Original Concept by Crowswork
Note: This story, based on Crowswork's concept, is an AU situated in the future. It is rated PG for some strong language. I want to sincerely thank Ran who came up with the idea of using the nanites…
Excerpt from the Journals of Blair Sandburg…
I find myself thinking often of that terrible day.
The day Jim Ellison died.
It haunts me…my daytime thoughts and my dreams at night. I can't help but wonder what might have been…
A few, terrible, miserable seconds...if only Jim had found the Switchman's bomb just a few seconds sooner.
'If only'…the most tragic phrase in our language.
Jim had pitched the bomb out of the rear window of the bus, but it had exploded almost immediately. My last memory of that day was of Jim's tall body being flung backwards down the long narrow aisle of the bus by the force of the firestorm that followed the explosion, toward me. I dimly remember holding out my arms to catch him…I remember the overwhelming sense of hope plummeting to horror…
Many of us were seriously hurt that day, but only James Ellison died from his injuries.
The true, living embodiment of all my studies, all my hopes…all my dreams.
A good, decent, so very unique man, brave and selfless…who shouldn't have died.
I'd only just met Jim, hardly knew him at all, really. But I'd liked him, even admired him and I felt this odd connection to him, as if I'd known him all my life, you know? I guess, in a way I had. I'd searched for him for most of my life and, in those too few days we spent together, I understood more about what was happening to him than he did. His senses had been spiking out of control, with no warning, and he couldn't understand what was happening to him.
He was afraid, I think, that he was losing his mind.
Looking back, I realize how desperate for help that he must have been. Well, the guy was ex-military, a cop, as conservative as they come and at least ten years older than me, a man not used to having to ask for help. But…he trusted me, maybe not quite from the first moment, but almost. At first, I think he thought I was a hopped up, hippy weirdo…he called me a 'neo-hippy witchdoctor punk', a term I've since come to think of with a great deal of affection…and sorrow. But after we picked ourselves up from under that garbage truck that had almost run him down when he zoned outside of Hargrove Hall, he was ready to talk, and it seems, to trust me.
This improbable kid with the wild hair and unconventional clothing, who talked a mile a minute and probably made no sense at all to him…probably seemed more than eccentric and downright weird.
Despite the fact that I'd virtually called him a caveman throwback.
Which says a lot about how scared he was…and about his ability to trust when the chips are down.
I didn't really mean that I thought he was some kind of Neanderthal. Not at all. But he didn't understand my effusive exposition about Sentinels and his heritage. Doesn't matter now, I guess…but when I think back, I wish I might have explained better. I could feel his fear, though he tried so hard not to show it, his desperation. I guess I didn't help him very much.
I wonder about that a lot. Wonder if I could have done something differently that could have given him a better idea of how to use his senses…if I might have been able to, somehow, give him those few precious seconds.
That's a part of what haunts me and always will, I guess.
Anyway, I remember waking from what I later learned was a week-long coma, and the first thing I remember was this rush of fear for Jim, being so scared for him…and the first words I managed finally to say was to ask, "Jim? How's Jim? Is he all right?"
I was told that Jim had died.
Oh, Dear God, I still tremble with the shock and horror I felt, still feel, as I write those words and still feel so utterly, abjectly, sick to my soul…. Oh, God, it hurts.
How do I explain what that felt like…still feels like? How could the death of a virtual stranger leave me feeling so bereft? As if I had lost a part, the best part, of myself. I remember insisting that it couldn't be true, that there had to be some mistake. I felt that I would have known if he were dead, as crazy as I know that sounds. So they explained to me that though his father (from whom I later learned he'd been estranged) had rushed him to Seattle and had hired the best specialists, there had been nothing they could do.
Jim had already been buried. I never got a chance to see him again. No chance to touch him…to say 'good-bye'. How do I find a way to let him go? I can't…I just can't….
I've seen the pictures of the funeral…Simon, the now missing and presumed late Captain Banks of the Major Crimes Unit, brought them into the hospital for me to see. It was a part of how they finally convinced me that Jim was really gone. Full honour guard, and quite a crowd of mourners. I wonder if he would have ever guessed how many people would mourn his passing. I don't think he would have…he seemed to consider himself something of a loner in this world. But, it wasn't just his colleagues, former military comrades and his father, brother and their housekeeper who came out of either affection or duty, but crowds of people from all walks of life, the rich and poor, white and blue collar workers, young and old, and all racial backgrounds, which I think is a tribute to him of significant proportion. It was as if all of Cascade mourned…as if he had touched the lives of all in his tribe.
I feel I failed him. That he shouldn't have died. That it wasn't his time.
That it was wrong, so very wrong.
And that haunts me most of all.
From that day forward, I've felt this strange empty ache inside. God, I miss him. Sometimes, though I know it makes no sense, I feel as if he's lost somewhere and waiting for me to find him again. I've felt that so strongly, and I've heard him calling me in my dreams and I wake up, wanting to go to him, to answer that call. I finally forced myself to go out to the cemetery to visit his grave. But I have no sense of him there.
Instead, I keep having these impressions of a jungle and a shaman. I guess because Jim told me a little about Peru and about the Chopec Shaman he'd met, Incacha. It's nuts, but I keep thinking I should go to Peru and find Incacha, as if he might have answers for me. As if he might be able to explain why I have this ache, this need to find a man who can no longer be found. I know a lot about Jim, now, his life…I've researched it and it's all recorded in my earlier journals. It's as though if I can't find him now, I have to at least know all I can about who he was…I ache to know him.
He was special, very, very special.
He shouldn't have died. Not then. Not like that.
I've often thought that nothing happens in this universe randomly, that there is always a purpose, a reason. But, for the life of me, I can't understand this…his death. Oh, many people die everyday, and are mourned. I suppose it's natural to rail against the Fates. But…he still seems alive to me. I can't explain it. I wonder if that feeling will ever finally fade away in time.
It took a while, but I eventually recovered from the burns caused by the exploding bomb and gas tank, and the flying shrapnel. After a year of plastic surgery and physiotherapy, I returned to Rainier and finished my PhD. I married my dear, beloved Margaret and we have a happy and contented life…and soon our child will be born. We've resisted the temptation of ultrasounds, wanting it to be a wonderful surprise. Either way, Margaret has agreed that I can call my first-born Jamie. She seems to understand why I need to do that.
Oh, yes, I still think about what might have been.
A real live Sentinel.
My Sentinel. James Joseph Ellison.
Blair Sandburg closed the computer file and flipped up the imaging headset as he thought about the author of those haunting words. His great-grandfather Blair, the man he'd been named after, had been murdered along with his wife shortly after he'd written those words, less than a month after their child, a son, had been born. A vengeful and wealthy student named Brad Ventriss had apparently hired killers and sent them after the conscientious, and by all reports, popular young professor. Ventriss had also been suspected of another murder, but he'd fled the country and disappeared.
Margaret had been the last of her line, so Grandmother Naomi had raised the couple's young son, James, aka Jamie or when Nana was feeling particularly whimsical, Jimmy-Joe. It was part of the family folklore that she could never get over raising a child who'd been named after a cop. But she did her best, carting him along around the world as her fancy took her, just as she'd done with his father before him. Jamie had grown up with a love for the rich and varied cultures of the world, with the 'mysteries' as Nana had called them. Like his father, he'd sought to understand…and to share what he learned with others.
And, like his father, Jamie kept hoping to one day find a Sentinel. Finding a Sentinel seemed to have become a kind of family quest, passed along from one generation to another, along with Blair Sandburg's journals and academic papers.
A few years before he was killed in the Great Yellowstone Eruption of 2035, archaeologist James fathered Margaret-Naomi Sandburg. Marni took after her beloved and ancient Nana Sandburg and got pregnant at 17. Naomi lived long enough to look at the infant boy and whisper, her voice muted with a kind of awe as her eyes glistened with tears, "It's Blair, my Blair!"
And Blair did have to admit it. He looked exactly like the holos of his great-grandfather. Exactly, right down to the long, curly hair and the earring. It hadn't been intentional. Most of the family photos, the few that there'd been, given the family had strongly developed gypsy inclinations and tendencies to travel light, had been lost in the fiery cataclysm that had been visited on the earth long before he'd been born. So he'd had no idea of how his ancestor had looked. But he'd recently come across some old pictures of students and faculty when they'd excavated the Rainier university archives that had been stored in a building just inside the flow zone.
It had given him a strange feeling, to see himself in the old files, faded by time but made fresh again through the modern holographic restoration techniques. But after the initial shock, he'd shrugged, figuring that while the field of genetic memory was only in the infancy of its research, the early findings showed that we are born far more than we are made by social circumstance, however 'politically incorrect' those findings were. The research had been triggered by the inexplicable but undeniable similarities between identical twins who had been raised apart from birth. Common enough preferences, like favourite colours or clothing styles, and really odd correlations, like marrying spouses with the same names on the same dates, or naming their children the same, children also born on the same days, had come to light, time and time again…more than coincidence, the occurrence of such alignments were now statistically predictable. So, he accepted in an academic kind of way that he was a throwback of sorts, his great-grandfather reincarnate. From all he'd learned of the man, Blair figured he could have done worse than end up being like him.
Unlike his grandfather and mother before him, who had been archaeologists, Blair had taken up anthropology, like his great-grandfather. His specialty was the late 20th century. It was why he was working on the excavation of the long buried site of the city of Cascade. The old city was mostly evacuated in '35 when the surrounding volcanic mountains had once again become so violently active. Before the cataclysm was over, two-thirds of the city had been buried under lava and the rest severely damaged by earthquake and fire. But there were any number of underground structures that had survived the onslaught of ash and molten stones, earthquake and fire. In some respects, Cascade was a kind of modern Pompeii or Akrotiri.
One such structure was the sub-basement of Ellison Enterprises, the building that had once been owned by William and Steven Ellison, Jim Ellison's family.
His namesake's Jim Ellison! The Sentinel.
Blair got up to put the disk of the old journal away in his desk, locking it into a fireproof box with the other disks and holos, as well as the original journals and papers written by his long dead ancestor. He couldn't explain the sense of anticipation he had, but attributed it to the fact that he was working on a site that had a connection to his great-grandfather's Sentinel. But the anticipation bubbled constantly lately, growing and combining with something that felt like urgency and almost unbearable excitement. It made no sense. It just was.
As for those dreams he'd been having for as long as he could remember, the dreams of being in a jungle somewhere, of a wolf and jaguar…and of being with another man, someone taller and older…well, he figured the old journals were at the root of the dreams as well. Oh, he knew well enough who the other guy in the dream was. There'd been holos made of the Sentinel, from newspaper clippings of the era, and the pictures the original Blair Sandburg had kept with his journals.
Blair talked with Jim Ellison in his dreams. He didn't find that particularly surprising, either, as Jim Ellison had been the primary hero of his imagination for as long as he could remember, thanks to his mother who had told him tales of the original Blair Sandburg and his Sentinel from before he could read.
Once he could read for himself, he'd poured over the notes and articles, and the holos of Jim; and since being in school, he'd sought out anything he could find on the old cultures, searching for examples of sentinels. And he'd kept a watch for any new information or research that would even hint that another sentinel had been found. He attributed the animals in his dream jungle to his more general research of the old cultures. They'd believed in spirit guides, so Blair figured his mind was populating his sleep with archetypes of that long distant time.
But, so far at least, as far as sentinels themselves were concerned, he'd found nothing more than what his family documents contained, except for another Burton document that had come to light five years ago…and for which he'd sold virtually all he had at the time to acquire. Though it concerned the role and responsibilities of the village shaman more than sentinels, he'd thought it worth the investment, pouring over it and finding interesting information about how a shaman was identified and trained. It was all this, the intrigue and mystery of Blair Sandburg's Sentinel, the possibilities that such another might yet exist somewhere, that had led him to anthropology rather than archaeology as a post-graduate specialty.
Sighing, Blair went out onto the balcony, shivering a little against the chill of the night air. He looked out on his city and up into the starry sky, clear for once and not laden with the perpetual clouds. On nights like this, after having once more delved into his great-grandfather's journals, he felt such an ache, a loss that he couldn't explain. Lonely somehow. Like something or someone was missing, someone vital. Sometimes, like tonight, the ache was so bad that his eyes burned and his breath was tight, as if the ache filled him up, leaving no room for air.
Swallowing, wishing he understood why he felt like he did, he shrugged and went back inside to retire for the night. He'd told Connie he'd be at the dig early to delve into those old computer records she'd dug up, to see if there was anything there that would give them a better sense of what might be found in the vast reaches of the building's sub-basements.
In the old repository of computer disks, Blair found some interesting information about William Ellison's investment in medical research. Smiling to himself, Blair reflected that the old man had apparently been trying to beat the grim reaper. Ellison, Sr. had poured a lot of money into a project that proposed to take someone on the point of death and put them into a state of suspended animation. Fascinating. Ahead of its time really, the technology at the end of the last century being rudimentary and risky at best. Not like the processes available in the world now, where for a price, a body could be held in stasis for eternity.
Sandburg curled his lip at that thought, shuddering as he considered the wretched existence of a soul trapped in a netherworld between life and death, not really alive nor dead, but caught with a body that probably should have been let go, to follow its natural path back to merge with the earth. God, how lonely, how excruciatingly lonely, would such an existence be. Sighing, he shook his head. Those who froze their bodies didn't necessarily share the same beliefs about souls and eternity as he held…if they did, they wouldn't be so afraid to die.
His thoughts were interrupted by the excited shout of the lead archaeologist who was working on the actual dig, while Blair sorted through the detritus of the humans who had occupied this building.
"Blair! We've uncovered something unusual in here," Connie shouted. "You might want to come and take a look."
Blair left his lunch on the dusty surface of the old desk he'd been using as an improvised workstation. 'Rabbit food', Connie called it, teasing him about evidently only ever eating 'green' food, an accusation that was wildly inaccurate, he protested routinely, as most vegetables, fruits and carbs weren't green.
"What have you got?" he asked as he crawled into the recently excavated chamber.
The workers had uncovered a massive steel tube, about seven feet long with a four-foot diameter, buried against the solid rock wall. There was an old-fashioned keyboard built into one side, and an odd little toggle at the bottom, or what he supposed was the bottom given the orientation of the keyboard. The shiny surface was muted by years of dust and grime, but otherwise the assembly looked intact and a line still connected it to the perpetual power source they'd found housed in the building's basement. It had been the heat signature from that power source that had shown up on the satellite photos and had led Blair into talking Connie into applying to work on this site as a joint project, in case something…what he had no idea, but something worth finding…was there.
"Maybe the old man had himself frozen after all," he mused softly as he examined the huge receptacle.
"You think you know what it is?" Connie asked, her expression thoughtful. She had an idea as well, but she'd only seen the things in antique books of old and fairly esoteric technology.
"Yeah," he nodded, looking back toward her. "I think it's an old cryochamber. Maybe we should call in a support crew from the U. They might want to open it under controlled conditions…just in case."
"Oh, come on," she replied without bothering to mute her sarcasm. "No one's ever been revived from any of these things when they've been found. Their brains are mush."
"True," Blair allowed with a shrug. "But all the units I've heard of were damaged, mostly by interruptions in the electricity needed to keep them functioning properly. Old William Ellison had a specially designed perpetual atomic generator installed in this building and now I understand why. But you know that…it was the generator's heat signature that led us to this location and helped determine where to begin the dig. I'll give him his due…the old guy was really ahead of his time. That technology was only introduced toward the end of the century and was really just becoming relatively common, for personal use anyway, around the '20s and it cost a king's ransom. But the fact is, there is a possibility the person inside could be revived. I think we should give the guy a chance, don't you?"
Biting her lip, she nodded. It would cause a bit of a delay, but if Sandburg was right, and he had an instinct for these things, for all that he was still only a grad student, it might well be worth the few days of downtime. Pressing the comlink on her wrist, she called in the new, and potentially exciting, find.
They'd had to enlarge the entry into the dig, and use special hoists to haul the metal sarcophagus from the sub-basement, first taking care to ensure its connection with its power source remained stable. While that was going on, the U had set up a special stasis lab to receive the body that they were expecting to extract from the cylinder, and to try to revive. Scientific speculation about a successful revival ranged from highly sceptical, even derisive, to the curious and finally to those like Blair, the very excited and hopeful. Finally, as the researcher both attributed with the find, as he'd recommended the retrieval and restoration operation, and as a local expert on the era, Blair found himself present for the opening and transfer of the body, should they find anything that looked like it could be restored inside.
As his research, of necessity, included a certain expertise with the computer processes and languages of the era, Blair was given the task of figuring out the archaic keyboard and likely access codes. He'd been thinking about it since the first time he'd looked at it, and figured that it probably wasn't all that complicated. The technicians of the day wouldn't have wanted the opening of the cylinder to be an unsolvable mystery. Pretty sure that it had to be a mix of fairly accessible information shortened to alpha and numeric codes, and further speculating that this was William, or perhaps Steven, Blair had already researched the family history of names and birth dates and had the data on his personal palmlink.
He'd also ruminated about what the access command would be. 'Open Sesame' seemed too whimsical, though it appealed to his sense of humour. Simply 'open' seemed dangerous. The curious might open the cryochamber without any possible way of then caring for the person inside. Finally, Blair determined that the access code would likely refer to the intent, the purpose of opening the modern sarcophagus. 'Revive' seemed the simplest, clearest command to reflect the most desirable intended action.
When the senior scientist, Laura Woodhouse, gave him the go-ahead, Blair pushed a few of the cracked buttons, starting with William Ellison's initials and birth date, added the command to 'revive', and then hit enter. Nothing. Undeterred, he entered the same information for Steven. Still nothing. Frowning, aware that the others in the lab were watching him restlessly, Blair thought about the problem. Maybe it was still William, but in a fit of wanting to remember and honour his first born, had chosen Jim's data as the code. Tapping on his palmlink, he pulled up that information. Taking a breath and mentally crossing his fingers, Blair typed in 'JJE:19/10/59:REVIVE'.
A low humming emanated from the tube, and Blair's eyes brightened with pleased anticipation…well, actually, his eyes sparkled with excitement as he held his breath. There was an audible 'click' as the toggle shifted, and then a grating of metal against metal as the face of the tube began to lift. Swallowing, he stood away from where he'd been kneeling by the keyboard, and pushed his hair behind his ears as he pulled off his glasses to hook them into the front of his shirt.
The tube cracked open, emitting a fog as the chilled air inside met the warmth of the lab, and a segment lifted up and away, eerily like the opening of a coffin's lid. As the fog began to dissipate, Blair was the first to glimpse the tall, muscular, nude man inside the vessel that had been laid lengthwise on the floor. Others gasped as well as the lid opened further, amazed by the perfection of their find. There were no burn marks from the cold controlled temperature in which the body had been stored. But nor did the apparition appear real…more like a slightly bluish-white marble statue of an eternal warrior, frozen and still for all time.
"It's him," Blair breathed in astonishment. "My God…it's Jim Ellison!"
The man from the holos. The man in the jungle of his dreams. Trembling with the realization of exactly whom he was seeing, his throat suddenly tight, his heart thundering in his chest, Blair found his vision blurring with unexpected tears… of relief. That's what it felt like. A huge, overwhelming wave of relief.
Crazy. He knew it was crazy to feel that so sharply. How could he be relieved to find someone he'd thought dead and buried more than almost eighty years before?
The sound of his voice, as low as it had been, broke the spell of wonder that had fallen over the technicians and scientists. In moments, they had carefully transferred the stiff, frozen body from the antique cylinder into the transparent stasis chamber in the centre of the lab. The body was immersed in barely liquid, clear gelatine made of various chemicals to safeguard the tissues while warming occurred. But during the transfer, the injuries that had caused the death, or near death, of their subject became evident. His back and left side were badly burned and there was evidence of surgical intervention in the sutured but unhealed wounds in his back and the occipital lobe of his head.
Ellison's body had no sooner been safely transferred when the scientists and technicians went to work, gathering reams of output from the scanners built into the stasis chamber.
"Well, it's no wonder they considered him as good as dead," one of the scientists reflected as he read the readouts detailing the physical damage left by the bomb explosion seventy-eight years in the past. "We'll need to get a surgical team on this if there is any hope whatsoever of successfully reviving him. Despite the evident traumatic damage, though, there is amazing cellular integrity…no evidence of decomposition either externally or internally. We just might have the makings of a modern day miracle here."
Turning to Blair, the scientist, Josh Enright, observed, "You seemed to actually recognize him when the sarcophagus was opened. Care to explain that?"
Blair nodded, his gaze still transfixed on Ellison's body, scarcely able to believe what he was seeing. "Yeah, my great-grandfather knew this man and wrote about his death. I've seen pictures of him in old newspaper files. He was something of a hero…Cop of the Year and all that. He died as a result of injuries received during a bomb explosion…but he saved more than forty other lives, including my great-grandfather's. My grandfather was named after him and I guess I wouldn't even be here, alive I mean, if not for him. According to my ancestor's journals, they buried him with full honours…no one knew he'd been cryogenated."
Finally tearing his eyes away from Ellison, Blair looked at Josh as he said, "In an odd way, I feel like I know this guy. I'm probably the only person alive who has any idea who he was, but my great-grandfather wrote about him extensively in his journals. I'd like to be involved in his revival and post-resuscitation recovery. I think I could help him adjust. I'd like to try anyway…kind of like paying off an old debt. Besides, what better source could I have for my diss on the late twentieth century?"
"Makes sense to me," Josh nodded thoughtfully, wondering about the astonishing odds against anyone alive today, let alone a member of the revival team, actually knowing the man who had been found. Shrugging, he decided that that was what luck was. Beating the odds. And if Sandburg had a clue who this guy was, then luck would appear to be working in the favour of the team. Not to mention, the man in the stasis tank. "If he does ever wake up, the man is going to be very disoriented and having someone around who knows at least something about the time in which he lived and who he was could make all the difference to his sanity."
Blair blew out a silent breath of relief at Josh's words. He knew he'd been pushing to have such personal involvement with Jim Ellison, once, if, he was successfully revived. As a grad student, he was a long way down the food chain for a project like this.
But…he did feel as if he knew the man. He'd read Ellison's whole history in his great-grandfather's journals, or at least as much as his namesake had been able to find out. The first Blair Sandburg had been obsessed with this man.
And Blair had read his great-grandfather's even more secret journal, the one handed down, literally from one hand to the next, through the family. The one that contained all he'd learned in the brief time about Jim Ellison's sensory abilities and sensitivities. Combined with his published papers, it gave Blair a place to begin in helping this guy cope in this new world…well, new for James Joseph Ellison, anyway.
Swallowing, Blair again turned his fascinated gaze to the man in the stasis chamber and he reflected on the words he'd read in the old journal, just a few short days ago.
Nothing happens in this universe randomly. There is always some purpose, some reason.
And Blair thought, with a slight shiver, of his great-grandfather's persistent sense that his Sentinel wasn't dead, but lost. How freaky was that?
And how weird was it, Blair wondered, that after four generations of belief in their existence, he'd been the one to find a sentinel. And not just any sentinel…THE Sentinel.
His great-grandfather's Sentinel.
My Sentinel, now, he amended in his mind. I found you, Jim. Found you for him. And I'm probably the only person on this earth who has any inkling of what and who you really are. I promise…I'll do all I can to help you, like the Blair Sandburg you knew tried so long ago.
The team from the University's Teaching and Research Hospital was ecstatic; there was no other word for their reaction at being called in to assist on a project that would make them all famous. Not to mention, further the worthy causes of science, technology and medicine.
The new invention of biotechnical nanites had reached the stage where the university researchers were ready to go ahead with experimentation on human subjects. But though permission to proceed with the tests had been received, there were still serious political concerns about their effectiveness in handling massive trauma. Would they, in fact, heal the injured or illness damaged tissues, or create a mutation of sorts? Would they stop when the necessary repairs were complete and disintegrate as they were purported to be designed to do, or would they run rampant, infesting the body and then jump from one host to another, like some kind of modern day plague?
The fears were ignorant and uninformed nonsense according to the researchers, but fears weren't rational. Quite simply, the nanites were dormant until they were introduced to the system they were to interface with. Once in contact with the system's cells, they absorbed the DNA coding, self-programming and self-replicating from that point. After that, they could have impact only on the system that matched that genetic code, so even if they could be transmitted from one subject to another, they would not function in a different body. Period. But there was a need for a dramatic demonstration on a human subject. And what better than a man who was as good as dead, who would die without the intervention of such state of the art, technically assisted, medical intervention?
When Blair first heard of the plan to use the nanites on Ellison, he was worried. Very worried. For one thing, what if they didn't work the way they were supposed to? Would Jim suffer for that for the rest of his life? And how would they work on someone with enhanced senses, a condition that only Blair knew about and was very reluctant to share. And that worried him, too. Should he be more forthcoming? Would it make a difference to Ellison's recovery? Or should he respect the secret, as his great-grandfather had done, because Ellison hadn't wanted anyone to know about his capabilities?
But then he thought of the suffering Ellison would experience if the nanites weren't used. Oh sure, medical and surgical techniques had come a long way in the past seventy-eight years, and Jim's survival could still be theoretically possible using modern microsurgery and skin graft growth in labs for the replacement of the burned tissue. But the grafts still took time to grow, and meanwhile Jim would have long been resuscitated and suffering from the burns. With his senses, that suffering would be beyond imagining and the shock of that hideous pain alone might cause an already weakened, traumatized body to expire. And even before the grafting was attempted, the urgently required microsurgery, while theoretically possible, would just be another invasive onslaught against a body that was already fragile, presuming that they could resuscitate him at all. Jim would have to contend with the pain and disorientation of that recovery while coming to grips with the fact that no one he knew was alive today. That he was completely alone.
No, Blair amended to himself, not completely alone. Not so long as I'm around.
Though he was uncertain of his decision, Blair came to the conclusion that Ellison's sensory uniqueness was not his secret to share. And, he had to agree with the decision that the use of the nanites would be the most potentially merciful treatment option, the one with the highest possible quotient of success, the least invasive in traditional terms and the option that would lead to the fastest recovery.
In the end, there really wasn't a lot of choice. The trauma suffered by Ellison in the explosion had been extensive…well it had virtually killed him. Added to the additional complexities and potential complications of reviving a man who'd been frozen for the better part of a century, it was determined that if the injuries were not addressed before Ellison was resuscitated, then he'd not likely survive anyway.
It took four days to 'thaw him out' as it were. Once his body had been restored to normal temperature, he was hooked up to machines that artificially oxygenated and circulated his blood, leaving the stimulation of his heart until the nanites had done their work. Damage to his coronary tissues, from what appeared to have been a lacerating injury, was part of what had to be repaired. The nanites were introduced to his system…and those researchers who were so inclined, prayed that the subatomic wonders of technical science would work.
While the technical and medical processes were underway during the day, Blair buried himself in his great-grandfather's research and journals to make sure he was as prepared as he could be to help Ellison when he woke up. It was a self-imposed crash course on all that the first Blair had discovered or surmised about sentinel characteristics, all of his observations and speculations. Sandburg paid particular attention to the jargon his ancestor had used to describe how he'd worked with Ellison, and what had worked. Blair wanted to use words that Jim would easily recognize when he woke up. When he wasn't working on the journals, Sandburg was busy getting ready for Jim's awakening, simple everyday things like acquiring a modest wardrobe for the man who had arrived in this place and time with nothing but his soul. Or cleaning up his place with the hope that Jim, who had no place to stay, would agree to stay with him, at least for a while.
But every evening, and long into each night, Blair found himself drawn back to the stasis lab, to stand beside Jim Ellison…and talk to him. He didn't know if it would do any good, if the man could hear him at any level, but Sandburg reasoned it wasn't unlike someone in a coma, now that the blood was being artificially oxygenated and was flowing again. If Jim had even the dimmest awareness of what was happening to him, Blair didn't want him to feel alone. Sandburg also hoped that it might help Ellison grow used to the sound of his voice, as something familiar, as he had no idea whether his voice, like his appearance, echoed with the cadences and tones of his great-grandfather.
It was amazing to watch the progress of the sub-atomic-sized nanites. Burned skin disappeared and in its place healthy tissue appeared, resilient, whole. The scanners showed the same success was underway with the healing of the internal tissues, organs and bones. Jim no longer resembled an alabaster statue. His skin was a natural colour now, carrying the slightly bronzed look of someone who spent time outdoors. Muscle tissue seemed healthy and well developed.
Even the trace of old scars and wounds disappeared.
Ellison's body would be perfect, better than it had been before he'd been virtually killed by the explosion, when he awoke.
It only took three days for the damaged tissue to be repaired and all evidence of the nanites to disappear from tissue samples taken from Ellison's body and blood.
A week in total since the cryochamber had been found, seven days of building expectation and excitement in the minds and hearts of the team working toward the restoration of this body to life.
Secrecy had cloaked the entire project, and miraculously, nothing had yet been leaked to the media. But speculation had begun within the team from the first day about the impact this extraordinary news would have…provided they did, successfully, resuscitate Ellison. Nothing like this had ever been done before. The closest example, as one tekkie facetiously pointed out, was Jesus calling Lazarus out of his burial cave.
Blair listened to the speculations, heard the avid excitement, and quickly found himself growing angry. No one here seemed to grasp that Jim was a human being, not some inanimate, insensate, research 'project'. This was a man who lay helpless under their hands, who when he woke would be confused, terribly confused, by what had happened to him. He might well be afraid to find himself suddenly in a different place, a different world from the one he'd left. A world where no one, not one single person from his previous life was still alive. From what he'd grasped of the man's character from his great-grandfather's notes, Blair believed that Ellison would despise being an object of worldwide study and speculation, would hate the glare of the media's merciless spotlight.
Wondering what to do to protect Ellison from becoming a public display, Blair found himself researching medical and privacy laws and cases, looking for parallels and precedents…and found he didn't have to look far. Basic rights to privacy were sacrosanct and clearly set forth in the statutes. As was the patient's right to privacy about any and all medical conditions that did not infringe upon the health and safety of others. Provided there was no evidence or history of convulsive disorders that would prohibit obtaining personal transportation licensing, whatever happened to him here, as a result of the restoration, even the extraordinary breakthrough of the nanite recovery of his tissues and resuscitation, could not be published without his express permission.
When, in conversations with others on the team, Blair detected a certain reluctance to honour those rights on the part of some of the research and restoration team members, he got in touch with a buddy who'd just passed the bar. With his help, Blair had the necessary legal papers quickly drawn up to protect Jim's rights, to hold all information confidential until Ellison could make his own decisions about what would be released, so long as he was alive. With his buddy's support, Sandburg met with a superior court justice, who just happened to be his buddy's aunt. Sandburg argued his right to be Ellison's 'next of kin' for legal purposes, based upon the knowledge of Jim's history that he'd meticulously extracted from his great-grandfather's journals and the newspaper records of the day. He also obtained 'Power of Attorney' rights to make decisions on Jim's behalf pending Ellison's return to consciousness. The fact that his grandfather had been named for Jim, and that Blair's own middle name was James in honour of the man, didn't hurt in establishing the legitimacy of his involvement. The simple fact was, Blair was the closest thing Jim had to family.
The session had been held 'in camera', to ensure Ellison's continued privacy. The Justice, thinking the whole matter essentially irrelevant, not for a moment believing that Ellison would ever actually be revived, granted Blair's requested status. However, the Justice was not completely insensitive to the fact that this could be considered precedent setting, given the modern practice of using the much more effective stasis techniques. Someday, in a century or two, someone might actually care about the ruling. Until then, so far as she was concerned, it could remain buried in the record.
With a bemused smile and a shrug, she signed the necessary documents, and Blair was on his way…a very happy grad student, armed with the weapons he needed to safeguard a man he'd oddly already begun to think of as his friend. He felt the strongest need to protect Jim Ellison, most especially now when Jim was unable to protect himself.
Though he'd had the documents for a couple of days, Blair only took several copies of the documents with him to the lab the day that resuscitation was to be attempted. Up until then, he'd hesitated to table them, in case his presence was determined to be 'intrusive' to the medical procedures to be implemented. No way did he want to be barred from the lab as an interfering meddler, or perceived as hostile to the interests of the team and the university…until Jim actually revived, any and all of the rights could be contested as invalid. Up until that point, while Jim wasn't actually a corpse, he wasn't really alive, either. Sandburg couldn't afford to be caught up in endless legal wrangles and debates, so he planned a quick and bloodless coup.
Arriving early that day, Blair entered the lab a good hour before the revival procedure was scheduled to begin. Going directly to the scientist in charge of the project, he pulled out the sheaf of legal papers as he explained quietly, but not apologetically, "Dr. Woodhouse, I hope this won't seriously inconvenience you, as we're striving for the same result, the successful revival of James Ellison, but I must now inform you that I have the legal authority for his security and well-being, at least until he wakes up and can take responsibility for himself."
Woodhouse, a tall, angular forty-something woman gazed at him over the tops of her reading glasses, one brow quirked as her cool grey eyes flicked from the papers in his hand to his steady, earnest gaze. "What, exactly, does that mean, Sandburg?" she asked dryly.
"It means that nothing can be released about his treatment and resuscitation without either his or my express permission, as those details concern his legal rights to privacy. I'm sorry, but that will inhibit the publication of research findings that would reveal his identity. Also, it means that I have the final say in how he is treated," Blair continued, speaking clearly but rapidly, obviously a bit nervous but steadfast. "For example, the lights in here are too bright and the room is too cool for his comfort. Currently, he's lying there naked, like a slab of meat, and I think he would object to that. So, I'd like a sheet to cover him when we take him out of the stasis tank…and I've brought the sheets with me. I've chosen and prepared them to ensure his skin, which is bound to be sensitive, will not be unduly irritated. Finally, the lab is crowded with people who are doing little more than 'sight-seeing' and I want access limited only to essential personnel. He's not an object of curiousity. He's a man who has been traumatized and who will have enough to cope with once he wakes without having strangers gawking at him."
"I see," Woodhouse replied neutrally, unsure whether to be irritated at the command the grad student was taking of what she liked to think of as her project, impressed that the kid had kept focused on the fact that they were dealing with a human being as opposed to an inanimate object of scientific interest, or amusement at his marginally aggressive but evidently anxious demeanor. Sandburg was no fool…he had to know that if she took this wrong, she could make a world of trouble for him in the university milieu. "Anything else?"
Taking a breath, Blair softened his tone, to explain to her why he was doing this. "Dr. Woodhouse, I honestly don't mean any disrespect. But…this man was a good friend to my great-grandfather. In a way, I really am the only family he has…the only person here who really cares about him as a person, a unique and special individual who is teetering on the brink between life and death." Looking over toward Jim who was still immersed in the gelatinous solution, he continued, "I know from my ancestor's writings about him that Jim has a lot of sensitivities, allergies. So I'll want to screen whatever medication he's given. I'd also like to have him moved as soon as possible after he regains consciousness to a more normal environment, a room in the hospital instead of this lab, someplace with windows so that he doesn't feel all closed in, wondering where he is. This is going to be so hard for him, you know? He probably doesn't even know he was cryogenated…he won't have any idea about what's happening to him and he might not be very happy about the fact they didn't just let him die."
Turning back to Woodhouse, he sighed, "I just want to help him…that's all."
Woodhouse looked from Blair to Ellison and back again, her lips pursed thoughtfully. Finally, nodding, she reached for the papers in his hand and leafed through them. Looking back up into his intense gaze, she said with an even tone, "All the documents seem to be in order, and your requests are more than reasonable. I'm sure Mr. Ellison will be grateful to you for seeing to his interests when, if, he wakes up."
"He's going to wake up," Blair replied, inserting a note of confidence into his voice, though his mouth was dry and his throat tight with anxiety and barely suppressed excitement.
Woodhouse smiled gently then, as she studied the earnest young man standing before her. His long, curly hair hung loose around a face that was very pale, giving the lie to his confident tone. And his eyes were wide, filled with such a mix of hope and fear that she was startled by their intensity. "I hope you're right, Blair," she said quietly. "But don't get your hopes too high. This has never been successfully achieved before."
"I know," he replied, looking away for a moment. But then his shoulders straightened and his chin came up as he turned back to her and said, "Jim Ellison, from all I know about him, is a fighter. We just have to help him, get him started…he'll make it back."
"Well, on that note, I think we should begin," she said, turning to initiate the business of resuscitation. In accordance with Blair's wishes, she directed non-essential personnel out of the lab, had the lights muted and the room temperature adjusted.
Jim was carefully lifted from the stasis tank and placed upon a gurney. His body was bathed to remove the last of sticky glop in which he'd been immersed. While the bath was underway, Blair substituted the sheets he'd brought with him, a fine soft cotton weave that he'd washed with non-allergic, odourless soap and fabric softeners, for those on the hospital bed that had just been rolled into the lab.
Jim was transferred onto the bed and was intubated, and connected to a respirator that was then turned on to inflate his lungs and begin the normal, physical process of breathing. Electrodes were attached to his chest and limbs to monitor his vital signs. When the heart monitor was turned on, Blair winced at the high-pitched, penetrating and annoying shriek of noise. Moving to the technician, he had the auditory function of the machine disabled. Electrical implants were placed subcutaneously in Jim's chest, over his heart, while another technician checked his intravenous connections, one for the whole blood that he was being given to enrich his hemoglobin count, the other a nutrient mix of glucose, saline and essential elements.
Once the technicians had finished, a sheet was draped over Jim's waist and legs, and Blair moved to stand beside the bed, and grasped Jim's hand. The room was swiftly cleared of all but the medical personnel required to effect the resuscitation procedure, which was little more than the flick of a switch to energize the electrical implants, with the standby capacity to inject adrenaline into Ellison's heart, should that prove to be necessary. Of the rest of the research team, only Blair and Laura Woodhouse remained.
"Are you ready, Sandburg?" Woodhouse asked, unable to completely erase the quake of her own excitement from her voice.
Blair took a deep breath, swallowed the massive lump in his throat and was surprised to find that he had to blink away unexpected tears as he focused his attention on Jim. He lifted a hand to gently stroke Jim's wide brow, while he continued to tightly hold Jim's hand as he murmured quietly, "Okay, Jim, this is it, man. It's time to come back. We're just going to shock your heart into action. The respirator is doing all the work for you, so you just have to lie back and relax. It's time, Jim…it's time."
"Dr. Lin, you may proceed," Woodhouse directed.
Dr. Lin said to Blair, "You'll have to let go of his hand while the current is flowing. Ready…" and as Blair lifted his hands away so that he had no physical contact with the bed or Jim, Lin hit enter on the precoded command for electrical stimulation of the cardiac nexus.
Jim's body arced as the convulsive spasm rocked his system, and then collapsed to lie still once more when the current ended.
Blair's eyes jumped to the monitor and his heart clenched when he saw it was still flat-lining. His gaze darted to Lin, who seemed relatively unperturbed that the first effort had not succeeded. Murmuring a new command into the voice activated computerized system, he again stated, "Clear…" and hit the enter key.
Again Jim's body arced under the onslaught of energy bursting into his heart and triggering sympathetic reactions throughout his system. The charge ended and Ellison's body lost all animation, except for the artificially generated movement caused by the tide of air that was pushed into and pulled out of his lungs by the respirator.
Blair felt a sense of panic sweep over him. It wasn't working. Jim wasn't responding.
Trembling, he held up a hand toward Lin as he moved in to again touch Jim, gripping his arm tightly as he laid a hand against Jim's cheek. "Please, man…don't do this. Don't give up, not now. You've come so far, Jim…you can make it. Please…you have to try. Follow my voice, Jim…follow it back…"
Even as he spoke, Lin had moved to plunge the epinephrine solution directly into the cardiac muscle.
Standing back, Blair nodded to Lin who prepared the computer coding for the final attempt. But this time, Blair didn't stand silently. This time, he kept talking, kept calling out to Ellison to respond, to come back…to live.
When the charge hit, and Ellison's body convulsed, Blair shouted at Jim, >"NOW, JIM! COME BACK, NOW! IT'S TIME, MAN…TIME TO LIVE! PLEASE JIM…YOU HAVE TO COME BACK!"
The electrical pulse was cut off. The body collapsed into stillness. The monitor continued to record the monotonous and heartbreaking flat line.
Ignoring the evidence of the monitor that it was hopeless, that Jim Ellison would not be revived after all, Blair moved forward to grip Ellison's hand and shoulder, begging him to respond, to live. The younger man's voice cracked with intensity and he was unaware of the tears that leaked onto his cheeks, unaware of everything except the man lying on the bed. Desperate, he moved his hands to cup Ellison's face as he pleaded, "Jim, don't do this, man…please…don't give up! You have to fight, Jim…please…now…do you hear me? Follow my voice, Jim…just follow my voice…"
Even as Lin turned away, shaking his head, and Laura Woodhouse shifted a thoughtful, concerned gaze toward Sandburg, Blair moved one of his hands to cover Ellison's heart while he continued to beg, his voice choked with emotion, "Oh, Jim…please, man…please…you have to come back…Jim?"
The cursor on the heart monitor began to move, first in a wobbling reflection of arrhythmia, but it self-corrected, until the steady, peaked waves of a living heart flowed across the screen. Startled, indeed shocked by the turn of events, Woodhouse touched Sandburg's shoulder and pointed to the display, which Blair in his despair hadn't noticed.
Sandburg looked up and saw the signature of life. For a moment, he just stared at it, frozen, at first too emotionally moved to do more than gaze with a kind of rapture. Then his lips trembled and a sob broke from his throat as he closed his eyes and gave thanks for this miracle to the powers that listen. Sniffing, taking a quick swipe at his eyes to clear them, he leaned over Ellison to stroke the warm, smooth brow while he gazed with a full heart upon the relaxed, unconscious face of his Sentinel. All the while his other hand gripped Jim's, holding on for dear life.
"Jim…welcome home, buddy. Oh God. Welcome back," Blair whispered, overwhelmed by the emotions that flooded through him. Wonder, gratitude, relief…and, oddly, inexplicably, love.
Lin and Woodhouse were grinning broadly, exchanging congratulations on this latest successful, if surprising, stage of the resuscitation process, though they were both mystified as to why the response to the electrical stimulation had been delayed. Lin joked that perhaps the young man had a 'healer's touch'. Both the senior scientists laughed at that, neither believing in such a thing. They both knew it wasn't over yet, and wouldn't be, until Ellison regained consciousness and his capacity of functioning could be determined. But now there was at least real hope in their own hearts that this man, frozen for almost eighty years, would again breathe on his own…would live and take his place in this time's community.
And, however much they laughed, they were both aware that they'd just gotten their first miracle.
If he regained consciousness, was lucid, had all of his faculties and functions intact…well, then they'd have their second miracle. But, in this business, it was one at a time, and they were glad for what they'd achieved so far.
But Blair was oblivious to them, his whole being focused on Ellison. Sandburg was surprised to see a single tear leak from under Jim's full lashes and slip down his cheek. Gently, Blair brushed it away as he murmured, "It's okay, Jim. Everything's going to be okay. I promise, man…I'm here. You're not alone. You're going to be just fine…."
Following the start-up of Ellison's heart, the brain function monitor was hooked up and it confirmed that Ellison was deeply unconscious. There was no way to predict when he might wake. An hour? A day? Week? Year? Never?
Though Blair knew it was absolutely irrational, he couldn't bring himself to leave Jim's side except when his own body's demands made it imperative, and then he left only briefly. He had them bring in a comfortable chair so that he could doze off when he could no longer stay awake, and they brought him food because he refused to leave to eat.
In the first hour, a catheter was affixed in place and there was a sigh of relief when it became apparent that Ellison's kidneys were functioning.
Every four hours, Blair worked with a physiotherapist to exercise Jim's limbs.
After twelve hours, the respirator was removed…and the people present cheered when Ellison kept on breathing steadily.
But the brain monitor continued its stubborn reporting of no change. Ellison was in a deep coma at what was rated as Level 4 unconsciousness, and didn't appear to be getting any closer to waking up any time soon.
The earlier sense of elation amongst the project team members dampened as the hours crawled past. At the twenty-four hour mark, many began to lose hope than any further progress would be made. Blair ignored them and called for soap, water, a razor and towels to bathe and shave his Sentinel.
When the thirty-sixth hour passed with no change, Woodhouse insisted that Blair send someone to his apartment to bring him a change of clothing, the necessary toiletries, that he shower and go outside for a minimum of fifteen minutes of fresh air at least twice a day for however much longer his vigil would last. She also talked with a colleague in the hospital next door to begin the process of transferring Ellison to a long-term care facility. He'd been an extraordinary research subject, but now that he was breathing on his own, he was really nothing more than a man in a coma, however sad that might be, and there was no purpose in keeping him in the lab much longer. Another day or two, perhaps, could be justified but that was all.
Blair acceded to her firm direction to leave for two brief periods each day, but the rest of the time Sandburg held Jim's hand, stroked his arm or his brow, and talked. And talked. And talked, hour after hour, until his voice was hoarse. A soothing ripple of sound to give Jim a focus to concentrate upon, to draw him back.
At the forty-eighth hour, however, at the continued lack of response, Blair began to seriously worry that Jim was locked into one of the zone states that was described in the journals. It would make sense. The sensory assault at the moment of revival had to have been massive, presuming that Jim hadn't been aware at some level even before that…a thought that made Blair queasy when he thought about how Jim's body had been sunk in gelatine and invaded by nanites. He should have realized that possibility sooner, and felt a flash of sharp fear that he'd already let the zone, if that's what this was, go on too long.
Sandburg knew then that this was his first real test. Would Jim respond to him? Could he bring Ellison out of the zone, if that's what this was?
Touch and sound quite evidently weren't enough…and Sandburg knew that Ellison could survive a zone-out for only so long. Probably a lesser amount of time than he'd been able to survive before because of the trauma of having been cryogenated for nearly a century and then resuscitated. Biting his lip, fighting back a sense of panic as his feeling of urgency mounted, he thought back to what he'd read in the journals and decided he needed to stimulate other senses.
"Jed," he called quietly to the scientist who was in charge during the evening shift. "I need a vial of ammonia…no, that's too strong…um…perfume, that's it. I need some perfume, roses and, um, something citrusy maybe. And I need some spices from the cafeteria kitchen…cinnamon, salt, vanilla extract and, um, maybe a bar of chocolate."
Jed gave Blair a speculative glance, but only nodded as he pressed the comunit on his wrist to make the calls for the requested supplies.
In less than half an hour, Blair had the various taste and scent stimulants arranged on a small side table that had been placed beside the bed some hours before. "Okay, Jim," he explained, fighting to keep his voice calm and soothing, "here's what we're going to do. I'm going to waft some fragrances under your nose and you are going to concentrate on them, to try to figure out what they are. And then I'm going to put various flavours on your tongue. Same deal, man. I want you to focus on them, figure them out."
The scent of roses permeated the lab, softening the smell of astringents and other chemicals. Blair wasn't sure, nor were the monitoring scientists, but he thought he saw a slight shift in the pattern of Jim's brain waves. But he could have whooped with joy at the reaction to the citrusy scent of lemons, oranges and coconut from the herbal shampoo sample that had been found. The pattern shifted dramatically after only about a minute of exposure and Jim shifted to a new level of unconsciousness.
"That's good, man," Blair enthused as he gently stroked Ellison's forehead. "You're starting to wake up. That's really good, Jim. Now, I have some things for you to taste…don't worry, no peppers or anything, just different flavours…"
First the vanilla, which brought Jim to Level 2 unconsciousness. Blair was smiling now, his breathing rapid with hope and excitement as he tried the salt.
And he couldn't help it…he snickered when Jim unconsciously grimaced and tried to spit it out. Cinnamon was next, and the monitor kicked up to Level 1.
"Doing good, Jim, you're almost there, just a little further," Blair encouraged. Breaking off a small sliver of chocolate, he slipped it between Jim's lips and onto his tongue. "Come on, buddy. I want to see your blue eyes. Come on…time to wake up, man…"
Jim moaned softly and his fingers twitched in Sandburg's grip. His breathing deepened and his head shifted toward the sound of Sandburg's voice.
"Hey, Jim," Blair murmured as he continued to stroke Ellison's forehead. "I know you can hear me…it's all right, man. Everything is all right. You're safe. You can wake up now…"
Ellison blinked then winced, even the muted light a shock to his eyes and he moaned again with the discomfort. His fingers scratched at the sheet that was irritating his skin.
Reading the signs he'd been watching for, Sandburg said quietly in hardly more than a whisper, "You need to set the dials, man. They've gone a little out of whack. You can do this. First sight…picture the dial. It's set about eight, isn't it? Turn it down, that's it, seven, six, five, four…three. Good, that's good. Now touch…"
Blair guided Ellison through the reset of his internal dials, breathing a huge sigh of relief when he saw Jim relax as the Sentinel found he could mute the sensations that were spiking unpredictably. When they were done, for a moment Blair just sat quietly, gazing with rapt fondness at this stranger who wasn't a stranger, not exactly.
And he smiled.
It was the smile, the smile and the wide, dark blue, sparkling gaze, that Ellison saw first when he finally blinked and opened his eyes. "Chief," he croaked, then grimaced and swallowed as his fingers turned to clasp Blair's hand.
Blair reached to slide an ice chip into Jim's mouth. "Shh, it's okay. Your throat is just dry. It's been a while since you last talked, man," he soothed. Though he hadn't recognized the appellation, it was very clear that Jim recognized him…or at least the man Jim thought him to be.
For a moment, Jim gazed up at Sandburg, drinking in the sight of him, the sound of him. His heart beat. His touch. The smell of him. Then he crooked a grin as he asked, his voice still hoarse, "What the hell took you so long?"
Blair was pretty sure that Jim was confusing him with his great-grandfather, but figured that now was not the time to go into a lot of complex explanations. Not worried that he didn't understand exactly what the question meant, he just shook his head as he replied, "Me? Hey, man, you're the one who was making like Sleeping Beauty. I woke you up as quickly as I could!" Sandburg was pretty sure Jim would assume that he was probably talking about pulling him out of a zone.
"Yeah? If I find out you're the one who kissed me to wake me up," Jim grated, pretending to scowl, "you're a dead man."
Blair snickered and shook his head. "No, no kissing. You're not that good looking. Nope, just the usual stuff. Smelling salts, chocolate…" he grinned as he explained. No one listening in would think they were talking about anything more than reviving someone who had fainted, though they might have wondered at the apparent ease and familiarity with which these two strangers conversed.
"Uh huh," Jim grunted. His gaze scanned the room briefly before his eyes slipped closed. He'd seen a couple of people in white lab coats and what looked like stocks on shelves around the wall, and lots of cabinets. He was in Emergency for some reason or other. Didn't matter…he felt okay, just tired. A light smile played upon his lips as he murmured before falling into a natural sleep, "Thanks, Chief…"
"You're welcome, Jim," Blair murmured in response as he gently stroked Jim's forehead. "Very welcome."
When he knew Ellison was well asleep, Sandburg began to tremble, and his knees gave out as he sank down onto the chair. His arms wrapped around his chest and one hand covered his mouth as he shook with emotion, heedless of the tears of profound relief and gratitude streaming down his face.
The research team was ebullient with the thrill of their achievement. As the champagne bottles were broached, Blair supervised Jim's transfer to a more normal room with a window in the hospital, leaving the lab to the celebrants who held back their exuberant cheers until Jim was safely away and wouldn't be disturbed by them.
Dr. Woodhouse, having accepted that Sandburg wasn't going to leave Jim's side until he was absolutely certain that the man was recovering fully, had had a second bed moved into the room. Grateful, exhausted, Blair fell onto it, asleep before his head hit the pillow.
Jim woke to the thin light of dawn, made grey by the lowering clouds that spat rain against the window of the room, a light rata-tat-tat of comforting sound. In the distance, he could hear surf crashing against a rocky shore, the rush and wash of the waves a soothing sound. Closer to hand was the snuffling breathing and heart beat of one Blair Sandburg, and Jim smiled softly, content that the sounds made him feel secure. After a few minutes of dozing lightly, he shifted and stretched, annoyed by the pull of the intravenous lines and the catheter…they were going to have to go. Blinking, he focused on the room, and then frowned a little, finding it oddly different, strange, wondering where he was but figuring it must be a hospital. There was that typical, astringent odour of antiseptic and he could hear the sounds of nurses and other patients in the other rooms and the corridor outside. But there were technical devices, like headsets on the table beside the bed and a flat screen build into the far wall by the door. No phone. Wasn't there always a phone in hospital rooms?
Then he noticed that even the bed was somewhat strange. Comfortable, but strange. The mattress he was lying upon felt more like a warm cushion of air that supported him and conformed to his body's shape, but which didn't give any sense of pressure or substance. The fine cotton sheets at least felt familiar.
Rubbing his lips thoughtfully, he rolled onto his side, one arm curled under his head as he gazed at the sleeping grad student. He frowned again when he noticed the shadows of exhaustion under Blair's eyes. The kid had been so tired he hadn't even undressed, and was now lying curled tightly with the bed covering half pulled up around his shoulders, his hair a tangled halo around his face. Studying Sandburg, Jim noticed subtle differences about him, too. The clothing was still layered, but the cut and style of the clothes was…different. So was the design of the shoes left lying haphazardly on the floor.
It was then that Jim first tried to consciously remember what had happened and why he was in a hospital. At first, it was just a blank, and he closed his eyes to concentrate, made nervous by the apparent memory loss.
And then it hit.
There'd been a bomb.
And a busload of people.
He remembered the fear he'd felt that he wouldn't find the hidden bomb in time, and Sandburg shouting at him to 'Don't look! Listen!" A wash of relief when he'd found the device that had spiked to horror when he saw they were out of time. A lunge to pitch it away, out of the shattered back window, and turning away…into darkness.
The bomb had blown and he'd been hurt. Okay. So why didn't he seem to have any broken bones or burns? Why did he feel…well, fine?
And Sandburg didn't look like someone who had just survived an explosion.
How long had he been unconscious anyway?
Long enough for injuries to heal, obviously. From what he could see of his limbs and body, he looked okay.
Long enough for the style of clothing to change.
Alarmed suddenly, Ellison's eyes again scanned the room and he sighed quietly with relief when he spotted the small hand mirror on top of the bedside table along with other toiletries, a glass and a pitcher of water. Gingerly reaching out, not out of any sense of physical weakness, but of fear of what he might find when he looked at his reflection, Jim snagged the mirror and drew it back towards him.
Would he look the same or different?
Would there be scars?
Would he be old? His hands and arms, his skin didn't look old. His body still seemed in pretty good shape. But…the subtle evidence around him seemed to indicate he'd been unconscious quite a while.
Swallowing, he raised the mirror and blew out a breath of relief to see that he was essentially unchanged. His hair needed cutting, maybe, and he could use a shave, but that was normal for first thing in the morning. Setting the mirror aside, he frowned again. But…if he hadn't changed…why was the world around him just that enough different to seem odd?
Turning his gaze again to Sandburg, Jim bit his lip as he thought that the kid didn't look any older either.
Something was odd, here.
Blair stirred then, sniffed, rubbed his face and blinked against the morning light and then seemed inclined to burrow back into his pillow.
"Hey, Sandburg?" Jim called, too anxious for information to let the kid sleep. "You awake yet?"
"MMpphh? Hmm?" Blair muttered, then sighed and stretched, opening his eyes finally and realizing where he was. "Oh, Jim! You're awake?" he exclaimed, pushing himself up, feeling as if he had somehow failed his duty to remain on watch. "You okay, man? Need anything?"
"I need the tubes out, some breakfast…and some information, Chief," Jim replied, his voice a little tight with the feeling of anxiety that had begun to gnaw at his gut.
Blair sniffed as he pushed his hair out of his face and tried to order his thoughts. "Umm, I think you'll need to eat something and show them you will take your fluids orally before they'll take out the IV, Jim. But, let me see the nurse and order breakfast…and see what we can do about getting rid of the catheter," he replied, tucking in his shirt as he moved toward the door.
"Thanks, kid," Jim replied, his eyes narrowing as he noticed that Blair was avoiding eye contact. "And then we're going to have a little talk."
Sandburg paused at the door, and then said, a little too casually for Ellison's liking given the rapid tattoo of Blair's heartbeat as he slipped out the door, "Talk? Talks good…sure. I'll be right back." Wondering what was going on, Ellison found the controls for the bed and lifted the head of it to a more comfortable position as he waited for Sandburg to get back.
In the hallway, Blair hurried to the nurses' station to make their requests and then headed back to the room, his steps slowing as he neared the door. In all the time since he'd realized it was Jim Ellison in the cryochamber, he'd hadn't been able to figure out how to tell the man that seventy-eight years had passed since that bomb had blown up…and that everyone Jim Ellison ever knew was long dead and gone.
Swallowing, Blair leaned against the wall for a moment, hoping inspiration would hit…but no great ideas showed up. Snorting a little, realizing he was only delaying the inevitable, he pushed open the door and went back into their room.
Jim was sitting up in the bed, staring at him when he walked in, a worried frown on his brow. "Sandburg," Ellison asked, "what the hell is it that you don't want to tell me?"
Startled, Blair stammered, "What? How?" He was certain he hadn't seen anything in the old journals or articles about sentinels being psychic.
"I heard you lingering outside the door, and your heart is going a mile a minute…so, spill it, Junior," Jim replied dryly.
"My heart?" Blair mumbled as his hand lifted unconsciously to his chest. Right. Not psychic…just really good hearing and the ability to deduce things. Well, Jim Ellison was supposed to have been one hell of a detective. "Uh, yeah…um, look, this might take a while. Just let me clean up a bit, okay?" And with that, Blair slipped into their washroom and closed the door. Turning on the water, he splashed his face and looked up into the mirror. "How do I tell him?" he whispered mournfully, not expecting an answer.
Finished in the washroom, having no more reasons to delay, Blair came back into the room.
Jim gave his partner a narrowed look as he asked, "How do you tell me what?"
Blair glanced back at the bathroom door and cursed himself. These senses were more powerful than he'd thought they'd be and he kept forgetting about them. Damn, if the guy could hear a heart beat, he could sure as hell hear a whisper.
"You're stalling," Jim observed with a glare, his anxiety shifting to the immediacy of irritation.
"Okay, right," Blair replied hurriedly, holding up his hands in defeat as he pulled the chair by the wall over to the side of Jim's bed. "Jim," he began and stalled again, looking up into those clear eyes, eyes that demanded answers. "Jim, what do you last remember?"
Scowling, recognizing another avoidance tactic, Ellison replied, "When I first woke up, I didn't remember anything…just found myself in this strange room. Then, after a few minutes, I remembered the bomb exploded just after I'd thrown it from the bus." Sandburg had been there…he'd know what 'bomb' and what 'bus'. "Was anyone else hurt?"
Blair shook his head. "No one as badly as you were, no," he replied, realizing Jim didn't remember waking briefly in the lab the day before. His eyes dropping to his hands, biting his lip, Sandburg accepted that there was no good or easy way to do this. He just had to do it. "Jim, nothing is what you think it is. The year is 2075." Looking up, he saw the flash of expressions across Ellison's face.
"What?" Jim demanded quietly, certain he couldn't have heard right. He looked half disbelieving and half stunned.
"The bomb blew in 1997 and it's now the 22nd of May, 2075," Blair said, his voice and gaze steady, watching.
"No," Jim protested, shaking his head in active denial. "Quit fooling around, Sandburg, and tell me what happened!"
"Jim, you were very badly hurt…you would have died, no question about that," Blair said, struggling to keep his voice steady as he explained. "Your father…your father had you flown to Seattle, and the best specialists he could get tried to save you. When…when it was clear that…that you were going to die, well, your father had you put into a cryochamber. Do you know what that is?"
"Yeah, sure," Jim replied, his voice a little distant as he regarded Blair as if the kid had taken leave of his senses. "One of those freezer units that wackos try to beat death with."
Blair nodded, and attempted a small smile. "Well, your father wasn't a wacko…and you beat death," he said. "We found you when we were working in the basement of his old building…and, well, we revived you."
Holding up his hands, Jim's gaze skittered around the room, at the odd differences he'd noted, but he shook his head. It was too much…too crazy. "Well, that's a pretty good hallucination that you're having, kid. But you shouldn't be doing drugs, period, and certainly not around a cop. Maybe you'd better get someone in here who can make a little more sense."
"Jim, I'm telling you the truth," Blair said quietly, understanding the denial, the confusion.
"That's not possible, Sandburg," Jim argued, losing patience with the game, whatever it was. "Look, maybe I'm not the only one here who had a head injury. You're a smart kid; think about it! Even if I got frozen…what are you doing here? You look just the same as you did when…"
"I'm not your Blair Sandburg," Blair cut in, a look of profound empathy in his eyes. "He was my great-grandfather. Though, since I was named after him, my name is Blair Sandburg. I learned about you from reading his journals." When Jim just stared at him, his expression suddenly flat, as if he was guarding his reactions, hiding something of himself, Blair whispered, his throat tight, "I'm sorry, Jim. I know this is so hard for you…"
Whether it was the look in Sandburg's eyes or the tone of his voice…whatever it was, Jim flinched from Blair's gaze. He shook his head tightly, his eyes flicking sightlessly as he absorbed what Blair was telling him. His skin paled and he leaned back against the raised bed. Crossing his arms, his jaw now tight with his effort at control, he looked again at Sandburg but he couldn't think of a thing to say. His mind had gone blank, or maybe it was too full of unanswerable questions.
Finally, he muttered, his voice strained, "I'm having a little trouble rapping my head around this, Chief." But he flinched again at the use of the nickname he'd used for the other Blair Sandburg.
"I can imagine," Blair commiserated. "If it was me, I think I'd be running around screaming hysterically about now. You're doing fine, Jim. Just take your time with it. Get used to the idea."
"It's just hard to believe," Jim muttered, once again shaking his head at the extremity of that under-statement. "I mean…you look and sound exactly like him. I…" but he paused again and looked away. Jim wanted to believe that for some weird reason Blair was putting him on…but the look on the other man's face gave him pause. The absolute sincerity, and the empathy, were palpable. Blair wouldn't play that kind of game. He wasn't that cruel. So it had to be true.
Unbelievable? Oh yeah.
But true, nevertheless.
God. Seventy-eight years! He'd been a frozen body for seventy-eight years…
Closing his eyes, Jim turned his face toward the wall for a moment as he dragged in one breath and then another, desperate to hold onto some vestige of control as he felt the world spin away from him. Blair laid a light, gentle hand on his knee, steadying him.
"You okay?" Blair asked quietly.
Swallowing, Jim shrugged. "I…I don't know," he replied, his voice tight. "I don't know how I feel about this yet. It's…"
"Overwhelming, impossible, unbelievable," Blair supplied when Jim faltered, his voice warm. "Yeah, it must be all of that and more. But, Jim, think about this. If you weren't here, you'd be dead…dead a long, long time. You have another chance at life now. It will be all right."
Ellison rubbed a trembling hand over his mouth and then raked his fingers through his hair. Falling apart wasn't an option, so he figured he'd better get a grip. "So, what's next, Junior? What happens now?"
"Well, the doctors will want to check you out. You know, to make sure everything is working right, so there may be a shitload of tests coming at you," Blair began.
"No," Jim stated, not caring a damn that he was probably being unreasonable, his tone final. "No tests. I'm fine. Everything's working great. I just…I just need to get out of here and…and get my bearings."
Blair studied Jim for a moment. Though he was worried that the resuscitation process, not to mention the nanites, might still have some kickback reactions, Sandburg had to agree. Jim looked fine. He was alert…but he hadn't tried to walk yet. "Okay, let's see if you can stand up steadily and walk from the bed to the bathroom," he suggested.
Jim nodded once as he impatiently pulled the IV lines from his arm and hand, and slung his legs over the side of the bed. Standing, he stood still for a moment to make sure he wasn't dizzy or at risk of keeling over. Blair had moved to stand beside him, one hand lightly on his arm. Realizing the catheter only left him with a short leash, Jim bent to see if he could unhook it from the bed frame.
Blair swallowed as he realized what Jim was doing. "Ah, sorry, man. I forgot they had you tied down. Forget going the distance and just walk back and forth here beside the bed," he suggested.
Shrugging, with a sigh, Jim straightened and paraded back and forth. Stopping in front of Sandburg, he held out his hands as he asked, "Satisfied?"
"Works for me," Blair replied, gently pushing Jim back down on the bed. "Okay, hold tight until they get you unhooked…the nurse said they'd call the doctor and be in as soon as they got the necessary orders. Meanwhile, there's some stuff we could talk about while we wait."
Jim, thinking there was a whole truckload of stuff they could 'talk about', just looked at Sandburg and waited to hear what else was coming.
Climbing into the chair so that he was sitting cross-legged in it, Blair looked up and wondered why Jim looked at him so oddly and then Ellison shook his head as if a little dazed. "What?" Sandburg asked.
Jim looked almost helpless for a moment as he replied, "Everything…everything about you, is him. Even the way you sit in a chair. Nobody sits in a chair like that!"
Startled, Blair looked down at how he was sitting and then back at Jim. "Sorry, I know it must be…well, very weird. If it bothers you, I can…" he said as he began to shift his position.
But Jim waved at him to stay the way he was. "No, no," Jim muttered with a sigh. "It's fine. You were going to cover some things…?"
"Yeah, right," Sandburg replied. Licking his lips, he plunged on, "If you're up for it, I was thinking you could stay with me until you get your bearings and decide what you want to do. It's not fancy, like, I mean really 'not fancy'. Place needs some work, but there's lots of space. We need to get you registered with all the usual identity agencies of the various governments…well, you're a cop. You know about social insurance numbers, and registering for income tax and stuff like that. It's a drag, but you don't officially exist until you do…"
Jim stiffened and held up a hand to stop the flow. He was suddenly swamped with the horror of how he would be looked upon in this world…a veritable Rip Van Winkle awakened after seventy-eight years of existence as a human popsicle. God, they'd look at him like some kind of freak and the media would have a field day. Feeling utterly sick, looking away, he murmured, "Everyone will know…that I've…that I'm…"
"No, everyone will not know," Blair jumped in to reassure him. "I've already taken legal action to ensure the protection of your privacy. None of the medical stuff from here can be published if it in any way compromises your privacy rights. Government offices have to treat whatever you give them with absolute confidentiality. It's the law, man. The media doesn't know anything about you yet and we can probably keep it that way, at least for quite a while. Once a bit of time passes, if the story does start to get around, who'd believe it's anything but spacespam?"
"Spacespam?" Jim asked, having followed all but that.
"Oh, sorry, that's jargon for our equivalent of The National Enquirer," Sandburg explained. "You know, hokey, dumb headlines that claim preposterous, impossible things."
"Right," Ellison grunted. "Preposterous. Impossible."
Sandburg sighed. "I'm sorry, Jim. I guess that didn't make you feel a lot better about any of this. I'm just saying that you don't have to worry about being mobbed when we leave here, okay?"
"Yeah, Chief, thanks," Jim sighed and rubbed his eyes. "You sure you don't mind me moving in with you for a few days?"
"Jim, no, I don't mind at all," Blair assured him. Leaning forward, he continued, "I know I'm a stranger to you, though I look a lot like someone you used to know. But…you're not really a stranger to me. My grandfather, Blair's son, was named James, after you. My own middle name is James, in memory of you. You're like family to me, man."
"Blair had a kid?" Jim grinned then, distracted, thinking about how his irrepressible…what? Advisor? Anyway, how the grad student had been attracted to every woman who seemed to cross his path. Shaking his head bemusedly, he was surprised and strangely touched to think Sandburg had named his firstborn son after him.
"Yes, he married a woman named Margaret about a year after…after the bomb, and less than a year later, James was born," Sandburg explained.
"I'm glad," Jim reflected. "He was a nice kid…a little off the wall, maybe…but a good guy. I'm glad he ended up happy. So did he have other kids? Get his PhD?"
Blair looked away figuring sad news could keep. "I'll give you the whole family tree, man, when we get home later," he replied. "But, uh, before we get outside, you should know there've been a few other changes."
Jim quirked his brow, wondering about the increase in Sandburg's heart rate as he'd avoided the question about the other Blair, but willing enough to be distracted for now. "Like what, Junior?" he prodded.
"Well, for a start, after the prolonged conflicts over who would control access to the oil in the Middle East, nations threw up their hands, so to speak, over what they were spending in armament to acquire rights to a non-renewal, not to mention dangerously polluting, resource and decided to invest differently…" Blair began, but when he looked up at Jim, and saw the look of askance on the older man's face, he realized that he was probably giving more information than Jim needed right now. Man, he didn't even know about the Twin Towers, or the three decades of terrorism that had redefined the modern context of war or…and now, Blair thought disparagingly, he was babbling to himself in the silence of his own mind. Sighing, he got to the point. "The thing is, we don't use gas in our vehicles any more. We use hydrogen, and the fuel mixes with the oxygen in the air to create water as a by-product, which is actually pretty good because that helped avert the world crisis over water…I'm giving you too much data here, aren't I?" Blair stopped again.
Jim looked down at his hands, trying to wrap his mind around the fact that even the most basic reference points that he'd taken for granted had changed. Which was probably why the kid had chosen to talk about car fuel, of all things. Something simple and basic, but which had caused wars he knew nothing about and changed the world political and economic dynamics as well addressed pressing environmental challenges like water scarcity and air pollution. "So no more carbon pollutants in the air, huh?" he finally managed to respond. Looking up at his…what? Tutor? Guide to a new world? Jim shrugged, setting aside the question of how to think about this Blair for the moment. "Your great-grandfather would have approved. He was worried about things like environmental integrity."
"Yeah, well, there's more," Blair continued, taking a breath. "We don't pave over farmland or tear down forests to build roads anymore, either. We, uh, don't use a lot of ground transportation any more."
"You don't?" Jim replied, his eyes narrowing as he considered the futuristic visions of movies of his day. "What…you fly? Use 'transporters' to disappear from one place and appear in another?"
"Well, half right," Blair grinned at the reference to the old fictional Star Trek technology that had informed a generation of science fiction thinking. "We use fluttercraft for personal use, well except for the guys who want more power, and they prefer the Double-Ms."
"Double-Ms?" Jim asked, thinking 'fluttercraft' sounded a little like butterflies. Light-weight and dainty, which left him feeling unhappy with them, sight unseen.
"Mass-Movers, man," Blair elaborated with an exaggerated masculine growl. "Big mean, macho machines."
Despite himself, Jim had to grin. Now that sounded like his kind of vehicle! And, from the teasing sparkle in the kid's eyes, he realized Blair had already figured that out.
The door opened just then and Dr. Lee came in, smiling when he saw Jim sitting up looking alert and really quite healthy.
"Dr. Lee," Blair acknowledged and then turned to Ellison. "Jim, this is Dr. Lee. He's the guy who got your heart started again."
Jim took in the diminutive Asian physician as he held out his hand. "Thank you," he said simply. Though he felt disoriented and confused about waking up almost a century after he'd lost consciousness, Jim was a pragmatist and a survivor. On balance, he figured it was probably better to be alive now than to have been dead for all that time, not to mention forever.
Dr. Lee glanced at Blair as he shook Jim's hand. "You're most welcome, Mr. Ellison," the doctor replied, though he wasn't quite as certain as Sandburg seemed to be that he was the one to be thanked. As the physician recalled the events, he had given up and turned away. It had been the young grad student who had refused to concede the impossible. Turning his attention fully to Jim, Lee observed, "You are quite the phenomenon, sir. The first man ever to be awakened from a cryogenic sleep. How do you feel?"
Jim looked away for a moment as he considered the question. How did he feel? Scared? Confused? Overwhelmed? "I'm fine, Doctor," he replied, looking back. "I'd like to get out of the hospital and get on with my life."
"Perhaps in a day or so after we've run a few tests and have confirmed that…" Dr. Lee began, but Jim cut him off.
"No, really, I'm fine," Jim insisted. "I…I need to get out, look around. Get my bearings."
Lee studied him quietly for a moment then moved closer, pulling a small, round gadget from his pocket as he approached Jim's side. "Let me just check on a few things," he murmured, placing the mini-puter against the skin on the back of Jim's hand. "This will give me your blood pressure, pulse, temperature, respirations, basic blood chemistry…" he explained absently as he read the readings flashing on the small screen on the back of the device. Nodding, he removed it and looked up at Jim. "Well, it seems you're right. You are fine…remarkable. Truly remarkable."
"So…you'll sign me out?" Jim pressed.
"Yes, but where will you go? Perhaps a few days here would allow you to explore options?" Lee suggested, reluctant to let this unique patient disappear.
"Sandburg says I can crash at his place," Jim replied with a glance at Blair who nodded.
"Fine, then. Once Mr. Sandburg has obtained some clothes for you…" Lee offered, still hedging a little.
"Uh, actually, I've got clothes and shoes for him with me," Blair interjected, flicking a look toward his backpack in the corner.
"So you not only brought sheets for his bed but clothing? My, you were certain of our success, weren't you?" Lee marvelled. "Well, good. Then I'll sign the necessary papers at the desk and you can leave after breakfast. I'll send the nurse in to remove the catheter. If you encounter any problems, Blair knows how to get in touch with me. Good luck, Mr. Ellison."
Jim nodded, but his gaze had been on Sandburg since Lee had mentioned the sheets and the clothing. Once the doctor had left, Ellison asked, "You brought sheets for the bed…and clothing? Chief…why?"
Blair was matter-of-fact as he answered, "Well, I knew from the journals that you have hyper-sensitivities and I figured it might only be worse immediately after we revived you. So, I wanted to be sure the linen didn't irritate you more than necessary…and, well, you can hardly leave here in a hospital gown, man."
Jim blinked. In the confusion of everything, he hadn't really taken in that this man was a complete stranger. A stranger who knew details about his senses…about his former life. Suddenly, Jim realized how that fact alone had eased his re-awakening. He hadn't had to explain who he was, or try to figure out how he'd ended up here. This man knew and accepted him for who he was, making waking up in a strange new place easier somehow. A stranger who took his senses for granted so that he didn't have to explain them either. And now he realized as well that this stranger who had gone out of his way to ensure those senses weren't irritated, and that Jim had what he needed to set foot outside the hospital compound.
"But, you couldn't know that I'd actually wake up," Jim exclaimed softly, amazed that a stranger had gone to such effort for him. Frowning, he wondered how many friends he'd had who would have done the same, and realized that none could have because only Sandburg had known and understood about his senses in the first place. "Like Lee said, no one else ever has."
"I knew you'd wake up," Sandburg replied steadily, as if he'd never had any doubt. And he hadn't, not really… though there'd been a few tough moments during the heart-stimulation procedure.
His eyes narrowing, feeling as if he was slipping into the familiar reaches of the Sandburg Zone, Jim had to ask, "How could you possibly know that?"
Blair looked a little diffident, but he replied nonetheless. "In my great-grandfather's journals, he says that 'nothing happens in this universe randomly; there is always a reason, a purpose'. Well, there had to be a reason why the universe needed you 'here and now' more than 'then and there'. Otherwise, you could have died back then and it wouldn't have made any difference. So…ergo, I knew you would wake up. For some reason, we need you here, man. We need you now."
Jim just looked at him, his face carefully blank, but he was thinking, 'Seventy-eight years ago I was starting to feel like I was in some kind of Sandburg Zone…and after all this time, it seems I'm still there."
"Uh, one other thing, Jim, before we go outside," Blair began, looking out of the window toward the shoreline. This particular view did not reveal the stark changes to the skyline Jim had known. "Cascade isn't the same…"
"Well, cities change over the course of a few decades, I guess," Jim allowed, wondering what it would look like now.
"Yeah, but it's more than that. There was a huge volcanic cataclysm in the northwest of the United States and up into Canada that, well, that had a massive impact on the world as a whole, but we don't need to go into that right now. Anyway, the lava flow threatened Cascade and the city was evacuated back in '35. The entire industrial and warehouse district was wiped out, along with about three quarters of the suburbs. But, except for the edge of the financial district, where your father's building was, a good part of the downtown and older parts of the city, along with most of the university grounds, survived. The earthquakes and fire brought down a lot of the infrastructure, but that's been rebuilt, mostly, in the last forty years," Blair explained. "But, it takes decades for the lava to cool, so it's only recently that we've been able to dig through the areas that were destroyed and think about reclaiming them."
Jim thought briefly about his apartment and wondered what had happened to the loft. But, if he'd been frozen in '97, well, the loft would have passed into other hands then. Suddenly, it hit him. He had nothing left. No clothing, no money, no job, no friends, no family, no reference points…nothing. A slight tremble shivered through his body as he paled, feeling a surge of nausea…and the air felt tight in his lungs.
"Hey, Jim, are you okay, man?" Blair asked, moving close to lay a hand on his shoulder. "Should I go after Dr. Lee and get him back here?"
Ellison looked up into eyes dark with sincere concern, and he felt a tide of calm flow from the touch on his arm through the rest of his body. Taking a deep breath, he shook his head. "No. No, I'm all right, Chief. Just…it's a lot to take in, to get used to, you know?"
"I know," Blair murmured quietly, rubbing his shoulder and back. "You're doing so great, you know? I can't imagine how scary it must be, or how lonely. But…you are not alone, Jim. Such as I am, you've got me, man…and that's a start, right?"
His throat tight, Ellison nodded. "Right," he echoed softly, his sense of extreme vulnerability warring with the shaft of pure gratitude he'd felt at Sandburg's simple, diffident, words.
Within the maelstrom of emotion that swirled inside, Jim held to one steadying thought. He wasn't alone. Sandburg was here. He had his guide to this strange new world and he would be fine.
"So, where do you live, Chief?" Ellison asked they strolled through the parking lot and he took in the interesting sight of the air vehicles, finding them similar to the fixed wing military craft that he'd seen in his day, that could hover and reverse, but these craft were smaller. But when Sandburg stopped at what was apparently his vehicle, Ellison eyed the small, battered personal flying machine with ill favour. "Is this thing safe?" he couldn't help but demand as he looked at his 'Guide', as Jim had dubbed Sandburg in his mind.
"Well, she's seen better days, I guess," Blair allowed, but then he grinned as he added, "I like to think of her as a 'classic', Jim. I mean, look at those lines…and she's sturdy, built to last."
"Uh huh," Jim grunted, not entirely reassured. If this thing stalled out, like the old jalopy his Sandburg had favoured had had a propensity to do, this wouldn't just be a matter of rolling to the curb. They would fall from the sky.
Not a happy thought.
"C'mon, man, she's safe!" Blair encouraged, opening the hatch, which flipped up rather than sideways. "I promise, I won't kill you on your first day out in 2075!"
Jim flashed Blair a look that clearly wondered what his promises were worth, but then grinned as he nodded and climbed inside. Damn but this kid was just like his Sandburg. It was reassuring and disconcerting all at the same time.
Blair loped around to the other side and climbed into the pilot's seat. Flipping on controls, he took a quick scan around through the glass dome of the vehicle, added power as he shifted a gear and they ascended on a slight angle away from the hospital and over the sea. "Thought I'd give you a bit of a tour, to get you situated, on the way, okay?" he offered.
"Sounds like a plan, Chief," Jim agreed, craning his head around to get his first glimpse of Cascade and the mountains beyond.
What he saw shocked him.
The majestic mountains he remembered were now marred by a great black, gutted slash that looked at least fifty miles wide. Mount Rainier was just, plain, gone. Blowing out a breath, he tore his eyes from the scene of devastation, taking some comfort that other peaks still remained, and were still crowned with snow. Shifting his gaze to the city skyline, he shook his head. 'Fluttercraft' and 'Double-Ms' along with what looked like heavy transport craft clogged the sky and he wondered how collisions were avoided. As he studied the movements of vehicles that zipped through the air, he noticed that craft seemed to give way both to the right and to those above…and speeds slowed as density increased. Scratching his cheek, he wondered how long it would take him to master 'driving' in this world.
Looking down, he remembered his Sandburg's nervous irritation at having had to climb a tree, while this one darted and zipped through the sky without flinching. "Guess you're not afraid of heights," he murmured, almost to himself.
Blair darted him a surprised look. "How did you know that, man? Yeah…I hate heights, but that is one fear that seriously has to be mastered to get around today. Took me almost a year of therapy before I could bring myself to take lessons. Man, I felt like such a wuss," Sandburg confessed.
Startled, Jim shot a look at the man beside him. How could they have even the same basic fears? Was fear of heights genetic or something? Feeling the hairs on his skin lift in a little shiver, as if a ghost had just walked over his grave, distinctly uncomfortable, Ellison looked away. He was beginning to remember just how strange the Sandburg Zone could be.
Swallowing, he turned his attention to the city itself and he was glad Sandburg had warned him of the damage. Though it had been forty years, a swath of black lava, glistening a little now as the sun started to break through the overcast skies, flowed in what looked like a ten-mile wide channel from the black slash in the mountains down to the sea. Even after forty years, there were signs of the devastation caused by the earthquakes in the buildings too near the flow zone to get into for restoration or replacement, or in neighbourhoods still too poor to make all the necessary repairs. The skyline of the downtown was vastly different, with none of the old landmarks remaining. Had they come down in the hideously violent earthquakes, he wondered? But the port was there, the city centre was where it had been, even if it looked completely different, with new towers rising in the core. And, there was something comforting about seeing the old Rainier campus essentially intact. He realized now that he'd been in the new version of the old University Teaching and Research Hospital.
Sandburg banked the craft and headed back toward the older part of the city. He'd remained silent to allow Jim to just absorb what this part of the world looked like now. From time to time, he cast an assessing glance toward his passenger, to see how Ellison was taking it all. Pretty good, considering. Blair marvelled at how well this guy could either conceal feelings or adapt to the unthinkable. Sandburg figured it was probably a little of both as he recalled the information that Jim had been in Covert Operations while in the military and had lost his whole crew in Peru, having to survive for eighteen months virtually alone in the jungle.
Only this time he'd lost everyone and everything he'd known…and must feel very alone in a different kind of jungle.
As the flutter dropped down through the vertical lanes of traffic, Jim studied the neighbourhoods below, recognizing old street patterns. Finally, something that at least seemed familiar. But the area, made up of the older neighbourhoods on the fringes of the downtown, looked a little wasted and abandoned. "Where did you say you live?" Jim asked again.
"We're almost there, Jim," Blair replied. "It's one of the old neighbourhoods. This whole area survived the quakes better than most, though, as you can see, there was still a lot of damage that hasn't been completely repaired yet. But I like the ambiance, you know. In this part of town, there are still vestiges of the last century, which is my area of specialization. So I got a place that was cheap, but it gives me a lot of space and lets me immerse myself in a bit of 'yesterday'. It's not all that far from the U and has a great view of the downtown skyline. I feel like I can look over the whole city from my balcony. It's a great feeling, you know."
With a sudden sharp ache of loss as he thought back to his loft and his own long gone balcony, of the hours he'd spent upon it staring out over his city, Ellison nodded sombrely. Yes, he understood that feeling very well.
Sandburg dropped the flutter neatly into a vacant slot in a parking area between two old and dilapidated buildings. As they got out, he turned to Jim, who had an odd look on his face as he gazed around. "I told you it wasn't fancy, Jim…but it's home," Blair sighed. "It's a step up from living in a warehouse, anyway," he added with a shrug. "And there aren't any rats."
Jim shot a quick look at his companion, remembering that his Sandburg's address had been somewhere in the warehouse district. "You ever live in a warehouse, Sandburg?" he asked.
"Not in this lifetime, man," Blair replied with a grin. "But I have the oddest dreams sometimes, you know? I think I'm probably just influenced by having practically memorized by great-grandfather's journals. I guess there were times when he lived in some pretty dismal places." Looking back and up at the building, he said softly, "I guess I could have afforded something better, but, I don't know, when I found this place, it just felt right."
As they headed toward the building, Blair felt a peculiar thrill of hope that Jim would like the place… would be happy there. Crazy. What was to like, really? It needed a lot of repairs. And it wasn't as if Jim would be staying once things got sorted out for him. But, still, Sandburg felt that sense of odd anticipation.
They went in the back door and past the elevator. "That thing hasn't worked in forty years," Blair sighed, turning into the stairwell, Jim following him.
Jim had grown silent as they climbed, wondering just what Sandburg's apartment would look like. As they came out on the top floor of the building, Blair led the way to the door at the end of the hall. Unlocking it and pushing it open, he turned to look over his shoulder as he called out with a warm smile, "Welcome home, Jim…such as it is!"
But he froze at the look on Ellison's face. Jim had gone stark white, his mouth slightly agape as he stared at Sandburg and then past him at the interior. It was only when Blair touched his arm that Jim remembered to breathe.
"Chief, this is…" Jim began, and then faltered.
"A dump, yeah, I know," Blair replied apologetically, feeling a flash of disappointment at the reaction. Why he felt such a letdown, he had no idea. Jim's reaction had been predictable…it was a dump.
Nevertheless, Sandburg forged on gamely, pointing out the advantages of an apartment where some walls were only so much rubble, babbling a little in his nervousness. "But having that wall between the apartments broken down doubles its size, you know, so there are two bathrooms, instead of one for when people crash here or my mother visits. And, well, one of the smaller bedrooms is pretty cluttered still with old rubble from the floor of the loft above, but the two main ones are pretty much okay. And there are two balconies and fire escapes, and two kitchens so when the stove breaks down in one, which happens more often than I like to admit, I can use the other. The smaller bedroom, over there under the stairs, makes a decent little office for when I'm working at home. And, well, as you can see, I've tried to warm it up a bit, with some of the stuff I've gathered from field trips around the world."
Jim was only half listening as he wandered past Sandburg and into the apartment. There was a huge lump in his throat, and he couldn't get over the sense of the bizarre…or of wonder. Turning back to Sandburg, he said softly, "You don't realize it, do you?"
"What? That the walls might fall down?" Blair quipped. "Seriously, it's safe, man, structurally, I mean."
But Jim shook his head. That wasn't what he'd meant. "No," he murmured, then cleared his throat. "Chief…this is my place. Where I used to live. This is the loft."
Sandburg did a double-take. "What?" he whispered, looking from Jim to the apartment around them. "This is where you lived? You're kidding me, right?"
"No, Chief, I'm not," Jim replied, moving past furniture that while of a different colour and fabric, was still reminiscent of what he'd owned, to what was clearly some kind of sound equipment on the improvised brick and plank bookcase against the wall. There was a more modern machine, quite small, with a stack of one-inch disk cases that likely held music. But, beside it, was an old, lovingly preserved CD player…and stacked beside it were CDs of Santana. Ellison's eyes burned as he reached out to touch them, and he had to stiffen his jaw to swallow the lump in his throat. It was a moment before he could ask, "How did you know…?"
Blair had been watching him and knew Jim was referring to the ancient CDs. "The journals. He wrote everything he knew about you, everything he could find out. You haunted my great-grandfather, man. So, uh, I, thought you might appreciate something familiar, you know? I found that stuff in an old junk shop downtown and a tekkie friend of mine fixed up the machine. I got it back from him just before, well, before we got your heart started again."
His back to Sandburg, Jim nodded his slightly bowed head. Turning, he stared long and hard at the young man with the wild mane of hair and the wide, innocent, hopeful blue eyes…the young man who said he was a stranger but who felt like…. Jim shook his head. He couldn't figure out why Sandburg felt like a long lost best friend. He'd only just met the other one, the one who had already given him such relief and some modest control with his senses in such a short space of time. Had scarcely known him any better than he knew this one. But…the sense of familiarity, the comfort that this man's simple presence gave him went 'way beyond a casual acquaintance. He wanted to ask, Who ARE you? or shout, Why do I feel like I know you? But all he said with a voice tight and hoarse with emotion was, "Thank you."
Meanwhile, Sandburg was struggling with his own sense of wonder. How in hell had he found the exact place where Jim had lived? Why had it seemed so right to him when he'd first seen it? Like this was the place he wanted as his home, the only place he wanted to live? A sense of familiarity, almost wistfulness, had pervaded his being when he'd first set foot in the place. And he could see that Jim was really shook by the eerie coincidence. Shrugging a little, Blair waved a hand around the place as he replied, "I guess it's just a case of synchronicity, man."
"Synchronicity?" Jim echoed, wondering what Sandburg was talking about now.
"Yeah, Jim," Blair replied earnestly with a bubble of enthusiastic wonder in his voice and lighting his eyes. "About a hundred years ago, a guy wrote about his theory of 'synchronicity'. Basically, it means that there are no coincidences. When you are on the right track, doing the right things, then things just sorta happen. Events and opportunities align…"
But his voice drifted away when he could see Jim didn't give much credence to such esoteric philosophies, and was beginning to look overloaded again. Too much input. Too much that was too strange. Sandburg knew he needed to bring back a touch of the normal.
To break the silence between them, Blair waved at the furniture as he said, "Sit down, man, make yourself at home. Would you like a beer?"
"Sure," Jim replied as he slumped into the chair. "Sounds good." As Blair opened the two bottles and carried them over, Ellison added, "You said you'd tell me about your family history. And, well, I wondered if you knew any more about, well, people I would have known…what happened to them. Did your great-grandfather write about any of them?"
Blair sat cross-legged on the couch and nodded. "Yeah, he made a few references. But…none of this is likely to make you very happy, Jim. Some of it is pretty sad."
Jim took a swallow of beer and thought about that. Whatever had happened, they would have all likely have died by now anyway. Sighing, he decided he wanted to know as much as he could about what had happened to the people he'd once known and cared about. "I'd still like to hear it," he affirmed quietly, steeling himself a little.
"Okay, well, your ex-wife, Carolyn?" Blair asked. When Jim nodded, he continued, "Well, she ended up moving down to San Francisco shortly after…ah, first, you should probably know that nobody, but nobody seemed to know you were still alive, well sort of. After your funeral, she moved. About a year later, she got married to a pathologist. I don't know what happened to her after that."
"Well, that doesn't sound sad," Jim reflected. "I'm glad if she found someone she could be happy with."
Blair nodded as he looked away. "That was the good news," he said softly. Straightening his shoulders, he turned back to Jim. "Soon after your funeral, a group of para-military domestic terrorists took over the police station. I'm sorry to tell you that all the hostages were killed. The only survivor was your Captain Banks' son, Daryl, but he was hurt pretty bad. When he was well enough to be moved from the hospital, his mother took him to the other side of the continent and sued for full custody. Blair's journal reports that Simon was devastated to know that both his wife and son blamed him for what had happened…because he was a cop."
"Oh, my God," Jim breathed out, shocked and sick to think of what that would have done to Simon. Closing his eyes, swamped by a wave of emotion as he turned his face away from Sandburg, he wondered how many of his colleagues had died that day. Damn. If only he had been there. Maybe there would have been something he could have done. Taking a deep breath and blowing it out, he asked, "What else?"
"Well, I did check to see if I could find out what happened to Daryl Banks, but the records got really messed up after the world blew in '35. Anyway, I found a reference to a Daryl Banks who attended Rainier, and took his masters in criminology…the correlation of years would have been about right. I lost him again, but when I checked the 'net for any listings under that name early in the century, I discovered that a Daryl Banks became the State Attorney General in 2023. His bio said that he had an MA in Crim, and that he'd also attended the Police Academy. He served in the Cascade Police Force and rose rapidly through the ranks. He'd married and had a couple of kids, but he died in '35. I couldn't find anything after that…the records really got trashed and the world was a mess for quite a few years after that."
Noticing that Jim was staring at him with a kind of glazed look, Blair retreated from talking about the generalities of a world that had come close to the edge of the abyss, and returned to the specifics of the people Ellison had known. Biting his lip, Blair continued, "But, if it was the same Daryl Banks, well, he did okay…better than okay. His Dad would have been proud of him. Unfortunately, about a year after Daryl and his mother moved to Virginia, Simon Banks went to Peru for a conference or something. He took the weekend to go fishing out in the mountains there. He never came back. Nobody knows whether the rebels got him, or maybe some drug-running cartel…or if he just didn't want to come back, and he, well, uh… anyway, they did find evidence that the helicopter he'd been in was shot down, but they only ever found the pilot's body. I'm sorry. From the journals, I got the impression that he was a good friend of yours."
"Yeah, he was," Jim replied, his voice distant, his eyes gazing into the past. "He was a good man," he continued, his voice thick with emotion. "I don't think he'd've killed himself. Simon wasn't a quitter. Something else must have happened to him." Jim bowed his head, thinking about how many good people Peru had stolen from his life…how many had lost their lives there.
Sandburg waited quietly, wishing he wasn't the one to have to give Jim all this terrible news about things that had happened so long ago. Things Jim couldn't do anything about now. Could only hear and try to accept.
"Anything else?" Ellison asked. "My father…my brother?"
"Your father died in 2021, a heart attack. That's all I know. Your brother, Steven…" Blair replied, hesitated and then shook his head. "I'm sorry, Jim, Stephen was murdered by someone who was never caught, at the race track where he'd been working, not even two years after…after they lost you."
Jim closed his eyes, remembering a laughing young boy tailing after him, remembering when they'd been close. Remembering when the resentment had grown between them, and the alienation. He couldn't stop the sudden welling of regret that filled his chest and burned in his eyes. Little Stevie. Murdered. Damn.
"That's enough bad news. Tell me some more good news," Jim sighed after a moment. "Tell me about how Sandburg had a pack of kids and grew old and famous."
Blair smiled sadly as he replied, "I wish I could. But Blair and Margaret only had one child, my grandfather, James. They were murdered, too, likely by some rich, aggrieved student before he fled the country, less than a month after James was born. Blair's mother, Naomi, raised my grandfather."
"Jesus," Jim gasped, horrified. Somehow, though he couldn't understand why, Sandburg's violent death shocked him even more than had his brother's…and left him feeling a sick surge of anger and futility that he hadn't been there when he should have been there. Hadn't stopped what shouldn't have ever happened. For a moment, just for a flash of time, he had a fast vision of a jungle…and of Sandburg. A wave of sharp exhilaration and huge relief washed through him then, leaving him reeling from the all-pervasive awareness of being overwhelmingly glad to see him…and then it was gone. Stunned, Jim stared at the mirror image of that man sitting across from him.
And once again, he had the most powerful urge to ask, Who are you?
But he just turned away, stood stiffly and went out onto the balcony to get some air. Gripping the rail, he took a deep breath and then another, conscious of Blair coming up behind him to lay a supportive hand on his back. Once again, calm washed through him as he lifted his head to stare out at the city.
His city. His tribe.
The next day, Jim poured over the old Sandburg journals. He was amazed and humbled by what the long dead grad student and young professor had written about him. And he was sorry to read how he'd haunted the kid, very touched by the grief and pain that still rose from the written words, as if those emotions had soaked into the paper itself and permeated the air whenever the thin books were opened. Within the journal that detailed Blair's observations of his abilities, he found loose papers scrawled with lists of products he didn't recognize…and he frowned as he realized the loose paper was of a much more recent vintage than the old journal. But the writing…
"Sandburg," he called quietly, looking up at the grad student who was putting a salad together for their lunch. "What are these loose lists?"
"When I was going through the original notes," Blair explained, looking up from the dressing he was preparing, "I decided to make lists of products that would approximate those that had existed then. You know, just in case I found a sentinel someday, I figured some of the sensory reactions would likely be similar." He smiled then as he revealed, "Every generation of my family since the original Blair has been on the lookout for sentinels, man."
Holding up one of the notes, Ellison observed, his voice a bit strained, "But the writing…"
"Yeah, I know," Sandburg replied, shrugging his shoulders. "Weird, isn't it?"
"It's more than 'weird', Chief," Jim replied, looking again at the note and comparing the handwriting with that in the journal, his 'sentinel sight' noting minute corresponding details. "Nobody has the same handwriting, not the exact same handwriting, as anyone else. Ever."
"Well, it's probably not exactly the same…just really similar," Blair replied, going back to shaking up the dressing mix of oil, raspberry vinegar, and herbs and then pouring it over the mixture of spinach greens, sliced mushrooms, tangerine segments and toasted almond shavings.
Swallowing, feeling a shiver climb up his back, Jim looked back at the two documents. "No," he said softly, too softly for Sandburg to hear him, "the writing is exactly the same."
They were just finishing up the lunch when the comunit on Blair's wrist buzzed. Punching in a code, not bothering to mute the volume, he replied, "Hey, Xuan! How's it going?"
The voice, sounding as clear as if the man was in the room, replied, "Blair, I've finished the search you asked for…of old estate and bank records. The will was never probated. The accounts are intact…quite a bit of interest has accumulated. Benefits were never paid out. I'm sending you 'mail with all the details."
"Wow, really?" Blair enthused, his face lighting in a huge grin. "That's going to make a big difference. Thanks, man. I'm really going to owe you some huge favours!"
"And here I thought I was just clearing the account of what I owed you," Xuan replied with a chuckle. "Give me a .01% finder's fee, and believe me, I'll feel more than well compensated. Later, my friend!"
Blair punched in another code, scanned the mail Xuan had just sent, his eyes dancing as his grin widened in gleeful amazement. Nodding to himself, he murmured, "This is SO great!"
"Good news, Chief?" Jim asked, amused by the excitement that was radiating off the younger man.
Blair looked up from the microscreen, a huge smile radiating his face. "Oh, man, Jim, you won't believe this!" he exclaimed.
A little confused, wondering why he'd particularly care about one of Blair's projects or whatever it was the call had been about, Jim replied, "Believe what?"
Sitting back in his chair, Blair explained, "Well, Xuan is a buddy of mine…he's the lawyer who helped me get the papers to safeguard your privacy and to give me the right to look after your interests until you woke up. Anyway, his specialty is estate law, so on the off-chance, I asked him to look into your estate."
"My estate?" Jim echoed.
"Yeah, and guess one…you don't have one!" Blair crowed, standing, too excited to sit. "You weren't declared dead, 'cause you didn't actually die! So nothing was probated or dispersed in accordance with whatever will you might have had. Your father arranged a perpetual trust in your name, with all your assets, to be held by your bank until you claimed it. Man, that guy really must have believed in the cryogenic technology…or else he had one powerful sense of hope. On top of that, someone in the Cascade Police Department had to have known that you hadn't actually died…because they never paid out your death benefits, just slipped you onto a list of 'long term disabled' employees and promptly lost the list in the files. You know what bureaucratic paperwork is like…it never gets destroyed, and your name just got routinely transferred from one list to another as they were updated. Since you weren't costing the department anything, they never bothered tracking you down to see if you'd ever be able to return to work. Jim…you still have a job with the Cascade PD as soon as you can prove your fitness to return to duty!"
"A trust?" Jim echoed again, trying to keep up with the rapid flow of excited words. He'd been worried about the fact that he didn't have a cent to his name and was completely dependent upon Sandburg. "A job? You can't be serious."
"Oh, I'm serious, all right," Blair replied, tapping the comunit with his finger. "I'll download and print this stuff, but according to what I've got here, your father even left a genetic report and a frozen sample with the law firm that manages the trust, so that your identity could be established beyond doubt and no charlatans could claim to be you. Jim, you are RICH, man!"
Shaking his head, relieved and amazed at the same time, Jim recalled the conversation with Xuan that he'd just overheard. "I guess you'll be wanting a finder's fee, too, eh, Chief?" he mused, frowning in thought as he tried to wrap his head around this bit of very unexpected but exceedingly good fortune.
Sandburg's excitement evaporated, as if it had never been, and he suddenly went very still. Jim was surprised to look up and see hurt written on the young man's face, and confusion in his eyes.
"No, Jim," Blair said quietly, swallowing and holding up a hand, as if physically staving off the idea. "I don't want any of your money…that's not why I had Xuan checking. God…you don't think I meant to use that power of attorney I've got to rob you, do you? I just thought…I just thought that you'd feel better if we could find out if you had some assets, or some inheritance, somewhere…so that you wouldn't feel you owed me anything, or that you were dependent on me. I mean, your father didn't have any dependents when he died, and I guess from the stuff Xuan just found that he had his whole estate rolled into your trust, so you are really, I mean really, megarich. But I swear…I never meant…"
"Whoa, easy, Chief," Jim exclaimed, holding up his own hands in surrender at the torrent of hurt. "I wasn't suggesting anything like that. To tell you the truth, I'm a little overwhelmed here. I…" he paused a moment, suddenly looking uncomfortable and vulnerable. "To tell you the truth," he began again, "no one in my life has ever done so much for me, looked after my interests, like you've been doing since you found my body. I…I don't know where to begin to thank you, Sandburg."
"Your Dad looked after your interests, man," Blair replied quietly. "I just helped you find that out. You don't owe me anything."
Jim looked away at that comment, his jaw tight. It was hard, very hard, for him to reconcile his continued existence, and now it appeared the capacity to pay his own way in this world, to a father he hadn't seen or spoken with for years before he'd…almost died. The concern and care his father had taken of him and his interests just didn't jibe with the man he remembered.
He wouldn't have thought his father would have cared.
Rubbing the back of his neck, rising from the table to put the dishes in the sink, Jim stood for a moment with his back to Sandburg, struggling with everything that was happening, that had happened. Trying for some kind of balance. Trying not to be overwhelmed. Finally, he turned back to see the younger man watching him uncertainly. God, how could the kid look at him like that? How could Blair think that he didn't appreciate everything Sandburg had done for him…or worse, believe that he thought that Sandburg had somehow been trying to use him?
"Chief, maybe you're right," he allowed, speaking slowly, a little hesitatingly. Putting how he felt into words had never been easy for him. "Maybe I do owe some gratitude for all of this to my father. But he's not here and you are. Here and now, I know who to thank. Waking up in some lab, confused, my senses out of control…I…I don't want to think about what that would have been like. I honestly think the shock might have killed me. You've eased my way back in a way that goes beyond anything I could have ever hoped for or expected, even if I had known what had happened to me. I'm very grateful to you. More than I can adequately express."
Sandburg smiled then, slowly, at the utter sincerity of Ellison's words and expression, and the tension flowed out of his body. "Whatever I can do to help, Jim, I'm glad to do. I just want you to know you're not all alone here, you know?"
"Yeah, I got that, Chief," Jim replied, a tentative smile gracing his own lips. "So…what's next? How do I prove I'm me so that I can start paying my way around here? Maybe buy some groceries that are a little more substantial than the rabbit food you seem to exist on. And how do I get a licence to fly?"
They quickly made a list of what needed to be done and headed out, first to the University Life Sciences Research Institute to obtain documentation that Jim was who he said he was and to obtain their agreement to do a genetic sample matching process with the sample the lawyer apparently held.
Tapping lightly on the open office door, Sandburg smiled when Dr. Woodhouse looked up, and when she waved them in, he said, "Jim, this is Dr. Laura Woodhouse. She's the one who led your recovery and resuscitation process."
Jim smiled as he held out a hand and said, "I owe you a huge debt of gratitude, Dr. Woodhouse. Thank you."
"You are most welcome, Mr. Ellison," she replied with a sincere smile of her own. "I must say it's good to see you looking so well."
"Dr. Woodhouse," Blair intervened, moving to the business at hand, "we've discovered that there is a trust held in Jim's name, but he'll need to verify his identity to gain access to it. His father left a frozen tissue sample for genetic matching with the lawyers managing the trust. We need your help to confirm Jim's identity."
"I see," she replied, turning her attention back to Jim. "Your father was a far-sighted and optimistic man, it seems."
"Apparently so," Jim replied, still struggling with matching his memories of his father with a man who had done so much to safeguard him, so far as William Ellison was able to do.
"Well, the last time you had requests to make of me, Blair, you came with a fistful of documents. Have you something similar this time?" she asked dryly.
Blushing a little, Blair opened the tapestry-covered portfolio that he was carrying. "Well, actually, yes, I do," he replied. Pulling out a document, he held it out to her. "I've taken the liberty of recording how we found Jim and the general details of his revival for your signature. We can give this to the lawyers today, and if you'd agree, we could tell them that the lab here would perform the genetic analysis required."
"I might be able to do even better than that," she offered, with a speculative look in her eyes. "But I'd expect something in return."
Stiffening, immediately on the defensive on Jim's behalf, Blair asked, "What, exactly?"
All business now, she leaned forward, her elbows on the desk and her hands clasped, as she replied, "What we have achieved in reviving you, Mr. Ellison, is unique…unparalleled. Not only were we able to retrieve you from the cryochamber and revive you, a feat which has never before been successfully performed, but through the use of nanite technology, we were able to heal the injuries which almost killed you seventy-eight years ago, and would have certainly prevented your successful resuscitation today. On your behalf, Mr. Sandburg has forbidden us to publish any of our results or findings, pending your approval. In return for signing this statement and providing you with a genetic analysis report immediately, which I can easily do based on the work we did in revitalizing your body, I would request that you give us permission to write up our findings for publication. I assure you, we will do everything in our power to conceal and protect your identity. If you don't agree, well, I'm afraid I'll have to have the University's legal advisers consider your requests. It could all take considerable time before it's worked out…"
"Hey, Laura, that's not fair…" Blair began to protest, but stopped when Jim raised a hand to still his words.
"No, it's more than fair, Chief," Jim replied calmly, his steady gaze remaining fixed on the scientist. "I understand Dr. Woodhouse's interests in this, and the University's interests. Tell you what, if you give me the final sign-off on any material to be published, so that I can be reassured that my privacy won't be compromised, then I agree."
"That's perfectly acceptable," she acceded, and smiled. Punching the comunit built into her desk, she requested a copy of Ellison's genetic record. Then she reached for the paper that Blair still held in his hand and signed it.
They left a copy of the document for her records, were provided with the promised genetic report and then they were on their way to see the lawyers.
As they zipped across town, Jim turned to Blair. "Nanites?" he asked finally able to indulge his curiousity about something Woodhouse had said. "What are 'nanites'?"
"Nanites are teeny-tiny, little sub-atomic biotechnical thingees that imprint themselves with your DNA and then run around your body fixing anything that needs fixing," Blair replied succinctly. "When their work is done, they self-destruct."
When Jim didn't say anything, Blair cut him a quick glance and saw the grimace of distaste and nervousness on Ellison's face. "It was our only choice, Jim," he explained soberly. "Your wounds were truly terrible…burns, deep lacerations…even to your heart and brain. We wouldn't have been able to revive you if all that hadn't have been fixed first."
Jim stared out of the glass dome as he thought about it. "I guess that explains why my old scars are gone," he murmured, having noticed that mysterious fact in the shower that morning. Swallowing, he turned back to Sandburg as he asked, "You're sure they self-destruct…that they aren't inside me now?"
Nodding, Blair replied, "That's what the experts said, Jim."
His eyes narrowing as he thought about their conversation with Woodhouse, Jim asked then, "Why was she so anxious to be able to publish the results of using these nanites on me? I mean, if they are standard medical procedure now…"
His eyes on the aerial traffic around them, Blair answered, "They aren't in standard use. To be perfectly honest, you are the first human being they've been tried on."
"Oh, great," Jim grunted as he leaned back in his seat. "So nobody knows for sure how they work or if they really have disappeared."
"Jim, they tested your system and couldn't find any evidence of them after the repairs were complete," Blair replied, his own voice tight now at the censure in Ellison's tone. "Believe me, if I'd've had a choice…but I didn't. You would have died. I had to let them try, don't you understand?"
Chewing on the inside of his lip, Ellison finally nodded. "Yeah, Chief, I understand. Doesn't mean I have to like it…but, I can see you didn't have much choice."
Ellison knew it was probably just his imagination, but his skin felt itchy. It would take him a while to get used to the idea of having had the little mini-machines roaming freely inside his body.
But, he sighed as he reflected on everything that had happened so far, he would get used to it.
"I'm sorry, all of our legal representatives are busy just now," the pleasant but impersonal receptionist informed them. "If you'd care to make an appointment? We have some slots available next month."
Keeping a hold on his patience, and wishing he still had a gold shield in his pocket, Jim persevered. "I think you'll find that one of your firm's partners will want to see me immediately. They've been waiting for me to arrive for quite some time. Please tell them that James Joseph Ellison is here to claim his trust."
Her eyes widened, almost imperceptivity, but enough that he could see that his name had registered. Quirking a brow at her, he dared her silently to react. For a moment, she stared at him, cut a quick look at Sandburg, who grinned and nodded amiably, and then she rose from behind her desk. "If you'll just have a seat for a moment, I'll see if Mr. McBride will be able to see you."
As she disappeared into the inner sanctum of the plush, well appointed offices, Blair whispered, "THE McBride? As in McBride, Lawson and Chow, Attorneys at Law?"
"I would presume so, Chief," Jim drawled with a slight smile.
"She recognized your name, didn't she…could you tell?" Blair asked at Jim's evident lack of surprise that he was about to see the senior partner without an appointment.
"Yep," Jim replied. "Pulse rate jumped, pupils dilated, and her breathing hitched for a bit."
"Must be like an urban legend," Blair mused.
"What do you mean? 'An urban legend'?" Jim asked.
"Yeah, you know, a file like yours, more than seventy-five years old, with a trust that big…has to be the most intriguing or mysterious or crazy file they hold, right? Confidentiality would have reigned for, oh, maybe the first fifty years. But when no one ever showed up…they'd have to start speculating about it…about you. It's only human," Blair replied matter-of-factly.
Jim didn't look impressed. At what these guys were likely charging the trust to manage it, confidentiality should have been good for a millennium.
At that moment, the receptionist returned to escort them to Mr. McBride's office.
They were introduced to a suave, genial, impeccably dressed man in his sixties. "Mr. Ellison?" he asked, looking from one to the other.
"I'm Jim Ellison, and this is my friend, Blair Sandburg," Jim replied, shaking the older man's hand. "As your receptionist has likely explained, I'm here to claim the trust my father, William Ellison, set up for me."
"Please, have a seat," McBride replied, waving them toward luxurious, deep mauve, leather chairs that were arranged around an oval, mahogany coffee table. Once they were settled, McBride steepled his fingers and reflected, "You'll understand that we had no idea when to expect you…and, well, considerable time has passed."
"Seventy-eight years," Jim allowed with a brief nod. "Yes, I know. No doubt the records you hold indicate that I was subject to a cryogenic procedure?"
Taken aback to have his guest use the term so lightly, as if it was common practice for someone who had been frozen to walk in and ask for his money, quite a sizable chunk of money, McBride blinked, but then rallied, "Yes, the records do indicate that. As well, the record contains a genetic report of your DNA and a sample for verification should we determine that is required."
"So I understand," Jim stated as he held out his hand toward Sandburg who immediately dug out the documents they'd brought and passed them to him. "I think you'll find these papers will meet your requirements for verification of identity. However, if you wish to proceed with the sample analysis, the Life Sciences Institute at Rainier is standing by to conduct it." As he handed the documents to McBride, Jim went on to explain, "You'll note that I was revived a couple of days ago and the genetic report should match the one you have on file."
McBride studied the documents briefly, and then moved to the computer at his desk to call up a file. For a moment, he compared the genetic data in the report in his hand with the information on the screen. Finally, he nodded. Straightening, he said, "I will, of course, want to have the sample matched against a new sample of your DNA, but it looks in order. I can imagine that you are anxious to have access to some funds, pending the final confirmation."
"Yes," Jim smiled sparingly, "I'm wholly dependent upon Mr. Sandburg's generosity at the moment." Though he'd meant the words lightly, even appreciatively, Jim's eyes narrowed in resentment at the disparaging glance McBride gave Sandburg's 'student grunge' attire and then flickered to Ellison's own pedestrian attire with a wince of sympathy.
"Of course, I quite understand," McBride replied unctuously as he quite obviously dismissed Sandburg from his notice. "If you'll just give me your current account number," he continued, poised again over the keys of his 'puter, "I'll affect the transfer of some operating funds immediately."
For a moment, Jim debated asking for a cashier's cheque to see if McBride even knew what that was, but then had a better idea. Given the nonverbal exchanges in the past few moments, a much better idea. Turning to Sandburg, giving him a steely glance that said, 'Just do as I say,' Jim asked, "What's the name of your bank and your account number, Chief?"
Blair started and swallowed, hard. But he nodded slightly, appreciating what Jim was saying by doing this, both to him and to McBride, "Uh, First Liberty on Waverley. The account is 500707."
Nodding, Jim turned back to McBride. "Did you get that?" he asked.
McBride gave him a look that clearly revealed his assessment of Ellison's judgment in this matter, but shrugged. It was Ellison's money after all. Tapping in the routing codes, McBride asked, "How much did you want transferred today?"
"Oh, I think $3 million should be adequate to start with," Jim replied, his tone almost bored. He was enjoying this, having fun for the first time since he'd awakened. The look on McBride's face as he flushed was priceless. Ellison knew he didn't dare look at Sandburg or he'd lose it and burst out laughing. The kid's heart was pounding like a runaway train and he was mumbling under his breath, "Jim? Jim!"
When McBride decided to hold his peace, and tapped again on the keys, Jim continued, "Once you've received confirmation of the genetic matching, I'll be in touch to discuss what to do with the bulk of the trust. No doubt, once your staff have had a chance to put things together for my information, we'll want to have a discussion about the investment history to determine where to go from here."
"Very good, Mr. Ellison," McBride replied, trying for aplomb. Even for him, a transfer of a cool $3 mil into a personal chequing account was noteworthy. "If you'll leave your contact information with Jeannine outside my office, we'll advise you when we've received the information."
"Oh, that won't be necessary," Jim replied as he stood. "The University will copy me on correspondence with you, so when I know the confirmation has been sent, I'll call you. I'm sure I have fewer demands upon my time than you do and can be sure we don't waste any time in getting back together. Thank you for your assistance today. I appreciate the efficiency."
Jim was quite conscious of the impression he was giving to McBride. No nonsense, arrogant, and unappreciative of the non-verbal commentary on his judgments or friends. Jim was also aware that there was enough money in the trust to ensure McBride would do all he needed to do to keep this particular client happy. Ellison had never had much use for the corporate world, or the way money could talk, but that didn't mean he didn't know how to play the game.
As they walked out of the central downtown building, Sandburg was whispering and muttering, and waving his hands. "Are you CRAZY? Putting $3 mil in my account! Just like that! Three million dollars! How could you DO that? For all you know, I could murder you for that kind of money! You are nuts, man, seriously nuts! And what do you need three million dollars for anyway? I mean, all you mentioned was buying a few groceries, and I guess you'd like better clothes…but that's a long way from needing THREE MILLION DOLLARS! Which you can't even get unless I withdraw it or give you a cashchit…you better hope I don't get hit by a car…"
As they turned toward the parking lot, Ellison couldn't help it. He burst into laughter, and only laughed harder at the aggrieved look on his Guide's face. Draping an arm around Blair's shoulder as they walked along, he finally managed to say, a grin twitching his lips, "Would you relax, Chief? I like the clothes I have…they're comfortable. Besides, it's only money…"
When Blair rolled his eyes and shook his head, Ellison chuckled again before he sobered to say seriously, "Besides, if I can't trust you, I can't trust anyone. I didn't like the way he discounted you, Chief. He won't do that again."
"Yeah, well, thanks, I guess…no, I mean that. Thanks," Blair replied. "But let's just get over to the bank and open up an account in YOUR name and get that money moved."
"What? I thought everyone wanted to be a millionaire?" Jim teased as he got into his side of the flutter.
"Money doesn't guarantee good karma, man," Blair retorted as he got in and started up the vehicle.
Amused, Jim turned to him. "So, what does guarantee good karma, Chief?" he asked.
"There is no guarantee, Jim," Blair drawled, shaking his head. "But," he added, quite seriously, "when you've got good friends, then you can deal with whatever karma you get."
Sitting back in his seat, Jim shrugged.
He hadn't had so many good friends that he could know that for sure.
And the friends he'd had were all dead.
But, as Blair angled the flutter up into the traffic flow, Jim cast a sideways glance at his companion. Well, maybe they weren't all dead.
Blair made good time to his bank, wanting to get there before it closed for the day. While most transactions could be handled electronically, the opening of accounts still required the antiquated practice of obtaining the account holder's signature on assorted bits of paper.
Sandburg led the way to the Accounts Manager's Desk, on one side of the small, busy neighbourhood bank. "Lorrie," he greeted the thirty-something manager with a winning smile. "I need you to do something for me."
Looking up, she couldn't repress her own grin in return, but she cautioned nevertheless, "Blair…don't you try to sweet-talk me into another short term loan until one grant or another comes through. You know you've maxed your credit limit."
"No, that's not why I'm here," Blair assured her, not noticing the sharp appraising look Jim threw at him. "This is my friend, Jim Ellison, and he's just, uh, come into town. He wants to open up an account here, and, well, he transferred some funds into my account earlier today for convenience, but I'd like them moved straight into his new account. Okay?"
Happy to help, Lorrie got down to business. Jim had just finished filling out the necessary forms and she was accessing Blair's account to affect the transfer, when Jim stiffened, his head cocked a little.
Picking up on Jim's sudden tension, Blair murmured, "Is there something wrong, Jim?"
Ellison's eyes were scanning the bank. He counted three. One by the door. One at the end of the counter. And the one Jim had just overheard telling the bank teller that this was a hold up and to put all the money in the sack he was pushing through the wicket counter toward her.
The young woman had frozen in fear, and then had stiffly begun to fill the sack. Jim had caught sight of the pistol as the man had lifted it high enough over the counter for her to see it.
"Bank robbery in progress," Jim said quietly. "Lorrie, do you have a panic button linked to the local police?"
Wide-eyed, she nodded and her hand slipped under her desk to push it.
Silently cursing the fact that he wasn't armed, Jim again glanced casually around the bank. There were two tellers, Lorrie and three other customers. "Stay here, Chief," he said quietly as he stood and said a little more loudly, "I'll just go get into line Sandburg, while you finish up here, okay?"
Blair nodded tightly, as he watched Jim amble across the small floor to get into line behind the bank robber. Ducking his head, his own surreptitious study of the others in the bank half hidden by his hair, Sandburg figured out who the other two were by the way they were standing, watching and holding something hidden just inside their jackets. Guns, no doubt. Swallowing, his eyes darted over Lorrie's desk, seeking a weapon. Deciding a round, crystal paperweight looked like the heaviest item available, he picked it up and played with it, while he kept half an eye on Jim, and half an eye on the nearest guy at the end of the counter.
The robber grabbed the sack as the terrified teller pushed it back toward him, but as he turned, Jim elbowed him hard, though it appeared to be an accidental collision. It was the moment he needed to get the gun before the other robbers figured out what was going on.
As soon as Jim had made his move, Blair had stood and called a sharp, "Hey, you!" to the robber standing about ten feet away. When the guy turned, Sandburg levelled the paperweight at him, hitting him solidly on the forehead, and the heavy set man dropped like lead to the floor.
Jim had followed up the elbow jab with a sharp back thrust of his forearm, catching the robber in the nose, stunning him, and had grabbed the gun away, wheeling as he did toward the guy standing sentry at the door who had stood in confused paralysis for a moment as his two comrades were simultaneously assaulted by different men.
Two guns lifted and loud shots reverberated in the small institution. The guy at the door dropped to the floor, clutching his shattered arm, and Jim was already swivelling toward the one who had been standing at the end of the counter, stopping in surprise to see that the guy was already out cold. With a quick glance and nod over his shoulder at Sandburg, Jim knelt to ensure the guy he'd disarmed was fully subdued. "Sandburg, call it in…let them know that everything is under control and they can come in," he grated.
Blair's eyes narrowed at the strained sound of Jim's voice, and he wondered if the sudden deafening blasts of the guns had affected Jim's senses, but he punched in the emergency police code on his comlink and 'called it in', as directed.
It was over before the other bank customers had quite understood what was going down. One had screamed at the shots, but now they just stood, a little stunned by what had happened around them. Three police officers came in the front door and another appeared from somewhere in the back, guns out, alarmed by the shots they'd heard.
Blair had his hands up and was talking even as they came in. "It's all right! Everything's under control. Detective Ellison is a police officer and he subdued the robbers," he called out.
When one of the police nodded, and stooped to cuff the guy at the door, while one moved to the guy Blair had decked and a third headed toward Jim to relieve him of his prisoner, Blair darted to Jim's side.
"You okay, man?" he asked. "Your hearing okay?"
Jim shook his head as he stood and started to turn toward Sandburg. "Spiked…hurts…you were right, Chief. Money doesn't guarantee good karma," he was saying, his voice a bit breathy.
As he finished his turn, the gun dropped from his hand and Blair saw the widening patch of red glistening on Jim's shoulder.
"Oh, God, Jim!" Blair exclaimed. "You've been shot!"
Wincing at the shout, Jim nodded. "Yeah…I noticed that," he replied dryly.
And then his knees buckled.
Blair caught him as he fell toward the ground.
The patrol officers dutifully called in that a detective, apparently one on the long-term disability list according to the information a witness had given them, had been shot in the interruption of a bank robbery on Waverley. One perpetrator was also wounded, another was unconscious, and all three men were being taken to the Cascade Memorial Hospital for treatment.
The dispatcher, in accordance with procedure, informed the Captain of the Major Crimes Unit that one of his men had been injured in a hold up attempt.
The Captain looked at the message and frowned, not recognizing the name. He called Personnel Services to find out when the detective had gone on long-term disability, because it had to be before his time, or he'd know the guy. Since he'd had this patch for years, he figured the guy must be one very old senior citizen by now.
His face darkened in a scowl as he listened to the unbelievable information he was being given, while the clerk on the other end stammered that there must be some mistake in the record.
"There's a mistake, all right," he growled. "Any one who impersonates a detective is making a big mistake."
With that, he closed the comlink connection with an emphatic jab and grabbed his jacket on the way out of the door.
Jim couldn't figure it out. He'd been shot before and knew what it was supposed to feel like. He couldn't remember it ever hurting this much before. Gritting his jaw, his eyes narrowed against the bright phosphorescent light in the examining room, his head pounding relentlessly, he fought his nausea. Miserable, he didn't know whether it was the pain or the mixture of smells assaulting him that was making him feel so sick.
"Find the dials, man," Blair whispered beside him. Though the emergency staff had tried to shut Blair out of the room, the young man had refused to leave, stating categorically that his friend had a lot of allergies and he needed to be present to check on whatever medication they planned to give him. Holding Jim's hand tightly, Blair had stayed by the far side of the examining table, out of the doctor's way, but he had already vetoed the first choice of local anaesthetic and one of the antibiotics the physician had been considering.
Jim's shoulder had been x-rayed and no significant damage had been noted. The bullet had gone in and out cleanly. All that was required was a bit of dissolvable packing and a couple of sutures and the doctor was done. "I'd like to keep you in over night for observation," the doctor said.
"No," Jim grated, shaking his head tightly. "I want to go home."
"Is there any reason he couldn't go home?" Blair asked. "I'm sure he'd rest better there."
Frowning, the physician shrugged. "Suit yourselves. If excessive bleeding starts, or fever, call your personal doctor." With that, the brusque and busy man turned and left.
As soon as they were alone, Blair laid a hand on Jim's brow, blocking the glare of the lights in his eyes. "Okay, Jim, you have GOT to get a handle on those dials. I know you know how. Pain first, 'cause that seems the worst problem…"
It took three minutes for Sandburg to help Jim regulate his internal controls, but finally the Sentinel relaxed with a sigh. "Thanks, Chief," he muttered.
"No problem, man," Blair murmured back as he unconsciously stroked Jim's good shoulder and arm. "Are you sure you shouldn't stay for the night?"
"I'm sure," Jim replied flatly. "Help me up, and with my jacket, and we can get out of here."
Sandburg had just helped Ellison sit up and swing around so that his legs were dangling over the side of the treatment table, when the door to the small room was abruptly pushed open and a very annoyed man strode in.
Startled, Jim and Blair looked up and Jim stiffened as he gasped, "Simon?"
The very tall black man stopped and eyed Ellison narrowly. "Have we met?" he demanded, his words clipped with irritation, certain that they had in fact never met.
Jim tore his eyes away and looked helplessly at Blair, wondering if he really was going crazy this time. Blair's gaze was confused, but when Jim repeated, "Chief, I swear, it's Simon," Sandburg gaped at him.
"Simon?" he repeated and then looked up at the older man. "Are you Simon Banks by any chance?" he asked tentatively, looking almost scared.
"Captain Banks," Simon snapped. "Who are you two?"
"Not here, Chief," Jim murmured, his head beginning to spin. "Please…not here."
"Gotcha, big guy," Blair murmured, lightly rubbing his back. Looking back toward Simon, who wasn't appreciating being kept waiting for answers, he asked, "Could we do this at home? You could follow us there, and this is our address." Sandburg dug into his pocket and held out one of his Teaching Fellow business cards.
Simon gazed at him suspiciously as he took and read the card. "Rainier University?" he reflected, one brow quirking in surprise.
"Yeah," Blair replied. "Look, we really want to talk to you…I think we need to talk to you. But Jim's just been shot. I'd like to get him home, where he can rest."
"Okay," Banks allowed. "I'll meet you there. But hear this…you try to give me the runaround, and you'll regret it."
"No 'runaround', Captain," Blair promised. "Scout's honour!"
Banks sniffed, then wheeled and left. Jim was taking deep breaths, fighting for control as he clutched at Sandburg's jacket. "Jesus, Chief," he rasped, his eyes closed as his headache spiked again. "Am I going crazy here? Is all this some kind of elaborate hallucination? I swear…he looks older, but that was Simon."
"You're not going crazy, Jim," Blair assured him. "We'll figure this out. Let's just get you home. And fix the damned pain dial, okay!" Though the words sounded exasperated, the tone was soothing, full of concern and support.
Ellison nodded and leaned on his Guide as they made their way from the hospital. Sandburg had ridden in the ambulance with Ellison, so they just flagged down a cab and headed home. Blair figured his flutter would be all right in the bank's lot until morning.
As they climbed into the vehicle, Ellison asked wearily, "Were you ever a Boy Scout, Sandburg?"
"No," Blair admitted, but grinned cheekily as he added, "but I bet he was."
Ellison snorted as he let his head sink back against the seat and tried to hold the pain dial down to something bearable. He found it worked better once Sandburg laid a light hand on his arm.
Banks was waiting for them outside the building and his rigid posture eased when he spotted them emerging from the cab. As it took off, straight up, the police captain, a hard but not uncompassionate man, moved forward to support Ellison with more strength than Sandburg had. Together, they got the injured man upstairs and into the comfortable chair near the fireplace, beside the gaping hole in the wall between the two apartments.
"Nice place you have here," Banks remarked dryly.
"Glad you like it," Sandburg replied mildly. "I'm going to make some tea for Jim before we get into it all. Do you want a beer, or coffee or something?"
"Coffee would be good," Banks replied, as his sharp gaze took in the furnishings of the open and airy loft. Actually, he thought, with a bit of work, it would be a nice place.
Blair quickly prepared the beverages. While the water was heating and the coffee perking, he went to the bathroom and came back with a cold compress for Jim's head. "Just relax," he murmured. "I'll explain stuff to him and find out where he fits into this."
Jim nodded, his eyes closed as he fought back a moan against the pain that raged in his shoulder.
Turning to Banks, who was still standing, Blair waved at the sofa and love seat, as he said, "Make yourself comfortable, Captain. This might take a little while."
Minutes later, they were all settled with their respective mugs and Blair pushed his hair back behind his ears as he turned to the police captain. "Okay…this is going to sound like something right out of science fiction, so I'll warn you about that upfront. But I have the documents to back up what I'm going to tell you."
"I'm listening," Banks replied, his voice mellow, controlled.
"Okay," Blair said as he ordered his thoughts and then looked across at the older man. "Jim is the first man to be awakened from a cryogenic procedure. This was done at Rainier University two days ago after we found the cryogenic vessel, in which he'd been placed, during an archaeological dig on the edge of the lava flow. Dr. Laura Woodhouse at the U can confirm all of this."
Blair paused to gauge Simon's reaction. To say that the man looked stunned would be an understatement, but Banks simply nodded that Sandburg should carry on.
"Jim was a detective with the Cascade Police Department in the late '90s. In 1997, in the course of his duties, he was severely injured by a bomb blast, but he managed to save the other forty people who had been threatened," Sandburg continued. "Anyway, the injuries would have been fatal, but Jim's father arranged for the cryogenesis…so Jim survived. Today, we were in the bank, arranging accounts for him, when the bank robbery occurred. Jim overpowered one of the men, and disarmed him. He was able to also subdue another, but was shot himself in the exchange of bullets. I knocked the third guy out. When the police on the scene got bent out of shape about Jim's interruption of the robbery, thinking he'd been careless because there were other customers in the bank, I explained that he was a police detective and had known exactly what he was doing. Which is why there were no other casualties and the robbers were apprehended. Anyway, I guess that's how you got involved."
Banks nodded. "Dispatch called to tell me one of my 'disabled list' detectives had been injured during a bank hold up. When I didn't recognize the name, I checked it out, and discovered he'd been on the list since 1997," Simon related, rolling his eyes at the inefficiencies of a bureaucracy that would allow someone to remain unchallenged on the lists for that length of time.
Blair nodded, having figured out something like that must have happened. "Anyway, when Jim was in the Major Crimes Unit, his Captain was Simon Banks. And it seems you bear a startling resemblance to him."
Again Banks nodded. "My grandfather. And, yes, I do resemble him strongly, as did my father."
"Your father was Daryl Banks, the State Attorney General back in the '20s and early '30s?" Blair asked, just to confirm his assumption.
"That's right. My father was killed, along with a lot of other people, when Seattle collapsed in '35," Simon confirmed. "I was ten at the time, and came here to live with my grandfather."
"Your mother's father?" Blair inquired absently, frowning as he tried to match up relationships and dates in his head.
"No, with my father's father. Simon Banks, who remained here after he had retired as Police Chief with the Cascade PD," Simon corrected, feeling a little like he'd wandered into a science fiction movie. Well, the kid had warned him, he had to admit that.
But his words almost electrified the other two men. Jim struggled up as he clutched the compress that fell from his brow and Blair literally gaped at him.
"Your grandfather made it back from Peru?" Blair asked, startled.
"You know about Peru?" Banks demanded, frowning in surprise.
"Yes. He was lost there when his helicopter was shot down over the jungle in '98," Blair replied, giving the facts as he knew them. "I didn't know he'd been found."
"Yeah, almost a year later. A local tribe found him, the Chopec, and saved him from some crazy drug cartel. He'd been shot, but they'd cared for him and when he was strong enough, they brought him out of the jungle, and he came home," Simon replied. For a moment a smile of memory softened his austere features as he said to Jim, "My grandfather lived to be 98 years old. He had a good life, despite all the troubles of the world in those days. In the later years, he reminisced a lot about the men and women he'd worked with…one seemed to haunt him more than the rest. He hated to lose any of his people, but he always said the man who died taking out the Switchman bomber was special. Once in a lifetime great. Would that be you by any chance?"
"Yeah, that'd be me," Jim sighed, biting his lip and blinking hard. He was glad to learn that Simon had lived so long and apparently well, had not died in those damned jungles of Peru. But he wished he might have gotten back soon enough to see him again.
Banks studied Ellison thoughtfully for a long moment, and then seemed to make up his mind. "Once your shoulder is healed, you ready to come back to work?"
Surprised, Jim looked up at him, his face pale and his eyes dark with the pain he was fighting. "Ah, maybe, yeah…what did you have in mind?"
Banks turned to Sandburg. "Does he know about what happened after '35?" he asked.
"Not yet…we haven't had time to go into it," Blair replied.
Banks considered that as his thoughtful gaze turned again to Jim. "You look like you need to get horizontal. Tell you what, I'll come back in the morning, maybe close to noon, and we can talk more then. That all right with you?" he proposed.
Jim nodded as he closed his eyes again and leaned back against the chair. Banks looked at the steps to the loft, and then at Sandburg. "You want help getting him upstairs?"
Blair assessed Jim's condition rapidly and nodded. "I'd appreciate that, Simon. His room is upstairs in the other apartment."
Within minutes, they had transferred Jim to his bed and Simon had taken off. Blair ran down to the pharmacy on the corner to get the prescriptions filled and then prepared a light soup and carried it with more tea and a pitcher of water up the stairs to Jim's room.
"Jim?" he murmured softly. "How're you doing? I've got the pain pills here, man. I think you could use a little relief."
Haggard with the pain, sweating with it, Ellison could barely nod. Gently, Sandburg supported his head while helping him to take two of the capsules and sips of water. For the next twenty minutes, he sat beside the Sentinel, lightly massaging his good arm, murmuring softly to help Jim focus on the dials and keep the pain at bay as much as he could.
Blair was worried. He didn't know much about gunshot wounds, but he was sure the pain shouldn't be this bad. But, gradually, the medication helped mute the agony and Ellison gradually relaxed into it, holding his dial tightly on 1. But even then, the pain was the worst he'd ever experienced.
"I know you're probably not very hungry, Jim, but you should try to get some of this soup down. You need the nourishment, man," Blair cajoled softly. "Will you try…a little? Please?"
Jim cracked open one eye and peered at the earnest, worried face of his Guide. God, those blue eyes could be considered lethal weapons, he thought. Nodding, too exhausted to speak, he indicated he'd try.
Sandburg got about half a bowl into him before Jim turned his face away with a soft moan. "Okay, man, okay," Blair murmured. Dampening the compress with the cool water from the jug, Blair stroked the sweat from Jim's face and neck, and then wiped his chest and arms. All the while, he murmured softly, not saying anything in particular, not paying attention to what he was saying really.
Jim fell asleep to a soft and gentle diatribe about big, dumb heroes who went out and got themselves shot trying to help other people without giving the first thought to their own safety.
Blair sat with Jim as evening darkened into night, every once in a while having to resume his soft chant when the pain drove Jim toward consciousness, the agony flaring, burning hotly in his shoulder. Throughout the night, Sandburg kept watch, wiping the sweat from Ellison's body, giving him more pain medication when it was time, getting him to drink tea or water…and talked to him with his soothing voice to bring relief and help him focus away from the pain.
Blair had gone back downstairs a little after dawn, once Jim seemed to have finally fallen into a more natural and peaceful sleep. He made himself some coffee and then called up the banking accounts on his comlink. As he'd expected, the craziness of the day before had distracted Lorrie from finishing the transaction. For just a moment, Blair looked at the amazing number of zeros in his own balance, smiling softly as he shook his head in wonder at Jim's actions. Then he punched the buttons to complete the transfer of the funds from his account to Jim's.
Sandburg stretched out on the couch to doze for the next few hours. He could hear Jim from there better than from the other loft if he was needed. Waking just after ten in the morning, he gathered up the supplies he needed to change Jim's dressings and loaded them on a tray with a cup of coffee and some toast.
Jim must have heard him coming up the stairs, because the older man was stretching a little as he woke and blinked, a little owlishly, when Sandburg came into view.
"Hey, man," Blair called, cheerfully sympathetic. "How's the shoulder this morning?"
Jim yawned and stretched again as he thought about it, and then frowned as he sat up and swung his legs over the side of the bed. Puzzled, he looked at Sandburg. "It feels…fine, actually. What did you do?" he asked.
"Me? I didn't do anything, Jim," Blair replied, setting the tray on the bedside table. "While I change the dressings, why don't you have some coffee?"
Ellison accepted the mug and took a deep breath of the rich fragrance before he sipped gratefully.
Blair started on the dressing over the exit wound, high on Jim's back on the right side. Carefully, he eased off the tape and then the gauze.
Silently, Sandburg shifted to remove the dressing from the entry wound in Jim's shoulder.
"Jim?" Blair said quietly, his voice sounding strange.
"Hmm?" Ellison asked as he glanced at Sandburg, and at the stunned look on his Guide's face as Blair stared at his shoulder, turned his gaze to check out the wound, wondering if it was infected, though it felt fine.
Only…there was no wound.
His skin was unblemished.
Two sets of wide blue eyes met as Blair murmured, "I don't think the nanites self-destructed after all."
While Jim took a shower, Blair called Dr. Woodhouse to report on the fact that the nanites were still operative in Jim's body, adding that their curative actions appeared to cause intense pain during the accelerated healing process. She made arrangements to meet with them later in the afternoon to discuss the situation. In the meantime, she agreed to contact the scientists who had developed the biotechnology to obtain their input on what might be done to correct the situation.
By the time Blair was off the phone, Jim had returned upstairs and was getting dressed, so Blair took his turn in the bathroom, hoping there was still some hot water left.
Upstairs, Jim was trying to accept the fact that he couldn't wash off the crawly feeling all over his skin every time he thought about the things in his body. Though he couldn't deny they worked, and his shoulder had healed as good as new, the uncertainty of their presence and the lack of information about how they worked, bothered him. Pushing aside the anxiety, wilfully ignoring the sensory discomfort, knowing it was in his head more than in his skin, Jim pulled out a clean pair of slacks and a cotton shirt. For a moment, he paused, and just stood looking at the clothing in his hands and in the closet, matched by more in the dresser drawers. It wasn't of the highest quality, and some of it he suspected was second hand, but there was something of everything he might need and it had all been washed in non-allergic solutions…and it was all soft to the touch, selected for comfort.
He thought back to the way the bank manager had greeted Sandburg the day before, and her comment that his credit line was 'maxed out'. The kid had literally nothing to spare, and yet he had prepared all this with the confident hope that it would be needed. Jim felt a lump in his throat and he had to take a couple of deep breaths to settle his emotions. He still found it hard to believe that a perfect stranger would care so much that he lived and had prepared so carefully for him…would care so much for his comfort, his health and his well being.
But he knew Sandburg wasn't playing any games, wasn't out to get something out of all this. This kid was as ingenuous and enthusiastic, as decent and generous as his ancestor had been. When Jim thought about how Sandburg had helped take out one of the bad guys in the bank, the detective shivered when he realized how easily Blair could have been hurt.
Shaking his head, he finished dressing and headed back downstairs to their main living area, the bulk of the apartment in which he slept being devoid of furniture and in need of some serious repairs. By the time Blair had come down from his own bedroom, Ellison could hear Simon's tread on the stairs.
"After the volcanic eruptions finally ceased, and the earthquakes were over, there was little that wasn't utterly devastated here in the northwest and up into Canada," Simon explained. "And the cloud of ash was so thick that it covered the northern hemisphere in less than a week…nor did it dissipate in a hurry. It was fully six years before the atmosphere cleared, and another three before the weather patterns were even close to normal."
"My God," Jim murmured, looking away as he imagined the magnitude of the environmental disaster that had been visited upon the world in 2035. "I don't think I can even begin to imagine…"
"No, you probably can't," Simon interjected. "No one who didn't live through it could possibly imagine what it was like. By the time it was over, more than a billion people had died, either from the first cataclysms, or from the noxious gases, or, later, from starvation because of the famines that resulted around the world…or the plagues that followed the famine. It was a kind of hell…dark all the time, cold, hard to breathe because of the ash that filled the air, filthy…and it just went on and on."
"You said your father died when Seattle collapsed," Jim recalled.
"That's right," Simon replied. "Both my parents and my sister. I'd been down here, visiting with my grandfather, or I would have been killed as well. How we survived the quakes and fires here still seems a miracle to me…but Seattle was just gone, wiped out. Flattened by the terrible, unimaginable paroxysm that rippled through the earth like a tidal wave of stone, and tore everything apart."
Blair looked away, out of the windows toward the overcast sky. Neither man knew his own grandfather had died then as well, caught in the horrific explosions around Yellowstone that had blown the top off of that part of the world. His dad had been working on the site of one of the old American cavalry forts for the National Parks Service. There had been no warning…oh, there'd been some seismic ripples, some indication that an earthquake might be in the offing. But nothing to have prepared the people in the vicinity, or the world for that matter, for what happened on August 16, 2035. Not a single soul within a five hundred mile radius of Yellowstone had survived.
Jim had picked up on the change on Sandburg's heart rate and respirations. Looking across at his Guide, Ellison felt a shaft of concern at the stark sorrow on the younger man's face. "Chief, are you all right?"
"Huh?" Sandburg replied, startled out of his reverie. "Oh, yeah…I was just remembering…my grandfather was killed by the eruptions in Yellowstone…"
Simon swallowed as he closed his eyes and looked away. That had been the epicentre. The shock waves had spread from there, igniting other volcanoes in the chain, wreaking unimaginable devastation with the force of the strongest earthquakes ever experienced by the race of man. For a moment, all three men were silent, but then Simon picked up the thread again.
"Anyway, civil society broke down. It was every man for himself as people struggled to feed their children, to survive. Some, like my grandfather, strived to maintain some kind of sanity in a society that had turned on itself," he recalled, the expression on his face grim. "New crime allegiances were forged, new 'families' emerged…and they grabbed onto power for all they were worth, and they have held onto it greedily…jealously. Viciously. We couldn't even begin to dig ourselves out of the disaster for ten long years. And, as you've seen in this city…hell, in this apartment…the recovery effort isn't finished yet. In the meantime, crime has paid, has paid well. And there has been sufficient time for the most dangerous crime bosses, the 'family heads', to consolidate power and even grow a veneer of respectability."
"It didn't help that we'd been engaged in a war of terrorism worldwide for the thirty years before the disaster hit," Blair reflected. "People were already afraid, and had drawn inward. Some communities did better than others, when there were leaders who could rally the citizens under common commitments…a common vision of working toward the safety and security of all. But, many more communities fragmented in fear. It's been a rough century, Jim."
"Yeah, so I'm beginning to understand," Jim replied quietly, thinking about how he'd lain frozen through all of it.
Simon stretched a little, rolling tight shoulders, and then turned to Jim. "You probably wonder what all this has to do with the job I offered you back in the department," he began. "The fact is, one of the most vicious and dangerous of the criminal elite managed to get himself elected Governor two years ago. And he's shooting for the Presidency in the next election. Frankly, I don't even want to begin to imagine what a man like that would do with the almost limitless power of that office."
Jim rolled his eyes and Blair just looked angry. For the life of him, Sandburg had never been able to figure out why so many people would vote for a crook like Morris. It defied the imagination…his anyway.
"I'm trying to gather enough evidence to bring the Governor and his regime down," Simon explained. "He's from here, Cascade. His power base is here…and a lot of the dirt is here. But…I'm handicapped somewhat by the fact that the Commissioner is his brother-in-law and the Chief was the best man at his wedding. They're all as thick as the proverbial thieves."
"Simon, you could get yourself killed," Blair cautioned, very seriously. Assassinations, disappearances… it was dangerous to take a stand in America. Dangerous for good men to push too hard.
Swinging his gaze to Sandburg, Simon shrugged and nodded. "Tell me, Sandburg…do you want to live in this kind of America for the rest of your life? I sure as hell don't."
Blair shook his head and looked away. He studied and taught about the late twentieth century because that was the last, most recent time when there had been some sense of hope. Some sense that a safe, open, and equitable society could ensure everyone had a fair chance…and that no one would fall off the edges or between the cracks. Being an anthropologist didn't give a lot of overt opportunities to fight the corruption that currently ruled, but Blair fought it in his own way…with his voice and ideas. With the way he tried to inspire his students.
Still, that was a long, long way from the dangers that Simon danced around each and every day. He probably didn't even really know who was completely trustworthy on his own team. God, Blair thought gloomily, what a way to work, to have to live…
"So, what can I do to help?" Jim asked, figuring it was time to get to the point.
Simon reached into the capacious pocket of the coat he'd laid casually beside him on the love seat. Turning back, he placed a gun and a wallet with a gold shield in it on the coffee table. "I want you to work undercover," Banks said. "Nobody knows about you…or anything about you. I don't want you coming into the department. We'll exchange information in pre-arranged, safe places. Bottom-line? I want you to help me bring Morris and his gang of vipers down."
Jim held Simon's gaze for a long moment. And then he stood to move to the coffee table where he bent to pick up the badge and the gun. "I'm really going to have to get my licence to fly," he said.
Before he left, Simon had agreed to return that evening to provide Jim with the details he'd need to begin his surveillance activities. The guys grabbed a quick lunch of sandwiches, milk and apples, and then they headed out for Jim's first flying lesson in his new century.
"A pilot's licence was SOP in Covert Ops, so you just have to check me out on your butterfly, Chief," Jim said as he followed Blair out of the building.
"Butterfly?" Blair repeated with a grin. "Let me guess…as soon as you've got your licence, you want to go check out some Double-Ms."
"You know, brains must run in your family, Sandburg. Your great-grandfather was pretty quick on the uptake, too," Jim drawled back as he climbed into the passenger side.
Blair laughed as he climbed into his 'butterfly'. As he started up the vehicle, this time he pointed out the sequencing to Jim. As he added power and began to ascend into the sky, he explained, "I'm going to take you out of the main flows, to give you a chance to get used to the manoeuvring and controls. Shouldn't take long."
Within fifteen minutes, Blair had flown them out to a rural area of low-lying hills and Jim noticed that the thick forests he'd known were gone. "What happened to all the trees?" he asked.
"Natural acid rain, from the sulphur of the volcanic gases mingling with the rain took out a lot of them," Blair explained, "and the rest went for fuel. After the disaster, all the natural gas and oil pipelines were destroyed and hydro lines were down. Dams had broken and floods had swept through valleys, towns and cities. Everything broke down…there was no infrastructure to transport anything, including food. Watermains blew. So there went food, water and heat. A lot of people died of starvation and exposure… would have been a lot more if the mountains had blown in winter."
Jim swallowed and shook his head, trying to imagine the scale of such a disaster. "You said your grandfather was killed?" he asked.
"Yeah. He was at the epicentre," Blair replied, looking off toward the horizon. "I guess it was like there'd been this great surge of pressure from somewhere deep in the earth, that just seemed to come out of nowhere. One minute, the skies were clear and life was normal. The next, the mountains had blown, the sky was dark with ash and fire, molten lava was spewing everywhere, the earth was heaving…kinda like I picture Dante's Hell. Marni, my Mom, wasn't even three years old yet, so she doesn't remember her dad. Grandma had taken her to help Nana, who'd broken her hip climbing some mountain down in Argentina… luckily, she took all my great-grandfather's journals and notes to occupy Nana's attention while she was recovering or they would have been lost in the explosion."
"Nana?" Jim asked.
"Blair's mother," Sandburg explained. "She was a character, Jim…completely original. Remember your 'peace and love' hippy era?" When Jim nodded, Blair continued, "Naomi ran away from home when she was fifteen and had hardly turned seventeen when my great-grandfather was born. Anyway, she never married, just continued travelling where the wind and enlightenment took her…"
"Did she leave her son with her parents or what?" Jim asked.
"No, she took Blair with her everywhere," Sandburg replied, settling the craft down in a meadow. "He'd seen the world before most kids leave their hometowns to go to college."
"I see," Jim murmured, trying to imagine that kind of childhood. No home, no real stability, always on the move. No stuff…because wanderers can only carry so much. Lost in thought, he remembered his Sandburg and began to understand that kid a little better.
They exchanged places in the flutter, and Jim soon had the small vehicle under his firm, steady control, or at least, he thought so.
Blair on the other hand, felt Jim's flying style was a bit abrupt, too fast and tight on the drops and turns. The flutter had almost flipped a couple of times. More specifically, Sandburg just held on for dear life, his eyes wide, his brows disappearing up under his tumbling curls, while he occasionally, well, pretty much non-stop actually, shouted instructions to Jim to slow down, take it easy, demanded to know where the fire was and yelled incoherently, while wincing and sometimes closing his eyes to avoid having to stare death in the face.
It had been a wild ride, in Blair's opinion.
Jim figured he was ready to get his licence and his own Double-M.
"Give me my keys back!" Blair demanded when Jim finally settled the craft back in the meadow. "You are not, ever, going to fly this baby again. Are we clear on that?"
Jim looked at his passenger with a hurt look of astonishment. "What do you mean, Chief? Didn't you like the ride?"
Blair rolled his eyes, took a deep breath and then turned to face his friend…and caught the glint of teasing in Jim's eyes. "You did that on purpose!" Sandburg accused, not knowing whether to punch him or laugh. "You tried to scare me to death deliberately!"
Ellison chuckled as he handed over the keys and popped the hatch. "Well, I had to test out your nerve, didn't I?" he explained. "I mean, if you had fainted dead away from fright, well, you could hardly go out on surveillance with me, could you? Things could get hairy and if you're going to help me with my senses, well, I need to know you can hang in if things get rough."
Blair stilled, his lips slightly parted and his eyes wide as he stared at Jim. "You want my help with your senses?" he asked, his voice a little breathless. "I mean…you think I can help?"
Jim shrugged. "Seems to me that that's what you've been doing since before I woke up, Junior," he said, as if it were obvious. "Or, maybe you don't want to get involved with what's going down. I'd understand …it might be dangerous."
The truth was, Jim didn't much like the idea of having to have Sandburg back him up. But his senses were unpredictable and that made them dangerous…he needed help, and he knew it. Though Sandburg's safety worried him, Ellison told himself that he wouldn't let the kid get into trouble, that he'd watch out for Blair, and keep him out of the line of fire.
Blair swallowed and he licked his lips…but then he smiled tentatively. "I'd like to help you, back you up," he said. "I was worried about you taking on this assignment on your own, actually." Heaving a breath, he nodded enthusiastically, as he went on, "I'll do my best, Jim…I promise you that."
Ellison saw the absolute sincerity and smiled as he said, "You don't have to promise, Chief. Doing your best seems to be a habit with you. But, you listen to this. I don't want you taking any crazy chances. You do what I tell you, stay behind me and if I say 'run', you 'run'. Got it?"
"Got it!" Blair affirmed. As he got out of the flutter and walked around it, he couldn't help the warm glow of happiness that welled in his chest. Jim trusted him. Wanted his help. Wasn't going to just disappear now that he had access to practically limitless funds. But the probability that Jim would be moving out soon, now that he could afford much better accommodation, deflated Sandburg's spirits somewhat.
As Blair lifted the flutter and headed to the U for their meeting with Woodhouse, he asked, trying to sound casual, not looking at Jim, his chest a little tight, "So, uh, now that you've got your money sorted out, um, well, did you want to still crash with me or did you want me to help you find a better place. I know the loft is a wreck, but there's lots of room…"
"Trying to kick me out already, Chief?" Jim asked, hiding a pleased smile that Sandburg wasn't suggesting he move out immediately. All the signals told him Sandburg hoped he'd stay.
"Oh, no, man, not at all," Blair protested, taking Jim seriously. "If we're going to work on your senses, well, it makes sense to stick together, at least for a while. I just know the place isn't that nice, that's all."
"Actually, I like the loft, I always have," Jim mused, looking out at the city rising on the horizon. "How would you feel about having a new landlord, Chief?" Jim asked, cutting his Guide a quick glance. "I thought I might buy the building and get it fixed up."
"Now that would be seriously great, man!" Blair drawled. "God, fix the walls, the wiring, get all new appliances for the apartments, paint, put in new flooring…hell, the elevator. The place has got tons of potential…but, Jim, are you sure that's how you want to spend your money?"
"Have to spend it on something…and I like a neat, clean, quiet place where everything works and the water is hot in the shower," Jim replied with a shrug.
"Neat? Clean? Quiet?" Blair echoed, thinking about his own lifestyle. Biting his lip as he set the flutter down in the U's parking lot, he wondered if Jim was trying to give him a message. "Jim…I'm not a neat freak…and I like my music, man. I know the loft used to be your place, and, well, I guess if you wanted ME to move out, well…I'd understand. And, hey, if the place gets fixed up, I'm not sure I could afford the rent anyway…"
Startled, Ellison turned to Blair, a look of astonishment on his face, cutting Sandburg off as he demanded, "What kind of ungrateful bastard do you think I am, Sandburg? You essentially save my life, give me a home and the clothes on my back, let alone all the food I've eaten so far…and you think I'm suggesting that I want YOU to move out of your own home?"
"No, well, it's just that I can see that quiet would be important for your sensory comfort, and, well, you are ex-military so making order out of chaos is probably one of your driving personal goals. So I could see how having me around all the time could be an annoyance, and it did used to be your apartment. And, well, you should have, you need to have, something stable, familiar, given how much everything else in your life has changed. So I'm just saying that I wouldn't mind if…"
"Chief, shut up," Jim groaned with a soft half-smile to soften the words as he held up his hands in the universal sign of surrender. "I don't want you to move out of your own home. That wasn't why I suggested buying the building and fixing it up. I…I just want us to have a comfortable, safe place to live, okay? And, as for the 'making order out of chaos', well, we'll work it out, have some house rules or something…but we'll work it out. Are you all right with that?"
"Yeah, I'm good, Jim…thanks," Blair replied, feeling as if a huge load had lifted, and the overcast day suddenly seemed bright. Grinning, he asked enthusiastically, "So, what colour do you want to paint the walls?"
Laura Woodhouse introduced Ellison to Zenon Tarpinsky, the head of the team that had developed the nanite technology, and then sat back while Blair and Jim described what had happened after he'd been shot the day before.
Tapinsky listened intently, frowning in thought, and asked to see Jim's shoulder, which had very clearly healed without a mark and had full, pain-free mobility. The scientist had brought a medikit with him to extract blood and a small, virtually microscopic skin sample.
Jim winced and hissed at the probing of the needle and the small pinprick when the skin sample was punched out of his shoulder.
Thoughtfully, Tapinsky studied his reactions. "You seem to have a high degree of sensitivity to pain, Mr. Ellison," he observed as he put the samples away, as if that was the simple explanation for the problem.
"No, that's not it," Blair insisted heatedly at the man's transparent attempt to minimize their concerns. "I was with Jim last night and I could see the agony he was experiencing. It went 'way beyond any 'sensitivity' to pain. And, besides, we thought the nanites were out of his system. They were supposed to self-destruct. So…why did his shoulder heal over night?"
His voice dry and a bit defensive, Tapinsky replied, "Yes, well, I'm presuming that the healing is not a bad thing, or would you rather still be suffering from the wound?"
When Jim rolled his eyes, and his jaw tightened, Blair could see his friend was getting irritated with the runaround and jumped in again.
"Look, you know that's not the point. Of course it's a good thing Jim's shoulder has healed. That's not what concerns us," Blair snapped. His eyes flashing, hands waving for emphasis, he launched into the questions he had, his tone clear that he expected answers, not obfuscation. "The nanite technology is brand new and not well understood. Your research indicates that the biotechnology disintegrates naturally when healing is complete. Apparently, it doesn't. So…is this something new? How long will they continue to exist in Jim's system? Is there something that should be done to remove them? Is the pain of healing a surprise? Jim wasn't conscious when they repaired the damage to his body from the bombing so we have no way of knowing how excruciatingly painful that might have been if he'd been awake for any of it. The shock of pain like that can kill a person. You haven't tested these things on human beings before, but did the animal subjects show symptoms of extraordinary pain? Is there some medication in particular that can be used to combat the pain if it happens again? Is there something Jim can take to eradicate the nanites from his system? What? We'd like a few answers here if you don't mind."
Tapinsky looked a little stunned by the verbal assault, while Woodhouse discreetly hid a smile at Sandburg's intense protection of his friend's interests. He was just like an irate mother protesting that her beloved child wasn't getting the care and attention he deserved.
"I'm afraid I don't have the answers you're looking for, at least not today," Tapinsky replied austerely. "However, we're grateful to learn of these side effects and will hold off on any further testing on humans until we've explored the situation and understand it better. If we find any of those answers, we'll let you know."
"Great. That's just great," Blair grated. "Meanwhile, we don't have any idea how long these little critters hang around. How could you dare infiltrate a human organism, any organism for that matter, if you didn't know how to eradicate the things?"
Sighing, Tapinsky shook his head, stung by the condemnation…and sensitive to the possibilities of lawsuits. "Look, all the evidence of the research indicates that they disappear from the system once healing has occurred. Now it appears that they do not disappear so much as go dormant, mimicking natural cells, until they are required again. This is not necessarily a bad thing…it means that the body can be kept well and whole for an indefinite period of time. No disease, no injuries, maybe not even normal aging would occur without them apparently snapping back into action to repair the damage. The issue here is the pain more than the fact that the nanites have not self-destructed. When we have more information on how to handle that side effect, we WILL get back to you. I'm afraid, that's the best I can offer right now."
Sandburg looked at Jim who shrugged. It was the best they were going to get, at least for now. Blair wasn't happy…the pain had been terrible and Jim had dials to control its onslaught. What would an ordinary human being, who couldn't turn the pain down, endure? Or had Jim suffered so much because of his exceptional sensory awareness? Shaking his head, his shoulders slumping in resignation, Blair gazed back at Tapinsky as he said, "Okay, I guess there's nothing more to be said today. You've created something wonderful, you really have. Jim wouldn't be alive if his injuries couldn't have been repaired so quickly and effectively. But…there's too much we don't know about these things. They really can't be used on anyone else until you've got more answers."
As they walked back to the flutter, Sandburg said quietly, "I don't what to say, Jim. You would have died without the nanites, I know that. God, I'm so glad you're alive. But I feel bad that they aren't as easily handled as I was told at the time. I'm sorry there aren't more answers…"
Jim glanced at his disconsolate Guide and put his own low level anxiety about the nanites on the back burner as he looped an arm around Sandburg's shoulders. "You did what you could…and I AM alive. So, let's just give them some time to work on this, okay? In the meantime, providing I can stand the heat of the cure, these little 'nites make me pretty much indestructible…any injuries'll heal. He's right, Chief. That's not such a bad thing."
Blair stiffened. "Man, you are NOT superman! Don't start thinking you are,' he lectured heatedly. "God, Jim, given your inclinations toward macho-heroism, and now taking on that assignment for Simon…you'll get yourself killed inside a week! You can NOT take chances just because you think you'll heal again. What if they do suddenly disappear and aren't there the next time you need them? And I doubt nanites could do much against any kind of sudden death. So…"
"Macho-heroism? Where do you get that?" Jim demanded, frowning.
"Oh, please…I've read your bio, man," Blair replied with a 'get real' look at Ellison. "Add in the fact that you were virtually killed saving forty other people, not to mention the way you just moved in on those robbers yesterday…you didn't even consider just letting them rob the bank and leave, did you? Maybe it has something to do with being a Sentinel. Maybe you have a primary drive to save people in your tribe. But, Jim…you can't save anyone, man, if you're dead."
Jim looked away, his tongue worrying at a tooth as he thought about Sandburg's words. He didn't think of himself as a hero, just as a guy who tried to do his best. He'd taken an oath to serve and protect, so that's what he did. Shrugging, he blew out a breath and changed the subject. "Do we have enough time before Simon comes over to run a few errands?" he asked.
"Like what?" Blair asked suspiciously, knowing Jim was trying to distract him.
"Well, I need one of those wrist things that seem to be a combination phone, watch, fax and computer. And, I need to get my licence…and I'd like to pick up a vehicle as soon as possible. And we need to either go grocery shopping or go to a restaurant. I'm starving," he replied.
"Can't have a starving Sentinel, man," Blair quipped. "They get grumpy when they're hungry."
Jim took a mock swing at Sandburg, who ducked and laughed as Jim exclaimed, "Grumpy? Who says I get grumpy? You haven't seen grumpy, Junior…I'll give you grumpy!"
"Peace, man!" Blair chuckled as they climbed into the flutter. "But, food first. I'm hungry, too, to tell you the truth. But, I have to warn you…the Wonderburger chain went bust after '35."
Jim turned to his companion, his eyes narrowed. "Just what all was reported in those bios on me that you read? Who would ever bother to note that I enjoy a good hamburger from time to time?"
"My great-grandpa, that's who," Blair replied with a grin. "You were his personal hero, man. He left no stone unturned when he researched your life."
"Apparently he didn't," Jim sighed, shaking his head, amazed at the devotion the other Sandburg had shown, even after it couldn't possibly have mattered anymore. Hero? They'd hardly been more than strangers!
But, then, as he cut a glance at his Guide, he wondered if devotion to people they'd committed to also ran in this unusual family, along with decency, enthusiasm, intelligence and generosity. Not to mention a singular lack of good sense and self-preservation, as he recalled the first Sandburg blithely climbing onto a bus with a bomber and this one's actions in the bank yesterday. Shaking his head, he reflected that this Blair had certainly demonstrated uncommon, even extraordinary, devotion in his preparations and care, even before anyone knew for sure that he could be revived. Jim shook his head. He hadn't done anything to deserve any of it, not in either case, not in his view. It was disconcerting.
It was also kinda nice.
A little scary, but nice.
But what was really odd, was how familiar it all felt. As if he'd known Blair Sandburg forever.
Shoppers' Paradise was similar to the malls Jim had known, though there were some differences. It was smaller in some ways, in that it seemed most people did their shopping on-line, so there wasn't a need to carry huge inventories of stock on-site. But, the teenagers still hung around the malls and their food courts, still needing someplace other than home or school to be.
The mall was next door to a Personal Transportation Dealership, so after Jim had gotten the 2075 version of a hamburger (leaner, less bread) and Blair had had a huge and disgustingly healthy salad, and Jim had selected a comlink that looked sturdy enough to suit his lifestyle, they wandered over to take a look at the Double-Ms.
Blair leaned with his arms crossed against one vehicle, a look of vast amusement on his face, while Jim checked out a macho-machine to warm any alpha male's heart. It was big, with heavy, reinforced steel panels and what was claimed to be an unbreakable, clear dome. There was a ton of space in the back to haul camping gear or whatever else took Jim's fancy. The bucket seats were the new 'body-form' design and felt like that mattress he'd been on in the hospital. Like air, only with support in all the right places and apparently with built in sensors to warm in winter and cool in summer. This particular model was a deep, indigo blue, with silver and lighter blue trim.
Jim was itching to try 'er out, but couldn't until he got his licence the next day. "So, what do you think, Chief?" he asked as he ran the tips of his fingers along her trim, sleek, façade.
"I think she'll guzzle a lot of hydrogen and produce a lot of water, man," Blair teased, shaking his head. "But, the way you drive, yeah…she looks about right. You need something big and safe or you'll kill yourself." Ducking away from a friendly swat, the younger man laughed. "Hey, I'm all for safe, man, especially if I'm going to be riding along with you! We'll come back tomorrow and you can test fly 'er."
Jim grinned and nodded as he looked back at the vehicle. Yep, she looked like just what he needed.
Watching, a fond look came into Sandburg's eyes. He couldn't get over how well Jim was adapting to everything. The guy was truly amazing.
Over the next week, they gradually settled into their routine. Blair went to the U during the day to give his classes and hold office hours, twice a week going out to the Ellison dig to take a look at whatever Connie had for him. Jim spent several hours each day going through the microfiles Simon had brought for him, stacks of info pellets that he fed into the computer in Blair's office under the stairs. When he'd had enough, and needed some air, he'd head out to take care of 'personal' business.
Like buying the apartment building and getting the renovations started.
Like meeting with McBride and his crowd of investment specialists, to shift some things in his portfolio, and to write a new will, leaving everything to Sandburg. Jim had particularly enjoyed the look on McBride's face when he announced that decision but he hadn't quite worked up the nerve to tell Sandburg yet.
Like buying some new furniture for the loft, including all new appliances. Just a few things, nothing special, like beds for the both of them, with those incredible mattresses, and a bookcase/entertainment unit for their living room, and more comfortable couches and chairs…oh, and a new fireplace unit.
Jim moved the old stuff into the spare space in the virtually empty second half of their double apartment. The wall had been repaired and French doors inserted to divide the two units and give some privacy when it was wanted, while retaining the continued sense of space and openness. But when Blair seemed to think that maybe he was supposed to hang out over there when Jim was watching the vid, Jim sat him down and made it abundantly clear that the new furniture was Sandburg's as much as his…despite the protests that hadn't been unexpected.
"Just say 'thank you', Chief," Jim had finally huffed, out of ideas of how to get Blair to understand that he wanted to do these things...wanted to make the grad student's life easier. Hell, hadn't the kid spent his last dime on clothes and food for him?
Blair had swallowed and looked around at the great new furniture and had finally smiled, his voice a little tight with the grateful lump in his throat, as he finally acquiesced and replied, "Thank you, Jim."
And a state of the art computer system for Sandburg's home-office, along with a better desk, file cabinets and bookcases, all handcrafted of solid oak with brass trim. (Jim was grateful that Blair was simply speechless and left it at that, ducking out for a walk before the protests that he 'did too much' started all over again.)
Or, like keeping the cupboards and refrigerator supplied, so that Sandburg never had to take his time to shop or run other domestic errands…or pay for anything like food or home supplies.
Like buying some camping and fishing gear, so that they could get up into the mountains some time soon.
Like walking the streets of his city for hours, to get re-acquainted.
Like standing by the shore, and watching the eternal tide roll in, and ponder all that had happened to him, taking deep cleansing breaths and trying to let his grief about the loss of his old life go.
And he gave silent thanks for the gift of Sandburg in his life. Jim knew he'd be a basket case, lost and disoriented, confused about what had happened to him, unaware of his financial assets, without a home or job and utterly friendless…if he'd survived at all…without Blair. The kid was his anchor in this new world, this new life, an anchor that kept him from drifting off into madness. And Sandburg was good with the senses, too. Working out ideas for them to test, so Jim could get a better handle on his capabilities. His anchor…
…and his foundation.
Whenever Sandburg was free during the day, in the evenings and on weekends, they headed out on patrol, checking out the locations Simon had given to them, keeping watch for the men they needed to target if they were going to bring the house of Morris down. During their patrols and stakeouts, Blair worked with his comunit while Jim 'listened in' with his senses. From time to time, Sandburg would look up to make sure Jim hadn't zoned, speaking with a low, quiet voice, or reaching out to touch lightly. He'd helped Jim learn to use two senses at once, by linking one to another, like sound to sight, how to tune one up and another down to permit greater focus without zoning, and Jim was doing really well. He'd get caught, sometimes, when lights would glare unexpectedly, strobing the darkness, or when a loud sound, like a siren, would split the air, but basically, he was going great.
Blair was proud of him. Proud of Jim's willingness to try different things, even though it was often frustrating and sometimes Blair thought, even painful. Oh, Ellison got irritated when he was tired, or when his head was splitting with a monster headache, but he didn't complain, not really. Just got brusque and impatient…and Blair would read the signs and give him a break.
But most of the time in the Double-M, Blair followed the electronic trails of financial transactions, deeds, large movements of money…
And, sometimes, they just talked, taking the time to get to know one another, although the comfort between them was that of friends of long standing.
One night, as he was staring out at the bright lights of Cascade at night, Blair asked quietly, "Do you remember anything, Jim? Of that time when you were in the cryochamber?"
Ellison had cut his partner a quick look, finding the question disconcerting and unexpected. When Blair turned to look at him, Jim shook his head. "Not really," he murmured, looking away. "Sometimes, I have this vague impression that I was dreaming. That I was in a jungle somewhere, lost. But I think that it's probably just buried memories of Peru. Only…sometimes, I have this flash, this sense of knowing I'm not alone anymore…and then it's gone, and I'm just waiting…"
"Oh, God, Jim," Blair sighed, turning away, looking up at the dark sky. "I hate thinking about you alone like that, trapped between life and death, neither one or the other. I hate that, hate that you were alone."
"S'okay," Jim had consoled him with a slight smile, surprised and warmed by Blair's concern on his behalf. "You found me. I'm not in the jungle anymore."
Blair had nodded, had whispered so low that the Sentinel almost missed it, "I'll always find you, Jim."
But then, the conversation in the warehouse below had begun and Jim's attention was drawn back to the business at hand.
It took a while, piecing together random bits of information, conversations, certain people meeting on a regular basis, monies being transferred…
…but, between them, they began to see patterns emerging.
Within the first month, they were able to feed information to Simon that allowed one bust after another, taking out lesser members of the family, interrupting their business and money flow…beginning to squeeze, and keeping the pressure up until it began to hurt.
The police raids also allowed Simon to begin to sort out whom he could trust with information inside the PD, and who had to be watched very carefully. Tagging those who were questionable, Jim and Blair would follow them for a few days…and get the information Simon needed to either clear his suspicions or substantiate them, allowing the police captain to take disciplinary actions, up to and including firing some of the fifth columnists within the police ranks.
It didn't take long for the Morris clan to realize they were under very intense scrutiny. And they were annoyed, very annoyed. Not only because the busts and the firings were beginning to seriously impact on their productivity and profits, but also because they couldn't figure out how it was being done. The information that was getting out was only known to those inside…and they began to suspect a traitor in their own ranks. Which led to some internal house cleaning, taking still more bad guys out of circulation.
Gradually, the vice they had on the Morris operations tightened…and tightened.
Over the course of the next five and a half months, the arrest record of the Major Crimes Unit rocketed, with one successful sting, bust or raid after another. The Police Chief and the Commissioner, as well as the Governor himself when he was in town, had to fight the burn of acid in their guts and the anger wrapped around their hearts, to greet the deliriously happy and congratulatory media, accept praise for the extraordinary successes of the Cascade PD, and give out interviews extolling the quality and dedication of the force.
Simon would stand in a corner during these interviews and briefing sessions, out of the cameras and glad of it. He hadn't gone into police work for the glory of it. His arms crossed, he wore a wry expression on his face but the expression in his eyes was veiled as he watched the Chief and the Commissioner grow ever more rattled.
And they watched him.
Dumb crooks get lucky every once in a while. Smart crooks make their own luck. With the same perseverance and dedication that Simon, Jim and Blair were devoting to bringing Morris and his clan down, the clan began to stalk Simon, to find out how he was getting the information that nobody should have been privy to.
So, yeah, the bad guys got 'lucky', and finally connected Banks to Ellison and Sandburg. For a while, the connection was discounted. After all, what could a grad student in anthropology and a seemingly independently wealthy man have to do with the information Simon was acquiring? Sure, they cruised the night skies for endless hours, hovering here and there, but the gang's own dampening and surveillance equipment would have blocked or recorded any attempt to 'listen in' to private conversations by technical means. But, when first one bust, then another and finally a third, happened after one of those seemingly innocuous little 'get-togethers' of the cop and his friends, Morris and the boys decided it didn't really matter how Ellison and Sandburg were finding things out. It only mattered that they were, and that had to stop.
So they made arrangements to have Ellison and Sandburg taken out of the equation.
It was especially necessary to remove them now, because a really big operation was in the works. A major arms deal, sweetened with high-grade jelly-pops that would sell like gold on the streets…so big, so secret, that only the top three family leaders knew about it, confident that no one could then crack their security. Laughing as they sipped on their select single malt, and smoked their expensive cigars, the three old friends congratulated themselves that it would be a big night. They'd make the deal of the century, double their personal wealth once the new goods were distributed and sold, and rid themselves of a couple of irritants all on the same night. It was all arranged.
The news conferences on the vid had given Jim a good handle on the voices of the three Morris gang chieftains, so he was able to readily sort through the confusion of multiple conversations going on inside the building half a block away from where they were parked. Ellison overheard all the details of the deal, and recounted them to Blair as the complicated information was unfolding in the small, private meeting room inside the 'members only' club of the wealthiest and most privileged men in Cascade.
"Irritants? What irritants?" Blair asked, puzzled, as he made the final notes and Jim started up his mean machine.
Shrugging, Jim shook his head. "I didn't hear them give any other reference than that, Chief. Probably has something to do with some rough spots in past deals with the Asians who are bringing in the goods."
Blair nodded. Made sense.
Handpicked detectives and uniformed police surrounded the warehouse down by the docks. Chosen for their loyalty, their trustworthiness and their skill, they moved like wraiths through the shadows and swirls of fog as darkness sank down over the city. Silently, they took out the sentries the Asians had left to keep watch. The three Morris clan chieftains hadn't bothered to bring their own back up, so arrogant and utterly confident were they that no one would dare double cross them. Who would be stupid enough to take out the Governor and two senior police officials and expect to get away with it? So they'd arrived minutes before and gone inside, which had been the signal to begin 'Operation Wrap Up'.
It went like clockwork with a minimum of fuss or frenzy. The hotshot bad guys hadn't done their own dirty work for quite some time, so duelling pistols was no longer really their style. Simon smiled grimly as he snapped the cuffs around the wrists of the three most dangerous men in the state, maybe in the country. They'd gotten a haul of illegal arms that could have started two wars and kept a minor revolution stocked on the side. Getting the crates of jelly-pops before they hit the streets would save hundreds of lives. Given this was only the beginning of the domestic distribution chain, Simon thought, make that maybe thousands of lives. Cynically, as he looked at the two briefcases of tightly stacked $100,000 bills, he wondered if these were his tax dollars at work.
Tapping on his comunit, he called Ellison, who was cruising above the action. They'd decided at the very beginning that it was best if no one but Simon knew of his involvement, at least not yet. So while Jim missed being part of the action, Blair appreciated that his Sentinel wasn't in harm's way, and neither thought they were in any danger at all. Simon wasn't quite sure how they got the information they did, but neither did he question it. Ellison always gave him what he needed to build his own solid case, without Simon ever having to reveal how he'd known where to look.
"Congratulations, Simon," Jim's voice answered the call. Having been 'listening in' to the bust, Ellison knew it was all over but the cheering. "You got your man!"
"Thanks to your help, yeah," Banks replied, his lips relaxing into an honest smile of satisfaction. "I mean that. Thanks."
"No sweat, Captain," Ellison replied. "When you've got things wrapped up, why don't you drop by the loft?"
"Sounds good," Simon concurred. "This shouldn't take me long. I don't need to take their statements or book them personally. Getting to cuff the bastards and read them their rights was thrill enough. I'll be right behind you."
Blair was grinning widely, and his eyes were sparkling, as he sank back against the seat, listening to Jim's conversation with Simon. He felt good, great as a matter of fact. It had been an extraordinary six months. Gazing out at the lights of the city, his mind played over all the wonderful, amazing changes in his life.
He'd found Jim. That was the best of all, and led to the rest. A home in a decent place, that was now comfortable and completely safe. Meeting Simon, and becoming his friend. Helping to rid the streets of Cascade of the criminals that had infested them, making the city itself more comfortable and a whole lot safer. And, tonight, taking down a guy who might well have become President and wreaked who knows what evil while in that high office, the most powerful in the world.
Added to that, classes were over for the semester and he'd finished the last of the grading that afternoon. So he was free of responsibilities, at least until after the holidays. With tonight's wrap up of their months-long investigations, they were all free of immediate responsibilities and the plan was for him and Jim and Simon to head up to a mountain lake to fish for the weekend.
Fondly, his gaze returned to Jim's face, as Ellison ended the comchat with Banks. Jim. His roommate, not to mention landlord, a great landlord who hadn't hiked the rents when he'd upgraded the building. Smiling to himself, he thought with a deep sense of happiness, Jim Ellison. My Sentinel. My friend.
Aloud, a bit facetiously, he simply said, "Home, James!"
Chuckling, feeling good, really good, Ellison banked his M-M and slipped into the flow to head back to the loft.
Ten minutes later, Ellison dropped his vehicle into his slot and they climbed out. They were ambling happily toward the building when Jim heard the two clicks of automatic weapons being engaged.
"GET DOWN!" he screamed, shoving Sandburg away from his side, hoping to draw the fire on himself, scarcely a heart beat before the night's calm was split by the sharp, thunderous racketing of weapons, the darkness shattered by sound.
Jim rolled instinctively, pulling out his weapon as he moved, and came up, shooting and killing one of the assassins, and then spinning on his knee to nail the second up on the roof. The man fell silently, dead from the bullet that had entered his brain just behind the bridge of his nose. Blowing out a breath, Jim blessed his sentinel sight…he'd never have been able to make those two shots so quickly or accurately without it. For a moment, he held himself poised for more action, listening, his eyes scanning the tops of the buildings, the shadows around the parked vehicles and the buildings. Nothing. There must only have been two of them.
Relaxing his guard, he was standing and putting his gun back into his holster, calling as he turned back to his Guide, "Sandburg, are you all…"
But his voice choked in his throat at the sight of the crumpled young man on the grass just to the side of the walkway. Jim dashed across the distance that separated them, punching in the emergency code on his comunit, shouting into it, "Officer down, ambulance needed immediately!" and giving the address even as he fell to his knees beside Sandburg's body.
"Jesus, Chief," he whispered unconsciously, reeling from the overpowering scent of blood that surrounded his partner, staining the back of his jacket, leaking through the two small ragged holes in the fabric.
Gently, carefully, Jim pulled Blair from his side over onto his back, supporting his head and shoulders with one strong arm. What he saw chilled him to his very soul.
Sandburg's face was stark white and blood bubbled on his lips as he blew out rapid puffs of air, panting for breath. There were lines of deep pain around his mouth and eyes, which were open, but dazed, as if the kid was trying to figure out what had happened to him. There was no fear in that wide gaze, not yet. Just confusion.
But it was the sight of his body that caused Ellison to tighten his grip around his partner and swallow convulsively. Blood saturated Blair's open jacket and the two shirts layered beneath. Bright crimson, glistening in the street lights, as it pumped from the too many bullet holes in the grad student's chest and abdomen. So much blood, its metallic stench permeating the air.
"J'm?" Blair whispered breathily, his hand fumbling weakly to grip Jim's jacket. "Don'zone…"
Choking back the bitter bile in his throat, Ellison shook his head sharply. "Don't talk, Chief…just breathe, okay?" he managed to grind out, as his hand lifted to stroke the wild curls back from Blair's brow and then cup his cheek as his arm drew the kid closer against his chest. He could feel that Sandburg's skin was already chilled and clammy from shock. Listening, he could hear a damaged heart struggling to keep beating, to keep pumping blood through a body that was dying, through lungs that had been shredded and ruptured.
Blair blinked, trying to focus as he struggled to hold onto consciousness. Everything was hazy, surreal… and, God, it hurt to breathe! So he took tiny, shallow breaths, fast ones, because he felt like he was drowning or something and couldn't get enough air. Blinking again, slowly, he was able to bring Jim's face into clearer view, and his throat tightened at the pain on his friend's face, in his eyes. Frightened now, Blair murmured, "You…hurt?"
"No, no, I'm okay," Jim replied, but his jaw tightened. Okay? No. No, he wasn't okay. He was raging inside with fear and helplessness and an impotent rage that threatened to strangle him. The kid was dying here, and there wasn't a damned thing he could do to help Sandburg. Glancing again at the damage, listening to the failing heartbeat, the gasping for air as lungs collapsed into themselves, Jim was terrified that there wasn't anything anyone could do to stop this obscenity from happening. "Hang on, Blair," he begged then. "God, please, don't let go…"
"S'kay, Jim." Blair whispered, knowing he was fading. A weak smile appeared, and his so expressive eyes flashed with a kind of joy as he mumbled, "Found you…"
Jim had to blink back the tears that filled his eyes, blurring his sight, and was heedless of the one that got away to slip down his cheek. "Shhh," he urged frantically. "Hold on…"
Blair's brow puckered in a frown of confusion then, his eyes losing their focus, wondering what had happened to Cascade. "Jungle?" he murmured, with wonder in his voice at the thick green fronds and trees that suddenly surrounded him.
And then he remembered.
Remembered it all in a blinding flash of awareness and realization. Struggling once more to find Jim, his weak grip tightened on Ellison's jacket, and he moaned against the pain, pushing it away, having no time for it. No time now for much of anything.
After all this time…after all they had endured and achieved…to end like this? Too soon. Too wretchedly soon. Grief and a deep, wrenching sorrow pervaded Sandburg's being as he blinked again, and again, to try to see Jim. Had to see him. Couldn't go like this.
"Jim?" he managed, his whispered moan of despair barely audible, even to Sentinel ears. "Don' wanna go, man…"
"Dammit, Blair," Jim called to him, desperate now as the heartbeats fumbled and faltered and Blair's breath became increasingly raspy and uncertain. "Don't you quit on me! Don't you leave me!"
"Dear God in Heaven," Simon's voice intruded, as he skidded to a halt beside Jim and dropped to his knees. "Have you called…"
"Yeah," Jim shot back, irritated to have his attention drawn away from Sandburg. But when he flashed a look at Simon, a wild thought occurred to him. A hope, when there was no hope.
"Simon…call Laura Woodhouse, Life Sciences at Rainier. Tell her…tell her we're bringing Blair in. That we need the nanites. Tell her it's urgent, that he's dying…" Jim directed, panting with the fear that filled his chest.
Simon didn't understand, but now was not the time for a lot of questions and long explanations. He punched his comunit and made the connections necessary that led him to Woodhouse by the time the ambulance had dropped from the sky.
Jim wouldn't let them take Blair from him. There was no point and lying flat on the gurney would only let Blair drown in his own blood. The Sentinel gathered his Guide against him and stood, carrying him to the vehicle and climbing inside while he shouted instructions to the EMTs.
"We're going to the Life Sciences Institute at Rainier…don't ask questions," Jim snarled when one attendant tried to argue. "Just get us there as fast as you can. He's running out of time!"
Simon called for a clean up crew to deal with the bodies of the assassins, then followed in his own Double-M, while in the ambulance two attendants were working frantically over Blair, getting an IV in before his veins completely collapsed, sliding an oxygen mask over his face, checking life signs, running the blood gases, slapping pressure dressings on the wounds, their eyes widening with sympathetic horror when the extent of the damage was fully revealed. How this guy was even still alive was a mystery to them.
Jim continued to hold Blair tightly, as if afraid that if he loosened his grip, Sandburg might drift away from him. Blair was still semi-conscious, still holding onto the edge of Jim's jacket as if it were a lifeline. Ellison murmured to him, a constant litany of encouragement and hope, to hang on, to not let go, a refrain of increasing despair as he felt and heard Sandburg weaken and fade…until the words were a prayer.
Blair kept his gaze locked on Jim, his eyes having to express what he no longer had the breath to put into words. Love, pure and unconditional, burned from those wide blue eyes, love for all time. But it was the sorrow, and the mute apology that clouded that gaze, that tore at Ellison's heart. "No," Jim protested raggedly. "I don't want you to be sorry, dammit! I don't want you trying to say 'good-bye'! Don't you give up! Don't you dare give up on me! Please, Blair…please…"
The ambulance landed and its portal was thrown open. After that, it was a frenzy of motion and sound, bright lights and voices as Jim carried Blair into the building, shouting for Woodhouse.
"I'm here, Jim," she called out, waving him forward toward an elevator she was holding open. As Jim, Simon on his heels, raced inside, she let the doors close and explained quickly, her horror filled eyes on Blair's bloody body, "Tapinsky was in his lab, as was I when Captain Banks called. He doesn't want to use the nanites… he says…"
"I don't care what he says," Jim grated, his eyes flashing. "Sandburg doesn't have a hope in hell without them."
Nodding tightly, she continued, "We're going directly to his lab. And I've called in an emergency support team from the hospital next door to meet us there, to keep Blair going…"
The elevators opened and she led the way, loping ahead down the long, brightly lit corridor and pushing open the double doors to the lab halfway down the hall. Jim raced in behind her, and spotting a work counter that would do, he headed toward it, laying Sandburg's weight upon it, though he kept his grip around the younger man's shoulders.
"Tapinsky!" Jim shouted, swivelling to look over his shoulder. "Do what you need to do…"
"Mr. Ellison, you and Mr. Sandburg were the people who insisted that no one else be exposed to the nanites until…" Tapinsky argued.
"Dammit, I don't have time for this!" Jim grated. "Get the damn things, do what you need to do. He's dying, don't you understand? Just do it!"
"You'll have to sign a waiver…" Tapinsky insisted.
"I'll sign whatever you fucking want!"Jim roared. "Just give him the damned nanites. NOW!"
The hospital team raced in then, pushing a portable treatment table loaded with emergency equipment and supplies. Jim, only too conscious that Blair had gone completely limp in his grip, lifted his partner and transferred him onto the table. In seconds, Blair was intubated and on a respirator, a second machine being hooked up to keep his blood circulating just as his fluttering heart finally gave out and went still.
Jim fought his panic at the sound of that silence. Gritting his jaw, he told himself that the machines would keep Sandburg going, that he wasn't really dead, not yet. That there was still time. Time for the nanites to work their magic. But his own heart clenched and nausea cramped in his belly, his chest so tight with fear for Sandburg that he was panting for breath.
Woodhouse and Banks had both converged on Tapinsky, their expressions clearly indicating that he'd better either cooperate immediately or they'd rip out his heart and lungs and give them to Sandburg. His jaw tight, his eyes dark with resentment, Tapinsky went to the cooling unit and drew out a tray. Going to the counter, he grabbed up a pair of enhanced viewers, to allow him to see the delicate biotechnical agents floating in a sterile solution. Reaching for a syringe, he drew up the necessary sample and turned to move across the lab.
Unceremoniously, he injected the solution into Sandburg's limp arm.
Immediately, the hospital team moved Sandburg out, racing back along the hall to the elevator and down to the tunnel that connected Life Sciences with the Teaching and Research Hospital. Jim and Simon ran after the gurney. Tapinsky hastily gathered up a clipboard and pen, charging after them and squeaking into the elevator just before it closed. He held the items toward Ellison, and finally had to pluck on the taller man's sleeve to get his attention, which was fixed unwaveringly on Sandburg.
"What?" Jim growled, when he finally succumbed to the distraction.
"Sign this," Tapinsky replied, again holding out the clipboard, to which he'd attached the requisite waiver form just after having received the call from Woodhouse, correctly anticipating that he would be forced into using the nanites.
Jim's eyes flashed an eerie cold, like blue ice in the Arctic, and the muscles along his jaw pulsed with disgusted fury, but he wrenched the board and the pen from Tapinsky's hands, scrawled his signature on the form and virtually threw the stuff back at the fussy researcher.
And once again, Ellison's gaze snapped back to Sandburg's face, only half visible now under the mask. He reached to clasp Blair's hand, holding on even after the elevator doors opened and they were racing down the long tunnel.
But when they got into the hospital, he had to let go, as they pulled Blair away into the closed sector of Operating Theatres. In less than half an hour, Sandburg was stripped, washed with a disinfectant spray and in the Operating Room, where the bullets were extracted from his body…six of them…as they worked hard to patch him back together, as best they could.
But the damage was awesome, staggering. Liver, spleen and small intestine ripped apart, the aorta perforated, the heart and lungs blasted, the lumber vertebrae shattered. There was no doubt in any of the surgical teams' minds that they were in fact working on a cadaver; that only the semblance of life, courtesy of the machines, remained in this body.
As the doors to the Operating Theatres closed behind Sandburg and the medical team attending to him, Simon gripped Jim by the arm as he started to sway, the shock and horror catching up to him, and dragged him over to the chairs in the waiting room. Pushing Jim down, Simon winced at the blood that had soaked the detective's clothing and hands. His lips thinning, he dropped to one knee in front of Ellison. "How are you doing?" Banks asked, concern in his voice and eyes.
Jim's eyes were focused somewhere beyond the boundary of the small lounge, his head cocked a little to one side. His face was a mask of devastation as he replied, his voice thin and tight, as if he was in shock, "I don't hear his heart…just the machines. I don't hear…"
He began to tremble, fighting to retain control, to not lose it now. Sandburg might need him. He couldn't fall apart.
Simon rose to drop down on the chair beside him, wrapping a strong arm around his shoulders. He needed to get Jim focused on something else, something that would help him distance the immediacy of what was going on beyond those doors. "Jim? JIM!" he called out, sharply. When Ellison's gaze tacked to his, Simon asked, "What are nanites?"
"Nanites?" Jim echoed, struggling to concentrate. "Ah, sub-atomic biotechnical magicians that can put a dead body back together again," he finally replied distantly. But his gaze cleared a little as he focused on Simon. "I was the first human they tried the things on. Sandburg…" his voice caught, "Sandburg said that I would have died if the things hadn't repaired my body so fast after they found me. They…they match a person's genetic code. And then they repair any damage they find in the body."
"Uh huh," Simon grunted, interested. Maybe there was some hope here after all. "How fast do these things work?" he asked, figuring Sandburg hadn't looked like he had a lot of time.
"Remember when I got shot in that bank hold-up a few months ago?" Jim replied. When Banks nodded, he continued, "The wound was gone the next morning. Healed. Not even a scar."
Blowing out a breath, Simon thought about that. It sounded miraculous. For all the amazing things medicine had learned how to do in the last century, the body had still needed to heal itself. Turning his gaze toward the closed doors, he thought that maybe, just maybe, there was a chance.
He hoped so.
He liked that kid.
But then another thought occurred to him and he frowned. Turning back to Jim, he asked, "What did you mean when you said you couldn't hear his heart anymore, just the machines?"
Jim looked away and sighed. Shrugging, he said, "I have enhanced senses, Simon. I can see, hear, touch, taste and smell better, much better, than an ordinary person can. That's how I got the information you needed. We could circle the city, just cruise around, and I could overhear conversations below, smell the presence of drugs or armament, watch people moving around, meeting on the sly when they thought no one was looking. Sandburg calls me a 'Sentinel'."
"Is this something that's been medically enhanced, or did it happen after they treated you with the nanites?" Banks asked, trying to imagine senses like that, not sure he could.
Jim shook his head. "No, I was born like this, but they were dormant for most of my life. You don't need the whole story, I guess, but before I was almost killed back in '97, they'd gone out of control. The only person I'd met who could help me at all, who understood what was happening to me was a grad student in anthropology who was working at Rainier University as a teaching fellow. His name was Blair Sandburg."
Simon sagged back against his chair, staring at Ellison, trying to run the odds in his head and decided it was a waste of time. It was impossible. Too many coincidences. Too weird.
Still, he made an effort to accept it all as if it was only to be expected that Ellison would know two students named Blair Sandburg more than seventy-five years apart. "Would that be the grandfather he mentioned was killed in '35?" Simon asked
"No, his great-grandfather. The first Blair was murdered two years after I, uh, was frozen," Jim replied.
Shifting to look directly at Simon, he could see that the coincidences struck Simon pretty much as they'd struck him. Life wasn't that neat. It was too random. "It gets better," Jim continued, his expression guarded, almost flat. "The two Blairs are, were, whatever, identical, absolutely identical…right down to a fear of heights, their heartbeat and voice patterns and having identical handwriting."
Simon's eyes narrowed as he studied Ellison. This wasn't a hysterical man who made things up or believed in ghosts or aliens. This was a solid, rational, experienced detective. "Jim…what are you suggesting here?" Simon demanded. "You can't be imagining that they are the same man. That kid isn't more than twenty-five or twenty-six years old."
"I know," Jim grated, looking away again toward the double doors. "I don't know what I'm suggesting. I haven't been able to figure it out. But, Simon…" he paused a moment, gathering his thoughts, "think about it. You tell me what it means. The man who was helping me almost eighty years ago, was absolutely identical to that man in there. And this Blair, God, he's the one who made sure they took every care to open the cryochamber properly, so that I wouldn't be damaged before they could revive me. He was the one who opened it…he took steps to guard my rights before I'd even started breathing on my own, before anyone could know that I would ever wake up. And, before I was revived, he'd done things to prepare for getting me home…tracked down and bought my favourite music, bought me clothes, had lists of my allergies, stocked in my favourite fruit juices, type of beer, coffee. He'd washed the damned sheets and brought them to the hospital to be sure my skin didn't get irritated when I was moved into a bed. He had someone track down my assets, and found a trust fund…and the fact that I was still technically employed by Cascade PD. He has rearranged his whole life to accommodate mine. Simon…who does that for a perfect stranger?"
"He must have had some source of information about you…" Simon replied, his brow furrowed.
"Yeah…yeah," Ellison allowed. "He has all these journals the original Blair compiled about me. But even that's weird. I hardly knew that kid. Had just met him a few days before the bomb blew me seventy-eight years into the future." Jim shook his head. "That kid researched all there was to know about me, even though for all he knew, I was dead and buried. I've read his journals. He said he couldn't ever really accept that I was dead…just lost. And he was trying to find me, by researching my life. It's crazy, Simon. I know that kid had a belief in Sentinels, and was thrilled to find me…but that doesn't explain his obsession. Or the guilt he felt when I apparently died. Ever since, this Blair says his family has searched for sentinels…searched until Blair finally got them to dig in the old Ellison Enterprises site. He was the one who spotted the heat source on satellite pictures of the ruined areas. He pushed his friend Connie to go for permission to dig there…said there was something there, something that needed and still radiated energy after all the time that had passed…something that might be worth finding. Simon, even before that, Sandburg had found the apartment I used to live in and rented it…was living there was he brought me home. He brought me home, Simon!"
"Jim, you're not suggesting that there's some, oh, I don't know, mystical thing going on here, are you?" Simon demanded, bothered himself by the oddness of the story.
Ellison swallowed and scrubbed his face with his hands. Sighing, he replied, "Frankly, I haven't got the first clue about what's going on here. I've tried not to think about it all too much, to tell you the truth. But, even if it's all just weird coincidence...there's something about the kid. Something. I feel like I've known him forever. And, as much as he says he gets it all from those journals, he figures out things about my senses, says things sometimes that he couldn't have got from the papers, because it's not there. Like, for instance, he started in as soon as I woke up helping me to use the 'dials' to control the sensory overload I was experiencing. But the first Blair didn't know about that stuff. We didn't do anything like that, we never had time to really figure out these senses. Hell, I don't even know how I knew what he was getting at. Honest to God, I don't know. I just knew what he meant and did it. Or, stuff like what to test, how to 'piggy-back' one sense on another. The way he seems to understand everything about me...and, dammit, I feel the same thing about him. Like we're linked. I think of it as being in the 'Sandburg Zone'..."
Jim's voice faltered to a stop. He wasn't used to talking this much, but all these feelings and reflections had been bottled up for months. He'd tried to raise them with Sandburg a few times, but the kid had just shrugged and muttered things like 'there're stranger things in this world, Ellison, than are accounted for in your philosophy'…and then he'd say again that nothing was random in the universe so they shouldn't be surprised when things just clicked together when they were supposed to. As his mind grappled with the oddities that abounded when it came to Blair Sandburg and Blair Sandburg, Jim's eyes locked on the bloodstains on his hands.
"Oh, God," he whispered brokenly. "What if he doesn't make it…"
"Easy, Jim," Simon cut in, seeing Ellison go dangerously pale. "Let's find a washroom and get you cleaned up. And then I think we could both use some coffee."
"I don't want to leave…" Jim faltered.
"We'll just get you cleaned up and I'll get the coffee, all right?" Simon persisted, standing to draw Ellison up to his feet.
Numbly, still staring at his hands, Jim let Simon haul him along the hall. "This shouldn't have happened," he muttered. "It just shouldn't have happened. I wasn't careful enough. Sandburg isn't supposed to die… this shouldn't have happened…"
Hours passed as the surgical team worked frantically on injuries that were too massive to repair. Jim had slumped back in the chair, his head resting against the wall, his eyes closed, as his memory played those terrible moments over and over. Sandburg's concern for him, about zoning, about maybe him being hurt, while the kid bled his life out. The look in his partner's eyes, shifting and changing as Sandburg realized what was happening, the love, the sorrow…the apology…
Frowning, Jim thought there was something that didn't fit, a wrong note, as if anything about those terrible moments had been right. Damn, he thought, shifting to lean forward, his elbows on his thighs, his face in his hands.
And then he remembered what had jarred the odd note, the thing that didn't make sense.
Sandburg's eyes had clouded in confusion and he'd muttered something about a jungle. Then there'd been a flash of awareness in the kid's eyes, a kind of desperate denial of what was happening. Jungle? What jungle? Why would Blair say something about a jungle at that moment? And what was it about a jungle that tugged at his own memory, like something flickering on the edge of his vision?
Sandburg…jungle…and then Jim remembered the flash of memory, or a vision, or something, that first day in the loft, and the kid had been telling him about how his great-grandfather had been murdered…and it hit him again.
For a moment, just for a flash of time, he had a fast vision of a jungle…and of Sandburg. A wave of sharp exhilaration and huge relief washed through him then, leaving him reeling from the all-pervasive awareness of being overwhelmingly glad to see him…and then it was gone.
The jungle. My God. Jim thought, I was there, in that damned jungle…lost…until Sandburg came to be with me, and stayed with me…until he had to leave…
Sandburg had come for him in the jungle…had been there with him for what seemed forever. Waited with him, until it was time.
Dear God, Jim thought as he straightened, a flood of memories sweeping through his mind. Sandburg had been murdered. But instead of his soul accepting whatever peace the universe offered, Blair's soul had come looking for him. Convinced even in death that Jim wasn't dead, but lost. Desperate to find him.
And Blair had found him. Wherever they'd been, wherever that jungle was, in some dimension in which only souls could dwell, Blair had found him there.
And stayed with him.
So he wouldn't have to be alone.
Had spent fifty years with him in limbo, just so that Jim wouldn't have to be alone.
And then Blair had known, somehow, that the time was coming…the time for resurrection. He'd been so sorry to leave, but he'd had to go. He'd told Jim it was only for a little while longer. He promised he'd get Jim out of that jungle just as soon as he could.
And he had.
Jim remembered it all now, remembered the time they'd spent together, remembered the loneliness when Sandburg had left, remembered holding onto the promise and the belief that Blair would never let him down, remembered that it had been the sound of Sandburg's voice, calling to him so urgently, so desperately, that had finally led him out of that jungle, away from the isolation and despair.
Jim stood to pace, suddenly unable to remain still a moment longer. Blair had brought him back…only to die here, now, murdered again? NO! Jim couldn't accept that, wouldn't accept it.
It couldn't be over.
They were linked. Their souls were linked by fifty years in a netherworld between life and death. Linked by devotion, by selflessness…by Sandburg's steadfast, unshakeable belief in his Sentinel…by love.
No wonder Jim had always had this inexplicable feeling that Sandburg, this Sandburg, was more than a helpful stranger. No wonder he'd dubbed him 'Guide'! Dear God in Heaven…the kid was the best friend he'd ever had. More than that. Sandburg was closer than a brother.
For a moment, Jim felt as if the world was whirling away from him, and he found himself wondering what he would never even dreamed of considering before.
He wondered if they'd known each other before…
Wondered if they'd somehow always known each other. If that was why the other Sandburg had been searching for a Sentinel, convinced that one could still exist, somewhere…why the first Blair had found him in that hospital when he'd thought he was losing his mind.
Why he'd trusted Sandburg, both of them, more than he'd trusted any stranger in his life, almost from the first moment.
Wondered if it was always Sandburg who searched for him, and found him…and saved him.
"Jim!" Simon called out, shaking him, "Jim, are you all right?"
Shaking his head, his fingers dragging through his hair, Jim nodded but felt as if he'd been sandbagged. Looking up at Simon through eyes dazed with shock, he saw worry and realized he must have been on the edge of a zone.
"I'm…I'm all right, Simon," he sighed. "I've just remembered some things…"
"What things?" Banks asked, leading Jim back to the chair and gently pushing him down onto it.
Jim looked at his boss, his friend, this one so like the one he'd known so long ago…and shook his head. How he could explain this? Simon would think he was nuts.
Maybe he was.
Except he knew with a rock solid certainty that it was all true.
"I…just things. Times I've spent with Sandburg," Jim muttered, swallowing against his dry throat.
The doors of the Operating Sector opened then, and a weary surgeon emerged. "You're waiting for news about Mr. Sandburg, I expect," he said, looking at them.
They moved across the floor of the lounge toward the doctor. "How is he?" Jim asked, his heart in his mouth.
"I'm sorry. I wish I had better news," the surgeon reported sombrely. "Your friend was very badly hurt. Too much damage for us to fix. We have him on life support, and I understand he was given something over in Life Sciences that may help him. So…we'll keep him on support for a couple of days. But, if he doesn't show signs of improvement, I'm afraid there's nothing we can do. I think you should prepare yourselves for that."
Jim swallowed, and felt Simon grip his shoulder, to steady him. "I'd like to be with him," Jim said, his voice shaking.
"We'll move him to a private room in ICU within the hour. Since, frankly, we feel his condition is terminal, we'll allow you to spend however much time you want with him," the physician replied, his weary voice surprisingly gentle. "I am truly sorry that…well…that he was just too badly hurt for us to help him."
Jim was waiting in the hallway outside the ICU entrance when they wheeled Sandburg up from the OR Recovery Room. The first thing Jim noticed was the silence. Though machines whirred and pumped, and the gurney wheels squeaked, and the rubber padded soles of the attendants' shoes squidged on the linoleum, it was the continuing silence that staggered him.
There was still no heartbeat. Jim shuddered, knowing it shouldn't shock him so much…he'd heard Sandburg's heart stop back in the lab. But…but the silence where there should have been sound still left him reeling, overwhelmed with fear. Swallowing hard, frantically telling himself again that in this era that wasn't necessarily fatal, Jim followed the wheeled stretcher through the doors and along the hall. The lights had been dimmed, in deference to the fact that it was the middle of the night, and the air held a chill but Jim wondered if he was just imagining that, out of weariness and dread.
Simon plodded along a step behind, reluctant to leave Jim to face this alone. Concerned himself about the deathly white, too still and silent young man on the gurney. Signing heavily, Simon looked away. As much time as he'd spent in hospitals, too much time, with too many good cops who'd been betrayed or marked for execution, he couldn't get used to the sorrow of it, or of the unnaturalness of bodies hooked up to so many machines, with countless tubes snaking in and out of their bodies, so that they looked like a modern day version of Frankenstein's monster. But, mostly, he couldn't get past the rage that burned in his heart, or his sense of impotence, that no matter how hard he tried, how hard he fought corruption, good men still paid too dear a price for their decency.
Sandburg was transferred onto the bed. A limp, lifeless burden to be shifted and arranged, and finally covered by a thin sheet. His body was swathed in bandages, a respirator tube in his throat and air was compressed with weary monotony in and out of his lungs. His blood whirled through tubes to a machine in the corner, being artificially oxygenated and circulated. Nodes were placed on his temples by a nurse and she punched a button on another machine, which immediately began tracing a complex set of lines showing the low level brain activity of a man in deep coma. The heart monitor was turned on next, to pick up readings from the electronic patches on his chest…and the line was depressingly flat.
Jim refused to look at it. That didn't matter. Nothing mattered. Only that these machines kept Sandburg alive long enough for those nanites to work their magic. That was what mattered.
Pulling a chair close to the bed, Jim sat down and took Sandburg's cold hand in his own, rubbing his thumb in slow circles over the inside of Blair's wrist. He needed to talk to Blair, but he wasn't sure he could with Simon standing there, leaning against the doorframe as if reluctant to come all the way into the room.
"Simon, you need to go home, get some rest," Jim said quietly. "I'm okay, now that I can be with him. Don't worry."
Simon's gaze flicked from his gloomy study of Sandburg's face to Ellison. "You sure? I don't mind staying," he replied.
"I'm sure," Jim assured him. "Here are the keys to the loft. Go on. I'll see you tomorrow…you can bring me some clean clothes when you come back."
Simon straightened and nodded as he caught the keys Ellison tossed to him. "Call me if…if you need anything," he sighed and then turned to walk back down the long, dim hallway.
Ellison sighed as he reached up to stroke Sandburg's brow, careful not to disturb the nodes. "You can hear me, I know you can, Chief," he murmured. "I know it seems bad right now, but you're going to be all right. If the nanites could put me back together, they can do the same for you."
He paused then, studying the silent man, seeing the dark hollows under his eyes that looked bruised against the pallor of Sandburg's skin. "I remembered, Chief. I finally remembered how you came to be with me. In the jungle. You didn't have to do that. You'd died. Your soul was free…but you tethered yourself to me, so that I wouldn't be alone. I'd've gone crazy alone in that jungle for so long. I wouldn't've made it. Wouldn't've have found my way back if I hadn't had you there with me for most of it…if I hadn't had my belief in you, and your promise to bring me back…if I hadn't heard your voice calling me to come back when it was time. I owe you so much…dammit, Chief…I still need you. This world…my senses…I can't do it all on my own. Don't go…not yet. Please don't go."
Hours later, the heart monitor went crazy. Lines of tachycardia and then arrhythmia spiked randomly across the screen, and a nurse came in, to observe and take note. The staff had been told about the experimental use of nanites in this case, so they didn't intervene…simply monitored progress and hoped for more.
Another hour later, the monitor's readings evened out and Jim sagged in relief. The silence was gone, and the painful flutterings and half beats of the past sixty minutes had finally coalesced into the steady beat of life that grounded him.
Two hours later, the brain scan showed activity and lots of it as Sandburg moved closer to consciousness.
Half an hour after that, Blair began to stir restlessly in the bed, soft moans rising from his throat. The blood exchange process was terminated and the respirator was removed as his body took on more responsibility for itself.
Another hour later, the moans had turned to deep groans, and the thrashing had grown so bad that though Jim hated to allow it, they'd had to restrain Sandburg's arms and legs to keep him from flailing wildly.
Jim talked to Sandburg constantly, trying to soothe and reassure his friend, when he wasn't demanding the staff do something about the pain. It wasn't that they hadn't tried. Blair had been given as much of the strongest medication available as often as he could have it…but it wasn't enough to even begin to blunt the agony he was clearly suffering.
Ellison began to hope that Blair wouldn't wake up, not until the nanites had finished their work. But the brain monitor showed that Sandburg was very close to regaining consciousness…no doubt the pain itself was reviving him as it demanded his full attention.
Eight hours after Blair had been brought into ICU from surgery, his eyes blinked and opened. For a moment, his gaze darted frenziedly around the room, finally finding Jim, and his fingers scrabbled, reaching, straining against the restraints until Jim took his hand and held it tight.
"Easy, Chief, I know the pain's bad," Jim murmured. "Ride it out, Blair. Just ride it out."
The blue eyes were dark pools of distress, with barely a glimmer of understanding, but then they widened with conscious awareness of the utter and complete agony, as if something was eating him from the inside, that ripped up through Blair's body, filling his abdomen and chest, a searing flame of unendurable pain.
Blair closed his eyes, and gritted his teeth, panting with it, moaning against it, until it was finally just too damned much to endure. He fought it, he really tried, but finally…he couldn't help it…
And screamed…terrible, hoarse, guttural screams, a desperate keening for mercy from the depths of his soul…
…until his voice gave out. And even then he writhed in horrific pain.
"For God's sake," Ellison yelled at the staff. "You have to give him something to help. Pain like that will kill him!"
But they shook their heads with grim and sorrowful resignation. There was nothing they could do, no magic potion that could mute this agony.
Desperate, frantic, Jim soothed and encouraged, but Blair's eyes pleaded with him. Pleaded with him for help, for some kind of mercy, some respite…
It was terrible, the burning anguish of unendurable agony in those eyes, agony no man could endure and live. And then Jim realized that the nanites wouldn't let Sandburg die…they would just carry on and on, mindlessly repairing a heart that shuddered at the onslaught and shock of their assiduous attentions… repairing over and over…while the pain went on and on…
Until, finally, Jim couldn't take it any more. And he knew Blair couldn't take any more.
And he slugged his best friend, hard. Knocking him unconscious.
Bringing Sandburg some measure of relief.
The nanites worked for thirty-five terrible hours before Blair's body began to relax, the pain gradually diminishing. Finally, it seemed they were done with their internal repairs…
Jim sagged against the chair and Simon wiped his eyes. They, too, were exhausted by what they'd witnessed, helpless to do anything but watch and pray it would soon end.
"Jim, you should go home now, get some rest," Simon advised quietly, his voice still shaky. "He'll be all right now."
But Jim shook his head. Not until Sandburg woke, whole and healthy, not until then would he leave his friend's side.
Sandburg slept for twelve hours, his body utterly exhausted by what it had endured. His mind not yet ready to face reality.
Sandburg blinked and slowly opened his eyes, his focus inward, cautiously testing to see if anything was going to flare up and bite him again. God, he'd never experienced anything like what that had felt like.
And he sincerely hoped he'd never have to experience it again.
Sighing softly, wincing a little at the residual ache in his jaw, he sniffed and let his gaze sweep the room…until his eyes alighted upon one decidedly rumpled Sentinel who was dozing in the chair pulled close to the bed. Blair smiled at the feel of Jim's fingers tightly wound around his own. Even while Jim slept, he kept watch.
"Jim?" he murmured very softly.
Ellison blinked and sat up, instantly alert at the sound he'd been aching to hear for days. Standing, he moved in tight to the bed, his hand rising to stroke Blair's brow. "Hey, you're looking better," he said quietly.
"A LOT better, thanks," Blair replied, smiling wearily. "God, Jim…that was…really, really bad, man."
"Yeah, Chief, I know," Jim replied, his eyes clouded. "I'm sorry…there just wasn't a whole lot of choice."
Blair chuckled at that. "I know the feeling, man, believe me," he reflected, remembering how concerned he'd been about them using the nanites on Jim. Oh, yeah, he knew what had been done, that somehow those little marvels had infested his body. Nothing, but nothing else could ever hurt like that.
Remembering the pain, how it had consumed him, Blair sobered and turned his open gaze to Jim. "Thanks, man, for knocking me out whenever I couldn't take it anymore," he said, utterly sincere.
Jim's jaw tightened and his lips thinned. He only nodded and looked away, unable to comment on being thanked for having used physical force to render his best friend unconscious…not wanting to remember how many times he'd had to do so during those terrible, endless hours.
"I remembered," Jim said then, into the silence as he shifted his gaze back to Sandburg's eyes. "The jungle. You did, too, didn't you?"
Blair nodded, a peaceful smile brightening his face. "Yeah," he murmured. "Explained a lot of things."
Ellison nodded. But he looked preoccupied, puzzled about something.
"What is it, Jim?" Sandburg asked, concern flickering in his eyes.
"I just don't understand how any of it works, Chief," Jim sighed with helpless frustration. "I mean… where's the damned jungle? How do we get to it? Why do we go there? How did you find me? How did you know when to come back? Why didn't my heart just start back up like yours did, just from the work of the nanites? And…and how many times have we done this dance?"
Blair shook his head a little. "As to why you didn't just spontaneously come back to life…I'm not sure, but I think it's 'cause your soul wasn't still with your body. It, you, had begun your journey into the Universe, but…you got stopped, caught partway, when they didn't let you die but cryogenated you. So you got caught in a netherworld, a waiting place…I don't know, maybe it's a place that has something to do with your being a Sentinel. But, a body can't live without its soul, Jim. It's just a vessel, not the whole being. At the point of resuscitation, you had to choose to return. As to the rest? I don't have any answers, man… but I have a theory…" he offered a little hesitantly.
Despite himself, Ellison grinned. Sandburg always had one hair-brained theory or another. The odd thing was how often he was right. "So what's your theory, Einstein?" he encouraged indulgently.
"Well, early in this century, one of the space probes sent back data that revealed some pretty weird stuff about our universe, Jim. It seems that only 4% of it is made of matter as we know it. All the stars, and worlds, space dust, every atom in each grain of sand, or drop of water, every tear, every drop of blood, everything…only 4%. The rest is a combination of dark energy and dark matter that doesn't conform to any of our physical laws, like inertia, or gravity…so the universe is constantly expanding, and will go on expanding forever, giving us an infinite opportunity to learn, to grow."
"And this relates to the jungle, and to us, exactly how?" Jim asked, not seeing the connection.
"It's the dark stuff, Jim…I think," Blair replied, then paused for a long moment, wondering if it didn't all sound crazy. But at the curious tilt to Jim's head, and the question in his partner's eyes, he continued, "In chaos theory, again a hundred years ago, it was observed that subatomic particles, the smallest bits of matter, operate randomly, moving in and out of reality, even. Moving back and forth through time, to the future or past, as if the natural laws don't govern them either…but they still always form the right pattern, like of a leaf, for example. At the particle level, everything is connected, I think, to that dark stuff that also doesn't conform to our physical laws…we are connected to it. Jim…I think all that dark stuff is what we think, what every culture has ever thought, of as a God, or the Creator, or whatever name we give it. I think it's a force of unconditional love that is intelligent, aware…that knows. It's where our souls go, when they go home. And…and when we're open to it, I think that force helps us, aligns reality to…to enable us to do things that need to be done. Good things, Jim. Actions based on love. To help other people. To make things better."
Jim's brows had quirked and his eyes had narrowed as he struggled with those ideas. "Maybe…who knows?" he murmured. It was as good a theory as any other.
Blair looked away, as he continued, "I have to wonder though…I mean, I died back then…but I'm here now. Am I me, or am I him?" He looked up at Jim, his eyes troubled, confused.
Jim smiled then, glad of a question he knew the answer to. "You're who I've always known you are," he said quietly.
Blair gave him a puzzled look, not understanding.
"You're my Guide, my partner and my best friend, Chief. You're you."
Sandburg chuckled at that. Trust Jim not to over-analyse things. Nodding, he grinned as he replied, "Yeah, I guess you're right. And you, my brother, you are my Sentinel."
"Chief, do you think these nanites will ever wear out?" Jim asked as he cast his line into the clear mountain lake.
"Ask the Universe, Jim," Blair replied with a grin. "I sure as hell haven't a clue!"
Simon, who'd had his own encounter with the nanites back in 2081 courtesy of the intrepid duo who had insisted that he be saved when he would otherwise have died from an assassin's bullet, just snorted and shook his head. "Haven't you two jokers learned by now that if you don't keep quiet, you'll scare off all the fish?"
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