Insert the standard disclaimer here. I don't own the characters Jim, Blair or Simon. They belong to PetFly and UPN. I'm just borrowing them for awhile. Please don't sue me cause I don't have the money to pay you. Anyway, this is my first fanfic and all feedback is welcome. The character Shakari is mine however and if you want to use her please have the courtesy to ask me first. Thanks to Tonya for betareading this story for me. Trust me, without her you wouldn't be seeing this story right now. Also thanks to all those that I sent some of this story to earlier. Their encouragement is also the reason you're seeing this right now.
McKinley Enterprises, 4:00 am
Four more hours and then I can leave. I can make it. Just a couple more... Richard Simmons thoughts trailed off as he vainly tried to stifle a yawn. He moved the flashlight around, taking note of the office. Finding everything in order as usual, he then moved on. He thought about the last week. Hell week was more like it. His 2-year-old had had an ear infection so when his wife went to work during the day, instead of sleeping he had to take care of little Josh. Four days without any real sleep. But today was his last day, then a beautiful three week vacation.
Richard made his way to the tenth floor, halfway through the hourly rounds. He glanced at the window, thinking about the trip to Florida the family was going to take in a week, when he saw a shadow flash past the window. What the..? Quickly, he got out the radio.
"This is Richard on the tenth floor. Suspicious activity up here. I'm going to check it out."
"This is homebase. Rick is it something serious? Should I call the police?" asked his fellow security guard.
Turning it over in his head, he clicked on the radio, "Nah. Probably nothing. I'll report back in about 5 minutes, okay, Harry?"
"Yeah. Homebase out."
Quickly, Richard walked in the direction that he had seen the shadow heading. Suddenly, he heard a noise, like when you scrape chalk across a board or like cutting glass...The adrenaline started pumping as he pulled out his gun and walked slowly towards the office where he had heard the noise. Listening at the door, he heard nothing unusual but he knew something was wrong. Taking a deep breath, he threw open the door and shouted, "Freeze!" Except there was no one there. All Rick could see was a big hole in the window letting in the night air.
"What the..?" he asked, lowering his gun.
There was no way out of the office than through the doorway he was standing in and nobody had gone past him. He stepped into the office when he heard it. An unearthly sound like an enraged animal and he felt something slam down on him from above. The last thing that Richard Simmons felt was a searing pain in his chest and the world faded into blackness as his heart was ripped out.
Jim's loft 6:00 am
What the....was the first coherent thought that went through James Ellison's head as he wondered what had snapped him out of the best sleep that he had had in weeks. Vaguely, he remembered hearing a ringing sound in his dream but that wasn't right. Then he heard the phone.
Oh God no, he thought. Today was supposed to be a day off. And for once Blair was obeying the house rules. No loud music at this time in the morning. Blair knew that Jim had been tired and was trying to accommodate him. Now, his heightened senses picked up his Guide moving around the living room, rushing to get the phone.
"Hello?" asked a sleepy Blair. Jim buried his head in the pillow, hoping beyond hope that it wasn't for him.
"Simon. Yeah. But it's his day....Okay, I'll get him. He's probably up anyway."
Jim groaned into the pillow. Maybe I can fake sleep. Maybe Blair would fall for it and Simon would leave him alone. But then his damned sense of duty and responsibility hit and he knew that Simon wouldn't have called this early in the morning if it wasn't important. Resigned to his fate, Jim was already sitting on the edge of the bed, his hand extended when Blair arrived with the cell phone.
"Sorry man," Blair whispered before going back downstairs.
"Jim. Look I'm sorry about this but something's happened. There's been a homicide at the McKinley building."
"Around 4 this morning. Jim..." Simon had to pause to compose himself. "This is the worst thing that I've ever seen. I think you'd better leave Sandburg home. He definitely can't handle this. Hell, I don't know if I can handle this."
"Alright sir. I'll be there in about twenty minutes."
Quickly Jim got dressed and headed downstairs to find Blair sitting on the couch ready to go.
"Chief, I think you'd better sit this one out."
"Jim, don't start with that crap, okay! Looking at dead bodies isn't exactly the number one thing on my things I love doing list but you need me." As he was speaking, Blair stood in front of Jim and fixed him with that determined look.
Inwardly, Jim sighed. He tried to think of a way to get Sandburg to stay in the loft but he knew that nothing would work. He knew Blair didn't like these things but Blair always put aside his personal fears for Jim's sake and he respected that. Besides, he did need him.
"Alright, Chief. But you're not going to see the body okay? Simon said it's bad."
"Hey, Jim you make the rules man. Deal."
Crime scene 6:30am
In the elevator, Blair noticed that Jim started to look a little pale. Jim's eyes took on a glazed look and he tried not to inhale too deeply.
"Jim?? Jim, man what's wrong?" Blair gently touched the detective's arm.
"Blair. God....The smell. Can't you smell it?" Jim gasped.
"Blood. So much blood." Jim closed his eyes and leaned on Blair for support.
Uh oh. This is not good. We're only on the 4th floor and he's already smelling the blood. Sensory overload at this distance? God, maybe I should have stayed in the truck. Pushing the thoughts aside, Blair went into full Guide mode.
"Alright, Jim, you know the drill. Listen to the sound of my voice. There's only my voice. Nothing else exists. Picture the dial. Now reach out in your mind and turn the dial down. Eliminate the smell. It's not there."
Instantly, Jim's breathing pattern changed in response to his Guide's instructions and he began to breathe normally again. By the time that the elevator doors opened, he looked relatively normal.
"Oh my God. Jim..." Blair paled instantly at the sight before them.
At first, Jim couldn't hear Blair as he had a mini zone-out on the sheer brutality of what they were seeing. Then, his senses picked up his Guide's racing heartbeat, the movement of the food in his stomach on the way up his throat. Quickly, he guided Blair to the nearest garbage can where the anthropologist promptly threw up.
"Easy, Chief, easy." Jim gently massaged Blair's back as he bent over the can.
Blair barely heard him. At that point he couldn't get the images out of his mind. Just as soon as he thought that every thing had been brought up, the dry heaves started. He was trying to take a breath. But he couldn't. His head started to pound and his heart was racing. Jim...
"Come on, Blair. Slow deep breaths. Yeah that's it. Nice and easy."
After a couple of minutes, Blair straightened up, shaking and studiously avoiding Jim's gaze.
"Jim. I'm sorry but I can't I just...." Blair gasped.
"It's okay, Chief. Hold on a minute." Jim noticed Joel walking towards them, looking rather pale. "Joel, can you...?"
"Sure, Jim. Come on, Blair. Let's get you cleaned up." Joel gently grasped Blair's shoulder and guided him out the door.
Sighing, Jim turned around and walked towards the office, gingerly stepping around the hand that was lying in a pool of blood near the door. Inside, it was much worse. Jim had to suppress the urge to throw up himself. Simon was standing near the door and he looked up when he saw Jim enter the office.
"Sir. God, I knew you said that it was bad but... I mean I've seen some things when I was in covert ops but nothing like this."
"I know. I saw what happened out there with Sandburg. I thought I told you to leave him at the loft."
"You know him, Simon." Jim shook his head at the memory of his partner nearly fainting when he saw the homicide. Shaking himself out of his reverie, he asked, "Is there a murder weapon?"
"Not yet. Jim, this homicide makes no sense at all. Come over here. First thing, this hole in the window. Forensics says it's jagged. Not the sort of hole that would be made by a glass cutter."
Jim, using his Sentinel enhanced vision and touch, examined the hole.
"I see. There's no continuous cut, Simon. It's like when you're cutting something with a pair of scissors."
"There's more. Look at the roof."
"What the...?" Jim saw holes in the ceiling. Four sets of five holes each, arranged in a rectangle, with about 3 feet on the short side and 9 feet on the other.
"Forensics has no clue either. The holes are clean, probably made by some tool but why they're there nobody knows. And back to the question of a murder weapon, look the way the body parts are scattered and how he was dismembered, God it looks like he was torn apart, Jim." Simon took off his glasses and closed his eyes, wishing fervently for a cigar at that point.
"That's impossible, sir. You can't tear a human being apart unless you're an animal or something! Are they trying to say that an animal did this?" asked Jim.
"It's just a preliminary report, Jim. Something weird is going on here and I don't like this sort of thing in my city." They stood together as the coroner finished collecting the pieces of the body and left the two of them alone in the office.
Quietly, Simon asked, "Do you sense anything?"
"Can't tell. I need Blair to help me. Right now I've got the input way down just to prevent an overload. Wait a minute. Do you have spare headsets in your car? That's the only way he can help me without coming in here himself."
"Yeah, I think so. I'll set it up. Hold on for a few minutes." Simon strode out of the office. Walking quickly, he found Blair sitting on the ground outside the bathroom with his head between his knees, breathing deeply. Joel was standing beside him and he looked up when he saw Simon coming towards them.
"Sandburg? Sandburg you'd better come with me. The fresh air will do you good." Simon offered a hand up.
Slowly, Blair looked up. Not saying anything, he got up with Simon's help.
"Taggert. Go back to the station and tell Forensics that I want that report ASAP."
"Got it, sir. Take it easy Hairboy." Joel replied.
As soon as he was out of earshot, Simon turned to Blair and said, "Sandburg. Jim needs your help to tune in or what ever he does with those senses of his. Don't worry, you don't have to go back in there. I have some headsets in my car. We'll use those."
Blair's face began to get back some of it's color and with a nod, he said "Well what are we waiting for man? Let's go."
Simon watched him walking towards the elevator. He shook his head in admiration. Whenever, Jim was involved, Sandburg was willing to go through hell and back. His own concerns and well being didn't matter. He would never get this Sentinel-Guide thing at all.
From Simon's car, Blair was trying desperately not to think about what he had seen up there. He had seen plenty of horror movies in his life and none of them came close to showing the brutality of what had happened that night. Hollywood verses real life, he thought. Shuddering slightly, he hugged himself. Come on, Blair. Pull yourself together. I've got to help Jim find any additional evidence.
When Simon returned with the other headset, Jim asked, "Sir, were there any witnesses?"
"One. The other guard. His name is Harry Marshall. He didn't see what happened but he called in the murder. Jim, don't even think about interrogating him now. The 911 call wasn't even coherent. If we hadn't traced the call, we probably couldn't have responded. Jim, he's messed up man. Mentally, I mean. Right now he's at Cascade General under a heavy dose of tranquilizers. The doctor's don't even know if he'll recover or not."
"God." Putting on the headset, he spoke into the microphone, "Chief, can you hear me?"
"Yeah, Jim. Loud and clear," Blair said quietly.
"Chief are you okay? Can you do this? I can try it on my own you..."
"No, Jim. I'm not okay. What I saw will probably give me nightmares for the rest of my life. And no, you can't do this alone. Even in the elevator you were smelling the blood. I need to talk you through this. Let's just hurry it up and then I can go home, okay?"
Sighing, Jim replied, "Alright, Chief it's your call."
"Good. Now what do we have?" Blair asked.
"Well, there's a roughly circular hole in the window. About 6 feet high. I felt it already and it was rough, Chief. I don't think it was made with a glass cutter."
"Okay, good. I think the most important thing to do now is focus your sense of smell. With the amount of ... blood there I don't think your sight is going to do much good at this point. Now turn up the dial and breathe deeply like how I taught you." Blair could hear Jim's change in breathing patterns over the headset. "Good, Jim, that's good. Now isolate the blood. Remove it. Now what's left?"
With his eyes closed, Jim began to pick out other smells, "Trees, tires, birds..."
"No, Jim. That's outside. They're coming through the hole in the window. Remove those too. You've already subconsciously registered the scents around the building. Concentrate only on the office."
The Sentinel listened to the soothing voice of his Guide. Automatically he rejected the scents that he didn't want, using his memory to identify what he had unconsciously picked up outside the building. He could smell Simon's cologne, the smell of cigar's, the furniture and something else. Like nothing that he had ever smelt before. What was that? Trying to identify it, he opened his sense of smell as far as he could.
Blair heard Jim stop breathing and knew immediately that Jim was starting to zone-out. "Jim. You're going too deep. Bring yourself out of it. Turn the dial down. It's time to let it go, Jim."
With a gasp, the Sentinel came back to the real world, opening his eyes to the concerned gaze of his captain. "It's alright, Simon."
"Jim, what was it?" Blair asked.
"I...I don't know. It was...God, I don't even know if I can explain it. I could smell the people that had been in this room. But there was this one underlying scent. Not too old but very faint. It was like..." Jim paused.
"Like what Jim?" What the hell's going on here, Blair thought. What was it that could have Jim this...spooked?
"I don't even know myself but...It's like it was human but there was another scent intertwined with it Chief. Do you understand what I'm saying? I didn't smell two separate things. It's like they were one and the same!"
The airport, three months later
"Chief, calm down! She's going to be here in a couple of minutes," Jim said with a laugh as he observed Blair virtually bouncing up and down on the balls of his feet.
"Jim, man you don't understand. She was like one of the best friends that I ever had, man. I mean we only hung out for a few months before Naomi decided to move on but we connected. We talked about everything, even though she's about 5 years younger than me. She's the closest thing to a sister that I've ever had. Shakari is amazing, Jim."
"I'm sure she is, Blair. I want to see her too. Maybe, she can tell me some interesting dirt about you in your younger days."
"Hah hah. Very funny." Shaking his head, Blair started to pace.
Jim smiled. He was happy that Blair was so nervous because it showed that Blair was finally on the mend. For a while, Jim had wondered if he would start acting like the old Blair again. There had been countless nights of staying with him after the nightmares and weeks of having to endure the silent, brooding Sandburg. Inevitably, his thoughts wandered back to that unsolved case. Damn, what a nightmare. They had thought that there might have been a new serial killer in Cascade as that sort of crime wasn't usually an isolated incident but that was the only homicide with that sort of profile. When he was able, Blair had even begun doing research to see if the date had some special significance in any known cult beliefs but that trail had also led nowhere. It hadn't been a robbery either. Mr. McKinley had confirmed that nothing had been taken. Even his senses hadn't shed any light on the case. Even though Blair had convinced him that his senses couldn't be wrong, Jim had secretly believed that he had missed something that day.
"Blair?" asked someone behind him. The question interrupting Jim's melancholy thoughts.
They both turned around to see a lovely young African-American woman standing behind them, wearing jeans and a T-shirt. Her hair was in braids and she was standing there with her luggage and a wide smile on her face.
"Oh Blair." Immediately they embraced. "You haven't changed much. But that's fine because you're just sweet the way you are," said Shakari.
"Why thank you, my dear lady." Blair bowed with a flourish and kissed one of her hands, making her giggle and Jim regarded the pair with a smirk on his face.
"Oh, I'm so sorry. Let me introduce you guys. Jim, this is Shakari and Shakari this is Jim, my best friend and roommate."
"Sooo. You're the one who's been keeping Blair in line for the past 2 years. How do you do it?"
"With a heavy, heavy heart," Jim replied and they both laughed. Jim saw why Blair was so comfortable with her. She was genuinely friendly and she wasn't bad looking either. Okay, now that was the understatement of the week. She was beautiful, about 5'10" and obviously in good shape. Jim reached to shake her hand but as soon as their flesh made contact it was almost like an electric current ran through him. Something was...strange about her.
"Err, Jim is there something wrong?" Shakari asked, noticing a weird look coming over his face.
"Yeah, big guy, you okay?" Blair asked.
"Ummm, yeah," Jim replied, releasing her hand. "Must be something that I ate. You two go ahead, I'll take care of the luggage."
The sentinel watched as his Guide and Sharaki walked towards the parking lot, talking about their lives and wondered what had just happened. Something was jolted inside of him. Nothing to do with his senses exactly but a feeling. But was it bad or good? In his head, he heard a warning growl from his animal guide. Immediately, the sentinel's guard was on full alert and he was determined to watch Shakari and protect his Guide from her if necessary.
However, as the day progressed, Jim was having trouble reconciling the warnings he had been given about Shakari and his own personal feelings about her. He had talked to her and watched her with Blair as they showed her around the city. She seemed great and was very charming. He wasn't really attracted to her physically but he was starting to think of her as a sister already and he had only known her for a couple hours. He had touched her again but never got that feeling again. What was going on here? I've never felt anything like that before. And what about my Spirit Guide? He warned me, didn't he? I can't talk about this to Blair. She's making him happier than he's been in the past couple of months.
That night they talked until two in the morning, watching TV and just having a great time. Jim found himself having to adjust to having two heartbeats in the loft but he automatically focused on his Guide's breathing, coming from the couch since Shakari was using Blair's room, and let the rhythm lull him into sleep.
"NOO!" The scream ripped Jim out of his sleep and he immediately registered his Guide's racing heartbeat. A quick scan revealed no one else in the loft besides him and Shakari. He rushed downstairs, not bothering to turn on the lights and went straight to the flailing form of his Guide.
"Blair! Blair, wake up!" Jim grabbed his arms.
Instantly Blair's eyes snapped open. Jim could see the terror in Blair's blue eyes but Blair couldn't see in the dark and continued to struggle.
"Let me go! Get away from me!" he shouted.
"Chief. It's me. It's alright, Blair. I'm here. Nobody's going to hurt you," Jim said calmly.
"Jim?" Blair's voice was shaking. Jim could see the tears running down his face.
"Yeah, Chief. Shhhh. It's alright."
"Yes, Blair. You have nothing to worry about. You're safe with us." Shakari said, startling both of them. She knelt beside Blair and took one of his hands in her own.
When his breathing was back to normal and he was no longer shaking, Blair withdrew from the comfort of his friends and leaned back into the couch. "I'm okay, now, guys."
"Are you sure, Chief?" Jim asked.
"Sure, Jim. I'm sorry I woke up you guys."
"Blair, don't be silly. It isn't a bother, okay. You're my friend," said Shakari. Seeing that he was embarrassed about his behavior in front of her, she decided not to ask him what was wrong just yet. Instead, she kissed his forehead and went back to his room, watching as Jim sat by the couch, gently massaging Blair's hand.
When Blair had finally fallen asleep, Jim rearranged the sheets around him and carefully moved the long strands of curly brown hair from his face, smiling when Blair made a peaceful sigh in his sleep at his touch. Carefully, he made his way back to his room, passing by Shakari's door.
"Jim?" she asked quietly.
"Yeah. Is anything wrong, Shakari?" He walked into Blair's room to find her sitting on the edge of the bed, the lamp light on.
She looked up at him, her face a picture of concern. She looked down at her hands and took a deep breath before she began.
"Jim. I know that you're a cop and in his letters, Blair mentioned that he used to help you out with stuff sometimes. Even though I've only been here for a few hours, I can see that you two have a special friendship and whatever it is that's bothering him is probably private between the two of you. But as his friend I'm asking you to tell me, please. Blair and I shared a lot but you know him. There are just certain things he won't talk about. Anything that has to do with his innermost feelings is virtually off limits with him. Even though you can read his face like a book." Both of them smiled at that last statement.
But as he thought about her request the smile slid off his face. Clenching his jaw for a minute, Jim just stood there, not looking at her but staring off into the distance. He respected Blair's privacy and knew that Blair might not want her to know about that case. Hell he hadn't even told Naomi about it. But if she was going to be staying here for the next three weeks, she had a right to know why Blair might be having nightmares. However he couldn't betray Blair's trust like that. It was part of the Blessed Protector contract.
"I'm sorry, Shakari but..." Jim paused, trying to frame his response as tactfully as possible.
Sighing, she got up from the bed and stood in front of him. "Alright, Jim. I wasn't really expecting you to tell me but I had hoped. It has to be Blair's choice right? He has to tell me or not at all?"
Relieved, Jim managed to nod, feeling very uncomfortable at this point. Seeing his predicament, Shakari smiled and shook her head. "I don't have any hard feelings Jim, okay? You're his friend and you don't know me well enough to trust me yet. I understand. Good night, Jim."
"Night, Shakari." He walked out and went back to his room. As his eyes closed, he was relieved that she had understood but something was nagging at him about that night. Something that she had done didn't quite seem right but what?
One week later
"So, Jim, where exactly are we going?" asked Shakari.
"Yeah, Jim. You haven't even told me," said Blair, looking at his partner from the passenger seat with a questioning look in his eyes.
"Well, Chief. I know that your navigating skills aren't exactly up to par, so I didn't want us to end up forty miles in the wrong direction again," replied Jim.
Shakari laughed. "Oh yeah. That sounds like 'We're lost' in Blairspeak'!"
"We weren't lost," Blair said indignantly. "I knew exactly where we were. Exactly forty miles from where we were supposed to be. Those two statements have no relation whatsoever. You guys have to learn what's fact. You see if I had said 'I don't know where we are, Jim,' then we would have been lost..."
His answer was drowned out by the laughter coming from his 2 friends in the Expedition. Shakari was doubled over in the back seat, holding her sides and Jim was laughing just as hard.
"I'm serious, guys!" he said making them laugh even harder.
When they had exhausted themselves, Shakari raised a shaky hand to her face to wipe away the tears and said, "Whew. That was a good one. Anyway, Jim, you were saying." She chuckled again as she noticed the evil stare that Blair was giving the two of them.
"An old buddy of mine told me about this camping spot years ago. No real civilization for miles, Shakari. Total isolation. Definitely the best place for some R and R. We should be there soon, in fact."
"This place is beautiful, Jim," replied Shakari, looking out of the window. "I haven't been camping in years. This trip is just what I need. Taking this break just before I go to medical school was probably the best decision of my life."
"How come you took a break?" asked Blair.
Turning from the window, she sighed. "You know what college life is like. I'm tired of studying." Rolling her eyes, she continued, "Man, I don't mean to say that I didn't enjoy college but I think I need to rest for a year. The batteries are worn down and are in serious need of recharge. After this I'm going back home for awhile and then who knows where after that?"
"Sounds like you would do good as an anthropologist. You have the wanderlust in you," said Blair.
"Oh yeah. If I had the money, I would travel all the time."
The talk continued for the rest of the trip until two hours later when they arrived at the site. Shakari was wide-eyed as she stepped out of the expedition.
"Jim. You said that this was a good spot but..." she paused, turning around slowly, regarding their environment, "this is beautiful. Hell, this is beyond beautiful."
The sentinel and Guide smiled as they watched her. She was like a little child that had gotten the best gift ever for Christmas.
Shakari just stood there for a long time. This was exactly what she needed. She was tired of the big city and longed to be back with nature where she belonged. This was going to be a fantastical trip. The perfect place for the meditation that I need to practice. But she was going to have to be careful around the two of them. She knew what they were and couldn't let them find out exactly what she was. Inwardly, she flashed back to the time that she had revealed to an outsider who she really was and what had happened as a result. That memory still upset her sometimes. But she had made progress since then. She was in control now. Sighing contenty, she turned back to the pair and started to help them to unload.
Later in the night after having returned from a little exploration, she sat down in front of the campfire with a concerned look on her face.
"Guys, I don't know if I'm being paranoid or something but something's weird about this place. Haven't you noticed that we haven't seen any animals at all since we've been here? Or even heard any birds or something?"
Blair looked at Jim. "Man, now that I think about it, Jim she's right. I haven't seen or heard a thing the whole day. Not even a squirrel."
"You're right, Chief." Jim had been determined that he was going to put his enhanced senses on vacation, but now he turned up his hearing and still couldn't hear any wild life. There wasn't even anything scurrying in the bushes. He didn't dare extend his hearing any further in front of Shakari, fearing that Blair might have to snap him out of a zone-out. "It's weird but I haven't seen anything else wrong. I mean I don't think that there's any pollution or anything. The plants look healthy. But this is really strange. We'll check it out in the morning, okay?"
"Yeah, Jim," replied Shakari. Maybe, you'll check it out tomorrow but this is too strange for me to ignore, she thought. Yawning, she got up and walked towards her tent. "Night, guys."
"Is she asleep?" asked Blair quietly a few minutes later.
"Yeah. I'm going to check this out a bit more." Jim relaxed and began to breathe in deeply. He turned his hearing up as far as he could, listening for any other signs of life but he could hear nothing. Shaking his head, he turned his hearing down to normal levels and glanced at Blair. "I don't get it, Chief. I mean, Tom said that this place was quiet but he's a hunter and said that this was a good place for game."
"Do you think we're in any danger?" asked Blair.
Jim could see the worry in his deep blue eyes. "I don't know. I've got my gun, just in case. I'll turn up my sensitivity from now on. At the first sign of any trouble, we'll leave, Chief. I don't know how Shakari will handle herself in that type of situation and I don't want her getting hurt. I'm about ready to turn in, Chief."
Grinning, Blair asked Jim, "Are you getting old, man? It's only midnight."
Jim reached over and swatted Blair over the head affectionately at the remark. "Ha ha, Chief. I thought that certain tribes revered their elders?"
"That's true but some also kill them because they become a burden to the...Hey!" exclaimed Blair as Jim grabbed his arms behind him.
"Chief, Chief, Chief. Where's the respect, huh? I could dump you into the stream right now you know," said Jim, a wide grin on his face.
After vainly trying to break Jim's hold, Blair relaxed and said, "Okay Jim, you win. You're not an old man, okay?"
"Good. Just remember, Sandburg. I want to hear that respect when you talk to me." Jim released his friend and walked towards his tent.
"Yes, O Wise One."
Smiling, Jim crawled into his sleeping bag and went to sleep, listening to his friend hum to himself softly.
In his dream, the sentinel found himself standing in the same forest but there was no sound whatsoever. Not even the wind was blowing through the trees. Suddenly he heard the familiar purr of his animal guide. He spun around and saw the black panther standing on a fallen log.
"Why am I here?" asked the Sentinel.
He heard the voice of the panther speaking in his mind. "You will go through a trial Sentinel. A trial that will test you and your Guide. It is only through Shakari that you will survive the hardship."
Jim walked over to the panther and sat down beside it on the log. "But you warned me about her at the airport."
"No, Sentinel, you misunderstood. You were not being warned about her, you were being warned against yourself. Your preconceptions and fears could put you and your Guide in jeopardy. Only through her can the two of you succeed. You still have much to learn about the world you now inhabit because of your powers." A ferocious growl cut through the night air. "It begins," said his animal guide and vanished.
"What? What begins? I don't understand," Jim screamed. Suddenly he snapped awake and realized that the growl was coming from right outside his tent. Frantically he reached for his gun but a hand came through the tent opening, grabbed the edge of the sleeping bag and dragged it and him, through the opening. Then, he looked up and the last thing that he saw was a huge fist slam down into his face.
"Uh," groaned Jim Ellison as the persistent darkness before his eyes slowly began to recede. His head was pounding with unbelievable force. Oh God, what had happened. Jim tried to open his eyes but as soon as he did he snapped them shut, the glaring white light sending lightning bolts through his aching head. As time passed the pain started to localize itself to his left temple. C'mon Ellison snap out of it. With fierce determination, Jim opened his eyes again, this time slowly and with his sense of sight turned down as far he could. Even though he could only squint, at least he could see now. Painstakingly, Jim pushed himself off of the metallic floor, taking in his surroundings. He was in a small room, all metal walls and a single white light in the ceiling. Nothing else. No windows and no visible doorway. What the hell? Okay the last thing I remember was the dream with my spirit guide and then...The blood drained from his face as he recalled the sound he had heard just before someone or something had hit him. Oh God? Where was Blair? And Shakari? He walked towards one of the walls and began searching frantically for the doorway. In his pain, he couldn't focus enough to extend his hearing outside of the room.
Unable to detect anything, Jim slid down one of the walls and rested his head on his knees. I don't understand what's going on here. I can't find any way out of this place. Okay, Ellison, try to use what Blair taught you. He shifted his position so that his head was resting against one of the walls and started to breathe deeply in a relaxed manner. First thing to do was to get rid of as much of the pain as possible. He concentrated, imagining the dial in his mind and turning it down as far as he dared so that the shooting pain had been reduced to a dull ache that he could ignore. Okay, now what? Maybe it's best if I try to concentrate on my sense of touch. I don't think my other senses are going to help me figure out a way to get out of here. He turned up his sensitivity and then got up and searched the walls again, walking slowly around the room.
Then he hit the jackpot, on the second wall, he felt a narrow line. This isn't a crack. Too smooth. Carefully Jim followed the line and smiled as he realized that he had found the doorway. But then he began to clench his jaw as he realized that there was no lock on his side. Probably electronically activated he thought. Damn.
Once again, the Sentinel lowered himself to the floor. He was feeling guilty. It's my job to protect them he thought despairingly. His military training told him to wait for an opening but he promised that there would be hell to pay if anyone had hurt Blair and Shakari.
Two hours later
Jim had been sitting on the floor, waiting patiently for someone to come and get him, when his enhanced hearing picked up a whirring noise. He looked across to the doorway to see it beginning to open. He quickly got to his feet, alert for any danger. Three men walked in. The one in front was wearing a white lab coat and the other two were dressed in black jeans and shirts.
"Well, Detective Ellison. I see that you're awake. I apologize for the manner in which you were brought here. My men get a little...aggressive sometimes," the man wearing the white lab coat said.
"Where the hell am I?" growled Jim.
"Forgive me, I haven't even introduced myself. My name is Victor and these are my associates Charles and Alex. This building is my complex. You were on my land detective, so I requested your presence."
"A request?" asked Jim sarcastically. "My head feels like it's been run over. That doesn't exactly qualify as a 'request' now does it?"
"True, Mr. Ellison. I was just trying to be friendly. Now, please, let's not have any unpleasantness if we can help it. Follow me."
If he had been camping alone, Jim would've tried to jump the group of men. None of them looked particularly imposing. Victor was about 50 by Jim's estimate, five foot five maybe and a little portly around the edges. Both Alex and Charles were almost as tall as Jim but on the slender side. Jim restrained himself. His senses couldn't pick up the smell of cleaning fluid for guns, revealing that none them were armed but he had to find out where Blair and Shakari were, so he went quietly with them.
As they walked, Victor said, "You may be wondering what this place is and why it's here, Jim. May I call you Jim?"
"Jim it is then. Anyway, let's just say I'm here for the betterment of mankind."
Jim threw a sidelong glance at Victor. Great. Kidnapped by a psycho.
Eventually, they came to a huge room, totally metallic also but this area seemed to be involved in some sort of research. Jim could see microscopes and other types of laboratory equipment around.
"You see detective, my employer has certain...abilities let's say and certain opinions about the way things are in the world today. Crime, Jim, is at an all time high, as an enforcement officer you should know that."
Jim said nothing just raised his eyebrow, wondering what Victor was getting at.
"Well, my employer has decided to do something about the state of the world, Jim. Something revolutionary!" Victor's eyes flashed as he was talking, his hands beginning to wave about in the air just like his Guide would do if he were explaining something. Jim's expression hardened at the thought of his closest friend.
"Where's Blair?" he asked.
"Patience, Jim. You'll see him in a moment. But first I have some questions for you. For instance..."
"I don't give a damn right now, what questions you want to ask me. Where's Blair?" Jim reached out to grab the smug scientist by the coat when he was grabbed from behind and thrown to the ground, a foot implanted in his back. Jim started to struggle but then he froze as he picked up a familiar scent.
"Oh my God," he whispered. He was hauled to his feet and came face to face with his attacker, the blood draining from his face. "What are you?" he managed to gasp out.
Alex just smiled, revealing his extended canines. The same odor that Jim had detected in the office at the McKinnly building three months ago, was coming off of the man, but he wasn't exactly a man anymore. His ears were now larger and pointed and his skin was now covered with a light brown fur. The hands that held Jim were now much larger and Alex's fingernails had now extended into three-inch long claws, digging into Jim's skin, drawing small amounts of blood. He was now a good six inches taller than Jim and there was no intelligence in his eyes and for the first time, Jim knew what a deer felt like when it spotted a wolf.
"Alex!" shouted Victor.
Alex turned his head to face his employer and growled.
"Release him, Alex. You know what happens when you disobey me. You only get two chances in this organization and you lost one of those already." Victor's eyes were hard as stone and Jim could see Alex flinch as Victor reminded him of something. Then the initial shock wore off somewhat and everything fell into place.
"It was you who killed that guard in Cascade wasn't it?" asked Jim.
Alex released him, but stood beside him just in case he decided to try anything. Jim stared in shock as Alex partially morphed back into a more human form, getting shorter and lacking the fur but the claws were still there.
Victor sighed. "Yes, it was him and he was appropriately punished for that misdeed. It was an unfortunate mishap you see. Alex here was one of the first to undergo the transformation and I sent him out on a test. It seems however that his more ferocious nature was brought out and he lost control that night."
"Are you trying to tell me that there are more like him?" asked Jim incredulously.
"Oh of course, Jim. Almost everyone on this complex has undergone the process and they're only five other people here. Some with varying degrees of success but all of them have been modified. I guess you would say that they are werewolves now."
"Werewolves?" Jim's head was now spinning, not only with the pain that Alex had inflicted on him, aggravating his earlier injury but the incredible story that he was hearing.
"Yes. But enough with me giving you information, now you'll answer my questions. Where is your other companion, the woman?"
What the hell, he thought. That means that she didn't get captured but how? She was asleep in her tent when I turned in, wasn't she? Maybe everything wasn't lost after all. He could only hope that Shakari would be able to find her way out of the forest and survive until she could reach help.
"I don't know."
"Detective, don't lie to me. My men reported that there were three of you at the campsite. They have an enhanced sense of smell and they know that it was a female with you. She wasn't in her tent when my men went to retrieve you. They managed to track her to the stream but lost her trail. I don't believe that you would let her go off by herself without your knowledge. Now where is she?"
"I said I don't know," Jim growled.
"I see that we're going to have to do this the hard way. I'm not really an unkind man by nature detective but I have no qualms about hurting other people when absolutely necessary. Look at that wall over there."
Victor walked over to a computer console and typed a command. Jim turned around and saw what he thought was a wall rise from the floor to reveal a glass window. Jim's heart nearly stopped when he saw Blair strapped to a massive table. Blair had also turned his head when the wall had been raised and saw Jim looking at him.
"Jim. Man, are you okay?" Jim heard Blair's question over a speaker somewhere in the room.
"Yeah, are you?"
"Except for a headache from hell, yeah."
"Enough of this," said Victor. "You see, Jim, I wanted you to see this because your friend is going to undergo a change."
Jim spun around. "No. You can't do it. I won't let you." Jim rushed at Victor but before he had even made it halfway there, he felt someone grab him and slam his head into the floor, with just enough force to send him into semi-consciousness. From a distance, Jim could make out Blair screaming his name. The panic in his Guide's voice brought him back to reality and to the searing pain in his head and his arm that Alex had twisted behind his back.
Victor bent down, his face inches from Jim's own and said quietly, "Jim, I'm going to ask you one more time, where is the woman?"
Through gritted teeth, Jim replied, "Are you deaf? I said I don't know. Now let him go. If you hurt him I swear to God I'll kill you." It wasn't a statement. It was a promise.
Victor exhaled loudly and stood up. "I tried to be reasonable, Jim. Maybe seeing this will loosen your tongue."
Blair had heard the entire exchange but at that point he wasn't really worried about himself. He could see Jim being held down by the goon and he could see the pain and anger in Jim's eyes. Then he saw someone enter the room where he was being held and his heart started to race when he saw the injection in the man's hand. "No," he whispered. Blair started to jerk his arms and feet against the metal bonds that pinned him to the chair, his mind flashing back to the terror of David Lash, the serial killer who had nearly murdered him and taken his identity.
"It's useless to struggle, Mr. Sandburg. Those bonds are made of a titanium and steel alloy. I must apologize for any discomfort that you're going to experience. Unfortunately, it's going to be quite acute but you people brought this on yourselves."
"Man, what are you talking about?" screamed Blair. His eyes locked with Jim's and Jim's heart broke as he saw the fear in his friend's eyes. Blair was scared out of his mind. What was this freak going to do to him?
"Oh my God," he stammered. Then he felt the prick in his forearm as the man in the room with him injected what seemed like liquid fire into his veins. He gasped in pain as it seemed that he could feel the liquid coursing through his bloodstream. He was only vaguely aware of the man exiting the room rather quickly, sealing the door behind him.
"You see, Jim," said Victor, walking towards the wall separating Blair from the small group, "the formula I've given him is a new strain that I've developed. I haven't had the opportunity to test it yet. Your arrival was most fortuitous." Somehow through the pain, Jim was able to extend his senses to focus on his Guide. He could hear the rapid beating of his heart and it was just getting faster and faster until he thought that it would burst. Blair was moaning loudly but then his body froze.
All thought ceased in Blair Sandburg's mind as the transformation began. He screamed from the depths of his soul as the formula worked on his body. His back arched and he strained against the bonds, his wrists starting to bleed. All he knew was pain. It wasn't just pain, it was agony that threatened to send him insane. It was as though his very blood was on fire and was shearing away his body.
No matter how hard he struggled, Jim couldn't break the hold that Alex had placed him in. His Guide's screams had sent him into blind rage. He had never heard such pain in Blair's voice and the image of him arching his back and shaking his head, tears streaming down his face as he continued to scream, was burned into his mind.
Suddenly Blair's screams stopped and Jim thought that he had mercifully passed out. But when he looked up he saw that Blair was still awake and he could hear a low, animalistic growl coming from his friend's throat. Blair started to grow before Jim's eyes, getting taller and taller. His clothes no longer to fit his slender frame and ripped off his body.
"Excellent," said Victor. "His change is even more spectacular than the others that I have experimented on. This new formula is working wonders."
Jim barely heard his comments as he watched his Guide. He had failed. He had promised to protect Blair and now this was happening. Blair finally stopped changing, barely recognizable as human, the only thing that told Jim that the creature on the table was his friend was the color of Blair's eyes. How many times had he almost lost himself in the different shades present in his Guide's eyes?
Blair's heart rate had slowed below normal levels and his breathing was slow and deep. He was staring at the ceiling his eyes barely open.
"He is truly a fantastic specimen, Jim. He's by far the best that I've seen so far. The only other thing I need to do is bring him under my control and he won't even recognize you anymore. Look at him. A far cry from his original form, isn't he? Stronger, faster and meaner. The perfect proof of the potency of the new formula. Bring Jim, Alex," ordered Victor, turning away from the viewing window.
Alex released Jim's arm and hauled him to his feet. Desperate to release his rage, Jim threw a punch at Alex's face but Alex merely caught his hand and used his other one to seize Jim by the throat. Jim desperately tried to draw a breath but he couldn't. He was starting to black out when he heard a low growl from Blair.
"Let...him...go!" said Blair.
Alex dropped Jim to the floor. Jim landed hard on his back and barely managed to turn his head to the side to look at his friend. He snapped to full awareness as he stared at his partner's eyes.
"What the..?" asked Victor with a touch of fear in his voice.
Blair was now staring straight at Alex, who was now in front of Victor. There was rage in his eyes that no human being could have conveyed and before their eyes, he began to change even more. Getting bigger and his claws extending. He now had the features of a wolf but still had a humanoid body. Blair started to strain against the bonds. The only thought in his head was to make the person that had hurt his Sentinel pay.
"There's no need for concern, gentlemen. He can't get out of those restraints," said Victor. Jim glanced in his direction, detecting the uncertainty behind his statement by the tremor in his voice and he saw the sweat beginning to bead on Victor's forehead. But then they all heard the screech of metal as Blair ripped out the metal band that had been pinning his right hand to the table. Then he proceeded to rip out the other metal strips on his other hand and his feet.
"Holy shit!" cried Victor.
Blair now stood on the table, his teeth bared and his hands clenching and unclenching. Quickly, Victor punched a command into the computer and the wall that had covered the viewing screen began to descend.
Blair let out a ferocious growl, the muscles in his legs tightened and he launched himself with frightening speed at the glass that separated him from Jim. On impact, the glass cracked and shuddered in the groves. Blair landed on his feet, crouching on all fours, the dark brown fur on his back bristling. He launched himself at the glass again as the wall covered it. The sound of the glass shattering echoed in the laboratory and then there was a hollow pounding as Blair hit the wall.
Victor punched some more keys and a video monitor came out of the floor, showing the inside of the cell where Blair was being held. Blair was striking the door repeatedly and there were indentations in the wall were his fists were landing on it. He was berserk, his teeth were bared and everyone could see the saliva dripping off his fangs, growls of rage coming from his throat. Victor franctically punched some more keys and suddenly Jim heard a slight hum over the growls. He had barely opened his mouth to shout a warning to Blair when he saw the floor become electrified.
Blair screamed, the electricity ripping through his new body. When Victor realized that Blair was still standing, he increased the voltage and was rewarded with a louder shriek of agony. Slowly, Blair slid down the wall, gradually morphing back into his human form and then passed out, naked on the floor.
For a few seconds, no one said anything as they watched the monitor, then Victor exhaled loudly, reaching into his pocket for a handkerchief to wipe the sweat from his brow. He began to shake his head. "Something went wrong," he said softly also muttering to himself. "The transformation shouldn't have made him that powerful." Victor began to pace back and forth, trying to come up with an answer to what they had just witnessed.
Jim, by this time, was standing on his own, his face like stone but his eyes betraying the rage that he felt towards the scientist. "You bastard," he said in a low gravely voice. "Change him back!"
Victor stopped his pacing to stare at the Sentinel. "Why Jim whatever for? He's magnificent. Hopefully not uncontrollable. I've never had to deal with one that had been converted to such an extreme. I must tell my employer, he'll be immensely pleased. I'll deal with you later detective. Alex take him back to his room. Alex?"
Alex made no move towards Jim but instead stared at the door to the laboratory. He began to change into his half-human appearance and growled low in his throat. Everyone's eyes turned towards the door and Jim could pick up footsteps walking in their direction and a familiar heartbeat. It can't be, he thought. How did...? His thoughts were interrupted as Shakari stepped into the laboratory and casually leaned against the doorframe.
"Well, well, well," she said, shaking her head, "what do we have here?" She was dressed in a black bodysuit, the same material that Alex and Charles were wearing in fact. She looked at the monitor and her expression hardened as she saw Blair lying unconscious on the floor. Her brown eyes took on a glazed look and she seemed to be sensing something. Suddenly her eyes regained their focus and she glared at Victor. "You didn't." was all she said in an icy tone.
Victor stared at her. "How did you get in here?" he exclaimed. "You're just a..."
"Woman? Human?" she asked, cutting him off. "Welcome to the nineties Victor and I'm here to get my friends. Get in the way and you're going to get hurt. Cooperate and I may let you live."
"Hah! Alex bring her to me!" he ordered, pointing at Shakari.
Alex smiled and started to run towards her.
"Shakari, run!" Jim shouted. She couldn't stop him. She was going to get massacred. He started to move after Alex but then his blood ran cold as he picked up the change in Shakari's scent and he froze. No, it couldn't be.
Shakari made no move to change her relaxed posture at the door. Alex threw a punch at her and she deftly caught it in her right hand. Alex tried to pull his hand out of her grip but she just began to squeeze his hand tighter and tighter. Alex was forced to his knees, crying out in pain with tears streaming down his face. She looked up at Victor, who was now as white as his lab coat and smiled.
"Your men don't stand up too well to the real thing now do they, Victor?" And then she began to change also before their eyes. Jim could only stare as her hair burst free of its restraints and she also began to get bigger and taller. He could see her increased musculature and she didn't stop growing until she was at least seven feet tall, with jet black fur and a mysterious white claw mark down the side of her right thigh. Still clutching Victor's fist, she picked him up with one hand and slammed him into the nearest wall. There was a sickening crunch as his body made impact and he slid to the floor unconscious, a dent in the wall.
Shakari looked at Charles now who was also coming towards her. Victor edged towards the computer console. Charles leaped at her but she roared her challenge, pivoted on her feet and used his own momentum to slam him into the wall where he joined his companion in unconsciousness.
Jim shook himself out of his shell shock induced state and tackled Victor, who was frantically punching commands into the computer. They slammed to the floor and Jim began to punch him over and over, venting his anger on the man who had taken his friend away from him. Suddenly, his hand was grabbed and he snapped his head around, trying to see who was stopping him from getting his revenge. Shakari, in a half-human form, was holding his hand, her eyes a picture of understanding and suddenly his anger melted away. He tore himself away from Victor and walked towards the computer console.
He had barely stopped himself from killing the only man who could possibly help them change Blair back to normal. He stared at the console, trying vainly to figure out how to free Blair, when his eyes were drawn to a timer that read five minutes and was counting backwards.
"Oh God," he whispered.
Shakari looked in his direction and also saw the timer, her eyes becoming like saucers.
"You're too late," whispered Victor, barely conscious.
Shakari growled and released him. "Which door is it?" she asked Jim.
"That one," he pointed, doubting that she would be able to free Blair in time but he wouldn't leave his Guide to die alone.
She ran to the wall and extended her claws until they were almost a foot long. She pulled her arms back and then slammed her hands into the wall, embedding her claws into the metal. Straining with all her might, Shakari began to pull her hands apart and Jim covered his ears as he heard the shriek of metal.
Come on, Shakari, she thought. They need you. Get Blair.
With a roar, she pulled the sections far enough apart that she could reach inside and pick Blair from the floor.
Carrying him easily, Shakari turned to Jim and then saw that Victor had gone.
"Damn it!" she exclaimed. Jim turned to see a new opening in another one of the walls and his enhanced sense of sight could see the drops of blood leading to it. His instincts screamed at him to find his quarry but a glance at the timer, which now said three minutes, told him that he didn't have time.
"Come on," she said to Jim. And the two of them took off running. Jim had to run hard to keep up with Shakari and the fact that she wasn't even breathing heavily told him that she was probably going at that speed so he could keep up.
They ran through a maze of corridors until Jim saw daylight. After running through the exit, they just kept going. Then about twenty meters from the complex, Jim heard the timer stop and then the roar of the explosion.
Shakari pushed the two of them down on the ground, protecting them with her body as the debris rained down on them. When it had finally stopped, Shakari got up slowly, looking at Jim and Blair.
Jim wouldn't return her gaze, he only had eyes for his Guide lying there. The scent that he had known for so long was now changed, maybe forever. He felt the anguish beginning to overwhelm him and he lost consciousness as his tired brain shut down.
to be continued...
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