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When Ruth Delaney answered the door the thin veneer of professionalism worn by DECON Special Agent Danica Fawn fell away. It was all Danica could do to keep her hands at her side. She could not keep her voice from breaking into a sob when she said, "I'm sorry, Ruth, I've never had to do this before."

Ruth's eyes widened as she slowly realized what must have happened. At length, she said, "I think I know why you're here but I need to hear you say it."

Danica glanced from side to side. "Please let me come inside."

Ruth nodded and held the door for her.

Danica stood in the center of Ruth's living room and turned to face her. "Ruth, Special Agent Kurt Delaney died in the line of duty this evening, just about an hour ago. I'm so sorry!"

Ruth's face crinkled up like a sheet of foil then. Danica thought, I'm doing this wrong, but she felt compelled to embrace Ruth and they both cried for long minutes. Danica tried to answer the questions that bubbled up amid Ruth's anguished sobs. How? Why?

"It was an accident, he fell down some kind of mine shaft, it all happened very quickly. Why? He was trying to stop someone kidnap a child."

It was the hardest thing she ever did. Danica neglected to tell Ruth that it was going to take perhaps a week to even retrieve the body of her husband, or that it was going to be a closed-casket funeral, or that Kurt died in a paroxysm of such pain and horror that Danica would not wish it on her worse enemy. No one deserved what Kurt got. And when she left the widow alone Danica was in a turmoil of conflicting thoughts:

That wasn't how they do it on TV. That wasn't how a male agent would have done it. They should have had a week of training to teach me how to do it. No one should ever have to do it. I'm a federal agent. It was my duty. A widow should never get the bad news from a third party. I'm a human being.

All these things burned through Danica’s mind as she choppered, then walked, to the office of the King County sheriff in downtown Seattle. By the time she walked inside she decided that if, God forbid, she lost another agent she would handle it exactly the same way.

Sheriff Vic stood in front of a giant wall map of King County, and several of her deputies gathered around her. After studying it for a few minutes, Victoria said, "There's only three bridges across the Green River in Gonorrhea Gulch. The Enumclaw-Black Diamond Road, the Franklin Bridge, and this one at Palmer. I want a unit at each bridge, and I want enough units on these two roads to either side of Mark's house on the north side of the river that they can remain in eye shot of each other.”

"I'll tell dispatch right now Sheriff."

Vic looked away from the map when Danica came in, flanked by two deputies. One of the deputies said, “Sorry, Sheriff, she pulled rank. Special Agent Danica Fawn, this is Sheriff Victoria Shybear.”

“Rank my ass,” Vic said. “Special Agent Fawn, this isn’t a domestic enemies thing, this is a missing little girl.”

“Yes, Sheriff, your own little girl I understand. And this map tells me you don’t know who took her.”

“Well, there’s something you don’t know either, Agent Fawn,” Vic warned. “You don’t know how many tons of bricks are about to fall on DECON if you have her.”

“We don’t have Hope,” Danica said. “We watched someone take her from your back yard. A woman took her.”

That information silenced Vic for a beat. Finally she said, “That could be very good or very bad.”


“First tell my why DECON was surveilling my house.”

“Sheriff, please, let’s not insult each other’s intelligence. You know what my agency does and why. I came here immediately after consoling the widow of my partner Agent Kurt Delany, who died trying to stop Hope from being abducted.”

Vic looked at Danica as though for the first time, because the template of "monster” the B’nei Elohim always employed to look at DECON agents didn’t seem to fit her at all. She said, “Then it’s a bad day for both of us. You lost an agent, I lost my little girl and now they tell me my ex-husband just died in a plane crash.”

“I’m very sorry, Sheriff,” Danica said, and she fell silent out of respect for what Vic must be feeling.

At length Vic said, with sincerity, “There are things I can tell you.”

“And there are things I can tell you,” Danica said. “I can think of no better opportunity than on the way to the scene of the crime.”

“How do you know it’s a crime?”

“You tell me, Sheriff. I walk in here and you’re talking to your deputies about setting roadblocks. The girl has gone missing and someone must have called you.”

Vic weighed the proposal of trading information, and decided it could be a good way to measure what DECON thought they knew about the B’nei Elohim. That might be worth the risk right there. Victoria said, “It will take an hour just to get to my house from here.”

“I have a chopper at our disposal.”

“Fine, but one deputy comes with us.”

It was dark now, and Aliwe had come inside the house. When the B’nei Elohim notified Mark that Hope had gone missing from Boot Camp he asked Aliwe flat out if she had seen her big sister but Aliwe merely shook her head. The girl seemed to be acting strangely, as though she were hiding something, but Mark also knew Aliwe, despite her very young age, was also fully B’nei Elohim, Begotten, not Made, and it was no use trying to pry information loose from any of them if they had their mind set on keeping it a secret.

Vic felt her stomach drop away as the DECON chopper lifted from the roof of the federal building downtown. When they had gained sufficient altitude to see over Beacon Hill she and Danica spotted a black snake writhing among the orange lights on the far southern horizon that was the sparsely developed Green River Gorge. Time for their little talk.

“We know the Church of End Dome has two factions,” Danica said.

Victoria dismissed this with a hand wave. “The White Wing hasn’t been a factor since the Forties.”

“I’m not talking about the White Wing and the Red Wing, I’m talking about the Begotten, such as yourself, and the Made, such as the Jills.”

“And if I agree to your characterization of myself as Begotten Church of End Dome,” Victoria said with mock concern, “then I’ve just confessed to a federal agent of the felony of conspiracy to provide aid to fugitives. Think of my political career.”

“I am indeed thinking of your political career, Sheriff hence the helicopter ride, and, I presume, also, your choice of a deputy to accompany us who is not himself very likely to talk."

“Very well, Agent Fawn, then to make this little heart-to-heart go a bit smoother, I should make you aware that the whole Church of End Dome thing is entirely a ruse for public consumption. We call ourselves the B’nei Elohim, which roughly translates to ‘offspring of the gods.’ And I’m not sure you’re fully aware of the reason you’ve been having so much trouble with us over the years, which is simply that you’ve been tangling with genuine demigods.”

“Fine. Demigods. Mutants. Whatever. The Agency knows that there are two factions of what you are now naming the B’nei Elohim, and both factions are intensely focused on your daughter. Naturally, this attention has drawn the gaze of the Agency on your daughter as well. That is the reason she was being watched by myself and Agent Delany. What I’d like to know, Sheriff Vic, other than your own feelings as a mother of course, is simply this: What is so interesting about your little girl?”

“You’re jumping too far ahead, Agent Fawn. I told you something about us, now give me a taste. You said there are things you can tell me. Lay a juicy one out for me.”

“We know the ‘Made’ faction of the B’nei Elohim have infiltrated DECON somehow. So we’re divided too. Maybe, Sheriff, it’s not entirely outside the realm of the possible that you and I might share roughly the same set of interests.”

“Okay, Agent Fawn, I didn’t know that,” Sheriff Vic admitted. “You were correct to put me down in the ‘Begotten’ category, but you might not be aware that I’ve been largely out of the loop when it comes to the B’nei Elohim. This was necessary to win my election.”

“Sheriff, you say you didn’t know that they had done it, but do you know how the Jills might have wormed their way into the Agency?”

“Obviously the promise of eternal youth is a powerful incentive.”

“I don’t understand.”

“I think you do, Agent Fawn. You are a high-ranking employee at DECON, you already know about the connectors under the pony tails, or the buns in the case of the Jills. That knowledge goes back to World War II. You know we can use a cable and literally dump our minds into the bodies of other people, or even just into data storage, then back out again. With the Begotten of the B’nei Elohim, like me, we only bring the Change to our own children, and only if they choose it. But the Jills recruit from outside. So they have the greater numbers.”

“And with those numbers comes influence within your group.”

“Correct. There is no way we could withstand your DECON without the Jills as cannon fodder, and they know it. Also, as it happens, the Jills put a premium on never allowing themselves to get old. So they have this bizarre time-sharing scheme that’s a bit like multiple parties sharing one lakeside cabin, and this is combined with something like a Ponzi scheme, or a pyramid scheme, but with female bodies rather than money, because everyone wants to ride the young perky stuff coming in, not the old wrinkly saggy stuff going out.”

“So where does your daughter come in?”

“Her name is Hope, and that’s very, very deliberate. Hope is a way to solve, all at once, the eternal youth thing, and the numbers thing, and the thing about time spent as frozen data. Then the Begotten simply won’t need the Made anymore. We can take our Change Ball and go away. And the Jills know it.”

When Victoria showed up at Mark Felton’s house with Agent Fawn the rotors of the helicopter that brought them were still spinning as it sat parked, with the engine off, on a playground two blocks away. Victoria had also brought along a uniformed officer on four legs she called Deputy Dog, a big mean Doberman she was wrangling on a sturdy leash. She said, "Mark! What's black and brown and looks great on a wingnut judge?"

“Hi Vic.” Mark wasn’t exactly happy to see her, after all, his daughter was missing, and he wondered how Vic could crack a joke just now. But on the helicopter flight down Vic realized Hope must have been taken by Robyn. The end game she had always known would come had finally come. It was the only thing that made sense. Still, Vic needed to prove it to her own satisfaction. She made the introductions between Mark and Special Agent Danica Fawn.

When Danica saw Aliwe she said, “Her sister was there when Hope was taken. I saw her.”

“Is that true, Aliwe?” Vic snapped. The girl shook her head firmly but said nothing.

“That’s not acceptable, Aliwe!” Danica snapped, even more sharply than the girl’s mother did, but Aliwe wouldn’t break.

“Good luck getting any more out of her,” Vic said. “Has DECON ever gotten anything out of any us, even at Yellow Mountain?” Then it was Danica’s turn to shake her own head.

“Let’s go see Hope’s room,” Vic said.

Mark was shocked. "Vic! Do you think we’re hiding Hope?"

"Don't be a dick. My deputy needs to get a whiff."

After Deputy Dog smelled Hope’s things Mark led the way through the sliding glass patio door in the family room. Victoria could hear the dim roar of a loop of I-86 less than a half-mile away. The gate on the side of the house was still locked. Two sturdy wooden fences isolated Mark's yard from his neighbors. Vic knew them well.

"Uncle Frank there," Mark pointed for Agent Fawn, "and Aunt Susan in the other house over there. Well, that's what we call them, right Vic? Lovely retired folks, a widow and a widower, but I don't think they talk to each other because our house sits here between them. They both think Aliwe is adorable, which of course she is.”

Vic looked at Mark, but said nothing.

He said, “Yes I already asked them if they've seen her or anything funny. They didn’t even know Aliwe had a sister."

The back of the lot consisted of dense woods that fell immediately away from the property line in a sloping drop. The little burgs of Franklin and Black Diamond were visible far below. To Agent Fawn Vic said, "Behold: Gonorrhea Gulch."

At that particular time neither Vic nor Mark felt like re-telling the story of how five girls from down in that gully gave half the boys at Green River High School the clap. Mark's house sat on the edge of a strange dark corner of King County. Below Howard Hanson dam the Green River ran for twelve miles of twisting class III and IV whitewater in a canyon with sheer three hundred-foot walls of sandstone. The Green River Gorge slithered like a black flaw running right through the illuminated perfectly geometric maze of suburbia. Misfits who couldn't stand the universal monoculture were attracted to this place the way cockroaches were attracted to the dingy rear of one's refrigerator. And some of those "misfits" were child molesters.

Deputy Dog sniffed the seat of the swing that Hope had used when she met her sister, then he was amped up, ready to drag Victoria at the end of the leash. He made for the woods, but he stopped right at the property line with a yelp and nothing Vic could say or do would make Dog go out there.

"What's wrong?" Danica asked.

"Oh, it's just that Deputy Dog doesn't seem to want to go into the Bermuda Triangle of King County, that's all," Vic said. “You know what I’m talking about, don’t you, Agent Fawn?”

Danica was reluctant to speak of it, but she did admit to one spooky thing. “There’s a stand of alders down there…on more than one occasion I’ve found myself coming back out on the same trail I went in, and no memory of ever turning around.”

Vic guessed those particular incidents were just Yeshua having a bit of fun. She said, "And after what happened to your agent Kurt you probably want somebody who knows the Green River Gorge and knows what the hell she's doing."

"Do you have any suggestions, Sheriff?"

"I'm your woman, Agent Fawn. But if there's one thing I know for sure about those woods, it's no good going in there until morning. If whoever took my little girl walks out of there my two-legged deputies will nab them in a second. But if they stay put down there we're going to need some light because it’s like an obstacle course in hell."

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