Fiction: Afterlife Volume 3 (Chapter 11)

by Mike Monroe on October 30, 2017

in FICTION

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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.

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Read the previous chapter here:

Afterlife, Volume 3, Chapter 10

Where:

Ace and Della search Black Rock for Abby.
Ayman Ali has a prime seat for the Wild Joe Rodeo Show.
Paul talks to Aiyana MacGowan about the books he’s been reading.

Find the Volume 3 Table of Contents page here.

View the Map here.

Check out Afterlife on Goodreads and don’t forget to rate it.

 

Afterlife, Volume 3, Chapter 11

Ayman sat down on the rock next to Wild Joe and the two of them looked out at the sunrise.  They were sitting at the edge of the plateau where the hover trucks were parked and all of their tents had been set up.  “Thanks for agreein’ to talk to me,” Wild Joe said with a grin.  “It’s a beautiful sunrise, ain’t it?”  The sky on the horizon was streaked with orange as the sun rose above the line.

Ayman nodded.  “Every day Allah gives us is a beautiful one.”

“Yeah,” Wild Joe grunted.  “So anyway, did you like the show last night?”

“It was enjoyable.”

“Well,” Wild Joe said, shifting his position on the rock, “when I first saw you, I was thinkin’ maybe we could add you.  Assumin’ you can shoot.  I mean, I saw your gun and all.  So I assume you can use it.”

“I can use it,” Ayman said, a hint of suspicion in his voice.

“So I guess my question is,” Wild Joe said, “how would you like to be a part of the Wild Joe Rodeo Show?”

Ayman squinted at him.  “Me?  I don’t have any special talents.”

“Those can be taught,” Wild Joe said, “to some extent.  It just takes lots of practice.  That’s all.  I mean, Big Bob and the Chief don’t really have any talents, either.  You could make tons of money.”

“So why me?” Ayman asked.

“Well…”  Joe seemed to be a little nervous.  “…I have this great character for you.  You could be the chief’s grandson, Wild Hawk, a famous injun warrior.”

“No way,” Ayman said.  “I’m not pretending I’m Native American.  I talked to Princess Floating Feather, I mean Ava.  She told me who she really is and I can see how her charade is eating away at her inside.  Why do you make people do this?”

“Do what?” Wild Joe asked.

“Pretend to be people who they aren’t for your profit,” Ayman said.

“It’s a show,” Wild Joe said.  He was visibly annoyed.  “It’s all about pretendin’.  That’s what a show is.”

“Can you even shoot a gun?”

Wild Joe glared at him.  “Wanna try me?”

Ayman shook his head.  “I’m not trying to make you angry.”

“Really?” Wild Joe asked.  “You callin’ me a fraud, and you don’t think it’ll make me angry?”

“Not a fraud necessarily,” Ayman said.  “Just a little dishonest, that’s all.”

Wild Joe shook his head.  “Well you can leave at the next town we get to.  Soon as we get over the border.  That’ll be about as far as I care to travel with you.”  He stood and started walking back towards his tent, but stopped and turned back to Ayman about halfway.  “You know, we’re performers.  Showmen.  Honesty’s not necessarily a virtue for us.  It can be a hindrance.”  He made a sweeping motion with his hand.  “You think anyone out there is any better?  Everyone’s pretendin’ to be someone they ain’t.  At least we’re up front about it.  They’re the real liars.  We might be the most honest people alive.”  Another hyperbole.  Ayman was getting used to them.  There were laser blasts and explosions coming from beneath the plateau.  Ayman turned and looked down at the town which had been built on a ledge in the foothills.  There were fires starting all around.  He noticed people dressed in bandit garb firing laser rifles.  Wild Joe was next to him, looking down.  “IAO,” he said.  “We need to get out of here.  Now.  Help me wake everyone up.”

“We should stay and help,” Ayman said.

“No,” Wild Joe said.  “Too many of them.  They’d kill us.”

“Says the man who killed fourteen bandits single-handedly.”

Wild Joe glared at him.  “You can stay here if you want.  We’re leavin’.  Now let’s go make sure everyone’s awake.”  He rushed towards the tent Buckaroo Billy and Mary Cassidy shared.

Ayman went straight for Ava Hadid, whose tent was the furthest from them.  He noticed some shapes moving down the mountainside and rushed towards his own tent.  He ducked in and found his laser pistol as there was shouting all around the camp.  The hiss of a laser rifle cut through the shouting, followed by another.  A laser blasted Ayman’s tent and it caught fire.  He left his tent to see two bandits dragging Ava away from her tent by her arms.  She was trying to fight them off, but they were too strong for her.  Ayman rushed towards them and fired several shots, hitting the bandits and causing them to fall away from Ava.  She stood for a second and brushed herself off, taking a deep breath.  Then, she smiled at Ayman for the first time.  “Thank you,” she said.  Ayman turned to see Wild Joe firing two revolvers, taking out three bandits.  The two remaining IAO men were running towards the hills.  Ava grabbed Ayman’s laser pistol from him and fired two shots, hitting each bandit in the back of the head and they both fell.  They were impressive shots.  Ayman stood in awe for a few seconds.  “At least someone here isn’t a fraud,” he said.

She grinned at him.  “Says the biggest fraud of them all.”  She handed his laser pistol back to him.

“Wait,” Ayman said as she walked towards Wild Joe.  “What did you mean by that?”  Ayman looked to see that the fire in his tent had gone out and he followed Ava.

Buckaroo Billy and Mary Cassidy joined Wild Joe as he stood near one of the trucks.  His left arm had been grazed by a laser.  “Are you all right?” Mary asked him.

“I’ve seen worse,” he replied.  They were soon joined by Big Bob, Jimmy Thumb, and the Chief.

Belle the Beauty emerged from her tent and yawned.  Apparently she was a heavy sleeper.  “What’s goin’ on out here?”

“We were attacked,” Wild Joe said as she joined him and the others.

Ayman and Ava finally joined them, also.  Ayman could still hear the shouting and the laser blasts down in the town.  “We could help them,” Ayman said, nodded towards the town.  “Down in the town.  We need to do what we can.”

“There was seven of ‘em up here,” Wild Joe said.  “You saw the town.  There were dozens down there.  Let ‘em fend for themselves.  We need to get out of here.  Live to fight another day.”

“Like cowards,” Ayman said.  He remembered how Karl Bergson and his companions had been killed while he was in the bathroom.  By the time he’d gotten out, it was too late.  After that, he promised himself that never again would he be too late for a fight.  He also remembered all for the people he’d watched the Holy Warriors murder when he was with them.  And then there were the ones he himself killed.  It was a former life.  Still, he couldn’t turn his back on suffering.  Not anymore.

“Pack up the tents,” Wild Joe said and everyone started working on taking down the camp.

Mary Cassidy smiled at Ayman as she walked past him.  “We need to get out of here fast before more of them come.”

Ayman turned to Ava.  “Are you going to be a coward, too?”

Ava frowned.  “Not a coward.  But also not a moron.  Thanks for saving me.  Let’s not ruin it by getting ourselves killed.”  She walked to her tent and started taking it down.

Ayman was dumbfounded.  Still, he couldn’t fight off all of the IAO people in the town by himself.  He started taking down his own tent.  Perhaps Wild Joe had been right earlier.  It probably would be best for Ayman to leave at the next town.  His present company was making him sick to his stomach.  He thought about the briefcase in his hover truck which had previously belonged to John Bernard.  The briefcase had 152 billion dollars in it from Karl Bergson’s transaction when he sold his business and his mansion, but Ayman had no way of opening it.  There was a combination lock with some sort of built-in defense mechanism that looked like it was attached to a small concussion bomb.  Ayman had been afraid to mess with it.  Hopefully the resistance knew a way, once he finally reached them.  There was also the hidden compartment under the hover truck with the sacks of diamonds.  From what he’d heard, the diamonds were worth four hundred billion dollars.  Still, 152 billion was a lot of money on top of that.  Ayman had to remember what was really important and try his best to avoid distractions.  The Wild Joe Rodeo Show was a means to an end and nothing more.  Even Ava.  He finished packing his stuff and putting it in the back of his hover truck.  Then, he got into the driver’s seat and turned on the engine as he waited for everyone else to finish packing.  When they were done, they drove the hover trucks swiftly into the foothills and away from the town.  Ayman watched the foothills and the mountains like a hawk as he drove, ready for any possible ambush.

<>

Foxtrot stood with Arlene Phillips, the elderly innkeeper he and Javy had met after taking out six IAO bandits on the way into the small village of Westwatch.  Arlene was the de facto leader of the village now, being the oldest person left after the IAO raped and murdered many of the villagers before Javy and Foxtrot arrived.  Foxtrot and Arlene were now watching as Javy worked with seven of the villagers, including three women, two teenage boys, and two teenage girls, showing them how to fire and maintain laser rifles they’d taken from the dead IAO men.  Javy had traded in his silly polka dot clown suit for a pair of jeans and a tee shirt, but he was sweating like crazy and it showed through the white tee.  They were in the open desert just outside of the village, firing at cardboard targets Javy had set up.  Javy had also been going over some basic tactics the villagers could use once the IAO bandits arrived.  He was noticeably frustrated with the progress of the villagers, especially one of the teenage boys.  Foxtrot had been helping, but he was taking a break to talk to Arlene.  “So how many more days can you stay?” she asked him.  Her grey hair was tied back in a bun and she was wearing a white sundress.

Foxtrot shrugged.  “However long it takes, I guess.  I wish we had more time, but this is basically going to be a crash course.  Like we said, once we get to Rose City, we’ll bring more troops back.”

“But it’s good that you’re teaching them to defend themselves,” Arlene said.  “Give a man a fish and he’ll have a nice dinner.  Teach a man to fish, and he may just be able to survive for a while.”

“I still hope the bandits come when Javy and I are still here.  Quite frankly, your people aren’t anywhere close to being ready.”  The teenage boy Javy had been having trouble with kept firing and his shots weren’t getting anywhere close to the large cardboard target.  Foxtrot watched as another laser blast sprayed desert sand into the air.

“Billy’s not a very good shot, apparently,” Arlene said.

“But shooting’s just part of it,” Foxtrot said.  “If he can keep himself alive long enough to get several shots off, he’ll get his man eventually.”

“But they aren’t going to miss him,” Arlene said.

“I was never that great a shot,” Foxtrot countered as he wiped some sweat off his glasses.  “My eyesight’s terrible.  But I’ve done okay for myself.”

“You’re smart, though,” Arlene said.  “Little Billy there, he doesn’t even have that going for him.”

Foxtrot shrugged.  “Well everyone’s good at something.  Maybe he just hasn’t found what it is for him yet.”

Arlene looked out at Javy.  “Well, either way, not every village has a legend training their people.  I guess we should consider ourselves lucky.”

After some time, the villagers dispersed and Javy joined Foxtrot and Arlene.  “Well, I guess it’s time to head back,” the general said.

“How did it go?” Arlene asked as she watched the villagers walk back towards their homes.

Javy shrugged.  “You saw.  Quite frankly, they suck.  But they’re all we got.  They’ll have to do.”  He grinned.  “They’re better than they were before.”

“So what do you think of what we discussed earlier?” Foxtrot asked.  “Trying the same thing with other towns and villages?”

“Well,” Javy said, “the thinking is good.  We should get plenty of weapons as we free villages from the IAO.  But if the people in the other towns and villages are as pathetic as these…”

Arlene grunted.  “I’m standing right here, you know.  Those are my friends and relatives.”

“I tell it like it is,” Javy said, catching her glare and returning it.

“Javy doesn’t have an off switch,” Foxtrot added.

“Still,” Javy said, “the resistance needs troops.  And this is a way to get troops.  An armed militia can be as good as an army.  There’s enough animosity towards the IAO due to their awful actions that we should have no problem finding people motivated to fight.  Hopefully we can find more than women and teenagers, though.”

“Women can do just fine,” Arlene said with her hands on her hips, “thank you very much.”

“We have what we have,” Foxtrot said.  “They’ve killed a lot of the men.”

Javy grinned.  “Anyway, it’s time to go back to town.  Let’s get some food.  I’m going out drinking tonight.  And I’ve seen some pretty ladies in your village.  It’s been a rough couple of days.  I need to enjoy myself a little.  Either of you is welcome to join me, though I know you probably won’t.”  He winked at Arlene as he turned and started walking back towards the village.  She eyed him suspiciously and Foxtrot smiled at her and shrugged as the two of them followed Javy.

<>

Abby drove the sand bike out over the open desert, her face covered with a clear breathing mask.  A tube connected the mask to an oxygen tank in the back of the bike.  Abby was still wearing the gray prison jumpsuit she’d been wearing in Black Rock, and her back was constantly sending sharp jolts of pain throughout her body.  She needed to find a place to rest.  The air around her wasn’t breathable and hadn’t been for miles.  Her oxygen tank was running low, as was the sand bike’s fuel, and all she could see in any direction were endless rows of white dunes.  She was starting to feel delirious from the pain in her back.  This time, there was no Bobby with her to ride her to safety, and she knew if she were to become stranded out in the desert, her chances of being helped were slim to none.  There was a far greater chance that bandits would find her and do who knows what.  And there was the sun bearing down on her with scalding heat as she drove the sand bike in the direction of Drummond.  The cheap jumpsuit had no built in air conditioner.  She was sweating like crazy.  At least she had Einstein.  “Is there any place nearby I can stop?” she asked him.  She almost answered herself, remembering when she’d been out in the desert alone when Einstein wasn’t working.  She’d ask questions, and then realizing Einstein wasn’t there, she’d answer them herself.  No wonder Bobby had thought she was nuts when he’d first met her.  And she probably was a little nuts back then.  Everyone she cared about had been killed and she was wandering the desert like a crazy person.

“There is a place.”  Einstein’s voice surprised her, interrupting her thoughts.  She’d almost forgotten that she’d asked him a question.  “Make a right at a forty five degree angle and head Northwest for a few miles.”  Abby was half expecting Einstein not to answer.  He’d informed her earlier that there was a problem with the Satellite Net, possibly due to interference from the IAO.  He had very little information for her regarding the current state of things.

Abby noticed some rocky hills on the horizon in that direction.  “Towards the hills?”

“Yes.”

Abby squinted.  They looked deserted.  “What’s over there?”

“I don’t know,” Einstein said.  “But my programming says your father knew of a safe place there where you may be able to find food and fuel, among other things.”

Abby turned her bike in that direction and pushed the accelerator, taking a deep breath through the breathing mask.  As the rocky hills drew near, she thought she noticed something move on one of the rocks.  It disappeared behind a boulder.  She rode over some rocky terrain for a while and stopped at the edge of a thirty foot cliff wall, letting the engine run as she looked around.  “So what now?”

A metal contraption of some kind emerged from behind some nearby rocks, joined by several more.  They looked like robots of human size and shape, made of copper and bronze, with gears at their joints and smokestacks rising out of their backs, expelling small white clouds.  There were six of them, and as they surrounded Abby’s sand bike, their engines made loud rumbling sounds that sounded similar to old style motorcycle engines Abby had once heard in a parade in New Atlantis when she was younger.  The robots were holding what appeared to be metal guns of some kind.  Their eyes consisted of camera lenses and their mouths looked like speakers.  Abby noticed a robotic dog or wolf run up next to one of them.  Like the other automatons, there were gears at its joints and there was a smokestack puffing over its back.  Its sharp teeth were steel knives.  “Please state your name and business,” the speaker of the closest clockwork robot said.  Its voice was short and choppy, just like the actions of all of the robots.

“Do you know anything about these?” Abby asked Einstein.

“They appear to be homemade robots,” Einstein said.  “That’s as far as my data goes in the matter.”

“Please state your name and business,” the robot repeated.  “I won’t ask a third time.”

Abby wasn’t sure what to do.  Apparently, according to Einstein’s programming, her father had believed this area was supposed to be safe, so she decided honesty would be best.  “I’m Abigail Song.  I need fuel, food, and oxygen.  And a place to recover from an injury, if that’s possible.”  Her back was still causing her great pain.  It was hard for her to talk through it, but she managed.

The lenses that acted as the robot’s eyes turned as it looked at her.  Some green lights on its forehead flashed.  “You are Abigail Song.  Welcome to Green Horizons.  We are happy to have you as our guest.  Please follow us as we introduce you to our creator and benefactor.”  Abby nodded and followed the six robots and the robotic dog as they walked through the rocky hills.  She put the sand bike on hover mode so she could ride slowly enough to follow them.

They led her to the largest of the hills, but Abby didn’t see anything that resembled any sort of settlement.  As they approached the hill, two sliding doors that had been disguised as a rocky cliff opened, revealing a large metal passage that was lined with trees and shrubs.  Inside, there were bronze and copper pipes almost entirely covering the ceiling and walls.  A temporary spray of water came down from the ceiling, showering the trees for a few seconds.  Abby had wondered what Green Horizons was, but things were slowly starting to fall into place.  She followed the robots into the passage and the doors closed behind them.  “Please park your sand bike and shut off the engine,” one of the robots requested.

Abby did has the robot said, took off her mask, and jumped off the sand bike, making sure to keep her bag with her.  “Where are we?” she asked.

“Please wait here,” was the robot’s only response.

At the end of the passage, hundreds of yards away, a sliding metal door opened and a small vehicle came through.  It looked like a small copper-plated hover car with two occupants.  There was no roof or windshield.  As they came nearer, Abby could see that one occupant was an old black man with short gray hair and glasses and the other was an even older white man with a wrinkled face and a curled moustache.  The white man was holding a pipe and he was blowing smoke rings.  She recognized both of them immediately, though she couldn’t remember their names.  They were friends of her father’s who had visited several times when she was a kid.   She remembered them both being old back then, even.  The car came closer and parked in front of her.  The old black man smiled a warm smile.  “I don’t know if you remember us, Abby.  I’m Bernard Parks.”  She immediately recalled the name of the inventor who’d missed the meeting of the Lead Council of the Free Society Federation.  That explained the robots.  She figured the other man was probably Winston Cooper, the historian.

“And some people believe me to be Winston Cooper,” the old white man said, confirming her assumption.  “As for me, I’m not so sure anymore.”  He blew out another smoke ring.

“Doctor Winston Cooper,” Bernard said, correcting him.

“Oh, stop with that rubbish,” Winston muttered.  “Degrees stopped being important millennia ago.  Millions of people had degrees before the apocalypse.  Where’d it get them?  Dead just like everyone else.  Degrees are paper tombstones commemorating wasted time that will never be gotten back.”

“Dead like almost everyone else, you mean,” Bernard said.  “We wouldn’t be here if everyone had died.”

“Unless the Carver Theory is true,” Winston said.  “And we’re descended from a race of aliens who came here after the original human population became extinct.”

“I thought you said that was horse crap,” Bernard noted.

“I did,” Winston said with a grin as he puffed his pipe.

“I’m Abigail Song,” Abby said.

“It’s nice to see you again,” Winston said.  “You’re one of the few of us left.”

“Us?” Abby asked.

“The Lead Council,” Bernard said.  “I’m not sure if you know, but Heather Cylburn, Glen Stratus, and Elias Long were all murdered.  Barney Chambers and Alex Harris were also killed.”

Abby frowned.  “I didn’t know about those last two.”  She wondered how she’d be able to get the diamonds if Alex was dead.  Hopefully at least one member of the Bloody Six survived in order to get the diamonds back to the resistance.

“The resistance army was hit by the IAO in Vulture’s Pass,” Bernard said.  “General Rodriguez’ current whereabouts are unknown.  With Judith’s betrayal and subsequent death and General Crenshaw’s death in Primrose, that leaves the three of us.”

“Assuming you’re with us, of course,” Winston said.  “You aren’t going to kill us, are you?  I may be a mere shadow of my former self, but for some strange reason the will to survive is as strong in me as it is in any man.  Possibly stronger.  Old people are stubborn bastards.”

“Of course I won’t kill you,” Abby said.  “I’m with you.  I only killed Judith because…”  She frowned, remembering the peace she’d made with herself.  “I regret doing it.  It was a mistake.  But I blamed her for the deaths of my family.”

“Your business,” Winston said.  “If you try anything here, I assure you that Bernard and I are well-guarded.”

“Don’t pay him any mind,” Bernard said.  “We trust you.  We know it was discovered that Judith was working with Rennock.”

“Well,” Winston said, “the point is, there are only three of us left.”

“What about Averil Jones?” Abby asked.  “You didn’t mention her.”  Abby remembered the quiet computer programmer who’d given her the camouflage projector she now had.

Bernard frowned.  His eyes were burning with anger.  “That traitor.  She defected to the IAO.  But not before spying on us and getting a lot of our most top secret information and technology to those bastards.  Her information helped the IAO track down and murder some of the other leaders.  And to think I spent so many years teaching her.  She turned on me in a heartbeat.  Said our way of fighting Rennock wasn’t effective enough.  I know the truth, though.  It was about money.  And the challenge.  She always loved a challenge.  No morals, though.”

“How did you find out?” Abby asked.

“She sent me a message,” Bernard said.  “A few days ago.  She said she hoped I was still alive.  With Rennock falling and so many of the resistance leadership being killed off, she didn’t see any reason to continue keeping her defection secret any longer.”

“Wait,” Abby said.  “Rennock falling?  What do you mean by that?”

“The IAO have captured him,” Winston said, “and taken over his empire.”  He puffed on his pipe.

Abby’s jaw dropped.  “Really?”

Winston nodded.  “Really.”  He blew out another smoke ring.

“Anyway,” Bernard said.  “Back to Averil.  It was almost like she was gloating.  And she had the gall to ask me to join them.”  He shook his head.  “She never knew me very well I guess.  I’ll be loyal to the end.”  He smiled at Abby.  “Anyway, it’s good to see you here.  We were worried about you with everything that’s happened recently.”

“We would have been worried regardless,” Winston said.

Abby was still dumbfounded.  “Rennock’s empire is no more?”  She smiled.

“It’s nothing to smile about,” Winston said.  “The IAO is no better.”

“They’re worse,” Bernard said.  “The world has fallen into barbarism.  Public executions, rape, murder are all commonplace.  And there’s no authority to stop it.  The criminals are in control.”

Winston nodded.  “Those who are willing to go the farthest.  Might makes right seems to be the way of things these days.  How do you not know all of this, Abigail?  Have you been living in a cave?”

Abby bit her lip.  “Pretty much.  Recently, anyway.”

“Well, welcome to Green Horizons,” Bernard said.  “It’s a cave, of sorts, but a pretty cool one.  This is the home to my business enterprise.”  Abby looked at the trees and the pipes.  She just now noticed the constant tapping sound, like there was some vast power pulsing through the pipes, which to Abby seemed like metal veins.

“He’s an inventor,” Winston said, “as I’m sure you know.”

Bernard got out of the car and opened the back door for Abby.  “Get in, and we’ll see if we can find you some food.  I’m sure you’re starving.”

Abby got into the car and sat on a small back seat.  “We’ll take you to the guest house,” Winston said.  “It’s comfy.  You can stay with us as long as you like.”

“Thank you,” Abby said as Bernard turned the small car around and drove back towards the open metal door, leaving the robots behind.  Abby closed her eyes and smiled.  She figured it would be nice to rest and recover from her wound for a while in a safe place.  And if Bernard and Winston had been friends of her father’s, they would be friends of hers.

 


Continue on to the next chapter:

Afterlife, Volume 3, Chapter 12
Where:
Ace and Della arrive in Rose City.
Warrick is delivered some bad news.
Rennock has a dream.

Find the Volume 3 Table of Contents page here.

View the Map here.

Check out Afterlife on Goodreads and don’t forget to rate it.

Check out Michael Monroe’s page on Amazon to find other stuff he’s written.
Like Afterlife on Facebook to find out when the next chapter is posted.
Follow Afterlife on Twitter to get updates on new postings and other news.
Follow Afterlife on Tumblr for access to supplemental material.

Mike Monroe

Michael Monroe was born in Baltimore, MD and has lived there most of his life. He’s a poet and fiction writer whose preferred genres are Science Fiction and Fantasy, and he’s always had a thing for Allen Ginsberg and the Beats. His poetry has been published in Gargoyle Magazine, nthposition, the Lyric, Scribble, the Loch Raven Review, Foliate Oak, Primalzine, and various other publications.

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