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Lilith drove Robyn on the Sunset Highway over Snoqualmie Pass. Just past Indian John Hill the trees turned off like a light. They had started from Black Diamond, naturally enough, but they had also started from the year 1956, a leap of nine years. It was Robyn’s first hop in time. The big thing Robyn noticed was the red Ford “Fairlane” Lilith was driving seemed to be a lot more gaudy than the cars she was used to seeing. It had lot more chrome, and a flashy stripe on the side. Lilith said, “I want to do this is stages, Robyn, a little at a time, so you don’t get overwhelmed.”

After another, far more desolate pass they crossed the Columbia River at Vantage and climbed again to a vast arid plateau that was being reclaimed as farmland with irrigation, a legacy of FDR’s make-work “stimulus” programs inaugurated during the Depression and one that actually made sense. Lilith turned on the radio as they passed through Moses Lake and Robyn heard her first Elvis song, “Don’t Be Cruel” and her first Chuck Berry song, “Roll Over Beethoven”. So far the Fifties were nifty.

Lilith said, “Okay, nine years later, President Truman is out, General Eisenhower is in. There was a bad war in Korea with China and the Soviet Union involved, fought it to a draw with about thirty thousand GIs dead, and now the Americans and the Soviets have kind of squared off for what they call the ‘Cold War’ where they just sort of growl at each other for the next thirty or forty years.”

“So no third World War?”

“No, and that’s a very good thing, Robyn, because both sides have the same sort of weapons that were used on Japan at the end of the last one. Wouldn’t do human civilization a bit of good if the Cold War ever went hot.”

“But they don’t know it’s going to stay cold. I don’t know how they could stand it, not knowing.”

“It’s not all bad, Robyn. The Cold War is a big contest to see whether a planned economy is better than an unplanned one, and competition leads to innovation. Next year, in fact, the Soviets will put a machine into orbit around the Earth, just above the atmosphere. And that will scare the Americans into doing the same. A few years after that they’ll start putting men into space too, which is something Barbelo already did about sixty years ago. In fact, I was on that first flight.”

The year-long crossing from Palato to Hybla-Dia could often be far from eventless, as Lord Asmodeus was soon to learn.

Four months after Asmodeus got underway with his reinforcements the Beater frigates Resolute and Adventurous noted the impressive contact that Asmodeus’ force, arrogantly barging across the void with all radars hot, made on their passive sensors. When Resolute fired her first six torpedoes on the flagship Insolent and four more on Crusader, no one in the Loyalist Fleet was prepared for what was going to happen.

Resolute’s shots were well timed. Four of them ripped open Insolent from stem to stern; she exploded in twenty minutes, unfortunately not taking Asmodeus with her. Crusader was heavily damaged.

As she witnessed the scene, Adventurous was presented with a perfect shot at the other heavy-ship column; four torpedoes from her salvo blew up the limping battleship Crusader; only the lack of torpedoes in her aft tubes prevented even more destruction. She retired, certain of having splashed a battleship. The same did Resolute. The Loyalists, meanwhile, were too busy surviving to pursue their Beater assailants.

Lord Asmodeus was fished from space and transferred his flag to the heavy cruiser Tormentor. For a second time, the Beaters had gotten the attention of Mastema.

Yellowstone Falls was the most beautiful place Robyn had ever seen. She thought it looked exactly like an abstract painting made real and three-dimensional before her very eyes. There were so many things to see in the park that the mere two days Lilith allotted them couldn’t possibly do it justice.

At Rapid City, after seeing Mount Rushmore, Lilith did another hop in time again, another nine years, and they starting using a different car. It was a powerful 1965 Ford Mustang, as red as the Fairlane, and although the style was very different Robyn could kind of squint her eyes and see how the evolution had occurred.

Lilith drove south and east on rural roads through the Great Plains, crossing Nebraska and Kansas until they reached Route 50, which Lilith said they would take all the way to Washington DC. Lilith spoke of how the young President who followed Eisenhower had been assassinated and how the world had come very close to World War Three when the Soviets tried to set up intermediate range nuclear missiles just ninety miles away from Florida.

Still, twenty years after World War II things weren’t all that different. Robyn could still cope. She noticed that men no longer wore hats. Lilith said that was a trend started by President Kennedy. The women wore their hair piled up in what Lilith called a “beehive” hairdo, and Robyn thought it was funny. Sometimes in the sky she would hear a loud roar. Lilith said the jet engines the Germans had first put on their Messerschmitt-262 “Swallows” had finally trickled down to the public, replacing propeller motors on airliners.

Passing through one of the larger cities Robyn heard her first Beatles song, “Ticket to Ride” and she started tapping her feet.

“Do you like it?” Lilith asked.

“It’s incredible, who is it?”

“Four chaps from my home country who call themselves the Beatles,” Robyn smiled at how Lilith dropped the ‘t’ and said “Bea’les”. “They seemed to have stumbled onto something timeless, all right?” Robyn smiled at how Lilith dropped the ‘t’ and said “Awroi?” “I mean a hundred years from now small children might listen to this song and say just what you just did, ‘It’s incredible, who is it?’”

“Only that they might listen? You don’t know?”

“No. I can’t see past the decade of the Thirties in the next Century. But then, that’s what we’re running about trying to remedy, isn’t it?”

It was a small conference room but it had a window looking directly out onto the airport tarmac and it was private, so it suited Roland’s purposes just fine. After he was satisfied that all of the records generated during the captivity of Kim and Sophie at Hanford were secure aboard the plane, Roland told the Hanford Five that the police had finally picked up their two errant test patients and he asked her to go ahead on the plane to a facility in Arizona where he was confident security was much, much better. “I’ll meet you there,” he said, ever the consumate liar. “We’re taking the girls down by an Air Force C-130 and I want to ride with them.”

What capped it off for the Five were Roland promises of ample bonuses for all of them. “I know it’s been a long time but I want to put the same team back together again. I thought you all performed well, and I don’t blame you in any way for the girls escaping.”

So the project lead Dr. Trochmann rode with Dr. Robert Lessing who had assisted him during the evaluations, along with a medical technician named Andrew Fulford had been “muscle” inside the clinic and also a registered nurse now in her thirties named Kristen Ramsey who had helped care for Robyn and Hunky. Roland figured that eventually one of the folks would open a sun shade and wonder why they were flying out over the ocean to go to Arizon from Washington, but by then it would be much too late. Roland figured the longer his escapees remained loose the easier he could defend the expense of aborting the whole operation in this particular way.

“I’m Curt Raplee,” the pilot said as he began setting up equipment on a table in the conference room. The plane stood by itself out there now, and the Hanford Five were already aboard.

“Mr. No Name,” came the reply. “Do you have a family, Captain Raplee?

“No sir. There’s just me, and I was fixin’ to retire anyway.” He fiddled with some knobs. The plane started up and began to taxi forward under remote control. “I’m not even curious about who these people are. They don’t pay me to be curious, Mister No Name. There’s only one thing I’ve ever been curious about: Did the check clear?”

“That’s what your people told me. Because I can’t stand loose ends. I especially don’t like the kind of loose ends that walk around.”

“After this I’ll be a very rich, very distant and a very retired loose end, Mister No Name,” Raplee said in the dry manner of the banal wicked. There was a price that would buy any man, that would make any man give up his pretensions of morality or principle. Roland had found Raplee’s price. The pilot flicked on a small radio transmitter. The tower would not be able to tell he wasn’t calling from aboard the plane. He said, “Tri-Cities Control this is Air Maui zero one requesting clearance for takeoff, over.”

It was a small regional airport and his bird was the only one out there. A deft maneuver on his panel turned the plane and lined it up nicely at the head of the longest of three runways. When the go-ahead came back from the tower Raplee hit a button and the plane began to roll forward. Roland was amused that Doc Troch hadn’t even wondered why it was Air Maui to Nevada.

“OK, the automatic pilot has the bubble, from here on out, sir.”

“It’s amazing what they can get machines on aircraft to do these days,” Roland marveled as the plane climbed into the sky. “Maybe someday they’ll even make a machine to safely land one of the damn things.”

When Robyn woke up one morning in Kansas City Lilith told her it was 1973 and she laid out the clothes they would wear. “We’ve been getting away with wearing our stuff from the Forties without too many second looks, but we can’t get away with it anymore.”

Robyn was puzzled “I see the blouse but where’s the skirt?”

“The blouse is the skirt,” Lilith said, with a wicked grin.

“You’re kidding!”

“No I’m not, look.” And Lilith opened the window curtain of their second floor hotel room to look down on a busy street on a sunny morning in the Nineteen Seventies. Robyn saw that Lilith definitely was not pulling her leg. Many of the women down there wore dresses so short their knee boots covered more of the skin on their legs than their hemline did. And many of the men had hair so long they’d be mistaken for women back where Robyn came from.

So Robyn dutifully put on the clothes and got into the car, but she felt entirely funny about it, like one of those dreams where you’re speaking in public and wearing only your underwear.

Then they were on the road again, making for St. Louis. Carly Simon sang about how vain her boyfriend was. Steely Dan wondered aloud if his old college girlfriend was reelin’ in the years. Robyn said, “Okay, what is it this time, nine years again, or nineteen?”

“Only eight years this time, Robyn but what a change! We’re on the other side of another war like the one in Korea. This one wasn’t fought by World War II vets, but their kids. Most of them didn’t have a choice and they weren’t very happy about that. As you might have guessed from the clothing I’m having you wear the attitudes of many of these young people towards sex would shock the older generation, and I rather think that is precisely their point.”

As they crossed the Appalachians Lilith tried to explain how Robyn’s precognition worked. She explained that a particle, like an electron, wasn’t just a little dot moving through time, it was more like a long line, growing like a crystal, and the exact point where it crystallized was the present. From that point going forward, many other lines existed in a ghostly form, including the Primary, the most probable future, which was almost firm enough to be a crystal. “Time is a fire,” Lilith said, “and history is ash.”

After Robyn understood all that, she wanted to know how they could loop back in time. “Wouldn’t we be walking into the middle of a bunch of hard crystals? she asked. Even the air we breathe?”

Lilith said that their bodies could dissolve the crystals of everything they touched, set even the ashes of the past afire again. “But we don’t put the whole world in play again just by being back here,” she cautioned. “I’m looking for a crucial event that can give us leverage.”

“I don’t understand,” Robyn said. “I know I have a power, but that power comes entirely from you and Bat-El. Why am I tagging along?”

“It’s hard to explain,” Lilith said, “but I guess the way I could put it is I can’t see the forest for the trees. Yes your power ultimately comes from the Elohim, but by necessity you are looking at time as though through a pinhole. Am I right? Tell me, Robyn, what is it like for you?”

“There’s this big…canvas, but every time I do something or even say something, I can see a ripple run up that canvas and change the paint that’s on it. Sometimes it’s a big ripple, l like when you showed up with Edgar the Elder, and the whole painting changes.”

“That’s why you’re tagging along, Robyn. I have too much information of all the different ways things can go, so I have no information. But you, with your pinhole view, can help me find the pivot points where we can do tiny changes and make big improvements.”

“So you can see that canvas also, you and Bat-El?”

“We’re painting that canvas, my daughter and I. And do you know something else about our art, Robyn? We are perfectionists.”

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Strangers In Paradise