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“Have a macro,” the newly-arrived young woman said. She passed to Hunky a silver copy of the weapon she held in her hand, probably snagged from a Navy of Mastema armory somewhere. “Kill that camera, please, Hunky.”

Hunky used her Silver Gift to make the slowly rotating video camera covering the space they were standing in to entirely go away.

Soon after that a squad of eight DECON troops dispatched by Conley entered the office space though the door, which seemed to work for them just fine. “Everyone lay down your weapons and freeze!” one of the newcomers shouted, and Hunky marveled that he even got the two commands in the correct logical order.

Then Hunky stepped in front of Del and blossomed her phantomizer blade to full umbrella mode, something the original Golden Gift couldn’t even do, causing a great wind to start. She used this as a shield to absorb the initial bullets of the guards, which came immediately after her movement.

In a perfect dance, as though they rehearsed it, which in fact they often did, Hunky collapsed her blade and stepped beside Del.

And Del, stepping a bit forward, fired exactly two rounds, center of mass, killing two guards. Lather, rinse, repeat. Two more guards down and then Hunky and Del were close enough to just hack the rest to pieces.

“How’d you get in?” Hunky asked Del.

“Well there’s this network of tunnels inside the mountain made by DECON,” Del explained, “and there’s the network of tunnels we made under the mountain as insurance. It was just a simple matter of making one well-placed connection.” She held up her Golden Gift and wondered if she she needed to explain to Hunky the actual mechanics of the entry.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” Hunky said, “allow me to introduce the B’nei Elohim named Del, the daughter of the late Talishi. who was the incarnation of El Shaddai. Which, I suppose, makes her a half-sister of Jesus. Or something.”

“What did she give you just now?” President-elect Henry Jackson asked. “Is there more than one Golden Gift?”

“Naw, we call this a macro,” Hunky said, holding up hers. “Del’s mother God gave the Golden Gift to some very clever monkeys, and we very clever monkeys copied it and made it better.”

“What’s next?” asked Ted Hickey, choosing not to dwell on the God thing. “Our plan was to move down and out.”

“We will stay with your plan,” Del said, “except that we will backtrack along the path I carved on my way up here. I took the liberty of killing the cameras in every space I entered.”

“That’s just great,” Hickey said. “Now Conley’s got a trail of dead cameras leading directly to the last position he knew we were. So now he knows we have help.”

“There’s such a thing as the fog of war,” Del countered with a bit of annoyance. “Let’s see how bright this Conley fellow really is. Let’s see how far we can get before he puts it all together.”

“The President has arrived, sir,” the duty officer told Ed Conley. “He’s making his way to the summit now.”

“Good, when he gets here and authenticates, unlock the elevators. Meanwhile I want the bodies of these two agents put in the path of somewhere we know Jackson went. It’s called shaping the evidence trail.”

Ed Conley stepped back from the Big Board to allow his personnel to remove the bodies, and stepping back, he was able to take in the whole picture. There were hundreds of small screens showing mostly stationary views, some empty, some with idle DECON personnel, but about twenty random screens were blank static with no signal, and he wondered about that. He knew there was no particular relationship between the dead screens and the position of the corresponding camera within the mountain, but he thought if such a relationship could be made, it might speak volumes. When the bodies were dragged away, Conley approached the duty officer again. “Plot the position of this dead camera,” he ordered.

“Yes sir,” the duty officer replied, and presently a floor map of that level of the mountain was displayed, with the dead camera indicated by a flashing red dot.

“Can you plot all the dead cameras? Is there a PolyCode script ready to do that?”

“No sir, but I can whip one out for you. Just one moment.” Presently the duty officer hand completed his script and ran it. Twenty maps flashed on the screen, one after the other.

“Okay, now here’s the real test. I want you stack those maps in order, and then I want you to rotate the whole shooting match to an oblique view so I can see them from the side and up. Can you do that?”

The duty officer had to think for a bit before he could answer in the affirmative, and the script for this took somewhat longer than the first one. But in about ten minutes Conley was looking at a kind of x-ray view of Yellow Mountain, with a trail of red dots meandering through the center of the hill to the bottom. The top dot was the most interesting one of all, that was the camera covering the space where he had sent that squad of seven DECON personnel before losing contact with them.

“Do you see that?” Ed Conley said, tracing the line of red dots from the bottom to the top. “They’ve gotten help from outside.”

“I don’t see how that’s possible, sir. How would they get in?”

“Who’s to say the whole mountain isn’t sitting on a network of tunnels they made, waiting for the right time, and they just punched through? Send everything we have to that bottom dot.”

In the space one level up from that bottom dot Del stuck her head through the hole she made in the floor just long enough to see it was filled with more DECON personnel than she could possibly deal with, even with her, Hunky, and the four Secret Service personnel in full berserk mode. She sat back up and said, “Well, we have our answer. This Conley dude put all the pieces together. We’ll have to get out another way.”

“Any ideas?”

“Actually, I’ve just had a brilliant one,” Del said. “I’ve called in our air assets. DECON will want to scramble to deal with them, so all we need to do is be in one of the helicopter hangers when they do. Then we just walk right out of the mountain.”

“Show me the body of the Vice-President,” said Gerald Ford after he had seen the cell-camera footage of the demise, not fully aware exactly what it was he was asking for, but Ed Conley dutifully took him up to the cell and showed him the pile of hamburger that used to be Earl Roland and it was everything Ford could do not to puke up his lunch right there. He wheeled away out of the cell and up against the rail looking down on the control bay to steady himself. “Where is the so-called President-elect?” the President asked when he was able to speak again.

“Mr. President, the President-elect together with the assassin are being taken out of the complex by six Secret Service agents, against my better wishes. Apparently there was a disagreement among those six agents as well, we’ve found the bodies of two of them they shot up and left behind.”

The President looked to his own Secret Service agents. “See to it.” And it occured to Ed Conley just then, much too late, that the dead agents were fill of DECON lead, and he hadn’t thought about that. So he started thinking about making his own way out of the mountain.

The duty officer said, “We count twelve incoming bogeys, possibly Church of End Dome air assets come to pull the assassin out.”

The President said to Ed Conley, “You handle it. All I want right now is a private office with a computer terminal and total access to the files. And by that I do mean all of them.”

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Strangers In Paradise