Sizzle – Part 5

Beth was waiting again. She sat in an uncomfortable chair at a small table. One of many tables scattered around the room. She had been doing a lot of waiting in the months that had passed since returning to her fathers house. She couldn't think of it as her home anymore, not since he tried to kill here there for the second time. It had been a long, agonizing wait for her wound to heal, but she could hardly see the scar under her fur anymore. That was followed by another wait for her father's first court appearance.

He surprised everyone when he pleaded 'no contest' to both charges of attempted murder. Afterwards, Beth figured out why. There was no way he would be able to defend himself on the charges, but he wouldn't admit his guilt. It was likely he felt there was no need, or no point in defending himself on the charges. Without the need for a trial, Beth thought that it would be a short wait for her father's sentencing. Unfortunately that wasn't the case. It was almost two months before a court date was scheduled for William Bakers sentencing hearing. Beth expected her father to appeal for leniency, but he made no comments at all during the sentencing. Judge Winters was harsh with her comments and even more so with her sentencing. She commented on making an example of him in hopes of discouraging other attacks on MORFS survivors. William Baker had received two consecutive life sentences for his attempts at killing Beth.

That had been more than three months ago, and during all this time Beth still waited for something else. She waited for her father to see her as his daughter. She tried to visit him as often as possible, even if he wouldn't see her. She wanted him to know she had come and was willing to talk to him. Visiting the prison during her summer vacation had become a weekly event. Beth had come to know several of the guards by name during this time. Her first visits usually ended in tears, which could be very dangerous. Beth found that she had to control herself when her emotions ran wild. The temperature seemed to run hot or cold in sympathy with her. Beth was particularly cautious of her anger. If her emotions boiled over into rage anything nearby could suffer from her heat.

The sound of an electronic door lock startled Beth out of her thoughts. As a door in the corner of the room opened and her father stepped through Beth tried to control herself again. Seeing her father caused a range of emotions, but the strongest one was usually guilt. Even though her father had tried twice to kill her, and he had made it clear on several occasions how he felt about her, Beth felt guilty for what she had done to him. His arms and face still showed burn scars. She had caused severe burns on all his exposed skin when she had tried to defend herself from his attack. His hair had been badly burned and only grew in patches on the back of his head. Her dad had shaved his head of all the remaining hair before his first court appearance and had kept it that way since going to prison. There was hardly anything left to remind Beth of the father she loved and who once loved her.

Bill slowly made his way to her table and sat. “Why are you here?” he asked with little emotion in his voice.

Beth wasn't sure how to answer his question, or if he even expected one. Instead, she said, “Happy birthday, Dad,” She placed a small package onto the table between them and waited again. It had taken her over an hour to get through security with her gift. She hoped he would accept it.

Bill seemed surprised when he asked, “It's my birthday? I must have lost track of the date already.” He looked at the gift suspiciously and asked, “What's that?”

“Open it and see,” replied Beth with a smile.

It was a small bundle of tissue paper, tied with a blue ribbon. Beth's dad picked it up cautiously, as if it was dangerous. After unwrapping it he saw that it was a soapstone carving of a polar bear. It wasn't very large and easily fit into the palm of his hand, but the detail in the carving was incredible. Beth waited again, hoping that he liked her gift, but his faint smile was a little disappointing.

“It's beautiful, thank you,” he said while placing it onto the table in front of him.

“I didn't know how hard it would be to get that in here,” she explained. “The security guards made me unwrap it twice and pass it through an x-ray before that would let me bring it in.”

“I think that's normal,” replied her dad. “They're very suspicious of anything coming in from the outside.” He reached out to the carving and turned it with his finger to see it from another angle.

“I heard that you joined a bible study group,” Beth stated. From past visits, she had found out that her father wouldn't start any conversation.

“Yes, I thought it best to join a group of people with similar interests,” he explained. The thought of her dad trying to win over other prisoners to his twisted way of thinking made her shiver.

“Are there many people in the group?” Beth asked.

“No, most of the people in here are beyond God's help,” he replied. Beth tried to decide if her father fell into that group as well, but pushed the thought out of her mind. Allowing her thoughts to go down that path was always to depressing.

“I don't have a lot of time today, because of them delaying me with my gift,” explained Beth. “But Easter is coming up soon, is there anything you would like.” Exchanging gifts at Easter had always been a special thing between Beth and her dad. Beth would try to get her dad to admit what he really wanted, not just something that he needed. It was never a big gift, but the ones they got each other were always memorable.

“No, there's no point. I won't be here,” her father said without any concern.

“What? What do you mean you won't be here?” she asked. She couldn't think of where he would be? It's not like he could just get up and leave whenever he wanted.

“I've applied for a transfer to another correctional facility. This place really isn't setup for long term inmates,” he explained. “I should get transferred to another place in the next week or so.”

Beth didn't know what to think. His explanation made sense, but she felt like it was an excuse to get away from her. Prison wasn't enough, he wanted to move away so that she couldn't visit him. Beth tried harder to keep control of her emotions, but she could already feel the temperature dropping. Before things got out of hand, Beth got up and quickly made her way to the visitor's exit. She got to the security area before she couldn't hold back her tears any longer. It had been almost a year since Beth had changed into her current form, but she still hadn't gotten use to crying. Her tears hardly ever made it passed her cheeks anymore. They usually froze before going any further.

“Are you okay, Beth?” asked Thomas.

Beth looked up from her chair at him and tried to smile. “I'm sorry, did I hurt anyone? Or break anything this time?” she asked. Thomas was the only security guard who could stay in the same room as Beth when she dropped the temperature like that. He was a short man, but had a stocky build. He was also covered head to toe in thick fur, just like Beth. However his dark, brown coloured fur and large, round eyes highlighted his caribou hybrid.

“No,” he said with a chuckle. “When everyone could see their breath they knew what was happening.” It wasn't the first time Beth had frozen a room in the prison, but it hadn't happened for a while now. Beth was proud of her control over her emotions, but her father still seemed to be able to press her buttons.

“Besides,” added Thomas. “This room and all the stuff in it is hardened. You never know who'll be coming through this place.”

“That's good,” replied Beth in relief. “I don't know what I'd do if anyone got hurt because of me.”

“There weren't too many people in here today. The Warden had warned us that something might happen.”

Beth looked at him with a puzzled expression and asked, “You knew about it then?”

“Knew about what? We just were warned to clear this room after you passed through,” he explained. “What happened?”

“My dad has been given a transfer to another prison. He'll be gone in less than two weeks.”

“Damn it!” he said under his breath before explaining. “You didn't hear this from me, but I think the warden is sympathetic to the pures in here. Your dad is the fourth transfer this month and they've all been pures.”

“But what's the point? He'll just be going to another prison,” asked Beth.

“Yeah, but in a warmer climate and no MORFS, I'll bet.”

“And away from me,” added Beth quietly.

Thomas agreed, but didn't make any comment. He knew about William Baker and how he felt about hybrids. He had seen it first hand himself, during his incarceration. Just like anywhere in the world, this prison has it's share of MORFS survivors. A significant portion of both the prison guards and inmates were hybrids. Beth's father was careful to not make enemies among the MORFS, but his reaction to them made it apparent how he felt.

Thomas opened Beth's locker and handed her it's contents. It only contained her purse, but it was still standard procedure not to allow visitors to take anything into the prison. Even her gift for her father had needed special authorization by the warden. It was still odd to Thomas to only hand over a purse, instead of a coat, boots, gloves and all the other things that people normally come with. Beth opened her purse, pulled out a necklace and pulled it on over her head.

“That's new,” he said in an attempt to change the subject. “Where did you get that?”

The necklace was a thin silver chain with a carved charm of a rabbit hanging from it. The charm was also small, but beautiful. The chain passed through a loop that was carved into it. It's bright white polished surface showed the care and detail the artist had taken making it.

“Yeah, it's a Christmas gift from Ukalik,” explained Beth. “I mean Rob.” Although most of the people in town knew Robert Angmarlik as Ukalik, he didn't let many people call him that. Even Beth had only started to call him by his nickname recently.

Thomas smiled at her. It seemed like everyone in town knew how Beth and Rob felt about each other. He was happy to see that Beth finally saw it too. “It's beautiful. By the way, tell Rob that he still has my tablet from last week. I'll need that back soon.”

“I'll tell him,” she said with a slight smile. “I'm pretty sure that his is back now. He got something delivered yesterday.” Beth picked up her purse again, said goodbye and left the security area. The waiting area was empty as well, as she passed through and outside into the bright sunlight. The air was cool for mid-March, but Beth felt comfortable. Just like any temperature she had ever encountered since morphing into her new form. Since that time she only wore skirts or shorts and a tee shirt. She never wore long pants or a coat. Most of the time she didn't even wear anything on her feet, other than the caribou skin boots that Annie had given her as a Christmas gift. She didn't need boots and most wouldn't fit her anyway, but they were too beautiful not to wear.

After letting her eyes adjust to the bright sunlight and sniffing the cool salty breeze, Beth headed off toward home. It was a good walk from the correctional facility that her dad was being held at, but Beth liked to be outside in the fresh air. She had even slept outside on several nights when the house seemed too small and confined. There was a time when she thought that she would never get comfortable living in the Arctic, now she couldn't think of living anywhere else. She loved everything about it, but most importantly, she loved the people that she had met here.

Two people in particular had become very important to Beth. It was almost impossible to decide who came first, so she didn't even try. Annie was her best friend in the world. She was closer than anyone Beth had ever known before, and she was the first person to accept her when she moved here. Annie, and her mother Christina, had taken her into their home after her father had been arrested. They had given her more than just a place to live, they shared their home with her. Beth hoped that, one day, she would be able to repay them for all that they had done. While Beth thought about her best friend and all that she had done, the second person in Beth's life popped into view; literally.

“I was wondering when you'd show up,” Beth teased. Ukalik stood a few metres away dressed in his caribou jacket and pants with an energy drink in one hand. He was hardly ever seen without one these days.

“It took a little while to find you,” he explained. “I thought you would still be at the jail. Why did you leave so soon?”

“Oh, it was my dad again,” she started to explain. Ukalik just sighed. He had seen what effect her father had on Beth and hated the man because of it. “Take a guess what he's done this time.”

“What now?” he asked. It was never a good thing when Beth came back from a visit with her dad in a bad mood.

“He's getting a transfer to another jail!” she answered. “He can't get rid of me, so he's making it so I can't see him anymore.”

Ukalik thought of the news as a mixed blessing. Having her father out of the picture might be the best thing for Beth for a while. She needed to start thinking about herself, instead of what he thought of her. But Beth wouldn't see it that way and would be upset. Instead of making any comment, Ukalik tried to get closer and give her a hug, but the heat coming off Beth was too much for him. He could feel it even through his thick outer clothing.

“Turn down the heat, Sizzle,” he teased. “You're going to melt the place again.”

Beth felt herself blush as much at the nickname as at his comment. She was thankful that her thick fur didn't let him see it. “Sorry,” she said quietly. “That's the second time today, and I though I was getting such a good handle on it.”

“It's him. After all this time and everything that you've seen him do, you still want to be 'daddy's little girl',” he commented. Then added quickly, “It's just another one of the things I love about you.”

The heat radiating off of Beth stopped abruptly as she stepped closer for a hug. “You always know the right thing to say,” she said before kissing him. Beth and Ukalik walked, hand in hand, to her home. The walk from Iqaluit's correctional facility to Beth's home normally took about half an hour, but neither of them were in a hurry. They walked slowly through their small frozen town, making their way home, talking the entire time. As they stepped through the door, they were greeted by the smell of Christina's stew.

“Hey, Rob,” yelled Christina from the kitchen. “I hope you can stay for dinner, we set a place for you.”

Rob turned to Beth and asked, “How does she do that? I never told anyone that I'd be walking you home.”

“You do most of the time, anyway,” explained Beth. “She likely just guessed.”

Beth kicked off her boots and headed for the kitchen to help, leaving Rob in the front hall to undress from his thick outer clothes. After removing his coat, boots, gloves and outer pants he made his way into the kitchen as well.

“Mmm, smells great! Can I help with anything?” he asked.

Christina smiled as she replied, “It's okay, everything is on the table. Go help yourself.”

Rob and Christina made their way into the dining room to find Beth sitting with Annie, talking about her visit to see her dad. He could easily see that Beth was upset, but she was keeping her emotions in tight control. Annie's tight hug was also helping her.

“I'm so sorry to hear that, sweetie,” commented Christina as she took her seat. “I really hoped that he would come around some day. But you're always welcome here, you know that.”

“I know,” replied Beth. “And I really appreciate that, but...” She didn't know how to bring up the subject. Everyone in town had been so friendly to her since she changed, particularly the three sitting at the table with her. She was afraid that what she had to say would hurt their feelings.

“But we're not family,” Christina added with an understanding smile. “We understand,” she said for the group. Both Rob and Annie seemed confused for a moment, before nodding as well. “I may think of you as another daughter, but it's not the same.”

“That's why I want to find someone,” added Beth quietly. “I hope you don't think I'm crazy.”

Annie was the first to answer. “We all know this has been hard on you. If you need to go looking for someone from your family, we'll try to help too. Right Rob?”

“Of course,” he answered immediately. “We just want you to be happy.”

Beth took a deep breath before blurting out, “I want to find Sister.”

Rob and Annie both looked at each other in shock. Christina was the only one that didn't seem to be surprised by Beth's statement. Before either Annie or Rob could say anything, she asked, “Are you sure you want to? You might not be able to find her.”

“I've been thinking about her a lot recently,” Beth started to explain. “I don't know why, but I feel like I need to find her.” Beth struggled to explain what she felt and why it was so important, but it was just a feeling she had. A feeling that she didn't really understand herself. It was almost like Sister was calling out to her, but she didn't want to say that. They would really think she was crazy. So instead she added, “This thing with my dad leaving me, again... It's making me think about her even more and... I don't know. I just need to find her.”

“You have no idea where she is, how will you find her?” asked Rob.

“I know where she might be,” Beth said confidently. “At least, I have a good idea where she'll be in a few weeks.”

~ ~ ~

Almost a full week later, Beth was walking alone across a frozen landscape again. Unlike her last journey to Long Lake, she knew where she was going and what to expect when she got there. Both Rob and Annie wanted to come with her, but she explained that they would likely scare off any bears if they caught wind of their scent. Also, she was more than capable of taking care of herself. If any of them got too curious with her, she would create her heat barrier again. Nothing could pass through that without getting seriously burned. It was this same reasoning that she used to explain her lack of supplies, or even an ATV. Anything that she brought with her would smell of people and would frighten away any bears that she encountered. So she walked to Long Lake wearing, a pair of shorts and a tee shirt. She had another change of clothes in a seal skin back pack, but Beth made sure to wash them in only clean water to get any scent out of them. Reluctantly, she took an eCom with her. All three of them had refused to let her out of the house without it. As for food, she had found that she didn't need to eat like before. Since changing into a bear hybrid, Beth could go for days without eating anything and then could wolf down three meals in one sitting. Besides, there was a lot of food available for the taking. If you knew where to look for it. Or more accurately, knew where to sniff it out.

Beth expected her journey to take about three days to get there and another three days to get back. Since her teachers would only allowed two weeks off from school before she would fall too far behind, it gave her a week to find Sister. She hoped it would be enough time. It would also mean that she should be back for Toonik Tyme. Beth was actually looking forward to the festival this year. It reminded her of all her changes since last year. Not just her appearance or her abilities, but how she felt about living in Iqaluit and it's people. There were some changes that she wished had never happened, but for the most part she was happy with how things had worked out. Her dad seemed to be the biggest exception to that.

Walking along the coast brought back a lot of memories for Beth. Memories of building an ice bridge for Ukalik's uncles. Ukalik's grandfather, Anilnik, and his stories of ancestors dancing in the night sky and of spirits that lived in this land. She smiled at herself and at how all her memories seemed to include Ukalik. He was always there, helping her get through each event. She didn't want to fall in love, but it happened anyway. She remembered their first kiss with a smile. Trying to control her emotions, and the temperature, had never been harder. When she had finally given up trying a warm soothing heat wash over both of them. Each time she was with Ukalik, or even just thinking about him, she would get that same warm feeling. It would usually radiate from her as well, much to her embarrassment.

It was an uneventful journey to Long Lake that turned out to only take two days. Beth didn't know how far she would be able to walk each day and she surprised herself with her progress. She hadn't really paid much attention to her direction while walking, she just walked. It was almost like sleep walking or autopilot. Before sunset on the second day, Beth was looking down from a small hilltop overlooking Long Lake. But there was a problem. There were no bears. She could see why, there was no ice on the lake. It was complete thawed, unlike any of the lakes that she had passed during her two day journey. With daytime temperatures well below freezing, there was no reason for there to be open water on the lake, it just didn't make any sense. There was something else wrong, but Beth couldn't put her finger on what it was. Seeing open water and no bears had completely surprised her, distracting her from see anything else. After making her way down the final hillside to a small beach, Beth wanted to find out how warm the water was. She also wanted to wash after walking for two days through snow and ice. Stepping foot into the water Beth got a better sense of how warm the lake really was. While it was only a few degrees above freezing, it was significantly warmer than the surrounding land or air. She couldn't understand where it was getting extra heat from. Lakes don't just warm up on their own. There had to be something heating it and Beth decided that she would look for it as well as look for Sister.

Long shadows stretched out in front of Beth, reminding her that it was getting late. Sunset was very close and darkness would soon surround her. Beth had been far too tired to sit and watch the northern light during her walk to Long Lake, and she found herself getting excited about seeing them again. Beth's swim made her feel much better and drying her clothes only took a little bit of heat. Sunset come soon after she was dry and the colourful light show started soon after that. She watched and smiled, watching them always made her feel relaxed and happy.

Beth couldn't remember how long she watched before falling asleep, but woke the next morning feeling more rested and relaxed than she had in months. The northern lights could be seen from town as well, but their colours were dim and faded from all the lights in town. Seeing them out here was completely different. Beth thought to herself that she would have to do this more often, but today she had things to do. After gathering things up in her small backpack, Beth walked along Long Lake's north shore.

Following this shore was an easy journey. The rolling hills seemed to all end at the waters edge. Its south shore was completely different. A sheer cliff face almost thirty metres high plunged into the lake, hiding anything that may lay beyond. Occasionally she would look south, toward the cliff face thinking she had heard something. She would wait and listen for it again, but would give up after a few minutes of nothing. It was starting to give her a bad feeling and she doubted that there was a sound at all, just her imagination playing tricks with her.

Only a few hours later, Beth stood at the western edge of Long lake looking down its cascading waterfall. Following this she could easily see the river as it made its way north, before turning sharply west and out to the coast only a few kilometres away. Standing there taking in the sight, Beth noticed some movement along the river. After a few minutes, she was able to see that a lone bear was making its way upstream. She was too far to be able to tell if it was male or female, let alone if it was Sister. There was one way to find out quickly, but it could be dangerous if it turned out to be another bear. Walking north and down hill, Beth got to a point where she was directly up wind of the approaching bear and waited. She could still see it getting closer when it suddenly stopped in its tracks. Raising up on its hind legs and lifting its head high into the air, Beth know that it had caught her scent. Now she watched even more closely than ever to see what it would do next.

Beth was able to relax when Sister bobbed her head up and down and let out a loud roar, showing that she wanted to play. Jogging the short distance to where Sister was, Beth was surprised to see how much she had grown since last year. Remembering Mother's size Beth figured that Sister was full grown now and she seemed a little larger than Mother had been. As she got closer, Sister stood up again on her hind legs and looked down at Beth. Sister was about another head taller than Beth, but it was odd for her to be looking up at anyone. Sister almost seemed to be smiling at her and she took it as a good sign. She cautiously stepped closer still until they were able to hug.

“Now this is a bear hug,” Beth said with a chuckle. Sister made a gentle noise in agreement.

Dropping back down onto all four paws, Sister stiffed Beth from head to toe and through her backpack as well. Beth could still smell the salt water in Sister's fur and assumed that she had been swimming in the sea earlier that day. A loud growl from Beth's stomach reminded her that it had been three days since she had eaten anything. Since they were so near the fishing spot Mother had shown them last year during their journey upstream, Beth decided to go fishing again. She also didn't know when she would be able to eat again. Sister and Mother had never gone fishing or hunting at Long Lake, so Beth didn't know if there was anything for them when they returned.

After they had both finished catching and eating their fish, Beth and Sister resumed their walk upstream. On a whim, Beth crossed the river before they reached the water falls and headed toward Long Lake's south shore. Her uneasy feeling from that morning had made her curious, and with Sister at her side she felt more sure of herself. By late afternoon they where about to crest another small hill and start their downhill journey around Long Lake.

Beth stopped and stared at the scene ahead of them. Smoke or steam was rising into the air, but was quickly blown away by a strong wind only a few metres above a few buildings almost hidden in a small valley. Sister sniffed the air and then sneezed a few times, apparently not liking whatever she was able to smell. Slowly walking closer to get a better look, Beth was able to see the whole complex of nearly a dozen buildings, towers, trucks and massive holding tanks. Several people where walking around working among the buildings in heavy winter gear that completely hide everybody's faces. Suddenly she noticed three lookouts with large rifles on tall towers near the perimeter. Fearing that they would be seen, Beth and Sister found a small group of rocks to hide behind until the sun set. She hoped to get a better look at their operation when it was dark without being noticed. Curling up with Sister they both rested until it was dark enough to get closer.

A loud siren woke Beth from a sound sleep. It was completely dark out and she was surprised at how long they must have been sleeping. Looking over their rock hiding place, Beth was worried that someone may have seen them. Thankfully, after only a few seconds the siren stopped, but was followed by a blinding flash of light near the centre of all the buildings. Under bright flood lights, several people could be seen coming out of nearby buildings to shift boxes and crates around that weren't there just a moment ago. Beth realized that the bright flash must have been someone teleporting in with cargo. As she watched, more boxes and crates were loaded onto the open area. When a stack of cargo a few metres high had been created, a man dressed in a heavy parka, thick pants, boots and gloves walked into its centre and it all disappeared with another bright flash of light.

Beth felt like walking in and demanding to know what they were doing and what had happened to the lake, but she knew that approach would never work. Instead, she decided to get more information about this place and who they were. Besides, something didn't look right with this place. If they were doing something illegal, barging in on them would be the worst thing to do. Beth made her way around to another vantage point and made herself comfortable in a deep, wind blown snowdrift. If she wanted to stay and watch these people, she thought she might as well be comfortable doing it. Sister didn't want to get any closer to the buildings and their smell. Instead she wandered further south, getting more space between her and these people. Since Beth wanted to watch for a while and was able to see her clearly, she let her go. She would catch up again before she got to far away.

From her new lookout, Beth had a better view of the cargo area of their complex. She waited for their next delivery, but must have fallen asleep again. Sunlight woke her early the next morning just in time to see another shipment of cargo being assembled. What she saw sent a chill down her spine. Most boxes or crates either had toxic warning labels or radiation symbols. The teleporter stepped out of a doorway and walked toward the platform. Beth saw that, in addition to his winter gear, he was also wearing some sort of face mask. She assumed that it was to protect him from the toxic chemicals he was required to move. However, she couldn't see how he was being protected from the radioactive items. Beth was able to make out a logo on each box and crate with a company name, Hephaestus Exploration Limited. It wasn't a company that she had ever hear of, but she would find out soon enough. Without moving from her lookout, Beth pulled out her eCom from her back pack and dialled. Even though it was early she knew that he would answer quickly.

“Hello?” asked Ukalik with a yawn.

“Morning, sleepy head,” Beth teased. “Did I wake you?”

“It's only six o'clock in the morning! Yeah, you woke me,” he replied, but Beth knew he wasn't really angry.

“You always tell me that you get up with the sun.”

“That's only when we're hunting. Not when I'm sleeping in a nice warn bed,” he explained. “So, how much further do you have to go, to get to the lake?”

“I got here yesterday morning. I already found Sister and we're having a look around Long lake,” boasted Beth.

Ukalik was impressed, “Wow, you made good time.”

“Yeah, but there's a problem. There's some mining company doing something out here. There's no other bears and the lake has no ice on it, and I think they have something to do with it.”

“Someone is working out at Long Lake?” he asked. “I haven't heard anything about that. I'm sure my dad would have mentioned it.” Ukalik's dad was one of only a handful of people who approved exploration permits to any mining companies operating in Nunavut. Since Long Lake was known to be a breeding site for bears, it was unlikely that a permit would have been approved. With Beth being very interested in Long Lake, it was also unlikely that any permit would have been issued without someone telling either her or Ukalik.

Beth explained what she had seen and the company name from their crates and boxes. He promised to call her back as soon as he was able to find out anything before saying goodbye. Beth set her eCom to vibrate before dropping it into one of the large pockets in her shorts. She didn't want it to make any noise when Ukalik called back, in case it was heard by someone and she was discovered.

Sitting in the snow waiting for her eCom to ring, Beth decided to make a drink. She picked up a large chunk of snow and ice in her hand and concentrated on it. As it started to warm and soften, it also floated off of her hand. When it had completely melted a perfect sphere of water hung in mid air a few centimetres above her hand. She brought the ball of water to her lips and sipped at it slowly. It was a little trick she had discovered long after returning to Iqaluit, but it had already become very handy. This way she could heat or cool items without having to worry about touching them. She was always disappointed in how little she could lift though. It seemed to be limited to only a few kilograms and only while she was changing its temperature. The water was constantly being cooled by the surrounding air and Beth was warming it to keep it from freezing again. Otherwise it would fall to the ground the moment she stopped adding heat. As she was about to finish her drink, Beth's eCom started to vibrate. She let what remained of her water fall, checked the caller ID and answered it.

“Hi,” she said quietly. “That was fast.” She tried to keep her voice low. There was no reason to let anyone know she was there, and sounds seemed to carry for a long distance in the cold air. With a little luck, no one would be able to hear her over the sounds of machinery.

“Yeah, that's because it was easy,” explained Ukalik. “I called dad and asked him. It seems that they do have a permit to explore for diamonds, but not at Long Lake.”

“Well these guys aren't mining diamonds either,” she reminded him angrily.

“Beth,” Ukalik started. When he didn't get a reply he tried again, “Sizzle! Please don't do anything crazy. Dad's already talking to the RCMP. They'll be heading out there in a few hours.”

“Well tell them to hurry. These people have a teleporter and they seem to be moving a lot of stuff,” explained Beth. “They've made two jumps since I got here last night.”

“Don't do anything stupid, okay?” asked Ukalik again.

“I have no idea who or what is in there,” explained Beth. “I'm not planning on doing anything,”

Unfortunately that was Beth's problem. She never planned to do anything that happened to her. She never planned on melting Ukalik's rifle last year, she never planned on setting off the sprinklers at school last Christmas and she never planned on freezing the jail's security area last week. They just happened. Usually when Beth wasn't able to control her emotions.

“Good, just stay away from that place.” he said. “Let the professionals deal with it.”

“I will,” she answered. “I'll stay here until they arrive, then I'll catch up with Sis again. I hope the other bears didn't move somewhere else because of the lake.”

“Call me when they get there, okay?” he asked.

“I will, promise. I'll talk to you soon. Bye.”

“Bye,” Ukalik said just before hanging up.

Sitting in the snow, Beth watched as it continued to get brighter. As the sun continued to rise, more people could be seen moving around. Suddenly one of the lookouts brought his rifle up to look at something with his scope. Following his line of sight, Beth tried to see what had gotten his attention. Beth's heart seemed to skip a beat as she saw a long shadow moving across the snow. The rising sun had finally made it over the small hill east of them and Sister could easily be seen a few hundred metres away. An all too familiar sound brought Beth's attention back to the lookout. He had just finished loading a round into his rifle and was carefully taking aim.

“NO!!,” yelled Beth as she stood and started running toward the man's tower. Without any warning, he turned and fired.

Beth's entire world suddenly slowed. A painful hole had suddenly appeared on her left arm with a spray of blood. She was thrown her off balance and fell onto her right side before rolling onto her back and passing out.

Groaning as she slowly opening her eyes, Beth waited until things came into focus again. She could see that she wasn't in a hospital. The room had a smell of oil, dirt and body odour. Its ceiling and walls reminded her of some sort of storeroom. Her arm hurt with every breath she took. Turning her head, she looked to see how bad it was but couldn't see anything other than a tight, clean bandage.

“Welcome back to the land of the living,” came a voice to her right side.

Turning her head quickly sent a sharp pain through her arm, causing a moan to escape. A tall, muscular man with ebony skin walked around the cot she was laying on to look at her arm. He was completely bald with dark eyes that seem to take in every detail. He wore faded jeans, a thick flannel shirt and heavy boots.

“I didn't give you any pain killers,” he explained in a deep but friendly voice. “I wasn't sure how you would react to them. Do you need anything?”

“No,” snapped Beth. She didn't know where she was or who they were. Trusting them to give her anything for the pain didn't seem like a good idea. Carefully, she pushed herself into a sitting position with her right hand. She had a look of stubborn determination on her face for a moment, until she was able to take a deep breath. “Why did that man shot me?” she finally asked.

“I think you scared him,” he answered with a slight smile. “He mentioned something about an e. g. rock. I'm not even sure what that is, but he was really freaked out.”

Beth recognized his mispronunciation from one of the many stories that Ukalik's grandfather had told her. “An Ijiraq is an evil spirit, or a shape shifter. It can look like an animal or a person, or something in between,” Beth explained to him.

“Well, that would explain a lot,” he replied. “Half my crew are telling me I should close this place down.”

“What happened to the bear he was going to shoot?” Beth asked as she looked around the room. It was a storeroom after all. Several crates were stacked nearby, blocking her view of it all. A work bench was against another wall with several partially disassembled motors or pumps. A few posters and a calendar with a very busty bikini model could be seen near the work bench.

“He told me that it ran off when it heard his rifle shot,” he answered. “My name's Carl. I'm one of the foremen here. Could you tell me your name?”

Relieved, she answered, “my name's Beth.”

“Well Beth, could you tell me who Robert is?” he asked while holding up her eCom. “I can see you called him this morning and I need to know if I should be worried.”

“He's my boyfriend,” she answered, more than a little annoyed. She held out her hand and asked, “can I have it back, please?”

“Oh no. I'm sorry but I'll have to keep this. I couldn't have you talking to the wrong people.”

“Why, you don't want anyone to know you're mining in a place you shouldn't be?”

Carl's friendly tone suddenly turn harsh. “What do you know about our mining operation?”

“I know this is a protected area,” Beth replied. “This lake is a bear breeding site. There's no way you would have gotten a mining permit this close to it.”

“Is that what you told your boyfriend?” he asked while staring at her eCom.

“I called him before I found this place,” she lied. She didn't want them to try and get away before the police showed up to arrest everyone.

He looked at her and tried to determine if he should believe her or not. “Well just in case they're tracking you with this, maybe I should get rid of it.” Holding her eCom in one hand he squeezed it until it shattered. Pieces fell out of his hand onto the floor as he continued to squeeze it further, ensuring that it was completely destroyed. Beth looked at him in awe. She knew an eCom was almost indestructible and could only imagine how much strength would be needed to do that to one. Carl was clearly a person to be cautious of.

The only door Beth could see opened and a short, barrel chested man with scruffy hair and beard looked in. “You need to see this, boss,” he said quickly than looked at Beth with an odd expression. She could almost feel his hatred as he stared at her.

Carl walked while saying, “Lock it up. I don't want her wandering around anywhere.”

The door was quickly closed and bolted, leaving Beth alone. She stood up and walked over to open it anyway, knowing it would be useless. Standing seemed to cause a little throbbing in her left arm and she silently cursed them again for shooting her. Looking around the storeroom, Beth looked for something that she could use to help her escape. Her prison cell wasn't as large as she had originally thought. Several large crates occupied most of the room and a locked roll up door could be seen near them. Most of them could never fit through the doorway Carl had used. Looking over the bench, Beth hoped to find some tools to cut the lock off, but her host had clearly thought of that too. It was clear of any tools that could be used. Frustration finally got the better of her and she took it out on one of the nearby crates. Kicking it harder than she had intended to. The thick wood of it shattered and splintered, revealing its contents of metal parts and machinery. Slowly Beth smiled as she got an idea.

“Maybe a small fire would distract them long enough for help to get here?” she said to herself. Gathering a long piece of wood from the broken crate, Beth held it in her hands gently, in spite of her pain. Concentrated on heating it up, the end resting in her left hand suddenly burst into flames. Holding her torch with her good arm, Beth held it up and tried to reach the smoke detector high overhead. Unfortunately it was too high and she wasn't able to get her flame close enough to set it off. Angrily, she through the flaming piece of wood at the wall.

Talking to herself again she said, “well there's more than one way to set that thing off.”

Concentrating on the air surrounding her, Beth started to raise its temperature. After only a few minutes a crate more than two metres away turned brown and started smoking. It was only a few more minutes before it burst into flames and an alarm bell started ringing on the wall behind her. Smoke filled her makeshift prison cell as she stepped closer to the door that Carl has left through. Beth waited until it opened with her arm out. Swinging it forward at hard as she could, she 'cloth lined' the poor man who ran in with a fire extinguisher. Picking up his fire extinguisher like an over sized club she headed out the door, locking it behind her. She thought he'd likely find something else to put out the fire, either way it would keep him busy for a little while.

Finding herself in a short hallway, Beth quickly made her way to an emergency exit at one end. It opened onto bright sunlight, blinding her for a minute. While her eyes adjusted to the light, Beth could hear people moving nearby. Suddenly a person appeared in front of her. She only meant to stop him from running into her, but hit him squarely on his jaw while bringing her good arm up. It was like he had walked into a brick wall and was out cold before hitting the ground.

Looking at his ID badge pinned to his thick jacket Beth said, “Sorry about that, Greg.” She added, “I might need that badge. You wouldn't mind if I borrowed it, would you?” Taking his silence as approval, she knelt down a removed his ID and slid it into an over sized pocket of her shorts. She was about to stand up and start look for a way out when she had another thought. Searching around his waist, she found what she had been looking for. Pulling his gun out of its holster, Beth examined it closely. Since she wasn't sure where its safety was or if it was on, she didn't touch its trigger at all. Instead, she pressed a button on its handle and was rewarded when its magazine clip falling to the ground. Holding the empty gun in her hand, Beth heated it up. Once she had a floating ball of liquid metal she let it go, dropping it onto the magazine. It was followed moments later by several tiny explosions as each round heated up and ignited.

“Well that's one less gun they can use to shoot me with,” she said to herself. Unfortunately it wasn't the only gun they could use.

Ducking behind a set of crates when more shots rang out, Beth could hear her heart beating in her ears. She wasn't sure if they were shooting at her or some other target, but didn't want to give them a change of getting her again. Her arm was still sore as she ran for cover. After waiting for a minute another shot rang out. Since she was hidden by the crates, she thought it was unlikely they were aiming at her. Looking over a crate, Beth tried to see who was shooting and who they were aiming at. Another shot told her that it was a man in a lookout tower again, shooting at something in the distance. The thought that someone might get shot again filled Beth with rage. She decided she needed to do whatever was needed to stop these people.

Taking advantage of the distraction that his shooting caused, Beth looked around for something that would cause the most damage to their operation. One building had a number of large pipes coming out and feeding something into the ground nearby. Her infrared vision told her that some of them were extremely hot. When she got closer this was confirmed by the warning sign and symbols that decorated it. Putting her right hand onto the pipe where it bent and entered the ground, Beth quickly heated it even more. It didn't take long before it started to glow red hot. As soon as she started to feel the metal soften and bulge, she let go. The hot soft metal couldn't hold the pressure anymore and its contents burst through. It gushed from the ruptured pipe, spraying metal containers and equipment as much as thirty metres away.

Beth looked on in horror. Everything sprayed by the pipes geyser started to hiss and bubble. It became clear that it was an extremely strong acid that was being forced deep underground. Beth had no idea why they would do that, but didn't like it at all. It couldn't be good for the environment or for its surrounding animals, particularly if they were doing it illegally. Her thoughts were interrupted when a holding tank nearby burst open, sending water flooding through several nearby buildings. As she started to put some distance between her and the fountain of acid, Beth heard a siren and a loud voice over a set of speakers she hadn't noticed before.

“All personnel, there has been a containment breach! Make your way to your designated evacuation point!”

Suddenly people started to run out of buildings, several them grouped together where she had seen the teleporter moving cargo in and out during the night. Hiding among more pipes and equipment that Beth had no idea what they were for, she waited for their teleporter to appear and evacuate everyone. After several minutes it was apparent that he wasn't coming. People were grumbling and complaining. Fear was evident on several peoples faces. While trying to decide what to do next, an explosion rocked the entire complex. Acid had likely weakened a holding tank for something flammable. Feeling guilty for putting everyone in danger, Beth stepped out of her hiding place and made her way toward the group. There appeared to be about fifty people huddled on the transport platform, looking around for someone to help them. Upon seeing Beth, several of them screamed in fear. One man started to approach, attempting to threaten her in some way. However she was prepared for this, he wasn't able to get very close due to the amount of heat she was giving off.

In a loud voice she yelled, “I'm here to help! Everyone needs to get away from here. Follow me.”

In spit of their initial fear, they followed her passed several buildings and away from the destruction. They made their way out of the complex and to an open area several hundred metres from any danger. Seeing how cold most of them were, Beth walked up to a large rock and touched it. Once it was hot enough to glow red she looked for another one to heat up. After heating four rocks for the group to warm themselves with she asked, “Is this all of your people?”

A woman in a thin jacket standing close to one of her red hot rocks answered, “No, there should be more than this.”

A man in a thick parka, standing further back added, “Carl and his henchmen are all missing.”

“So is Jimmy,” someone offered.

“Who's Jimmy?” asked Beth, but she had a good idea who he was.

“He's our teleporter. He was supposed to evacuate everyone when the siren went off,” explained the women in her thin jacket.

Beth expected that answer. “Well I guess that would explain why they're missing.” Thinking about all the damage that had been done and what it might do to Long Lake if it the acid got that far, Beth felt she had to do something to stop it. “Will the pumps shut off on their own or does it need to be shutdown?”

“It should have done that already,” another man offered. “As soon as they set off the siren it would have started the shutdown sequence.”

“Good, I really don't want to go back in there,” Beth said with a relieved sigh.

Off in the distance, Beth could hear the sound of an ancient helicopter. It's rotors beat the air for several minutes before anyone was able to see it. It circled them before finding a flat area, away from any people and landed. Beth was relieved when she saw its RCMP crest. Almost as soon as it touched down, its large sliding door opened and constable Scott jumped to the hard packed snow.

Quickly walking up to Beth he asked, “Did everyone get out okay?”

“I'm not sure. They tell me that several people are missing, including their teleporter. So they could be anywhere,” she said over the slowly fading noise of his helicopter. The pilot had stayed on board to power it down and monitor the situation.

“Do you know who's in charge here?” he continued.

The man who had talked to Beth, wearing a thick parka spoke up, “My name's Paul Carpenter. I'm the site foreman.” He looked to see if anyone else would step forward. When no one did he added, “It seems that all the people that are missing are the ones who would be 'in charge'.”

“I'm constable Scott of the RCMP,” he announced in a commanding voice. “What company owns this facility?”

Paul gave him a confused look before answering, “Hephaestus Exploration Limited. We have all the necessary permits and authorization. You should already have our company information on file.”

Shaking his head, constable Scott informed them, “I've just spent the last few hours talking with officials from the Ministry of Natural Resources and the legal department at Hephaestus. No one knows anything about this operation.”

“I was hired in their New York office,” exclaimed one woman. “I get pay stubs every two weeks from them!”

“I'll need to get everyone back to Iqaluit and take your statements,” constable Scott explained. “I can see there will be a lot of questions to be answered. The first one I have is what happened here?”

“A large pipe ruptured,” Beth started to explain. She didn't want to admit causing it to burst, so she carefully chose her words as she explained, “I saw it burst, spewing some sort of acid all of the place.”

“That would have been one of the main leech pipes,” offered Paul. “We pump in a corrosive liquid to dissolve the ore and pump it back to the surface for extraction. Those pipes are rated for extremely high pressure, they shouldn't have failed. It should have also shut down the pumps immediately, but there was a long delay before the safety system kicked in.”

“Why was it radioactive?” asked Beth.

“We're mining uranium,” he answered.

Constable Scott reached into a large pocked of his jacked and pulled out his eCom. He looked up a contact and then called. “Yeah, I'll need a HAZ MAT team here for clean up. We have corrosive chemicals and a possible radiation leak. I also need to arrange medical aid and transport for approximately sixty civilians.”

As blue skies started to turn pink with the setting sun, Beth looked at what remained of the mining site. Fire had run its course through many of the buildings and almost everything had been damaged by either fire or acid. She could still sense hot spots within many areas, but knew all the fires were finally out. Ministry of Natural Resources representatives had arrived less than an hour after they had been told. A thunder clap had announced a team of five government agents arriving by teleporter. They had immediately taken charge of cleanup and interrogation of anyone that could be held responsible. Beth felt she was lucky to be able to avoid them. If they knew about her abilities they didn't seem to consider her a possible cause of the mess. They focused on anyone in authority from the mine that could be interviewed. Unfortunately this put Paul Carpenter very high on their list of people of interest.

Another heat source was approaching from behind her, but she wasn't concerned. There were only a handful of people remaining and most of them with either police, members of the hazardous materials team or government agents.

“Are you about ready to head home?” asked a familiar voice.

Without turning to face him Beth answered, “Not yet. I still need to make sure Sis is going to be okay.”

“I could come with you if you like.”

She turned and smiled briefly. “It's been over a year since she saw you last,” she reminded him. “And if I remember right, you tried to shoot her.”

“I didn't know she was a friend at the time!” Ukalik defended himself. After a moment he added, “And you still owe me a rifle.”

Looking into his dark brown eyes, Beth could see the humour in them. “I thought you weren't going to hunt bears anymore?”

“A rifle can be used for more than hunting bear,” he explained with a smile. “Or don't you want to eat this winter?”

“Is Doug looking for me?” she asked suddenly serious again. While the government agents might not know what she could do, or just thought she had stumbled upon an illegal mining operation, she doubted that constable Doug Scott didn't have his own question for her.

“He said he wanted to talk to you,” Ukalik answered. “But he said it can wait until you get back.”

His answer surprised Beth for a moment, but she would worry about that later. “You could walk with me for a little while, if you like. Or do they still need you to move equipment?” The government teleporter hadn't stayed since he was needed for other jobs. When they asked if there was anyone who could help them start their clean up, Doug had offered Ukalik's services. It was also a reason to get him out there and keep Beth calm.

Smiling he answered “I'm done for today. It looks like they have a limit on how much time a student can work in one day. But I'll be back tomorrow afternoon and again on the weekend.”

As they started to walk Beth reached over and hugged Ukalik's shoulder, pulling him closer to her. He reached his arm around her waist and hugged her back. Walking like this always seemed odd to Beth, it felt backwards. Since she was the taller in the couple it was more comfortable this way, but still felt odd.

They walked south, away from everyone and everything, away from the smell and destruction, away from what Beth had done and the guilt she felt from it all. After walking for more that half an hour they came to another lake. Unlike Long Lake, this one was smaller and completely frozen. What Beth saw on the ice of this lake finally brought a smile to her face. A few hundred metres from the shore, a couple of bears could be seen. Sniffing the air, Beth was certain that one of them was Sister. From its size, the other was likely a full grown male. It was easily twice as large as Sister.

“And here I was worried she wouldn't find a boyfriend,” muttered Beth.

Only three months later Beth and Ukalik were standing on top of a small hill. They looked down on another group of buildings hidden away in a small valley, more than three hundred kilometres from home. They had been searching for this place all summer, but it was Beth who finally found it. She had caught wind of an odd smell and followed it for two days.

“Based on my list there shouldn't be anyone here,” commented Ukalik while checking his eCom. Pointing toward the coastline he added, “Besides, that's Bowman Bay. They're in a bird sanctuary.”

“Okay, so they need to leave,” replied Beth.

“So, what's your plan?” he asked.

“My plan? I thought you had a plan?”

Eight months later, in a completely different part of the world:

As the door to Sanura's office slid open, she noticed a flashing icon on the wall display indicating an email message from a secure ASA server. She sighed and sat at her desk before entering her access code. They rarely had good new for her these days. She wondered what it would be this time.

From: Chameleon

Subject: new recruit

Hi, Sanura. Sorry for the delay getting around to this one, but you know how it is. Anyway, I checked out that MORFS survivor you asked me to look into for you. I don't know how you do it, but you've picked a winner again [ever try you luck in Vegas?]

As you said, she morf'd a few years ago and slipped under the radar up here. She's the one that's responsible for that 'incident' with the mining company last year. By the way, she's a lot more powerful than even she thinks she is, so be careful.

Her psych profile is perfect for your team. Her mother left her when she was six, and her father is in jail on two charges of attempted murder. So there's no family ties. She lives with the family of her best friend and is very active in her community. You were wrong about one thing, she's not a teleporter. Her boyfriend is, but has limited range. He must be giving her a lift to the location of the other 'incidents'.

As you requested, I didn't make contact with her. I guess you have your own procedure for that. I hope she works out, I really like this girl. I think you'll like her too, she's a polar bear hybrid... remind you of someone?

One last thing, if you're going up there at this time of year, dress warm. It's really cold.

TTYL

Tracy

As Sanura finished reading Tracy's message, she realized that she was smiling. “A polar bear? I wonder how tall she is,” she thought as she remembered her dad. Sanura pulled up the file for Elizabeth Baker and checked the last known address for her. Unfortunately it didn't help much, she couldn't remember where Iqaluit was. A quick network search made her shiver involuntarily.

“Figures, for a polar bear,” she said to herself. Sanura made her way to one of the supply lockers to get some extreme weather gear before opening a portal to the GPS coordinates that where entered on Elizabeth's file. The wind blowing through the opening felt like a sharp knife on what little exposed skin was left. She braced herself against the cold and stepped through.

The daylight, or the lack of it, was odd for mid afternoon. Sanura tried not to be distracted by it and looked for the building number instead. All the buildings looked the same, except for their colour. After only a few minutes she was able to locate the building and knocked on the front door. As the door opened and the girl stood just inside the doorway, Sanura thought, “this can't be right.”

“Can I help you?” asked the girl after a long, silent pause. She was only slightly taller than Sanura with dark eyes with padded eyelids, dark hair and a round face.

She recovered quickly saying, “I was looking for Elizabeth Baker. Do you know where I could find her?”

“Yeah, come on in,” she said while holding the door open for Sanura. “Beth, there's someone here to see you.”

Sanura heard the floorboards groan with the weight of someone approaching. She looked up at the mass of white fur that stepped through the doorway from the living room, she had to look up further to see the face of its owner. If she was any taller her hair would be touching the door frame, if her round ears didn't touch first. Sanura guessed that she had to be about a foot and a half taller that she was, but couldn't even guess at her weight. She was wearing a sky blue tank top and grey shorts with the large cargo pockets. Sanura shivered again thinking about her choice of clothing.

“I'm Beth,” she said. “What is it?” Despite her size, Beth still had a soft, pleasant voice.

“I'm Dr. Sanura Miller. I work for a department of the United Nations that gathers information on MORFS survivors. I was hoping to be able to have a short talk with you, if you have time?”


Beth was confused and asked, “I was registered ages ago. What's this about?”

Sanura avoided her question by asking, “I'd prefer a little more privacy, if you don't mind? I'm not allowed to discuss the information in the MORFS database except with the individuals that it concerns.” She looked at the other girl before adding, “I hope you understand, but it's standard procedure.”

Beth jumped at the chance, “We can go outside if you like.” She was already halfway out the door before Sanura could say anything. She shivered again at the though of the cold, but followed behind. Sanura found her standing a short distance away from the house with her nose in the air, sniffing the cold wind. Even with the protective clothing, she could still feel the cold wind chilling her to the bone.

“I... I'll... try to... to make thi... this fast,” she stuttered from the cold.

“Come closer,” Beth said with a smile. As Sanura stepped closer the wind didn't let up at all, but the cold disappeared. It felt like a cool spring breeze, instead of the biting cold that she had been suffering through. “I know that most people can't handle the cold up here. Even the people who have lived here all their life would be inside to get away from this wind.”

“Thank you,” she said with a smile. “That feels much better.” Sanura paused for a moment to decide how to bring up the subject. “I want to be honest with you Elizabeth.”

“Call me Beth,” she interrupted. “My dad's the only one who still calls me Elizabeth.” Her tone was flat and neutral. Sanura wasn't sure how to take the statement, so she decided to ignore it for the moment.

“Beth,” she started again. “I was about to say that I work with the U.N., not for them. I've also worked with Interpol, RCMP, FBI and at least another dozen government agencies from all over the world. We're gathering a group of powerful MORFS to help protect people from those who would want to take advantage of them. I've been looking for a powerful heat elemental, but haven't had much luck, until now.”

“Me?” asked Beth a bit surprised. “Are you sure you have the right person? I'm not really that good.”

“Well, people with elemental powers are a bit rare to begin with and a heat elemental is even more so,” explained Sanura. “If you can make some time for me, I'd love to test you properly and find the extent of your abilities. Then you can decide for yourself, no strings attached I promise.”

“Okay,” answered Beth. When she had changed and finally got back to town, being tested wasn't a high priority. While Beth had been using her powers a lot since then, she had never been pushed to her limits. It would be a good idea to know what her limits were in a safe environment. “Where would you like to do it, and how do we get there?” she asked.

“Don't worry about any travel arrangements,” Sanura said with a grin. “I'll take care of that. I'll be back at 8:00 tomorrow morning to pick you up. It'll likely take the whole day and you might want a couple of changes of clothing.” As she walked away the temperature dropped drastically. She had forgotten that Beth had been warming up the air for her. After walking a short distance and then turning down an empty street, she opened a portal back to the Nexus. The first thing she wanted was a nice warm bath. Even just a few minutes in the cold had chilled her to the bone again.

The next morning, promptly at eight, Sanura was standing in the cold wind again, knocking on Beth's front door. She didn't feel quite as cool as the day before. She came prepared this time. Before stepping through her portal, Sanura altered her form. She now looked much more muscular, with thick, dark fur covering her entire body. She had considered not changing for her return to the north, but the cold wind had made up her mind for her. She only had to knock once before Beth opened the door and let her into the warm house. She was wearing a black tee shirt and matching shorts this time. While the house was warmer than outside with it's blowing wind, Sanura didn't think it was warm enough for shorts and a tee shirt.

“Morning, Beth,” she said after closing the door behind herself.

“Morning,” replied Beth. She raised an eyebrow as she said, “You look different today. You have more fur and muscle this time.”

“Yeah, I bulked up a bit for the cold,” she admitted.

“Would you like a cup of tea, or do we have to get going?”

“No thanks, but go ahead. We're not in a hurry.”

“Oh, I've already had a cup. I've been up for hours,” Beth explained. “I didn't sleep very well last night. I guess I was a little excited about today. I've never been tested before.”

“Well then, lets not keep you in suspense any longer,” suggested Sanura. “Is there anyone else here?”

“Annie and Christina are upstairs,” answered Beth. “They're still asleep though. Why?”

“I really don't want to go back out there,” she answered, indicating the front door. Beth had a confused look as Sanura walked into the living room. She opened a portal on the middle of the room and turned to Beth. “Are you ready?”

Beth looked at the large black oval in the middle of the room and asked, “What is that?”

“It's one of my rabbit holes,” explained Sanura with a grin. “Follow me,” she added before stepping though. Beth stood in front of the portal for a moment before picking up her bag and stepping through herself. The room on the other side of the opening was huge and had an odd shape to it. There was a doorway to her left that a truck could easily drive through. A small part of the room, at the far end, had been sectioned off. A bunch of electronic gear was there and a technician was hooking up cables. She saw Sanura walking toward the person working on the equipment. Beth ran to catch up with Sanura and noticed that some of her fur was falling out as they walked. Beth thought it was odd, but Sanura didn't seem concerned, so she didn't mention it. They continued to walk to the end of the enormous room, where Beth dropping her bag on the floor near one of the tables full of electronic gear.

“Beth, this is Peter,” Sanura said, indicating the guy hooking up all the cables. When he heard his name, he turned to look at the two of them and stood up. “Peter is one of the techs here. He'll be running all this stuff during the test.” Peter was a tall man, with blond hair, blue eyes and an athletic build to him.

Beth looked down into his blue eyes and smiled. “He's cute,” she thought to herself. “I wonder if he's seeing anyone. Oh well, it's not like I'm going to leave Rob anyway.”

It had been over an hour and Beth was bored out of her mind. Peter and Sanura sat on a pair of rolling office chairs outside the protective force field, with all the electronic gear, while she was standing in the middle of what looked like a fish bowl. Her black spandex jump suit was comfortable, but did nothing to hide her figure. If anything, it accented every curve she had. The temperature inside the domed area under the force field had slowly been dropping for an hour, but hadn't changed for more that ten minutes.

“Is something wrong?” yelled Beth. Peter had told her she didn't need to yell through the force field, but she kept forgetting.

“No, not really,” he answered. “I can't go any lower. If I drop the temperature in there any more the oxygen will condense out of the air. I'm assuming you still want to be able to breath?”

“Yeah, that would be nice,” she answered sarcastically. “How low is that, anyway?” Beth had never been good at her high school physics class and couldn't remember if they had even mentioned the boiling point of oxygen.

“90 degrees Kelvin,” answered Sanura. “That's about 183 below zero. We have you at 92 Kelvin now.”

“Is that why my breath is snowing?” Beth asked. She had been seeing it for a while now. Each time she exhaled her breath would crystallize and fall to the floor.

“That's likely the carbon dioxide freezing,” explained Peter.

“How are you doing? Are you feeling the cold at all yet?” asked Sanura

“No, I don't feel anything at all,” she answered. Beth had never experienced that temperature before, even on the coldest winter night in Iqaluit. “Are you sure it's minus 183 in here?”

“We'll have to think of another way to test how far you can go. Until then, lets start heating it up again,” suggested Sanura. “Or do you want to heat it up in there?”

She thought for a moment before answering, “I can heat it up.” She closed her eyes to concentrate and started adding heat to the air and floor around her. The temperature climbed extremely fast, in less that five minutes an alarm sounded on one of the monitors.

“Okay, you need to stop now,” Peter said calmly. “If it gets any hotter you might melt the floor.”

“What, that would need more than fourteen hundred degrees Kelvin,” Sanura said in shock. “She raised the temperature of the floor over thirteen hundred degrees that fast?”

“Is that good?” asked Beth.

“That's amazing! I thought you said you weren't very good at this?” teased Sanura. “I'm glad the suit survived the test too. We don't want Peter to be seeing more than he should.” Sanura grinned at her own comment, but Peter blushed. Beth though it must have been an inside joke. She hadn't thought about what the heat would have done to her own clothing. Even if her white fur hide all her private bits, it would still have been embarrassing to be standing in front of them in the nude.

“Are you dropping the temperature in there again?” asked Peter.

“Yeah, I want to get out of here. I've been standing for over an hour.”

After a shower and a change of cloths, Beth and Sanura were taking a break to have a drink. They sat at a table by, what looked like, an outside cafe. A beach scene was playing on the holographic wall nearby the sounds of seagulls and waves breaking could be heard. Even the ceiling was showing a blue sky with small, puffy clouds floating by.

Beth was looking at the images as she said, “I know you said this place was completely underground, but this is incredible.”

“Yeah, the images are new,” replied Sanura. “I was getting a few complaints about the lack of any natural scenery in here. This is part of the common area for everyone, so we added the projectors. Last week it was wheat fields, but I think I like this one better.”

Wheat fields did seem a little boring to Beth, and the sound track couldn't have been very interesting either. Beth reached for her tea and added a little more heat to it before taking a sip. It was always nice to be able to sit with a cup of tea and not have to worry about it going cold. She remembered her first disastrous attempt at warm up a cup of tea and smiled to herself.

“I hope you don't get angry with me,” Sanura started, “but I had someone check you out for a little while now. I know about your...” She paused to think of an appropriate word. “Your encounters with some of the less ethical companies operating in the north.” Beth suddenly started to look quite nervous and was about to deny any sort of activity. Before Beth could say anything, Sanura added, “I've also looked into those same companies. None of them have reported the incidents to the police. So you don't have to worry about anything. However, I doubt that they will simply let you continue.”

“What do you mean?” asked Beth. Until today, Beth was only worried about the police coming to knock on her door and take her away in handcuffs. She had never thought that she might be in danger.

“That first incident. The Long Lake mining operation,” Sanura explained. “They had to write off over two million dollars worth of equipment and close it down. I'm certain that they will be looking for other ways to protect their investments in the future.” Even Beth knew the real meaning of that statement. She had already started to see people with their own abilities wandering around some of the facilities that had started up in some of the more remote areas of Baffin Island.

“If you come work with me and my team,” she continued, “I'll make sure that you can get in contact with other environmental protection groups. I understand that some of them have a considerable amount of leverage with the federal and territorial governments that allow those companies to operate there.”

It wasn't a hard decision for Beth to make. She knew that it was just a matter of time before someone got seriously injured during one of her incidents. With her being the one that might be harmed was even more of a reason to change tactics. “I think I'd like that,” she said with a smile. “Would I have to live here then?”

“Only if you want to,” answered Sanura. “You'll have to stay here while the team is being brought together and trained. But after that, I'd only need to have some team members here on a rotating basis. You'd be sort of on call for the rest of the time.”

Smiling, Beth said, “this could be fun.”

 

The entire MORFS  Universe can be found at http://morfs.nowhere2go.org/

 


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