Written by: Susanne Beck and Okasha

From last week's episode:

“Heard?” Kirsten frowns. “It's been a bit busy between St. Louis and here. We haven't had any contact with anyone at all in California .” And again, “Heard what?”


Morgan lays a gentle hand on Kirsten's arm, and draws her down to sit on the boulder. “LA's gone. Nuked.”


And now, this week's episode of The Growing .


Kirsten's parents were nowhere near Los Angeles when the uprising began, have not lived in southern California for two decades. Yet even in the dim light, Koda can see the blood drain from her face as her mouth repeats the word without sound. Dakota's own mouth goes dry, imagining the radiation cloud spreading inland on the winds off the Pacific, sweeping across the orange groves and to lay radioactive ash on the already burning sands of the desert. “Bombed?” she says, inaudible even to herself. Then, more loudly, “Bombed? Who?”

Morgan's eyes between them, softening suddenly. “I'm sorry,” she says, “I didn't think. Of course you might well know someone there.” Laying a hand on Kirsten's arm, she draws her down to sit beside her on the boulder.

“It's okay. It's just—sudden. I grew up a bit further south, San Diego .”

Very deliberately, Koda lifts the lid of the Dutch oven with the poker left by the side of the firepit and ladles two bowls full of the stew. She replaces the lid and brings one bowl and a spoon to set beside Kirsten, settling cross legged on the ground beside her with her own meal. She says, “Who did it? How?”

“We're not real sure. We heard about it from a couple refugees headed back east to try to find their people. Seems a couple ships up from the Naval base at San Diego sailed into the port there and blew up.”

“Warheads aboard?”

“Maybe. According to what we heard, it was a pair of aircraft carriers. The Reagan and the Kerry .”

Stirring her stew aimlessly, Kirsten says, “All the new aircraft carriers have nuclear power plants, some of the older ones, too. Even if it was just the reactors, it would be bad. Real bad.”

“Supposedly there was more than one mushroom cloud. Supposedly the fireball incinerated everything from Long Beach to Ventura and out to Pasadena . It's all fourth- and fifth-hand, of course. Hearsay. What we do know from what we've heard since is that Los Angeles just isn't there anymore.”

“There were so many droids in LA to begin with, we heard they took it in half a day.” The small, dark woman straightens and leans forward, toward the fire. Her face carries no expression. “Lots of tech-droids, maid-droids, lots of military models at Oxnard . My brother worked for Paramount . He said they'd taken over just about everything except the acting.”

Almost imperceptibly, Kirsten's eyes widen at the mention of Oxnard . Then the shock is gone, and she lowers her gaze and begins to eat silently. No one else seems to have noticed, their attention still on the Amazai whose brother must have been blown to subatomic particles in the blast. Not for the first time, it comes to Koda that Kirsten's government position has made her more poker player than politician or diplomat. No glad handing, no smooth equivocation, just the calculation of a very junior predator in a pack of hyenas all older and more experienced by decades.

“So,” comes the inevitable question from across the circle, “what's it like where you've been?” The speaker is an older woman, her red hair graying at her temples, introduced earlier as Fiona fia d'Linda.

The circle seems to draw closer together as Koda gives a carefully edited account of their wanderings. She makes no mention of Ellsworth or the two battles fought there, nor of Kirsten's journey from Washington . She begins with Wyoming, gets a round of laughing applause and “Right on, sisters!” when she recounts the Elk Mountain Incident in all its dubious glory, plays up the encounter with the wolverine without making clear exactly where it occured. Then she says, watching their faces in the flickering shadows, “When Annie went into town to look for some antibiotics, she came across a wrecked women's clinic. And back by the incinerator she found a pile of dead kids—babies, toddlers. There was a spray-painted sign on the building that said, ‘Children Murdered Here.' And then we found something similar in Salt Lake . Like it was organized.”

Silence falls around the circle. Morgan's eyes run around its circumference, and something apparently passes between her and her tribeswomen. She says, “The band from over by Provo did the Salt Lake clinic. Don't know about the one in Colorado . We don't have any contacts that far east.”

“Band?” Kirsten asks quietly. “Like this one? There are others?”

“More or less,” Morgan answers. “We're not linked to them, but our foragers have met their foragers. News still travels.” She turns to Koda. “You liked our gate decorations?”

“Is that what you were doing in Reno ?” Bombing a clinic?”

“Among other things. We're going out again tomorrow night. Want to come along?”

“Where to?”

” Carson City .”

Koda conjures up the map of Nevada in her head. It's a hundred and twenty mile round trip. “Not on horseback.”

“Not on horseback,” Morgan confirms.

They need to move on. The sooner they get to San Francisco , the sooner Kirsten will have the code to shut down the droids. Time is of the essence.

Time after is of the essence, too. Morgan and her women are the kinds of allies they will need once the uprising is put down. That's the favorable reading. The unfavorable reading is that these are the kinds of rivals they may face in reunifying the nation; splinter groups, petty nations, warlords. It has happened, disastrously, within her lifetime, in Afghanistan and Iraq , in Syria and Palestine . In either case, they need to take the measure of the Amazai, who are, apparently, a growing territorial power. “Annie?” she says quietly.

Kirsten sets down her bowl. “Let's do it.”

A murmur of approval runs around the group, and Inga, the woman with the guitar, strums a descant on her twelve-string and begins to sing. Other voices pick up the song around the circle.

In an anarchistic garret, so dingy and so mean,

Smell the pungent odor of nitroglycerine.

Midst the piles of pipes and powder, and pamphlets to the skies,

‘Neath the dust and dirty laundry, you can hear this mournful cry:

Oh it's Sister Jenny's turn to throw the bomb! (Throw the bomb!)

God knows what's become of Brother Tom. (Brother To-o-o -om.)

Mama's aim is bad, and the cops they all know Dad,

So it's Sister Jenny's turn to throw the bomb! (Throw the bomb!)

There are knives and guns and daggers scattered on the front room floor.

Look behind the sofa, you'll find two dozen more.

But Cousin Mac's in prison, and Grandpa is long dead,

And Uncle Jim has left us to become a 'Frisco Red.

The tune is lively, and Koda finds her foot tapping of its own accord. Kirsten has begun to clap in rhythm to the chorus, and Koda takes it up, adding her own voice to the chorus.

Oh it's Sister Jenny's turn to throw the bomb! (Throw the bomb!)

God knows what's become of Brother Tom. (Brother To-o-o -om.)

Mama's aim is bad, and the cops they all know Dad,

So it's Sister Jenny's turn to throw the bomb! (Throw the bomb!)

In the hall you'll find the baby teething on some dynamite.

Try to get it from her, you'll find you're in a fight.

But she's too young to do it, and Mama's baking bread

And Uncle Jake is tripping, and he's flipping out his head.

Oh it's Sister Jenny's turn to throw the bomb! (Throw the bomb!)

God knows what's become of Brother Tom. (Brother To-o-o -om.)

Mama's aim is bad, and the cops they all know Dad,

So it's Sister Jenny's turn to throw the bomb! (Throw the bomb!)


There's a saveau tabby kitten sittin' purrin' by the door,

And lying in the bed, there's a smiling saboteur.

But a cat's no good at bombing, and none of us is sure

That that smiling sleeping freak is not a pig provocateur.

So it's Sister Jenny's turn to throw the bomb! (Throw the bomb!)

God knows what's become of Brother Tom. (Brother To-o-o-om.)

Mama's aim is bad, and the cops they all know Dad,

So it's Sister Jenny's turn to throw the bomb! (Throw the bomb!)

The song ends on a cheer, and Morgan rises as the roar subsides. She raises her arms, her hands open, over her head. “Sisters! Shall it be so?”

“So mote it be!” thunders back, with more clapping and war whoops. Koda finds herself shouting with the rest, the spirit of the song infectious. Kirsten, her face flushed, is caught up in it, too. She catches Koda's eye, and where there might have been embarrassment a month ago, there is now both the joy of battle and frank desire. They have come a long way, in more ways than one. And now there is but a little way to go, for life or death. Slipping her hand into Kirsten's she says huskily. “Ready to go?”

Kirsten's green eyes sparkle up at her. “Where you go. Always.”


Koda leans one shoulder against the concrete block wall and carefully eases her right leg out from under her, stretching to relieve the cramp in her thigh. The long muscle that runs from hip to knee has twisted in the hour and more she has crouched in the alley across from the Carson City Women's Clinic, waiting for the wreck of the city to grow quiet. She grits her teeth and rubs at the knot, willing herself not to swear aloud, though obscenities in at least five languages cascade satisfyingly through her mind. Beside her Kirsten leans forward, her face a pale shadow in the moonlight that filters down between the two strips of shops that once housed medical offices, pharmacies and the odd restaurant or two. Koda shakes her head, reaching out to touch the other woman's hand reassuringly. The cramp hurts like hell, but it will not kill her.

Not unless she makes noise and attracts the attention of the droids across the street.

There are droids at the clinic; they have seen the metal-collared guards pacing the perimeter of the grounds. Arriving on the outskirts of the city at sunset, the twelve women have picked their way cautiously from house to vacant house through a ruined residential neighborhood populated only by stray dogs, feral cats and the small prey that sustains them. From the suburbs through the business district and now down medical row, they have encountered not so much as a single human. Except, it seems, for the droids, the city stands completely abandoned. The survivors of the uprising have all fled. If, that is, there were any survivors.

The sound of boots on the clinic walkway announces the arrival of a guard droid on its rounds, and Kirsten shrinks back into the shadows at Koda's side. Further down the alley, the other members of the raiding party crouch behind the detritus left by the city's vanished inhabitants. A dumpster blocks half the passageway; further down, a Mercedes sedan continues its gradual descent onto its wheelrims as air seeps out of its tires. The sentry crosses Koda's narrow angle of view. Like the clinic, like the alley, the street lies in shadow, but the moon gives enough light to show the droid in silhouette. A humanoid type, it wears a uniform of some kind, its M-16 slung casually across its back, its cap set at an angle that would pass for jaunty if it were anything to which self-assurance had any meaning. It passes, turning the corner of the building, and Koda feels the muscles in her back unravel along her spine. The next sentry should appear in five minutes; this one again in another five. They have the timing down.

Wastepaper rustles softly to her left, and Morgan steps out from behind the dumpster to crouch beside Dakota and Kirsten. “Okay,” she whispers. “Their rounds haven't varied in almost an hour. We let the next one go by, then the one after it. Then we go in.”

“Got it,” Koda replies almost soundlessly.

“Swing wide, take the west side. I'll go straight for the front. Inga and Sarai will head for the back.”

“Got it,” Kirsten repeats.

They have gone over the plan a dozen times back at the camp. All on one floor, the clinic has three distinct sections. The central area consists of offices and waiting rooms. Nothing interesting there except the door to be bashed in. Branching off to the east, the wards and private accommodations give onto a long corridor, rooms offset in stair-step fashion to give maximum natural light. Opposite, in the west wing, are the delivery rooms, the labs, the pharmacy and storerooms and kitchens. Koda, like the rest of the party, has the layout firmly in her mind. Break in, destroy the android staff and any humans cooperating with them, determine if any living children are present, bomb the place to flinders. Simple.

“Good,” Morgan says, touching Koda's arm briefly, Kirsten's more gently, lingeringly. Then she backs again into the darkness, and they wait.

The first sentry passes. Koda shifts slightly as his footsteps fade, trying again to ease her leg. Carefully she shifts the flashlight and the two small bottles that hang at her waist. Filled with gasoline and fused with rag run through holes in their metal caps, they may not be regulation grenades but will do the job at hand. From somewhere across the parking lot comes a faint whimper, a low sound that might be made by a puppy or a newborn kitten. Either is likely enough. The droids have shown no interest in any non-human beings, either for good or for ill. The shrubbery around the long, low clinic building, with its offset rooms in the patient wing, provides plenty of sheltered nooks where a pregnant animal might bear and nurse her young. The sound comes again, louder, is repeated in a broken cadence that rises in volume, finally becoming the full-throated wail of a human baby in distress.

“Goddess! There's kids--!” someone behind her exclaims and is cut off abruptly by Morgan's rough, “Go! Go, dammit!”

Koda levers herself up to her feet, the cramp in her leg still hampering her, and sets off across the pavement at a shambling run. Kirsten paces her, with Morgan and Beatha on their heels. Morgan and the three women in her squad peel off to the right, making for the main entrance. Sarai and Inga, backed by two more Amazai, split and make for the rear, the backpacks that hump against their shoulders bearing the explosives and the timing devices that will bring this obscenity down in a cloud of dust and mortar. Except, now, they have to find the children first, and bring them out.

Koda skids around the corner of the building, Kirsten on her heels, running flat out now that the cramp in her leg as loosened. The wailing sound comes again, fainter now with the angle of the building in between. Behind Koda, Beatha shouts, “Windows! Go for the glass!”

The side entrance was also, apparently, once the emergency entrance. As they pound up the ramp, Koda can make out the sheen off the sliding pocket doors and beyond them the second pair that leads into the wide receiving bay. She shifts her rifle in her hands as she reaches the head of the incline, ready to smash through the doors with its butt. To her shock, the doors simply slide open on their well-oiled rails, and she half stumbles into the airlock space between the two entrances, Kirsten and the other women barreling into her from behind. “Well,” says Kirsten as she regains her balance. “That's convenient. They're expecting us?”

“Or dead sure they're not expecting anybody,” Beatha adds. “Whole damned atmosphere's pretty casual.”

“Whole damned town's pretty dead.” Koda lowers her gun and stands for a moment

before the inner doors. “Trap, maybe?”

From somewhere toward the front of the building comes the sharp rattle of automatic weapons fire, punctuated by a high-pitched scream. Koda cannot tell if the sound signals pain or triumph. They do not have time to think about it, nor about a trap. Koda takes two steps forward, and the glass panels slide back.

Heat rolls over them, the pent up heat of a closed building that has stood for months in the summer sun without air conditioning. With it comes, faint but discernable, the distinctive odor of human infant, a hint of warm milk and the riper smell of unchanged diapers. And under it all, fainter still, runs the stench of blood and rotting flesh.

Kirsten coughs, a small, strangled sound. This clinic must bring back the horror of Craig, the hideous confirmation of the incinerator at Salt Lake , but there is no time to take or give comfort. Motioning the others to stillness, Koda stands for long seconds, letting her senses expand into the space around her. Hunter-sight, shaman-sight. Along with the odors that signal the presence of live infants and the underlying stink of death comes the sharper tang of alcohol, the acid-tinged smell of formaldehyde. She has no sense of physical human presence in the rooms stretched out before them; the only living things, it seems to her, must be further down the corridor, perhaps in the rooms on the other side of the main entrance at the center. But there is something, something. . . .

Something not living but conscious, waiting for them to move down the corridor. Something with death on its mind.

“All right,” she says softly, switching on her flashlight. “We're going down that hall, checking each room as we go. They already know we're here. There's no point in secrecy now.”

The beam of yellow light precedes them down the corridor, sliding over a bulletin board with tattered announcements still dangling from bright red pushpins, over the fire extinguisher in its glass box on the wall, over a floor that shows hardly a mote of dust. So the facilities in this wing are still in use, which means that women are still delivering here. Rape does not need a clean floor. Neither does the butchery of infants.

A door opens off the hall to her right; a quick sweep of the room with the torch shows the a low table and a tangled witch's cradle of black cables snaking down from the ceiling: Radiology. The door opposite remains closed and locked; playing the light through the narrow, wire-reinforced window, Koda sees only shelves of neatly ranged bottles and boxes. Beatha, on tip-toe behind her, whispers, “Pharmacy?”

Koda nods. “We need to come back here and collect as much as we can before we blow the place up.”

On the other side of the hall, Kirsten leans into a room whose door stands ajar. She says softly, “Koda. Over here.”

“Over here” is a delivery room. Koda sweeps the light around its tiled floor and walls, all spotlessly kept still. An autoclave stands on a counter to one side, its LED bright crimson in the semi-darkness. She touches it and draws her hand sharply away. Still hot, still in use. Carefully she unlocks and lifts the lid; forceps, clamps, hemostats, scalpels, all neatly ranged inside, ready for use. Kirsten, staring down into the sterilizer as if she is gazing into the pit of hell, says in a flat voice. “So what do they do with the women after they deliver? Send them back to the34 jails to breed again?”

“Are they even that organized?” Beatha asks. The controlled substances cabinet swings open to her touch, not locked or even latches. Androids, after all, cannot become addicted.

“We'd better check the incinerator out back,” Koda says grimly. “Look for adult remains, too.”

Despite the sterile atmosphere, the stink of decay is stronger here. Nothing in the room seems to be the source of it. Koda plays the light over the acoustic tiles of the ceiling; it is possible, just possible, that a possum or other uninvited resident has gotten into the roof space or the air conditioning ducts and died. But if that were the case, here on the downside of summer, there would be flies. There are none. “Something,” she says quietly, “something—”

“Is dead,” Kirsten finishes for her. “Somewhere close.”

“Next room,” Beatha says. “Let's try there.”

The smell hits them full force as they push open the door to the adjoining examination room. Kirsten gives a small, strangled choking sound; Beatha gags, covering her mouth and nose with her free hand, sweeping the room with the muzzle of her rifle with the other. Nothing.

At first glance, the small space seems as clean as the delivery room. Table, counter, blood pressure cuff dangling from the wall, oxygen tank, all spotless. A steel trash receptacle stands by the table, its lid down. The edge of a red plastic bag shows under the edge of the top. A five-gallon can, it might hold bloody bandages, used dressings, discarded gloves.

Except that the room is otherwise spotless. Except that they have seen no humans that might need such things. Certainly no one would walk into a place like this as if it were a neighborhood med station, wanting a sprained ankle bandaged or a cut stitched.

Bloody bandages. Used dressings. Discarded gloves.

A very small human body.

Steeling herself, Koda crosses the room and, not giving herself time to think, steps on the pedal of the receptacle. The smell pours upward out the can, and she turns away for a moment, choking on the stench and on the realization that there can now be no possible mistake about what they found in the incinerator in Salt Lake City .

The light shows her a small, rounded bundle, the curve of head and shoulders and updrawn knees clear under the plastic. Leaning down, she slips a hand between legs and belly; the flesh beneath, even in the heat, is chill to the touch. Dead some time, then.

“Is it—?” Kirsten asks.

“Yeah. It is.” Koda lets the lid fall. No time now to examine the corpse.

The rest of the corridor appears clear. No sound comes from the other side of the building, the other women presumably going there from room to room as they are doing here in the east wing. At the double swinging doors that lead from the service wing into the reception area, Koda pauses, hunching down below the eye-level ports. The other women range themselves behind her against the wall, hardly breathing. Koda concentrates on the small sounds that come to her through the wood and metal; a voice, not so distant now in the far corridor; a whimper that might be a living child; the clink of metal on metal as someone shifts her gear. She can distinguish nothing that she can identify as distinctively android.

“They're there,” Kirsten says suddenly.

“What? Who?”

“The androids. They're in the center section.” Kirsten moves forward to crouch with Koda beside the doors. One hand is raised to her temple, her fingers white-knuckled in the light of the flash. “I can hear them.”

“What--? How the hell?”

A downward slash of Koda's hand cuts off Beatha's question as effectively as if she had slapped the woman. “Implants,” Kirsten answers. “I'm deaf.”

“How many?” Dakota whispers.

“Three, I think. One near the front door. The other two further back.”

“Okay, then. Everybody lie flat. Let's do a little differential diagnosis here.” Koda stretches out on the tiles, her small party face-down behind her, and, with the muzzle of her rifle, gently nudges one of the swinging panels open an inch or so. Withering machine gun fire answers her, shattering the lexan panes and tearing through the upper portion of the door where human heads and torsos would be if they were not plastered to the corridor floor. About five feet up on the walls, the light from the torch shows long gashes in the hospital-green paneling. From across the reception area, then, comes a high yell of “Amazai! Amazai!” and a cacophony of fire breaks out, the Amazai firing into the reception area and droids answering.

Koda levers her feet under her, pulling one of the incendiaries loose from her belt. “High-low, Beatha!” she shouts. “Annie, cover us!”

With that she kicks the door wide, crouching low, and as Kirsten's gun sprays the room, she lights the fuse and lobs the container of homemade napalm at the nearest shape, a droid with an M-16 at its shoulder, firing down toward the bottom of the ward door opposite. It takes the android on the shoulder, and flame spills down its back and flowers up through its dynel hair and over its optical sensors, where it will cling and burn through to the circuits below. Her second, arcing through the air in a fiery pinwheel with Beatha's, lands at its feet, sending a column of flame up its uniform trousers. Others spin across the room from the opposite door, landing at the droids' feet, taking one in the face. And still they continue to fire, wheeling blindly as the bullets spray from their M-16's, eerily silent as the incendiaries burn away their uniforms to expose the metal plates and sensor arrays below.

From across the room a human voice, Morgan's Koda thinks, yells, “Back! Back off!”

Koda snatches at Kirsten's elbow, pulling her back, and with Beatha they retreat again down the corridor at a crouching run. Behind them comes the concussion of two explosions, not the main charges by the sound of it, but a pair of grenades as the roar echoes in the confined space and shakes the walls, bringing with it the crash of falling light fixtures and the shatter of breaking glass.

Silence falls. Something hisses and whirrs overhead, and the sprinkler system sends sprays of water down onto them. Koda flinches with the sudden shock of it, then runs a hand through the wetness and over her face. “Think they got ‘em?” That is Beatha, her normally pitched voice a novelty after the cacophony of a moment before.

“Sounds like,” Kirsten answers. “I don't hear them anymore.”

Behind them the door pushes open, and Inga appears, her face and hands soot-blackened. “Ten minutes till we set the main charges. Morgan says trip off anything that looks useful and get out.”

“Gotcha,” Koda says. “Pharmacy. Let's go.”

Fifteen minutes later, the raiding party regroups across the street. The charges are laid and timed. Koda shoulders a trash bag full of medicines, swept at random from the shelves, Beatha and Kirsten two more. Morgan, her face and hands blackened from scrabbling through the wreckage of the entranceway, holds a baby perhaps two years old, her head on the Amazai's shoulder. Sarai, her face stained with blood from a cut on her forehead, holds a cellphone in an equally bloodied hand. “Ready?” she asks?

“Anything else?” Morgan asks, looking around the small circle of women in the moonshadowed darkness. “Because once that signal goes, we move. We don't stop for anything till we get back to the Jeeps and we don't stop after that till we're back home.”

“Didn't you want to check the incinerator, Dakota? For remains?” Inga looks up from where she is stuffing medical instruments into her backpack that has lately carried several pounds of plastique.

Koda shakes her head. “No time. No need.”

“No need?”

“Later,” Kirsten says.

Morgan's glance runs over her sharply. But she says. “All right. Trigger the timer, Sarai. Let's move!”

They cover the distance between the clinic and the parked vehicles on the town's outskirts in a tenth of the time it took them going in. Half-running, keeping up a steady trot with fingers ready on the triggers of their guns, they arrive at the abandoned car dealership in just over ten minutes. They have met nothing and no one, only a pack of dogs that crosses their path a few blocks from the clinic, just another band of hunters in the wilderness that has claimed the city. At the lot, they pile into the Jeeps, Koda driving one with Kirsten beside her, Morgan and Beatha in the back.


Koda's fingers freeze on the key in the ignition, and she looks up to see Sarai holding one hand at shoulder level, her cell phone in the other. “Ten,” says Sarai. “Nine. Eight. . .. Three. Two.” Her hand comes down in a slashing gesture of triumph. “One.”

From a mile and a half away comes a rumble like a freight train, like an earthquake. Above the roofs of buildings still left standing, red stains the night sky, a black billow rising to blot out the moon. Koda, leaning over the back of her seat to get a better view, sees Morgan's eyes narrow in triumph, a smile like a sickle blade touching her lips. She runs a hand over the baby's back, soothing her as the noise rolls over them. “Good job,” says the Amazai Queen. “Let's go.”


And so, another chapter in the lives of Dakota River s and Kirsten King has ended. We're ramping for the final end now. Hope you're still enjoying. Drop us a line at . Love to hear from you! Till next week, ciao!

continued - Chapter 60

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