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Susanne Beck, T. Novan and Okasha - The Growing...docx
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It will not stop them. It will force them to break the door or go around the building to the other stairwell, and that will buy her time. Buy Kirsten time.

She whirls, still holding the sculpture in one hand. The elevator reaches the fifth level as she watches, its slow descent marked by the soft wheezing of its pneumatic pedestal. Without pausing to breathe, Koda unhooks one of the grenades from her belt, pulls the pin and stands waiting, counting the seconds. Ten. Nine. Eight. . . ..

On Two, the elevator door slides open. Koda pitches the grenade straight into the midst of the dozen androids packed shoulder to shoulder into its car and whirls, throwing herself some ten feet down the corridor to land flat on her face. The roar of the explosion washes over her, echoing up and down the length of the six-story deep shaft. Panels of the door slam into the wall behind her, punctuated by a series of small secondary explosions as at least some of the droids’ ammo goes up, the sound ripping through the air like strings of firecrackers. A fine dust drifts through the air, paint and graphite from the shredded drywall behind her.

She coughs once, hard, and scrambles to her feet. The frame of the elevator door curls back from the shaft in jagged metal sheets, its pale green paint burned and blistered. Several other fragments of the door and miscellaneous bits of droid anatomy protrude from the opposite wall, driven into the paneling by the force of the blast. Koda ducks around an especially wicked looking piece that juts halfway out into the passage, its edges bright and sharp as teeth. Holding on to an exposed stud, its metal hot under her hand, she peers into the remains of the elevator.

Half of it is gone, sheered away when the grenade hit its back wall. The remaining half shows little more than a square meter of flooring, held in place by the stump of the telescoping column rising from the lower levels and its now-skeletal frame. Half a droid hangs drunkenly over the far edge, poised above the black cavern below. A second lies half in, half out of the car. From under its torso, the stock and characteristic curving magazine of an AK protrude, together with the muzzle of some larger-bore weapon. Swiftly Koda pulls them both from under the remains of their recent owner. The AK seems to be intact; aiming at the window in the stair door, she pulls the trigger and gives a satisfied grin when the plexiglass shatters in a rain of fragments. Two seconds’ examination shows that the larger item is a shotgun, and another few seconds’ rifling of the droid’s jacket produces a handful of 12-guage shells. Not as good as a grenade-launcher, but useful all the same. For the first time since barreling out of Westerhaus’ office, she pauses to assess the situation.

The elevator: wrecked beyond use or repair.

Droid casualties: perhaps a dozen.

Captured weapons: two, both useful. She still has her own rifle and the sculpture, tucked now under her belt like a knife.

Advantage for the moment: good guys.

* * *

For the first time since she’s met him, Adam looks a bit unsure. Walking to the credenza, he props a hip against one corner and seems inordinately interested in the weave of his slacks, long fingers brushing along the fabric as if searching for lint. "It’s difficult," he says softly, "to know where to begin."

"How ‘bout I help you out, then," Kirsten replies, sarcasm firmly in place. "Peter Westerhaus, fair haired wunderkind, boon to all mankind, DaVinci, Edison, Bell, Franklin, and Einstein all rolled into one, invents the first working android. Nations fall at his feet. Blondes, brunettes, and redheads fall at his feet. He quickly becomes the most important, not to mention richest, man in the world. More countries fall. More redheads fall. More money falls. And then, when that world least expects it, boom! Instant takeover." Her smile is as hard and as sharp as a rough-hewn diamond. "That pretty much cover it, Mr. Virgilius?"

His smile is wan. "On the surface of things, perhaps."

"Well, why don’t you dig it a little deeper for me, then," she remarks, shooting a quick glance at the monitors, several of which show a blooming fireball shooting out from an elevator shaft. Her breathing eases as Dakota comes into view, apparently unharmed. "And make it quick or I’ll tear down that door with my bare hands and leave you talking to yourself."

He looks at her for a long moment, then nods. "Peter Westerhaus was an extremely…disturbed individual." He holds up a hand to forestall Kirsten’s scathing comeback. "Yes, I know you’re well aware of that, Doctor. It is said that many, if not most, geniuses of his type share that particular trait; that brain chemicals which allow extreme creativity and inventiveness also bring with them many kinds of madness, often in the same person."

"Spare me the biology lecture, Virgilius. Get to the point, if you even have one."

"Symptoms of what I believe to be schizophrenia were present for many years, long before I came to work for him. There were many stories of the man talking to himself—not, ordinarily, a horrible thing to do, but the reports also stated that he was answering himself, and in voices different than his own. Many workers were convinced that he had a secret partner working with him, based on these voices, but when he was approached, he was always alone." A wan smile is displayed again. "His interest in robotics and, by extension, android development seems to have been what one might term a classic case of a son trying to win his father’s love. You are aware, I’m sure, of Willhelm Westerhaus, Genitetec’s CEO?"

"My heart bleeds for the whole fucking family," Kirsten replies. "Can we please just get on with it?!?"

"It was the younger Westerhaus’ lifetime goal to win his father’s respect, if not his love. It was his greatest disappointment when the first working android was completed and his father was not there to see it, having died some months before. But the breaking point came two years later, when his mother, whom he adored, was killed in a terrorist attack in Morocco, where she was vacationing with her new beau. Peter was never the same after that. He went into seclusion, in this very office, and his mental status, fragile as it was, began to deteriorate at a dangerously rapid pace. He told some of his fellows, the few he would allow into this sanctum, that God had spoken to him."

"God."

"God."

"And what did God say to the little bastard?"

"That he was the Chosen One, placed on this earth not to destroy it, but to save it."

"Save it?!?" Kirsten shouts, shooting up from her chair, eyes blazing. "Save it?? In case you haven’t noticed, Mr. Virgilius, this world is ruined! His creations have murdered millions! Probably billions!! Men! Women! Children! Adam, they’re murdering children!!!"

Adam drops his eyes. "Yes," he replies softly. "I’m well aware of that."

"Then answer me the only question I give a shit about right now. Why??"

Adam nods. "I can do that."

* * *

A sudden jab of pain rips through Koda’s chest, and she breathes deeply, willing her heart rate and respiration again below the threshold frequency of Westerhaus’ little beeper from hell. The calm finds its center just under her sternum, spreads, slipping along her nerves until her whole body poises on the sharp edges of awareness, every object, every color sharp in her sight, every sound keen as the rustle of a mouse under the snow to a hunting owl.

Silence.

The droids have either halted their charge or retreated from the stairwell. Ducking to avoid the broken window in the door, Koda leans against the steel panel, listening. Just audible, she can hear the shuffle of feet now floors above her, retreating toward the upper levels. She has a couple minutes, maybe less, to break the lock on the other stairwell.

Shouldering the two extra guns, she sprints along the corridor that runs the circumference of the building. A third of the way around the curve, she catches sight of the scarlet Exit sign above the door to the second stair. No time for finesse on this one. Slinging her M-16 behind her shoulder, Koda braces the shotgun against her hip and fires.

The blast blows the lock mechanism to confetti, small fragments ricocheting off the bolt to pepper the wall opposite. Most of the debris, though, falls onto the landing on the other side. She cannot be sure in the echo from the shot, but it seems to her that sounds of feet shuffling on the steps have slowed. Not so eager to run into a 12-guage, are ya, hotshots? That’d blow even your printed-circuit brains out.

Koda bends to inspect the bolt, which shows bright nicks from both the shot and the flying shards of the door. It remains firmly in its socket, though, just where she wants it. Working quickly, she wires a detonator to the underside of the bar, leaving the length of copper dangling. She has perhaps half a kilo of plastique left. She kneads the powder into the malleable paste that gives it its name, then stuffs it down between the door panels, where it adheres nicely to the braces between the steel sheets. She molds it carefully, spreading upward it so that explosive and blasting cap make contact where the bolt runs out of sight into the door jamb.

She pauses for a moment, listening once again for the tread of feet on the stairs. If they want the door open, the plastique will do the job. It will also, if they don’t spread out too far up the steps, blow the lot of them right into the middle of next February. The charge she has set is enough to destroy a truck; it ought to be equal to taking out a dozen droids or so. Which leaves the party coming up the other staircase, with their weapons and their unwavering programmed purpose and their steel and titanium bodies and lifetime batteries.

Which leaves her, with two good automatic weapons, a shotgun and a single grenade still left. All that remains between them and Kirsten. All that remains between them and an inhuman hell.

Carefully, Koda pulls the cotter pin that will prime the detonator. She cannot defend two points at once. She will have to trust that the C-4 will take out most of one party while she deals with the second.

And hope that Kirsten and Adam can deal with any who manage to get past her. Take care of her, Adam. For all the gods’ sake, take care of her. She’s the only one who can win the world back. Every last one of the rest of us is expendable.

Every last single one.

The sound of feet on the stairs above sends her sprinting down the corridor. The curve of the hallway will give her some cover, but she needs more. She needs a barricade. As she runs—not full out, because that could send her heart rate soaring—the first sounds of battering come from the stair door behind her. The blows reverberate like the pounding of a great drum, metal smashing into metal with the mechanical regularity of arms and shoulders fashioned from steel and titanium fiber. The detonator has an eight-second delay. She counts it off with the rhythm of the blows, each one hammering through the building like a thunderclap.

The explosion, when it comes, shakes the floor beneath her feet, the sound washing over her like a physical force. Koda stumbles with it, breaking her fall only by clutching at the handle of a door. She swings from it crazily for a second, holding on while equilibrium reasserts itself. From around the curve of the hallway comes a second wave of sound, a tumbling and crashing almost like a rockslide. No doubt some of the wall has come down with the door. With luck the blast has also taken out a flight of stairs, tumbling the reinforced concrete steps down to shatter against the landing below.

With luck, the blast set nothing on fire.

With luck, there are no survivors.

Somewhere, sometime, the luck is going to run out.

There is nothing she can use as a barricade. Westerhaus, cautious or paranoid depending on how you look at it, has constructed his sanctum to give no cover for uninvited guests, be they sightseers or corporate saboteurs. The hall curves smoothly around the core of the Institute with not so much as a water fountain to obstruct line of sight. Even the pictures lie flat against the walls, mounted without wire or frames that could be abstracted and used as weapons.

Goddam security freak . . ..

She tries the handle that broke her fall. The room is unlabeled, the door locked. So is the next, and the next.

Goddam security freak . . ..

Is bound to have a security station somewhere on his personal floor. A security station with weapons, maybe riot gear. Returning the way she came, Koda begins shooting out the locks of the doors. A glance inside the first shows a supply room, stacked to the ceiling with paper and spare computer gear. The second contains a long teakwood table and armchairs: conference center. The third, a bathroom, complete with shower, lined in Spanish tile. Ahead of her, from the staircase by the ruined elevator, she can hear the blows begin to rain down on the door now held only by its bolt. She has perhaps seconds, no more.

The room closest to the office yields paydirt. Ranged on a desk that runs round the angle of the room, security monitors flicker with the activity on the floor. Mostly lack of it; except for the camera trained on the elevator and the exit from the staircase, all show empty halls. As Koda scrambles to strap on a Kevlar vest and snatch up a riot shield, she notes with satisfaction that the C-4 has done its work. A great, gaping hole in the outer wall of the corridor opens into nothingness. Bits and pieces of droids litter the floor. No survivors.

From the stairwell comes a crash as the door bursts open. Ina Maka, she breathes soundlessly, Holy Mother. For all your Earth, help me now. Thrusting her arm through the strap, Koda lifts the shield and steps out into the hall.

* * *

"After his mother died, Peter, a confirmed agnostic, became somewhat obsessively interested in the Judeo-Christian bible."

"The children, Virgilius. The children!"

Adam raises a hand. "Please. For any of this to make sense, I must tell it logically."

"We’re running out of time," Kirsten replies, her heart in her throat as she watches her lover mow through a group of androids.

"We will have time for this," he responds, getting up to pace the confines of the cluttered room. "He was particularly interested in the Book of Genesis, where Man was given dominion over the earth, and also entrusted to be its caretaker."

"I’m familiar with the relevant texts, Virgilius. Get on with it."

"In his sickness, Peter believed that God had come to him, stating that humans had, as he put it, ‘worn out their welcome’. They had taken the world given to them and had raped it; for food, for shelter, for the ability to travel long distances, for technology."

"There’s irony for you," Kirsten retorts, chuckling. "Mr. Technology himself, God’s sword against technology. Oh yeah, a laugh riot, as my father used to say." She props her head on one fist. "So, he invents the androids, ingratiates his inventions with the common man, and, when they least expect it…pow. Technology one, humanity zero. God, Westerhaus and the Earth, the new Blessed Trinity." Her smile is sour. "That still doesn’t explain why women are being raped and their infants murdered."

"The first androids he developed were never meant to hold stewardship over the earth, Doctor. Yes, they can be programmed to reap, or to sow, to build, or to destroy, but that is all that they can do. They cannot create. They cannot reason. They cannot make decisions based on logic, or even illogic, if they have not been programmed to make those decisions."

"Meaning that Maid Marion can’t become Construction Joe unless it’s reprogrammed."

"Exactly," Adam replies, smiling. "For all their seeming worth and indestructibility, androids lack the one thing that is needed to be a caretaker."

Kirsten’s face pales as the answer comes to her. "A thinking brain," she whispers, stunned by the horror of it. "Dear God! He invented a sentient android!"

* * *

Pulling the pin on her last grenade, Koda waits for the unhurried march of the droids’s feet to carry them around the curve of the hall. She stands to one side, behind the open door of the security station and the, the riot shield raised to protect her unhelmeted head. For a second, no more, she sinks deep into her mind’s center, steadying her heart, pacing her lungs and diaphragm, extending and sharpening her senses. Hard against her ribs, she feels the measured beat of her heart, the thrum of her blood in her veins. Her senses sharpen, so that the light shimmers in the empty hallway and her ears separate, exquisitely, the individual footfalls as the enemy approaches her. She waits.

The first half dozen round the curve at a trot with two seconds to go. Koda releases the grenade, her arm swinging high, up and ovrerhand. It arcs down in the midst of the group, ripping the clothing and front plates off two, toppling them backward to trip a third that goes down on its face, its weapon discharging under it as it strikes the floor. It does not rise again. Another, its legs blown away at midthigh, stands on its stumps with wires trailing loose. It has dropped its weapon and repetitively swivels its head from side to side and reciting in a high, flat voice, "Circuit 456, Check. Voder, Check. Color Card, Check. Accelerator Card, Check. Circuit 456, Check. . .." repeating itself over and over again. One of its colleagues, still on its feet, kicks it unceremoniously to the side, steps over the fallen and comes on doggedly.

Koda allows it to come on unopposed until it stands within ten feet. Shouldering the 12 guage, then, she fires and sends its head sailing back from its shoulders to land with a clang against the metal corpses on the floor and roll clattering along the hallway. She shoves another shell into the breech and sends the last of the party reeling headless into the wall. It stalls there, its chest against the wall, its feet moving in spastic small steps that carry it nowhere.

Advantage: Still the good guys. Koda grins and darts forward, avoiding the crater gouged by the explosion. Like the walls, the floors of the Westerhaus Institute are meter-thick reinforced concrete, meant to survive the legendary Big One that has yet to carry California out to sea. She kneels, rummaging briefly among the droid casualties for useful objects. One, bless his metal head, yields more shotgun shells; another she robs of the extra magazines he carries at his belt. For half a second, she considers pulling the remains together to form a barrier, but there is not enough shattered and twisted metal to form an effective barrier, still less block the passage altogether. Better to leave them as they lie. At worst, the next wave will have to go around them. At best, they may become tangled in the metal struts and twisting cables.

At the sound of feet in the corridor, Koda steps free of the metal tangle, retreating ot her place behind the security room door. For half a second, she glances back toward Westerhaus’ office, wishing for some sign, any sign, that Kirsten has made headway in her search for the code.

Because this isn’t going to work much longer. Sooner or later, they’re going to come down that hall in a rush, and it’s all going to be over.

But what comes this time is not a mass advance but a single set of footsteps, walking quietly, deliberately. They halt just beyond the curve of the wall, just out of sight, just beyond shot. A voice, male and mellow and suffused with gentle reason, says, "Dr. Rivers? This is unnecessary. May we talk?"

For answer, Koda picks up her rifle and sends a round speeding into the wall just ahead of where the speaker must be standing. "That’s all I’ve got to say, bastard! You got anything you want to add?"

A figure steps out into the hallway, perhaps five yards ahead of her. He—or it, she reminds herself fiercely, it—wears flannel shirt and jeans, the toes of well-worn boots showing below the frayed hems of the legs. Crinkles show at the corners of his blue eyes, and his hair, brushed carefully across his forehead, is white as salt. "Now, Dr. Rivers," he says, "Dakota—you’re making a terrible mistake here. You’re throwing your life away for—" palms up, his hands gesture widely—"for what? It doesn’t have to be like this. Indeed, it doesn’t."

It’s a droid, she reminds herself. Just a very, very lifelike droid. Never mind that it looks like everybody’s favorite uncle. "Okay," she says. "Turn yourselves off. All of you, you included. Then it won’t have to ‘end like this.’" She practically spits the last words and feels her heart give a painful jump. Consciously, she damps down her anger. They want emotion. They want her to fall prey again to the neural scrambler or whatever the hell the damned thing is.

"Hardly," Again, the open, reasonable gesture. "Hear me. Enough of your people have died. We have what we need, for years to come. We will leave you in peace. You and other humans can live out your lives in the normal way. You need not fear us."

The strange thing is, she is not even tempted. What the droid offers is not entirely unreasonable; it is the bargain made by the slaver with the enslaved, the butcher with the cattle. This time we will only take so many of you. The rest may live.

Until the next time.

And the time after that.

"I’ve seen what you’ve done!" she yells. "Fuck you and your deals!"

"You haven’t heard my offer."

"Let me guess. Give up Kirsten King and we can all walk out of here." She draws a long, hard, steadying breath. Every second she can keep the thing talking helps Kirsten, brings her that much closer to the answer. "No."

"You will die then, both of you. You need not."

"Make me a better offer."

"You will live. She will not suffer, I promise you."

"I said a better offer, bastard!"

"There is none. Yes or no. Now."

"Well, then." Koda drops her shield and steps around the edge of the door. "I guess I’ll just have to say—"

The droid waits, not speaking. With reflexes so swift she has no time to plan the maneuver, Koda whips the shotgun up and blows the droid’s head assembly open. "—no."

* * *

"Yes," Adam replies, coming to stand before her. "It took many years, many failures, but yes, he invented an android that was able to think for itself."

"How?" Kirsten demands, her hand slapping hard on the table. "How in the hell did he do that?!?"

Adam pauses for a moment, pursing his lips and sliding his fingers along the ribbed collar of his shirt. "Most of the preliminary work, or what passed for it at the time, had been done decades before Westerhaus was born. Mapping hardwiring and microchip technology to living tissue was hardly a new field by the time the first androids had been developed. Spinal cord regeneration, the Navy’s use of rats as cameras, even the Alzheimers work had moved from theory into accepted standards of practice for the time. But that," he continues, spreading his hands, "obviously, wasn’t enough. And even if it were possible to wire a human brain like a Christmas tree and dump it into the shell of an android, that still wouldn’t work."

"Because it would still, essentially, be human."

"Exactly. So the problem needed to be approached from another angle." He pauses again, head tilted in thought. "Do you remember the spate of child abductions in Washington DC a decade or so ago?"

Kirsten thinks for a moment. "I think so. From orphanages mostly. Some from hospitals. A few from their own cribs. They never captured the kidnappers or found the bod…ies…." Her eyes widen. "No. Please don’t tell me that he…."

"Yes. He did."

"But why?" Kirsten shouts, pounding the table with a closed fist. "Why the goddamned children?!?"

"Genetics," Adam answers. "And the ability to produce a compound that, with a little outside help, will turn a regular drone into a member of Westerhaus’ Master Race."

"Stop speaking in riddles, man! We don’t have time to… oh my God." She rises to her feet slowly, bone-pale face cupped in suddenly shaking hands. "Oh my God. It’s Growth Hormone, isn’t it. Human Growth Hormone. There were trials, not so long back, connecting it with nerve regeneration…."

"Precisely. A genetic marker is injected into the child, causing a pituitary adenoma. Within six months to a year, depending upon the age of the child injected, the adenoma forms and begins to produce Human Growth Hormone in great quantities. When the levels reach their peak, the hormone is…harvested, and the donor is then euthanized."

"Euthanized?!? You mean murdered!!!"

"Yes," Adam replies, looking down at his shoes. "They were murdered. Are still being murdered, all in the name of science…and…humanity. In some way that I’m not fully aware of, the hormone imparts sentience to the android circuits. It was the ingredient that Mr. Westerhaus was lacking all these years. When he found it, he cried. Not in sorrow, but in joy."

He doesn’t expect the right cross that connects, with deadly precision, at the point of his chin. His hands fly up as he stumbles back, crashing against the credenza and sending the coffee pot and mugs clattering to the ground.

"You son of a bitch!" Kirsten growls, stalking him like a wolf on the hunt. "You goddamned motherfucking son of a bitch!!! You knew this was happening. You knew it! And you did nothing to stop it!!!"

"I couldn’t stop it," he replies, making no attempt to ward off her blows. "There was no way for me to stop it. But you, Doctor King, you can."

Some of what he’s said eventually gets through and her punches weaken, then stop altogether and she stands like a toy soldier whose spring has wound down. "How," she demands, voice rough from shouting and muffled by the tears she’s trying desperately to hold in. "Tell me how."

With gently hands, he turns her and guides her to the main desk. The alien script continues to scroll across the bottom in an endless, nauseating stream. "For months," he begins softly, "I have attempted to decipher this string of code, but found no reference point in all my research with which to even begin. The Rosetta Stone, as it were, came in the email he addressed to you. The one that, unfortunately, you never received. You, Doctor King, are the key. At some point prior to his suicide, he must have had second thoughts. It is my belief that he encoded a…backdoor, if you will, an escape hatch through all of this could be undone. And you are the only person in this world who can decipher it."

"Why? What’s so damned special about me??"

"You are his greatest adversary, and aside from the fact that your brilliance in these matters equals his….."

* * *

The droid slumps to the floor to lie among the other wreckage, and Koda takes two quick steps back into the security station. A glance about the rank of monitors shows the remaining squad splitting into two parties, the second setting off down the hall in the opposite direction. The first contingent, hovering just beyond range beyond the curve, does not move.

Of course not. They’re going to wait for the other bunch to come around behind and attack from both directions. Can’t let that happen.

She has two automatic weapons left, one shotgun and one nameless piece of sculpture. If she does not deal with the nearer group now, she will be trapped. Worse, she will leave Westerhaus’ office and Kirsten exposed to at least one of the parties. And it will all be over. Kirsten will die, and the world will be at the mercy of Westerhaus’ creations for years, perhaps for generations.

Perhaps forever.

Can’t let that happen.

Koda slings the AK over one shoulder, dropping her M-16 into her hands. The shotgun will not serve her here. Neither will stealth.

Steeling herself against the pain she knows will follow, Koda bursts out of the security station, running full out for the curve and the smaller droid party still waiting. She knows to the millisecond when her heart rate rises to normal by the stab of sudden agony through her chest. Her legs still work, though, and her hands. That is all that matters.

She skids around the curve running full out, and as she comes within sight of the enemy party she jerks her finger spasmodically down on the trigger, spraying the width of the hallway from side to side. Amid the staccato rhythm of the M-16 she can hear the impact of slugs on metal as they find their marks, droids going down before her assault, others bringing their own guns up to fire, stuttering out an answer to her own. A round whizzes by her head, close enough for her to feel the wind of its passage. Another strikes her squarely in the center of her Kevlar vest, a bruising blow, and white heat blossoms in her chest, stealing her breath. She ignores it, throwing down the M-16 when its magazine empties and feeling the solid slap of the AK into her hands in its stead. And then she is firing again in long sweeps, not taking time to aim, catching her massed targets in their sensor arrays, their legs, the solid, unyielding mass of their torsos. One holds a round thing in its hand, its dark metal surface scored, and Koda aims high, going for its wrist. The thing drops and rolls among the droids, but none of them seems to notice it as they spray bullets toward her and she dodges low, feinting to one side, dodges again. Something stings along her own leg, something else on her left shoulder, but she cannot take time to look, as she grits her teeth against the havoc under her sternum, and fires and fires and fires again. And again. And again.

The trigger under her cramped finger clicks on empty. Perhaps twenty seconds have passed since she rounded the curve of the hall. The droids lie scattered over the floor, some riddled with holes through the body, others more neatly dispatched with gaping cavities in their sensor arrays. Torn wires and a thin stream of yellow-green lubricant snake along the tiles. Koda’s breath comes in hard, dry gasps, as the pain of the wounds in leg and shoulder crashes in on her, joining with the ramping agony in her chest. She leans over at the waist, her hands on her knees, and forces her breath to slow, forces it to regularity, bringing her heart under control and with it the pain that threatens to wash her away on its red tide. There is something wet under her hand, and when she raises her palm to look, dark blood drips to the floor.

Dark blood.

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