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Mon, Mar. 9th, 2009, 05:54 pm

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So Cold, So Wet
by ljc
2/09

Summary: A close call. Set during the last season.

Warnings, Ratings: none, Teen.

Disclaimer: All characters, places, and objects from The Sentinel belong to Pet Fly Productions, UPN, Paramount and the SciFi Channel. No money is being made. No copyright infringement is intended. Any resemblance (of original characters) to any person living or dead is purely coincidental. No similarity to any person either living or dead is intended or should be inferred. This story was written by ljc with the love of the show in mind.

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Blair muttered his old familiar oft-repeated refrain, “Cold and wet is my world,” softly but clearly as he shivered involuntarily once again. The line had become a mantra throughout the present stakeout, even though the “wet” was absent tonight. Cascade was certainly cold enough that it made very little difference to this grad-student-observer.

All Blair could do was huddle in his too thin jacket in Jim's dark and cold Ford 150. They'd been on a seemingly endless stakeout waiting for some perp that seemed to have better sense than to be out tonight. He shivered once more, and Jim made no attempt to hide his smirk as he said, “I told you so.”

Blair glared at Jim, but pressed his lips firmly together to stave off the response he 'wanted' to make. In the end, all he said was, “Hand me the thermos.”

Jim sighed and shook his head, “I'm pretty sure it's empty, Chief. That last cup was it.”

Blair groaned irritably, “Are you sure?” He leaned down and grabbed the thermos from under the seat and gave it a hard shake. He sighed in frustration and looked pleadingly at Jim.

“Sandburg, you know we can't leave until our relief gets here, and you know this area is residential. It's way too suburban for a Starbucks™ on the corner. There's just no place around here to get a refill, not even a Wonderburger. You'll just have to suck it up. I did tell you …”

Blair chimed in, “... you told me so. You're right. Okay? You're right. I 'should' have worn my heavy parka,” and continued with a definite whine, “but the weather report said it was going to be milder for the next few days! Man, Daylight Savings Time was this weekend! Spring is coming! It's supposed to be warmer!”

“Chief?”

“Yeah?”

“You trained me. Remember? I told you ...”

“Yes! You told me! The sentinel was right!” Blair sat fuming for several minutes before his curiosity got the better of him. “How did you know? What did you sense that made you think the forecast was wrong?”

Jim shrugged half-heartedly. He didn't really like to dissect what he sensed. Sometimes things just were … until the kid forced him to think through the process. How was he going to explain something he didn't have the scientific words to explain? Oh, well, he knew that Sandburg wouldn't leave him alone until he tried … and maybe it would distract Sandburg for a few minutes.

He began with a long, time-delaying sigh, then, “Okay. I had no problem with the weather report this morning, but … you know how it is ... a few hours can change everything. Let's see, I know for sure that this doesn't explain everything that was going on. I'm sure it was more complex than what I sensed. The wind was coming pretty steadily from the west this morning just the way the report said, but late this afternoon there was an increase in solar activity that seemed to … change it's direction. It wasn't a steady change, but it caused it to cloud up and I think that the heat it trapped under the clouds re-routed the air flow; just eddies from the northwest at first. Then later, just before we left the loft it was coming out of the north.”

He glanced at Sandburg and he wanted to reach over and tuck the kid's chin up since it had dropped down in shock. He sighed again and plowed on, “It was such a slow, irregular change that I really hadn't taken notice of it until you asked. Coming down from Canada like that, not from over the Pacific, well, I could tell the air was a lot drier now … and the gusts have been gaining strength.”

He glanced at Blair again, and since he hadn't interrupted with a question or comment yet, Jim figured he might as well point out some of the results as evidence of his deductions. He pointed between a pair of houses across the street as he continued, “The temperature has dropped nearly ten degrees lower than the forecast predicted, and the wind chill makes it feel worse. You can see that the stream over there is nearly frozen all the way across even though the rate of flow is pretty substantial, and you can see there's not much left of the snow we got yesterday. It's almost disappeared because of the gusts.”

Blair's jaw suddenly clicked back into place and he looked at Jim like he'd grown a second head. He finally looked where he'd pointed, squinted, and then muttered in frustration, “Maybe 'you' can see it.” When a particularly strong gust shook the truck, Blair looked askance at his partner but he didn't ask any further questions, just shrank down into his corner of the cab and shivered harder.

It was close to midnight when the perp showed up. Blair cursed under his breath as they prepared to exit the truck - at least Jim thought he was cursing, because he didn't recognize any of the words, but they were said in such a wonderfully matter-of-fact way that he felt subtitles would have been superfluous.

Jim would have grinned except he wanted to curse, too. Another ten minutes and their relief would have been there and they'd have been on their way home. Now he and Sandburg could be stuck chasing down this guy Carson, and doing paperwork till dawn. Actually that would be the 'best case scenario' because he really didn't want to have to do this all over again.

He glanced at Blair and regretted having to drag the kid out in this weather. Teasing him in the truck was one thing, subjecting him to weather that could possibly cause hypothermia was another.

“Sandburg, stay in the truck. You're already half frozen. Carson won't be a problem. He arrived alone, and after sitting here for hours, we know that there's no one inside.”

“No way, Jim. Besides, getting out and moving around will warm me up.”

It was at that very moment that one of the stronger gusts rocked the truck. Blair grimaced and quickly ducked out the door, closing it as softly as possible. Jim shook his head but let the familiar argument die. Besides, he'd learned from personal experience that it might be better for both of them if Jim knew where Sandburg was at all times.

Jim had felt restive tonight. It was at times like this that he was most temperamental. Maybe that's why he'd been sniping at Blair about the coat even though he knew Sandburg wasn't shy about bundling up in truly uncomfortable weather.

Jim didn't always understand his reactions around Sandburg. There were times when he cringed mentally at his treatment of him. His actions now were akin to how he'd acted toward a particularly obnoxious teenage babysitter he'd had when he was twelve … a babysitter he didn't want or need. At least, that's what he'd thought at the time. Then there were times when he wanted to swaddle him in blankets and tuck him in, like tonight when he'd tried to pack that heavy parka without him knowing it.

Yet, for all the pushing and prodding, there were times when he pulled him close, when his touch grounded him, when his nerves needed that steadying hand on his back … and a steady hand 'at' his back; when he trusted Sandburg to do the things that only he knew to do ... those times when Blair was there and it seemed the most natural thing in the world ....

He pulled his thoughts abruptly back to the present as they rounded the corner of the residence. They had been heading toward the back of the house and the same back exit as Carson. His senses had been on alert, of course, but a dark sedan surprised him when it pulled into the end of the street at a high rate of speed. Jim stopped and listened carefully, and Blair had stopped just a step behind, with fingertips grazing his back. Jim's senses went on high alert, trying to decide if this addition to the number of people in the area was pertinent to their stakeout and 'their' perp.

//Hey, what were the chances?// he thought grimly.

The car stopped right out front, and the two new arrivals weren't saying much, but Jim wasn't taking any chances. He immediately pushed Sandburg to the ground, and managed to force a surprised gasp from him. A fence that ran between this home and the next residence was the nearest cover available, but it would have to do for the moment. Jim knelt beside Blair and decided on his next action. He knew that Blair had learned a lot since they first became partners. He knew that he'd try to keep his silence and wait for instructions.

When the vehicle pulled into the driveway on the other side of the house and the two new players exited, Jim could easily smell gun oil on the fresh night air. He glanced at Sandburg and whispered, “Call for backup. Get Henri and Rafe to put on some speed. I don't know what's going down, but they're armed, and I don't want to lose Carson.”

<>

Blair didn't get a chance to dial before shots were fired. Jim ducked down lower, making Blair grunt out another gust of air when he pushed him down even further and covered him. Jim noted, but ignored, the 'evil eye' that action earned him. When he heard Carson return fire to the newcomers, he jumped up and ran to the back of the house. After peering around the corner, he moved quickly out of Blair's sight.

Blair swore softly nonstop, knowing full well that Jim could use his voice to distract him from a zone. After the Dispatcher answered, he only waited long enough for confirmation of the address and then stuck his head up. It was too dark for him to see much, but the shooting had stopped. Unfortunately he hadn't heard an all-clear from Jim yet.

He finally heard running and shouts on the other side of the house and figures dashed into the trees beyond the patio. Two more shots had him hurrying along 'his' side of the patio. Where the fence ended, it skirted a few thinly spaced trees that led right down to the shore of the stream. The trees seemed better cover than the open patio but the lot sloped downward sharply at the bank. Even though he took it slowly, the footing was less secure than he'd of wished, especially as slippery patches of white interspersed with late autumn leaves.

A sudden lack of sound was almost as frightening as the shots had been. //Where are they?// It was so quiet he could hear the muted flow of the stream, and he worried that it might cover sounds that he really needed to hear. //Where is Jim?// he wondered.

A faint rustle of sound came from the area of the trees near the middle of the lot, and when he just couldn't wait any longer he finally whispered, “Jim?” His worry sent him cautiously toward the area, and he finally gave a sigh of relief as a disgruntled tabby cat dashed for the house. The relief was short-lived, because at this point his feet nearly slid out from beneath him and he slid precariously down the icy embankment. His frantic grabs at trees did nothing to stop his continued slide and almost overbalanced him. He didn't stop until he was well out onto the newly frozen stream.

He held his breath as he tried to keep upright and shuffle back to solid ground. Soggy shoes and frostbitten toes would only add to his woes tonight, so he walked slowly and gingerly, trying - praying - not to break through the thin layer of ice. Unfortunately his attempt only kept him slipping, sliding, and windmilling his arms until he made an awkward, off-balance grasp at some ice-locked cattails. He went down so hard and so fast that he didn't remember the fall at all, just the result, a terrifying breathless spin that left him sliding away from the bank.

When Blair finally slid to a stop, he froze in place, hardly daring to breathe lest that small movement would pitch him through the ice. He stared in shock at his hand that was poised over open water. When the ice cracked ominously, he finally managed to drag in a shuddery breath and whispered a strangled, “Jim!”

<>

Jim had had to ignore Blair's first, inquiring, “Jim?” The two newest arrivals at the scene were just pulling away from the house in a loud squeal and acrid burn of tires that made him want to dial down sound and smell but he resisted. He did manage to dial up sight and get the license number.

They'd hoped Carson would be the witness they needed to crack a case. Unfortunately for Carson, he'd just become another case … or a major complication to the original case. Now Jim had to investigate Carson's murder and track down two murder suspects and find out if this was their own idea to silence a witness, or if it was a murder for hire. Or, to make things even more complicated, maybe they had their own reasons to dislike Carson enough to kill him. Yeah, just another little complication to make things interesting.

He sighed as he lowered his gun, then he heard Henri and Rafe pull into the street from the other direction. He pulled out his radio to tell them the situation, maybe they could catch those two before they got too far away. Even if they did, it would take a miracle to get the paperwork wrapped up by morning.

It was the crackling sound from the ice that made Jim forget about the radio. He halted his actions and stiffened because he realized immediately that it had come from the direction from which he'd last heard Blair. The second, terrified, “Jim!” caused him to turn and focus his sight on his guide.

Jim was standing in the driveway when he focused his dialed up sight on Blair's voice. He was much closer to the street lights than Blair was. Blair was laying on the ice, well past the patio and the trees. He could barely see Jim at all from his position, only as a dark, and distant, shadow against the light. Still, Jim could tell that Blair had no doubt that it was Jim that he saw, and he seemed relieved, if only for a moment. Afterward Jim would remember that moment when Blair's shocked yet hopeful eyes seemed to lock on his. He'd remember it very well.

Jim had regrets about many things in his life, but one of the greatest would always be that he 'knew' ... without a doubt ... that he couldn't reach Blair in time. Blair was going into that frigid water, and there was nothing he could do to prevent it.

One moment they locked gazes, the next Blair was gone. The ice disintegrated beneath him and he vanished in an instant. Jim raced toward the spot, but before he reached it Blair had already tried to surface and had lost his grip on the thin ice as it fractured easily in his grasp. Again their gazes locked as Blair lost his grip once more and was swept under the edge.

Jim screamed, “NO!” Hearing car doors slam, he yelled out, “Henri! Rafe! Blair's down!”

He didn't waste any time changing direction. He ran desperately with only one thought: to be in the right place at the right time. He followed the course of the stream bank while dialing up his sight even further ... to see through the darkness, to try to find a path, to see through the ice and the water. He thought he saw a shadow under the ice, and was rewarded with the sight of a pale hand slipping along beneath the surface, scrabbling awkwardly in an attempt to claw it's way through to air.

He scanned the ice along the bank, making frantic calculations while he ran of ice thickness, rate of water flow, and how long Blair could hold his breath. There came a point where time was running out and a spot had to be chosen. He couldn't afford an instant's hesitation. He raced to reach the spot even as he aimed his gun, firing it till it was empty then throwing it aside … then he leapt onto the ice feet-first with all the force of his weight.

Jim smashed through the ice and into the water, and even though Jim stood barely waist deep in the rushing water, it was still a struggle to stand against the current. The shocking immersion in the ice cold water was noted and disregarded so that it became a mere distraction. Focus, focus on his one goal. Everything was secondary to that one thing … to grasp that pale, bloodied, shadow of a hand before it could sweep past him. And so he stood, braced, to catch the prize, and even after it's capture he couldn't allow the loss of focus. It changed, but it's intensity could not. Now he held 'them' braced, Blair's head above the water, holding them both against the forces of 'cold and wet'.

It seemed an interminable wait till he heard splashing and welcome words of support, and hands reaching them that had not yet been weakened by the cold.

Henri was beside him, “Jim, man. We're here and help's on the way. Tell us where you want us.”

“H … Rafe … Careful! Watch your footing or you'll be swept under the ice, too. Let's get him out of the water! He's unconscious. ”

They were frantic but cautious, gentle but determined. They'd all seen Blair drown once and it wasn't going to happen again on their watch. It may have been cold as well as wet, with poor visibility and treacherous footing besides, but they managed to get to the bank before the ambulance arrived. Jim and Henri carried Blair between them while Rafe raced ahead to retrieve blankets from H's car.

<>

Simon hurried to the door to the waiting room. He had received a call from Dispatch and had shuddered at the message he'd received. The horror he'd remembered from Blair's drowning subsided when he saw the men waiting for him. The three of them were surely subdued, but they were talking as friends do when awaiting word on a friend ... not friends waiting to hear the worst.

He caught Jim's eye when he stepped into the room, and Jim nodded quickly. It was a sure sign that Jim knew what was going on with his partner, and what was going on wasn't of a fatal nature. Simon sighed deeply in relief, and saw Jim's shared acknowledgement of the feeling.

Simon gestured Henri and Rafe over to talk privately. Hearing confirmation of Sandburg's condition and the events they had witnessed, he told them his plans and suggested they go home and rest. Ellison and his partner wouldn't be in tomorrow and he wanted someone on duty that could help him sort out this mess before Ellison and Sandburg had to deal with it.

Simon finally sat beside Jim and leaned back into a chair that was much too small and uncomfortable for the big man, but something he'd had to learn to put up with over the years. He sighed deeply and said, “Jim ... we've got to stop meeting like this. If I need to send a memo, then that's what I'll do, but getting that kind of call in the middle of the night is way too stressful.”

“I hear you, Simon.”

Simon could remember Sandburg saying those very words. He tried a mock glare at Jim, “Tell me our hippie isn't rubbing off on you, Detective.”

Jim continued to stare at his clasped hands but managed to grin slightly, “Come on, Simon. Admit that he's a good influence on all of us. And remember, you did say 'our hippie'.”

Simon snorted softly, and added loftily, “I'll admit no such thing. I can't afford to have that get back to him. He'd never let me live it down, and you know it.”

Jim's hands gripped harder until they were white and strained, “Why is it so hard to say?“

Simon sighed and muttered quietly, “The kid has given me more gray hairs than Daryl. Yet if it wasn't for Sandburg, Daryl and I probably wouldn't even be speaking to each other … screaming maybe, but not talking. Sandburg makes that stuff sound easy.”

Jim laughed roughly, “Yeah, and I think he has the idea I'm going to learn how to do it myself someday.”

Simon asked, “You, Jim? Good luck on that.” He pulled a cigar out of his pocket then sighed and slipped it back in it's case in regret. He asked, “I assume Sandburg's going to stay the night?”

“Yeah. Maybe the doc can keep him down for a few hours. If I take him home he'll only end up at Rainier tomorrow, or down at the station. That reminds me, I'll have to call the school. Tell them he'll be out until the doctor releases him … again.”

“You'll be staying with him tonight, right?” At Jim's nod Simon continued, “I figured. I'll call the University for you. I'm going to head in to the station and get started on the paperwork for this night. I wonder how many reams of paper we'll go through for this case. You two should be a line-item in my budget.”

Simon sighed and reached out to touch Jim's shoulder, “Don't worry about paperwork. We'll get as much of it cleared away as we can. You just take care of Sandburg.”

“I will, Simon. Thanks.”

“Jim?” When he had his attention, Simon added, “I heard from Henri and Rafe about what happened there tonight. If you need to talk to someone, a counselor or a friend, well I'd be happy to help. It was a pretty bad situation, especially coming so soon after that other … Don't let it wear you down. I know you'll be watching out for Sandburg, but take care of yourself, too, Jim. If you don't, you know the kid will wear himself ragged trying to take care of you.”

“Thanks, Simon … I - I think I have someone in mind.”

“Really?”

“It might even take care of two problems at once.”

Simon's momentarily confused look dissolved, and he grinned widely, “Good choice.”

<>

As Simon let himself into the elevator he muttered, “And about damn time!”

<>

Jim sat quietly waiting. It was easy because the one he was waiting for was right in front of him and resting quietly himself. Jim had already checked out the tiny scrapes and bruises on Blair's face and hands, for which he'd received a couple of tiny bandages. The hypothermia was more difficult to treat, but Blair was well on his way. The warming blankets were replaced periodically but Blair's temperature was near enough to normal that it wasn't a concern anymore. He just needed time to get over the stress to his system.

So Jim just sat, waiting and remembering a sentinel version of events … a kind of 'Hi Def Total Package' … played out before his mind's eye in searing detail ...

… The crackling of the ice that had the effect of thunder. Then that horrible feeling that time had seemed to slow and race at the same time.

… Shocked blue eyes locked on his, yet somehow still having hope when he saw Jim.

… Pale hand clawing at his icy prison … leaving Jim weak, but with a deep gratitude that he had no memory of Blair's face under that ice.

… And finally, miraculously, frozen curls dragged aside to see those blue eyes blink open and lock with his in dazed, but real, recognition.

It had been so close that 'what-ifs' almost overwhelmed him. The most damning things were … What if Blair had been wearing that heavy parka after all? Could Jim have held Blair with that extra weight? … What if he'd turned down his senses, and not dialed up 'sight'? What if he'd miscalculated? What if his senses weren't accurate enough? What if he hadn't been strong enough to hold out until help arrived? … What if … ?

“Jim?” That was one of the things Jim had been waiting for, that sound ... another was the gentle touch of abraded fingers on his arm.

Jim had been trying to prepare himself, but it was all he could do to keep his own trembling touch as gentle as Blair's had been, and his own sob as quiet as his partner's whispered question.

“Hey, hey, Jim. Are you okay?” Blair struggled against the weight of the extra blankets to turn awkwardly toward Jim. Seeing Jim's reaction had made him desperate to comfort him, but fatigue and the blankets were doing their best to defeat him.

Blair wasn't exactly sure what had happened tonight, but he mentally sorted through a kaleidoscope of memories as he sought the reason for Jim's reaction. He remembered the shock of the ice cold water, and trying to escape the ice. He remembered Jim, and he thought Henri and Rafe were there, too. Then there was confusion as lights and sirens seemed to be everywhere, and then more lights and voices in the ER, shrill in crisis. He recognized that tone of voice and that they were being very professional. He remembered being grateful for those voices, and for the many times he'd been a recipient of that kind of care, but none of that told him the reason for Jim's little breakdown? Jim - just - didn't - break - down … except there was Danny Choi and Incacha.

Jim coughed roughly, trying to hide his discomfiture. He stood abruptly, breaking the connection that he'd held for several hours and turned toward the door. That sudden… disconnect … he didn't know if that made it harder or easier … not seeing, not touching. He just knew this was something so difficult that he didn't want to deal with it right now, maybe never. So it had to be easier if he could just make it go away, and since he knew the senses were staying, then he'd have to go. And after finally deciding that, he said succinctly, “Look, Sandburg … I - I'm sorry but I have to go.”

Blair was still trying to find out what Jim's problem was, so he asked in confusion, “What? Jim, is it a case? Tell me what's going on, man. I - I haven't even seen the doctor yet. Has he been in? Did he tell you anything? Am I okay to go with you? I seem okay. Well, I'm kind of tired but that seems like it would be normal.” Blair stopped suddenly and placed a hand flat on his own chest, “Unless I … I didn't ... well, I didn't drown again did I?”

Jim turned suddenly and was shockingly loud in his response, “NO!”

Blair looked taken aback and then relaxed into his pillows, and he whispered, “Oh, that's it.”

“What? No. You didn't drown. You're going to be fine. I just have to … go.”

“Jim ...”

Jim was held by that one word. Stay or go. Go or stay. Balanced on the edge of a precipice of his own making.

“Come sit beside me.” And Blair patted the bed gently.

Stay or go. Go or ...

Jim forced one step, and another until he was close enough to sit but still he stood.

Blair looked him in the eyes, and Jim looked away, anywhere, just away.

Blair sat forward and reached out a hand and tugged Jim closer until he was right up beside the bed.

“I really didn't think I drowned, but it was pretty confusing there at the end. I guess it was kind of natural to wonder, but I see it shook you up pretty bad. I'm sorry …” At that point Blair flinched and stared at his hand, which caused Jim to suddenly release it, and jump back a step.

Blair rubbed it, “Don't …”

Jim said, “Don't ...”

They both stopped, and Blair continued, “Well, 'I' was going to say, don't leave. How about you?”

Jim sighed and said, “Why do you always say you're sorry? For what? For drowning? Don't say you're sorry. Look. It's just a … such a really bad memory and I see flashes of it sometimes. From before and now from last night, too … when you almost ...”

Blair stopped rubbing his hand and reached out again, and dragged his friend back to his side, this time he tugged him down to sit. “But Jim, I 'am' sorry that this affects you this way.”

“And don't be sorry for me!”

Blair looked tired. He felt tired, so he closed his eyes and leaned back on his pillows.

“Chief? Are you alright?”

Blair blinked his eyes tiredly as he stared at Jim. “Why do you think you should have known what Alex was going to do? Do you think I should have known? After all, I had years of research behind me. Maybe it 'was' all my fault.”

Jim was stunned. “Of course not! It wasn't your fault.”

“Then … you must think that a well-trained, ex-military, police detective, sentinel, who's certainly of sound mind and body, should have known instinctively what a whacked-out female sentinel was going to do?”

Jim gave it serious consideration. Should he have known? He certainly felt guilty for the consequences, but … should he have known? If he 'had' known, would he have stopped it? Absolutely! Even at the cost of his life. … But he hadn't known. He hadn't known. He couldn't have stopped it, not then ... not last night. He could not have stopped it. He 'would' have … but he couldn't.

He reached out and gently clasped Blair's hand, but he couldn't look Blair in the eye yet. “I'm so sorry I couldn't stop her. I'm so sorry you were hurt. I'll always be sorry, Sandburg.”

“I hear that, Jim.” Blair's words were strained but Jim heard them clearly, “I guess I can't expect you to forget all that, when I know that if I was in your place, I'd feel the same way. If I caused you to be hurt, I'd never forgive myself either …” and he whispered so very softly, “I've worried about it for years ….”

Blair squeezed Jim's hand and said, “But I want you to hear this … 'I' forgive you, Jim.” Finally blue eyes connected with blue eyes, and Blair used his grip on Jim's hand to pull himself up for that hug.

Blair finally pleaded softly, “Can we please ditch the regrets? The might-have-beens? We've carried that around with us long enough. It takes way too much energy that we could put to better use.”

“Sandburg?”

Blair stilled but didn't let go, “Yeah?”

Jim hugged him nearly breathless, “You have to let them go, too. And just in case … I forgive you, too.”

When the hugging had eased, but not ended, Blair yawned widely and said, “I'm tired, Jim. Let's get out of here. I want to go home.”

Jim almost agreed. Almost. But common sense, and his sixth sense (the Blessed Protector Sense) warned him to think before he spoke, “I think 'home' is a great idea ... when you get the doctor's blessing.”

It was Blair's turn to sigh as he gently knocked his head against Jim's shoulder, “Now, Jim. Please?”

Jim finally broke the hug that had given them both comfort, and settled Blair onto his pillows. He grinned when Blair shivered and so he pulled the blankets into a neat pile on his guide and tucked him in the way Sally had when he was little, making neat furrows down both sides.

“Jim,” wheedled Blair.

“Warm enough?”

“Well, now.”

“Enough to go home now?”

Blair opened his mouth but shut it quickly. His shoulders slumped a bit, “Is this another one of your 'I told you so's'?”

Jim looked bleak for a moment, “No. No teasing today. You need to stay. The doctor will say when to leave. Okay?”

“Okaaay. But only if you get that pretty nurse to come back. Her name's Jessie. The one with the long curly hair.”

“I'll remember. Jessie of the curly hair. Until then, maybe you could explain something for me.”

Blair grinned and said, “Sure! What?”

“Well, some of that technical jargon goes right over my head.”

Blair looked confused, and Jim grinned softly, “You know. 'Whacked-out'.”

Blair flushed slightly, “Oh, that.”

“Well, you said … and I do know for a fact … that you've done years of research on the subject.”

Blair squeezed his hand, and added seriously, “We're going to be okay, Jim."

Jim clasped his other hand around Blair's, "I know you're right. You know, Simon and I talked last night. He was worried about us. He told me to talk to someone. I told him I had someone in mind.”

“Who's that, Jim?”

“Well, Simon called him a hippie at one point. I call him friend. You heard Brackett name him 'guide'. But most of the time, he's just what Incacha said … he's my Shaman. I've been lucky that way.”

“Incacha was a friend of yours, and he was just what you needed, at just the right time. He was a great Shaman.”

“It takes one, to know one, Chief. Like I said, I've been lucky that way.”

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finis

AND TSBBS NEVER HAPPENED! I've always wanted to write that (and I wish they had)!

From WordWeb:
Daylight Savings Time: Time during which clocks are set one hour ahead of local standard time; widely adopted during summer to provide extra daylight in the evenings (I just wish they'd leave it saved all year round).

*Have you ever fallen and never remembered how you got from upright to flat? I swear, I just stepped down out of that pickup and didn't even remember my foot landing on that ice. The next thing I knew, I was flat on my back, but my hand was firmly clutching the armrest. (I'm sure it was very funny! To someone!)


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Sun, Feb. 15th, 2009, 07:41 pm
XJ-Fuga Part 1 A

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XJ-Fuga
Part 1 A
Status: Complete
by ljc
8/05

Summary: This is, first and foremost, a story about a sentinel and guide - “our” sentinel and guide. It is also AU, and is Science Fiction, but then “The Sentinel” is, too. the 'science' is only a device to frame the story around. One very minor canon character dies, as does one OC, and 'others'.

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>1.< Prologue

There have always been legends. The far flung peoples of the human race were highly technological, civilized beings traveling between stars through the underrated miracles of jump space portals. They traveled and settled and spun through their civilization with hardly a thought to the wonders that made it all possible. Their lives wrapped in human made cocoons that protected their fragile beings from contact with, or interaction with, or even much notice of, the cosmos around them.

But legends still made the rounds of the ports. One of the latest additions was of an Allied Systems jump pilot, lost they said, for a local time of eighteen days during what was supposed to be an instantaneous jump. But maybe something happened, maybe it didn't. Exploratory Jumpship Captain James Ellison told his wild story ... many times ... then requested discharge.

Ellison was a respected pilot, his family's name among the elite of the Allied Systems government. The discharge was approved. Ellison retreated to a family owned ship in near isolation. But whispers of his wild tale circulated, while Ellison continued his search of the jump points. For a wild tale? For vindication? There were whispers that the wealthy family paid off a crazy son and the son was left to wander, and search.


>2.<

Megan Connor was relaxing at her work station, guiding her ship, A. S. The Walkabout, through the last stages of a centuries old, proven jump point. She expected no problems. She'd taken a promotion to captain the huge freighter, not realizing how boring it could be. The crew was small, the cargo bays vast. And although the running time for a trip wasn't much longer than for a luxury yacht, there were few amenities, and practically no chance for meeting any passengers. Only the poorest citizens took the extra time for travel when they could be at their destination sooner, and in more comfort.

But this time out, she did have two passengers, and they were lively and interesting, if not exactly in the mainstream of society. They were headed on a slightly indirect and leisurely route to the far distant Rainbow Meadow Habitat. She'd never been there since they were a self-sufficient and privately chartered habitat, in no need of the heavy cargo loads The Walkabout could deliver. She had to smile at the thought of the Habitat. She'd heard some interesting stories.

She turned her thoughts to jump arrival. Coming out of jump was routine, as complex as stepping out of a lift tube. But not today.

A red light flashed.

“Oh bloody hell!” Megan muttered. “Joel, Rhonda. Emergency! To stations.” When the chaos that greeted this insystem jump became clearer, Megan sent orders flying to boost at top speed. To flee. There was no safe harbor, or station, or planet. No hope. Not here.

They fled on what she could only hope was a safe heading, the next one programmed into the navigation computer, carrying her cargo, her tiny group of humanity, and a message. A desperate message that had been sent ranging throughout the system and beyond. Those it reached took what they had time to grasp and carried it outward, fleeing the center of their mother galaxy.

Destruction raced behind them, tearing space/time in the cataclysm. If the message was correct ... if what she had observed was correct ... where in this galaxy was safety? And how much time did they have to find it? Was there a place to retreat to?

Megan worked feverishly to analyze the message and the coordinates. If she could gain them some time .... Already the central worlds of the Allied Systems were breached.


>3.< Interlude 1

No defense could withstand the fury of quantum physics run amok. As galaxies aged, small black holes naturally form from dense collapsing stars. The home galaxy was type AGN, active galactic nucleus. At it's center was a supermassive black hole. Messages had flown over the communications network. There was no time for speculation then, but later analysis noted the destabilization of one or more of the black holes near the jets radiating from their AGN. But how had they caused galaxy-wide destruction so fast? Had they somehow reached through the known jump points? Or had they forged their own shortcuts through space and time?


>4.<

Jim Ellison woke abruptly from his trance. Henri was shaking his arm none too gently, “Damn it Jim. Finally. You cut it close my friend. We're coming up on your father's yacht. They've asked for your clearance code. They're going to shoot first and ask questions later if you don't answer in your own voice. Come on!”

Jim struggled to maintain calm, “I'm on it H. Let's go.” Another fugue state so close to the last was unusual. He tried to be more careful than that. But this one carried a feeling of great dread that seemed closer in time and space than the last one.

The meeting with William and Steven was something he'd never have considered without the first vision. He knew all too well that his father and brother thought he was crazy, but he had to do this, and there was not much time for finesse. “H, you understand I have to try to save them. I need your help or I wouldn't ask, my friend. I know you could get in trouble if I'm wrong, but I've left a logged statement relieving you of any responsibility. But I swear I said the truth H. You've been with me long enough to know me. Something terrible is happening and I know no one will believe me, not even my own family. I just want to say thanks for coming along. And ... if they catch on and stop me then I want you to go on. Promise.”

“Jim you know I'd follow you anywhere. You aren't the type to cry wolf. If you're right about a coming disaster I'm the one that has to thank you. That's my family back there in our quarters. Let's get on with this,” Henri answered grimly. “I'll contact Sally like we planned and get her aboard to visit Serena and the kids. You work on getting William and Steven here.”

Jim clenched his jaw. His dad and his brother were not going to be happy at his deception. If this turned out wrong he'd be locked away for sure this time. Just another crazy relative, put in a sanitarium for the good of himself and his family. And the good Ellison name.

Jim could only think of one reason to give to entice his father to visit his sleek exploratory jump ship, the XJ-Fuga, an appeal to greed. Not that his father wasn't generous to charities and those less fortunate, but if it looked good for his reputation, so much the better. So, a good business opportunity was always a good lure, and the prospect of a new trade item from a backwater planet proved sufficient for the task.

When the Ellisons came aboard, Jim gave Henri a pre-arranged signal to send a message to the captain of the family's yacht, the A. S. Ellison's Enterprise, that would explain their new slow, deceptively decorous, trajectory.

Of course, when Jim couldn't produce the 'trade item', all hell broke loose. William was furious and Steven was worried and both turned humoring, then gently coaxing, then commanding.

Jim tried only one short explanation then gave up. He turned up his own 'Ellison command voice', “Dad, Steven. This is not kidnapping. 'This' is a rescue. And if I'm crazy you can lock me up later. Sally is also on board. When we're a safe distance away I'll contact the yacht so they can follow, but not stop us. There 'is' danger.” More softly he added, “You're my family. You must know I wouldn't harm you. My friend Henri is navigating but I should get up there to help. His family is on board also.”

Henri sounded the klaxon. Too soon. Jump was imminent.

“Jim! Emergency stations,” warned Henri.

Jim slapped the com panel on the wall, “Henri, send the warning message and the coordinates. Now!” And he raced to his jump station, leaving the others to sort themselves out. Even as routine as space travel was, safety drills were still part of that routine.

<>

William, Steven and Sally were shaken by the news. The messages were played for them and Serena. People known to the Ellisons were recognized in the messages. Indeed, those well known in the Allied Systems government lent their faces to the warnings, fearing they would be deemed hoaxes otherwise.

They were all refugees now.


>5.<

Rafe tugged at his collar, smoothed his immaculate hair and set out for his duty shift on the luxury liner A. S. Gaia. He reported to his station for jump arrival. The Captain was pacing the deck as usual. Captain Banks was always serious about jump point arrival and departure. He knew there was little risk, but it was the riskiest part of the trip. He was quite willing to leave passenger coddling to his dapper First Officer, Rafe. Rafe enjoyed that kind of thing.

“Captain, a call for you sir,” said one of the junior officers.

“Captain Banks speaking,” he said in his 'I am in control' tone.

“Uh, Dad? Uh, sorry to bother you. I knew you'd be getting close to dock now. Um, Mom's waiting to talk to you. About me probably. I guess I've been a pain lately. But honest, I was just excited about this trip with you. But I thought I'd better warn you ahead of time,” said Daryl.

Captain Simon Banks groaned inwardly. Joan, waiting to talk, was 'not' what he wanted to hear. “Daryl, son. It's good to hear from you. Thanks for the 'warning' but your mom and I will straighten out whatever needs straightening. Don't worry. I'm looking forward to this trip. I'll see you in about an hour. Bye son.”

<>

Docking was as chaotic as usual. Simon was glad, even eager to do his last shipboard obligation to his passengers as he presided over their orderly, if somewhat frazzled departures. That was because he was waiting to take his son aboard. Since he and Joan had gone their separate ways, he'd seen too little of the boy. He'd surely grown during this last separation.

He saw Joan approaching with a grim expression. He calmed himself. He wouldn't let her goad him into an argument that would give her any excuse to disrupt Daryl's visit.

Simon greeted Daryl with a big hug, which the boy seemed a bit embarrassed about. Teenagers, he sighed. He sent Daryl to quarters to get him out of the line of fire and escorted Joan to his office.

Simon was rather surprised that Joan only wanted to warn Simon of Daryl's attitude lately. She was afraid that, given the run of the ship, he might get into trouble. Simon promised to watch him carefully and to have some serious talks with the boy. Joan seemed grateful, which totally threw off Simon's expectations, but she left happy. Simon was glad the expected strained confrontation hadn't happened.

He went to find his son.

<>

Since disembarkation, Simon was free to have Daryl on the bridge with him. With passengers aboard, that would have been against procedure. This was the first time that Daryl could watch the ship as it was maneuvered to take on supplies and cargo for the coming trip. Everything ran smoothly. The big liner moved out of dock and into an orbit to dock with the planetary station.

As with other of the Allied Systems planetary defenses, the warnings came almost too late. Simon, as Captain, had only moments to react. He headed the ship outward on the jump already programmed. Others were not so fast. Nor so lucky. Nor did their Captains make the correct, excruciating decisions.

Simon watched the newscasts with Daryl at his side. Chaos. Riot. Death and destruction. Swift and final. There was open weeping on the bridge.


>6.< Interlude 2

The destruction swept outward. System after system became darkened and dead. The ships that did escape, could only flee further, until equipment breakdown or simply the wrong jump landed them at the end of their journey. The destruction had engulfed the heart of the galaxy and spread like a pandemic to the fringes. For most, escape was futile. For a few, there was a glimmer of hope.


>7.<

“But Megan, listen please,” Blair begged. “Rainbow Meadow Habitat is near this trajectory. We can save them. Please Megan. And they'll have supplies we can use.”

Megan thought the matter over. She'd seen the frantic newscasts. Everyone aboard had. She had their opinions. Joel and Rhonda, Naomi and Blair all wanted desperately to save something. Someone. But the whole habitat? Was it feasible? And the habitat dwellers were aware of the newscasts too. Would they be reasonable? Would they panic? Would that decision kill them all? She decided she had to try. This wasn't like the first panicked reactions. They 'did' have a little time. She set things in motion.

Naomi and Blair contacted the habitat. Plans were made. Anything that could be packed for cargo pod storage was prioritized. Lists ... ah, bureaucracy, even there on Rainbow Meadow Habitat. Lists were made. Lists were prioritized. 1. Essential personnel, and children and supplies to feed and protect 'list one'. 2. All other people and more supplies to feed and protect 'list two'. 3. Equipment that was nearly essential. Lists ad infinitum, till the last blade of grass was accounted.

Joel and Rhonda left the habitat lists to them. They made their own plans. If all came to naught, they meant to save the children, for however long their luck held. With Megan's approval, they set the mechanicals to rigging the innermost pods for very basic living quarters, moving nonessential equipment to the doors and pushing them into the void.

Blair became their liaison with Rainbow Meadow. He knew the people. He knew when and whom to push. And he did it ruthlessly. Megan came upon him one night out. He'd tucked himself into a corner of the com station and was weeping, quietly. Megan could guess the problem. She sank wearily down beside him.

“We're not going to be able to take them all are we?” she said wearily.

Blair swallowed and lifted grief-stricken eyes, “They're family Megan. How can we choose? Who lives and who dies? I can't ... I can't.”

Megan looked into a distance unseen in the close quarters of this room. “Don't worry about it mate. I've got it handled. I'm the Captain of this ship. The decision is mine. Not yours,” and she slowly rose and left.


>8.<

Blair spoke calmly to the children and they gathered around, glad to see Blair after his long absence. He sat with the children trying to calm them. “Sing to us Blair. Please sing to us. A new song ....”

Blair thought a moment, “Well, this is really a very old song, but I think you've probably never heard these words. You remember 'Wayfarin' Stranger'?” He waited for their nods, and 'yes Blair'. “This is going to be you very soon. I want you to be very brave, and grown up when it's time to leave, okay?” More nods, but silence this time, so Blair began to sing 'Wayfarin' Spacer'.

I'm just a poor wayfarin' spacer
A' travelin' through the galaxy
And there's no heat nor cold nor vacuum
No fallin' free can frighten me.

I'm just a goin' into orbit
A' blastin' off to deepest space
I'm goin' where the stars are burnin'
Out where uncharted planets race.*

<>

The scene was chaotic on the habitat as time passed too swiftly. It was to be expected. What was unexpected was the cessation of that chaos when departure time arrived. Groups of young stationers led the children aboard. Among the others were tearful goodbyes and embraces. Blair came to Megan then, “Naomi and I are staying, Captain Connor. It has been an honor to know you.”

Megan was astonished, and aggrieved. She knew she couldn't argue. So many were staying. Naomi and Blair stood with arms clasped around each other's waists. Megan turned quickly and left before her composure was surely lost.

Joel came to her with the 'lists'. “You know Captain, they can't survive with what they left on the habitat. There's no way,” he objected.

Megan gave him a hard, unrelenting glare, and he fell silent and turned away. She saw Rhonda grasp his hand in shared grief. Megan's true thoughts she kept to herself. There was no sure way to survive, but they'd keep on trying.

They'd begun to line up for jump when ...


>9.<

A jump arrival was noted. And as the next several hours passed, another. And others. Ships. Dozens, large and small. A miracle. And pitifully few. The outer fringes of the darkness left few places to run to except Rainbow Meadow and a few other forlorn, dead end outposts.

Messages passed. The A. S. Gaia had arrived nearly empty, was in excellent condition and had supplies. They had very little time, but Megan's crew and the habitat dwellers had a little experience with lists. Crews and stationers were shifted. Essential foodstuffs and equipment, too. It was decided to abandon several smaller, damaged ships, and they were quickly stripped of anything useful that wasn't welded down, and some that was, like power generators, life support systems and the like.

Several small jumps were soon initiated to gain distance and time from the encroaching blackness at the heart of the galaxy. It was also necessary to coordinate the several ships trajectories, for safety's sake, if they intended to travel together.

James Ellison requested a meeting aboard the A. S. Gaia, a more neutral setting than William's ship.


>10.<

Blair had come as one of the representatives of the stationers, who had been placed on several of the ships. By Allied Systems law the authority of the ship captains was incontestable. But these were unparalleled times and the survivors wanted and needed to be kept apprised of any decisions.

The meeting was held in a large conference room with Captain Simon Banks presiding.

“Ladies and gentlemen, let's keep this meeting orderly and we can keep it less formal. We'll hear all suggestions, but if there are any complaints I'd like them postponed or directed to your own Captain unless they're life endangering ....”

<>

The meeting stalled at the decision of the next jump point. There were several choices. None better or worse than the other. But the problem was ... where would they go then?

James Ellison stood to face Captain Banks, “I don't know if you know me, sir ....”

Captain Banks leaned back and regarded the younger man with a doubtful expression, “I have heard 'The Legend of Jump Pilot Captain Ellison'. There are few who haven't. If you have a suggestion, we'll listen.”

Jim released a held breath, “Many people wouldn't even listen, Captain. Thank you.” Looking to his father, “As William and Steven Ellison, and my copilot Henri Brown can attest, I 'knew' ... somehow ... about a coming disaster.”

There was a rising murmur that Simon silenced with a wave. He spoke gravely, and his anger was barely controlled, “Go on Captain Ellison. Since two of your witnesses are present and haven't disagreed, I think we need to know more.”

“Mr. Ellison,” Simon had turned to William, “Henri Brown is your son's copilot. If you believe he would disagree with your son's statements in any way, I expect you to make it known to this group. Do you understand, sir?”

William stood and gave a dignified and respectful short bow to the Captain, “My son is telling the truth Captain Banks. You have my word.”

Jim placed his fingertips on the table as he stood trying to order his thoughts, grateful for his father's support at last. Then attention turned back to him. “I think that the 'knowing' about the disaster is somehow tied up with the legend. It's true that I was lost. But, I was lost only to this space, not the other ... 'otherspace' I've always called it. The jump there is unlike any other jump recorded and I never discovered any known astronomical markers for our own space. That day I made an exploratory jump, trying out new coordinates the scientists agreed should have been an alternate route to a trade hub. There were support vessels and crews that witnessed it. I did make the jump Captain. It just took me eighteen days to find the return route.”

Simon considered the serious man before him, “Why were you discharged? What about the wild rumors? And how exactly did you know about the coming disaster.” Simon leaned forward to ask this last question, “And why did you give no warning?”

Jim stilled, “I'll answer your last question with a question of my own ... would 'you' have believed me, sir?” ... Softly, “I thought not. And truthfully, I had almost as little warning as anyone else. And I knew only of great danger, not what the danger was. I don't know if even I would have believed the scope of it myself.”

He breathed deeply before he could continue, “My last official jump, the one to 'otherspace' ... they wouldn't listen. Allied System's officials had never encountered the 'otherspace' before. But I could 'see' the pattern in jump space Captain. I could 'see' it! I led another crew to the 'otherspace' juncture and they said I was crazy. It didn't exist. I wasn't allowed to touch the controls on that flight. They didn't believe me. I left because I had to try on my own. I've been there Captain, with Henri Brown, my copilot. Many times. I searched for jumps to a system, a planet. Captain, on my last trip ... I found one. A planet. I know I'm asking a lot Captain Banks. I'm not just asking for you to believe me, I'm asking for a volunteer to go with me. Perhaps someone with planetary ecology experience.”

Captain Banks looked puzzled, “Not your copilot Captain Ellison? Not any copilot? Why?”

Jim answered fervently, “Henri Brown is a good man and my friend. But he has a wife and children. I can't guess what, if anything, has happened to 'otherspace'. I'd rather take only one other person on a scouting mission, and preferably someone that knows a planetary ecology. Someone that has some judgement of natural processes. Someone that could judge the merits of a planet in this otherspace. Most of us here have spent little time on a planet. It's one reason we survived.”

He stiffened as he continued, “And also because a different copilot wouldn't believe. He'd try to stop me from taking that juncture. I need a steady man. An honest man. And to be truthful, a brave man. It's not easy to ride with someone other people believe is crazy. And it's a rather wild ride Captain to the other side.”

Simon hesitated, “There's one question you didn't answer. 'How' did you know of the ... disaster?”

Jim swallowed hard as he looked to William and Steven, then directly to Captain Banks, and admitted, “Honestly Captain, I don't know. All I'm sure of is that if I'm not careful I can fall into a fugue state, and during one of those episodes I got a great feeling of dread, of danger. I told Henri and he gathered his family quickly aboard my jump ship and we jumped directly to my family's location. Even though I'm very careful I had another episode before our arrival, and the feeling was worse.”

“Is it a side-effect of this otherspace? You're asking a volunteer to risk ...” began Simon angrily.

“NO! Henri has shown no sign of it.” Jim let out a sigh as he confessed, “My medical and service records will show that I was born with a sensory anomalie that was never a problem until after that jump. The volunteer would have to work with me to make sure he can break through the fugue state. I can force a fugue to test it. We'll both know if it will work before we'd attempt it. I don't want to risk anyone else either,” Jim replied adamantly.

Simon stilled as his mind raced. He 'had' to agree. Their little fleet was boxed in by the galaxy-wide disaster. Jump coordinates to another galaxy had never been discovered. There was only the cold, unforgiving dark between the disaster in their own galaxy and another galaxy lifetimes away. They wouldn't survive a trip of that scope. But he couldn't risk any of the ship's officers. Their training was essential to survival. He didn't want to even risk this 'crazy man'. But he'd heard the legend. And the rumors. By all appearances, and the witnesses apparent agreement, this could all be true. And he 'would' interview Henri Brown in private before allowing a jump. Could he risk another life, on a 'crazy' possibility? Would he even get a volunteer?

“Captain, I volunteer,” spoke a quiet young voice among the stationers. “I have University degrees in several subjects, Captain. I am not a fool. But I don't think I'm particularly brave. But what 'are' the options? I was raised on Rainbow Meadow Habitat, among other places.” He smiled as if in recollection, and said to the listeners, “My mother and I moved a lot. I have lived in several different ecosystems, dozens if you count various so-called 'natural' space-based habitats. I can perform whatever tests others deem necessary. But consider this Captain Banks, even if the planet is not habitable, at least we'd have a living ecology to help sustain our own.”

Megan spoke quietly, “Captain, don't let this young man fool you. He was one of the people who chose to stay behind on Rainbow Meadow Habitat.”

Well, two brave men. Or two crazy men. He hated to make the decision that could cause the loss of either of them. “Alright gentlemen. But Captain Ellison, you'll need a copilot. I have to insist that Henri Brown accompany you on this trip. You'll need to take a shuttle down to the planet. If you don't make it back, we'll still need a report and the telemetry from space to base our decision on. So, you have my approval, with that condition, unless there are dissenters.”

Jim stared down his father.

Blair gripped Naomi's hand and smiled at her.


>11.<

Blair and Jim entered the airlock to Jim's exploratory jumpship, XJ-Fuga.

“There's a small passenger cabin just aft of the galley. Do whatever you need to get settled. I'll fix something to drink. Would you like coffee, tea?” asked Jim.

Blair turned to Jim, “Tea would be fine. I don't exactly have anything to settle. I'll just toss my backpack in a locker and be right out. I'm a little nervous about our upcoming jump. I probably have a few thousand questions bouncing around in my head right now. I'd like to hear what to expect. So much is riding on this trip Captain Ellison.”

Jim looked steadily at his new shipmate, then added with a small grin, “I know, Blair. And call me Jim. It's a small ship. We'll be bumping into each other a lot. Meet me in the galley and we can talk.”

Blair was back in a moment and they sat in the small galley. Blair asked, “Where were you when you went into the fugue that gave you the warning?”

Jim answered, literally, “On the bridge ...”

Blair smiled and shook his head, “No, where in space?”

Jim grinned. “Oh. Pendergrast Station. That's where Henri's family stays ... stayed, between trips. We were lucky they were so close,” he whispered grimly.

Blair's eyes lost their focus, “We'd just arrived insystem at Cascade .... We'd never have made it if we'd already docked at station. Everything happened so fast. Was it just luck, Jim? My mom would say it's a result of our karma.”

Jim shook his head, “I don't know about karma. But so many strange things have happened in the last few years that I hardly know what to think anymore. The only thing I'm sure of is that we have a long struggle ahead. It won't be easy, even if we have a viable planet within reach.”

Blair and Jim put their cups away, old habits for living in a suddenly movable habitat.

Blair asked, “What brings on the fugue state Jim? You said you could force it.”

“Well, the doctors told my father that I had unusually sharp senses when I was a child. The senses never gave me trouble until I found the route to otherspace. Since then they've been even more acute. A sharp sound, smell, taste, or a bright light, or an interesting texture or something painful ... they can all cause a fugue unless I'm careful. Dad ... well I heard him ask the Allied System's doctors if maybe I'd been changed, if I had mutated into something freakish. I think that's when I decided to take the medical discharge,” Jim admitted hesitantly.

Blair said, “I'm sorry you heard his remarks Jim. I can't guess what his thoughts were at the time. Just remember he stood by you today at the meeting .... Uh, look, we've gotten to chat for a bit, but we really don't have much time. Maybe I should be helping Henri with the gear for the ecological assessment.”

Jim grinned, then his smile faded, “Henri's probably got it all packed away by now. I think he's just saying goodbye to his family.”

Blair got a faraway look and said, “Naomi's my only family. She wasn't too happy about my going with you. I'm only sorry that Captain Banks insisted that Henri go too.”

Jim said, “I know Captain Banks has a point. But Henri's my friend and he stuck by me when a lot of others turned their backs on me.”

Blair looked concerned, “What if ... no, never mind.”

“No, say it. If you have any doubts or questions, don't hesitate to tell me,” encouraged Jim.

“Well, can anyone else pull you out of a fugue? You seemed to expect that any volunteer ought to be able to do it. I thought, if something happened, I might have to do it and maybe we should give it a try before we leave, if you're willing. But is it actually possible? Has anyone else done it?” asked Blair in a rush.

“Yeah, Dad and Steve, and Sally can bring me out pretty quickly. About as quickly as Henri. But Henri and I have worked closely for a while now and I'm used to responding to him. When I was with the Allied Systems fleet, there was never a problem. I think the senses have become sharper since my trip to otherspace.”

Blair thought a moment, “Do you think we have time for a trial? I'd feel better if I knew I could do this for you. I mean, you are the pilot. Even though I know Henri's a great pilot himself I'd feel better knowing I could 'wake you up'. We don't know what's happened on the other side of the jump.”

Jim nodded, “It's not a bad idea. Let's get Henri in here to observe, just in case you can't wake me in a reasonable time.”

Jim sent a com call to Henri who arrived out of breath and with a reserved demeanor.

“Sorry to take you away from Serena and the kids H. Blair wanted to try to bring me out of a fugue before we take off. I thought it would be good to know if he can do it. We're scheduled to leave soon anyway ... sorry to cut your time short with the family,” Jim finished with regret.

Henri let out a sigh, “I'm just glad we're together. Let's hope 'otherspace' escaped the events in this space. Blair, good to meet you. Heh, you're going to get a very interesting ride.”

Jim turned to Blair, “Look, do you have something I could use to focus on? I don't want to become accustomed to going into a fugue on something familiar.”

Blair thought and retrieved his backpack, “How good can you focus? Can you narrow in on a taste? That would be something you might encounter again, but not while you're working jump controls.”

Jim, “Yeah, that sounds good. But what?”

Blair brought out a packet of herbs, “I use herbal remedies when I can. This sage ...”

“Whoa, I think you can leave it in the package,” Jim's eyes were watering.

Blair said doubtfully, “Well, we could try smell.”

Jim hurriedly added, “You don't need to bring it any closer. I can focus on it enough from right there.” He settled back and breathed shallowly, nose wrinkling. A big sneeze followed. “It's okay. I can do this.” He slowed his breathing and stilled as his focus narrowed.

Blair watched in amazement, “Jim? Oh man. Henri, he's under! Uh, Jim, wake up now. It's okay to wake up.” He reached out to gently rub his hand on Jim's forearm, and Jim woke, with a great sucking breath and several loud sneezes.

“Put it away Blair. Put it away,” Jim said wiping his tearing eyes.

“Sorry Jim,” said Blair as he hurriedly packed away the sage. “I thought I should leave the sage out until you woke up since I can't 'pack up' everything that might cause a fugue in the future.”

Henri stood in the doorway. He said in awe, “Jim, I don't believe it! You were gone, all the way. That sage must be powerful stuff, I think you almost stopped breathing! But Blair brought you right back, in just seconds. If this works every time, he's a natural. Keep him,” and Henri was only partially joking.


>12.<

Naomi and Blair had meditated together before he left A. S. Gaia. “Blair, your aura is so beautiful. You 'will' come back. I won't dwell on any other outcome,” and she had kissed and hugged him, “I'll be here when you return.”

Simon, aboard the A. S. Gaia, gave the final order for this desperate mission. “Fair winds, gentlemen,” he added, a blessing whose origin from ancient planetary sailing ships had been appropriated by the sailors of space.

Megan, as Captain of A. S.The Walkabout, sent, “Good luck, mates.”

William Ellison was back aboard his yacht, the Ellison's Enterprise with several new passengers, Henri's wife Serena and their children. He and Steven stood together, fearing for Jim, but also sent messages. “Come back safe Jimmy.” “I'd better see you soon, brother.”


>13.<

Jim set the controls to begin the jump sequence with Henri's capable help. Blair sat directly behind Jim in an observer's seat.

Blair's knee bounced in his nervousness, “So Jim. You can 'see' this path? What does it look like man?”

Jim managed a grin for his observer on this run, before turning serious, “Have you ever been on the bridge during a jump? I can't remember how many times I've tried to describe it for someone ... well, this 'path' is ... well, I can see it but it's like seeing a taste, like salsa, and there's a smell ... clean. Not like 'no' smell but ... I know that sounds crazy,” Jim shook his head as he started to turn away, “Sorry, I never could really describe it.”

Blair looked surprised, “How does it feel Jim? And do you hear anything odd?”

Jim didn't even have to think about it, “It feels smooth, like oil on your fingers. And I hear a sound so deep it seems to rattle me down to my core.” Jim gave a little shiver as the memories awoke the same responses as the actual jump.

Blair exclaimed, “That's why! It's your sharper senses. It takes them all. Right? There's an element of each: light, sound, taste, smell, and touch. Right? And since you've been along that path, it must have sensitized them. Maybe other people ... no. Henri didn't see the route, ever. Did you Henri?”

Jim and Henri exchanged a look and then Jim grinned in awe at Blair, “I think you may have something there kid. But I started with sharper senses and I didn't see the path until I'd been a pilot for years. Maybe Henri could someday learn the path, too. If we get the chance. It's time Chief. Hang on.”


>14.<

Jim just knew he was going to be black and blue. He pried Blair's fingers off his arm. “I didn't mean 'hang on' Chief,” then grinned, “It's not like the usual kiddie-ride type of jump.”

Blair regained his calm and punched Jim in the arm, “You could have warned me! Ouch,” and he waved his damaged hand as Jim rubbed his biceps.

Jim laughed, “Don't hit the pilot. We've got another jump coming up to reach the planet. It's set into the automatic controls. It won't be as spectacular. This one is already in otherspace. Just be glad you don't have sharper senses, like me.”

Blair shook his head, “Are you kidding! That would be so cool!”

Jim grinned and said, “Coming up on the mark ...”


>15.<

Ahead of them hung a glorious blue-green marble ... just the right size. Just the right distance from it's sun. From space ... it looked just right from any angle. And from telemetry analyses ... perfect again.

They picked a tectonically stable region, in a lush greenbelt of the planet. Jim insisted that Henri be the one to stay with the ship. Landing a shuttle pod was chancy, but so was this whole trip. They needed to be sure, that it at least wasn't instantly deadly for some alien and unforeseeable reason. Blair insisted on making the first foray after all signs were favorable. Jim insisted on the environmental suit.

“Jim man, this is incredible. I can't wait till you see this! There must be a million types of flora.” Smack.

Jim sat up sharply, “Blair? Blair? Answer me, damn it!”

“Jim? I'm okay. I think. Yeah. You know the million types of flora? I think there must be a billion types of fauna. Mostly the flying kind. They think I'm lunch,” said Blair. He windmilled his arms trying to shoo all the flying fauna away.

Jim reacted, “Get in here! Now! No questions! Do it! We don't know what they're capable of. Come on, move it.” Jim met Blair at the closed inner airlock door.

“Jim, they're just insects. Life! It's incredible,” Blair enthused.

While Blair was still in the airlock Jim informed him, “Don't remove your suit! I'm hitting the decontamination sequence. Ready? Now!”

<>

Blair groused as he climbed out of his gear, “Insects, Jim. Just insects. I admit I 'could' have had a nasty reaction, but the bioshield should have been enough. Decon was overkill.”

Jim pulled him over to a seat, and spelled out the one immutable fact of life for an exploratory point man. “All risks are maximum until proven otherwise.” It was a corollary to the famous law by Murphy**.


>16.<

After returning to the ship, Henri and Jim hovered over the instrumentation that Blair watched so carefully. Jim leaned worriedly over Blair's shoulder, “Is it enough Chief? Can we survive here?”

Blair smiled, “We'll take the data back. Let them check it and the samples. But I think you did it man. This looks a lot more promising than we had reason to hope for. You must know they'd all be happy for a stable station orbit right now! Look out there Jim. That's our new home.”

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finis Part 1 A




Click here for Part 1 B: http://1sentinel1guide.livejournal.com/8041.html


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Sun, Feb. 15th, 2009, 07:16 pm
XJ-Fuga Part 1 B

XJ-Fuga Part 1 B

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>17.< Interlude 3

The discussions hadn't ended with the departure of the XJ-Fuga and it's three man crew. The captains and the stationers and assorted passengers and crew had a lot of decisions to make, both if the Fuga returned and if it did not. Those decisions would need to be implemented 'very' soon.

All the while, they watched the destruction draw closer.


>18.<

Simon, with the aid of the other captains, assigned committees to work on set problems: fuel allocations; inventories of skills and educational and training supplies; inventories of supplies that were consumable and replenishable; inventories of those supplies that were more lasting, and those with fairly definable failure rates; supplies necessary for long-term hydroponics or land (planet) based supply; supplies they were completely lacking or that were in insufficient supply, and recommendations in either event. And ... what could be left behind if they were forced to consolidate and run once more.

Simon had already been forced to make hard decisions. The decisions were even more difficult because his son was too silent. Daryl had witnessed a great disaster, lost his mother ... but he'd made no accusations. He'd expressed no hatred. And no grief. He'd have to share his grief soon. Holding all that inside was not a good thing. Simon decided his own roiling stomach was evidence of that. He remembered his last meeting with Joan and he knew he would have his own price to pay.

Right now Simon had to prepare the small fleet for more adversity. But his next decisions were going to be based on all the information, all the extrapolations, all the simulations, and all the just plain guesswork his people could assemble. He considered himself lucky in the skills available. Perhaps, especially, with the Rainbow Meadow Habitat. Their skills were not in engineering but might prove more valuable. They knew hydroponics and food engineering from the soil up. They would be valuable skills on a new planet, a new station, or in the dark deep between the galaxies. And until the XJ-Fuga returned they had to plan for all eventualities.


>19.<

The trip back from otherspace was as spectacular to Blair as the trip out. The presentation of the reports and samples was descended upon with the speed of desperation. The devastation had not halted with their departure and their arrival had almost been too late. The small fleet had nearly been forced to move on.

With Blair's confirmation of the different effects of otherspace jumps, the reports on the planet, and the very existence of the samples from that planet, a decision was made. It was in fact the only viable option, and it had been discussed with desperate hope in their absence.


>20.<

The fleet made one more jump for breathing room as they prepared coordinates and trajectories for safe passage. James Ellison and Blair Sandburg were in the lead ship, with Henri as copilot. Jim and Henri both requested Blair's presence. They'd recognized that Blair's rapport with Jim was a definite asset; one they didn't want to pass up.

Jim, Blair and Henri met with the ship's officers and crews to warn them of differences in jump.

The only problem Jim foresaw was that they had to trust Exploratory Jump Captain Ellison.

“Captain, I have one more request. I would like to take one other ship through first, to make sure the combined jumps will have no effect on arrival. Then, I would ask that one of that crew return with us to confirm a safe jump,” said Jim seriously.

Simon replied gravely, “You needn't doubt that we will follow your lead Captain Ellison.”

Jim's expression was grim, “Into jump yes. But along a juncture you can't see? I remember those Allied Systems' jump officers, Captain Banks. Trust is just a word when faced with something you can't verify with your own senses or your own instruments. And it would be safer to jump two ships on the first try.”

Simon thought only a moment, and saw the truth and the pain in Captain Ellison's face, “You're right Captain, on both counts. We'll do it your way.”


>21.<

Joel Taggart was awed by the jump, and privately, he told Captain Banks that Ellison was right. Jumping into the unknown was bad enough, but going somewhere that your senses said didn't 'exist' in this space was a much more difficult proposition. Joel's official and private reports, to anyone who could make time to listen, were an added vote of confidence to follow Captain Ellison's 'legendary' route.

One last message was sent. The Captains and any person that might possibly be known widely within the Allied Systems, gathered to lend their presence, and their influence, to the substance of this final communication. The message was simple: there was this one more chance; just two jumps to a new found planet. They could only hope that any survivors would take that risk, and join them.

Arriving at the planet was almost anticlimactic.

But the view was everything they'd promised.


>22.<

Prudence kept them in space, in orbit. An alien biosphere wasn't something you jumped into without exhaustive study. Unfortunately that had to wait, so tantalizingly close and still out of reach. But it was logical that studies were commenced on weather patterns, orbital deviation, planetary neighbors, geologic stability, mineral distribution ... oh so many studies. It made people downright frustrated. And within a few months time, landings were attempted to gather more 'stuff' to study.

There was reason to be cautious, yet they'd survived such devastation, that a new beginning, a new life, was a temptation, and a dream.

When no new ships appeared it was finally decided that the population would split. They wouldn't risk all of the people on a single space station or on an unproven planet. Most of the Rainbow Meadow Habitat dwellers would relocate to their new planet, while the others would endeavor to build an orbital station, to continue their space-based civilization. Soon, training sessions were instituted for all essential professions.


>23.<

Henri and Jim trained Blair to be Jim's copilot. Jump pilots weren't going to be needed for the foreseeable future but knowledge and training were to be preserved, and shuttle pilots would be needed, which was Henri's choice. Medical training came from anyone in any field available. Luckily there were several medical personnel from the liner A. S. Gaia and other ships, and less traditional healers and midwives from Rainbow Meadow. Even Jim's survival/xenomedic training was valuable, especially for the new planet dwellers, as they would be located in several small enclaves to spread the risk.

Even William and Steven Ellison's business acumen would prove valuable. They knew the infrastructure of an economy, from suppliers of services and goods, through middlemen, to the buyers. And setting up a banking system couldn't be delayed too long either, although for now, everything was apportioned for need, and survival.

There was a lot to accomplish in a short time and with a small population to ensure survival.


>24.< Interlude 4

The former Habitat dwellers named the planet, Gaia, to Captain Simon Banks consternation. His ship, the A. S. Gaia, had been the logical choice for the beginnings of the planetary station and the stationers began calling it Gaia 1. Since he didn't have much choice in that Simon didn't fight it. He was even rather pleased after a while, after all, he 'was' the Captain. And he had a stable, and safe home for his son Daryl.

The other ship captains also dropped the Allied Systems designation, A. S.

Megan's cargo ship became the The Walkabout. Gaia 1 was going to be in stationary orbit around Gaia. Megan's ship was the next largest and a cargo hauler. It would make a good waystation further outsystem for mining operations and manufacturing. She had plans to add many more crew quarters, for family members, production staff and visiting miner crews. If they were going to be tied to an orbit that would range throughout the system, her crew, and herself, would want family along and more amenities than were presently available.

The smaller ships began plans of their own. Several like the Ellison's Enterprise, could make planetside landings, and were being converted to shuttles to carry goods and people. Others were never meant to fly in an atmosphere, but were adapted for mining, construction, and hauling cargo pods.

The future began to take on a shape that was recognizable.


>25.<

Blair enjoyed his new copilot status. It was certainly 'not' what he had envisioned for his future. He and Naomi had never set down roots, not even at the Habitat. But Jim was not just his captain, he was also his friend.

Blair had begun some serious research. The information network aboard Gaia 1 was downloaded and continuously updated to all ships capable of storing that amount of coded data. It contained everything the systems of the day could handle. He looked for mentions of Jim's abilities in the medical and historical database. He'd found a mention by a planetary explorer named R. Burton, from centuries ago. He'd rediscovered a lost planet, with a population that had reverted to the tribal stage. Blair thought, this anthropological database was quite interesting.

<>

Blair waved his hands, to emphasize his points, to his pilot, and friend as they walked the last corridor to the XJ-Fuga. Jim tried to hide his grin. Blair explained, “Burton said the people of the Chopec System had depended for generations on their watchmen. Actually I prefer the term sentinel. I mean he didn't just watch for bad weather, or enemies, or helped in the hunt for game. He watched out for everyone, man. He stood sentinel for the tribe and each individual member. Protecting them from injury, searching for lost members, spotting bad water or food, illness, you name it! The sentinel was the protector, that's a good description. They were amazing ...” stopping to stare at Jim, “You're amazing man. I mean, think about it, you saved us ... all that's left of the human race man, because your senses gave you the edge.”

Jim was embarrassed and he put his arm around Blair's shoulders to urge him on before people started to stare more than they were, “Come on Blair, let's go. We have a schedule to keep and weather patterns to avoid ... and cut out the 'saving the human race' stuff,” he whispered.

Blair seemed bent on his own cycle of thought. “But it 'isn't' just the senses is it?” he asked softly, in awe, “There's the visions too.”

Jim dragged him into the ship before he could say any more.

“Sandburg, stop it! I did what I had to do. Everyone did. We all ended up here together, so it worked out for us. Just remember, there were so many people, whole planets that were lost. I'm no hero. If anyone's the hero it's you. Without you and Megan's crew the Habitat would have been lost. You saved them. You made the choice to take the risk. Hell, you even chose to stay behind to save others, and don't deny it,” Jim said fiercely, giving Blair a little shake before he turned away to settle in for jump.

Blair was astonished, but still had more to say. He needed Jim to hear this, “Jim, you couldn't save everyone. And you took risks, too. Your family and Henri's were saved by your direct actions. You stood up at the meeting and risked further ridicule. I know the truth,” and he grinned as he reached out to punch his arm gently, “You're a hero man.”

Jim shook an exasperated head, “Just get in the copilot's seat.”

<>

Blair was excited about this visit to Naomi's new home. Well, her home for the moment. Blair had to wonder how long she'd stay in place this time. He thought sadly that there weren't many options now, but he brightened as they settled into their descent.


>26.<

The exhaustive studies had suggested a rainy north temperate region for one of the new settlements. It was colder than ship-normal, and was a wet region, but the ecologists thought it an easier problem to deal with than drought, the need for irrigation and the threat of flash fires over large areas that they had observed in drier regions. And the wild abundance of life in warmer climates had their own risks. Their resources were finite. Other groups had chosen different sites to settle. Two on each continent to hopefully prevent a disaster from sweeping over all of them.

Naomi stood watching for the shuttle carrying her son. She could hear a native creature howl in the distance, and she shivered. These 'wolves' as they called them, had stayed away from the settlement so far, as did most of the wildlife. Blair had been enthralled with them. Even Jim, a confirmed station dweller, had shown a keen interest, focusing his senses on a dark shape she had no hope of seeing at that range. But today she had the strangest feeling.

She stood worriedly looking at her watch. Jim was never overdue. She ran to the relay station, hoping it was just a schedule delay.


>27.<

Blair woke slowly, to a wet ticklish lapping on his cheek. He sat up with a yell, and tried to back up, but was propped against a log. “Jim? Hey Jim! Where are you man?” He heard Jim rushing headlong through the thick brush near their downed shuttle.

“Blair ... I'm coming. Don't move. If it hasn't hurt you yet, don't move. You probably don't want to startle it,” yelled Jim, which got the attention of the wolf. It gave Blair another lick and settled down beside him.

Jim halted at the sight, gulping for breath.

Blair looked just as astonished, “Jim? Where'd you get your friend?”

Jim felt the gentle bump as the big black cat, rubbed his thigh. He heard a deep rumble in it's chest. He hoped it was a good sign.

Blair felt the new sore spot on his head gingerly, “Jim, the animals at the settlement never came near the people. What do you think this means?”

Jim said, with exasperation, “I was raised in a megalopolis, and spent the rest of the time in space. Where would I learn about animals? You'd know more ... Wouldn't you?”

“The Habitat people were vegetarians Jim. And they didn't keep pets, it wasn't ecologically feasible to have to feed non-productive creatures. It would have been cool though, because I have seen them in zoos, and some smaller animals on some of the other habitats. You have to understand, Naomi was looking for enlightenment. Most places we traveled to were in space. A place where your spirit could roam free of the mundane planet-bound auras of masses of people ....”

Jim waved him to a stop, “Okay, okay. I get it. I think. We're both clueless. So now what?”

Blair reached down to tentatively pat the soft looking fur and was rewarded with an upward head butt. Blair turned a brilliant grin toward Jim.

The black cat, named jaguar by the biologists, didn't look as approachable as the wolf. When Jim didn't reach out for him the jaguar made it's own move, gently biting the cuff of his sleeve and tugging until Jim was forced to move with him. The wolf jumped up and bounded to the jaguar.

Blair looked in wonder at the creatures, “Jim? Are they intelligent?”

Jim grimaced at Blair, “It seems they want something. We have time to check it out. The locater device is sending it's signal but we'll have a while to wait. Thankfully the safety protocols worked during the crash. Is your head okay? You hit it pretty hard when you slipped on the way down from the hatch. Are you up to walking?”

Blair grinned, “After you man!”


>28.<

It was hot and humid, and both began to feel the effects quickly, but they pushed on with a little urging from their furry companions. They soon came upon blocks of stone, covered with mosses and vines, in tumbled heaps.

“Jim? This is incredible!” whispered Blair. “This looks like a human construction. Can that be possible? ... Never mind, no clue, like me.”

Blair scrambled over the nearer rubble and headed directly to the central building complex. “These look pretty primitive, Jim. You never saw these from orbit? Nobody got any indication from scans? We're going to have to talk to somebody about that. Jim? ... Oh, damn, he zoned. Jim, Jim, Jim ...,” in exasperation, “what am I going to do with you man? Come on wake up ....” and Jim collapsed into the arms of a very surprised younger and smaller man. They both hit the ground; Blair with a resounding, “Oof.” Blair managed to roll them to the side, caught his breath, checked Jim out for injury, and continued his attempts to wake him. He stopped when Jim started to come around, mumbling strange sounds.

“Jim? Are you with me big guy?” Blair asked as his sentinel became more aware.


>29.<

Jim seemed to take no notice of Blair. He stood slowly and made his way to, and into, the main building. He walked through the entryway, stopping only to look searchingly at the markings on the lintel, then progressed to the interior, his sentinel eyesight being of great help to him.

Blair stumbled worriedly along behind, “Jim? Come on Jim, talk to me. I don't understand. And I can't see worth a damn! Slow down!”

Blair noticed a lovely phosphorescent glow that would have distracted him if Jim wasn't continuing his trek and his mumbling. Blair heard the sound of water when he finally caught up to Jim. They entered the last room and stopped. Jim scanned the walls, “Blair. We have to get in the pools. Come on.”

Blair was stunned, “What!”

Jim finally turned to look at him, “Didn't you read the writing on the walls on the way in here? It's about us, a sentinel and a guide. Guide, that's you Blair. Come on in, the water's fine.”

“B-b-but Jim,” started Blair, but Jim didn't let him finish.


>30.<

Blair and Jim shared something incredible that day. There was a kaleidescope of sensations and images, ending in a blinding light. It would be some time before they began to understand the telescoped visions, both good and bad, and try to make sense of them. And the light ... something was odd there too.

It wasn't long before they began to live one of the visions, a nightmare surely.


>31.<

Blair and Jim were returning to their downed jump ship, “Man, Jim. These insects are eating me alive. I thought the bioshield would hold them back.” Blair swatted at them left and right, but slowed as he wobbled. “Jim, I feel itchy, and a little ... woozy,” Blair muttered as Jim caught him in a faint.

Luckily it didn't take long to get back to the ship, and Jim, being trained as a xenomedic plied Blair with every antiviral, antimicrobial, and antifungal product of their civilization. Then he added an antipruritic, an antihistamine, and an anti-inflammatory. When things got really serious he brought out their most powerful antigen. When he got desperate he administered an antiarrhythmic/anticonvulsive combo.

Blair slipped into a coma.

Jim heard Blair's heartbeat falter. “No. This can't be happening! This can't be happening!” Not after everything they'd been through! Jim had done everything modern civilization could offer. He wrapped his friend in his arms, whispering what few words of comfort he could manage. He heard one last stuttering beat, and leaned forward to place his forehead on Blair's. “No. Not this one too. No. I can't let him go ....” Blair was his friend, and he'd lost so many.

Blair's firm voice reverberated in his head, guiding him, “Jim. Listen to me. You have to bring me home Jim.” The light ... Jim recognized that it was the reason for their new connection as a feeling of warmth spread through him. He reached out uncertainly and placed his hands on the sides of Blair's face, and touched his forehead to Blair's. The light blinded him at first, then he saw the two animals that had greeted them leap toward them, into a merge of light, sound, taste, smell and touch. Jim grinned at his friend in profound relief as Blair opened his eyes.


>32.<

Jim cared for Blair until rescue arrived. They didn't share their experiences with anyone except Captain Banks and Henri Brown at first. Both their friends were astonished at the possibilities. And new rumors ran through the 'grapevine'. Sentinel and Guide became their unofficial, and much later, official titles.

Blair's enthusiasm was boundless. Jim tried to rein him in, afraid the excitement would be too much stress after his illness, his near death. Jim tried too hard perhaps because Blair's exasperation reached new heights.

“Jim, cut ... it ... out!” Blair exclaimed as he dragged his friend into their quarters aboard Gaia 1. “I'm alright. See! I'm right here and breathing and everything!”

Jim clenched his hands and sank into the cushions of the sofa. He looked distressed, and Blair relented from his annoyance. He asked, “Jim, this is too important. We have to explore this. You do agree ... don't you?”

“Blair, you almost died! And I've had enough of being called crazy. You don't understand. I don't want to 'explore' this!” Jim denied forcefully. “More visions. Everyone else has practically forgotten about that. They only remember that the legend of an otherspace route was true, and it saved their lives. More stories of visions will only make them think I really am crazy! Can't you try to understand my point of view?”

Blair was speechless, but only for a moment. He grabbed one of Jim's clenched hands and sat gently beside him, saying softly, “Jim ... you're my best friend. You're a hero to everyone here, but most of all to me. But I remember a stubborn, bull-headed Captain that searched for proof of that 'crazy man's' experience. I ... I'm just worried, that's all, Jim. I saw things that scared me. That have scared you. If we had had the time to explore those visions ... would you have done it to spare me the illness that almost killed me? I don't want to look back and have regrets Jim, about what I might have been able to do to prevent some disaster. Look, I won't force you. I'll try to do this alone. But I do have to try. The visions have been warnings, right? First was the galaxy-wide disaster, then warnings about it closing in on you and your family, and then that one about me being ill. It's going to be frightening. And maybe knowing won't be enough,” at this Blair gulped and his voice began to shake, “but I've got to try Jim. I don't know if it will work for me alone, but don't ask me not to try. Please.”

Jim hung his head. His voice was choked as he answered, “And you call 'me' a hero. I won't let you face that alone Blair. We're in this together. All the way, my friend.”


>33.<

Jim and Blair, with the Captain's blessing and Henri providing transport, headed for the ruins they'd discovered. They took camping gear, and a med kit, although both had been vaccinated against all known allergens, pathogens, etc. that the fauna, and flora, could throw at them this time.

They met their wolf and jaguar hosts with cautious glee. Henri looked at them oddly. It took a while before they believed that Henri couldn't see the animals and for Henri to believe they weren't joking about their presence. That left them all subdued. Blair wondered what it all meant. Jim cringed inwardly at Henri's stare.

Blair and Jim set up camp with Henri's help, and then Henri wished them luck as he set about to take the shuttle to one of the settlements. He'd call in at regular intervals to make sure they were okay.

The sentinel and his guide comfortably settled in for the night. It wasn't unusual for Blair to 'sleep under the stars' in a habitat, but this was strange for both of them. These stars were 'up there' above them, rather than 'out there' with them. The universe seemed much bigger now with all humanity in only this one system. Jim pointed out the 'stars' new to the system, Gaia 1, The Walkabout, Ellison's Enterprise, and others. It was a while before they could sleep.

They had camped quite near the ruins. Blair made use of his studies in the anthropology and archeology databases to make notes and scans of the area, especially the words etched in the ruins that seemed so familiar to Jim. They sent reports hourly to Gaia 1, so that the information could be analyzed by the computer for anything unusual.

Several days passed in amassing information. There were figures painted and carved on the structures and on artifacts and statuary. It was all very interesting, but who were these 'people' and what happened to them?

From space, new scans were done. Only this one outpost was detected.

Jim and Blair delved into the temple writings, Jim translating everything for Blair. That report also was sent to Gaia 1. The computer came back with a match, a strange report from millenia ago of the 'cult' of the 'Eye of God'. In the early days of exploration there had been a 'visionary' who claimed a new path to enlightenment, through the Eye of God. There was no mention of the man, Incacha, only a few years later. They wondered if Gaia itself was the end of his search.


>34.< Interlude 5

Blair of course had a theory. It sounded strangely like the legend of Exploratory Jump Captain Ellison. It was a theory of senses folded and stretched in the jump between space and time. Senses of the body and senses of the mind.

The path to otherspace, the juncture that Jim had 'seen', could be the Eye of God in the story told by Incacha. But Blair had another notion.

The Eye of God could also have been the pools that imposed a burden of visions on sentinel and guide. What made the burden worthwhile was the connection it provided between those that 'see' and those that 'guide'.


>35.< Epilogue

When asked, Captain Banks would try to brush aside the spiritual side of the legend, but privately he had to wonder. Their own survival was a direct result ... and the sentinel and guide 'were' his friends. When it came down to it, Gaia 1 prospered, and that was proof enough for him.

The Walkabout traveled the planetary system of Gaia. It became a hub for commerce, manufacturing and travel. Families began to fill the roster of residents and visitors. Megan felt at ease with the legends, both past and present. To her and to many others it felt like the beginnings of a mythology of their own, separate from the past.

Naomi wandered Gaia with delight, seeking enlightenment in whatever direction the wind or inspiration took her.

Henri and Serena and children were among the lucky ones, a whole family unit saved. They, with the Ellisons, organized routes amongst the far-flung ships and stations of the refugees, forging a connection between the dispossessed.

Rafe married a miner's daughter and started a clanship that eventually sought the next star system, bringing their extended family with them.

Daryl followed in his father's footsteps, and huge they were. Love and respect, and shared grief and adversity healed them. Father and son remained close throughout their lives.

Jim and Blair ... their story ranged much further. Their explorations on Gaia had become legend. As their shared visions led them throughout Gaia's planetary system their legend only grew. They never dared take a trip back to their former space ... home space. The physical Eye of God was never traveled again. But the metaphysical Eye of God would always be a part of them, one that they would share with their descendents.

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finis part 1 B



Click here for Part 2: http://1sentinel1guide.livejournal.com/7336.html



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Sun, Feb. 15th, 2009, 06:42 pm
XJ-Fuga Part 2

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XJ-Fuga 2
by ljc
3/07

See Notes, Summary, Rating, Warning, and Disclaimer in Part 1.

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> > > > > > > > > > > >
Accepted:
The burden of visions was heavy for sentinel and guide.
> > > > > > > > > > > >


>Prologue<

Location: surface of the planet Gaia, temple ruins

“Jim, it's time to tell Simon 'all' of it,” argued Blair.

“It's not necessary, Chief. I don't think you understand what could happen. I don't think Simon will be able to keep this quiet.”

“This is important, Jim. We really need his support on this, and I just think it's time I took my share of the burden.”

Jim sighed deeply before answering, “I know you've seen some of what I've experienced but it won't be the same when it's on your own shoulders, Blair.”

“I know, but right now, it's all on yours,” he replied stubbornly.

Jim knew he might as well surrender to the inevitable concerning this long running difference of opinion. Time was running out. He sighed, nodded acceptance, then turned back to finish rolling up their sleeping bags while a visibly relieved Blair returned to stowing the rest of their gear in their permanent shelter.

They only used the shelter for sleeping in inclement weather. It didn't seem odd to them to prefer staying outdoors full time when on their new home, Gaia, even though both of them had spent most of their lives living in space, either on board a ship, station, or artificial habitat.

Since the exodus of all known survivors to Otherspace, Blair had done a lot of research in the data banks trying to find references to this planet, without much luck. He had theories but not much else. He did find a rare reference about Jim's abilities, and an ambiguous reference to the Eye of God. They weren't sure if the Eye of God was the jump space portal that had brought them to safety, or if it was the temple pools where they endured chaotic visions of the future. Either way, they were linked to this place, and Blair was linked to Jim. Their earliest trips here had proven that much to them.

They worked together as pilot and copilot of an experimental jumpship, the XJ-Fuga, that had no known working jump points except back to a ruined galaxy, but calculations were being worked on by the great computers aboard Gaia 1. Someday the human race would expand outward, if they survived long enough.

That's one reason they spent so much time here. Jim's visions, and Blair's, had come to them in a chaotic jumble. Their time here was spent in painstakingly revisiting those images. Jim's visions included sensory details. Blair's included all too cryptic subliminal whispers. Trying to interpret these incomplete forewarnings kept them very busy in these early stages of settlement in the Gaian planetary system.

They returned to the clearing where Henri's shuttle had settled in order to once again lift them back to the main station in orbit around Gaia.

“Hey, Jim. It's good to see you again,” said Henri.

“It's seems like a steady job agrees with you,” teased Jim.

“That it does, and Serena and the kids appreciate the regular hours.” Henri moved to open the hatch, “I never really had a job before this where I could get home regularly, you know, tuck the kids in at night.” Glancing quickly to Jim in apology, “Not that being your copilot was bad. It's just that this is a good life.” With a great sigh, “I feel kind of guilty, after ... everything.”

Blair said, “Don't Henri. This is our life now, and looking back won't help. We just have to deal with things the way they are,” at which Jim settled his arm over Blair's shoulder.

Henri wondered about the solemn look Blair gave Jim but didn't question them. They obviously had a lot on their minds. Reflecting on previous visits here, even after everything that had happened, he still wondered if they were ribbing him about being able to see their spirit animals. He wished he could ease their worries, but he was sure he didn't know the scope of the problems they were facing. He had long been aware of Jim's talents and they had confided to him about their shared visions. All he could do was accept Blair's affirmation, “I know you're right. Let's say we get this shuttle moving. I don't want to mess up that 'regular schedule' now, do I?”

They moved to their regular seats. They always joined Henri in the cockpit for these trips.

Henri called in to Control Central to notify them of approaching liftoff and estimated arrival time.

He didn't observe his passengers reactions. They both tensed at his spoken words, but neither said anything. They couldn't, not yet.


>1.<

Jim and Blair exited the shuttle. Henri stayed behind to finish lockdown and start the transfer of freight from the planet, Gaia. They headed toward their cabins, which were on Deck 3. It wasn't far from Control Central on Deck 1, which was their next destination.

Jim hesitated a moment outside their cabin door.

Blair asked softly, “Sense any problems?”

Jim just shrugged his shoulders and said tightly, “Not this trip, it seems. It's still early dayshift.”

“Well, at least we were right about that much. Let's stow our gear and head up to Central.”

Gaia 1 was almost as much their home as the planet was. They quickly settled their gear and headed for Deck 1. On board, in Central, they were Captain and Copilot.

Copilot Blair Sandburg struggled harder to keep up with Captain Ellison the closer they got to Control Central. He was worried that Jim might still be angry with him. He knew Jim was just trying to protect him. Unfortunately Blair had brought up old wounds with his insistence that they 'reveal all' to Captain Banks. He'd never meant to hurt Jim by implying that people still wouldn't believe an Experimental Jumpship Captain's 'crazy visions'.

He had just wanted to make it easier on Jim. He'd tried to explain that it would be easier to give warning ... and to be believed ... if it came from two sources, not one. He never meant to make Jim feel like a freak again. He never meant to remind him about the reactions of other people to his physical gifts and his visions back in their home galaxy.


>2.<

Jim finally reached Gaia 1's main offices and entered. He stood waiting for Blair, his face expressionless and his posture stiff. When a clerk asked their business, he asked to meet with Captain Banks.

“Of course, Captain Ellison. I'll see if he's free.”

It took only a moment before they were passed through to the Captain's office.

“Jim, Blair, it's good to see you. Have a seat, please. Would you like some refreshment?” Captain Simon Banks was glad to have the pair of them back on board. They'd proven themselves to be good men to have around. Strong men. Brave men. He felt lucky to call them friends. Today, he could tell that they seemed unusually tense, and that said a lot. He wondered if something had happened to bring them directly to his office. “Well, did you enjoy your visit to the temple ruins? It's been a couple of weeks since you left. I hope everything went well.”

“It was a ... fruitful visit, Simon,” said Blair, while looking warily at his partner. “Jim?”

Simon watched the byplay between the two, and waited, knowing that he'd hear it when they were ready. It was never easy with these two, but he never discounted what they said ... did ... or even speculated.

“Ah, Simon ...,” began Blair hesitantly.

“Go on, Blair.”

“Well, we've been working on something these last two weeks. We've decided that we're running out of time to do something about it. We thought we'd come directly to you, as it involves Gaia 1.”

Simon leaned forward, realizing that this really wasn't a social call. “Is this about another one of Jim's visions?”

“Well, strictly speaking it isn't just 'Jim's' visions.”

He watched the pair speculatively, “It isn't?” Blair seemed talkative enough, but Ellison was sitting stiff and silent. Could there be dissension there?

Blair grinned sheepishly, “No. I, well, Jim and I have had some shared visions. You remember the first time we investigated those ruins on Gaia. We told you about the temple pools. Well, it happened then. And, well, since then we've been trying to sort out what we saw.”

Simon admitted, “You might be surprised that your names keep cropping up associated with various events. We're a pretty small society now, but even though we're spread out in small colonies on Gaia, on this station, and in the mining zone, we still manage to keep abreast of matters of import. I've received reports about you from all over. Let's see ... the warning about the storm surge at Rainbow Meadow Colony ... was that one of your visions?”

“Yeah.”

“And the flash flood at New Cascade?”

“That, too.”

“What about the mining craft that nearly crashed into the Walkabout?”

“Oh, yeah,” said Blair. He seemed to bounce in place as he asked, “Hey, how are Mr. Sims and his daughter Sarah?”

“They're just fine. But I have a feeling you've got something more important to talk about.”

“Well, it's just that Rafe seemed interested and Sarah ...”

Simon sighed in exasperation, “Sandburg. Ellison. Just tell me. You're making me nervous.”

They looked at each other like they were surprised.

“You're not upset?” asked Jim.

“What would I have to be upset about? Perhaps because you're stalling?”

Blair grinned as he replied, “Oh, no! It's just that Jim thought it would be best to let everyone think the visions were only Jim's. And he thought you might be upset because we didn't tell you right away that the visions were from 'both' of us.” Sandburg glanced at Ellison then continued, “Jim thought I would find people's reactions to be ... upsetting.”

Turning squarely to Jim, Simon said, “The accuracy of your previous warnings has earned you a lot of respect, Captain Ellison. I don't think you realize just how much you are ... valued. Our present situation would be quite different if we hadn't heeded those warnings on the other side of the jump point.”

Both Jim and Blair seemed surprised by the Captain's comments. They shared a weary glance just before Jim answered, “'Valued', that's very kind of you Captain. But ... accuracy ... that would be our problem at the moment.” Jim drew in a deep breath then admitted, “This one, this vision, isn't accurate enough.”

“And it involves Gaia 1,” Simon stated with growing trepidation.

Jim went on to explain what little he could about their problem, “We haven't got enough to go on. We can't pinpoint a location. We're not even sure of a definite time but it's getting close. That's why we arranged to come back up today with Henri.”

Blair continued, “We've tried to refine what we saw. We've tried for the last two weeks! And we'll keep trying, but like I was saying before, it's getting too close.”

“You don't know where, exactly, and you don't know when, exactly. What do you know?” he asked in exasperation.

They looked nervously at each other, then Jim said, “A fire, and an explosion.”

Blair added, “But we don't know if the explosion happens to cause the fire or if it's a result of it ... or if it's one event or two. It seems that they're extremely close together, timewise.”

Simon pondered the possibilities before asking, “The time frame we're talking about, is it hours, days, weeks ... what?”

“Days at most. We'll know just before it happens.”

“How?”

Jim answered, “All of the visions so far have had cues in them: the occurrence of some action, the arrival of someone in particular, something like that. This one happens right after we get a message from Henri.”

“What message? Henri flies cargo in and out of Gaia 1 and down to the colonies on the planet. He's always calling in with progress reports.”

Jim and Blair looked helplessly at each other.

Simon groaned, “That's why you can't refine it.”

Simon thought for a moment, “Is there 'anything' you can tell me about it? Does the area of the damage look at all familiar to you ... or not familiar at all? That last would tell us something, too. Do you recognize any equipment or people involved ... or is the fire and explosion making everything unrecognizable? Could it be equipment failure? Do you think it could be an asteroid or debris collision? Anything ...”

Blair looked thoughtful, “It could be 'any' service corridor on the station. There were people present, but too much smoke to identify anyone. But not debris. We didn't get a visual outside the ship, so we feel it begins 'in' the ship. And the ship lighting was dimmed so it must have happened ... 'must be going to happen' on the offshift.”

Simon sighed deeply as he considered his options, “Well, that gives us something to work with anyway. I'll set up extra watches, full diagnostic scans, and get crews out to check for problems. If the crew is forewarned then we're forearmed. It's something, gentlemen.”

Simon looked questioningly at them, “Are we ... going to have casualties? Can you see beyond the crisis at all?”

Blair looked bleak as he answered, “We didn't know about casualties with the other warnings ... we don't know this time either. We've had visions of future warnings with Gaia 1 involved in some way, so we assume it survives.” Blair hesitated at this point, looking weary far beyond his years, “We've wondered what would happen with the other visions if we fail to handle this crisis properly.”

Simon felt shocked at those admissions. The ramifications of those statements were far reaching and shocked him into furious thinking. He finally began to realize what this would mean to these two men, “Do you mean that you believe our future ... our fate ... could rest on how accurately you interpret your visions? That our fate rests on your shoulders? Gentlemen, that's too much for any man to bear. We all do our best, and I'd never expect anything less from you. I know this is a great concern to you but failure to handle a crisis is not your responsibility.”

“But the visions ... are,” whispered Blair, while Jim sat stiff and silent at his side.


> > > > > > > > > > > >
Interlude:
Everything was done that could be planned. Simon and his crew were thorough, for too much depended on the prevention, or at least the handling, of the coming disaster. Henri remained as always ... cheerful. No one told him until later that Gaia 1 went on Alert every time he radioed in to report.
> > > > > > > > > > > >


>3.<

Rafe led a crew through the cargo bays, one at a time. They weren't the only crew on such rounds, but they were sent to Deck 24, CB12. It had been hastily stocked with recovered systems and parts from abandoned ships that had traveled with them to the Rainbow Meadow Habitat, before the surviving ships traveled through the jump portal to Otherspace.

Rafe was not as dapper as he usually was. Wandering through machine parts was dirty work but he'd volunteered and he and his crew grimly did their duty.

They were subdued as they proceeded into the area. This cargo bay was like a cemetery. It held the remnants of some of the ships that had been left behind in the jump to Otherspace. It reminded them of their own losses ... families, stations, whole planetary systems. It was too great a loss to comprehend, and too personal to address at present. This crisis required their full attention. Rafe and the others proceeded with logging the equipment, it's location, and the status of the inventoried items.

They were all relieved when Deck 24, CB12 was finished. They moved on to Deck 24, CB13. This cargo bay was all tank. It was a holding tank for water held in reserve. There were only circuits and meters to check in this area and the crew would soon move on to CB14. Their attention was diverted when the latest Yellow Alert sounded.

Rafe ordered, “Everyone on your toes. Vacate the bay immediately!”

Rafe was the last one into the service corridor. He hit the controls to close the hatch. There was a small click. It was nothing that ordinarily would cause concern. Nothing that would have been out of place. It was a sound that everyone recognized as the closing of a relay to close the door. But the door didn't close.

Rafe ordered most of the crew back to another section, beyond another safety door. As First Officer, he'd been sufficiently briefed about 'the warning', as had all the personnel. They were well aware of the possibly of severe damage being effected after a Yellow Alert sounded. Anything out of the ordinary was to be treated with extreme caution.

“Tomas, help me with this access panel.”

The panel came off easily and Tomas reached in to run a manual diagnostic scan. The scan unfortunately provided enough impetus to set off the relay with spectacular and disastrous results. Tomas yelped in pain, then collapsed, as the electronics erupted in sparks. Rafe pulled him back and two other crewmen ran forward to help take Tomas to safety. Rafe hit the fire suppression switch but it too failed to activate as expected. Smoke filled the corridor swiftly.

When Rafe joined his crew at the safety door, he called in a report. “Gaia Central! We have an emergency on Deck 24, CB13. Electronics are fried and sparking. Efforts so far to contain it are ineffective. Request assistance for one injured crewman.”

Throughout the ship claxons sounded Red Alert. Hatches automatically sealed to contain the damage.

Gaia 1 lurched.

Lights blinked off. Emergency lights came on. The decks underfoot soon steadied.

Captain Banks, who had been stationed in Control Central on the offshift since Jim and Blair's warning, ordered, “Damage reports!”

“Atmosphere, normal in all sections except the service corridor for Deck 24, CB13. The filters seem to be clearing the air in adjacent corridors with no difficulty. Fire detection now negative.”

The main power came on.

Simon asked grimly, “Was power generation affected?”

“Power generation rated optimal, Captain.”

“Captain? Cargo Bay 13, Deck 24 is ... it seems to be missing, sir,” said Lt. Johanna Johnson.

“The main water reserve tank?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Send a crew down to investigate and assist First Officer Rafe. Make sure a medic accompanies them. Let's hope it's just damaged electronics.”

“Yes, sir.”

Simon asked, “Is our orbit steady?”

“Calculations being done now, Captain.”

“Casualties?”

“Only minor injuries so far reported.”

Simon hoped that would remain true.

“Captain, orbit is safe for the moment. We'll need a minor correction, but it need not be immediate.”

“Acknowledged. Send out damage assessment crews. I need to know if this ship ... station ... is safe to move in it's present condition. Start a roll call of all personnel and visitors; make sure no one is alone and injured. Let's go people!”


>4.<

Jim and Blair weren't crew but they were known by sight by almost everyone on the station. Gaia 1 was their base of operations, even though they spent a great deal of time on-planet. They offered their assistance.

Jim was irked. He'd hoped to be assigned to damage control. He was well acquainted with shipboard mechanics. His senses were capable of detecting damage normal senses might overlook, especially with Blair to ground him.

Blair was irked because he was concerned that several members of the crew were unaccounted for at present. He'd gladly have joined Jim in searching for them. Jim's senses would have been a big help, but instead, they were requested to join the Captain at Control Central.

“I wonder what Simon wants.”

Jim glanced at Blair, “What do you think he wants, Chief?”

“Well, I'd guess he'd like to know if we've 'seen' anything else.”

Jim sighed, “I wish it worked that way.”

“Me, too. The other crises were different though. We didn't have much in the way of aftereffects to consider once the main crisis point was in the past. We didn't have to look for anything else. I mean, after getting everyone and everything moved out of the way of the storm surge and the flash flood, and getting the mining craft out of the way of the Walkabout, well, after that the crisis was pretty much over in short order. We didn't have 'time' to investigate the visions further.”

“And now we do.”

“Well, it wouldn't hurt to try.”

At which point they reached the Captain of Gaia 1.

“Gentlemen, I have a request ...”

“We'll get right on it, Simon,” said Blair.

“You could wait until I ask!” said Simon gruffly.

Blair was quick to answer, “We figured you'd be busy, so I thought I'd save a little time. We discussed exploring the visions again on the way in to Central ... that is what you were going to request, right?”

“Get to it then, gentlemen,” said Simon, sounding irritable but actually just concerned.

The import of the conversation was not lost to the other occupants of Control Central.


>5.<

They settled into trance with the ease of long practice.

Jim was soon engulfed in a flash and swirl of colors, the abrasive feeling of hot then cold then freezing, the smell/taste of burnt electronics and ionized gases, all blown from his notice by the sound of the tearing metal then no sound at all. Blackness surrounds. Distant focus outward. Trail of ice mist. Trailing outward. Trailing inward.

Blair 'saw' the ice mist as white on black, hazing out the points of light, the stars, in the distance. All that was overlaid with 'Voices' Blair heard in some sense other than sound. Voices clamorous, then airy as light itself as their twining whispers divulged their secret, “fire fading ... ice flowing ... fire and ice ... ice and fire.”

When Jim opened his eyes he saw that Blair looked puzzled. Blair said, “I get the fire fading.”

Jim rubbed roughly at his nose, “I'm glad of that. I can still smell it though.”

“Ice flowing,” Blair said thoughtfully. “When does ice flow, when we lost our water reserve to space? Did you get a visual?”

“Yeah, I saw the flow outward but also a flow inward. I took it to be a comet tail ... ice mist in the blackness of space.”

“An ice comet. Fire impels ice outward. Ice rides fire inward. Ice shifted from outsystem. That seems to fit the requirements.”

“And that would be Captain Megan Connor's department.”

“Yeah, maybe Mr. Sims can help out.”

“Chief, would you stop with the matchmaking.”

Blair waggled his eyebrows, “Well, if Rafe doesn't ask her soon, I will.”


> > > > > > > > > > > >
Process:
Crisis point was past. Ahead lay the keys for survival.
> > > > > > > > > > > >


>6.<

Simon sat heavily in his chair. The offshift was over but he was far from finishing his duties to his station. It was hard to stop thinking of Gaia as a cruise ship traveling between the richest planets of the Allied Systems. His crew had handled themselves well under crisis. He needed to let them know he was impressed with their professionalism. Commendations would be in order for some of them.

Life was different here, that was a given. He couldn't say that it was better, not after all the losses they'd suffered. But it did seem that guilt was a direct result of surviving for many, including himself. Most of the survivors felt it to some degree. Most families had been decimated by the disaster. Many people had not even one relative that had escaped. Simon sighed heavily at that thought. Of his own crew, only he had a surviving relative, his son Daryl.

Survivor guilt. Simon felt it himself. He remembered his last visit from Joan. She'd seemed more like her old self ... pre-divorce. Her only worry was for Daryl during this visit with his father. It was only that visit that had spared Daryl's life and it was something for which Simon would be forever grateful.

But now, he had to put aside the past. There were too many things that required his attention. It seemed inconceivable to him that he was the highest voice of authority in this entire planetary orbit, and the only other person that held any great authority in the system was Captain Connor on the Walkabout. Only the tiny colonies based on the planet were close enough to give immediate assistance ... if they were 'able', and then only if the shuttles kept flying.

He'd just returned from a planning session with First Officer Rafe, Shuttle Pilot Henri Brown, XJ-Captain Ellison, XJ-Copilot Sandburg, and Captain Connor via their com link. Ellison and Sandburg had been included without second thought; not from the Captains, nor any of the station's crew.

The meeting had accomplished everything, and more, than he had expected.


>7.<

> > > > > > > > > > > >
The audio/visual link had been instituted with no problem.
> > > > > > > > > > > >

Blair greeted Megan happily. Their friendship had begun before the trip to Otherspace and it had been some time since he and Jim had assisted with the rescue of the mining ship captained by Gerald Sims.

Simon began to lay out the problem for the others. None of them had been on the bridge, and they needed to be updated on his present concerns. “All of you here know about the emergency on Gaia 1. Currently, we have systems under control. No major injuries were reported, and all of our personnel have reported in. The problem is that our water reserves have been depleted by half. That doesn't mean we're in immediate danger, but I will institute moderate rationing until the situation is improved. On that note, I have a plan that I'd like to present, but it will require cooperation on many fronts.”

Megan Connor offered, “Without cooperation we'd never survive here, Captain Banks. I have an idea that will help but I need to organize several mining ships.”

Simon grinned for the first time in hours, “I think we might be on the same wavelength.”

Megan grinned in return, “Our surveyors have been hard at work since I assigned them the problem of mapping the 'neighborhood'. They've located a number of ice asteroids and their orbits are in our database. It'll take a good push to send one insystem, but I think it's doable.”

Henri added, “Captain Banks, as you know, I was chosen to represent the shuttle pilots. They wanted me to assure you that the shuttles can carry cargo pods of water up from the planet if needed. We'll do what we have to do to supply Gaia 1.”

Simon accepted both offers gratefully, then turned to add a question for Jim and Blair, “I have to know if there's anything else to the visions you two have had. Have you seen anything that would involve this stage of the crisis?”

No one present was surprised by the mention of the visions, nor even that Simon had asked them both.

Blair slowly shook his head as he answered, “The visions we've had all seem to involve a point of crisis, not how the crisis affects the subsequent events. The aftereffects are almost surely a result of the way the crisis is handled. From what we've been able to 'see' after the fact, this seems to be the correct direction to take. We both, in different ways, sensed what seemed to be a comet, or ice asteroid, coming insystem.”

Simon seemed pleased as he asked, “Then ... you have no more warnings to give at present?”

“No. I think the worst of the crisis is past,” said Jim.


>8.<

Rhonda came out of Mining Admin and headed directly to the Captain's office. “Captain Connor, Captain Sims has taken off for ICE32. He'll call in when he matches orbit.”

“Thank you, Rhonda. It's certainly lucky for us that the survey of the local area is nearly complete. This crisis has shown what we can do if we're prepared. We'll soon be able to get down to serious mining and production of material for durable goods. How is Joel coming on the plans for the Materials Fabrication Center?”

“The people who came here with us had little knowledge of mining or manufacturing, but the knowledge is in the databanks. Applying it takes a lot of work, but they're getting there. The Ore Processing Center will be just slightly insystem, and the MFC will be still closer in, so that moving materials will be a matter of decreasing orbital trajectory which will be more economical. Joel's had his hands full working with the design teams.”

Megan added, “More economical, and safer, too, to have those facilities 'downwind' so to speak of the Walkabout.”

Rhonda grinned when she said, “Joel seems to be in his element. You know that he had a hand in the mining procedures that have been worked out. It seems that he has a definite affinity for explosives.”

Megan smiled, “I think I heard as much. No matter how busy he was he always made himself available during the trials the mining Captains undertook to test procedures. As head of Mining Admin, are you satisfied with the changes to the safety protocols we've instituted? I want them to be more than just 'adequate'.”

“You know that we doubled, then tripled redundancy. We shouldn't have another incident like the Wellspring's near collision with the Walkabout.”

“From your mouth to God's ear,” Megan muttered. “This is home now, and safety is a priority. We'll need a safe home to raise our families. By the way, how did Joel take it when you told him?”

Rhonda blushed as she replied, “Joel was stunned but happy. After ... everything, to have our own child will be a true blessing.”

“Aye. You know I wish you all the best. I don't know how we'll manage without you for a while in Admin, but we'll make do.”

“Well, it's not like I'll be far, Captain. You know you can call on me anytime.”

“If I can get past Joel, you mean.”

“Well, there is that,” Rhonda chuckled.


>9.<

Rhonda entered their cabin/suite to find Joel already at home.

“Hon, dinner's almost ready.”

“You didn't have to do that, Joel, but I'm glad you did.”

“Did you just come from your meeting with Captain Connor? Is Gerald on course? Everything alright with the Wellspring?”

“They're fine, both Gerald and Sarah. They've been working the sims enroute. Captain Adams and Captain Enfield will assist during each phase. They'll be ready when the time comes.”

Joel sighed, “We've been very lucky, this side of the jump point.”

Rhonda came up and wrapped her arms around his waist, “I know. To think that Blair is a Guide.”

“And that Ellison is his Sentinel.”

“I'm glad Blair keeps in touch. He's a good person.”

“We knew that early on, didn't we. I don't know what to think of his and Jim's visions. I shudder to think how I would handle something like that. It's ... it's almost too heavy a burden to bear. I don't know how he does it.”

“'They' do it,” Rhonda added softly.

“Yes. Maybe that makes it easier in a way. That they have each other to lean on.”

“Hmm. I wonder ...”

“What?”

“If there's anything we, or someone, could do to help them?”

“Kind of a ... backup?”

“Maybe. A support network?”

“Who could do that though? It would have to be someone high up to organize it. Someone that can make things happen fast.”

“Captain Connor?”

“And maybe Captain Banks? He's a friend of their's, too.”

“Yes, maybe a council, a 'small' council,” she emphasized.

Joel smiled at his wife, “I think it's a good idea. Let's talk to Megan ... tomorrow,” as he hugged her a bit tighter.

Rhonda gave him a quick kiss before saying, “Hmm. 'Tomorrow' ... that's a good idea, too.”


>10.<

Gerald Sims guided the Wellspring into contact with asteroid ICE32 with hardly a noticeable bump. “Sarah, are you ready?”

“Position is optimal.”

“Release clamps.”

“We're down and secure, Dad.”

“Well, now we wait for the signal. This is going to be a touchy maneuver.”

“We'll be fine, Dad. We've worked the sims over and over on the trip out. The calculations were checked on the Walkabout and on Gaia 1.”

“I know, I know. Besides Rafe would never approve it if it wasn't safe.”

“Dad!”

Gerald just grinned.


> > > > > > > > > > > >
Respite:
A cheer went up in Central when ICE32 reached a matching orbit with Gaia 1. The shuttles had indeed carried a few pods of water up from the planet, but there was no serious deprivation from the diminished reserves. Now it was just a matter of mining the ice and transferring it to a cargo bay, to which the three mining Captains would give able assistance. Then came the process of melting and filtering what was necessary to have an onboard reserve. That left a big chunk of ice in solid form, in orbit near them. It was a 'hard' reserve they were happy to have for future needs.
> > > > > > > > > > > >


>11.<

> > > > > > > > > > > >
The audio/visual link was instituted with no problem, and was becoming accepted as an established forum for Gaia System government.
> > > > > > > > > > > >

Simon leaned forward and rested his clasped hands on his desk. “I've been approached by Captain Connor about a suggestion put forward by Joel and Rhonda Taggart on the Walkabout. It's something that should have occurred to others before this, myself included, but better late than never as the saying goes. It concerns James Ellison and Blair Sandburg.”

Ellison and Sandburg looked surprised, but didn't interrupt.

“We've been very fortunate in the talents of the survivors that arrived here in Otherspace. It was easy to recognize the contributions of many of them: the farmers, the doctors, mechanics, pilots, and all of those who could apply the knowledge that we carried with us. But what most amazes me are the talents of a Sentinel and a Guide. Who would deny the benefits we've already enjoyed?”

“I don't think I need to tell you that they've taken a large burden on their shoulders. But they also have some grave concerns. Not long ago they shared some of those concerns when they came to me with their last warning. Even with a partner to back them up it's a lot of responsibility.” Simon looked solemnly around the assembled people, those in person, and those attending through the 'link'. He ended his gaze on Jim and Blair.

“We've already seen the advantage your visions have given us in several situations since arriving here. I want to emphasize that we know that our survival does not only rest on you. Our survival depends on all of us, and that 'includes' you.”

Blair looked decidedly pale, and Jim reached a steadying hand to touch his forearm. Blair's hand released it's deathgrip on the arm of the chair. He turned his hand over to clasp Jim's.

Megan added, “Blair. Jim. Your visions have saved a lot of lives. I hate to think what would have happened if the Wellspring had crashed into the Walkabout. But the people that survived the jump to Otherspace already know about your warnings. Every ship, station, and planetary colony has benefited from them already. They know you. They trust you. Most of all, they need you. 'We' need you. I know it's a lot to ask ... but if I know you as well as I think I do, you've placed that responsibility on 'yourselves' already.”

Jim looked unsure as he asked, “I'm not sure what you have in mind. We're just two men. The visions are ... difficult to interpret, and we don't know how the handling of future crises will affect them.”

Simon sighed, “We'd like to do whatever we can to make that burden a little easier to bear. What we're proposing is that a council be prepared to hear your warnings. It would be a very small group that can act swiftly. Right now, authority rests mainly with the Captains of Gaia 1 and The Walkabout. We should have a representative of the planetary colonies, too. I know it's a heavy responsibility but there just isn't anyone else that can do this. We can't help with the visions, but we can work together. We're few enough that we can put a plan into motion quickly. This latest crisis is an excellent example of that.”

Simon went on, “I've tried to understand, and I've tried to explain to the others the limitations of your visions, but we need to not just survive here. We need to flourish and expand. We have plans to manufacture more stations, more ships, more products and facilities for the planetary colonies, also. We'll do what's necessary to those ends, but a Sentinel and Guide team, that's an advantage we can't afford to ignore.”

Jim warned, “Simon, you have some idea of the limitations of the visions. Even if we do everything right, there could still be major damage, injuries ... deaths. Everyone here needs to understand that this isn't like calculating jump points. It isn't an exact science and misinterpretations can be fatal.”

Blair seemed to stare into the uncertain future as he added softly, “That's been our worst fear.”

Silence prevailed for several moments as their last statements were processed.

Blair looked at Jim and said sentinel soft, “You did warn me, man.” Then for the others, because they hadn't missed the communication even though they hadn't heard it, “I told Jim before this crisis that it was time for me to share the burden.” Turning to Jim he said firmly, “It isn't just on your shoulders, Jim.”

“I know that's why you did it, to share the burden.”

“Partners.”

Simon, with the others, watched and listened to this private exchange amidst their conference, then he added quietly, “Partners, and the Gaian System's Sentinel and Guide.”


>12.<

Jim and Blair walked back to their cabin deep in thought. Jim kept eyeing his Guide. He was well aware of the jumps in his vitals. He was waiting for Blair to open up about what was bothering him.

When the door to their cabin closed behind them, Jim settled in to relax ... and to wait for Blair. Blair's agitation kept him moving until he felt ready to reveal his worrisome thoughts to Jim.

When the time came, he stood stock still and pleaded, “'Tell' me we didn't cause this last crisis, Jim.”

Jim sighed, “I should have seen this coming, Chief. You know that's not true. We didn't cause the crisis.”

“But the loss of the water reserves happened 'because' of our warning. They wouldn't have engaged that relay at that time if we ...”

“Blair, listen. The relay would have been engaged at some time. It's not our fault.” He stopped to look more closely at his Guide, “Come on, Chief. Remember, two of the other visions we gave warning for were natural disasters. And there was nothing we did that could have caused the near crash of the Wellspring. You don't normally doubt yourself. Is that all you're worried about?”

“I know you're right,” and Blair sighed deeply, trying to accept emotionally what he knew intellectually to be true. “'With' our warning they were ready to handle it, at least.”

“And don't forget that the mutual aid idea was a natural result of that crisis. Being able to work together in times of danger may be crucial to long-term survival.”

“I know. That will foster bonds between the colonies on-planet and the stations, too. And, it's a good feeling to know that they support us.”

“Then why the doubts?”

“It's just ... man, I don't know how you do it.”

“I'm sorry ...”

“Don't, Jim. There's no need; no reason to be sorry. I wouldn't want you to carry this burden alone. Maybe that's why I'm here. Maybe a Sentinel needs a partner to back him up. It's too much for one person. You're a Sentinel. I'm a Guide. It took a while just to figure that much out. Then the visions came to us both. Maybe this is our destiny.”


> > > > > > > > > > > >
Consequence exacted:
For Sentinel and Guide, heavy was the weight of legend.
> > > > > > > > > > > >


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finis part 2


Click here for Part 3 A: http://1sentinel1guide.livejournal.com/7109.html


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Sun, Feb. 15th, 2009, 06:37 pm
XJ-Fuga Part 3 A

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XJ-Fuga
Part 3 A
by ljc
5/07

See Notes, Summary, Rating, Warning, and Disclaimer in Part 1.

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Part 3 A

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>1.< Colony of New Cascade, planet Gaia, Gaia System, Otherspace

Jim handed one very wet and muddy child up to Blair, who passed her along to Abel, who passed her along once more to another volunteer. That process was repeated for the second lost child. The boy was just as wet, and muddy, and cold as his little sister.

Jim then struggled up the bank of the recently flooded stream with Blair's willing hand to pull him to the top. They joined Abel and the other volunteers in a joyful, if weary, walk back to a staging area where medical and other supplies had been deposited for the search effort.

Abel Carter hurried ahead as he was anxious to hear word of the children's health. They'd seemed uninjured but had been very tired and nearly unresponsive. These two had both been born on the Rainbow Meadow Habitat. There hadn't been many children born in New Cascade yet, and every child in the colony was precious ... and he knew each and every one of them by name.

Abel reflected briefly on this new life they'd made for themselves since evacuating Rainbow Meadow. It had only been three years since they'd fled to Otherspace but that previous life seemed to belong to some stranger. They'd been so proud and ... arrogant ... situated at the edge of the home galaxy. They had thought they'd created a little piece of nature to conform to their own limited ideas. Well, a habitat was far removed from a planetary colony. He'd had ample proof of that since settling here just over two years ago.

Naomi came out of the tent and saw him approaching. “Abel, the children will be fine. They're being warmed up and fed. Their parents are with them, and they're so very grateful.”

Abel sighed deeply in relief. Being the leader of New Cascade was a tough job. There were too few settlers, too much to do, and very little to fall back on except their own strength and determination, but things were slowly getting better. He was also head of the Council that governed several viable communities on the planet Gaia. There was communication with other outposts, and technological resources were available in planetary orbit and farther out in the Belt where the Walkabout and it's facilities called home. Aid was 'just a call away' ... give or take a few thousand or million miles.

The settlers were still learning the ways of this planet, Gaia. The minor flooding hadn't been a problem until the children were discovered to be missing. The flood waters had separated them from the colony. The children, trying to find a way home, had gotten seriously lost. They were very fortunate that the Sentinel and Guide had arrived within hours to help track the children.

Abel walked up to Naomi and embraced her warmly. Then with an arm wrapped around the other's waists, they turned and watched Jim and Blair walk wearily out of the forest and toward the tent.

Abel said, “Jim, Blair ... I - we can't thank you enough. Their parents would be here to say this, but they're occupied at the moment.”

Jim blushed a little and Blair did, too.

Jim said, “Abel, you know we're glad to help. Any time. All you have to do is call.”

Blair grinned, “But some hot coffee would really be welcome, Mom.”

Naomi smiled warmly, “Of course, Sweetie. I'll get some blankets for you, too. I know you must both be cold.”

“... and wet,” Blair grumbled softly, but only loud enough for his Sentinel to hear, as his mom headed to the tent.

Abel said, “We'll break camp and head back soon. Night will be falling in a few hours. We were very lucky to find them before dark.”

Jim just nodded wearily as Abel turned to make sure everything moved along quickly.

Then Blair nudged him in the ribs, “Hey, Jim,” he whispered. He continued in a slightly indignant tone, “Did you see he had his arm around my mom?”

As weary as Jim felt, he had to struggle to keep his grin from turning to laughter.


>2.< Interlude, Gaia 1 (formerly A.S. Gaia) in orbit around planet Gaia

The lights were dim in the corridors, as dim as it normally was in public areas during offshift hours, but not the lights in the Study Rooms. The lights were never dimmed in the SRs, but it was quiet enough to hear the proverbial pin drop, and that was normal in an SR on any Deck. Every study space was filled and some industrious students had brought cushions with them to take advantage of empty corners where they could gather together sociably and use their portable readers. The people of Gaia 1, since their arrival in this new Otherspace domain, had turned to education as their new 'hobby'.

The Captain, Simon Banks, had instituted a requirement for independent study soon after their arrival. One facet of each person's obligation was to learn, at least on a basic level, one other technology than the one he or she had trained for back in Allied Systems space, a second was training in a medical field or the natural sciences, and a third was an individual independent study project of their choice.

System wide, the survivors numbered nearly thirty thousand, but that was a tiny number to recreate a civilization as immense and varied as the planetary systems they had once called home. Too much had to be relearned, and so much would be lost if the knowledge they 'did' carry, wasn't passed down. Basic knowledge was a beginning, but hands-on apprenticeships were organized when possible for each student when that knowledge was grasped.

Yet, life was life, and they took joy where they could find it. There was joy in knowledge gained, in new skills learned. It was something to fill the void, especially on Gaia 1, where only the Captain had any surviving relatives among the original crew. Simon Banks was pleased that his education requirement had helped to fill that void. Not only were things learned, but they were shared between people who had few other connections. People with shared interests found other reasons to connect and once again there was laughter on the decks of the great spaceliner once known as A. S. Gaia.


>3.<

Some of the students looked up as the door to SR1-Deck 4 opened. Those that did, smiled in greeting to the Guide as he made his way into the room. He looked around and smiled and nodded in response, then sighed when he saw all the stations were filled.

Daryl stood and whispered, “Blair, you can have my station. I have to meet Dad in an hour for supper and it's my turn to cook.”

Blair was as quiet as Daryl when he responded, “Did you try that recipe that Naomi sent up? There's a new crop of greens that just arrived, along with some seedlings they sent up from Gaia for the hydroponics section. Jim and I got to try them the last time we visited Mom.”

Daryl grinned, “Hey, thanks. It would be quick, and Dad would love it. It's just somehow better than the stuff that comes from hydroponics. I don't care what they say, it may be as nutritious, but there's just something different, you know?”

“If I hadn't known, Jim would have told me. You're lucky you don't have to cook for a Sentinel. Thanks for giving up your seat. I have some research to do.”

“Hey, anything to help our poor overburdened Guide,” Daryl grinned as he whispered close to Blair's ear.

Blair accepted the teasing with twinkling eyes and a grin of his own. As he sat down to work he glanced over at the station next to his. The computer screen showed incomprehensible text, which caught his interest, because he thought it looked 'familiar'. He watched for a moment while the woman at the desk typed in a request for translation. He was a little surprised to see a title that he knew quite well, “The Mystery of Paraguay: Civilization Lost, Regression and Adaptation to a Precivilized Life”.

The woman saw his interest and blushed, “Guide Sandburg. You must be very familiar with this treatise by Dr. Burton. I'm just doing a little historical background for my journal.”

“You're Lt. Johanna Johnson. I've seen you in Control Central.”

She smiled shyly, then said, “And I've seen you, of course, Sir, when you've visited Captain Banks.”

“Please, not Sir,” and Blair gave a mock shudder. “Call me, Blair.”

“Thanks, Blair. My nickname is, Jo, if you'd like.”

“Thanks, Jo. You're writing a journal?” he whispered the question.

She shrugged diffidently, “I'm just writing about, you know, 'before' ... trying to put down thoughts about family and friends, places that I've visited, where I lived, any anecdotes that might bring ... the past ... to life for people in the future, as well as tell what we're doing to survive ... to move forward, you know?”

Blair was intrigued. He turned fully toward her in an attempt to keep their conversation private, and quiet, “Jo, that's terrific. Too bad everyone couldn't do that. It would make a tremendous addition to knowledge, to history. The future generations will need a sense of history to enrich their own lives.”

Jo blushed but her excitement was genuine, “I'm glad you said that. That's a proposal I'm writing up for the Captain. I want to do a living history project for my independent study. I could do interviews by audio/visual link but it would be better to be present during the interviews. For that I would have to travel to Gaia's colonies, and the mining outposts, and the Walkabout ...” Her grin faded away, “But that would take me away from my duties, and I love my job on Gaia 1. I don't want to lose it.”

Blair thought for a moment, “What if I put in a good word with the Captain?” He grinned at Jo, “You see, we're pretty good friends,” adding more seriously, “and I do believe this is important enough to make it a priority. In fact, you'll need a lot of help to reach everyone.” Blair's excitement grew as more possibilities occurred to him. “It would make a great ongoing project. If you think it would help, I could go with you when you present your proposal, too.”

“Would you? Maybe ... you can look at my proposal? I know you must be very busy, and I don't mean to impose ....”

“Hey, I'd love to see it.”

Obviously Blair's enthusiasm had grown because several people around them 'Shushed' them at that moment, but he and Jo just grinned conspiratorially.

Jo pulled her proposal up on screen and she and Blair worked over the document for some time, totally forgetting Blair's own research until the door opened and an exasperated sigh was heard even through their concentration.

“Hey, Jim. What's up?” Blair whispered.

Jim glanced around quickly and added softly, “Sandburg, my first guess was that you'd be up to your ears in study, but this is the third SR that I've searched through for you.”

“Sorry,” Blair grinned, because he wasn't sorry at all. He was too excited about Jo's project even if his own was forgotten for the moment. “Well?”

“Simon's got a problem for us to look into. Something he thinks my senses might help with.”

“Hey, I'm with you, man. Sorry, Jo. We can talk again tomorrow if you'd like.”

“That would be great. You've given me some great ideas. I'll try to get them worked out and written up so you can read them over.”

“Great. Come on, Jim.”

Jim shook his head in fond exasperation as Blair went past him and down the hall before he could answer. Even though Blair had a head start, Jim caught up to him easily with his longer stride.

“Jim, Lt. Johnson has a great idea for a living history project. This would make a tremendous addition to bare facts and dates from this era.”

“Era? You're leaping ahead in time a bit aren't you?”

“Well, think about it! What if we had more information on Burton or Incacha or the Eye of God? What if we'd known about Otherspace before the disaster that brought us here?”

“Alright. Alright. I get your point.”

“The only thing is that she's worried that it will take her away from her job so much that she might lose it.”

Jim pondered that for a moment before answering, “Yeah, that 'could' be a problem but from what you've just said I think Simon would make allowances for a project like that. I really do see the importance of it to the future, and I'm sure Simon would, too. Maybe you can pitch it to him that it would be a good chance for someone to learn her duties ... you know, cross train his staff. I know he's trained them to take over in emergency situations, but they need education to back it up and learning more than emergency protocols. They need to learn the day-to-day routines that keep the station in superb condition, functioning at it's very best at all times. I know it's something he's been planning, especially since it looks like Rafe will be coaxed into joining the Simms on their clanship.”

“Oh, man, that's a great idea! I think that might solve other problems as well. See, most of the survivors had very little to cling to 'but' their jobs. The depression around here was pretty thick before the study projects were assigned. Now that people have had a chance to settle in, they have to feel secure enough to be able to 'let go' a bit. They have to accept that this future isn't going to disappear; see that we're growing and we're here to stay.”

“Yeah, I was lucky on that score. I had Dad, Steven, Sally, and of course Henri and Serena and their kids. And now you, and your mom.”

Blair smiled warmly, “Yeah, you've got me, and mom, and we have some great friends. We're making 'family' as we go, man. An extended family. That's the aspect of these projects that's really going to pay off in the long run.”

As they walked into the quiet bustle of Central they looked for Captain Banks, but Rafe waved them over. “The Captain will be back soon. He left orders for you two to wait ... if you can. This problem has been plaguing the maintenance crew for days, so a little more delay probably wouldn't hurt.”

“No problem, Rafe. Jim and I are ready to go. That's why we're here. Hey, have you talked to Gerald Simms lately about his plans for the clanship? I heard they have the blueprints all ready, and they're due to start production soon.”

Rafe grinned wryly, “Yeah, but where will they go once it's built? The only jump point we know of that's usable is the one between Gaia and the Otherspace jump point. There's only a solitary sun and very minor planetary objects in orbit around it. As far as I know, there's no use going back ... home. ... Right?”

Blair sighed deeply, “So right. We'd be foolish to even think of going back.”

Trying to lighten the discussion Jim asked teasingly, “Rafe, don't tell me you don't know?”

Rafe assumed momentarily that he knew what Jim was referring to. As First Officer, he had been informed of the preparations for the XJ-Fuga, but after Jim's comment he said questioningly, “I know you're preparing the ship for flight. That would be hard to keep secret. I think even the outmost mining ship knows that. I know you plan to have the techs check things out, then you plan to fly it out to the Walkabout. You were thinking of making it's base out in the Belt. I hope that doesn't mean you'll be moving out there, too.”

Blair answered, “The Fuga's base will probably be out in the Belt, but we're based at the Sentinel/Guide Temple on Gaia. That's not going to change, at least not for the foreseeable future. We'll fly the Fuga out and, if all goes well, return on a regular shuttle flight.”

Rafe lost all amusement as he replied, “We all know how important the Temple is to you two. You know, if you ever need anything ... anything at all ....”

Jim and Blair had cause to feel embarrassed again. They were very uncomfortable with all the hero worship, but they couldn't seem to do anything about it, and their close friends were seldom vocal about it. “Rafe,” said Jim, “we're just two guys with some gifts and some skills. We use them the best way we can. And we know who our friends are; who we can depend on for help when needed ...”

Blair added softly, “But thanks for saying it, man. We do appreciate it.”

Rafe nodded, then thinking about Jim's previous question he said, “I know you need to keep the Fuga's systems ready to go, just in case. It's too bad the techs haven't been able to calculate a destination yet ... Wait! Is that it? Did they find a new portal?”

Blair bounced up on his toes, “We got confirmation this morning.”

“No kidding!” When the crew of Central turned around to look at him, Rafe whispered sheepishly, “Are you going to announce it soon?”

Jim looked at Blair, who raised an eyebrow quizzically. Jim shrugged a shoulder and looked pointedly at the crew who were waiting.

Blair said, “Why not?” and proceeded with the news, bouncing on his toes once again, when he saw the overwhelmingly pleased reception it got.

When he'd finished he heard a deep harrumph, “And the Captain is the last to know, I see.”

Blair grinned as he saw Simon Banks in the doorway, “Not really. You learned when they did. ... Simon ... uh, Sir.”

<><><>

The Captain of Gaia 1 initiated an audio/visual link to the Captain of The Walkabout.

“Simon, it's good to see you. You look serious. I hope it isn't a crisis that prompted this call,” said Captain Connor.

Simon sighed, “Sorry, Meg. It isn't really a crisis. I just learned something today, and it's ... got me worried.”

“I'm listening, Simon.”


>4.<

“Come on Blair, it's not as bad as you think,” said Jim.

“Not as bad ... Jim, I crashed the XJ-Fuga into a sun! A BIG sun! A spectral type B main-sequence blue supergiant!” Blair ranted in horror.

Jim leaned back against the wall outside the Simulation Chamber and listened to his Guide work out his frustration in ever increasing volume.

“I couldn't hit a bit of space debris? Oh, no, not me! I go for the big prize! A kid could miss a supergiant, but not Blair Sandburg! Jim, this just proves that this is, like, such a really, really bad idea. Man, I bet I couldn't even copilot an escape pod!”

Jim tried half-heartedly to interrupt, “There's only thrusters on an escape pod ...,” to little effect. It had been a pretty lame attempt to make his copilot feel better, and if he'd stopped to consider what he was saying he'd have realized it probably would have made him feel worse. It didn't make much difference anyway because Blair had barely stopped to take a breath.

“There's just no way I can copilot an Experimental Jumpship. You've got to be having second thoughts about wanting me as your copilot. I'm a disaster when it comes to Jump procedures. I'll just get you killed! I'll get us both killed. So much for Gaia's Sentinel and Guide. Poof, in a tiny blaze of atoms from here to - to - wherever - for - forever!”

Jim tried yet again, “Sandburg ...”

“This is just crazy. You've got to get Henri back as your copilot. We can't afford to lose you, man.”

“Chief ...”

Blair stopped pacing finally, but still wasn't listening, “Jim, please. This is too important. You need someone you can trust ...”

Jim pushed off from the wall and grabbed Blair's shoulders, angling him so that they'd be face to face, “Blair, that would be you.”

Blair tried to throw up his hands but Jim wouldn't let go, so he ended up grasping Jim's forearms, “But, Jim ...”

Jim grinned and shook his head in exasperation, “Sandburg, what do think a sim is for? It's to sim - u - late extreme situations.”

“It's to simulate 'possible' situations, Jim!”

“Chief, you're the one I trust.” Jim had punctuated those words with a tiny shake at the end for emphasis. “We'll 'simulate' some more, until you're ready.”

“But Jim, what if I'm never ready?” Blair asked in despair.

Jim spun Blair to the side and grabbed him in a headlock, then ruffled up his curls.

“Jim, not the hair,” and Blair twisted easily out of Jim's gentle grip. Blair's worry was turning to frustrated anger, “Don't try to distract me. This is important.”

Jim sighed. He knew that Blair wasn't going to settle down until he got a serious answer, so he lowered his voice and made sure he had his full attention, “Chief, you're the one I trust, with this, and with everything else. And don't pull out that line that 'I'm' so indispensable. You're one-half of the Sentinel/Guide equation, my friend, and don't you forget it. If I'm indispensable then you are irreplaceable ... one of a kind ... unique.”

Blair tried to hide the little bubble of half-hysterical, skeptical laughter that wanted to escape, “That's cute, Jim.”

Any trace of humor left on Jim's face vanished, “I'm not trying to be cute, Sandburg. It's the truth.”

Blair's semi-hysterical smile died, and his face flushed a bit, “Don't kid me, Jim.”

“Not kidding, here. Not about this. Not about you. Hmmm. Maybe I need to assign a little homework for you ...”

“Homework?” Blair squeaked, “As if the sims aren't bad enough.”

“Yes, homework. I want you to look up the statistics for pilot training. You need to see that you're way ahead of the curve. You picked up insystem procedures in record time. You're doing great, Chief. But everything takes practice, and unfortunately that takes time.”

Blair was still for a long moment, but then allowed a small smile, “Record time? Really? Well, maybe we could try the sims again.”

“Tomorrow. Rest tonight, and we'll start fresh in the morning.”

Blair sighed, but he did feel a little better. Leave it to Jim to talk down his half-hysterical copilot. He couldn't let Jim down, and from what he'd said, maybe he was doing better than he thought. Anyway, it was a relief not to go back to the sims right away. They'd been working them for hours. Maybe it was a good idea to rest for a while ... and check out those statistics. Not that he didn't trust Jim ....


>5.<

Henri Brown and Sarah Simms left the Import Office talking animatedly. Henri asked, “Hey, Sarah, why don't you come to dinner tonight? Serena's study project is gourmet cooking and I think she's going for extra credit! I just can't eat everything she puts on the table every night ... and I mean that in a good way,” he said with a laugh as he patted his stomach. “I talked to Rafe and he'll be there,” he added with a sly grin.

Sarah grinned, “Dad and Rafe have been talking about the clanship every time they get together. It would be kind of nice to talk to Rafe about something else for a change.”

“Is Rafe still as tongue-tied as ever?”

“Rafe? Only when he's around me, but I'm not much better. I don't know what comes over me.”

“Well, maybe a good meal, and Serena and me carrying half the conversation will help.”

Sarah grinned conspiratorially, “That would be great, Henri. Thanks.”

“Great. I'll let Serena know. She'll probably double up the cooking, though,” Henri chuckled softly as he thought fondly of his wife, then thought of something else he'd wanted to talk to Sarah about. He quickly changed the topic as he asked, “Did you hear about Blair and the sims? Blair's been so freaked out that he tried to get me to consider being Jim's copilot again. You know what Serena would think of that! I've talked to the kid. I've tried everything to get him to relax. He's doing great at the sims. All he needs is practice. I thought maybe you could talk to him, too?”

Sarah nodded agreement, “Blair's really upset about 'crashing',” she tried unsuccessfully to stifle a little giggle, “and I know it's not funny, because it really shook him ... but a supergiant.”

“You better not laugh when you talk to him,” Henri warned with a grin of his own.

“Oh, no, of course not. Just getting it out of my system now.”

<><><>

“Hey, Blair. How's training going?” asked Sarah.

Blair glared at her, “You heard, didn't you?”

Sarah sheepishly answered, “Well, yeah. I just thought you might want to talk.”

Blair sighed, “I'm just worried, you know. I 'have' to get it right. We've got only the one Jumpship. If we have a problem, get stranded ... well, there aren't any Allied Systems ships coming to the rescue.”

Sarah nodded, “Yeah. Dad and I felt nearly the same way, and we had Captains Adams and Endicott on their mining ships, backing us up. But still, if we'd messed up, if there was major equipment failure or something, if ICE32's orbit went bad or if it had broken up under gravitational stress ... those two little ships might not have been able to save us. There are so many things that 'could' have gone wrong, but we worked the sims over and over until we had every worst case scenario covered.”

“The sims ... you really trust them?”

“You never worked sims before?”

“No. I was into the social sciences. I had no real need before this. It's a lot to expect for the sims to really mimic what can happen out 'there'. I guess I should trust them ... but maybe it's just that I don't trust myself.”

Sarah and Blair walked on for a moment before Sarah answered, “You trust Jim, right?”

“Of course.”

“He's been working the sims with you. Has he given any indication that he isn't happy with them or with you?”

Blair stopped and turned to her, “Well, no.”

“If you don't trust yourself, then trust him, Blair.”

“I do!”

Sarah just grinned.

“All right. All right. ... You're right.” Blair sighed dramatically, but stated firmly, “I do trust him.” He finally grinned, “Thanks.”

Rafe exited the door just down the hall and walked toward them.

Blair was almost glad for the interruption. With a calculating grin he said, “Hey, Rafe. I have to get back to the sims,” and with an exaggerated sigh, “... again. Could you walk Sarah back to her cabin in Visitor's Quarters?”

Sarah blushed, and Rafe grinned, never taking his eyes off her, “Hi, Sarah. I'd be happy to escort you. I need to talk to your Dad anyway about the ship fabrication timeline.”

Blair smiled as he rocked up on his toes, “Of course you do. Well, maybe Sarah can tell you something about it on the way. See you two later.”


>6.<

First Officer Rafe was on duty in Central the next day when Jim and Blair entered. “Well, did you figure out the cause of the vibration?” he asked without preamble.

Jim grinned, “Yeah. It was 'a piece of cake'.”

Blair nudged him with his elbow.

Jim glanced toward him and grinned, “With my Guide's help, of course!”

Rafe turned to Blair with a questioning look.

“I just had to, you know, 'guide' him along, and that was all it took.”

Jim was quick to gently whap the back of his head. “Yeah, Sandburg. You worked miracles,” he said in feigned aggravation.

“Hey! You're the one that said I was irreplaceable, even unique!”

Rafe tried to hold back a smirk as Jim rolled his eyes, “Chief, I was trying to be nice. Supportive. You know, encouraging!”

Blair went still, and his eyes widened. Then he nearly whispered, “You didn't mean it.”

Jim backtracked as quickly as he could, “No, I mean yes, of course I meant it! Sandburg ... You're pulling my leg aren't you?” and he reached to grab him in a headlock but Blair grinned widely as he quickly stepped aside and put one of Central's monitoring stations between him and Jim's long reach.


>7.< Gaia ... Gaia 1 ... The Walkabout

> > > > > > > > > > > >
The audio/visual link was instituted with no problem.
Council for Gaia System government was in session.
> > > > > > > > > > > >

The Council convened with all present.

Captain Simon Banks acknowledged the participants and began, “You are all aware of the many subjects on the agenda today. I think it would be best to start with a discussion of the announcement of the new Jump Portal that's been calculated and certain ... concerns that we need to address.” There were a few moments of awkward silence.

Jim and Blair had been unaware of any 'concerns'. They shared a quick, puzzled glance before Blair asked, “Is there some problem? The calculations have been verified at several independent locations, and by the XJ-Fuga's computer, too.”

Captain Megan Connor's location was in the Belt, far out-orbit on The Walkabout, but she smiled warmly through the 'link' at Blair and Jim before answering, “It's not that we're unsure of the calculations ...”

Blair paled, and rushed to say, “It's 'me', isn't it? I'm the problem!” He turned to Jim in distress, “I told you, man. Even they don't think I can do it.”

Simon reentered the discussion quickly. “No, Sandburg, it isn't you,” he stated firmly, if a bit irritably. “It's not that. We're all aware you've been working extremely hard on the sims, and we have no doubt that you'll be entirely capable of handling anything that comes your way. We have confidence in your abilities and Captain Ellison's experience. That isn't the problem.”

Jim and Blair looked confused as Jim asked, “Then what?”

Megan's serious demeanor conveyed the sincerity of her answer, “We're worried about 'you', mates. Well, worried about all of us, too, to be totally honest. You see, we've been talking amongst ourselves about what we would lose if something happens to you two. We'll lose a very precious resource ... our Sentinel and our Guide. We see that as a very poor return for a possible new Jump Portal.”

Jim snorted, “I think you might value us too highly, Megan.”

Blair nodded in agreement, “Besides, Jim would never let us take this jump if he thought it would be dangerous.”

Simon stated, “But the jump 'is' dangerous. It's into unknown territory. Totally unknown. This isn't even a shortcut-jump to a known star system like Jim was supposedly taking when he found the portal to Otherspace. You 'can't' say it doesn't inherently hold the prospect of danger to you both.”

Jim and Blair glanced at each other then back to the rest of the Council. Jim's coldly expressionless face caused them all to pay close attention as he asked, “Are you really proposing that you would keep us ... prisoner ... in Gaia System?”

The Council members were stunned by the accusation. Simon finally shifted uncomfortably, and looked around at the other participants, “I don't think ... well, I don't think that's really what we were proposing ... were we?”

The others glanced about and seemed to realize that it 'would' be the inevitable result. Shock slowly turned to chagrin.

Megan sighed in reluctant agreement with Simon's, and Jim's, statements, “I think you know that that wasn't our intention. Please believe that we do value you greatly. Your loss would be deeply felt, not just to the community but to us, personally ... but I don't think we'd considered what that would mean to you.” She glanced at the other council members, then with resignation added, “Perhaps we 'were' too hasty. I, for one, hope you'll accept my apology.”

Abel Carter, on the link from New Cascade as Gaia's representative, spoke next, “I hope you'll accept my apology, too, and ... I'd like to take this opportunity for me to officially express New Cascade's thanks for your help with the search for the two lost children. The outcome would have been tragic indeed without your gifts. This is just one example of the many times you've aided the colonies and other survivors here. We would feel your loss ... but you're right, too. We can't ask you to give up this exploration for which you've trained, and from which we'll benefit, as well.”

“We're glad to do what we can,” said Blair, “We have skills not duplicated by anyone else, at least Jim and Henri Brown do. We have an obligation to put them to use. The XJ-Fuga can give us other star systems; other refuges for us. We need to grow, but more than that, we need the sense of purpose, the hope for the future. You know that morale has been low. The early months and years were filled with plans and new beginnings. Now it's been three years of hard work, and people have realized that the hard work will continue far into the future. New horizons and new opportunities would rekindle confidence in our future, our survival.”

Simon saw the small nods that showed growing ease and acceptance of the situation from his councilors and added a short nod of his own, “I think we're all now in agreement on this matter.” He saw nods from all present. “Well ... it seems that we'll need to discuss plans for furthering our explorations. But first, there is a matter that Megan wishes to bring to our attention. You said you had an announcement to make?”

Megan's genuine smile eased everyone's worry that the announcement might be troubling, “We've finished the nursery/school section on the Walkabout just in time for the arrival of our newest enrollee ... Rhonda and Joel Taggert's daughter, Arielle, was born this morning. She's in fine 'voice' and Rhonda and Joel would welcome your good wishes, I'm sure.”

Blair grinned, “Oh, man. That's great!” Glancing from Jim and back to Megan, “We'll be sure to call them later. We should be out there in a few weeks anyway. It'll be great to see them.”

Rafe asked, “Do you think you can stay long enough for the start of production on the clanship? Gerald is planning a rather large 'shindig', as he's calling it.”

Jim, who had relaxed at the change in subject, smiled widely as he said, “We wouldn't miss it. After all, when we find a new star system, you'll be aboard the next ship to arrive.”

Simon grumped, “And I'll have to find a new First Officer.”

Rafe looked a little upset, “I'm sorry about that, Captain ...”

Simon snorted, “Just make sure I'm invited to the wedding.”

“Wedding?” squeaked Rafe.

Blair laughed aloud at Rafe's red face. His laughter was contagious, and soon the others had joined in.

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finis part 3 A






Click here for Part 3 B: http://1sentinel1guide.livejournal.com/6774.html


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Sun, Feb. 15th, 2009, 06:10 pm
XJ-Fuga Part 3 B

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XJ-Fuga 3 B
by ljc
3/07

See Notes, Summary, Rating, Warning, and Disclaimer in Part 1.

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>8.<

Jim and Blair, Sentinel and Guide, returned to their quarters. Blair was subdued and Jim wanted to end that as soon as possible. A solemn Guide was not a good thing.

“Chief, you know that we need to think about setting a date for the Jump. Heading out to the Walkabout in a few weeks sounds like a good idea. We should be done with the sims by then, and while we're out there we'll have time to put the Fuga through some tests. That will leave us plenty of time to visit with everyone and you can try out your charms on Arielle.”

Blair just nodded as if his mind was elsewhere.

“You know, Gerald is going to need some help with the clanship soon, and with signing on permanent crew. Rafe and Sarah will both be heading out there soon. Rafe will be a big help to Gerald. Maybe we can all go on the same shuttle. We can all have a look around the Walkabout. They've done a lot of work there, and on the MFC. That sound okay?”

“Uh, huh. Sounds good.”

Jim sighed in exasperation, “Blair, what's wrong?”

Blair looked sheepish as he answered, “I know I've been freaking out over the sims, but I'm not really sure if that's the problem, or at least, the only problem. Haven't you been feeling a little ... off?”

Jim felt like he'd had the wind knocked out of him. If Blair had - concerns - then Jim immediately questioned whether he'd been overlooking something important himself. But the truth was, he hadn't noticed anything out of the ordinary. His main concern had been Blair.

Blair saw the answer before he could express it. “Man, I don't know what's wrong. Would you mind a meditation session?” he asked almost pleadingly, as if Jim would think it unnecessary, or worse, a nuisance. “I feel like maybe we're missing something, and I really hope it isn't a forewarning in a vision.”

Jim was quick to agree. No matter how much he dreaded a marathon session, which this might turn into, especially if Blair needed to search out something they hadn't noted before. Their worst fear had always been that they might miss something, and it drove them to question their visions as well as themselves; their motivations as well as their distractions. And they'd had plenty of those lately.

They settled into position and relaxed deeply into their trance states while never losing touch physically, as they'd discovered that their observations were reinforced by their closeness.

=> => => => =>

~Blue Gaian jungle existed as only a flicker of pleasant recognition before disintegrating to black infinity.~

~Was this null space? Subspace? Between the 'here' and 'there' of Jump?

~Was this a place, or was it a warning? Here, blackness enveloped them in shocking totality, where fear alone could wrench their minds from the path of reason.~

~Total silence enveloped them. The cacophony of life was absent and their own minds screamed denial.~

~The searing, sense-perverting -- b l a c k -- ness defied even that color as reference.~

~Perhaps that was the purpose, for a great absence can enhance ...
T H E L I G H T ~

~Fiery lashes, shockingly brutal, totally silent, bludgeoned the blackness to oblivion. Flame, the destroyer.~

~In space? In vacuum?~

~Where? When? How could this be?~

~Shaken and driven, they explored the vision further.~

<= <= <= <= <=


>9.<

Blair's muscles disobeyed him. He fell forward, completely limp, until his forehead rested on his crossed legs. Jim's muscles betrayed him. He sat ramrod straight, with not a tremble or a flutter as his whole body zoned and could only wait for his guide to free him to life once again. Each handled in his own way the shock of the vision, until their minds could cope.

Blair slowly rose from his strained position. He tried to breathe evenly a few times until he became aware once again of the hands clasped by his own. He realized that his sentinel had frozen in shock, unlike Blair, who had collapsed into limpness. The strain in his voice was evident as he whispered, “Jim ... come back, Jim. Listen and come back. I need you, my friend. Please ... heed my voice and come back.”

Blair held on to Jim's hands as the sentinel shuddered through his return. Jim finally grasped tightly those hands that had held on, and shocked Blair once again when he let out a heartrending scream. He pulled his hands frantically from Blair's, covered his eyes, and rocked as the scream died to whimpers of pain.

Blair had stilled in surprise for just an instant before trying to pull Jim's hands away from his face. “Jim, let me see. Please stop rubbing, Jim. Shhh, please just let me hold your hands. Let me see your face, Jim.” Slowly the hands came down and Jim's eyes were clenched shut, tears spread across his face.

“Jim, you have to listen to me. Listen, please. You hear me, I know it.” Blair shook the hands in his bruising grip, “I need to know what's wrong. Can you tell me? Please, man. I can help if you tell me,” was his frantic hope.

“My eyes. So bright! It was so bright! Blair, it hurts like - like snow blindness. I - I was on the planet Rainier once, in the mountains. I didn't know that the brightness could hurt so much. It hurts now, like it did then.”

Blair had listened, and remembered that he'd told Jim that he could help. He hoped it was the truth. “Jim, I'm going to call the doctor. He'll know what to do.” He gripped Jim's hands tighter, “Listen to me, Jim. It didn't hurt me. I know I'm no sentinel but my eyes are fine. It was a vision, so I'm thinking it's your mind that's reacting to the shock of the light we saw. I think, that like the snow blindness, this will go away. I'm not sure if it's even physical at all. I think ... that like me ... you could be in shock. Will you be alright for a moment while I call the doctor?”

Jim gripped his hands even harder, then with a visible effort, released them.

Blair nodded, not even thinking that Jim couldn't see him. “Good. He'll be able to do some tests.” Blair wanted to say more. He wanted to say that it would only be a matter of time, but he wasn't sure. No matter how badly he wanted it to be true, he couldn't make that kind of promise to Jim.

Blair called Dr. Dan Wolfe and was told that he would come immediately. Blair had been a frequent visitor to the MedBay when he had first been trying to understand his friend's sense reactions. But Jim Ellison had managed to cope with his slightly enhanced senses for all of his life. Their extra sensitivity since his first brush with an Otherspace jump had been what had thrown him into 'zones', which had proven the necessity of the companionship of a Guide. That first guide had been Henri Brown until they'd met Blair Sandburg, and Blair had proven his surprising ability to help Jim.

Blair had never had to place an emergency call to Dr. Wolfe before. He knew his urgent call had worried the doctor immensely. He knew that Jim had only visited the doctor's office for checkups, and only if he couldn't help it, as happened when he needed recertification as a Jumpship pilot. Jim was a little more stoic than he thought his friend should be. He'd be happier if Jim would act with more precaution than stoicism concerning health matters.

Blair had hurriedly unlocked the door, and lowered the lights to their dimmest level before returning to Jim. He sat quietly beside him, holding one of Jim's hands and stroking his back gently in an effort to reassure him, and himself also. The contact worked to calm them both, and Blair's soft reassurances had gone a long way to dispel Jim's anxiety until the doctor arrived.

“Dr. Wolfe is here, Jim. Are you okay with his presence? Will it be alright for him to examine you?”

“Dr. Wolfe, uh, thank you for coming. Blair ...?” Jim asked shakily.

Blair knew that Jim was very upset for the moment, so he advised the doctor about the trance and some of the vision, and Jim's reaction.

Dr. Wolfe listened with care, “Thank you, Blair. Jim? Do you agree with what Blair has said?” At Jim's nod, he began briskly and confidently, “I must agree with your Guide. His presence during the vision would seem to validate his hypothesis. It's certainly reasonable, so I want you to try to think positive thoughts. I'll start with some simple tests. If those turn out the way I think they will then I believe it will just be a matter of time before the shock wears off. The tests shouldn't take long, and I'll keep them as pain free as I can with your Guide's help. Will you accompany me to the MedBay?” Jim had visibly relaxed at his words.

Blair swallowed tightly. The doctor had been reassuring but there was another matter that had to take precedence. He gripped Jim's hand a little harder and asked him, “Man, I know you want those tests done right away, and so do I, but I think we need to wait long enough to tell someone about our visions. Can you wait that long, Jim? I think Simon would come here if we called him.”

Jim looked exhausted, and felt worse, but unfortunately he knew that recounting their visions couldn't wait. They both knew that time was slipping away too quickly. He gave an answering grip to his friend's hand and said stoically, “Dr. Wolfe, perhaps you could set up the tests. We can come to your office as soon as Simon leaves.”

“A small delay for the tests won't hurt. From what you've told me this is an urgent matter. While you're waiting for the Captain, I'll bandage your eyes. We want to protect them from the light in the corridors. If it is like snow blindness, more exposure to the light would be painful.” After that was accomplished, the doctor left for his office.

Blair and Jim were shaken, but determined. Their own problems would have to wait, but what they had seen in the vision 'would' happen. Anything they could do would only help mitigate the effects. There was not a thing they could do to stop it.


>10.<

They'd asked for Simon to come to them, to their cabin on Deck 3; to leave Central, and come for a briefing. Simon was surprised at their request until he saw them. Jim's bandages were a shock, and both Jim and Blair looked on the verge of collapse. He could only listen with growing concern as the situation was detailed as fully as they were able, while feeling helpless to aid his friends.

Simon was glad when Henri and Serena arrived. Jim was obviously glad of Henri's presence. They'd been friends and had worked together for years, and Serena had been trained to work in a nursing position. Dr. Wolfe had known of their friendship, and when he had returned to the MedBay, he had requested her help. Serena had called Henri and they'd gone as quickly as possible to accompany Jim and Blair. Simon was grateful that Jim was in good hands, and Blair would have friends at his side.

When they all left for the MedBay, Simon left to set a hastily formed plan in motion to deal with the information he'd been given. When he reached Central he ordered, “Lieutenant Johnson, send the head of the Space Weather Monitoring Station to my office. Rafe, I need you with me. Officer Roberts, contact Captain Connor and Abel Carter for an emergency meeting of the Council. I'm ordering a Yellow Alert. Notify me immediately of anything out of the ordinary.”

As alarm lights began to flash yellow, Rafe asked, “Captain? What about our Sentinel and Guide?”

“They're ... busy.”


>11.<

> > > > > > > > > > > >
The audio/visual link was instituted with no problem.
Council for Gaia System government was in emergency session.
> > > > > > > > > > > >

Simon sank into his chair at the table in the conference room. His countenance was as grim as anyone had seen since the early days, before the move to Otherspace. He didn't delay or hesitate, “I declare the Council in emergency session. We don't have any time to waste. Our Sentinel and Guide briefed me but they're not sure how much time we have to act. I requested the presence of Lt. Commander Wend, of the Space Weather Monitoring Station. Commander, have you seen any evidence of anomalies concerning Gaia's Sun?”

Lt. Commander Wend paled, as too many possibilities occurred to his imagination. He could see the shock on the faces of the others, too. If the Sentinel and Guide had precipitated an emergency Council session, it could 'not' be good. “Sunspots and flares are following predictions, although we haven't yet observed a full estimated cycle of 8.4 Gaian years. We'll be entering the maximum predicted sunspot cycle later this year. It's a very active sun, on the upward curve compared to others in the Allied Systems database. As you all know, we've taken precautions with arrays of weather satellites in various orbits to give us as much warning as possible. We have more than adequate shielding for the predicted radiation. Did ... did Ellison and Sandburg give a warning concerning a Space Weather anomaly? Is that why we're here?”

“Yes,” Simon answered tersely. He took a deep breath and looked directly at Captain Connor. “The warning was mainly for the Walkabout.”

Megan's look of surprise, and dread, was mirrored on the others. “We're pretty far out, Simon. What are we looking at here?”

“Since Space Weather hasn't received any warning yet, we may have a bit more time than we thought, but the warning is for a coronal mass ejection, an Interplanetary CME. It mostly misses the planet Gaia, so the atmosphere should provide enough protection, although, Abel ... it would be a good idea to get your people to shelters when the time comes.”

“Of course. One of the precautions we surveyed for before landing was the presence of natural shelters. There are natural caves near the colonies that should be sufficient, unless ... do you know how long this ICME will be a danger?”

“It may only be hours, but they also warned that the visions aren't exact. Megan ... the ICME will be on a direct course for the Walkabout. If you can change orbit, do it. They said any change will be a benefit.”

Megan looked appalled, “Just ... change orbit! We're not a ship anymore, Simon. You know how it is. You had to take many precautions before you moved after the incident with the water reserve tank. We're not 'built' to move anymore. It would cost lives!”

Simon grimaced at the reminder of the past incident, knowing she was right. The Walkabout hadn't been built like his own ship, a former space liner. It was built in pods, with more now attached. With production facilities added in close orbit, and living quarters, and mining ships and shuttles docked and orbiting. It had turned into a hub of commerce and transport in a very short time.

Simon nodded understanding. “They had considered all that, Megan. If it's truly impossible, then they suggested the usual ... shielding of people and electronics. Send the orbiting and docked ships away. We'll get the safe bearings to you as soon as they're calculated.”

Megan looked grim, “I'm on it. I need to contact my staff. I'll sign off for now, but don't hesitate to send any updates. Simon, will you be alright on Gaia 1?”

Simon simply nodded and allowed Megan to leave. His own problems were minor, and he had options. He had shielding he hoped would be adequate, and he had his water reserve tank that could be shifted in line with the Sun for even more protection, and even ICE32 could be moved if there was time; they were much closer to the sun than the Walkabout. If the problem was worse than they suspected at the moment, it would be tricky, but he could bring their orbit to a stationary point behind Gaia. But he understood Megan's problem. That kind of move would be a last resort.

A message came in from Space Weather for Lt. Wend from Sci-Tech Apprentice Daryl Banks, which he relayed, “Captain Banks ... one of our Weather satellites in close orbit of the sun has stopped broadcasting.”


>12.<

Space Weather was normally a quiet place of lit monitors and clicking keys, but not today. Lt. Commander Jason Wend was quietly capable, directing his small staff in firm and unharried tones. He knew the disaster was coming, and only his small and solemn staff ... plus, possibly, the Sentinel and Guide ... could give predictions of arrival times and intensity. If they had enough instruments left to give readings.

Several satellites had ceased to function, and they had switched their concern to a secondary line of communications/data collection satellites. When those sent their information - and some of them would fail in their turn - they would have more information available for their use. In the back of his mind he was already planning for a new array in the very near future. If this sun was this abnormal it would bear closer monitoring.

Lt. Commander Wend reported directly to Captain Banks, “Energetic particles could arrive at Gaia in 15-20 minutes.”

Captain Banks grimly turned to Lt. Johnson, “Red Alert, Lieutenant. Follow that up with verbal orders to go to shelters immediately. Connect me with Mr. Abel Carter. He should be waiting for my call.” He was indeed in contact with Mr. Carter in short order and the warning was passed on.

Simon turned back to Lt. Commander Wend, “What should I tell the Walkabout?”

Wend licked his lips nervously, “Even though they'll be more attenuated, since the Walkabout is further outsystem, those particles will be 300% above the levels we receive since they're on a more direct line with the ICME. The ejected plasma should reach them in 90 hours. The danger for them will start in 3.75 days and last possibly another 2 days. That is, if predictions hold true.”

“Two days?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“And less than four days to prepare. That's going to mean a lot of stress on their electronics ... and then having their people packed into shelters ... Well, of course you have an appreciation of the situation. Please keep me updated. If there's any variation in radiation levels ... just keep me updated immediately.”

“Yes, Sir.”


>13.< Interlude

Where Gaia 1 was becoming the 'educational or university center', the Walkabout was becoming the manufacturing center. Smaller items could be fabricated on 3DPrinters, which were ubiquitous on all the ships. Large items had certain other necessary requirements, one of which was just more room for production. Materials were mined from orbiting asteroids, but it wasn't easy. Orbits covered immense distances. It took planning, stockpiling of material, and production of equipment for larger scale manufacturing. It also took intelligence, knowledge, determination, and courage.


>14.< The Walkabout, Belt Orbit Alpha, Gaia System, Otherspace

The community that was the Walkabout was in shock. The people went about their duties during this Yellow Alert phase with determination, and trusted that the community would once again do what was necessary.

Captain Megan Connor had thought those horrible early days would never shadow her thoughts again; the days when a wrong move would be the death of her, her crew and her two passengers, and later, the people of the Rainbow Meadow Habitat. It was a time when 'life or death' choices were an instant away, and who knew which meant life and which meant death. But her people trusted her. She and her staff would bring them through this, too, the best they could.

The Engineering Section designed and placed orders for construction of quadruple shielded shelters. The Maintenance Department did the upgrading of high radiation protective gear, portable shielding, and extra shielding to cover the Walkabout's Control Central and other electronics-heavy areas. The 3DPrinter Production Bays were put on round the clock production of smaller items, especially electronic circuits that would be stored in shielded areas for replacement purposes after the 'event'. While all these, and more, steps were taken to ensure the physical survival of the Walkabout, an emergency evacuation plan was drafted for as many of it's citizens as possible by the Banking and Commerce Division, and implemented by the Department of Transportation and the Mining Consortium.

“Captain Connor?” asked Rhonda Taggert.

“Rhonda, shouldn't you be home with Arielle?”

Rhonda smiled tightly, “That's where I'd like to be Captain, but not where I should be. We have a hail from the Materials Fabrication Center.”

“Put it through.”

“Captain Connor. Gerald Simms here.”

“Captain Simms. It's good to hear from you. Do you have an update on your status?”

“The clanship is secured. It'll be fine. Captain, I've been talking to Joel Taggert and some of the engineering staff. We have a proposition. We think it's possible to pull it off in time, before the first wave of particles arrive.”

Megan was interested alright. “Tell me,” she commanded. She could hear Gerald's grin in his speech as he answered, and she desperately wanted to hear some good news.

“The MFC is down-orbit. We intend to move it further out-orbit, closer ... much closer ... where we'll pace the Walkabout. Make it a further shield for you. All you have to say is 'yes'. We've got it all worked out. This place is solidly built, as you know. Production of shielding in underway as we speak. If we lock down production processes in three days time, and we can bring us practically close enough to dock with the Walkabout. Say yes, and we'll be waving across a small jumping space between us. Well?”

Megan was unable to speak for a moment, as too many possibilities occurred to her frazzled mind, “You're sure?”

“Yes.”

“You can get everyone off and over here in shielded areas in time?”

“Well ... it'll be close, and the last ones off will be in radiation gear, but they'll have the MFC shielding them on the space walk over to the Walkabout. Just give the word, Captain.”

“Put it in motion, Captain Simms. But I DO want the proposal in my hands ...”

“You have it now, Captain. We'll see you soon.”

Megan headed for Rhonda who was already accessing the proposal.


>15.< New Cascade cave shelter, Gaia

Naomi Sandburg roamed the sheltering caves near New Cascade, speaking to the worried inhabitants, bringing them up to date on the situation. Her calm demeanor left it's effects in her wake. She would often return to the communications post that had been established to receive updates and handle problems or inquiries, and also to be near Abel for a time.

She tried not to worry about her son and Jim. She had known for some time that they'd be in the center of any crisis, but as worried as she was, she was also proud. She loved her son, and Jim was his best friend. They'd formed a friendship closer than any she'd ever seen before. She'd seen the changes in Blair in the last three years. She knew that the Sentinel/Guide partnership placed a great burden on them, but they were strong, and their friendship was the key to that strength.

So she kept her worries to herself, and attended to her 'duties'. They may have been unofficial, but they were nevertheless important. Her son was the Guide but she had surprised both him, and herself, by settling into a position that suited her own talents and natural inclination, one where she could counsel and observe the health of the community.


>16.< Interlude

Gerald Simms and Joel Taggert were a good team. They'd come to the same conclusion, almost at the same time: the Walkabout was too important to risk. They needed to do everything possible to prevent damage to it. It was 'home' to too many people, even if they only docked there between mining trips or other excursions.

The MFC was solidly built. Only the Ore Processing Center was more massive, but zero-gee processing of ore was a more complicated business than producing finished products. Shutting down a production line on the MFC wasn't easy, but it 'was' faster.

The material that came from the MFC's facilities were shipped all over the system and were the material foundation of Gaia System's society. For all it's solidness and usefulness, it was still only an installation. It was not irreplaceable. It was not The Walkabout.


>17.< Materials Fabrication Center, Belt Orbit Beta

Captain Connor addressed all the members of the team on the MFC, “Listen up, mates. Time to leave. The clock is ticking. I want to hear from each one of you when you enter the Walkabout's air lock.” She waited for confirmations of her order before giving the last signal to begin the change of orbit for the MFC. “Mr. Taggert, you have the helm ... that would be 'Captain Taggert', Joel, for this maneuver. On your orders, Sir.”

“We'll be on time, Captain Connor. Thanks for the promotion.”

Megan grinned tightly, knowing they were all well aware of the seriousness of this situation, “Just remember, you're 'my' crew when this is over.”

“Aye, and I'll be glad to come home,” Joel joined gratefully in the spirit of the exchange, then settled in to some serious work.

Joel called Gerald on the com, “Is everything battened down, Captain?”

“As ready as she'll ever be ... Captain!” answered Gerald.

Joel grinned, “Don't worry, my friend, I'll gladly give up my captaincy as soon as this 'ship' is where we want it. I'd feel better if I were 'Engineering Officer' instead of you. How did you talk me into this?”

“Because you were Second to Captain Connor on the Walkabout, and because I know engines. Don't forget, I had to keep the Wellspring flying; I helped you with the MFC's construction; and I've been working on the blueprints for the clanship. I 'know' engines.”

Joel grinned at his friend's enthusiasm. The big clanship would be the first of a fleet, and all because of his friend's dream. “Countdown is a 'go', Gerald. We'll leave on the mark.”

“Aye.”

On the Walkabout they watched as the MFC's thrusters engaged in silent fury, while Joel and Gerald rode the vibrations that rattled a facility that was never meant for serious flight. The slight shaking they felt provided the only evidence of movement except for positional scans. Telltale lights lit the boards and most were green. “Gerald, there's a bad vibration in the port thruster ...”

“I'm on it!”

The vibrations steadied until thrusters cut off. When nothing disastrous appeared on the boards, Joel allowed himself a deep breath, trying to relax all his tensed muscles. It had been a busy three days and they only had hours to move into position and vacate the MFC, but it was looking good. If they'd done it right, they only had to reverse thrusters and glide into position. Red lights had blinked out one by one and Joel allowed himself a relieved sigh when they stayed off. Gerald was right, he was familiar with a number of different engines.

Gerald and Joel had been suited up for this maneuver so they'd be ready for the short spacewalk over to the Walkabout. With orbit achieved, they stepped off together. Gerald was joking about the Captain abandoning his ship. They were tethered together, a standard safety precaution.

Joel had his eyes on their target, and longed to be with Rhonda and their baby, when he felt a tug on the tether that pulled him into a spiraling move. It pulled him into an orbit with Gerald as the opposite pole.

“Gerald? This isn't the time for fancy flying, my friend ...” That was the last Joel said before he saw his friend on the end of the tether. Gerald was silent as he rotated into the light of Gaia's sun. Joel was glad that he couldn't see past the shattered faceplate.

Being hit by a meteoroid was such a slim probability even in the Belt. Three years ago, Gerald's life, all their lives, had balanced on the much slimmer probability of reaching Otherspace. Now, all Joel could do was to hold his grief in check until he could retrieve his friend's body.


>18.< Two days later, aboard Gaia 1

“Jim? We need to check in with Central, and Rafe's waiting for us,” said Blair tentatively. “Jim?”

Jim roused himself to reply with effort. The last few days had taken it's toll on him. His recovery had been slow and steady, but it had also been worrisome until Dr. Wolfe had finally given Jim a clean bill of health. Gerald's death had been a tremendous blow to everyone, but Sentinel and Guide felt ... responsible. “I'm coming, Sandburg.”

“Jim, we don't have to leave right now, or even today. We can arrange passage on another shuttle. I know how you feel, but it was an accident.”

“An accident. Then why do I feel so ... responsible?”

“Jim, you were in such shock from the vision that you were totally blind for three days. No one blames you.”

“Hysterical blindness! Dr. Wolfe found no physical reason for it,” he said in self-disgust. “If I'd been more in control, maybe I could have gone into the trance again, like we did before, when Gaia 1 was threatened. But I was ... weak. I was ...”

“You were in shock. Like me,” Blair said softly. “And you know I tried to go into the vision again. There was no warning there that I could find ... unless I was ... wrong. Or - or maybe I 'can't' do it alone. Maybe I'm fooling myself that I'm helping you.”

Jim finally heard his Guide; heard his pain, saw his grief visibly etched on his face. He swallowed his own pain, his own grief, to give comfort to his friend, “Chief ... you help me. Trust me on that.” He stepped closer, placed a hand on Blair's shoulder, and said, “I know you've told me this before, and you were right ... doubting ourselves and what we do will only make it harder.”

“It's just hard accepting that despite all the good we can do something can still go wrong. That there 'will' be ... accidents, and good people will suffer.”

“We can only do our best,” Jim added softly.

Blair's eyes met Jim's and accepted his friend's support and comfort. Gerald Simms had died and they hadn't been able to 'foresee' it with their visions. They hadn't been able to prevent it. This ... failure ... was something they had feared. Now that it had come to pass, it would be a burden they would have to share. There was no changing the outcome, and probably no warning that could have been discerned even from the visions. They could only go on, honoring Gerald's life, and honoring his sacrifice.

Jim said, “Come on, Blair. Rafe will be waiting to board, with Sarah.”

“Yeah, Sarah.”

“She has Rafe, Chief. She'll be okay,” and Jim swung his arm over Blair's shoulder as they left their cabin. “We'll be okay, too.”


>19.< Interlude

What they'd previously expected to be a joyful visit with old friends, and the welcoming of a new member of the community, little Arielle, had turned into a sad occasion.

True, Gaia System had once again weathered a crisis, but the loss of Captain Gerald Simms was hard. Captain Simms had led the ships that had aided Gaia 1, so his name and the name of his ship, The Wellspring, were known system wide. Memorials were held for him in each of the colonies.

The memorial on the Walkabout was solemn indeed. Gerald had been a frequent visitor, and had worked with Joel Taggert for some time on his pet project, the clanship that was being readied for it's first jump outsystem. It was to be the first of a fleet. The clanships were to be built to allow families to travel and work together as the second tier in exploration and research, after the Jumpships located new routes and star systems.

Rafe, as First Officer, now found himself the Acting Captain. He found it a bit overwhelming, yet he felt that his first duty was to Sarah Simms, and his attention never wavered.


>20.< MFC, Belt Orbit Beta

As soon as the memorial services were over, Rafe included Sarah in every stage of the planning for the clanship. Months later, when it was finally ready to be launched, Sarah stood by his side, listening with pride and striving to keep her emotions under control. She did very well until Rafe's final words.

Captain Rafe had stood quietly until the end of the ceremony. Then he turned and looked toward Sarah. He drew her forward and tucked her hand into the crook of his arm and spoke as if only to her, “I was privileged to know Captain Gerald Simms for several years. His enthusiasm breathed life into a project that began with nothing but his own dream. He gathered us all, willing or not, into an adventure that pushed the limits of our capability ... and we did it. That dream is here before us. I wish Gerald was with us today. I wish he could have seen this ship fly. All of us here know that this is Captain Simms' ship more than anyone else's. And so, in the presence of those attending, and for those who will travel aboard her in the years to come, I name this vessel ... KinShip I: The Gerald Simms. May his ship, and it's Kin, dwell in peace and prosperity forevermore.”

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finis part 3 B

Click here for Part 4: http://1sentinel1guide.livejournal.com/6445.html


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Sun, Feb. 15th, 2009, 05:33 pm
XJ-Fuga Part 4, Conclusion

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XJ-Fuga
Part 4 (Conclusion)
by ljc
5/07

See Notes, Summary, Rating, Warning, and Disclaimer in Part 1.

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>1.< Aboard Ellison's Enterprise, one-half Gaian year later

Steven settled the shuttle into dock with only a tiny bump and the click of clamps to secure the ship in it's berth for it's stay on Gaia 1.

“Come on, Jim. Wake up, bro,” Steven said with a grin.

Jim woke with a huge yawn and a stretch. “We're here?”

Steven shook his head and chuckled, “I'd never have believed it. That you'd be so relaxed with me 'driving'.”

Jim grinned back sheepishly, “Well, if we'd crashed, I'd definitely have had something to say to my Guide. He was 'supposed' to be watching out for me.”

Steven grinned even wider, “Then you'd better wake up 'sleeping beauty' and tell him.” Then he left Jim to gather his gear and wake his still sleeping Guide.

As Steven passed through the door, Jim's grin began to fade. It had been a tough few months. They'd accompanied Sarah and Rafe to The Walkabout, and had attended the memorial service. Gerald had been well respected, and his plans for the future had kept morale high throughout the system. They were going to miss him.

While they were in the Belt they had helped with the physical damage on the Walkabout and the Materials Fabrication Center. Jim's sensory gifts had been in great demand, so he and Blair were occupied to the point of exhaustion. The first order of business had been to make the Walkabout safe. Then the plan had been to get the MFC in shape for production of more shields for the other communities in the system.

Everyone was relieved when the new shields were deployed. Luckily damage in the rest of Gaia System had been minimal. After the shields, the MFC had orders for a new and enlarged Space Weather Array. Until then, the remnants of the old Array was deployed along the most populated corridor in Gaia System.

Rafe had told them on the journey out to the Walkabout that he had mixed emotions about his appointment as Captain of the first KinShip, but they'd watched him take charge of the situation with growing confidence. His concern for Sarah had been obvious, too. When he told them that he'd appreciate it if they could stay until the christening of the new ship, they'd been glad to stay a little longer. They realized that even though Rafe and Sarah knew a lot of people on the Walkabout, they didn't have many close friends there. The ceremony had been a fitting tribute to Gerald's memory.

One of their more pleasant duties during this time had been their visit with Jim's family. Jim had been certain that William would settle into The Walkabout's new commercial district with ease. What had surprised him was that William had been instrumental during this crisis in developing and implementing the evacuation plan for as much of the population as possible. He had used his business contacts to coordinate the ship captains, and his knowledge of cargo and passenger limits along with the capabilities of the smaller enclaves in the Belt to place the temporary refugees. Jim had been impressed. When he'd spoken of it to his father, William had seemed embarrassed yet pleased at Jim's approval, which had further surprised Jim.

Another pleasant duty had been the visits with the Taggerts and Arielle. The baby had even managed to make Sarah smile. Joel and Rhonda had been close to Gerald and Sarah. It wasn't a surprise when they arranged for Sarah and Rafe to have quarters near theirs, as they took them into their 'family'.

Jim sighed tiredly just remembering all that had occurred. He looked at Blair and worried about how tired he looked. Aside from all their work on the Walkabout, the MFC, and aboard the KinShip, they'd also worked aboard the XJ-Fuga. Toward the end of their visit, just after the KinShip was christened, they'd taken it on a shakedown trip. They'd traveled out beyond the farthest planet in the system. It had been almost three years since they'd last flown the Fuga any great distance. Jim had been pleasantly surprised that there'd only been a minor problem with Fuga's systems. They were happy to fly it back to Gaia 1 where some of the crew had studied Jumpship technology in the home galaxy. They'd left the ship in capable - and eager - hands.

<><><>

Unlike the last trip, their return to the Walkabout was quite festive. All their companions on this trip were to attend a very special event. Henri and Serena, and Naomi and Abel accompanied them, as did Simon and Daryl, which left Lt. Commander Wend in command of Gaia 1. Unfortunately Jo couldn't get away since she was in charge of a new batch of apprentices, and Simon couldn't be convinced to allow changes to the station's work schedules. Simon had just smiled smugly when he said, “I told him he 'had' to invite me, and we can't all go.”

Rafe and Sarah's wedding was elegant and dignified. Rhonda and Sarah had had their heads together for several weeks for the planning of it, but other - covert - plans were made known at the last minute.

Simon was smiling broadly when he made an announcement just before the start of the ceremony. He and Captain Connor had arranged audio/visual links so that Rafe's and Sarah's friends could 'attend' from Gaia 1 and other locations. He boomed out a laugh when he saw Rafe's expression. He slapped Rafe on the back hard enough to knock him forward a step, and said, “You don't have stage-fright, do you, Rafe?” Then, more quietly, “Remember, we're all friends here,” and everyone saw him grip his shoulder gently.

Captain Megan Connor seemed to fight off her own nervousness before officiating the ceremony. Long gone were the days when it was just Megan and her crew of two, and any passengers that might accompany them aboard The Walkabout.

Joel escorted Sarah into the room where Rafe and their friends waited. When they reached Captain Connor, their friends formed a circle around them. After the ceremony, Simon teased gently that Rafe was so nervous that he might have bolted if they hadn't kept him 'surrounded' during the ceremony.

<><><>

Megan smiled warmly at her two friends, then began, “Let this be a day of gladness, thanksgiving, possibility, and good fortune for all of us, but especially for Rafe and Sarah, who are here to celebrate their love. Love is patient and kind. It doesn't envy or boast, nor is it proud. It isn't self- seeking, or easily angered. It keeps no record of wrongs. Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails ... Rafe ... Sarah ... Have you come here freely and with the intention of celebrating your marriage in the presence of these witnesses?”

Both answered, “We have.”

“Will you love and honor each other as husband and wife from this day forward?”

Both answered, “We will.”

Megan then led them through the vows they had written:
“I take you to be my partner in life and my one true love.”
“I will cherish our union and love you more each day than I did the day before.”
“I will trust you and respect you, laugh with you and cry with you, loving you faithfully through good times and bad, regardless of the obstacles we may face together.”
“I give you my hand, my heart, and my love, from this day forward for as long as we both shall live.”

Megan continued, “I now pronounce that you have today affirmed your life's commitment to one another, go forth in love and friendship for all the days of your lives.”

<><><>

Jim remembered that Rafe wasn't the only one that had taken some teasing during this time. Before Simon's visit was over he'd been observed 'touring' the Walkabout with Captain Connor, but they hadn't looked like two 'Captains', but rather, like two very 'close' friends. Jim didn't tell Simon that he'd overheard his reply to a wistful comment by Megan. She'd said, “It's a long way to Gaia 1,” to which Simon had replied, “Odd ... I was just thinking that it's not all that far to the Walkabout.” When they began talking about the planned KinShip fleet and the need for an administrator, Jim had tuned out with a smile, knowing their plans sounded promising. He'd tell Blair and maybe they could do something to help smooth the way for them.

Their visit had ended on a very happy note, but he and Blair were still exhausted. With all the delays, they still hadn't set a date for their trip through the newly calculated Jump Portal, but they desperately needed some down time first. Perhaps a trip downplanet would be in order. At that thought, Jim could feel a longing for the smells, sounds, and colors of a living planet.

With a genuine grin he gently shook his Guide, “Hey, Chief. Wake up. I have a plan.”


>2.< Gaia, Sentinel/Guide Temple

Steven set Ellison's Enterprise down in the clearing near the Temple ruins. It wasn't often that Steven had a chance to visit Gaia, but since he'd offered to bring Jim and Blair back to the Temple, he'd been enlisted to deliver the custom-made shields for the cave system at New Cascade. He promised to visit the Temple site when he came to pick them up.

Several people that knew of their arrival came to greet the shuttle. They were always glad to see their frequent residents/visitors, the Sentinel and Guide. Blair had been gratified to know that Jo wasn't the only person that had shown interest in the study of the anthropological database. Others had studied that area, and the archaeological database, in their quest to understand the Temple and it's builders. There was also a team based there for planetary studies, for students of planetary weather, geology, and biological studies. Even though those areas had been a priority since the first landing on Gaia, there was still much to learn. The result was a multi-person, multi-discipline, on-going field study ... and Jim had to get Blair away quickly before he got caught up in it again.

Jim and Blair were quick to stow their gear in their small cabin. After an initial visit to the temple to meditate, they returned to collect their hiking gear and some food. They had both been relieved that there hadn't been a forewarning of a new crisis, especially since their Jump would be coming up someday soon.

They carried med-packs and communication gear as well as an LTS, a Locater/Tracking System, on every foray into the Gaian jungle. Jim even insisted on packing a new tent that was also a collapsible radiation shield. Jim insisted on being prepared for anything since their first traumatic landing, and Blair was secretly glad.

Blair knew that his survival instincts were distinctly 'civilization-based', yet he believed that Jim would be able to survive anywhere. Blair wasn't sure why he believed that, because Jim had grown up as 'civilized' as anyone he knew. Yet Blair felt he could rely on Jim for anything, and after the last few difficult months, he just wanted to indulge his need to keep Jim close.

Blair followed as Jim took the lead, as they usually did on these hikes. Jim's senses gave him an advantage that he and Blair were glad to utilize. They'd explored the area around the Temple many times in the last three years, but Jim's favorite hike would take at least a week. It was to a rugged high-altitude lake and the crest of a magnificent waterfall. They'd been able to look down and watch as the heavy mist flowed out into the most beautiful valley they'd ever seen. That hike took them from a warm, wet tropical rain forest to one that was cool and wet. Blair had visited, and lived in, many habitats while growing up, and his 'climate lectures' to Jim and the other researchers at the Temple, were becoming legendary. Yet today Blair was nearly silent, seeming preoccupied.

“Hey, Chief. Up ... or down.”

Blair looked at him in confusion for a moment, then Jim gestured toward the path up the ridge then down to the valley.

Blair caught on quickly. Looking up, he thought about being cold and wet, and he shivered just at the thought.

Jim shook his head and said, “Down, it is.”

Blair grinned and followed, but it wasn't long before his thoughts were wandering once again. Toward the end of their stay in the Belt, he had begun to feel as if exhaustion had taken over his life and his tumultuous thoughts seemed to sap what energy he had left. He had hoped that the hike would divert his thoughts for a while. Something was nagging at him, and he couldn't seem to reason it out no matter how hard he tried.

They'd never taken a hike down the ridge before. Blair thought it would be nice to see where the water plunged into the river it spawned. So he followed Jim and they slipped and slid their way down steeper parts of the ridge, getting ever closer. During most of their hike, Blair could hear the sounds of the birds and insects, but those sounds became ever more indistinct as the distant thunder of the falls grew until it overpowered all other sounds. The power of that sound seemed to pound all other thought from his mind. He felt relief as his worries fell away, at least for a time.

Later he realized that he should have been paying closer attention. He was Jim's Guide, and he knew better than to let down his guard. He'd been so glad of the relief from his own problem that he'd missed Jim's until he came to a stop a few steps in front of Blair.

Blair knew he didn't have to shout to be heard by his sentinel, but talking at all seemed too much effort when the sound from the falls seemed so overwhelming, so he just placed his hand on Jim's arm. When Jim turned to him, he knew what was wrong. It wasn't hard to guess. The sound was intense, even to him.

Blair slowly began to stroke Jim's arm. With his free hand he pantomimed turning a dial slowly. Jim looked at him in pained exasperation for a moment, and Blair rolled his eyes and repeated the gesture while mouthing the words, 'turn it down, Jim'. Jim didn't even try to argue, probably since Blair couldn't have heard him anyway. He just nodded reluctantly and fastened his gaze on the 'dial hand' again and watched as Blair slowly and patiently turned the 'dial' down one 'notch' at a time. Blair took the 'dial' down far below halfway since Jim was having a problem and they hadn't even arrived at the falls yet. Jim's faint grin was a welcome sight to Blair, and he answered with a grin of his own.

They didn't have far to go so they decided to push on through the thick brush at the edge of the river. From above they had seen that the falls had created a huge plunge pool with ledges and a boulder garden bordering it. Even at the crest of the falls they had seen that the ledges been worn smooth beside the pool by the action of the water. Jim had chosen a path that led them along the very base of the cliff.

Blair had an idea. He reached out and turned Jim toward him.

Blair mouthed, 'Close your eyes.'

Jim mouthed, 'Why?'

Blair rolled his eyes in good-natured exasperation, then waved both hands in his idea of an encouraging gesture, 'Close your eyes. Feel it, Jim.'

Jim looked skeptical but gamely gave it a try.

Blair watched as Jim's determined concentration turned to wonder.

Jim looked at Blair, 'You try.'

Blair grinned in surprise but eagerly tried what he'd had to coax Jim to do. He closed his eyes for a moment and was amazed. He could feel the vibration through his shoes, and he would swear he could even feel it through the water-laden air around him. His eyes flew open and he grinned madly at Jim, who returned it with a warm smile of his own.

They didn't spend too long by the pool. The sound was deafening, and the humidity so thick it was hard to breathe. They were both already soaked, and Blair was shivering even in the tropical heat. But the experience of hearing and feeling the power of it up close was one they would remember for a long time.

They walked downriver, following it until they found a way back up the ridge.

“Jim?”

“Yeah, Chief?”

“This was a really good plan.”


>3.<

They had both agreed that it had been a 'very' good plan. The only glitch was when Ellison's Enterprise failed to pick them up.

“Henri? What's up? Where's Steven?” asked Jim worriedly.

“Don't worry, Jim. When Steven docked this morning, he said there was a problem so he called for maintenance, then he called me to come to your 'rescue',” teased Henri.

“Rescue?” said Blair, looking relieved that Steven was alright, and much more relaxed than the last time Henri had seen him. “Look around, Henri. This is hardly a place we need to be rescued from.”

Henri had never lived on-planet, anywhere, in his entire life, but he'd seen enough of Gaia to understand, if not agree wholeheartedly. However, that didn't mean he couldn't tease the Guide, “Well, just how many people would come down just to ferry you off this mud ball. It's seriously messing with my schedule,” and Henri rolled his eyes for emphasis as he added, “And you know how Serena hates to be kept waiting.”


>4.< Gaia 1

“Come on Jim. Just take a look at it. Please? You should see the maintenance 'person'. She must be nineteen ... maybe younger! I'd just feel better if you'd check it out,” wheedled Steven Ellison.

“Nineteen? Look, Steven, I doubt very much if this 'mechanic' is only nineteen, especially if she's crew on Gaia 1.”

“Well, she says she's crew now, but she was a passenger! She was caught on board when the disaster started and of course she never made it off. She said she was on her way back to Rainier's Institute of Technology.”

“Poor kid. But even if she's new, that doesn't mean she doesn't know what she's doing. You should take it easy on her, Steven. You know that Gaia 1 has some pretty stiff training programs for their techs. I'm sure she's a very competent mechanic,” said Jim.

“Jim, come on. Please check out the repairs. The kid was covered in grease, head to toe,” pleaded Steven.

“All right, all right. I'll check out the repairs. And I'll check this girl out, too. What's her name?”

“Mack. Well, Mairin MacDonald.”


>5.<

“Hey Chief?”

“Yeah?”

“Do you know anything about a kid named, Mack?”

“Do you mean Mairin? Well, sure. She's an engineering student that was on Gaia 1 when the disaster started. Why do you ask?”

“Well, Steven was a little worried that someone that young was doing repairs on Ellison's Enterprise. He wanted me to check out her work, her 'credentials' ... you know.”

“Jim, have you seen Mack?”

“No. Why?”

“Well ... she's gorgeous.”

Jim looked suspiciously at Blair, “That's funny, Steven didn't say anything about that. In fact, he made a point of telling me she was covered in grease from head to toe.”

“Ahhhh. She must really know her stuff.”

“Right ... grease equals competence?”

“Well ... all I'm going to say is, for a grease monkey she cleans up good. Did Steven tell you she has red hair?”

Jim just rolled his eyes. He could already guess where this was heading. “Come on, Sandburg. Steven says she's just a kid.”

Blair's eyebrows shot up, “Jim, she already had her BS. She's been working on her Masters since we got here, even before Simon ordered the study programs. She's been working on the Maintenance Crew, studying engineering, studying for her minor requirement, and on her individual project, and she'll still have her degree soon. She's only a couple years younger than me, so she's no kid. Did I say she was gorgeous?”

“And who said you aren't a 'kid'?” teased Jim. Then he narrowed his eyes, “You're matchmaking again, aren't you?”

“Who? Me?” Blair turned away before allowing his grin to light up his face. He'd have to remember to thank Steven for his help.


>6.<

Jim checked with Maintenance ... discreetly ... and the question of Mack's 'credentials' was answered with as much assurance as he could expect. Still, he told himself, 'It's my family's ship. I should check out this 'Mack' in person.' So he set off for Deck 28, Maintenance Bay 6. It certainly couldn't hurt to do his own evaluation of a gorgeous, red-headed, mechanic.

He could hear voices as he approached MB6. As he closed on the location of the scheduled repairs for Gaia 1, he could make out comments from some of the men. They weren't loud, but they weren't expecting someone with Jim's exceptional hearing to be 'listening' to them.

He walked silently up behind them and stood waiting for someone to notice him, but they kept talking about their 'associate' in what Jim considered to be a rather teasing manner until he had finally had enough.

In a sarcastic tone he said, “Gentlemen.” Their reaction was just what he'd expected, so then he turned to Mack and said respectfully, “And lady.”

The men hastily turned back to work that had been pretty much ignored up till then and the 'lady' turned to Jim.

“If I'm a lady, then I can handle them myself,” she said firmly, with hands on hips.

Jim felt an unexpected grin appear on his face, “I wouldn't expect anything else of a lady, Ms. MacDonald.”

Mack looked back at the rest of the crew and then back to Jim. She grinned and said, “I could use a break though, and I need to pick up some parts from the 'Printer Bay.”

“May I join you?”

She chuckled, “Yes, you may, 'kind sir'. I was hoping for just such a gentlemanly offer.” After they'd walked down the corridor she asked, “And just who is the 'Knight in Shining Armor' that saved this 'fair damsel in distress'?”

Jim laughed outright, “Jim. Ellison. You worked on Ellison's Enterprise a couple of days ago.”

“Jim Ellison, the Sentinel,” she said, with just a bit of awe before she quickly recovered her amusement. “Tell me, Mr. Ellison, did Steven Ellison send you to check me out?”

Jim smiled a beautiful smile, “Yes. That he did.” As he thought, 'Thank you, Bro.'


>7.<

“Hey, Sandburg! Wait up.”

“What is it? I thought I was supposed to meet you at the Fuga.”

“Small change of plans. I've been thinking ...”

“Oh, oh.”

“Watch it, Copilot. I was thinking that maybe you and Jo, and Mairin and I could have dinner together before ...”

“A double date?”

“Sure.”

“Mairin, huh?”

“Yes, Mairin. You're right. She's gorgeous.”

“All right!”

Jim hid a grin as he continued, “Yeah, we'll have dinner tonight and then tomorrow morning ... Copilot Sandburg will report to the XJ-Fuga for Jump.”

“'Jump'?!” squeaked Blair.

“That's right. Pack your gear tonight and be aboard at 0800 hours.”

“W-we're going through the new Portal?”

Jim finally grinned, “Nope. Not this time. They've approved a jump through the Interim Portal - the one between the Otherspace Jump Point and Gaia's Portal. I finally convinced them that a practice run would settle your nerves a little. So ... dinner first. What are you going to cook?”


>8.< Experimental JumpShip: XJ-Fuga

“Hurry it up, Chief.” Jim walked out of their cabin grinning broadly, leaving Blair to hurry to catch up.

Blair finally boarded with his backpack. “Jim? You here?”

“Where else would I be? I'm back here, Chief, making coffee. Want a cup?”

“Coffee sounds good. Are we really leaving in an hour?”

Jim arched an eyebrow as he looked at his watch, “Make that forty-five minutes. We don't have much time to get ready for our scheduled undock. Getting out of Gaia System will take the longest. Since, subjectively, the jump itself won't take any time at all, the coffee will be welcome on the 'other side'.”

Blair paled.

“Come on, Chief. Don't worry. You nailed the sims dozens of times. You can do this. In fact ... I have a little surprise for you.”

Blair really looked worried now, “Surprises are so ... not good, right now, Jim.”

Jim turned toward Blair and leaned against the counter. He was pretty sure how Blair was going to take this since he'd been in the same position himself once, “I'm going to be Copilot this time, Chief. I'll be right there if you need me.”

Blair paled impossibly more before he bolted for the bathroom, where he lost what little breakfast he'd managed to eat, then continued to dry heave for several painful minutes.

When he could sit up, Jim was right there waiting to hand him a glass of water which was put to good use. When Blair turned to Jim he asked, “Tell me you were kidding!”

Jim just shook his head.

Blair moaned softly and grabbed his stomach, but Jim clasped his shoulder firmly and said, “I threw up before my first time out, too. You'll do fine. After all, look who your Copilot is. This should be routine. After all, we've been there before, on our way to Gaia. So, hurry up. I'll be waiting for you ... in the Copilot's chair. Remember, thirty minutes to go. You need to do the last safety check.”

Blair watched, dumbfounded, as Jim left. He finally glanced up at the clock and decided he'd better move. Thirty minutes.


>9.< Interim Jump Portal

The practice jump proved uneventful. Blair's nervousness had increased exponentially until the actual jump. Then after they'd reached otherside, he still couldn't seem to calm down. Jim knew that the adrenaline would run down eventually, and he wanted to see how Blair would handle that, too. He already knew that Blair was a brave man, and he'd made sure that he was as well trained as Jim could make him, but he wanted Blair to know that he could handle the stresses as well as the procedures.

“You handled that perfectly, Chief.”

Blair glanced at Jim as if to ascertain that Jim wasn't joking. He sighed in satisfaction when he saw the obvious pride in Jim's expression. “Thanks, Jim. I could use some of that coffee. I think it'll stay down now,” he added wryly.

“Sounds good,” said Jim. When Blair made a move to leave his seat Jim said, “Whoa there, Pilot. Where do you think you're going?”

Blair's grin faded a bit as he lowered himself into the seat once again. “Come on, Jim. I did the pre-flight, and the jump.”

“Then all that's left are the Otherside Procedures, and then the jump back. I'll get the coffee, and make a couple of sandwiches. You must be hungry since you lost your breakfast.”

After Jim left, Blair sighed worriedly. It wasn't that he'd never been left alone with the controls, but this time back-up was awfully far way ... impossibly far away. He watched Jim exit for the galley, and set about to take updated scans of the Jump Point. Then he set up the other automated scans requested by the astrophysics lab, initiated systems checks and safety diagnostics, checked the return route for anomalies, and still had a few minutes to stare at the immensity of space that surrounded the XJ-Fuga.

He wished he had more to do because that still left too much time to think. Sitting here at the Interim Jump Portal brought back so many memories. When he was growing up, he'd often wondered what fate had in store for him ... and this future was not even a remote possibility. Here he was, so far from the home galaxy that it couldn't even be explained. So far from Gaia System that if that sun over there went nova, then the light wouldn't even reach Gaia for ten years ... light years. He'd absorbed a whole new vocabulary, new skills. What was most surprising to him was that he realized that what he'd believed to be a fulfilling life, had actually been very ... shallow. That wasn't how he would have described himself before, and he didn't know how to explain the changes even to himself.

Before, he'd studied people and how they lived. He'd embraced the wonderful diversity that was humanity while ignoring the big picture. But, to give himself 'some' credit, being heedless of that bigger picture had been the norm for human society in the home galaxy. That careless unconcern didn't exist in Otherspace. It couldn't. To ignore it was to invite disaster. Humanity wasn't the center of this universe; not even of one small star system.

He turned the lights down in the cabin so his eyes could adjust to the darkness, and be able to pick out even more of the stars that lay before him. His wonder grew every time he stared out at that immensity, and the beauty of this space was only enhanced by the mind-bending isolation. It was remote ... and for all practical purposes was unreachable by anyone that they knew if there was an emergency. It was sobering to contemplate.

“Chief, I hope you're hungry,” Jim said as he returned.

“How come you're in such a cheerful mood?” grumped Blair as he took a sandwich and stared at it.

“Go on. Eat. I'm cheerful because I love it out here. Don't you?”

Blair stared outward, “It's beautiful in a way, but I wish we were home.”

“Well, yeah. So do I,” Jim answered wistfully. “But look at it, Chief. It's so empty here ... yet out there are suns of every size and color. Physical laws govern everything that exists. There's chaos, but there's still an order to it all, on a grander scale than we can ever know.”

Blair smiled and hid it by taking a bite of his sandwich. This was a cherished glimpse at another side of his friend. He kept his silence, not wanting to break the spell Jim's words had evoked. It was a sense of awe, reverence for the unknowable vastness, marvel at the desolate beauty. And his usually taciturn friend had summed it all up in a few concise sentences.

All in all, Blair considered the practice jump had been well worth the effort. He'd had time to think about the future he'd never dreamed of finding; he'd heard Jim's thoughts on the subject of order and chaos; and he'd discovered that being able to take the Fuga through a Jump Portal was pretty cool.

He didn't know if he'd ever be as blasé as Simon had seemed to be when he'd told him how 'routine' portal jumps had become on Gaia 1 when it was still a spaceliner. At the time, 'routine' had seemed impossible to Blair whose most recent experiences had been the harrowing jumps that ended with their arrival in Otherspace. But this jump could probably count as 'routine'. He was 'almost' looking forward to their next jump.


>10.< Gaia 1

It came only a few weeks later. They didn't have to wait that long, but Blair stalled whenever Jim proposed a new date. Jim finally set the date and nothing Blair could do would change his mind.

Perhaps Blair would have procrastinated less if there wasn't another worry on his mind. When Jim set the date for the jump and Blair had seemed even more worried than before, Jim couldn't begin to guess what was wrong. In exasperation, Jim finally asked him.

“Jim, remember the Council session where they mentioned their 'concerns'?”

Jim nodded, “I thought we answered them. They seemed to accept that we needed to do this mission.”

“I know, but I have concerns, too. I know we've had visions about the future that haven't occurred yet. Things that are too far out time-wise to decipher clearly. We've learned that the closer we get, the less 'static' interferes.”

“Yeah. Intervening events can obscure a future crisis. You figured that's what happened with the ICME. When those other events are passed, a crisis can be seen more clearly. So ... what are your concerns?”

“Well, what if something does happen to us?”

“We haven't foreseen anything.”

Blair shrugged his shoulders, worry evident on his face, “Maybe ... we wouldn't be 'allowed' to see it.”

Jim was quiet for a moment then said softly, “Is this what you've been worried about? I wish you'd told me.” He looked away briefly, then sighed as his thoughts settled, “You could be right. What do you have in mind?”

<>

So, as a way to ease Blair's concerns, most of those few weeks were spent logging detailed descriptions of all of the visions of events that hadn't occurred so far, and the interpretations they were able to make ... just as a precaution. These were secured in a sealed database, and presented to Simon, who paled and sat heavily in his chair.

“Simon, we're coming back. At least we plan to,” said Blair, hoping to reassure him.

Jim added, “Nothing in the visions points to any problem with the flight. We, ah, just wanted to be cautious.” He glanced toward Blair and then back to Simon, “We did hear you in the Council session. We know you're concerned. Blair thought this might ease your misgivings.”

Simon looked like he'd explode in anger for a moment, before slumping. His relief was obvious. “Don't - you - ever - do - that - again! Are you trying to scare me to death?”

Blair grinned apologetically, “I didn't know you cared, Simon.”

Simon stared at Blair until the grin faded.

Blair said softly, “I'm sorry.”

“Apology accepted,” said Simon gruffly. “So you're set on this?”

Jim answered, “Yes. Blair has stalled long enough.”

“Me?!”

“You.”

Blair sighed, “Okay - alright - geeze.”

“I know you're worried, Chief. Just remember, you're Copilot this time.”

Blair perked up at that, then said teasingly, “Oh, yeah! Right! That's a relief.”

Jim whapped the back of his head lightly.

“What was that for?”

“Be good.”

Simon gusted a sigh, then muttered, “Are you sure either of you are grown up enough for this?”

“I heard that, Sir,” said Jim as he and his Copilot exited the Captain's office.


>11.< Gaia Jump Portal Entry Point // Cascade Jump Portal Exit Point

“Ready for Jump. On the mark ...”

“Confirmed. On the mark ...”

~~~~

Blair's animated voice broke the silence of the post-jump cockpit, “Jump conversion completed.” Blair broke into a flurry of activity even as he blurted out, “Jim! Collision alert! Jim! Jim?” after a quick and horrified glance at Jim, Blair turned back to the controls.

He began muttering a string of commands, some to Jim, and some to himself. “Thrusters port side engaged as programmed - now shutting down. Heading is optimal. Collision was averted, Jim. Shields came up automatically on the screens. Light intensity is now optimal, Jim. Listen to my voice, man. Captain Ellison! Listen to my voice. It's safe, Jim. No more light flare. Oh, man. I know you're flashing back to the vision, but listen to me. The vision is in the past. This was just bad luck ... really bad timing ....” Blair reset collision alarms and set the automatic pilot. He turned to his Sentinel and sighed. He took one more look at the boards then climbed out of his safety harness and knelt beside Jim.

He whispered, “I'm here for you, Jim. Feel my hand on your arm. You know I'd never leave the boards if it wasn't safe. There's clear sailing for miles and miles. The light is far behind us now. We're safe. That's it, man. You've been gone long enough.”

Jim slumped forward with his hands pressing into his face. Blair was worried that he'd suffered another vision-blindness effect. “Jim? Do your eyes hurt? Tell me.”

Jim slowly pulled his hands down, and Blair was relieved that he wasn't in pain and he seemed to see him clearly.

“I'm okay,” Jim whispered shakily. “We're in one piece.”

Blair returned his shaky reply with a shaky grin. He slapped him very gently on the arm, “Hey. You're the one that ran me through the sims - about a million times! And you're the one that finally 'passed' me. Why the surprise that we're in one piece?”

“Not surprised ... grateful, Chief.”


>12.< Interlude

The ICME and other events had caused a delay of the flight of the Fuga. In that time, The Gerald Simms had been launched, had taken on crew, and, after the Fuga's 'practice jump', had taken it's own maiden voyage to the Interim Portal. On it's otherside, Captain Rafe and his crew had time to reflect on the immensity of space and the isolation of their location, just as Jim and Blair had. KinShip 1 was now in a position to follow the Fuga closely, to aid in times of trouble if need be, but also to perform it's exploration and research duties. They, too, knew they'd come a long way, and not just in time and space.


>13.< Cascade System

Blair did the systems check this side of Jump with confidence while Jim took that time to rest. Then over the next several days they confirmed calculations and observations that had been made on the Gaia side of the Jump Portal.

It didn't take long to discover the reason for the event that had caused Jim's zone. The sudden flare was caused by the breakup of a comet nucleus, which had then precipitated the collision alert. The otherwise normal cometary object, under pressure from it's approach to it's sun, had suddenly increased in brightness nearly a million times when it broke apart.

It had just been bad luck that the comet was in the vicinity when they arrived through the Portal. It was a relief that it was something so ordinary, and so easily explained. It wasn't going to be a danger to future ships as long as the orbit of the debris was tracked.

After local scans were done and analyzed, the promising system that had been located otherside was scrutinized with their scanners. It would soon be time to get down to serious work and attend to their primary goal, which was to study this other star system. Hopefully it would have planets, habitable or not.

After these initial scans were done, they returned briefly to Gaia System. Automated communication/navigation arrays were calibrated and loaded aboard the XJ-Fuga while analysis was done on the data they'd accumulated during their first jump. The arrays would prevent the disaster that had nearly befallen the Fuga from happening to another ship by sending a constant stream of navigational information through the Portal. When everything was ready, the Fuga returned through the Portal to deploy the arrays and then to press on to the new star system.

The new system was beautiful, almost as beautiful as Gaia's had been, but the short-range scans they initiated showed that the planet below was barely within the habitable range. They were disappointed by that news but were glad that they'd soon be joined by The Gerald Simms, on it's first working cruise. The crew was probably already eagerly pouring over the data that they'd sent through the Portal on this excursion and would arrive soon to begin indepth studies of the new system, and especially this planet.

“Chief, the weather's been turbulent down there ever since we arrived in orbit. If that's the norm it's not going to be a pleasant home.”

Blair grimaced, “Well, they can't all be a Gaia-type planet. At least the air's breathable, and there are vast tracts of vegetation and water. I would be surprised if the violence of the weather is constant though. On most planets there are seasonal, orbital, or other variations that would allow an occasional landing. I'm sure there'll eventually be colonization even if they have to apply Atmospheric Modification. If that proves to be necessary it can still take centuries for weather patterns to stabilize so I think a station on one of the moons will be the main habitation for a long time.”

“Chief, we'd better do continuous scans. It's going to take a lot of overlap to get a good look at the terrain.”

“I'll set it up.”


>14.<

As scheduled, KinShip 1 arrived in seven days.

“Calling XJ-Fuga.”

“Fuga here. Captain Rafe, it's good to hear a friendly voice,” said Blair.

“It's good to hear you, too. It's a little lonely out here, isn't it?”

“You should have been here before company arrived. Here's Jim.”

“Captain Ellison. I believe we're right on schedule.”

“I believe you are,” said Jim. “How does it feel to finally be here?”

“It's all part of the job, Captain. Anything new to report, Jim?”

“We do have some news, Rafe. We found an anomaly on the planet surface. You've got the heavy duty scanners. We'll send you the coordinates so you can take a long, close look. The weather's pretty bad down there, so it may take a while. We'd appreciate a real-time copy of your scans so we can take another look. After we've all had a chance to go over them, we'd like to hear your opinion.”

“What do you think it is?”

Jim hesitated a moment before answering, “Blair has a theory, but we'd like an impartial opinion first, if you don't mind.”

“You've made me curious. We'll get right on it and get back to you.”


>15.<

WRITTEN TRANSCRIPT: Excerpt from the personal archival records of the First Archivist, Commander Johanna Johnson-Sandburg, concerning the first exploratory attempt of the Cascade System by Gaia System's Sentinel James Ellison and Guide Blair Sandburg.

..........................................................................
LIVING HISTORY PROJECT, Modern Era 4.5
..........................................................................
Initiated under the auspices of the
University of Gaia 1 for dissemination
to all citizens as their rightful legacy
..........................................................................

Lt. Johanna Johnson, Gaia 1: Jim, could you tell me a little about your first investigation of the Cascade System?

Sentinel James Ellison, Captain of the XJ-Fuga: Well, as the records show, our long-range scans were unremarkable. It wasn't until after the second Jump took us into the Cascade System that an anomaly was discovered on the surface of Cascade Prime. We had initiated continuous scans from orbit to study the topography during breaks in the weather.

Johnson: Could you describe your findings for me?

Ellison: The anomalies were groupings of apparently quarried stone blocks. It looked, to us, like ruins similar to those seen from orbit on Gaia. We haven't been able to examine the site or artifacts on Cascade Prime in person, but Captain Rafe of The Gerald Simms (first in the KinShip Line) was able to send an automated probe to the site. It was able to enter an enclosed area and send video data. The pictures revealed carvings similar to those found in Gaia's Temple. I was able to translate what was legible, as I had on Gaia, and Blair sent the translation back to Gaia 1, to be forwarded to the Temple's research team. With their verification of our findings, we concluded that Cascade's ruins had to be related to the Temple on Gaia.

Johnson: Blair, you've done a great deal of research in the database, and you've come to some startling conclusions concerning the existence of the Sentinel/Guide Temple on Gaia and the site on Cascade Prime. Could you summarize some of your ideas for us?

Guide Blair Sandburg, Copilot of the XJ-Fuga: I have only the data that survived the jump to Otherspace, (looking to J. Ellison, Sentinel) plus our own experiences in the Temple on Gaia.
(looking back at the Archivist) After I met and worked with Jim, and later when we found Gaia's Temple, I did research on Jim's enhanced senses. I came to believe that a dimensional jump, that can 'fold and stretch' space and time, could also affect enhanced physical senses to the point that they would allow someone like Jim, a Sentinel, to detect the path to Otherspace.
That path, the juncture that Jim had 'sensed', could be the Eye of God described in the story told by a man named Incacha. Whether Incacha was a Sentinel or not is unknown. However, Allied Systems researchers were unable to detect that path even when told of it's existence by Captain Ellison. Only Jim Ellison was able to 'sense' it. If Incacha wasn't a Sentinel, then perhaps he was a Sentinel's Guide.
Still, that doesn't explain Dr. Richard Burton's use of the term 'Eye of God'. In his treatise he describes the initiation of tribal warriors and their companions on the planet Paraguay. Dr. Burton used the term 'Eye of God' in his description of the bonding ceremony and the resultant prophetic visions. He stated that the bonding of a Sentinel/Guide Pair enhances the extrasensory abilities of both, and prophetic visions are a direct result.
The ritual Dr. Burton described fit our experiences as Sentinel and Guide in the Temple Pools. The visions are something Jim and I have dealt with since our initiation. We've documented the visions from the beginning. Our interpretations of them, and the handling of those events are part of the public record.

Johnson: The existence of Otherspace would have been an incredible discovery in Incacha's time. Why do you think there's no mention of Otherspace in the database? Why do you think there's so little information about Sentinels and Guides?

Sandburg: Physics theorists have maintained that an infinite number of parallel universes make up the multiverse ... but an explanation of quantum physics is beyond the scope of this interview. We 'know' that Otherspace does indeed exist. Whether it's a true 'parallel universe' is something for the physicists to decide.
If - 'if' - Incacha's Eye of God was an Otherspace Portal, then I have to assume that Incacha was able to make at least one trip here 'and back again', or there probably wouldn't be any record of him at all. It's entirely possible that something prevented them from repeating their journey, like equipment failure, or they could have decided to return to Otherspace to stay. There are a lot of reasons, probably as many as you can imagine, for the absence of information on Incacha's Otherspace journey.
As for information about Sentinels and Guides ... Jim's enhanced senses seem to be extremely rare. Dr. Burton stated unequivocally that they're part of our genetic heritage, but they're seldom mentioned in the database. I'm assuming that in our society their usefulness has declined to the point that there's no need for the senses to be active. That wasn't the case on Paraguay, where the whole civilization had slipped into a pre-civilized state.

Johnson: If the builders of the Temple came to Otherspace to colonize, how do you explain why they built a Temple and then moved on, and not just on one planet but, as we've assumed, on two?

Sandburg: I can only speculate from our own experiences. Gaia's sun is extremely active and will need constant monitoring to keep the population safe, and the only planet in Cascade's 'habitable zone' has brutal weather. There is evidence that the weather patterns have changed drastically in the last millenia. It may be that the weather pattern changed after they attempted a settlement there. Perhaps both planets taxed their resources too much.

Johnson: Then they could be out there somewhere, beyond Gaia and Cascade?

Sandburg: Perhaps. Hopefully, someday, the Cascade System will provide some answers.

_________________
Bibliographical Data:

Historical Records Search, Keywords: Incacha, Eye of God. Library, Allied Systems Database, University of Gaia, Gaia 1, Gaia System.

“The Mystery of Paraguay: Civilization Lost, Regression and Adaptation to a Precivilized Life” by Dr. Richard Burton, Library, Allied Systems Database, University of Gaia, Gaia 1, Gaia System.

“Enhanced Senses: Adaptation to Modern Society”, Doctoral Dissertation by Blair Sandburg, PhD, Library, Modern Era Database.

“Visible World, Invisible Forces: Visions and Their Interpretations by A Modern Era Sentinel and Guide” by Guide Blair Sandburg and Sentinel James Ellison, Library, Modern Era Database.

Long-range and short-range Scan Data by Orbital Observatory 1 in Gaia System, by Experimental-JumpShip Fuga, and by KinShip 1: The Gerald Simms; Science Library, Modern Era Database.

...........................................................................


>16.<

The return to Cascade System was routine. It was certainly better than their first arrival.

Blair knew that Jim could read his reactions and moods easily, surely more easily than Blair could read him, so he stifled his sigh. He'd had to force his mom's message to the back of his mind so that he could concentrate on Jump procedures. The message had arrived just before they were scheduled to undock. He'd barely had time to read it and now the shock of it returned full force. He tried to regain his inner composure because he needed a clear mind to think things through ... before he told Jim.

It didn't help that Jim had become a little obsessed with the scan results. He checked in often with Blair, even when he wasn't on duty. Blair couldn't really blame Jim. The 'ruins' were a mystery that could have ramifications for his Sentinel. The people placed their faith in Jim's abilities, and the weight of that responsibility was wearing. Blair knew that Jim would be grateful for someone ... a Sentinel ... to share that duty, which was ironic because Blair'd had to fight Jim to take his own share of that burden.

However, he couldn't solve any of the problems that Jim could with those enhanced senses of his. So, he'd done his best to help any way he could, to prevent the zones, to help Jim focus in the most efficient ways to prevent stress, and headaches, and such. And of course they did share in the visions. There were differences to what each 'saw', but that was actually useful, too. Sometimes it helped to clarify an interpretation, or reinforce one already tentatively formed by the other.

But Blair knew that no matter how much hope Jim harbored, they weren't going to find anyone alive on Cascade Prime. Jim wasn't going to find another Sentinel down there ... someone to share this Sentinel's burden. Surely Jim had to know that already.

“Hey, Chief. Anything new?” asked Jim as he stepped back into the cabin and took his seat once again.

Blair sighed and said somewhat tentatively, “Sorry, man. You know ... we would have found something by now. Rafe has had scans going around-the-clock since before we left and his scanners are more powerful than ours. That's what the Gerald Simms was built for, exploration and research. You know, don't you, that we're not going to find anyone here?”

Jim's gaze traveled out to the view of Cascade Prime for a long moment. He released a deep sigh of his own, “I know.” Finally turning back to Blair, “It would be nice to know ... what happened to them. That maybe there are others that made it.”

“Other Sentinels.”

And Jim added matter-of-factly, the truth as he saw it, “And other Guides.”

“Do you suppose ...”

“What?”

Blair tried to back away from what he'd begun, “Nothing. Just another theory.”

“Come on, Sandburg. It's just the two of us here.”

Blair took a moment to gather his thoughts, “Well, you know how your enhanced senses finally found the Jump Portal to Otherspace ...”

“Yeah.”

“Well, it only happened because of your special senses, but ... what if ... it was Otherspace itself that encouraged those special senses to become 'more enhanced' ... enhanced enough in the 'right' way ... to 'find it'?”

“What ... Otherspace 'wants' to be found?” Jim teased.

Blair grinned, “No. Come on, Jim. What I'm trying to say is, being regularly exposed to the jump portals may have encouraged your already enhanced senses to expand enough to 'see' it ... the path that no one else believed existed ... the path to Otherspace.”

Jim tensed unconsciously at painful memories, “Where are you heading with this, Chief?”

“Well, the Temple Builders probably got here the same way. If my theory is correct, they started two settlements in Otherspace. When one settlement failed they could have returned, but they didn't ... that we know of, anyway. They moved on and settled on Cascade Prime. What if they stayed because more Sentinels had emerged? According to Dr. Burton, it is part of our genetic heritage.”

“And ...”

“And ... I think that here, in Otherspace ... because of Otherspace ... Sentinels may develop more easily. Maybe ... someday soon ... you'll have the help you need, Jim.”

Jim looked seriously at his friend for a moment, then smiled warmly, “But I already have the help I need.”

“Thanks for that, man.” Blair took a deep breath, then revealed the message he'd received just before jump. The message he'd been trying to find a way to tell him. “Jim, Mom called just before we left. You remember Alexandra? One of the Rainbow Meadow kids?”

Jim frowned but asked, “Isn't she the one that's always following you around?”

Blair had to chuckle at the remembrance of all the times he'd caught her shadowing him until Jim turned his glare on her and she would quickly run off. He continued, “Well, a while ago, Mom told me Alexandra had been having some ... problems .... When Mom called, she was very excited, and maybe we're misunderstanding what happened, but she thinks that Alexandra ... zoned ....”


>17.<

Blair worried when Jim insisted on returning to Gaia System immediately. Jim hardly said a word during most of that whole trip while the tension in the cockpit grew. Blair finally couldn't bear the silence any longer, “Jim? We could have been wrong. She might have a medical problem, or something...”

“You're not wrong.”

“We're not ...”

“No. You're not.”

“You're sure?”

Jim turned from the controls and just stared at Blair.

“You're really sure! But how?” asked Blair in astonishment.

“It's something Sentinel, I think. I thought it was just a weird vibe I got around her.”

“Wow! But you didn't know what that 'vibe' was, right?”

Jim sighed, “Right.”

“And you don't want to talk about it right now?”

Jim looked tiredly at his Guide, “I don't know what to think of all this, Chief. She's a kid. She's a Sentinel, I guess. The 'vibe' I got made me feel like I needed to stay away from her.”

“But you never said anything.”

Jim grimaced then said, “Chief, I don't think it was about me. How do I say that it was about you without it sounding ... possessive, or jealous even? It was important for YOU to stay away from her. Now, I think I know why, and you have to promise me that you will ... stay away, that is.”

“But Jim, I'm a Guide. I can help ...”

“NO,” Jim said fiercely. He turned fully toward Blair, “You can't help. You're not 'her' Guide. You're mine.”

Blair apparently tried what he thought was a 'reasonable' tone, “Jim, she's just a little girl. She won't come between us, man. She ...”

“Blair, this isn't 'jealousy' speaking,” Jim said softly, “You don't understand. You can't Guide two of us. We both know that she'll need her own Guide, but right now she thinks that could be 'you'. I think that's why she's been following you around. I hope she hasn't already fixed you in her mind as 'her' Guide. If you let her go on thinking that, then she might not be able to find her own.”

Blair was silent for a long moment, “But you had more than one guide, Jim.”

“My family, and Henri could all help me if I zoned, but not as easily as you could. They could guide me, but you're my Guide.” Jim added with finality, “I didn't take any of them into the Temple with me.”

“We bonded.”

“Yes ... we did.”

Blair stared at Jim intently, “You know I'd never bond with anyone else.”

Jim's face showed confusion and worry, “I don't know if you could, but are you sure you wouldn't try?”

Blair's hurt was obvious to Jim as soon as he'd said the words, “We've been through a lot together ... I never thought you'd doubt ...”

Jim swallowed hard, “It's not that I doubt you. It's just that I know you ...” At the shock on Blair's face, Jim hurried on, “I know you'd never leave a child in need if you could help her. I know you'd never want to leave a Sentinel child to cope with sensory spikes or a zone by herself. I know you too well.”

“Oh.” Blair hung his head for a moment, “Can I help her if you're with me?”

Jim thought for a moment, “I don't know what would have happened to me if I didn't get the help I needed. I don't think I could deny that help to a child, either. So, I guess we could try that ... but only if we 'have' to.”

Blair looked slightly relieved, “Okay, but you have to tell me if the 'vibes' get to be too much. Promise me!”

Jim relaxed at that, “I promise. We'll find a way, Blair.”

Blair looked worried as he said, “I wonder how hard it's going to be to find her Guide.”

Jim quirked an eyebrow, “My family helped. Hopefully her's can, too.”

Blair nodded his head absently as he thought out loud, “Yeah, and Henri ... I wonder if one of his kids ...”

Jim looked skeptical, then said doubtfully, “I'm not sure how Henri would feel about it. Are you up to facing Serena if it comes to that?” Blair glanced at Jim and shuddered. They were both glad they didn't have to face her on that topic, at least not yet.

Their trip was routine, but even before they docked at Gaia, Jim was arranging passage to New Cascade, and Blair was arranging for them both to meet with the new 'Sentinel' and her family and friends.


>18.<

............................................................................
LIVING HISTORY PROJECT, Modern Era 54.5
............................................................................
Initiated under the auspices of the
University of Gaia 1 for dissemination
to all citizens as their rightful legacy
............................................................................

Excerpt from “The Legacy of Cascade's Lost Settlement on the Fiftieth Anniversary of It's Rediscovery” by Archivist Arielle Taggert

Epilogue

For fifty years teams of scholars have delved into the mystery of the Temple Builders. Unfortunately, answers to the most sought after questions remain unanswered: Where are they now? Did they move on? Did they return to the home galaxy? Did they perish?

At the time of the discovery, we were still refugees trying to survive in this hostile Otherspace. We were already on our way to becoming a cohesive civilization, but the Builders became a driving force toward that goal. The Temple Builders became our 'quest'. They gave added impetus to our educational institutions, to our technological progress, to our exploration ... and they fostered our Sentinels and Guides, our guardians.

Fifty years have passed, and we have prospered. The 'quest' is no longer the reason for our travels. We seek for it's own sake. We no longer search because we fear being alone.

end
............................................................................


>19.< Epilogue

Excerpt from the Journal of the First Guide, Blair Sandburg

Jim and I spend a lot of time on Gaia, but over the years I think that we've spent more time on the other side of Jumps. It's a good thing that the ladies we share our lives with have important occupations, too, or they'd have left us long ago.

Jim and I have a lot of time to think, and to talk. I cherish that time, and I think he does, too. He's a good listener. Some of my best theories were hashed out with him as the resident skeptic. I think he likes that role. He's said more than once, “Come on Chief, it's just the two of us ....”

Working theories out in your head or on paper is one thing, but trying to explain it to someone else either forces you to work out the holes, or leaves you no choice but to throw it out with the trash.

On one trip I made the mistake of telling him my most secret 'wouldn't - couldn't be proven' theory. Well, I don't think it will ever be proven, but I guess I can't know that for sure. He encouraged me to tell others, but for some reason I can't even tell Jo. She'd probably tell Mairin and they'd put their heads together and smile indulgently. It's a silly idea anyway.

So, Jim told me to write it in my journal, but I hesitate to do even that. People won't read it until after I'm gone, but I don't want posterity to think .... Oh, Jim's right. I'm a wuss. So here goes:

A lot can happen in ten millenia, or a hundred. (No, that's not my theory. Keep going.) One of our oldest myths from the home galaxy was of an ancient civilization called Eorthe. We searched for it for thousands of years; the so-named 'birthplace of humanity', the myth said. But ... what if we were looking in the wrong place? The wrong 'space'?

I know ... a silly idea, if ever there was one. And even if Otherspace is the right 'space', Eorthe may not even be in this galaxy. It may be in the next, or the next. We'd probably never find it even if it is here.

Still, I have questions. Why do Sentinels and Guides flourish here? How do you explain that those gifts are part of our genetic heritage? ... Was it genetics - some sort of racial memory - that allowed Jim to translate the writings in the Temple?

I remember when Jim led me to the bonding Pools. He took me through the initiation without hesitation, with absolute trust that this was the way it was supposed to be ... and the Temple Pools changed us. We 'became' Sentinel-and-Guide ... here ... in Otherspace.

Personally ... I think we've come home.

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finis part 4




Click here for notes: http://1sentinel1guide.livejournal.com/6226.html

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Sun, Feb. 15th, 2009, 03:54 pm
XJ-Fuga by ljc beginning and ending notes

Beginning Notes Repeated for XJ-Fuga by ljc:

Summary: This is, first and foremost, a story about a sentinel and guide - “our” sentinel and guide. It is also AU, and is Science Fiction, but then “The Sentinel” is, too. the 'science' is only a device to frame the story around. One “very” minor canon character dies, as does one OC, and 'others'.


NOTE: This isn't a song fic but there is a song in the story and it isn't mine. When I wrote this story I only knew the words and that it was sung to the tune of “Wayfarin' Stranger”. There are other notes about it and about the science in the story at the end.

NOTE: Why fuga? Jim's zones have been described as fugue states. I looked up the etymology of fugue and it seemed to fit 'very' well.
Etymology: fugue: 1597, from Italian: fuga, lit. "flight"; from Latin: fuga "act of fleeing" from fugere "to flee" (see fugitive). Current spelling is from influence of French version of the Italian word. (Add “http://” to the URL)
www.etymonline.com/index.php?l=x



Ending Notes for XJ-Fuga by ljc

NOTE: To click on any of these sites add “http://”.

Notes for Part 1:

Note 1: “Wayfarin' Spacer”
Sung to the tune of “Wayfarin' Stranger”
Author unknown
***This song was actually the inspiration for this little 'space opera/epic/whatever' story.

“Wayfarin' Spacer”

I'm just a poor wayfarin' spacer
A' travelin' through the galaxy
And there's no heat nor cold nor vacuum
No fallin' free can frighten me.

I'm just a goin' into orbit
A' blastin' off to deepest space
I'm goin' where the stars are burnin'
Out where uncharted planets race.

***When I posted this story the first time, I requested an email if anyone knew the title and author of “Wayfarin' Spacer”:
My thanks to: Scotty!
“Re: Wayfarin' Spacer
It comes from "The Galactic Troubadors" by
A.M.Lightner (Pub. 1965) Details of this author and a Picture of the Book Cover can be found on fantasticfiction.co.uk website. P.S. I really enjoyed this story
Posted by: Scotty Date: 08/30/2005”

Note 2: WordWeb Definition
Murphy's Law: A humorous axiom stating that anything that can go wrong will go wrong.

Note 3: There's a great deal of information on black holes on this site. I included a couple of definitions below for other terms.

imagine.gsfc.nasa.gov/docs/dictionary.html

*****active galactic nuclei (AGN): A class of galaxies which spew massive amounts of energy from their centers, far more than ordinary galaxies. Many astronomers believe supermassive black holes may lie at the center of these galaxies and power their explosive energy output.

*****jets: Beams of particles, usually coming from an active galactic nucleus or a pulsar. Unlike a jet airplane, when the stream of gas is in one direction, astrophysical jets come in pairs with each jet aiming in opposite directions.


Notes for Part 3:

1. I have very little understanding of “space weather”. The story contains 'facts' from my own imagination, but were based loosely on some Q&A information online. Search: space weather and solar weather FAQ:
www.space.com/spacewatch/solar_faqhtml#g13

2. Information for Blair's rant about a “supergiant” and his 'destruction' of the XJ-Fuga was found here: www.esse.ou.edu/fund_concepts/Fundamental_Concepts1/Universe/Classifying_Stars.html

3. I mentioned “3D Printers” only briefly in the story. It might be interesting to you to know that I did NOT make that up (maybe just stretched their capabilities a bit ). It came from Popular Science Magazine (The Desktop Factory By Corey Binns, May 2007: “Roboticist Hod Lipson wants you to stop shopping and use his portable 3-D printer to make your own stuff”).
www.popsci.com/popsci/technology/19ad302897772110vgnvcm1000004eecbccdrcrd.html

4. Do you want to see something incredible? Click on this NASA archive (Astronomy Picture of the Day) and click on “2007 November 06: An X Class Flare Region on the Sun”:
www.antwrp.gsfc.nasa.gov/apod/archivepix.html

Click on the picture and watch a movie of a 'flare on the sun'. It takes a couple minutes to load but it's well worth the wait. I thought the 'flare movie' was a great coincidence since it was already a major part of my story.



Notes for Part 4:

NOTE: To click on any of these sites add “http://”.

1. I shamelessly 'borrowed' bits of wedding vows from these two sites and a Bible quote:
www.weddings.about.com/cs/bridesandgrooms/a/vowwording.htm
www.figstreet.com/guesthouse/simpleweddingceremony.html#Modern

1 Cor 13:4-8, Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails....

2. I needed a crisis for Part 4 ... and then I found Comet 17P/Holmes!
On this site (Astronomy Picture of the Day) you can find a view of Comet 17P/Holmes which suddenly became “nearly a million times brighter” sometime in October. Oct. 29 (and others) Picture of the Day: “The comet's sudden brightening is likely due to some sort of sunlight-reflecting outgassing event, possibly related to ice melting over a gas-filled cavern, or possibly even a partial breakup of the comet's nucleus.”
www.antwrp.gsfc.nasa.gov/apod/archivepix.html

3. Question - How did planet earth get its name?
“The word Earth originates from the Middle English word, erthe, which came from Old English eorthe; akin to Old High German erda. This then traces back to the Greek, eraze from the Hebrew erez, meaning ground.”
---Nathan A. Unterman
www.newton.dep.anl.gov/askasci/env99/env177.htm

4. I found (actually this information came from the magazine “Sky & Telescope”) this really great, interactive site on 'black holes', it also has an explanation about the jets that issue from them. This information relates more to Part 1 of XJ-Fuga but everything is exceedingly well presented (it won the top prize in the 2005 Pirelli Internetional Awards).
www.hubblesite.org/explore_astronomy/black_holes/

There's also a great set of pictures of an active galaxy (2008 January 10: Active Galaxy Centaurus A) on Astronomy Picture of the Day:
http:// www.antwrp.gsfc.nasa.gov/apod/archivepix.html



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Sun, Feb. 15th, 2009, 03:50 pm
Simon Learned 1, 2, and 3

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Simon Learned
by ljc
1/07

Summary: Repost of the three parts. They're now in correct order and together in one place.
Part 1: Prequel from Blair's POV.
Part 2: Enter the Simon Zone. Simon's POV. This part was the first part that I wrote and posted to SentinelAngst and Cascade Times. They asked for more, and I was able to write a prequel and a sequel (parts 1 and 3).
Part 3: Sequel from Simon's POV.

Warnings, Ratings for all three parts: G.

Disclaimer for all three parts: All characters, places, and objects from The Sentinel belong to Pet Fly Productions, UPN, Paramount and the SciFi Channel. No money is being made. No copyright infringement is intended. This story was written by ljc with the love of the show in mind.

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Simon Learned 1
by ljc
1/07

Blair clung to his partner with rapidly weakening arms. The water was cold, it was going to be dark soon, and Jim was unconscious. The stress of keeping Jim above the rising water had Blair struggling to stay upright. The cold was making Jim feel stiff and lifeless. More than once Blair had to check to see if he was still breathing.

He balanced Jim once again under his right arm, and forced all the weight he could against the door that barred them from their escape route. Blair was furious. Safety was just a door away, but he was too weak to force it open. He waited once again for the tide to recede slightly and gave it another shove. It didn't give an inch. It didn't even creak. It just stayed there, immobile and unyielding.

He was furious and he was scared, but he swallowed his own fear. He couldn't give in to that. He had more things to worry about than drowning again. Jim was going to die if he couldn't keep him out of the water. He was already hypothermic. Neither of them were going to last long down here.

Think. Think.

Options.

1. .... Nope, not an option. Not for him, not for Jim.

2. Get out of here. No progress forcing the door. Water pressure was only getting worse. No loose timbers even though this dock had seen a lot of deterioration from the water. No tools, except his Swiss Army knife, and his hands were too numb to even pull it from his pocket, and what good would it be against a door he couldn't force open anyway. His gun, and Jim's, were at the loft since they weren't on duty. They'd just wanted a little time off without any drama. Just a little peace and quiet. They'd rented a boat. They should have known the deal was too good to be true. Drug runners. No weapons to defend themselves with. Trapped in this dilapidated marina ... and his thoughts were wandering.

Oh yeah. Options.

3. Call for help. Didn't dare do that too loudly or the drug runners might find them and they'd worked too hard to hide from them. But Jim thought he had heard them take off ... but he had a head injury and he wasn't totally coherent. As for calling 911, their phones were soaked and had probably already sunk to the bottom anyway, so no phone calls.

4. Well, he could always try to ... CALL ... for help.

Boy, that was a long shot.

He braced them both against the rising surf. Could he meditate standing up, cold, wet, and supporting the Not-Dead-Yet-weight of Jim Ellison?

He summoned his waning strength, shifted Jim as high as he could, leaned his forehead onto Jim's, and left this place, in spirit. The next crashing wave brought him back as he cracked his head against the door.

Long shot or not, it 'was' the only option left except ... the non-option.

Help. He needed to call for help.

Once again he shifted Jim higher, sought the peace of the spirit world, and sent his call.

//Simon//

His head hit the wall again, shaking him from his concentration.

He needed help. Call for help.

//Wolf//

//Wuff//

//Help us. Do your thing. Fetch Simon, Wolf//


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Simon Learned 2
by ljc
1/07

Simon grinned in pleasure. He was exhausted but at least his budget report was done and approved. He looked out at his nearly empty department in satisfaction. Major Crimes was having an unusually slow spell. It wouldn't be long before even their paperwork would be caught up. Of course, then he'd have to work harder to find something to yell about. But right now he could sit and savor this delicious cup of steamy aromatic coffee. All was right with his world.

//Simon//

Simon looked perplexed at the sound of his name being ... called. He glanced quickly around. It seemed to come from nowhere and everywhere. He shivered at the thought that it sounded ... ghostly. He must have been imagining things.

He lifted his cup to his lips, taking a tentative sip of the hot brew.

//Wuff//

Simon stopped in mid-sip and choked. He glanced up at where he thought the sound was coming from this time, and dropped the cup from paralyzed fingers. He choked harder. When he caught his breath he looked back at the conference table ... well, actually at the blue-eyed wolf standing on it.

He blinked, then rubbed his eyes. Oh yeah, this was Sandburg Zone time. “Sandburg?”

//Wuff// accompanied by a tail wag.

“You're in trouble, right?”

//Wuff. Wuff.//

“Both of you?”

And the wolf jumped down off the table and bounced excitedly around the desk.

“All right. All right. I'm coming,” to the wolf.

It was followed by a mutter, “I'm talking to a spirit guide! I told them I didn't want to know about that stuff, but would they listen?”

He hurriedly checked his gun, grabbed his coat, and headed to the door. With a tone of urgent concern he said, “Come on Wolf. What are you waiting for? Let's go rescue them.”

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Simon Learned 3
by ljc
1/07

Simon's rush through the darkening streets was slowed only by the seen, then unseen, wolf that led him. As much as he tried, Simon couldn't watch the wolf's every move. There were times when he had to backtrack and those lost moments made his heart skip in fear. Where was that damn wolf? Come on Sandburg!

He'd lost it again. The wolf was there a moment ago. Down the alley maybe?

“Wolf!” he bellowed. “Don't leave me now! Sandburg, he's your spirit guide. Make him give me a sign.”

“Please, Sandburg,” he whispered. “Please, don't let me be too late.”

//Wuff// answered a ghostly wolf.

“It's about time. Lead on.” He muttered irritably, “Directions would be helpful.”

He followed the wolf until there was a flash of lightning in the pouring rain, and a glint of light off a 1969 Ford-Sweetheart-of a truck. He twisted the wheel of his sedan and braked so hard up against the curb at a marina that the car rocked. He didn't wait for it to fully stop before he leaped out. He raced toward Jim's truck. The Ford's door was closed and locked. It was parked neatly in a space. There was no damage visible, no blood either. He could hear no other sounds over the heavy surf of the surging tide and the heavy rain.

He grabbed at his glasses, tearing them from his face in frustration. They were no help in this rain. Where now? He turned a slow circle feeling more helpless with every step. Where were they?

//Wuff//

Simon didn't hesitate to follow him.

He fought to keep his ghostly guide in sight. Guide. Spirit guide. “Sandburg, when I get my hands on you ... you'd both better be okay.”

//Wuff// and a howl came from the deserted marina.

“SANDBURG,” yelled Simon, with the strength of his often exercised bellow.

The wolf stood at a darkened stairway. It looked like a docking area for boat repair.

“SANDBURG. Answer me!”

“Simon?”

Simon ran down to the door at the bottom of the stairwell. He had doubts about it being a stairwell because water boiled under the door sill.

“Now who else would follow your wolf? Is Jim there?”

“Simon, he's unconscious. I can't hold him up ...”

“Sandburg, I'm here now. I'll get you out. You just hang on.”

“There's water on this side of the door, Simon. It's deep and getting deeper. I can't hold him above the waves much longer. Get help, Simon. Fast.”

Simon tried to force the door open, but he could barely move it, and when it did move, a gush a water had flowed through to join the growing wet at his feet.

“I need to call 911 and get a tire iron from the car. I'll be right back. You keep Jim alive, and yourself too. That's an order, Sandburg.”

“I hear you, Simon,” was the very weak reply.

Simon called it in to dispatch on the run back to his sedan. It took him only a few minutes to grab the tire iron. He hoped it wasn't too long.

When he reached the bottom of the stairwell he yelled at Blair, “Cover your eyes, Sandburg. I'm going to try to force the door, or at least make a hell of a hole in it. Ready? Here goes!”

It took a strong arm to destroy the lock. Water started pouring out immediately and swirled around Simon and nearly took him off his feet. He tossed the tire iron away and fought the drag of the water to reach his friends.

A pallid and wide-eyed Sandburg had his arms wrapped around a pale and unconscious Jim Ellison.

When Simon grabbed Jim, he lost Sandburg under the next wave. He reached down and pulled him, gasping, to the surface. He fought to drag the two helpless bodies through the pounding surf. Finally, leaving Sandburg on drier stairs, he was able to carry Jim up to the marina.

He rushed back to Blair, then more or less carried him up to lay beside Jim.

Ambulances arrived within minutes to take them to the hospital.

Simon stood dripping wet, and watched them go. He shivered, but not only from the cold. It had been too close. He remembered Blair's last words to him before he lapsed into sleep, or unconsciousness. He'd whispered, 'Drowning wasn't an option.'

“Shaman of the Great City. You sure earned the title today, Sandburg.”

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finis


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Sun, Feb. 15th, 2009, 03:45 pm
On the Cusp, Guardian, and Perception

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On the Cusp
by ljc
7/06

Summary: Simon thoughts ahead!

Warnings, Ratings: PG for one word.

Excerpt from Merriam Webster, online: http://www.m-w.com/
CUSP: noun. POINT, APEX: as a point of transition (as from one historical period to the next) : TURNING POINT; also : EDGE,
VERGE

Disclaimer: All characters, places, and objects from The Sentinel belong to Pet Fly Productions, UPN, Paramount and the SciFi Channel. No money is being made. No copyright infringement is intended. This story was written by ljc with the love of the show in mind.

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Simon stood at parade rest, seemingly staring, but actually deep in his own thoughts. The deep thoughts of the day involved Blair Sandburg, one-time observer of Detective James Ellison, and now ... cadet. Simon couldn't suppress a grin at that thought ... 'Cadet Sandburg'. Well, Sandburg wasn't the 'kid prodigy' in his Academy classes, but rather 'the old man'. That had been a change for the 'kid'!

The Academy had been keeping Blair Sandburg busy these days and his partner, Jim Ellison, was trying to be the good detective he was before Blair showed up to 'observe a closed society'. Sandburg was doing fine. After all, he had his own outstanding intellect, his experience, as well as any number of tutors just waiting to be asked. While Ellison ... struggled ... grumpily.

Simon had been able to finagle an early entrance for Sandburg, which was good news for the team, and therefore for Major Crimes. But Jim hadn't immediately been able to have Sandburg's first choice for his temporary replacement because she, Inspector Megan Conner, was still on desk duty after Zeller's failed assassination attempt.

At that thought Simon snorted in disgust, Zeller had failed to kill Ellison, and had nearly killed Megan and Simon, himself. Well, Zeller had 'almost' succeeded because Jim had nearly been destroyed in the end when the partnership between a sentinel and his guide had come unraveled.

Since then, Jim had been bouncing from one partner to the other. Simon's strategy had been to keep him partnered with Joel as much as possible, since Joel seemed able to calm almost anyone. That could be Joel's natural skill or it could come from years of working with 'excitable' people when he was Captain of the Bomb Squad.

Simon turned to glance at Jim, deskbound for his own safety today. He knew Ellison would be back to his 'sentinel best' when Sandburg could work with him again. But today ... it was best to keep the nervous man under close scrutiny since Blair was taking his exams today.

Simon had received regular reports on Blair over the past weeks, and he'd done superbly. He might even be at the top of his class. But that didn't matter to Sandburg, or to Ellison. He just had to pass with enough leeway that making him a detective in Major Crime wouldn't be seen as the blatant favoritism they knew it was. But the kid already had nearly four years as observer and consultant. Simon was glad he'd added that amendment to his official ride-along papers a couple of years ago. Blair had earned it, even though he thought it was a semi-joke by the 'real cops' in the department.

Simon looked closely at Ellison, then quickly turned away again before his smothered chuckle attracted Jim's attention. He could imagine Blair's cheeky smile if he saw an antsy Jim after all the jokes about Blair being related to a certain overly energized pink bunny.

Still, Simon found himself fighting his own feeling of restlessness and turned distractedly to his angel collection. He adjusted them minutely. Ordinarily the regular cleaning people knew they weren't to touch them, but he'd been out on leave for quite a while from his injury, and his office had taken quite a beating during Zeller's attack. He still felt he hadn't quite gotten them back into perfect order.

Simon had been there that first day of Blair's ridealong when Jim had saved his son, and so many others, from Kincaid. He felt humbled when they both came to Peru to bring Daryl and him back, dead or alive. There were so many events that had gone from disastrous and nearly fatal, to miraculously redeemed. And it was all because of, well, Jim's sentinel abilities of course, but also Blair's 'help' ... whatever that entailed! But whatever those two became involved in, it was always dangerous, surprising, and, well, miraculous 'was' the word.

The worst, and most miraculous, had been that 'Day at the Fountain'. Had it just been Jim's 'gift' that had saved Blair or was it Blair's 'gift', too? He knew there was more to it than the senses.

There had been many nights when his thoughts had returned to that day, when he'd thought he was going to lose them both. Jim clearly had been falling apart, although there had been other times when he was clearly on the edge. But Blair had always managed to come through for him. He would come up with some gobbledygook, and like a medieval magician he would say the magic word or come up with a new potion and all would be well for another day.

Simon sighed as he remembered some of those other times, and not just with Jim. When Danny Choi had been murdered, Blair had confided to him about his own distress at Jim's outpouring of grief. And again, later, when Incacha died in the loft. Jim had known this man in Peru years ago, while on a mission for the Rangers. Yet Blair had come to him, too. When he'd told him that Incacha was a shaman, Simon had sensed immediately from his expression that Blair had unintentionally let that slip. It had been easy to see that there was more Blair held back, other things he had wanted to say, needed to say ... but Simon didn't want to 'know'.

He regretted that immensely because Sandburg's contributions to Major Crime were many and varied, and not just related to Jim. He knew Joel would have retired long ago. Henri's 'colorful' personality and Rafe's quiet steadiness would not have meshed so easily. Megan's introduction to the group was rocky, but her edginess was smoothed by 'Sandy', and the head-on confrontations between her and Jim were soothed by Sandburg's glib patter. Although, now that he thought about it, that may have been self-defense. Simon seemed to remember ordering Blair not to let them 'kill each other', which placed Blair squarely in the middle.

Simon finally had to admit to his own anxiety and wished the exams results would be posted today, but they'd all just have to survive the wait. Sandburg's own confidence tonight should tell them something. He was a good man. A man he'd come to trust. Steadier than he'd ever have believed at first, but he'd learned. But, damn, they'd made an incongruous pair. Yet, in the end, they'd all become good friends.

He sat finally at his desk and studied his angels. He snorted gently as he thought that Sandburg was no angel, but he 'was' something special, unique ... in a way that complemented Jim and his uniqueness. Maybe he didn't want to 'know' about the 'sentinel thing' ... but he did believe in it ... because he believed in them.

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Guardian
by ljc
7-06

Summary: Simon's POV again.

Warnings, Ratings: None except Simon's a bit tipsy and he thinks a bad word or two. Maybe PG.

Disclaimer: All characters, places, and objects from The Sentinel belong to Pet Fly Productions, UPN, Paramount and the SciFi Channel. No money is being made. No copyright infringement is intended. This story was written by ljc with the love of the show in mind.

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Simon had partaken of an extra beer or two, to his chagrin. It was a good thing there was a designated driver. Tonight it was Henri. 'H' was one person that had no problem having a good time even without the effects of liquor. This party was a good idea. With exam results posted, they'd all been glad to celebrate Sandburg's coming graduation from the Academy.

For the moment, Simon sat alone on the balcony. He was nursing his last beer ... and it 'was' his last beer this time. He hadn't gone into the cool night air with the intention of letting his troubled thoughts intrude, but that's what seemed to have happened. Everyone else had drifted to some other corner, while the beer seemed to have loosened his restraint on his own thoughts. They usually allowed only brief journeys into the 'sentinel zone', no pun intended. Hell, he could make a pun if he wanted to ... 'the sentinel zone'. Ha. Now he 'knew' he'd drunk too much. What he really needed was to sleep it off, but he knew his thoughts wouldn't ease up on him, not tonight.

This probably wasn't the time to dwell on hard questions, and harder answers. Tonight, he didn't want to be one of the 'inner circle'. It was just too hard, especially when he was the one that denied himself complete entry. But what would he do if what they all feared ... happened ... and Blair couldn't find the answer to the latest sentinel crisis? The whole mess would land in 'his' lap. And he just didn't want to be responsible ... and he 'would' feel responsible. He didn't want to lose either, or both, of his friends to something he didn't understand the first thing about!

That's why he'd held back. Not because he didn't want to do his part, but because he didn't know if he could 'know' his part ... if that made any kind of sense. He and Megan were the only two who knew the sentinel secret. He knew Sandburg had approached Megan as well. “Just in case,” he'd said. Just in case ... Blair couldn't come up with an answer to help Jim. That would devastate Sandburg. Or just in case ... Blair wasn't there ... to help Jim. Or what if, God forbid, when even Jim's abilities weren't enough to 'bring Blair back'. And Simon wasn't even sure where Jim had brought him back from. Heaven? Hell? Limbo? Or something else entirely too strange that Simon definitely didn't want to know about ....

But that wasn't really true any more, was it? He certainly had never been 'quiet' about being upset with them, or anything sentinel-related that had disturbed his 'routine'. He knew his own honest reactions had been the cause of their hesitation to reveal more to him. There were things that they had left unsaid, that perhaps were better revealed. He'd had time to think, and he was a little ashamed of himself. He knew he needed to understand, because who else would, if not him?

Somehow he had to let them know that he was willing to do what he could instead of playing the blustering fool. Instead of wrapping himself in 'denial', as if that would protect him from his duty. And after all, what secrets could be so hard to hear, from these two men that had placed their reputations, their lives, their sanity on the line for him more than once, for his son, too, and their colleagues ... comrades ... in the Major Crimes Unit.

This was a turning point in their partnership. They were going to become 'official' partners, instead of being just an extraordinary cop and his singular ridealong observer. Maybe Simon's 'guardianship' needed to grow also. He knew, in his heart, about friendship, and about duty. Maybe the 'inner circle' needed three fully informed members, because Jim and Blair had given enough. They deserved at least the comfort of knowing that 'someone' knew 'everything'. In case the worst happened ... especially if it happened to only one.

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Perception
by ljc
7/06

Summary: A short, uneasy little piece, from Simon's POV.

Warnings, Ratings: PG, but just for a couple of words.

Disclaimer: All characters, places, and objects from The Sentinel belong to Pet Fly Productions, UPN, Paramount and the SciFi Channel. No money is being made. No copyright infringement is intended. This story was written by ljc with the love of the show in mind.

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Well, the day was finally here. Sandburg and Ellison were just getting off the elevator. He wished he had some profound words of wisdom for them on their first day as 'official' partners. He was sure they'd need it before long ... well, here goes.

“Ellison, Sandburg. My office.”

Sandburg had that cheeky grin stretched ear to ear. Damn. “Wipe that smile off your face, Detective Sandburg. There's a new case, and I'm assigning it to you, Ellison, and your new partner.” Well, damn, that didn't take long. The smile was back and he could 'see' that the energy level had risen with it.

“Yes, Sir. What can you tell us about it?” asked Jim. Ellison looked a little puzzled but ... that's tough. Sandburg needed to learn something today and it's going to be hard, but someone's got to do it. That's what Captain's get paid for, right? Simon proceeded to give specifics, then waited for questions. Ellison had a few, so did Sandburg. The kid always was on top of things.

“If that's all sir, we'll head for the crime scene. We'll make a report as soon as we know anything,” ended Ellison, before he turned and took the doorknob in his hand.

“Good. I'll see you two later.”

“Sure thing, Simon,” Sandburg added.

That's what Simon had been waiting for, just those few words. “Sandburg,” Simon spoke slowly, softly, but distinctly, “It's CAPTAIN Banks ... Not Simon. I know you're memory works just fine, Detective. Try to remember my title, it's something you may have heard in training. Understand ... Detective?”

Sandburg looked a little disconcerted at first. Looked disheartened for a moment. Simon felt like he'd kicked a puppy, but couldn't let Sandburg get away with showing disrespect. Not here. Not anywhere anyone could see and misunderstand.

Simon knew Blair's respect for him went way beyond superior and subordinate. They'd been friends for years. They had risked their lives for one another. Sandburg had helped save his son's life. But this went beyond personal affiliations. Beyond friendship.

The future was here, today, and appearances would count for a lot. Too much, if Simon was honest. But appearances were what they would be judged on. And results of course. But knowing these two, their solve rates would be top rate. But that might not be enough to keep them out of trouble, or keep them together. Blair, and Jim too, had better recognize that here and now. This was about survival. It had to be impressed on them and this was the kindest way he could think of to do it. He knew Sandburg's brain was 'processing' this encounter. He could see the thoughtful concern plain on his face, and painfully, a new awareness.

Blair never looked to Ellison. That's good. Look at the 'Captain', Sandburg. Simon could see Ellison's dark look, and it was for him. There was nothing Jim could do about this situation. It's just the way things would have to be.

Sandburg stood straight, and flipped him a respectful salute, “Yes sir, Captain Banks. You'll have our reports as soon as possible. And Sir? Thank you, Sir. I 'will' remember.”

Good, my friend. Good for you.

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finis

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