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:
Alex Harris talks to Abby about a meeting for the Free Society Federation.
Grace tells Abby the truth about Pastor Kenyon and his cult in Carpenter City.
Paul Jacobs finds the Jupiter Diamond.
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Afterlife, Volume 2, Chapter 6
The packed stone walls of the corridor flew past on either side as Paul ran, his heavy bag hanging from his shoulder and his flashlight bouncing up and down, shining light erratically ahead. Paul realized he was probably the first person to run through this corridor since it had been built, since there were no skeletons or other signs of tampering. There were also no visible footprints on the dusty floor. Stones and chunks of dirt fell from the ceiling as Paul ran, and he was afraid to look behind him, for he realized the passage was collapsing. He picked up his pace, sprinting for dear life even though he was already tired. Soon, a light appeared ahead. The light grew larger until Paul could see blue sky and rocks. A rock the size of a cinderblock nicked Paul on the shoulder and he almost fell, but he stumbled and continued running, despite the pain where the rock had hit. He picked up his pace even more, and soon was flying out of the passage. He ran a few more steps and stopped, hunched over and breathing heavily, realizing he’d stopped just short of a steep thirty foot drop. The sun-drenched terrain was scattered with rocks and boulders. Perfect hiding places for bandits or other unwanted company. Paul turned and watched as the passage collapsed, large boulders sealing off the entrance. He looked around for a minute and noticed the mine entrance in the hill about a hundred feet away or so. Apparently Paul had made a long horseshoe and he wasn’t very far from where he’d started. Nat Bigum and Big Ed were standing near the opening. The three sand bikes were parked not far from there. Paul took several more deep breaths and walked towards them. “Hey!” he shouted. Nat and Big Ed turned towards him. “I’m out. I made it.” He slowly walked over the rocky terrain towards where they were standing, still breathing heavily.
“What took ya so long?” Nat asked.
Paul frowned as he walked. “It wasn’t easy in there. There were traps all over the place.”
“Well let’s get out of here, then,” Big Ed said, “before somebody finds us.” Four shapes dropped down from an overhang above the mine entrance. Before Paul knew what was happening, someone had pulled the bag off his arm. He quickly drew his laser pistol and spun, but the man who’d been standing behind him kicked him in the stomach and Paul collapsed, holding his belly. He heard the loud crack of an old style gun and watched as Nat Bigum shot a man in the chest with his huge revolver. Paul realized the attackers were enforcers wearing blue uniforms. Big Ed ripped one of their helmets off his head, then took the head in his hand and smashed it into the rocky wall near the mine entrance. Paul heard the man’s skull crack. Blood ran down Big Ed’s arm as the enforcer fell to the ground motionless. The other enforcer fired his laser pistol, hitting Big Ed in the hand. Big Ed winced with pain, holding his bleeding hand as Nat Bigum fired two more shots with his revolver. One shot hit the enforcer in the stomach and the other blasted his face open through his sand shield, spraying blood all over the rocks behind him as his body thumped to the ground. Paul noticed the enforcer who’d taken his bag was running through the rocks towards a large boulder the size of a house. Nat fired a shot but missed as the enforcer disappeared behind the boulder. Nat started running towards the boulder with his gun drawn. In a few seconds, the enforcer was shooting out from behind the boulder on a silver sand bike.
“Damn it!” Nat shouted. He turned and rushed towards his own sand bike. Paul and Big Ed also got on their sand bikes and started their engines as Nat did the same. Paul was riding Della’s pink sand bike since he didn’t have one of his own, but he didn’t care. It ran just as well as any other, maybe even a little bit better. By the time they had their bikes started, the enforcer had disappeared around another hill. Nat rode off after him, followed by Big Ed and Paul, who was still recovering from his running and the kick to the stomach.
They searched the area for at least an hour it seemed to Paul, possibly longer, riding past rocks and hills to no avail. At one point, Big Ed stopped to wrap his wounded hand in cloth he tore off his shirt. When he was done, he caught up with the other two and they searched for a while longer. Nat rode to the highest hill visible and sped to up the side, followed by Paul and Big Ed. When Nat reached the top of the hill, he stopped, letting his sand bike settle to the ground. Big Ed and Paul stopped their bikes near him and the three men searched the area for any sign of the enforcer’s sand bike. They could see a long way from their vantage point, but it was no use. Rocky hills and boulders were the only things visible in any direction. There was no sign of the enforcer and there was no way they’d find him in the rocky badlands. “All that for nothing,” Paul muttered.
Nat frowned at him. “It’s settled then. We need to get out of here. No reason to hang around Carpenter City any longer.”
Big Ed nodded, holding his bleeding hand. “Yeah, what a wasted trip. It’s getting’ late, though. I don’t wanna be out here when the sun goes down.”
“That’s two hundred billion dollars,” Paul said, shaking his head. “There must be some way we can find it.”
Nat shook his head. “I mean, maybe we could get Abby to use Einstein’s sensors. I don’t know. It’s like findin’ a pebble in a sand dune.” He nodded to Big Ed. “And we need to get his hand fixed up. It ain’t a bad wound, but it could get bad if it don’t get attention. Besides, those enforcers knew we were here somehow. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone tipped them off. Possibly someone in our group.” He frowned and spit on the ground.
“You think there’s a spy?” Paul asked.
Nat shrugged. “Those enforcers knew we were here somehow.”
Big Ed frowned, holding his bleeding hand. “Spy or no spy, let’s get goin’.”
Paul bit his lip and nodded. “I guess Jane can fix you up.” He couldn’t believe their bad luck. He almost died in the Messier Mine and had nothing to show for it. Not to mention the resistance just took a major hit. A two hundred billion dollar hit. He shook his head dejectedly as he started the engine of his sand bike and followed Big Ed and Nat as they rode back towards Carpenter City.
Abby was starting to nod off a little when there was a knock on the door. She jerked up and quickly placed her hat on her head. “Who is it?” Her voice was groggy.
“Mavery,” said the voice on the other side of the door.
Abby wondered what in the world Mavery could possibly want with her. “Come in.”
The door opened and Mavery slowly walked in, an uncomfortable smile on her face. “I’m not disturbing you, am I?” she asked.
Mavery was a pretty black woman with glasses. She was fairly tall for a woman, with a medium build and long, curly hair which was tied back in a ponytail. She was dressed in a blue pants suit as she stood before Abby. Abby wasn’t sure whether she was trying to look professional for some reason or trying to blend in with the people of Carpenter City. “No, you’re not disturbing me,” Abby said as she stretched. She shut the Bible which had been next to her on the bed and placed in on the end table. “I was just reading a little and I started to dose off.”
Mavery smiled and nodded, glancing at the Bible. “If you’re gonna read something, that’s an excellent choice. You know, I’m a Christian, too, Abby.”
Abby frowned at her. “I didn’t know that. Was there something you wanted?” With everything going on in Carpenter City, the last thing Abby wanted to hear about was someone claiming to be a Christian. And there was something about Mavery that rubbed her the wrong way. She seemed to be trying too hard to be friendly or something.
Mavery swallowed and took a deep breath. “Big Ed and the others have been gone an awful long time. Should someone go out looking for them?”
“How?” Abby asked. “They took all three sand bikes and the truck’s still not running.”
Mavery nodded. “How far is the mine?”
Abby glanced at her. “Is there a reason you want to know?” She didn’t want to tell anyone more than necessary.
“Can I get there on foot?” Mavery asked.
Abby shook her head. “It’s probably an hour’s drive from here on a sand bike. There’s no way anyone could walk that in any decent amount of time. Not in this terrain.”
Mavery frowned. “I’m really worried.”
Abby smiled at her. She knew Mavery and Big Ed had been growing close. The two of them had been traveling together before meeting up with the rest of the group in Primrose. “They’ll be fine. Nat’s the toughest man I’ve ever met. He’s smart, too. He’ll get them back.”
“I hope so,” Mavery said. She took another deep breath and frowned at Abby. “Do you have something against me or something?”
“Why do you ask?”
“You’ve been awfully cold towards me since I met you,” Mavery said. “I wanted to publish articles about you on the Satellite Net. I was hoping to travel with you and record things. Interview you and stuff, you know? Help bring people to your cause.”
“And I never liked that idea,” Abby said. “The last thing I wanted to do was draw attention to myself.”
Mavery laughed. “You’re going to get attention whether you like it or not, Abby. Don’t you want the people to know who you are? Know who it is that will be leading them to freedom?”
Abby knew she was meant to be a leader. She couldn’t escape that. But she didn’t want people to worship her. There was nothing special about her other than the fact that all this had been dumped on her lap. Adulation made her feel uncomfortable. “Publish your articles when you can. Bring people to the resistance. Tell them the truth about Herman Rennock. Just leave me out of it.”
Mavery nodded. “Is there something more? Is there something personal?”
Abby’s eyes pierced into her. “No.”
Mavery frowned. “You don’t have a problem with me being black, do you? I know racism runs deep in New Atlantis. Remember, I’m from there, too. I’ve dealt with it my whole life.”
Abby shook her head. “No. I mean, my parents said certain things over the years. Some of my closest friends are black, though.”
“All white people say that,” Mavery said.
“I’m not white,” Abby noted. “Look, I think everyone of every race should be treated equally. It has nothing to do with that. I’m sorry I’ve been cold towards you. I’ll try to be nicer. Is that okay?”
Mavery nodded, but she didn’t seem convinced. “I guess it is. Thanks, Abby.” Abby nodded back as Mavery turned and started walking towards the door. “Oh yeah,” Mavery said as she turned to face Abby again. “So what do we do if they don’t come back? Big Ed and the others?”
“They’ll come back,” Abby said. “If they don’t, we’ll go out looking for them as soon as John gets the truck fixed.” Mavery nodded and left the room, shutting the door behind her. Abby lay back in her bed, staring at the ceiling. What was her problem with Mavery? She’d never really been able to put her finger on it. Did race have something to do with it? Could there have been something deep in her subconscious after years of living in New Atlantis, hearing the words spoken when certain ears weren’t listening? Abby thought she’d driven every ounce of racism from herself once she’d grown to trust Bobby as a close friend, but maybe it was something she still needed to work on. Or maybe there was something else. Abby never liked the idea of reporters, people who get paid to snoop into other people’s lives. Whatever the reason was for her distrust of Mavery, Abby knew it was something she needed to work on. Mavery had definitely noticed it. And as far as Abby knew, there was never anything Mavery had done to receive such treatment. Abby stretched and lost herself in her thoughts. She soon dozed off again.
Bobby stood before the plaster door, his fist ready to knock. Why was he so nervous? He and Michelle had been together only for a few days, but it already felt like weeks, maybe months, for they knew one another fairly well before that. Also, he felt like they’d had a connection, but Michelle seemed distant lately. Bobby told himself that it wasn’t just with him. It was with everyone. Still, he wanted to be there for her. He wanted to help her through whatever it was she was experiencing. He’d dealt with loss, with the death of his uncle, but that was a completely different situation. He’d known that was coming. Uncle Joe had been addicted to heroin for years, and he’d slowly deteriorated to the point that death was a given. Horseman’s death had been sudden. And Michelle still hadn’t fully gotten over her experience with Warrick Baines and the scars that had left, both physical and emotional. Shelly was dealing with a lot.
Bobby was finally able to knock on the door. He figured Juanita, who Shelly had been rooming with, was probably in John Bernard’s room, so he and Shelly would be able to talk privately. At least that was what he was hoping. Juanita and John seemed to be spending every waking hour together, and every sleeping hour for that matter, despite Mark’s orders for everyone not to room with members of the opposite sex. Nat had complained to Bobby that the bed creaking, shouts, and moans coming from their room the night before had kept him up. Bobby had already been asleep, so he hadn’t noticed anything. And now, with Paul off searching for the Jupiter Diamond, John had his room to himself when he wasn’t busy working on the truck. The door opened and Juanita stood smiling, to Bobby’s surprise. She was a petite Latina with big brown eyes and long, black hair she wore in a ponytail. Despite her small size, she was one of the deadliest members of the Bloody Six, a sniper, who along with Della was one of the two best shots in the group. Bobby wondered who would win a shooting contest between the two of them. “Hey, Bobby,” she said with an accent. “You here for Shelly?” Bobby nodded, looking in the room to see Shelly at a desk, writing something. The little dog Sherry was resting at her feet. “I’ll leave for a minute,” Juanita said, “so you two can have some privacy.”
“You don’t have to do that,” Bobby said.
“No it’s okay,” Juanita said with a smile. “I’ll go for a walk.”
“John’s in his room I think,” Bobby said. “I think he’s taking a break from the truck.”
“Mark had a talk with me, though,” Juanita muttered under her breath with a frown. “Said we should keep it cool while we’re here. He doesn’t want to piss off the squares, you know? I’m fine though. I’ll be back in an hour. Is that long enough?”
Bobby nodded. “Sure, that should be.” Juanita walked past him and made her way down the hallway as Bobby entered the room, shutting the door behind him. “Can we talk?” he asked Michelle, whose back was to him. She was wearing grey sweats and a white tank top and her long, sandy blonde hair was unkempt. The sidecut on the right side showed a few days’ stubble.
She turned and smiled a half smile. Even that made Bobby light up inside. She was so beautiful to him, even with the scars on her cheeks, chin, and forehead. Her skin was a deep olive color and her blue eyes were mesmerizing, even with the sadness behind them. Bobby tried to find his composure as Michelle spoke. “We can talk. I’m sorry, Bobby. I know I’ve been weird lately.”
“No it’s fine,” Bobby said. “I mean, I know why. I won’t say I understand because I’ve never been through what you’re going through, but I know why.”
Michelle smiled, stood and sat on the bed and Bobby sat down next to her, putting his arm around her soft shoulders and looking into her blue eyes. Sherry jumped onto Shelly’s lap and she started petting the small dog. “I was just writing some poetry,” she said. “It helps me cope sometimes.”
Bobby nodded. “I bet you’re good at it.”
She chuckled. “I am. I won’t lie. I’ve been published several times. I actually had a book of poems published that did pretty well, but me being famous already probably helped.”
“I’m sure your poems are amazing.”
Shelly shrugged as Sherry licked her fingers. “I just. I don’t know. It’s hard when someone so close to you is just suddenly taken away. Gone for good. I guess I took for granted that Horseman would always be there for me. To protect me and everything. You know, after my parents died.” She shook her head. “I can’t believe it. I just can’t believe he’s dead. First my parents, and now this.”
“I don’t know if you need protecting anymore,” Bobby said, “but I’ll be here for you.” He squeezed her affectionately with his arm.
“I know,” Michelle said, smiling at him. It was a sad smile, though. “You’re really sweet. I don’t know what I’d do if you weren’t here. Still, I really miss Horseman. So much.” Tears began to appear in her eyes.
“That’s okay,” Bobby said. “It’s okay to miss someone. That’s important. Your memories are important. That’s what will always keep him alive, in a way.” He wished the memories he had of his uncle were better ones. There were some good times when they played games together on the desert dunes or found really big scores, but the bad ones seemed to really stand out for him. The headaches Uncle Joe would get, the vomiting, and the shouting and the beatings he gave Bobby.
“I don’t remember the last thing I said to him,” Michelle said, “but we were arguing just before he died. He was pissed that Juanita was teaching me how to shoot. I said some awful things to him, Bobby.”
Bobby shook his head. “It’s all right. I’m sure he’d forgive you. He just cared about you. I’m sure he wasn’t really that angry. You know how much he loved you.”
Shelly smiled and nodded. “Yeah. But we never had the chance to make up this time.”
“It’s okay,” Bobby said. “I’m sure you would have. Eventually.”
Shelly shrugged. “Maybe. Anyway, I was thinking of talking to Jane about things. You know, Mark’s wife.” She glanced at Bobby. “Juanita said whenever she feels down about stuff, she talks to Jane. Apparently she’s a good person to talk to. I don’t know.”
Bobby nodded, but he couldn’t understand why she wanted to talk to someone other than him. Still, if that was what she wanted, he was okay with it. “Sure, that sounds good. If you feel up to talking about stuff.”
Shelly nodded. “Juanita said everyone always goes to Jane with their problems. She’s sort of like a mother to the group, she said.”
“She definitely seems like a nice person,” Bobby said. “She’s probably the easiest one to get along with out of Mark’s group.” He chuckled. “Ironic, since Mark’s probably the hardest one to get along with.”
“Yeah,” Shelly said with a slight smile. “A lot of times it seems to work that way with couples, though. It’s like yin and yang, I guess.”
“I guess,” Bobby said. The same could be said of him and Michelle in some ways. He was quiet and reserved and she was always the center of attention, at least when she was feeling okay. He squeezed her tighter and the two of them just sat for a while. Bobby didn’t want to try anything sexual with her. He knew she probably wasn’t ready. He just wanted to be there for her. “Can I read the poem you were working on?”
Shelly smiled a little. “No, it’s not ready. And it’s not my best.”
“I’m sure it’s fine,” Bobby said, smiling at her. “It’s all right, though. You don’t have to show me if you don’t want to.”
“Maybe someday,” Shelly said. “Maybe someday I’ll show you some of my poems.” She rested her head on his shoulder as she continued to pet Sherry. “Not today, though.”
Devin Hellier and the nine enforcers he was with were resting near the camping stove they were going to use to heat up their dinners. Jorge Bautista was opening a can of beans with his metal hand. Noah Flyman was dozing off, his huge chest moving up and down with each deep breath as he snored. The others were reclining in the sand, some on blankets they’d brought, waiting for the food to be ready. They were on their way to Carpenter City to intercept Abigail Song and her group. Supposedly the sheriff and the townspeople were going to hold them there until Devin and his enforcers arrived. His communicator started buzzing and he stood and walked through the dunes until he was out of earshot of the rest of the enforcers so he could take the call. For a minute he thought it was Warrick Baines. Then, he remembered his former boss was probably dead. He’d felt bad about leaving Warrick, as had some of the others, after everything the cyborg had done for them, but they’d left him to fight Nat Bigum, fair and square. Once Devin saw Warrick drop down on a distant dune, he hadn’t wasted much time in getting out of there with the others as quickly as possible. Devin looked at the handset to see Eileen Traymont’s number. He cursed her under his breath. The bitch had taken his job. He hit the receive button. “Hellier here.”
The face on Devin’s handset was a stern one. Eileen Traymont was a short, thin woman with a round face and piercing brown eyes which stared out from behind circle-rimmed glasses. She always wore her long, black hair pulled back tight in a ponytail and her blue uniforms were always pristine and wrinkle-free. “Mister Hellier. How far are you from Carpenter City?”
“We should be there the day after tomorrow,” Devin replied.
Eileen frowned. “You’re slow. You should be getting there tomorrow. Why the delay?”
Devin wasn’t sure what to say. Did she not want him and his men to eat or sleep? “It’s a long way.”
“Not that long,” Eileen said. “Anyway, I sent a small group of enforcers there to intercept a package we discovered the whereabouts of. A few members of Song’s group found the package not far from town. Of the four men I sent, one survived, but he has the package. He’ll meet you in Carpenter City once you get there and Abigail Song and her group have been apprehended. I’ve sent twenty more men from Rock Town as reinforcements. They should get there around the same time you do, as slow as you’re moving.” Devin frowned and glared at her. “Once I’m sure you’ve apprehended Song,” Eileen continued, “I’ll meet you there. It will take some time for me to arrive since I’m at the headquarters here in Lookout City, but be sure the package is kept safe, and under no circumstances is anyone to open it. You may have to ride pretty far out of town to contact me. I know communications in Carpenter City are tough. There aren’t any relay stations nearby.”
“What’s in the package?” Devin asked.
“You don’t need to know that,” Eileen said. “Are my instructions clear?”
Devin nodded. “Yes they are.” He missed Baines. Warrick, even though he was a cyborg, seemed more alive than this pill.
“Now I know your methods under Warrick Baines could be a little harsh,” Eileen said. “Things are different now. Herman Rennock wants to fix the damage Baines has done to our image. I don’t want anyone harmed until I arrive. We’re going to give everyone a fair trial. No violence unless absolutely necessary. Understood?”
“Sure,” Devin said. No violence unless absolutely necessary. That still left some wiggle room.
“If anyone is injured or killed,” Eileen said, “I’ll hold you personally responsible, and you’ll be tried in court like anyone else. The past is the past. I’m familiar with what happened in Primrose.”
Devin figured she was referring to his interrogation of and execution of the thousands of residents they’d captured. How much did this woman really know? She probably would have him arrested if she’d known the whole story, so she probably didn’t know much. Just rumors, most likely. It had only been a day ago when he’d finished up in Primrose and left town. Word traveled fast. Devin didn’t care what she said, anyway. He was pretty sure Herman Rennock still had his back. “Those were direct orders from Rennock himself.”
“I don’t believe that for a second,” Eileen said.
“Believe what you want,” Devin muttered.
“Be careful how you talk to me,” Eileen said, her piercing eyes glaring at him from the handset. “From now on, if you value your job, you’ll refer to me as ma’am.”
Devin frowned. “Yes, ma’am.” Who the hell was this woman?
“Very well,” Eileen said. “Then this conversation is over.” Her face disappeared from his handset.
Eileen was one of those precocious upstart kids from a wealthy family. She probably thought she was going to save the world. Wipe it clean of evil or something like that. Devin chuckled. He’d never met someone who was in more dire need of sex. He put the communicator back in his pocket back and made his way back towards camp, where he could hear the sounds of welcome laughter and boisterous talking. As Devin walked, he found himself wondering how Eileen and Herman Rennock seemed to be a step ahead of Abigail Song and her group. They must have been getting insider information from someone in Song’s group. That’s the only way Devin could figure out. He sat down with the other enforcers and smiled, ready to relax for the evening before continuing the journey early the next morning. “Was that your woman?” Noah asked, laughing. He was wide awake now and digging into a bowl of beans.
Devin chuckled. “Yeah, sure. And she was as passionate as ever.”
“Just leave some for us once you’re done with her,” Ed Long joked.
Devin shook his head. “Believe me. You don’t want any of that.” He grabbed a flask from Ed and took a swig. Boy did he ever need a drink.
Continue on to the next chapter:
Afterlife, Volume 2, Chapter 7
Della goes for a drink at the saloon.
Abby dreams of someone she lost.
Abby has some unexpected visitors.
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