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Susanne Beck, T. Novan and Okasha - The Growing...docx
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It is over.

The pain of her arm slams into her, then, taking her breath away. Maggie emerges from behind her bunker, Kirsten and Manny from theirs, making for her where she still perches above them on the gun carriage. Awkwardly she releases her harness, sliding out from under the dead weight behind her, and begins the climb down. Halfway to the pavement she slips, but Kirsten’s hands are there to receive her, steadying her as she finds her feet. All around them lies the wreckage of the droid army, with much of their own. Victory has come at cost, cost they may not be able to recover.

"You’re hurt!"

Kirsten’s voice, sharp with alarm, cuts into her thought, and she musters a smile for her lover. "Hey," she says softly. "It’s only a flesh wound."

A frown knits Maggie’s brows. "Let’s see." She continues to scowl as Koda peels back the sleeve of her shirt, carefully turning the arm to see the wound more clearly. The frown relaxes. "You’re right, nothing broken. Let’s get you to Shannon."

"No," she says, with a wave of her good hand. "I need to help with the wounded—"

"Which you can’t do with a bum wrist. Come on, cuz." Manny takes her by her good elbow, firmly propelling her in the direction of the aid station. "Let Shannon bandage that and get some Novocaine into it."

Kirsten says quietly, "Koda, please. You can’t go bleeding on your patients." Dakota gives her a long, look, taking in the toll of battle printed on the dark flesh under Kirsten’s eyes, in the haunted gaze that turns on her with both relief and hunger.

It is easier not to resist. Taking off her helmet, she lets her hair spill down her back, the two hawk feathers brushing the side of her face. From above her comes a scream, fierce and high, and she looks up to see broad wings spread against the blue, copper-colored tail catching the light. "Look," she says. "Wiyo."

"She agrees with me," Kirsten says steadily.

With her good hand, Koda runs a finger down Kirsten’s cheek, tracing the spider shape painted there. "Iktomi Zizi. Cante sukye."

At that, Maggie lays a firm hand on Manny’s arm and steers him down the line to check on the troops, the injured and the dead. Around her, the men and women of Ellsworth are beginning to deal with the aftermath of battle, gathering up the wounded and dead. Gently, Kirsten laces her fingers through Koda’s. "Let’s go home," she says. "This is over."

"Over," Koda echoes. A chill runs down her spine. "For now."

Without further protest, she allows Kirsten to lead her to the medical station, and from there to an APC with other wounded. She will tend them when they reach the Base.

For now, she braces herself against the cold metal side of the truck, and holds tightly as she can to Kirsten beside her.

Cante mitawa.

Now and forever.

CHAPTER FIFTY

THE SUN RISES slowly, finally clearing the eastern ridge. Simmons, on the tail end of his shift in the guard post, leans over and rubs his eyes as the first rays glint off of something just beyond the bushes close in. "Holy fuck!" he grunts, elbowing the half-asleep Roberts. "Do you see that?!?"

"See what?" Roberts leans out, then ducks back in again, quick. "Shit! Shoot it!"

"With what? My dick? The land-grubbers took every bit of ammo not nailed down, you idiot!"

"Well? What the fuck should we do?"

"Get the General. She should still be in her quarters."

"Huh uh. I just got these stripes, Simmons. I’m not gonna go in there and let her rip ‘em off with her teeth for wakin’ her up. No thanks."

"Would you rather stay up here while that thing draws a bead on your hairy ass?"

Roberts thinks about it for a moment before bolting for the stairs, taking them three at a time and almost tripping over his own feet.

"Asshole," Simmons sighs before turning back toward the metal thing bristling with weapons that seems content to just stand there, watching.

Ten minutes later, Roberts returns, Maggie in tow. Aside from a few bruises and scrapes, and bags beneath her eyes that would make a Samsonite salesman jealous, she seems none the worse for wear. She returns Simmons’ salute crisply, then takes a look out the bolthole, eyes narrowing as she glimpses the military droid and his just arrived buddies standing in a semi-circular formation. "Well, well, well, look who’s come for breakfast. Have they done anything?" she asks Simmons without moving her gaze from their newly arrived friends.

"No, Ma’am. Just standing there."

Suddenly, the air is rent by a loud piercing blast that resembles an air-raid siren, though lower in volume. Roberts covers his ears, then quickly drops his hands after the glare from Maggie all but melts his fillings. He looks at her, shamefaced, as the siren blast tapers off, then starts up again. The pulses are regular, and Maggie can just begin to get a handle on them when Simmons breaks in, his voice loud to compensate. "It’s Morse, Ma’am. It’s telling us to listen."

"I got that part, Corporal," Maggie replies dryly. "Listen to what, though?"

Simmons shrugs. "I dunno, Ma’am. Just keeps repeating ‘listen’ over and over again."

Maggie crosses her arms over her chest. "Alright, you bastards, I’m listening."

The two men turn as a noise from behind them attracts their notice, and they stiffen to granite attention as Kirsten enters the watchhouse, Koda following, fiddling with the pristine white bandage covering her forearm. "What’s going on?" Kirsten asks, eyeing Maggie directly.

"See for yourself," Maggie replies, stepping aside and allowing Kirsten a clear line to the bolthole.

Kirsten peers out, unconsciously easing slightly to the side to allow Koda room beside her. Dakota’s eyebrow edges upward as a white flag is raised from the center of the android grouping. The pair exchange glances before returning their gazes back to the area just outside the front gate.

"Je-sus!" Kirsten breathes as the androids break rank and none other than Sebastian Hart steps through, white flag in one hand, battery powered bullhorn in the other. He’s dressed in the same black uniform that clothes the other humans within the ranks of the androids, and aside from being a bit pale and gaunt, Kirsten thinks he actually looks better than he did when he left the base.

"Guess we know the answer to that question," Koda mutters as Hart looks around, then lifts to bullhorn to his mouth.

"Hail the base!"

Kirsten looks to Koda, who shakes her head, very slightly, in the negative.

"Hail the base!" A beat later, "I come to parley under a flag of truce! Who speaks for you, base?"

"Let him lay out his hand," Maggie murmurs, coming to stand behind Kirsten and touching her shoulder as she looks over the smaller woman’s head.

"What hand?" Kirsten asks. "We’ve decimated his troops! What could he possibly be bargaining for?"

"We won’t know until he asks," Koda replies, keen eyes narrowing on the man below.

"Does no one speak for you, then?"

Maggie feels a moment of pride as the entire base keeps its silence, like an abandoned castle of a long-ago time. She senses the eyes and the attention of those who stand below and wait, and blesses them for their loyalty.

"Very well, then. If you will not speak to me, I will speak to you." A brief pause, as he surveys the exterior of the base, much as a deposed emperor who knows his palace will again soon be his. An expression more smirk than smile flicks across his lips before they’re covered, once again, by the bullhorn. "I’ve worked with many of you, most of you, for a long number of years on this base. You know me. You know my honesty, and you know my integrity."

Maggie snorts, shaking her head in patent disbelief. The others remain silent, though their thoughts are easily read through the set of their bodies.

"And because of your knowledge of my honesty, my integrity, I feel it is safe for me to stand before you and say this: People of Ellsworth, you are being lied to."

"What the fuck?!?"

Kirsten is kept from diving out the bolthole and taking on the ex-general by a quick hand to the belt of her pants. She grounds on Dakota, glaring, color high. "What are--?"

"Shh. Just wait a minute. Let’s see what he has to say."

"But--."

"Don’t let him know he’s gotten to you, Kirsten," Maggie interjects softly. "That’s his game."

With a look of biting into a very sour lemon, Kirsten finally relents, shaking off the gentle arms holding her and stalking to the side of the knothole, away from the others. Koda looks after her with concern, but Maggie shakes her head, just once. Koda nods, and peers back through the knothole, elegant brows drawn down low over piercing eyes.

"To set the record perfectly straight, ladies and gentlemen of Ellsworth, you were not lied to when you were told that there had been an android uprising. No, all of you were part of that horror, seeing sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, friends and loved ones taken away from you or killed before you. No, that certainly is not the lie. Nor is it an untruth that some of those women, your daughters, your mothers, your relatives and dear friends were taken and incarcerated against their wills, defiled in the most horrendous of ways. You have seen such horrors with your own eyes, or heard them with your own ears. A great abomination has been visited upon our country, people of Ellsworth, a great abomination that continues still!"

"This asshole missed his calling," Maggie mutters. "He should have run for office."

"Or the pulpit," Koda smirks.

"The lie," Hart continues, "concerns these beings standing beside me. They, ladies and gentlemen, are not your enemy!"

"That’s it," Kirsten grumbles, heading for the door and pushing the guards aside like tenpins. "Let me at that overbearing, underachieving, bald-headed, drunken asshole motherfu--."

"Woah there, spitfire," Maggie says, grabbing Kirsten by the arm and hauling her back inside. "Let him finish his lies, then you can go out and knock him every which way from Sunday, ok?"

"You know," Kirsten remarks, yanking her arm from the General’s grip and glaring at her, "I’m getting mighty tired of being manhandled and told what to do here. I thought I was the one who gave the orders. Remember? Me? The frikkin President of the U S of A?"

"You need to keep your calm, Kirsten," Maggie replies as the two guards look away, uncomfortable. "You’re playing right into his hands. This brand of warfare might be a little more subtle than what we just went through, but its war just the same. Please, just listen to the rest of it, ok?"

"It’s only going to get worse."

"No doubt it will, but we all know he’s lying, so…."

"These androids standing with me now are what they have always been: a boon to all mankind. There is no harm in them. They live only to serve. They are programmed only to serve. Not to kill, but to preserve life, to aid…life. These very androids, and hundreds, thousands like them, have gone through the jailhouses, the detention centers, the hospitals and rescued thousands of your loved ones."

"He lies!" Kirsten growls, moving forward again, but stopping herself just at the edge of the bolthole, hands clenched tight over the lip, knuckles as bloodless as her lips. "He fucking lies!"

"Loved ones who even now, as I speak to you, are receiving the very best of care administered by beings just like these who stand in solidarity with me before all of you." Lowering the bullhorn for a moment, Hart looks down at the ground, much like a keynote speaker, or a preacher, who is gathering himself for a momentous announcement.

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