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Seumas died on the second day of the new moon, and so he was reborn on the second day of the new moon, an indeterminate number of years later.
As always, the reborn baby would not remember what he was until the appropriate stimulus triggered the memory.
His new father was delighted - he had a son to carry on the family name. His mother was simply pleased that she had not had a daughter, to be married off, as she was, in what she had come to realise was a business arrangement between her parents and the up-and-coming young executive who had fooled her into thinking he loved her.
Or no, as she frequently reminded herself; her husband had never spoken the word 'love'. Mary simply assumed the very correct attention he gave her was respect and love. She assumed he would not have asked her to marry him if he hadn't loved her.
It was unfortunate for her that she had an affectionate nature. It had never been satisfied when she was a child, and she had hoped so much that marriage would nourish that emotional need. She soon learned, however, that the word 'love' wasn't in William's vocabulary - or not in a form she hungered for.
In her more optimistic moments, she hoped that at the very least he liked her; in her more pessimistic ones she knew beyond doubt that to him she was just a means to an end. A breeding machine to give him children.
If she had had her husband's support, if he had even had the insight to realise that she did not understand he had a real, albeit shallow and unstated, affection for her, things might have been different. But she did not have his emotional support; in his world a man provided for his family, but the upbringing of the children - at least until they were well past babyhood - was the woman's responsibility. And to his way of thinking, the simple fact that he had married her should have been enough to tell her that he was fond of her.
Her parents were no help. Only habit and respectability kept them together; they still shared a house though they had never shared a bedroom, coming together when her mother knew she was in the fertile part of her cycle in order to have children until their family of two was complete, and now they led their own lives, nodding politely to each other on the rare occasions when those lives intersected. Her mother had also - in effect - been married off to the highest bidder, but being a cold-blooded woman, had found the arrangement to her liking. She had employed staff to look after her children, staff who had not been encouraged to offer affection because 'it was not an employee's place to do that' - and in any case, her parents considered that in their position in life, to care for someone was a mistake. Hard-headed selfishness was the only route to success. To her parents, she was only a pawn, a bargaining chip in her father's never-ending fight to add more and more to his already huge business empire.
And she certainly did not envy her brother, two years older than herself, whose path through life was determined by their father before he was five hours old. Indeed, she positively disliked her brother - and from someone with her need to give and receive affection, that was a pretty damming response - and sincerely pitied her sister-in-law; at least William never used his fists on her, as she suspected her brother did on his wife. Mary had good reason to believe her brother was a bully at heart.
The only real difference between her parents and her husband, that she could see, lay in his expectation that she should look after his children, as his mother had looked after hers, instead of employing anyone to do it for her.
Mary had no idea of how to look after a baby. Her own mother was no use; her mother had seen her children for perhaps an hour a day once they were old enough to be 'young adults' and ignored them the rest of the time. Her mother-in-law, who could have, would have, helped her, was dead. With nobody to assist or advise her in the best way to care for a child, she was aware that she was probably making many mistakes, and she had no idea who she could turn to for advice.
If her son was somewhat more fractious than a baby ought to be, his inexperienced mother certainly didn't realise it, had no way of realising it. For all she knew, all babies cried constantly, lived with a permament rash because their skin was irritated by their clothes, were easily disturbed by sudden noises. The constant drain of sleepless nights as she vainly tried to settle him wore her down.
One tentative appeal to her husband, a few days after the child was born, for a nurse to help her resulted in a response that was at first blank, and then mildly amused. "You'll soon feel more confident," he said. "Looking after a baby is instinctive for women." And supremely unaware that he had just completely failed his wife, William turned back to the accounts he was studying.
Mary did not bother to ask again, even when she found it was becoming more and more of an effort to care for the child, who continued to react badly to almost everything; even although she was becoming more and more exhausted from sleepless night after sleepless night. It would, she felt, be nothing more than a waste of breath, and she had never been a person to enjoy an argument.
She finally collapsed seven months after her son was born; completely worn out, she did not have the resistance to fight the 'flu virus that she contracted.
On the first day of her illness, when her legs gave way under her as soon as she got out of bed in the morning, William realised that he had no option; he would have to employ the nurse he had thought unnecessary, for there was no way he could look after a seven-month-old child. That was no part of a father's responsibility, in any case. He went to an agency, and by lunchtime his new employee had taken charge of the nursery.
Grace Martin proved able to calm young Jimmy in a way Mary had never been able to do, and that was when William began to understand that nurturing was not instinctive. He decided to offer Grace a permanent job - well, permanent until young Jimmy was old enough to go to school, and accepted that he would have to apologise to Mary for not finding help for her some months earlier when she first asked for it.
His change of heart came too late; four days after taking ill, with no will to live, Mary Ellison died.
William was not a highly sexed man, but he had become accustomed to having a wife around to satisfy his occasional urge; he therefore suggested to the nurse he had employed that she should become housekeeper as well, and share his bed. The wage he offered was large enough that she accepted; it seemed to her that there could be advantages in the situation.
There were. It never occurred to William to take precautions, taking it for granted that that was the woman's responsibility. Grace carefully did so for a while; and when her young charge was two years old, she deliberately neglected those precautions.
She had read her employer correctly. When she told William she was pregnant, that for some reason her contraceptive had failed, she had been prepared to explain, if necessary in some detail, that no contraceptive was guaranteed one hundred percent, but it seemed that William already knew that. He immediately insisted that she marry him.
Over a period of several years, Grace the wife proved to be completely different from Grace the employee. As an employee she had always been polite, attentive to his needs; as a wife she became demanding, at first mildly, then, slowly, more and more so.
Not that she neglected either boy; she loved her own son and she was fond enough of Jimmy - who, raised to call her 'Mom', didn't realise she was not his mother - and accepted philosophically that he would be his father's primary heir. So she set out to amass as much money as possible so that she could leave a small fortune to her son; it was not entirely selfishness that led her to make the demands she did on her husband.
Where Mary Ellison had accepted William's refusal to employ help, Grace did not; and remembering how the struggle to care for Jimmy had drained Mary, William gave in to Grace's demand for help with only token resistance, assuming that Stephen was as difficult a baby as Jimmy had been. In fact, he was a very quiet child, and Jimmy, at three, was much quieter than he had been. Indeed, he had become very quiet, as if he preferred silence.
The simple truth was that he did now prefer silence.
The stimulus that would trigger his senses had been applied, and applied when he was by far too young; his inexperienced mother had left him alone too long when he was still only a day or two old, believing that he would sleep better if he was alone. Where an adult needed several days of solitude for his senses to develop, a few hours had been enough for the newly born infant. But it had taken him three years to learn for himself, in sheer self-defence, a measure of control.
Sally Lee joined the family when Stephen was two months old. Initially employed to work in the nursery, she soon found her duties expanding to include housework. Within three years she was doing most of the cooking too.
William put up with Grace's increasing demands for a little more than six years, but the day came when she asked for too much, and he put his foot down.
"No more!" he said.
Grace had never loved him; to her, their marriage had always been a business arrangement, a means to an end. She knew that he had only married her to legitimise his second son, and was well aware that although he never spoke of her, his deceased first wife still held as much of his heart as he had to give. She knew she had come to the end of the road.
And so she walked out.
She loved her son, but she also knew that William Ellison would never give him up. Her best hope for a reasonable settlement lay in not fighting that, in leaving Stephen with his father. In that she was correct; in exchange for keeping his sons, William fought neither the divorce nor her claim for a substantial sum in alimony.
He was well aware that it was Sally who had run the household for several years, and he had no hesitation in making her his official housekeeper instead of general servant. He was also well aware of the basic mistake he had made with Grace; although pleased that it had resulted in a second son, he had no intention of making the same mistake again. Sally was the housekeeper, and housekeeper was what she would be; he would not ask her to share his bed.
The house, while still not happy, was a happier place without Grace. Sally was genuinely fond of her young charges, and not afraid to show them that affection; and they were fond of her.
Sally did expect Jimmy to watch out for Stephen who, at five, was far sillier than Jimmy had been at the same age. Jimmy had no objections - he already had a strong protective instinct - although most of his fellow eight-year-olds didn't care for having a five-year-old tagging along, and Jimmy soon found that he had lost all his friends; his only remaining friend was his brother. Lacking any other focus, his urge to protect was therefore directed solely at his brother.
They were still too young for William to bother much about them; the remote figure they knew as 'Dad' was a stranger to them; a stranger who, when he did appear, clearly had certain expectations of them, and was more than displeased if they failed to meet those expectations. He never raised a hand to either boy; but Jimmy quickly came to dread the rare times he saw his father, for like his mother he hated confrontation. Stephen had a carefree nature; to his more sensitive older brother it seemed that he cared nothing for their father's so clearly expressed disapproval of almost everything he did. Not that Jimmy's silence gave him an escape; his father clearly considered it a sign of weakness.
Jimmy didn't much care for football; he preferred basketball, which in his opinion required more skill. Football was the sport of choice of his school, however. It was a matter of pride for him to do the best he could at anything he did; and so by the time he was ten he was an automatic choice for the school team.
William couldn't help but boast of that, and a fellow businessman who lived nearby offered to give Jimmy one or two tips. "I played a lot when I was younger," he said, not revealing that only an injury had stopped him from playing professionally.
It would give Jimmy a decided advantage, and William readily accepted the offer. At first slightly doubtful, Jimmy quickly accepted Bud and began to consider him as a surrogate father, for Bud was a man who, although childless, interacted well with children.
Jimmy worked hard with Bud, wanting to please his personal coach, and even began to enjoy the game more than he had done and appreciate that there was perhaps more skill involved than he had once thought.
The school had a good team that year, and easily reached the final of the local juvenile championship; at the final, after a close game, Jimmy's team won.
And then one of the other team grabbed the ball from him and booted it into the trees before going off with his friends, laughing.
Jimmy took a deep breath; at ten, growing rapidly, he was skinny and still lacked muscle. He might have been willing to take on Aaron Foster, but he realised that if he had tried Foster's friends would have joined in, and he knew he didn't stand a chance against three of them. There was Stevie's safety to consider, too. But it left a bitter taste in his mouth. He turned into the wood to get the ball.
And found Bud lying dead.
He looked up, and saw a man standing a short distance away. Without even thinking about it, he focussed his sight on the man, noticing a mark - a birthmark, perhaps - on his neck.
"That has to be seventy-five yards away," the policeman who was questioning Jimmy commented.
William cut in. "If you guys don't mind, I think I'd like to take him home now - okay?" Then as they nodded, he added, "Thanks."
As they approached the car, Jimmy said uneasily, "I'm not lying. You believe me, don't you, Dad?"
William looked at him; he wasn't old enough to read his father's expression accurately, but he didn't much like what he could read.
"Wait here," William said. "I need to have a word with the detectives."
Jimmy bit his lip as he watched his father walk back. He didn't have to strain to hear what was said.
"I want to apologise for my son's imagination."
"That's all right, Mr Ellison. A thing like this is pretty tough on a kid. He wants to help, so he imagines he saw the killer when it's obvious he couldn't. It's easy to look among trees, see the stump of a fallen tree, a small bush or a shadow, and think it looks like a person. The best thing to do is get him some counselling, help him get over the shock."
William returned to the car, and motioned Jimmy into the passenger seat. He said nothing, however, until they got home, and Jimmy, knowing his father thought he had been imagining things, kept quiet.
He was also finally realising, finally accepting, that Bud was dead, and what that meant.
As they entered the house William said, deceptively quietly, "I warned you about your fantasies, didn't I?"
"I did see him!" Jimmy said desperately. "Sometimes I can see and hear things - "
"No, you can't," William growled. "Nobody can. Jimmy, this is not a game. A man is dead, and your nonsense could keep the police from finding out who killed him."
Jimmy stared at him, wondering how he could possibly convince the man. "Dad - "
"No, Jimmy. It could be ignored when you were younger, but now you have to stop pretending or people are going to think you're a freak. You understand? Do you want people to think there's something wrong with you?"
"No," Jimmy mumbled, knowing that there was no other acceptable reply he could give.
"All right. I don't want to hear anything more from you about seeing or hearing things you couldn't possibly see or hear."
Jimmy watched him walking away; and then, deliberately, he pushed his abilities into a box in one corner of his mind, turned a mental key to lock the box, and then made himself forget where he put the key.
He had never been actually happy, but this was the start of the most miserable period of his life.
It might have been expected that William would consider that at seven Stephen was still too young to be indoctrinated in the sort of behaviour that would make him into a hard-headed businessman, especially since he had as yet done nothing in that line with Jimmy. Perhaps it was because he felt he should have begun to toughen Jimmy up earlier. Whatever his reason, he began to pit the boys against each other so that they would learn how to survive the cut-throat life of a successful businessman.
He bought two season tickets for the Jaguars, and whichever boy was more in favor each week was the one who accompanied him to the games. Favor was gained through accomplishment - high marks at school, for example. There were other rewards, too; no actual punishment other than a tongue lashing in terms of "You've really disappointed me - how can you hope to make a success in life if you... ", but the system of reward, when one lost no matter how hard he had tried, was effective in encouraging both boys to work hard at pleasing him. Jimmy lost more often than he won, because he still felt responsible for Stephen and when he won the satisfaction was spoiled because he felt guilty when he saw Stephen's disappointment at losing; and so, subconsciously, he worked at a level a little below what he could have attained.
Initially, remembering that they had been friends when they were younger, Jimmy hoped that as Stephen grew older he would suggest that they work together, not necessarily taking it in turn to 'lose' but forming a kind of conspiracy that would let both get a fair share of the rewards of success. But slowly he began to see that Stephen was not just disappointed when he lost; he began to see how much Stephen resented ever losing.
There was no credit given to them for effort, and William Ellison's regime of rewards for success, and only for success, was turning Stephen into a selfish brat.
Sally did what she could to counteract William's 'winning is the only thing' motto, trying to persuade the boys that trying to the best of their ability was as worthwhile, but Stephen had learned the lesson his father taught them too well, although Jimmy found the concept of doing the best he could suited his own nature.
It was to Sally Jimmy turned for comfort when the strain became almost too much to bear.
The last straw came when Jimmy was seventeen and a reluctant student of economics at Rainier; the last thing he wanted was a career in Business, but while he was still dependent on his father he was forced to accept his father's decrees.
Stephen arrived home from school one day with a B, from a new teacher who, it transpired a day or two later when the parents of another student queried their son's lower-than-usual mark, never gave anyone an A unless the paper was totally multiple choice and there were no mistakes at all in it - his reason being that if a student got an A for anything less that one hundred percent, he would have no incentive to improve.
William, on the other hand, didn't stop to ask *why* the mark was a B - though all Stephen could have said was that nobody was marked higher than B - he simply assumed that Stephen had been slacking and promptly showed his displeasure by telling Jimmy that he would get the promised trip instead of Stephen.
A couple of hours later, Stephen slipped out and took a crowbar to William's prized Cobra, a car Jimmy was occasionally allowed to drive but that Stephen was still too young to be allowed near.
William, who in any case favoured the apparently more successful Stephen, promptly assumed that Jimmy had taken the car out and had an accident; and wouldn't believe Jimmy when he said he hadn't touched it. Jimmy realised instantly what had happened, but the instinct to protect was still strong; despising his brother now, he still refused to blame him for the damage; he simply continued to say he had nothing to do with it.
Later, Jimmy realised he hadn't been surprised when his father accused him of lying on top of everything else.
William and Stephen went off on the trip a week later.
Jimmy's eighteenth birthday was three days after they left. It was quiet, a day like any other; they had never celebrated birthdays.
The next morning he told Sally what he planned, promised to keep in touch with her, and left home, taking with him only a few clothes. Tempted at first just to leave without a word, he realised that to do that was what he would expect of Stephen, not what he demanded of himself; and so he left a short note for his father.
It said, quite simply, "I'm eighteen now and no longer need your permission for what I do. It has become clear to me that I will never meet your expectations. I want nothing from you; I will make my own way in life."
He went to the bank his father favored and closed his account there, the account that had been started for him when he was born and into which he had put most of his pocket money, went to a rival bank and opened a new account at it, depositing most of the money, then make his way to the nearest army recruiting centre and signed on.
During the weeks until his training started he found casual work that gave him enough money to live on - he had decided to leave as much as possible in his new bank account for emergencies - while staying in a cheap hotel and, for the first time in his life, eating fast food because it was cheap, finding that he enjoyed it more that he would have expected.
Many of his fellow recruits found boot camp difficult; for Jim - he had decided on a slight change of name to establish, in his own mind at least, his new freedom - the discipline was nothing, the criticism of the sergeants less stinging than his father's disapproval had been. And he was fitter than most of his fellows, which meant less disapproval directed at him. It had been partly the realisation it would let him get away from home for a few hours that started Jim going to a gym two or three evenings a week when he was sixteen, and those hours stood him in good stead now.
Army life suited him.
With no great wish to join in his fellows' ideas of recreation but not wanting to appear snobbish about it, he signed up for every course available that he could fit into his spare time.
Promotion came fairly quickly; he was seen as intelligent and capable.
Eventually he was assigned to lead a small group whose orders were to organise a local militia in the Peruvian rain forest in an anti-insurgence operation. Their helicopter crashed; Jim was the only survivor.
The men had all been taught some basic Quechua; when the Chopec arrived, drawn by the sound of the crash, Jim was still lying where he had been thrown, conscious but still too shocked to begin fighting the dizziness and double vision he was experiencing. He was however able to communicate with the man who later proved to be the leader of the group who found him, and persuade him that it was his people's custom to bury their dead - they had been warned that burial was not the custom of the jungle tribes.
Incacha had not become the Chopec shaman by ignoring the stated customs of other tribes. He ordered most of the other tribesmen to dig graves, following the stranger's instructions, while two were set to cutting branches to mark the graves. Incacha helped Jim identify each man and put a branch draped with the correct dogtags at each grave - later, when he was stronger, Jim replaced the branches with more permanent stones - before taking the injured man back to their village.
The other tribesmen were a little doubtful about the stranger, but Incacha saw something in him that he could recognise as valuable, something that he realised the stranger was unaware of being, and decided that this man's tribe's Rite of Manhood clearly was not designed to encourage the development of special abilities. He was not sure just what ability the man had - there were two or three possibilities - but he knew it was his responsibility, as shaman, to bring it to the surface.
While the stranger was recovering from his concussion - and later - Incacha spent time talking to him. Jim never did realise just how much Incacha learned from those quiet conversations. What he did realise fairly quickly was that the shaman was becoming a friend.
He had known a certain camaraderie with his fellow soldiers, of course, had considered some of them as friends, even as good friends - but nobody had ever given him what Incacha did, though he found it impossible to put a name to what that was.
Once Jim was fully fit again - a matter of two or three days only, for apart from the concussion he had escaped the crash almost unscathed - Incacha encouraged him to go into the jungle for three days, to survive on his own, as their boys did when they became men. This, Incacha said, would allow him to be adopted into the tribe.
The solitude broke open the mental box into which Jim had thrust his heightened senses, and he returned to the village with an awareness of his surroundings that was completely new to him - as a child his abilities, although there, had not been fully developed. For the first time, too, he was aware of what he was - a Protector. A Guardian.
Incacha called him Enqueri - Inkari's successor - when he was adopted into the tribe. As a sentinel he was fully accepted. It made it easier for him to train the men to guard the Chopec Pass in accordance with his orders.
He enjoyed his days with the Chopec. In some ways it was a very demanding life, but he found himself accepted and respected as he had never been in the past.
It couldn't last. He knew that; he even told Incacha that. One day the US army would come, would check on the progress his group was making, if only because his radio had been destroyed in the crash so he was unable to report back. But as the months went on, he began to wonder why he was hearing nothing; why Colonel Oliver appeared to have no interest in discovering why there was complete silence from his unit.
It was eighteen months before a group of Rangers arrived; the Chopec surrounded them, of course; these men were strangers - but they were not killed on sight because they were wearing the same kind of clothes as the sentinel.
Jim approached the officer in charge slightly tentatively; he was tired, very tired, but this, he guessed, meant the end of his time with the Chopec, and he was strangely reluctant to leave them.
"Captain James Ellison. You my relief?"
While the bodies were dug up for transportation back to America and reburial in an army cemetery, Jim was able to bid farewell to Incacha and the Chopec. As he spoke to Incacha, the shaman looked into his eyes and said quietly, "A sentinel needs someone to help him. I have helped you a little. Somewhere in your own land is a man who searches for you, who will be able to help you as I could not. Until he finds you, forget what you are. It will be safer for you."
At the debriefing, Mathis spoke of how Captain Ellison apparently heard things before anyone else, but when the doctors ran tests on him, they could find nothing abnormally acute about his hearing, and officially dismissed Mathis' comments, reporting that after eighteen months in the area Ellison's ears were obviously attuned to things that Mathis hadn't been there long enough to recognise.
Jim's period of enlistment had finished while he was in Peru. Given the opportunity to sign on again for another tour of duty, Jim considered it briefly, but he was disillusioned by Oliver's failure to send a rescue helicopter out when his group failed to report. He therefore took the honourable discharge he was due, and turned his back on the army.
He felt drained, and spent a month wandering aimlessly while he considered his options. Towards the end of the month, something drew him back to Cascade.
He booked into a small hotel, then turned his attention to finding an apartment he could rent - somewhere in a completely different part of the city from where he had grown up. What he found was a loft at a reasonable rent. He bought the minimum of basic furniture and moved in.
Although Incacha had hypnotised him into forgetting his sentinel abilities again, his protective instincts were still strong, and he applied for a job with the police. Because of his army record, he went through the Academy on an accelerated course and went straight into Vice, where he quickly gained a reputation as being a bad man to cross.
In truth, he was still as unhappy with confrontation as he was when he was ten; but in the years since then, he had learned that the appearance of attitude saved him a lot of bother.
He spent a year in Vice before transferring to Major Crime, where a few months working with Jack Pendergrast mellowed him a little. But then Pendergrast disappeared while delivering the money to meet a ransom demand. Jim found himself the only person willing to stand up and insist that something had happened to Pendergrast; that whatever had happened, his partner had not taken off with the ransom money.
He found himself under some suspicion too, for a few days, but he gritted his teeth and continued to work, secure in the knowledge that he had done nothing wrong, and slowly things returned to normal; however, after that he told Simon Banks that he wanted to work alone - that he wasn't prepared to go again through the problems that had been directed his way. Simon agreed that he could work alone for a while, and he proved so good on his own that Simon allowed him to continue working that way.
About the same time, his back pay from the army finally came through - he had been considered dead for eighteen months, and it took time to cut through the red tape. Then the owner of the loft contacted him, saying that he was thinking of selling it, and was Jim, as sitting tenant, interested in buying?
Jim took an evening to consider the offer, decided that it was probably the best possible investment for his money, and bought the loft with one down payment, getting it for a good price because this saved the seller a lot of hassle.
A few months later he began to go out with Carolyn Plummer, who had recently joined Technical Support. They seemed to have quite a lot in common, and after a whirlwind courtship, they married.
It was when he got a copy of his birth certificate in order to do the necessary paperwork that he discovered his mother was Mary Ellison, not Grace. That Grace was William's second wife, and Stephen's mother; that his brother was in fact only a half brother.
The marriage was a disaster.
Jim had no idea of how to behave towards a wife, although he tried to treat her with courtesy; but because his childhood had been spent in an atmosphere of little affection, he found it difficult to express his very real fondness for her; and because almost his entire life thereafter had been spent in an atmosphere of control, few possessions and almost obsessive neatness, he found it almost intolerable when she left the breakfast dishes unwashed, saying that because she was working it was easier to do all the day's dishes in one go at night. He failed to appreciate the ornaments she bought, saying they were good for nothing except collecting dust.
He had grown up in a house where, year after year, his birthday, and Stephen's, had gone unnoticed by their father. Even Sally had not dared make anything of it, although on his eighteenth birthday he finally realised that she had always, quietly and without making a fuss, tried to make sure that dinner, on their birthdays, was something that she knew he or Stephen particularly enjoyed. And in the army there was no reason for anyone to consider it a big deal. So when Carolyn's birthday came around, Jim had no reason to think it was worth mentioning.
It was their first actual quarrel, with Carolyn accusing him of being a selfish, uncaring brute and Jim vainly trying to persuade her that it was just another day and that she was being unreasonable.
It was also the beginning of the end of the marriage. Less than a year after they married, they separated, and divorced as soon as possible thereafter, still fond of each other but unable to live together, each of them considering the other had almost totally unreasonable expectations.
Although he had been living alone before his marriage and returned to living alone, although he mostly worked alone, it was not the same kind of solitude that had triggered Jim's sentinel senses in Peru. Mostly there were other people around; in the evenings the TV was mostly switched on, whether or not Jim was watching it, creating background noise.
He was content with his life; he was doing a useful job, and if he wasn't Mr Popularity with his fellow workers, he knew he was at least respected for his success rate.
And then a bomber calling himself 'The Switchman' began a series of bomb attacks in the area; hitting a post office in Tacoma, a bridge on the Snohomish, a ferry in Puget Sound. When they got a lead pointing to an old lumber mill outside Auburn, Jim went out himself on surveillance, and for the first time since Peru found himself alone in a totally silent environment.
It was both fortunate and unfortunate that his senses kicked in again the day the Switchman visited the lumber mill; it allowed him to get the men who gathered in response to the Switchman's presence out of the place in time to save their lives, but it also prevented him from stopping the Switchman's escape.
His memory of Peru, of having these senses in Peru, was still vague, still suppressed; convinced that there was something wrong with him, he went to the hospital for a check-up, only to be told by one doctor that what he needed was information, and given the address of someone the man said could help; and by another that the check showed up nothing wrong.
Curiosity took him to Rainier University, a place he hadn't visited since he bailed out of the economics course he had been taking half of his lifetime previously, following up the address of 'Blair Sandburg' on the business card.
The man in the storeroom cum office was the one who had spoken to him in the hospital, and almost instinctively he switched on the attitude, wanting to intimidate this hippy punk who had dared to say he knew what was wrong when the doctors didn't. He was surprised how pleased he felt that Sandburg refused to be intimidated. Certainly, what the man had to say sounded plausible, but as soon as he said "Write about you" Jim felt his temper rising again. He strode out, not paying attention to where he was going, his attention suddenly caught by a whirling red frisbee.
Moments later he found himself thrown flat onto the ground, lying between the wheels of a big truck; as it passed right over him and stopped, the hippy jumped to his feet. "Man, that really sucked!"
Jim was aware of having jay-walked onto the road in front of the truck, and how bad it would look for a cop to admit to that; he said, "Let's get out of here before I gotta answer a lot of questions."
In addition, although he was not yet prepared to admit it, he was impressed by the way Sandburg had rushed in front of the truck to pull him down to safety.
It was the start of a highly successful partnership.
Two or three weeks later, the warehouse where Blair Sandburg had been living was destroyed, and he conned his way into Jim's home - and almost at once Jim discovered that where living with Carolyn had been uncomfortable, living with Blair was relaxing - surprisingly so, considering how full of energy the younger man was. Five days into the week Blair had asked for, Jim asked him if he had found somewhere else, and when Blair admitted that he had not, Jim looked suspiciously at him.
"Have you even tried to find somewhere?"
"Yes, but it's a bad time of year to look for a place. Rainier students take up a lot of the more affordable places. That's why I was in the warehouse in the first place - I was on an expedition and didn't get back till a couple of days before the new semester started. By then, that was all I could get. But there are a couple of guys I can ask for floor space once I don't have Larry any more - I've put off asking them because that's a last resort - they both owe me a favor but I'd rather hold it if possible for a real emergency. And after Larry goes back to the zoology department tomorrow, if necessary I can live in my office for a day or two. I've done that before. I promised it would just be for a week. I'll be out of your hair in a couple of days."
"Well," Jim said, "I know I wasn't sure at first, but it seems to me that having you around makes it easier for me to control my senses; and... I don't know what you think, Chief, but I think we've been doing pretty well as room mates. I've been quite enjoying having someone around."
Blair looked at him. "You know, Jim, Carolyn spoke to me yesterday - asked me how I could put up living with you. She seemed to feel you hated having someone else in your space."
"Depends on the someone," Jim said slowly. "You're another guy; your expectations are completely different from hers. I mean... you aren't likely to get totally pissed, yell at me then sulk for a week if I... oh, ignore your birthday, are you?"
"Well, I have to admit it's fun to get a present or two and have a meal with a friend to celebrate," Blair said.
Jim frowned. "It's just a day, Sandburg. What's to celebrate?"
Blair looked at him. "Didn't your family do birthdays?"
Jim shook his head.
"Even when you were a kid?"
"I didn't even know when my birthday was until I was ten or eleven."
"That sucks, man."
Jim shrugged. "So you celebrated birthdays?"
"Well, usually. It depended where we were. Sometimes Mom wasn't there for my actual birthday, but she usually made sure she sent me a present, though often I didn't get it till a week or two afterwards."
Jim was silent for a moment. "I did once give someone a birthday present," he said slowly. "Someone I owed a lot to. I wanted to give him something to say thanks, and it would have embarrassed him if I'd done it without a positive reason. His birthday gave me an excuse to do it. He disappeared a couple of days later. Didn't exactly encourage me to think of birthdays as something to celebrate."
"It wouldn't," Blair agreed. "But to answer your question - no, I wouldn't get pissed if you ignored my birthday. You do what you're used to, and you're used to ignoring birthdays. What about Christmas? Did you celebrate that?"
"Not really. We got presents, but it was always something practical, something we needed - clothes, usually."
"Now that does suck," Blair muttered.
"What I was used to, growing up," Jim said quietly. "Anyway, you're changing the subject. We seem to manage fine together. I don't mind how long you stay... if you can put up with me; I know I'm not easy to live with, Carolyn made that clear. I don't need any rent, but you can pay half of the running expenses of the place - food, gas, electricity, all that kind of thing. Fair enough?"
"Don't you have a mortgage to pay?"
"No, it's all mine, all paid up."
"What can I say but thanks, man."
Three years passed. If the other cops expected Jim to crack after a few weeks and kick Sandburg out they were soon disabused of the notion, and Blair soon became a part-time fixture. One or two didn't at first see past the long hair and tried to give Blair a hard time; and they soon discovered that although Blair was normally very easy-going and never started anything, he was well able to hold his own when attacked and give them a hard time back, not intimidated by numbers.
During that time Jim discovered what happened to Jack Pendergrast, why Colonel Oliver had never sent a rescue helicopter to Peru, and became reconciled with his brother and to a certain extent with his father, although he found it hard to forgive him for knowing he was telling the truth about his senses but refusing to admit it.
And then Alex Barnes came to Cascade.
Jim had been on edge for some days, and he had had some weird dreams. He only actually remembered one of these; he was in a jungle, chasing a wolf. It wasn't threatening him at all but he was unable to stop himself from reaching for an arrow and firing at it; then when it lay dead on the ground, it metamorphosed into Sandburg.
When he woke, he lay for a long time trying to understand the dream, but all he could think was that somehow he was going to be responsible for killing his friend.
No. He couldn't cause Blair's death!
And so, forgetting one of the prime hindsight tenets of prophesy, that the man who acted to prevent something undesireable from happening actually caused it to happen, he told Blair to leave.
And Blair died.
Even as Blair revived Jim was far from sure what he had done, under the guidance of Incacha's spirit. He just knew that somehow things had changed; that a door in his mind that had previously been locked had somehow opened.
There were memories, faint, vague, hovering on the edge of his awareness. He felt that they were important, that he must remember them, but the more he tried to concentrate on them, to pull them into his conscious mind, the more tenuous they became. And so, when he spoke to Blair in the hospital and discovered they had shared the same vision of the wolf and the jaguar merging, he said, "I'm not ready to take that trip with you, Chief," although he was; for he had begun to believe that the only way he would retrieve those shadowy memories would be to stop trying.
He was right in thinking things had changed. When he returned to Alex's burned-out apartment he discovered he could 'see' things that he believed had happened there. The visions were clear enough that - weird though he felt acting on them - he checked on the man he had 'seen' with Alex, discovering that he was Carl Hettinger, a known criminal whose specialty was weapons trafficking; and he was known to be in contact with several South American drug lords, one in particular - Carlos Arguillo, who was now operating out of Sierra Verde.
Initially reluctant to admit the source of his knowledge to Simon, he finally realised he had to trust his boss.
What he carefully did not say was that he was also getting visions of himself kissing Alex... and apart from the fact that she was a criminal, even ignoring the fact that she had killed Blair, he could not begin to explain why that felt so very, very wrong. He only knew it would have felt wrong even if she had *not* been a criminal.
By the time Jim and Simon reached Sierra Verde, Hettinger was dead - having been found, with his neck broken, at the bottom of a flight of stairs in his hotel.
The local police chief, Captain Ortega, was horrified at their identification of the dead man as a known criminal. He explained that the hotel manager, Juan Alvarez, had identified him as Robert Davidson. Senora Davidson had gone off for a day or two, sightseeing, just an hour or so before her husband fell down the stairs, Alvarez said; he had no idea where she had gone. Senor Davidson had business to attend to, while the trip had apparently been a vacation for her. Until she returned - and what a finish to her vacation that would be! - nothing much could be done - could it?
Jim's new insight told him that Alex Barnes had killed him, presumably because she no longer needed him.
It also told him that she was still there, though not exactly where she was. The one thing they could be sure of was that 'Senora Davidson' would not be returning to the hotel.
They had taken a twin room at one of the local hotels on their arrival; now they arranged to meet Ortega at a cafe opposite their hotel at four that afternoon, by which time Ortega said he would have a list of names for them to consider as potential contacts for Hettinger - although despite Ortega's insistance that it could not be Arguillo, that Arguillo was in retreat, so to speak, because the government was cracking down so hard on him, Jim still privately believed that contact was Arguillo, had to be Arguillo.
As they left the PD, Simon said, "I have to go to the American Consulate about this."
Jim nodded, and replied, "I want to go back to our hotel - something I forgot." In truth he had forgotten nothing; he was aware only of a pressing need to return to the hotel.
"Okay - I'll see you at the cafe just before four?"
Jim nodded. "Fine."
Despite the urge that took him back to the hotel, he took his time returning to it, deep in thought as he went.
These visions he was having, of kissing Alex. It seemed logical, in some ways, that they should be drawn together; they were both sentinels. But in Cascade everything had felt wrong. He had been aware of feeling... yes, challenged by the presence of another sentinel.
Might it be that on his own territory he had felt challenged, but here on neutral territory that challenge no longer existed? No, he could not believe that. Even here, on neutral territory, he wanted to protect the tribe from the threat he knew she presented.
Did he feel challenged because Alex was a criminal? Possibly, but it wasn't just that. There was something else, something deeper, something among the vague memories that he was now sure were recollections of past events, past lives.
He was beginning to believe that he and Alex had met before, in a past life, and been adversaries then, too.
As he approached his room, Jim became aware of heartbeats in it; he was both relieved and very, very worried when he discovered that his visitors were Megan Conner and Blair.
"Did you find her?" Megan asked.
"We know she's here," Jim replied.
"Have you seen her?"
"Sort of," Jim admitted, unwilling to go into details despite Megan's acceptance of his 'psycic abilities', aware of Blair's eyes on him. "Look, I've to meet Simon in a few minutes at the cafe across the street."
Megan rose immediately; Blair remained on the bed. "We'll... we'll just stay here," he said. He had been anxious to join Jim, more than anxious, but now he was aware of a sudden nervousness. While he trusted Jim to protect him, he was suddenly unwilling to face Alex Barnes again.
Jim, knowing only that his guide was there and that he needed him, grabbed his hand to pull him along. "You're here - you're not getting off that easy. I need you."
If they needed any proof that the Sierra Verde criminals had no compunction, no care for anyone, they soon got it. The tank that came after them seemed almost overkill, its crew obviously caring nothing for the destruction it caused.
They didn't dare go back to their hotel. It might of course have been safe enough to slip in and go direct to the room Jim and Simon had taken, but they all felt it could be taking an unnecessary chance. Instead, they waited till dark, then slipped into the church.
Blair found himself too wired to sleep. He was also very aware that Jim, too, was wide awake and couldn't stop himself from speaking to him. However, once Jim mentioned the visions he was having, Blair realised that these could give them an edge and settled back.
He was aware, however, when Jim moved and left the church; he followed, and found Jim on the beach, kissing Alex.
Jim didn't want that! It was the one thing Blair was sure about.
"Jim! What's going on?" he called, then put his hands up as Alex pointed Jim's gun at him. Almost in a dream, Jim pushed her hand down.
Alex hesitated, then turned and ran.
Blair joined Jim. "Stop her!"
"I can't," Jim said dully.
"You saw this, didn't you?" Blair asked. "You saw yourself and Alex together like that in a vision."
"And you dreamed of a jungle temple too, just as she did. I came across a reference once to a legend of a temple where sentinels could go to receive spirit guidance, with a grotto of magic water. The ones who bathed in it would transform, somehow, and be able to see the eye of God."
Jim nodded. "I've seen the temple. I've seen it so often in the last few days - but always with her. She's always in my dreams, as if something is controlling us."
Blair scowled. "Well, there was an indication in Burton that sentinels probably attained their greatest importance as part of a warrior culture. There could be mating rituals - "
"Are you saying I'm being controlled by some primitive instinct to mate?"
"In that case I have to learn how to control it, because the last person I want is her. It would be completely wrong. You've got to help me get a hold of it."
"I don't know how."
"What do you mean? You're the guide."
"Yes, but Jim, what happens if two sentinels meet is way beyond my area of research. No tribe I ever met had had more than one sentinel at a time, according to the oldest tales their storytellers knew. That's part of what caused the problem in the first place - I wanted to find out. I think you're being drawn... well, home, and I don't know what to do about it."
Jim looked at him for a moment, then turned and walked away.
Thanks to Jim's hearing, they discovered where Alex set up a meeting with Arguillo, and were already there waiting when first Arguillo, then Alex, arrived, the rogue sentinel in a helicopter. It was clear that Alex believed in honor among thieves; she approached openly. Jim, however, was aware of more heartbeats than there were people apparently present, and jumped up.
"Alex! It's a trap!"
Alex - who had possibly already become suspicious - promptly turned and raced back to her helicopter. She scrambled in and it took off, with most of Arguillo's men firing after it, although one or two fired towards the man who had warned her.
Then, with the helicopter gone, Arguillo led his men away.
Jim swung round. Ignoring Simon and Megan, he said sharply, "Chief, are you all right?"
The question was balm to his still-bruised spirit, but Blair gave no sign of that. "Yes - but what is wrong with you?"
Satisfied that Arguillo's men had all gone, Jim led the way over to where Alex had been.
"She's escaped with the nerve gas." Simon stated the obvious as they went. "If you hadn't warned her - "
"She would be dead, and Arguillo would have the gas. I doubt we could have defeated him here - there were too many men with him."
Simon sighed, knowing Jim was right.
"I can find her," Jim added, looked at the ground. "Her helicopter's leaking fuel. It's going to crash soon, if it hasn't gone down already.
"Jim, how the hell can we track it in this - " He gestured around. "Ah, damn it. You're going to go looking anyway. You two stay with him. Sandburg, this is a GPS transponder - it'll help me locate you." As Blair thrust it into his pocket Simon turned to return to the town; then Jim set off upriver, Blair and Megan close behind him.
As it got dark, they stopped; even as anxious as he was to catch Alex, Jim did not, could not, forget his guide's welfare and he was well aware that Blair was exhausted. It was Megan, however, who lay back and closed her eyes.
After some minutes, Blair said, "Megan? Want some coffee?" There was no reply, and he glanced at Jim. "She's asleep."
"Alex found the temple."
"You saw it?"
"That's incredible." He drew a long breath. "Jim, how do you feel about her, right now?"
"I want to protect her... but I also know I have to stop her."
Blair nodded. "Just think of this, Jim - you can't do both."
Jim knew that he was dreaming.
He looked at his surroundings. He was in a room that was simple yet at the same time gave the impression of wealth; his dress was less simple. He was wearing a feather cloak and there was... something... hanging heavy from his neck, like an enormous gold pendant set with what he somehow knew was jade, while above the elbow on his right arm was an arm band made of jade. Another man sat nearby, almost as richly dressed though his jewelry was amber instead of jade. Kinich, he knew, was his guide... although he realised he knew the man on two levels; rather than Kinich, his mind was saying, 'Blair'.
A woman entered. She too was richly dressed and wearing a lot of jewelry. He knew her; just as he knew Kinich on two levels, he knew her on both levels as well. His mind called her 'Alex' while his mouth called her, "Chel!" In this life she was, he knew, his sister. He continued, "Is something wrong?" knowing well from her attitude that something was.
"Ahau, the priests have just tested Itzam. His senses are normal."
Normal - just like Cocij, Hunna and Xiba, her other children. "I am sorry."
His sister, he knew, was desperate for one of her children to be a sentinel, as she was; as he was. It would give her a purpose she currently lacked, for as a married female sentinel her only duty now was to produce more sentinels, or just possibly guides. He, at least, could continue with his sentinel duties even if he married.
"It seems to me that Cihuatet will never give me a child with sentinel abilities," Chel went on.
Ahau nodded gravely; his brother-in-law was not a sentinel, or even a guide, but Chel had ever been obstinate. As a sentinel she had more freedom than most women. She had chosen to marry a rich nobleman instead of either another sentinel or, more sensibly, her guide, as their sentinel mother had done; and had then completely rejected the services of her guide, saying that she had complete control of her senses.
Now she knew the price of her choice.
"I want to try once more, but with another father," Chel went on. "Another sentinel can give me a sentinel child. Cihuatet will not know the child is not his if it is fathered by someone inside the family."
Ahau looked at her, frowning. "Chel, I am the only male, sentinel or guide, in the family."
"Yes. Brother, we have always been close. You will do this for me, won't you?"
He stared at her, honestly horrified. After a moment he recovered speech. "No, Chel. You made your choice ten years ago, against all the advice you were given. Cihuatet is a good man; I will not betray him with my sister. I would not so betray him even if you were not my sister."
"You must! There's no other way - "
"No, Chel. That is my final word."
She glared at him. "So much for family loyalty."
"Family loyalty has never included incest," Kinich said quietly. "But your brother is loyal to you; for he will say nothing of this to your husband."
"You will regret this," she said quietly, and swept out.
Kinich rose and put a hand on Ahau's shoulder. "She will see sense when she has time to reflect," he murmured.
"I fear she will not," Ahau said sadly. "What she said is right; she has finally realised - or perhaps finally accepted - that the only way she can have a sentinel child is with another sentinel or a guide. Since she is not prepared to be honest with her husband, since she would not want him to know it was fathered by someone else, I would have to father it, because all the rest of our sentinel and guide siblings, even our cousins, are female. But I will not do it, Kinich." He sighed. "She is my sister, and a sentinel; I find it more than difficult to believe she could be so lacking in integrity."
The vision faded, then reformed briefly. This time it seemed to Jim that he was standing watching rather than participating.
Ahau was standing beside a bed; Kinich lay on it, his clothes wet, his hair dripping water, and Jim knew that he was dead. Drowned. And although it appeared to have been accidental, he knew Chel was responsible. This was her revenge for Ahau's refusal to help her cheat her husband. Somehow he also knew that Chel had disappeared.
And then Ahau lifted his dead guide; Jim followed as he left the room and walked the short distance to the temple, then began to climb the steps. Jim stopped at the bottom of the steps, watching as his earlier self climbed upwards and disappeared into a doorway.
The vision faded once more, and Jim became aware of lying on hard ground beside a dying fire.
He sat up and stared at Blair, ears straining to hear the other man's heartbeat. He relaxed as he heard it, a steady, reassuring sound.
So - in a previous life Alex had been his sister, and Blair had been his guide - a guide Alex had drowned in that life, too.
He reached over and clasped Blair's hand, needing the comfort of touching his friend. His eyes closed, and he slept again.
It was a dark hut, filled with smoke from the fire burning in the middle of the floor. He blinked as the smoke stung his eyes, and the gentle hand on his shoulder pressed comfortingly. He adjusted his sense of touch so that the sting was no longer so acute, grateful as always for Ringan's touch.
Normally he would not be in one of the village huts, but the meeting with Alais, the sentinel of the next valley over, had gone all wrong. She had broken one of the primary rules of parley, making some of the discussion personal; if she had wanted him as mate for a season, she should have sent someone else to negotiate it, not tried to do it herself. As it was, he had been repelled by her attitude, and she had known it instantly; feeling herself insulted she had challenged him to combat, and then cheated, pretending injury to trick him, and had succeeded well enough that she had been able to break his leg.
Well, he would not be tricked again by her; his tribe would not again trade with hers, whatever trade goods they offered, if he had anything to say about it.
The irony of it was that on first sight he had found her attractive and would have accepted her for a season; not for sentinels the luxury of a permanent mate and hearth, for each had responsibilities to his or her tribe that would not, could not, be laid aside by any conscientious individual.
And yet... and yet... As they spoke together he had sensed something about her that he instinctively mistrusted.
He heard someone approaching, and called, "Come in!" as the newcomer reached the door of the hut.
It was Aodh, the tribal chieftain.
"Greetings to you, Aodh."
"And to you, Sentinel."
Seumas sighed mentally; he and Aodh had been close friends in their childhood, before his senses sharpened - indeed, when he first realised what he was, Seumas had hoped that his friend would prove to be his helper, but Aodh was a stolid, unimaginative man who, although a loyal friend, had all the empathy of a rock; and although they were still good friends he was completely unable to forget what Seumas was. He simply could not lay aside formality now.
"How is your leg?"
"Healing well, but it will be another week at least before I can leave this bed and another four before I can walk without a crutch."
Aodh grunted. "I have told Chief Donuill that we will not in future negotiate if he sends Alais."
Seumas nodded. "I cannot understand why her helper did not help her control her temper, stop her from issuing the challenge."
"That is what I said to Donuill. It appears she does not at the moment have a helper."
"What?" Ringan exclaimed in outrage.
"Her sister - or, more accurately, her half sister - is her helper, but her sister is with child and at risk of losing it. So she must stay abed. Alais is convinced she can work perfectly well without her," Aodh explained.
"In the short term, possibly," Ringan said quietly. "Long term - no. It has been proved over and over. No matter how much control a sentinel has, there are always times when his senses overwhelm him."
Seumas agreed. "I have good control, but I would not care to work without Ringan."
"However, I have also discovered it was as well you rejected Alais," Aodh continued.
"It was?" Seumas asked.
"I don't think she realised the connection, but her father was Dochaidh of the Glacier Valley."
Seumas stiffened. "He was my father."
"Yes. I told Donuill that, and Donuill has now told Alais, so I would expect her not to be considering you now as a possible mate."
"This is one of the problems that arises because of the way sentinels mate," Ringan commented. "There should be exact records kept."
"If she had sent someone else to negotiate the mating, it could have been checked then," Seumas said.
After Aodh left, Seumas looked at Ringan. "She must have known," he said. "Her mother must have told her."
"It does seem probable," Ringan agreed. "Well, since Aodh has told Donuill we will not negotiate again through her, you needn't ever meet her again."
Once again the vision faded and reformed briefly.
Seumas, leaning on a crutch, was standing on the bank of a fairly large stretch of water. Three other men were bending over two bodies that they had clearly just pulled out of the water; Ringan and Alais.
Both had drowned.
Jim shuddered awake, knowing beyond doubt that Alais was Alex and that she had deliberately drowned Ringan - Blair - before drowning herself. Or perhaps her death was an accident. Whichever it was, that was two lives in which Alex had been his sister, two lives in which she had wanted his child, two lives in which Blair had been his guide... two lives in which Blair had drowned.
At least in this life he had been able to revive his guide. At least in this life she was not related to him... or was she?
No. Impossible to think of William Ellison fathering a bastard. And his mother was dead. If she was by any chance related, it was more distant than sister or half sister; he could be sure of that.
But her spirit... Somewhere, some time, her spirit had been warped, twisted, and she had lost the integrity a sentinel must have.
He sighed, feeling regret for someone he must have loved once, and closed his eyes again, wondering if he would have any more visions.
*This time he was himself, walking through the jungle; there was a man ahead of him, a man who looked familiar...
"You have come, Enqueri. Finally you have come. It is time to face your most difficult trial."
"Most difficult? No. The most difficult thing I ever faced was seeing Blair lying dead. I never got the chance to thank you for helping me then. But I know he died indeed in earlier lives."
"Yes; this time you arrived before his spirit had travelled so far along the road that it could not return.
"You have lived several lives, but you never been truly tested, Enqueri.
"Power such as you have can lead to many things. You must how choose the path you will take, but you must go alone; your guide has already been tested and does not need to face the danger again, although he would do so willingly. The woman does not need to be tested, for she is neither sentinel nor guide - and her integrity cannot be doubted."
"How will I know where to go?"
"You already do."*
Jim sat up, fully awake. He glanced first at Megan, briefly, then looked at Blair for a long minute. He leaned over and touched his lips lightly to Blair's forehead. "Love you, Chief," he whispered. Then, without a backward glance, he walked away.
He went with no hesitation, knowing exactly which way to go, feeling himself drawn forward. After a while he came on the crashed helicopter; he paused for the briefest of moments, registered that the pilot was dead and the nerve gas was gone, and carried on.
He was never sure just how far he walked before he entered a clearing and saw in front of him the temple he remembered from his dreams; the temple to which Ahau had carried his dead guide.
He paused at the foot of the steps, remembering how he had watched Ahau climbing them. The doorway Ahau had entered stood open; Jim paused for a moment, listening.
There was a heartbeat, slow and muffled; Alex was indeed here then, but probably asleep. He went up the steps quickly, pausing at the doorway to adjust his sight to the dimness inside; and felt a sharp pain at his neck. His hand went to the place and he had time to register he had been shot with a dart before he collapsed.
He woke to an awarenesss of feeling nothing physical; after a moment he blinked his eyes open and realised he was lying in a kind of bath, the water at blood temperature, with only his face above the water, and was suffering from sensory deprivation.
He tried to sit up, and failed. And then Alex was there.
"It's no use trying to move - the drug on the dart is still paralysing you. This is amazing, isn't it? That this place should be so close to civilisation, and yet remains undiscovered. There's writing carved in the rock all round the grotto, has to be at least two thousand years old, maybe even older, and somehow I understood it. Back in the days of the first sentinels, they realised that extreme isolation was the way to develop the senses to their fullest, and the sentinels came here and spent time in one of the pools. If they had a guide - not all of them did, the cleverest ones didn't give anyone that kind of power over them - the guide went into the second pool - that heightened their awareness of each other, but I think it weakened the sentinel by making him more dependent on the guide, and probably that was what the shamans wanted. The guides were their puppets, used to control the sentinels.
"The effect of the sensory awareness was heightened if they took a drug made from local plants - the instructions for making that were there too. It didn't take me long to make it.
"I tried it last night, and I saw inside myself, what I really am. How powerful I really am."
With an effort, Jim managed to speak. "Alex, you're going way too fast! This is dangerous. We were never meant to do it without supervision, and taking an unknown drug is just stupid."
"And I thought you had too much sense to be fooled by Blair's double talk! Of course they tried to keep us dependent on one of them, tried to keep us from understanding just what we really are, tried to make us into their servants when they should have been ours!
"We're the next step in evolution, and they're trying to prevent us from realising it. Trying to prevent us from developing our senses as we grow up, trying to keep us still children, like they are.
"My sensory awareness is - oh, doubled, at least. I want you to experience it too, and then you'll know. You'll know what we are, and we'll be the parents of a whole new race that in a few generations will replace the apes that call themselves homo sapiens."
"Alex, listen to me - "
"No." She forced his lips apart and poured a dark green liquid into his mouth. He tried to keep from swallowing, but was eventually forced to to so in order to breathe. "Experience it. See. Feel." She rose. "I'll be back - after I've seen the eye of God."
He lay motionless, fully awake, and realising that he was beginning to experience visions in his waking state that he had only seen before in dreams. Some of the memories were ones he was aware of from this life; others were like half-remembered dreams and he knew these were from past lives.
It was becoming unbearable; he would have given anything for it to stop, for Blair to be there beside him, grounding him, helping him to control. Yet at the same time he was glad that Blair was safe, somewhere back in the jungle with Megan, for among the visions he could see Ringan lying at the lakeside, Kinich lying on the altar in the temple as Ahau performed the rites that would release his spirit, Blair's pale face as the EMT turned and said, "Sorry, guys".
How could Alex have tolerated anything like this and even considered it desireable?
"No!" he screamed.
He wanted Blair... but he had to keep Blair safe from Alex...
Incacha! Incacha was already dead, Alex couldn't harm him...
"Incacha! Incacha, help me!"
"Why do you call me?" Incacha stood in front of him, his face sympathetic but oddly distant.
"I'm losing my mind!"
"Do not be afraid to walk through your dreams."
"But all I see is death... darkness... "
"If there is darkness, then you must face it; but the darkness will flee from the light. I cannot bring the light to you; it must shine from within you."
"But if there is no light inside me?" he whispered. "What if it is already destroyed?"
"If it is destroyed, you will be given a chance to rekindle it in another life."
Incacha stepped back until Jim could no longer see him. He drew a long, deep, shuddering breath as more brief scenes of death and destruction flashed before his eyes; but then, distant at first but growing rapidly clearer, he saw a face he recognised.
His guide smiled, and the scenes of death suddenly scattered, shattered, to be replaced by happier moments, moments of success, and he knew that as long as Blair was there he need fear nothing.
Then Blair's face disappeared as well. He reached out to hold it, and realised that the drug had worn off; he could move again.
He sat up, and climbed out of the pool. As he did, his eyes fell on the second pool. Alex lay in it, and he realised that she was trying to enhance her senses even more.
He shook his head, sure that she was making a major mistake, and reached for her, meaning to pull her out of the water; but then he heard a voice outside.
He recognised it instantly. Arguillo!
Now that was unexpected; logically Arguillo should have thought Alex would flee Sierra Verde with the gas and try to sell it elsewhere.
And just how had he managed to track her down? Jim knew that only another sentinel could have followed the trail of leaking fuel in this kind of terrain, and unless Arguillo had a rogue sentinel working for him... and he couldn't believe in the existence of another rogue sentinel. Not here and now. Whatever had warped Alex in the first place had to be rare; Jim knew beyond any doubting that sentinels were too strongly motivated to help others to be easily corrupted.
But how Arguillo had found his way here didn't matter; all that mattered was that he was here, and somehow had to be prevented from getting the nerve gas.
He moved quickly to the doorway, glancing out.
Hell! Arguillo and three of his men... and they were holding Blair and Megan prisoner.
Damn, damn, damn! Whatever he did, he couldn't risk their safety.
Two of the men moved forward, and Jim shook his head almost pityingly. Just how stupid was it possible for Arguillo to be? He could take these two out easily, especially since Blair and Megan were still safely outside.
And since it was his life - and his guide's and his friend's - or theirs, it was easy to decide that if necessary it would be theirs, although he knew he would not kill unless he must.
He was actually surprised at how easy it was to take out both men. Certainly, they had probably not been expecting to be met by a man - they had probably assumed they would be facing one woman, and it was undoubtedly a measure of their basically chauvinistic attitude that they took so few precautions in their approach.
He let himself be seen for the briefest of moments, ducking back out of sight before either Arguillo or the man with him could fire.
He heard Arguillo's voice clearly. "Calderon, you go!" and shook his head almost pityingly. Given a choice between going in himself or sending a man who had one arm in a sling, Arguillo had sent an already injured man after someone who had clearly taken two fit, uninjured men out of the picture.
Calderon was unconscious before he had a chance to see who he was facing.
Even Arguillo was easily knocked out when he finally entered the temple - of course, he was probably the least fit of the four, being more used to giving orders than acting.
As Jim untied Blair and Megan, he muttered, "You know, how stupid was it possible for Arguillo to be? I'd already taken out his men. I'd have expected him to retreat, watch the doorway so nobody could get out, call for more of his men... "
"He probably thought he was just facing Alex," Blair suggested. "We didn't let him know that you were ahead of us, just let him think we'd come to keep track of her while you and Simon had gone for reinforcements. He even muttered about soft Americans who needed help to defeat a single woman."
Megan nodded. "I certainly got the impression that he believed women were mostly just ornaments. His pride wouldn't let him admit that one woman could defeat him."
"Even though it looked as if she'd taken out three of his men?" Jim asked as he untwisted the ropes - he needed more rope than had been used to tie Blair and Megan, but it didn't have to be thick. He knew ways of tying men with string that would keep them secure.
"Where is Alex anyway?" Blair wondered.
"Down there." Jim gestured towards the pools, then turned to tie Arguillo and his men.
Once he was satisfied the drug lord and his men were securely fastened, he led the way down to the pools, Blair following easily although Megan clearly had more difficulty because of the dim lighting.
"Why...?" Megan asked, then glanced at Blair. "This... pool thing is a sentinel thing, right?"
Jim looked at her. "Sentinel?"
"I've always carried Burton's book with me," Blair said. "She saw it, and put two and two together." He was almost surprised when Jim didn't accuse him of carelessness.
Instead, Jim shrugged acceptance, sat on the rock edging the pool and looked down at Alex. "She's not a sentinel. She has the heightened senses, but she's not a sentinel. She lost the right to be considered a sentinel long ago." His voice was very sad.
"I don't understand."
"It's a long story, and I don't think I understand all of it - " Jim broke off as Alex's eyes opened.
She looked up at him. "I want your child, Ahau."
"No, Chel... Alex."
She sat up. "Please, you must."
"You don't understand. I could have chosen any husband I wanted, except the only one I did want. Cihuatet was the man I liked best of all the others, but he was never the man I wanted. I always wanted you, Ahau."
"I was your brother, Alex."
"You were the only man I ever wanted, then or later. And you're not my brother this time!" she exclaimed.
"I was your brother," Jim said again. "I can't forget that. But even if I could - you killed my guide, and more than once. I can't forgive that, Alex."
"He was taking you away from me!" she snarled.
"You never had me," he said. "Not in any memory I've retained."
She stared at him, her eyes suddenly cold. "He's not getting you in this life or ever again!"
She felt under the water and pulled up a container. The others recognised it instantly.
"Yes. You've no idea... I can see everything, all the molecules in the water, every tiny crystal in the rock. I can hear the clouds moving. I never could before. I want to share all that with you!"
"You need to see as I do! Then you'll understand!"
"Alex, put that down."
"Are you afraid? I never thought you were a coward, Ahau."
"If you open that, we'll all die."
"Once I've cleansed the earth we'll never need to be born again, never need to be servants again. You'll understand, really understand."
"Alex, this isn't the way of the sentinel. A sentinel protects."
"We can be together for eternity."
"Alex, the only one I want to be with for eternity is my guide."
He took a deep breath, somehow knowing that if he failed to make her understand there would never be another chance.
"Alex, this isn't the real you. Think back. Think back as far as you can. Can you remember what it was like before Chel married Cihuatet? When you worked as a sentinel, protecting the tribe? Can you remember how satisfying it was, knowing that because of you, the tribe prospered?"
She looked at him. "The tribe prospered, but the sentinel never did. The sentinel was always the servant of the tribe. We deserved more. I deserved more!" She began to unscrew the canister again, then, a second later, stopped. "Ah!" It was a pained scream.
"My skin - it's on fire! My ears!"
Jim grabbed the canister from her, tightened the lid again and plunged it back into the water.
"My eyes!" She screamed again, hunching in pain. Then she straightened for a moment and looked at him. "We should have been one! We should have been... "
She went limp, and only Jim's fast reaction kept her from hitting her head on the rock wall of the bath.
Jim carried her out of the temple and down the steps, laying her gently on the ground a short distance from it, while Blair and Megan pulled Arguillo and Calderon to their feet and walked them out as well; then leaving Megan guarding the men, Jim and Blair went back and carried Arguillo's other two men, who were still unconscious, out of the temple and put them beside their boss.
"I can hear a helicopter," Jim murmured.
"That'll probably be Simon," Blair said, and Jim nodded agreement.
In fact there were two helicopters.
Simon joined Blair and Megan, watching silently as Alex was loaded onto a stretcher and carried to one helicopter, as Arguillo and his men were taken on board the second one.
"How much of this should I put in my report, Captain?" Megan asked.
Simon looked at her. "That's up to you; just remember that the fewer people who know about Jim, the less that is known about what he can do, the easier it is for him to do his job. I intend to keep to the bare facts."
She nodded. "Agreed," she said.
Blair watched them head off towards the helicopter, then turned to where Jim was sitting carefully not looking at anything.
"You okay, man?" Blair asked softly.
Jim sighed. "You know, when I got out of that pool, it seemed I knew it all. I could understand why she found it so compelling; why she went back in. In a way I wanted to go back so bad... But... " He shook his head.
"But you didn't," Blair said, still quietly. "That's the difference between you. She gave in to temptation; she lost her way."
"I think she lost it several lives ago," Jim said.
Blair put his hand on Jim's shoulder. "Look."
Incacha stood in front of them. "All sentinels, all guides, are presented with the temptation to go wrong," he said. "You have both passed your tests. You are right; she failed several lives ago. She was given three chances to overcome her failure; this was her last chance. She will never again be born as a sentinel." He faded from sight.
"Ellison! Sandburg! Are you two coming?"
It was Simon. Blair grinned. "We'd better go, man."
Side by side, they walked to the waiting helicopter.