My Sister still Speaks

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4.

Meridian.

The voice sounded almost as if it were in the room. Meridian snapped awake reaching for her sword. There was no one with her in the room. After discovering the hole, they treated her like a guest and hung on her every suggestion as she had them block off the hole and start fortifying the island.

Meridian. The voice sounded like her sister. Hannah always had a curious way of lilting the middle syllable of her name. Me·rId·ian. And here, the voice duplicated it exactly.

“What?” she whispered to the dark room. It had once been an administrative office of some sort, but was now well enough furnished with a chifferobe, and a bed, and a bedside vanity. No carpet, though. The solid tile floor held a coldness the trappings of a Victorian bedroom could not dispel.

I need to know what kind of tricks you’ve taught these people.

“So you can eat them? No,” Meridian said, keeping her voice level. She was groggy from being woken up, but she pulled herself into wakefulness piece by piece while maintaining her steely determination not to believe a single thing the voice said.

I don’t want to hurt them. I want to free them. Hannah’s voice said. It seemed to be coming from just beyond the foot of the bed. There was nothing there. Meridian could see well in the dark, possibly a side effect from being bitten all those years ago, and it was as empty as outer space.

“Free them?”

Mortality is a curse, dear sister. Aging is a curse. You want them to grow old and eventually die? That one getting cancer, that one going senile, that one ending it all when it all becomes too much? All those old confident religions promising immortality and this is the only true path to it. Never age, never get old, never be lonely. Do you not wish it?

“‘Do I not wish it?’ You expect me to believe you’re Hannah speaking like that?”

We are Hannah. But we are others as well. Listen, the one flaw humanity always had was that it had no unified goal. Humans could accomplish anything, if they wanted, but they disagreed on what best to do. I bring unity. With united hands we could put boots on any planet around any sun. Why would you fight this?

“Because,” Meridian said, “what you offer is not immortality but slavery. I don’t know if the people you’ve taken are trapped somewhere while you walk their bodies around, or if they died and you just take their thoughts and memories, but either way, I will destroy you. Justice for my sister and everyone else.”

Revenge is not justice. And soon, you’ll never be alone.

Silence resumed, and Meridian shivered.

There would be no more sleep tonight. She left the office-bedroom and walked the empty concourse until she found the night guard. She’d suggested that a watch be posted but was surprised to see it was the woman she’d first met outside.

Alaska was sitting in the observation lounge with a pair of binoculars scanning the moonlit waters. Her shotgun rested on one of the old chairs that in better days could seat somebody watching the skies.

Everybody here is named after a place, Meridian thought again, maybe for the hundredth time since arriving. How silly.

“Alaska?” she asked taking care to keep her voice low. She didn’t want to startle the other woman.

“Oh, Meridian,” Alaska said, turning. “Couldn’t sleep?”

“I’m a light sleeper,” Meridian said, observing that in the moonlight, Alaska’s hair was no longer a dull blonde but more of a sparkling white sheet.

“How long do you think we have?”

“Maybe twelve hours,” Meridian said. She sat down heavily in one of the old chairs and tried to wipe sleep from her eyes. The chair groaned under her as if in physical pain.

“Maybe?”

“Less, I don’t know,” she said. The murmuring she’d been hearing since coming into the city had ceased and except for her sister the only thing she sensed was an ominous building feeling like that of a ticking clock or a countdown timer. The image was striking in its power. She returned her focus to close by. She’d be more use that way.

“The water is beautiful,” Meridian said.

“I’m not much of a romantic,” Alaska said. “It makes it easy to spot things, and thus is useful.”

“I’m being maudlin. The light reminds me of a night back home.”

“A lost love?” Alaska asked.

“I never really loved him,” Meridian said, “but he was part of home. He was sweet on my sister and I always felt like he only talked to me as a cheap replacement. The last time I talked to him was overlooking water on a moonlit night. I reminds me of that.”

“What happened to your sister?”

“She died,” Meridian said. “We were the warriors of our clan and she was killed in the line of duty.”

“I’m sorry. My parents died on a foraging mission.”

“It’s hard,” Meridian said.

“It is.”

“I think…” Meridian said, and then, “Hold on.”

The countdown had ended. Voices exploded in her head and she shook with the force of all of them. There was barely any room for her own thoughts.

MERIDIAN! YOU WILL FAIL. SHE WILL DIE THEY ALL WILL DIE WE WILL SEE TO IT YOU HAVE NOTHING YOUR SWORD WILL BREAK YOU ARE WORTHLESS KILL THEM ALL DESTROY THEM JOIN US YOU PATHETIC BITCH YOU ARE THE REAL MONSTER MERIDIAN YOU HAVE NO CONTROL YOU WILL FALL FAIL FALL FAIL

It took incredible effort to pull herself back into sanity. Alaska was leaning over her looking concerned. Meridian waved her away.

“They’re coming now,” Meridian said. “You have to get everybody up.”

“How do you--”

“There,” Meridian said pointing out the window. A black shape, a barge maybe, was cutting through the silver water.

“It’s one of the big freight boats,” Alaska said in a voice more awed than scared. “There could be hundreds of zombies on that. How did they ever get it moving again?”

Meridian thought it likely that the Enemy had just eaten some mechanics a long time ago and stolen the information out of their brains.

“They’re going to crash it on the island,” Meridian said. “You have to get everybody up now!”

The mad dash to each bunk and small residence seemed endless. The voices never left. They hung around in the back of Meridian’s thoughts like some destructive parasite, smashing things and trying their best to distract her.

Denver, Modesto, Alaska gave clear orders and the small population set themselves up at their positions. Meridian drew her sword and waited. She’d known the attack would come from the east; the longest distance. Why this should be puzzled her, but seeing the size of the cargo ship bearing down on the tiny island, she thought it shouldn’t have surprised her. The Enemy had the entire population of Toronto to use up, and they had maybe seventy people. They’d have to escape and there would be a full crowd of shamblers waiting on the near shore. It was to be a flush. They’d drive the survivors into the water or kill them on the far shore.

And, dear sister, you blocked the tunnel. Their only means of escape.

“Steady,” Denver said, to the nervous people. “There can’t be that many.”

But, panic broke in his small force before the boat even arrived and Meridian found herself standing alone with Alaska and Denver.

Denver looked back at his retreating community and said with corrosive bitterness, “I guess I have to run too.”

“Meridian?” Alaska asked. “What do we do?”

“We run,” Meridian said. “We take a boat and head toward the farthest shore.”

“East? Why?”

“They’ll be waiting at the ferry,” Meridian said. “That’s how I’d do it.”

“We have to warn them!”

“I don’t think there’s time.”

“They’re my people!”

Alaska ran after the departing crowd yelling as loud as she could. Meridian closed her eyes in frustration.

There was a groan and a crash as the ship struck the island and ran aground, and then Meridian was running too. She could swim, all New Yorkers could, and there would only be one way out.

Stupid. No escape plan? You’ve killed all these people! She couldn’t tell if that was her own thought or her sisters.

Inhuman shrieks came from behind her and then something shot over her and landed in front of her.

In shape it was a girl, maybe fourteen, but its mouth had metal fangs rudely pushing its jaws open. The eyes glittered with unnatural red and silver light. Her hands were further mutilated with sickle shaped claws where fingers should be.

Meridian pointed her sword at this thing.

“Back off.”

“Meerrrrridaarrr!” the thing said barely able to talk around its own teeth. But it was able to laugh, the sound wavered like a hyena maddly up and down.

“You’re not the first Licentiate I’ve killed this week,” Meridian said.

It charged her, but she knew how it would move and instead of backing off or stepping back, Meridian stepped to the side slicing down and catching the creature from left shoulder to left hip.

The licentiate fell, but this barely slowed it down. It pulled itself along the ground using its two remaining limbs to move. Meridian beheaded it and it turned to dust.

She looked back toward the ship and saw the dark shapes pouring from it. Most were the shambler type, she could tell by how the silhouettes stumbled. Some were faster, however, and one looked like...

“A bonedren?” Meridian said in shock. Part of her wanted to fight the mass of bones that hauled itself out of the boat with twenty sets of grasping and clawing limbs. It was an insane urge. Something like that would be almost impossible to fight with a sword. Cobbled together out of hundreds of skeletons, whatever animated it couldn’t be beheaded.

She ran. The island wasn’t very big, she cleared the airport and waded into the water and then began an efficient backstroke to the shore.

Meridian angled her path away from the island, but along the shore. She kept going parallel to it until the first sign of tiredness set in and then turned sharply to land herself near the flooded houses. The water didn’t stop suddenly, it was a gradual decrease and she waded into Toronto.

They were waiting. She wasn’t so lucky as to escape them entirely.

A dead man, a dead woman, rotten to the core and waterlogged. She cut them down and realized there were dogs splashing toward her. She stood her ground.

The first, a massive and putrid Corso, charged straight in. She slashed down, killing it, but found to her annoyance that her blade was stuck in its skull.

Meridian kicked the corpse away, freeing her blade just in time to cut the second dog in two. She didn’t do it cleanly and the two halves writhed on the ground. The final dog attempted to flank her.

Carefully stepping around the divided canine, Meridian put her sword en-garde. The dog, this one a mastiff, was so desiccated it almost was just bones, tottered unsteadily on its feet. Rather than giving it a chance to surprise her, she took the fight to the dog, and neatly beheaded it.

Lesser undead didn’t crumble to dust as the vampires, licentiates, or liches did. Instead, they became unmoving meat.

Meridian let out a breath. Somewhere toward the dock she could hear screams.

“Damn it,” she said, before charging toward the dock.


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prologue 1 2 3 4 5

My Sister still Speaks