Cascading Auric Collapse

“How bad?”

The two words seemed to hang in the air. Tiana’s brows furrowed at Bertram. He was frowning and nodding. Finally, he assured the caller he was on his way and hung up. “What’s wrong?” she asked.

“Keenan,” Bertram said. His voice was thin, as if he were in shock. “He… nearly died. His aura just… started disintegrating. Phillip got him stabilized. Chris and Lyn are on their way to take our place here at the camp.”

Tiana nodded. Everyone knew how close Keenan was with Bertram. “Trenton staying?” she asked.

Bertram shrugged. “That’s his choice.”

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Opportunity

Keenan gave Bertram a wan smile. “The kids are gone over night,” he said, as he tossed an overnight bag into his car. “I’ll be back before they return. The timing was perfect.”

“The fact that none of them will be able to see you at a press conference is a big help,” Bertram said. He grimaced and then sighed. “Are you sure that you’re up to this, Keenan? You look… pale.”

Keenan said, “I’m fine.” He shut the door and said, “I can take care of myself. I’ve done so for a long time now.” Bertram looked doubtful.

Camping

Keenan looked at the weather maps. A faint smile touched his lips and he tapped the screen. “Perfect timing,” he said. “They’re predicting two days of fair weather.”

“Time to let the kids have their experience with camping in tents and sleeping on the ground,” Bertram said. He nodded. “I’ll see to the preparations.”

Logan looked up from the computer he was working at. “Are you actually going to trust thirty teenagers to sleep in tents without adult supervision?” he asked.

A faint smile touched Keenan’s lips. “Heaven’s!” he exclaimed, “There’s only one thing I trust them to do.”

FOB

Keenan flopped back against his mattress and sighed contentedly. “Oh, this was a great idea,” he said, closing his eyes. His aura was pulsing gently, ready to start flaring at any moment. He needed to rest and, with all the campers resting, now was the perfect opportunity.

“Are you all right?” Bertram asked, his brows furrowing.

Without opening his eyes, Keenan nodded. “Need a nap. That’s all.” It was strange, though. He was taking his medicine, so he couldn’t understand why his aura would begin pulsing. His brows furrowed. After he had taken a nap, he’d analyze his medicine.

Concern

Bertram frowned at Alan. Something about him didn’t set right. True, the Agency had sent Team Theta to investigate the murder almost immediately. However, it stuck him as odd that they should also send a cook, too. They’d only identified the body an hour ago.

He glanced over at Tiana. He hesitated to tread on what might still be a sore subject. “Are you keeping Haruko apprised of things here?” he asked.

“Only as it relates to my own work,” Tiana said. It wasn’t an answer, but her manner told Bertram it was the best he could hope for.

Regrets

Keenan patted Emil on the shoulder and sent him to join his friends. At least the boy had calmed a bit after the shock of finding a dead body. The first was always the hardest. He stepped over to Bertram and sighed.

“He see anything?” Bertram whispered.

Nodding, Keenan said, “He caught a glimpse of a person, presumably the killer, leaving the scene. Ti called in while I was making his tea. It’s definitely a murder, but there’s something strange about the scene. She wants me to examine the body.”

Bertram nodded. “Keenan,” he said, as his friend started towards the door. “Who was it?”

“Keiry,” he said. From the look on Keenan’s face, Bertram knew they were both thinking the same thing. Maybe, they should have listened to her. If they had, she might still be alive. Shaking the thought away, Bertram turned to the campers. He couldn’t help Keiry now. He had to focus on what he could do.

Old Fears

“What if he was a big bear?”

Bertram wished Laura hadn’t said those words. He couldn’t explain how the little bear she was hugging could be a big bear. Now that he looked closer, he noticed other – more impossible – things.

The little bear had glass eyes. They blinked as he stared at them. His moist nose had the shine of plastic to it. Bertram’s keen eyes could see little stitches in the body – a crocheted body. No, the bear was a stuffed animal and yet – and yet it was clearly alive. Magic? Why did it always have to be magic?!

Frustration

Bertram closed his eyes and reached out with his senses. He listened at each cabin. There were girls in the Beaver Cabin speaking in whispers and giggling softly. They’d quiet down soon enough. The occupants of both the Chipmunk and the Red Fox Cabins had already quieted. Their deep, even breaths told him that everyone – including Tiana – was asleep.

He focused on the closer cabins. The boys in the Timber Wolf Cabin and those in the Opossum Cabin were quiet as well, all sleeping. Then, he listened to the Raccoon Cabin. Simon was awake. From the way he was grinding his teeth, he was thinking about something.

A new sound reached Bertram’s ears. He sighed. No, he couldn’t have that – not without Beth there to distract him. He pulled on his bathrobe and headed out into the night. He was going to put a stop to this right away.

Recognized

Trenton leaned over towards Keenan. “Why does that girl at the table with the Misguided Ghosts look familiar?” he asked.

“Haruko’s dear little girl,” Keenan said, fighting the urge to roll his eyes. A part of him – the paranoid part – worried that Haruko had sent her to the camp to spy on him. Then, he reminded himself that Haruko didn’t know he was there. She was just a camper with an unfortunate relationship with someone he hated. After a moment, he added, “Her name’s Kaylee.”

“We’ll see just how much like her father she is,” Trenton said, nodding.

Bertram shook his head. “She looks a great deal like her mother,” he said. “I’ve never had any complaints about Clover. Maybe Kaylee takes after her mother in more than looks?”

“God, help the child if she doesn’t,” Tiana said. She chuckled softly and shook her head, mumbling something about uncharitable thoughts.

Advantageous Adaptations

Bertram sidled up to Keenan and said, “You seem tense. What’s wrong?”

Tiana shot him a confused frown. Keenan was grinning from ear to ear. He’s just been laughing and joking with the campers. How did he seem tense?

Keenan’s smile didn’t falter. He simply shrugged and said, “Might be they found me. Might be they haven’t.”

“We’ll call Trenton in for backup,” Bertram said, nodding.

As he slipped away, Tiana said, “How did he know you were worried?” Was there some clue that she’d missed? Keenan had seemed fine – still did, in fact.

“He can hear by racing heart and increased respiration,” Keenan said, adjusting his glasses. He shrugged. “Guess having hearing that would make bats jealous has its advantages.”

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