I downed my third whiskey for the night and gazed across the valley, toward the Hydra Houses with the mythical kraken emblazoned on their frontages, and not for the first time, a lump came to my throat.
Damn it, she’s gone. Gone for good. Why can’t I forget her? Do I even want to? I loved her so much, ever since that day in the Andamans when I saw her for the first time, slashing and ripping and tearing apart the zeds on the distant shore. Yet, when she came to my bed the first time that night, we were soon lost in each others eyes and bodies.
They say war brings many changes, and for my generation, the Zombie War was the defining event. Well, yeah. For me as a dyke, definitely, and for women in general, sure. For example, in this harsh new world we live in, debates about abortion are a thing of the past, because who’d blame any woman who refused to bring new life into a charnel house world like this? And given our equality of endurance, ordeal and sacrifice, no-one denies LGBTs like me our share of human rights anymore.
Damn it all to hell, though, not all the other changes were good ones. The next generation of kids will never hear whale song, because the species is extinct. The Great Barrier Reef is a bleached corpse.
If someone else is reading this, decades from now, I hope things have otherwise improved for you. I hope the environment has recovered and regained some of the beauty and diversity that we sacrificed to win the war against the undead.
I remember her straddling me that evening in the camp, hands finding quicksilver down there. I was on fire, her touch thrilled and excited me. I moaned in desire, passion and release and spasmed around her magical fingers. Her. Arani Mukerje. The woman I loved. My anchor. My touchstone.
And then, down at the Kapiti Coast shoreline’s edge, screams split the night and the razorwire was silhouetted as the boundary arclights snapped on, and a siren ended the deceptive moment of tranquility. On the black basalt rocks near the shore, the hulk of an Australian dinghy lay, haemorrhaging water through the gash in its side. Damn it, the Triage Guard hadn’t stopped this one and there were enough of the roaring, cadaverous, taloned parodies of humanity to tear the fence down.
Passion extinguished in the name of duty, I pulled on my trousers and checked my heavy ordinance. I turned to kiss Arani goodbye, but the woman who stared back at me, katana blades in her ambidextrous hands as she finished dressing, was not my lover. It was her alter, Kali.
Yeah, Arani lived in shared accomodation, one tenant in the apartment of her body, which she shared with other, multiple personalities. I understand DSM VII calls it Dissociative Identity Adaptation. It’s a concession and recognition that multiple personalities are not regarded as pathological anymore, but an adaptation to the post-apocalyptic purgatory that we find ourselves within, and the hell that preceded it.
Before the war, or so my ex-university professor Prof Jessie Motuhake-Mulcannon told me, it was the case that there were questions about the whole ‘dissociation’ diagnosis. At that stage, it seemed to be the case that a lot of dissociative episodes and multiple personalities arose as a consequence of early childhood child sexual abuse. Sceptics asked why no other sorts of trauma triggered it. Well, now that question is answered. Because the Zombie War did lead to an upsurge in dissociation and emergence of multiple personalities amongst young female (and some male) survivors.
Arani was a beautiful darkskinned woman in saffron silk and rose-scented perfume, but Kali was stone cold, a consummate warrior, deadly as a venomous cobra from her homeland.
Before I could even say goodbye, Kali was outside the door, uttering her ululating battle cry, swords flashing in the morning twilight as the sun arose over the besieged camp. I tried to steel myself and shut out the grisly scenes taking place all around me, my sisters and brothers in arms that had fallen before the brutal, slavering, snarling ghouls that had attacked us. No. There was time to mourn them later, as my pistol downed one, then two, then three and four of them, but then another blindsided me and I looked death in its face- yellow and red stained teeth, one eye remaining, maggots crawling over its cracked and fissured skin, its breath foetid- and then, a foul wash of ichor spattered my face, and I rolled aside as a decapitated head fell into the long yellow grass. But Kali already turned to behead another of our undead assailants.
Little by little, the tide turned, and the zombies fell to headshots and deadly bushido steel blades. I hoped that Kali wouldn’t be needed much longer, and then I saw her.
Marie Gulch. Understand, I’m not religious myself, but I can comprehend why some people want to believe that amidst the billions of lives lost during the Zedwar, some vestige of consciousness survived death. Spiritualism is in vogue these days, and undergoing a major resurgence. I don’t have a problem with most mediums, given that they’re engaged in consoling others and providing them with solace, comfort and hope- and closure that somewhere, those that they lost still exist. But then there are the Neospiritualists.
The Neos have bullshit beliefs about multiplicity, equating it with demonic possession. Neospiritualist exploit singleton fears of the unknown and difference and rake in the money from their hatemongering. And our bitch Neo chaplain was one of that breed. She’d taken advantage of the zed incursion to engage in some unfriendly fire, with Kali centred in her sights. I barrelled straight into her, knocking her to the ground, but her shot didn’t go completely wild. It struck Kali in the temple and I screamed. Then I started pummelling unholyjane, until Tom and Michiko pulled me off her.
Given the provocation, and CCTV evidence of Gulch’s sabotage attempt, I wasn’t subjected to military discipline or the stockade. Instead, for three to four hours, I paced nervously outside the med tents, until I drifted off to an uneasy sleep. Abruptly, Tom gently shook me awake: “Cass? She made it, but…”
I didn’t stop to listen to the rest, and rushed in to meet…Suri, Arani’s Buddhist nun alter. I swallowed:
With her eyes full of serenity and compassion, this woman who was so acheingly similar to my heart’s desire took my hand and said:
“I’m sorry, Cassandra. There was brain damage and it snuffed out the sector of our brain where she lived. Arani is gone from amidst us.”
I collapsed to my knees and started to sob. So like her alter, yet so remarkably dissimilar too, Suri the holy woman took me in her arms as we both sobbed for the woman who had been forever lost, not to the stench, but to blind prejudice and fear.
That was a decade ago. In the postwar world, multiple-personality combattants were rewarded for the tenacity, courage, endurance, sacrifice and diligent service of their combat alters through antidiscrimination laws. In response to the unfriendly fire incident and others like it, there were criminal law changes that treated intentional destruction of alter personalities as murder or manslaughter. Consequently, if the likes of Marie Gulch and others try anything like that these days, they get heavy penalties as an appropriate response. But like Gulch, the Neospiritualist Right fought them every step of the way.
It’s not all bad. In Tibet and other Buddhist societies, they’re treated as sacred gifts from the Buddha, and in Hindu diaspora nations, the combat alters are venerated and called “Kali’s precious daughters.” Arani would have liked that, I think. But in some Middle Eastern, Central African and Asian nations, they are labelled witches and are burnt or tortured.
I wish I could say the post-apocalyptic world that we’ve inherited after ending the zombie threat is a land fit for all heroes. In some ways, it is. Many old prejudices have shrivelled and died amidst the ordeal that humanity faced. But the world wasn’t a utopia before the undead rose against us, and in the strange new world of today, some new bigotries have slithered into existence to replace the vanquished fears that humanity once held.
Whereever they are now,I hope that Suri, Kali and the other alters who inhabit that beloved body that once housed the woman that I loved so much are at peace.