Written by:  Susanne Beck and Okasha 

Disclaimers:  In chapter one.


Kirsten removes her glasses and rubs at eyes far past weary.  The past twelve hours have been spent studying line after line of code that marches across her monitor like a parade of ants to a picnic. Still, the day has been somewhat productive.  She’s managed to weed out all but two groupings, each similar in form, if not content.  Somewhere within this mess of binaries, she knows the answer, or at least part of it, will be found. For all that, however, she’s not even close to being out of the woods.  It’s as if the scrolling numbers are all the words to War and Peace. 


With no capital letters.


Or punctuation. 


Or spaces indicating where one word ends and the next begins. 


In Russian. 


And she can’t read Russian.


She doesn’t hear the clatter of her glasses hitting the far wall and coming to rest in a forlorn twist of glass and metal atop the threadbare carpet.  With her implants switched off, her world is blessedly silent.  Not that there would be anything to disturb the silence if her implants were on, of course.  Maggie and Dakota had left the house early this morning; the Colonel undoubtedly off making the world—or what remains of it—safe for Democracy, and Koda tending to the animals thrust suddenly into her more-than-capable hands.


Or maybe not, she thinks as she lifts her head and takes a deep breath through her nose.  The scent that lingers there takes her back to a time of cold winters and warm blankets, the love of her family, and the adventures of Katrina Callahan—Intergalactic Cop.  A smile steals unnoticed over her face.  Mmm.  Chicken soup.  My favorite.


Casually flipping her implants back on, she listens expectantly for the sounds of life within the house, then frowns, disappointed.  Beyond her half-closed door, it’s as silent as a tomb.  With a soft sigh, she pushes back from the desk and rises somewhat stiffly to her feet, shaking her legs to restore some feeling into the seemingly deadened nerves. 


Padding softly across the small room, she peeks through the opening, smiling in surprised delight at the sight of Dakota propped on the couch, face mostly hidden behind the cover of a thick book.  Asi lays sprawled half-across her lap, blissfully asleep.  The scent of simmering soup is much stronger here, and she takes it in on a satisfied breath, squinting slightly to catch the title stamped into the thick leather hide of the book Koda holds.


Der Untergang des Abendlandes by Otto Spengler.


“Wow,” Kirsten remarks softly, “and they call me an egghead.”


So confident that her remark was unheard, she almost misses the brief flash of pain that crosses Dakota’s striking features as she looks up from her book.  She masks the expression quickly, but Kirsten feels her heart plummet somewhere in the region of her stomach and she takes an involuntary step forward, arms at her sides, palms outspread.  “I’m….”


“It’s okay,” Koda intones, pulling up a genuine smile.  “Taking a break?”


“Kinda,” Kirsten replies, relieved.  “That soup smells delicious.”


“Unfortunately, it’s got several hours to go yet.  I just put it on.”


“Ah well. There’s always the mess.”


The women exchange quiet laughs.


Approaching the couch, Kirsten looks down at her dog, who looks up at her without a care in the world.  His tail beats a lazy tattoo against the arm of the sofa as his head continues to rest across the top of Koda’s thighs.  “You’re a slut, you know that?”


Dakota laughs as Asi gives Kirsten a rather affronted look but deigns not to move from his appointed spot.  Rolling her eyes—and secretly envying Asi his prime location—Kirsten perches on the couch’s other arm, peering again at the thick tome in Koda’s hands.  “It’s been a long time since I’ve seen someone read an actual book for pleasure.”


Looking down at the book in question, Koda lifts one broad shoulder in a shrug.  “Disktexts never were my thing.  I like the feel of a book in my hands.”


Kirsten nods, though she really can’t relate.  She can, and has, read books when she must, but to her nothing compares with a minidisk filled to the byte with her favorite literature.  She smiles.  “In German, too.  I’m impressed.”  She touches the book’s binding.  “How many languages do you know?”


“Twelve,” Koda replies, “though I can’t really take credit for most of them.  Tali had a Master’s in Linguistics and Foreign Languages.”  She smiles slightly, sweet memories surrounding her.  “It got to be that if I wanted to talk to her at all, I’d have to learn the language she was currently studying.”




The look of pain flashes briefly again, then is gone.  “My wife.”


“Wife?” Kirsten echoes, stunned.  A barrage of emotions run through her, none staying long enough for her to identify, though she knows that a bit of anger, shock, and disbelief are somewhere in the mix.


“She died seven years ago.  SARS IV.”


“Oh, Dakota.  I’m so sorry.”


“Thanks,” Koda replies, noting the obvious sincerity in the smaller woman’s tone.  She hesitates a moment, then deliberately lowers another internal wall, needing to share some part of herself with this woman she is quickly coming to cherish.  “We married when we were sixteen.”


“Sixteen?” Kirsten asks, though her voice is hesitant.  She is fully aware of the precious gift she is about to receive, and is loath to have that gift taken back due to an inauspicious interruption on her part.  To her vast relief, however, Koda doesn’t seem to mind.


“A little young, I know, but it was pretty much expected.”  At Kirsten’s questioning look, she continues.  “We grew up together.  Her family owned the ranch next to ours, and we were born only three weeks apart.  We were best friends from the cradle on, and when I got old enough to know what love was, I knew that I loved her.”  Her sudden smile is lopsided and fond.  “When I asked for her hand, let’s just say that no one was surprised.”


“It sounds like something out of a Fairy Tale,” Kirsten remarks quietly.


Koda laughs softly.  “Maybe a little, yeah.”  Her voice becomes serious.  “We went off to school the week after we got married.  We were both accepted at UPenn, on scholarship.  I went to the Vet school, she studied linguists and foreign languages.  When we graduated, we moved back here and refurbished our home.  I had my clinic and rehab center, she had her students, and we had each other.”  She pauses for a moment, her thumb rubbing on the book’s worn spine.  “We were happy.”


Kirsten lays one hand almost reverently on Koda’s bowed head, brushing her palm against the silken strands of her thick, jet hair.  “How…how did she get sick?”


“As near as anyone could tell,” Koda begins, comforted by the stroking hand, “it was a student who’d just come back from Asia.  The epidemic was just starting up at that time, and quarantines weren’t in force.  She went to school hale and healthy one morning, and was hooked up to a ventilator that same night.”


“But the treatment…!”


Koda shakes her head.  “She wouldn’t take it.”


“Wouldn’t--?  But why?”


As Koda looks up, Kirsten reads the answer within the fathomless grief in those too-blue eyes before Dakota even speaks a word.


“She was pregnant.”




Ellsworth is a large  installation, and as Maggie makes her way from the brig back toward the base housing and home, the pain in her leg returns full force.  Official rationing of gasoline has not begun, but unless they can find fresh supplies to exploit in Rapid City and the surrounding area, the time will come when all petroleum products will grow not just scarce but extinct. 


Dionsaur thou art; to dinosaur thou shalt return.  Amen.


She makes a mental note to have someone check on foot-driven transportation already available on base and to send a couple squads to raid the remaining inventories of bicycle shops in town.  She will need to speak to Koda and the Mss. Tilbury-Laduque about the possibility of acquiring horses.  She will also have to think about how—no, goddammit,  somebody else  can think about something.   Let Boudreaux and the other goddam surviving CPA’s earn their keep.  


She shifts that problem firmly off her desk.  The bean counters will have to figure out how to pay for such things. 


Then the  rest of us can fill out the forms in triplicate.  Requisition:  individual personnel transportation and supply hauling unit, quadruped.   Translation:  horse.


The  feeling that time is slipping out from under her returns: years, decades, centuries tilting drunkenly away as they did the morning of the battle of the Cheyenne.   The armature of a whole civilization has collapsed, sending them back to . . . where?  When?  Maggie shivers a little under her uniform jacket, hunching her shoulders both to hoard the warmth and to ease the weight of her brief case.   The most taken-for-granted, everyday facts of life have all suddenly acquired question marks, and she’s not sure there are good answers to all of them.


Maybe not to any of them.


Is there still a United States?  If so, is there a Constitution? 


Who decides?


How are goods to be paid for?  Up until now,  patrols from the base have been happily looting—there is no other name for it, no matter if they have been calling it ‘salvage’—and that is a thing that offends her orderly soul.  Sergeant Tacoma Rivers, as honest a man as she has ever met, is at this moment heading a team to study the feasibility of  appropriating electrical generators that had been private property a few short weeks ago.  If any of the power co-op survives, how are they to be compensated?  Is there such a thing as money any more?


And who decides?


The headache that has been tapping, tapping lightly at the edges of her consciousness becomes the full-blown assault of a jackhammer.  She needs that bath.  Thank god there is still lavender.  She needs a cup of chamomile tea.  She needs—


Something cold and wet and rubbery suddenly thrusts itself into her free hand swinging at her side, and it is all Maggie can do not to jump out of her skin.  For half a nanosecond it takes her straight back to junior high school and haunted house fundraisers—one of the oldest tricks in the world, a kitchen glove filled with ice water and dragged over an unsuspecting hand or better yet, the back of a vulnerable neck.  It had gotten satisfyingly terrified screams even out of the football jocks. 


Especially out of the football jocks.


But this is not a trick, and she turns to ruffle Asi’s fur as he greets her, whining and twisting himself into Moebius strips of canine ecstacy.  He barks twice, high and sharp, and the sound almost splits her skull, but she is almost as glad to see him as he is to see her.  Anything to be dragged away from the train of thought that has become increasingly oppressive. He will allow her to think about something besides the minuscule but suddenly critical problems that have parked themselves like orphans outside her gate, and will not go away.


“Hey, fella,” she says, scratching his back in long, lazy strokes.  “Where’s your lady?”


He barks again, a glass-shattering high B, and Maggie looks up to see Kirsten and Koda coming toward her from the bare  woods to the west of the base residences, climbing the short slope that leads up to the sidewalk.  Their faces are both flushed with the westerly breeze that is now carries with it the chill of dusk, Kirsten’s hair alight around her face like an aureole in the low sun. 


There is something of peace in Koda’s face that she has never seen before, the quiet that follows cessation of pain.  With it, too, is a new sense of intimacy between the two women.  It is nothing overt, nothing that Maggie can easily put words to; only something in the tilt, perhaps, of Kirsten’s head, the inclination of Koda’s body.  A lessening of  the space  between.  Something, something of vital importance, has passed between them this day.  Something that has Maggie, this time, on the outside, looking in.


The sight brings a small pang about her heart, but Maggie cannot pretend to any sweeping operatic emotion, neither jealousy or grand amour.  Neither can she pretend that she does not see the obvious and instinctive bond between the two women.   Her ancestors, plying the coast of East Africa with ivory and leopard pelts to trade for turquoise and myrrh in the incense fields of Oman, would have called it kismet. 




As god wills.


Aloud she calls, “You guys headed home?”


“Yeah,” Koda answers as she gains the sidewalk, and Asi, fickle male that he is, bounds toward her and paws at her chest as if he has not seen her in a week.  “Hey, boy.  Down.”  And to Maggie, again, “I put some soup on before we left.  It ought to be done in an hour or so.”


“You look tired,” Kirsten observes.  “Bad day with the interviews?”


Maggie grimaces and shakes her head slightly.  “Filthy.”


“Them or the day?”



Koda’s eyes meet hers, concern and affection in their blue depths.  “You look like something Asi wouldn’t bother to drag in.”  She gestures toward a pair of benches set under the still-naked branches of a sycamore tree.  “Soup won’t be on for a while yet.  Let’s sit.”


Maggie nods and follows the other two toward the knoll that looks down over the woods.   The sun has begun to fall toward the horizon, almost even with the treetops, and birds that gleam blue-black in the light that lies like gold wash across the snow make their way ponderously, two and two, into the  trees where they will roost for the night.   All of the pairs fly sedately together save one.  Where the others glide almost wingtip to wingtip, one raven dives from height upon his companion, swoops under  to come out in a barrel roll, pinwheeling his wings about the axis of his body, his long flight feathers throwing off flashes of blue and green and silver where the sun strikes them.  His low-pitched prrrukkk resonates in the air.

Kirsten stands transfixed, her eyes wide and impossibly green.  Asimov seems to have taken on her mood, sitting quietly beside her.  A first.  Kirsten asks, “Those are ravens, aren’t they?”


“Common Ravens, to be exact.  We— we Lakota—call them ‘wolf birds,’” Koda answers.  “They’ll follow a pack on the hunt or sometimes even lead them to prey.”


“And they get a share?”


“After the wolves have done.  It’s not true symbiosis, but close.” 


Caught up in the small drama, Maggie watches as the  stunt-flying bird wheels upward again and plunges again toward the other. It seems extraordinarily graceful for birds that big, that heavy.  She  says,  not quite asking,  “That’s not a fight.” 


“That’s a proposal, “ Koda responds, smiling slightly.  “That’s got to be a couple of young birds pairing off, since it’s still way too early for breeding.  They won’t nest until next summer.”


Kirsten shades her eyes, following the aerobatics.  “Long term pair bond?”


Koda nods.  “For life.”


Kirsten stares at the birds, the one serene in her flight, the other tumbling about her in exuberant loops and rolls, untiring.  Finally they disappear into the trees, and she turns, her eyes going from Koda to Maggie to somewhere deep inside herself that Maggie cannot see.  “How do we get it so wrong?”


Koda is silent, staring out over the woods toward the setting sun.  The light plays across her face, bronze and still as a statue’s, and Maggie feels her bearings slipping yet again.  Time has ground to a halt, it seems, or spun backward, and drawing the woman standing before her into its looping maze, into past or future or otherwhen.  So it is Maggie who says, “Get what wrong, Kirsten?”


Kirsten makes a small encompassing gesture with one hand.  “Everything.  How did we screw up the whole goddam world?  What’s going to happen to us?”


Maggie bites down on the response  that leaps to her tongue on the first question:  all too easily.   There is no answer to the second one.  “I don’t know,” she says.  “We don’t know how  many are left even in North America, much less the rest of the world.  We just have to do the best we can and work to make it enough.”


A small smile, half ironic, tugs at Kirsten’s mouth.  “My dad was a Marine.  You sound like him.”


Wonderful.  The thought weaves through the back of Maggie’s mind.  My about to be ex-girlfriend is about to become her future girlfriend, and I’m a father figure.  Aloud she says, “Career military tend to think pretty much in the same channels.  It’s the training.”


“Semper fi, huh, even in the wild blue yonder?”


“You got it.”


“Someone’s coming..”


Maggie starts.  Koda has snapped out of whatever reverie has held her and is staring at a  Jeep streaking down the street straight for them.  Andrews pulls up with a squeal of brakes and the smell of burned rubber laid down on the asphalt.   He salutes, still sitting behind the wheel.  “Ma’am!”


Maggie tosses her briefcase into the vehicle and starts to climb in, lifting her sore leg gingerly over the low side by the front passenger seat..  “What’s the problem, Lieutenant?”


“Ma’am, the MP Captain asked me to find you.  “There’s a situation at the main gate.”


Without being bidden, Koda and Kirsten pile into the back, Asimov between them.  “All right,” Maggie mutters resignedly, regretting the hot bath and  the hot supper that have now receded as far into the dim future as civilization itself.  “Whatever it is, let’s go tend to it.  Semper the hell fi.”


The Jeep bumps along the near-empty street at a speed that rattles Koda’s bones together like bare branches in a norther; the  winter weather has not been kind to the tarmac, and repairing potholes has not been high on the Base’s agenda.  Andrews seems to be  making no particular effort to avoid them, possibly on the theory that the shortest distance between two points  is a straight line.  The  likelihood of a broken axle does not seem to enter the equation. The snarl of the engine and the sharp whip of the evening air make conversation impossible.    Koda hangs onto the rollbar with one hand and Asi with the other; on his other side, Kirsten does the same, face set and pale in the chill blue light that follows sunset.  Asi, in contrast, leans into the wind created by their speed, eyes bright, tongue lolling, having the time of his life.  George Patton Asimov, Dog of War.


He may get a second chance to prove himself.  As rancher, Koda  knows that only two types of problems develop at gates, whether they involve humans or cows.  One:  someone wants in who should not be let in.  Two:  someone wants out who should not be let out.  Given the disorderly scenes of civilians attempting to take up residence on the Base and defying MP’s that she has already witnessed, she is fairly certain that the crisis is of the first type.


The sound comes to them through the gathering darkness, well before they come into sight of the gate, a muffled roar like a tornado grinding across the plains. A steady rhythm runs under it, a bass beat answering point counterpoint to intermittent screams.  As near as she can tell, they seem to be cries of anger rather than pain.  If they are lucky, they may still have a bit of time before matters get entirely out of hand. It won’t be much, though.  In the seat in front of her, Maggie pokes Andrews’ arm and mimes a heavier foot on the accelerator.   Andrews nods and floors it.  Without a word, Koda and Kirsten link arms behind Asi to hold him in place; oblivious to his own safety, he throws back his head and howls like a wolf  following blood spoor, closing in on his prey. 


“He’s enjoying this, the idiot!”  Kirsten yells, the shout barely audible above the racket of the Jeep and the ever-closer thunder of what is clearly a mob.


Koda grins in answer, holding tighter to both the dog and the Jeep.  But the sound that she has dreaded cracks out in the middle of one of Asi’s canine arpeggios, and she lets go of the bar and shifts her weight to draw the automatic pistol she has carried ever since the battle.  In front of her, Maggie already has her own sidearm in her hand, held low and ready. Kirsten’s is in her lap.   “Rifle,” Koda shouts into the wind, and Kirsten nods agreement even though Koda doubts she has heard. The sound is unmistakable.   The lack of return fire to that single shot is no comfort.


Andrews rounds the corner where  the commissary stands and streaks full throttle down the straightaway toward the Base’s main gate.  They are no longer alone.  Sirens wailing,  so close on their bumper that the lead truck almost backedends them, a pair of MP troop carriers swing in behind them from the opposite intersection, and a small ripple of uncoiling muscles runs down Koda’s back.  The situation is still not good, but it is no longer as bad as it was a second or two ago.


At the distance of three or four hundred meters and closing, it becomes clear that a full-scale riot is in the offing.  One panel of the Base’s double steel gates blocks the right lane of the road, rolled shut across a clot of  a dozen cars and trucks angled in as many different directions.  A second logjam of vehicles clogs the left lane. A pair of heavy-duty pickups, the long-bedded, double-cab sort that can carry a dozen armed adults apiece, stand aimed at them just beyond the guardhouse, their front tires punctured on the teeth of steel bars that have risen up out of the asphalt like a pair of shark’s dentures.  Over and around and among and on top of the cars and trucks, perhaps forty people stand shouting at the two MP’s on watch.  The guards hold their weapons at waist level, ready to fire though not aimed at the crowd.


Add nitroglycerin and stir lightly until moistened: the situation is a breath away from disaster.  Maybe less.


Maggie is out of the Jeep before it comes completely to a halt, fishtailing to a stop just behind the guardhouse.  Koda and Kirsten pile out on her heels, Asimov and Andrews pace for pace behind them.  The carrier trucks swing into nearly right-angle turns, one to barricade each traffic lane; MP’s come spilling out their rear flaps, armed with riot helmets, shields and clubs, to stand shoulder to shoulder across the tarmac.  At the sight of them, the crowd surges forward, its roar clawing its way up  the scale until it becomes a sustained howl.  Without warning, the searchlights mounted on the cabs of the MP trucks flare to life, sweeping the crowd with beams bright enough to dazzle the eyes of anyone who looks directly into them.  A ripple passes through the crowd as arms and hands attempt to block the glare; here and there, a figure turns away entirely and begins to move toward the back of the mob.  More ominously, the light picks out the metal fittings of half a dozen deer rifles, here and there the skeletal form of an M-16 or an AK-47.


Maggie snatches a bullhorn from the hand of the MP Captain and vaults up onto the bed, then the cab roof, of one of the impaled pickups.  Koda and Kirsten clamber up to take  station in the back of the truck, facing the crowd, guns held low but visible in front of them.  Asimov stands on the lowered tailgate, ruff brisling and tail held straight and prickly as lodgepole pine.  His lips curl up to bare his teeth.  For an instant his form seems to blur, his head lose its angularity to become shorter in the muzzle, his ears less sharply pointed, his whole face broader beneath the eyes.  


A chill slips down Koda’s spine, and the sense of something indefinably other—otherkind, otherwhere, otherwhen—follows after.   Something of the same feeling, no more than a frisson, had slid through her mind, half-memory, half-not, while she had watched the ravens making their way into the forest as the sun brushed the horizon in its steepening fall toward night.   Time has gone awry, the earth tilted off its accustomed axis, past and future irrupting into the present like steam rising in a geyser. 


“I can’t hear you!”  Maggie’s voice brings her back from her split-second drift into the time stream.  Again, metallic and magnified almost beyond recognition, all its Southern softness gone:  “I CAN’T HEAR YOU!”  Gun tucked back into the waistband of her trousers,  Maggie points at a red-faced  man in a plaid hunting jacket at the front of the crowd.  “You!  Talk to me!  What the hell’s going on here!”


The man shouts something back, inaudible.  “Say again!”  Maggie shouts.

Gradually the crowd quiets, and the unexpected spokesperson steps a little away from the others, moving cautiously with his eyes on the line of MP’s just behind the truck that has suddenly become a podium.  His hand moves to the brim of his Stetson in reflexive good manners, hesitates, and tilts the hat back on his head at a jauntier angle instead. His step takes on the suggestion of a strut. Unimpressed, Koda suppresses a snort:   a banty rooster, this one, all crow and no balls.    She catches the roll of Kirsten’s eyes and almost winks in response; it’s as bad a case of testosterone poisoning as she’s ever seen.  Unobtrusively, Koda thumbs the safety off her gun.  Covering one hand with the other almost demurely, Kirsten does the same, staring at the man and the crowd behind him with eyes bright and cold and hard as green diamonds.


“Who the hell are you?” the Stetson roars. 


“Margaret Allen, United States Air Force.  Who the fuck are you?”


A murmur runs through the  crowd, and the truculent expression drops off several faces in the front.  Word of the battle of the Cheyenne has apparently gotten out to at least some of the remaining civilian population.  Further back, a couple of rifle barrels slip from view.  Sensing the change behind him, the man’s voice loses a fraction of its edge.  “I’m Bill Dietrich, and I’m a law-abiding citizen.  You want to explain to me why U. S. citizens can’t come onto a Base their taxes paid for?”


Far back in the crowd, someone yells, “You tell ‘er, Bill,” and another, sharply female, snaps, “Shut up, you idiot!”


“Pleased to meet you, Mr. Dietrich,” Maggie responds evenly.  “Suppose you tell me why you and the good folks behind you are attempting to trespass on a restricted government installation.”


“What guvmint?  There ain’t no guvmint!  We got a right to what we paid for.”


At that Kirsten steps forward, moving to where Asi stands at the alert at the edge of the tailgate.  The glare of the searchlights leaches color from her, turning her hair silver, her face ghost-pale.  Her voice, when she speaks, is as chill as her face.  “Allow me to introduce myself, Mr. Dietrich.  I’m Kirsten King, and I’m the only surviving member of the Cabinet we know of.”  She pauses, letting the effect filter through the crowd for a moment.  “And much as I would hate to do it, I’m prepared to ask these law enforcement officers to enforce the law by firing on you if necessary.  Whether it’s necessary or not is up to you.”  She steps back toward the cab of the truck, her gun now in plain sight.


A second man detaches himself from the crowd, unceremoniously elbowing Dietrich aside.  He is tall and lanky and grey, with creases carved deep around his eyes and at the corners of his mouth.  “Ma’am, I’m Jim Henderson.  I’ve got a ranch up the road a bit, or did have.  Had a family, too.  Now I’ve just got one daughter, and her only because she was out riding fence with me when the  droids took or killed the rest.  All I want is a safe place for her.  That’s what we all  want, Ms. Secretary, Colonel Allen—just a place to be safe.” 


“I understand,” Maggie answers.  “But you have to understand that the Base is not safe.  It’s already been a target twice; we’re likely to be attacked again.”


“You beat the droids!”  That from somewhere about halfway back.  “They’re gone!”


“We beat one contingent of the droids,” she corrects the speaker.  “There are more where they came from, believe me.”


“Then you gotta protect us!  Let us in!”  Dietrich  swaggers to the fore again.


Koda hears Maggie’s sharply indrawn breath, magnified by the bullhorn.  Her voice, though, remains patient.  “Mr Dietrich, tell me something.  How do I know you’re not a droid?  How can we tell you’re not a spy trying to force your way in here?”


“Why that’s the damnedest stupidest thing I ever heard of!  Listen to me, you---” He breaks off abruptly.  “Look, lady, that uniform don’t make you god!”


“I know one way to tell if he’s a droid,” Kirsten remarks almost casually.  “Droids don’t bleed.”


“Look,” Maggie says, “We can’t insure your security unless we can insure the security of the Base and our assets.  You folks can try to fight your way in, and lose.  You can lose even more of your people.  You can kill some of these soldiers who have already bled for you at the Cheyenne.”


She pauses, allowing that to sink in.  Koda is pleased to see more guns disappear from view. 


“Go home.  If it will make you feel more secure, you can move into some of the vacant houses closer to the Base.  But don’t expect us to support you; we can’t do it.  You’ll have to find ways to feed yourselves and protect yourselves from everything but armed attack.  That’s your job as citizens.  Ours is to defend you from enemies foreign and domestic—and android.  You can obstruct us, or you can help us serve you.  Your choice.”


“Who’s in charge?” The voice comes from somewhere in the middle of the crowd, unidentifiable by age or gender. 


Which is the sixty-four million dollar question, isn’t it? Koda’s eyes flick sideways to Kirsten, only to find that the other woman is looking directly at her.  With a small shake of her head, Koda averts her glance and returns to watching the crowd.  For the first time since the uprising, she is truly and personally afraid of what may come.  Because the question is not just who’s in charge now but who will be in charge if human society somehow beats the odds and  manages to survive.


And the only viable answer is that it will be someone entirely different, something entirely different, than anything that has gone before. 


Maggie shouts into the bullhorn.  “General Hart is the Commanding Officer of this Base.  Dr. King is the highest surviving civilian authority that we know about.  Like it or not, we have to assume that the new capital of the United States is now Ellsworth Air Force Base.  And that’s going to mean the kind of security restrictions we had before, only more so.”  She pauses.  “But you’re free people.  You need to choose yourselves a mayor or manager or whatever you want to call it.  You need to pick law officers.  Because as far as I’m concerned the Constitution is still in effect, and the American military does not police American civilians.  Anybody got any problems with that?”



The crowd begins to mill, movement coalescing somewhere around its center.  Some of them clearly do have problems with that, and have come here in hopes of finding someone to tell them what to do.  Others, their faces clearly relieved even in the flat glare of the floodlights, have heard what they needed to hear.   Slowly, infinitely slowly,  its members begin to bleed off, backing out of the gate on foot, others getting into their vehicles to inch away in reverse.  The MP’s begin to pace them, moving in line, shields locked in a solid wall. 


Kirsten raps out, “Hold!  Let them go voluntarily.”


 The line halts as if frozen, and as the last of the would-be mob filters out, the duty guards roll the second panel of the gate into place.  It locks with a soul-satisfying clang.


Maggie jumps down from the top of the cab, stumbling a little on her right leg. 


Koda slips a hand under her arm to steady her.  “You okay?”


A smile plays for a moment about Maggie’s mouth.  “Rapists, mobs, oh yeah, just a day in the freakin’ life.”  To the MP Captain, she says, “I want half a dozen more guards on this gate and as many on the side entrance.  I want staggered patrols all around the perimeter.  M-60s’.  We’re in lockdown.  Nobody gets in and nobody gets out until we know precisely who’s on Base and who has what useful skill.”


“Yes, Ma’am.”  The Captain salutes and turns to sort his troops out into patrols.


“And Captain,” Kirsten adds.  “If anybody comes over the fence, shoot to kill.  This Base was a restricted area before; it’s a restricted area now.”


“Ma’am.”  Again, he salutes.  “I’m on it.”


Asi, standing down from red alert with an ease granted to none of the humans, begins to wave the plume of his tail.  Whining, he paws at Koda’s leg, then noses at her pocket, looking for treats..


 Kirsten reaches down to ruffle his fur.  “He’s right,” she says.  “It’s past suppertime.  Let’s go home.”




And, as all (hopefully) good things must, this episode of The Growing comes to an end.  We hope you enjoyed.  We’d love to hear from you, good or bad.  Until next week, ciao!

Continued - Chapter 19

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