Written by: Susanne Beck and Okasha
Disclaimers: In chapter one.
CHAPTER TWENTY EIGHT
Tacoma sneaks a look in his rearview mirror as the caravan snakes its way back toward the base. Two armored patrol carriers are followed by two flatbed eighteen wheelers which carry two gigantic fans they have appropriated from OverDale Windfarm, Inc. All seems clear, but something is niggling at the back of his neck, making the hairs there stand up stiffly. The road they’re traveling on is little used, and there are no trees or other sightline obstructions to block the view.
He catches Manny out of the corner of his eye. The younger man is grinning like a kid playing hooky—which in a way is exactly what he’s doing. "’sup, cuz?"
Tacoma takes another quick look in the rearview mirror before turning to his cousin, pushing his concerns, for the moment, to the back of his mind.
"You’d better think about getting back in touch with the floorboards, Manny. We’ll be nearing the base pretty soon."
Manny rolls his eyes, grinning at his cousin. "Stop being such a wuss, cuz. The Colonel’s in court all day, and if she steps outside to take a whiz, Anderson’s covering for me. We’ve got it knocked, so stop worrying about it."
"I am worried about it," Tacoma replies, staring at the younger man until Manny pales slightly and turns away.
His eyes widen and his skin goes a shocky white as he just catches something he can’t identify—though it looks frighteningly human—standing in the exact center of the road. "Watch out!!"
Tacoma looks forward just in time to feel the truck impact with whatever it is he’s hit. The object is borne under the vehicle and the driver’s side tires rise and fall with sick thuds. He slams on the brakes, bringing the truck to a skidding halt, and slumps back against the seat, face greasy with sudden sweat. "Please tell me that was a deer."
"I don’t think so, cuz," Manny replies in a small voice. He’s about to say more when a sound like a sharp, muffled cough is heard behind them. "Holy fuck! What was that??"
Tacoma, who’s heard that sound too many times to count, is already reacting, snapping open his harness and lunging out the door, his gun already to hand.
The APC that had been behind them is a smoking wreck from which injured men continue to emerge, their clothes and exposed skin covered with smoke, soot, and blood.
"Is there anybody still inside?" Tacoma demands, pulling a soot-covered, violently coughing soldier out by one singed and smoking arm.
"Donaldson, sir!" the airman chokes out. "He…was the…driver! Got…hurt bad, sir!"
Fire blooms up in the truck as Tacoma pushes the injured man out of the way. He jumps back himself as flames shoot out of the shattered windows, feeling his eyebrows singe and the skin on his face and hands grow hot and tight with the great heat. With a soft cry, he races around the front of the burning vehicle toward the drivers’ side where flames pour from the shattered frame like water from an open hydrant. He feels a hand grab his arm and he shakes it off savagely, only to have it grabbed again.
"Are you crazy, man?!?" Manny screams into his ear. "This thing’s about to blow sky high!"
"Get back! I’m getting Donaldson out!"
Manny’s face blooms before his streaming eyes. "He’s dead, thanhanshi! He’s already dead!"
Ripping open his shirt, Tacoma peels it off and uses it to beat back the flames. They die down enough for him to get a glimpse inside the smoke-shrouded interior. The young man inside is fully conscious; startlingly pale green eyes stare out from a face blackened by soot and burns, beseeching. Fire blooms upward again, forcing Tacoma back a step. He beats down the flames a second time, and reaches inside, grabbing the injured man under his armpit and pulling backward, muscles straining against Donaldson’s dead weight.
The young man screams as the bones in his shattered legs grind against one another, trapped beneath the remains of the console. Tacoma eases up as another man, one he can’t recognize through the smoky haze, shoots a chemical extinguisher into the damaged compartment, covering everything with a thin layer of white foam. He feels a body brush by him and, looking down, he sees Manny reaching beneath the still smoking and twisted metal, attempting to free the trapped man’s crushed legs.
The man screams again, though it has a breathless, wheezing quality to it that Tacoma doesn’t like at all. "Hurry!" he commands, earning only a glare from his cousin as Manny returns to his task.
The metal is scorching hot, burning his palms and fingers and arms with every touch. He ignores the pain, concentrating only on the desperate need to free Donaldson before the remains of the APC blow to heaven.
The flames rise again, undaunted by the chemical trying to kill them.
"The gastank’s ready to blow, sir!" comes an unknown voice screaming down on them from the outside, from safety. "Goddamnit, get out of there, sirs! Now!"
The cousins’ gazes meet; each gives a grim nod, and in concerted effort, struggle to free their injured comrade before they’re all blown to bits. Manny is finally able to slip his shoulder—the injured one, but there can be no help for it—under the wrecked console, and with a loud grunt, pushes upward with all of his strength. The twisted metal squeals its intense displeasure, but, grudgingly, it gives, lifting by the slightest of fractions. "NOW!!"
His grip as secure as he can make it, Tacoma uses the large muscles in his back, shoulders and legs to pull the screaming airman from the mangled compartment. It’s not a textbook extraction, but it gets the job done. Manny’s shoulder gives out just as Tacoma manages to pull the airman’s legs completely free of the wreckage.
Handing Donaldson quickly off to the three men standing behind him, he then reaches down, grabs Manny by his collar, and bodily tosses him away from the mangled APC.
A split-second later, the truck goes up in a blooming ball of smoke and fire. Tacoma finds himself lifted, almost tenderly, from his feet, and driven backward by the force of the explosion. Curiously, there is no pain whatsoever.
Maybe I already walk the Spirit Path, he thinks as he watches the ground race beneath him with almost clinical detachment. His landing, upon his back, is equally painless, as if he’s fallen into a cloud, and he is able to watch, with that same detachment, as flames eagerly lick up his pant legs. He feels…giddy almost…like a boy with a wonderful secret that no one else knows.
The pain comes back suddenly like air entering a vacuum. Waves of agony spike through his body and he reacts instantly, instinctively tossing the men who are manhandling him away like flies.
"Cut it out, damnit!" Manny bellows, holding him down with his one good arm. "You’re on fucking fire, Tacoma! Now lay still or I’ll put you out! I swear I will!"
Some of that gets through, and Tacoma lets his muscles deliberately relax. He can smell burning clothes and singed flesh that he assumes belongs to him. His stomach rolls once, then is steady.
Manny’s face swims back into his vision, sweat-covered, and with eyes the size of full moons. "That’s better. Shit, cuz, I thought you crapped out on us for sure! Don’t be goin’ all Crazy Horse on me again, ok?"
Groaning, Tacoma pushes himself up to a sitting position and surveys the damage, starting with his own body. His fatigues have been burned almost totally away, but the skin beneath, though reddened, seems little the worse for wear. Blisters are already starting to from on the palms of both hands and on his right cheek, just below his eye, which waters constantly and feels as if it’s leaking battery acid.
Blinking rapidly, he looks across the grounds at the smoking remains of the APC. The injured, five in all including Donaldson, lay among the wreckage like broken dolls on a garbage heap. Pale-faced young men and women tend the injured as best they can while casting furtive and pleading looks in the direction of Manny and Tacoma—the leaders of the mission. Manny looks back, contemplating, and Tacoma uses this second of inattention to drag himself to his feet by main strength. Manny turns back in time to see his cousin wobble as if standing at the epicenter of a mild earthquake.
Just about to administer a good old fashioned ass chewing, he ducks as a bullet passes close enough to crease what little there is of his hair.
Tacoma totters, but manages to keep his balance. Ignoring the agony that is his body, he breaks into a shambling run, yelling for his men to take cover even as he helps two corpsmen lift Donaldson and hurry him around to the back of the one remaining APC. He can sense the confusion; smell the fear in those around him—young men and women all. Taking a deep breath, he wills the pain to the back of his mind, making it unimportant, making it gone.
Lifting his head the smallest of fractions, he peers through the window of the APC. As if materialized from thin air, a squad of thirty androids—he can tell this by the sunlight winking from the leader’s collar—stands forty yards distant. All are heavily armed and peering at them through emotionless dolls’ eyes. "Manny!"
Tacoma glances over at his cousin, then looks again, more carefully this time. Manny’s head is cocked and his shoulder hangs strangely. "What--?"
"It’s not broken. I don’t think." He flushes faintly. "I had to use it to lift the shit outta the way so you could pull Donaldson out. I’m fine."
"Like hell you are." Tacoma reaches up, but Manny hisses and pulls away.
"It’s just dislocated, alright? We’ve got more important things to worry about right now."
Tacoma looks as if he’s given in, but just as Manny relaxes, his cousin, quick as lightening, runs his fingers over the collarbone, determines it’s not broken, grabs his arm and levers it in a smooth, strong motion. A loud pop heralds the return of the joint to its socket and Manny sees a whole galaxy’s worth of stars. His world greys out for a second, but comes back quickly as a heavy gun is pushed hard against his chest. "Now you’ve got two hands to shoot," Tacoma grunts, grabbing his own weapon with hands that sting like a swarm of hornets. "Anyone who can hold a gun, grab one!" he orders. "Keep under cover until I give the word."
Easing the door open, he grabs the minicomp that lies on the dashboard, silently thanking his sister for pressing it into his hand before he left that morning. She knew. Somehow, she knew. This doesn’t surprise him, however. It is simply her way. It’s why the whole family looks at her sometimes as something more than human. He knows the truth of the matter, and suspects that his father does as well.
Laying his gun down on the seat, he gingerly palms the comp open and studies the layout. Standard. The power button is a bold red. Whispering a prayer to Wakan Thanka, he depresses the button.
"Here we go," he mutters. "Fire! Now!!"
The first line of droids go down like tenpins, dropping where they stand.
"Bless you, Kirsten! Keep firing!!!"
The second and third rows drop silently.
"Shit, cuz!" Manny shouts, laughing. "Like shooting fish in a barrel!" Whooping, he continues pressing the trigger, mowing down the remaining androids as if they were practice targets on a shooting range.
"Cease fire!" Tacoma shouts when the last droid is down. "Load up the wounded and be quick about it! We need to go, now!"
Tacoma turns to help the others with Donaldson, but is stopped by a soft oath from his cousin. Turning back, he watches as thirty more androids appear, stepping over their fallen comrades as they begin their approach.
"Shit! Everybody keep loading those wounded! Now! Hurry!" Grabbing the minicomp, Tacoma presses the button again.
The androids continue their advance, completely unaffected.
"What the fuck?" Manny demands. "You sure you’re doin’ it right, cuz?"
"Of course I’m doing it right!"
"Maybe you broke it."
"I didn’t—fuck." Repeated pressing of the power button has no effect and he throws it back into the truck in frustration.
"Maybe they’re human?"
To test the theory, Tacoma fires off several rounds, hitting the leader in the chest and belly with several rounds.
"Or maybe not," Manny exhales as the droid remains on his feet and continues forward. "Ok. What now? And where the fuck are they coming from?"
"Pull the locker out of the back seat, thanhanshi. Let’s give them some metal to munch on."
"You got it, cuz."
The heavy footlocker comes to the ground with a thud, and Manny quickly snaps it open. It’s filled to the brim with fragmentation grenades. He pulls several out and hands two to his cousin.
"Thanks. Let’s just keep throwing these things till they’re gone."
"The grenades or the droids?" Manny asks with a grin.
The androids only now begin to return fire as grenade explosions surround them, taking down many of their number with the first blows. A young mechanic, Tasha Kim, cries out as a bullet finds the crease between her shoulder and neck. She manages to keep hold of the injured airman she’s helping, however, and eases him into the back of the APC just as another round misses her by less than an inch. She drops to the ground and reaches for her weapon, a service pistol that will do less than nothing against the androids firing at them.
"Is everybody in?" Tacoma shouts down at her.
From her vantage point, she can’t see much. "I…think so, sir!"
"Don’t think, Corporal! Know!"
"Y-yes, sir!" The air, thick with smoke and the stench of exploded charges, crackles around her as she struggles to her feet. Keeping as low as possible, she sprints toward the demolished APC, throwing herself to the ground once she’s behind the wreckage. Corporal Talbot is pinned down by heavy fire and is completely out of ammunition. "Are you okay?" she asks, shouting to be heard over the roar of the fighting.
"My leg! I think it’s broken!"
Kim looks down, but doesn’t see anything out of the ordinary, for which she is silently grateful. "Is everybody else secured?" she asks, eyes darting from one position to the next like a hummingbird in a field of Honeysuckle.
"Yeah," Talbot gasps, trying not to writhe from the pain in his leg. "Menendez just got the last of them in his rig."
"Alright, then. We need to get back to the Sergeant so we can get outta here."
"I—I don’t think I can."
"Sure you can. C’mon, Talbot. You can do it. We’ll go together, alright?"
With a wincing nod, he reaches up and grasps the small, strong hand reaching out for him. Using it, and his now useless gun, he manages to struggle to his feet. Flinging an arm around Kim’s narrow shoulders, he half-hops, half-stumbles back to the APC, white faced, sweating and praying like he’s never prayed before.
An open door suddenly appears before him, and he’s unceremoniously thrust through it, landing half on-half off the lap of a singed airman who’s none-too-thrilled with his rather abrupt presence. The others settle him more or less comfortably, then hold on tight as the truck lurches away at roughly the speed of a rocket launch.
In the cab, Manny hangs on for dear life as Tacoma puts the truck through its paces, his burned hands swathed in bandages from the meager first aid kit they’d found. "Are they following us?" Tacoma shouts over the roar of the over-stressed engine.
"Fucked if I know!" Manny shouts back, twisting his hurting body like a contortionist in an attempt to see behind him. "Does it matter? They’re on foot!"
"The ones we know about, maybe!"
Manny shoots his cousin a withering glare. "You had to say that, didn’t you. You just had to say that."
Still seven miles out and hauling hell bent for leather, Tacoma stiffens at the wheel as he spies several vehicles heading his way at a high rate of speed.
"Aww fuck," Manny grunts, slumping against the backrest. He turns his head to the side. "What are you grinnin’ at?"
"The cavalry’s just come over the hill, thanhanshi. Look."
Manny leans forward against his harness, squinting his eyes to get a clearer picture of the oncoming vehicles. A jeep is in the lead, and on the passenger’s side, a tall figure stands, one hand wrapped securely around the padded rollbar. It’s a figure he knows, with long, inky black hair streaming behind like a war bonnet in the wind. "Dakota!" he yells happily. "Hot shit! Yeah!" His jubilance fades, however, as a second Jeep roars into view. The driver is also a figure he knows—and all too well at that.
"So much for sneaking in the back door, huh ‘cuz’?" Tacoma needles, grinning.
Manny flips him an abbreviated peace sign and slumps further into his seat. "I’m fucked. Well and truly fucked," he groans.
"Have faith, thanhanshi. It’s not over till it’s over. We’ll play you up as the Hero of the Wind Fans. Get your sentence beat down to two weeks in the brig…three tops."
Whatever nasty reply Manny is about to make is aborted as the lead jeep catches them, and Dakota jumps out before the vehicle has stopped rolling. Tacoma breaks quickly as Koda trots to his window.
"Is everybody ok?" she demands, eyes flashing.
"We got some burns, bad ones."
"Fucking droid played suicide bomber on us," Manny adds. "Took out one of our APC’s. Few dozen more of ‘em came outta nowhere and started shooting."
"Did they follow you?"
"I don’t know," Tacoma replies. "The ones we saw were on foot, so if they did, they’re far behind us now."
Dakota eyes both of them. Unconsciously, they find themselves straightening into a position of attention, ache, pains and all. There is a commanding presence to her; a dark, roiling energy that they can almost see, hovering around her like a malignant cloud. "Get yourselves back to the base and to the hospital, best possible speed. We’ve got a few assault vehicles to escort you. Don’t stop for anything, understand? Nothing."
"Understood," Tacoma responds.
Her expression softens only slightly. "I’m glad you guys are alright. Now, take off."
With a sharp nod, Tacoma does just that, throwing the truck into gear and rumbling off, the others in his abbreviated caravan following like ducklings. As they pass the second jeep, Manny winces. Allen stares through the windshield, marking him, letting him know in no uncertain terms and with just the power of her gaze that fighting the androids was the easy part of this adventure.
"Think it’s too late to go AWOL?" he whines to his cousin.
A bark of laughter is his only response.
"Turn down this way. We’ll come at them from the back."
Following the direction of Koda’s pointing finger, Kirsten wrestles the jeep onto a narrow, rutted path—‘road’ would be a definite misnomer in this case—and shakes the leaves from a passing branch from her hair as she straightens the vehicle out. "Do you really think it was an ambush?"
"It’s looking that way," Koda replies, lifting a hand to brush the hair from her eyes and mouth. "We’ll know more once we get to the site, though."
"If you’re right, that means there’s someone on the inside."
"Could be," Koda muses. "But let’s wait till we know what we’re up against before we make any assumptions."
Ten minutes later, they arrive at the site of the ambush, Maggie’s jeep right behind them. The Colonel hops out of her vehicle and takes a quick look around. "What a mess."
"It is that," Koda replies, squatting and sifting through the still smoldering rubble.
"We’re just lucky nobody died," Maggie comments, squatting beside Dakota.
Koda pins her with a look. "We don’t know that for sure. Tacoma said they had some pretty bad burns."
Maggie looks at her for a moment, then sighs, nodding. "You’re right, of course." She looks over the rubble carefully, gingerly picking up several pieces of jagged metal with just the tips of her fingers, and turning them this way and that. "Well, what do you think?"
"I’m not sure," Dakota replies, then looks up. "Kirsten?"
Joining the duo, Kirsten lowers herself to her haunches, her expression somber. "I think we’re in trouble."
Dakota gazes steadily at her. "What do you mean?"
"Well, when you told me about Tacoma’s ‘suicide bomber’, I had gone with the assumption that we were talking about an android carrying a bomb."
"We’re not?" Maggie asks, a little shiver of apprehension skittering down her spine.
"It doesn’t look that way."
"Then what are we talking about, if not an android with a bomb?"
"An android that is a bomb," Dakota intones, continuing to gaze at Kirsten.
"Got it in one," Kirsten replies soberly, lifting a piece of metal whose purpose is incomprehensible to both of her watchers. "I’ll need to gather up as much of this stuff as possible to be sure, but unless I miss my guess, we’re talking about an entirely new type of android here. One that I’m almost positive didn’t exist before the uprising."
"Jesus," Maggie breathes. "How certain are you about this?"
"Certain enough to make it an executive order that no one, including Tacoma and everyone else who was out here, speaks a word of this to anyone."
Maggie nods. "Consider it done." Rising to her feet, she dusts her hands off on the legs of her fatigues. "I’ve got a few tarps in the back of my Jeep. Let me bring ‘em over and we’ll start collecting the evidence."
Dakota also rises and looks down at Kirsten a moment more. "I’m gonna check out some likely staging areas. This place reeks of an ambush."
"It does," Kirsten agrees, looking around. Darting a quick glance in Maggie’s direction, she gazes back up at Dakota, a sweet, shy smile curving her lips. "Be careful, ok?"
Koda tips her a wink and a megawatt grin that leaves Kirsten seeing stars. "You got it."
Thankfully, Kirsten’s blush fades before Maggie returns, arms full of tarps and several sets of latex gloves. "You’re the expert, Doc," she grins, laying her booty on the ground next to the smaller woman. "Let me know what you want me to do, and I’m there."
Smiling her thanks, Kirsten pulls on the gloves, pats the ground next to her, and begins showing Maggie exactly what it is that she’s looking for. Within moments, both are heavily engrossed in their task.
It is several hours later and the sun is preparing to set as Kirsten gets to her feet and stretches legs gone numb as blocks of wood. Intense concentration and looking for miniscule android parts without benefit of her glasses has given her a headache strong enough to fell a charging moose. Stretching, she groans in mingled pleasure and pain as her vertebrae crackle and pop down the length of her spine, struggling to realign themselves against the ravages of inactivity and poor posture.
Nearby, Maggie stows the last of the gear in the jeep, taking care to tie it down securely, especially given the stiff evening breeze that has suddenly kicked up.
Kirsten looks down at the now denuded ground, then west, toward the setting sun. She watches the sky fill with color with a sense of almost pleasant melancholia. Her day has been long; her night promises to be longer still, but she feels…fulfilled. The task set before her is one that she is confident in her abilities to take on. Better than running line after line after byte after byte of fragmented code with no end in sight. Better still than playing titular head to the lost and the broken.
They had lost one today. An elderly woman who most in the camp adored. She had lost her entire family in one fell swoop, only managing to stay alive pinned beneath the body of the man she had shared her life and heart with for over fifty years. The children of the base had swarmed to her like bees to honey, and she seemed genuinely glad to fuss over them. In the end, though, the family she’d gained couldn’t replace the family she’d lost, and they’d found her this morning, an empty pill bottle at her side.
It had been the third suicide in as many weeks, and people—too many people—were looking to her for answers she didn’t have.
Here, though, is work she can do; answers she can give; a place where she feels most comfortable and, if she is to admit deep secrets to herself, worthy as well.
Her reverie is broken by the sudden appearance of Dakota, approaching from the direction of the setting sun. The breeze blows the thick ink of her hair back from her brow, and her eyes snap and glow with a color that seems to emanate from within rather than without. Her muscled arms swing freely, fully exposed by the sleeveless flannel which flutters and jumps against a simple black tank she wears beneath. Her jeans, ripped and faded, cling in all the right places as her long limbed, almost cocky stride, brings her rapidly closer.
Looking upon her, this beauty with the sun at her back gilding her body in pure gold, Kirsten is struck once again by her exquisiteness—wild, untamed, much like the woman who wields it so easily. Her eyes remain fastened to the vision as if glued there, and she feels a curious pulling, a heaviness and a fullness that can be nothing other than desire. And yet, desire seems too coy a word for what she’s experiencing. High, sharp, almost painful, it is at its roots—and she lets herself finally admit this—lust. Pure and unfettered and so very compelling that she actually—and this is a first for her—feels her joints become weak, and yet hot, as if she’s being filled with liquid fire. It makes her want to do things that, frankly, she’s never considered before, and those thoughts are equal parts terrifying and exhilarating.
"Well, that’s the last of it," Maggie comments, coming to stand beside Kirsten and almost launching her into orbit unintentionally. She gives the younger woman a look as Kirsten gasps and holds a hand to her chest. "You ok?"
"Yeah, fine," Kirsten hastens to reassure. "Just…um…thinking…about stuff."
Taking in Kirsten’s high color, dilated pupils, and energy that seems to be rolling off of her in waves, she follows the direction of her heavy gaze, and smirks, suddenly having a pretty good idea exactly what "stuff" Kirsten is thinking about. "Mm. Hm. Gorgeous, isn’t she."
Kirsten turns her head sharply, her face so full of naked emotion that Maggie instantly regrets teasing her. "Hey," she says softly, laying a hand on Kirsten’s shoulder, "it’s alright. Really."
"It’s okay. Promise."
This eases Kirsten somewhat, and she nods, letting out a long breath of relief. "I’m not used to—feeling like this," she confesses quietly.
"You’ll be fine. Trust me. I won’t say it gets easier with time, because we’re talking about Dakota here, and it would take a blind man not to see the sparks you two create just by being in the same vicinity, but I think you’ll be able to handle it just fine."
"I hope so," Kirsten breaths, girding her figurative loins as Koda gets within hearing distance. "I sure do hope so."
"In and out from the west," Koda declares, seeming to take no notice of Kirsten’s rather flustered state. "They were lying in wait just beyond that small ridge there, out of Tacoma’s line of sight." The others follow the direction of her gesture with their eyes. "No way anyone could have seen them until it was too late."
"A definite ambush, then," Maggie grunts, hands on her hips.
"I’d say so. I could only track them down to the next road. Lost ‘em there." Dakota sounds mildly disgusted with herself.
"But they were headed west," Kirsten remarks.
"Yeah. Due west." She looks at Kirsten, eyebrow raised.
"Just another piece of the puzzle," is her answer. "I think we’ve done as much as we can here." She looks to Maggie. "Do you think I can borrow a couple of your techs?"
"Borrow?" Maggie asks, grinning. "You can have ‘em with my compliments. The whole lot of them is so bored it’s driving me to the brink!"
"Well, I’ll only need two or three. The more closed-mouthed, the better."
"You think we’ve got a leak."
"A big one." Kirsten sighs. "If we let whoever it is think they got away with it, we might have a chance at cracking this."
"I know just the two, then. I’ll have them report to you as soon as we get back on base."
"Not a problem, Dr. King. Not a problem at all."
"We’re back to that now, are we?"
Her only answer is a wink.
The sun has been down for several hours when Kirsten spreads the last of the miniscule pieces of the former android out on the large table in a good sized, if barren, office Maggie has appropriated for her use. The number of bits of twisted and mangled metal is in the thousands, and Kirsten looks at it, dazed, unsure where to begin. She sighs heavily and runs a hand through her hair.
"Long day, huh?" Koda asks softly from the other end of the table.
"Longer night," Kirsten replies, hefting one of the larger droid bits and fiddling with it before placing it back down on the table. "God, what a mess." She sighs again. "If I didn’t think part of our answers might be hiding in all this…somewhere…I’d be tempted to bundle it back up and throw it in a landfill."
"I have faith." Pushing herself away from the table, Koda walks to Kirsten’s side. "C’mere."
Kirsten willingly steps into the circle of Dakota’s arms, groaning in tired contentment as they close about her in a comforting embrace. "Thanks," she mumbles, burrowing into the hug, and letting Dakota’s scent and quiet strength surround her like a living blanket.
"Anytime," Koda replies, brushing her lips against Kirsten’s soft hair.
A tentative knock on the door causes Dakota to relax her grip, though Kirsten hangs on as if for dear life. "That’d be your techs."
"Can’t we just pretend that no one’s home? Maybe they’ll go away?"
The knock comes again, stronger this time, followed by a "Ma’am? Ms. President?"
"Ma’am? Are you in there? The Colonel sent us."
Dakota gently disengages Kirsten’s grip, then lowers her head and presses a sweet, and in no way chaste, kiss to her lips. "I’ve got to look in on my patients," she says after a long, wonderful moment. "Have fun, and I’ll see you when you get home tonight, ok?"
"Home?" Kirsten asks, head spinning. "Where’s that again?"
Laughing, Dakota touches Kirsten’s cheek, then turns and heads for the door. "Later."
And here we are at the end of another week. For those of you hit by the power outage, hope things are getting back to normal for ya’ll! Thanks again for taking the time to give us the great feedback you’ve been giving. It makes our days! firstname.lastname@example.org . See you next week!
Continued - Chapter 29
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