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Upon her arrival at Midway, before the game, Robyn noted that El Shaddai had shamed Chuck into placing the Ark in a ceremonially inaccessible cordon rather than a physically inaccessible one like his office. It was the last link in a web of causes that gathered here in a locus, and now as she and Hope drew closer to the crucial event Robyn experienced a qualitative shift in her precognition that actually frightened her. With so many important preparations focused on the next few moments time seemed to have developed a momentum, like a locomotive gathering speed, and the slightest misstep would derail the universe. Yet events matched har vision in perfect lock- step. Robyn merely had to let go and match the flow and everything would turn out well despite the Rube Goldberg nature of the following sequence.

Lahatiel was thoroughly enjoying the Freeball game along with the rest of his officers, hy only wished Robyn had permitted hym to bring their dependents along to watch as well. Hy turned to glance at Robyn, but she and the child were gone. Hy also noticed their host, the commander of Midway, was gone as well. He interrupted his officers and motioned for them to follow.

Robyn was beginning to wiggle the Ark of the Covenant free of its pedestal when Chuck arrived with four DECON agents he had brought to Midway with him. The Exiler crew arrived last, and all the pieces were in place.

Hope remembered when Robyn had taken her across the Green River to bed down for the night. Robyn had told her that her heart was a powerful and deadly weapon that had been transformed into something that gave her life from instant to instant. Now momma Robyn was in trouble, she needed the weapon more than Hope needed life. But it was very hard to let go because in that very moment, to Hope's infinite wonder, she had become fully herself. For the first time since she was created, Hope no longer faked her awareness to fit in. She knew that she existed. It was a profound awakening, yet she retained all her memories of before, when she was merely sleepwalking.

At Chuck's command the four agents withdrew their revolvers. Then Lahatiel and his officers withdrew blades from sheathes on their thighs. Hope used the razor blade embedded in her thumb to slice open the skin on her chest. In place of a human sternum, Hope had the Golden Gift. I love you! Hope told Robyn. She reached inside herself and pulled the weapon out, tossing it to Robyn even as all power ceased to flow to her body and brain.

Chuck ordered the DECON agents to kill Robyn. The Golden Gift tumbled end-over-end in freefall directly to Robyn's hand. Sha activated the weapon to full bloom to absorb the first volley of bullets from the agents. And they didn't seem to understand the law of the conservation of linear momentum. They sailed helplessly in the opposite direction of their rounds, where Adnarel and Lahatiel could easily dispatch two of them with knives.

Get Hope out of here! Robyn yelled. Her and the Ark to the ship!

The two surviving agents bounced off the bulkhead and tumbled back toward Robyn, permitting har to slice one of them in twain. The fourth agent stopped himself and tossed his weapon away, offering no further resistance.

Hope, the Ark, and the crew of Exiler were already gone, leaving Robyn and Chuck to stare each other down. Robyn placed the Golden Gift close to the outer bulkhead and called Chuck by his true name. Hunky, we got what we came for. But if you really insist, I'll space the three of us.

You've thrown in with the Navy of Belial? he asked incredulously, waving in general direction of where Lahatiel and hyz people left with Hope.

And you've thrown in with DECON. You had no choice, obviously.

With an expression of disgust Chuck withdrew from the portico with his agent and closed the hatch. Besides, he had one more card up his sleeve.

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Strangers In Paradise