Home > The Burning World (Warm Bodies #2)(11)

The Burning World (Warm Bodies #2)(11)
Author: Isaac Marion

I look at the floor, searching for the fastest way to end this conversation. “I don’t want my past lives.”

“Why not?” Ella asks.

Julie raises her eyebrows at me and waits. It’s a conversation we’ve had before, and she’s always been cautiously ambivalent. She won’t attack my desire for a fresh start, but she won’t defend it either.

“Because I want this one,” I reply almost as a sigh, knowing the charm of this sentiment has worn off.

I expect Nora to laugh, but she just looks at me with arms folded, her face clouded with an emotion I can’t read.

“That’s sweet,” Ella says. “But do you mind a bit of elderly wisdom?”

I shrug.

“People have pasts. You can’t be a person without one.”

Nora opens her mouth, then shuts it and looks at the floor. Hers is the one opinion I haven’t heard yet, but she seems to have withdrawn from the conversation. I wish I could do the same. Julie watches me, waiting to see how I’ll wriggle out of Ella’s logic lock.

“TEST,” Rosso’s voice booms from the meeting hall, followed by three ear-punching thumps and a squeal of feedback. “Is it on?”

“Jesus,” Julie says, covering her ears. “Is he deaf?”

“He’s getting there,” Ella says. “I keep telling him he’s too old for this, he should pass it off to Evan and—”

“No, no,” Julie cuts her off. “Please not Evan.”

“Well, he is next in rank.”

“I thought we weren’t doing ranks anymore.”

“Lawrence doesn’t like the titles, but we still need some kind of leadership structure. Or so everyone says.”

“Test, test,” Rosso says, followed by another shriek of feedback.

“It’s on!” Julie shouts toward the hall entrance. “Turn it down, you damn metalhead!”

Ella laughs. The laugh becomes a cough, and the cough lasts longer than it should.

Julie touches her shoulder. “Hey … are you okay?”

“Fine,” Ella says, recovering herself with a deep breath. “Just old.”

Julie watches her surrogate grandmother wipe spittle from her lips. She doesn’t let go of her shoulder.

“Was it really that loud?” Rosso wonders, stepping in from the hall. “It’s hard to tell from onstage. Our sound guy sucks.”

Ella cocks her head. “You don’t think you’re playing a show, do you? Please tell me you’re not going senile as well as deaf.”

“Ella, so help me …”

“Ishtar Scorned broke up thirty years ago, babe. There was an apocalypse, and you’re doing a town hall meeting for the survivor enclave that you—”

“Okay, enough.” Rosso rolls his eyes and gives me the Women! look, and I’m startled by how much this delights me. I try to make the appropriate expression of fraternal commiseration, but it comes out less I hear you, brother, and more I’m constipated.

“I may have lost a little acuity,” Rosso tells his wife. “A few decades of hard rock and gunfire will do that, but it’s not the worst thing a man can lose with age, so back off.”

Ella snickers. I study these two elderly humans and wonder what they’ve done differently. Age has not destroyed them like it does most. Rosso hasn’t retained the physical grace of his wife; his eyes and ears are bad, his hair is sparse, and his joints are stiff, but like Ella, he has managed to keep his soul limber. I remember the way he looked at me at the stadium entrance as Julie begged him to trust us, as he opened the gate for me and let me inside, knowing full well what I was. He has not shrunken into a mass of prejudice like other, younger men. He is still living.

“Do you really need a mic?” Nora says. “It’s usually only a few dozen people.”

Rosso looks uneasy. “We’re … expecting a bigger crowd today.”

There’s a pause as everyone wonders whether to ask the question now or wait for the official reveal, but before we can decide, the doors bang open and the crowd files in.

“How much bigger?” Nora wonders as the lobby fills.

“Everyone.” Rosso nods to familiar faces and shakes a few hands, a blue-collar president in a grease-stained jumpsuit.

“Um, everyone is twenty thousand people,” Nora says. “The hall holds two hundred.”

“We’re patching the mics into the stadium PA. Only the reps will be able to participate, but everyone will be able to listen.”

Dread creeps into Julie’s face. “It’s that important?”

“Everything is that important. We’re all sharing this place and everyone deserves to know what’s happening. We’re done with secret bunker meetings. We’ve seen where that leads.”

The four of us watch him, waiting, and his tone deflates a little. “But yes. It’s that important.”

“Is the world ending again?” Julie asks, forcing a faint smile.

Rosso looks at her, stone-faced, considering the question with alarming seriousness. “Excuse me,” he says, and disappears into the crowd.


WE DRIFT BENEATH the city, floating through soil and stone, gazing up at the foundations of skyscrapers. They rise like exclamation points announcing the ascendancy of man, the end of a speech that seemed long and eloquent when we were up there writing it, but now, here astride the aeons, more like a baby’s first grunt.

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