Written by: Susanne Beck and Okasha
Disclaimers: In chapter one.
CHAPTER TWENTY SEVEN
Koda runs her hands over the small cat’s body, pressing gently against her sides and abdomen. Despite her ordeal of the evening before, Sister Matilda’s black fur is glossy as a raven’s wing, her white bib and muzzle pristine. She has hardly stopped purring since delivering her kittens last night, and all her bones vibrate with the rumbling. Koda has given up on the stethoscope, resorting to the old fashioned method of counting her respirations and the beats of her heart by compressions of her ribs. She is pleased to find them close to normal; there is no real sign of trouble in the belly, either. The new mother’s uterus is a bit loose, but nursing her litter of six should help to firm it up without further intervention.
"All right, girl. Let’s get another dose of good old Penicillin in you, just as a precaution." Koda leaves her lying on the exam table, small paws kneading the empty air, to fill a syringe from the vial in the countertop fridge. Compared to the bobcat, Sister Matilda is an ideal patient, content to stay where she is put and to accept human attempts at help with aplomb. Koda rubs her ears, then lifts her scruff and slips the needle in. The purr never misses a beat.
The evening before, she had cried with her distress, and so had little Daphne Burgess. Koda had accompanied the Sergeant to his home, made her initial examination, and brought cat and human family all back to the clinic. Sister Matilda’s labor had arrested several hours before, but there had been no blockage of the birth canal. Despite her small frame and enormous belly, so round she could hardly turn herself over without all four feet leaving the exam table, Koda had found no reason why she could not deliver normally. An injection of Oxytocin had started contractions again almost immediately, and within two hours she had become the happy mother of sextuplets.
Emphasis on the sex part: not one kitten looks like any other. One yellow longhair, one calico shorthair, one solid smoky grey, one black with white paws like his mother, one all white with a stubby Manx tail and one that looks suspiciously like a Maine Coon Cat. "Got around a bit there, didn’t you girl?" Koda remarks as she lays her back among her brood.
Briefly Koda inspects her other patients in the ward. A flop-eared rabbit with an infected eye is responding to treatment; a Scotty, survivor of an unfortunate encounter with a porcupine, looks morosely up at her over his still-swollen nose. She gives him a scratch between the ears. "Curiosity’s not just bad for cats, bro," she admonishes him. At least it hadn’t been a skunk.
A tap sounds at the door of the ward. "Dr. Rivers? There’s an elderly gentleman here to see you. A civilian."
"Tell him half a minute, Shannon. I’m coming." Stepping in and out of the bleach basin without thinking, Koda pauses to run her hands under the tap. She has a fair notion who the elderly civilian is and an even better notion why he’s here. From the file cabinet by her desk in the cubbyhole designated as her office, she takes two file folders and a small, silver key. Fingering it gingerly, she drops it into her pocket. She has known for days that this moment would come. She hates it no less for being forewarned.
Judge Harcourt stands in the middle of the reception area. He fills the small space to overflowing, standing with spine straight as a plumbline in pinstriped suit and burgundy tie, his salt-white hair combed into waves that brush at his collar. "Doctor Rivers," he says gravely as she pushes open the door. "I wonder if I might have a moment of your time."
"Come on back," she says, gesturing with the files.
Koda drags the chair from the examination room into the postage-stamp size space beside her own in front of her desk. "Have a seat, Fenton."
He remains standing, silent, until she sits, then follows suit, taking his tobacco pouch from his pocket. Without speaking he loads the pipe, reaches for the lighter and pauses, his eyes darting around the room. "Go ahead," Dakota says. "The nearest oxygen tank is two rooms over."
He gives her a grateful look, and it is only when the fragrant smoke begins to curl up from the bowl that he says, "We have a problem."
Koda snorts. "Just one? Thank you. What did you do with all the others?"
"We have a judicial problem," he amends, giving her a sharp look beneath bushy brows. "To wit, the Dietrich family, specifically his son."
"Let me guess. They want charges pressed."
"The son certainly does. The wife is a mousy little creature who scarcely uttered a word. Either she’s the submissive fundamentalist sort, or she really doesn’t mind being a widow." He shrugs. "Or both, of course."
"It’s possible. Certainly the son seems very sure of his manly place in the universe, and at the moment he sees that place as his father’s avenger. The MP at the gate relieved him of a knife and pistol on his way into the Base. I spoke to him"--he grimaces as smoke streams out about the stem of the pipe, giving him the aura of an oddly domesticated dragon—"at rather unpleasant length. We are going to have to have what amounts to a preliminary hearing-cum-inquest, at the very least. If there were any such available, I would advise that impetuous cousin of yours to get himself lawyered up. Where is he, by the way?"
"He says the Colonel’s made him PLO for life—that’s Permanent Latrine Officer—but
he’s actually working maintenance out on the flightline. She’s got Andrews, the other pilot involved, doing the same. Here."
Koda pushes the files across the desk. "These are the Polaroids I took before and after I treated the two surviving victims of the leghold traps. You can see the results of the treatment in person."
The Judge opens the folders, studying the harshly-lit, slightly overexposed color pictures. His expression does not change, but Koda marks the sudden clenching of his teeth on the pipe stem as he inspects the photos of the bobcat’s torn and bloody flesh, the tendons hanging loose though the bones beneath had remained, by some fluke, unbroken. Beside it is a second Polaroid, this one showing the wound cleanly shaved and stitched. The coyote’s involuntarily bobbed tail looks less serious, and the Judge cannot quite suppress a twitch at the corner of his mouth. "The Trickster tricked," he observes, "and escaping with nothing but wounded dignity in the end. Appropriate."
"Not quite nothing," Dakota says quietly. "That wound was nastily infected. He could have gone septic and died."
"You’re right, of course." The Judge sets the folders down. "Are there other photographs?"
Of the wolf, Wa Uspewicakiyapi, he means. "No. Come out to the kennels, then we’ll open the freezer."
Outside, Harcourt comes close to smiling again. The coyote lies on his back, forepaws crossed over his ribs in classic mummy fashion, snoring in the sun. His abbreviated tail twitches with his dreams, the wound healed over, leaving only a bare tip of skin to testify to his ordeal. The bobcat lies invisible inside the concrete block shelter at one end of her run, favoring shade for her siesta. But signs of her improvement are obvious. A much scuffed rubber ball testifies to her growing ease at chasing and pouncing; except for a few crumbs and a feather or two, her food bowl is empty. Harcourt shoots Koda a reproving glance, and she says, "She caught a pigeon."
"Rock dove," he corrects her absently. "At least that’s a good sign she can begin to fend for herself."
"With luck I should be able to release both of them in a week or so. I’m going to wait for Tacoma to come back from the wind farm so he can help with her. She’s getting pretty feisty now that she’s doing better."
"You mean uncooperative."
Dakota grins at him. "With everyone but Tacoma, I mean she barely tolerates us. She’s picky."
"And these—?" Harcourt gestures toward the run where the mother wolf lies sunning herself on the concrete, while her pup repeatedly flings himself up the incline of her shoulders and as repeatedly slides downward to bump his stubby tail on the hard surface. A sharp yap announces his frustration, but his mother barely twitches. Finally he trots around her, taking the long way at last, and settles down to nurse, nuzzling at her belly. She rouses, licks him absently, and resumes her nap.
"Wa Uspewicakiyapi’s mate and surviving pup. They’re almost ready for release, too."
"Excellent," he says, quietly. "Shall we go in?"
Shall we open the freezer, he means.
Koda feels a chill pass down her spine. She has not unlocked the unit since Kirsten brought her the keys, that day by the streamside. She knows what she will see and knows that, gash for gash and shattered bone for bone, she has seen far worse. The shock was in discovering what Tacoma had done; it is long past and keeps no hold over her. Stiffly her fingers close about the small bit of metal in her pocket. "All right," she says shortly, and turns toward the door.
Her hands are steady as she turns the key in the lock. As the lid comes up, a cloud of frosty air rises up to meet them like fog, obscuring the contents of the freezer. With it, faint with the cold, comes the sick-sweet odor of death. When the condensate clears, a bundle perhaps a meter long, wrapped in heavy plastic, lies visible at the bottom. Koda bends down to grasp it at the middle, but Harcourt says, "Allow me," and takes hold of one end, leaving Koda to lift the other. Together they carry it to the metal worktable normal used for such chores as mixing plaster casts or clipping fur from the cuts and scratches of recalcitrant patients. They set it down gently.
A moment’s inspection reveals that the plastic is not wound about the body but folded over it in several layers. As gently as if she were smoothing the bedcovers of a child, she loosens the tape and lays back the heavy, transparent plastic, frosted with the cold. At the last, the outlines of the wolf’s form clearly visible through it, she hesitates for a breath. Then, firmly, she folds it back.
Though Manny and Tacoma had been quick, rigor had apparently come and gone by the time they found the wolf’s remains, and temperatures had been just high enough not to freeze them where they lay. There can be no illusion that Wa Uspewicakiyapi seems only sleeping, yet he is decently laid out, his spine slightly curved, his head on his paws, his tail curled over his flank to expose the terrible wound in his leg.
Harcourt rounds the table for a closer look. Even frozen solid, it is clear that the teeth of the trap have torn the flesh down to the bone, abrading tendons and muscle and nerves over time enough for the edges to become dried and bloodless. Fragments of bone show through the shredded flesh. The fur, mingled grey and white, remains clotted with crimson. On his belly, the blood is frozen in a thin, smooth sheet, only the edges of skin showing white where the torn organs have been replaced. The position of the head hides the worst of the wounds to the neck, but streaks of blood stain the ruff, a necklace of deep garnet. As Harcourt leans closer to look, his face becomes as still as the wolf’s own, and as cold. But he says only, "Dakota, would you please bring the camera? We need to have a permanent record."
In the examination room, Koda checks the camera for film and is grateful for the few minutes necessary to find and slip a new packet into place. Her hands are numb from the cold, and she fumbles twice as she closes the back. The numbness about her heart has begun to shift, the first cracks appearing in the blue ice that has crept through her veins since the moment she found Wa Uspewicakiyapi bleeding his life out into the snow. In its place anger rises, a rage as white and searing as sheet lightning. She fumbles again as she turns toward the door, knocking a box of gauze sponges to the floor. As she stoops to pick them up her vision narrows, centering only on the small circle of light that contains her hand, lifting the box, meticulously setting it back down on the counter. Hunter sight.
But her prey is dead already, lying frozen and cold as his victim in the hospital morgue. You should have left him for me, cousin. If she cannot have him, she can at least make sure that others do not follow him.
Never. Never again. I swear it.
Gradually light invades the darkness that has gathered around her, and her field of view returns to normal. Carefully she steps around the examination table and returns to the workroom where Harcourt waits for the camera. Wordlessly she hands it to him, allowing him to record the evidence of brutal death. When he has done, the photos slipped into a pocket, he says quietly, "I need to ask you a question, Dakota. It’s one I will need to ask you again, at the inquest."
She nods, waiting.
"In your professional judgement, and strictly in your professional judgement, were these injuries sufficient to cause death?"
Shutting out the sight of the dead before her, shutting out the memory of her friend struggling in the trap, she nods. "When I found him, he was shocking from blood loss and exposure. Infection and frostbite had destroyed muscle and organ tissue. The left tibia and fibula, as you can see, were both shattered past the point where they could have been pinned."
"Had you found him earlier, could surgery have saved his life?"
She answers, not quite able to keep the anger from her voice. " If I had found him much earlier, before he was attacked by whatever tore him open—yes. His life, yes. But not his life, Fenton. Even if the other wounds could be repaired or had never happened, even if the infection could be fought down, the leg was unsalvageable. Only a sadist would have condemned him to that."
The judge raises one hand, palm outward. "Bear with me a moment longer, please. Quality of life aside, why did you not bring him back and attempt the operation?"
"Because his respiration was depressed and his blood loss so heavy that, in my professional judgement," she bites the words off, "he would not have survived transportation, much less anaesthesia."
‘Thank you. Now allow me to help."
Together they fold the plastic back into place, taping it firmly. Gently they lay Wa Uspewicakiyapi back into his chill resting place. Her hand lingers for a moment on the bundle. Only for a while, old friend, she promises silently. Only until justice has been done.
We will not fail you again.
In the silence of her mind, a wolf howl rises to the floating moon.
The witness room, four generically off-white walls topped by a yellowing acoustic–tile ceiling, fits only a bit less snugly than a coffin. Three paces long, three paces wide, its furnishings consist of one small table, one spine-cracking folding chair of undetermined but ancient vintage and one 60-watt light bulb further dimmed by a frosted glass globe. It bears a decided resemblance to the classic police interrogation room. According to her watch, Koda has been here for almost an hour, apparently going on all morning.
Good thing I’m not claustrophobic. Yet.
A jury for the trial of the Rapid City jail rapists was seated yesterday, with final selection in the morning and opening statements after lunch. The prosecution has begun its case this morning with accounts of the raid from the participants, to be followed by testimony from the victims in the afternoon. She has reviewed her testimony twice with Alderson, the last time before the opening gavel more than two hours ago. Larke and Martinez have already given their accounts; Andrews is up now, with Koda held back for last. The strategy may be transparent, but its effectiveness is undisputed. As the hero of the Cheyenne, she is the pièce de resistance. She is also mortally bored with the tedium of waiting.
Checking her watch one last time—Damn, he said we’d be out of here by eleven.—Koda sinks crosslegged to the relative comfort of the floor, opens Spengler at her bookmark, and begins to read.
She had snatched this particular book up on her way out her house all those months ago, not sure why then, not really sure why now. Then it had seemed a token of the past, a link to connect her to the spacious library that occupies a third of her home, something to remind her of—and call her back to—the comfortable life she and Tali had built between them. An incomplete farewell.
But now—she lets the book fall open on her knees, propping her chin on her fists. Spengler had been the great heretic of early twentieth century history, a prophet of doom floating loose on the riptide of social and industrial progressivism. History, he had said, moved not in ever-ascending lines but in cycles: birth, rise, maturity, decline and fall. He had fallen in and out of academic fashion, spiking in the late thirties when he had predicted that the Thousand Year Reich would last less than ten and thereafter relegated to the "crank science" midden along with von Daniken and other psuedoscholarly nutjobs.
Come the early 2000’s, Spengler had been rescued from the refuse heap and dusted off by Stan Uribe, then of Baylor. Uribe had argued that the United States at that time was in a phase corresponding to Europe’s Reformation, complete with religious wars—mostly fought in the political arena rather than on the battlefield—and imploding corporate feudalism. His theories had cost him his job, but he had moved on to U Penn’s infinitely more prestigious department. There he had gone on to extrapolate the theory to
encompass the rise of American Empire, built like others before it on the three G’s of colonialism and conversion: God, Gold and Glory. He had nearly gotten fired again in 2003, when he published the capstone of his theory, the inevitable fall of the Empire to those it, like Rome two millennia before, had labeled barbarians: women, Muslims, pagans, African Americans, gays and lesbians, Hispanics, the Indigenous Nations.
While battle raged in the boardroom, Koda and Tali had sat in his lectures spellbound. They had spent hours in his office, talking, questioning, then gone on to use their scarce elective hours for his seminars, sitting up until four in the morning with friends arguing the consequences if Uribe were right.
If he were right. . . And it seems he is, though not in the way he expected.
What now? How do we rebuild, but on a different model that can break the cycle? Can we break the cycle? For the first time in nearly four hundred years, the Nations have the opportunity to develop something different from the European pattern. We need to begin to make contact with other communities that have survived, like the commune Kirsten stayed at in Minnesota. Assuming that we survive, we need—not an exit strategy, a way in to a different world. How will a technological people, most of whom will be former white, middle-class Americans, fit into the Time of the White Buffalo?
And gods, how am I going to bring a white girl home to Mother?
A sharp rap brings her suddenly to her feet. The Bailiff’s face, florid under its blond buzz cut, appears in the door. "Doctor Rivers, you’ve been called to the stand."
Setting her book down, she follows the uniformed Sergeant out of the witness room and through the double doors of the court. Spectators fill two-thirds of the seats on the public’s side of the rail, a respectable crowd for all but the most notorious cases even in the time before the uprising. Some she recognizes as women liberated from the prison; one is Millie Buxton, her thin face drawn and pale with sleeplessness. Her fingers, clasped in her lap, writhe incessantly. She sits somewhat apart from the rest, toward the back. Also toward the back, Koda notes a large man wearing dark glasses, one foot on the floor and a fold of his jeans over the stump above his knee. His crutches lean against the back of the bench. She casts him a sharp glance, trying to place him, though she is certain she does not recognize him.
The second bailiff swings the gate open for her, and she approaches the dais with the judge’s bench and the witness stand. Harcourt fills his high seat as though he has grown there, inseparable from the black robe of his office or the gavel laid ready to his hand. He gives no sign of recognition—no fear, no favor from this one, ever—and says simply, "Madam Clerk, swear the witness."
The Clerk steps from behind her desk, raising the Bible there slightly with an inquiring look. Koda shakes her head and lays her hand on the medicine bundle around her neck
instead. In a low but clear voice, she swears to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, "so help me, Ina Maka."
Alderson leads her steadily, step by step, though the events of the raid on the Rapid City jail. At his prompting, she recounts the initial attack on the facility, the wounding of Larke and the deaths of Johnson and Reese. The hush in the courtroom deepens as she tells of leading her squad through the crawlspace above the cells; grows deeper still as she recalls, keeping all emotion from her voice, the joy of the released prisoners, their anger and hatred for their captors, their grief. From where she sits, she can see that even Millie Buxton’s fingers have fallen quiet, caught up as she perhaps is in the recollection of her own and her daughter’s ordeal.
Not so the man in the sunglasses. His lips move constantly, as though praying or conversing earnestly with himself, and his fingers curl and uncurl, sliding up and down the invisible length of some unseen measure.
As if playing something. . . . An image tickles at her memory. . . .a guitar. That’s it! That’s him, the blind singer Kirsten and Maggie met at the census. My god, he’s the press!
When her narrative is at an end, a bare armature of facts, no more, Alderson turns back to the prosecution’s table. "Pass the witness, Your Honor."
As Bourdreaux rises to take his place in the well of the court, Koda studies the defendants. McCallum has tipped his chair back on its hind legs so that it rests almost on the rail separating the defense table from the audience. Kazen studies the papers before him, as if searching for some unrecognized word of release; beside him, Petrovich stares at the jury, his hostility palpable. Buxton, though, sits with his elbows propped on the table, his forehead against his folded hands, apparently oblivious to the proceedings around him. His skin, pale when Koda saw him first at the jail, has grown grey and lusterless.
Like a mushroom, something that lives in the dark. Like a corpse. A man dead inside, too numb even to lie down.
Boudreaux clasps his hands in front of him, then looses them and clasps them behind his back instead. His nervousness shows in other ways, too, in the lines between his brows, just visible over the rims of his glasses; in the faint sheen of sweat slicking his scalp below his thinning hair. His job is an appalling one; to defend, and if he can, save the lives of, four men who are guilty far beyond a reasonable doubt, knowing that he may have a chance of success with only one of them. Knowing, too, that that chance hangs by a thread thin as spider silk.
"Dr. Rivers," he begins, "do you recognize the four men seated at the defense table?"
She nods. "Yes, Major. I do."
"You have already told the Court how you found these four men imprisoned in the Rapid City facility operated by Corrections Corporation of America. You found each in a separate cell, is that correct?"
Alderson is on his feet. "Objection, Your Honor! Leading the witness."
Harcourt regards the prosecutor for a moment over the rims of his half-glasses. "Leading Dr. Rivers, is he?" He lets the pause speak for the absurdity of the idea, then says, "Sustained. Rephrase your question, Counsel."
"Of course, Your Honor." The flush of embarrassment spreads over Boudreaux’s neck above his tie and into his face. "Dr. Rivers, can you tell us how you found the four defendants housed in the CCA facility?"
"Each was in an individual cell."
"Were they in contiguous cells within the same block?"
"They were in the same block, but not in adjoining cells."
"When you entered those cells, did you observe any means by which an occupant might communicate with the occupants of other cells or with prison personnel?"
Silently, Koda gives him full marks despite his initial blunder. He is creeping up slowly on the conspiracy charge, obviously hoping at least to reduce the charges to rape with no conjoined felony or "special circumstances" that will trigger the death penalty. "Each cell contained a metal cot, a latrine and one stool. No communications devices of any kind were visible."
"Any writing materials?"
"Did subsequent search of the defendants turn up, say, cell phones, beepers, walkie talkies, notes or notepaper, anything of that nature?"
"Did you ever, at any point, observe the prisoners to communicate with each other?"
"I did not."
"Did you ever, at any point, observe the prisoners to communicate with any of the androids at the CCA facility?"
"I did not."
Boudreaux gives a satisfied nod, then steps back behind the defense table. He shuffles several sheets of closely written yellow paper. "Tell me, Dr. Rivers, did the defendants come with you willingly when you opened their cells?"
Alderson pops up again. "Objection! Calls for a conclusion, Your Honor."
The stare over the tops of his glasses is prolonged this time. At length Harcourt says dryly, "Sustained."
"Let me rephrase: Did any of the prisoners refuse, or attempt to refuse, to leave his cell when your squad opened their doors?"
"Which one? Can you point him out to the court?"
"Mr. Buxton indicated that he did not wish to leave his cell."
"And how did he do that?"
"We found him on his cot in the fetal position. He did not answer us at first when we spoke to him, then begged us to leave him."
"What was his physical condition, Dr. Rivers?"
Movement to one side catches her eye, as Alderson pushes back his chair and begins to rise. He pauses for a moment, his backside canted awkwardly at the audience, then flushes and sits down abruptly. One juror covers her mouth with her hand, her black eyes sparkling. Koda glances down at her hands, making a note to ask Harcourt exactly how he has intimidated the prosecutor out of his objection. Then she says, "He was dehydrated and thin bordering on emaciation. When he stood, his feet were unsteady, and he had to be assisted to walk."
Boudreax gives a clearly satisfied nod, then asks, "Dr. Rivers, have you ever attended human beings as well as your more accustomed four-footed and winged patients?"
"Under what circumstances?"
Briefly Koda recounts her service as unofficial Air Force medic to the Bobcats and their allies, both before and after their return to the Base. "I’ve also set the odd bone or two on my ranch or my parents,’ and given a good many insulin and B-12 shots to older folks in the neighborhood."
"I see. So you could be trusted to know that when someone’s ribs are showing, he’s underweight, even though he’s not a horse?"
With an effort, Koda keeps her face straight. "I do believe so, Major."
"No further questions."
"You may step down," Harcourt says, bringing his gavel down resoundingly on its holder. "Court adjourned until two o’clock."
On her way out, Koda pauses at the rear bench where the blind man sits. She says, "You’re Harry the singer, aren’t you?"
"I am." His face turns toward her, his head angled to hear more clearly. "You just testified. You’re Dakota Rivers."
"Yes. I understand you sang a fine song at the census."
Harry grins hugely. "I had some good material. Good story, good tune. Maybe you’ll let me sing it for you, sometime."
"Maybe. Meanwhile, thanks." Koda gives his hand a squeeze, unobtrusively palming a a folded piece of paper. "This will get you onto the Base and to the infirmary if you ever need anything. Don’t be shy about using it."
Not waiting for thanks, she slips quietly from the room. Outside, she checks her watch and turns down the path that leads to the officers’ housing. If she hurries, she can make a brief lunch with Kirsten before returning to the clinic. She smiles at the thought, and quickens her pace.
And that’s the end for another week. As always, we thank you for all of your support, feedback and good wishes. You guys ROCK! Drop a line if you’ve got the time. firstname.lastname@example.org . See you next week!
Continued - Chapter 28
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