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KIDNAP

by

Bluewolf

"Thank you all for coming. I just have a short speech prepared here. Um... In our media-informed culture, a scientist receives validation by having his or her work published, and after years of research there is great personal satisfaction when that goal is reached. However, my desire to impress both my peers and the world at large drove me to an immoral and unethical act. My thesis, The Sentinel, is a fraud. While my paper does quote ancient source material, the documentation proving that James Ellison... actually possesses hyper-senses is fraudulent. Looking back, I can say that it's a good piece of fiction. I apologize for this deception. My only hope is that I can be forgiven for the pain I've caused those that are close to me. Thank you."

As the young man walked away from the microphones, one of the three men watching the television report picked up the remote and switched off, not interested in the reporter's comments on the revelation.

"He's lying," he said.

"Lying? Why should he? Where's the advantage to him?" one of his companions asked. "He's just thrown away his academic career-and most of his job prospects. After that little speech, he'll be lucky to get a job serving fast food in Outer Mongolia! To say nothing of what Graham was going to pay him. Why didn't he take the money and run? Go to... oh, Australia, change his name... I think he just realized he couldn't maintain the fiction in the light of a named 'subject,' and decided to own up in the hope of salvaging as much of his academic reputation as he could."

The third man asked, "What makes you think he's lying, sir? I know we haven't found anyone with more than two senses heightened, even though all the studies we've found indicate that there are people with five-"

"And most of what we found was written by Sandburg," the second man said. "He's just debunked everything he's written on the subject. I think what we've found is accurate. People with five heightened senses just don't exist nowadays, if they ever did. Burton could have been lying, or lied to, or just exaggerating for the sake of producing more 'strange foreign customs'."

The first man shook his head. "Ellison's record is too good to be caused by nothing more than simple deduction and interpreting clues. It was good enough before Sandburg started riding with him-it was after that began that it became particularly noticeable. The man has to have an edge, and heightened senses seems the most likely one.

"We know that someone with heightened senses needs a partner; Brackett called him a Guide. I've had my eye on Ellison for a long time, and since Sandburg joined him, the man's changed. Socially, he's gone from being an anti-social, hard-assed loner who couldn't even make his marriage work, to being quite a well-liked guy; he seems to have adopted some of Sandburg's traits. My theory is that the Guide is the boss; that the Sentinel can operate alone, but about as effectively as a trained dog without a handler: it can do the job it's trained for, but without the discipline the handler provides. I think a properly trained Sentinel will respond to any halfway competent handler-that is, any halfway competent Guide-and probably begin fairly quickly to reflect his handler's personality.

"Sandburg's done a reasonable job of training Ellison's responses. I think Ellison'll adjust favorably to any firm handling now. He was, after all, an excellent covert ops officer, and that was apparently before his senses kicked in. With them... With them, he'll be unstoppable."

* * * * * * * *

After they left the PD, Blair took Naomi to the airport. Jim shook his mental head as he watched her entering the main doors, knowing she had convinced herself that everything was fine now. Simon, with some help from Jim, had, by offering Blair a cop's badge, provided a solution to the damage she had done to Blair's life. A career as a cop wouldn't have been her first choice for her son, Jim knew, but by accepting it, she could acquit herself of having done lasting damage to him - and so she was now heading off again, planning to take the first available standby flight, whatever its destination.

"I might not get any further than Seattle tonight," she'd said cheerfully, "but that's the fun of catching just any flight. You don't know beforehand where you'll end up."

Blair, who had seemed quite cheerful when Naomi was in the car, was very quiet as he drove the Volvo home. Jim, forced by his leg wound to be a passenger for some days yet, watched him, careful to do so unobtrusively, understanding that Blair, who had carefully not committed himself to a straight answer at the PD, was thinking seriously about the job offer, but also thinking seriously about other possible options. Yes, Blair had enjoyed 'following you around for three years pretending I was a cop', and while Jim might have exaggerated slightly about Blair's being 'the best cop I've ever met', he certainly thought Blair had the instincts to be a very good cop, and he hadn't exaggerated when he called Blair 'the best partner I could have ever asked for', finally admitting that 'you've been a great friend and you've pulled me through some pretty weird stuff'. However, there was a big difference between 'pretending to be a cop' and actually being one - and Jim knew that the biggest difference, as far as Blair was concerned, would be carrying a gun - even if he never meant to use it.

Blair parked as near 852 Prospect as he could. Unfortunately, they had reached home at a bad time, when a lot of cars were filling the available parking, and the nearest he could get was half a block away. They walked home quite slowly. Jim's leg was painful, even with the dials lowered quite considerably.

Suddenly there was a burst of gunfire. Reaching for his gun, Jim tried to turn too quickly and fell as his leg gave way under him, aware as he went down that Blair was already on the ground and lying very still. He was only half aware that there were other people lying there, too, and there was blood on the sidewalk. Someone grabbed his arms and hauled him upright; he choked down a scream of pain as his leg was twisted and, incapacitated by the pain, unable to do anything but fight to control it, he felt himself being dragged between two parked cars and into one that was double parked. A cloth was slapped over his face and he caught the smell of chloroform; he tried to hold his breath, but his leg was jostled again and he couldn't help but gasp in response; and collapsed, unconscious.

* * * * * * * *

Jim regained consciousness slowly, remembering how he had been grabbed. He was lying on something...not hard, but not particularly soft, not particularly comfortable, that somehow felt vaguely familiar. Habitual caution kept him lying still with his eyes closed, breathing steadily while he listened carefully to see if hearing would give him any answers.

"...around by now." The voice sounded slightly annoyed, as if its owner was taking Jim's continued unconsciousness personally. It was faint enough that Jim suspected its owner was not in the same room, but he had no intention of opening his eyes to see if he was right; if this had been a grudge attack, he would have been dead by now, gunned down instead of kidnapped. It had to be something more and, if so, there was a good chance he would be under surveillance.

"No, not necessarily," a second, more authoritative voice replied. "One of the Jew's papers indicated that he would expect a Sentinel to show abnormal responses to medication. I don't think we need worry about Ellison's continued unconsciousness for at least another hour.

"When he does come round, remember he will need firm handling. From what Brackett told me, Sandburg was far too lax with him. Of course, he did have to leave Ellison capable of independent action, since he wasn't with him all the time, as you will be. It shouldn't take too long for him to respond to you. Like a dog with a new master, I've no doubt he'll be grateful for the direction."

"Some dogs won't retrain," a third voice objected.

"True, Major, but remember Ellison's history. Captain Ward will simply be retraining him to his original job."

His 'original job' had been army; specifically covert ops. Some of the things he had done back then still gave him nightmares, and he had no wish to return to that life. Jim thought faster than he had ever done.

These men had somehow obtained copies of Sandburg's papers on Sentinels, probably through Lee Brackett, who had clearly been working with them at one time - indeed, he might still be working with them. But only one paper had been about Ellison, and Blair had repudiated that. Jim thought he could use that repudiation. He concentrated on the dials, for once grateful for Blair's insistence that he practice using them, practice holding them at specific levels for hours at a time. He dropped taste and smell to a very low level and set them there. He left touch a little below normal, aware that his captors must have registered his response to pain. Sight? Set that at 20/20, he decided. Better than most people, but nothing spectacular. Hearing - bearing in mind that he had in part given away that he had sensitive hearing to the men who rescued him from Peru, he left hearing slightly above normal. That would give him reason to explain why Sandburg had used his name on his 'fraudulent' dissertation. Then he set himself a mental password, determined that until he heard it, he would hold his senses at those levels.

By doing so, he knew he had deprived himself of a possible advantage; but if he lacked five enhanced senses, he wasn't what these men were looking for. Hell, if his senses were all close to or below normal, he'd be useless for whatever they wanted. Of course, they might kill him if they found him useless for their purpose, but damned if he would let them use him!

He lay motionless for some minutes longer, thinking back to the attack, his mind recalling too, too clearly Blair's body sprawled on the sidewalk, blood pooling beside his head. He could only hope that Blair was not too seriously wounded; not dead. Please, not dead!

A further moment of consideration made him decide not to show any great concern about his friend's condition; in any case, his captors were unlikely to know Blair's condition. They had shot Blair down and dragged Jim off. They had only wanted him, and they certainly weren't going to hang around to see if the man they'd shot had survived. And what of the other people he had glimpsed lying there? Some had probably thrown themselves down when the shooting started, but how many of them had actually been hurt? Finally, deciding he had remained unconscious long enough, he cautiously opened his eyes, raised his head, and looked around.

Ah. He was in a small military-type room, similar to the one he had occupied after he was recovered from Peru. Not quite a prison, but he had no doubt that if he tried to leave, he would find the door guarded by a polite and efficient soldier whose job it was to keep him there. Swinging his feet to the floor, he sat up and took further stock of his surroundings.

Similar to the room he had occupied after he was recovered from Peru? Hell, it could have been the same room! The same small window set high in the wall, through which he knew he would see nothing but the sky. The same small alcove in which was a toilet and shower stall, out of the direct line of sight of the door to give the illusion of privacy. The same closet beside it, which he guessed contained the military clothes he would be issued in this enforced return to army life, although currently he was still wearing the clothes he'd had on when he was kidnapped. Only his shoes had been taken off. The same small table and wooden chair...

No, he thought as he looked down at his fists, clenched on his knees. I'm not going back to that.

He limped over to the toilet alcove and relieved himself, then moved carefully to sit at the table.

The door opened, and he raised his head.

Two men entered. One was wearing a captain's uniform, and Jim's hackles rose at sight of him. There was something about the man he instinctively disliked. The other was a general, and the moment he opened his mouth, Jim knew that this was the owner of the authoritative voice he had heard.

"Good afternoon, Captain Ellison."

Jim scowled up at him, ruthlessly squashing the instinctive 'jump to his feet and salute' response that had been drilled into him over twenty years earlier. Instead, he summoned up the attitude he had carried during his time in Vice.

"Why the hell am I here...General?" His tone made an insult of the rank.

The captain jumped in. "Ellison, you will treat the general with respect!" There was ice in his voice, and a subtle threat.

Jim glared at him, recognizing that voice as the one he had heard complaining about how long he was unconscious. "Tell me why I should," he snarled. "I was shot at in the street, my partner, among other innocent civilians who just happened to be nearby, injured - I don't know how severely. I was hauled into a car with no regard for my recent leg injury, and chloroformed. If the army wanted to recall me, why didn't I get an official letter informing me of the fact and telling me where to report? Why kidnap me?"

"Nobody shot at you, Captain," the general said smoothly, and mentally Jim gave him points for refusing to let the anger in his eyes show in his voice.

Jim swung his head round to glare at the man. "So who were you shooting at?"

"We needed to make sure Mr...Sandburg, isn't it? had other things on his mind than noticing who took you. Besides - we have no use for Jews." He spat the last word as if it tasted bad. "Decadent, unreliable - "

"He was injured." Jim's voice remained cold. "Why? I don't see that it was necessary. Why not just recall me?"

"Because this is a unit so covert that only one or two people apart from the handful of people in it know about it. If you were recalled, your friends would expect to hear from you. As it is..." He shrugged. "People in this unit don't exist. My name is Doig. This is Captain Ward - your new Guide."

"My Guide? What the hell are you talking about?"

"We've been studying Sentinels, Captain," Doig said. "Indeed, that is the sole purpose of this unit; to find and use Sentinels for the welfare of this country." His voice rang with undisguised patriotism.

"Sentinels," Jim said, and his voice dripped scorn. "There's no such thing."

"Your Mr. Sandburg believed there was, and he wrote about one in the thesis he claimed was fraudulent. You, Captain Ellison."

"Sandburg couldn't find a Sentinel, only people with one or two heightened senses, so his thesis was about the police department," Jim said. "The Sentinel thing was a novel he was writing. Of course he said it was fraudulent. Nobody listened when he tried to explain it was fiction."

"A fiction in which he used your name? I can hardly believe that."

"You're inconsistent, General," Jim said. "How can he be unreliable and at the same time you believe in something he admitted was fiction?"

"There was more. Lee Brackett swore you have enhanced senses...before he...died."

Something about the tone of Doig's voice alerted Jim. "You killed him?"

"The man thought only of himself. He had no patriotism. He was a danger to his country." But for the note of fanaticism in his voice, Doig might have been speaking of swatting a troublesome insect.

"Don't you think he told you what you wanted to hear, in the hope of saving his life?"

Doig shook his head. "He believed what he was saying."

Jim took a deep breath. An out and out denial wasn't going to work; Doig was too sure he was right. "I don't deny I have excellent eyesight and hearing, but they're both within normal parameters." Now, he added mentally, turning a lie into the truth. "That was why Sandburg used my name in the first draft of his novel. Nobody was meant to see that draft, but a well-meaning friend got hold of it, thought it was his dissertation, thought it was a final draft and publicized it, thinking he was doing Sandburg a favor."

Doig studied him for some moments in silence. Jim met his gaze with a hostile glare. Finally, Doig glanced at Ward. "You will need to discover the extent of your Sentinel's abilities, Captain. I suggest you begin now."

* * * * * * * *

The shooting had not been without witnesses; the car taking the kidnapped Jim away had barely turned the corner before one shaken but alert man - who had thrown himself to the ground the moment the shooting started - pulled his cell phone out to call 911.

The paramedics arrived first, to find five people injured. Two men were unconscious; one bleeding badly from chest and head wounds, while the other had a shoulder injury and had apparently hit his head on something as he fell. The remaining three were conscious and not so badly injured. One had a leg injury, one had arm injuries and the third, the luckiest of them all, had a minor head wound - which would have been fatal if it had been just a little more to the left.

Two patrol cars arrived as the ambulance carrying the unconscious men rushed off and the remaining paramedics turned to deal with the three conscious patients, none of whose injuries were life-threatening.

The witnesses were all sure that the kidnapped man and at least one of the unconscious ones had been together, and the three who were not so badly injured agreed that they had simply been in the way of stray bullets; that the attack had been intended to distract everyone while they kidnapped that one man.

"The man they took was big - over six foot - and lame," the man who had called 911 said. "Well built, and he tried to pull away from the guy who took him, but I'd say he was handicapped by his lameness. His leg seemed to be really hurting him. He fell when the shooting started, and the guy just dragged him into the car."

"Did you get a good look at the kidnapper?" Officer Prescott asked.

"He had a scarf around his mouth - so did the driver. And the car was one of those ones with darkened glass that you can't see into, though the driver's window was down to let him shoot. All I can really say is that he was smaller than the guy he dragged into the car - maybe five-ten or -eleven. He was wearing jeans and a dark jacket, the kind of clothes you don't really notice in a crowd."

"What about the other men with him, the ones who've been taken to the hospital?"

"I think they were targeted to stop them interfering, because they went down first. The big guy, the one who was kidnapped, I don't think he was hit at all. I think he fell because his lame leg gave way."

There was no point in trying to talk to the men who had already been taken to the hospital that evening. From what the paramedics still at the scene said, one would probably be in surgery for much of the night, and the other, whose actual gunshot injury was less severe, might remain unconscious for quite some time as a result of his head injury. As the paramedics helped the other injured into ambulances and the uninjured witnesses left, one patrol car stayed to guard the scene until it could be thoroughly checked by Forensics, and the other headed back to the police station with the report.

* * * * * * * *

The first anyone in Major Crime knew about a problem was when Jim, who had been passed as fit for light duty, failed to report for work the next day. Joel Taggert, standing in for the still-on-the-invalid-list Simon Banks, phoned the loft half an hour after Jim was due in. When the answering machine kicked in, he decided that Jim was probably still on the road, possibly delayed by a traffic problem, although he couldn't understand why Jim wouldn't have phoned in to say he'd be late. For a second he wondered why there wasn't an answer from Blair, then he remembered that Blair would be driving Jim to the station, whether or not he also stayed there.

Not quite worried, deciding to give Jim a few minutes longer, he turned his attention to the desk and the new reports from the previous evening, on incidents that fell into the scope of Major Crime's work, that had been delivered earlier that morning. The first two were fairly routine; the third set off an alarm bell in his mind. He went to the door.

"Rafe!"

Rafe, himself still on light duty after the head wound received from Zeller's manic shoot-up of the bullpen, hurried over. He took one look at Joel's face, and stiffened. "Problem, Joel?"

Joel handed him the report. Frowning, he glanced through it, then looked up questioningly.

"Jim Ellison isn't in yet," Joel said quietly.

"You think this was Jim? What about Blair?"

"I think he must be one of the ones taken unconscious to the hospital. I want you to go over there and see if Blair is there. And if he is, we'd better arrange for a guard until we find out more; he could still be a target."

"On my way."

* * * * * * * *

Although it was a constant source of teasing in the PD - "You just get yourself hurt so you can fill up your little black book" "Is there anyone there who doesn't know you, Sandburg?" "You got a thing for nurses? There are easier ways to meet 'em!" - only a few of the hospital staff were actually likely to recognize Blair, and none of them were on duty when he was admitted as a John Doe, in the OR, or in the ward where he finally lay after surgery for his injuries.

Rafe looked down at the motionless figure in the bed, and nodded, instantly recognizing him despite the bandage around his head that hid half of his face. "Yes, that's our man. Blair Sandburg. Captain Taggert will be arranging a guard for him; he could still be a target."

Ann Devlin, the senior nurse who had taken Rafe to see the two unconscious John Does, frowned slightly. "Is that likely, Detective?"

"Until we know who's responsible, and who has kidnapped his partner, we can't ignore the possibility. We have to assume this was a grudge attack, and that a further attempt could be made on Mr. Sandburg's life." Rafe turned his attention back to Blair. "What's the prognosis?"

"We're not supposed to tell anyone other than relatives - " she began.

Rafe nodded as he looked back at her. "This is a police matter, Nurse. Now I could go back to the station, get a warrant authorizing the hospital to give me the information, but that would waste time. We'll need to question him as soon as he regains consciousness, find out if he saw anything to indicate who might have taken his partner. The sooner we can start searching, the more chance there is of finding Ellison alive. So I ask you again - how long might we have to wait to talk to Blair?"

Devlin hesitated a moment longer, then, "We don't know," she said. "The shoulder injury isn't too severe, but he lost a lot of blood. All right, we've replaced that, and repaired the damage done by the bullet. It's the continued unconsciousness from the head injury that's worrying. Until he regains consciousness we won't know if it did any serious damage, and frankly, we don't know when he will; his condition is still critical. You may never be able to get any answers from him, Detective. I certainly wouldn't expect you to get any in the short term."

Rafe lowered his head and closed his eyes. God, Blair... After a moment he looked up again. "I'll go and call Captain Taggert, then come straight back. Since I'm already here, I'll probably be Blair's first guard."

* * * * * * * *

Within two or three minutes, Jim knew that when he lowered the intensity of his senses and locked them at that level, he had made the right decision. Captain Ward's initial method of testing his hearing was to bombard him with sound at different frequencies and different volumes to see his reaction. Without the mental lock, Jim knew his hearing would have spiked almost immediately; with it, he was able to remain in control, barely flinching at the loudest sounds. He gained a small measure of satisfaction from the realization that Ward himself clearly found the volume of the louder sounds uncomfortable.

After a short time, Ward fastened two wires to Jim's left arm, and handed him a small box. "I'm going to play you some quieter sounds," he said, and there was a quality in his voice that confirmed Jim's initial, instant distrust. "You'll get a slight electric shock a variable time beforehand. You can turn the electricity off by pressing that button as soon as you hear the sound. Understood?"

Jim looked at him, wondering how anyone could be so stupid. "As soon as I feel a shock I'll press the button, whether I hear something or not," he said with the exaggerated patience he might have used if speaking to a very young child. "Anyone would, even a deaf man. Your 'test' is useless."

Ward glared at him, then snatched the box from him and yanked the wires loose. Muttering something under his breath, he turned away to put the box down.

Unable to hear what the man was saying, Jim was glad that he had taken steps to prevent himself from slipping and using his senses to listen in; what he couldn't hear he couldn't know, so an accidental betrayal of unauthorized knowledge wouldn't be able to bite him on the ass.

Ward returned after a few minutes, an ugly expression on his face. "What about touch?" he mused, looking down at Jim's injured leg.

"Using an existing and already painful injury to see if I can feel severe pain doesn't seem to me to be very useful," Jim said quietly, "to say nothing of possibly causing further damage that might totally incapacitate me. I won't be of any use to your General if I can't walk at all. Indeed, as far as pain is concerned, I'd have thought that someone whose tolerance of it was very high would be of more use to you." And if I did have a high tolerance of pain, damned if I'd let you know, he thought.

Scowling, Ward turned abruptly and marched out, predictably slamming the door behind him. Prepared for it, Jim didn't even flinch.

Still convinced that he was under surveillance, although he couldn't detect an obvious camera, Jim moved with deliberate caution back to the bed, and lay down, pushing against the mattress with his good leg to help him swing his injured leg carefully upwards. Once he was lying down, he gave a sigh of relief that he hoped would be clearly audible to whomever General Doig's watching minion was and closed his eyes, feigning exhaustion.

Let them think that the session with Ward's 'tests' had completely tired him out; even if it meant his death, he was more than ever determined to prove useless to Doig. He would not let himself - his senses - be used in the way Doig undoubtedly intended. A Sentinel defended his territory, and. yes, if necessary he would kill anyone who threatened it; however, he did not, would not, wantonly attack even a possible enemy without provocation, without direct cause, for no reason greater than the bigoted 'patriotism' of a man who undoubtedly genuinely believed that the other nations of the world should be lining up to voluntarily impoverish themselves by handing over all their assets to America and offering themselves as the other thousand or more States, to make one world-wide United States of America.

God, Doig probably believed that the dark-skinned races of the world should all accept their 'inferiority' and line up to become the willing slaves of the whites!

It was probable that Doig was not completely sane; he was too fanatical to be completely sane. As for Ward... Jim considered the man. Not particularly intelligent. Blair's tests showed imagination and Jim had no doubt that if Blair had been the one testing him for Doig, he would have found it very difficult to counter his tests.

Blair... How badly had he been hurt? His last sight of his friend had been of an unmoving body lying on a blood-wet sidewalk...gunned down so that he, Jim, could be kidnapped and held prisoner in the name of patriotism, ultimately - he supposed - with the intention that he be used as some kind of terrorist, attacking whatever country Doig determined was a danger to America.

To his surprise, nobody came near him for some time, and he drifted off to sleep.

* * * * * * * *

In response to the knock on his door, Doig looked up from the monitor showing Jim pulling himself onto the bed. Ward entered, fury on his face.

"You wanted me, General." His voice was barely polite.

"You were failing to accomplish anything," Doig told him quietly.

"I'd have gone back in, and had him screaming, begging to tell us everything he could do, inside half an hour - " Ward began.

"By maltreating his leg?" Doig's voice was very cold. "In one thing he was correct, Ward; I will not be pleased if you cause permanent damage to him so that he is physically unable to perform the duties I envisage for him. He does not know we are watching, and it is clear that the injury causes him considerable pain."

Ward scowled. "It's true he was limping when we captured him, but I'd doubt it's all that serious. If it was. he'd still be in the hospital. A little judicious application of pain, General - it works wonders persuading someone that it's in his own best interests to co-operate."

"Reluctant co-operation. Willing agents, motivated by patriotism, are the most effective."

"But co-operation, even if it's reluctant to start with, serves its purpose. All he has to know initially is that if he fails us, he will suffer, and if he satisfies us, he will be rewarded by not being made to suffer. It won't take long for the co-operation to become willing, as he learns to appreciate the advantages when he does. You said I should be strict with him, General. Pain if he doesn't co-operate; no pain if he does. That's strict."

"He's no use to me if he's permanently damaged. He has to be mobile."

"I can soon find out how bad that injured leg is," Ward said, a note in his voice that made even Doig slightly uneasy. "All I need is an attack-trained dog to threaten him."

"Granted I don't believe the injury is quite as serious as he's making out, but if it turns out that it is serious, and he can't run or climb to escape such an animal? He could be severely mauled, and that would not suit my program at all." Doig thought for a minute. "I think part of the problem here is that he's feral. He had too many years of acting independently, inside the parameters of his orders. Even as a cop, he was a law unto himself until Sandburg happened along. I still think the Guide is the boss, and somehow Sandburg managed to tame him, persuade him to co-operate with authority.

"I begin to think we made a mistake discounting Sandburg, even though, as a Jew, he is unlikely to be a patriotic American." He glanced at Ward. "Get someone to check up on him; see how badly he was injured. We can use him to keep Ellison in line - and use Ellison to keep him in line. Meanwhile, I can think of a simple test or two for Ellison; both for his senses of smell and taste, and the extent of his lameness. Sent Granger in."

"Yes, sir."

* * * * * * * *

The meal was very highly spiced, and Jim knew that with his sense of taste set at normal, he would have been unable to eat it. Five alarm chili? This had to be ten alarm at least! But if Doig hoped to get a reaction from him, it wasn't going to be the one the general expected. Jim suspected that spices this strong wouldn't do his stomach much good, but he also doubted that he'd be given more than one such meal, if his reaction to it was - from Doig's point of view - unsatisfactory.

He had some difficulty hiding his amusement when the soldier who had brought him his meal returned for the plate, and stared in what Jim identified as a mixture of disbelief and awe when he saw that it was empty.

The soldier took a deep breath. "How did you enjoy your meal, Captain?"

"Well, in general I'm not too fond of spicy food, but that wasn't too strong," Jim said mendaciously. "Your cook managed to make it perfect for me. Please give him my thanks."

"G-Good," the soldier said. "I'll...I'll let him know."

He gathered up the plate, and hurriedly left.

Jim yawned and stretched, then crossed to the toilet, relieved himself, limped back to the bed and lay down. He yawned again as he pulled the cover over himself, then settled down.

* * * * * * * *

He was, much to his relief, left alone for the next two days, only seeing the soldier who brought him his food. With nothing to occupy his time, he was more than bored, but he refused to show it. Instead, he lay on the bed, resting his leg, and thinking over the facts of one or two of the cases he had been working on before Zeller attacked the bullpen.

* * * * * * * *

About an hour after Jim had settled down on the second evening, smoke filled the corridor outside the only room that was occupied, all the others having been emptied, and wisps of it curled under its door. It was clear to the man watching on the surveillance camera that the sleeper lying on the narrow bed remained unaware of it.

Doig's plan to discover the extent of Jim's senses might have worked if he had had the cunning to leave a man in the corridor to raise the cry of 'Fire!', or if he had placed a smoke alarm there - something it would have been impossible to ignore. As it was, Jim lay motionless even as his room filled with smoke. Doig, watching and waiting, finally had to admit that his captive was not going to react, and sent Granger to waken him and lead him out of the smoke-filled corridor.

Only Granger was unable to waken Jim.

Jim was rushed to the unit's doctor, who decided that he was suffering from smoke inhalation, and put him on oxygen. But although his vital signs slowly improved, he remained obstinately unconscious, and nothing anyone did could waken him.

* * * * * * * *

Late the next day, Doig sat in his office, staring at the surveillance screen and the unconscious man on the bed, thinking over the facts as he knew them.

Ellison had eaten an extremely hot curry, one that Doig, who liked his curries highly spiced, couldn't have eaten, and described it as 'perfect'. Nobody with normal senses could have eaten that, let along someone with a heightened sense of taste. He had completely failed to notice the smoke filling his room, which indicated that his sense of smell wasn't much good, either. To judge from the way he favored his leg, he was very sensitive to pain - and his comment to Ward about someone with high tolerance had shown a correct assessment of what Doig was looking for. That left hearing - which Ward had totally failed to assess - and sight.

And this continued unconsciousness, which had lasted for over twenty-four hours...

Doig scowled and reached for the folder containing the bastard Jew's writing. He was sure he had seen something...

Nearly an hour later he found it, and swore imaginatively. The zone-out factor. If Ellison had any kind of Sentinel ability, he might have been aware of the smell of smoke in his sleep, tried to identify it even with a poor sense of smell, and zoned out on it. He wasn't just unconscious, he was still trying to smell - and probably identify-the blasted smoke!

He read on. Part of the Guide's job was to bring the Sentinel out of a zone, but Ward, the man he had originally thought would make a reasonable Guide, had proved to be useless. The staff medic didn't have a clue...but of course he knew no details about the Sentinel aspect of the unit.

Reluctantly - very reluctantly - he was coming to the conclusion that he might have been wrong. Perhaps Brennan's comment that 'some dogs won't retrain' had been accurate, at least in Ellison's case. Perhaps Ellison had totally imprinted on the Jew, so he was the only Guide Ellison would obey. God, how could anyone who had been in the army, anyone with the reputation Ellison had had in those days, be so unpatriotic as to imprint on an academic, let alone a Jew?

His thoughts were interrupted by a knock on the door.

"Come."

Ward entered. "Sandburg's dead."

"What?"

"I went myself to check on him, pretending to be an old friend who'd just heard he'd been shot. The hospital told me he'd died without regaining consciousness and directed me to Cascade PD. He'd been linked to Major Crime, and the atmosphere there... Taggert, the captain, told me he was buried that morning. The man was nearly in tears, for heaven's sake! 'Course, he's black, and we all know they're weaker than whites. And one of the women actually was crying. God, women playing at being cops..."

"Hell."

"I wasn't totally convinced - they could have been acting - and I asked where he was buried, so I could pay my respects, and Taggert told me. There's a fresh grave there, so I'd say it's confirmed."

"Damn."

Ward frowned. "You don't seriously think we could have found out more from him than there was in his papers?"

"In the light of what's happened with Ellison, I'd have liked the chance to see. A decent God-fearing Christian American would probably have a lot of notes he didn't use; I'd expect a Jew to use every scrap of info he had to make himself look good, but it's just possible he had a few additional notes, possibly compiled since the last thing he actually published. Then there's that thesis he said was a fraud. There's all the stuff that'll have been in it, when he was actually studying Ellison, damn his impudence."

Ward rubbed his chin. He was not a man given to deep thought, but it occurred to him that in the case of Sandburg, Doig was, to some extent, embracing the double standard. "Has something happened?"

"Ellison appears to have...what was the word again?" He snapped his fingers soundlessly several times. "Zoned. Probably on the smoke."

"Smoke?" Ward asked.

"We let off some smoke grenades in the corridor outside his room. His sense of smell doesn't seem to be high, and he could have thought he smelled something, concentrated really hard to try to identify it... The Jew's papers did say that's what would happen if someone with heightened senses concentrated very hard on one sense."

Ward grinned, a calculating look in his eyes. "Give me a few minutes with him. I'll soon pull him out of it."

"How?"

"A little judiciously applied pressure on his leg. If he's faking it, he'll soon waken. If he isn't... Pain is a pretty good stimulant."

"Certainly it would draw his attention to another sense," Doig said thoughtfully. "All right. You have five minutes to try it. If he hasn't come around inside that time, I don't think there's much point in continuing. And remember, we don't want to cause permanent damage," he repeated. "If he's to be of use to us, he has to be mobile."

Doig accompanied Ward to the unit's sickbay. He had two reasons; he wanted to question Ellison as soon as he regained consciousness but, with luck, was still confused from his unconscious state, but he also did not entirely trust Ward to apply the stimulus of pain for only five minutes. Ward, Doig was beginning to realize, had a sadistic streak he had not previously been aware of, and while he was himself ruthless, he needed Ellison's reported abilities too much to consider these circumstances warranted Ward's level of ruthlessness.

Ellison was the only patient in the sickbay, and Lt. Strang, the unit's medic, shook his head when Doig asked about his patient's progress. "There's no reason for the continued unconsciousness," he said. "Yes, there was smoke in his lungs, but we've had him on oxygen and I'd have expected him to have regained consciousness by now. Even an injected stimulant hasn't served to waken him."

* * * * * * * *

Strang watched uneasily as the two men walked into the small 'ward' and crossed to Ellison's bed. He didn't entirely trust either man; but his position in the small unit was a perfect one for a man who was basically lazy, and he wasn't about to jeopardize it by protesting about his senior officers' attitude towards the only patient he had had for the last month.

* * * * * * * *

Ward rubbed his hands together, as if considering his best move, but Doig could sense in the man a gloating anticipation, and decided that this was the last time Ward would have access to Ellison. It had always been a toss-up whether he should assign Ward or the rather more skeptical Major Brennan to be Ellison's new Guide. He'd chosen Ward mainly because Brennan was less convinced that Ellison had five heightened senses. Now, Doig found himself wondering if Ward had seen the position of Guide as the perfect opportunity to bully a man who would be dependant on him.

His lips tightened slightly. If he was right, if that was Ward's main motivation rather than the true patriotism that used whatever weapons he could get purely for the good of his country, he'd played Doig for a fool, and that was something Doig would not readily forgive.

Ward placed both hands carefully over the bandage still covering Ellison's leg injury, and leaned heavily down.

There was no response.

Ward gripped the injured leg and tightened his grasp, his face twisting slightly from the effort. There was still no response.

* * * * * * * *

Outside the small room, Strang realized what was happening; a brief mental struggle between laziness and the instinct to take the easy option of obeying his senior officer and his medical responsibilities was won, somewhat to his own surprise, by his professional ethics. He strode forward.

"Captain, you can't do that! As this man's doctor, I must insist that - "

"Silence, Lieutenant!" Ward growled.

Doig, however, had seen enough, and snapped, "Stop, Captain."

"You're not giving me a chance, General - "

"It isn't working, Captain. Apply more pressure, and you could damage Ellison's leg and lengthen his recovery period even if you didn't do permanent damage."

Ward straightened reluctantly. "Yes, sir."

Doig motioned Strang forward and watched as the doctor examined the injury. Strang shook his head and spoke directly to the general. "The wound was healing nicely, but Captain Ward's treatment of it has torn it a little. I would certainly recommend that even if Captain Ellison were to regain consciousness within the next hour, he be confined to bed for at least forty-eight hours to give it the chance to begin healing again."

"Right," Doig said. "Captain, I'm reassigning you. I know I told you to be firm with Ellison, but so far I haven't been impressed with your handling of him. You certainly proved incapable of learning what he could do."

"Yes, sir."

Doig noted the sullen tone of Ward's voice, and it confirmed the decision he had made. He nodded to the door. "After you, Captain." He glanced at Strang. "Carry on, Doctor."

Strang watched them go, then as he turned back to his patient, he heard a single gunshot, and shivered. This post had seemed ideal for him; now he was beginning to wonder just what he had let himself in for.

* * * * * * * *

Jack Kelso reached for his ringing phone.

"Kelso."

"This is Captain Taggert, Cascade PD. Blair mentioned you once or twice - Blair Sandburg."

Kelso drew a deep breath. "Yes. I knew him quite well. I was sorry to hear he'd died."

"I'm sending a man to see you in connection with that. When Blair was shot, his partner was kidnapped. The whole situation is...weird, Mr. Kelso. If someone is kidnapped, we would expect to hear something from the kidnappers; there's been no word. If they simply wanted to kill Ellison, why not shoot him down at the same time they shot Blair? It looks as if they wanted Jim for some reason, and the general feeling in the bullpen is that the kidnapping is linked to - "

"The thesis that Blair claimed was fraudulent," Kelso interrupted.

"Yes. There's been some speculation here about it. We think it was true, and Blair denied it to protect Jim."

"It would be...would have been typical of Blair to do that," Kelso said. "He had a very strong personal code of honor."

"So I was wondering...is it possible that some official organization might also have thought it was true, and taken Jim?"

Kelso sighed. "I'll see what I can find out. When can I expect your man?"

"Would this afternoon be too soon?"

"It might be too soon for me to have anything definite. Is he any good with a computer?"

"He's not too bad."

"In that case I might be able to use his help."

"Thanks, Mr. Kelso."

Kelso hung up. He sat for a minute, thinking, then turned to his computer.

* * * * * * * *

His expected visitor arrived just after 3 pm; a man of very average height, who was either several days into growing a beard or kept one short enough to look new. There was a bandage around his head, his face - what could be seen of it between the beard and the bandage - was very pale, and his left arm was in a sling.

"Juan Diaz, Senor Kelso. Captain Taggert said you would be expecting me." He had a slight Spanish accent, and spoke with the precision that said English was probably not his first language.

Kelso nodded. "Yes...but you look as if you should be in bed, not chasing up a missing man."

"Perhaps. But this is something I must do. I can rest after we find Detective Ellison."

"Ellison wouldn't want anyone to damage his health - " Kelso began.

"The longer the delay in finding him, the less chance there is of finding him alive. Captain Taggert spoke to you of a possible 'official organization' who might have taken him - you have had some hours to check on this. Have you discovered anything, senor?" There was an odd note of pleading in Diaz' voice that puzzled Kelso. What was Ellison to this man? And why did the man's voice sound slightly familiar?

"Yes; the existence of a small covert group that isn't as covert as it thinks it is."

Diaz frowned. "I don't understand."

"I found out about it. Surprisingly easily, too."

"I see," Diaz murmured.

Kelso went on. "This unit is commanded by an army general who heard about Ellison just after his return from Peru, when the officer in charge of the rescue mentioned at his debriefing that Ellison seemed to have particularly acute hearing.

"By the time he was found, Ellison's tour of duty had finished, and he was overdue for discharge. This general - Doig - apparently suggested at the time that Ellison be kept in the army, transferred into a new unit to be comprised of men with one or more heightened senses, and the unit used not just to counter terrorism but to discourage it by...well, by striking first."

"By building up a unit of terrorists?" Diaz exclaimed - and his voice had totally lost its accent.

Kelso stared at him, suddenly realizing why the man's voice had seemed familiar. "Blair?" he whispered.

"I am Juan Diaz." The accent was back.

"Yes, of course," Kelso murmured, remembering the golden rule; If you're undercover, maintain the role at all times, even with friends you trust. He took a deep breath. "Anyway, since there was no proof that Ellison did in fact have any kind of heightened senses - just that comment by Mathis about his hearing, and there was nothing to back it up - he was honorably discharged.

"Nothing more was done about it for some years, but Doig eventually managed to persuade the army that men with heightened senses could be of value to the army. He was given a small staff, his orders being to find men with heightened senses who could be used in anti-terrorist activities."

Diaz frowned thoughtfully. "Did they find any?"

"No. Doig started off intelligently enough, by gathering what info he could find on heightened senses. Most of it was in papers you...Blair Sandburg wrote."

"God," Diaz muttered.

"He may or may not have looked for others, but he was obsessed with Ellison, and after Graham released those bits of what appeared to be a dissertation on Ellison as a Sentinel, he clearly made up his mind to grab him. Give him a Guide of his selection who, he seems to believe, would influence Ellison to become the killer he wanted to take out suspected terrorist bases."

"But that dissertation was denied."

"He seems to have disbelieved the denial."

"How long has this...this unit been in existence?"

"About five years."

"And Jim's the only one they've found?"

"Looks like it. But I suspect the unit was set up purely to shut Doig up and possibly push him into a relatively harmless position where he would feel important."

"Why would the army want him in that sort of position?" Diaz asked.

"The man's a bigot. Doesn't believe anyone but white Christians born in this country can be true patriots. The white men in his units almost always got away with murder; anyone else was liable to be put on report for coughing when they had a cold. But although everyone knew that, the army isn't known for mollycoddling its men, and bigotry can be quite hard to quantify. It's easy for someone who feels put upon to claim they're the target of some form of victimization... "

"Almost always got away with murder?"

"Occasionally - very, very occasionally - he'd discipline a white who'd obviously overstepped some line, but I don't think anyone, even the men he'd punished, ever worked out what that line was. If Doig had treated everyone alike, he'd have been known as a strict disciplinarian, and everyone would have known where they stood with him. As it was, he got a reputation for inconsistency where discipline was concerned."

"I can see that would make life serving under him quite difficult."

Kelso gave an unamused snort. "You could put it that way."

"So do you know where this unit can be found?" Diaz asked

"Yes, but unfortunately it's outside the jurisdiction of the Cascade Police."

Diaz' lips tightened. "There are at least four others who will join me in rescuing Jim Ellison. After that... we will have to think about how to keep him safe."

"Admitting publicly that he has heightened senses would make it difficult for the army to try to kidnap him again. The outrage..."

"Unfortunately, admitting publicly that he has heightened senses would automatically make him a target for many major criminals."

"Damned if he tells, damned if he doesn't?"

"Yes. It is best kept at least a semi-open secret known only to those who must know - and there are more of those now than there were a week ago."

Kelso nodded slowly. "Yes, I take the point. Well, you know I know how to keep my mouth shut."

Diaz grinned, and dropped the accent again, deliberately this time. "You're a good friend, Jack. Thank you. Now, where can I find Jim?"

* * * * * * * *

The pain in his leg finally pulled Jim back to consciousness.

He had become aware of the smoke filling his cell, although with his sense of smell set very low, he had remained unaware of it until it was fairly thick in the room. Coming so soon after the curry, he was quite certain that this was another test, and that he was in fact in no danger, so he deliberately allowed himself to zone out on the smell. This would be another way to prove himself useless to Doig.

Now he lay motionless, trying to work out where he was. He could no longer detect smoke, although with his sense of smell reduced, that was hardly surprising.

The bed did not feel familiar, so he had been moved... Ah. He was probably in the unit's sickbay. That meant he was unlikely to be under surveillance - or at least strict surveillance. He opened his eyes and, without moving his head, he looked around as much as he could.

He was attached to a drip. His leg was throbbing badly, and he decided that in getting him out of the smoke-filled room, Doig's men had been far from gentle.

"Ah, you're awake." The voice was unfamiliar. Jim rolled his head to look towards it.

The man standing there was a lieutenant.

"What happened?" Jim asked.

"There was a fire; you were brought to sickbay suffering from smoke inhalation. How do you feel?"

Jim took a deep breath, and coughed. "I've felt worse," he said. "My leg's really sore, though."

"Yes, it was...damaged. I'm recommending forty-eight hours of bed rest to let it start healing again."

"You're the medic?"

"Yes. Lt. Strang." He hesitated, then said, "Captain, if I may make a suggestion?"

"Yes?"

"It'll be easier for you if you give General Doig what he wants."

But having decided on a course of action, Jim was sticking with it, especially since he suspected that Strang had probably been given his orders, the equivalent of the 'good' cop to balance Ward's 'bad' cop, using sympathy where Ward used bullying tactics.

"I can't," he said. "I don't have the abilities he thinks." Because I've suppressed them, he finished in his mind. "I've got slightly better than average hearing and 20/20 vision, and he's looking for someone with better hearing and sight than that. I'm quite sensitive to pain, where he needs someone with a high tolerance for pain."

"But the reports of your activities in Peru - "

Jim smiled deprecatingly. "Exaggerated," he said. "'GI Survives Jungle Ordeal' made a far better headline for News Magazine than 'Chopec Fight to Defend Their Land'. We were sent in to combat rebel activity in the area - it was on the edge of the region involved in the Ecuador - Peru war. I organized the men of the Chopec tribe as best I could, and persuaded them to attack the insurgents. The Chopec were hunters, who depended on their stalking abilities to catch a lot of their food. Animals are far warier, far more alert, than any of the men who came into the area, so the Chopec had no difficulty in disposing of them. Those are the men who are likely to have the abilities that General Doig wants."

"But your covert ops training - "

"Meant I could accompany the Chopec without handicapping them too much. I couldn't expect to sit back in their village with the women and leave the men to do my work, after all. They could understand that I didn't have the hunting skills they did, so although I directed them, they did the actual hunting of the intruders; but I was there with them. They couldn't understand, couldn't begin to understand, the concept of the commander who leads from the rear and never leaves the safety of his office."

"Oh."

Strang dropped the subject, and checked Jim quickly but efficiently. "Mmm. I don't think you've suffered any permanent damage. Want a painkiller?" he asked.

Jim shook his head.

"Hungry?"

"Not really," Jim said, and settled down. In truth, he felt slightly sick, but he knew that was caused by the pain in his leg, and he was fairly sure that whatever the medic might give him for the pain would either knock him out again or be ineffective. As Strang left, Jim had no doubt that he would be reporting immediately to Doig, thus leading Doig to underestimate him more and more. He hadn't even been lying - not exactly. Everything he had said about the Chopec was true, and even after eighteen months with them, he hadn't been able to match the best of the hunters for stealth. He had not, however, been the poorest of the hunters. He had been successful enough that they took him seriously rather than laughing among themselves at the incompetent foreigner. It was the best he could have hoped for.

He closed his eyes, but lay awake for some time thinking over what he knew about this unit, and coming back to one simple comment.

People in this unit don't exist.

Doig, he decided, would soon learn just how true that comment was.

* * * * * * * *

When Jim woke again, there was another stranger sitting beside his bed. As he blinked himself awake, the newcomer said, "Captain Ellison, I'm Major Brennan. I'm taking over from Captain Ward as your new Guide."

Jim studied him for a moment, relieved that this man did not cause the instant hatred he had felt for Ward. That didn't mean, however, that he felt inclined to co-operate with Brennan. "Why?" he asked, honestly curious.

"Ward...had an accident last night," Brennan said. "He's dead."

"I won't pretend I'm sorry," Jim said. "The man was a fool."

"I hope you'll find it easier to work with me."

Jim shook his head. "I don't have the abilities General Doig credits me with."

Brennan grinned. "You'll get no argument from me about that. Ward agreed with the general that it was possible to find someone with five heightened senses. I'm more inclined to accept that you have top-of-the-range sight and hearing, and maybe touch, since your leg is paining you so much. What I want to do is work with you to establish just how well you can use your sight and hearing with a view to returning you to Covert Ops."

"Major, I'm forty this year. While I don't consider myself old, Covert Ops is a job for the young. I've kept myself fit, but there's no way I could keep up with a thirty-year-old nowadays, let alone a twenty-five-year-old."

"I think you underestimate yourself, Captain."

"Just realistic, Major."

"Think about it, anyway. Ah, here's your breakfast. I'll leave you in peace to enjoy it."

"Not if it's the same as I've been fed so far," Jim said. "Most of it's been so bland it's hardly been worth eating."

No, he didn't dislike Brennan, but Brennan undoubtedly had his orders and would report back to Doig. Jim wasn't about to trust anyone in this unit...

* * * * * * * *

In the growing pre-dawn light, three men lay in the uncertain shelter of a big shrub, studying the small fenced enclosure a short distance from them. There was only one building in it, laid out as three sides of a square.

"There don't seem to be any guards," murmured Diaz, who had dispensed with his sling although there was still a dressing on his forehead.

"There could be surveillance cameras," Simon muttered.

"Maybe the fence is electrified," Rafe suggested.

"No," Diaz said. "Not unless the cables to it are underground. I think they're just totally confident that nobody is going to come knocking at their door. It's not as if there's anything secret about this place; until now they've had nothing to hide. And even now - anyone walking in and holding them all at gunpoint while they searched the place would find nothing they would consider worthwhile. Just an army unit studying a myth."

Rafe glanced at him, aware that by saying 'until now' Diaz was giving a degree of confirmation to the myth...but then, a surprising number of people at the station, not just the personnel in Major Crime, had noticed something interesting about Jim Ellison's reactions at crime scenes over the last four years. However, all he said was, "Until now?"

"Now they have a man there that they kidnapped," Diaz said.

Good recovery, Simon thought.

"Oh. Right," Rafe muttered. "Can we risk moving closer?"

"There's not much cover," Simon said.

"But nobody watching," Diaz replied, and began to wriggle awkwardly forward, dragging the small pack he had brought with him. Simon watched for a moment before he followed, aware of - and slightly worried about - Diaz' recent shoulder injury, which the younger man was resolutely ignoring. Rafe brought up the rear.

They made their way slowly from shrub to shrub, taking advantage of what little cover there was. Diaz finally stopped when he was within touching distance of the fence. He broke off a branch, and brushed it gently against the fence.

Nothing happened, and he reached out and touched the metal, jerking his hand away again very quickly. Still nothing.

"That was stupid!" Simon hissed.

Diaz grinned at him. "But definitive," he replied. He began to rummage inside his pack, and pulled out a pair of wire snips. Very carefully, he began to cut wires.

There was a limit to how much he could safely cut in full daylight, and he took his time as he did it. Once he had cut as much as he felt he safely could, he settled back down beside the others, and pulled three bottles of water out of his pack. He passed one to each of them. They took the water gratefully; here in the open in the early afternoon of the Utah desert, it had become very hot, and both men had already finished the water they had brought with them. It was fairly obvious now why this base did not bother setting a guard. The men there probably depended on the heat to protect them from intruders.

The three men lay in the limited shade of the straggly shrubs, drinking sparingly as the afternoon slowly passed, until the sun dropped below the horizon and the light began to fade.

With the temperature more comfortable, Diaz checked the compound once more then stood and resumed snipping the wires until he had cut a kind of door. He pushed the wire 'door' open and slipped into the compound, Simon at his heels. Rafe remained at the opening, partly to guard it, partly to direct them back to it if - as they expected - they had to leave in a hurry. He reached for his gun. Ellison's kidnappers might be Army, but they were still kidnappers, and he would have no compunction about shooting anyone who tried following his friends. He would try not to kill anyone, but he would certainly shoot to hit and disable.

Diaz and Simon made their way across the short distance to the building, barely able to see their way in the faint light of a half moon, and crept along, ignoring the darkened windows, pausing below each lit one to listen. After a minute, Diaz reached out to touch Simon's arm. "Here!" His voice was the merest breath of sound.

They paused, listening.

"...possible, General. How long has this unit been looking for Sentinels?" It was Jim's voice.

"Nearly five years." It was a brisk, no-nonsense voice.

"And in that time, you've found how many?"

"None. People with one or two heightened senses, but nobody with five. You are our most likely candidate, according to your Jew's writing. You owe it to your country to work for us."

"My entire adult life has been spent serving my country. As a detective, I'm still serving her, protecting the public from criminals. I don't see that I owe my country more than that."

There was a brief silence, then, "According to the Jew's notes, he found another Sentinel, a woman?"

"You'd need to ask Sandburg for the details about that."

"That's not possible. He's dead." The flat, uncaring casualness in the voice was oddly biting. When Jim made no immediate response, the man continued, "I'd have liked the chance to pick his brains on the subject of Sentinels, but apart from that? He was only a Jew."

His voice so quiet that the two men outside the window could barely hear him, Jim said, "He was ten times the man, and ten times the patriot, that you'll ever be, Doig. He was generous, kind, intelligent, and above all, loyal. You're a narrow-minded bigot - and it's men like you who cause most of the trouble in the world. I know why you want to find a Sentinel - so that you can persuade him to become a terrorist, attacking the countries, the groups that don't meet your twisted ideas of what's right. Well, that's not what a Sentinel is, not what a Sentinel does."

"Not long ago, you claimed that Sentinels don't exist. Now - "

"I listened when Sandburg talked," Jim said quietly. "I know the role a Sentinel was supposed to fill in his community." He was silent for a moment, then went on. "You want to know about Alex Barnes? Yes, she had excellent senses, but she wasn't a Sentinel. She was a criminal who used her senses for her own benefit. And you know what? She's in an asylum for the criminal insane, catatonic. That's probably what would happen to any Sentinel who fell in with your crazy ideas of what's patriotic."

"Are you calling patriotism crazy?"

"No, Doig, I'm calling you crazy."

There was a howl of outrage, the sound of a scuffle, and then silence. The two men outside the building looked at each other in the faint light of the moon, then both listeners rose to their feet to peer cautiously into the window.

Jim was sitting on a bed, his shoulders slumped. A body lay on the floor beside him. Surprisingly, nobody had entered the room in response to the noise.

Simon tapped on the glass. Jim glanced around, then rose to his feet and limped painfully over to the window. He opened it. "Simon!"

"Come on."

Jim sat on the sill, then leaned back and let the two men take his weight and ease him out backwards. They supported him, half carrying him, as they made their way back towards the fence.

"This way!" Rafe hissed as he saw them heading at an angle away from the hole.

Once they were through it, Diaz let the taller Rafe help Simon support Jim while he pulled the wire 'door' back into position, using a couple of strategically placed cut wires to fasten it in place, then he gathered up the pack he had left with Rafe and followed them, glancing back occasionally to check that their escape was still undiscovered.

They had nearly a mile to go before reaching the vehicle where Brown waited; they helped Jim into the back seat, then Simon and Diaz piled in beside him while Rafe got in front with Brown. As soon as all the doors were closed, Brown started the vehicle and set off as fast as possible in the dim light - he didn't want to risk using the lights until they had put some additional distance between themselves and the compound.

After a moment, Jim said, "Thanks, guys." His voice was flat, hopeless.

"What's wrong?" Simon asked.

"Doig said Sandburg's dead."

"Some Sentinel you are!" Diaz chuckled, his accent gone.

"Blair? Blair!" He managed to get an arm around the younger man's shoulders.

"Blair Sandburg is dead," Diaz murmured as he reached for Jim's other hand. "I am Juan Diaz. And you... Jim Ellison has disappeared without trace. You are Jim Farmer."

Jim thought about it for a minute. "You think we need to disappear completely?"

"What do you think?"

"Doig is dead..." Jim began.

"So the army could come after you for murder," Simon said quietly.

"It was self-defense. He attacked me."

"There's only your word for it, Jim. Bl... Juan and I were outside; we couldn't see what happened."

"Doig did say that men in his unit didn't exist," Jim said. "Basically it was his unit that came after me, and the senior officer left doesn't believe in Sentinels," he went on slowly. "I let them think I just had slightly better than average hearing and 20/20 vision."

"Good thinking," Diaz murmured.

Jim glanced sideways at him. "I take it you've got some sort of plan to hide us?"

"I've got resources you never knew about," Diaz replied. "Juan Diaz and Jim Farmer aren't just inventions. The paperwork is...as legitimate as it can be under the circumstances. Yes, it's identity theft, but the real Juan Diaz died in infancy. The real Jim Farmer died in an accident ten years ago. I've got a note of his history for you to read once we're well away from here."

"We'll have to leave Cascade, though."

"I'm afraid so. We won't be able to go back to the loft, either, but Simon can pick up anything from there that we really want."

At last the vehicle bumped onto a road, Brown switched on the headlights and speeded up.

* * * * * * * *

Brown and Rafe traded off driving as they sped through the night - Simon was still not completely fit again, although he had ignored his condition to help search for Jim. They stopped as the sky began to lighten, giving themselves a break, so that when they reached the next town they could fill up with gas without anyone remarking on just how early they were.

They stopped twice to eat, the second time in Seattle, finally reaching Cascade in the early evening, and Rafe, whose turn it was to drive, took them to what Jim instantly recognized as one of the PD's safe houses. Simon helped Jim into the house, Blair following.

"You'll be all right here for a few days," Simon said. "It's stocked with everything you're likely to need - Joel and Megan saw to that. Have a think about what you want from the loft, and let me know tomorrow."

"Thanks, Simon," Blair said.

Jim nodded his agreement. He was very pale, and the others all realized he was close to collapsing.

"Get him to bed," Simon said.

"Yes, sir, Captain, sir," Blair replied.

Simon shook his head. "Do you need anything else right now?"

"I've got all I need right here," Jim said quietly. "Thanks, Simon - and thank the others from me."

As the door closed behind Simon, Jim turned to his Guide and held out his arms. "Chief," he murmured.

Blair moved quickly forward, responding to the desperate hug with a tightening of his own arms. At last they drew apart again.

"Bed," Blair said decisively. "You're exhausted."

"You must be too," Jim said, "Should you even be out of the hospital?"

Blair grinned. "The hospital thinks I'm tucked up in bed at Simon's," he admitted. "Though I was actually staying here. We spun the doctors a tale about my still being a target, and they agreed to tell anyone who asked about me that I was dead, then notify Major Crime that there had been a query. Joel said the 'old friend' who arrived to ask about me gave him the creeps. He and Megan put on quite a show of grief, apparently. Certainly convinced the guy." He led the way to a bedroom, and as he began helping Jim undress, Jim said,

"How seriously were you hurt, Chief?"

"Shoulder - fairly superficial, though it bled a lot. I hit my head when I went down, though, and took my time coming around. That had the doctors worried for a while. There was another guy hurt worse, but he'll be okay. What about you? Your leg? I notice it's bothering you."

"They weren't exactly gentle," Jim admitted. "I don't know, really - I let myself zone on practically nothing at one point - woke up in sickbay, and with my leg really hurting, so I'd guess they'd been pretty rough with me."

Blair helped him into the king-sized bed, then undressed and settled beside Jim, falling asleep almost instantly. Jim lay awake for a few moments longer, struggling to smell his partner, struggling to dial his sense of smell up again, and when he failed, realized that he had to give Blair... Juan... a strong hint in the morning about the code word he had impressed on himself.

* * * * * * * *

Jim woke to find Simon shaking him. The captain had a broad smile on his face.

"Simon?"

"That's me. Blair! Wake up!"

"What... Simon?" He pushed himself up on one elbow.

"You're off the hook - both of you."

"We are?" Jim asked.

"Kelso phoned me less than an hour ago. The 'Sentinel unit' has been closed down; the second in command, a Major Brennan, claimed he killed Doig in self-defense after Doig shot one of the other officers, and the unit's medic confirmed the story. Brennan reported that the unit had accomplished nothing, and he was convinced they were wasting their time. Kelso isn't sure why Brennan should claim responsibility, but thought it could be he was hoping to get the credit for clearing up an unpleasant situation, with the army having a unit specifically studying something as mythical as Sentinels. That's also probably why he didn't mention Jim."

"Brennan told me he didn't believe anyone had more than one or two senses sharper than normal. Most of their info had come from Lee Brackett, and Doig had killed him, so he can't endanger us again."

"We still need to be careful, though," Blair said, and Jim nodded.

"As for you, Blair," Simon went on, "there was a message waiting for me last night when I got home, but I decided not to disturb you. Jim's father hired a lawyer to take up your case with Rainier and Berkshire Publishing, and in view of the attack on you and Jim, Berkshire agreed that they had endangered you and are willing to issue a public apology for treating a work of fiction as a factual book; and Rainier is willing to let you submit your 'proper' dissertation provided you do so fairly soon."

"Like yesterday?" Blair asked wryly. "As it happens, I can. I was working on one about the police. I can submit it by the end of the week."

"Good. The offer of a badge still holds, by the way, but once you get your doctorate, it'll be as a consultant anthropologist. Now - I'm hungry. You two get yourselves out of bed while I cook some breakfast for us, then I'll take you back to the loft."

Jim and Blair looked at each other and grinned. "Better wait 'till we're home before you shave off the beard," Jim said.

Blair laughed. "Who said I'm shaving it off?"

"I am!" Jim replied. "It suits Juan Diaz; it doesn't suit Blair Sandburg."

"All right. But I'm keeping the papers for Diaz and Farmer. Nothing like being prepared...just in case something like this happens again."

Jim looked at him, thought about it, and nodded his agreement.


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