Written by: Susanne Beck and Okasha
CHAPTER FORTY FIVE
"Alright, ya big goober, just give me a second here." Asi dances on his forepaws as Kirsten struggles with a screen door that doesn’t want to open. Though the sky is a crisp, almost autumnal blue, the wind howls through the trees as if heralding a hurricane. "Damn…stupidass…state…" she grunts, giving the handle one final heave, and almost falling over as it opens far too easily, nearly taking her hand with it. Uncaring, Asimov dashes into the house, yodeling.
With a sigh, Kirsten releases the door, and it slams closed on another gust of wind. Instead of trying to wrestle with it again, she turns away, content, for the moment, to put off going in the house to spend more long hours in fruitless pursuit of the missing code. Even if the breeze is stiff enough to drop a mule, the sun is warm on her shoulders, and the air is fresh and sweet.
What a difference a week makes, she thinks to herself. The tepid, frightened, holding-pattern feel of the base has been replaced, almost overnight, by an almost hive-like intensity. Men and women, civilians and military alike, move across the grounds with purpose, heads held high and shoulders squared. She even spies several groups that appear to be drilling. Broken into squads of twenty, they run about the grounds in orderly rows to a musical cadence sung out by the squad leader.
As she looks on, one such group rounds the curve toward the house. She smiles as she recognizes the leader, and raises a hand. Clad in running shorts and a green T-shirt emblazoned with ARMY across the chest, Tacoma spies her, grins, and snaps off a stiff salute, barking to his charges to do the same or risk his wrath. Watching the few civilians in the crowd stumble about trying to salute and run at the same time causes Kirsten’s grin to broaden, but she reins it in and returns the salute as solemnly as she can manage. Her smile breaks through at last when Tacoma tips her a wink, and she watches with true pleasure as they all run off in step, even the four sixty something year old men, veterans of the first Gulf War who had buttonholed Tacoma and warned him that if he even attempted to get them off base and out of the fighting, they would stage a coup and depose him.
With a last, deep breath of fresh air, she turns back to the door, yanks it open, and strides inside. Her steps slow as she becomes aware of a presence she does not expect, and a smile of joy crosses over her face as she looks at her lover, seated cross-legged on the floor in front of the couch, eyes closed, breathing soft and even. Dressed in cargo shorts and a black tank-top, her beauty is a Siren’s call to Kirsten, and she finds herself heading into the living room without being aware of her movement.
Koda’s eyes open, and the simple welcome and deep affection in them warms Kirsten’s heart so greatly that tears spring to her eyes. As Dakota rises easily, fluidly, to her feet, Kirsten holds up a hand. "I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to--."
The rest of her statement is muffled as she’s gathered into a strong embrace. Koda’s warmth, scent, and strength surrounds her, filling her with a peace she’s long been lacking.
"You’re all knots," Koda murmurs into her hair, long fingers pressing gently against the bands of tight muscle along Kirsten’s back and shoulders.
"Nerves," Kirsten replies, wincing as the gentle pressure sends sparks of pain down her arms.
"Let’s do something about that." Pulling away, Koda smiles down at her.
"A massage?" Kirsten asks innocently, well remembering where their massages have ended up in the past. "I suppose that will relax me. Eventually."
Rolling her eyes, Dakota takes a step back. "Let’s try something else first, shall we?" Strong hands still on her shoulders, she gently urges the young woman to sit on the floor. "Here, cross your legs and get comfortable, alright?"
"C’mon, Koda, I’m no good at this meditation stuff. Remember what happened at the sweat hut?" A tremor of anxiety wends its way through her belly as she remembers that time, quite well. Muscles which were starting to relax instantly become tense again.
"Relax, cante skuye. You’ll be fine. Just relax and close your eyes."
Sighing softly, Kirsten does as requested. Closing her eyes is the easy part. Relaxing is something else altogether.
Dakota’s hands come down on her shoulders again, their heat filling her body with a sweet, welcome warmth. "Relax and concentrate on your breathing." Koda’s voice sounds very close to her ear and she shivers slightly as the dulcet tones sooth their way through her. "Deep cleansing breaths. In through the nose, out through the mouth. In through the nose, out through the mouth. Yes, like that. Good. Now, with each breath, feel some of your tension drift away. Can you feel it?"
Not really, Kirsten thinks, but doesn’t speak aloud, not wanting to disappoint her lover.
As if reading her thoughts, Koda chuckles and squeezes the firm flesh beneath her palms. "Don’t try so hard, my love. If nothing else, think of it as a few minutes without worries, ok?"
"Hm. Well, if you put it that way…."
Wiggling her backside a little to try and gain more comfort on the hard wooden floor, she makes a great effort to relax her muscles and control her breathing. She can feel her lover’s solid presence behind her, and takes in her scent on an indrawn breath, letting it surround her and mingle with the warmth of the strong hands on her shoulders. Without realizing it, she slips into a light meditative state.
Opening her eyes, she finds herself in some sort of field. The land is flat and treeless and empty, stretching on for miles as far as her eyes can see. Tall grasses with feathery tufts have been pressed flat against the ground, laying a rich golden carpet over the earth.
A familiar, piercing cry sounds overhead, and she looks up, smiling as she sees what can only be Wiyo circling overhead on the warm, late-summer breeze. Instinctually, her hand raises as if to wave to her old, trusted friend, then freezes as the slanting sun winks off something on her finger.
On the third finger of her left hand.
Her vision blurs as she stares, dumbstruck, at the simple golden band through a film of sudden, joyful tears.
The hawk’s cry sounds again, and this time it is answered by an identical cry to her left. Blinking, she shifts her gaze in that direction, looking on in dazed wonder as Dakota appears as if from nowhere. She is a magnificent sight. Dressed only in a beaded loincloth of red, yellow and black, her skin is dark and shining with sweat and oil. Her feet are bare as are her breasts. Her hair, drawn into two fat, shining braids lying easy over her broad shoulders, sports two eagle feathers, both pointing toward the heavens.
In one hand, she holds a handled drum, and she taps on it with the fingers of her free hand. The rhythm is that of Kirsten’s heartbeat. With each tap, Dakota takes a step, ball of her foot to heel and ball to heel again, approaching her in a slow, sinuous and utterly captivating dance.
Her mouth opens, and she utters, again, the cry of the hawk, which is echoed by Wiyo, and then by human voices.
Many human voices.
A long line of men and women appear behind Dakota. Leading the line is Tacoma, dressed identically to his sister save for the single feather in his hair and the bone whistle cradled securely between his lips.
He looks at her and winks. She can’t help but smile back, filled with a sense of warmth and family far beyond anything she has ever conceived of knowing. She almost laughs aloud as the line dances slowly forward to Koda’s rhythm and she recognizes the men and women following. Andrews, his shockingly red hair free and down past his shoulders, wears a pair of Army camo pants and no shirt, his fair, freckled skin already starting to burn in the blazing light of the sun. Manny is next, looking every bit the full blooded Lakota, his hair finally grown out enough to braid.
Her jaw drops slightly as she recognizes Maggie, breasts proudly bared, her ebony skin shining blue in the sun, her teeth a blinding white as she nods to Kirsten and breaks into a beaming grin.
"My family," she whispers, her eyes filling with tears once again. "My people."
The strident scream of an air-raid siren breaks through her vision, jarring her back to full consciousness as her muscles close their steel traps once again.
She feels herself being lifted to her feet and steadied as she sways the tiniest bit, still caught between the present and what can only be her future. Can it? the more cynical part of her mind asks. Can it really? Dreams like that are not for you, Kirsten King. Not for you. Not for you. Not for you….
"We’ll just see about that," she growls, grabbing Dakota’s hand just as the door bursts inward and Jackson plows through. "The enemy’s been spotted, Ma’ams. They’re coming."
"In the air?" Dakota asks.
"No, Ma’am. On the ground. It’s…." He shakes himself out of his nervousness. "The Colonel requests your presence in her office. Best possible speed."
Jackson leads the way back out, but as Kirsten is about to follow, she's tugged to a gentle stop by Dakota. She looks up into gleaming eyes.
"You were given a vision."
It's not a question, and she doesn't have it within her to demur. Not now. Instead, she nods.
"It will come true." Again, the tone of complete, unalterable certainty.
Lifting Kirsten's hand, Koda places a kiss in the palm, then holds it over her own heart. "It will come true," she states again, her belief bedrock.
"I hope so," Kirsten whispers. "More than anything in the world."
Hours later, with the last of the plans set into motion, Dakota and Kirsten return to the house for a brief period of privacy, each knowing that such a chance will not come again for a very long, strenuous time.
"I saw Manny earlier," Kirsten says, looking up from her laptop where binary code continues to march futilely across the screen. "He’s not a happy camper."
Koda lifts the kettle from the stove with both hands and pauses on her way to the bathroom. "I ran into him, too, when I made a last check on the patients in the clinic. He was walking around in the middle of his own personal cloud, but he didn’t say what was bothering him."
"I know Maggie isn’t letting him lead the chopper squadron tomorrow. He’s been a glorified baby sitter for the last several weeks; that’s got to smart." From the bathroom, Kirsten hears the water splash into the tub. They may die tomorrow, maybe tonight. But, by all the gods past and present, they are going to have a hot bath first. "How’s it going?" she asks as Koda returns to fill the pot and set it on the stove where two others are just beginning to steam.
"Almost there. I found a last bit of bath salts in the back of the cabinet. Want to go for it?"
"Oooo, decadence. Need help?"
"Nah, I got it." Koda lifts another pot from the stove and disappears again.
The figures march across the screen in ranks, and it seems to Kirsten that they possess the same sort of mindless, mechanical determination that has been programmed into the droid soldiers. Theirs not to reason why, theirs but to do and die . . .. The odd bit of poetry, relic of some long-ago literature class, floats up from her memory. And how, she asks herself wryly, is that so different from us? If we fail here, we all die, sooner or later. Some later, but just as surely. And then what?
Her vision, or her imagination, had seemed to promise that she and Koda would survive. So had Tega.
But she knows enough, by now, to know that prophecy is conditional, not what will be but what can be. It is up to her, to Dakota, to Maggie and Tacoma and Andrews and Jackson and Manny and all the rest, to carry that future and ultimately to bring it forth into the world. And there is a battle between that conception and that birth, and in that battle is death.
She lowers the top of her computer, pushing it away from her, and with it the thought. They are as ready as they can be: ditches dug, derelict cars and trucks rammed into barricades, troop placements and strategies mapped out. Even from the distance of the officers’ quarters, Kirsten can hear the steady roar of engines as their transports pull into formation on the flight line, the higher pitched whine of tanks and their two self-propelled howitzers as they take up their positions. Their rumble vibrates through the floorboards under her feet.
We’re going to make it. We have to. Failure is impossible.
In two hours, she and Koda will take their places in that line, move up the road to block the droids’ advance. The enemy has the numbers, but, given the rigidity of their programmed logic, the Ellsworth force has the tactics and the flexibility to exploit even a minuscule advantage to the fullest. And, despite the air raid siren, the droid army is dirt-bound. At need, Maggie will put the Tomcats into the air and bomb them to flinders. Which is, it occurs to Kirsten, probably why Manny is being held back.
The last pot comes on the boil, and Kirsten carries it into the bath. The steaming water smells sharply of lavender and something sweeter and more subtle, running under the astringent scent of the bath salts. Koda kneels by the tub, stirring a thin stream of cooler water from the faucet into the mix. Curling vermilion petals skim the swirls, here and there the bell of an entire flower, its anthers leaving a trail of gold in the water. Koda glances up, one hand still in the water. "Try the temperature. See if it’s right."
Kirsten’s eyes sting suddenly, a prickling that has nothing to do with the eyestrain of the past hours. "It’s right," she says around the catch in her throat. "It’s the best bath I’ve ever seen." Then, more steadily, "Where’d you find the tiger lilies?"
"In the garden of one of the vacant houses. They’re panther lilies, actually, wild flowers. Someone must have brought them here from California."
Bending to add her own pan of hot water, Kirsten looks more closely. She brushes a silken bloom with one finger as it floats by. "You’re right. They grow all over in the woods; I used to see them when my dad took us camping."
Koda reaches up to capture her free hand, turns the palm up and kisses it. Her eyes, when she raises her head, are the deep blue of gentians, trouble in their depths. She says softly, "You’re trembling."
Wrapping her fingers about her lover’s longer ones, Kirsten closes her own eyes. "I’m scared, Koda. I don’t know—" With an effort, she steadies her voice. "It bothers me when I don’t know what outcome to expect. It’s the scientist thing."
"You have seen beyond tomorrow. Wika Tegalega has given you a prophecy."
"Do you believe that? That we are going to make a whole new kind of world? Truly?"
"I do." Something else stirs in Koda’s eyes, a question Kirsten cannot quite read. "When I scouted the battlefield with Maggie, I spoke with—I spoke with one of the Four-Footed people, Igmu Tanka. She said she wait for our return."
"Igmu Tanka? Igmu is ‘cat’—a mountain lion?"
Koda nods. "We will survive, cante mitawa. Not just us, but our people—all our peoples. If we use all our weapons, all our knowledge. It is promised." Her expression changes, a smile breaking over her face. "Now get into the tub with me, or the water will be cold."
Kirsten rises, turning away and slowly drawing her shirt over her head. Behind her, she can hear Koda’s breath catch, and wonder washes through her that she has such power to move her lover. But she says, laughing, "I know how we can warm it up again."
"You’re incorrigible," Koda answers, a hint of laughter in her own voice. Kirsten hears the quiet murmur of cloth on cloth as Dakota’s jeans and shirt drop to the floor, the soft splash as she steps into the tub and settles into the water. "Oh gods," she breathes, "this is heaven. I could die happy right now."
Kirsten turns to face her, taking in the long, copper legs that stretch all the way to the front of the tub, the angular shoulders contrasting with the upper curve of Koda’s breasts. The blue eyes are closed in sheer, abandoned ecstasy, incredible long lashes fanned out on her cheeks. A more inviting prospect would be hard to imagine. But, "How are we going to do this? That’s not exactly designed for a hot tub."
"True." Koda sits up straight, drawing her knees up almost under her chin. "Come on in. No, not that way," she says as Kirsten steps in, facing her. "Turn your back. That’s it."
As she moves to comply, Koda’s legs part to let her sit between, and Koda’s arms come around her, holding her gently. "This is better, no?"
"Much better," she breathes as she feels a kiss, soft as the spring breeze, ruffle her hair. Her own hands on Koda’s she leans back against her, feeling the embrace tighten. The warmth of the water, the silkiness of her lover’s skin, the rich scent of the lilies combine in something close to sensory overload. For a long moment, they remain motionless. Then Kirsten sighs, letting go Koda’s hand and reaching for the puff of pleated tulle that hangs from the hot water tap. "Time to scrub."
There is not room to turn around, but, Kirsten hands the sponge and the bottle of soap backward, laughing. "Who’d have thought the woman waving an M-16 in my face would turn out to be such a hedonist? Just goes to show first impressions aren’t all they’re racked up to be."
Koda chuckles, deep in her throat. "Who’d have thought the cute little android taking a leak in the snow would be such a sucker for it?" Kirsten opens her mouth to protest, but closes it abruptly. Koda’s hands, slick with the soap, pass over her shoulders in long, slow, circles, slip down her spine and up her flanks, the pattern repeating again and again. Through the film on her skin, she can feel Koda’s nipples harden as they brush against her back. Koda’s hands continue to spiral across her shoulders, down her flanks, sweeping across her thighs, circling her belly. They rise to cup her breasts, thumbs lightly brushing her own nipples, the touch and the cool air tightening the flesh around them. Koda’s mouth moves along the back of her neck, nibbling at her ear. Kirsten presses herself back against the strong body behind her, her own hands gliding over the long legs that arch beside her. "Nun lila hopa," Koda whispers. "Cante mitawa."
"Cante mitawa," Kirsten echoes, her breath catching as Koda’s hand slips between her legs, then, fingers parting the labia to find the nub of her clitoris. Fire catches under her touch, strikes along the nerves of Kirsten’s legs, flares to life up the column of her spine. "Cante mitawa," she says again, while she can say anything at all, and her head falls back as release takes her and she feels her pulse hammer against Koda’s hand that still cups her sex, shuddering through her again and again.
When she can move, she turns to kneel between Koda’s thighs. Dakota’s eyes, wide and unfocused with desire, draw her down and down, until it seems that she glides slowly through dark water, while shapes move along the verge of the pool above her, slim-legged and swift, slow and lumbering, moving on four legs or two or none. Around her she hears the darting passage of bright fish, the roll and tumble of otters. Then they are gone and she is back in the world she knows, her lips seeking Koda’s in a long, lingering kiss as her knee presses against her lover’s center and Koda comes, the blood pounding in her throat under Kirsten’s mouth, beating frantically, then slowing as the after-languor takes them both. For a long moment they remain still, holding each other. Then Kirsten says huskily, "You remember that ring I saw in my vision?"
"Mmm," Koda answers, her head still against Kirsten’s shoulder.
"Well, then, are you gonna marry me?"
"Are you proposing?"
"I am." Kirsten smiles against the dark hair that coils over her own shoulder and Koda’s. "One of us had better."
"Since you put it that way—" Koda raises her face to Kirsten’s, claiming her mouth in a kiss that takes Kirsten’s breath. Then, "Since you put it that way—yes."
"How—that is, I don’t know what the Lakota custom is? How do we do it?"
A glint of mischief comes into Koda’s eyes. "Well, first, you take Wanblee Wapka a string of ponies. Say about a dozen, you being President and all. Then you get a courting blanket and come calling. Then--"
"Then we elope," Kirsten says succinctly. ‘When does the Judge get back?" A shadow
crosses Koda’s face, and a stab of regret goes through Kirsten. "I’m sorry, love. I’m
"I know," Koda answers. "But we’ll make our own rules. It’s a new world. We’re something new. We just need to get through this fight. Then we can plan."
"I’ll hold you to that." Kirsten leans forward into a kiss. "Hold you now and forever."
Da dum dum dum. Da da da dum. <G> Thanks for reading another episode of The Growing. Hope you’re still enjoying! Until next week. firstname.lastname@example.org
continued - Chapter 46
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