S5

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S5 - BALLOON

In the morning Robyn cut away the remnants of Hope's yellow dress and threw it down in a hole where the earth had collapsed after coal had been taken out of an underlying seam. Robyn said sha was creating a scenario where a bad man took Hope, and the dress was part of a feint. Sha didn't tell Hope about the surprise that awaited whoever tried to retrieve the garment.

Momma Vic is going to wonder why I didn't scratch the bad man.

Robyn looked at her. Ah yes, you have a little surprise for bad men, don't you, Hope? Razor blades for fingernails, eh? That little detail was Del's touch. Robyn gave Hope a camouflaged man's shirt that came nearly to her knees, and so served as another dress. You'll have to wear this, honey. By some oversight, they don't make camo for little girls.

Where are we going, Momma Robyn? Hope was genuinely curious.

Right over there, see? They call it Doll Hill these days, but they used to call it End Dome because it's like a little round footstool where the Cascade mountains end. And like many things here in our backyard it is wrapped up with a lot of history, and not much of that history was good.

So little Hope Felton and Robyn Lokken crossed a couple miles of upsy-downsy plateau of hillocks left over from the coal mining days dotted with little ponds and lakes amid a maze of trails until they were come to the foot of Doll Hill, formerly known as End Dome, and for both of them the climb was a joy. On the lower slopes the underlying brush was suppressed by the bark shed by cedar trees, which over many years had been compressed into a strange rubbery surface that Hope dubbed Brown Land, framed by intricate staircases made of exposed tree roots. Even when Hope occasionally slipped and fell, there was little chance of injury in a forest that seemed to be fashioned like a giant trampoline. At another point higher up, Hope found herself in a small shady field made entirely of baby pine cones, a clean surface she could roll in and even pretend to swim.

Robyn led her up the western flank of End Dome on an unmarked animal track sha knew led to the top because she simply discarded all the timelines when she chose the wrong path. Presently they arrived on the summit of the hill more than a thousand feet above the Green River, but views were screened by the gray leafless branches of many maples and alders.

There was a large concrete slab here and the remains of a giant stone fireplace and chimney. Robyn said these were the ruins of the End Dome Temple which had been razed to the foundation by the American government in the 1970s. Much of the slab was covered with a stack of thin black fabric folded in many layers. Large metal tanks were sitting nearby, painted to blend in with the trees and so heavy they had to be lifted off a deuce-and-a-half by Gordon using his talent. Also strewn about were hoses and wires and various packages of every size, and a big lump under all the camouflaged fabric that would later reveal itself to be a small snub-nosed spaceplane with stubby folded wings. It was a craft only big enough to seat one pilot with a little girl sitting on har lap.

Robyn had no need to inventory the stock, sha could look ahead and see harself and Hope rising into the sky. The balloon and spaceplane were deemed necessary because if Robyn tried to take Hope off the planet in Exiler Sidekick (the lander belonging to her nephilim allies soon to be patiently waiting in low Earth orbit above) their life-expectancy after getting airborne would be measured in mere minutes, courtesy of a launch laser.

What is all this stuff for, Momma Robyn?

You like balloons, don't you, Hope? Well, this will be the biggest balloon you ever saw in your whole life, and it will carry both of us to a very important appointment in the sky tonight.

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