“Don’t bother,” Ace said as he ran past towards a doorway that led into the kitchen. “They’ll be here shortly.” Della ran through the kitchen, followed by Ace. There were pots and pans everywhere, and the cabinets looked ancient. They found the back door and left the house, finding themselves in another dark alley. There was a dead end at one side, so Della ran the other way and Ace followed. As they turned a corner, lasers fired, hitting a nearby wall.
The two men sprinted through alleys and streets until they found themselves in a sandy courtyard. Della stopped to catch his breath, as did Ace. The darkness was just starting to give way to morning. “We should find a hover car to steal,” Ace said. “Something fast.”
“What about Abby?” Della asked. “I’m not leaving without Abby.”
“They might already have her,” Ace said. “We can leave to fight another day. I’ve masterminded many a jailbreak in my time. Still, we stay here, we’re sitting ducks.”
“I won’t argue with that.” Just then, Della noticed a dark silhouette running on a nearby roof. It was Abby in her white jacket and cowboy hat, and there were several enforcers following her. Della fired, hitting one, and the enforcer fell from the roof to the sand below. Abby stopped running at the edge of the roof and one of the enforcers fired a laser at her, hitting her in the back. Blood shot out in front of her as she stumbled off the roof. A sandstone wall hid her from Della’s sight as she fell. Della rushed towards the wall, followed by Ace, who fired at the roof, taking out another enforcer. When they rounded the wall, there was an empty alley. There were spots of blood on the ground. Della and Ace ran through the alley as lasers came down at them from the nearby roof until they emerged from the alley on the other end, finding the armored car and the three hover trucks once again, along with the bodies all around them on the ground. One of the hover trucks drove away down the road that led out of town. Della watched, discouraged, as the truck disappeared around a corner. “Abby was in that truck.”
“How do you know for sure?” Ace asked.
“I just know. They have her now.” Five enforcers appeared from the alley they’d emerged from and Ace and Della fired at them quickly, taking cover behind one of the other hover trucks as they fired. All five enforcers were soon on the ground. “We could take one of these trucks,” Della said.
Ace shook his head and he ran to the five bodies, taking an RLR from one of them and slinging his double barreled laser rifle over his back once again. “Annabelle and I were so successful because we had bigger guns and faster cars than the enforcers. We need the same now.” He ran towards another alley and Della followed.
They ran until they found a silver hover sedan parked in front of a sandstone house. “This’ll do,” Ace said. “It doesn’t look like much but it has a JACRAM Avery 28 engine. One of the fastest on the market.” Della fired at the lock on the driver side door and Ace got in, throwing his backpack, RLR, and rifle onto the back seat. Della walked over to the mailbox near the porch and put some diamonds in form his backpack. Worth fifty thousand dollars or so. The sedan was probably worth far less. “What are you doing?” Ace asked. He unlocked the passenger side door for Della. Ace started fiddling with wires under the steering wheel.
“Don’t worry about it,” Della said. “Leaving a calling card. So where are we going?” He threw his backpack with Ace’s on the back seat and sat down, shutting the door.
“For now,” Ace said, “away from here.” The engine started and Ace drove the vehicle north until they reached a road lined with more sandstone buildings. They turned right and then left, heading north again past tents and metal and plastic huts. They were driving through the poor section of town on the outskirts. Soon they were driving through desert.
“How many of them were left, do you think?” Della asked as Ace drove. Della looked out the rear windshield. It didn’t look like anyone was following. He started scanning the dunes around them for the hover truck Abby was probably in.
“It couldn’t be that many,” Ace said. “We took out a lot of them.”
“It might just be the truck that has Abby, then,” Della said. “Though they’ll meet up with reinforcements soon.”
“And they’ll still be after us, too,” Ace said. “If you think Rennock’s gonna forget about forty billion dollars, you’ve lost your mind. And we might have a different vehicle now, but they’ll be looking for us like eagles scouring the desert for mice.”
“They do have Abby, though,” Della said. “And they have Einstein. It seems they thought they were more important.”
“Rightfully so,” Ace said as he headed towards some hills in the distance ahead.
“Assuming Alex Harris has his money and the rest of the diamonds and is coming back to find Abby,” Della said, “we should be close to having what we need for Abby and the other members of the lead council to found our nation. The question now is how to find them.” He watched Ace as he drove. “You could have tried to run off with the money yourself, but you didn’t. You could leave now, I guess.”
Ace nodded. “If I wanted to. But I knew you’d kill me. I’ve seen you work. There’s no way I’d be able to get the jump on you.”
Della grinned. “Is that really why you’re still here.”
Ace shrugged. “I’m starting to like Abby.” Della was glaring at Ace and he noticed. “No, not that way. I mean, she’s an amazing person if you think about it. Everything she’s been through and as strong as she is. Sort of makes you want to help her, you know.”
Della nodded. “I know.”
“And besides,” Ace said, “she saved my life, and the resistance and I have a common enemy in Rennock.”
Della nodded again as he continued scanning the dunes for the hover truck. “How will we ever find her?”
“We just need to figure out where Rennock’s closest jail is,” Ace said. “They’ll probably take her there, at least temporarily until they find a better place.”
Della chuckled. “So I guess everything’s left to us, then. A drag queen and a criminal.”
“Crime is subjective,” Ace said. “We’re all criminals to many people.”
“Some more than others, though,” Della said.
“When the laws are unjust,” Ace said, “the criminal becomes the hero.”
“You have an interesting way of looking at the world, honey.”
Ace laughed. “That coming from a drag queen.”
“Well we’re just two peas in a pod, aren’t we?”
Ace nodded. “A regular Bonnie and Clyde.” The hover car entered the hills, and Della continued searching the land around them for any sign of the hover truck. It was nowhere to be seen, though. The sun was just beginning to rise over the mountains far to the east. Della remembered the promise he’d made to Pastor Earl to stick by Abby’s side no matter what and he frowned, shaking his head. He wouldn’t rest until he found her again.
Ayman Ali woke up and emerged from his tent, stretching as he prepared for his morning salaat prayers. When he was done praying, he packed up his tent and put it into the back of the hover truck that John Bernard used to drive. Ayman had checked the compartment underneath the truck earlier. One of John’s keys had unlocked it. All of the bags of diamonds were there. Ayman had put the briefcase in the compartment with them and locked it up once again. There were supposedly now about five hundred and fifty billion dollars in diamonds and bank notes in the compartment, more money than Ayman or any one man could ever know what to do with.
As he got into the driver’s seat and closed the door, Ayman thought some more about what to do now. He’d been thinking most of the night, though he’d managed to get at least some sleep. A few hours, maybe. The sun was just starting to peek over the mountains in the distance to his right, sending the shadows in the rocks back into hiding. Ayman had found a good spot in some rocky foothills where he’d be well hidden. Still, he was very nervous travelling alone with so much money, and in such a conspicuous vehicle. Those would be problems for another day, though. He wanted to do the right thing with the money he’d been blessed with. He wanted to carry out Allah’s will to the best of his ability. He couldn’t stop thanking Allah for sending him to the bathroom at just the right time. Otherwise, he would have surely been killed along with the others. He’d been allowed to survive for a reason, though, and now he had all of this money for a reason. Ayman had to make sure he fulfilled that reason, whatever it was.
He considered donating it the poor or trying to start a business of his own, but he had never been a businessman and wasn’t knowledgeable about such things. The fortune belonged to Abigail Song, Alex Harris, and the Southwest Resistance. The resistance was fighting Herman Rennock, and they supposedly were trying to put in place a government that would stand up for all people of all religions. Ayman felt like these were goals he could align himself with. His indoctrination for the past two years had been telling him all non-Muslims were enemies of Islam, but he knew he had to fight that way of thinking. If he, a Muslim, showed up with the lost fortune and gave it back to the resistance, it would shed a good light on his people and help ensure them a place in any new world created by the resistance. And the resistance were supposedly fighting all forms of oppression, including the terrorists Ayman had been forced to work with for so long. He closed his eyes. “Allah reveal to me the truth.” He opened his eyes again and was certain. He needed to get the money to Abigail Song and the Southwest Resistance one way or another. He turned on the engine of the hover truck and started driving north through the foothills.
The vehicle Paul Jacobs was lying in had been moving throughout the morning and now the sun was rising across the desert to the east. The mountains to the west caught the glow. They had stopped for the night and the strange man, who Paul assumed was one of the legendary lepers of the mountains, pitched a tent and let Paul rest inside. He also fed him some fruits and vegetables and gave him fresh water. Paul was afraid to ask how much the feast cost. He noticed that most of the canisters and crates which had been in the trailer were gone now. Perhaps the driver had sold them while Paul was sleeping. They’d started moving again before the sun came up. Paul was in a lot of pain and hadn’t been able to converse much with his new benefactor, but the man seemed cordial, if nothing else. Paul still wasn’t sure where they were heading. He hadn’t gotten a name from the man, either. He sat up and looked ahead as the wheeled vehicle made its way through the rocky foothills. “Where are we going?”
“You’ll see,” the leper said. “We’re almost there.” Paul noticed two huge rock formations up ahead. When he blinked and looked again, he realized they were towering statues, much like the Watcher he’d seen after leaving Carpenter City. The bearded figures were at least three hundred feet high, wearing robes and holding books much like the other had been. They’d apparently been carved out of the foothills. Paul marveled up at them as the vehicle passed between them. “The Guardians,” the leper said. “My ancestors carved them many centuries ago.”
“Guardians of what?” Paul asked.
“The truth,” the man said.
Paul frowned. “What truth?”
“You’ll find more answers soon enough,” the leper said. “I think it’s best that you rest.”
Paul couldn’t rest. He was too amazed at what was happening. He felt like he was living out some sort of surreal dream. The pain from his wounded leg made him feel delirious. Perhaps that had something to do with it. Once they’d passed between the statues, they were riding through the foothills down into an expansive valley. Paul noticed dozens of tall buildings, and thousands of smaller ones. It was a city.
“What city is this?” he asked.
“Denver,” the leper said.
“New Denver?” Paul asked.
“No,” the man said. “This isn’t New Denver. This is Denver.” Paul looked closer to see the buildings were ancient and crumbling, even the skyscrapers, and there were plants and trees growing up all around them. There were clouds above, and Paul realized they were smack in the middle of one of Rennock’s no-fly zones. There was grass throughout the city and scattered in patches outside, and when Paul looked closer, he could see people farming out in the open. The farms weren’t indoors or in greenhouses. There were hundreds, maybe thousands of people outside in the streets. Most were wearing robes like the man driving the vehicle. Some robes were brown, some white, some tan. As the vehicle closed in on the city, Paul realized its size rivaled the biggest cities in Numurka. It was probably even bigger than New Atlantis, but it was mostly a ruin, with weeds and ivy growing over everything in sight. Outside of the city, there were rivers and scattered trees. Far to the east, about a mile or two outside of the city, were several craters the size of small cities themselves. The area surrounding the craters and the land beyond them was desert.
Shelly looked at herself in the mirror as she prepared to leave Dead Man’s Bluff for good. She’d killed the Moores responsible for helping Warrick Baines take control, she’d killed all of the IAO men left in town, and she’d combed the abandoned buildings, looking for any useful supplies. Now she was in the bathroom of Maybelle Sampson’s Inn. She raised the electric clippers to the left side of her head and started shaving off her long, sandy blonde hair, watching strands fall into the sink. She shaved until there was only a two inch stripe left down the middle of her head, and she picked up scissors and cut the remaining hair until it was four inches long. She dyed what was left black in the sink and spiked it up, creating a Mohawk. She looked at herself in the mirror, seeing the eyepatch over her right eye and the scars on her forehead, cheeks, and chin. She’d stopped using makeup and the scars were more prominent than they’d been since she’d left Doctor Long’s safe house. She left the inn and headed out onto the town’s main road.
Nat’s sand bike was waiting for her where she’d parked it outside of the inn, black with orange and yellow flames painted on the sides. She’d found it parked behind the sheriff’s office and she got the keys off Nat’s body before she buried him and Bobby. She got onto the bike, her swords slung over her back, two laser rifles attached to the sides of the bike, and laser pistols in holsters on each of her hips, and she started the engine. Shelly felt sick to her stomach, but she tried her best to ignore it. She hadn’t started throwing up yet. Hopefully she’d be able to kill Warrick Baines before she got too deep into her pregnancy. She drove north on the road that led out of town, towards Easterville, where her last victim had told her she could find Warrick Baines. She’d used mountain back roads to get from there to Dead Man’s Bluff earlier, not wanting to attract too much attention, but she was regretting that decision now. If she’d taken the main road, she would have intercepted Baines on his way out of town.
Shelly drove past the last buildings of Dead Man’s Bluff, increasing her speed as she rode past the bodies and crashed sand bikes on the outskirts of town. She rounded a corner around some cliffs, making a right and heading through the foothills towards the mountains for a while. The road to Easterville curved back left until it was heading due west away from the mountains once again. The sun was rising above the mountains behind her to the east, spreading light across the shadowy foothills. Shelly was riding west towards the dark, rocky badlands between Dead Man’s Bluff and Easterville. Her obsessing mind was fixed on Warrick Baines as she continued increasing her speed, riding away from the sunrise. In the distance beyond the badlands, the desert spread out towards the dark horizon.
This is the end of Afterlife Volume 2.
Afterlife will return on June 12, 2017 with Volume 3, Chapter 1. Stay tuned.
In the meantime, read a brief preview of Afterlife Volume 3 here.
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