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Chapter 1

- 04/11/2016

"It's a beautiful day today."

Aaron Harver was barely listening, but it was true. The sun was out, and there were just enough clouds to give cover from the summer heat that you could appreciate the outdoors. His father used to call it a 'Garden Day' because you knew you could get all those chores done without complaining about the heat.

He could hardly appreciate it. To Aaron it just looked like any other day since their group had taken to hitting the road. The grey concrete of the backwoods interstate blended in with grey-toned woods that dotted the north-east American landscape. Smokey pine trees left ashen shadows in every direction.

Above a slate-colored sun above shone past dull and lifeless clouds.

"There are wildflowers on the side of the road. Lavender, that soft purple, with a mix of something else. Those tiny white flowers -- I think they're weeds?" Claire explained colors to Aaron like he was a child. As if sight was just like filling in a picture book one crayon at a time. He hated it, but at least she gave a shit.

She had stuck with him since the incident. Since the Dust settled. It seems stupid to complain about now. While Aaron's friends, his family, were tearing themselves apart the most he had felt was a stinging pain. Reds were one of the first colors to go. Then blues, and greens, and yellows disappeared somewhere between all of that. He remembered looking at one soldier lying face first in a pool of blood and thinking how strange a scene it was. Like drowning in a slick patch of oil.

His friends had died at Bastion, but Aaron Harver had lived. Maybe he would have died too, if not for Claire.

As uneven concrete gave way to the crack of vegetation both Claire and Aaron braced themselves in the back of the old pickup truck. Work was plentiful these days, but food and medical supplies were scarce. Claire's talents as a field medic had proven to be invaluable, and though his vision swam in a blur of grey Aaron was more than capable as a fit helping hand.

The village ahead was just like so many others -- makeshift and filled with uncertain, frightened people. Claire had told him this one used to be some kind of sleepaway camp. Log cabins with fireplaces right off a nearby lake. The kind of place rich families sent their kids so they could pretend to know what living outdoors would be like.

They arrived late at night with little fanfare, greeted by fearful expressions and nervous glances between friends and family. Then came the reactions. Wave after wave of emotion flooding the men, women, and children of Camp Houndstooth. Fear at seeing their truck, an unknown entity, roll down into the heart of their community. Relief as their small band step out to greet them, moving carefully while displaying their Federation-branded attire.

Disappointment. No supplies. Just more bodies to feed.

"Where are your injured?" Claire didn't waste any time, dragging her lantern and medical kit off the truck's flatbed in what had become a routine for their group.

Tend to the wounded, patch up their defenses, advise and assist. Aaron knew that for many of these camps it would be a waste of time. Heavily armed bandits or splintered remnants of Federation defectors would chew through these refuges without missing a step -- and then there were those things.

You never knew what they were capable of.

"Hey, so are you the guy in charge?" a teenage boy holding a mallet in one hand approached Aaron, closely hounded by a set of older men.

"No." he replied distractedly.

"Oh. So what do you do then? I mean, for the Federation." the men beside the boy looked uneasy, but the teenager was clearly unfazed.

"Help where we can. Give our advice where we think it'll take."

"What were you before all this?"

"A soldier." the crack of Aaron's reply made the boy pause warily before turning to one of the older men beside him.

"He didn't mean nothing by it." grumbled one man with a voice that sounded like aged cigarettes and a beard that hadn't seen a razor in months. "We just weren't sure who to talk to, that's all."

"We've got ourselves a problem." the other fellow spoke, adjusting his glasses while gesturing toward the lake. He was thinner, older, but sharp. "Been trying to keep it quiet, but it won't stay that way for long. Could use a bit of outside expertise."

Aaron watched the way they shifted uncomfortably. A murder was most likely. It was becoming more and more common with these isolated communities. Sometimes a friend or family member had gone feral. Sometimes they just let the wrong kind of person in. The kind of person who was desperate enough hurt anyone and everyone just to carve themselves some kind of safety in uncertain times.

"Lead the way." Aaron spoke with as much confidence as he could muster, and it seemed to help calm their uneasiness.

They led him through the moonlit night across the street and down towards a cabin isolated from the others. They had introduced themselves along the way, but Aaron was barely listening. He wasn't going to stay here long anyway. Why waste the brainpower?

A sign on the pathway carved into driftwood read Guidance Lodge. He could only assume it belonged to some kind of counselor or camp authority. Unlike the other cabins it looked more like a home, complete with a patio that faced the lake and an attached garage.

As they walked closer Aaron could already tell something was amiss. Windows were cracked and
shattered, and large shards of glass were scattered across the lawn. The front door was intact but clearly broken, as though someone had pushed the entire frame in with remarkable force; bending the hinges to prevent it from ever being shut. A trail of blood leading inside the home from the outdoor patio confirmed his fears, but there was something odd about it. Were the drag marks coming, or going?

The villagers gave him distance as he drew closer to the home. Aaron heard one say they would wait until he was done investigating. They didn't want to mess with the site any more than they had already. Looking beyond the broken door he wasn't sure that was possible.

Furniture was upturned and torn apart to spew white cotton innards across the living room entryway. Whatever remained of bookshelves, a television, stereo system, chairs, and lamps were twisted and toss about; snapped in half or crushed into a splintered pulp. The interior was lit using battery-powered lanterns, but they had been set low, likely to conserve power.

There were two bodies, both equally broken but shredded in a way that only an animal could. Limbs were twisted, punctured and bent violently in directions that didn't belong. Large teeth or claws ripped these people apart. Judging by the axe on the floor, stained with a slick wetness, whomever had died here died fighting.

"When did this happen?" Aaron called out, stepping deeper into the home, eyeing a stairway to the second floor.

"Found em like that this morning." the teenager called out, his voice cracking fearfully.

Thick trails of bloody drag marks flowing up the stairs made Aaron draw his pistol before following with caution. The second floor's single bedroom was no different. Violent claw marks tore apart cloth and wood alike leaving deep marks in the floor, ceiling, and walls. Blood splatter reminded Aaron of flicks from a painter's brush, wild and in every direction.

A cool breeze passed through the open window and Aaron stepped over to it slowly, ready to jump at any shadow. Whatever it was had left through here, and it was clear by the thickness of grey plasma that the third body had gone with it. Peering out from the second story window Aaron could see where the trail led out into the nearby woods. A splash of gore on the ground showed where the body had hit the earth before being pulled towards the woods that marked the edge of the campground.

He was about to turn away when he saw it. A flash of red, buried somewhere between the flat grey trees. He rubbed his eyes in disbelief, searching hard into the distance.

It was a trick of his mind. It had to be. Too many nights on the open road, and not enough sleep. He still dreamed in color, after all. It was only the real world that felt like a shaded joke.

"Everything alright up there, officer?" the man with glasses called up from below, hovering on the entrance of the crime scene.

"As well as can be." Aaron yelled back, eyeing the window one more time before walking back

"Our first guess was some kind of bear got tangled in here. Rabid or crazed." the other man called from outside.

"Could be a bear. Definitely some sort of animal." Aaron pondered, bent over the pair of mauled bodies in consideration. "No one heard anything?"

"We have a guard rotation but they keep a close eye on the road." the man in glasses spoke sheepishly. "We thought with the lake to our backs..."

"David, was it?"

"Daniel, actually." Daniel adjusted his glasses, looking nervously behind his shoulder. "Is there something wrong?"

Aaron stood up, giving the room one last look before stepping over to the door while holstering his weapon. Daniel looked on in silence, waiting for an answer while his companions glanced nervously back up the road to Camp Houndstooth.

"I won't pretend to be any kind of expert on animals, but I think we can all agree no bear did that." he finally said, gesturing up toward the camp. "How are you all on weapons and ammo?"

"You think it's coming back?" fear lined the edge of the teenager's voice, and he clutched wooden mallet in hand tighter.

"It might. Listen, uh, John-"


"Yeah, sure. Look, whatever's out there came here for a reason. I don't know how long your group has been here but it's clear you're not wanted." Aaron led the others back up the road, keeping a close eye on the woods. "Our truck can't take everyone, but if you've got transportation-"

"We don't." Daniel hastily interrupted. "It took us a week just to find this place, and we almost starved to death doing it. If it weren't for the radio we would have probably been stranded without ever getting in touch with you."

"Then we'll see about lasting out the night. We've probably got enough firepower to keep whatever it is at bay. If we get everyone into one building and secure it then we can work on making our next move."

A brilliant flash of reds and yellows standing at the edge of Camp Houndstooth caused Aaron to
stumble to a standstill. It was like looking at a sunset drawn in crayon, constantly moving and hard to define. Something like a leg stepped forward, a scramble of color and light causing a flash of illumination across the flat grey earth. A swirling maw of blue and violet hues opened up on its body, echoing a low growl from within.

Aaron's sudden stop brought concern to the others, and Daniel was about to speak when the predatory growl froze their group in terror.

"Did you hear that?" Daniel whispered, trembling in place.

"I hear it." Josh stepped closer to Daniel, brandishing his mallet against the darkness. "Can you see it?"

Aaron turned to the townsfolk, watching their eyes shift uneasily in the darkness. At the edge of camp the creature burned defiantly, casting his dull grey world in violent hues of crimson and gold. It took another step away from them, causing a painful flash of light that made Aaron wince in the darkness. The others hovered closer in fear, trying their best to peer into the night.

"Let's break for Marris' place. We've got a weapon in every home." the bearded man grumbled in a low tone, gesturing to a cabin nearby while searching frantically for the source of the predatory noise.

"Once we're armed, we can probably hold up in the cafeteria lodge."

"Yeah. Lead the way." Aaron tried to sound as certain as he could, looking over his shoulder while keeping close to Daniel.

If the creature could understand them it seemed unphased. One blazing limb extended forward. Then another. Each step it took was a burst of light and color. Each step took the creature further away, draining hue and tone from Aaron's sight until it was gone. The world was monochrome once more, but he hardly felt safer for it.

In the distance he heard a scream, and Aaron told himself there was nothing he could do to stop it.

Chapter 1

- 22/07/2017

When you sign up to join the Federation there's this really adorable icebreaker they run you through. Candidates are broken into two groups -- those with powers and everybody else. If you're normal you get a tour of the 'campus'. A trip up to the central tower, a basic layout of Bastion, maybe a cake and some downtime so that everyone can get to know each other. I heard it's actually pretty nice.

If you've got powers, if you were considered 'gifted', that's a different story. They'd group us up in small teams. Five or six, depending on what kind abilities we had. Variety was key. They didn't want a whole team of flying badasses that would get picked apart without ground cover.

We all meant to be like some kinda special ops squad. It didn't matter if we were going to hunt down terrorists or provide aid for hurricane relief. Every man and woman had to perform a specific job in concert with the unit.

You were lucky if you got grouped with someone you knew. Most of the time it was you, a group of total strangers, plus a marketing rep from the Federation. They were there to guide the icebreaker dinner.

See, in the early days of the Federation everyone got to pick their own code names. Some got them from the media. Helios, Titan, Miracle. That whole trio got their name from a bunch of journalists who probably worked as a team. A superhero marketing division or something like that. Then the standard was set.

The second wave had to be just as interesting. Just as exciting. Breaking Point, Mindbender, Dynamo, Daybreak. There were a ton of people that just broke stuff.

So what happens when you get two people from two completely different parts of the country who both want to be called "The Drillinator"? Welcome to the third generation. Helios would have none of that on his watch. We had to look professional.

Orientation was just that. We would gather together in a room, sat down at some crazy fancy dinner, crack a beer, and just talk. About family, where we were from, what we were going to miss most. Then we'd talk about our powers. How we discovered them. When they manifested. It would go around the room, one at a time, and once you were done telling your story everyone would take turns trying to find a name that fit you

Sometimes it meant everyone coming up with a name like Southern Bramble, or Wick. Maybe you didn't look like an Egyptian god, or maybe your name didn't quite match your posture. It didn't matter. That name was yours. Completely and absolutely, you owned it. I can't speak for everyone, but for me the icebreaker was a cathartic experience.

It's funny thinking about it now. But I guess that's what people do, right? Once everything comes crashing down you try and go back to the parts of life that seemed to really make sense.

I first discovered my gift in high school. They say that a full manifestation can occur any time during puberty, but there are always signs when someone starts showing a talent for the extraordinary. I could always tell when storms were coming. Bad ones would keep me up all night, like I had eaten a bag of sugar. Mom used to call me her little thunderbolt because I'd be off the walls anytime the sky got dark. I tried pitching that one, but LeAnn from marketing told me it was already taken.

It was math class, and I lived in a pretty good school district. The kind that had enough money for tvs in every classroom, and not just ones that are strapped to those wheel-in tables. My friends and I used to fight to sit closest to this old, spare tube tv near the front of the room. The kind that would make that digital clicking noise anytime to turned it on or off. Sitting in your desk, if you leaned in close, your palm could touch the screen and sweep the static electricity off it.

Most of the time you'd sit and try not to get called on to answer some crazy quadratic equation, but if you sat in that special chair you were only worried about one thing: the perfect shock. You had to time it right. One or two hand sweeps would do, but it had to be when the teacher wasn't looking, otherwise it would just be a waste. Then you couldn't touch your desk, or you'd lose the charge. The stakes were about as high as you can imagine for a 10th grader, but if you could navigate the risks the reward was a static shock so bad it felt like a bee sting.

One fateful day the stars seemed to align for me. I got the seat. I swept my hand across a few times. Felt that bristle of static against my hand. Didn't touch the desk. Even ran my shoes against the carpet a few times for good measure. The girl beside me, Carla, knew what I was up to. She was bracing for it, I think.

The first thing that hit me was how awful the air smelled. That's what I'm reminded of now. Burnt flesh.

The first electrical shock I released tore through her body faster than I could see. But you could tell where the initial burst of lightning traveled. It left a spiderweb of burst blood vessels up her arm and through her neck before rupturing her eyeball. I wish I could tell you that's where it stopped.

Twelve students were hospitalized from my little episode, mostly with superficial cuts or burns. Some had suffered scalding from superheated metal. Necklaces, earrings, bracelets, or anything metal that was touching skin. A few had to undergo cosmetic surgery to remove shards of glass that had been blown into their face. Electrical discharge across the building affected computers, televisions, appliances; basically anything plugged into a wall socket exploded or was shorted out.

Carla died. She took the brunt of every bolt of lightning that I couldn't control. It all passed through her, again and again. I think if it wasn't for her more kids would have died that day. Not that it's any consolation.

I thought I had put that life behind me, but here it is happening again. At the gates of Bastion, alongside friends and family, I've lost control. It happens in slow motion. I can feel each bolt pass through me and through everyone around me. I try my hardest to control myself, but the focus and self discipline I've learned from years of training all seem so far away. I am a danger to those around me, but I cannot stop. Somewhere in the back of my mind I realize that no one is standing close to me anymore. They're all so far away, or laying down.

Please, let them live.

Then the pain hits me. It feels like I'm being peeled apart, layer by layer. My skin is on fire, until it suddenly isn't anymore. I open my eyes and can see my arms wither and scatter to the wind like ash. I'm blinded as another white streak of light erupts from within me. I can no longer hear the crack of thunder that sounds off from every bolt. The ringing in my ears fades to silence. I know that if I can still make sound, I'm screaming.

If this is what death feels like, it's fitting. A tremendous amount of pain, followed by blackness. Did Carla experience this? Was this the last thing she felt before I killed her? It was an accident, but it doesn't matter. I understand if I still deserve this.

Somewhere in the distance there's a thunderstorm. I know because I can feel it. The magnetic tug of ions in the air that used to make me feel so refreshed.

I don't know how much time has passed since it all went dark.

I think I'm still alive.

Chapter 1

- 17/10/2017

Jane Pilton was luckier than most.

She reminded herself that every day that she woke up, sometime just after the first morning alarm would sound off. Her home was modest. Two bedrooms, a kitchen, living room, and a bathroom with one of those fancy standing bathtubs that you could really soak in after a long day‚s work. It was her first major purchase after she moved in. The only real ‚modern‚ part of her country home.

The sun had just begun to creep into her home through her bedroom blinds. It always took a little longer for daylight to make its way in. This close to the waterfront the surrounding hills and mountains kept the residents of Beryl Lake cloaked in cool shade while the sky roared in tones of bright orange and blue. It made everyone in town sleep in a little later. Everyone but Jane.

She was always an early riser. Part of it came from her old job. It was the reason she kept her brunette curls on the shorter side. Easier to pull up into a ponytail. Plus, she thought it looked better with a uniform.

Once the second alarm went off it was time for business. Tying on a thick robe she would go about preparing to start her day. Set the coffee maker on. Lay out her clothing. Check the shortwave radio. Crank up the electric stove and cook a couple of eggs. Maybe bacon, if she felt like she needed the boost.

It wasn‚t something she took for granted. She knew most towns weren‚t as lucky. Beryl Lake wasn‚t a very important blip on the map. Highway 47 was an hour north, and the closest Federation outpost was three hours away -- before abandoned cars and bandits made travel a dangerous endeavor. Surrounded by a mix of wooded hills and flat farmland, it was only thanks to its namesake that Beryl Lake thrived while the rest of the world buckled under the collapse of the Federation.

Only a few miles away was Beryl Dam. Fed water from man-made reservoirs the dam was just close enough to provide power to the small town. The residents of the dam did what they could to provide the surrounding area with electricity in exchange for food, supplies, and protection. Beryl Lake, Anvil, and Open Sky Reservation were the only populated regions in the state lucky enough to be able to keep the lights on at night.

Most of the world lived in the dark, but Jane‚s small home had power. More importantly, she had purpose.

"Hello? Sheriff?" There was a soft knocking at the front door, heralded by a woman‚s voice; loud but clearly timid. Someone afraid of intruding.

"One minute!" Jane said, checking to make sure she was presentable before turning off the stove.

She recognized the voice right away. It was hard not to. Everyone knew who everyone was in a small town like this. Still, she checked the peephole before unlocking and opening the door. You could never be too careful.

"Good morning Barbara. What brings you around this early?"

Barbara Kline was a small woman. Nervous and anxious in social spaces, Jane never saw her around town often. Even less so since the Federation dissolved. Her husband had a keen eye for hunting and several years of mechanical know-how. It made him a popular man, which left most of the housekeeping and caretaking to Barbara.

"Nothing. I mean, ah...." Barbara spoke softly, though her voice sound strained. "Can we talk?"

It was a cool day outside, but the way Barbara buried herself within her heavy coat it was easy to think that winter had settled in. Jane nodded and stepped aside to let her pass before closing and locking the door.

"I‚ve got a pot brewing if you‚re interested." said Jane, walking back to the kitchen.

"Uh. Yes, thanks."

There was a moment of strained tension while Jane poured drinks into a pair of mismatched sports mugs. Barbara stood in the den looking unsure what to do with herself. Jane did everything she could to be an accommodating host. She mentioned the weather (cool, but sunny). Showed off her favorite art piece in the house (a painting of a beachside house in watercolor, given to her from a friend). Made a bad joke about running out of her favorite breakfast cereal (Sugar Barks).

She also quietly took note of the things that didn‚t seem quite right.

Barbara kept her jacket wrapped tightly around her, but below the knee the silk of her pink and white pajama bottoms were showing. Her hair was pulled into a hasty bun, with strands left to sit wildly between her scalp and the hair elastic. Her eyes were red with exhaustion, like she had spent too long crying or rubbing them vigorously. Her voice seemed strained, despite its hushed tone. Perhaps she had been yelling, or had come from a lengthy conversation.

"So, I take it this isn‚t a social visit?" said Jane, smiling across from her coffee.

"I, ah. Listen, Sheriff-"

"Please, just Jane is fine. I‚m not a Sheriff anymore."

"Jane. I know things aren‚t...normal." Barbara set down her coffee, leaning in to talk. "But everyone knows you. You were supposed to be Sheriff, right? Hilkins says you solved the Silkie Murders a few years back. And you helped find that lost boy a few months ago."

"It wasn‚t a bad gig, but things are different now." Jane smiled, taking a sip. "We voted on who would take care of security around here. Andy and Sophia‚s kids can handle it. "

"But they wanted you to have the job first. Because you have experience."

"It‚s more than a one-woman job. Those kids will do fine. Good at hunting. Brian ain‚t bad to look at either." she chuckled.

"I...that‚s not what I mean." Barbara‚s voice seemed to fade away. "Lynn‚s gone missing."

Of the three of Barbara‚s daughters, Lynn was the oldest by a couple years. Maybe more, it was hard to keep track. She was tall, vibrant, with long hair that settled somewhere near her hip. Jane always wondered how long it took to keep it straight. It seemed like such a hassle, but it certainly made her easy to pick out of a crowd.

"How long has she been gone for?" Jane asked.

"A day now. She went to her boyfriend‚s place, but never came back." said Barbara, wringing her hands. "She normally calls if she‚s going to stay longer."

"Who‚s she dating?"

"He‚s...ah, he lives on the reserve. You know..."

Jane frowned. She knew where this was going. In small towns like Beryl Lake you were either involved in the local gossip, or you quickly became a source of negative attention. The Indigenous residents of Open Sky often found themselves on the latter. She had lost count over the number of complaints she received over the months prior that had escalated from petty accusations to outright lies.

Stolen animals, broken electronics, antagonizing citizens. Those were the easy ones to take care of. Most of the time she would follow up with a phone call to investigate and the charges were already dropped. It was easy to accuse anyone with anything, but to prove it required a lot of work. Drunken rambling in a small town was rarely given real credibility. Plus, if you‚re ever proven wrong about something, you end up looking like a troublemaker. No one wanted to risk that.

"So have you tried calling his house? Landlines still work." Jane took another sip from her coffee.

"What? No. She always calls me, always. Sheriff--" Barbara took a moment to regain her composure. "Jane. I know her. I know she would have called. Even if her phone didn‚t work, she would have found another. They must have done something to her."

"Did she have any enemies?"

"No, but--"

"No one that would want to see her hurt? A jealous ex?"

"Lynn‚s a good girl. Smart. Keeps her nose out of trouble. Or she did until she met him."

"This a bad kid?"

"He‚s typical." snorted Barbara. The loudest sound Jane had heard her make all morning. "I told her not to get mixed up with his type. Those people. Always talking about travel and seeing the world, whatever that means. No plans. No job security. Just goddamn daydreams."

"Well, you know how kids can be."

"Lynn doesn‚t need that shit in her life. She‚s a good kid. Works hard. My girl. Now she‚s gone. I know she is, and I know they did something to her." Barbara‚s quiet facade began to crack under the weight of her stress. A tear rolled down her cheek.

Jane passed her a box of tissues, then took another sip from her mug. Barbara was trying hard to hold her composure. They sat in silence while she slowly regained control of her shivering hand. Clutching the tissue box close Barbara turned her eyes away from Jane, looking elsewhere in the apartment while she spoke. Jane wondered if it was easier for her to pretend she was talking to herself.

"John wants to gather up a group to go and search for her. Talks about getting his gun and fucking doing something about it. About them, Sheriff. But if he goes out there and gets shot in the back by some native...if I lose them both...I can‚t. I can‚t."

"You want me to go looking for her."

"You have a history with them, right?

"A history? Yeah, you could say that." Jane said into her mug before draining it at last.

"You have a better chance than anyone else. If the men know how they are. God knows who will start shooting first. But we‚re outsiders. I heard from Tom Hurdan that you lived there for a while. They trust you, don‚t they?"

The question hung in the air for a moment before Jane placed her mug on the coffee table between them. She turned the drink carefully, rotating its logo in thought.

"I served this town for 5 years until things fell apart." Jane mused, leaning back into her couch. "Before that I worked in Las Vegas. Pre-Federation, do you know what the crime rate was? About one in a hundred. Even when they started bringing in officers with ‘abilities‚, it took some time to really hone in on the problem."

"I don‚t understand."

"People. People are like a natural disaster. Sometimes you can predict it. You see the signs and can act accordingly. But now and then you can see the signs, make all the right choices, and you‚re still not prepared for what‚s ahead."

"What...what did you do?"

"Education and intervention, Mrs. Kline." Jane slapped her hands down on her knees, using them to push herself up to her feet with a groan. "We taught people that there‚s always a better way. When they wouldn‚t listen, we stepped in to show them"

"I...will you help?" Barbara stood as well, still holding the box of tissues nervously.

"I can‚t promise I‚ll find her. Maybe she went to the reserve. Maybe she went elsewhere. But I‚ll see what they have to say."

Barbara Kline broke into tears. Jane did what she could to comfort her, offering a hug and soft words of heartfelt consolation. Standing by the front door she tried to glean as much information as possible about the day Lynn left. She was wearing a yellow summer dress. She rode a red bicycle. She always carried a worn-down looking jean backpack when making a trip.

Escorting the weary mother from her home Jane worried what the girl‚s disappearance meant for the community. They survived by working together. If Lynn Kline was taken by an outsider things would be difficult, but manageable. If someone, anyone, from their small cluster of towns was responsible, it wouldn‚t take long for their peace to fall apart.

Jane spent the rest of the morning moving with purpose. Digging through her closet she pushed past her old officer‚s uniform, opting instead for jeans and a comfortable shirt. Pulling her hair into a ponytail she took a peek outside the kitchen window to see if the rest of Beryl Lake had already begun to stir awake. Fastening her gun holster she watched them gather to socialize in the town‚s single main road before getting into the morning‚s chores.

Word spread quickly in a small town like this. They already looked tense. John Kline stood in the center of them, arms folded, caught in a heated discussion with the group.

Jane stepped out into the morning sun with a stretch, well aware that all eyes were on her. Each home of Beryl Lake was scattered across the waterfront, with little in the way of vegetation between. It was undoubtedly scenic. One of the reasons she moved here, in fact. But for once Jane wished she had a little bit of cover.

"Morning gentlemen." she nodded, fixing her baseball hat to help cover against the glare of the sun.

"Mornin‚ Jane." one man nodded with a smile. Several others echoed the sentiment, tipping hats or waving hello.

She quietly unlocked the door to her jeep and stepped inside. Turning the ignition and backing out of her driveway she saw the group of men had already begun to step onto the off-road dirt. Lowering her window she gently slid to a stop between them.

"You boys keep out of trouble today." Jane said, eyeing the lot.

"Last I checked, you ain‚t Sheriff no more." John Kline‚s deep voice boomed from the crowd.

"Nope. I ain‚t. But I still know a thing or two about not acting like an idiot." she smiled. "Just the beginner‚s course though."

John pushed his way to her jeep, placing a hand on the roof of the vehicle to lean in close. Jane sat quietly, looking up at the man.

"You really think you gonna find somethin? Ain‚t much detective work here, way I see it." he said.

"Maybe. Maybe not. If you‚re right, I should be back in a day."

"If they did anything to her. To my girl..."

Jane reached out and gently placed a hand on his shoulder. His expression was calm, but she could see the tears in his eyes, held in place by years of practice.

"I promise you John, I‚ll do everything I can to find the truth." Jane said as quietly as she could manage.

She let her hand linger for a moment, until the weight of her words seemed to take root. He nodded thankfully, and Jane pulled her hand away.

"Then you got one day Bear Lady." he spoke loudly, patting her car door with a faux affection. "You bring my girl home."

Jane smiled. She always liked that nickname. It was meant as an insult at first, of course, but the people of Beryl Lake grew to have immense respect for Sheriff Jane Pilton. As she pulled away from their small town and toward the back roads leading to the reserve, they knew only one of two things would happen.

Either Jane would catch the one responsible for Lynn Kline‚s disappearance; or her kidnapper would run, and die tired.