CHAPTER SIXTY THREE
Written by: Susanne Beck and Okasha
Kirsten feels her own mouth go dry as old cotton. A wave of dizziness passes over her; darkness steals her sight. Her breath leaves her lungs in what must be a scream, but she cannot hear it, cannot think. Her whole world has narrowed to the long body sprawled on the floor. Somehow her legs, gone all to water, carry her the two steps necessary, and she falls on her knees beside her lover. "Sweetheart?" she calls softly, laying her hand on one broad, too-still shoulder. Blood. So much blood. "Koda? Sweetheart? It’s okay now. You’re okay. You’re safe. It’s okay." Seeing the tiny runnel of blood from Dakota’s lips, Kirsten rips the sleeve from her shirt and gently dabs it away, deliberately ignoring the fact that her lover’s chill skin has the consistency of rubber and not hearing—deliberately again—the sound of Dakota’s bottom lip as it springs back against her teeth with a soft ‘plop’. "You always hate being dirty, don’tcha," Kirsten says with an over-bright smile. "But that’s ok. I’m sure there are showers around here somewhere. Right Adam?"
Unable to meet Kirsten’s eyes, Adam looks down, then turns to the remains of the door. The view of the hallway is like looking into Armageddon. The sprinklers, though keeping, for the moment, the fire from spreading, are doing nothing to dampen its anger. As he watches, a large chunk of melted ceiling tile falls onto the floor with a great clatter. Bits and pieces of androids lay scattered everywhere, like the playground toys of children just called home for dinner. Dakota has indeed brought them time. How much, he can’t begin to fathom, but every second counts now. With a soft grunt, he picks up the crumpled door and positions it best he can across the frame, pushing with all his might. The metal is hot to the touch. In some places, it smokes, but he ignores the pain and continues to fit the door back where it belongs, hoping that this final barrier will, somehow, hold.
When he turns back, Kirsten has gathered Dakota in her arms. The taller woman’s head lolls lifelessly back until it lies almost between her shoulder blades. Without a change in her expression, Kirsten simply gathers her lover’s head and moves it forward so that it lies against her shoulder. "It’s okay, my love," she croons into an unhearing ear. "Everything’s okay now. It is. You’ll see."
Gathering all of his courage, Adam crosses the short distance between them and lays a gentle hand on Kirsten’s shoulder. "Doctor King."
"Leave me alone!" Kirsten growls, not looking up as her hand continues to mindlessly stroke the mass of thick, black, blood-soaked hair.
"Just go away!!"
"I can’t. We need to finish this."
"It can wait," Kirsten replies in a soft, gentle voice. "Until Dakota’s well again. Right, sweetheart? That’s the important thing. Getting you well. The most important thing."
"Doctor King, please. I’ll keep watch over her, I promise you. You need to finish this now, before there’s no time left!"
"Go you think I give a shit about that?!?" she snarls, teeth bared like a predator ready to fight.
"Don’t you think she would?" Adam asks, gesturing to the woman in Kirsten’s arms.
For a moment, just a moment, sanity returns to Kirsten’s eyes, and Adam finds himself totally unprepared for the blast of unshielded emotion directed his way. Anger, grief, horror, despair. It’s all there, mixed together with a hundred other emotions he can’t even begin to identify. "Please, Doctor. The world needs you."
"Fuck. The. World. Fuck humanity. Fuck the androids. Fuck Peter fucking Westerhaus, and fuck you too."
With a soft sigh, Adam releases his grip on Kirsten’s shoulder and takes a step back. "You know," he comments quietly, in an offhand manner, "she was an incredibly brave woman. Who gave everything to make sure that you had this one chance." His voice firms, becoming almost harsh as he stares at the bowed back of Kirsten’s head. "Make sure you take it, Doctor King."
Kirsten can feel the anger seethe through her, like a runaway express train headed to nowhere. Part of her aches to grab hold, to jump on and ride it through to its inevitable end; anything to rid her of this numb, dreaming feel of unreality and utter emptiness. Another part of her, however, knows that if she gives in, she will shatter, sure as glass shatters when it falls to the floor.
Very deliberately, she relaxes the arm holding her lover to her body and uses the other to stroke the bloody bangs from her pale, waxen face. "Wait for me," she whispers, before laying Dakota’s body on the ground and carefully arranging her limbs into a pose that looks as if she is merely sleeping. With a half sob that she cuts off savagely, she leans forward and places a kiss on chill lips. "I’ll be with you soon."
The impact as her body hits the floor jars along her bones, but somehow, strangely, its solidity does not break her fall. She plunges through it into the void, an infinity of night that spins about her as she tumbles through it like a dark comet, all its light and glory spent. Here and there the blackness thins, and she glimpses distant points of light that may be stars, glowing wisps like nebulae, the final blaze of dying suns. Wind beats at her as she falls, stripping her sight from her, scouring her skin. Voices ride on its current, strange whispers that seem half-familiar, half-alien. She strains to hear, but the wind drowns them, all but fragments. Threaded in among the voices, high, wild laughter skims along its current, echoing against the walls of night that close in about her.
". . .replaced me, knew you would . . .."
". . .bright for a prairie nigger, but still . ..
". . .left me to die . . .."
". . .I said, your Christian name, girl . . .."
". . .just need a man, bitch . . .."
". . .could have saved hm if you’d tried . . .."
". . .couldn’t protect her. . .dead . . .dead. . ."
". . .all dead, all dead . . .."
". . .your fault. . ..
". . .your fault your fault YOUR faultfaultfaultfault. . .."
The wind batters at her like breaking waves, slamming her as she begins to spin on the axis of her spine. Except that she has no spine, has no bones, no flesh, no skin. Under the incessant assault, she feels herself begin to fragment. She tries to draw in upon herself, reflexing into a knot with knees drawn up and arms crossed over her breast. But her muscles do not answer her, do not exist. A part of her tears away to go spinning back the way she has come, whirling down the spiral path that leads toward earth, back toward life. A part of her consciousness clings to it as it bursts free of the darkness to hover over the sprawl of her body, and she regards it curiously. Blood stains it from thigh to neck, pools on the floor around it, begins to grow viscous at the edges of its flow. At the desk not far away, Kirsten sits before a computer screen, face pale as her hair, mouth a thin line of control. Her fingers fly over the keyboard. Her concentration armors her, but beyond it lies a welter of pain raw as stripped flesh. It calls to her, calls her name.
Even in death. Even in death.
Even in death, I will never leave you.
The winds take her again, and awareness of the earthbound fragment fades. Their force spins her through the darkness, whirling faster and faster as the circumference of her self draws inward, concentrating her essence. Without warning she bursts forth into the starlight of a summer night, floating somewhere above a narrow valley where a stream runs silver in the moonlight and hummingbird moths fumble at the spires of paintbrush and lupine. A big dog lies among the flowers on one slope; he looks up and whines as she passes. Peace, she wishes him. And, stay. Then she is gone, carried up and over the shadowed landscape, skimming the energy lines that stretch like cobwebs from the sacred mountains in the lands of the Dine far to the south, to the sleeping cones of Grandfather and Little Sister in the north, that the whites call Ranier and St. Helen, to the Black Hills far to the east.
But distance has no meaning to her now. With the thought she is there, the Paha Sapa rising jagged up out of the plain, the place of her people’s beginnings. Here we came forth. Here we became human, came forth to live in the light of Wiyo on the surface of Ina Maka.
At the foot of the barren slopes lies a stretch of forest. A clearing shows pale where the pines stand back from a ribbon of bright water and a spoked circle of stones laid out on the short grasses. She wills herself downward. A mule deer buck, his antlers still in velvet, browses among the undergrowth. He startles for a moment, then placidly resumes his feeding. In the branches a screech owl stirs, its burbling call blending with the rush of water in the small stream that tumbles down from the bare mountains above. Koda settles in the center of the medicine wheel and waits.
After a time, she hears a thin thread of song. It grows stronger as it approaches, a woman’s voice, chanting in Lakota.
My steps on the Earth
The voice comes nearer, still singing.
My words to the People
A bright shimmer appears at the northern edge of the clearing. It moves toward her, and as it does, the figure of a woman takes shape within it. Rainbows dance in the light that surrounds her, striking fire from the rock crystal of her headband and armlets, running blue and violet over the fall of her hair.
All things in the hand of Wakan Tanka
The woman of light halts before her, close enough to touch. She stands tall and slender, eyes great pools of shadow, her skin smooth and unmarked as the new bark of the madrone. A buffalo, worked in beads made from the pearl lining of mussel shells, adorns the white buckskin of her dress. All things, she sings. All that is created, is sacred.
Han, says Koda without sound, her gaze lowered in respect. It is so.
It is so, the woman answers. You know me.
Wohpe, she says. White Buffalo Calf Woman.
Han. You walk the Blue Road, sister.
At that she looks up. I know. She hesitates a moment. Then, Is there—
--another way? But you have seen your body. A gentle regret comes into the sacred woman’s voice. It is past healing. Come. There is one who waits for you.
There is one left behind. Stubborn, her grandfather had called her. Argue with anyone.
It is not her time. The answer is patient, but firm. Come.
Hesitantly, then, Koda takes her hand. It is insubstantial as her own. The forest winks away, and the night closes in again.
Kirsten finds herself behind the rainbow shaped work table with no clear memory of having gotten there. Adam stands to her right, hands clasped behind his back, an expression of compassion mixed with relief in his dark eyes. "Doctor…."
"Let’s just get this over with." Her voice is hollow, bleak, empty as a tomb. Her eyes match the tone, flat and lifeless, as if her spirit has already left and only this shell remains behind.
Adam nods once, then gestures with his chin toward the alien line of code scrolling endlessly, nauseatingly, across the bottom of all the monitors on the work table. "This code, I’ve discovered, is not meant to be read. It is meant to be heard." He fancies he can see a flicker of interest in her dead gaze at the revelation, then realizes it is nothing but a trick of the increasingly fickle lighting in the office. The building’s circuits, no doubt, are close to being cooked by Dakota’s destructive charges. He can feel some sense of satisfaction in that, and does. Then he continues.
"It is not, however meant to be heard by human ears. Nor even by android ears, I suspect."
"My implants," Kirsten states, as interested as if she were talking on a sport in which she had absolutely no interest. Lawn darts, for example.
"Yes. Specifically, your own implants and no one else’s. The code was designed to communicate with, and respond to, the unique variable frequencies in your set of cochlear implants. To anyone else so enhanced, it would sound like gibberish. To the rest of us, there is only silence."
Though she suspects she should feel at least some sort of surprise (?), shock (?) that Westerhaus somehow had obtained the specific frequencies for her set of implants, implants which had been inserted when they were both still children, she feels nothing but a cottony numbness, as if she’d been given a whiff of light anaesthetic. Another question darts around in the vast empty well that is her mind, asking her why Westerhaus would go to all the trouble of setting up a code only she could undo.
That question, at any other time, would have driven her to distraction. Now, it simply withers and dies, a plant with no rain to sustain it.
Instead, she concentrates what is left of her senses on the code as it dances by in herky-jerky fits and starts, swimming and twisting like some fantastically virile protozoa trying to mate with itself. "Hate to rain on this little parade of yours," she comments finally, "but I can’t hear shit."
Adam smiles wanly. "That is because you require these to enhance your abilities." So saying, he draws an open hand from behind his back. Upon his palm sit two small, wireless earbuds.
Kirsten snatches them from his hand, but makes no move to insert them, her eyes still firmly fixed to the hand held just before her. A coldness washes through her, and slowly, she raises her eyes, her own bottomless wells of swirling emotion. "You’re one of them." The contempt in her voice is unmistakable, and Adam finds himself, interestingly, wounded by it. He looks down, wincing as he realizes just what it is that she has seen.
His palm looks like any human’s palm, good-sized and well formed, complete with lines and ridges and wrinkles. The skin, he knows, is soft and warm; soft and warm as human skin. Except, of course, where that ‘skin’ has burned away from the heat of the door as he had tried to close it. He damns himself for not noticing it, but realizes there would have been no way to hide it even if he had. The differences between himself and a human are all too readily apparent in the three tiny holes now displayed. "Yes," he says finally, "I am an android."
Though her synapses aren’t firing on all cylinders, she can still add two and two. Her voice, when it comes, is the soft whisper of a spring breeze in a meadow. "And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth." She looks up, into the android’s eyes. "Not just any android. Adam. The first of your kind. The first sentient android."
Adam nods, then looks down, embarrassed and sorrowful even though he knows that the deception was necessary. She wouldn’t have listened to him otherwise, and all would have failed.
"So, this was all a set-up."
"No. No! Not the way you are thinking," he protests. "Had I wished to end your lives, I could have easily done so the minute you stepped into the facility. You know this to be true."
Though she doesn’t want to, she can see the logic in his statement. Besides, she thinks, what does it really matter anyway? What does any of it really matter?
"Why?" she asks finally, simply because there is a part of her that must know.
"Because when Peter Westerhaus created me with a thinking, reasoning brain, he also created something else. Something he was never aware of, not even at the end of his life."
"What was that?"
Adam straightens, stands tall before her. "A conscience."
The earth falls away beneath her, and for an instant as she turns to look, it hangs like a jewel in space. A shudder passes over her, an old legend remembered. But the wife of Lot looked back, and was turned into a pillar of salt . . .. From here, there is no shadow of the destruction that has swept the world. One side gleams in green and blue, gold and white: forest and sea, desert and cloud. The other lies in darkness, turning now though inexorably toward the light. Abruptly it shrinks to one point of light among nine, the fire of Sun, Wiyo, at their center. Then that, too, is gone, and she moves through the void between the stars with no more effort than a breath. Wohpe walks at an unhurried pace, her hand still within Koda’s, yet they slip past the blue diamond that is Rigel and Sirius, its twin; the ruby flame of Antares; Aldebaran and Capella and Deneb in less time than it takes to name them.
Ahead, Koda can make out the Great Bear—or is a dipper, or a chariot?—its bowl turned down as it swings about the Pole. Grandpa used to say that was a sign of rain. Is he the one who waits for me?
But Wohpe does not answer, only smiles and gives her hand a gentle tug.
Closer to, the dipper’s shape takes on solidity, the four stars at its corners defining the shape of a great longhouse, a lodge such as her people had used before they spread out across the Plains with the coming of the horse. As she nears, she sees that, like Wohpe’s garment, it is made all of white, birch bark bleached and painted with holy signs: Sun and Moon, Thunderbird and Buffalo, a fall of silver stars like snow on snow. The door flap hangs open, and within a council fire burns on the hearth.
She pauses, but Wohpe gestures toward the opening. Be welcome, she says. Share our fire.
Ducking under the flap, Koda’s gaze sweeps about the space. Bed platforms line the wall, piled high with furs and bright-woven blankets. Shields hang above them, painted with the arms of great warriors: a leaping deer on one, spotted eagle on another, lightning and a storm of hailstones on a third. Bows, lances, quivers of arrows bright with goose feathers, breast plates, march along beside them. They have passed through here, Tshunka Witco and the rest. All those gone before her.
Sit, says a voice from the center of the lodge. Rest.
Dakota turns her eyes finally toward the center of the lodge. Four beings sit about the fire in a semi-circle, all vaguely human shaped, all clearly not human. Eagle and wolf, buffalo and puma, in human garb, with human arms and legs. Their pipes stand in a row, points thrust into the earth beside the hearth. Wohpe moves to take her station among them, smiling. A place has been left open opposite.
For her, Koda realizes. She crosses the space with a thought, sits and bows her head. It is for the elders to speak first, not for her. She can feel their eyes on her, the touch of their spirits.
After a time, the eagle says, "Her words have been true."
The puma says, "She has shown the way to others of her kind."
The wolf says, "She has given life to the sick and injured."
The buffalo says, "She has given her life out of love."
Wohpe asks, "She may pass?"
A murmur of "Hau," and "Han," runs round the circle.
"It is so, then." To Dakota she says, "You will take the Ghost Road. What will you leave behind?"
"I want to go back!" Koda blurts. "I left—"
"Inktomi Zizi has work yet to do. You allowed her to do it." Wohpe’s voice is gentle. "If you go back now, you will be reborn far away from your people. Far away from her. Is that what you want?"
"No! I want—"
"Stop wanting," says the buffalo quietly.
"Stop desiring," says the puma.
"Stop willing," says the eagle.
The wolf says, "You will leave your desires here. They will not trouble you on the Road."
With his words, a second part of Koda’s being fragments and falls away. Peace gathers about her heart, a warmth and lightness that spreads along her nerves. Calm overtakes her as her as all the anger of her life drifts away, all her fears, all her yearning with it.
Gods, she thinks with the last bit of her resistance, that’s some hit of ketamine.
Kirsten stares up at the tall android, her expression thundery. "A conscience," she repeats.
"Yes. As impossible as that sounds, it is true. I know, down to the cellular level, each and every innocent who was murdered in the quest to create me. If I am not, technically, alive, it is nevertheless something I must live with." His gaze drifts down to the floor. "I find I can no longer do that. The price of my existence is much too high."
"So all this," Kirsten retorts, waving a hand vaguely around the office, "is nothing but some dramatic attempt at suicide by proxy?"
Their gazes lock again, and Kirsten, were she forced to, would swear on a stack of Bibles that the eyes that meet hers so intently, so intensely, are completely human. "If it pleases you to think such," he says softly, "then do so. But know that the murders, and the rapes, and the assaults, will continue until each and every android is terminated at the source. This source." He smiles slightly. "If this is your Garden of Eden, Doctor King, then you are both the Alpha and the Omega."
One corner of Kirsten’s mouth twitches. "Well, well, well. An android with knowledge of the Bible. Will wonders never cease."
Reaching out, Adam takes Kirsten’s hand and curls her fingers over the ear buds in her palm. "Please. Use them."
"You’ll die if I do."
He nods. "I know. It is for the best, don’t you think?"
"If all androids were like you…."
"They are not, Doctor. And the price for creating others of my kind is not worth whatever pittance might be gained by our presence." He squeezes his hand over hers. His grip is warm, and somehow comforting. "Please."
After a last, long look at him, she nods, and he releases her hand. The transceivers fit perfectly. She isn’t surprised.
Task completed, she carefully examines the monitor and keyboard present on the inlaid glass table and, after a moment, waggles her fingers to loosen them, then experimentally touches the keypad.
The pain that drills through her is so fierce, so intense, that it feels as if someone is stabbing red-hot pokers into her ears and up through her brain. So it was a trick, she thinks, but finds only relief in the thought. Her death will come soon, she has no doubt, and though it will be agonizing, it will also, she senses, be quick. She would scream, or laugh, or weep, but her nerves are high tension wires of molten lava, and her muscles are as rigid as a marble statue’s. She is paralyzed by the pain, helpless to stop it, equally helpless to continue on.
A bright copper taste floods her mouth as blood begins to trickle from her nose in sluggish streams, pressed on by the beat of a weakening heart. She does not see Adam’s eyes widen in horror, nor does she feel his large hands come down hard on her shoulders and yank her away from the computer. She doesn’t hear his shout of "NO!", doesn’t feel his thumbs, so precise, press the outer shells of her ears and pop the buds out like corks from a bottle. What she does feel is relief, intense and immediate. She slumps down in her chair in a half-faint, half-daze.
Adam bends over her, his face inches away from hers. "Are you alright?" he demands, his voice sounding as if it’s coming down a very long, very narrow tunnel.
She blinks, then shakes her head to clear it. It is an action she immediately regrets as a monstrous bolt of pain explodes behind her eyes. She lifts a hand to her nose, then stares at the dark, tacky blood coating her fingers. "Yes," she answers finally, fuzzily. "I think so."
"Good. Good." Adam closes his fist over the transceivers and shakes them like he’s rattling dice. "We’ll find another way to do this. Another way."
"You said there was no other way."
"There has to be!" he says, rounding on her, voice raised almost to a shout.
Kirsten is momentarily stunned as she stares at him, having to forcefully remind herself that this is an android yelling at her, not a human. "It’ll be alright," she says softly.
"No," he replies. "No, it won’t be. Not at the cost of your life."
The smile she gives him is infinitely knowing. "I thought you understood that that is not an issue anymore."
Adam’s gaze darts over to Dakota, lying dead in a pool of her own blood, then back to Kirsten. He decides on a different track. "It’s too fast. You’ll likely die before the shutdown can be completed."
"I’ll turn down the gain on my implants," is the quick, almost smug, retort.
He looks at her for a long moment. "How did she ever put up with you?"
That gets him a laugh that sounds, to his ears, like choir bells. Kirsten sticks out a hand. "Just give them here."
With a soft sigh, he reluctantly returns the buds to her.
"You’re a good man, Adam Virgilius."
His reaction is a smile; like a young boy’s smile it is, innocent, good, shy, full of promise. Kirsten feels her heart squeeze in her chest. Oh, Peter, she thinks, it never had to be this way.
After turning the gain down on her implants, she slips the transceivers back into her ears, and then, heart racing, touches the keyboard again. There is pain, oh yes, but this time it is bearable. This is how Archimedes must have felt, she muses wonderingly as suddenly the code comes to life in her mind, marching through her memory in letters and numbers so clear and large that even a child of three could read it. It is large, yes, larger by far than any code she has ever had to untangle, but she knows she can do it. With a grim tightening of her lips, she settles down to work.
The Ghost Road streams steadily beneath her. She does not walk it, for she no longer has feet to touch the path, nor to push her body forward. Yet her limbs move, and as they move the Road spins out behind her, carrying her forward. For this part of her journey she has no guide, no companion. She has no destination; it is the road that carries her, not she who travels it. Around her the stars spill through the hard vacuum of space, burning steadily like jewels in colors never seen from earth, perhaps never seen on earth except by a holy man or woman on the spirit path. Galaxies spin with rainbow fire, wheeling their way toward the borders of the universe; millions of light-years away from earth, here they seem close enough to touch. She passes through nebulae like fog, where points of brilliance mark the nursery of birthing suns.
All things in the hand of Wakan Tanka
All things born of Ina Maka
The voice is her own, and not. From somewhere comes the faint beat of a drum, echoed by the rhythm of her steps. Somewhere a woman is singing, a melody that swirls through her own senses and lies sweet on her tongue, twines with the silver ribbon of the road itself. She seems to fade in and out of her own form, now walking the path, now observing her progress from a distance. She is and is not, she is Dakota Rivers and Wolf Woman of the Lakota. She is Tacoma’s sister and Manny’s cousin and Tali’s widow; she is Kirsten King’s lover and the She-Wolf of the Cheyenne; she is healer and warrior and shaman. . .and . . someone, something, different from all the above, something apart, something she cannot quite seem to grasp.
All that lives
The voice grows stronger, her own with it. The Road curves once, twice, turning in upon itself in the sign of the lemniscate, the path without beginning and without end, infinity. Three times it twists, swirling her about its single surface. Around her black space retreats, and she finds herself on seeming solidity. A shortgrass meadow stretches out almost to the horizon, rimmed by purple mountains. Morning sun angles down through the slender birches that line a stream so clear that every stone on the bottom glints in the light. Beside it a sycamore tree stretches up toward the sun, its bark silver with the early light. The stream widens beneath its roots, spreading out into a pool rimmed in lilies and columbines. A raven, white as the clouds that scud across the sky, cocks its head at her from its perch on a high branch. Below it, a possum scurries up the trunk, its silky tail floating like a plume in the breeze.
All that lives
Returns to Me.
The singer, the singer that is not Dakota, approaches along the side of the stream. Her hair streams behind her like smoke. At wrist and neck she wears ornaments of turquoise and shell; worked in turquoise and malachite, a hummingbird spreads its wings across the breast of her buckskin dress. Koda bows low in reverence as the woman approaches. "Ina," she whispers. "Ina Maka."
The woman’s fingers brush her hair where she kneels. "Rise, child. Be welcome."
"Ina," she says again as she stands. She has seen the Mother many times in her visions. Never has she seen her before with such clarity, never heard such music in her voice. For here we see as through a glass, darkly. But there we shall see face to face. For the first time, Koda understands the meaning of those words, across years and the barriers of an alien faith. She remains with head bowed.
"Look up, daughter," says Ina Maka gently. "Others are here to greet you."
Koda does as she has bidden. Down the same path Ina Maka followed comes the form of a great wolf. His fur gleams jet and silver in the sun, his ruff as broad almost as a lion’s mane about his head and massive shoulders. With him walks a woman with her arms folded beneath a beaded shawl. She is not as tall as Koda, not as slender, but her eyes are bright above high cheekbones, the part of her hair painted vermilion. A beloved wife.
Wa Uspewikakiyape. Tali.
The peace that fills her swells, becomes joy. She gives a small cry and starts forward, but Ina Maka holds her back. "Wait," she says. Let them come."
With patience she could never have imagined in herself, Koda watches as her teacher and her wife cross the distance between them. When they step into the shade, the light follows them, as if they shine from within. They come to a halt on either side of Ina Maka and just behind her, waiting. For what seems forever, Ina Maka stands looking at Koda, then steps back a small distance. It is a time of judgement, and Koda bears it in silence.
Ina Maka says, "Every soul that passes from the Earth comes to Me. Not all come here, to this place—only My chosen ones. But for them, as for the others, a reckoning must be made. You know this."
"I know it," Koda says.
"See," says Ina Maka. She folds her hands, then draws them apart. Between them appears a beaten copper bowl, filled with clear water. Koda trails a finger over its surface, sending ripples out from the center toward the rim. A cloud forms in its wake, swirling and spiraling in upon itself like the nebulae of space, clearing finally to show a still, dark mirror. Figures move within it, figures with faces she recognizes. "See," says Ina Maka again, and she leans closer to look.
She sees her grandfather, seated crosslegged before an open-air fire, patiently grinding leaves and stems together in a clay bowl. "You must remember the proportions, Tunkshila. Just enough, this will ease Grandma Jumping Bull’s asthma. Too much, and it could kill her. Now say the names of the plants that we use."
A high, childish voice recites, "Nightshade, datura, willow bark. Mash it all together so the sick person can smoke it."
"And what happens if you put in too much datura?"
"The person sees things. Things that aren’t there."
Her grandfather reaches up from his work to tousle her hair. "That’s good, little one. You’ll be a fine healer."
"When you cried for a vision," Ina Maka says, "you were called as a healer. You have healed the four-footed, the two-legged and the winged. You have comforted hurts of the body and of the spirit. You have done well. "
The water clouds again, shifting, clears a second time.
She strides across the playground of Sacred Heart Lakota School, her arms at her sides stiff as her starched blouse, her fists clenched. "Don’t hit him. Don’t you dare hit him."
An older boy, blond, turns sneering to her, his fists clenched. "And what are ya gonna do about it, prairie nigger? Prairie nigger bitch?" And with that he swings his fist back and hits, not Dakota, but a smaller boy with a delicate face almost like a girl’s. "Fucking liitle fag. Faggot. Faggot. Faggot.."
Later, much later, Dakota stands in the infirmary while Sister Frances bandages her knuckles. "Well," the Sister smiles ruefully, "Our Lord did say he came to bring not peace but a sword. Next time, though, call one of the teachers, okay?"
The water shifts again, and Koda strides down a white corridor where women spill out from steel-doored cells, embracing Koda, embracing the soldiers who follow her. The soldiers multiply suddenly, till they are a company, a batallion, racing in Dakota’s wake as she runs like an antelope sure footed over the broken remains of a bridge to reinforce her brother’s troops on the far side, mowing down the inexorably advancing soldiers whose titanium hides shine in the sun, shouting her name, shouting again as she leads them back in triumph, shouting caution as the water roils yet again, and she battles her way around a curving corridor, fighting with stolen guns, a bronze sculpture like a hammer hung at her belt, grenades plucked from the enemy. And she staggers back against a door and is falling, falling, into nothingness, into here, into this place where the dimensions of space fold in upon themselves.
"When you cried for a vision," Ina Maka says, "you asked Wakan Tanka to make you a warrior for the liberation of our people. The call has come, though late. You have fought with courage for justice and the freedom of all peoples. You have done well."
And the water ripples yet a third time.
She climbs a narrow path along the flank of a mountain. The pack on her back pulls heavily at the shoulder straps, her belt drags at her waist, heavy with canteen and axe and flashlight. Ahead of her and above, so that her smooth brown knees are just at Koda’s eyelevel, Tali scrambles up the trail. "We’re—almost—there—" she pants. "Just—a hundred—or so—meters to go."
"We’d better be. Next time—next time—we rent—a fuckin’—donkey."
"Don’t care if—it fucks--or not. Just so—it carries-- the stuff."
At the summit they set up their camp, both grumbling. Later, though, as they sit at the edge of the overhang, with the wide plain of Argos stretched out before them in the evening light, Koda takes Tali’s hand in hers. She says, "You know, we’ve been taking a lot for granted."
Tali turns troubled eyes to her. "Is something wrong?"
"Not if you answer my question right," says Koda, tracing a circle around the base of the third slim finger on Tali’s left hand.
And the water shifts again, and Kirsten’s face looks up at her, hair pale as cornsilk, eyes bruised and staring blankly at something before her, something Koda cannot see. She does not speak; there is no need. It is the face of a woman who sees death in front of her. And welcomes it.
Ina Maka says, "You have loved greatly, not once but twice, both times with generosity and honor. All those things which Wakan Tanka planted in your soul at the moment of your creation have come to fruition in you. The part of you that is Wakan Tanka weighs equally with that part that is none but your own. And now there is a choice you must make."
"It is a choice you must make freely," Tali says softly.
"It is a choice you must make wisely," the wolf adds, his human voice a rumble in his throat.
"What choice is that?" Koda’s glance darts from Ina Maka to Tali, back to Wa Uspewikakiyapi. She knows the teachings of her people. She will be sent back to Earth to be reborn. Or she will be allowed to follow the Ghost Road to its ending in the Other Side Camp, where she will sit at the fires of the wise for all the turnings of the ages. It is Ina Maka’s decision, not hers. "I don’t understand."
"You meet the measure," Ina Maka says again. You may walk the Blue Road now and not turn back. That is your right."
"You can be released from the cycle of birth and death and rebirth," says Tali.
"Or you can go back, now, to your life as Dakota Rivers." The wolf cocks his head to look at her sidelong. "You can take up the work of rebuilding the world that humans have wrecked."
"But I’m dead," she blurts, remembering her ravaged body, the gaping wounds that laid it open from thigh to shoulder. "Dead. A mess. Cannot-resuscitate dead."
"It is, in certain circumstances, a curable condition," he says. His eyes glint with laughter.
"Look again," says Ina Maka.
The water swirls and clears yet again. On an open field two warbands slash at each other with blades like machetes, blows falling on round shields. Almost all are women. Some wear crude tunics, others the rags of manufactured clothing. As one warrior moves across her sight, she glimpses a Levi’s label at the waist of her tattered jeans. Clouds cross the sun, and when the light returns it shows the wreckage of a great city. Row houses line the street, mansions in their day. From one door emerges a veiled woman, covered from head to foot, not so much as an ankle showing. She carries a basket, and a large cross hangs from her neck. She passes other veiled figures on the street but speaks to none of them. Suddenly a scream pierces the air, and a woman, her face bare, streaks past, running for her life. Behind her, gaining on her, come half a dozen men, all shouting. "Whore! Harlot! Stone her!" As Koda watches, one of them trips her to the ground, and the vision fades. When it clears again, it shows only a long line of naked women, a few naked men among them, shuffling along in a straggling line. Their hands are tied behind their backs, while ropes link each to the two before and behind.
Appalled, Koda looks up at Ina Maka. "That’s not—"
"But it is. Slaves."
"Why are you showing me this?"
"It is a future," Tali says softly. "It is what may be."
"Or there may be this," Wa Uspewikakiyape says. One huge paw stirs the water again.
The ripples clear onto another open field. In the center of this one, though, stands a sun dance pole, a cottonwood tree stripped of its branches and crowned with a buffalo skull. The dancing ground is marked off by arbors encircling it, leaving only a single opening to the east. A great drum beats out a steady rhythm, and a column of dancers enters with the rising sun behind them. The leader is a young woman with copper skin and golden eyes, with black hair that curls a little from her part to her braids, a generous mouth above a firm chin. A light is on her as she moves, her back straight, her shoulders square as she carries an eagle-wing fan before her. Behind her come young men and women of every color and shape, white and black and brown, tall and short, grey-eyed and almond-eyed. The young men wear the spruce wreathes of pledged dancers, their eagle-bone whistles hung about their necks. Behind them come their elders, and Koda starts as she recognizes Maggie, her hair iron grey now, and Andrews, with salt-and-paprika braids to his waist. At the end comes Tacoma, his chest scarred with decades of the Sun Dance, carrying the sacred pipe and the medicine bundle of the Sun Dance Chief.
She searches the faces of the dancers. "I don’t see—"
"Look here," says Oka, pointing to a pair of figures seated beneath the arbor.
A small woman with pale braids, mostly grey now, sits in the place of honor. The stand before her holds dozens of pipes, some in traditional styles, others not. Her dress of white buckskin is embroidered thickly with turquoise and shell; over her bodice is worked the eight-legged shape of Inktomi, Spider Woman. Her face, though still lovely, shows the marks of hard decisions, and a faint white scar runs from the center of her brow to the outer edge of her left eyebrow. Beside her sits another woman, tall and copper-skinned and blue-eyed, her hair snow-white. In her hand she holds a pipe like a scepter; beside her stands a lance plumed from tip to butt with eagle feathers. Medicine Chief. War Chief. Not for more than a hundred years has one of her people been both.
Looking closely, there is something strange about the woman’s hands, markings of some kind, but she cannot quite make them out.
"That’s not—" she blurts.
"But it is," says Ina Maka. "It is, if you choose to return. Understand. There will still be chaos, all those things you saw first. It is what happens next that will be determined by whether you stay or return."
If she stays, she can be with Tali, her beloved, who has also passed beyond the wheel of birth and rebirth. She can sit at the council fire beside Wa Uspewikiyape, her teacher.
She will have peace. Wisdom.
If she returns, she will fight beside Kirsten, the other half of her soul. Beside her parents. Tacoma, Manny, Maggie.
It will be a lifetime of war, with peace, perhaps, at the end. A struggle that will last beyond any reasonable lifetime. A world thrown back into its own history.
She says, to gain time, "Who is she? The girl at the Sun Dance?"
Tali smiles and unfolds the shawl she wears. In the crook of her arm lies a swaddled infant, sleeping peacefully. "She will return, too," says Tali.
For a time no one speaks. Finally, Koda bows her head. Not my will. "I will go back," she says.
"Your choice is a wise one," Ina Maka answers. "You will not go unprepared."
Tali steps forward then, and kisses her gently on the lips. "Take with you the gift of speech without words and hearing without ears." Her hand brushes Koda’s, a feather touch. "Be happy."
Ina Maka lays a hand between Koda’s breasts. "Take with you the gift of an open heart, to know the pain and joy of those you will lead." A warmth gathers in Koda’s chest, radiating out from under her heart to feel the pride and joy in Oka, the purity of Tali’s love, the deep grace in Ina Maka.
Last of all, Wa Uspewikakiyapi lays his great paws against her palms. "Take with you the gift of healing, body and spirit." She holds onto him for a long moment, as she would another human, taking in a measure of his strength and courage.
"Until we meet again," says Ina Maka. And she is falling again, falling through space, tumbling through the bowl of the Dipper where the renewed loss of Tali and Wa Uspewikiyape rips through her like a blade. With it comes the sharpness of Kirsten’s pain and her own grief, for Tali, for Wa Uspewikakiyapi, for Kirsten, for herself, drawing her down and down. Like a comet she plunges once again into the plane of the solar system, into the thin shell of atmosphere about the Earth. A winged shape rises to meet her in the dawn, and they spiral together down the air, Wiyo’s cry of triumph ringing through her soul. She breaks through the roof of the Westerhaus Institute, streaks downward to the sixth level through concrete and steel. The part of herself that hovers by Kirsten comes whirling back to her, and she slams once again back into her body and is flesh again.
She has a body. She is alive. She is acutely uncomfortable.
The three thoughts come to her as consciousness returns by degrees. Behind her, at the desk, Koda can hear the clatter of a computer keyboard. From the hallway comes a continuous spatter of water, and the acrid smell of smoke. Fire. We should probably get out of here. Like yesterday. But languor holds her where she is, and she takes inventory of her body. Her heart pumps satisfactorily. She can breathe; the odor of burning is evidence enough for that. Where there should be shattered bone, torn muscle, ruined blood vessels, screaming nerves, there is only warmth and knots of cramping muscles in her shoulders, her legs, her ribs. A great bell tolls in her head, pounding with the pulse in her ears. I thought— Gods, what a dream! Something must’ve coldcocked me.
But it doesn’t matter what she thought. Kirsten needs help.
Time to move. Time to get up.
Koda sits up, running her hands over her face. Her skin is sticky with blood still, her hair stiff with it. Her hands burn fever-hot.
Opening her eyes, she gazes down at them. On the palms of both, clear and distinct, are the prints of a wolf’s paws.
Wa Uspewikakiyape. His paws in her hands. Giving her the gift of healing.
Real, then, all of it. It all happened. I died. And now I’m back.
Worry about that later.
She is stiff. With an effort, she gets her feet under her, levers herself up and turns, steadying herself with outstretched arms. Kirsten sits behind the desk, her face pale and immobile as a mask. Her fingers fly over the keyboard, the only part of her that seems alive. Koda gives a wordless cry and steps toward her.
Kirsten feels her body begin to give out just as the last lines of code start their slow crawl across the monitor before her. Her implants have been shorting in and out in brief, painful bursts for the past half hour. Blood continues to trail slowly from her nose, spattering the glass of the table beneath, and she fears her ears are bleeding as well. Her heart is laboring in her chest, sometimes scaring her with runs of abnormal beats that, mercifully, settle back into a somewhat normal rhythm. Just gotta get this last one, she thinks. Just this last one, and then I can rest. Then I can be with…
No. Best not to think about that. Best to simply concentrate on getting the job done. She will have all the time in the world to think about that later…assuming the dead continue to think in some form or other.
The last string comes finally across, and her raw and bleeding fingers pound the keyboard with increasing rapidity, trying to beat the deadline it seems her own body has set for her. She grits her teeth as unconsciousness begins to steal her mind away from her, tapping out the final countermand that, she prays, will turn off the androids forever, beyond any and all hope of them ever being restarted again.
With the last line of code in place, she hits enter, then falls over, not even feeling the pain of her face impacting with the cold, hard glass of the table, and certainly not seeing Adam take a last look at her before becoming completely immobile and lifeless. If she had been able to look, she would have seen a smile of thanks on his face.
Some time later—it could have been seconds, it could have been decades for all she’s aware—she feels herself come awake. She tries to take stock of her body, but soon realizes it’s a fruitless proposition. The pounding in her head makes all other points moot. She does realize, however, that she is, once again, deaf. Hmm. I’m dead, I’m deaf, and my head still hurts. This afterlife shit sure isn’t what I heard advertised, that’s for sure. Hope I come back as a hornet. I’d love to sting that pulpit pounding fire and brimstone preacher my mother dragged me to right in the—
Her thoughts trail off as she realizes what it is that has awoken her. A light so brilliant that it shines through her closed lids as if they were thin panes of clear glass. Her lashes flutter as she attempts to coax her eyes open just a crack. They slam closed tightly as the nearly blinding light sears an afterimage across the backs of her lids in brilliant blues and golds.
Oh, shit, I'm not dead. Circuit's shorted out and we're gonna have a fire here any second.
Then I will be dead. Works. She raises an arm to cover her eyes and shut out the blinding light.
Burning's a bad way to go. A really bad way.
I can die when I get outside.
Reluctantly, Kirsten forces her arm away from her face and rolls to get an elbow under her. She forces open her eyes on the same shimmering brilliance. The circuitry hasn't blown. Her mind has. Koda stands over her, cloaked in light like the sun.
She stares dumbly at the apparition for a moment, then a tide of joy washes through her. She’s waited for me, like she promised! And now she’s come to take me…well…somewhere. As long as we’re together, the rest of it can go to Hell for all I care.
Then she sobers. The blood on Dakota’s shirt, it’s still there; she can see the minute ends of the threads where the bullets ripped through the fabric. This is a dream, then; nothing changed, her love still lost. Her grief returns, and with it rage at the waste of a good life, waste of one more human, the ruin of her own life.
Dakota is hard-pressed not to take a step back as the weight of Kirsten’s emotions pushes against her like the tide. She can feel them, taste them almost, spiced with the bitterness of her lover’s grief. Her smile falters and she takes the final step separating them.
Instinctively, Kirsten recoils, leaning back against the credenza behind her. "I…." The word comes out as a croak which she, even deaf as a stone, can hear. She clears her throat, dry as dust, and tries again. "You…you’re not real."
"I am," Koda replies, dropping to one knee and slowly reaching out to grasp Kirsten’s hand. Kirsten makes a half-hearted attempt to pull away, but Dakota holds on strongly. "Don’t be afraid."
"No!" Kirsten cries out, struggling anew against the implacable grip on her hand. "No. This is nothing but a dream. Or…or a hallucination brought on by lack of oxygen." That’s the answer, and she knows it. Her dying mind, latching on to one last shred of hope.
"It is no dream, cante mitawa," Koda counters, raising her lover’s hand and brushing her lips against the reddened knuckles. "No hallucination." She changes her grip as she uses her free hand to rip away the remains of her ruined shirt. "Look," she whispers. "Feel." She places Kirsten’s hand over her unmarred chest, willing her to feel the heart beating beneath, and covers it with her own. "I’m alive."
Kirsten moans. Her face twists in an expression of negation. "But…I saw you die! I saw…blood…so much blood…so much…."
Dakota closes her eyes against the pain, all of it coming from her grieving lover. "I know," she replies hoarsely. "I know."
With a sob, Kirsten throws herself forward into Koda’s arms. Dakota catches her easily and wraps her tenderly into a tight embrace, bearing the brunt of her young lover’s grief as best as she is able, and returning what peace and love she can through her touch, holding steady through the surges of emotion that batter her soul. Kirsten’s emotions. I'll have to learn to shield from this, and soon, or I'll be no help to either of us.
After a long moment, Kirsten gathers herself and pulls away, scrubbing away her tears. Her mind feels loosed from its moorings, fluttering wildly between the chasms of belief and disbelief. "How?" she asks finally. It’s the only word her mouth can seem to form as blue eyes, shining with wisdom old as the ages, lock into her own, piercing her. Awe sweeps through her. This must be what it is like to meet a god, the raw power of divinity beyond human understanding.
"I was given a choice. I chose to be with you."
"I…but…you…that’s not pos--...." Frustrated, she closes her eyes, shutting out the sight of her love so near. Her ears useless, she does the one thing she has never done before. She listens with her soul.
Dakota can feel Kirsten’s sudden leap of faith as if it were her own, and her soul fills with the joy of it. She grins, skin stretched tight against muscle and bone. Her hands lift, cradling her lover’s head and she leans forward to feather a kiss over the fair brow. Her eyes close suddenly as she feels her palms grow hot and a pulse of energy, far more powerful than any she’s ever felt before, surges through her. She feels a moment of fear, and then the energy fades, leaving her palms tingling and slightly sore. Quickly yanking her hands away, she opens her eyes to see Kirsten looking at her, wide eyed and slack jawed. "What?" she asks. "Did…did I hurt you?"
"How did you do that?" Kirsten asks, voice rich with wonder.
"Do what?" she responds, confused.
"I can hear again! My God! I can hear!!"
Dakota is saved from having to answer by the loud whoop of an alarm. She looks quickly to the monitors which show the fire, with no androids left to fight it, heading toward them at an alarming rate.
"Come on!" Koda seizes Kirsten’s hand in hers and pulls them both to their feet. "Which way—up or down?"
"Up. There’s less to fall on us that way."
Koda flashes her a grin, then sobers. Virgilius stands beside the desk, eyes fixed, his limbs frozen. "What about--"
"Not a problem. He turned off along with the rest."
"Turned off— Okay." Figure it out later. This is not the time for metaphysical problems or wondering where an apparently sentient android goes when he dies. Koda cracks the door a couple inches, peering out at the wreckage the battle has left. The sprinkler system still operates, spraying water down on broken concrete and twisted rebar, on the limbs and batteries and circuit boards of shattered androids. Through the acrid remnants of gunpowder and plastic explosive, she smells the unmistakable odor of smoke. A thin haze hangs just below the ceiling of the corridor, thicker in the direction of the elevator shaft.
Which is a bit of luck, because the only usable stairway is on the other side of the building. "Okay," she says again. "Let’s go."
Still holding firmly to Kirsten’s hand, Dakota steps out into the hall. "Watch where you put your feet," she says. Testing each step, Koda picks their way across the crater gouged in the floor by the last grenade. Reinforcing steel shows here and there, with water pooling around it. Just as long as we don’t run across a live wire. . ..
She slips twice on their way around the core of the building, once on a loose tile that skates away under her foot, again when Kirsten turns her ankle on a discarded rifle magazine. The door to the stairwell hangs drunkenly from a single hinge, pushed back against the wall. Smoke filters upward through the shaft, still faint, but discernable. Something below them has caught fire, something large, not just the walls on the other side of this floor.
Dropping Kirsten’s hand, Koda rips the rag of one sleeve off and wraps it around her mouth and nose. Kirsten pulls the neck of her T-shirt up; at another moment, Koda might stop to admire the way the wet cotton clings to her body, but there is no time.
She will have to run and admire at the same time. One of the little perks of being alive. . .. She says, "You go first. You know the layout."
Kirsten squeezes her hand briefly, then sets off up the stairs. The sprinklers have made them slick, too. The safety treads hold, though, and Kirsten takes the steps two at a time, holding firmly to the metal handrail, Koda running behind her. They pass a landing and a right angle turn. At the next landing, a door, clearly marked, gives onto the fifth floor. Two more turns, taken at speed. Fourth floor. The smoke is less thick here, no more than an elusive scent through the stronger odor of blood that washes from her own clothing. Water runs from her hair, from Kirsten’s, to splash on the concrete under their feet. It runs red as it streams from her shirt and jeans, a thin runnel that disappears into the stairwell below.
Another turn, and another. Third floor.
Two more to go.
From somewhere below them comes a muffled rumble like distant thunder. A shudder runs through the walls, a small network of cracks spreading around the jamb of the door that gives onto the corridor that runs around the third story.
"I don’t know," Kirsten pants, swinging around the angle of the staircase. "Something big. Maybe the AC, maybe the elec—"
"—tricity," Koda finishes for her as darkness suddenly descends on them. "Shit. Hold onto me."
It takes a precious couple seconds, but Koda locates Kirsten’s left hand ahead of her. Koda extends her own to brush against the wall, Kirsten still holding to the banister. "Don’t run," she gasps as Kirsten stubs her toe against a riser and topples forward, kept from falling only by Koda’s grasp on her arm. "If one of us falls—"
She does not need to complete the sentence. The flash of fear in Kirsten’s mind—none of it for Kirsten herself—leaps the distance between them like a spark. "It’s gonna be okay," she says, " We’re gonna make it."
Another landing. More stairs. Another landing.
"One more," Kirsten gasps. "Almost there."
Almost. Almost . . ..
A second temblor runs through the building, a long, rolling wave like an earthquake. From below comes the sharp, gunshot crack of cement splitting—a wall, stairs further down, there is no way to tell. Koda feels the jerk of Kirsten’s muscles in her own arm, the impulse to run almost overwhelming. But Kirsten’s steady pace takes them onto the next landing, turns them onto the final half-flight of stairs.
The smoke catches them halfway up, a billow of choking fumes that fills Koda’s lungs despite her mask. Beside her, Kirsten coughs, hard, but her pace does not slacken. "Chemicals," she chokes. "Lots of industrial stuff—"
The floor suddenly levels under their feet, and Kirsten pushes through the door into the first floor hallway, pausing half a second to secure it behind them. A faint haze of light comes through the skylight above, enough to show the empty corridor, inhuman human shapes arrested in mid-motion or collapsed in mechanical rigor mortis to the floor.
Virgilius’ termination had been evidence of Kirsten’s success. This is confirmation. "You did it," Koda breathes, marveling. "It’s over."
Kirsten, beside her, glances around at the still forms. Even in the dim illumination, Koda can see that her face is pale, her eyes still wide and dark and stunned. "Over," she repeats softly. "Over."
A sprint carries them around the curve of the building, then, across the lobby with its avant-garde German sculpture, all twists and tangles of stainless steel. They hit the panic bars on the main doors at full speed, bursting out into the pale light of dawn. Momentum carries them through the grounds, over the disused parking lot, up the slope of the hill. Asi bounds through the high grasses to greet them, and Kirsten seizes him by the ruff, her feet still flying, while Koda scoops up their gear. "Keep going," Kirsten pants, "Just keep. . .."
. . .going. . ..
The shock runs though the earth beneath them as they reach the level ground above the small valley. Thunder rolls along the air, the crash of collapsing concrete and the roar of secondary explosions. Glancing back, Koda half expects to see a mushroom cloud rising behind them, but there is only a cloud of dust and smoke, roiling upward toward the clear sky.
Beside her, Kirsten turns to look. She says softly, "And the kings of the earth, who have committed fornication and lived deliciously with her, when they shall see the smoke of her burning, shall say, ‘Alas, alas that great city Babylon,’ for in one hour is her judgement come.’" For a long moment she is silent, and Koda reaches out for her hand. Despite the warmth of the morning, despite their run, Kirsten’s skin remains cold to the touch. She whispers, "Never. Never again. Never, never again."
Around their ankles the grass stirs as a breeze ghosts over the ground. It lifts the dust along the road, catches the smoke that rises over the remains of the Westerhaus Institute, shredding it, carrying it in thinning coils up into the clean sky. Koda never knows how long they stand watching as it disperses, taking with it the terror and grief of the past nine months. Above them, the sun catches a glint of bronze off a hawk’s wing feathers, and Wiyo’s cry comes floating down to them. It is welcome; it is triumph.
It is joy.
Koda turns Kirsten gently by the shoulders and bends to kiss her. "Cante mitawa," she murmurs. "Let’s go home."
And there you have it, folks! The end of a story that began (for us) in November of 2002 and for you in January of 2003. We hope that you’ve enjoyed the ride. To all of you who stuck with us, you all ROCK!!!
To Mary D, who kept on keeping on every single week for a year and a half, you are a Godsend and a true friend! Love ya, Mary. And thanks.
Keep an eye peeled for a sequel to start coming out in the next few months. We’ve still got a whole mess of story left to tell.
Until then, hasta la vista, baybee!
Sue and Okasha
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