My Sister still Speaks
prologue 1 2 3
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Toronto, like New York, had been inundated with water during the Imperial Period, but unlike New York, the flood waters had receded leaving a swampy urban bog where buildings leaned wildly and sometimes fell and where the roads and sidewalks were uneven with water seeping up from them.
Meridian didn’t like urban environments. They were the places where the Enemy had the most zombies. Often these were the slower shambler types, but occasionally you encountered faster versions. Cities were good places for an ambush.
She didn’t want to spend time going around, and so she crossed into the greater Toronto area first by hitting a town called Hamilton. Then by following Lake Ontario’s shore line toward the city.
When she pillaged the data center, the center’s AI had laid out a path for her and she wasn’t keen on leaving the carefully laid out trail even if it had a preference for cities. The wilderness would be safer, of course, but easier to get turned around in, and besides, she could see the skyscrapers and they reminded her of home.
The real novelty would be walking into one of them from the ground rather than a cobbled together sky bridge or by boat.
The first shambler wasn’t human. A dog, missing a leg, wandered around a yard she passed. Surprisingly nimble, it attacked by bounding over the leaning chainlink fence. It botched the landing, and Meridian cut it down.
She could sense more of them, but scattered likely under crawl spaces and wandering the streets. The voices murmured and she kept getting snatches of what looked like an attack plan on the center of downtown Toronto.
There were people there, barricaded in. Meridian could get that much from the Enemy and the attack had several details culled from some city planner’s brain they’d consumed early in their invasion. The attack, Meridian thought, would likely succeed.
And here was a problem. Should she use her insider information to help people she didn’t know, trust they would listen to her instead of attacking her, or should she follow the path set out by the AI and leave them to their fate?
That fate must be soon too, because for once the voices weren’t directed at her. Even her sister’s voice was mute.
If I help them, she thought, would the voices return? As long as they hold out, the Enemy will be distracted enough that I might be able to clear the entire city before they return.
But that was a selfish thought. A better one would be to not to risk herself until the final battle when she put her sword through the undead queen, or whatever it was that controlled them. While better, it was nothing more than a crappy post-hoc rationalization. The voices could be painful, and she wanted them gone, however allowing people to die wasn’t in her nature.
So, she changed her path toward downtown Toronto, following the coast line as best she could, sometimes cutting through soggy yards and kicking down rotten fences. Sometimes she found more undead dogs and she dealt with them as she came across them.
Eventually, the homes vanished replaced by what might have been parkland a hundred years ago but now was a knee high bog. She didn’t like how slow it made her so she quickly changed her path again to a slightly elevated road called the Queensway.
She followed the road passed crumbling highrises. It was slow going. The road was crammed with cars. She knew what they were. While New York’s streets were too deep to see any vehicles, Niagara had plenty of abandoned cars, and she knew from reading these were machines designed for conveyance. Here, however, it looked like somebody had made clumsy blockades out of them, probably trying to make the Queensway less accessible to the Enemy. She had to climb over a lot of cars. Once she paused to look toward the city center by climbing on top of a semi-truck and using her binoculars to peer at the skyscrapers.
A pang of homesickness struck her and left just as fast. It really did look like home with the craggy needles and cliff-faced buildings lining up against the water. There were differences, sure, you could see where the skyscrapers touched ground, but it held some essence-- a truth shared by all large cities-- that pulled at her.
Meridian didn’t see any activity downtown, human or otherwise, but to her right, on an island protruding out of the lake, it looked like somebody had been maintaining the buildings. She got a good look at the island as she rounded the shore. It really was a series of islands, though just how many was impossible from her angle.
This would be what they called an airport. The old world used to have these great machines that could fly through the air. Meridian wasn’t clear on how they worked exactly. None of the books she’d studied gave clear examples
That’s it then, she thought. The people are there.
Meridian considered how to approach. Should she sneak through the area and maybe swim to the island? She rejected the idea almost as soon as she thought it. No, it would rude to show up on somebody’s doorstep unannounced. Instead, she’d find the crossing and show herself. If it had decent guards, they’d be aware of her before she reached them and hopefully not so trigger happy to kill a person clearly not part of the Enemy’s hordes. As skilled as she was with a sword, she didn’t think much of her chances against a sniper.
That was one of Grandpa Jen’s most important lessons: to be effective at combat, you need to have a realistic idea of your skills. Do not fight battles you cannot win.
Meridian laughed out loud at that thought. Here she was, walking across Canada all the way to the Great Slave Lake to kill the master of all the Undead. It was the very definition of a battle you can’t win. Still, she was committed to it.
She reached downtown Toronto just after midday. The streets were flooded, but only to about her calves. Little fish swam about and curiously examined her boots. Too small to eat, too bad. Fried fish sounded wonderful.
Her next stop was what had apparently used to be a park. Strange frond-like plants grew up from the loose slit, poking their exotic flowers above the water. Meridian did her best to stay away from them. They obscured her view below the water and all a shambler had to do was lie down under them to become a serious threat.
After the park, a small parking lot next to a terminal blocked her way. That’s when she met the first person.
They’d blockaded the area off with barbed wire and metal posts. Meridian recognized them as the same type that Manhattan used to block off the island from the Bronx. There was a woman of about Meridian’s age standing behind this fence, with a shotgun held in both hands. She wasn’t aiming it at Meridian, it pointed to the ground, but her face was still guarded.
“Identify yourself!” the woman said.
“Meridian,” Meridian said. “I’m traveling from Manhattan island.”
And then, because she couldn’t think of anything else: “Take me to your leader.”
She winced after she said it. It sounded so lame.
“Yeah?” the woman said. “Maybe he’s busy today.”
“Maybe,” Meridian said. “I have some information he might like.”
“Why don’t you tell me and I’ll see if he might like it?”
“Your island is going to be attacked in a few days. Zombies, probably.”
“Only that? They can’t cross the water,” the woman said, looking less sure.
Meridian shrugged. She wasn’t in the business of convincing people to do things they didn’t want to. If the woman wouldn’t let her in, she could continue on her way. The important thing was they got the message.
Perhaps some of this was clear on her face because the woman took a long look at her and said, “Yeah, okay, we’ll let you in. You’ll have to surrender your sword first.”
“All right,” Meridian said, “but be careful with it. It’s been in my family for generations.”
The trip to the island was more low tech than Meridian would have thought. The woman, who introduced herself as Alaska was accompanied by a teenage boy who might have been five years younger than her and watched her with longing that he couldn’t quite hide.
“And this is Modesto,” Alaska said.
“Hi,” Modesto said.
They both were fierce-looking in their own way. Alaska was lanky with dull blonde hair, but she held the shotgun as if she were used to it, and her eyes were quick and intelligent. Modesto, for his part, was muscular and had a few scars that proved he’d had his fair share of fights. This was undercut with the puppy-dog attitude toward Alaska, but Meridian bet he’d be more useful in a fight around her because of his adoration not in spite of it.
The boat they had was a simple motor boat. Meridian had been expecting some sort of official Toronto shuttle boat or something. Flashing LCD lights, maybe a logo, not a simple motor that had to be started by turning a crank. As they approached the island, things started to seem less and less hi-tech so that soon even the old motor boat started to look like fantastic space technology.
There were no defenses on the island. Meridian didn’t see any barricades or traps. They were relying solely on the water between them and the mainland to keep them safe. A distance of maybe 160 meters, if that. There were some good sniping positions from the surrounding buildings, but the ground level floors had open glass looking out to the water.
Dear Artificer, Meridian thought. These people are all going to die.
They were met by a small group who helped reel the boat in, and Meridian was greeted with curiosity. Everybody in the group was armed, but Meridian wasn’t sure their weapons would do much good. Small arms, low stopping power, poorly maintained. Alaska’s shotgun appeared to be the only decent gun among the group and Meridian already thought poorly of guns when faced with the Enemy. Half the time bullets would pass right through a zombie and the thing would keep coming. You had to hit the head to stop them, or blow off a limb to slow them down, and you were likely to run out of ammo before you killed most of them. Then there were vampires, who were immune to bullets, and things like bonedren, which while not immune didn’t care too much about being hit.
Alaska introduced her, and Meridian tried to make an effort to remember the names, but their faces already seemed dead to her. This feeling was so disquieting, that Meridian had to shake herself out of it in the same way she often had to force the voices to leave her alone.
After introductions, the group led her into the airport itself. A little dusty and grimmy, but it still had a open feeling that Meridian didn’t like at all. There were no choke points except where once there might have been airport security, and that led to planes that would never fly again.
How has the Enemy not gotten to them before this? Meridian thought, looking around in wonder.
Was the water truly enough to keep them safe?
The openness of the place must have appealed to the people during the Empire. Lots of light, less crowding. There were still reminders of that time about the building. A model of a small blue and white plane hung from the ceiling, pictures of airplanes and dashing pilots lined the white, sterile walls, but it would be a slaughter if any of the Enemy got into here.
The sooner I talk to the leader, the better.
They continued along the corridors and then up some stairs (the crowd and Modesto hung back, as if not allowed beyond the concourse) to what could only be described as an observation deck. Meridian supposed this was to watch in coming flights, but even as she cringed at the unprepared, shoddy condition of the rest of the airport, the observation deck at least afforded a wide view of both the runways and crossing point. It was likely she’d been spotted from this point. There were several sets of tower viewers and they looked like they gave pretty good coverage.
The leader was-- and Meridian had expected this-- older than the others. It was a common motif; old people were considered wise, therefore they tended to the “leader,” though sometimes you ended up with charismatic young people or somebody with a hereditary title.
This leader had graying hair and looked to be somewhere between forty and sixty, but Meridian wasn’t a good at guessing ages. His beard cultured the wiseman look, and he had a small custom built pair of spectacles on his face. From the way the lenses looked, he’d probably cobbled them together from tower viewers.
“Welcome traveler,” he said. “You’re not here to cause trouble, I hope.”
“She was armed with this,” Alaska said, offering the sword.
“Oh,” the man said. “Give her back her weapon.”
Alaska obediently offered Meridian her sword back, hilt first. Meridian took it with a degree of solemnity mimicking the other woman’s, though she couldn’t help but feel that she was play acting with shadows.
“You never answered my question,” the man said. “Did I make a mistake giving you back your sword?”
“No,” Meridian said. “I’m not going to hurt anybody.”
“That’s a relief. What’s your name, stranger?”
“Meridian, and you are?”
“Dallas,” the man said.
“Is everybody here named after places?” Meridian asked.
“Ayuh, most of us. It became something of a tradition, but to my mind a silly one. Are people where you come from all named after geography terms?”
“No,” Meridian said. “My sister was named after a Bible character.”
“Where are you going, Meridian?”
“West,” she replied. “I only stopped by to warn you.”
“The undead look like they’re getting ready to mount and assault and this was the only place that looked populated enough to be their target. You may have a day to prepare at the most.”
She could have said that she could hear them plan their assault, but lied mostly because she didn’t think that letting people know she had them in her head was the best course of action. Probably the opposite. They might attack her.
He considered her with semi-serious eyes.
Does he not see the danger? she thought.
“They’ve never been able to get passed the water,” he said. “There’s no reason to think they’ll be able to do it now.”
“I’m telling you, they’ll find a way,” Meridian said. “Either by boat or maybe from some sort of forgotten service tunnel. And having seen your defenses, I think if they did get in here, it’d be over in a matter of hours.”
“Hyperbole,” he said. “Now, I’m sure you’re telling the truth as you see it, but the zombies out there,” he gestured toward the city, “haven’t attacked the island since the initial attacks. We’ve been on this island for generations and we’ve never seen any secret tunnels.”
“Have you checked?”
“And they’ve not come by boat,” he said, ignoring her. “You seem to ascribe intelligence to them that is simply not evident. We send out parties to collect supplies and nobody has ever reported anything except mindless wave attacks.”
“You don’t think mindless attacks could have caused the entire old civilization to collapse, do you?” Meridian asked.
“The old civilization, as you call it, collapsed due to whatever it did to the weather. Which appears to be slowly correcting itself. Once that’s done, humanity will take control again. Until that time, we will wait on our island and…” he shrugged, “wait.”
“I’m telling you, they’re coming,” Meridian said. “No if’s about it. At least check for a tunnel.”
“Where would I check for a tunnel? Can you tell me? I’ve lived here my entire life, and I can’t think of anything like that.”
“Where?” Meridian said. She closed her eyes. Screw it. She still might be able to help if she played her best card. Maybe she could play it off as being psychic.
She focused on the Enemy’s chatter. There was something like a battle plan being drawn out, and a countdown timer, and numerous pieces being moved about, and there it was: an underground map of the entire area, sewer lines, maintenance tunnels, everything.
The ancients had blocked off the sewer line to the island, but running almost next to it was an electrical tunnel containing everything needed to keep the lights running for the next two hundred years-- provided somebody kept them repaired.
“Below basement two, near the corner,” Meridian said, eyes still closed. “It looks like there’s some sagging tiles. That’s where they’ll come up.”
She opened her eyes up. Dallas’s own eyes were narrowed with suspicion, and as well he might be if she’d described a real place.
“Well?” she finally asked.
“Alaska,” he said, “take her down into basement two and check the floor. Take one of the flashlights. No fire.”
Looking uneasy, Alaska led Meridian back down to where the rest of the island waited. Not liking the silence, Meridian tried to walk quickly, but since she didn’t really know where basement two actually was, she could only go as fast as the other woman.
Alaska didn’t say anything until they’d made it to a service corridor and were alone.
“I don’t think there’s a tunnel. Water’d come up, if there were.”
Meridian shook her head.
Basement two was a bit further down than Meridian expected, but it was tiled just like she saw in her vision. She couldn’t guess the function of the room. It was an empty room with just a few damp boxes, lots of roaches, and a tiled floor. Not suitable for a storage space, but it had no pipes either.
The corner of the floor was sagging like she said it would be.
“See?” Alaska said, tapping the corner with her foot. “Solid.”
The floor gave way, revealing a large tunnel that extended into a dark infinity like a the mouth of some unfathomable beast.
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prologue 1 2 3
My Sister still Speaks
SciFiQuest 3018: A Dystopia for the Rest of Us