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After school Hope played on her backyard swingset. With every swing forward, her feet flew out over the very lip of the Green River Gorge. There was no fence, but Victoria and Mark had told her many times never to think about going down there, for it could be very steep and dangerous. And yet, somehow, a face appeared, someone who was coming up out of the gorge, and Hope saw that it was Robyn, the yin everyone told her was her real mother.

Hope stopped herself swinging. She said, You're looking at me.

I saw you at the Bite the Wax Tadpole concert, Robyn said.

But Hope shook her head. No you didn't. You never looked at me once for the whole concert. Because I was watching the whole time!

No, you were not watching the whole time, Hope. Did they tell you I can see the future? I knew the short moments when you would turn around.

Hope tried to remember when those moments were. Why did you do that?

I wanted to create a longing within you for when we met again. Today.

So Hope learned that Robyn had manipulated her, yet Robyn freely admitted doing so. Robyn went on to tell her that if Hope followed, she could ask anything she wanted, and Robyn would say nothing but the truth every time.

Then Hope put her hand in Robyn's outstretched hand and followed Robyn down into the Gorge, and her first question was, Are you my real mother?

No. You don't have a mother, Hope. You are not a human girl. You are a wonderful machine we built to raise thinking that it was a human girl because that is the only way to get a machine to wake up and know that it is. But I was there at the dangerous beginning when you first came to be.

DECON Agent Kurt Delaney saw Robyn take Hope in har hand from his vantage on Elegant Cleaver, a narrow ridge of brush-covered sandstone jutting straight out into the gorge only a quarter mile away from the house. He warned his backup agent, decided to intercept Robyn and Hope himself, they were very close and the terrain was relatively open. He bounced his way down over the ferns, but he never made it. About halfway there, there was the sound of wooden planks splintering, and Delaney disappeared from sight.

His backup and superior, DECON Special Agent Danica Fawn, was right behind him. At first she thought Kurt was joking, but then she got over there and looked in. She saw the Deputy had fallen into something like a well which had been covered by a thin layer of rotting wood, and in turn covered by dirt and undergrowth. Except the bore wasn't straight down. It was cut at a diabolical angle, in fact, following the natural incline of the folded strata. Not steep enough for a quick free fall, done and over, but steep enough to keep Woody sliding no matter what he did. If he moved to tried to arrest his slide, he only slid faster. And there was nothing Danica could do to help him except call for help that was too far away in any event.

God help me! Kurt blurted with a desperate burst of breath as his slide accelerated. He looked up at Danica in astonishment, vocalizing the unreality of it. This isn't happening! After that he really started to pick up speed, as though he were dragged faster and faster behind a truck along a gravel road. He started to scream in agony as he quickly piled up damage and that scream would haunt Danica's dreams for the rest of her life. Kurt bounced his way down that hole, and each glancing blow cracked a rib, broke an arm, a leg. His flesh was methodically sanded off. For this was a forgotten air shaft for a depleted coal mine sealed up and abandoned in the 1920s. Somewhere around the 700 foot mark poor Kurt was breathing mine gas and his screams were mercifully cut off forever. But his broken body kept sliding. He was, after all, still only halfway down the hole.

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Strangers In Paradise