Summary: Push everything time-wise back fifteen years. Y2K actually happened. Although civilization didn't crumble on New Year's Eve, the infections in the various systems slowly caused the complete disintegration of all vital systems. Humankind, faced without the technology it had become so dependent upon, didn't fare so well, but might have recovered if it hadn't have been for a series of natural disasters which caused widespread death and destruction. Most of Cascade buildings have been reduced to rubble. While there are pockets of survivors, there are two basic super powers trying to gain control of the city: the Sunrise Patriots (a militia group who had predicted and prepared for the effects of Y2k) and the PDs (comprised of the surviving members of the Cascade police and fire departments).
Disclaimers: Jim and Blair belong to me. You see, I'm in possession of some rather embarrassing photographs of Paramount's and Petfly's top executives. No, honestly. What do you mean you want to see them? *sigh* Okay. Okay. Truth be told, the negatives got lost at Walmart. So, I guess for legal reasons, I'll say that they don't actually belong to me. No point in suing me as I am a single mother of a 19 year old boy and a 13 year old, black mean cat named Panther (my cat can take any dog, no matter what size, any day of the week, with one paw tied behind his back). If faced with fines, you have your choice as to which one you want to take.
The night sky was cloudless for a change and those below marveled at the beauty of the heavens. A warm breeze blew through the encampment of the PDs causing the small bonfire to flicker and dance as those surrounding it sat lost in thought and camaraderie.
"What makes you think Kincaid's going after the Professors?" Simon Banks asked as he sat down next to his best friend and reconnaissance man, Jim Ellison.
"His men seem to be searching for something in the ruins of the old University. At first I thought they might be scavenging, but they're testing walls and dropping into the sewers as if they're looking for a tunnel entrance in the debris."
"I thought all the Professors were dead," Henri Brown said flippantly, leaning back against a Humvee.
Jim rubbed an open palm over his tired face. "I think that's what they'd like everyone to believe. After all, most people don't waste their time trying to hunt something that's already extinct."
"So why is Kincaid?" Simon asked, shaking his head.
"He has to be looking for an advantage," Rafe said quietly, taking a sip from his partner's offered mug of coffee as he joined the group. "Word is that the Patriots are tired of the stand off. They want control of Cascade and they want it now. And since we're the only thing standing in their way, we need to be eliminated."
Joel Taggert laughed without much mirth. "Ahhh, the love we engender."
"Why would finding the Professors give them an edge?" Henri asked, not amused by the possibility that their enemy could begin an all out offensive. "I thought the Professors were suppose to be pacifists."
"They are, but they're also the guardians of the old knowledge." Rafe sighed. "You know they have to have books on chemistry, engineering, history, strategy; everything a madman needs in his quest to take over the world."
"You don't really believe that old myth, do you?" Henri teased his partner.
"Yes, I do, H. The Professors at Rainer weren't stupid. They simply had nowhere else to go when everything began to fall apart. They had to know that the only way they could survive would be to exchange their knowledge for whatever they needed. While everyone else was stocking up rations and ammunition, they were out gathering all the books, manuals, and disks," Rafe said in a tone of admiration.
"You don't believe that, do you, Jim?"
"Actually, H, I do. I've seen one of them," the scout admitted.
"What?" the group yelled in one surprised voice.
Simon raised his hand to stop the flood of questions and looked pointedly at his friend.
"Word out in the ruins is that one of the Professors has been seriously ill for quite some time. They've been sending a young man to Maura, who trades children's books for medicine," Jim explained.
Maura was a young Irish woman with a natural knack for healing. It was said if Maura couldn't find a cure, you were as good as dead. Everyone, no matter who you were aligned with, sought her out when things got bad as she was neutral territory. More than once the Sunrise Patriots had tried to capture her, but she always seemed to vanish when danger was nearby. Maura's one soft spot was for children and Jim had heard several children talking about the prospect of getting new books.
"Does she know how to contact him?" Joel pressed.
Simon sighed. "Even if she did, she'd never tell us."
"But how are we going to warn them?" Rafe asked in concern. "We can't just let Kincaid's men find them. Lord knows what he'd do to them."
"I think I have an idea where to look, but it's nowhere near the campus," Jim said quietly.
"You followed him home?" Simon asked hopefully.
"I tried, but he gave me the slip," Jim admitted reluctantly.
"He gave you the slip?" Henri asked incredulously. "Oh man, some little nerdy professor gave you the slip?"
"That'll be enough, Brown," Simon said shortly, cutting short the teasing he knew Jim would be receiving for that admission.
"I have a idea of where I lost him. I'd like another chance to reconnoiter the area, sir."
"Do you need backup?" Simon asked, aware that his friend was sometimes subject to spells almost epileptic in nature.
"No, sir, I don't think that'll be necessary. But if Kincaid and his men have enough time to spare trying to find the Professors to aid them in an all-out offensive, I think we need to strengthen our position and maybe test their walls a bit."
Joel grinned, playfully punching the scout in the arm. "I like how you think, Jim."
"All right, but be careful," Simon said sternly, looking as if he were trying to reinforce his message.
Jim stood. "I will, sir." With that, he slipped silently into the darkness that surrounded them.
Jim stood panting in pain as he pressed his back against the brick wall of an old grocery store. Somehow, he was sure Simon would consider getting shot as not being careful. He had been so focused on finding the trail of the young man he had seen earlier in the day that he didn't hear Kincaid's men until they were practically on top of him. He had been successful in his initial counter-attack, believing he had left both of them stunned; however, the bullet burning through his side would seem to negate that thought.
He listened to their taunting insults as they searched the debris and rubble for him. They knew he was cut off from his forces and he knew it was only a matter of time before he'd passed out from the blood loss and pain.
A soft hand covered his mouth and he whirled about, slamming his attacker into the wall. Although he could normally see in the dark as well as he could in the light, a dense fog had rolled off the ocean and he was having trouble focusing as his body struggled to stay conscious. A masculine grunt issued from the stranger, but the hand did not leave his lips.
"I'm a friend," the man hissed quietly when Jim pressed him harder against the wall. "You're hurt and we need to get out of here before you pass out."
"Why should I trust you?" Jim growled softly, not releasing his hold.
"Because I could have left you here to face Kincaid's men alone," came the quiet reply.
"Are you a Professor?"
For the first time, the heartbeat of the man in front of him accelerated. "No," the voice lied. "Just a concerned citizen. The Professors are just a myth, man."
Jim started to protest, but a wave of dizziness caught him by surprise and he released the man in front of him.
"Last chance. Come with me and live. Stay and die," the voice said quietly as if moving away from him.
"Please," Jim said simply and immediately felt strong arms wrap around his waist before the darkness descended.
Jim's first conscious thought was that he was warm; not just warm, but downright toasty. He opened his eyes and shook his head slightly as the myriad of shapes and colors slowly solidified into a wall of books. Every square inch of every wall seemed to be jammed packed with texts and manuals of every shape, color and size. There were also dozens of precariously stacked piles of books on the floor.
He tried to turn slightly to get a better look at the room, but found he was pressed beneath several thick comforters. Memories slowly seeped back into his consciousness as his hand traveled down his side to his wound. He was surprised to find it had been bandaged in a very professional manner.
"Ah, you're awake," a young man with long, curly brown hair said as he entered the room carrying a tray laden with a big bowl of vegetable soup and a huge slab of bread. "How are you feeling?" The man laid the tray down on a table beside the bed. "Do you think you feel well enough to sit up, big guy?" he asked, keeping up his running monologue as he fluffed and stacked pillows behind Jim.
"How long?" Jim croaked, his throat parched.
The young man immediately held a glass of water with a bendable straw up to Jim's lips. "Easy now," he coaxed in a soothing voice. After Jim was done, he set the glass down and sat gently on the bed beside him. "You've been out for four days. I had a hard time bringing your fever down, but Mau... but once I got the antibiotics down your throat, I saw a dramatic improvement."
"Know you're okay."
"No, I was on my own, they..."
"Shh," the young man shushed. "I sent a message to your captain. He knows you're wounded, but recovering. I told him you'd be returning as soon as you recovered your strength."
"Who are you?" Jim demanded.
"My name is Blair Sandburg. And you're Jim Ellison, a scout for the PDs."
"How do you know that?" Jim growled irritably.
"Because I'm an observer, man. That's what I was trained to be or what I was going to be." The young man sighed. Then pushing the sadness aside, he turned and set the tray of food on Jim's lap. "Here, you gotta be starved. Let's get something warm inside of you." He smiled encouragingly as he handed the scout a soup spoon.
Jim appreciated the fact the young man didn't insist on spoon feeding him. His companion watched quietly as he brought the spoon shakily to his lips. "This is good, Professor."
Blair jumped off the bed as if he'd been burned. "Why did you call me that?"
Jim decided to try a casual approach and took another sip of soup, "You remind me of a professor I had in college."
"Oh yeah?" the young man challenged. "What subject did he teach?"
Blair froze and repeated the word in an almost silent reverie. Looking up at the scout with wide blue eyes, he asked, "Do you remember his name?"
"Stanford... Stamform... no, it was Stoddard. Professor Stoddard."
"That's the one. He was like what? A hundred years old?"
"Probably more like fifty."
"Well he seemed ancient to me at the time, but I liked listening to the tales he told. Did you ever take a class from him?"
"He used to make me laugh."
Blair sat gently on the bed again and smiled. "Me too. The first time I took a class from him, I was convinced he was making up half of his lectures."
"What changed your mind?"
"He took me to New Guinea when I was sixteen and to Brazil when I was eighteen," Blair said quietly as he looked past Jim, lost in a memory.
"No, he didn't survive the Fall."
"I'm sorry," Jim said quietly.
"Yeah, so am I."
"You've got quite a little set up here, Chief," Jim observed as he took another spoonful of soup. "Have you read any of these?"
"Most of them actually," the young observer said with a smile. Then shrugging, added, "I get bored easily."
Jim took another sip, unsure how to proceed, when the young man asked suddenly, "Why were you looking for the Professors?"
"The Sunrise Patriots are starting an all out offensive to find them. We think they want to use their knowledge to break the stalemate and gain power over Cascade," Jim said honestly.
"It's not necessary for me to actually talk to them. I just wanted to get a message to them to be careful. It might be best for them to lay low for a bit. I wouldn't want one of them to get caught out in the open."
"And what do you want from the Professors?" Blair asked intently.
"Man, everyone wants something."
"Believe it or not, Darwin, I want nothing from the Professors, other than their not getting caught. Because if one of them gets caught, then we have to do a full out search and rescue which will probably end up with us confronting Kincaid in his own compound which is not something I'm particularly looking forward to doing," Jim grinned as he picked up the bowl and drank the rest of the soup. "That really hit the spot," he added sleepily, surprised at how quickly his strength seemed to drain from him.
"Go ahead and get some sleep," Blair whispered as he took the tray off Jim's lap and helped him slide back down the bed. "I need to take care of a few things, so go ahead and rest."
Jim simply nodded as he slipped into Morpheus' realm.
Simon Banks stood outside the ruins of the old police building, reminiscing about times before the Fall. He had been a captain in the Major Crimes Department, a leader of men who were known for honesty and integrity. While Cascade was not Los Angeles, it had been a fairly bustling metropolis. Simon had always contended it was also the most dangerous city in America. It must have had something to do with the rain. If people didn't get enough sunlight, they slowly went mad, which is what so many had done when faced with a world slowly falling apart.
It hadn't happened all at once. In fact, he wasn't sure if he could precisely pinpoint when it had all gone to hell in a handbasket. He and his men had tried desperately to keep some semblance of order while the world crumbled around them. Had he not been able to save Daryl, he had no doubt he would have slowly slipped into madness like so many others had. He wondered briefly why he even bothered to keep the peace, but mentally slapped himself. He knew there was more to Cascade than just the PDs or the Patriots. There were small enclaves of people trying to survive as best as they could and as long as he and his men were able, they had sworn to protect them.
"He woke up a little while ago and ate some soup," a quiet voice said from the shadows. Simon knew better than to try and find the skittish Professor, so simply stood his ground.
"Do you think he'll make a full recovery?"
"Yes. I'll be sending him home as soon as he starts getting cranky."
Simon laughed, surprised by the man's humor and the insight into Jim's character.
"He says you want nothing from the Professors," the voice challenged quietly.
"Just to know they're safe," Simon amended.
"Why don't you want anything from them?"
"Don't get me wrong, son," Simon said quietly. "I would love to have an open pipeline to the knowledge they protect, but I'm not willing to threaten them or hurt them in order to have it."
"You are a most unusual group."
"Thank you, I think," Simon smiled.
"I will contact you the day after tomorrow to let you know his progress," the shadow said quietly.
"Wait," Simon called out, knowing the young man was already slipping into the darkness.
"Sandburg. Blair Sandburg."
"Be careful, Blair."
"I always am, Simon. I always am."
"NO! ABSOLUTELY NOT!!"
"There's no need to shout, Thomas," Jack Kelso said quietly from the corner.
"But he's suggesting we just open our doors to the PDs," Thomas protested.
"That's not what I suggested at all," Blair said quietly. "I simply suggested we observe the PDs to see if what they say is true. We already know they haven't tried to absorb the smaller enclaves. Their main purpose has always been to ward the Patriots off. Remember, they used to be cops. We could use an alliance with a stronger force. While I doubt the Patriots could ever find us, it is possible that one of us could be captured upworld and what would we do about it? Mount an offensive?"
"Blair has a point," Jack said, wheeling his chair to the center of the room. "While we have several alliances with individuals, such as Maura and Mr. Chen, it wouldn't hurt to be aligned with one of the superpowers, if you will."
"But can we trust them?" Chris Nguyen asked quietly as she pulled her sweater tighter around her.
"No," Blair answered quietly, shocking everyone in the room into silence. "The reason we've survived is because we trust no one, giving no one the power to hurt us. What I'm suggesting is that I observe them for a length of time. If they seem to be what they claim, we simply begin an exchange of information and trade. That's it. No one will ever have access to the Libraries, but us. Agreed?"
Blair looked around the room at all the nodding heads.
"What about the scout?" Jack asked quietly.
"Once he's healthy, I'll go with him and observe the PDs then give you my report."
"Be very careful Blair."
"I have to be, Jack. There's simply too much at stake."
"Are you okay?" Jim asked the young man as he entered the room with another tray, laden with a bagel and chicken noodle soup.
"Isn't that my line?" Blair laughed as he sat the tray next to the scout's bed.
"I smell... blood," Jim said quietly as he snagged one of the professor's hands, quickly finding the small cut.
"I nicked it about ten minutes ago while cutting the bagel," Blair explained as he gently removed his hand and helped his patient into an upright position. "No blood in the bread. I promise."
"I appreciate that."
"How are you feeling today?" Blair asked as he set the tray on Jim's lap.
"Stronger. You did a good job with dressing the wound, Chief."
"What's up, Sandburg?"
"What do you mean, what's up?" the young man countered as he got up and began to pace.
Jim dunked a bit of his bagel into his soup. "Your heart is beating like you've just run a marathon. My guess is you've got something you want to talk to me about, but aren't sure how to approach it. I'm all for just blurting it out?"
"What did you say?"
"I said I'm all for just blurting it out?"
"No before that."
"That you look like you wanted to talk about something?
"Jim, did you just say you heard my heart beating?"
Blair watched carefully as the older man's face paled and began dunking his bagel in earnest into the soup. "It's just a metaphor, Chief. Don't get all excited about it. What did you want to ask?"
Blair continued to stare at him for a moment then shook his head as if trying to clear his thoughts. "The PDs claim to want nothing from the Professors."
"I've been authorized to tell you that the Professors don't believe them."
"I can't say I blame them?"
"Not at all, Chief. It got pretty ugly after the Fall. Betraying your friends to gain position and power in the new world was not uncommon. Those of us who have survived have done so by taking our time to evaluate our surroundings. The Professors haven't survived as long as they have by taking people at face value."
"What? Open minded?"
Jim laughed. "Sandburg, the PDs were cops before the world turned upside down. We had taken an oath to serve and protect. I was a detective in Major Crimes. When the fall came, we tried to maintain order. I'd like to think we succeed in some small ways. We're basically the same people we've always been. We can't stop being cops just because there's no legal process anymore. And I, for one, can't live under Kincaid's tyrannical regime, so we had no choice but to oppose him. However, we are not asking the Professors to align with us. Don't get me wrong, we'd love for them to do so, but if we were to take away their freedom we wouldn't be any better than Kincaid or the Patriots."
"So you understand their reluctance?"
"Haven't I just said as much?"
"Would the PDs be willing to allow... an ambassador, for lack of a better word... into their midst?"
"You got anyone in mind?"
"And just who do you want to observe?"
"Me?" Jim asked startled, the spoon stopping halfway to his lips. "Why me?"
"Well, the ancient Chinese believed that once a man saved the life of another, he was forever destined to be his Blessed Protector. I figure you get in trouble a lot and I should probably stick close by to pull your fat out of the fire from time to time."
Jim burst out laughing.
"Oh ye of little faith," Blair smiled, although Jim could see the bruised feelings behind the bright blue eyes.
"I'm sorry, Chief, that was uncalled for, especially considering the circumstances," he said as he waved one hand around the bed to indicate his position.
"So you'll do it?"
"I usually work alone."
"I won't get in the way."
"You'll do what you're told, when you're told."
"Yeah, sure," the young man bounced.
Jim shook his head. He must be crazy. "All right," he sighed.
"Yes!" Blair pumped his fist once into the air, grinning.
"So when do we leave, Professor?" Jim asked, taking a another bite out of his bagel.
"Oh, there's no rush. We'll wait until you've recovered."
"Sandburg, if I have to stay in this bed one more day, I'll go insane," Jim sighed.
"Then how about a little stroll?" Blair grinned at him.
"You mean it? You aren't afraid I'll see anything I shouldn't?"
"Jim, let me be frank. I've known the Professors for a long time and they do not live in a single enclave. If, for some reason, they were discovered, the loss would be devastating."
"A putting all your eggs in one basket sort of thing?"
"Exactly. They do have areas where they meet, to act as a community, but they all live separately. In fact, most of them don't know exactly where the others live. It's better that way."
"So if you're, I mean, they're captured, they can't be tortured to reveal the others' positions."
"But how do you communicate with them? How do they know if someone needs help or if they have a breach somewhere?"
"They have several systems in place," Blair answered being slightly evasive.
"I'm impressed, Chief."
"That some nerdy college kids could come up with a solution like that?" Blair challenged gently.
"I hate to say it, but yes."
"Well, at least that's honest," Blair grinned, seeing the humor in the situation. "So, you feel up for a little stroll?" he asked as he took the tray from the scout and put it on the table beside the bed.
"Do ducks have lips?" Jim laughed, ignoring the confused expression on his friend's face.
"Jim, come back to me. Focus on my voice. Follow it back. Come on, you can do it," a warm voice penetrated the darkness surrounding his thoughts as he realized someone was rubbing his back. Blinking, he shook his head and focused on the young man in front of him. "Welcome back, man."
"You zoned looking at the waterfall," Blair said in a calm voice, although his whole body screamed with excitement.
"What are you talking about, Professor?"
"Jim, were you or were you not tracking me the night you were shot?"
"What? What does that have to do with anything?" the scout shouted as he stepped back away from his friend.
"Just answer the question," Blair said in a voice that brokered no resistance.
"Yes, I was. But it's not what you think, Sandburg. We were trying to get word to you about the Patriots and no one was even positive that the Professors existed. I was just following up on a hunch. I never would have..."
Blair held his hand up cutting off Jim's explanation. "You were doing it at night, man."
"And just a half hour ago you told me you smelled blood."
"And yesterday you told me that my heart was beating fast, like I had run a marathon."
"What's your point, Sandburg?"
"My guess is that you also have a heightened sense of taste and touch."
Jim's eyes widened in panic and Blair briefly wondered if it was a good idea to back the warrior into a mental corner. With some relief, he noted the defensive, but arrogant, stance the man in front of him slowly relaxed into.
"And occasionally, you zone, right? This isn't the first time this has happened, is it? You zoned the night you were shot, didn't you?"
"So what if I did? What's it to you, Professor?" Jim growled as he watched the observer bounce on his toes.
"You're a sentinel, man?"
Blair grabbed Jim's hand as he turned back into the underground maze which lead towards his rooms. "Back in pre-civilized cultures, there was occasionally born to a tribe a man or woman who had heightened senses. They often acted as sentinels or guardians for their tribes, warning them of danger. They were like a one man organic surveillance team and often roamed the borders looking for sneak attacks, changes in weather, natural disasters and the like."
As they entered the rooms, Blair gently pushed Jim onto the bed, then turned and reverently took a large, fragile-looking, book from the shelves. "Sir Richard Burton, the explorer, not the actor," he grinned as he opened the book to show Jim a black and white picture of a noble South American tribesman, "wrote this monograph on the Sentinels of Paraguay."
"What are you getting at, Chief?"
"Have you always had hyperactive senses?"
"I... no... I..."
"Had you experienced a prolonged isolation before your senses came online?"
"I was trapped in a basement for two days when the Switchman was going crazy blowing up buildings."
"And have you ever experienced heightened senses before that?"
"In Peru. I was in the military, counter-insurgence. Our helicopter was shot down. I..."
"I remember now!" Blair said as he forced himself to close the book in his hands gently and set it on the table beside the bed. "I read the article in Newsweek. So you had these senses since Peru?"
"I thought I was going crazy. The doctors couldn't find anything wrong with me, I..."
"You repressed them until the isolation?"
"Yes, but I can't control them."
"Would you like to learn?"
"No. I don't want this. I want to be how I was. I don't want to be a freak."
"Jim," Blair shouted as he surged forward and grasped the sentinel's shoulders. "You aren't a freak."
"I don't want them, Chief."
"Even if means you could save lives?"
"What are you talking about?"
"Think about it, Jim. You can see farther, hear more, smell with greater accuracy than anyone else. Who better to be the first warning system for the survivors of Cascade against Kincaid and the Patriots? Didn't you tell me you couldn't live under his regime?"
"Yes," came the quiet reply. "But as you said earlier, what's in this for you, Sandburg?"
Blair blushed slightly and offered up a small smile. "Fulfillment of a dream."
"Before the Fall, I was a doctoral candidate at Rainier. I was an anthropologist teaching fellow..."
"My field of study was sentinels."
"There are, or should I say, were, hundreds of cases of people with one or two heightened senses. For instance, 'noses' at perfume companies or 'tasters' at wineries. But for all the research I did, I never found anyone with all five heightened senses. You would have been my holy grail, man."
Jim smiled at the young man sitting beside him wondering what it would be like to find your life's dreams, but a heartbeat too late. "So you think you can help me control my senses?"
"I'd like to try."
"And in the meantime, observe the PDs to make sure they really don't mean any harm to the Professors."
"I think that can be arranged. But for the moment, I'd like to keep the Sentinel thing just between the two of us."
"Welcome to the PDs, Chief. I sense this is going to be the start of a long friendship."
Blair groaned at the pun and Jim smiled wickedly.
"So Blessed Protector, what do we do next?"
"Well, I have some ideas for a few tests..."
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