S3

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S3 - THE SEARCH

When Mark Felton and Victoria discovered that Hope was missing they rang up the rest of the Family on the darkswarm. Lilith and Jerry were dead, Jill was just entering the Barnard's Star system, and Robyn was in parts unknown. That left Mike the most senior member, but he was in San Francisco and it would take all night to drive to Seattle. He couldn't fly, DECON would nab him. Don't go looking for Hope until I get up there, he warned Mark. Gonorrhea Gulch is filled with booby traps up the Kazoo.

Victoria seconded that. Rotted through with holes like Swiss cheese, gold mining, and coal mining after that. The land has been abused. If we fell in I could fly myself out, but I can't fly you out.

And what if Hope already fell into one of those holes? he protested, but there was no way to make Victoria budge until morning when Mike came.

They started at the crack of dawn from Mark's backyard, plowing through brush and devil's club, with Mike bidding Victoria and Mark to trust hym. The route he chose was flagged with orange and black plastic ribbons. Not many people know about the rim trail. We use it and maintain it but we don't connect it anywhere. And as hy spoke they emerged onto an actual trail where walking was unobstructed. Mark saw the first trail marker.

But it wasn't until Victoria found a trail marker with a strip from Hope's dress that she got excited. I bought this for her first day of school.

It doesn't make any sense, Mark said. If she is being taken against her will why would her abductor allow her to leave a trail we can follow?

But after that the markers ended, which was unfortunate, because the trail forked several times. Mike chose to go down to the river itself through a beautiful area of deeply etched sandstone ridges and gullies that came one after the other and intersected a nameless creek somewhere directly below Mark's house. They had descended four hundred feet in elevation and as they drew near to the waters' edge they began to hear voices, so they silently crouched in the woods above the river to take a closer look.

Six men were on the stony riverbank wearing dark blue unmarked windbreakers with International Orange life-vests over them. Having lost two agents in the woods already, they had come downstream on a whitewater raft, deeming the Class III and IV rapids to be slightly safer. They found some debris on the bank and stopped to investigate, tying their boat off a short distance downstream. Among some of the junk they were looking at was a single boat oar, suggesting whoever had taken Hope left in too big of a hurry.

I'll take care of these bozos, Victoria said, and took to the skies. Silently she descended through the air over their neglected raft and untied it. But when she pushed it back into the water she could not avoid making a sound, which the six agents heard. All of them pulled out revolvers and began to take potshots at her, and some of them were in the "Fiddy Cent Club" who could put six rounds in a hole that could be covered by a half-dollar. Victoria leapt into the sky once more and followed their raft downstream until the river had made two sharp bends and she was well out of sight. Along the way she looked for Hope but didn't expect to see her.

The agents radioed in for another raft, and fanned out a bit looking for more bene elohim, but they didn't dare go back up into the woods.

So DECON is looking for Hope, Mark said when Victoria returned from her cute little raid. What does it all mean?

It means DECON didn't take her, Vic replied. That's a good thing. What do think, Mike? Is this whole thing a top level Family operation?

I dunno. Could be. Robyn gaveth Hope, and Robyn taketh Hope away?

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