“Sisters. Sisters, please pay attention.” The gray haired, somewhat plump woman at the podium had to be well beyond retirement age. “Ladies.” She pulled out a long, stiletto knife and banged the pommel on the podium. “I hate public speaking, but since I am the eldest, I got elected, again. That was a joke.” The room quieted slowly and the woman returned the knife and pulled out a flask. She sipped before she put it away. A few of the sisters giggled. “Truth is, I don’t get much practice public speaking in the nursing home.” That got the room dead quiet. “But that don’t make no never mind. My name is Libby Carter. You got nametags by the door?” Several women nodded.
There were in fact twenty-four visitors in the room, and with Lisa, Latasha and Emily, that made twenty-seven elect in one place at one time. Libby took note. “There have never been so many sisters gathered together before. I have met a few of you. Yes, hello Mildred.” The two old ladies waved to each other. “But there will be time for meet and greet after the meeting. The motel has catered lunch, sweets and coffee set up in the next room.”
“If you go that way, and hot water for tea if you have a mind.” Libby did not sound sure. She glanced at Lisa who simply nodded. “Yes, I see some of you have already found the coffee. Very good. But now we need to turn to what we are all doing here. Please pay attention.” Libby coughed, but only once. “First, let me ask how many of you have ever worked with a sister before?” Only four of the hands in the room went up. “Yes, hands up please.” A couple more hands went up. “All right. Hands down. Now the important question. How many of you have fought the undead before?”
“Like zombies, vampires, Frankenstein type monsters.” Emily was surprised to see almost half of the hands go up. “Good, good. So we have some experience here. Now, I believe what we are dealing with is more the Frankenstein type. They have been revived?” It was a question directed at Lisa who stood. The old woman nodded and turned again to the group. “It would be best if Detective Schromer explained. Most of you have been in touch with Lisa over the past few years. I understand some of you are friends of friends, but here.” The old woman stepped aside, walked carefully down the two steps as if afraid she might break some bone on the way. She sat in the front row where a seat had been saved for her.
Lisa took the podium and glanced once at Emily and Latasha. They were seated, but on the platform where they could see all the faces in that room, and be seen. Latasha was still and quiet, sitting on her hands. She was not wiggling at all and that was very unusual. Emily was slouching a bit, fingering the sword in her lap.
“Thank you Libby. It is good to meet you all at last,” Lisa began. “I have corresponded with so many of you over the years. In many cases, one of you leading to another sister. I feel I know some of you well already.” She smiled and most of her audience returned the smile. A few looked like they were still considering the word, “undead” and did not like the sound of it. “Yes Libby,” Lisa nodded to the old woman now that she was seated. “This is the Frankenstein type, with a fluid reviving their system, an artificial heart pump and electrodes in the brain to stimulate certain synaptic pathways.”
“That sounds pretty sophisticated,” One woman spoke up. Another stood up.
“Ellen Martin, physics department, University of Toronto.” She introduced herself and waved the little sheet of information that had been provided. “I have seen no academic papers or anything else concerning anyone working on any such neural implants. Are we sure this technology is of earthly origin?”
“Katie?” Lisa looked to the back of the room.
“Katherine Lockhart, Washington. No indication yet that it is not.” The word came from a woman who was about thirty. Emily saw something military in the woman’s bearing despite the civilian clothes. It also appeared as if the woman might be pregnant.
A hand went up near the front, but the woman did not wait to speak. “Miriam, FBI,” That was her whole introduction. “Homeland Security is investigating certain national and international businesses that may be working on related projects, but you know how closed mouthed some business people are. Also certain governments.”
“Sisters.” Lisa spoke up so the room stilled. She then related their encounters thus far with the zombies, and she put some pictures from her laptop up on the screen. She praised Emily several times in the process, much to Emily’s embarrassment. She was very clear about the suspected military involvement, and she paused for a minute so their representative from the pentagon could update with, “No definitive evidence, yet.” By the time Lisa finished, a number of the women were looking at Emily and Latasha. Ashish appeared at the door but Lisa waved him off twice to get through her information. “The semester will be finished for Christmas in ten days. If an attack is going to happen, and given all we know we expect a major attack of some kind, it will likely be within the week.”
One mumbled she only had a week’s vacation. Lisa waved to Ashish, and spoke over the group, “Yes, detective?”
Ashish stuck his head in and smiled for the group. “Sorry to interrupt. You told me to tell you when that gentleman showed up. He is here.” Ashish left.
Lisa gripped the podium hard enough to break off two chunks of wood. Then she had to explain about the council. Most had never heard of such a thing. She had to tell them what Heinrich Schultz represented. Some looked nervous, but Emily stood and spoke for the first time. She had been thinking about it a lot over the past day.
“He is a nice man. As long as we are doing our job, he won’t interfere, and he may even help us.” That quieted the crowd, but then one woman had to stand up, as if something had been bothering her for some time. She spoke first to Emily who was still on her feet.
“I accept the good work you have reportedly done. I imagine your military training has helped a great deal. My concern is for the one beside you. How old are you, dear?”
“Sixteen.” That was not quite true. Latasha’s birthday was not until January. Latasha stood beside Emily and was actually an inch taller but looked terribly skinny and mostly like legs at the moment.
The woman turned to Lisa. “She is too young and should not be allowed to participate.”
“I can take care of myself,” Latasha shouted and made little fists.
The woman looked again at Latasha. “I am sure you can, but that isn’t the point, little firebrand.”
A rather small Asian woman in her forties stood and countered. “Anna, from New York. I say she needs to make her own decision. The sisters have never gathered like this before. In the old days it might have been her on her own facing this crisis alone.”
By the time Anna finished, Libby had stood and people got respectfully quiet. “Some of us could use a little firebrand,” she said with a broad smile for Latasha.
A woman in the middle who had her hand up the whole time finally spoke. “Do we need to talk to her parents and get a permission slip signed or something?”
“No,” Lisa shook her head in disbelief, but before she could say more, the first woman spoke again.
“Can we vote?” Lisa could hardly say no to that. To be fair, six of the women agreed that Latasha was too young, but the rest all decided that Latasha needed to make her own decision. Then there was the sound of cracking wood and the creak of nails pulled up as Lisa ripped the lid off the crate that had sat on the stage the whole time. When she pulled out a fire-red ax with a long curved blade, the room fell silent again.
“I see many of you brought your own weapons, but some arrived without for unavoidable airline reasons. We have ten of these. I understand Gertrude Pennyfeather of Boston has more money than she knows what to do with. She could not be here today, but she had these made some years ago when she was facing her own situation. She over-nighted them to us a week ago. Fortunately, her situation was resolved in another way, and these sat unused for all that time.” Lisa paused and touched a button on the inside of the handle. A spike sprang out of the bottom of the axe and it had a long, sharp wooden end. She pushed the button again and the spike withdrew. “Please pass this around and take one when we are done if you need it, but pay attention. Everyone needs to have her weapons at hand at all times from now on. You need to eat with it, sleep with it, and always have it on your person. We do not know when or where the attack may come even if we strongly assume somewhere on the university campus. The call will be short notice, and there is this. Some of you have not had to act in years, even decades. You are all elect, but even you can get rusty. I recommend you work out and hone your skills as much as you can before the time comes.”
That was all she could say apart from “Meeting dismissed.” Some of the women had already gotten up to examine the axes. Others had devolved into small group discussions. A few headed straight for the luncheon, or the women’s room. Latasha got an axe and cradled it like a baby.
“Come on,” Emily encouraged her and jumped off the platform to get to the door. Once in the main room where the motel had their luncheon laid out, buffet style, she went straight for Henry Schultz.
He saw her and smiled, and poked his finger toward Officer Rob Parker who stood beside him. “My guard,” he said when she got near. “To make sure I don’t cause any trouble.”
“You? Trouble?” She returned his smile.
Officer Parker was giggling about something. “Emily.” He acknowledged her, and it was not as Miss Hudson. “Henry, tell her the one about Napoleon.” He giggled again.
“Not for such company,” he started to shake his head before he changed his mind. “Well, the times.” He got no more out as Rob started to tell the story.
“He had to go all day in the middle of a battle. When he finally found an outhouse, the person who just left threw a bomb with a long fuse down the hole. I can just picture that.” Rob started to laugh quietly again.
“The muck probably saved his life.” Henry got another word in.
“He got his butt burned and his whole general staff was covered with the shit.” Rob pulled himself together. Emily smiled at the thought, because she knew something Rob Parker did not know—and Heinrich confirmed it.
“You had to be there.” Then he changed the subject. “Latasha. That is a fine looking weapon.” He held out his hand. Latasha was keeping one-step back behind Emily. She felt reluctant to give up the ax, but did so on Emily’s urging. He simply looked at it, touched his finger to the blade, found the spring-loaded spike right away and handed it back as he received it. “A bit too much machine work for my tastes, but it should serve you well if you take care of it.”
Latasha cradled it again, and smiled at the man for the first time.
Meanwhile, Emily spent the time attaching her sword to her belt so it could hang at her side. She found she had to move it a bit to the front because her hip made it stick out a little. When she finished, she surprised everyone. She stepped up and took Heinrich by the arm the way a granddaughter might take her grandfather by the arm. His smile broadened a bit, and it looked genuine. Lisa still felt very wary and concerned about the man as witnessed by the two blocks of wood ripped off the podium. Maybe Emily was ignorant, but she had decided she liked him and that his only intention was good.