Excerpt for Symbiotica - A Matter of Time (Book 4) by , available in its entirety at Smashwords



Symbiotica: A Matter of Time (Ultimate Edition)

The First Book in the Arbiter's Journey Saga


Second Extended Edition


Copyright 2017 / 2018 Alexander Nassau

Published by Alexander Nassau at Smashwords


ISBN: 9781370983513





All characters and names in this book are fictional and have no relevance to any real world individuals either living or deceased.



"For D.

Without you, Verish wouldn't be quite as barking mad."



Please Note: This book was previously book 6.
Due to changes in the first five books becoming a trilogy, the numbers have been reordered. Also note that this book has been significantly reworked to create the Ultimate Series.
If you already own this book you can download a fresh copy for free from your retailer.




See More from the Author on my Blog




Smashwords Edition License Notes

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Table of Contents





Prologue

Chapter One - What's the Point?

Chapter Two - Sleepy Town

Interlude - Laughing at Astronomers

Chapter Three - Filling in the Blanks

Chapter Four - Calculating the Odds

Interlude - Bad Case of Beans

Chapter Five - Rude Awakening

Chapter Six - Diversity

Interlude - Explosive Staring Competitions

Chapter Seven - Needles and Haystacks

Chapter Eight - Ghosts

Interlude - Interdimensional Practical Jokes

Chapter Nine - The Impossible Island

Chapter Ten - A Matter of Time

Chapter Eleven - The Last Outpost of Alphius Prime

Chapter Twelve - It's Life Jimmy

Epilogue

Preview of Book 5 - Dystopia

More Books from the Author

Proteus Unhinged - Winds of Change (Mini Story)

Setting the Scene - The City of New Oxford

The Return of Symbiotica - Authors Retrospective

About the Author

PREVIOUSLY



This is a story that needs a little background before you can start to understand it.

Realistically it should only begin roughly two years ago, but its roots lie back in the mists of time, over three hundred years before on a world far from here.

That world was Alphius Prime, a world not that dissimilar from Earth really, but there were some differences. The biggest one was that the dominant intelligent life there was not of a singular mind, but that of a partnership between two species, a host and a symbiote. Now I could explain how this partnership worked and about the history that led to this union between these two races, but suffice to say it was a fair and peaceful relationship that saw their world over thousands of years turned in to a utopia.

Right up to the terrible moment they discovered their sun was on the verge of collapsing which would lead to all life being extinguished. As you can imagine that bit came as a nasty surprise.

Still, with time against them they all pulled together, created a fleet of living ships to carry their population to safety and to find a new world they could call home. To everyone's deep surprise they actually succeeded and with only days left, the fleet was nearly ready to depart.

Right up to the moment the planet closest to the sun was torn apart by tidal forces from their star which led to the sun collapsing ahead of time. Maybe you are starting to see a pattern here.

Of the five ships created only the smallest escaped, a ship called Koli which had only ten bonded individuals onboard. Those individuals never gave up hope, but everything was against them. They searched the stars, found a new world they called Beletrix and started the process of building a new home for their people in the hope that someone survived, but as the years passed their people never came. In the end they went back to the stars as their need grew desperate.

The symbiotes lives were long, thousands of years but their hosts were a different story. Even with their healing abilities, they could only live for five hundred years at the most and for some, time had already run out as they found themselves alone and resigned to synthetic life giving bodies.

With things at their darkest and their lives almost over, their quirky ship, Koli did something naughty. Using the last of her energy, she jumped them to a small world on one of the galaxy's spiral arms where they found what they had searched for. A race of creatures not only capable of accepting them, but also within their population a small number who had the telepathic gift they required to survive.

The survivors with the last of the energy almost gone travelled down to this new world in hope that the humans they had chosen would accept them and that is where this story, on Earth at least, starts.

Kind of depressing in a way, but don't worry, things get better.

It didn't take long for them to track each other down, reunite and much to their surprise their ship survived and was brought down to their new home, a facility called the Foundry. Thanks to a little bit of forward planning, these Vu'kno as they called themselves had ensured their human hosts quality of life, selling technological advances to a dozen companies globally, giving them more money than they knew what to do with, but as the last two survivors came home, they came with a message from Alphius Prime, sent three hundred years before. The message was a distress call from Terrik, the flagship of their fleet. They had beyond reason survived and were stranded in their home star system, most of their crew having been put in to stasis.

Finally knowing there were survivors they mounted a desperate rescue mission back to their home world where they found Terrik heavily damaged with over three hundred survivors on board. Using some pretty mind blowing technology, they got the survivors back to Earth and to a new facility they had created on an abandoned Island in the Caribbean, a place called Myra Island. There were tragic costs to their actions though but overall they were proud of what they had achieved. With the help of the United Nations, they rehomed their people, but things never go that easily.

With the cat out of the bag, and an alien species with mind bending technology now living on Earth, some governments around the world started playing shadow games, trying to steal their technology for their own sinister ends. They put up with it for a time, but eventually they could not ignore these incursions and a plan was made to return to the world Koli's crew had settled on for a time, the world called Beletrix.

However as the dust settled after Alphius Prime mission Koli revealed a secret that changed everything. Although they had assumed all their ships had been destroyed by the plasma storm, it seemed one of their Titan class ships may have escaped, a ship holding a third of their population, over twelve thousand souls aboard however they had no idea where this lost ship could be, even if they survived.

With pirates raiding their home world, Koli in critical condition following her rescue efforts and Terrik now resigned to an avatar body, the survivors realise that they needed to form a plan, one which would see Koli restored to heath and able to reach for the stars once more, but also to give Terrik a new body and a new life. They got a little more than they expected though in the wonderful and unexpected miracle they named Lunar, Terrik's twin sister. They returned to Beletrix and started to relocate their people and also defend their former home world from these pirate and everything was progressing as expected.

Then out of the blue a brand new Proteus ship arrives on Earth they realised to their surprise that survivors from the lost Titan class ship had found their way home. Further to their surprise this new ship, Saya was the first naturally born member of the Proteus family and they were begging for their help to cure a plague that had afflicted their people and rescue them from the world they had settled on.

Cutting that very long story short, they succeeded, curing the plague and relocating the survivors to the great city of Verlon on Beletrix. With thousands of survivors now restoring their civilisation, things were not so bleak as they start the long process of rebuilding their world.

Which only left what was still happening on Earth.

Earth for those who had taken human hosts was their home and while there had been tension, they could not deny that humanity had a lot to offer them, so roughly forty survivors bonded to their human partners remained here along with Koli, the eldest of the Proteus ships, who had adopted Earth as her home.

With Beletrix and Earth having a vibrant trade, these alien are living amongst us, unseen by most.

While the great and the good of the Alphians on our world do their business, some of our friends may be getting a little bored though and has been often said, there are some people who should definitely be supervised.

PROLOGUE





Take a quick look at planet Earth and you will find it quite a beautiful world from space. With two thirds of it water, only broken by the various land masses, it shines in as a crystal blue sphere almost peaceful as it orbits the sun.

If you were to examine the continents though you would quickly realise this world is quite important in our galaxy in that it not only does it have life, but intelligent life although perhaps some could argue the intelligent part. Focus in on the Northern Hemisphere you will find a slab of land the local intelligent life call the United States of America.

In this United States of America, it is not hard to see that dotted around this mass of land are centres of population, sometimes referred to as cities and if you were to look a little closer you would find these usually centre around the coast lines of which there is quite a lot and on the left side of this slab of land is a place called California.

This California, from a visitor's perspective is a beautiful place with a diverse selection of life and terrain ranging from mountain to fields of plant life, deserts to forests and everything in between. It is why many of the local intelligent life enjoy this place. Looking down though you also start to realise just how they have managed to change that pristine natural landscape to their own purposes. Their cities centre around the coast lines, sprawling out with their geometric shapes and fascinating structures where they go about their business. Their influence does not stop there though as you see the tell tale signs of their feats of engineering, things they call roads that cut through nature and connect their cities together, place where machines stalk their way through the landscape carrying them to where ever they need to go.

This intelligent life refers to themselves as 'human' for the most part. Odd fleshy little creatures with a biped body and a sizeable brain often capable of far more than they realise.

Looking down and taking in this California, you will find these humans give names to the places they live. If you were to look almost in the middle of the state by the coast, you would find a city called San Francisco. It is certainly a very interesting place with so much to see, but not really the focus of where we want to be. Travelling north on one of their roads you will soon hit the land locked city of Sacramento, again a nice enough place but not where we want to be either.

Follow what they called Interstate Highway Five and keep going north through that blissful and beautiful countryside for quite some time and you will eventually see a sign for one of the lesser known Cities in California. A city called New Oxford.

That city is much like any other city, with buildings, businesses and a centre for the local human life to populate as they live their brief and usually uneventful lives. That city however has a secret.

Not all the intelligent life there is human or even from this world.

Of course these humans are so self assured in their superior beliefs that they could not fathom the fact that aliens were living in their midst. Humans would whole heartedly believe the moon is made of cheese more than they would the person who just walked past them on the street is an alien.

See why I said the intelligent life premise is up for debate?

While these aliens may be of interest, their exploits have already been fairly well documented. Refugees from a long dead world, they have settled in to their lives on this world quite well and while really they shouldn't be here anymore having founded a new home world, they now see this strange world as their home and are most happy here.

They are only part of this story though and if you were to look down on the city of New Oxford and move to the north east a little, far beyond the limits of the city you will find yourself in beautiful open countryside mostly devoted to producing the human's food. Dotted around these expanses of agriculture are smaller cities often called towns.

Roughly eighty human miles outside of New Oxford there is one quite special town called Wyvern. In the grand human scheme of things it really does not amount to much. There are shops for the necessities, local amenities and recreational facilities and on its outskirts some industrial areas.

For humans travelling through to their destination, this town is unremarkable and easily forgotten, but it is unique for one reason. One of the humans living in this town believes the moon is not made of cheese and that there are aliens walking amongst us, and to that end is making noises about it, attracting the wrong attention.

As for this moment though, that is where the story starts, but if you were to head to the outskirts to an industrial complex near the highway you would find yourself looking at a quite peaceful scene in the early hours of the morning.

Look closer you would find fairly generic businesses. Farming equipment suppliers, vehicle repairs and the a few other fairly faceless business centres. One such building would be a maker of human food, the Cupcake Emporium.

For all their flaws humans are quite creative and while cupcakes are nothing more than an indulgence food, the owner thought that they would embellish their business with a grand gesture in the shape of a ten feet tall giant pink cupcake on the roof. It wasn't a real cupcake as that would be silly. No, it was a fibreglass item designed to visually show what the business did.

And tonight, if you looked closely enough up to the roof of the building you would see a single lone figure working away in the dead of night. This is what humans would call a crime in progress as this figure was unbolting the said cupcake and preparing to steal it.

If you looked at this from a human perspective this was again unremarkable. Crime seemed to be quite prevalent amongst the human population which is why they employed people to investigate acts like this and bring criminals to justice.

However as this solitary figure freed the giant emblem from its mooring, disconnecting the light inside it, something quite unusual happened.

A large door appeared out of thin air, the room beyond it bathed in a blue glow. It was most peculiar as if you looked hard enough, you would realise the only thing you could see was the door, nothing more. It was like this door magically opened up in thin air.

You would then see this figure dragging the cupcake towards the door, pulling it a ramp and inside this phantom room. Then with one last glance, the figure walked over and pressed something before the door started to close until there was nothing there but dark sky, no sign of the door or the cupcake.

That would be what had happened, if anyone had been watching. There would be nothing to see on the various security cameras and the night watchman across the street was unable to comment because he was snoring although he would never admit that to his employers.

Humans would call this a mystery that defied explanation, but the truth was this was going to be insignificant in the grand scheme of things.

In less than a week, the town of Wyvern for most of its population would be pretty much as it had always been, but for one person, it would never be the same sleepy town again.

That is where this story really begins, except when it comes to the story, we have to go back in time somewhat. After all, every story has its origins.

CHAPTER ONE

What's the Point?





A little over six months ago, New Oxford



Looking around the Stationhouse it was the usual hive of activity as she paused her work. The building was underfunded and far too old, the plaster crumbling on the walls as she looked around feeling the decay almost seeping in to her. It was just another average day as the relentless grind continued, criminals being brought in for interview, the business of keeping the city safe always ongoing. This was not what she had dreamt of when she entered the academy all those years ago.

"Lofty," Ramirez shouted out as she looked up from her desk scowling at him, "Best break out the tea and crumpets girl. Some sexy British chick is in the waiting room asking for you."

"May want to drag yourself in to the twenty first century there Ramirez," she snapped back at him, "Sexist remarks, misogyny and generalisations don't look good on you."

"Screw you," he replied before heading off as she had a terrible feeling in the pit of her stomach.

"A British chick?" Sarah asked from across the desk, "Didn't you mention that one of the victim's friends on the Gangbanger's case was British?"

She glanced at Sarah hesitantly. Of course she had told her the basics, but she knew far too well there was more to this than even she wanted to admit. She remembered it clearly, the night she had arrested Brandon Tan, watching him running towards them, his face sheet white almost begging to be taken in to custody, but he was completely out of his mind. He was screaming that the monster was going to get him, something only backed up by the fact both his index fingers were broken twisted back horribly. It was clear by the sheer look of terror on his face that someone had done a number on him. One thing had haunted her though. He kept repeating over and over that whatever attacked him had an English accent and by sheer chance, or perhaps not, one of Eve Paulette's friends was British.

That was not the worst of it though, not by far.

As they had bundled him in to the car she had visually swept the scene, trying to make sense of what had just happened. She had fully expected a fire fight, been prepared to use deadly force to take this piece of work down only to find him scared out of his mind begging to be arrested. Something had attacked him. Something had put the fear of god in to this loser and that was when she saw it.

On the roof of the abandoned building there had been a figure. It was like looking at a shadow, but one the light reflected off, almost like it was water. She wanted to dismiss it as a trick of the light, a mirage in the darkness and the truth was, she had been unnerved and confused by what had happened. She knew in her heart though that as she was watching it, it was watching her.

She had a job to do though and taking this idiot in had not gone as planned. He was hysterical, raving as he repeated everything that happened to him, over and over. He was out of his mind and in fear of his life. The only problem was what he was saying made zero sense, unless of course you had seen what she had seen. A jet black creature he described as an octopus with thick vicious tentacles had turned this man in to a simpering coward, terrified of the darkness. She realised at that moment that what she had seen on the roof was not a trick of the light. There was substance to his deranged rantings. They were never going to get anything out of him so they had taken him to the hospital where they had treated his injuries and sedated him, which had given her the opportunity to follow up on a lead.

She had decided to personally tell the victim's friends what had happened and that they had caught him, but she had another reason. Sure enough, the British woman was still with her friend although there was nothing unnatural about her. Certainly nothing as demonic as Mr Tan had described.

"Sellie..." Sarah commented breaking her train of thought as she looked up, "You okay?"

She sighed shaking her head frowning for a moment as she looked over to Sarah before smiling at her, trying to shake of the feeling within her.

"This is not an easy case for me," she sighed troubled by this reunion of sorts, "Nothing a good beer wouldn't solve after work."

"Fine, first round is on me," Sarah replied giving her a half smile, "You best get to it though. She's waiting."



* * *



Pushing out in to the waiting room she actually found herself surprised to see Ella Carr looking almost casual wearing sportswear as the she nodded to her, beckoning her over as their gaze locked. She really didn't look like the thing of nightmares although that doubt kept nagging in her mind as they silently walked down the corridor to the interview room, the door opening with a creak as she pushed inside this far too well used room.

"Would you like a coffee?" she asked looking over to her.

"I'll pass thanks Detective. Just had one before I came here," Ella replied. "I thought you would like to know that Chloe is making good progress at the private hospital. That said, I am sorry to say Eve while on the mend and awake has serious spinal injuries. She is paralysed. We're not at a stage where we could say if she will make a recovery."

Taking a second to view her, she was nothing more than a genuine, intelligent and quite attractive woman. It was almost impossible to see her as anything as dark or menacing as what Brandon Tan had described. Was she letting his deranged ramblings sway her own judgement? Was what she had seen that night just a trick of the light?

One of the first rules she was taught at the academy was to follow the evidence, and while a crime had in a way been perpetrated against Mr Tan, the fact was his allegations were nonsensical. Ella was just this stick of a girl and certainly not someone who could take on an armed gangbanger by herself. She took a deep breath putting the doubts to the back of her mind and simply smiled at her.

"I'm sorry to hear that. Please extended OCPD's best wishes to her," she replied taking a moment to try and sort out the confusion in her mind. "And please, call me Sellie. Now, what can I do for you?"

"I wanted an update on the two individuals who were responsible for this," Ella said bluntly.

"The DA is getting their case together and everything we have is good although it seems they may well be connected. The defence attorney for them is high brow and knows his technicalities. He had put some nasty pieces of work back on the streets before and whoever is paying for them to defend their case, they have money," she replied bitterly being perhaps far too honest for her own good. "The whole department is stretched thin, we are understaffed and doing the best we can, but everything comes down to court."

"You won't know this, but I work for Symbitek Global as one of the senior directors," Ella replied flatly, "If you could provide the name and company of their defence lawyers I am sure we could get them to back off. Also if you have details for the chief of police in New Oxford, that would be appreciated as well."

"If you don't mind me asking, why do you need the Commissioner's name?" she asked now feeling rather on the back foot.

Ella gave her a half smile as she seemed to consider her for a moment.

"Money makes the world go round and it sounds like your department needs a charitable donation to help you get what you need to make this city safe," Ella stated looking her in the eye, "I am sure your Commissioner would be more than happy to accept a sizeable donation and in return perhaps we could highlight this case as something that he could use as good public relations, showing that he is taking crime off the streets. It may even look good on your service record too."

"You do realise that is technically bribery?" she said giving her a terse glare.

"Bribery is a criminal act that gains profit through ill gains. These two are guilty as sin and deserve to have the book thrown at them for what they did. I'm assuming you are charging them with murder and attempted murder? Those are not minor charges Sellie. They were involved in a drive by shooting where someone died and they nearly killed two people I care about and one may never walk again. I am simply giving a donation in the hopes of highlighting this case and ensuring they pay for their crimes," Ella replied being concise and horribly logical.

She considered her for a moment, the truth of her situation really being brought in to the light. Someone was paying for Declain to represent these two, someone with money and she knew that there was a good chance they could walk. The department had limited resources at its disposal and while this woman was dubious, the fact was she was in her own way offering them help.

There was a horrible taste in her mouth as she took out her notebook, quickly writing down the details of Declain's law practice and Commissioner Henderson's name and number, pausing for a moment as she looked at her before ripping the page from the book, offering it to her.

"I believe I would appreciate your indirect assistance on this, Miss Carr," she said looking her in the eye, "Although I do hope that your efforts will be above board and legal when it comes to the defence attorney. I certainly would not like to hear a repeat of what happened to our suspect."

"I have no idea what you are on about," Ella replied flippantly, "And when our lawyers get involved, you can be sure they are extremely thorough. The word disbarred should come to mind."



* * *



"I think we both deserve this beer," Sarah said smiling at her before taking a deep swig.

"What's got you in a good mood?" she asked looking at her hesitantly before taking a drink herself.

"It's a Tuesday," she replied flippantly.

She laughed at her smiling as she looked around the bar. McCauly's was a dive at best, but it was next to the Stationhouse and it was the watering hole for most of the officers. It was their safe place, where they could let go of the grind of their lives and pretend they were regular people.

"How can you remain this positive all the time?" she grumbled taking a deep swing.

"You back on this again?" Sarah sighed shaking her head, "It's a job Sellie and I for one can see that we are making a difference. Just take five minutes to think what would happen to New Oxford if we were not out there. It would be anarchy. You need to stop taking everything so personally."

"I don't want to bring you down, but every night when I close my eyes, I see the faces of the people I have failed," she sighed looking down at the bar vacantly, "I don't know how to stop it."

"Go see the department shrink," Sarah replied with half a laugh as she broke her gaze and glared at her playful and teasing expression. "Just a suggestion..."

"Like I need him rummaging around in my head. I mean, what's with that comb over he has," she replied flippantly as Sarah laughed.

"Did you hear someone drew a face on his bald spot while he was having a nap in his office?" Sarah snickered, biting her lip.

"Oh you didn't, did you?" she asked looking at her wide eyed.

"That would be highly incriminating if I admitted to it," Sarah laughed back rolling her eyes, "I think the point I am making is we all see every day the things nobody should ever have to see, but if you only see that darkness, it's going to eat you alive. You have to find some fun, something to balance it all Sellie. Even if its drawing smiley faces on people's heads while they are asleep."

"Is the job what you thought it would be when we were at the academy?" she asked thoughtfully.

"Oh Sellie, this was always your problem. Head the clouds dreaming of what the future held. I swear you are too much of a good person to do a job like this. You either have to be hard as nails, or utterly flippant to survive and as much as I hate to say this, you are neither," Sarah replied, that jovial air dropping from her face as she looked at her oddly for a moment before sighing. "Remember old Iron Buttocks from the academy? I saw him last week and as much as neither of us liked him, he decided to rub my nose in it over a promotion he had applied for. Dead certain he would get it too, a Sheriff's position in a small town just outside of New Oxford."

"Well, good for him," she sighed finishing the bottle off with a single swig, putting it down on the counter with a thump as she pondered for a moment looking to Sarah. "Why you telling me this?"

"Because my best friend was never meant to be a cop in the big city. You have been slipping for years and the job's getting to you. I don't want to see you quit. Even if you don't believe in yourself, I do and I know you can make a difference. Why don't you apply for the job?" Sarah asked much to her surprise as she took a moment to think about it, "You would be good at it and dealing with a town where nothing ever happens might just be the change of pace you need. Plus, added bonus would be Hinkerman would be royally screwed if you got it which would please me no end."

"But what about us?" she said frowning at her.

"Honestly Sellie, our friendship won't change. Just means that having a beer will be a weekly thing more than a daily and it's only a few hours' drive back in to New Oxford," Sarah replied cocking her a smile.

"Sheriff Lofthouse certainly has a ring to it," she mused as Dave brought them a fresh round of beers.



* * *



Fumbling for her keys it was all she could do to keep Sarah upright as she opened the door to her apartment. She loved Sarah, but her way of dealing with a hard day at work was to spend a night drinking hard and she was hammered. She couldn't trust her to find her own way home, so as usual she brought her back to look after her, after all that's what friends were for.

As the door opened she flicked on the light, looking at her ordered life story as she helped Sarah inside as she shuffled over to the sofa, Sarah collapsing in a heap.

"I love you Sellie," she slurred, her eyes struggling to find out where she was.

"You're an idiot," she muttered before heading off to the kitchen, grabbing a glass and filling it with cold water, quickly returning to the living room. "Drink this."

Sarah fumbled for a moment, her hand reaching out for the completely wrong place before finally grasping the glass, water spilling on her dress as she took it, downing it far too quickly as she pulled a face at her.

"I thought it was vodka," she grumbled sticking her tongue out.

"You've had far too much tonight and you need water so I don't have to explain to the Captain tomorrow why you look like crap," she sighed grabbing the blanket off the back of the sofa.

Sarah frowned looking to her apologetically as she handed her the glass in a haphazard way.

"You are not going to be sick are you?" she sighed exchanging the blanket for the glass as Sarah gave it a hug.

"I don't think so," she sighed looking up to her.

"I don't know why you do this to yourself all the time," she sighed sitting down next to her, "I guess we all deal with the stress in our own ways, but I thought that was why were are friends. You can talk to me about anything, you know that right?"

"I miss Dave," she replied sighing a little as she rolled her eyes at her.

Dave was her former boyfriend, a jerk and a scrub. They had split up months ago and as with all guys he had used the excuse it was her fault. Nobody should have to put up with that although a cops life was not necessarily the best career. The job finished when it was finished, not when the clock said it was time and with everything they had to put up with, overtime was a requirement, not a luxury. It had probably been one too many missed dates, or dinner that had gone cold, or that distance glaze you got when it had been a rough and trying day, but in the end he couldn't deal with it, even if Sarah was hot. It was why she avoided dating. The job took its toll, not only on her, but on everyone around her.

"He was an ass," she replied giving her a smile as she stroked her cheek, "You deserve far better than him."

Sarah didn't reply as she slowly slumped down on to the pillow, giving her a sad smile as she wrapped the blanket around herself hugging it tightly. She got up and headed over to the kitchen with the glass, quickly pouring Sarah another glass of water, but as she headed back she was fast asleep. It was probably her most annoying quality. She could almost fall asleep instantly. She put the glass down on the coffee table as she walked over to the side, taking a moment to look in the mirror at herself. She pulled the tie from her ponytail, letting her long black hair flow over her shoulders as she took a long hard look at herself.

Grey eyes looking rather too bloodshot with bags under her eyes, soft porcelain skin with those annoying freckles on her nose, her full lips looking dry and rather cracked and that annoying scar on her left cheek always a reminder to make sure a suspect is not armed. She really needed to pamper herself a little, get a little spa time in, get her nails and make up done, but the criminal underworld didn't really care if she looked gorgeous as she arrested them.

She lingered on her reflection a little more before her eyes wandered over her living room. This room was the sum total of her achievements in life, awards and commendations laid out neatly on her shelves, everything perfectly organised and clean, the only sign of disorganisation currently snoring a little on the sofa. It had all been an exciting adventure, but the adventure had slowly ground to a halt. Another thirty years of crime in the big bad city was before her at which point she could retire and do what people do when they get to that age.

What Sarah had said about this Sheriffs position sounded interesting though. She was not enjoying her job and maybe a change of pace would be welcome. It wouldn't be easy though as the short list for the job would be as long as her arm, more senior officers looking to wind their careers down out in the sticks looking for the easy way out of the force. Maybe that would be a new challenge for her and perhaps this would be a way for her to find herself again. Somewhere down this road she had gotten lost and this could be something to grab on to and pull herself back.

She sighed to herself quite mournfully as she shook her head taking off her shoes before walking over to Sarah, leaning down and giving her a kiss on the forehead.

"Sweet dreams nutcase," she whispered tucking her in.

Walking over to her bedroom door, she turned the lights off and headed to bed to get what sleep she could before the morning when the machine would once again try to take another piece of her soul.



* * *



A little over five months ago, New Oxford



As the Court proceeding closed she looked at the pair of idiots in the dock and could find no satisfaction in the verdict. The guards escorted them from the chamber as the room filled with the usual noise, talking and whispers echoing through this great hall of justice.

Another case was closed and Brandon Tan and Peter Laoz going to prison for life.

This should have been a victory, but it was far from it. The only good piece of news was two people beyond belief had survived these swine's rampage through the city. It was interesting that Declain Attorney at Law's legal practice had been closed down and in its own way that was the real victory here. The only thing was, it was not her victory. Two of the victims in case seemed to be well connected with powerful and rich friends. She had given them the information they needed and as a result they had thrown their money and power around. Declain had been arrested for malpractice and one of the most notorious lawyers in the state had been put away as well. He was a scumbag who defended the worst of the worst and many quite literately got away with murder so at least that was one part of this war that was over and now two guilty men were going to pay for their heinous crimes.

Standing up, she gathered her jacket and headed for the exit with a thought on her mind that had been bothering her for a long time. She had always wanted to be a detective, to solve crimes, help the helpless and protect the innocent from the darkness of the big city. It was a childish dream in a way more akin to a fairytales book than the reality she was living in. There were no princesses or brave knights in her story, just the never ending war against the darkness. It was a war she was tiring of.

Pushing out in to the main hall of the Court House she could hear Commissioner Henderson talking to the press as he took his moment in the spotlight. They had been right when they said that money makes the world go round, Henderson bathing in the glory of this hollow victory. It was good public relations for him, showing that the City Police were doing what they were supposed to do, putting criminals behind bars. He knew the lies, but he played the game like the consummate professional he was, taking the credit for this victory knowing full well the reality of this sad story.

She didn't look to him, making her way out. Of course he would want to show off the arresting officer and put her in the spotlight, but right now she was in no mood at all. She had other duties that actually mattered to deal with, regardless of how painful they were.



* * *



Walking through the hospital this felt far too familiar. There were two places in New Oxford she hated. The hospital and the morgue, the former because it invariably meant she was either going to see a victim of crime that through no fault of their own had ended up here, and the latter to see people who were grieving over the loss of someone who was not so lucky.

It had been a week since Sarah had been gunned down in the line of duty thanks to this hornet's nest she had kicked over. She locked two gangbangers up and as a way of sending a message, their friends decided to take revenge on the police. Sarah had become yet another statistic in this war, and she had been questioning if this war was worth fighting anymore.

She was her best friend. They had gone through the academy together, went to movies and on night outs together. Most importantly though, they supported each other talking about the darkness they lived in, the horrors and the pain of their jobs and together they found some peace.

Standing before that lonely door she knew what was waiting for her and she could not find that peace anymore. She didn't want to open it, but for reasons she didn't understand her hand reached out pushing it open as the sight within revealed itself, Sarah's body lying so still on the bed, the only thing keeping her alive the tubes and wires.

Walking over to the bed she tried to find something within her, some shred of humanity that would let her release this bubbling pit of despair within her. She had nothing though.

The doctors said her body would recover and they had removed all the bullets, except for one, the one that was lodged in her brain. She was in a coma and on life support and while they would not give any estimates on her chances, she knew by the look on their faces it was not promising.

"How are you dealing with it Sellie?" an older voice asked from behind her as she turned to see Commissioner Henderson looking down at her, his old face less jubilant that it had been earlier.

"I am fine," she lied looking at him, "Surprised to see you here though. I would have thought you would have been taking advantage of the good press for our success."

As she watched his face sour she cringed knowing she had gone too far with that comment as he leaned in to her.

"Every single officer in the County is my responsibility Sellie. I celebrate the victories and I mourn the losses," he whispered bitterly looking her in the eye taking a moment, "Outside right now. I want a word with you."

With that he headed to the door, out in to the corridor as she followed feeling like a school kid again being dragged before the principle. As she closed the door she knew she was in trouble, but what did it matter? She was at the end of her rope and she was past the point of actually caring anymore.

"What's this about you putting in for a transfer?" he questioned looking her in the eye.

"Last chance to see if I can fulfil what I set out to do sir," she replied bluntly.

"You're one of the best detectives on the force Sellie," he sighed looking at her firmly, "We need good cops in the game and I never saw you as a quitter."

"A game sir?" she questioned trying to hold back her anger, "Games are suppose to be fun, they have rules and the outcome is positive. If this is a game, it's a game where the price of playing it is far too high. I am sick of seeing people I care about in hospital and I don't want to go to another funeral sir. I want to feel like I am making a difference rather than holding back the tides. This was for me a chance to do what I believe in rather than turn people in to statistics. Regardless, after this I am not even sure I want to be in this game anymore."

"We all know the price of the job we do detective and you have no idea of the cost to an old man's soul when I have to come to terms with the fact another of our family has paid a terrible price for doing the right thing," he sighed shaking his head, "You have made a difference to so many people's lives Sellie. Never underestimate what you have done for the people of this city. I can see you are not in a good place right now and I can understand. I have to ask if you know how many people applied for the Wyvern position?"

"Considering it's a prime promotion, I would guess my name is not at the top of the list," she replied as he looked at her.

"Darn right it's not," he replied giving her an angry glare, "Wyvern is supposed to be for older officers looking for a quieter life in the sticks looking after a small town. I know a dozen officers more deserving of that kind of position who have worked their beats with distinction but now you have put me in a dilemma Detective. I have been keeping an eye on your career over the years and I sincerely thought you would work your way up to Captain, maybe even one day Commissioner. Now look at you. I thought you were stronger than this, that you had the backbone and the saddest thing is, I still think you do. We all reach a cross roads in our careers and we question if we are on the right path, but I can see it in your eyes. You have already quit. You just haven't got around to actually saying it."

"I guess that's how you get to be Commissioner," she replied with a sigh, "I know you say I am making a difference but it's hard to see the good I am doing through the darkness that surrounds me every day. What happened to Sarah has just brought it all to a head for me. The question I can't stop asking myself when I look at my friend's is who's next? I can't stop thinking the next funeral you come to will be mine."

The Commissioner looked at her, slowly shaking his head as he ran his finger through his grey hair, his eyes telling a story of their own as he considered her.

"As I said, you have given me quite the dilemma to ponder Detective," he replied almost seeming to accept her words, "To lose a good officer with a promising career in front of her, or to compromise. I remember oddly being in this very place long ago and while I made the decision that would ultimately lead me to where I am today, I spent two years scrambling about in the darkness trying to find where I fitted in."

He took a breath as she looked at him questioningly as the words almost seemed to refuse to leave his mouth.

"Wyvern is yours, Sheriff," he said in almost a whisper, "First you have to train a new recruit to take over your position, show them the lay of the land and make sure they are ready for what is ahead of them. After that, you can head out to Wyvern, meet Sheriff Lomax and get the feel for you new town. Just do me one favour Sellie."

"Of course sir," she replied stunned by his decision.

"Find where you fit in. This is going to be a journey for you and you will learn many things, some of them strange and disconcerting, but you will grow as a person and feel more comfortable with yourself. That is all I ask," he said resting his hand on her shoulder as he looked in to her eyes kindly, "Now, enough business. I believe we both should spend a little time with Sarah. She paid a price too high for ensuring this city's security and regardless of what you think of me, she is our family."

She genuinely did not know what to think as the old man headed back in to the private room. The fact was perhaps this would give her what she needed. A chance to get away from the darkness, to see the world in all its beauty and perhaps see there is still good in the world.

Right now, she would spend some time with her best friend, talk to her and hope that one day perhaps she would wake up. She didn't want to leave her friend but the ball was now rolling and it would only be a matter of time before she found her new path and perhaps a place in her life where she could be herself.

CHAPTER TWO

Sleepy Town





It was a lovely evening as she drove through the rolling countryside that seemed to stretch on forever. It was Friday, her day off although she had the night shift to look forward to. She had set off as she did every Friday morning, heading for New Oxford. It had been two months since she moved out to the small town of Wyvern to start her duties, training under Sheriff Lomax. He was one of those cops that you just couldn't help but love. He was laid back, easy going and helped everyone, almost the very vision of what a police officer was that she had in her head at the academy. Four weeks of shadowing him, learning about the town and all of its quirks and then a month ago he had retired, heading off to his home in the countryside to live a simple and wholesome life with his wife. He had occasionally stuck his head in to check on how she was doing, but so far it was everything she had hoped for.

Except, of course for her weekly trip in to the city.

Sarah had not woken up, remaining in a coma. The signs were promising, her brain activity showing signs of dreams and thought running through her mind, but it was like she could not wake up. Over the months, the stream of visitors had dried up, Sarah for all those who knew her had been resigned to the wall of the honoured dead, even if she wasn't. It was shameful of them, but life carried on as it always did. She owed her though for suggesting this job as without her prompting, she would never have bothered to apply for it. So every Friday, she would drive back to New Oxford to the central hospital to spend a day with her best friend. They say people in a coma might be able to hear you, so she had been telling her how things had been going with her new position and letting her know how thankful she was. She was not going to give up on her.

It was strange though, driving back out to this place, her little town that was her responsibility. Five years with New Oxford Police Department. Five years of murder, mayhem and the worst of humanity was enough to tear the heart from a person. Now though it almost didn't seem real, like a nightmare she was more than happy to forget. She had moved on so completely.

In New Oxford it was all about quotas and management, turning people in to numbers and statistics in the most efficient way possible. She had felt like someone in a fast food restaurant, mindlessly processing the work for the day until she could go home, the only excitement on offer was bullets whistling by her.

Wyvern was almost the polar opposite. Violence was minimal and the personal touch was what got you through the day, actually getting to know the people and appreciate the rugged and down to earth values of this humble town. The hours were long, the pay not great but the reward to her heart and soul were beyond anything she ever imagined. Her only complaint if she had one was it was almost too quiet.

Sarah had been right though. This was the kind of policing she had dreamt of when she was at the academy and being here gave you a whole new perspective on life.

As the sun sat low on the horizon, peaking over the trees, in another half hour and she would be home and once again it was time to get back to work. Friday nights were the busiest night of the week in Wyvern and she had her usual suspects to round up.



* * *



Opening the door to the Stationhouse, it was what you would expect on a Friday night. Jeff Towner was already in the cells sleeping his short live drinking session off, there had been the regular call from Mrs Mullins about seeing bright lights in the sky which was of course a passing jet on its way to the New Oxford airport and the usual warning to Kyle Jacobite about taking photographs of the local women from behind the bins on Main Street.

"Next time you are dealing with Mrs Mullins," she grumbled resting her hat on the stand glancing over to Jimmy playing with an elastic band at his desk.

She had inherited Jimmy after Sheriff Lomax had retired and she really didn't understand how this idiot had been hired in the first place. If this had been city police he would not have lasted five minutes. In fact the only thing he was good at was firing a gun, which out here perhaps occurred twice a year.

As the clock on the wall did its familiar click on the hour, Jimmy stood up, nodding to her as he grabbed his coat and left for the night leaving her to enjoy the ambient tones of Jeff's snoring. At first she had thought Jimmy was disrespectful and bitter about her getting the Sheriff's position, but the truth was he was a man of few words. Whether or not this was because he only had a few words in his head was up for debate, but she had so far had no cause to question his conduct. In fact he was a very able Deputy, even if his communication skills were nonexistent.

She took out her phone, slipping in a headphone to one ear as she sat at her desk, the music washing over her, providing a far better sound track than Jeff' burbling.

Wyvern was not a big town, barely a few hundred people in the hundred square miles area she covered, and most of that was farm land. The town had crime but compared to what she was used to, it seemed trivial. Her role here was that of authority, a single point for people to come to, be it lost kittens to stolen cars. It almost felt like a holiday, but as with any community, it had its flaws. Over the last month she had only handed out a few fines and the one incident of some criminals from New Oxford hiding out in a barn from the authorities. The simple fact was the whole month here would have barely been a morning's work in the city. There was something to be said for a slower pace of life, but this was positively lethargic.

Still, that was why she had come here dealing with the good people of this town with a very personal touch, rather than turning them in to reports and statistics.

Looking over to the cells as Jeff seemed to snort a little, she laughed a little to herself before glancing up at the clock. Another three hours and she could go home for the night, after dropping Jeff off at his home where she was sure his wife would be waiting with a rolling pin.

All in all, it was a different life, and she had to admit she liked it.



* * *



"Morning," she chirped waving to old man Dyson across the screen as she carried her coffee.

Proper coffee was the one thing she missed about the city. Jessie's did a fair approximation, but it wasn't fresh roast with proper foamy milk and cocoa sprinkles. Looking around Main Street it all seemed lively for a Saturday morning, families with their kids getting groceries and cars slowly passing through. It was another beautiful warm day, blue sky above and bird song filling the air.

Wyvern was not a big town, just two bars, a supermarket, a bank, hardware shop and a several restaurants. Just beyond on the periphery of the town were the usual fast food joints near the main highway, some industrial factories, gas stations which then led you to more rural scenes with fields of corn and ranches. It was big enough to be interesting, yet small enough to be personal.

Walking over to civic building it really said a great deal about the town. It served as everything, from the home for the Mayor's office to her own Stationhouse , all under one roof. It was probably one of the oldest buildings in the town, quite grand it is appearance with sandstone pillars and ornate fixtures. Entering the large wooden doors she made her way through the cavernous entrance hall eventually finding herself in her office as she looked over to the solitary figure sitting at the desk surprisingly busy for a change.

"Morning Jimmy," she announced, her deputy unflinching from his work.


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