My Sister still Speaks
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Meridian had done better than she thought she would. Maybe twenty undead of various types destroyed, maybe fifteen of the Torontonians had survived. Not as much as she would have liked, but better than she expected.
The battle had gone like this: Meridian had charged in, swinging and dodging wildly. The Enemy hadn’t needed anything fancy to keep the people from escaping, just a line of shamblers three rows deep and about fifteen of the fast moving zombie types to go after people in the water.
They didn’t need to kill anybody either: just bite and release. Anybody who drowned on their own-- without help-- would get up eventually anyway. Meridian had seen this before. Sometimes people who were bit became zombies, sometimes something else, but if they died naturally and the undead presence was high enough in the area, they often came back without being bit, but always as the shambler type zombies.
She had charged in, cutting left and right and rolling and weaving when needed. She had cut off heads, limbs, anything she could hack. The light made it difficult to tell human from zombie, but she was well trained and she could sense the zombies as unnatural whispers, places in the battle where she could almost hear their thoughts.
After the battle, the survivors broke off in all directions and she didn’t know where most of them went.
Alaska, the blonde haired girl, had followed her into the suburbs. Dejectedly moaning to herself and often to Meridian.
“You can’t follow me,” Meridian said.
“I’m out of ammo. I don’t know where anybody went,” Alaska said. “If I don’t go with you, I’ll die.”
“You might die anyway,” Meridian said. “I failed to protect my last companion.”
Maybe failed to protect was a bit too fair, Meridian thought. Naya had begged her for death and Meridian had found-- to her horror-- that she was cold-hearted enough to grant the request. Poor Naya, her muscles chewed away, unable to walk or lift things. Probably unable to recover ever, had at the end, begged for death and none of Meridian's objections swayed her. Given the eventual time crunch… Artificer! It was too painful to think about.
You’d have saved her if you were a better person.
“I’m not helpless,” Alaska said. “I just need a little help until I find ammo.”
Meridian looked skeptically at the shotgun that shone like a polished bone in the moonlight. It was a noisy, inaccurate weapon, and there were enough of the Enemy that she’d just run out again.
“I just lost my home and everyone I knew,” Alaska said. “I’m begging you.”
“You know this area better than I do. Where do we find supplies?” Meridian asked, delaying Alaska's question.
Meridian’s own supplies had been lost during the attack and she didn’t think she could go back for them. There were a few things she would miss, but on the whole, she didn’t think there’d be too much trouble replacing most of her kit.
“There’s an old mall somewhere down this street,” Alaska said. “Probably picked clean, but maybe there’s something.”
“A mall?” Meridian said. “That sounds like a good place for an ambush.”
“Why would they go there? There’s not going to be any people.”
“They’ll try to track us.”
“As long as we don’t make noise, and we kill any we find before they can alert the others.”
“If one knows where we are, they all do,” Meridian said. “It doesn’t matter if you kill them before they can yell. They’re all linked.”
“Like a collective mind,” Meridian said. “My grandfather thought they we all one expression of the same thing.”
“That’s why we weren’t able to face them,” Alaska said dejectedly. “But how were we to know! We survived on our island for generations before and never saw any sign of intelligence.”
Meridian shrugged. She didn’t have any theories on why that might be. For all she knew, the Enemy might not have cared about a few hundred people who it could collect at any time, and it had only attacked them to draw a trap around her.
That’s right, her sister’s voice said. If you hadn’t been passing by, these people could have lived several more generations. Once again, Meridian, you’ve been the death of innocent people. You’re getting more efficient. You didn’t even have to cut these ones down yourself.
The voice giggled, sounding hyena-like and unstable.
“Are you okay?” Alaska asked.
“Headache,” Meridian said. “How much further to the mall?”
“I have no idea. Close-ish?”
“Uh huh. Keep a lookout and let me know if you see anything.”
Put her eyes out, Meridian. This voice was not her sisters, but a commanding male baritone. She doesn’t need them.
You let me die. A sobbing female soprano. You didn’t get there fast enough. You and your sister let me die.
The voices had found her again.
Oh, I remember her, Hannah chimed in. You remember her, right, Mer? She and her brother got stuck in the Chrysler Building and he jumped rather than face his destiny, but she wasn’t brave enough and we got there to find her chewed up? I wanted to end her pain, but you couldn’t bring yourself to kill her.
I’m in agony. You did this to me! The soprano. You were supposed to protect me and you let me become this monster. I killed my brother, I didn’t have a choice. The hunger is so bad that I can’t stop drinking blood. It twists my stomach into knots and makes me sick and I vomit it up, but I’m so hungry I have to lick it up from the floor. Why would you do this to me?
“Miss Meridian?” Alaska asked. There were so many crowding voices now, that Meridian wasn’t sure Alaska’s was even real. “Are you sure you’re alright?”
“I need to rest,” Meridian said. “Find a place to hide up.”
“Hold up, you mean?”
“Hide, hole, whichever,” Meridian asked.
She’ll die too. This voice was an angry woman’s voice.You are not strong enough to stop it.
Alaska led her to an old house. Soggy from mildew, but unexposed and guided her upstairs to where it was somewhat dry.
Meridian felt sick. The voices rattled her skull and she couldn’t think straight. They persisted and yelled and sang.
The worst thing about Meridian is that she’s killed people.
Oh, but I’m sure she’d say she had no choice. They were bitten or they deserved it or they--
SHUT UP! The worst thing about her is how stupid she is. The worst person on the planet. What she’s going to cry now?
You know there’s no escape, Mer. Even if you killed yourself, we’d bring you back. Again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and.
“Meridian?” Alaska asked. “You aren’t looking well.”
“Just gotta puke…”
The voices followed her down into unconsciousness, but they finally fell silent at some point. She was then confronted not by dreams, but by memories.
She’d rescued Naya from the house, but without muscles; with all her limbs chewed to shreds, Naya couldn’t even walk on her own. Meridian carried her as far as she could, but the Enemy caught up with them in Niagara and in the race across the river Meridian had found she couldn’t carry the crippled girl anymore. It wasn’t a matter of weight, but of fighting. Meridian’s sword wasn’t designed to be a single-handed weapon, and if she couldn’t move as she fought, she would be overwhelmed.
Naya sensing the end, begged for her own death.
“I don’t want to live like this. All I can do is eat and shit. It’s miserable. And the voices!”
Meridian woke to the sound of Alaska crying. It must have been early morning because the sun came into the ruined upstairs bedroom in bright yellow rays. The smell of mildew burned Meridian’s nose, but the voices were gone and she could think straight again.
Meridian wondered if Alaska had slept at all. She herself had spent the night on the floor because there weren’t any beds that hadn’t rotted into disgusting pulp. Her muscles complained as she sat up. Her neck had a nasty crick in it, but she still had her sword.
“Are you alright?” she asked, standing up.
“Do you think anybody survived?” Alaska asked.
“Fifteen, including you,” Meridian said.
“That’s… very specific.”
“I was trained to-- ouch.” Standing had pulled something.
Alaska had been staring out the house’s little dirt stained window. Tears streaked her face and it occurred to Meridian that with the streaming light through the window and then through Alaska’s blonde hair, the other woman was quite pretty.
“How can you be so calm?”
“I was trained to be calm,” Meridian said.
Alaska let out a strangled laugh and turned back to the window.
“There’s a bunch of them out there, milling about.”
“Trying to sniff us out,” Meridian said, stretching to get the kinks out. Arm exercises, then legs.
Alaska watched her go through her warm ups. The tears kept coming, but she didn’t sob now. Her eyes watered, but it was a silent thing.
“You will let me come with you, right?” she asked.
“I can’t stop you,” Meridian said. Technically this was not strictly true.
“Don’t thank me yet,” Meridian said. “I’m not heading to any place safe.”
“Where are you heading?”
“To the Great Slave Lake, where the original portal opened that let these things into our world.”
“What? How do you know there is such a place?”
“Old documents from the American Empire,” Meridian said. “They tried to nuke it, but by that time the Enemy had infiltrated every city on the continent.”
“And your plan is?”
“Go through the portal and kill the master of the undead.”
“That sounds insane.”
“You still want to come with me?” Meridian said.
“I-- I think I’d die,” Alaska said slowly. “What happens when you defeat this master?”
“I don’t know,” Meridian said. She had switched to push-ups and she had to speak in time to her breathing. “It might destroy all the undead instantly-- or it might not do anything. It’s revenge-- you see. For all the people-- they’ve killed.”
“I think,” Alaska said. “I think I’ll follow you until we come to somewhere I can be safe. And in the meantime, you can train me.”
“Train you?” Meridian asked, standing upright in a swift motion.
“I need to know how to fight without my gun.”
“I don’t know how to teach,” Meridian said, thinking this was going to be a lot of trouble.
“I mean, just basic stuff.”
“Keep moving, keep mobile, don’t box yourself in,” Meridian said, stretching her arms. “That’s all the basics.”
Alaska pulled a face, before wiping the streaks off her face. Her eyes blazed defiance and Meridian noted this in a cold, detached way. If she wanted to leave, there was nothing the other woman could do to stop her and the disparity in their power was clear.
“I watched you,” Alaska said. “Whenever you had that fit or whatever that was. I made sure we were safe as you talked to the walls.”
“You talked. Are you sure you weren’t bitten?” Alaska said, gritting her teeth. “I’ve never seen anything like that.”
Meridian flinched, and had to mentally squash her hand trying to go up to her shoulder. The ancient bite was still visible as a crescent shaped scar, though it barely caused pain anymore.
“I don’t think you could make it on your own,” Alaska said. “You might be tough in a fight, but there’s something seriously wrong with you, isn’t there?”
Meridian stared her down, but instead of backing down, Alaska’s eyes blazed. “Isn’t there?”
“There’s nothing wrong with me,” Meridian said, “and I don’t want any help. What happens when you get bit? I’ll have to put you down like a rabid dog. Do you have any idea what it is like to kill somebody because they beg you?”
“Yes!,” Alaska practically screamed it at her. “My cousin died from a bite. Sure I didn’t kill him, but they shot him just the same, and at the end he was begging.”
Meridian turned so Alaska couldn’t see her face. She was annoyed, but ashamed too. She shouldn’t assume anything about somebody she just met. What could she say to that? She knew what it was like killing people who wished to die. Hell, she knew what it was like killing people who didn’t want to die. But these people, the group at Niagara, and others before them, they didn’t want to die, but the alternative was so much worse, and so they all begged.
I didn’t, that was the voice of the technician from the data center. I begged you to let me live. I could have walked off into the forest. You could have let me and instead you cut me down. Why?
You wouldn’t have stayed in the forest, Meridian thought.
I would have, and in the end, you botched the job. Sloppy kill.
“I’m tired,” Meridian said, finally. “I don’t want to be responsible for anybody else.”
“I’m responsible for myself,” Alaska said. “I can hunt, I can build fires. I know how to fish. I can shoot. The only thing I can’t do is fight. So teach me, and the next time you have a fit, I’ll protect you.”
You’ll end up killing this girl, Hannah said with malicious glee. I can’t wait.
More to spite the voice than anything else, Meridian said, “Fine. I’ll teach you how to fight, but without a sword, I don’t know how useful any of this will be.”
I look forward to breaking your new friend.
“Thank you. I won’t let you down,” Alaska said.
Meridian wondered which voice was speaking the truth.
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prologue 1 2 3 4 5
My Sister still Speaks