S. P. Cloward

Author of the AfterLife Series

Preview of AfterLife Allegiances

Chapter 1

The city street was void of sound and movement. The only light came from a street lamp and a lone traffic signal on a nearby corner. Wes stood on a stoop in the shadow of the building’s recessed entryway, watching for any signs of activity. He was out of alternatives. In order to return to the subway station and then to his apartment, he needed to move into the light. After trying the locked door handle behind him one more time, he stepped out onto the sidewalk and walked with purpose in the direction of the nearest train station.

 

     The Body, presiding group of the Atumra, was still after him, and he was always on the lookout for their soldiers. He might deny it and he certainly didn’t understand it, but a part of him knew he was still a person of interest. No full-scale attacks against AfterLife to capture him had been attempted but there was always an Atumra soldier nearby when he and Meri went anywhere. Meri wasn’t with him now.

     Wes held onto the EDDIE (Electrical Disabling Darts for Incapacitation Emitters) he had hidden in his pocket. If he was attacked by Mortui soldiers tonight the disabling darts in the gun would slow his pursuers down so he could get away. If he were attacked by antemorts or living beings, the EDDIE would have the same effect but could ultimately lead to the antemorts’ death. Although their living bodies could handle the effects of a standard police Taser, most couldn’t survive the electroshock currents emitted by the EDDIE’s darts.   

     “Where you headed, Wes?” a voice said from behind him.

     Wes maintained his swift movement down the sidewalk and ignored the question.

     “Didn’t you hear me?” The voice behind him was getting closer. A hand grabbed his shoulder and turned him around. “It might be in your best interest not to walk away from us.”

     Wes faced a tall broad-shouldered man with dark brown hair, and looked into his eyes. He was definitely an Atumra soldier. Five more soldiers were also approaching.

     “I asked,” the soldier repeated, “where you were headed.”

Wes fingered the EDDIE in his pocket. Should he use it now? In his other pocket, he had two Pulse bombs that would release compression waves strong enough to easily take out all six soldiers in the group. The challenge was if he could activate the Pulse and get away in time to avoid being hit by its wave.

     Opting to use the EDDIE, Wes yanked the gun from his pocket and quickly discharged the cartridge of darts into the group of Mortuis. They fell to the sidewalk in a small pile. Wes pulled a replacement cartridge from his back pocket and reloaded the EDDIE. Turning back toward the subway he faced another group of five Atumra soldiers. Getting away was proving to be more difficult that he originally thought.

     Wes turned back around and leapt over the soldiers still in spasms on the sidewalk. He began running in the opposite direction and veered to cross the street. He could hear the second group of soldiers following close behind. In front of him, Atumra soldiers emerged from behind parked vehicles, doorways, and around the corner of the next street. He was surrounded.

     Maintaining his heading, he activated one of the Pulses he had in his pocket and tossed it behind him into the group of pursuing Mortuis. With his speed, he didn’t feel the impact of the compression wave. He turned for only a second to see the second group of Mortuis now also on the pavement. Returning to the use of his EDDIE, Wes ran once again toward the subway station. That was his target. He began firing darts at any soldier who got close.

“What about me?” The familiar voice caused Wes to turn and face the woman he’d thought he was in love with as an antemort—Jezebel. A passing breeze caught her black hair causing it to dance around her face. “Are you going to shoot me, too? You left me for dead once, so I guess you’d do it again.”

     It’s not really Jez, Wes thought. None of this is real. He’d seen Seth have her carried away to be cremated months earlier when she helped him rescue his brother. He’d searched for her mind with his through astral-synchronization since then but hadn’t been able to find her. He assumed her life force had been taken from her body or severed. Still, here she was standing in front of him, and it was unsettling. He felt partially responsible for her Mortui death during the destruction of Atumra’s Chicago headquarters. She may have been the cause of his own antemort death, but he had already come to terms with that and forgiven her.

     “Shoot me Wes,” she said softly. “Leave me to die.”

     This isn’t Jez, Wes thought. He lifted his EDDIE and pulled the trigger sending a dart directly into her chest. Her body tensed up and she dropped to the pavement.

     The surrounding buildings slowly faded as did the Mortuis that littered the street around him, and Wes stood in the dark nothingness of the mind.

     “You did well,” Ken said, standing near him. Ken was the AfterLife member most instrumental in teaching Wes what he needed to know regarding Mortui combat. His aged, wrinkled face displayed a countenance of supportive interest in Wes’s struggle with Jezebel. “I recognize how difficult it must be to do what you just did. Confronting our past is certainly not always the easiest of tasks.”

     Wes nodded but didn’t look at Ken.

     Ken took a few steps toward Wes until he was next to him. “Presenting the student with unexpected experiences is essential to a good training program.”

     Wes took a moment to reply. Ken was right. The exercise he had created for him in his mind was necessary. If he was ever in a situation that put him at odds with another Mortui in sync, anything could be possible. His final sync with Seth had been evidence of that. Wes needed Ken’s training. “You’re right,” Wes said. “I may need a little bit of a break from these training sessions though.”

     “I understand, Mr. Wes.” Ken placed his hand on Wes’s shoulder. “When you’re ready for more, I am always here for you.”

     Wes looked up at Ken and smiled. “I know you are. Just as I know you’ve been a greater help to me than I probably realize.”

Chapter 2

How many do you think will sever today?” Seth asked, leaning in toward Doc. The streets were crowded with tens of thousands of unwary spectators from around the world all gathered along the Grand Features Parade route in celebration of the Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival. The two men, Seth and Doc, stood abreast a few feet behind the crowd. In his dark suit and professional attire, Seth looked slightly out of place among the holiday crowd, and several curious looks were aimed in his direction. He paid them no attention. Today was a test run. It was the perfect opportunity to monitor how their carefully orchestrated plans would unfold—a showcase of his talents for Senator Howard. Various network camera crews had also claimed their spots along the route to film the parade and the crowds. They were unaware of their important role in Seth’s plan. All the details of the day’s events would be broadcast around the world, and anything the reporters might miss would be picked up by cell phone cameras and posted online within minutes.

“It’s difficult to say,” Doc said loud enough for only Seth to hear. “This is the first time I’ve attempted something of this magnitude. It was challenging enough to train the handful of experienced soldiers not to feed to completion, not to mention the difficulty of training the newer recruits. I wasn’t able to make the right calculations to produce the results I’m looking for.”

As he considered Doc’s words, Seth’s gaze was directed toward a passing parade float. Its decorative floral covering flickered as the float progressed down the street, the metallic ribbons on the sheeting reflecting the sun like a mirror ball. The float’s occupants waved from its decks; strangers not only to him but probably to most the people watching. “What’s our count up to?”

“At the festival, 137. There are 43 more in the area outside the festival; mostly recruits who were recently severed after they left the fair.” Doc removed his sunglasses and began cleaning them with a handkerchief he pulled from his pocket. “I’m surprised they decided to continue with the parade today after all the commotion during the fireworks last night.”

“They didn’t really have a choice, did they? Too many visitors were already here, and too much of the local economy depends on this inconsequential festival. I’m sure they think their security measures are sufficient.” Seth moved his gaze from the passing float to the next feature in the parade, another high school marching band. He spoke a little louder so his voice would carry over the band’s off-tune melody. “Very beneficial for us, though. This little Apple Blossom Festival will mark the beginning of my revolution.”

The marching band slowly passed by with the noise it was passing off as music. The next float was fashioned to look like a pirate ship. Its passengers, dressed in ostentatious pirate attire, waved at the onlookers sitting in bleachers on the opposite side of the street from where Seth and Doc stood. Seth shook his head slightly; antemorts were fools. It cost extra to view from the bleachers, why would anyone pay for this petty show? The only show Seth wanted to see was the one of death and chaos he was coordinating, and there was no additional cost for that.

Doc interrupted Seth’s thoughts. “I would have liked more time to work on the timing of the severings. I think we would have more of an impact if everyone died at the same time.”

“I’m already more than pleased with the way things are turning out, Doc. You took a big risk in leaving the Atumra. It won’t be forgotten.”

Doc repositioned his newly cleaned glasses over his eyes. “I’m not one of your Chicago soldiers, Seth. I don’t need your words of encouragement. I’m here because I want to be. Let’s leave it at that.”

“Fair enough,” Seth said. Things were always informal between him and Doc; he couldn’t demand the same subservience and blind obedience he demanded from his soldiers. He never questioned the way Doc addressed him because he not only needed him but admired his work. Seth was intelligent, but he would never be able to accomplish his goals without Doc’s help. Other scientists would be useless in comparison. None would be as willing to take on the new projects Seth had for them.

Shouts from the parade route pulled Seth’s attention back to the floats. The blue pick-up truck towing the poorly decorated pirate ship veered off course and headed toward the bleachers full of parade onlookers. Commotion broke out on the stands as people rushed to vacate their seats and jump out of the way of the oncoming vehicle. As the truck hopped the curb, the driver’s head fell forward onto the vehicle’s horn which began to whine in a long steady tone. The pirate ship jack-knifed as the truck hit the now-evacuated bleachers and its pirate-dressed passengers dropped to the ship’s deck at the jolt. To all appearances, the driver was dead.

Seth began to laugh as a group of people rushed to help the driver and the passengers on the float. There was nothing they could do for the driver, Seth thought. He continued to laugh. Doc stood next to him, watching the events intently. An elderly couple who had jumped out of their lawn chairs as the chaos erupted, turned and gave Seth a scowl when his laughter reached them.

Unable to control his amusement, Seth turned around, tapped Doc on the shoulder and the two walked down a side street. From where they were they could see the next street over where the parade route turned back and ran parallel to it. Commotion was coming from that section of the parade route as well. As they approached, it was evident that someone had severed here also; it was a marching band teacher. The band members were gathering around blocking the street and bringing the parade to a stop.

“And you were worried about timing,” Seth said as he and Doc approached the group gathered around the band. “We’ve stopped the parade in two places.”

An ambulance siren, faint at first, could be heard in the distance. It grew louder as the ambulance maneuvered through the chaos on the parade route. It was headed toward the marching band from farther down, and it wasn’t until it passed some of the floats and bands that the parade participants realized something was going on. “This death must have happened a bit ago if the ambulance is already here.” Doc said.

Arriving at the gathered crowd, the ambulance stopped and the EMTs pulled the stretcher out through open doors on the back of the vehicle. A few police officers already on the scene attempted to hold the crowds back to clear a path for the medics. A collective gasp emanated from the onlookers as one of the medic’s legs buckled under her and she fell to the ground. The other medic, momentarily confused by his fallen partner, looked back and forth between the teacher and the medic, then bent down to check her vital signs. He looked up as a policeman knelt down to help; his brow low and his expression flashing between sorrow, anger, and confusion.

Bystanders were now abandoning their carefully guarded spots along the parade route to gain a better perspective of what was going on in the street. Others were grabbing family members and rushing to leave for fear of what was happening. Across the street from where Seth and Doc stood, a woman screamed as her husband became the newest victim. At nearly the same time, her hysterical screams were drowned out by a group of kids yelling and pointing toward the cloudless sky. One block over, where the festival’s main midway was located, black smoke began billowing up toward the heavens.

“Doc,” Seth said with a grin on his face, “your work truly amazes me. I could not have imagined it better myself.”

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