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, w