This is post TSbyBS -- also very, very minor spoilers for my story 'After All', (on the net at Wolfpup's Den) This was for my theme-fic from years ago asking for a Senfic in the style of '24'. Yes I said YEARS.
Blair is still Blair and Jim is still Jim. Rated R for violence and language and gen sexual stuff, not involving the boys.
Dr. Blair Sandburg stirred, stretched and almost fell out of the narrow cot he was sleeping on. For a few minutes his mind was slightly fuzzy, then he suddenly remembered where he was. In a freaking freezing cabin. High in the Cascades, about a million miles from civilization, indoor plumbing and now, apparently, heat because the fire had gone out. Jim wasn't here, and that was a damn shame because Jim was very good to have around in these situations.
"Just a few days, Dr. Sandburg." Blair mocked the Rainier's new chancellor's pseudo-British accent as he got up and wrapped his fuzzy Navajo-patterned blanket around his shoulders. "Just a long weekend really. Keep an eye on the youngsters, don't you know?" Of course 'the youngsters' had bitched and moaned and made the whole thing a nightmare. Now, judging by the empty cots around him, Chad, Brandon, Caitlin and Dylan had decamped. Made a run for it. They were probably, even now, eating breakfast at Mom's Cafe in town.
Even with the blankets wrapped around my head I should have heard them leave. If the sneaky little rats flunked Anthro -- and that was looking more likely by the moment -- they could become jewel thieves.
Blair hacked a few inches off a paper-wrapped Quicky Log and crumpled up some newspaper, throwing both into the stone fireplace. Using the long matches he'd swiped from the loft, he lit the paper and hurriedly piled on some dry kindling. "Hurry... hurry... cold... cold..." When the fake, wax and sawdust log blazed, Blair added a few small chunks of wood and grumped aloud. "Rotten little hoodlums. Dean's List students my ass. Bet they don't even bring me a sandwich or coffee."
Blair pulled a flannel shirt over his longjohns, then added another, before pulling one of Jim's cast-off sweaters over his head. It was one of the advantages of living with a Sentinel. Jim loved expensive, natural-fiber clothing but couldn't abide the slightest pulled thread. So when his sweaters and shirts get nubby and knotty he tosses them into the Goodwill bag. I fish them out and wear them for another few years. This particular sweater might be pea green, but it was cashmere and way warm.
Blair might have his doctorate now, but money was still short and he was used to cutting corners. And taking extra jobs like this. He taught some classes at Rainier and worked part time, as a consultant for Major Crime. The money was good, but his debts had piled up and he was eager to see them paid off and to put some money into savings besides.
Jim told me not to take this stupid field-trip in the middle of winter. He's going to say, 'I told you so!' and I'll have to sock him one. As he pulled on his boots, Blair had to laugh at the notion of socking Jim. I'd just break my hand.
"Oh well... time to go find my lost sheep."
Jim Ellison woke with a start. He grabbed the blankets and caught himself as he sprawled in the center of his wide bed. His new sleep mask, a silly, satin thing Sandburg had found somewhere -- was twisted around to the back of his head. Pale sunshine from the sky-light blinded him and he rolled over quickly. The digital display on his alarm clock was blinking 12:00. He couldn't believe he'd slept past 7:00.
Padding down the stairs in his shorts, he ignored the chill of the loft. With Blair away, he'd turned the thermostat down ten degrees. The battery powered, kitchen wall clock read 7:16. Jim was pleased that his internal clock still worked pretty well -- even after a late night. By the time he got home from a long, freezing stake-out, with Connor of all people, it had been almost three AM
Jim put on the coffee and rummaged in the fridge for the sausage and eggs.
Damn Chancellor Fiskin, and his sleep-away, let's go study the friggin' ancient fishing village in the dead of winter in the mountains with Sandburg who can -- God love him -- find trouble in a monastery or anywhere else and a bunch of brats who looked bored before they even left! I need Blair to help with this case. I tried to listen to what's going on in that warehouse and I kept almost zoning without him close-by.
Selfish Jim. Blair put everything on the line to work with you. He went undercover and brought down Tony Roth and a half-dozen arms dealers and damn near got killed doing it. It was the price the Police Chief extracted for saying that the press conference and Blair's time at the academy were part of a complex scheme to bring down Roth, one of Naomi's former lovers. It had been painful for the kid to turn on a man he'd considered a father figure for almost six years of his life.
After the incident, the disgraced, young officer and academic fraud became a hero -- made cop of the year and won medals from the city and state. His reward was that he could choose his own future. And he chose to finish his doctorate and still work with Jim, but as a paid consultant and not police officer.
"I'll survive till he comes home." Jim muttered as he shoveled the mess of scorched scrambled eggs and sausage onto two slices of toast. A quick swoop of ketchup and two more slices of toast and he had a portable breakfast that would give Blair the yim-yams if he saw it. Jim had to juggle his coffee and sandwich filled paper plate as he let himself out the door.
"Besides, this school stuff means a lot the kid."
"This school stuff sucks!" Blair lay sprawled on the frozen ground after his feet went out from under him. He pulled himself upright and made his way carefully to the privy, muttering. "I can't believe they took the van. If they get one dent in it, I'll kill them."
The recently discovered ruin of an ancient fishing village was near a lake and fortunately, near a cabin built by modern fishermen before the area was closed to the public. Yeah... it would have been more fortunate if the cabin had a inside bathroom. The door to the privy was frozen and Blair had to put his foot against the frame and pull.
The door opened and Blair staggered back. But it wasn't the sulky door or even the ice that made him reel.
It was the sight of Brandon and Caitlin's bodies sprawled on the old wooden bench seat. They each had a bullet hole between their wide dead eyes.
"Oh God!" Blair looked around at the towering trees that surrounded him. The lake was glass smooth and cold as water could be without freezing. "Dylan... Chad..." He spotted something red at the edge of the lake. It was Dylan's jacket, he recognized as he ran closer. The slender young man was floating at the very edge of the water. Blair grabbed him and tried to drag him onto the narrow strip of mud and gravel that bound the volcanic lake. The body was almost immovable.
Was this what it was like for Jim when he pulled me out of the fountain? Was I this cold and heavy and dead?
Blair shook off the thought and tried to turn the body over. Both arms were thrown wide and frozen and it was difficult. It only took a second to see the fixed glazed eyes and the neat hole between them. Blair stepped away as the cold water seeped into one of his boots. "Oh God! Oh God!"
He ran to the cabin and dug the cell phone out of his backpack.
Jim was driving with one hand as he wolfed down his second sausage and egg sandwich. His cell rang and he frowned. The greasy paper plate was jammed into the litter bag already, lest Sweethearts pristine woven vinyl seats be smudged, so he tossed the remainder of the sandwich into the plastic bag as well. Opening the phone, he was prepared to snap at the caller when he froze.
"J'm... ~crackle~... bad.... ~crackle~..." Blair's voice disappeared in a cloud of static. No one but a sentinel could have heard the fear and near panic in his partner's tone.
The call was cut off and Jim tried to dial Blair's number. His only answer was. "Out of area."
He punched in another number. "Simon. Blair's in some kind of trouble. I'm heading up there now but it'll take a couple of hours. Call the 'States' and the local sheriff and get them to Blue Lake. It's the cabin by that old Indian fishing village they found."
"I know where Sandburg went, Jim." Simon was trying to sound calm. "I'll tell them that an officer needs assistance. God knows the kid's still one of us."
Jim could hear Simon bellow for Connor before he came back to his phone. "Jim. Be careful and don't drive like a maniac."
"Right Captain." Jim snapped the phone shut as his foot pressed the accelerator to the floor. The big, old, eight cylinder engine purred and the truck almost flew toward the tall mountains that towered over the city by the sea. "Hang on, Chief. I'm coming."
Blair stuffed food, water, extra socks, and a blanket into his backpack. He grabbed the fireplace poker on his way out. He had to find Chad. Then he had to keep them both safe until the law arrived. Because the law was coming. Jim heard me! I know he did!
Blair raced into the tree line as he tried to see if anyone was around. The pine trees were so tall that he could walk under many of the wide branches. "Stay off the path." Blair could hear Jim's voice in his head. "Find somewhere defensible and hold up till I get there."
"Sure Jim." Blair whispered soundlessly. "Nothing to it."
There was a rock outcrop about a quarter mile from the cabin. It was sheltered by boulders and trees on two sides and steep rock walls on the others. Staying low, he darted through the trees until he saw the rocks. When he paused, he heard clumsy steps running behind him. With his back to a massive tree trunk, he clutched the poker and prepared to take out whoever was pursuing him.
As the steps grew near, he wheeled, prepared to split the skull of whoever was coming. Blair paused at the last second as he recognized his last living student. "Chad!"
"D...doctorsandburg... I... I... we..." The tall, powerfully built athelete was looking around wildly, as if he was lost and terrified of being found.
Blair shook the hysterical young man. "Chad! Tell me what happened. Did you see who did this?"
"Yesterday, when we went into town... this guy came up and invited us to a party at his house." Chad rattled off the words so fast Blair could barely understand. "We knew you'd hear us if we tried to leave and we said no but then Cait said she had some sleeping pills so we said sure... we'd come and we didn't think you'd ever know."
"You drugged me?" Blair shook him again.
"Just a little pill... well two... in your cocoa." Chad was crying now. "We waited till you fell asleep... the guy from town came to pick us up and then he just shot them... didn't even get out of the car... I ran all night... ended up back at the lake andohgodiranandranand..."
Blair wanted to scream at Chad. At whoever did this terrible thing. At the foolish dead students... students that he should have protected.
"Calm down, Chad." Blair hugged the trembling boy and then took his hand. "Come on. I called for help and we have to find a place to wait."
"No!" Chad shook his head like a panicked horse. "We have to run!"
"I'm the teacher and I say we lay low." Blair led the boy toward the rocks. "Keep your head down."
"No! Gotta keep running." Chad was over six feet of terrorized soccer player and Blair called on strength he didn't know he had to hold him when he tried to pull away.
"You have to shut up and move!" Blair gave him a shake. "Do you hear me?"
There was the whump of a silencer. Bark and splinters sprayed from the tree next to Chad's head. The boy whimpered and seemed to shrink, then allowed Blair to take his arm and drag him through the forest. Blair swallowed the rage that made him want to find the killer and beat him with the poker until he was bloody, dead pulp. Instead, he ran in the opposite direction, into the thickest underbrush.
Between Cascade and Blue Lake
Jim passed a line of tractor-trailers on the steep incline, darting back into his lane just in time to miss becoming one with a log truck. Turning off of the two lane highway, he sped up a narrow logging road that also led to Blue Lake.
Between Cascade and Blue Lake
A camper roughly the size of the Titanic pulled in front of him and proceeded to take the curvy road at a dazzling twenty-five miles an hour. "Fucking parade float!" Jim cursed at the monster, driving smack in the center so he couldn't pass. He'd been making good time until this. He turned of his flasher and leaned on the horn. The massive white vehicle just lumbered along, the driver evidently both deaf and blind.
"Move!" Jim hit the horn once again. He was so intent on the camper that he didn't notice the pair of vans, keeping their distance, following far behind him.
Blair zig-zagged through the thicket and headed for the rock face. He paused again and listened for footsteps on the crackling, frozen leaves that covered the forest floor. Using both hands he pushed Chad ahead of him as he scrambled up the slight incline and slipped between the huge tumble of boulders. "Chad... Chad! Work your way up between these rocks and be quiet. Find a hole and climb in until I tell you to come out." Chad had to turn sideways to slip between the massive boulders as he disappeared into the maze of rocks. Satisfied that the young man was a safe as possible, Blair turned and watched the way they had come. The chilling wind was diverted somewhat by the sheer rock at his back, he had cover and he could see if anyone approached.
Between Cascade and Blue Lake
Jim cursed and tried again to get around the camper. On the left was an almost vertical incline -- on the right a sheer drop-off. The camper stopped abruptly and it was all he could do not to slam into the rear bumper. The pick-up fishtailed and almost went over the edge before Jim could get it stopped. The left front tire left the road and that side of the truck tipped towards nothingness.
Two black vans pulled quickly behind him. He drew his automatic and reached for the door handle. No escape that way. Nothing but air and treetops. The back door of the camper opened and a man in a ski mask was standing there, aiming a shotgun at Jim through his windshield. He started to dive for the passenger door when a second black garbed figure appeared at that window and pointed another shotgun at him.
Jim considered all the possible actions he could take for roughly a second. These guys were pros. They had him cold. They probably had something to do with Sandburg's situation. If they took him he couldn't help Blair.
Sitting upright behind the steering wheel, he raised his hands, his right still holding his pistol. The driver's door was already ajar. He smiled and bumped the door open with his knee. Hold on to the damn gun, Ellison.
Jim swung his legs sideways and dropped feet first into the dense underbrush that covered the muddy hillside. He slid for what seemed several minutes -- more likely several seconds -- trying to slow his hurdle down the vertical incline by grabbing at pine branches with his left hand.
Angry voices shouted from above but there was no gunfire. A sturdy looking tree-trunk jutted from the hillside below him and he bent his knees and tried to catch himself on it. One foot landed on the slippery bark and his speed tossed him sideways. Jim's hand caught a pine bough and he gasped as it slid through his fingers, tearing the skin. He landed belly down on the tree trunk and the air left his lungs in a rush.
Darkness tinged his vision and he clung to consciousness for a few seconds. Then, he slithered under the tree where the rain had washed out the soil and curled his body into the tangle of roots. Bracing himself with his feet, he snapped his automatic into it's holster -- Blair will be amazed that I held onto it -- and pulled some leaves and pine boughs over himself. It was well that he hid because two of the goons in black came rappeling down the hill about twenty yards from his position. Luckily the trees had bashed him from side to side like a pinball and they were looking in the wrong area. His leather jacket and jeans were caked with mud along with his face. That was good -- it made him virtually invisible.
Daryl Banks hurried across the Rainier campus to class. He'd agreed to attend college after much argument and some small bribery on his parent's parts. He was allowed to live with his dad and study criminology. In fact he'd discovered a talent for science, thanks to his friend and mentor Blair Sandburg and had decided to get into that area of police work. His dad and Jim did exciting stuff, but the search for clues and solving puzzling mysteries was just as fascinating.
He attended Blair's classes and the dynamic young professor showed him the connection with detective work. Science, mathematics and even English and art were all tied into the work that a modern police officer was called upon to do. Today, after his chemistry and biology classes, Daryl would go to Blair's office and do the filing the young professor had asked him to help with. He'd do his best to tidy up, too.
Blair might be a great teacher, but his office usually looked like a bomb went off in it. Daryl grinned and shook his head. "Dad's right. He needs a keeper."
Blair peered over the boulder and waited. Either the killers or the police would come soon. He pushed the picture of the dead students out of his mind. If he thought about them, he'd fall apart. He had to think of protecting Chad, waiting for Jim and the help that was coming and holding out till then.
"Come out Dr. Sandburg." A tall, well-built man in an expensive looking creamy tan top-coat came into the clearing below him. "We have guns... as you've no doubt seen."
Since they knew he was there anyway, he shouted. "Yeah. You guys are real tough when it comes to shooting innocent kids."
"Collateral damage, I'm afraid." The blond man was blandly handsome, like an actor in a TV commercial. "You were the only one we wanted."
If they wanted him why didn't they just come in and take him out of his bunk after they shot the kids. Something else was going on. "What do you want with me?" The longer Blair could keep them talking, the more likely help would come.
"Stop stalling." The man said mildly. "Don't make us come up and get you."
"I'm not coming down, you murdering asshole."
"Blair? May I call you Blair? You're making things more difficult."
"Why don't you go screw..." Blair's words were cut off when a large man rushed toward him from the right, aiming to tackle him. Swing for the fences, Sandburg! The poker hit the beefy man above the ear and he went down hard. Blair quickly searched him and spat out several profanities when he found no gun. At least they don't want to kill me. Blair chewed his lip thoughtfully. "Tell me why and maybe I'll come down."
"I don't know the whole story, Blair. Just that someone is paying us a lot of money for you. They already have your partner." The tall man sighed and gestured. "Don't make us use the gas grenades." One of his minions ran over and handed him a gasmask.
Blair felt a numbness in his belly at the man's words. They have Jim?
Suddenly the silence of the forest exploded with gunfire and explosions.
Between Cascade and Blue Lake
Jim watched as the men methodically searched the wooded hillside.
"Jim?" From the road far above him, he heard a voice speaking conversationally. "We already have Dr. Sandburg. Surrender and we'll take you to him."
Jim stayed motionless and turned up his hearing, trying to determine if the man was telling the truth.
"If you don't come with us... well... we won't need the good doctor if we don't have you." Jim dialed up his hearing to the max and heard a click from high above. Then he was caught by a wave of agonizing sound that made him scream in pain. He convulsed and tumbled from his hiding place, barely feeling the slam of trees and jagged rocks as he plummeted down into oblivion.
Blair ducked into his stony shelter and listened as automatic weapon fire shattered the still forest. He heard the familiar baritone bellow and almost collapsed in relief. If Simon was here, Jim was probably nearby. It took almost a quarter hour but the forces of law and order routed the killers.
"Sandburg!" Simon was shouting his name. "Sandburg! You can come out now. Are you injured? SANDBURG!"
"Here, Simon. There's one of my students back in these rocks somewhere, so don't shoot him." Blair stood shakily and waved. Now that it was over, he felt like collapsing in shock. "Where's Jim?"
Simon rushed up the hill and took his shoulders in his large hands. "Whoa, Kid. You look like hell." The tall captain helped him walk down the hill to the clearing. "Jim's still on the road I guess. I grabbed a chopper from Cascade and came up with some of the sheriff's men."
"We have to find him. That guy... did you get that guy in the camelhair coat? He said they had Jim and I think this... This is all about someone who wants the sentinel." Blair whispered the last word.
"Calm down, Kid." Simon took off his warm top-coat and wrapped it around the smaller man. Two state troopers had found Chad and were guiding him to a group of paramedics.
Blair stopped shivering at last and tried to speak more calmly. "Simon. Did you get the guy in the camelhair coat?"
"A couple of goons all in black. That fella you took out. No camelhair in the bunch."
"Simon. He said they have Jim." Blair shrugged of the too large coat and handed it back to the captain. "We have to look for Jim."
"Sure Kid." Simon let the paramedics wrap Blair in blankets and urged him back toward the cabin. "I'll have the roads between here and Cascade checked, put out an APB."
"What if they were telling the truth? What if they have him?"
James Ellison woke to the wallowing lurch of the camper as it rolled over the pocked and crumbling road. Laying face down, he tried to move and was instantly stopped by a strait-jacket. He was gagged and blindfolded and his feet and knees were bound with what smelled like duct tape, then pulled back until his heels were almost touching his buttocks. He was utterly helpless and it terrified him.
Blair! You have to find me. Please God. Don't let them have Blair.
While Simon spoke to the State troopers, Blair watched in horror as several black body bags were loaded into ambulances. "My students." Blair staggered slightly and the captain was back bedside him in an instant. "Simon I was responsible for them and they're dead because of me."
"Calm down. It isn't your fault that they were murdered. It's the bastard's who shot them." During the walk back to the cabin Blair had filled him in. "The kids drugged you and snuck out. How can that be your fault?"
"They were just kids. Gullible, innocent kids." Blair took Simon's sleeve and tugged. "These people killed them for no reason. What will they do to Jim? We have to go looking for him now."
"Come on, Sandburg." Simon strode off with Blair still holding onto his coat sleeve. "We'll get a lift into town and take the chopper. Maybe we'll spot Jim from the air."
"That's good." Blair trotted to keep up with the long legged Simon. "We'll check the roads. Look for that big goofy old truck. It should be easy to spot."
"Better not let Jim hear you call his truck goofy." Simon steered the frantic Blair into an SUV belonging to the Blue Lake sheriff's office. Folding his long frame into the back seat next to Blair, he sighed. The passenger seat was empty but he contorted himself in the backseat and fastened his own seatbelt and Blair's. "Relax, kid. We'll find him."
Daryl laughed as he lifted a sandwich bag with two fingers. For an anthropologist Blair sure did a lot of science experiments. What was formerly a Corned Beef and Swiss had almost become a new life form. The young man tossed the remains of the sandwich into the trash can with an exaggerated grimace.
It would take most of the afternoon, but Daryl liked order and enjoyed straightening and cleaning. So much so, that Blair had wondered aloud if he might not be Jim's son after all. Darryl chuckled at the memory. His dad and Jim had both given Blair their best intimidating stares and all he did was laugh at them. Sometimes, Daryl thought that was why they both liked Blair so much. Because he saw through the tough exteriors that both men showed the world outside their families. Of course, Daryl had always known that his dad was a big softy.
So did Blair.
Daryl thought that Blair liked to pretend that Simon was his dad, too. Daryl didn't mind. It kinda made Blair his big... well older brother and he couldn't have asked for a better one.
Jim snarled at the men who roughly lifted him and wrestled him onto a hard metallic floor. He fought the horrible lethargic weakness that was crushing him and fought the tightly tied jacket trying to rip his arms free. The pain made him gasp and he almost swallowed the mouthful of knotted fabric that filled his mouth.
Jim felt the vibrations of the powerful helicopter engine in his bones as it began to rev. Soon he was soaring through the air -- away from Blair and his life.
Between Cascade and Blue Lake
"Oh my god! Is that Jim's truck down there?" Blair squinted through the trees at the blue and white truck sitting at the edge of the road.
"Find a place to sit this thing down!" Simon ordered the chopper pilot. He grabbed the microphone and reported the truck.
"Simon we have to get down there."
Simon listened to his radio headset then shouted into Blair's ear. "The Sheriff said that there's a picnic ground about a mile back."
"Hurry." Blair spoke too quietly for either man to hear. "Please hurry.
Between Cascade and Blue Lake
Blair had jumped from the chopper before it even touched down. "Slow down, Sandburg." Since the police car hadn't arrived, Simon was forced to follow as the younger man raced back up the road on foot. "Damn it all." The captain huffed to himself as the distance between them grew. "Who knew those short legs could move that fast?"
Simon rounded a curve and stopped short. Sandburg was standing next to the blue and white truck, his posture that of someone mortally wounded. Blair turned toward horror filled eyes toward him and his lips moved for a moment before any words came out. "Oh, God. Simon... look... Oh God."
Simon reluctantly looked into the side window and caught his breath. Blood -- fresh and violently red -- was splattered all over the inside of the cab. "I want a sample of this blood flown to our lab in Cascade!" He almost shouted the order before he realized they were the only ones there. He steered Sandburg away from the gory truck before taking gloves and a small plastic bag from his pocket. "I'll take it my self."
In the distance he could hear the whine of sirens. Blair still stood like someone who'd taken one too many body blows. "Simon? That's a lot of blood. Too much?"
"It's not Jim's. You'll see."
"Hey Daryl." Kim Carruthers leaned in the door of the office and smiled. "Want to go to lunch?"
Kim was half African American, half Chinese and all gorgeous. She was fast tracking through Rainier with a GPA Daryl could only dream of having. "Sh...sure Kim!" Daryl almost fell over a scale model of a totem pole as he made his way around the cluttered office. "Dr. Sandburg is out of town so..." He shrugged, trying to still his nervous rambling.
"My Nana Chen invited me for lunch and she always makes too much Manicotti."
"There's no such thing as too much Manicotti." Daryl grinned as he fell into step beside her.
"Nana will love you." Kim laughed and looked, if it was possible, even more beautiful
Jim tried to concentrate on the sounds that echoed around him. He'd been disoriented since he awoke in the camper. His body was a mass of aches and pains from his free-fall down the wooded hillside. Besides that, his head felt light and he was having a hard time breathing. He was only vaguely aware when the chopper landed and when his bound and twisted body was wrestled face down onto a hard plastic surface that lurched and swayed as it rolled over rough ground.
"Get that thing out of his mouth." An angry voice -- youthful but filled with power shouted. Jim knew he should recognize it but he couldn't make his brain work right. "My god, his heart beat is weak and erratic. He could aspirate or his diaphragm could compress with his hands tied like that. Cut that tape. Start IV's in both arms."
"Sir!" Jim heard a second voice, one of the men from the camper, protest. "He's dangerous."
"He's half dead." The voice snapped and Jim almost groaned as his legs were released and straightened out. He felt the burning stick of a needle between the waist band of his jeans and the straight jacket. "There, that will safely knock him out. Now get those IV's started and remember -- hypo-allergenic products only. Jim felt the straightjacket being unbuckled as he slipped into oblivion. "Don't be afraid Sentinel." The young man's voice whispered into his ear as someone stroked his hair. "Soon enough you'll know everything. Soon enough."
Megan Connor and Serena Chang were just returning from a crime scene when they walked into the Bullpen of Major Crime. The scene was pandemonium. Several detectives and uniformed officers hurried from Simon's office. Rafe and Henri rushed into the Bullpen and brushed past the women on their way to their desks. Joel waved Megan over to the door of Simon's office. "Where the devil have you been?"
"We stopped for lunch." Megan felt her heart drop. Joel would never look this perturbed and speak this sharply to her. Not unless something bad was happening. "My cell phone's been acting... what's going on?"
"All I know is that someone went after Blair up at Blue Lake." The phone on Simon's desk phone rang and Joel turned away from the two women and answered.
"Sandy?" Megan gave Serena a worried look. She hurried toward Rhonda's desk and asked. "Where's Captain Banks? Where's Jim?"
Rhonda looked stricken as she shrugged and shook her head. Just then, the doors to Major Crime slammed open. Simon Banks and Blair Sandburg stalked in looking like they'd been on a march through hell..
Simon looked around and shouted. "Chang... get down to the lab." He handed her a plastic bag with a latex glove inside. "This is a sample of blood from a crime scene. Compare it with Ellison's."
"Sir. It takes time to get a DNA test done." Serena was looking at the rubber glove turned inside-out it's surface smeared with an alarming amount of blood. It was as if the captain dipped his latex covered hand in blood and then turned his glove inside out. She swallowed as the realization set in. "Jim? Yes sir... I'll do everything I can." She left at a run.
"Captain?" Megan watched as Blair went to Jim's desk and furiously began opening drawers. "What happened to Jim?" She turned to the fierce looking captain. "Joel said Blair was in trouble..."
"Listen up people." Simon gestured for quiet. "It looks like this was a trap set up to get Jim and Blair. We were able to find Sandburg in time but they got Ellison. We found his truck. There appeared to have been a... struggle. There was blood, but we don't know that it was Jim's. For now, all we know is that he's missing."
"Someone took Jim." Rafe swallowed hard. He shared a grim look with his partner and Megan. James Ellison was not one to be taken easily or without a fight.
The detectives went to Ellison's desk. "Sandy?" Megan asked the haunted looking young man. He had fished a computer disk out of a locked case and slapped it into the computer. "Are you all right?"
"I have to find this note I made." Blair's fingers flew over the keyboard. "Damn... what was that password?" He talked to himself as he rapped in several combinations before the notes came up. "Zeller... Zeller... " He scrolled over pages, reading faster than anyone Megan had ever seen.
"Zeller?" She looked at Rafe and Henri before speaking very gently. "Sandy, honey. Zeller's dead."
"But he shot Jim. When they collected evidence on the roof... the CSU guy... Serena was on vacation... he said that there was some anomaly in Jim's blood. Harmless, he said, but rare. I made a note of it." Blair stopped scanning and hit print. He ducked through the tall people surrounding him and went to the printer. "I have to get this to Serena."
"I'll walk with you." Megan shot Henri and Rafe a significant look and followed Blair into the hallway. She had rang for the elevator before she realized Blair was already in the stairwell. Sandburg looked ready to drop and she hurried to catch up with him in case he stumbled. "Sandy? Is this blood thing... is it about being a Sentinel?"
"Maybe." Blair waved the papers in his hand as he bolted down the stairs. "But it might be able to help them ID Jim's blood faster... or rule him out. My God Megan. There was so much blood. The whole inside of the truck was covered with it. Soaked in it."
"Oh Sandy." Megan followed Blair to the lab door, hesitated, then followed him inside.
Daryl Banks followed Kim Carruthers into the large house. "Your Grandma Chen has a really nice place."
"Shut up." Kim turned and glared at him coldly.
"Kim?" Daryl froze in confusion.
"You are inferior but you should be grateful. You will be of service to the Alexanderians."
"What?" Daryl backed away until a rifle barrel, jabbing painfully into the middle of his spine stopped him. "What's going on?"
The young man flipped his long, dark blond hair away from his face. A few final strokes on his keyboard and he was done. He pushed the expensive leather chair back and slung one leg over the arm, looking for all the world like an indolent young king or emperor. His plans were falling together.
"It's all coming together." The woman's voice coming from behind him didn't startle him. He knew she was there. She walked forward and leaned over the back of the chair, running her hands inside his shirt and over his smooth chest. Tipping the chair back, she buried her long fingers in his hair and kissed his forehead and closed eyes. "Just like you said."
He watched -- through half opened eyes -- as she walked around and perched on the edge of his massive desk. She was more than a decade older than him but he thought she was the most beautiful woman on earth. At almost six feet, her body was perfection, almost too exquisite. Her face was sculpted in exquisite planes that he had designed himself. Subtly different from her original features, which had already been very lovely. Now, she was a goddess. The thick mane of red hair -- the color was his choice -- framed feline green eyes that glittered with intelligence.
"Do you feel him?" The young man asked with a smile.
"Of course." She shuddered deliciously. "It's like itching powder on my soul. It makes me want to kill something or..." she slipped off the desk and advanced on him with a predatory, sexual gait as her leather jacket slipped from her shoulders to the floor. By the time she reached the seated man she was wearing only black thong panties, again, his personal choice. Her long legs straddled his lap as she slipped both hands inside his belt and pulled him forward. With exquisite grace and excruciating slowness, she unbuttoned his pants and freed him.
Before she could take what she wanted -- and he could tell she wanted him inside her very badly -- he stopped her. "No. Later. You know what I like." He imperiously tipped his head and she sank to her knees. "That's right." He petted the silken hair spread over his lap as pleasure arced through his body. "You know exactly what I like. My darling... my Sentinel."
"Well where are the records?" Blair shouted into the telephone receiver. "Do I have to come down and get them myself?"
"Sandburg!" Simon's voice boomed. "Go drink something and calm down."
"But Simon..." Blair knew he was being unreasonable. He wasn't a cop and had no business yelling at people who were doing their very best for a fellow officer.
"Connor. Get him out of here for a while."
"I'll be good." Blair hurriedly offered. "I can be calm."
"Come on, Sandy." Megan was tall and very strong. When she took his arm and lead/pushed him out of Major Crime, he could have stopped her, maybe, but not without looking like a petulant child. "You need a break."
"Damn it, everything is moving too slow."
"There isn't an officer in Cascade or the whole state who isn't looking for Jim."
"Who did this Megan?" Blair paced the hall in front of Major Crime. "This isn't the work of some pissed off crook. The guys who came after me were like some kind of mercenaries of something."
"The FBI confirmed that the Sunrise Patriots have disbanded since their 'beloved' general got his throat cut in prison." Megan paced along side him. "We've gone through every case Jim was involved with. Everyone who could arrange something like this is in prison or dead."
"What if it's the government?" Blair almost whispered. "They -- whoever the hell they are -- wanted us both."
"If the Feds wanted you, they would have just scooped you up a long time ago."
"You're right." Blair sighed and stopped walking. "They've had to suspect the truth about us, for a while now."
The elevator doors opened and Serena stepped out looking grim.
"Serena!" Blair ran to her side. "Did you check it."
"It's not a hundred percent positive." Serena looked like she wished she was anywhere else. "But the blood type matches Jim's and there's a dormant marker for a rare form of Malaria. It's very strange -- Jim's never had a flare-up but the disease is present in his blood. He probably picked it up in Peru." Serena started through the doors to the Bullpen then turned. "I'm sorry, Blair."
Blair sagged back against the wall. All the steam went out of him as he curled his arms around his middle and spoke rapidly. "I wanted to study that someday... to see if there was something about being a Sentinel that gave you a better immune system. I... I mean, Jim got shot and within a few months the scar had disappeared and... Oh God, Megan there was so much blood in that truck."
Megan seemed to be trying to think of something to say. Something that would comfort or console. Simon had filled them in on the condition of the old blue and white truck. Blair met her gaze and saw no hope and it was more than he could bear. He raced to the men's room and threw up what little he'd eaten.
Daryl Banks huddled in the helicopter, his long body folded as small as he could make it. He'd been kidnaped. Again. At least this time it wasn't by those freaky Sunrise Patriot creeps. It was by a whole new set of freaks and Kim... his dream girl, Kim... was part of it.
His dad was going to go crazy when he heard. He'd sic Jim Ellison on these guys and between dad and Jim they were going to be some sorry Daryl-snatchers. Daryl kept repeating the image, like a film loop in his mind. Dad and Jim and the rest of Major Crime coming to his rescue. Kicking ass and taking names. Just keep quiet and wait, he repeated silently, like a mantra, just keep quiet and wait.
This had something to do with Blair. When they'd tied him up and blindfolded him, they asked about Professor Sandburg. He'd blurted the name, 'Blair' before he could stop himself. Strong hands had forced his arms painfully upwards and he'd yelped in pain.
But he didn't say anything else. No threats of what his dad would do or pleas for information. He wasn't a dumb, scared kid anymore.
Jim tried to force his way through the cobwebs that held him down. The lights were low but he instantly knew he was in a hospital room. He tried to raise his arms and found he couldn't move. If he was in the hospital and the lights were down that must mean Blair was nearby. He always made sure that things were subdued and quiet for Jim. But why was he in restraints?
Blair wouldn't allow that.
Blinking, he focused on the bags of liquid dripping into IV's in both his hands. Blood? Plasma? Was he shot? He felt general aches and pains but nothing sharp enough to be a serious wound. His eyelids got heavy again and he sank into sleep once more.
Blair was resting -- well, trying to rest -- on the sofa in Simon's office. Megan had insisted after she almost carried him out of the men's room. The events of the day had hit him like a shovel in the face. Now there was the possibility that Jim was dead. How was he supposed to handle that? How was he going to make it when he was missing part of his soul.
"Jim isn't dead." He sat up and shook off the morbid thoughts. No matter what the evidence said, Jim wasn't dead. "I would know if Jim were dead."
"Sandburg?" Simon stuck his head in the door. He'd promised to keep Blair informed if he would consent to taking a rest. "You should hear this." He walked to his desk and turned on the speaker phone. "You're on the speaker. Could you start again?"
Blair was on his feet and at the desk in one motion.
"Captain Banks... well you asked me to call if anything new came up about the students being murdered." Blair vaguely recognized the voice of the sheriff from Blue Lake. "We were questioning Chad Ralston and he broke down in record time. He and the other three kids were recruited by some campus cult. Said something about being 'the elite'. He wouldn't give up any names... seemed terrified of these guys... but he kept going on and on about how they broke their promise. Getting... kidnapping... Doctor Sandburg was the price of the four of them paid for getting into the group. It's all he would say. Kid seems half-crazy with fear."
"Thank you, Sheriff Goodwin." Simon frowned at Blair as he spoke. "Keep us informed about anything you discover."
"Simon?" Blair was talking as the captain hung up. "The kids were in on it? What the hell is going on?" The deaths of his students was a crushing pain that had been torturing him all day. Only his panic about Jim's fate had pushed the agony aside temporarily. "They were pawns. Pawns in some plot to get Jim and me. This is crazy. I mean... why go to such crazy lengths to get us when you could grab us at the loft or when we were camping or hit us with tranq darts in some dark alley?
"Sandburg..." Simon thought for a moment then looked curiously at Blair. "You actually put some thought into this, didn't you? All the ways someone could grab the two of you?"
"I always knew someone might come for us."
"Jesus, kid." Simon frowned and shook his head. "Ellison has to live with this crap but you volunteered."
"It's not like that, Simon." Blair shrugged and turned around so the captain couldn't see his face. "I've known for a while that my role in this is just as compulsory... as natural... as Jim's is. I can't explain it but I know it's true."
"Whoever wanted you, they considered themselves 'the elite'." Simon's tone became brusque and business like. It was the captain's way of dealing with his own discomfort about the Sentinel Stuff. "Did you ever hear about any groups like this at Rainier?"
"There are a lot of groups. You know... top one precentors. Chad and the others were bright but too intellectually lazy to be recruited by any group I know of."
"That's why they were expendable." Simon said grimly. "You and Jim, on the other hand..."
"You think Jim's alive too." Blair stated flatly.
"I know it goes against the evidence, but yeah, I do."
"But it makes no sense." Blair rounded on the tall man and gestured wildly. "It's over-complicated, expensive. My god, those goons at the lake were some kind of mercenaries. Plus it's insane. They killed those poor kids for no reason."
"So we're looking for someone who's rich, smart, ruthless, organized and crazy as a bedbug?"
"Oh god." Blair collapsed on the sofa again. "How can we find someone who acts so irrationally? I'll go to Rainier and try to find out about the kids. The students will talk to me."
Simon drew himself up, as if preparing to protest. Then he sighed. "You'll take Rafe and Brown with you or you won't leave the building. Give me five minutes to fill them in."
Blair leaned back against the cushions and closed his eyes. A buzzing vibration in his pocket made him jump. Fishing out his cell phone he growled in a tone worthy of Jim Ellison himself, "Sandburg!"
"Professor?" The voice had the tinny, metallic edge of a voice synthesizer. "Say nothing to the officers around you, just listen carefully."
"Blair?" The youthful voice of Daryl Banks was painfully loud as it changed from his recently acquired baritone to a higher pitched cry of pain.
"Daryl?" Blair snapped. "What the hell are you doing with him. He's no part of this."
"Mr. Banks will live only so long as you keep your mouth shut. We don't want to hurt him and we especially don't want to harm you. Get away from the officers. I know you can outsmart a bunch of dumb cops. Meet us by the fountain in exactly one hour... four PM on the dot. We'll take you to your little teaching assistant. And to your Sentinel."
County Jail, Blue Lake
Chad Ralston paced the tiny cell and wept. How stupid could he have been, to think that The Alexandrians would want him. They were the future. The answer to the inevitable devolution that came with modern medicine. The weak and inferior were reproducing like the animals they were and with each generation the human race would get weaker and less intelligent.
He'd scoffed at them at first until they pointed out that modern man had no Alexander. We had no Jefferson or Washington... no William Wallace or Edison. It was no longer the survival of the fittest and so the 'fittest' among us had to assure the survival of the human race. It had all made such sense when they explained it.
The only thing Chad hadn't counted on was that he and his friends would be counted as inferior and unworthy to live."
"Fool." Chad beat the cement wall with his fists until his knuckles were raw. Professor Sandburg had saved his life. Short, dorky Professor Sandburg was among the elite. He'd proved it when he sent Chad scurrying for cover, faced down a pack of killers and came out a winner. Of course it was a short reprieve because his life was forfeit. They couldn't let him live.
Chad winced as he looked at the long gash on his fingers. There was a sharp ridge of mortar that extruded from the sloppily laid block wall. Almost absently he rubbed the inside of his left wrist over the toothed edge. In seconds the delicate skin was torn and -- he gasped at the sickening feeling -- the veins opened. Dipping his fingers into the warm, flowing liquid he started to write.
"Jim!" Daryl was shaking him in a panic. "Jim, wake up."
"Daryl." Jim lifted his right hand and realized that the young man was untying his left. The kid was fumbling in his terror. "Calm down."
"What's going on? Who are these guys? What are you doing here tied to a bed? Where's Blair? What's going on?"
"Whoa." Jim sat up gingerly and shook off the last of the drug he'd been given. "You've been hanging around Sandburg too long. You're starting to talk like him."
Jim was clean, his various cuts had been bandaged and he had been dressed in green scrubs. His body felt like one big bruise and he felt strangely weak and chilled. Still, that had to be pushed aside. He was responsible for someone else. He couldn't let Daryl see that he was hurt or weak.
"They just grabbed me." Daryl was still on a roll, his words jumbling over each other. "I was going to lunch with Kim -- this girl I kinda like -- and she... they were waiting with guns and she didn't even seem to care or anything. I mean she just stood there and let them point these guns -- I think they were machine guns -- at me and..."
"You are spending too much time with Blair." Jim tried to lighten the mood to keep Daryl from falling apart. He slipped from the bed and as silently and gracefully as a cat he investigated the room. Satisfied that there was no way to escape -- yet -- he returned to the only piece of furniture in the room and sat down. "Don't you two characters know any law abiding women."
Daryl calmed down but gave Jim a sidelong glance that told him he wasn't fooled by the bad banter. He sat on the edge of the bed. "What's going on?"
"If I knew, I'd tell you." Jim put his arm around the broad, bony shoulders, oddly amazed that he had to reach up a little. When had little Daryl gotten so tall. When the boy finally filled out he was going to be damn near the same size as Simon.
"Dad will come, won't he?"
"With guns blazing." Jim quirked his lips and added silently, if he can find us.
"How will he find us?" Daryl was watching him intently.
"Always with the questions?" Jim tightened his grip and pulled the boy into a loose, rough hug. "You really have been around Sandburg too much. You know that, Kiddo.
Deeply aware of Brown and Rafe at his back Blair walked through the halls of Rainier. He'd actually found out a few things from the friends of his late students. The group had some fairly strong right wing views about how the 'right' people weren't having enough babies mixed in with some pseudo-scientific bullshit about evolution that would make a fundamentalist's hair stand on end. They invoked the name of Alexander, after -- Blair guessed -- history's ultimate over achiever, Alexander the Great.
He had fifteen minutes and was going to have to cut it very close. For now he wrote in his notebook as he walked and surreptitiously checked his watch. It was going to be close.
The Sentinel smiled as she strode along next to her guide. Her beloved had the endless stamina of youth and the face and body of a young Greek god. She had ended their last encounter face down over his desk, so wild with pleasure and pain that her nails had left gouges in the polished wood. It was his power over her. Sexual release so potent that it literally took her to the point of death. It was addictive and she would do anything to have it. To have him. He had saved her, remade her in the image of his own ideal and she worshiped him. Even now she gloried in the twinges and aches that reminded her of his possession.
Soon his plan would come together. Her harvested eggs would be fertilized with the semen already collected from the unconscious Sentinel. Young female followers would carry the future race of god-like warriors to term. They had procured a handful of young women who had high ESP test scores. She had hand picked the ones she sensed were potential guides and they would soon bear the children of her guide and those of the other. Together they would save the world and rule it together.
Blair stopped at a door near his office in Hargrove Hall. He used a key to open the door and stepped inside. At his gesture Brown and Rafe followed him inside as the door snapped shut behind them. The small room was filled with metal utility shelves piled with paper towels and toilet paper. "Wait there a sec, guys. I want the get some papers I stored in here." Blair walked around the last row of shelves and pushed aside a broken sheet of drywall. He tried the doorknob and breathed a sigh of relief when the door budged. The door was supposed to be bolted from the outside but it almost never was. Students -- including Blair in his undergrad days -- sometimes used the closet as a place to tryst.
He slipped out as quietly as he could and threw the bolt just as two muscular bodies hit the door from the other side. "Sorry guys."
"Sandburg. Let us out." It was Rafe shouting.
"Give Simon this notebook." Blair pushed the thin pad of paper under the door. "Only Simon!" The he ran toward the front of the building, the sound of the two detectives pounding and cursing following him up the hall.
Blair raced down the steps and looking around, almost stumbled into the fountain. How ironic would that be? Him drowning in that stinking thing again? There was a squeal of tires behind him as Brown and Rafe burst through the twin doors. That was fast, guys. He stood transfixed as a tan colored van pulled up beside him and the doors slid open. Two men in ski-masks grabbed him before the vehicle even stopped. His last sight before the doors closed was the detectives, as they stood at the bottom of the stairs with their guns drawn. There was a shot and the rear of the van swayed for an instant before it careened around a corner and sped away.
Simon Banks was shouting at his telephone. Rafe and Brown had lost Blair and he was going to kill his detectives and the missing consultant too. He ordered a city wide APB for the van bearing the vanity licence plate of #1 CELA, then snarled. "Who the hell puts a vanity plate on a get-away vehicle."
"Crazy people?" Megan offered as she tried to field two phone calls at once. "Simon, the county sheriff in Blue Lake is sending you a fax. He wants to speak to you." She held up one of the telephones.
Simon hung up his phone and waited for Megan to transfer the call.
"Sheriff Goodwin?" Simon listened for a few moments then set the phone carefully back into it's cradle. He walked out to the fax machine and took out the most recently received missives.
"Simon?" Megan walked over. What... oh my god."
"Chad Ralston was found in a pool of his own blood in his cell." The captain gestured at the first grainy photo. "The kid killed himself." Laying aside the first page he showed Megan the close-up of the crude writing on the cell wall.
The final A trailed off toward the floor in a hand-sized smear.
Megan looked askance at Simon. "Superhuman?" She whispered with a frown. "Alexandrians?"
"She was at the top of our list of Jim's enemies." Simon shook his head. "But she's dead. She died in that asylum upstate without ever coming around."
"In a gas explosion?" Megan shot him a level stare. "Burned beyond recognition?"
"Okay. I'll call the locals and try to have her body exhumed." Simon fumed as he stormed toward his office. "It can't be that simple. Alex Barnes... Alexandrians."
"That's what the students said." Everyone turned as Henri Brown's voice came from the door of the Bullpen. "That was the group that those dead kids belonged to."
"Rafe, Brown, get in here." Simon bellowed from his office. "Connor... you come too."
They hurried inside and closed the door as the captain finished his call. He turned to the two men and glared at them. "How the hell did you two lose Sandburg?"
"He was familiar with the place...." Rafe started quickly.
"...and you know how good he is at giving people the slip. By the time we got to our car." Henri paused, "Man! He even told us were to park!" He concluded in an exasperated tone before he handed Simon the note book. "Hairboy wanted you to have this."
Simon peered at the cramped handwriting for a moment before handing it to Megan. "I can never read Sandburg's chicken scratches."
"Simon." She read slowly. "Sorry for going on the lam. Don't let anyone know that you know this but I have to tell you. The guys who have Jim took your son. They called, I heard Daryl's voice and I had to go."
Simon stood up and almost upset his desk. "They took my son?"
Megan nodded and peered at the shaky handwriting. "You can't let on that I told you. They said they would kill Daryl if I told anyone. I think Jim's alive, too." Megan turned the page and continued to read. "Please check Alec Summers. He had a break-down a year after he left here. He wrote me some strange letters about superiority and the dangers of reverse evolution. Later, he said he was taking medication and studying psychiatry. He seemed better but then he stopped writing. I really hope I'm wrong about that. Simon, I'll take care of Daryl. I swear..." Megan sighed, "It stops there."
"Hairboy was writing while we walked." Brown shook his head. "Right up to the last minute."
"They took my boy." Simon's voice faltered, then he straightened his shoulders and stood tall. "Not a word of this leaves this room."
Rafe looked at the others and nodded. "We'll keep it quiet, Captain."
"And we'll find them." Megan's tone was icy. "All of them. And we'll make whoever took them regret it."
Joel fumed as he drove away from the halfway house after talking to Dan Freeman. The man was still a jerk but he had an airtight alibi.
"...van wanted in the kidnapping of Blair Sandburg going west on Grainier at Seventh. All units converge on that location." The radio crackled as Joel hit the gas.
"Blair?" He muttered as he turned a corner on two wheels. "First Jim and now Blair. What is going on?" Soon he was joined by several patrol cars, their sirens screaming. He raced toward the center of the city, turning off Tenth and heading toward Grainier Avenue.
The van crossed the intersection with another pair of black and whites on it's tail. It turned and was confronted by Joel and the other officers careening toward it. Fish tailing it turned into an alley, slamming into several dumpsters. Joel and the partol cars were close on it's tail. So close that Joel could read the vanity plate. #1 CELA.
"Who the devil puts a vanity plate on a getaway vehicle." Joel took the lead in the pursuit as the van headed through a maze of alleys, toward the docks.
It's tires screeched as it wobbled and the driver appeared to lose control. Joel could only watch in horror as the van's momentum threw it into a spin. A tire blew and it rolled into a fueling station for trucks, ending up crushed beneath the tank of a parked gasoline truck.
Slamming on the brakes, Joel leaped from the car and ran toward the tangle of wreckage. "Blair." He shouted as he looked for the vibrant young man he thought of as a son. He and the other officers were almost there when they were met by a wall of flames. He still plunged forward until two uniformed officers grabbed him and dragged him away from the fire. "Let me go." His struggles only stopped when all three of them were blown off their feet by the explosion of the fuel tanker. The truck went up in a storm of blue-white flames and a rain of hot metal.
Joel woke to find himself sprawled over the unconscious body of one of the officers. After finding a strong pulse in the man's throat he gently rolled away and sat up. The other 'uniform' was stirring and being checked over by his fellow officers.
"Captain? Sir?" The muffled voice seemed to be coming from a great distance. Joel was handed a handful of gauze pads by a young police woman. "You have a cut on your forehead."
He could feel the warm trickle of blood as he blinked and gingerly pressed the makeshift bandage to his brow. But he didn't feel any pain. All he could feel was loss. He sat unmoving on the pavement as fire-men and paramedics arrived and raced past him. He stared at his worst nightmare come true. One last terrible explosion.
One last explosion to deaden his hearing, make his nose bleed and his heart pound. One last explosion to snuff out the bright light that was Blair Sandburg.
Jim Ellison paced the small room like a caged tiger. For the hundredth time he tested the door and tried to find a weakness. Daryl sat on the bed and watched in awe. Daryl had always had an odd relationship with Jim. The man had been a mystery when he was a child. He'd always been kind -- in a distant sort of way -- but there was always something slightly intimidating about him. Then Jim helped his dad save him from the Sunrise Patriots. He and Blair even came to a foreign country to find Daryl and his dad when everyone else thought they were dead.
When Blair was around, Jim changed completely. He smiled and even laughed and didn't seem to be so cold and formal. He had met Jim's dad at a picnic once and thought, as only a new student of Psych 101 could, that Bill Ellison had a lot to answer for.
Anyway, if you had to be in trouble, it was good to have Jim on your side. With his dad and Blair on the outside looking for them -- not to mention the rest of the Major Crime gang -- things had to turn out all right.
Remembering that Grammie Banks always said 'The Lord Helps Those Who Help Themselves', Daryl looked around the room. He took the IV bags off the stainless steel pole and worked it out of it's holder. Soon he had a three-foot length of pipe. He hefted it and was satisfied that he could back Jim up. Now all he needed was a chance.
"Joel?" Megan struggled to hear over the noise coming from the earpiece. "Can you hear me, Joel?"
"Tell... Simon..." Megan's sometime partner spoke in a flat dead sounding voice. "Tell Simon that... Blair is dead. The van... it blew a tire and crashed. There was fire. He's gone."
"Captain?" Megan heard a woman's voice from somewhere near Joel. "We have to check you out now."
"Megan?" Joel's voice was wavering and tired now. "They want me to go to the hospital. I'll be okay. You and Simon... You find Jim. He's going to need you..."
The line went dead and Megan was left staring at the telephone in her hand. She had to fight to breathe past the cold lump in her chest. Blair was dead? Gone?
"I have to tell Simon." She stood and tried to compose herself. Before she could take a step the door to the Captain's office opened and Simon came out. It took only a glance at the desolate expression on the dark, handsome face to stop her.
He already knew everything. Their eyes met and hot tears blurred her vision. What were they going to do now? Even if they found Jim alive. What were they all going to do without Blair?
Jim heard them coming long before the voice came from outside the door near the one-way spyhole. "Detective Ellison? We are armed. Step back beside the bed and keep your hands at your sides."
Jim hesitated, bristling with anger, before stepping back. He gestured to Daryl and the young man hid the steel bar under the edge of the mattress. Copying Jim, he held his hands out at his sides slightly.
The door opened and a couple walked in. The man was shorter than the woman and seemed younger. The stunning red-haired woman cradled a machine pistol in her capable looking manicured hands. Everything about her was different -- her was face more gently sculpted and her body more elegantly proportioned -- but it didn't matter. The edgy, maddening feelings he'd been experiencing since he awoke were echoed in her glittering green eyes. She was a Sentinel. She was Alex Barnes.
"Alexandra." The woman corrected him tightly.
"And you are?" He turned his scorn filled gaze on the man.
"Aww, Mr. Cop." The young man was about five feet-nine, with broad shoulders and a face that would have guaranteed a career in Hollywood, with or without talent. "You don't recognize me?"
"Summers? Alec?" Jim replied as he placed the voice. He firmly repressed his fury and kept his voice as even and sarcastic as possible. "Had some 'work' done?"
"Alexander!" The too bright eyes snapped up and met his. "I thought my face and body should match the perfection of my mind."
"What the hell is going on?" Jim's temper finally flared into the open. "Where's Sandburg? Why have you bought Daryl here? He's just a kid."
"Jim. Please calm down." Alex turned her smug, superior smile on him. The smell of the couple's last sexual encounter rolled off both of them.
"Alex?" Jim sniffed haughtily. "Everything, up to and including blood? Have you been a corrupting influence?"
"We don't want to hurt you, Sentinel." Alec flushed and spoke quickly. "You and Blair... you saved us. You showed us what we are. What we could be. You made this possible and all we want to do is share it with you both."
"The Alexandrians." Alec gestured wildly and Jim could see the madness sparkling in his eyes. "We are the future. That's where Blair was wrong. We aren't remnants of the past. We are the next step in evolution."
"You made Kim help kidnap me." Daryl stepped forward angrily. You crazy son of a..."
"Daryl!" Jim grabbed his arm and held him back.
"Good, Jim." Alex purred as she raised the machine pistol. "The sweet child doesn't realize that he is the one who gets shot no matter which of you misbehaves."
"You'll see truth, Ellison." Alec turned to leave. "You belong here with us."
"Welcome back to the jungle." Alex didn't take her eyes off him as she backed through the door with a smile. "You know you belong here."
"It's my fault." Rafe's bitter words broke the shocked silence after Simon told them about Blair.
"Sandburg had his escape planned." Simon gave the distraught detective a sympathetic look. "You couldn't have..."
"I shot at the tire." Rafe whispered. "We were standing in the middle of a campus. It went against every department policy on use of deadly force. I just did it without thinking."
"We were investigating the kidnaping of a police officer." Henri added quickly. "The only place that bullet went was into the grass next to that damn fountain."
"I didn't think that I hit the tire." Rafe closed his eyes. "But it must have damaged it somehow."
"The bad guys were in a van." Simon shook his head. "They were in a full-on pursuit with a half dozen police cars. A shot would have blown the tire if it hit right at the time and that's a lot harder than it looks on TV. We don't have time for this stuff now. We have to find Jim." The captain caught himself before he added his son's name.
With every fiber of his being he wanted to throw all the resources of the police department into finding his son. Blair said that they threatened to kill Daryl if he told. Did it matter now if they stayed silent? Simon knew that he shouldn't be the one to make this decision. He was too close, too upset.
Ellison was being held somewhere. Daryl was probably being used as a hostage to make Jim behave. Poor Blair died, trying to help find them both. How am I going to live with that?
"Captain?" Simon looked around at the concerned faces and realized that he had been lost in thought. Megan touched his arm and continued to speak. "I think we should go back to the campus and question the students again. When they find out about Blair, it should get them started talking."
Simon shook off the feelings that threatened to smother him. He gestured to Rafe and Henri. "Take a couple of uniforms and go back to Rainier. Spread the word about Sandburg and see what you can find out about these Alexandrians and The Fortress. Connor, do a national database search and see if you can find out anything." The detectives hesitated, looking at him expectantly until he pointed at the door. "Go!"
The Captain's resounding shout was like a splash of icy water and the small group scattered.
Simon went to his office and closed the door. He sat with his head in his hands until the phone rang. It was the coroner he'd asked to check on Alex Barnes. She had indeed burned to death at Windwood State Hospital. A young doctor at the hospital had identified her body, which afterwards had been cremated and the ashes scattered.
"Are you sure?" Simon bit out the words harshly.
"Yeah." There was a rustle of papers on the other end of the line. "Says here it was Doctor Summers. I remember him. Called him Doctor Doogie 'cause he was so young."
"Thanks Doc." Simon hung up and stared at the phone. Somehow Alex Barnes and Alec Summers have hooked up and for some crazy reason started this. They have my son and my friend and they killed Blair and they aren't going to get away with it.
"They aren't going to get away with this." Jim whispered through clenched teeth as he tested the frame around the door. Daryl approached, dragging his make-shift stainless steel staff like a child dragging a security blanket.
Jim began to tap the walls every foot or so, listening carefully for any difference in the thick solid walls. He'd done this before but he was determined to find some weakness. Finally he ended up at the hospital style bed that was solidly bolted to the floor. This time he dropped to the floor and reached behind the headboard.
"Damn it!" Soon, Jim had maneuvered his tall frame completely under the bed.
Daryl bent double and peered at Jim. "What's going on?"
"There was a door here at one time." Jim leaned out and held out his hand, clicking his fingers. "Give me that." Daryl handed him the steel pole.
There were some muffled thumps and pieces of drywall came skittering out from under the bed. After a few minutes Jim looked out and motioned to Daryl. "There's a store room on the other side. It's a tight squeeze under here. Follow me and be quiet."
"Captain..." Megan ran into his office and paused until Simon hung up. Dan Wolfe was still waiting for the all-clear from the fire department, before he could get at what was left of the bodies in the van. Evidently there were dangerous chemicals in the near-by buildings. "I found something."
Simon looked up with a weary mixture of hope and anxiety.
"It's Summers. A few years ago, not long after he returned home from Cascade, he was hospitalized for a series of violent psychotic episodes. He was able to control them with drugs and switched his studies to the mental health field. He interned at Windwood State Hospital."
"Where Alex Barnes was being held." Simon growled. "I know this."
"While he was there, he published an article claiming a connection between heightened senses, empathy and mental illness. He sited Sandy's work as a source."
"What happened to him?"
"I contacted his step-father and he told me that Alec went off his meds about the time Barnes 'died'. Summers had a trust fund from his grandparents and the proceeds from some computer what-cha-ma-call-it he invented when he was twelve. All told, the kid disappeared with several million dollars."
"And Alex Barnes."
"Apparently. The last the step-dad heard, Summers was living east of here. Somewhere near the Canadian border, maybe in Idaho."
"That covers a couple of thousand square miles. Anything on the Fortress?"
"I've contacted all Eastern Washington law enforcement agencies and the Idaho state police. If anyone built a fortress out there, they had to leave some trace."
"No, really officer." Misty shook out her long, sliky blond hair and batted her eyelashes at Rafe. "Tommy was such a super nerd. He just knew everything about everything. He told me he was joining some, like super smart group and that if I was smart I should breed with him before he left. And I was like 'As if!' -- cause, I mean he was such a loser."
"But he did drop out?" Rafe blinked, trying to decipher the girl's words.
"That's what I said." Misty snapped emphatically. "He went off to Nevada or Utah or someplace and joined some nerd militia."
"When?" Henri prompted.
"Right before mid-terms. He was supposed to tutor me and instead he just left."
"You don't know where?" Rafe asked.
"He gave me his computer. Just like that." Misty gestured at the impressive computer set-up on her desk. "I know his E-mails if you want me to look up anything like plane tickets or something."
"He didn't erase everything?"
"Tommy thought I was too dumb to beat his encryptions. Like I couldn't guess his password was 'mistyandme'? Right?" Misty turned to the computer and squared her shoulders determinedly. "I mean... I might not have said anything but I liked Professor Sandburg and if I can help, I will."
"Thank you, Misty." Rafe sighed and gave Henri a sad smile. "We liked Professor Sandburg too."
The linen storage room was locked but Jim was soon able to pick the lock. He stuffed a pillow case with a blanket and extra sets of scrubs he found folded on the shelves and handed it to his companion. Padding silently on bare feet, he led Daryl out into the hall.
Using his hearing, Jim picked a path through the huge old building that avoided the scattered guards. He hoped to get outside before anyone realized they were missing. Finally, there was only one man between them and the door. The guard was burly and had 'hired muscle' written all over him. Jim couldn't risk a brawl and he couldn't risk being discovered.
He signaled to Daryl to wait, then advanced on the oblivious man like a wraith. For years he had always held back when it came to using his skills. Sometimes, it had led to embarrassing beatings from perps. But, his military training hadn't been big on restraining the enemy. It had focused on killing the enemy as quickly and silently as possible. It was that training he called on now.
The only sound from the guard as he died was the sickening crack of vertebrae as they snapped. Jim waved Daryl forward and the young man hurried past the body, pointedly looking away from the dead man. Jim quickly searched the body, frustrated when he found only a stun gun. He pulled off the man's loafers and grimaced. How could such a big guy have such tiny feet.
They ran out the doors and were confronted by acres of steeply rolling lawns leading down the side of a mountain to an endless expanse of forest. The evening was clear, miserably cold and they were in the middle of nowhere.
Jim raced through the darkness toward the trees, the tall grass whipping, wet against their legs. He felt stones and roots, sharp beneath his bare feet but he only ran faster.
Daryl's long legs covered the distance easily, his heavily treaded running shoes easily finding footing as he entered the tree line. Jim stopped him, pausing to rip a pair of the scrub pants apart and tie them around his bare feet.
Jim stood for a moment and let his senses range as far as he dared. Miles away, he heard heavy truck wheels, crunching over the gravel as they rolled west. He was about to take off when another sound drew his attention.
"Get off me!"
Jim turned and looked back toward the house. "Blair?"
A jeep paused in front of the mansion and two men wrestled a third figure out. Wrapped in a straight jacket and hobbled with leg irons, the shorter man was, nevertheless, struggling for all he was worth.
"Ow!" One of the muscular men shouted as he slapped the furious captive. "The little freak bit me."
"Don't hurt him." The other cautioned. "You know the orders."
"Jim..." Daryl shook him until he turned around. "Jim? What's going on?"
"They have Blair." Jim hatred to turn away for a second. "I have to go back."
"We'll both go."
"No, Daryl. Now listen up." Jim took out the brown army style blanket and wrapped it around the young man's shoulders. "They were using threats to you to control me. They want me and Sandburg alive." A leg was ripped from a second pair of scrubs and jammed onto Daryl's head as a makeshift hat. Jim pressed the stun gun into his hand. "Do this for me. Go downhill -- keep heading west -- keep that big star over your left shoulder. There's a road. Get help as quick as you can. If I know your dad he'll have half the cops in America looking for us."
"Go." Jim took the steel pole when Daryl offered it. "We're counting on you." He turned and ran back toward the mansion. It was a gloomy looking stone structure with no ornamentation that looked like a Victorian institution of some sort. He could hear Blair protesting angrily as he grew near. Circling the featureless walls, he was searching for a way in when an alarm tore at his ears. Search lights turned the night into day. Jim knew he'd lost his chance to get inside and find Blair so he decided to lead the pursuers away from Daryl. He ran behind the building and into the forest in the opposite direction from the captain's son.
Soon powerful hand-held lights were arcing through the woods behind him. A woman's voice -- she knew she didn't have to shout -- spoke to him. "Jim. You know we have Blair. Come on out. You know I'll find you both."
She thought Daryl was still with him. "Go left and keep climbing, Daryl." Jim said urgently, then smiled his best predatory smile and ran through the night.
Alex tried to zero in on Ellison's exact location as she led her team upward. Alec was too preoccupied to come along and her senses were unreliable without him. It was a secret she kept from her beloved Sentinel -- that even after repeated trips to the Temple of the Sentinels, this time under Alec's watchful eye -- she was still not as strong as Jim. "Come down, Jim." She spoke conversationally as she climbed over the increasingly rough ground. "We'll spare the boy if you both surrender now."
"Damn!" Alex snarled furiously as she stumbled. Her feet slipped in the mud and her knee hit the rocky ground. "Ellison!"
"There's no point in shouting, Joan." Simon flinched as his ex-wife harangued him from thousands of miles away. "I'll keep you informed. I have your number in Tokyo." He hung up before she could tear into him again.
"Captain." Henri leaned into the open door of the office. "We traced one of the Alexandrians to Elk Grove Washington."
"Where the hell is Elk Grove?"
"North-east. Just over the border from Idaho, in the mountains." Rafe looked at Henri and chewed his lip. "We're on O.T., here and we thought we could... on our own time... go out there and look around."
"I notified the chief that my son has been kidnaped. There's a national all-points on him by now." Simon stood up and walked out into the Bullpen. "Captain Finkleman will be taking over here shortly. I'm supposed to go home and wait."
"Cap?" Henri looked shocked.
"So I called a buddy who has a charter service." Simon picked up his coat and tipped his head at Connor. The Bullpen was teaming with detectives and her shift was long over. "Anyone else want to check out the mountain scenery while we wait for news?"
"Thank God!" Megan already had her coat on before he finished. "Something to do."
Rhonda hurried in and handed Henri a large box of pastries and a thermos. "I'll stay on top of things here and call you if anything new comes in."
"Anything." Simon said pointedly as he looked at the lovely woman.
"Anything." She answered fiercely before adding wistfully. "Be careful Simon. I... I mean everyone, be careful."
Somewhere In The Forest
Daryl Banks careened down the hill, twigs slashing at his face as he ran. His eyes were watering, thanks to a close encounter with a skunk. He hadn't gotten sprayed directly, but had picked up some of the scent thanks to the wet, humid undergrowth. A full moon cast long shadows but helped him find his way.
I never thought being on the cross-country team would actually help in real life. Of course, I never thought I'd be running through God knows where, getting sprayed by skunks and chased by crazy super villains who live in some freaky mountain stronghold in the middle of nowhere. And I'm supposed to save the day? Do I look like Clark Kent? Is there any thing in my past that leads Jim to think that I might be able to do this? Is that a Cougar?
The huge amber cat was right in front of him looking startled. Startled is bad enough when dealing with skunks. It's never a good thing when dealing with animals that can kill you. "Nice Kitty. Pretty Kitty." Daryl remembered all the things he'd ever read about wild animals.
Don't smile and show your teeth. Don't make sudden moves. Try not to smell like small prey animals.
"Who's a pretty kitty?" Holding out the stun gun, Daryl backed away slowly as the big cat snarled angrily and showed him an impressive mouthful of teeth. "You are a nice kitty. Yes... You are." The cougar advanced slowly, matching his steps as he retreated.
Blair hobbled through the halls of the huge old building, his shoulders aching from wearing the straight-jacket. The heavy ankle restraints made it hard to walk and the two slabs of meat that escorted him occasionally shoved or dragged him if he didn't move fast enough. "If you assholes want me somewhere faster than this you better freakin' well carry me."
"Get in there." One man grabbed the straps of the jacket and pushed up, propelling him through a door
"Cut it out you..." His shoulder muscles screamed and he almost fell as he shouted in pain. "Stop it!"
"Leave him be." Blair looked up at the man who spoke with such authority. He might look like a fallen angel but Blair still recognized his one-time protege'.
"Alec." Blair said acerbically as he straightened.
The beautiful face grew serious. "My name is Alexander, Blair. Please try to remember that."
"What the hell is going on, Alexander?" It was hard, but Blair kept the sarcasm out of his tone.
"That's exactly what Jim said."
"Jim." Blair stepped closer, his voice suddenly fierce. "He's here? Is he okay?"
"Did you think you'd lost your Sentinel?" Alec smiled brightly. "We borrowed a couple of pints of blood to encourage the notion that he was murdered."
"What?" This was past crazy. They syphoned off two pints of blood and splattered the inside of Jim's truck with it? To make a kidnaping look like a possible murder.
"He was easily cured by a transfusion. We needed to draw attention away from The Alexandrians for a few days."
"Days?" Blair had to try to reach him. To find out what he was planning to do. "What's going to happen in 'days', Alexander?"
"The beginning of a new world." Alec turned and rolled a boxy speaker near the window behind the desk. He gestured to the men to push Blair toward him. "A world of superior beings. A new species."
"The Alexandrians?" Blair felt ill. "Alec... Alexander. Where are the students you recruited? At Rainier they said several of their top one-percent students disappeared after they joined your group."
"Not just Rainier." Alec fiddled with knobs and switches on the box. "There are a hundred and twenty-three, from all over the world. Most of them are staying at our hotel, in the valley below."
Alec is sitting up here in his mountain aerie, plotting his own little Master Race? Where have I heard this before? "You want Jim and I to join you?
"Of course. You and Jim and your Sentinel studies were what inspired me. When I found my own Sentinel, my Alexandria, I realized what I was. What we are."
"Alexandria? Alex Barnes?" Blair tried to digest this newest bit of information. Stay calm. Stay calm. Don't shout that he's crazy and so is his murdering bitch of a sentinel. "You didn't tell me what happens in a few days."
"A dozen volunteers will leave tomorrow for twelve international airports." Alec said absently as he frowned and fiddled with a toggle on the box. Then he opened the window and a gust of icy wind blew in. "They will release a virulent, genetically altered, military grade strain of Smallpox. When they reach their destination, they will each contaminate a second international airport."
"You would kill millions of people?"
"Some older people might survive. They were inoculated and it might protect a small percentage of them. And us of course. All of us will survive to produce the next generation." Alec showed Blair a hypo-spray. He lifted it to the exposed flesh of Blair's neck. "Alexandra made sure to steal plenty of antidote."
"No!" Blair shouted as the man behind him twisted his arms, almost dislocating his shoulders. The hypo-spray hissed under his ear, as the sound of his voice reverberated, mechanically amplified, in the room and out the window. It was a trick. Jim must be out there somewhere and this was a trick to draw him back. "Shit!"
Somewhere In The Forest
Jim waited behind a tree as one of his pursuers came near. He hefted the steel bar Daryl had given him and swung with all his strength, satisfied when the big man doubled over. Using the pole like a short-staff, Jim followed up the strike to the ribs with a flurry of blows to the head. He caught the tranquilizer pistol as it fell out of the man's hand.
He didn't wait to see the man fall. Instead, he ran higher, his cloth-bound feet slipping as it became harder to stand upright on the steep mountain face. Hypothermia was another consideration he had to face, as the temperature was below freezing and the thin set of scrubs he was wearing did little to protect him. His many injuries from this morning, even though they were mostly minor, had left him feeling oddly weak.
"No." Blair's familiar voice was enhanced by some sort of loud speaker. He sounded both pained and angry. "Shit!"
"Your friend doesn't want to call for you, Detective." Alec's magnified voice sounded bored. "I can make him scream if you don't come back."
"Don't." Blair shouted. "Run! Get out of... " His words ended with a shout of pain.
"I can still get everything I want from him if he's missing a knee-cap." Alec sounded exactly like the boy he remembered. That scared Jim more than any ranting or threatening bravado. The kid was so far removed from reality that he could threaten to maim or kill someone in the same tone that he might use to order a text book. "Blair's giving me the nastiest look right now, cop. It's up to you if he gets hurt more than he already is."
"Alex," Jim leaned against a tree and caught his breath. He really had no choice in the matter. "Tell him I'll come down -- but only me."Alex called her guide on a walkie-talkie and reported what she'd heard.
Damn, damn, damn! I have to keep them off Daryl until he's in the clear. Now for a little diversion.
Jim looked out over the trees, thinner in this higher altitude. A few deer were clustered under a group of pines, a hundred yards to his right. Raising the pole like a javelin Jim threw it as hard as he could before shouting. "Run Daryl." The metal shaft fell short but made enough of a racket to startle the deer. They crashed up the mountain face in a group, making a surprising amount of noise.
Jim smiled as Alex ordered her companions to search the area. He made a mental note that Alex wasn't as sharp -- sense wise -- as she pretended. "I'm coming down now." He shouted, as he took his time walking down the hill. When she came into sight he dropped the pistol and calmly raised his hands.
Jim strode through the halls of the great mansion like he owned the place. His hands had been cuffed behind his back, but the chain was long enough that he was fairly sure he could -- given enough privacy -- get his hands in front of him. He had made up his mind to go along with Alec's nutty offer until he could get Blair out of here. Now that he knew it for what it was, he could shake off his reaction to another Sentinel in such close proximity.
Alex steered him into a large office with a nudge of her machine pistol. Alec was lounging in an over sized desk chair behind the massive desk but Jim's attention was instantly captured by the angry, rumpled figure beside the window. "Blair." He was at his guide's side in an instant.
"Jim! Why the hell did you come back. Where's Daryl? Did they hurt him? Did they hurt you?" Blair looked down and gasped. "You're bare-foot."
Jim looked down and realized he had lost the last of the rags tied around his feet. He'd left bloody footprints on the creamy Persian rug. "Cool it Chief." He leaned closer and whispered. "Daryl's somewhere on top of this mountain. I told him to climb a tall tree and hunker down till help comes." Jim almost smiled as Alex leaned closer and listened in.
"Do you know what they're planning?" Blair was still bristling with outrage. "They are going to spread Smallpox. Some kind of gentically altered strain that only they are immune to."
"You were already inoculated, Sentinel Ellison."
Thanks a hell of a lot, you little psycho. "Alec..."
"Alexander." Alec corrected quickly.
"Alexander. We appreciate you trying to protect us. We Sentinels are important to the future, as are our Guides. But you don't need to kill people."
"The world is too evil and polluted for us to survive in." Alec took Alex's hand and kissed it possessively. "Too polluted with noise and people and evil. Look, what it did to my beautiful Alexandria. She never had a chance from the time she was a child. I saved her and I can save the world."
The look Alex gave the kid shocked Jim. It was pure adoration. She looked at Alec like he was her only hope of heaven. Jim had assumed that she was the one in control in the relationship but he was wrong. Alec had rescued her from a catatonic state and made her his perfect weapon.
"Jim!" Blair snapped after a moment of stunned silence. "You appreciate them? They killed my students. They kidnaped you and me."
"I'm just being a realist. I have to protect you." Jim gave Blair a sideways look that brooked no arguments. "Just be still and let me take care of things."
"Be still?" Blair hobbled around so he was facing Jim. The younger man looked like he had been through the spin cycle, with a bruised face and a swollen lower lip. "Who the hell are you telling to be still?"
"You." Jim met the angry glare with one of his own. "You've always known I was a selfish bastard. Didn't I let you piss your career away? Didn't I let her," Jim jerked a thumb toward Alex, "almost murder you? When are you going to get a clue? I'm not some sacred tribal guardian. I'm not some damn hero. I'm a realist."
"You're a son of a bitch!" Blair spun around with an angry flourish but Jim could tell -- from long experience of dealing with an angry Sandburg -- that he had caught on. "You always thought you were better than everyone else. The only reason you put up with me was because you needed me."
Ouch, Chief. You came up with that awfully fast. Blair was always great at the 'Good cop, bad cop' thing. He could pick up on Jim's routines and come up with a complimentary, sometimes opposite routine of his own.
It's not that I expect 'Alexander and Alexandria' to drop their guard right off the bat. They might be nuts but they aren't dumb. If only I can make them think I'm not rock solid against them in this. They might relax and slip up.
"Gee, are you the good cop or the bad cop?" Alec smiled sarcastically. "I'm not about to believe that you agree with us about anything. Not this soon."
Shit! Okay, time to withdraw and re-form the line.
"Not likely, punk." Jim drawled sarcastically. "Last time I saw you, you couldn't drive a car without wrecking it. So you will excuse me if I doubt your 'World Domination' skills."
"That's a pity, Mr. Cop." Alec's eyes flashed with anger for a moment before he assumed his carefully cultivated attitude. "Because it's going to happen. You two can be survivors or you can be victims."
Somewhere In The Forest
Daryl looked around desperately as the huge cat advanced on him. Using baby talk, the way his Auntie Louise spoke to her numerous cats, didn't work so he tried imitating his dad. "Shoo! Go! Beat it."
The huge yellow cat swished it's tail and paced the path above him.
"I'm going to turn around and keep going downhill." Daryl assured the mountain lion. "Just don't eat me or anything."
Somewhere Over The Cascades
The sleek little jet rode the wind as it carried Simon, Megan, Henri and Rafe eastward.
Henri was licking powdered sugar off his fingers as Rafe finished the last of the chocolate donuts. "Good thing Hairboy isn't here. He'd be telling us how many years these things were taking off our lives."
"Yeah, remember how he yelled at Jim every time he got near a Buttermilk Special." Rafe smiled sadly. "Man, he wasn't afraid of anything."
"That explains the gray hairs he gave me." Simon sighed. "He would just tear into situations. I ever tell you about the time he held off a pack of drug dealers with a laser pointer? Had the whole bunch convinced he was a sniper."
"I heard about that." Rafe smiled. "And that militia guy he took out with the soda machine. And who else but Sandburg gets trapped in an elevator with a bomb. He told me he cut a hole four times too big then almost fell through it in his rush to dump the bomb. Made it sound like farce. Then Joel told me how the kid handled everything. Said it was incredible."
"Yeah. Hairboy was always coming up with some trick. "Megan. You should have seen him..." Henri stopped when he saw the tears in the Australian officer's eyes. "Sorry."
"Don't be." Megan dashed the tears away with her sleeve. "Sandy was a story spinner. He would appreciate us telling tales about him."
"Did I ever tell you about him jumping out of a plane in Peru?" Simon asked Megan with a smile. Of course, he had told all of them the whole story but Megan shook her head slightly anyway. "Jim said he yelled the whole way down, ended up in a tree with a lizard in his pants."
"For someone scared of heights Sandy always seemed to end up somewhere precarious."
Inside the Fortress
This time they were locked into a square concrete room with a -- from their side, at least -- featureless steel door. A tube of antibiotic salve and three wide rolls of bandage were tossed onto the floor before it slammed shut.
Blair rounded on Jim only to see him examining every seam and corner of the cell. He's checking for bugs. Duh, Jim. They don't need bugs. They have Alex. You remember Alex. Leopard skin stretch pants... double D armor-piercers and a thing about drowning brilliant young scientists.
Blair was startled when Jim pushed him into the corner, took his hand and turned it palm up, careful to keep it hidden between them. In the palm he started tracing letters. N-O-B-U-G-S-C-A- M-E-R-A. Then he held his index finger to his lips and tipped his head toward the light fixture in the middle of the ceiling. A-L-E-X-N-O-T-S-T-R-O-N-G-B-U-T. Jim shrugged and kept writing. I-M-G-O-I-N-G-T-O-G-O-A-L-O-N-G, Jim paused, U-B-G-O-O-D-C-O-P.
Blair shot him a sarcastic smile, tipping his head so his hair covered his face. He tapped his own chest and mouthed. "You mean 'bad' cop?"
Jim shrugged again then snapped angrily. "I don't care if she hears. We aren't getting out of this. Not this time."
"You weren't serious about 'appreciating' their in...credible scheme." Blair caught himself before he used the word 'insane'. Years of study and observation had taught him that people sometimes resented being called insane -- especially if they were really, really bug-shit crazy. "How many times are you going to let me down? I can't believe I thought you were special. I believed in you."
"Special?" Jim rounded on him with an incredulous shout. He reached over and roughly placed a hand on Blair's neck. Under the soft curtain of curly hair he let his thumb brush the stubbled cheek for a moment. Then he shoved Blair to one side and stalked to the door. "Hell! You treat me like a lab rat or a super hero -- depending on your mood on any given day -- and now you call me 'special'. Get this straight. My dad raised me to be a cold-hearted bastard, the military trained me to be a killer and the police force showed me just how rotten my fellow man can be. I don't believe in much but I believe in you. At least -- I believe you can help me."
"What if I don't want to help you anymore?" Blair tried to sound as venomous as possible. "What then?"
"You don't have any choice." Jim bit out the words. "Neither do I. The only choice we have right now, is 'live or die'."
"I can't live like that."
"You'd be surprised what you'll do to survive." Jim lowered his voice and grasped Blair by the upper arms. "You have to be tough."
"I won't be part of mass murder." Blair shook his head as the scope of the plot hit him again. "My God! They're talking about the end of the freakin' world here."
"And there isn't a damn thing I can do to stop it."
"The Jim Ellison I know would die to save one person. They are talking about the whole world... millions of people."
"There's nothing I can do." They were shouting now. Jim leaned back against the wall and slid down to a sitting position. He had picked up the bandages and salve, looking at them in his hands like they were alien objects. "Nothing!"
"Damn it Jim!" Blair sat Indian style in front of him. He took the salve and lifted on of Jim's feet onto his lap. "Let me wrap these up. You padding around leaving bloody footprints is grossing me out." Blair gently spread salve onto the scraped and raw flesh. He wrapped each foot with gauze and then met his friend's eyes. Blair wasn't acting when his shoulders slumped and his eyes closed. "I thought you were dead. There was blood -- your blood -- inside your truck. It was everywhere."
"So that's why they took all that blood."
"They killed my students, Jim." Blair's voice broke as he spoke. "They died because of me."
Jim reached out for him for a moment then pulled his hand back. "You got to be strong here, Chief. The only ones we can save now, are ourselves."
"I don't know if I can do that." Blair whispered the words even though he knew that Jim was speaking mostly for the benefit of Alex. "I don't know If I can."
Simon shuddered as his friend Cary somehow landed the executive jet on the too-small airfield outside of Elk Grove, Washington. Thanks to a powerful tail wind and some serious flying by Cary, they'd made terrific time. Simon had called ahead and requested the local sheriff meet them. The detectives griped at the chill in the air as they got off the jet. This far inland the temperature was twenty degrees lower than Cascade and their thin jackets weren't up to the task.
There was a blue and white SUV parked at the gate with a large heavyset man leaning against the fender. He looked like Brian Denehey playing a movie cliche southern lawman.
"Sheriff Marsteller?" Simon held out his hand and offered it to the heavily built man.
"That'd be me." Marsteller shook hands.
"I'm Banks... these are detectives Brown, Rafe and Connor."
"I don't know what you all expect to find up here. This place is isn't exactly a hot bed of criminal -- or any other kind of activity." Marsteller nodded to the others then opened the back door of the SUV and gestured for them to get in.
"We're just following a few leads." Simon got into the front passenger seat. "Have you ever heard of anyplace called 'The Fortress?"
"There's a big old pink elephant of a place, up on the mountains about twenty miles from town." Marsteller chuckled. "It's been a private home for a looney millionaire, a ski resort without enough snow, and a mental hospital for the too rich. Now it's a think tank for some kind of super brains. I had a visit from some guys flashing some pretty impressive ID -- US Government ID -- who told me to mind my own business. That the 'Fortress' was off limits."
Simon turned and looked at his detectives, barely able to see them in the darkness of the back seat. Their expressions reflected his own confusion and concern.
What the hell was going on?
They careened over the curving, country roads until they came to a group of businesses and larger buildings. Marsteller pulled into a lot next to two other identical cars. "Com'on in the Station and get warmed up."
Somewhere In The Forest
Daryl Banks caught himself on a tree as his headlong run down hill almost got him killed. A huge logging truck sped past, it's headlights momentarily lighting up the pitch black mountainside.
"Stop!" Daryl ran onto the narrow strip of blacktop and waved his arms at the disappearing vehicle. "Oh please stop."
Soon the truck was gone from view.
"Go west." The exhausted young man adjusted the belt he'd used to hold the wool blanket around his body. He could hear Jim's voice in his head. "Get help as quick as you can... big star over left shoulder... Dad will be looking..."
Daryl sighed and began to trudge down the seemingly endless ribbon of black that cut through the towering trees.
Joel stepped off the elevator and stared at Major Crime through the glass windows. His head ached and he should have gone home but he was drawn to the station instead. Captain Finkleman was standing in the middle of Major Crime, looking harassed. Joel approached with a sad smile and an offer to help any way he could.
After he refused to leave, go home or back to the hospital, Finkleman surrendered and assigned him a task. He was assigned to call several universities and government agencies and find out all he could about the Alexandrians.
Inside The Fortress
Jim's head snapped up and he looked around, embarrassed at being caught dozing.
"Go ahead and go to sleep." Blair said. The younger man was leaning against the wall next to where he sat. "You look really bad."
"I mean it Jim."
"Whatever you say, Chief." Jim yawned and closed his eyes. "Just for a minute."
The chill air followed the Cascade detectives into the police station. A tall, athletic looking woman stood up from behind a gray metal desk. "Are these the detectives from Cascade?"
"Yeah." The sheriff grunted as he took off his jacket. "They think there's something going on with those science guys up the mountain."
"My name is Terry Wicker, Deputy Terry Wicker." She shook hands with them as she introduced herself. "What's going on, if you don't mind me asking?" The woman displayed more interest than the sheriff had.
Simon gave them a rapid-fire and somewhat abridged version of the day's events. "Our best guess is that these Alexandrian guys have my son and my detective. They've already killed several students and a fine young man who was one of my best friends."
"And you think those nerds up at the Fortress have your people hostage?" Marsteller leaned back in his chair and shook his head. "I think you're on the wrong trail, brothers."
"Sheriff, you know I've been curious about that place all along. Deputy Wicker paced across the office. "Captain Banks. How'd you like to take a ride up to the Fortress?"
"I'd like it fine." Simon was on his feet in an instant.
"You're gonna get into trouble with the feds, girl." Marsteller grumbled.
"We'll just take a look around." Simon looked at his detectives and caught their furtive nods. They were with him, whatever happened. They would do whatever it took to get Daryl and Jim back. "Promise."
Somewhere In The Forest
Daryl trudged onward. He would walk for a while, then jog to keep warm. He had to get help for Jim and Blair. In the distance, he heard a rumble. Turning, he watched as a pinpoint of light became a pair of headlights. Soon he could see and hear the huge log truck racing downhill toward him.
"Stop!" Daryl waved his arms and jumped up and down in the middle of the road. "Please... STOP!"
There was a screech of brakes and Daryl waited until the last second before he tried to leap out of the way.
"It's in Elk Grove." Joel juggled two telephone receivers as he spoke to a very annoyed government official. The sixth one he'd spoken to so far. "The group is called the Alexandrians."
"You'll have to wait a moment, Captain. I can't talk anymore about Mason's involvement without clearing it with my superiors."
Joel sighed as he was put on hold and B.J. Thomas crooned 'Raindrops Keep Fallin' on my Head' in his ear. Then he lifted the second phone as another annoyed voice barked his name.
"Randolf Mason vanished a year ago. There is a warrant out for his arrest. I can't say what for. National security."
"This guy was one of the CDC's leading scientists." Joel glance at the pad he'd been scribbling on. "Expert on pandemic viruses. He was part of the team that cleaned up a germ warfare factory in... Uzbekistan."
"Who told you that?"
"I have sources." Joel's lips quirked in a bitter little smile.
"Is this a secure line?"
"Very. Anyway, I know the whole story. Weapons grade... Biological warfare..." It was an old cop trick -- but then, Joel was an old cop.
"If your source said anything about weapons grade smallpox, they were delusional." The line went dead.
Joel almost dropped the phones.
Joel pressed his ear to the second receiver. "Taggert here."
"Randy Mason joined some sort of cult according to his friends. They could only say it was for the super intelligent. He vanished a year ago and there's been some very serious talk about him."
"That he stole a weapon." Joel paused. "A disease that was supposed to be wiped out decades ago."
"Who told you that?"
"I have sources."
"Yes... well it never happened." The line went dead.
Joel got up and hurried into the Captain's office. "Captain Finkleman. I think I know what's going on in Elk Grove and it's very, very bad.
Alec walked down the line of twelve volunteers. "You are the architects of the future. The capsules you just swallowed contain the seeds of a perfect world."
"The tickets in your possession will take you through most of the international airports on the face of the earth." Alex smiled at her lover and continued. "After the capsules pass through your system, you will crush them and become..."
"Death." Alec finished. "You will become death. You will become the salvation of the human race. You will allow us to evolve into the superior beings we were meant to become. Now in the midnight hour, we will begin a new day -- a new world." His voice rose with every word until it rang through the massive old building. "The Future!"
"The Future! The Future!" The group's cheers echoed over and over.
"Our Future." Alec whispered, with a satisfied smile at the only one who could hear him.
"Jim? You awake?"
"I'm listening." Jim frowned fiercely. "They're getting ready to leave. Alec is getting the carriers fired up -- the virus is sealed in capsules they swallowed."
"Damn. We have to get out of here."
"I told you. We're done. We aren't doing anything." Jim pinned Blair with a bitter glare before he rolled his eyes toward the hidden mike. He had to remind the impulsive Sandburg that others were listening.
"I can't believe you." Blair hissed. "You want to join her don't you? I swear you're acting like you did on that beach."
"I didn't let her shoot you." Jim didn't have to fake the annoyance in his voice. The kid sure knew how to get his goat. "Get over it."
"You son of a bitch." Blair stood up. "Things turned to shit after Alex. I wonder why you brought me back that day at the fountain."
"Because I need you."
"Of course. It's always about you. The whole fucking world revolves around James Ellison."
"You called me the Holy Grail."
"Yeah, well mistakes happen."
"Like leaving your dissertation on your laptop for your dingbat mother to find?"Jim thought he might have gone too far as Blair advanced on him.
"Mom might be a flake but she beats your lace curtain, snob of a dad. Christ! I threw my life away to make up for that."
"I didn't ask you to."
"And I didn't ask to be kicked out. I didn't ask to be drowned like some unwanted animal."
"I brought you back." Jim repeated.
"Because you 'need me'?" Blair had angry tears in his eyes.
This was why Jim didn't talk about stuff like this. His dad was right. It was better to keep it inside. But now they needed to convince Alec and Alex that they were at each other's throats. Jim stood up, ignoring the pain that radiated through his body from his feet to his head.
"Yeah, Chief." Jim tried to convey his true feelings with his eyes. "Look around. Look at what your Sentinel studies have done. Where would we all be... the whole damned world... without you and your Sentinel studies?"
"You son of..." Blair slammed the palms of his hands into Jim's chest. For an instant Jim caught him in his arms in a brief, fierce hug, then he deliberatly staggered back and hit the wall hard -- harder than he'd intended. As he slid down onto the floor he heard Blair shout his name, then nothing.
Simon sat in the SUV and tapped his fingers on his thigh. The dark road seemed endless.
"We'll get there soon, Captain." Deputy Wicker assured him, beaming with excitement.
The radio crackled to life.
"We have a trucker coming in on Route 9 with a lost kid he found on a logging road."
Wicker picked up the microphone. "Any details?"
"Black teenager... tall... Bo says he almost hit the kid."
"Daryl." Simon said at the same time Rafe, Megan and Henri did. He took a deep, shaken breath as he felt the other's hands on his shoulders. The three detectives in the back seat all kept saying it. "All right, Daryl."
"Call him and tell him to look for us." Wicker flipped on the lights and siren. "Let's go get your son. Captain Banks.
Megan Connor fished her cell phone out of her tote bag and elbowed Rafe and Henri in the ribs. The two men grumbled and moved aside, giving her more room. She leaned back as the SUV bounced over a pot hole. "Joel... Hey... we think we found Daryl."
She listened closely as Joel filled her in of what he'd discovered. "Simon..." She started to tell the captain when the deputy brought the vehicle to a skidding halt. Simon bounded out the door before they came to a complete halt.
The tall, slightly bedraggled figure bounded down from the cab of the truck. "Daddy."
Simon swept the boy into his arms and held him in a crushing embrace. "My boy. I thought I lost you."
"Dad... Jim... He saved me." Daryl stepped back and continued earnestly. "He was hurt but he got us out."
"Where's Jim?" Henri asked as he joined the group.
"Was it Alex Barnes?" Rafe asked at the same time.
"Let him get his breath." Simon ordered. "Daryl. Did Jim escape too?"
"No... Yes, I mean he got away but he went back."
"What?" Simon was obviously trying to be patient -- and failing.
"He went back for Blair. He heard them come back with Blair and..." Daryl frowned as he saw their expressions. "He had to go back for him."
"Blair's dead, son."
"Not according to Jim, he's not." Daryl said slowly. "I saw the truck too. I heard Blair yelling at them."
"Well, I'll be damned." Henri smiled and slapped Rafe on the back so hard it made him stagger.
"The kid has more lives than a cat." Simon hugged his son again.
"Captain Banks." Megan had been on the phone, filling Taggert in on Daryl's news. Then, with a sigh, she held out the phone. "I'm sorry, but you better hear what Joel has to say."
"Jim!" Blair lifted Jim's head onto his lap. "Help... someone..." Blair tried to feel any bumps or cuts on the back of Jim's head. It was like Jim had simply shut down and it terrified him. "Help!"
There was a rattle at the door and Alex walked in. "Your tricks won't work."
"You can scan him." Blair snarled at the tall, perfect woman. "What do your senses tell you?"
"Poor, Ellison." Alex smiled. "He's not doing too well, is he?"
"He could die. He needs to be in a hospital... in a bed."
"Alexandra my love?" Alec stood outside of the door. "Is he in danger?"
"His heart rate is slow. Breathing shallow." Alex looked down at the two men. "He's dying."
"Take them to the hospital room." Alec frowned. "But cuff them both securely."
"Leg irons?" Alex purred.
"You know me so well." Alec smiled and walked away.
Alex called the guards and they lifted Jim off the concrete floor. She pushed the barrel of a pistol into the middle of Blair's back. "Don't think you're escaping. After tomorrow -- there won't be anywhere to go anyway."
"How can you do this? You're killing millions of people... children..."
"Shut up!" Alex shoved him hard, her voice ragged. "Alexander knows best. We're saving the world."
"He's a kid." Blair bit out the words. "A brilliant, mentally unstable kid."
"You're a fool."
"Alex." Blair lowered his voice to a purr and continued. "Please let us go. Let me take Jim to a doctor. Let me help you. A sentinel is supposed to protect people -- not kill them. You will be destroying yourselves. You'll destroy Alec. We're guides, he and I, and we are tied to all things living. If the world ends -- we end."
"You feel it. I know you do."
"Shut up!" Alex delivered a slashing blow to his head with her pistol.
Blair felt hot blood spill over his ear as he staggered against the wall. He shook off the darkness that beckoned him and gasped. "You know it. You and Alec are sealing your own fates. We... sentinels and guides... are supposed to care for those weaker than us... we protect. Our strength comes from the tribe... the people. You're killing yourselves."
Alex forced him forward, behind the men dragging Jim between them. "Shut up or I'll shoot you both right now."
Outside Of Elk Grove
"We have to do something." Rafe exclaimed after Simon told them about Taggert's discovery.
"Smallpox?" Deputy Wicker looked at the small group. "Are you serious?"
"Serious as a heart attack." After the trucker had left, Simon had finally listened to Daryl's tale about the Fortress including the small army of heavily armed guards led by a pair of lunatics. "We have to make sure no one leaves the Fortress until the feds get here."
"They took Jim and Blair." Henri steamed as he paced on the dark pavement. "Barnes and that Alec kid -- they got to be crazy."
"We have to hit the road." Simon put his arm around Daryl's shoulders and herded Megan and Rafe ahead of him. "Brown. Get in the car."
Deputy Wicker was reaching into the high vehicle. She pulled back with a riot gun in her hand and said. "I don't think so, Captain Banks."
"We'll stay here until Alexander completes his arrangements." The woman pointed the shotgun at the group of detectives. All her naivety was gone, replaced with icy purpose. "I won't let you destroy our plans."
"Our? How can you be part of this?" Megan whispered. "It's mass murder."
"I have an IQ of one-hundred seventy and the best job I could find in this town was as Marsteller's flunky. In the new world -- I will be the law. The soul guardian."
"Of what?" Simon drew himself up. "A world full of rotting corpses."
"A world filled with superior humans. The next step of human evolution." Wicker glared at Simon. "I've been picked to be the mother of supermen. Of Sentinels like Ellison."
"I don't know what the hell you're talking about." Simon glanced at the others.
"Hey, Cap." Henri rolled his eyes at his partner, Rafe. "We figured it out. We are detectives. Hairboy isn't a liar... except about his romantic exploits."
"Shut up." Wicker ordered. "Get on your knees."
Henri backed up, moving away from the group. Simon instinctively stepped in front of Daryl as Megan edged away from them and pretended to crouch down.
Suddenly the sound of a powerful siren blared as the sheriffs' SUV careened around a blind curve. After that, several things happened at once.
Wicker turned, and Henri and Megan sprang at her. Rafe hit her from the side and pushed the shotgun down. Sheriff Marsteller jumped from the vehicle even before it came to a skidding halt. The gun went off and one of the Cascade detectives gave a shout of pain.
"Jim..." Blair whispered so softly that no one -- not even a sentinel -- could hear beyond a few feet. "Time to wake up." Jim lay motionless and Blair was frightened that the events of the day had finally had caught up to his seemingly invulnerable friend. "Enough nap time. We have to save the world." Blair tried to touch Jim and was brought up short by the handcuffs locked around his wrists and under the bed rail.
Save the world? We can't even save ourselves.
"You are the Shaman of the Great City." Incacha's voice was shockingly loud and clear. Blair looked around the barren room even though he knew they were alone. "Why do you doubt your own power to save the world? You were chosen."
"Chosen?" Blair made no sound but in his ears, the words echoed through the room. "I saw you die. How can you speak to me?"
"Death is just another state of being. Ice and steam are very different and yet they are still water." The soft voice was speaking a language that Blair shouldn't understand and yet he did. "Nature is all around you. Take comfort in it. Draw strength from it."
Blair closed his eyes as he felt an odd rush of heat, surge through his body. He could feel the energy crackle around him and realized that it had always been there. Like a subliminal hum in the back of his mind. There was the cool, steady presence that was Jim. Weaker than usual but still there. Reaching out, he touched the chaotic darkness that inhabited the Fortress.
Alex and Alec were indistinguishable, one from the other. Madness and genius and terror coiled around the pair like bonds of fire. The other Alexandrians were mere shadows.
Blair cast out -- beyond the building -- and caught his breath as the rush of energy hit him. Why hadn't he felt this before? Every tree and every creature on the mountain radiated life. Even the insects -- sleeping under frozen earth, waiting to be born -- added to the hum of life.
"Take care, young one. Once unleashed these forces can't be controlled." Incacha whispered. "It is a great risk to call on these powers."
"I have to."
"You will pay a price."
"But I have no choice."
"You have no choice." Incacha nodded sadly.
Blair reached out and gasped as the energy crackled and arched into his body.
Outside Of Elk Grove
"Henri!" Megan left Rafe and Simon to handcuff Deputy Wicker while she dropped to her knees next to Brown. He held his leg below the knee and writhed in pain.
Marsteller ran forward with a first aid kit and a blanket.
"Go!" Henri gasped as Rafe joined Megan and Daryl beside him. "You have to stop them. Nothing else matters."
"He's right." Simon had stowed Wicker in the back of the Marsteller's SUV, using a second set of cuffs to secure her to ring in the floor. "We have to make sure no one gets out of that place."
"Dad." Daryl took his father's arm and looked into his eyes. "I can drive Henri into town. You all have to go help Jim and Blair."
Marsteller was on the radio. He paused and nodded. "Let the kid take my car. That crazy deputy of mine can't get loose and I'll have some men meet them and take your man to the doctor."
Simon hugged his son then hesitantly let him go. "I hate to leave you but you'll be safer away from us."
"Wish I could go with you." Daryl smiled tiredly. "You need every man you can get."
"Stay close to H." Simon gestured to the hastily bandaged Henri being lifted into the passenger seat by Marsteller and Rafe. Leave the deputy cuffed where she is. Be careful and don't trust anyone if you can help it."
"You be careful." Daryl paused then leaned over and kissed his father's cheek. "Daddy."
And then he was gone. Cooly following the Sheriff's directions Daryl wheeled the big vehicle around and headed for town. Simon swallowed hard and followed his small band to the second SUV.
"There's only two roads down off that mountain." Marsteller gunned his engine and headed away from town. "I'm having Brice and Kenly, and a few of our rowdier county employees park snow plows across them."
"Captain Finkleman and Joel have called the Federal Government." Megan was on her cell phone again. "They said that the airspace in this area is being closed as we speak, in case they have a helicopter. The CDC and other troops will be here within hours."
"So we hold the fort until the cavalry arrives?" Rafe asked.
"Maybe." Simon stared into the night. "Maybe."
Alec paced across the long veranda, oblivious to the cold, crisp air. "Wicker was supposed to drive them." He pointed at the innocuous looking group standing next to a dark, green van. Casually dressed and carrying luggage, they might have been a group of tourists heading for a vacation. "Call her."
Alex stopped him and kissed his forehead. "I tried. She's out of range."
"They have to leave! Now!"
"Yes, darling. "Alex soothed the agitated young man. "I'm having Brady drive them. He'll see that they get out on time."
"They have to." Alec shifted his weight back and forth, rocking slightly -- rhythmically -- watching as a tall man herded the group onto the van. "They have to."
"Calm down, Baby." Alex rocked her lover in her arms and stroked his thick fair hair. "I'll make everything all right."
Inside The Fortress
Blair snapped the chain on the handcuffs that held him. He did it without a second thought. The chain was just something that kept him from doing what he had to do. He laid a hand on Jim's chest and felt the powerful thump of his heart echo in the sleeping man's chest. He let the power radiate off his fingertips and heard Jim catch his breath as he neared consciousness. Blair used Jim to anchor his physical self as his spirit soared over the mountains and borrowed far under-ground.
He became one with the giant trees -- with roots reaching deep into the dark, rich earth. Standing through the fires and falling ash of volcanic eruptions. Unbowed by storms and centuries past imagining.
He felt the sinuous strength of the mountain lions hunting in the dark. The cozy warmth of rabbits deeply asleep in their warm dens. There was so much life around him. How could the other call himself a guide... a shaman... and commit murder. It was a betrayal of everything.
Even man in his arrogance, couldn't threaten the natural world. Nature would always emerge triumphant in the end. Life would prevail.
Nature was all powerful.
Nature was dispassionate and nature was cruel.
Blair became one with nature.
Through a hundred eyes he watched the van leave the Fortress. He watched Alex rock and comfort Alec. Before, Blair would have felt a twinge of pity for the young man. Blair, would have mourned the loss of a brilliant mind.
Once, but he was no longer that Blair.
Alec and Alex had to be stopped, soon and forever.
Outside Of Elk Grove
Marsteller skidded to a halt next to a snowplow. The rural road was completely blocked by the truck and several cars.
"Megan, Rafe," Simon ordered as the pair left the vehicle."Stay here and don't let anyone get past you. Sheriff Marsteller and I will take the other road."
Marsteller backed up and sped away. The heavy car rocked and tipped ominously to the side as he tore around a sharp curve. Simon just held on and stared grimly into the darkness. They had to stop this. They had to keep the madmen from spreading their poison -- no matter what it cost. It was literally a question of saving the world. Next to that, their lives meant nothing.
As if reading his mind, Marsteller glanced over. "No one gets off that mountain."
"Maybe not even us." Simon rumbled.
Daryl held the steering wheel so tightly that he threatened to crack it. Next to him, Henri hissed in pain every time they hit a bump.
"Don't mind me, Kid." Henri bit out the words. "Just keep driving and be careful."
"It's too late!" The woman on the floor behind them tore at her chains and snarled. "Alexander is the future. The rest of the human race... all of you are apes compared to him."
"I knew I should have stuffed my sock in her mouth." Henri growled.
"We're going to cleanse the earth. Burn away the inferior. We are the next step of evolution."
"I''m taking off my sock." Henri threatened.
"There's the clinic." Daryl breathed a sigh of relief. A man was waiting out front with a wheelchair. "Looks like the doctor got the call."
Jim Ellison tried to shake off the last of the stupor that held him. He had to force his eyes open and when he did, he wished he hadn't.
Blair was standing next to him. One hand was pressed hard into the center of Jim's chest. The other was raised beside his head with the fingers spread wide. Dark blood trickled down his arm from the torn flesh of his wrist and his thumb was obviously dislocated and broken. Jim didn't have to look at the stained cuffs hanging on the base of the bed to know what happened. He'd seen men on Angel Dust rip their hands out of cuffs, sometimes breaking the chains.
"Blair?" Jim whispered.
Blair's head was thrown back and eyes were closed. Exaltation seemed to radiate from his whole body. Jim could see stray hairs escape the damp, heavy curls and lift like a halo around his friend's head. The whole room seemed to hum with energy, making Jim wary. He didn't know what to do.
The detective wanted to do something -- get up and take some action. The sentinel needed to help his guide. Jim raised his hand, startled to find a handcuff circling his wrist, dangling several inches of broken chain. He touched Blair's hand, holding it close to his chest, startled to feel the rush of power in the strong fingers.
The sentinel would stay. He didn't know what Blair was doing, exactly, but he knew it was important. He also knew -- judging but the younger man's cool, flushed skin and racing heart -- that it was dangerous. His guide was risking his life and nothing was more important than helping him.
Whatever the hell he was doing.
Outside The Fortress
Alex looked up and flinched as a dark shape came down at her from above. She turned to shield Alec from the owl that slashed at her as it flew past. She turned to urge him to go inside, ignoring the bloody wound on her shoulder. "Alexander. Come with me."
"No." Alec turned, his exquisitely sculpted features were pale in the milky light. "I can stop this."
Before Alex could move to stop him, he stepped into the darkness. A rush of sound, an unearthly scream and the huge bird was on him. Another swooped toward Alex. She raised her pistol, but couldn't fire it. The tendons in her had were severed by curved, razor sharp talons and the pistol fell to the ground.
Summoning all her strength she pushed Alec toward the fortress, screaming for someone to help them.
Somewhere On The Mountain
Simon waited impatiently as the county workers moved the snow-plow and let them through. Marsteller insisted that this was the most direct route from the Fortress.
"Maybe we can head 'em off." The sheriff floored the accelerator and they were off.
On The Other Side Of The Mountain
"The Captain said to stay at the roadblock." Rafe frowned as Megan steered their borrowed pick-up down the dirt road.
"He's just worried about us." Megan peered into the darkness. "The sooner we can stop them, the better."
"You're right. If they are infected, we can't let them get near town."
"This way..." Megan narrowly avoided turning the truck over on a curve. "This way, the only ones to get infected will be us."
"That's good. Just us. " Rafe gulped. "Oh well, who wants to live forever?"
Jim heard shouts from the hall outside their prison. There was a burst of automatic weapons' fire in the hall and the screams of mortally wounded men. A key rattled in the lock and the door started to open. Two of the Alexandrian thugs stood outside for a moment as Jim tried to rise.
"Get the Shaman... Sandburg..." One of the men muttered. "She said he's the one making this shit happen."
"What the hell is happening." The other man raised his weapon but his hands were shaking. "Jesus. Benton and Louis just shot each other."
There was a roar in the hall and the men turned. "How'd it get in here?"
Jim hesitated for a moment. He knew somehow that Blair was drawing strength from him. "Hold on Chief." Jim angled his body so that he was between the door and Sandburg. It wasn't much protection but it was the best he could do at the moment.
Two golden blurs raced from behind the men in the doorway. The door swung crazily and Jim could only glimpse the sinuous shapes standing over the fallen men. Then, all three animals were gone.
Cougars are lone hunters. He'd seen that on some nature show. Cougars sure as hell don't come into buildings and attack armed men as a group.
He let his senses range out and could hear the mayhem though out the Fortress. The few people left were firing their weapons wildly. Others were almost gibbering in terror. Alex Barnes was angrily shouting for help.
"Blair?" Jim glanced back over his shoulder for a moment before turning his gaze back to the door. "Chief? Think we can get out of here now?
Blair shuddered as his eyes rolled back in his head. Jim had to turn and grab him to keep him from falling.
"I think it's time to go." Jim caught Blair under one arm and headed for the door. He paused to grab a weapon from one of the fallen men before edging into the hall.
"Coward." Alec shook off Alex's hand. "You aren't a Sentinel. I could control this if had a real Sentinel like Ellison." Suddenly, the sullen boy emerged from under the artificially perfect exterior. "It's all your fault."
"Alec. My love. We can leave here. Start over."
"I am Alexander and no one beats me. You can run away if you like."
"I'll do whatever you want." Alex bowed her head. "My life is yours."
"Kill them." Alec's eyes glittered with madness. "Kill Ellison and Sandburg."
Alex reluctantly turned away and walked toward the cell with a pistol in her functioning hand. Alec stormed into his office and locked the door. "Nothing can touch me here." He sat down behind his massive desk and leaned back, closing his eyes. "Pathetic animal tricks can't stop me. Nothing can stop me. Today the world ends -- to begin anew."
"Just a few more pellets." The doctor dropped another pellet of birdshot into a stainless steel pan. Henri closed his eyes and tried to relax. The anesthetic covered most of the pain but he was still aware of the probing and poking the town doctor was doing. "Looks like most of these were ricochets. They aren't too deep."
Daryl tried no to look too closely. He couldn't sit still, even though he was exhausted. The blood smelled gross and he felt kind of sick. Two citizens were guarding the woman deputy. The sheriff had called them and deputized them over the phone. Still, Daryl felt edgy about the day's events. It was as though things weren't done yet and he wished he could be more help.
"Sit, D. Try to rest." Henri barked from the examination table. "Half the cops in the world are headed here and they all will want to talk to you."
"I think. You are the only one who can fill them in on the layout of that place." Henri hissed in pain as the doctor probed one last time. "They'll need to know who to shoot. Who not to shoot. Stuff like that."
"I hope they hurry up and get here." Daryl stood at the window and watched the empty street.
Jim half-carried Blair down the wide hall. He wanted to get out of this place even he froze to death. Blair was out on his feet, mumbling constantly. "I can't stop them. It's out of control."
"We'll stop them somehow." Jim kept going. "We won't let them release that virus."
"No. Not that." Blair shuddered and collapsed to the tile floor. "Oh God. It's too late... I can't control... can't stop it."
Jim dragged his friend into one of the rooms and shut the door.
Alec didn't see the first creatures skiddier under the base-board. The huge, old, stone building held thousands of cracks and crevices that hid thousands of tiny occupants. Creatures with long joined legs and swollen colorful bodies. Low hairy spiders with thick, short legs who moved in convulsive hops. Fast-moving centipedes, who lived in the darkest corners of the old stone walls, squeezed through cracks in the molding and raced up the paneled walls.
Alec felt the first whisper of movement on the back of his hand. When he looked down at himself, he screamed. He ripped at his clothing and the creatures crawling on and under it. He didn't stop screaming until he threw himself at the window. The heavy glass shattered, impaling him as he fell forward. He drew one last gurgling breath as the cold, fresh air rushed into the room over his body. Then he was still.
On The Mountain
Simon saw the headlights racing down the mountain road toward them. A green van approached, lights dipping and wobbling as it sped down the narrow road.
"We have to stop them." Simon said.
Marsteller skidded to a halt, the big vehicle sideways across the narrow lane. He handed Simon a shotgun and got out of the car. Simon gave a resigned sigh and slipped out of the passenger-door.
The van barreled toward them and Simon had the uneasy feeling that it wasn't going to stop. The van swerved and its lights skewed wildly. The headlights silhouetted several large animals in the road.
Deer and elk bounded across the road, leaping from the hill above. The van turned at the last moment and went out of control. It flipped end over end, down the side of the mountain. It's lights flashed and flared as it came to rest in the trees far below. For a moment there was silence in the dark forest before the flames began to crackle then roar.
"You think it was them?" Marsteller asked as he looked down at the inferno.
"I think the world might not end tonight." Simon shook his head. "Did you ever see animals act like that?"
"Must have been spooked by something. Deer will panic sometimes."
"So where did they go?" The road was empty. Not one trace of the herd remained.
"Into the trees. Where they are supposed to be." Marsteller climbed back into the truck.
"We still have to get to the Fortress." Simon stared grimly into the night. "We still have to find my men."
Jim made his way through the empty rooms. Finally Sandburg stopped moving and became dead weight, dragging them both down. For a moment Jim just sat and tried to get his breath. Then he heard an ungodly screaming.
"Sandburg?" Jim lifted his friend's shoulders off the floor. "Chief? Wake up. We have to get out of here. We have to stop this thing." The younger man lay still, almost lifeless. "Come on, Chief." Jim felt like collapsing himself. This day had taken its toll on him, too.
"Jim?" Blair whispered without opening his eyes.
"Just wake up a little bit so we can get out of here." Jim shook his head as he realized how pathetic he sounded. "I promise. Later on... you can rest for a week. I mean private hospital room -- fuzzy blankets -- pretty nurses. I wish could lay down on the hard-wood floor and sleep for a month. I can't carry you right now, Chief. If we're gonna make it, you have to wake up."
"You go." Blair pushed at him weakly.
"Not without you."
"Okay." Blair shook his head and tried to sit up. "I'm up. Let's go."
"On your feet."
"What feet? Oh yeah."
Jim hooked his arm around Blair's back and lifted. Soon, they were standing and wobbling toward the door. "See. We're walking."
"Only because you promised I could sleep for a month."
"A week maybe."
"In Intensive Care?"
Jim couldn't argue. His friend was totally spent and he was close to collapsing himself. "I'll be there in the next bed."
Jim steered them into a hallway. He could smell the cold fresh air and tried to follow the scent. He wanted out of this place. If they froze to death, so be it.
He was stopped by a tall figure blocking their path.
"They aren't going to get here in time. Not for you."
Daryl spun around and faced Kim Carruthers. The girl who set him up. She was holding a revolver in her slender hand. Her exquisite golden brown face was twisted in a snarl of hated. "Kim. It's over."
"Because of you!" Kim advanced on him angrily. "All you had to do was... was nothing. You were just a tool."
"I can't believe I liked you. I thought I might love you."
"I can't believe I had to put up with your fawning over me." Kim sniffed. "I was just following orders."
"Didn't we read something like that in history -- all the good little Nazis obeying orders -- thinking they were something special."
"We were superior. We are superior." Kim raised the revolver and pointed it at Daryl's head. "We are Alexandrians!"
There was a blur of movement and Kim shrieked. The crack of gunfire -- as a bullet whizzed by Daryl's cheek -- was almost drowned out by the crash of metal from the pan of instruments Henri threw at her hand.
The disarmed girl looked at the men defiantly as she backed away. "You ruined everything!" She turned and raced out the back door.
Daryl hurried and locked the door behind her. He picked up the gun and handed it to Henri with an embarrassed shrug. "She seemed nice before the whole psycho, master-race, setting me up to be kidnaped thing."
"D, you have been hanging out with Hairboy way too much." Henri laughed as he limped over to the window. There was a rumble in the night and the first of several trucks rolled up Main Street. "Looks like the cavalry has finally arrived."
Alex held a large automatic in her left hand. "It's gone. It was for nothing."
"Alec is sick." Jim tried to angle his body to protect Blair. "We have to get out of here. I promise we'll try to get him some help."
"Alexander is dead. I felt it." Alex shook her long red hair off her face. Her eyes glittered in the dim light. "My Sentinel. I let him die."
"Alex. He was using you." Blair straightened and staggered forward. "He was brilliant but he was sick."
"No! He was everything." Her eyes glittered with tears as she glared at him. "You... I asked you to come with me. I asked you for help... that day at the university.."
"The last thing I remember was you walking into my office."
"I meant to kill you. To take you away from Ellison." She stepped forward. "But I changed my mind and decided to take you with me. You fought me. You wouldn't leave him."
"So you drowned me?"
"It was an accident." The hand holding the gun shook as she studied him. "Even now, I can't shoot you. It's like there's something holding me back."
"We can't kill each other. I felt it that day on the beach." Jim took Blair's arm and guided him forward. "You won't kill us."
"Come on, Alex." Blair said softly. "There's nothing for you here."
They walked past her toward the door. She paused for a moment, then ran in the opposite direction.
"Come on, Chief." Jim staggered out the door and down the steps. The cold hit him like a fist. "I'll go back in and get some coats or a blanket of something."
"No!" Blair's voice was surprisingly strong. "You can't."
Jim let Blair nudge him in the direction of a tiny iron bench hidden in some pines on the other side of the driveway. He could feel Blair shivering and wrapped his arms around him. "We're gonna freeze. I need to get us something warm to wear."
"No." Blair held his arm. "Stay."
Jim heard the rustle of trees as large animals approached. Several animals exited the fortress and walked toward them. "What's going on, Chief?"
"We can't be in there." Blair was using that eerie voice again. "Everyone... everything... Run away... run away...."
Jim jumped as a heavy, furry body leaned against his legs. The big golden cougar laid its head -- Jim could smell the human blood on the fur around it's mouth -- on Blair's knee. Against all logic, Jim saw massive antlers above him as two elk, snorting jets of steam, pressed close behind the bench. The two men huddled on the bench as more animals joined them, sharing their warmth.
Daryl stared as a endless stream of police cars and National Guard vehicles drove through the town. Henri hobbled out to meet them and Daryl followed. There was general chaos as the various groups tried to get organized. Several townspeople appeared and guests ran from the hotel.
"Kim Carruthers!" Daryl shouted as he spotted his erstwhile dream girl trying to blend in with the crowd. "She's with them. She set me up to get kidnapped."
"You don't know anything!" Kim rounded on him with her fist raised. "You aren't even a 4.0 or better."
"I have a '38' and that's what counts." Henri leaned forward and caught her wrist.
"Somebody, cuff this girl." Daryl looked disgusted and turned away, muttering. "...think you're better than other people. Hah."
The State Police rounded up the hotel's guests. Most of them were boldly claiming to be Alexandrians and angrily demanding their lawyers.
Daryl ignored them and looked for the commanding officer. He had to tell them about Jim and Blair. His dad was on that mountain trying to find them and he probably needed help.
On The Mountain
Simon got out of the truck and glared at the heavy iron gate blocking the road. "I have had enough of this shit!"
"Get in." Marsteller shouted. "I'll ram it."
"It's radio operated." Simon studied the lock. "And it looks pretty sturdy. I don't suppose you have anything we could use to blow it open."
"I'll get my bomb." Marsteller said sarcastically.
"How about your shotgun?"
"Help your self." The sheriff handed him the riot gun and a box of shells.
"What would MacGyver do?" Simon muttered as he took off his jacket. He used his suspenders to lash the box of shells to the locking mechanism. "Probably going to blow myself up."
On The Other Side Of The Mountain
"Get off me!" Megan Connor ordered.
Rafe tried to lift himself off Megan's wiggling body. "Hold still so I can stand up and open my door."
The pick-up truck lay on its driver's side in the gully beside the sturdy gate. Their way had been blocked and Megan had rammed the gate -- with the truck -- until his teeth rattled.
When that failed, she had -- without warning him -- tried to drive around it. Having rolled once, they were hung up in some trees, on the side of a steep hill.
"Hey, I didn't pull an Ellison with the truck. You did." Rafe maneuvered himself upright, trying not to step on her in the process.
"You're standing on my hair!"
"Sorry." He hoisted the door up and climbed onto the side of the truck. Megan was already standing and he offered her his hand.
"Just get out of my way." She scrambled out, using a tree limb to steady herself. "We'll have to walk the rest of the way."
Rafe followed her to the narrow roadway. She was limping and his left shoulder was throbbing but it didn't slow either of them down. Within a few minutes they were both jogging through the dark forest at a determined pace.
Alex let her senses run wild as she walked through the Fortress. It was silent except for the creaking of the timbers and the thump of the old heating system. Everything else was dead. Everyone was dead. "Dead."
She used the gun to blow away the lock on the office door.
"Alexander?" She lifted him off of the glass in the broken window and gently placed him in his leather chair. She ignored the bloody gashes on his neck. His face was unmarked, pale and perfect. "Oh baby. I'm sorry I couldn't save you like you saved me." She opened the desk drawer and found the device. She thumbed the cover off the switch and without taking her eyes off of his face placed her finger on the button.
On The Mountain
The SUV knocked the gate down on the third try. The makeshift explosive had weakened the latch and made it possible. Soon they were racing toward the imposing stone structure silhouetted against the icy pre-dawn sky.
Marsteller almost drove off the road as the explosion lit up the sky. One moment the huge old building was squatting on the mountain side, dark and forbidding. The next it was being ripped apart like an exploding sun. Flames billowed into the night sky and the Fortress ceased to exist.
"Jim." Simon watched in horror. "Blair, oh Lord help them."
They rounded the last curve and came to a stop in front of the burning ruin. Simon jumped out of the vehicle before it stopped moving. "Ellison! Sandburg!"
Simon looked around, wondering if he'd really heard the voice over the roar of the fire.
"Over here, Simon."
Jim and Blair were sitting on a bench, almost hidden in a grove of pines. The two men looked half-dead. The fire-light cast a hellish pall on them. Simon pulled off his coat and wrapped it around them. Marsteller grabbed a blanket from the back of his SUV. "You're both going to freeze to death."
"We had animals but they heard you coming and left. Did you know that Blair can talk to animals?" Jim wasn't making sense and seemed to be delirious. "You got to stop them, Simon. They left in a van, Simon. Smallpox. They had vials of it."
"The van crashed and burned." Simon tucked the blanket gently behind the men as he spoke. "Just stay still and..."
"You sure?" Jim grabbed Simon's arm. "You have to be sure."
"I saw it." Simon patted his detective's hand. "That van was totally engulfed in flames. No one got out."
"Simon?" Rafe came running up the drive. "Are Jim and Blair alive?"
"Over here." Simon called.
"Bloody hell." Megan followed him breathlessly. She approached the men on the bench, kissed both of them on top of their heads and touched them tenderly. "It's good to see you."
Marsteller had already called for medical aid. They were ordered to remain where they were. The National Guard was sending a special squad to quarantine them.
"We're going to be stuck in some hospital for weeks." Simon grumbled. "At least this time the Army guys will be real."
"Beds." Jim sighed. "Blankets and shoes and clean sheets."
Simon shared a look with Rafe. Blair seemed to be completely out of it. Sound asleep with a blissful look on his bruised face. Jim was saying some weird stuff and Banks wondered if he was drugged..
Megan knelt in the snow and gasped. "Look at his feet." She gently lifted Jim's feet -- bloody strips of gauze and all -- and held them under her sweater.
"He's barefoot?" Rafe was stunned. He added his expensive overcoat to the covers on the two friends "What the hell did they do to them."
Jim looked up. "They wanted to make us part of the master race." He closed his eyes and let his head tip toward Blair's. "I'm going to sleep now. For a really, really long time." He paused and lifted his head for a moment. "If any animals come back... don't shoot them. They're on our side."
The Bio-hazard unit arrived in their astronaut suits and hustled the group into isolation suits. Jim and Blair were wrapped in suits and carried away without waking up. Megan insisted on going with them. Shuffling in her plastic booties, she followed the medics, lecturing them on the 'special' nature of their charges, as they loaded them inside the ambulance.
The other medics assured Simon that everyone's chances of exposure were slight but the entire town was going to be quarantined anyway. Simon asked them to make sure that Joel would be notified. The older man was sure to be frantic. Then he spoke to the commanding officer and arranged for Daryl to stay in town with Henri.
"We have to be locked up for weeks?" Rafe complained. "We can't even stay in town?" They were being quarantined at near-by military base with Jim and Blair.
"Hey." Simon told him. "We got our guys back. The world didn't end and we get two weeks off with pay."
"Oh well." Rafe grinned through his plastic hood. "When you put it like that..."
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