White Out


Prologue


"Our emergency housing contact said she's got house-room for you two. Like I told you before, she gives our department the right to put people into one or more of her stocked log cabins for nasty weather situations like this. That's what I was expecting, because she's never offered room at her place before: She's a very private person and painfully shy around strangers. This time, though she said she knows that you two needed to be somewhere that our emergency services department had access to you."

"Seriously?" John stared in disbelief. "Who told you we were here? We're supposed to be relaxing. This was expected to be a vacation."

"The young woman our local natives tend to refer to as 'The Girl In The Mountain' did: She said to 'Tell the dark-haired one that along with the normal reasons, because the system will have another, worse one developing within it and chain of storms behind it as well, that he will be needed for his non-department related skill-set once the worse of the melt is over...and that means he's got to be in place well before the storms. So much depends on his ability to show people how to survive extreme conditions sans emergency services being able to reach us, that she will make sure that both of you make it through this in a reasonable condition...because she, at least, is physically prepared for anything the mountains can throw at her.'

Matt paused, then prodded, "Is there a reason other than just that, as you mentioned earlier, that you're both experienced firefighters, for why she'd have made that kind of a claim? Seemed to think that would make more sense to you than it did to me. She also sounded extremely sure of Gage's abilities."

U.S Fish and Game agent Matthew Beaupoint was intensely curious as he backed into the recluse's remote home's driveway, set the parking brake and turned off his all-wheel drive Suburban. He smiled a little at Johnny's expression.

"Sometimes, once in a while, not all the time or anything like that, she just says something weird like that, but she's always correct when she does. She just knows things. It's creepy, but it helps and has saved several lives. Also, I'm worried as hell, because she is never wrong about long-range weather trends or the really nasty short-range storms."

"Yeah, we're both paramedics, with station 51, out of Carson City." Roy told him calmly, clearly fishing for information, now..

"Should've known our vacation was going out the window as soon as that freak storm system was announced." Gage muttered. "That's not what she meant, though, Roy. If she made a point of making sure that I know that she's supplied for as she put it, 'anything the mountains can throw at her' and is aiming me at some really nasty future conditions, then she means my other skills. Which she shouldn't even know about, frankly...so you're right, Matt, that is seriously creepy."

Roy looked at him for a moment, sighed, then nodded before returning his attention to the now clearly amused park agent with a long-suffering expression on his face.

"Okay, so what you're telling us, is that this guy," He indicated his now grinning partner with his thumb, "Who can walk into wilderness on a bet with the jokester on our shift's engine crew, in flipflops, shorts and a really, really ratty faded so much it's red turned pink t-shirt and come back out with a full kit, backpack, tamed mustangs, clean and in clean leather clothes and footwear, well fed and rather gloomy about the fact that he has to go back to work, a month later...is needed for those skills, not necessarily the medical or the search and rescue or other retrieval skills we got trained to do...and are carded with both our state and nationals." He hen pinned Matt with a glare, then said bluntly, "Matt, don't ask, trust me on this, you don't want to know, no self-respecting man would. Just be thankful that shirt didn't survive the trip and let it go."

Matt wasn't about to touch that, trying not to laugh, he simply continued, "All good skills to have up here and I'll update my notes on the pair of you to indicate those cards, but yes, it's probably his wilderness skills I'm pretty sure she meant...we found out the hard way over the past several years that she's never wrong about weather, but I wonder how she knew about that bit? I told her about the firefighter stuff on the landline, but I didn't know the rest. She's weird, always seems to know things she shouldn't. My granny swears the girl has the Sight."

Bemused, Matt finally shrugged it off.

"Anyway, she's prepping for long-lasting, extreme conditions, she was muttering stuff about contained vortexes inside daisy-chained blizzards pretending to be a normal winter. so she will be in her caves, or at least moving supplies to her basement since it leads into her series of large, well-supplied, nicely heated caves. She mostly lives in them and always retreats to them if it really gets nasty...no wind to bleed off heat. She rides most of them out in the caves. She always uses them in summer, for instance. Just moves in and stays there...front of the house becomes a giant front porch.

She might live on her very sturdy house-like porch four months out of the year...two at a time, in late spring and mid-autumn, after the worst of the winter cold is gone, she can keep it warm and wants to see the sky for a while...and when the fire danger is way down if not gone completely, for harvest reasons, specifically for foraging, hunting, fishing and gathering wood for the oncoming winter. The rest of the year, she essentially lives in a well-appointed, safe, hole in the ground. It has multiple exits, though by now, she'll have closed all except the one in the basement, just under her porch."

"Spends most of her life underground?" John wanted to know, gripped in a sense of foreboding. "Why would she do that?"

"It's where she lives, but she's usually out and about somewhere. It's not like she goes in and never comes out. For winter, it's because it preserves heat and supplies better, in summer it's because our fire season currently involves a fifteen year drought. As she explained when she went off on our local former fire marshal; mind, I don't know what he had said to her but it seriously ticked her off.

She told him that she felt that waking up with the wooden porch on fire and her in it, because of someone else's stupidity is something she'd rather not do. She went on to add that the fewer stupid people we have to worry about the better, at times like that, while staring right at him, mind you.

Then pointed right at him and went off on a new and different rant about Stupid People...you can hear both capitals and the italics infused in them, whenever she says those two words, too." He laughed. "Once she was done with him and he'd scurried off with his proverbial tail between his legs, she calmed right down. Told our local firefighters that she was doing front line responders a favor by the simple act of putting herself out of reach of any forest fire...two stories underground in a granite cavern system.

She figures she can avoid becoming someone else's stupid person by taking a few minor precautions. They agreed, she allowed them to do a formal inspection of her home caves, got them approved and that was that." He laughed again, "She made it very clear she was referring to him every time she said the word 'stupid', for several days afterward.

She even told his wife to her face at the grocers one day, that the varied departments weren't supposed to be an 'us or them' thing, they were all supposed to be various aspects of the same 'us', and having the jackass that Kathy Woptr was married to causing unnecessary problems between Fire, the varied LEOs and Fish and Game wasn't doing the people they were supposedly looking after any favors.

Our local lads kept laughing every time she did, too...agreed with her. He was not happy when he was replaced with someone a good bit smarter, six months later. Smarter, has a lot of common sense and is easy to work with."

Roy snorted in amusement. "I agree, though...that reasoning should have been obvious."


"Mind you, she's mitigated some of the water issues by badgering me into bringing in lots of western beaver to just do what beavers do...it's helping, it's helping a lot, actually...should've thought of it myself without the nagging. As regards the girl under discussion, unless she's furious, she's reclusively, painfully shy, skittish and something close to fearful. She tends to avoid people when she can, especially males. But, for all of that and she's a good hostess. "

"Smart gal, sounds like." Roy approved.

"Yeah." Johnny nodded abruptly, "Yeah, I agree that's a good call in this area. But, why is she skittish?" John frowned.

"She said she used to be very close to some of you folks in a city, refused to say who or where, they taught her what to not do and one in particular taught her a great deal as regards alternatives." He answered Roy, showing some discomfort with John's question.

"Okay, but the skittishness? If we have to deal with it, we need to know what we're actually dealing with." Roy pressed, clearly worried about her.

"She never said, but she behaves like she's been a sexual assault victim at some point." Matt told him soberly. "Major trust issues and whatever you do, don't touch her. She'll have our local paramedics responding to you almost immediately after any such contact. She'll put you in a condition that requires traction. If someone has to call that in, it usually goes something like, 'We warned him or her, but the idiotic hotshot touched her anyway.'"

Roy and John gazed at each other...that sounded familiar.

"What's her name?" Roy asked slowly, but his voice had gone rather hoarse.

"Azure Hicks." Matt stared at John when his breath caught. "Gage?"

"She's fifteen."

"You know her."

"Yeah. I'm pretty sure we both do. I think I'm that one man in particular you said she mentioned."

"If she's who we think she is, John's grandfather said she had Shaman potential and that was a couple of years ago." Roy told Matt somberly."I'm glad she's okay."

"Either of you the reason why she's skittish?"

"Oh, hell no." John's tone was disgusted and his voice was rough with emotion. "Might be a bit nervous since it's been a long time since we've seen her, but she's not afraid of us, if that's what you mean."

"No." Roy's voice and face were tight. "That would have been her sperm donor, he's still in prison and won't be eligible for parole for another five years...if the other inmates allow him to survive that long, by the way.

We responded to the ...well, 'incident' is way too small of a word for what that monster did to his daughter, but there you have it. Anyway...we broke a lot of rules for that girl. Not supposed to get hung up on patients, but...we did. She needed someone and she just wouldn't listen to anyone else, her foster parents included. So, John entered the Big Brother program, to try to help her...that gave her access to both of us, by default."

"Crowds daunted her, new people made her uneasy, hell, even the engine crew made her nervous; she got more and more scared as time went on, so I started teaching her how to hunt, track, build shelters from found materials to keep her mind busy and increase how much personal control she had over her life.." John said quietly. "She did better, a lot better actually, once away from people. She'd relax in the windy silences of the hill country, the deserts or the mountains. Or even when it was just the three of us, but her behavior around other people was just getting more suspicious, accusative, unfriendly, even openly hostile."

"We, meaning the department as a whole, got a request from Oregon to help out with the big fire up there a few years ago. Our HQ asked for help and our shift was one of about sixty shifts, department wide, that went up. We told her about it before we left to go. Two months later, on the way back, something went wrong with the plane we were on and it went down." John continued.

"Both pilots were killed on impact, crushed beyond recognition...although the rest of us were in relatively one piece...but we had to rescue ourselves." Roy's voice was soft as he remembered that trip. Johnny kept us fed, out of the weather, kept us out of trouble with the wildlife and such things, on the way down, even caught and broke six mustangs so we could ride down instead of walking."

"Nobody knew we'd survived until we rode out of the hills at Ernest Tailor's station at the edge of Ten Folds Canyon." John smirked slightly as he recalled the expression on Ernest's face. "I do believe we startled him just a little bit."


"I know where that is, I know Ernest, for that matter. I remember Ernest complaining about a smart ass scaring the crap out of him...you people shocked him."

"We did, of course that's because John was last down the hill, making sure Chet was okay. He had a sprain from the day before, apparently. Didn't mention it to anyone, but the end of a full two months on a wilderness hike back and right as we're finally arriving at a paved road at least one of us knows, isn't the time to be a 'big brave boy'. Kelly was embarrassed when he couldn't mount his horse by himself, but lagging like that was foolhardy." Roy heaved a sigh.

"She had vanished from foster care during that time, though: I was pretty sure she'd gone into the wilderness for good, it was the only thing that made sense."

"What has worried us the most, was her age." Roy's voice was morose, "Given that she was only ten at the time he got caught assaulting her, though it had, as it turned out, gone on for some few years before that happened, which is why he got so much Time at sentencing. When we found that out, Johnny wanted to kill that man and I wanted to kill him so much my hands were shaking."

"Which is why we got involved a lot more than we usually would. Could not get the expression in her eyes out of our minds, she was just a baby. Roy needed to see it through, he couldn't let go and I didn't want to let go." Gage's throat worked for a few minutes, his eyes had gotten wet with emotion until he finally blew out his breath and let it go.

"And just as she was starting to make some headway as regards mental and emotional healing, our plane went down: She was thirteen when she disappeared. We were the only support she had that she actually trusted and when we vanished, so did she."

"This is the first we've heard of her since. Matthew, she's only fifteen. She needs adults she trusts...and she trusts us. I need to set eyes on our kid and make sure she's okay before I can settle down, now that I know she's here."

Matt shook his head, "Knew she was small, that was obvious when we finally noticed her, didn't realize how young she is. She's tough, that girl: She talks like an old woman and dresses like someone in her forties, baggy coveralls, heavy boots, floppy hat, that sort of thing. During summer she chops off her hair until it sticks up in ugly little tufts, but it grows back enough to cover ears and neck by the time it gets cold.

She'd gotten land somehow, wasn't sure how at first...but the deeds are solid, she used the Homestead Act, it's still on the books...we checked, because it's inside a state park, after all. Got it right where her caves are and hired a carpenter to put a 'cheap, four room log cabin on it. Uses it for a really big porch, mostly: A small bedroom, a tiny washroom with just a toilet and shower, living room and kitchen. Board, nail and reels for furniture...she washes her hands in that sink, plus a screened in sitting area on three sides.

It's barely livable, not a good one like the rentals, it's more like a cover for her basement than a real cabin...due to the fact she uses it mostly for bear-proof food storage...for stuff that doesn't need to be refrigerated, so it's just as well she resides underground. She can have more of them built for cheap if it burns because her real house is inside the mountain itself." He spoke as he helped the pair who he now knew were most definitely not tourists get their stuff into Azure's basement from the area that passed as a living room.


"I have to go, there's a lot to do before the blizzard hits, so I can't stick around."

"No, you can't." John agreed blandly. "Someone gets hurt, you know where we are if your local crews are over-worked and under-staffed. We won't do anything stupid, we'll be fine."

"And so will Azure. We're not going to leave her alone, now that we know where she is...she's still our kid, after all." Roy promised softly. He watched Matt leave, then called quietly to the teenager they knew was nearby, if still unseen. "He's gone."

"I know." Her voice came from the darkest part of the front room, amid boxes and bags and scattered furniture...and it was rusty, husky sounding as if she didn't use it much. "Bring your stuff into the caves, the fore-section of the storm will last only a short time, just a few hours, maybe. If we're lucky... before it really gets nasty. Once that happens, I won't be able to keep this area heated, so I'm not bothering with it. Not going to try to fight a system within a system, an ongoing vortex inside the storm...slow, like a hurricane, and powerful like a tornado...I'm not staying topside."

"You're expecting white-out conditions." John questioned.


"Yes, possibly for weeks, a series of storms no more than a day or two apart and many running into each other from the rear or the bottom edge of some of the ones further north. All of them hitting this area when it's got another coming through...and messing up the low pressure spins of both, in the process. I don't think it will clear until after New Years, but I can't read more than that. I'm sorry."

"Whoa, there...that's not your fault, kiddo." John tried to soothe.

"I'll have to get closer in terms of time before Wind will tell me more. I'm expecting enough snow to translate into a drought-breaker in the spring. I had Matt get western Beaver brought into the lands I bought four years ago, I'm depending on them to keep the eventual floods from the snow melt under control. Half, a little more than half actually, of the downstream waterways start on my place: Lots of springs on mine."

"Sounds good, for Spring anyway." John replied, his voice rich in approval, but his eyes were worried. "Let's get settled in for now."

Roy studied her as the three moved their stuff into the protected area and got the men settled into a pair of smaller, bedroom sized caves, warmer by far than the house had been. She showed them a hot spring, a cold spring, feed tubes going to a 'bathing' pool from both and into a much larger one big enough for swimming in...and how to use them. "It's not fancy, but it works." She sounded unsure and nervous, but her lower lip was trembling a little and then she sniffled.

What she wasn't doing was making any attempt to try to be a miniature adult...not like she would have with Matt or any other adult. It was one of the subtle ways she let them know she still trusted them...by allowing herself to be a child.

"Hey, it's okay. Y'know? It's just us." DeSoto told her softly. "You're safe."

She swallowed audibly, then nodded though the motion was jerky. She looked up into John's dark eyed gaze and only saw the same worried, caring gentleness she'd known, once, a long time ago now. She looked back at Roy and drew a shuddering breath.

He only held out a hand, but didn't crowd her. The fifteen-year-old knew what was on offer was just a hug, nothing more than that. He'd hold her for as long or as short a time as she wanted and nothing bad would happen. He wasn't going to hurt her.

Tears filled her eyes, but she said softly, "Not yet, I want to, but we need to close the place up. It's warm for now, but when that front gets here it'll freeze fast unless the doors and stuff are closed right and the seal is set. Need to lock up...and set the thermostats. And get dinner from the storage caves and show you the deepest ones that stays frozen all the time where I store meat...and treats. I can't shirk, not yet...I still have chores I gotta do."

"Okay, that makes sense." Was the reply.

"Can we help, get it done faster?" John asked her, trying to get her to start thinking instead of reacting.

"I've got all the other entrances locked down and sealed, it's just this one under the porch I need to do. But, I have a set of hearths. a real ones, with pothooks and stuff where I cook and a big one I can...and have...spitted deer on...where I cook bigger stuff...that one has wall ovens for baking. I need to get a fire started in the medium sized one for cooking and the rest for heat. So, I can make dinner now and set a roast to baking in the lower...and larger...oven. It might take a couple of hours to get everything done and move wood into the day bins for all the places and hearths. The day bins hold enough wood for about three days for that fireplace, hearth or oven and they're getting low.

I've got enough hardwood...oak, mostly, in the cave behind the one with the biggest hearth to keep us in wood for the whole winter, with it and the others lit most of the time, less when it's banked for sleeping time. Got more one level down, a whole winter's worth plus a half year. There's a lot of small fireplaces at varied heights in other rooms that are just baffled to send smoke up and out but heat into the rooms. I don't use so much fuel on the electric sources that way and plus if the lights go out, they're already lit and I don't get froze."

She looked questioningly over at Johnny and saw his nod. "Okay, those are good redundancies to have had built in. Now, how do you keep the electrical sources going?"

"I have four of those massive generators that the state fair used to run the rides with, that had been thought broke, so I rebuilt them...the ones housed in 48' trailers, those are parked in the very deepest caves, natural underground temp stays in between the forties and the fifties. One keeps me in power for months on end. Anything you'd run on electric, I have. All sorts of gadgets and video games and stuff. I just got to check the extension cords once a week or so, for rodent damage. The heat pumps and electric furnaces keep it above freezing, the fireplaces and the main hearth keep it cozy. " She looked up at DeSoto and said, rather plaintively, "I like my caves. I've been safe in here. I can hide here for months when I want."


"Okay, I'll get wood going in the main hearth." Roy didn't like the 'hiding' part, not one little bit, but he understood it.

"What about now?" Roy wanted to know once he'd helped her lock up and seal the topside doors.

"Let me get dinner started, I won't want to stop to do things I need to do. And I can't remember if John knows how to cook. I do remember you're only good for hotdogs."

"Okay, how about this, leave sandwich stuff out so John can make lunch, we can learn where you keep most things over the next few days...it doesn't need to done all at once...and your roast will handle the evening meal. After lunch, though, we need to try to get some of those backed up emotions out. Bottling them up does you no good."


After lunch, Roy finally, gently insisted and she didn't argue this time. She let him initiate it, too much time had passed for her to remember how it had felt to reach for him. "You need to let some of that, most of it, outta your system, Azure. It's okay to cry, you know. It's just bleeding off pressure."

"I...I want to, I just haven't in a long time. It didn't do any good so I locked it all away...I don't know if I know how to let it go and my hands don't remember how." She stammered at him, seeing understanding in his kind blue eyes immediately. "I forgot how to reach."

Roy nodded, then simply picked her up and caring hands settled her on his lap in one of the recliners, rocking it and mildly told her. "It's okay, it's just me and John. We've got you, okay? You are mostly fine and we will make sure you stay that way, only better."

She nodded a tiny bit, then the shuddering came as she allowed herself to lean into him, after a good long while, tears finally came. She had a lot to let go of.

After the hours of tears came a silence that stretched on for several moments as he patiently rocked her in his arms...and she held on tight.

"I wish..." She finally whispered.

"Hmmm?" Roy prodded.

"I wish you was my daddy." Azure's voice was soft and sad. "Your kids are so lucky."

"Oh honey...shhh. It's okay, I'm right here." He was touched, but he hurt for her, too. He raised his aching blue eyes to John's and met sorrowful brown ones. All she really wanted was a real parent.

"John would make a good dad, too."

"He just doesn't seem to be the type."

"Why would you think that?" Gage asked her quietly.

"It's harder to read, but Wind says you're not ready. Earth thinks you could be a good one for a younger kid...but I'd confuse you too fast." She shrugged rather hopelessly and huddled a bit deeper into DeSoto's arms. "Earth says that's why we resonated when I was little."


"She's Shaman active." John said abruptly. 'And her power is elemental based instead of spirit, like most. I think Earth is her strongest affinity...thus the caves. I don't understand how she hears Wind so clearly, though. It's Earth's Opposite."

"It's not like they're enemies or anything, though. Wind touches Earth and they do talk to each other, you know? I listen, sometimes we talk, too, but mostly I just listen when Wind speaks."

Roy was a little confused, but trusted his partner's judgment on the matter.

"Wind says I do better than the Man Trained ones because I don't have idiots who know nothing telling me what I'm not to do or can't do. As long as I can explain what is needed, why it's needed and prove it's of benefit to at least three different creatures, plants or places, they will usually help.

The blizzards are needed because Water isn't landing where it's needed most and dries up before it can get to the plants or animals that need it...but, guess what? Enough snow will do the same job, so I asked Earth to ask Wind...and Wind is bringing Water to this part of Mountainous Earth in the Winter instead of the Summer, this time, so it can stop having Fire run the show in summer. Water doesn't much like Fire and I'm tired of it burning Earth here so much." That last bit came out very grumpy.

John laughed. "Okay. I need to call grandfather before we lose all of the communications towers. Where's the telephone?"


"I don't think Roy and I will be getting back to fifty-one before May, from the sound of it." He ended. And frankly, I don't care. I'm not leaving a fifteen year old up here by herself and she's Bonded to this territory, clearly."

"Sounds like it." The old Shaman confirmed. "You might not be ready to be a father, but you might have to become ready. Your partner has a family he must return to and the child clearly needs someone. Unless you both transfer to her territory and he moves his family there, your time with him might be ending. A new chapter in your life might be opening...it is not clear yet. We must see what happens."

"She needs him, too."

"She does: However, his own children have a prior claim, do they not? This is his struggle that he must deal with. But do not leave her, Grandson. She will not recover if she is dropped altogether, if the Spirits dictate she is not to have the parent that knows what he is doing, then she must at least have a parent who is willing to learn. Who is to say you would not be the father she needs, rather than he? You can adjust, you can learn." The old man told his worried grandson.

"Okay, I'll keep an open mind."

"That is wise."


She was shaking by the end Johnny's explanation and Roy was as worried as John. There was a great deal of truth to what the old shaman had said, but he'd been missing information.

"Why didn't you tell him Jo divorced me and took the kids back east?"

"He didn't exactly leave an opening, did he?"

"We're transferring, then."

"Yeah. Hank's gonna be pissed." He picked up the cell and called HQ, then the station and then the local station they'd already stopped to say 'hi' to, just to be polite. Then he told them exactly who the Girl In The Mountain was, what her history was and how they knew her, which took time.

While he did that, Roy put the exhausted teen to bed, then settled into a nearby chair to watch her sleep.. An hour later, Matt called him, since the locals had just updated the game warden.

"You two work fast. Where's she?"

"Roy's putting her to bed. She needs a nap, he finally got her to let some of the stress and fear out, she's been crying for hours...she's exhausted. We'll probably have a few more of these over the next few days. She's a full Elemental Shaman, pal, tell the local shaman that he or she has company. My grandfather is a normal shaman, spirit based, one...she's something a lot different.

She developed her Gifts in extreme stress and from what you said, a lot of isolation...but she's still just fifteen, still in the middle of puberty and that means her powers are probably still increasing. She accepts Roy in the role of parent, but my grandfather's forbidden me to leave her...when he gets that intense, you'd have to be an idiot to ignore it. So, we're transferring here and have already started the ball rolling in Los Angeles. I'm going to be taking daddy lessons from my partner, for her."

"Okay, you signing on with the locals or with us?"

"Who does she work with most?"

"Us."

"Them U. S. Fish and Game it is, since we're trying to rock her world as little as possible."

"Well, we've got, obviously, plenty of firefighters and search people, given the nature of our department, but only two other two man teams with paramedic training, so adding another team is a welcome thing. I'll get the paperwork made up and bring it out whenever I can manage it." Matt replied. "Anything else?"

"She's got a proper read on the series of blizzards we've got coming our way, but it's only preliminary...it's subject to updates, I'd fire up your computers, get a look at the weather satellites and have a chat with NOAA, if I were in your shoes." John advised, then told him exactly what was going on.


Poor Matt was swearing by the time he finished the call with Johnny. Matt was going to have to get the computer models going now that he knew what to watch for. That girl was priceless as a weather eye, but Gage was correct, now the agent had to use science to figure out what was happening in a way his superiors would take seriously.

Once Matt had a few rather scary working models, he sent it all to NOAA to be checked out by experts in weather...the reply they sent back a day later indicated that NOAA was seriously alarmed...so it was as well he'd warned his community based on the warning of The Girl In The Mountain. Some called her a Seer, like his gran, others knew she was a shaman, others knew nothing but except she'd never been wrong about weather...any way you looked at it though, people had acted accordingly, stocking up on food, fuel, gas, gas generators, water and wood...enough for months...and the people of Apple Valley were ready for it when it hit.


TBC


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