Rating: PG-13 for language and some adult themes
This is an Alternate Universe story, a Crossover with what I consider to be the ultimate AU show, and by the way the first thing I have ever posted on the net. The characters of both shows belong to other people, not me. I am writing this purely for the experience and making no financial gain. If anyone thinks it's worthy of a sequel, or wants to tell me what they think, I would enjoy hearing from you. Please don't archive without my permission.
I want to thank the extremely patient Maygra for taking time from her own writing to beta read it for me and for encouraging me to post it.
I know this idea has been done by just about every science fiction show and a Lois Duncan novel, but I saw an episode of The Outer Limits one night and this story just came to me.
It started out with little things and soon Blair thought he was losing his mind.
Todd Billings, a friend of Blair's from Rainer University, called one evening when it was Blair's turn to do the dishes after dinner and Jim was watching a game on tv.
"Hi, Blair. This is Todd, you know, from the History Department?" the young voice sounded nervous. While holding the phone in the crook of his neck and wiping a dish with a drying towel, Blair searched his mind. Oh yeah, tall guy with a blond ponytail, talks about the Etruscans all the time.
"Sure. I remember you Todd. What can I do for you?"
"Um, Blair, I just wanted to ask if you're mad at me about anything, or if I did something to offend you, you know?"
Blair was surprised. Why would a guy he barely knew think that? "No, I'm not mad at you, Todd." Blair assured him. "Why do you ask?"
"Well, after the way you acted when I spoke to you at the Varsity last night... but I guess you have a lot on your mind between the two jobs and everything right?" The Varsity was a local diner that catered mostly to the college crowd.
Blair put the dish and rag down and frowned as he repositioned the phone at his ear. He thought he couldn't have heard him right. "Todd, I don't know what you're talking about."
"You know, I said hello to you in the diner room, and you ignored me."
"I haven't been anywhere near there in weeks." Blair said.
"Oh, well I guess I was wrong then."
"Look I don't want to bother you. I guess I'll see you around campus okay?"
"Um, okay, bye." Blair stood there listening to the dial tone for a minute after Todd hung up. He got the feeling that Todd didn't believe him.
"What was that all about?" asked Jim, coming into the kitchen for a soda.
"I don't know. Some guy says I ignored him when he spoke to me last night, in a place I wasn't at. It must have been a case of mistaken identity." Blair shrugged and promptly forgot about the call.
The next day Jim and Blair came home early in the morning after a late night stakeout. It had been a long and tiring and mostly unproductive watch. In the lobby, Mrs. Sims, the octogenarian who lived downstairs from the loft, was on her way out. She paused and looked them over, frowning in disapproval.
Blair was amused. He doubted the sweet little old lady had any idea what was involved with police work. He thought she probably believed that they were just coming back from some wild night on the town. He gave her his best smile, which she ignored.
"May I speak with you a moment, Mr. Ellison?" she asked stiffly, drawing herself up to her full 5'3 height.
"Um, sure, Mrs. Sims. What about?" asked Jim, attempting to be polite even though he had wanted nothing but his bed for the last three hours.
"Alone, if you don't mind." She was looking at the air just past Jim's face. Blair might have been a spot on the floor for all the notice she gave him.
The men looked at each other in surprise. Of the two of them, people usually felt most comfortable talking with Blair. More than once Blair had gotten some witness to spill what they knew after Jim had failed to get the information out of them. With his muscular build and no- nonsense demeanor, Jim was just plain intimidating, especially when he was in what Blair called "cop mode."
Blair, on the other hand, was not only non-threatening by nature, he had the knack of getting people to instantly trust him. He also tended to bring out the maternal nature, especially in women. Mrs. Sims had brought Blair some homemade cookies a couple of weeks ago.
"Well if you two will excuse me, I'm just gonna go on up." Blair continued on, leaving the pair behind as he went upstairs and let himself into the loft, still wondering what Mrs. Sims could want to talk to Jim alone about. He smiled, thinking that he could kid Jim about their neighbor wanting to be alone with him. He should ask Jim if he was attracted to older women.
When Jim came into the loft a few minutes later, Blair forgot about teasing him when he saw his friend's worried expression.
"What is it, Jim?" he asked with concern.
"Mrs. Sims... she told me I needed to have a talk with you. She said that she knew people of your generation were not taught respect for their elders, but that was no excuse for the out and out rudeness you showed to her." Jim looked a little embarrassed, whether it was for Blair or Mrs. Sims would be hard to say.
"Rudeness?" Blair froze, "When was I rude to her?"
"Yesterday. She said she passed you coming out of the building, asked where you were going in such a hurry and you told her to mind her own business."
"What?" Blair was stunned. "I would never say that, certainly not to a sweet little old lady who gives me cookies."
"I know, I know. That wouldn't be like you at all, Chief. There's something else. She mentioned noticing yesterday that you had gotten a haircut. She said it was at least an inch shorter." He knew that wasn't true, with his abilities, Jim would have noticed even so small a change.
Blair pulled absently on the ponytail he had tied his unruly cascade of curls back into. He wished he had enough free time to get his hair cut. Not that he would do it, he just wanted the free time. "I didn't see Mrs. Sims at all yesterday."
Jim nodded thoughtfully, "That's what I figured. Well, she probably has you confused with someone else."
Recalling Todd's confusion on the phone the previous night, Blair mused over the two seeming misunderstandings. Odd that he should be accused of rudeness by two people in such a short time. Nothing he recalled accounted for either Todd or Mrs. Sims' reactions. Even distracted as he sometimes was, he couldn't remember being rude to either of them. He decided it was just a coincidence and pushed it to the back of his mind.
The weirdness didn't stop there though. A few days later, on their way to lunch, Blair convinced Jim to stop in a new second-hand bookstore near the station. Browsing through the shelves of first editions while Jim was looking at popular fiction, Blair found a rare first edition of an Anthropology text. The book cost more than Blair had on him, but he knew it was worth much more than the store was asking for it.
"It's an investment, not an indulgence." Blair told a skeptical Jim, and walked down the street, to get some money from his bank, leaving Jim staring after him in bemusement. "Don't worry, we'll still have time for lunch, I promise."
"ACCOUNT OVERDRAWN" the computer informed Blair to his surprise, when he tried to withdraw some cash from his savings account at an ATM window to buy the book.
"But I should still have a couple of hundred dollars left in the account." Blair argued, to no avail, with a teller after going into the bank. Jim came into the bank to see what was keeping his guide.
"I'm sorry sir, but our records show the account was closed down last Thursday." insisted the teller.
Jim showed the teller his badge and asked if the teller who had closed down the account was listed on the record. She was and happened to be working that day also.
When asked, the pretty young female teller said that Thursday Blair had told her he forgot his bank number, but knew his social security number. She had known Blair. He was a regular customer at the bank and always sort of flirted with her. She clearly remembered Blair withdrawing all his money, even though he insisted that he didn't do it.
"Hmm," Jim said thoughtfully. "This bank has cameras right?" He again used his badge to convince the bank manager to produce the tape for the time of the supposed withdrawal. In the manager's office, Jim, Blair, the bank manager, and the by now nervous teller, all watched the video tape.
Blair felt his jaw drop as he saw himself, on the television screen, walk up to the bank teller's window, chat for a few minutes and then walk away, counting money. The camera had confirmed that Blair did it.
"But this isn't possible!" he protested, still looking at the screen, feeling his hands grow cold with shock. "I would remember taking out the last of my savings. It isn't possible that I would forget something like that."
"Mistakes happen all the time." said the fatherly bank manager in falsely cheerful tone, not looking directly at Blair when he said it. Jim noticed that the bank manager and the young teller now looked at Blair uncomfortably, as if embarrassed for him. Jim felt his protective instinct rising. This was his partner, his Guide. He did not do things and then forget them. But Jim had seen him on the tape, and had even looked the tape with a Sentinel's vision. He would have sworn that was Blair.
Blair was too shocked to notice the other people's reactions. He was thinking back to Thursday. The day before, he had been up for almost twenty-four hours between working for school and helping Jim with a case, and then sitting up late to type up some notes. Jim had gone into the station to do some paperwork at eight that morning. Blair had no classes or work that morning, and he had slept until eleven. But according to the timestamp on the band camera, he had been at the bank just after it opened at 9:15. He felt a chill run down his back as he became frightened. Could he have gotten up, gone to the bank, come home and gone back to bed and not remember it? Was he losing his memory or his mind?
As they walked out of the bank, Jim tried to reassure him, "It has to be a look-alike, Chief. Someone using your identity to steal your money." Even he didn't sound entirely convinced. "Look, I can lend you the money for the book, and we'll report this to robbery."
There was nothing Robbery Division could do. Jim and Blair couldn't claim that the tape was fake, or prove that the man on it wasn't Blair.
Nothing out of the ordinary happened for the rest of the week. Then Detective Rafe, the good-looking, easy-going young cop who worked in Major Crimes with Jim and Blair, started acting strange.
He and Blair had always been friendly, but now he no longer chatted with the anthropologist, or teased him about his long hair, as he had often done in the past. In fact, Blair noticed Rafe had stopped talking to him at all. Curious, Blair started to walk up to Rafe to ask him if anything was wrong, when, to his shock, Rafe saw him coming and quickly turned his back to him and left the squad room.
Blair was confused and more than a little hurt. Rafe was one of his closest friends here at the precinct. Why would he suddenly turn on him? He puzzled about it for the rest of the day. Finally when they started to leave for the day, Jim asked him why he had been so quiet.
"It's nothing really." Blair hedged.
"So, then, there's no reason you can't tell me about it right?" Jim asked.
Blair sighed. He knew Jim wouldn't let up till he found out what was bothering his Guide. Overprotectiveness was part of the Sentinel package. Not that he minded really. It was nice to know that someone was watching out for you.
"Rafe is pissed off at me for some reason. He's been avoiding me, and I can't get him to tell me why." Blair told him.
Jim was annoyed. He could clearly see that this was bothering Blair. If Rafe had a problem why not just get it out in the open, instead of freezing the sensitive young man out?
"You know, I just remembered something that I need to tell Simon about the Norbert case. Why don't you go on without me and I'll catch up with you at the loft, Okay?" Both men had driven to work that day, since Blair had a meeting with a student at Rainer scheduled for after he got off work at the precinct.
Blair knew Jim well enough to see when he was going into what Blair called "full Blessed Protector mode."
"Jim you're not going to get on Rafe's case about this are you? I mean he has a right to his own opinion as to who his friends are."
"I'm not going to get on his case, Blair. I promise, alright? See you later." The two men parted and as soon as Blair was out of earshot, Jim continued, "I'm just going to teach him some better manners."
Jim found Rafe washing his hands in the men's room and confronted him. "What's with the way you've been acting around Blair lately?"
To Jim's surprise, instead of angry, Rafe looked embarrassed and worried. He leaned up against the bathroom sink wearily and ran a hand across his thick brown hair. "I know, I've been avoiding him, and that's lousy of me. It's just... I didn't know how to act around the kid since something happened between us in a bar a few nights ago."
"And what happened a few nights ago?" asked Jim.
The handsome man sighed and looked as if he wished he were anywhere but here. Not able to look Jim in the eye, he said, "Blair offered to have sex with me for money."
There was a moment of stunned silence in the tiled bathroom, where the words seemed to hang in the air above the men's heads, as if in cartoon balloons. Then Jim threw a punch that was so sudden, neither man was aware that it was coming until it was over. One second they were standing there at the sinks talking, and the next Rafe was sitting on the cold tile floor rubbing his aching jaw where Jim had hit him.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?" demanded Jim furiously. "Do you honestly expect me to believe a filthy lie like that!" He was so angry that he clenched the edge of the sink with his right hand to restrain himself from picking the other detective up off the floor and beating the hell out of him.
"I know, I know," said Rafe wretchedly, not even attempting to get up. "If anyone had told me that about Blair I would have kicked their ass for it, too. But it's the truth, man. I wish it wasn't."
Looking down at his white knuckled grip on the sink Jim took a deep breath. "Think Ellison. Use your head instead of depending on Blair to do the thinking for both of you," he told himself. "Blair's been worried about somebody stealing from him last week, but he's not..."
"Waitaminute!" said Jim. "I think I might know what happened!"
He reached out a hand to help Rafe up and winced a little when Rafe drew back in fear of further anger from the bigger man. Looking at Jim's now calm face, Rafe accepted the hand and let Jim pull him to his feet. "When did this happen?" Jim asked.
"Tuesday night," responded Rafe, leaning back against the sink. "I was supposed to go out on a date, but she canceled at the last minute because she had to work. It was about eight thirty and I was already dressed to go out, so I thought I would stop at that bar on Collins Street and get a beer. Blair was nursing a drink at the bar so I walked up to him and started talking. The next thing I know..." he trailed off.
"Tuesday night... let me think. Tuesday we worked on the Johnson robbery case. Blair had some research to do, so we stopped by his office on the way home. We got take out. I watched some movie on television and Blair was hitting the books until about eleven. Neither of us was out of the other's sight until then."
"But I saw him at the bar..." Rafe looked disbelieving, and miserable.
"Last week somebody impersonated Blair and cleaned out his savings account at the bank. That has to be the guy you met."
"Thank god," said Rafe softly, a look of tremendous relief coming to his elegant face. He was clearly glad for any out that would explain his friend's uncharacteristic behavior.
"I was so shocked, I didn't know what to... oh shit! I'm really sorry Jim. I thought that Blair must be crazy or..." he trailed off, not wanting the other man to know all the ugly suspicions that had gone through his mind. "I hate to ask this, Jim. But are you sure Blair's alright? I mean this guy was standing as close to me as you are right now, and I... it even sounded like Blair."
"It's alright. I saw the guy on the bank's hidden camera and even I couldn't tell it wasn't Blair." Jim looked sheepish. "Rafe, I'm sorry I hit you."
"Don't be," Rafe suddenly smiled. "I've never been so happy to be wrong about anything in my life."
In the parking lot, Blair was still deep in thought as he got into his car and sank back against the worn seat. He wondered, what had he done to insult Rafe?
Suddenly strong arms encircled Blair's neck from behind, and held a damp rag over his mouth. The overpowering scent from the rag was horribly familiar to Blair, bringing back terrifying memories of the psychopath Lash. Just before he lost consciousness he had time to think, "Ether." and then everything went dark.
The first thing that Blair was aware of when he awoke was that his wrists hurt. He tried to move them, and discovered that he was immobilized. Then waking up completely in his alarm, he realized that he was tied up. Looking around quickly, testing his bonds, he saw that he was bound by thin nylon ropes in an otherwise empty room with rusting pipes running along the walls. From the condition of the filthy concrete floor he was sitting on, he guessed that he was the first thing to be stored in the room in years.
"How do I get myself into these situations?" he wondered. He looked up as the door on the other side of the room opened. He felt the coldness of complete shock sweep over him as he looked up into his own sapphire blue eyes. Even though he had seen the other man on the bank's video tape, he was still astonished at the sight that met his eyes.
It was eerie. The other Blair had the same physical features, right down to the pattern the dark hair grew on his arms. They had exactly the same build, slightly muscular shoulders and short legs. He even moved the same way. From his jerky gait and the way he held his hands on his hips, Blair could tell that his captor was nervous, even though there was no sign of it in the other man's face. Then he realized that these were his own mannerisms that he was recognizing, shocking him further. This guy was him, so much so he could even fool the original.
"Who the hell are you?" he demanded.
His captor smiled wickedly. "Isn't it obvious? I'm you."
"That's not funny." said Blair coolly.
"No, I suppose it's not." the other agreed. "Are you comfortable?"
Blair wanted to ask him if he cared, but then something else occurred to him, a way to rattle this guy. "You should be able to tell just by looking at me. We're too much alike to be able to hide anything from each other."
The other looked at him thoughtfully and then smiled again, this time looking genuinely pleased. "That's very clever of you." he said. He sounded proud, as if Blair's intellect reflected well on himself.
"Why have you brought me here? What do you want?" Blair asked him.
The other frowned thoughtfully and absently ran the fingers of his left hand across his right thumb, as if smoothing away pain. He seemed to come to a decision.
"Sure, why not. The truth is, it's a pretty good story and I've been dying to share it with someone. Do you know anything about quantum physics?" Blair shrugged and the other went on. "No, I didn't expect that you would. Pure science never held much interest for me either."
"The way it was explained to me, there are an infinite number of worlds, almost identical to this world, all existing on different dimensional planes. Each world has a similar history, but slight differences in those histories cause differences in the lives of the inhabitants. Say for example if Abraham Lincoln had decided not to go to the theater and hadn't been assassinated. Then Johnson might never have been president, and every decision that he made would have never happened. Not only that..."
Blair could tell his double was warming to his subject. "So that's what I look like when I lecture." he thought absently. "Sort of happy and serious at the same time. As if I'm delivering important news the world has been waiting for. Damn, I'm arrogant."
"...but, every future presidency might be different. Different elected leaders, different presidential decisions, resulting in a different history. A whole different world from that one point, when one man made one move that changed the course of time."
He paused for breath and Blair broke in, "What does this fairy tale have to do with why I'm losing circulation in my wrists?"
The other Blair looked over at him in irritation. He apparently didn't like to be interrupted. "I'm your counterpoint from a parallel universe. A scientist brought me here to this world with an inter-dimensional travel device."
"Yeah right." Blair sneered.
The other man walked over to him and looked down at him, his face thoughtful. "It really doesn't matter if you believe me or not. But I do want to know more about any possible differences between us. Tell me have you ever met Alex Barnes?"
Though Blair tried to hide his reaction to the name, some of his painful memories of the evil Sentinel must have shown in his face. "Yes, I can see that you did. Did she capture you?"
"Capture me?" Blair thought quickly. Three possibilities came to him. Either this guy was a nut who really believed all this other world crap, or he was lying, trying to make Blair believe it for some reason, or... or it was true, and this really was himself from another dimension. Either way, he obviously already knew about Blair's association with Alex. The question was, did he know about Sentinels?
"Yes, capture you!" the other man was growing irritated again, as if the subject was making him upset. "Did she take you out of your life, keep you a prisoner for four years, and use you... to train her to be a Sentinel?"
"No!" Blair snapped, more to stop the grim picture the other man was painting, than in real anger. It wasn't as if he didn't already lay awake some nights, obsessing about what would have happened to him if he had found a different Sentinel, a less compassionate or decent one.
"She lied to me, tried to kill me, did in fact manage to drown me, but she never held me for any length of time." He didn't mention Jim, still not knowing if the other man knew about him.
The other Blair sighed and Blair thought he almost looked relieved, as if someone had told him that something horrible had just been a nightmare, not reality. Looking down, the other noticed that one of his shoestrings had come untied. He knelt down and tied it, using only his left hand, the way some people who have lost a hand learn to use only one hand to perform two handed tasks.
Blair watched with interest, as this was the first real difference he could see between them. Then he remembered the double had rubbed the thumb of his right hand repeatedly, as if it hurt, or he remembered it hurting. "The thumb on your right hand, it doesn't work does it?" he asked curiously.
"Not anymore." the other said, standing up and avoiding the bound man's eyes. Then, in seeming defiance, he added, "A little present from Alex, from the last time I tried to escape her and failed."
Blair swallowed, "You mean she..."
"Oh yes, crushed it with a hammer. Hurt like hell." Now the other man did look into his captive's eyes and the coldness he saw there gave Blair a chill. This man had seen evil, he had experienced pain and somewhere along the way, he had lost a lot of what made him human. "I also have a nice collection of scars all over my body. Though most of those were just... recreational, not object lessons. Want to see?"
Ignoring the offer, Blair asked his double a question. "Have you ever met Jim Ellison?"
The other Blair frowned thoughtfully. "Ellison, your roommate? Yes I remember him, now. On my world Alex killed him. She said he was an enemy Sentinel, come to steal something from her. Some kind of cop, wasn't he? No, I never met him on my world. So he's your master then, your Sentinel. That's why you live with him?"
"No. We work together." Blair decided that since the other man already knew about Jim, he should explain that all Sentinels weren't evil like Alex. Maybe that would convince this Blair that he didn't have to resort to kidnaping to be safe on this world. "We're close friends. He doesn't have to keep me a prisoner because he knows he can trust me not to leave him."
But the other still didn't understand. Taking another meaning entirely from Blair's words, he grinned snidely, the expression alien to Blair's usually guileless face. "So that's it. You got big, buff Jim to fall for you so you could control him. Pretty clever. Well, I can't say I haven't used that method to pacify Alex or to get some quick cash."
Blair flinched when he heard this. He suddenly felt a lump of sadness in his throat. He had often wondered what his life would have been like without Jim in it. Now he knew. He would have never found purpose, friendship and love. This Blair, if his story was true, had been thoroughly demoralized by his life as a slave to Alex Barnes. She had been his Sentinel, just as Jim had been Blair's on this world and she had used that relationship to abuse him and crush his faith in others.
This newfound knowledge of what could have been was forcing Blair to face up to some facts about his own life. The Sentinel, whoever it might be, was undeniably the primary force influencing Blair's life, the sun that he revolved around. That meant that the Sentinel and Guide's need of each other to function was a two way street, not just a case of the Sentinel needing a Guide, any Guide, to save him from zone-outs.
The Guide's need for the Sentinel was equally primal, and probably also as much a result of evolution as the Sentinel abilities. Sentinel and Guide were mutually dependant upon one another for day to day survival, probably from the day they met. No, even before that, he realized. How many years had he been searching for a Sentinel before he met Jim? It was a million to one shot that he would just happen to have an obsession with Sentinels and just happen to find one in the modern world. It made a lot more sense that he was genetically pre-programed to find a Sentinel.
Blair wondered how much of his relationship with Jim was friendship, and how much was instinct. Somewhere along the line they had made a lifetime commitment to each other, without realizing that they never had any choice.
Jim had learned to accept the loss of his freedom to abandon the relationship, if not be comfortable with it. But Alex saw her need for a Guide as a weakness to be conquered, so she had tried to conquer Blair. But by killing him on this world, she didn't know that she was condemning herself to madness, and by hurting him on another, she was destroying the trust that made the Sentinel/Guide bond a joy, not an enslavement. What it all came down to was one thing, a rather old fashioned, but still valid, idea. Jim was noble, Alex was not.
"I'm sorry." Blair said sincerely, to the man that had been cheated by fate out of the good life he should have enjoyed.
"You're sorry?" The other Blair's mood swung back to anger again. He paced back and forth in front of his bound captive. "You think I want your pity? I don't need it! I don't need anything from anybody! What I need I take. I made science-boy take me out of that hell hole. I can get whatever I want for myself."
Blair had only one more question for his double, "And what do you want from me?"
"Isn't it obvious? I'm going to take your place."
Blair could only gape at him in shock.
Meanwhile, Jim went home and found the light on the answering machine was blinking. It was a message for Blair to call someone at the University.
A few minutes later the phone rang. "Hello, is Professor Sandburg there?" a young female voice asked.
"Not right now, this is his roommate. Can I take a message?"
"Well I'm the student that Blair was supposed to meet an hour ago... He never showed up."
Jim, with a cold spot of dread in the pit of his stomach, hung up on her without an explanation and called the University office. Blair wouldn't miss an appointment like that unless something had came up. Jim had a bad feeling that his partner was in trouble and he knew only one person who could give him answers.
"I need to get in touch with the man who was looking for Blair Sandburg." he said tersely.
The man had left the name of a local hotel where he was staying. On the way to the hotel, Jim tried paging Blair and called on his cell phone, everyone he could think of who might know where his partner was. He couldn't find Blair anywhere. He called the station and had an APB put out on Blair's car. By the time he reached the hotel, he had time to work up a good head of steam of fear and anger at whoever was screwing up Blair's life.
Jim was told by a desk clerk that he could find the man having dinner in the dining room. It was only five thirty, early yet for dinner. The cavernous dining room was empty except for the man sitting at a table with his back to the door. Jim ran in and grabbed him out of his chair from behind. He spun him around and demanded, "Who are you and what are you trying to do to Blair?"
He half expected this to be Blair's double. But, as he held him by handfuls of his coat and shook him, Jim could see that the guy looked nothing like Blair.
He was a tall and somewhat athletic man in his twenties, with short auburn hair and a very surprised look on his face.
"Hello," he said mildly. "My name is Quinn Mallory."
"You can't just replace me." protested Blair, raising his bound hands in a helpless gesture.
"Watch me." said the other with a cold smile.
"But...But I don't get it. You're free now. You can do or be anything you want here on this world. Why bother to try and take my life?"
"It's a great life." said the other with a small shrug, as he unconsciously ran his fingers over his useless thumb again. Blair wondered how much his time with Alex had influenced this man. Would he, himself have become like this, if he had not lived with Jim? He decided he didn't want to think about it. Again he felt a flash of pity for his captor.
"Look at you: educated, well respected, two great jobs, nice place to live, lots of friends. Why should you have all that and not me?" the other demanded. Blair was silent for a moment, having no answer to give him for that one. But the unfairness of fate was no excuse for what this man was planning he reasoned.
"But Blair..." he thought that calling another by his own name felt strange, "you can get all that for yourself, without having to resort to kidnaping or murder. I can help you. We could say that you are my long lost twin or something and..."
"No," the other said sharply and then looked thoughtful. "I don't understand it myself, but I was drawn here, to your life, not a similar one. I have this feeling that this is where I belong."
"Genetic destiny," mused Blair.
"I have this theory that I was meant to be a Guide. That it's my purpose in life, imprinted right into my DNA just as it is in Jim's DNA to be a Sentinel. You and I are essentially the same person, so you would be drawn here to fulfill the same destiny. It's a biological imperative for us. We each need a Sentinel to be complete."
"No," said the other, suddenly growing angry again. "No one controls me, not anymore." He stalked off.
Blair sighed. Not for the first time, he cursed Alex Barnes. He wondered, who was really at fault for this mess?
"So this is all your fault." said Jim through a clenched jaw after Quinn had explained to him what had happened with the other Blair. They were sitting at Quinn's table in the now half full dining room. It had taken a while to tell the story.
"I suppose so. If I hadn't come upon him, he probably would have ended up dead or locked away on his own world. He's dangerously unstable and violent. He saw me open a wormhole between dimensions and pulled a knife on me. He was on the run from somebody and forced me to help him escape. As soon as we got to this world a couple of weeks ago, he knocked me out and ran off. It took me this long to locate him. I have to find him in the next two days before it's time for me to slide again."
"Why two days?"
Quinn shrugged. "I never know the amount of time I have on each new world until I get there. It varies from seconds to months. If I don't get off before my time here is up, I'll be stuck on this world." He spoke as if that would be intolerable for him.
"Do you have family waiting for you back on your own world?"
Quinn looked down at his drink thoughtfully. "There's just my mother, and I've been gone so long, I don't even know if she's still alive. Several times I've met duplicates of her and my Dad, who died when I was a kid, in different worlds I've slid onto. Most of them had a son just like me who invented the same machine or a similar one and left home the same way. Most of them welcomed me home like the prodigal son."
"So why keep going?" Jim asked. "Why not find a world you fit into and just stay there?"
Quinn sipped his drink and looked down at his plate. "It's hard to explain. Every world I go to is always someplace new. As soon as I get used to it, I start to think 'what will the next one be like?' My curiosity keeps me going, you know? And there are... other things too."
"Such as?" Jim pressed.
"When I first started sliding, I wasn't alone. I brought three good people with me; a professor I wanted to impress, a guy who got caught in my experiment by accident, and a girl I was... close to." He swallowed. "They're all dead now."
"I'm sorry." Jim said simply. He knew what it was like to lose friends and comrades. He remembered burying his entire Ranger team in the Peruvian jungle. The loneliness... no he didn't want to revisit that particular memory. He hadn't known loneliness since a certain hyperactive anthropologist entered his life.
Quinn was still looking down at his plate. "I keep thinking that one day I'll find this world where I went on my slide alone. My mentor will still be teaching at the university, my friend will still be trying to save his singing career and Wade..." he looked up and Jim caught a hint of deep emotion in his eyes. "She'll still be waiting for me to come back to her. When I find that world, I'll destroy my sliding device. But until then, I can't stop running."
The sudden ringing of Jim's cell phone into the silence at the table caused both men to jump. Jim answered it, listened for a minute and said, "I'll be right there." He got up quickly. "Come on, they've found Blair's car."
The battered car was parked in a gravel parking lot in front of an empty building that had once held a department store. By the time Jim and Quinn arrived at the scene, three other police cars were already parked in front of the building. Cops were crouched behind the cars, looking over at the building's front door. The Sentinel and the Slider ran up to the uniformed police officer in charge on the scene.
"Lee," Jim recognized the Asian-American cop from the station. "What's happening?"
Lee was in his fifties with thinning hair and a solid build. Right then he looked confused. "As near as we can tell, Jim, your partner is holding somebody hostage in there. Or at least he claims to be. The weird thing is he says the guy he's holding is Blair Sandburg. Is he drunk or having a Golden flashback or what?"
"That's not Blair," explained Jim. "It's a look-alike who was impersonating him. We think he might have kidnaped Blair."
Lee looked relieved. At least this explanation, unlikely as it was, made more sense than a guy holding himself hostage.
"Mallory!" the angry shout came from inside the building. Jim froze. It sounded like his partner's voice. He reminded himself that his Blair had never met Quinn Mallory. This had to be the double that recognized the young scientist. "Quinn Mallory! I see you out there! Come in here now or I'll kill this handsome fellow in here with me!"
Jim tried to focus on resolving the situation and not to think about the danger to Blair. "Mallory, why does he want you?" he asked.
The young man sighed. "He wants me to help him escape again, just like I did the last time." It made such perfect sense, thought Jim. It was just like Blair to come up with an expected method of escape. He had to know that the police had him surrounded. The only way out was to disappear, literally off the face of the earth. Jim had to remind himself that this wasn't his partner's plan, or he would have admired the man's resourcefulness.
He stood out from behind a police car and yelled into the warehouse. "Alright Blair, just calm down. Mallory and I are coming in."
"No!" the response was immediate. "Not you, cop! Just Mallory or I grease your precious Blair." The sound of Blair's voice threatening Blair was surreal. But a threat was still a threat, all Jim's instincts were screaming "Protect the Guide!"
Jim held onto his temper and yelled back. "No. Anything happens to... your hostage and I will let Mallory go on without you and leave you here to deal with me!"
Inside the building, Jim's Blair, trussed up and lying at the other man's feet on the filthy floor, smiled. His partner didn't know that he had hit upon this Blair's one weakness. He knew what Jim was and, because of his treatment at Alex's hands, he was terrified of Sentinels. The other Blair paused, thinking.
Taking silence for assent, Jim and Mallory started to go in. They walked slowly across the parking lot and through the front door of the building. Once inside, they saw a truly strange sight. Blair Sandburg was holding... himself at gunpoint. Even pre-warned as he was of the fact that this man was Blair's virtual twin, Jim still found it eerie as hell.
Like a shield, he held in front of him Jim's partner, whose hands were still tied behind him. The other Blair had one arm around his captive's chest with a knife pointing at his heart. He peered over the hostage's shoulder, at a perfectly level height with him. It looked queerly as if Blair had grown another head and arm.
"Blair..." began Jim carefully, hoping this Blair was enough like his own to listen to reason. "Let him go. We can talk about this."
"Nothing to talk about, Jimbo. Mallory, open the wormhole, now!" snapped the double. Blair, crushed up against him, with his hands tied behind his back, thought he could feel the terrified beating of the other's heart against his shoulder blade.
"But... it's too early. I won't be able to control where we end up." protested Quinn.
"Do I look like I care? Just do it or I become one of a kind again!" He pressed the blade painfully into Blair's chest.
Quinn looked over at Jim as if asking what he should do, but Jim's attention was focused on the wide, frightened eyes of his partner. With a sigh and a feeling of deja vu, Quinn pulled a device from his pocket. Jim's Blair, though still in grave danger, was surprised at how small the sliding machine was. Mallory could easily carry it around with him like a cell phone.
Quinn pointed the timer at a blank wall and pushed a few buttons. He heard the familiar roaring sound and felt the rush of wind. Even Jim's worry for his guide couldn't keep him from looking as a large, shimmering blue tunnel suddenly appeared in the wall.
"What is that?" the captive Blair asked in awe.
"Freedom." replied his double. With a sudden jerk, he jumped into the tunnel, dragging Blair along with him.
"No!" screamed Jim as he saw his guide disappearing into the vortex. Without hesitation he jumped after them. He would have followed Blair anywhere.
Quinn Mallory, when explaining the process to Jim, had called it "sliding." At the time Jim had thought the term needlessly glib, but now he saw how appropriate it was. He felt like he was falling down a long waterslide, without the water. The blue tunnel was so bright it hurt his eyes to look at it. Up ahead he thought he could see the dark shapes of the two Blairs. The effort of looking into the swirling blue light made his stomach churn.
In what might have been seconds or minutes, he wasn't sure which, Jim felt himself dropping out of the tunnel and through empty space. The color around him had changed, he noticed, from the deep cerulean blue of the tunnel, to the blue grey of a city sky. Then he abruptly smacked into solid asphalt, hard enough to knock the wind out of him.
There was the sound of something landing like a sack of potatoes beside him, and struggling to regain his breath, he looked over at Quinn, who had followed him into the slide. The young scientist, with more experience at this kind of thing, was already picking himself up and dusting off his clothes. "Any slide you can walk away from is a good slide." he told Jim with a grin.
Jim, without bothering to answer, began to look around for the two Blairs. He winced as he saw that they had landed in the middle of the street about twenty feet away. The blue tunnel had opened up above the street, causing traffic to slow to stare at it. When the two Blairs had fallen out of the tunnel, they fell into the flow of oncoming traffic. People slammed on their brakes to avoid hitting them. This caused unsuspecting cars behind these to slam into the braked cars' back bumpers. All told, seven cars were involved in the accident.
Jim saw both Blairs were on their feet. One was looking around in confusion, the other glanced over at he and Quinn and then bolted in the opposite direction. Jim thought this had to be the kidnaper. He would have taken off after him, but by this time the other Blair had spotted Jim and was running towards him. Jim put off catching the bad guy to make sure his partner was safe.
"Blair, are you okay?" he asked, catching the younger man's shoulders in a fierce grip.
Blair's hair was flying everywhere and he had a scrape on his elbow from where he had landed. But his eyes were glowing with excitement. "Wow! That was one wild ride!" he said happily. He felt he had just had the experience of a lifetime.
"Alright," came a sharp, authoritative voice, "Nobody move!" Jim, Blair and Quinn looked over at a uniformed policeman mounted on horseback, who was pointing a gun at them. "You're all under arrest."
"Oh man," said Quinn, "not again." It seemed, to him, that brushes with the law were always problem with sliding.
"What are the charges?" asked Jim, still a cop in his own mind.
"How about causing that!" snapped the other officer. He pointed to the street, where seven people, surrounded by their damaged vehicles, were all yelling and arguing at the same time about whose fault the accident was. Meanwhile traffic was blocked and other angry motorists added their horns to the rising din.
"Um, excuse me," said Blair meekly, "Could someone please untie my hands?"
"Let me see if I have this straight," said the public defender, an old man in a wrinkled suit, looking at his three newest clients in their jail cell. Blair and Jim were sitting on a less than clean cot and Quinn was standing leaning up against the bars of the cell. The lawyer had sat down wearily on the cot on the opposite side of the cell as if he dreaded getting up again.
"You say that you were conducting a science experiment that inadvertently caused the traffic accident, but you don't want to talk about the details." He spoke to Quinn who nodded. He had cautioned Blair and Jim, in the back of the police van that had taken them to jail, not to talk about sliding. His experience told him that if local authorities found out what his device could do, they would either end up incarcerated or exploited in a lab somewhere. The safest place for his sliding device while they were in jail was locked up among their personal effects.
"And you say that we need to find this guy's twin brother," he pointed to Blair, "because he's a dangerous psychopath, who held his brother at knife point and forced you to conduct this experiment under unsafe conditions, and then escaped from your police custody?" he addressed this final part to Jim.
"That's about the size of it." said Jim.
"Well do you have any proof of what you say. Like where is your jurisdiction?"
"We've already sent for someone who can vouch for us." said Blair. Their one hope was that this world would be similar enough to their own, that Simon Banks would know them. Jim had used his one phone call to call the Cascade police, looking for his Captain and friend. He learned, to his surprise, that on this world Banks was a detective, not a Captain, and worked for Homicide. There apparently was no Major Crimes Division on this world. That news was mind boggling enough on its own. They were trying not to think about the possibility that Simon might not know them.
"Well, there's not much I can do for you until your character witness gets here." He got up to the sound of his joints creaking. "If you want my advice I wouldn't try the insanity plea for all three of you, too unbelievable. Why don't you pick one of you to take the blame and have him tell a judge that story."
"Thanks a lot." sighed Jim.
"Ellison." came a familiar voice rumbling like thunder, an hour later.
Jim turned, relieved to hear the voice of his longtime friend, but froze at what he saw. This man bore little resemblance to the Simon he knew. Simon had always been a big man, but most of his bulk was muscle. This scowling man was running to fat and his head was shaved bald. Simon had always dressed well, but this man wore his out-of-date charcoal suit like a sack. And Simon's trademark gold rimmed glasses were missing. Instead, this Simon Banks wore heavy gold rings on all four fingers of his right hand. They reminded Jim of something, but he couldn't place what.
"Oh man, Simon are we ever glad to see you!" enthused Blair. "Can you get us out of here?"
Banks eyes never left Jim's face. His face was a dark mask of fury. "Tell your boyfriend to shut the hell up, Ellison. What the hell are you doing out?"
"Excuse me," said Quinn politely. He had learned that courtesy helped in these awkward kind of sliding situations. "Do you know these men?"
"The punk I don't know from Adam," Simon was still staring straight at Jim. "But Ellison and I go way back. I sent him to prison for murder."
"Why would a dangerous felon send for the man who put him in jail to get him out of it?" argued Blair an hour later, from the back of a police car, sitting between Jim and Quinn. He seemed intent on wearing down Bank's resistance to their story with sheer persistence. They had given him a shortened version of the truth about sliding and parallel universes. The detective, sitting in the passenger side of the front seat, still thought Jim was a convicted killer and his two young friends were nuts.
They were all on their way to Starkville Prison, where the James Ellison of this world had been incarcerated for five years. A phone call to the prison officials had confirmed that he was still there, but Banks wasn't buying it. The fingerprints taken when the three were first arrested said that this guy was Jim Ellison and Simon wasn't going to believe otherwise until he saw it with his own eyes.
"You want to see Ellison?" the warden looked amused when they asked. "Sure, but he won't be talking much."
He led them to the prison infirmary. In a cold white room, enmeshed in a spider's web of tubes and monitors, a thin figure lay in a death-like state on pristine white sheets. The sheets were smooth and unwrinkled as the man on them never moved enough to mar their perfect surface.
Jim heard Blair gasp beside him and felt him grab his arm, causing the guards accompanying them to tense up. He understood Blair's reaction. In spite of a frightening amount of weight loss and a paleness that gave him the look of a fresh corpse, the man on the bed was unmistakably himself.
It was like looking at yourself in a funhouse mirror, thought Jim. The features were familiar but at the same time distorted almost out of recognition. The pale unhealthy looking skin was stretched across the bones of the face, outlining the skeleton. There were black circles under the closed eyes and above hollows in the gaunt cheeks. "This is what I would look like if I was dying." thought Jim with a shiver.
"How long has he been like this?" demanded Banks of the warden.
"Just over three months." replied the man with a slight shrug. "He was a model prisoner. Never fought with anybody unless they started it, and then wiped the floor with them so nobody else hardly ever messed with him. He kept to himself, didn't run with any of the crews. One day we just found him sitting in his cell, looking at the wall, like this. The docs say all his body functions have been slowly shutting down, but damned if they can come up with a reason for the coma."
"It's a zone-out." said Blair sadly. So this Jim was a Sentinel too. He wondered if the man had ever had a guide, or even knew that he needed one.
"A what?" asked the warden curiously.
"This is bull shit." pronounced Simon. "Nobody can be in two places at the same time." he glared over at Jim, the one standing beside him. He knew that fingerprints didn't lie, but if this guy was really Ellison, then who was man who had been in prison for five years?
"Warden, can I talk to him?" Blair asked looking at the figure in the bed. He was wondering if he could bring him out of this zone. For a probably untrained Sentinel, who didn't know or trust him, it was unlikely, but he felt he had to try, if only to find out if this Jim really was a murderer.
"Nobody's doing anything until I get this sorted out." snapped Simon.
"Detective Banks," put in the quiet scientist, Quinn Mallory.
"I may be able to help you find your answers."
"Keep talking, Stretch." said the detective curtly.
"You're wondering how two men can have the same fingerprints, right? What if we could produce two more men with the same fingerprints. Would that convince you to believe our story?"
Simon looked thoughtful. "What did you have in mind?"
What Quinn had in mind was capturing the other Blair. His timer, before the police took it from him, had said that he had less than thirty hours on this world before he was due to slide again. But he still didn't feel right about leaving behind a dangerous man that he had unleashed on this world. In the privacy of the hallway, away from the curious eyes of the guards and the warden, who were wondering what was going on, he explained this to Simon. In order to clear up the mystery of the two Jim Ellisons, Simon agreed to help them find Blair's double, but with one condition.
"This is ridiculous," protested Blair, when he heard the condition. "Jim is a cop, a detective. He would be of more help to you than Quinn or I.."
Simon let the comment about Ellison being a cop pass by. "No. He stays here at Starkville with his "twin", until you can prove to me, he's not a killer." He was adamant.
Jim sighed. "Alright, I'll stay." He looked over at Blair. "Be careful." he told his partner. He started to lay a hand on the younger man's shoulder, but was stopped by a guard who stepped between them.
"And detective," added Quinn, "I'll need the device that your police took off me. It's for tracking." he lied, avoiding Jim's eyes. Jim got the message, no matter what happened, Quinn would not miss his slide.
Their first step was to try to figure out where the other Blair would go on this world.
"He'll want to take over my identity just like he tried to do on our world," said Blair, the only one who had gotten to know him.
"But your identity is different here. You and I never met and you never worked for the police." put in Simon, going along with their story for now.
"Who would know how to find you on any world?" asked Quinn.
Blair's eyes widened in alarm. "My mother!"
It wasn't too difficult to find Naomi Sandburg in this world. She owned her own cosmetics company in Los Angeles. Blair, Quinn and Simon caught a ride on a prison transport helicopter going to pick up some prisoners in LA, and went to her office in the corporate headquarters.
The office was large and decorated ultra-modern, with a highly polished clear glass desk and matching shelves all with mirrored chrome edges. Blair thought it was like being in a room full of scissors. It took him a moment to realize that the woman sitting imperiously behind the polished desk was Naomi Sandburg. The pale, remote woman with perfectly styled hair and a designer business suit was little like the warm hearted, earthy mother Blair knew.
"Why have you come back?" she asked Blair icily.
"Come back?" Blair echoed uncertainly.
Simon took charge of the situation. "Mam, I'm Detective Simon Banks of the Cascade Police Department." he showed her his ID. "We're looking for this young man's twin brother. Have you seen him?"
Still looking suspiciously at Blair she confirmed that she had. "A young man came to see me yesterday, claiming to be the son I had given up for adoption when he was born."
"You gave up your baby for adoption!" Blair yelped. Simon put a hand on his shoulder to settle him. Blair swallowed, he was having difficulty accepting what this woman had said. He was more shocked by this than anything that had happened to him since the other Blair had entered his life. He couldn't imagine his mother ever giving him up for any reason.
"I didn't have much choice." she explained. "I couldn't have taken proper care of it. I was just this hippy flower child back then, you can't imagine."
"I don't have to imagine." said Blair sadly. It was amazing, he thought, how much a single decision could change a person. This woman seemed to have everything, money, power, her own business, but she didn't appear as happy as his mother, who had seldom owned anything. It was strange to think that raising him had brought his mother fulfillment that wealth and success could never have. It gave him a different perspective on his own importance in the scheme of things. He, Blair Sandburg had literally changed the world, at least for some people.
"What happened to the man who said he was your son?" asked Quinn, trying to keep them on track.
"He said he wanted to make sure that he really was my son. We found out who adopted my baby and traced him through the computers."
"Aren't those records supposed to be sealed?" asked Simon, thinking like a cop.
"If you have enough money, nothing is sealed." said Naomi coolly. "The computer search revealed he couldn't have been my son, so he left, after borrowing a few hundred bucks for a plane ticket. It seemed little enough to get rid of him."
"And your son?" asked Blair.
"He died of measles when he was eight." she said without expression. "Will that be all Detective?" she asked Simon.
"Yeah, that's all." replied Simon.
Just before they left the office Blair took one last look at what his mother could have been. He thought he saw a sadness in her eyes.
"I was really quite disappointed." she said wistfully, looking into Blair's blue eyes as if seeing something familiar there. "I was... rather looking forward to having a son."
Impulsively Blair walked back to her and kissed the woman's cool cheek. She was still looking surprised when he turned and walked away.
On the flight back they talked about what the other Blair would do since there was no life for him to take over here.
"So maybe he's gonna make his own?" suggested Quinn.
"Jim!" Blair said the answer suddenly occurring to him, "He'll have to try to find Jim on this world. It's his destiny!"
Back at the prison, Jim had asked to be put in the same room with his double. He wanted to try and talk him out of the zone, the way Blair had so often done for him. The prison doctor had said it couldn't hurt and might actually help, so the request had been granted. For the past six hours, under the gaze of two very bored guards, Jim had been quite literally talking to himself in the cold sterile prison hospital room.
Too low for the guards to catch, but knowing another Sentinel could hear if he had whispered into a gale, he had unloaded the entire story. He told what he knew about Sentinels, Guides and traveling between dimensions. He had probably needed the release of talking about it more than he would admit to himself.
"...and that's basically the whole story." said Jim. "I don't know how much of this you can hear, let alone understand." He took a sip of water from the paper cup that the prison doctor had kindly brought him. His throat was dry from the non-stop talking for hours. He could see no change in his catatonic double.
He was beginning to get a whole new appreciation for Blair's patience. He remembered all the times he had come out of a zone to the comforting sound of his partner's familiar voice. How frightening it must be for him to sit there and just talk, for who knew how long, until the zombie in front of him showed some response. It was frustrating as hell to sit there talking endlessly to someone who might not even be able to hear him. But he couldn't give up.
He didn't know this twisted version of himself. He didn't even know if this man had committed the crimes he was accused of, and Jim had to know. Was it possible that under different circumstances he might have become a killer? Or had this poor bastard just zoned at the wrong place and time and gotten blamed for something he didn't do?
"Hey Ellison." Jim looked back to see another guard had joined the two watching him. "You've got a visitor."
Jim was so glad to see Blair that he would have hugged him, if not for the glass partition between them in the visiting room. They sat down at a table divided by the floor to ceiling glass, and picked up the phone receivers on either side.
"So did you find him?" Jim asked eagerly into the phone receiver. He unconsciously put one hand up against the glass separating him from his guide, the other half of his soul.
Blair looked down at the hand and moved his own up against it on his side of the glass. The glass felt cold and solid against his palm, as it should, of course. But he had the strangest feeling that he could almost feel the warmth of the Sentinel's hand.
"Um, no. I, we couldn't find him."
"Damn, I wish I could get out of here and help you look, Chief."
"Well, don't worry. They can't keep two men here for the same crime. They'll have to let you go." Blair was still looking at their hands pressed together, wishing the glass wasn't between them. He was sure it would feel good to be touched again. What was he thinking, he berated himself.
"Is there anything Simon can do?" Jim was asking.
"Yes, Chief. Can he get me out of here?"
"I don't know. I'm not sure he believes this story. I mean who would, right Chief?"
Jim looked closely at him. "Are you alright?"
"Sure. Why wouldn't I be?" Reluctantly Blair pulled his hand away from the glass. It was really silly, he thought, to be sitting there wanting another's touch.
"You just called me 'Chief." Ellison's pale blue eyes were narrowing with suspicion.
"So, you never call me Chief. That's my name for you." Now the big cop's face was going from suspicious to enraged. "Damn you! You're not Blair are you? You're the double!" The man's whole body was tensing up with outrage. How dare this stranger try to come between he and Blair. The younger man was suddenly desperately glad for the protective glass that he had been annoyed by a moment ago. He knew what being on the receiving end of a Sentinel's anger felt like. Primal rage didn't even begin to describe it.
"Calm down, okay. Just calm down." He moved back from the glass as if he thought Jim might break through it and go for his throat. He had seen Alex do some incredible things when she was in one of her rages. He had the scars to prove it.
Jim, breathing heavily, managed to control himself. Pulling back from the glass himself, he asked, "What do you want from us?"
Blair was silent for a moment. "I want a life, a safe place to live, plenty of money..."
The other man was shaking his head in disbelief. "Look at me, here I have no job, no home, certainly no money. I'm a prisoner in a world where everyone thinks I'm a convicted killer. Safe is the last thing you would be with me. But you came straight to me anyway. Why?"
Blair frowned. He hated to admit it, even to himself, but he had no idea what had drawn him here. Could the other Blair be right? Was this unavoidable destiny? No! He refused to believe that. He had learned to survive the hell that Alex had put him through. He didn't need anybody.
Just then the doors to the visitor room opened and two more guards came in, with drawn weapons pointing at this Blair. The prison had received a call from Detective Banks, telling them to hold any visitor to Ellison, either Ellison, for questioning.
Simon Banks, Quinn Mallory and Jim's Blair arrived back at the prison less than an hour later. Prison authorities were surprised to see Blair Sandburg with the cop and scientist. They had already taken the fingerprints of Ellison's visitor and confirmed that he had to be the same man that was arrested along with Ellison and Mallory the day before.
Blair was ready to have his prints taken to show that he and his double had the same prints, but Simon said that wouldn't be necessary. He believed them now. Blair was surprised by this shift, but didn't question it.
The warden, under Simon's all encompassing reason of "police business" lent them his office for a conference. Jim wanted to talk to Quinn. He had a lot of time to think, while they were gone.
"Quinn, can you get us home again. Any of us?" He included Quinn himself, and the other Blair in his question.
Quinn looked regretful. "No," he finally admitted. "There's always a chance that we could slide back to one of our home worlds, or a world so close to it that we couldn't tell the difference. But that's what it would be, chance. I haven't perfected sliding to the degree that I can control where the slide ends up. I'm sorry."
"And how much time do you have left here?" Jim asked.
He looked at his timer. "Just over an hour."
Jim nodded solemnly. "I can't leave my double in the state he's in now. If I can't, before the hour is up, find out whether or not I'm a killer on this world. I'm staying here."
This was met with gasps of surprise from Simon and Quinn, and pure outrage from Blair. "Are you out of your mind?" demanded the anthropologist, getting in his partner's face. "You don't know anything at all about this guy, but you're willing to give up everything just to prove the police and the entire justice system of this world wrong?"
"I can't explain it. I know it sounds crazy, but I just have a feeling that I could never, on any world kill someone in cold blood. Look, Blair, I'll understand if you decide to go on with Quinn."
Blair looked at him as if wondering at his stupidity. "Oh right, that makes a lot of sense. I go off, a Guide without a Sentinel, leaving behind the scientific find of the millennium, and my best friend by the way, and you stay here, a Sentinel without a Guide, until you become a vegetable like your double. No way, man. If you stay, I stay. Got it?"
"Got it." Jim smiled warmly at his friend. There was the sound of a discreet cough from Quinn, reminding them that they weren't the only people in the room.
"Okay, okay." said Blair, slipping effortlessly into "Guide mode". "On the trip back from L.A. I thought of a way that might possibly bring your new friend out of his deep zone."
Simon and Quinn didn't understand what was going on, but after accepting the knowledge of parallel universes anything seemed possible.
Blair's plan was fairly simple. He reminded Jim of how he had acted when he had met another Sentinel for the first time. He had been agitated, territorial and had overprotective instincts going into overdrive, in fact he had been acting almost solely on instinct.
Jim thought he could see where Blair was going with this. "But I've been with my double for almost a day now. He hasn't shown any reaction at all."
"To you," agreed Blair, "but maybe your response to Alex wasn't about the territory of Cascade being invaded. Maybe you sensed I was in danger and reacted to that."
"That would explain my nightmares." said Jim thoughtfully, as they walked down the hall.
"The other Blair told me that Alex killed you on his world because she saw you as a threat, not to her personally, but to something she had. What's the one thing a Sentinel needs for survival?"
"A Guide." Jim responded without hesitation.
"Exactly, and 'Rip Van Winkle' here has probably never had a Guide of his own, so he didn't have any reason to feel threatened by you, thus no reaction."
"Okay, I'm with you so far, but what are you going to do?"
"Give him unexpected stimuli and see if it causes a response. He's never had a Guide, what if he suddenly had two of them?"
"And why should I help you?" demanded Blair's double laying stretched out defiantly on the cot in his jail cell. "What's in it for me?" Jim, watching him, was glad that this man wore a blue prison shirt and black jeans, unlike Jim's partner. Even with the sneer marring his face, he still looked too much like Blair for Jim's comfort.
"On this world Blair Sandburg is dead. You get a clean slate. Right now all you are being held here for is impersonating me." said Jim's Blair. "But if I were to drop the charges, you could go free." He didn't add that they couldn't hold him long on that anyway. But he could tell from his body language that his double would do almost anything to get out of this cell. He hated confinement, another legacy of his time spent with the domineering Alex Barnes.
Still looking suspicious the other Blair nodded. "Alright, I'll do it. Then we go our separate ways." Jim frowned, wondering how long before this Blair ended up back in prison again?
"Do you want to slide out of here with us?" Quinn asked him, still not liking the idea of leaving behind someone he trusted so little.
Blair rubbed his ruined thumb and shook his head. "I'd rather stay on a world where no one has ever heard of Sentinels."
"Jim... can you hear us? Jim Ellison, you have to wake up now. You're needed to defend the tribe. Your place is here. Wake up, Sentinel. Wake up." Blair used the same tone of voice talking to the catatonic man that he used with his own Sentinel, but part of his mind observed that it felt... well strange. Almost guilty, as if he were cheating on his Sentinel. He made a mental note to check into the limits of the Sentinel/Guide bond in relation to marriage and monogamy.
The other Blair, while also entreating the sentinel to awake, watched Blair curiously. He was surprised at the gentleness and genuine concern that his counterpoint was displaying towards, what was to him, just another potential master.
The two Blairs had been talking to the comatose man for forty minutes. Jim noticed Quinn Mallory kept reflexively checking his timer device, worried about missing the slide. Perhaps he was feeling guilty about leaving his newfound friends on this world if they couldn't wake up the other Jim.
Simon had talked the prison officials into letting them conduct this experiment in privacy. They had wheeled the other Jim's hospital bed into an unused storeroom, with light from a barred window falling on his face. Blair thought the double might be able to sense the light or heat. As the minutes continued to tick away, Simon, Quinn and Jim watched from the other side of the room while the two Blairs kept talking.
Jim had time to study the scene at the bed. There was something eerie about two mirror images of the same man, sitting on opposite sides of the bed, talking at the same time, but taking no notice of each other. They reminded Jim of good and bad angels sitting on the shoulders of a cartoon character.
His musing was suddenly interrupted by a slight moan coming from the bed. The two Blairs' eyes met, as if asking each other had they heard the sound.
"I heard it too!" said Jim, as he and Quinn walked over to the bed. You guys did it. He's waking up!"
"Too bad," came a voice rumbling like thunder from across the room. Jim, Quinn and the two Blairs all looked over at Detective Simon Banks, who had drawn his service revolver and was pointing it at them.
"Simon," asked Jim's Blair in confusion, "what are you doing?"
"What I have to, kid. I was hoping you'd fail and then just go on your merry way." said the cop coldly. "But looks like I'm gonna have to shoot you for trying to help the prisoner escape."
"But why?" asked Jim, honest confusion wrinkling his brow.
"You never looked into the murder Ellison was sent up for, did you? It was a woman I had been dating. Bitch was gonna turn me in and report some payoffs I'd been taking."
Jim felt the shock wash over him as he finally acknowledged that this wasn't his Simon, the good man and trusted friend that he knew. "You killed her and framed Ellison for the murder." he said flatly.
"I was the investigating officer. It was easy." said the big man with a shrug. The man on the bed was now writhing as if in pain, but everyone's attention was focused on Banks, the man with the gun, and their lives in his hands. Jim realized what the gold rings reminded him of, brass knuckles. It was a subtle clue, but he got the message. If his Simon's glasses were meant to symbolize his intelligence, then this Simon's gold rings symbolized his brutality.
"Simon, don't do this." pleaded Blair. "Think of Darryl."
"Who is Darryl?" asked the killer, who had no son on this world. Suddenly the air was spilt by a roar and a rush of wind as a brilliant blue light filled the room.
Quinn had still been holding his timer in his hands when Banks pulled out the gun. Unable to think of anything else to do, he turned on the sliding device, hoping to distract the killer. It worked. Simon looked in shock as a glowing blue tunnel suddenly appeared in the air beside him. Jim ran from his place beside the bed toward the bigger man.
But Simon was quicker. Looking away from the tunnel, back at them, he saw Jim rushing at him. He aimed his gun to shoot the Sentinel, ignoring Blair's desperate yell.
Before he could pull the trigger, something slammed into him with incredible impact. It was a heart monitor. The other Jim Ellison, after being comatose for three months, had finally awakened, when he sensed danger for the two guides, even though neither of them was bonded to him. On a surge of adrenaline and pure rage when he heard Banks admit to framing him, Jim's double had grabbed and hurled the nearest object at the murderous cop.
The heart monitor was a square foot of almost solid metal. It met Banks' skull with the force of a safe falling from several stories above. There was a sickening crunch, and Simon Banks fell to the floor, with half his head caved in.
With the threat gone, the Jim Ellison in the bed fell back, his long unused muscles screaming in agony. The Blair in flannel shirt and khakis ran over to where his Jim was looking down numbly at a dead man he had thought was his friend.
"I can't believe it..." said Jim, not saying whether he meant the fact that this man would frame him for murder, or that other worlds could exist where life was so similar and yet so tragically different.
"I know, Jim. I know." Blair put an arm around Jim's shoulder. He hadn't realized that he had been trusting this Simon as if he were the one they had known.
"I'm sorry." said Quinn walking over to them. He didn't elaborate if he was sorry for the death of this man or sorry for dragging them into this entire mess.
Meanwhile, the other Blair, in prison clothing, was thinking quickly. The roaring noise from the gate opening would bring the prison guards, who would take them into custody and ask questions later. They would all be locked up past the sliding deadline. That meant they would all be trapped on this world, probably as prisoners for Banks' murder. He looked over at the shimmering blue tunnel. He would never get another shot. Better take it now. He jumped up, about to bolt towards the tunnel.
He was in luck, the others were talking over Banks' body and didn't see him. But he felt something grab onto his arm. He looked down, and into the eyes of the man on the bed. Those pale blue eyes seemed to be pleading with him. Strange, he thought, he almost felt sorry for the man. No matter what happened to the rest of them, he would never get out from under that murder charge now.
He put aside such thoughts when he realized that Jim was still clenching his arm. The younger man discovered to his horror that he couldn't pry the white knuckled fingers loose from their hold. The man was clearly struggling against unconsciousness, but still he held on to Blair like a life preserver.
Blair knew he had no choice now, the tunnel was about to close. He got a good grip on the rails of the hospital bed and pushed with all his strength.
The other three men standing in the room watched, stunned as Blair, the rolling hospital bed, and the man in the bed, still clenching Blair's arm, all sailed through the tunnel a fraction of a second before it closed behind them.
Into the sudden silence in the room came the sound of feet pounding down the hall.
"Oh shit." said Blair succinctly. "What will we tell the prison authorities?"
"We won't be telling them anything." said Quinn, who was looking down at his timer. "Times up." He hit a button and another blue tunnel appeared. He leapt into it and after exchanging a glance, Jim and Blair followed.
Two Weeks Later:
"Gracias." Jim said to the young woman refilling his wine glass. The dark haired beauty giggled and moved on to serve the man sitting on Jim's left. Jim looked across the dinner table to where Blair was engaged in a deep conversation, in Spanish, with a learned gentlemen with silver hair and beard.
Jim was still finding it hard to get used to the idea that the entire western seaboard was now an independent, Spanish speaking nation. It all went back to the Spanish American War, which had gone very differently on this world than on his.
But at least the people were friendly, and Blair was having the time of his life learning about cultural differences. He had already started to talk about writing a book about the subject of alternate history.
Jim looked over at Quinn on his right. "How much longer did you say we have before the next slide?"
"Two more days." replied the scientist with a slight smile. "Why, are you thinking of staying?" He was joking. This was only his third slide with Jim and Blair, but they were already becoming as hooked on the experience as he.
"I don't know." replied Jim, already wondering what the next world would be like. "It's hard to imagine any place more perfect than this."
Meanwhile on a world several dimensions away, two men sat near a campfire.
One of them stared vacantly at nothing, but the other didn't seem to notice. He was animated, even cheerful, something he hadn't been for years. He kept up a steady stream of chatter at the other man, while he slowly roasted a small animal carcass on a stick over the fire.
"I went scouting further to the west today, Jim. I think I found it! There's definite evidence of a road. Isn't that great? We'll start heading in that direction tomorrow."
Judging the dinner to be cooked enough, he pulled a piece of the tough stringy lizard meat from a bone. Putting the meat in his mouth he crewed it carefully until it was almost liquid and then he took it back out again, using the first two fingers of his right hand. With the ease of much practice, he used the third and fourth fingers of that hand to open the other man's jaws, and pushed the chewed up meat into the other's mouth.
"Swallow," he said and waited until Jim did, "Good." he praised. It had taken two full days of trying before he could get the Sentinel to swallow, and chewing was still a ways off, but they were getting there, slowly but surely.
Jim was stronger now, his muscles losing the atrophy they had gotten from long disuse in coma. Blair no longer had to leave him in one place or drag him along on a makeshift travois, when they traveled. Instead Blair tied one end of his shirt to Jim's wrist and Jim would manage to stumble along behind him, like a blind dog on a leash. It wasn't quick, but they were getting better at it. It was just a matter of time.
"If there's a road, that means there had to have been a civilization here once. Whatever happened to it, there's bound to be survivors out there somewhere." He chewed another bite of meat, swallowed it himself this time and gave them each a drink of water from a clay cup he had made himself. He wiped at the other man's chin when some of the water dribbled out of his mouth.
Blair pulled off another piece of meat. "Hey maybe by the time we find them, you'll have come out of the zone completely. I'll bet they would be glad to get a Sentinel and a Guide to watch out for them, huh?" He chewed the meat and passed it over to the other man. This time he swallowed without prompting.
Blair had taken easily to living in the wilderness. He found the presence of the silent Sentinel to be surprisingly comforting. He didn't really care if they found people or not, that was just something to give them a goal to work towards. About the only thing he really missed from an occupied world was the sound of another human voice. And even that would come with time, when Jim was up to it.
With a sigh of contentment he looked over at the big man that he had been caring for like a baby for weeks. The thought crossed his mind that his counter point Blair had been right. This was his destiny.
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