Thanks always to TAE and Cheryl for keeping me motivated to not take years to write this one. Having them as a test audience really helped to keep me working on this.

Standard Disclaimer: I make no money from this. Most of the characters don’t belong to me and I’ll toss in the ones I created for good measure.

Story notes: This is an AU where Sentinels are known about, but very rare. There is no bonding and there isn’t anything specific about Guides other than a Sentinel has picked them to work with. Hopefully the rest is explained in the story.

It's All About Friendship
Lila Kulp

The weatherman had been right for once. The sun actually made an appearance today. All over Cascade, people were making a point to get outside and enjoy the rare sunshine. Business meetings were put on hold. School kids were allowed to have a longer recess. Pedestrians were taking their time getting to their destination. Everyone in Cascade was enjoying the sun while they could, because it never lasted long.

Everyone except for the members of the Cascade Police Department.

Today the Cascade Police Department buried one if its own.

Today Detective James Ellison buried his partner and guide, Jack Pendergast.

The sentinel sat on a bench that overlooked the cemetery and tried to ignore the nurse that tried to hover unobtrusively. He could easily see and hear the graveside service from here. The last thing he wanted was to have to deal with everyone who would be concerned about him and how he was dealing with his partner’s death.

First it was the doctors in the hospital. They already took every opportunity to put him under a microscope, since so little was known about sentinels. With only a hundred or so known sentinels in the United States and the Sentinel Affairs Division limiting research opportunities, having one admitted with a gunshot wound to the abdomen was a prime opportunity to gather data. Having his guide killed when a simple interview turned into a shootout just gave all the psychologists equal opportunity.

Next, it was everyone from the station. They, at least, understood what it meant to lose a partner, but they had no idea what it was like for a sentinel to lose a guide. It’s not like there was some deep bond between sentinel and guide, but it was more than just working together. Sure, everyone had come to visit and told him how sorry they were and made sure he knew to call them if he needed anything. They had no way of understanding what he really needed and that they couldn’t provide it.

Simon had hung around the hospital as much as possible. He didn’t understand any more than anybody else. It wasn’t simply the familiarity of a guide that helped a sentinel and brought him out of a zone. A sentinel picked one person and bookmarked their sensory input. That’s what made someone a guide. The difference between someone who was just a friend and someone who was a guide was like the difference between a familiar stretch of coastline and a familiar stretch of coastline with a lighthouse on it. When you’re lost in the darkness, only the lighthouse can make the difference.

Now it was the Sentinel Affairs Division’s turn. They would have a list of psychologists who wanted to study how a sentinel mourns the loss of a guide and how a sentinel finds a new guide. They would remind Jim that they needed to know who his new guide would be as soon as possible so they could get all the paperwork done. It was supposed to be an organization that protected sentinels from everything from harassment by insistent researchers to discrimination by potential landlords. The problem was that they often got so bogged down in bureaucracy that they lost track of their own mandates.

In line behind them would be Internal Affairs officers, the department shrinks, various public officials, an assortment of self-appointed community service groups, and several reporters.

Jim took a deep breath and sighed. None of them understood.

The sharp retort of the rifle salute stabbed at the sentinel’s hearing and made him flinch with each volley. The involuntary movements caused his injuries to scream in pain. Jim desperately tried to maintain control. He really didn’t want anyone to find him with his senses going crazy. That would just make everyone hover around him more, worried about how every little thing was affecting him.

He sat as straight as he could, considering he’d been shot in the gut four days before, and focused on the warmth of the sun hitting his face. After a few moments he was able to regain some semblance of control and look back down at the gathered mourners.

Jim watched as Simon handed the flag to Jack’s sister and began offering his condolences to the people in the row of chairs normally reserved for family and close friends. When the police captain reached the empty seat that Jim, as Jack’s partner, should have been sitting in, he turned and looked up the hill where he knew the sentinel was watching.

Jim was tempted to get up and walk away before his friend could do anything to stop him. Simon had only managed, with the support of the psychologists, to get the doctors to parole him for the funeral. The hospital staff would be expecting him back in bed as soon as possible. As much as he would like to just go home, the detective knew that it would only delay the inevitable and right now he didn’t have the energy to fight it.

The Point was one of those mysteries of the universe that nobody really tried to solve; like where your socks went when you put them in the drier. Everybody knew about it, but it had the feel of a secret hideaway where you could be alone and hide. It was a little finger of land to one side of Cascade Bay, well outside the shipping lane, but easily within reach of personal boats. At one time, someone had thought it enough of a feature to stick a beacon on it, like a miniature light house.

Jim sat on the far side of the little building, where anyone driving up wouldn’t see him. He sat as close to the water as possible without danger of getting wet by any but the largest of waves. This was the first chance since the shooting that he’d had to be truly alone. Sure he had a private room at the hospital, but there were always doctors, nurses, psychologists, and well-wishers. Even after the doctors had released him to go home; Simon and the guys kept dropping by to check on him. He finally had just gotten into his truck and started driving until he found himself here, staring at the water.

Watching the waves toy with a piece of flotsam, the detective didn’t notice the sound of a car driving up or footsteps approaching.

“Uh, hi there,” the newcomer said.

The startled detective turned to see a young man with long curly brown hair and brightly colored clothes. He had a friendly smile and a curious expression.

“I don’t normally see anybody else here, especially at this time of day,” the young man continued when Jim didn’t say anything.

“Well you don’t see me now,” the detective responded as he carefully moved to stand up, using anger to mask his surprise at the other’s approach.

Seeing the larger man in pain and having some difficulties standing, the recent arrival stepped closer, intending to help. “Are you all right?”

“I’m fine,” Jim stated tersely as he moved away from the stranger and started towards his vehicle.

He didn’t feel like being around people at the moment, especially someone who looked like a neo-hippie flower child who’d probably just spout some sort of new age mumbo jumbo about cleansing his karma or something.

“Hey man, I didn’t mean to chase you off. You were here first. I can leave,” the man called anxiously.

Jim didn’t even look back as he climbed into his truck and drove away.

Captain Banks stopped halfway through the bullpen and stood still for a moment, debating with himself. Decision made, he took several steps backwards to stand in front of Detective Ellison’s desk. “What are you doing here, Jim?”

Looking up from his computer screen, Jim took a moment to decide if his captain was serious or joking, “Um, I work here, Sir.”

Simon answered with a “You know what I mean” look.

Jim sighed and rubbed his forehead, hoping to fend off a headache, “It’s been two weeks since the funeral and almost three weeks since the shooting. I’ve been to all the doctor’s appointments that were scheduled. I even let them run a couple of extra tests. I’ve met with Internal Affairs and have an appointment this afternoon with the department shrink. I just want to get all of this behind me, so that people will quit treating me like I’ll break and I can get back to work.”

Simon’s first thought was to push the issue, but knowing Ellison the way he did, he decided that a change of tactics was in order. “Looks like your cup is a little low. Come and get a refill,” he offered and motioned towards his office with a nod of his head.

The sentinel could easily see through his friend’s attempt to mask his intentions, but decided to play along for now. Grabbing his coffee mug, he followed Simon into his office.

Without waiting for an invitation, Jim sank into one of the chairs arranged in front of the captain’s desk. He remained quiet, letting the other man lead the inevitable conversation.

“Did the doctors give you any kind of timeline for when you can return to full duty?” Simon asked over his shoulder as he started the coffee maker.

“Not really, you know how the doctors are. They said that they wanted to take the physical therapy slower than normal since… well, since Jack’s not here. I think they’re just using that as an excuse. It’s the same thing every time I get hurt. Until the doctors sign the release forms, I can’t go on active duty and they get a de facto guinea pig. So they drag their feet and keep finding reasons to not sign the paperwork, just so they can run more tests,” Jim answered, his tone of voice expressing his irritation.

Simon couldn’t prevent the smile that came to his face, “Can you blame them? It’s not like you let them do any research at other times. They’re just trying to get as much information as possible so they can do their jobs better. Who knows, maybe what they find out now will be useful the next time a sentinel is injured.” This was an old debate and one that never failed to ruffle the sentinel’s feathers.

“Coffee’s done,” Jim informed his boss. While he was willing to let Simon direct the conversation, he wasn’t going to let him get sidetracked.

Turning and picking up the coffee pot, Simon asked, “So, have you given any thought to who your new guide will be?”

“You know it doesn’t work that way, Simon. It’s not like picking out a new car,” the detective answered and held out his coffee mug, allowing his friend to fill it.

Before the captain could respond, Rhonda, his secretary leaned into his office, “Sir, I have Agent Cameron from Sentinel Affairs on line two, asking for you.”

Jim immediately waved the hand not holding the coffee cup, shook his head in a negative gesture and whispered, “I’m not here.”

Simon just glared at his detective as he picked up the phone and pushed the flashing 2 button. “This is Captain Banks,” he said into the phone.

“Captain, Agent Taylor and I are on our way to the station. We’ve been trying to get a hold of Jim. Would you happen to know where he is?” Agent Cameron said, getting right to the point.

Figuring that the conversation would be about him, Jim listened in, and upon hearing Agent Cameron’s question again shook his head no and mouthed, “I’m not here.”

Giving his detective another glare, Simon returned his attention to the phone conversation, “I’m not his babysitter, Cameron, but I can probably track him down. Why?”

“I don’t want to go into it over the phone. We’ll see you in twenty minutes.” Cameron answered and disconnected the call, causing both police officers to roll their eyes.

Simon replaced the receiver in the cradle and finally managed to take a gulp of his coffee. “What do you think they want?” Simon asked between swallows.

Jim sighed and considered the most likely scenario. “There’s this doctor from Chicago who has a new theory on how sentinels select a guide and since I currently don’t have one, they want me to talk to him. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s flown in and will be here with Frick and Frack.”

Simon laughed at Jim’s favorite nickname for the SAD agents, “How about I run interference? I’ll call you if it turns out to be anything important.”

Swallowing the rest of his coffee, the sentinel stood and moved to leave. He paused at the office door and said, “Thanks, Simon.” Without waiting for a reply, he left the office and walked over to his desk. He placed his coffee cup in its usual spot, turned off his computer, and left.

Watching his friend leave, Simon mumbled to himself, “I can’t believe I just volunteered to protect the protector from his protectors.”

Nobody thought twice when their resident sentinel started laughing for no apparent reason as the elevator doors closed.

Blair Sandburg thought about turning around and going back home when he saw a green F-150 parked at The Point. It was the same truck that had been there several days before when he’d inadvertently disturbed some guy trying to enjoy the solitude. He knew how important and difficult it was at times to find peace, and really didn’t want to make it that much harder for someone else. However, this was the best place for meditating that the grad student had access to and he really needed to sort some things out.

Taking a steadying breath, he decided to see if the other guy would be willing to share. It wasn’t like Blair was planning on disturbing the peace or anything. He got out of his car and quietly walked towards the little lighthouse.

He found the same guy sitting in almost the exact same spot as before. Not wanting to disturb the man, Blair found a sunny rock and made himself comfortable. Before he began to meditate he announced softly, “I’ll just sit over here and stay out of your way, okay? But you were here first, so just say the word and I’ll give you your space.”

When the other man didn’t say anything, Blair interpreted his silence as acceptance and settled into his meditation.

Simon plastered a smile on his face as he greeted the SAD agents, “Agent Cameron, Agent Taylor, good to see you, again. What can I help you with?”

Agent Cameron was only five feet ten inches, but somehow his muscular build gave the impression that he was much larger. His dusty blond hair had a touch of red to it in the right light and was neatly trimmed. He walked directly to the captain’s desk as he looked around the office, then back out at the Major Crime’s bullpen. “Where’s Detective Ellison?”

Still trying to play the role of polite host, Simon held up the pot of coffee in a silent offer as he answered, “Detective Ellison couldn’t be here. He’s tied up at the moment.”

“He had better not be. That’s why we’re here,” Cameron retorted brusquely.

Agent Taylor, in comparison to his partner, was tall and skinny with the jet black hair of a Native American. He had stopped just inside the door and waited quietly, allowing Agent Cameron to direct the proceedings. However, seeing the angry glare aimed at his partner, he stepped in to explain, “The Seattle police department called us several hours ago. Apparently one of their informants overheard a couple of, shall we say, less than reputable characters talking about a sentinel. They did some investigating and from what they’ve been able to dig up, we suspect that one of the South American drug cartels that distributes through the northwest, thinks they can get Jim to imprint on a guide of their choice and thus manipulate him.”

Simon allowed himself a laugh before studying the two federal agents for a moment. “You’ve got to be kidding. What would make them think that would work? Hell, nobody even knows why a sentinel picks a particular person to be their guide, let alone how to manipulate them into imprinting someone specific.”

“Not everyone is as educated about sentinels as we are, Captain, and there are still a lot of gaps in our knowledge,” Agent Cameron interrupted. “The general public really doesn’t have much experience with sentinels and their understanding is even less. In an environment where there is such a lack of solid information, people tend to believe just about anything, especially if it’s in their favor. At some point, these guys must have heard that a guide has influence over their sentinel and they want to use that to their advantage.”

Without flinching, Agent Cameron looked Captain Banks directly in the eyes, trying to convey the weight of what he was saying. “Regardless of whether it can be done or not, someone believes that they can control Detective Ellison. Our job is to ensure that they don’t get a chance to test their theory.”

Banks wasted no time reaching for the phone and dialing Jim’s cell phone number. When the call wasn’t answered before the third ring he yelled for his secretary, “RHONDA!”

“Yes?” she replied from the doorway.

“What time was Jim’s appointment with the department shrink today?” Simon asked while he redialed Jim’s cell phone.

“Not until three this afternoon,” she answered without needing to check the calendar.

“Damn it Jim, answer your phone,” Banks ordered his missing officer as he listened to the ringing from the other side. “Rhonda, put out an APB for Ellison, and check with Cascade General to see if he was supposed to be there today,” he directed his assistant.

Banks hung up after being sent to voicemail again, then hit the redial button, “Ellison, so help me, if you’re sitting somewhere zoned, you’ll be doing reports until you find a guide.”

A nagging sound coaxed Blair out of his peaceful meditation. He took a moment to orient himself with his surroundings, and then looked around for the sound. Before he could identify the source of the irritation, the noise stopped.

Shrugging his shoulders, Blair went back to his relaxing breathing, only to hear the noise start up again. This time, he was able to identify it as the ringing of a cell phone. The ringing was coming from the man sitting around the light house from him. “Hey, you want to answer that or turn it off? Some of us like the quiet.”

The other man didn’t answer the phone. He didn’t tell the nosy busybody to mind his own business.

He didn’t get up and leave. He didn’t acknowledge Blair’s request at all.

In for a penny, in for a pound, Blair thought to himself as he got up and walked over to the only other person at The Point. “What’s your problem? Last time you bite my head off, and now you won’t even talk to me?”

There was still no response from the larger man.

Blair bent down in front of the silent statue, giving the other man no choice but to look at him. Seeing the blank look on the other man’s face, he asked, “Is there something wrong?”

Once again the phone fell silent, only to begin ringing again.

“Fine, if you won’t answer it, then I will,” Blair stated as he reached down and took the phone out of his uncommunicative companion’s jacket pocket. He flipped the device open and pushed the talk button, “Hello?”

“Who is this?” a gruff voice demanded through the connection.

“Um, I’m Blair Sandburg,” he began tentatively, but once he started speaking, the words that followed sped up into a rush. “Were you trying to call a tall guy with short dark hair and drives a green truck? Cause, something’s wrong. He’s just sitting here staring off into space. Oh man, he’s barely breathing. You’ll have to call him back. I’m going to call 911, bye.”

Pressing the disconnect button, the Good Samaritan tried to get a response by shaking the other man’s shoulders, “You’re starting to scare me, here.”

Instead of the desired effect, the larger man listed to the side and Blair had to struggle to keep his charge from hitting his head on the hard ground. Once he was sure he wouldn’t be doing any more damage, he used the borrowed cell phone to call 911.

“No, don’t hang up! I am 911,” Banks tried to keep Blair from hanging up the phone. He cursed softly when he heard the click of the phone disconnecting.

With one hand he grabbed paper and pen and with the other he started dialing the dispatch center. “This is Captain Banks,” he began as he tucked the phone between his shoulder and ear and with his free hand wrote down ‘Blair Sandburg’. “Hopefully you’ll be getting a 911 call from a Blair Sandburg. He’ll be using Detective Ellison’s cell phone. We need to get patrol and EMS to his location as soon as possible. Once you’ve got that taken care of, transfer Mr. Sandburg to my cell phone, please,” he informed the operator who answered.

Upon hearing the name of the person with Detective Ellison, a thoughtful look appeared on Agent Cameron’s face. He took the piece of paper from the police captain and handed it to his partner, “Call the office and have them check this Blair Sandburg out. His name sounds familiar.”

Agent Taylor just nodded and pulled out his cell phone as he followed Captain Banks and the other SAD agent out of the office and down to the garage.

“Help is on the way, Mr. Sandburg. Normally, I would stay on the phone with you until they arrive, but Captain Banks would like to speak with you. I’m going to transfer you to his cell phone. Is that all right?” the 911 operator paused to allow Blair to answer.

“Sure, just tell them to hurry, ok?” Blair responded anxiously.

There was a series of clicks and then the same gruff voice from before came across the phone line.

“Blair, this is Captain Banks. Is Detective Ellison still unresponsive?”

Sandburg’s eyes grew wide. “Detective? You mean this guy’s a cop?” he asked.

“Yes, Jim’s cop. He’s also a sentinel and he’s probably zoned. You need to try to get him to snap out of it,” Banks explained.

“Where’s his guide?” Blair asked without hesitation.

Simon ignored the question, “Dispatch said you were at The Point. Try splashing him with some water,” he suggested.

“Are you nuts?” the civilian exclaimed. “Do you know what kind of crap is in that water? His senses are going to be all over the place. I can’t start tossing the toxic ooze we call a bay onto him!”

Getting up from where he knelt next to the zoned man, he sprinted to his car, “I’ve got some bottled water in my car. I’ll use that.”

Blair collected the half full bottle of water and jogged back to the unmoving sentinel. Placing the phone on the ground, he then poured some water on his hand and proceeded to flick drops of water at the other man’s face. “Come on, you need to come back, now.”

When Ellison didn’t respond, Blair began to tip water directly from the bottle onto the detective.

“You need to feel the water on your face, hear my voice. Better yet, hear your friend’s voice,” he instructed as he picked up the still connected cell phone and addressed the person on the other end. “Captain Banks, you still there?”

“Yeah, I’m here. We’re still several minutes away, but a patrol unit should be there soon,” the police officer replied.

“I’m going to put the phone next to his ear so he can hear you. Maybe a more familiar voice will help.” Doing as he had said, Blair placed the phone on the ground near the sentinel’s ear and resumed his earlier actions of tipping water on the other man’s face.

“You had better wake up soon because I’m running out of water here. You really don’t want me to get any of Cascade’s lovely bay water, do you?”

The combination of voices and water apparently did the trick, because the sentinel blinked his eyes and moaned.

“That’s it, time to come back to reality,” Blair encouraged.

Hearing the unfamiliar voice and sensing someone leaning over him, the partially coherent detective reacted instinctively. He rolled away from the unknown person, coming up to his knees. Shaking his head and blinking his eyes, the sentinel tried to clear his head and sort out his senses.

“Whoa, take it easy,” Blair instructed as he took a step closer to Ellison.

Sensing the stranger moving towards him, the detective pushed himself to his feet and stumbled backwards a few steps while holding his hands defensively in front of him. “What happened?”

Blair bent over and picked up the cell phone, “You were zoned,” he explained simply and then waited, giving the sentinel some time to clear his head.

“Damn,” Ellison said and took a couple of deep breaths, then looked around. “Well, I guess that explains why I’m wet,” he said finally, pointing to the almost empty bottle in the other man’s hand.

“Yeah, sorry about that,” the shorter man said sheepishly. Then remembering the phone, he held the device out to the detective, “Um, I think Captain Banks would like to speak with you.”

The detective kept a wary eye on the younger man as he cautiously accepted the phone, and raised it to his ear. “Simon?”

“Jim! Thank goodness…” Captain Banks began excitedly, causing the sentinel to yank the phone away from his head.

Before Ellison could adjust his hearing and continue listening to his boss’s words, his attention was drawn to a boat that was approaching them from across the water. “Hey, Simon, we’re at The Point. Get here quick and bring backup” he interrupted upon seeing the occupants of the boat aiming guns in their direction.

Without waiting to hear his captain’s response, the detective closed the phone and stuck it back into his pocket. He then closed the distance between himself and the civilian and began urging him back towards the parking area, “Time to go, Chief.”

Suddenly the air was pierced with the sound of gunfire and a series of dirt plumes erupted along the ground separating the two men from their vehicles. The boat gracefully slid up to the shore and two of the occupants disembarked.

Jim turned to face the two new arrivals, stepping between them and the man who had brought him out of his zone and continued to herd the younger man towards the parking area. At the same time, he examined the threat with an experienced eye. One of the gunmen was large with a medium complexion that defied any attempt to identify his ethnicity. The other was taller and thinner and sported a fresh sunburn.

The larger gunman aimed his assault rifle at the two Cascadians, while the thinner one said, “On the boat, Ellison.”

“Not going to happen,” the detective replied, taking a step back.

“What about the other one?” gunman number one asked the spokesman of the pair.

“We’ll just shoot him. The boss only wants the sentinel,” gunman number two told his partner.

Ellison could feel the man behind him grow tense as he once again pushed him back another step.

“Where do you think you’re going?” the more vocal of the gunmen asked as he brought his gun up to join his friend in covering the two local men. Seeing the two men take another step back, he motioned his friend to move around to flank their victims, as he moved in the opposite direction.

“Just get on the boat now and we won’t have to shoot both of you. The boss didn’t say we couldn’t injure you, just that you had to be alive,” the thinner one continued. To emphasize his point he touched off a short burst of fire, kicking up dirt just behind the smaller of the two targets.

“Ah man, this sucks,” the civilian muttered into the sentinel’s back.

Ignoring the comment and pounding heartbeat behind him, the sentinel tried to keep an eye on both gunmen. “If your boss wants a sentinel, then it’s not a good idea to shoot my guide,” he said, praying that the younger man would play along.

The ruse had the desired effect, causing the two gunmen to halt their progress in circling around the two locals and look at each other in silent conversation. After a few moments, the spokesman nodded his head, indicating that his partner should resume his journey around their target. “You can’t fool us. We know your guide is dead.”

“You’re operating on old information,” Ellison stated, trying to decide who the bigger threat was, and thus the one to keep a closer eye on as the gunmen moved around behind him and the man he was trying to protect. He really didn’t want to place the civilian closer to the boat, but it was better than having him directly exposed to the assault rifles. Deciding that the quiet one wasn’t about to act on his own, the detective rotated around, keeping himself between the talker and the terrified young man. He just had to keep stalling for time. He could hear the siren of a patrol unit approaching fast.

The quiet one must have been waiting for the right moment, because as soon as Ellison turned to face the larger threat, he lunged and grabbed the smaller of the two targets.

Almost as soon as the sentinel heard the sounds behind him, he felt the heat from the other man disappear from his back. He spun around to find the civilian being held by gunman number one with the barrel of the assault rifle disappearing behind his back. Half an instant later, he felt the barrel of another assault rifle dig into his own back. Realizing that resisting was no longer an option, the detective slowly raised his hands.

“Well, if you’re so concerned about your new guide’s safety, then I suggest you do as you’re told and get on the boat,” the taller gunman said as he located and removed Detective Ellison’s gun. Then to emphasize his point, he gave his prisoner a strong poke with his rifle, causing his captive to take a few stumbled steps towards the boat.

The silent gunman was already dragging his captive towards the boat. Ellison had little choice, but to follow.

The detective couldn’t help wondering, “How long was it going to take that damn patrol unit to get here?” as he made his way to the boat as slowly as possible. He was only a few steps away when the civilian stumbled and fell to his hands and knees. Before Jim could move to help his fellow hostage, the gunman grabbed the young man’s arm and dragged him to his feet. Only the sentinel saw the smaller man’s fist close around a rock.

“Alright, alright, I’m getting on the boat. Just give me a second,” the loudly dressed man said and began to struggle onto the bow of the speedboat, followed immediately by the shorter of the two gunmen.

Seeing the younger man struggle to climb onto the boat made Ellison realize just how far the deck of the boat was above solid ground. It was going to be difficult for him to climb aboard with his still healing wound. He opened his mouth to say something to his captors, but was interrupted by the arrival of the patrol unit that he’d been hearing.

The detective had to give the patrol officers credit; they sized up the situation almost immediately. Instead of starting down the shore towards their fellow police officer, one pulled his gun and took up a secure position behind the driver’s side door. The other officer grabbed the shotgun and mirrored his partner’s actions behind the passenger door. “Freeze, Police!” he shouted while his partner radioed an update to dispatch.

Without warning, gunman number one raised his weapon and fired at the patrol officers, leaving a row of bullet holes in the hood. Gunman number two also raised his rifle, only instead of firing at the patrol officers; he pointed it directly in Ellison’s face, making it perfectly clear that the sentinel had better not try anything.

Neither of the gunmen was paying any attention to the smaller captive as he raised his arm, intending to smash the fist sized rock that he’d grabbed when he fell, into the back of the shooter’s head. Unfortunately, the boat’s pilot took this moment to join the fray. The young man froze as he felt the barrel of a handgun placed behind his ear. He dropped the rock and moved to the back of the boat as directed.

“Don’t make me tell you again, Ellison,” gunman number two told his captive and accompanied it with a shove.

Jim hadn’t been expecting the shove and lost his balance on the wet rocks. He reflexively reached out and grabbed the boat’s railing to halt his fall. The sudden strain on his still healing stomach muscles caused him to grunt in pain as he tried to regain his balance.

The taller gunman took up the task of keeping the patrol officers pinned down as his companions reached over the sides and pulled their prize aboard and unceremoniously deposited him at the back of the boat at the feet of their other captive. With an effortless leap, gunman number two boarded the boat moments before the pilot gunned the engine in reverse and pulled away from the shore.

“Damn it! What is it with people hanging up on me, today?” Captain Banks uttered as he leaned into his door during a hard left turn onto the highway onramp and glared at his silent cell phone. He wondered if he shouldn’t have given one of the SAD agents the phone instead of letting Cameron drive.

“What happened?” Agent Cameron asked from the driver’s seat. He spared half a second to look next to him, but immediately returned his attention to the traffic as he merged onto the highway.

“Ellison’s awake, but the last thing he said was to bring backup,” Banks explained as he reached for the mic on his police radio. “Hey, watch it Cameron! I swear you drive as bad as Jim,” he continued as the agent wove around traffic, switching from lane to lane.

“You need better lights and a louder siren on your car,” was the agent’s reply as he squeezed the sedan between two semi-trucks.

They both ignored the muttered, “Welcome to my life,” from the backseat.

“Charlie seventeen to Adam twenty one, what’s your ETA at The Point?” Banks spoke into the mic and pointed towards the far right lane. “You’re going to want to take 75th street. There’s construction on the bridge up ahead.”

Cameron didn’t even look as he cut across three lanes of traffic and took the off ramp.

“Adam twenty one, we’re about a minute out,” the radio answered.

Banks directed Cameron to go left, under the highway. “Be advised, Detective Ellison has requested backup. Dispatch, I need additional units sent to The Point and contact Harbor Patrol to have them respond as well,” he was trying to avoid imagining the various possibilities that would cause his friend to ask for assistance while staying in his seat as the car swung onto the wrong side of the street to avoid cars stopped at the upcoming intersection.

Agent Taylor leaned forward from the backseat, wedging himself between the two front seats for security, “I just got a call from the office. Jon found a Blair Sandburg as an anthropology grad student at Rainier. He’s submitted some research proposals wanting permission to do a study involving a sentinel.”

“I knew that name sounded familiar,” Cameron said as he gunned the engine, causing the car to race down the deserted side street. “The next question is if his presence at The Point was coincidental or not?”

“Jon has already started a deeper background check on him. If there’s anything of interest, he’ll let us know,” Taylor stated and then fell back against the seat as the car fishtailed slightly as the road turned to gravel.

“It also explains why he sounded like he knew more than usual about sentinels. You think he’s working with this drug cartel?” Banks asked, holding tight to the handle over the door.

Any comment that the SAD agents had was interrupted by the police radio, “Adam twenty one to dispatch, we’re under heavy fire and need backup. There are at least two gunmen with automatic weapons and they have Detective Ellison at gunpoint. Request Harbor Patrol send units to The Point as well. They’re currently dragging Ellison onto a red and white speedboat.”

“Damn it!” Cameron shouted and struck the steering wheel.

“Adam twenty one, this is Charlie seventeen, we’re almost there. Try and keep them there as long as possible,” Banks instructed and pointed out a turn to Agent Cameron.

Like an expert stunt driver, the SAD agent yanked the wheel and hit the breaks just enough to get the car pointed in the right direction and then floored the gas pedal. The wheels spun for a few moments, sending dirt and gravel flying, then the tires were able to grip the ground and the car took off.

The next few moments were spent in tense silence as Agent Cameron expertly maneuvered the car around pot holes and the three men waited for an update from the radio.

The sedan slid to a stop in the now crowded parking area at The Point as a red and white speedboat raced, full throttle, towards the mouth of the bay.

Once away from the shore, the gunmen all but ignored their captives, instead they focused on the water around them, watching for anyone who might try to stop them.

Blair quickly moved to help the detective. It was obvious to the grad student that the sentinel was in pain, however, the others either didn’t notice, or didn’t care. “Detective? What’s wrong?” he asked, trying to see if the other man was injured.

Ellison didn’t respond. He remained on the deck, curled around his aching stomach, eyes squeezed shut. The gunmen hadn’t been gentle when they pulled him aboard the boat and the resulting pain from his still healing gunshot wound reminded his head that he’d recently zoned.

“Jim, I know you’re in pain, but you need to concentrate. Focus on something other than the pain,” Blair’s mind was racing, trying to think of a way to help the sentinel, the only person on the boat he could trust.

“What’s wrong with him,” the taller gunman asked, finally noticing that one of his captives was in distress.

The grad student glared disbelievingly at the man who appeared to be the leader, “Gee, let’s think about that, shall we? You kidnap him, drag him onto a boat and toss him onto the deck all shortly after he woke up from a pretty bad zone. What the hell do you think is wrong? Do you even know the first thing about sentinels?”

Before Blair could stop himself, he was standing protectively over the detective and gesturing menacingly towards the man with the gun, “Just what does your boss intend to do with a sentinel if he doesn’t even know the first thing about them, like the fact that Ellison’s not about to help someone who had him kidnapped at gunpoint. You do realize, those patrol officers have a radio in their car, and have already informed not only the entire police department, but the harbor patrol, Coast Guard, and the US Navy to be looking for this boat? There is no way you’re getting us out of the bay, let alone all the way to wherever you thought you were going to take us.”

A look of concern flashed across the leader’s face and his two partners in crime looked at him with concern.

Sensing a hint of weakness, Blair continued, gaining momentum, “You might as well put us ashore now, because when, not if, but when they catch you, it won’t be pretty. Kidnapping is one thing. Kidnapping a cop is another. Kidnapping a sentinel is likely to have everyone shooting first and not bothering to ask questions later. The last person to try…”

“Shut up,” the gunman instructed, raising his weapon and aiming it at the young man. Then turning to the man piloting the boat, he continued, “Marcus, call our friends outside the bay and tell them that we’re going to plan B.”

Marcus nodded, picked up the radio’s microphone and turned the speedboat in the opposite direction. They were now headed for a thin spit of land that separated the bay from the sea. It was a wooded area that usually suffered the brunt of winter storms, protecting the harbor, and thus had been left undeveloped.

The leader then turned back to Blair, “Do your job, guide. I’m not carrying him through the woods, so he’d better be able to walk by the time we get to shore.”

Something in the man’s attitude reminded Blair of the seriousness of the situation. The only reason that he was still alive was because these guys thought he was Detective Ellison’s guide. If he was going to get both himself and the sentinel to safety, he would have to make sure their captors kept believing the lie. He knelt down beside the still cringing sentinel and prayed that the gunmen didn’t know anything more about guides than about sentinels.

“Are we going to have a fight over jurisdiction here?” Captain Banks asked Agent Cameron. He was fully prepared to argue with the federal agent over every move if it meant a better chance of rescuing his friend. Agent Cameron had a slightly confused look on his face as he answered the police captain’s question with one of his own, “Why? Do you want one?” “Just making sure we’re not going to get in each other’s way,” Banks answered as he jogged down the shore to the small lighthouse. He wasn’t going to ask how one of the patrol officers had managed to gain access to the small building so he could stand on the maintenance walk with a set of binoculars. Banks motioned to the one still on the ground to hand over his radio. “Dispatch, Charlie seventeen establishing Point command. Dispatch, have all units engaged join Cascade PD on channel two.” “Charlie seventeen establishing Point command on channel two,” the radio echoed. Switching to channel two and keying the mic again, Simon continued to issue commands, “Contact Harbor Patrol, the Coast Guard, and Navy. Inform them we officially have a sentinel being held by hostiles, possibly foreign.” Agents Cameron and Taylor watched as Simon moved off, still giving commands and ordering resources. Taylor nudged his partner and pointed to a tan backpack sitting between two rocks off to the side. Before he could move to investigate, his phone rang. Taylor just shrugged and moved a few steps away from his partner as he answered the phone. “Hey Jon, your timing is perfect as always,” he said into his phone, not bothering with small talk. “Unfortunately, our timing was a tad off and our intelligence was correct.” Cameron sighed and headed towards the discarded bag. It was set securely between several rocks, but it sat below the high tide mark. Either the owner hadn’t intended to leave it behind, or he planned on retrieving it before the water rose, if he planned on retrieving it at all. Donning a pair of gloves, the SAD agent retrieved the bag and headed back to the parking area. He examined each item in the bag as he removed it and systematically placed it in on the hood of Detective Ellison’s truck. The backpack contained several spiral bound notebooks. A couple appeared to contain lecture notes, complete with doodles in the margins. Another read more like a cross between a diary of the author’s thoughts and field notes. Each page began with a date, time, and place. Next was a brief paragraph giving a technical description of what the author was seeing. The rest of the page and several following pages were filled with a more stream of consciousness style of writing. The words painted a picture of not only actions being witnessed, but possible explications for why the actions were being taken. Cameron flipped though the notebook and sampled several of the entries. One was a soccer practice at Rainier University. It covered everything from why a particular player did or did not pass the ball, to the coach’s leadership style. Another was at the open market by one of the flower shops. Notes had been made on who stopped to smell the flowers, who bought flowers, and who just rushed by without even noticing the beauty around them. Even with the informal style of composition, the agent was impressed with the detailed observations and documentation of the author. There was a teacher’s edition of an anthropology textbook and several magazine articles about recent excavations in South America. Also included was an assortment of writing utensils, a set of keys, a well worn address book, and oddly, a change of clothes. Agent Cameron was flipping through the articles and trying to decipher the notes in the margins when Taylor walked up to share what he had learned from his phone call. “Jon got an initial check back on Sandburg. He doesn’t have much of a criminal record, mostly speeding and parking tickets, with a civil disobedience charge tossed in. The state department does show a considerable amount of travel abroad, but only a few trips within the last five years. The interesting part is that both trips were to countries in South America,” Taylor relayed as his friend replaced the article he was examining back on the pile.

Both men turned and waited as Captain Banks joined them, the look on his face indicating that someone would end up with a new backside if things did not go his way.

“Cameron, I’m getting pushback from the Coast Guard. They say they can only spare one boat to help sweep the bay and nothing to check outside the breakwater. Tell me you can pull some strings,” Simon growled.

Taylor answered instead, “I’ve already updated our office. Jon is currently contacting the various agencies. He will ensure that you will have whatever resources you request.”

Agent Cameron smiled at the efficiency of his partner then indicated the backpack and its contents. “I’m assuming this belongs to our Mr. Sandburg. The contents are pretty ordinary. There are the standard pens and notebooks, a textbook and some magazine articles that I’m assuming is research. He’s got a change of clothes, which I think is a bit odd, but it’s been a while since I was a college student.”

“I doubt things have changed that much. At least, I hope my niece doesn’t feel the need to run around with a change of clothes everywhere she goes,” Agent Taylor said as he checked out the titles of the magazine articles. “These are all about South America. The person who just happens to be here when Ellison zones and is then kidnapped by thugs working for a South American drug cartel, just happens to have been to South America recently, has articles on South America, and has a change of clothes. Does anybody else think this is suspicious?”

Before anyone could present an answer, Banks’ borrowed radio came to life, “Chopper two to Point Command. I have a visual on the suspect speedboat. I count five occupants, but I can’t get a clear identification on any of them. They are currently headed towards Anchor Cove.”

“What’s at Anchor Cove?” Cameron asked the local officer.

“That’s where the south shore curves around and becomes the lee side of the spit,” Banks explained as he used his foot to draw a rough map in the gravel of the parking area. “There are lots of little spots where a smaller boat could anchor and its occupants could wade to shore. From there they could either hike across the spit and meet up with another boat on the ocean side, or go further inland and rendezvous with someone with a ground vehicle.”

Banks again engaged the microphone for the radio, “Point Command to dispatch. Have Captain Finkleman set up a team to contain land access to Anchor Point. She can engage Search and Rescue for manpower.”

While he was speaking into the radio, Captain Banks motioned one of the uniforms over, “Raymore, call in and get Forensics out here to go over the scene. I want Sandburg’s back pack and car secured as evidence as well. If this guy is involved in any way other than just being in the wrong place at the wrong time, I want to know about it.”

Officer Raymore nodded in acknowledgment and began collect the items from the hood of Ellison’s truck.

Still up on the miniature lighthouse, Officer Jones made one last survey of the water before joining his partner in securing the evidence. “Captain, it looks like one of the harbor patrol boats is headed our way,” he shouted and began descending his perch.

Banks, Cameron, and Taylor jogged around the beacon to meet the patrol boat at the tip of The Point.

“We thought you might like a lift to Anchor Cove, Simon,” the boat’s commander said as she reached down to give her passengers a hand aboard.

“You read my mind, Angie,” Simon answered as he accepted the offered hand. “Commander Angela Zocher, meet Agents Cameron and Taylor from Sentinel Affairs. Gentlemen, Angie Zocher, one of the few people I’ve met that can make Ellison blush,” the police captain made the introductions as he and Angie helped the SAD agents onboard.

“Really?” Cameron asked with a mischievous smile.

Commander Zocher’s only response was her own mischievous smile and wink.

“Which reminds me, Simon,” the SAD agent said, turning to the police captain, “we need to have a chat with Jim about his habit of avoiding us.”

The local officer took a moment to regain his balance as the boat lunged towards Anchor Cove, and then answered the visiting Fed, “And after that you and I are going to have a chat about your habit of withholding vital information.”

Taylor moved to stand next to Angie, up front by the controls, and silently watched his partner and the captain.

“And just what do you mean by that, Banks?” Cameron retorted back with a touch of aggression.

Simon wasn’t about to back down, he stood toe to toe with his counterpart, “What I mean is, if you had given me more information while on the phone, instead of keeping me in the dark so you could have your little power trip, I’d have handcuffed Ellison to his desk and he wouldn’t currently be being held hostage by a bunch of drug dealers.”

“You mean to tell me he was at the station when I called?” the SA agent growled, leaning just a fraction further into Banks’ personal space. “Why the hell didn’t you keep him there?”

Not to be outdone, Banks leaned closer as well, “We thought you were bringing some doctor from Chicago and Jim didn’t feel like being ambushed.”

“He’s not flying in until tomorrow,” Cameron responded automatically.

There was a tense moment of silence as everyone processed what had just been said.

“So you were planning on ambushing Jim with this researcher from Chicago,” Simon accused with a dangerously quiet tone.

Taylor chose this moment to step forward and assist his fellow agent. “Only because he would have found a way to avoid us,” he admitted frankly. “We realize that Jim is not overly fond, shall we say, of participating in research, but the chance to observe a sentinel going through the process of selecting a new guide doesn’t happen every day. We can’t waste this opportunity.”

“That still doesn’t justify ambushing one of my detectives or withholding information,” Banks responded, stepping back and folding his arms across his chest.

The two SAD agents looked at each other for several tense moments. Realizing that Captain Banks had a valid argument, Cameron relaxed his aggressive posture and took a deep breath. “Just promise me that, in the future, if I tell you to handcuff him to his desk, you’ll do it. I think it’s safe to say that we don’t want to go through this again,” he said, holding his hand out.

“Finally, something we can agree on,” Banks sighed as he shook the offered hand.

“Easy for him to say,” the sentinel thought to himself when the civilian told him to focus on something other than the pain. He’d already tried using the hum of the engine, but the sound too closely matched the vibrations, which just aggravated his already tortured sense of touch. Smell wasn’t a good idea either, the bay water mixed with dirt, oil, and whatever else was on the deck might have been good for bringing him out of a zone, but not for helping to gain control of spiking senses.

The only other thing Ellison could discern was the voice of the young man, who was now standing protectively over him and giving their captors a good tongue lashing. He couldn’t help feeling amazed that this was the same young man who’d been so terrified when the gunmen said they were going to kill him. His first impression of the long haired, loudly dressed man had not been one of someone who would stand up to a man with an assault rifle.

Jim felt the boat change directions as his fellow captive knelt down next to him.

“Hey, how’re you doing?” the young man asked, placing a hand on the sentinel’s shoulder.

Jim shifted a little and covered the comforting hand with his own. “I’m better,” he said with a slight nod, “but let’s not tell them yet, OK, Chief?”

“Blair. My name’s Blair Sandburg,” the younger man said, leaning close and whispering as soft as he could. “If we’re going to pretend I’m your guide, then you should probably know my name.”

“Jim Ellison,” replied the detective. Before he could continue, the boat hit the crest of a wave. The resulting bump jarred his entire body and reawakened his headache.

Seeing the sentinel cringe in pain, Blair moved his hand to start rubbing the detective’s back and softly instructed, “Try to take deep breaths. Focus on the hand on your back.”

Jim tried to follow the young man’s instructions, but each breath brought with it the stench and taste of whatever was on the filthy deck. He grabbed Blair’s arm and started to pull himself into more of a seated position.

Once up off the deck of the boat, the sentinel took several deep breaths and tried, once again, to rein in his expanding headache. At least the pain from his wound had been eclipsed by his head. Unfortunately the wind and constant movement of the boat prevented any sense of calm from being achieved.

“Is there anything I can do to help?” Blair asked, keeping one eye on the gunmen and the other on the sentinel.

“I’m sorry. You shouldn’t have been involved in this,” Jim said, instead of answering the question. He took a quick look around, trying to evaluate their situation and formulate a plan of action, but the constantly moving scenery just added nausea to the list of concerns that he currently had.

Blair moved to sit next to Jim and put his arm around his shoulders. He felt the other man tense slightly and added, “I’m supposed to be your guide, remember.”

Jim nodded and leaned into the closest thing to a guide that he currently had. The thought occurred to him that Jack never would have been comfortable with such close contact.

“Besides, the tall ugly one said something about not wanting to carry you through the woods. I think that means we’ll be on dry land, soon. You’d better rest while you can, because I really don’t want to have to carry you through the woods, either,” the young man stated seriously.

The deadpan manner in which the smaller man delivered the comment managed to elicit a chuckle from the detective.

The brief moment of levity was shattered by the sound of an approaching helicopter. The two gunmen had already lifted their weapons and had them aimed at the aircraft, in preparation for firing. “Here comes the cavalry,” Jim mumbled into Blair’s shoulder.

The helicopter swooped past the speeding boat, stopping just out of range of the weapons to monitor the boat’s progress. “This is the Cascade Police Department. Heave to and prepare to be boarded.”

The boat’s pilot gunned the engine, pushing the boat even faster towards their destination. He knew that the occupants of the helicopter wouldn’t fire on the fast moving craft and other than capsizing the boat, there was no good way to force them to stop.

The lead gunman moved to stand over his hostages, making sure that the helicopter had a clear view of him pointing the weapon at the two men. “Isn’t this cute?” he sneered. “Don’t get too comfy with this one, Ellison. We have another guide picked out for you.” Having re-established his dominance, he returned his attention to the helicopter.

“Easy, Chief, we just have to stall for time,” Jim tried to reassure the civilian after hearing his heart rate skyrocket. “Weren’t you the one telling our hosts about the Coast Guard and the Navy looking for us?”

“Yeah, but I was just bluffing,” Blair whispered back.

“Not if I know Agent Cameron, you weren’t. He may annoy the hell out of me, but he takes his job seriously. Just don’t tell him that I said so, or I’ll deny everything,” the sentinel said, still trying to get Blair to calm down a bit. The combination of racing heartbeat and smell of fear was starting to grate on his senses.

“Heads up!” Marcus shouted as he threw the engine into reverse to slow the boat slightly. The pilot had steered towards a spot on the shore that had a gentle slope and allowed their momentum to propel them up the muddy beach and as close to the trees as possible.

The two gunmen must have been expecting the maneuver, because they had already grabbed the railing and somehow managed to remain on their feet during the controlled crash.

The two captives, however, hadn’t been expecting the sudden decrease in speed. Feeling the shift in momentum, Jim tried to shield the civilian as much as possible. The problem was that the civilian was also trying to protect the detective.

Blair brought his left arm up and around so that, along with his right arm, which was still around Jim’s shoulders, he was holding the other man tight and tried to use his feet to absorb the impact with the back of the driver’s seat. Unfortunately his feet glanced off the slick upholstery and they continued forward until Blair’s knee made contact with something solid.

Ellison had managed to place his larger bulk between Blair and the seat, taking the blunt, of the blow. The thin padding of the upholstery and Blair’s efforts reduced the impact, but he was hit from both sides when the younger man slammed into him, knocked all the air out of his lungs and once again aggravated his abused stomach muscles.

The short, quiet gunman immediately jumped over the side. The tall talkative gunman reached down and grabbed Blair’s arm. In one move he pulled the smaller man to his feet and propelled him towards the far side of the boat. Marcus caught the young man and made sure he continued over the side into the arms his fellow criminal, “Hey Paul, catch.”

The leader then slung his weapon over his shoulder and bent down to pull Ellison to his feet. “Quit stalling and get moving,” he commanded as he and Marcus manhandled the sentinel over the side of the boat.

Sandburg broke away from Paul, who was herding him towards the cover of the trees, and hurried back to help Ellison, who was still trying to suck air into his lungs. “Stop it. You’re just making things worse. How do you expect him to make it through these woods if you keep tossing him around like this?” the civilian asked as he pulled the sentinel’s left arm over his shoulder. Still playing the role of guide, he helped the detective towards the woods, in the direction that the gunmen indicated.

“Maybe we should toss you around instead,” the leader said as he leapt off the boat and brought up the rear of the party. He paused at the end of the woods and contemplated firing at the nosy helicopter just to keep it from getting too close, but decided against it and disappeared into the woods to join his companions.

“Ellison knows that we’re on our way. He’ll try to stall them as much as possible. That should give us plenty of time to try and get our people in place. The problem will be covering all the different possibilities without spreading our resources too thin,” Agent Cameron commented.

The rescuers were trying to examine a map of the area, each one doing his or her best to hold down as much as possible against the wind.

Angie traced the ocean side of the spit, “We’ve got a good build up of erosion inhibitors along the seaside coast. Any boat waiting to pick them up would be easily spotted. My guess is that they’d head inland. There are a lot of little trails and roads into this area. They could either have a car waiting or meet up with someone.”

“It’ll be hard for us to cover all the ways in and out, but I’d rather they be on dry land. Being in the woods with Ellison mad at you is not a happy place,” Captain Banks added.

“I hate to bring this up,” Agent Taylor interrupted. “But wasn’t Jim zoned earlier? He’s probably going to have one hell of a headache. How is that going to affect him during all this?”

“Damn, you’re right. He also has three suspects and a civilian to deal with,” Cameron added.

“Or worse, four suspects,” Taylor amended.

“Four?” Simon and Angie asked in unison, looking back and forth between the two SAD agents.

“According to the state department, Blair Sandburg visited South America about a year ago. He had articles on South America in his backpack,” Taylor began listing the various facts that they knew. “We don’t know much about the drug cartel that has taken Jim, but we know they are from South America. Sandburg is a college student who we know wants to study sentinels.”

“Spit it out, Taylor!” Banks growled as Cameron rolled his eyes.

The agent gave each of his companions a subtle glare before answering. “What if Mr. Sandburg is working with the cartel? As a college student, he might owe them money. What if he convinced them that he could use his knowledge of sentinels to get Jim to imprint on someone specific and then control him? What better way to get Jim to trust him, than to get kidnapped along with him?”

“It seems a little far fetched. Don’t you think?” Angie said, her tone suggesting that she didn’t think he was entirely serious.

“It sounds a lot far fetched,” Agent Cameron groused and then continued to challenge his partner. “He’s an anthropologist. The articles were about excavations in South America, something that is completely reasonable for someone in his field to have. If he was working with the drug cartel, then why did he answer Jim’s phone? Why did he call 911? Why did he leave his backpack behind?”

“Maybe he was trying to misdirect us, to elude our suspicions. As for the backpack, they probably didn’t expect the police to show up when they did. I don’t have all the answers yet. I’m just offering up a possible explanation is all,” was Taylor’s almost indignant reply.

Simon just stood quietly, watching the interaction between the two agents. He could see the possibilities of Taylor’s theories. He could also see Cameron’s point, too. There were too many unanswered questions and flaws. However, it would be foolish to just assume that Sandburg was innocent in all this.

“It’s a moot point at the moment,” Simon stated, having come to a decision. “We don’t have enough evidence either way to know for sure. Besides, I’m sure Jim has a better idea of how Sandburg fits into all this. We’ll just have to trust him to take care of his end for now. Once we catch up with them, we’ll take our mystery friend into custody and sort it all out at the station once we know Ellison is safe.”

Receiving nods all around, Captain Banks redirected the discussion back to the task of rescuing Detective Ellison. He gestured to the map, pointing at the areas in question as he spoke, “I think our best bet is to focus on containment in the areas that they might try escaping through. In the areas that we know they’ve been we can track them and use what we find to narrow the containment area. If all goes well, we should be able to trap them.”

“Like I said earlier, they won’t be able to hide a boat on the seaward side of the spit. We can contain that possibility with just a couple of Coast Guard cutters. The bayside is a different story,” Angie explained as she drew everyone’s focus to the area on the map labeled Anchor Cove. “There are several areas where they might be able to hide a small boat or just have something anchored, pretending to be someone out enjoying the weather. I’ll get a team together to secure the bayside shore. We can’t have them doubling around and hoping back in the water while you boys are tromping around the woods, can we?”

“Or taking additional hostages,” Agent Cameron added.

Simon sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose. Why was it that Ellison never did things halfway?

He couldn’t even have a simple kidnapping. “Do either of you have any tracking experience?” the captain asked, looking at the SAD agents.

“I’ve done a bit,” Cameron answered. “Nowhere near what Ellison could do, I’m sure, but like I said, he’ll know we’re coming. I’d be surprised if he didn’t leave us a trail of breadcrumbs to follow.”

With a plan in place, Captain Banks stepped away from the group and used his radio to exchange information with Captain Finkleman. He found out that roadblocks were already in place and Search and Rescue was ready to go. They had planned a training exercise for today, so they already had a large force mobilized and prepared, including horses and volunteers. There was nothing left to plan. It was time to start squeezing the trap shut.

Saying a silent prayer for his friend’s safety, Simon rejoined his companions and waited for the boat to come to a stop as close to shore as possible. “Ellison owes me a new pair of shoes,” he grumbled as he hopped over the side of the boat and waded the rest of the way to the beach.

“Tell me something, Sandburg. What were you doing at The Point?” Ellison asked his new friend and current crutch, speaking softly so that their captors didn’t hear. He had caught his breath a little bit ago, but still allowed Blair to help him. By exaggerating his injuries and need for assistance, he was able to slow down their progress, giving Simon and the others a chance to catch up. It also kept the civilian close and allowed them to talk. With the way Blair had stood up to the lead gunman, earlier, Jim figured talking might be a good way to keep the kid from panicking.

“The Point is one of the best places I’ve found to meditate. It’s away from all the negativity and craziness of the city, plus it has the sounds of the surf and nature. There’s no need to bring a walkman for background noise,” the younger man began explaining in an even softer tone, knowing the sentinel would be able to hear him. “A lot’s been going on lately and I really needed to center myself before I tried to make any decisions.”

Jim could feel the tension ease from the shorter man’s shoulders as he warmed to his topic of discussion.

Once Blair got started he just kept going, “My dissertation committee has been after me to either make some progress in my research, or pick a different topic. I really don’t want to change my topic, but I understand their reasoning. I’m starting to wonder if I’ll ever get a chance to finish the research for it. On top of that Naomi, that’s my mom, wants me to take a semester off and go with her to this retreat down in New Mexico. She has this idea stuck in her head that if I were to cleanse my karma everything would fall into place. So, I was trying to decide what to do. Should I change my dissertation topic or go with my mom? If I decide to change my topic what should I change it to?” he finished with a touch of sadness.

“So, you’re a student at Ranier?” Jim asked hoping to prod Blair to continue talking. The conversation not only distracted the younger man, his voice was a warm and even tenor that was easy on the sentinel’s hearing.

Blair sighed before explaining, “Yeah, I’m an anthropology grad student. I teach Anthro 101 and I’m working on my PHD…”

“Stop talking!” Paul ordered and shoved the prisoners for emphasis.

Only half acting, the detective stumbled and fell to the ground, taking the opportunity to slow their progress even further. He kept his arm around the civilian, pulling him to the ground as well.

Blair wasn’t ready for either the push from behind or being pulled to the ground by his friend. He landed hard on his hands and knees with a painful yelp, “Ouch!”

On the other side of the small clearing, Marcus and the leader turned from where they were headed down the barely existent trail through the brush. “What happened?” the leader growled.

Paul wasn’t fazed by his companion’s gruffness. “These two keep mumbling back and forth. I don’t like it,” he explained, gesturing towards Jim and Blair with his gun.

As if to demonstrate, Jim whispered to Blair, “Get ready to run.”

“I don’t care if they talk, just as long as they keep moving,” the leader shouted. “Now get them up before the feds get any closer.” Having issued his commands, he turned and led the way through the woods.

Paul stood menacingly over the two hostages and gestured with his gun, “You heard the man. Get moving.”

“We’d better do what he says, Chief. We need to GET MOVING!” The last two words were shouted as the police detective leapt to his feet, grabbing the barrel of the gun with his left hand and twisting it, to point harmlessly away. At the same time he drew back his right arm, ready to strike the gunman. He stepped closer to his opponent as he swung his arm around. With his fingers folded at the middle knuckle, instead of in a traditional fist, Jim struck him in the throat.

The unexpected impact and sudden lack of air caused Paul to lose his grip on the gun and stagger backwards.

“Run, Sandburg! I’m right behind you,” the sentinel shouted as he continued all the way around and brought the acquired weapon up to a firing position.

Blair didn’t wait to be told again and sprinted away into the underbrush. The sound of gunfire from behind him just made him run faster.

Jim squeezed off another round at Marcus and the lead gunman, causing them to duck for cover, and then he followed the civilian.

The woods were silent as the three men followed the narrow trail. It was more than a game trail, yet not quite a full hiking trail. The spit that separated the bay from the sea was crisscrossed with hundreds of such trails. Weekend hikers would come ashore in Anchor Cove, have a picnic, and then wander through the woods for a while. Most only ventured a short distance in before returning to their boat. Only experienced hikers or those who didn’t know better, tried to navigate through the dense growth that covered the spit.

The paths were at most a foot wide and marked only by the lack of vegetation. About every dozen yards or so there was a fork where the path branched out in multiple directions. A good portion of the trails looped around and led back towards the bay. One would have to be extremely familiar with the area or have a good sense of direction to not get completely lost, let alone find your way to anywhere in particular.

Agent Cameron was in the lead, watching for the scuff marks and broken twigs that he assumed were left by Detective Ellison. He would stop at each cross-trail and search the area to figure out which branch the drug dealers had taken Ellison down. The further inland that they got, the fewer cross-trails they encountered, which decreased the number of stops. Unfortunately, the further inland that they got, the less obvious the trail became. The foot wide trails narrowed to half a foot or less and the brush closed in on the hikers. While this made passing through the brush harder for the rescuers, it also made it almost impossible for five full grown men to pass without leaving some kind of sign for even an inexperienced tracker to follow.

Simon Banks followed a few steps behind. He had his gun out and ready, keeping watch for any threat that they might encounter. In addition to the men that they were following, there could be innocent hikers or even animals. With Cameron focusing most of his attention on identifying Ellison’s breadcrumbs, he was as vulnerable as a sentinel who was zoned on one of his senses. It would be disastrous if they were to stumble into the suspects without warning.

Agent Taylor brought up the rear of the parade. He was attempting to keep track of their location using a map and compass borrowed from Commander Zocher. Using the radio that Captain Banks had acquired from his patrol officer, the SAD agent sent updates to the rest of the units involved in the task of rescuing the local sentinel and capturing his kidnappers. The more accurately they were able to deploy their people, the tighter they could draw the net, and the more likely they would be successful.

While watching for potential threats, Simon also kept an eye on the man in front of him. Past experiences with federal agents made the police officer wary of working with them. Until today, the SAD agents hadn’t done anything to change that impression. True, they had withheld information and had planned on manipulating his friend, but when things had gone bad, they had stepped up and done their part. They hadn’t claimed jurisdiction and tried to take over the entire operation. They had even procured resources and placed them under his command without having to be asked and without argument! They had both followed Simon’s lead and now the three of them were working well as a team to get through these woods.

Banks realized that his views of Cameron and Taylor had come mostly from Jim, who had to deal with them more often and under different circumstances. He briefly wondered what his opinion of the SAD agents would have been without Ellison’s influence. Given just the events of today, would he have actually liked them? Regardless of the answer, these two were not typical of the federal agents that Simon was used to.

The trio paused as they reached another fork in the trail. Each man tended to his self-appointed duties. Simon continuously scanned the area for any threats. Taylor notated the map and radioed an update to the search and rescue teams. However, before Cameron could determine which branch to follow, gunfire broke the silence.

They all froze and automatically crouched down. Cameron and Taylor drew their weapons and joined Captain Banks in scanning the area. A second burst of gunfire spurred the trio into motion. Cameron immediately started to run along the trail that led towards the sound of shots. The others followed without hesitation.

Blair stuck out his arms and used a tree to halt his mad dash. He held on to the tree, hugging it to keep himself upright as he tried to catch his breath. His knee was throbbing and he was sure there were a series of cuts and scrapes from the tree branches that he’d run through. This was not what he had in mind when he came down to The Point earlier this morning.

The sound of something or someone crashing through the underbrush behind him caused him to let go of his support and turn towards the source of the noise. He prayed that it was Jim.

Detective Ellison stopped a few steps away and bent over, placing his hands on his knees. He alternated between sucking in as much air as possible and tensing in pain. After only a few gulps of air, he sank to his knees, wrapped one arm around his stomach and the other hand grabbed his head. His face was scrunched up and his jaw clenched in a grimace of pain.

“Jim!” Blair whispered urgently as he moved to the sentinel’s side. He began rubbing circles on the larger man’s back. “You’ve got to breathe. Try taking as deep a breath as possible.”

When Jim didn’t do as instructed, Blair moved around in front of his new friend. He lifted the older man’s face so his friend could see him, but his eyes were squeezed shut. “Oh, this is not good,” Blair thought out loud.

The grad student gently began massaging the sentinel’s forehead and temples. He placed both thumbs in the middle and moved them out and down, then back up to repeat. “You need to try and relax, Jim. Picture a dial, like the volume control on an old radio. Just turn down the volume on your senses,” Blair instructed in a soft voice. He matched the rhythm of the massage strokes and his words, “Just breathe, turn down the volume, and relax.” He took a deep breath to demonstrate, “breathe, turn down the volume and relax.”

Gradually the tension in Jim’s face eased and he began following Blair’s breathing pattern. He took a deep breath and cursed, “Damn it, if I could only get these senses under control.”

The sentinel snapped his head around at a sound that only he could hear. “We’d better get moving.

Those two yahoos are on their way,” he said as he tried to stand up.

Blair immediately moved in to help, “Are you sure you can keep moving? You look like you have a killer headache.”

“Well, we can’t stay here,” Jim stated as he took a few tentative steps, only to have his head explode in pain again. He moaned and leaned up against the same tree that Blair had used to stop himself.

“Couldn’t we just hide or something?” the civilian asked.

Ellison looked around then pointed towards a tree that had fallen and then rolled down a slight slope to lie against a couple of still standing trees. From the brush that had grown and gathered around the log it probably had happened last spring. It looked just like any other spot in the woods to Blair, but he didn’t question the sentinel’s judgment as he resumed his now familiar position as the larger man’s crutch.

The two men easily matched their gaits and made their way to the hiding spot that Jim had indicated.

“Remind me to invite you to the next police picnic, Chief. We could dominate the three legged race,” Ellison joked as Blair gently eased him down to the ground after maneuvering around various obstacles and down the slight slope.

The former Army ranger wasted no time getting his civilian companion and himself tucked into the space between the log and ground and adjusting the brush to give them as much concealment as possible. Blair was the furthest under their makeshift shelter and wedged between the trunk of the fallen tree and the remains of some of the larger branches that supported the log like stilts. Jim scooted in as close as possible to Blair, both men facing outwards, watching for any signs of danger. Blair wrapped one arm over the detective, keeping him under the log and from sliding down the hill.

“Wh…” Blair started to whisper in the sentinel’s ear, wanting to ask where their pursuers were, but Jim quickly waved a hand over his shoulder, silencing the grad student’s question.

After a few moments, Blair heard the sound of something large tromping through the woods. The sounds of breaking branches and rustling leaves were punctuated with curses. He easily recognized the voices as those of Marcus and the talkative leader who had kidnapped Jim and him just this morning.

Both men held as still as possible as they waited for the gunmen to pass. This just made it easier for Jim to feel the pounding of Blair’s heart against his back. The steady cadence was a reassuring presence as he focused his hearing to track the progress of the men who were hunting them. He could clearly hear each step, the snapping of small twigs, and the rattle of the weapons as the men walked. He could smell blood and realized that he must have hit one of the assailants when he had fired his borrowed gun.

Finally, the sentinel heard their pursuers move away to what he felt was a safe distance. He’d have to keep an ear open, just in case they doubled back, but for now, they could rest and catch their breath.

“We’re ok for now,” Jim whispered. “They’re about a hundred yards to the southwest and headed away from us. Unless they realize we’ve stopped, and turn around, I don’t think we have anything to worry about from those two.”

“Um, Jim, weren’t there three of them?” Blair asked, still not moving and barely speaking in half a whisper.

Ellison wasn’t too eager to move from their hiding place, and now that he was lying down and knew that they were relatively safe, the post-zone-out headache, strain on his still healing injuries, and physical exertion were starting to catch up to him. “There were, but I took care of Paul, remember?” he replied as his eyes tried to close against his will.

“I remember you hitting him in the throat, but won’t he be after us, too, after he’s recovered?” He could feel the other man crashing from the adrenaline rush and knew he needed to rest, but he was still nervous about being chased by armed gunmen.

Jim turned his head to look over his shoulder and patted the arm that was wrapped around him. “He’s not going to recover. I crushed his larynx. He’s dead by now.”

“He’s dead? Are you sure?”

“Yes, Sandburg, he’s dead. I felt and heard it pop, so unless one of his buddies stopped to give him a tracheotomy, he’s most certainly dead. All we have to worry about are the other two and last I heard they were well away from here and probably getting lost,” Ellison answered as he got more comfortable and debated closing his eyes for just a few minutes.

The silence from the civilian did not reassure the detective. “Hey, Chief, you never told me what your dissertation topic was,” Jim said, hoping to distract the younger man by getting him to talk again.

“What? Oh, my dissertation. I wanted to write a comparative analysis of two similar closed societies where the differing characteristic is the presence or absence of a sentinel,” Blair answered in a matter of fact tone.

“Uh, want to repeat that in English, please?” Jim teased, continuing to distract the student.

This was more familiar territory for Blair and he easily warmed to the subject, “I want to see how a sentinel affects the society that he exists in. Just think about it, Jim. You’re just one person, but you live and work in a much larger group. You’re not an island. Just like the society that we live in shapes and affects us, we have an impact on our society. Someone as unique as a sentinel is bound to have a larger impact on the society than someone without heightened senses. There’s bound to be countless subtle ways that a group with a sentinel is different from a similar group that doesn’t have a sentinel.”

“And I suppose you have a list of these possible subtle differences already, don’t you?” the sentinel made one last effort to keep his companion talking.

“Yeah, I do, but I think you should rest. I’m sure you’ll be better able to regain control of your senses after a little bit of sleep,” The grad student made himself comfortable and tightened his hold on his tired friend. “I’ll listen for anyone that comes close and wake you up, OK? There’ll be plenty of time for me to tell you all about my research on our hike out of here.”

The sentinel just closed his eyes and trusted the younger man to keep alert for danger.

“This can only be Ellison’s work,” Agent Cameron stated as he looked at the body lying on the ground. The neck of the large man was swollen and discolored with a massive bruise. The face was contorted and tinted blue, a sure sign of suffocation.

When they’d heard the gunshots, they had doubled their pace and headed in the direction that the sounds had come from. The fresh corpse was a good sign that they were going in the right direction.

“You said he’d leave us some breadcrumbs,” Simon replied as he finished checking for the pulse that he knew wouldn’t be there. He then checked the pockets for any form of identification, but unsurprisingly, came up empty. His duty done, the police captain stood up and began surveying the small clearing that they were standing in.

“I’ve got blood over here,” Taylor announced from the other side of the clearing. He had stepped away from the others to radio the rest of the teams an update on their location and situation. “I’m hoping it’s not Ellison’s.”

“Not if he was over here,” the local officer said, gesturing to the results of the detective’s efforts.

All three of the men efficiently applied their investigative skills in the hopes of finding evidence about Jim Ellison’s condition or anything that would aid them in locating the men that they were after.

“It looks like several men went this way,” Cameron pointed to the trail that continued away from the bloody spot on the ground. He then turned and pointed to a spot where the brush had clearly been trampled over close to the body, “but it also appears that several people went that way too.”

Captain Banks stood in the middle of the clearing and tried to piece together what had happened. Jim obviously had seen an opening and had used his ranger skills to make certain that at least one of his captors wouldn’t be a further threat. If the body that was lying on the ground had been holding a gun, then it was possible that the former Army ranger was now armed and had also been the cause of the blood that Taylor had found.

The big questions now were, which way had Ellison gone, and was he alone?

“You’re the one doing the tracking,” Banks said to the shorter SAD agent, “can you tell which direction Ellison went?”

Cameron took another look at the damage done to the underbrush and shook his head. “I’m not that good of a tracker, nor am I a sentinel. It never fails, when you’re looking for a sentinel is when you need one the most.”

He then walked over to the more defined trail to examine the tracks there. He could see several undisturbed shoe prints, pointing in multiple directions. Several feet up the trail, the fresh prints stopped and the brush appeared undisturbed. “It looks like they didn’t go very far in this direction before turning around,” he said, pointing up the trail. He then turned and gestured to the area that he had been examining earlier, “I’d bet that Ellison took off in the other direction and the surviving suspects followed him.”

“If they’ve split up, I wonder who Sandburg is with,” Taylor commented.

“Let’s see if we can catch up to them and find out,” was Captain Bank’s response as he moved towards the patch of disturbed brush that Cameron had theorized Jim had gone through. He paused to allow Agent Cameron to resume his role of tracker and all three men easily slipped back into the routine they had established earlier that day when they first started to follow the suspects and hostages through the woods.

Blair took a deep breath and slowly let it out. He figured that if he ever needed to be calm and centered, it was while he was crammed under a log in the middle of the woods, hiding from armed gunmen who wanted to kill him and kidnap the man he was hiding with. Maybe Naomi was right, he needed to cleanse his karma.

He took another deep breath and slowly exhaled. Maybe recent events were the universe’s way of pointing him down the right path. Ellison probably wouldn’t want to even see him again after today, let alone have to deal with him on a regular basis during a research project. Of course the likelihood of him even getting a chance to do his research and observe the Cascade Police Department was slim since the SAD tended to only approve medical and psychological research on sentinels.

The grad student took another deep breath, slowly released it, and admitted to himself that his best choice was to go with his mother to the retreat in New Mexico and to give up on his dream of writing his PHD on sentinels.

The sound of rustling leaves erased the fragile calm that Blair had managed to achieve. Apparently, the universe wanted to make its point crystal clear. He gently shook the sleeping man who lay in front of him and whispered, “Jim? I think I hear someone coming.”

It took the sentinel a moment to recognize the sound that had awakened him. The thumping was much too fast and frantic. The barely whispered words of his companion were the final clue that identified the sound as Blair’s heartbeat. He briefly wondered why it was the grad student’s racing heartbeat that woke him, before the sound of people approaching drew his attention to more immediate matters.

Jim gently patted the arm that was still draped over his shoulder, hoping to calm the civilian down, as he focused on the approaching footsteps. He could easily make out three distinct sets of footfalls, meaning that unless they had met up with someone; it wasn’t the two gunmen who were chasing them. Focusing tighter on the approaching sounds, the detective heard more detail. The closest person was shorter, more Blair’s height, and with an irregular gate as if he kept pausing. From the sound of higher branches being moved out of the way, the next man was much taller. He was wearing wet dress shoes that made a squishing sound with each step. Finally, the third man had a very light step, almost as if he had a habit of trying not to be heard as he walked.

The trio slowly approached the area just up the hill from where the two men were hiding. Jim really wanted to tell Blair to breathe, but didn’t dare speak for fear of startling the young man and causing him to either give away their location or have a heart attack. Instead he continued to try and identify the people he was hearing.

Without thinking, Jim closed his eyes and pictured the dial that Blair had mentioned earlier, only this time he pictured one for his hearing. Slowly, he eased it up a notch or two, hoping to hear some sort of sound to allow him to determine friend or foe. He took a deep breath, intending to turn the dial one more time, but instead he smelled a familiar odor that made him smile.

“It’s about time you showed up, Simon,” Ellison said in a loud voice as he gave Blair’s arm a reassuring squeeze. “Did Frick and Frack slow you down?”

Captain Banks and the SAD agents spun around to face the direction the voice had come from, as they dropped to the ground. There was a seemingly long period of silence as they scanned the area, guns at the ready.

“You need more practice, Taylor. You were a half second behind Cameron on having your gun out and ready,” the voice of Jim Ellison said.

Banks sighed and lowered his gun slightly, “Damn it, Ellison. You about gave me a heart attack.”

“Yeah, I heard,” Jim answered with a laugh, still tucked securely under the log with Sandburg. In a more normal tone, he addressed the man behind him, “It’s OK, Chief. They’re mostly friendly.” He then addressed the new arrivals again, “So, are you going to put down the guns or were you planning on shooting us once we stand up?”

“I haven’t decided yet,” Agent Cameron replied back as he holstered his weapon and followed Captain Banks down the slope towards the source of the voice.

Banks and Cameron rounded the fallen log as Ellison rolled out from underneath and then reached under to help Blair crawl out. Banks reached down and offered a hand to help his detective up while the SAD agent assisted the civilian.

“Am I going to have to assign you a babysitter?” Banks mock growled to disguise his relief at finding his friend safe and sound.

“I thought that was his job,” Jim replied sarcastically, nodding in Cameron’s direction as he began to brush dirt and leaves from his clothing.

“I’d be able to do it, too, if you’d stop running away…” the shorter SAD agent started to say, stepping fearlessly into Ellison’s personal space.

Captain Banks forced his way between the two men, placing a hand on the SAD agent’s chest, “Hey, haven’t we already had this discussion?”

Even the insects if the woods were silent as they waited to hear Agent Cameron’s reply. However, he just glared at the two local police officers as he fought to rein in his anger.

Finally, Agent Taylor came to his partner’s rescue, “We’d better get moving if we’re going to get Ellison back to safety and then catch those gunmen.” He was still at the top of the hill, keeping watch incase the kidnappers were on their way back.

“Oh no, you don’t,” Ellison stated almost before Taylor was done speaking. He looked right at his boss and continued, “I’m not sitting on the sidelines while you chase these guys down. You know as well as I do, Simon, that we can catch up to them in half the time using my senses.”

Captain Banks opened his mouth to counter his officer’s argument, but he didn’t get a chance.

“I’m perfectly capable of tracking those two guys through these woods. I don’t need to be coddled. It would be a waste of time and resources to do anything except head after them as soon as possible. Come on, Sandburg.” To demonstrate his point, Jim picked up his acquired weapon and headed up the hill in the direction that his former captors had taken.

The civilian hurried to keep up with the taller detective, not wanting to get too far from the only person he knew and who had gotten him safely this far.

“Jim, you’re still on the injured list. I can’t let you participate in any kind of action like this,” Banks stated, following the detective up the slope.

“So what are you going to do? Waste time escorting me, or split up? And if you split up, who goes with me and Sandburg and who continues the search?” Jim turned and defiantly stared at his friend and boss, waiting for an answer.

Banks didn’t miss a beat. He grabbed onto the flaw of Ellison’s logic, “Good question, Detective. Who’s going to escort Sandburg to safety? You surely aren’t suggesting that we take a civilian into a situation that could easily become dangerous, are you?”

The look of angry shock made it clear that the sentinel had forgotten that the man who had gone through the recent ordeal with him was a civilian. But the thought of continuing after the suspects without Blair made him uneasy for some reason.

Once again, Agent Taylor broke the tension and offered a practical solution. He made a point of consulting the map as he suggested; “Maybe we can do both. The Search and Rescue teams are closer than the beach and they are in the direction that our suspects took. If we take Ellison and Sandburg to the Search and Rescue field camp, we could continue to track down the gunmen along the way. We would just have to make sure to drop them off before we move in to apprehend the kidnappers.”

“Then let’s get moving, before they get any further away,” Ellison said before anyone could argue against Taylor’s suggestion. Without looking to see if anyone was following, he headed off in the direction that his former kidnappers had taken.

The larger group made good time through the woods. Ellison could easily pick out the different signs that the kidnappers were leaving. A freshly crunched leaf here, a drop of blood there, even a single hair were more than enough for the sentinel to follow the trail. This allowed them to keep up a quick and steady pace.

Ellison was in the lead and somehow arranged for Blair to follow directly behind him. The other three men were arranged in the reverse of their previous order. Agent Taylor had quickly stepped in behind the civilian and was keeping a close eye on him. Banks wasn’t about to let both SAD agents get between him and Ellison, and Cameron figured that giving Jim some distance was a good idea at this point in time.

Knowing that Ellison would let them know if the men that they were tracking were anywhere within range to hear them, Agent Taylor took the opportunity to casually ask Blair a few questions. “So, Mr. Sandburg, how did you get tangled up in all of this?”

The grad student looked over his shoulder at the SAD agent before answering. After hiding with Ellison and trying to remain as quiet as possible he was a little uneasy about conversing in a normal volume. “Well, I…”

“Was just in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Ellison answered for the grad student from his position at the front of the group.

“I guess Naomi was right after all. My karma does need cleansing,” Blair added, then jogged a couple of steps to catch up with the detective’s longer stride.

“Is that what you were doing at The Point this morning? Cleansing your karma?” the SAD agent inquired pointedly.

“I’m always trying to cleanse my karma, if you must know, but I came to The Point this morning to try and decide what to do about my dissertation. Since I haven’t been given the opportunity to finish my research, I’m going to have to change my topic completely,” Blair said over his shoulder, tossing his own jab back at the fed.

Taylor ignored the comment from the grad student and continued his self-appointed questioning, “Ah, yes, your dissertation… What was your topic, again?”

“I was wanting to… oomf,” Blair started to answer, but was interrupted when he walked into Detective Ellison.

“What’s with the third degree, Taylor?” the sentinel asked as he grabbed Sandburg’s shoulders to steady him and move the younger man behind him and away from the SAD agent.

“He probably hasn’t told you about his research, has he?” Taylor asked Ellison, expecting the sentinel to react in typical fashion to the idea of research.

Instead of turning to question the grad student, as the federal agent had expected, Ellison deepened the glare that he was aiming at the interrogator. He even made sure that Banks and Cameron, who by now had caught up with them, knew to stay out of the discussion or be included as targets. “I know all about his research and his dissertation. What I want to know is why it’s never been included in the list that you’ve sent to me. Why is it that I only get research proposals that involve pumping me full of drugs or psycho-analyzing me to within an inch of my life?”

Jim didn’t give the Sentinel Affairs agent a chance to answer before he continued. “Sandburg not only brought me out of a zone without so much as a bruise, he also managed to keep his cool with an assault rifle shoved in his back. If it wasn’t for him I’d be halfway to who knows where by now and you wouldn’t have a clue as to what had happened until you got a postcard in the mail. The last thing he needs or deserves is you interrogating him. So, back off.”

“Whoa! Gentlemen, remember the bad guys? Let’s focus on the task at hand, shall we?” as he spoke, Captain Banks surreptitiously extracted the map from Taylor’s hand and continued up the trail past Ellison and Sandburg. Once he was certain that he’d gotten the sentinel’s attention, he continued, “Jim, how close are we to our suspects versus the Search and Rescue field station?”

Jim gave one last glare to the SAD agent, and then took the map that his commanding officer held out to him. He studied it for a moment before looking up at the forest in general. Everyone watched silently as the sentinel’s head tilted at various angles, indicating that he was listening to something only he could hear.

Using the map as a reference point, Jim easily found the various Search and Rescue and Cascade PD personnel. He could easily smell the horses that were used when searching for missing hikers. The differences between the ocean waves crashing against the sea side of the spit versus the soft lapping of the waves in the bay allowed him to determine the distance between each shore. The roar of the engines in the large ships traveling through the shipping lane gave him another reference point.

With their location pinpointed, the sentinel began sifting through all the sounds of the harbor, city and woods, hoping to locate any indication of the men they were hunting. It was easy to filter out the distant sounds of Cascade and the busy harbor. The softer sounds of woods, rustling leave and chirping insects, were tossed aside almost automatically.

Surprisingly, Detective Ellison found himself having trouble eliminating the sounds of the men standing nearest to him. He had to consciously focus on each man to identify and isolate the sounds of their heartbeats and breathing. Simon’s was the easiest to filter out. Next he focused on Agent Cameron, then Taylor, thankful to block out the existence of the Feds, even if just for a while.

The trouble came when he tried to filter out the sounds of Blair’s heartbeat and breathing. It should have been easy to silence the sounds associated with one man standing immediately next to him, but for some reason the more he concentrated, the harder it got. He could hear air filling the different parts of the lungs. Then a pause as the blood from the heart absorbed the oxygen, followed by the rush of air as it was forced out in preparation of another breath. The individual heartbeats effortlessly separated into the duel beats as one side of the heart beat slightly after the other. Then they separated even further so that the sentinel could identify each valve slamming shut to stop the flow of blood.

The group watched in silence as the sentinel looked out at the woods in general. At first he would tilt his head this way and that, listening to various sounds. Occasionally he would consult the map then return to his listening.

Cameron and Taylor exchanged a questioning look when Ellison closed his eyes and his jaw twitched with concentration.

The longer Jim remained silent, the more concerned Captain Banks became.

“Oh crap,” Banks exclaimed when Ellison’s expression went blank. He grabbed his friend’s arms and gave him a slight shake, “Jim? Don’t you dare zone out now, damn it!”

“I was afraid of this,” Agent Cameron said as he too moved to the sentinel’s side.

“This makes two in one day. This is not good,” Taylor added, but stayed back to give the others room.

Blair just stayed quiet and allowed the others with more experience with sentinels to do what they needed to.

“ELLISON!” Banks bellowed in his most commanding tone, causing everyone except the intended target to jump.

“Sometimes is works,” the captain said a touch sheepishly when everyone glared at him.

“That makes sense,” Taylor said. When Banks and Cameron gave him a questioning look, he continued, “We think that preconditioned responses can bring a sentinel out of a light zone; something that they’ll react to without thinking, like the alarm going off in the morning or the telephone ringing. You probably have all of your detectives trained to jump when you yell like that. When a sentinel imprints on a guide, they are essentially programmed to respond to the sensory input of that person, like they would any preconditioned response. There’s a group in LA that is…”

“Jim!?” Blair exclaimed as he leapt forward to catch the detective as he began to lean to one side.

The others were quick to lend a hand supporting the barely conscious sentinel.

At almost the same time, Ellison took a deep breath and looked around in confusion.

Captain Banks kept a hold of his friend’s arm to steady him, “Easy, Jim.”

“You were zoning pretty deep,” Cameron added with concern as he remained ready to catch the larger man if he should lose his balance and fall.

“I’m fine,” Ellison stated as he freed his arms and took a couple of steps away from the group.

Blair picked up the map that Jim had dropped when he came out of the zone and held it out to the sentinel. “You had us pretty scared there, Jim.”

The sentinel immediately recognized the same sound that had brought him back to reality. He accepted the map and quickly focused back on the task at hand, hoping to keep the others from making too big a deal about his most recent zone. “Well, I’m fine, now. Let’s just find these guys so we can get out of here. Spending an entire day in the woods with Feds is not my idea of fun. Present company included.”

Agent Cameron moved to argue, but stopped when Captain Banks stepped in front of him and shook his head.

Jim ignored their interaction and tried to pick up where he left off. Instead of trying to filter out Blair’s heartbeat and breathing, he focused on it and used it to anchor his hearing. It took no effort at all to identify and filter out all the other sounds. The voices of Marcus and the leader of the kidnappers jumped out and were crystal clear.

“Are you nuts? If we go back there without Ellison, he’ll have our heads on pikes as a message of what happens to those who fail,” Jim heard the leader of the kidnappers say.

“And if we keep trying to capture Ellison, we’ll end up dead, like Paul,” Marcus replied.

“They’ve doubled back,” Jim updated the others before they started to think he was zoned again. He quickly glanced at the map as he closed the distance between himself and the rest of the group. “If we can make it to this spot here, I think we can ambush them and catch them by surprise,” he suggested, pointing to a cluster of rocks on the map.

“Good idea. Let’s get moving,” Banks commanded and gestured for Ellison to lead the way, before anyone could argue.

Jim handed the map back to Taylor. Then he stepped over to Blair and placed a hand on his shoulder, “You stay close to me and do what I say, without question. I say run, you run. I say stay down, you stay down. Got it?”

Blair just nodded in agreement. He was unsure exactly what was going on, but ever the observer, the fact that everyone with a gun was making sure it was ready and loaded, suggested that it wasn’t going to be a peaceful hike in the woods.

Without another word, Jim led the group towards the place he’d chosen for the upcoming confrontation.

The sentinel checked the preparations for the ambush one last time. Both the SAD agents and Captain Banks were in place to surround the suspects as they passed through the target area. Jim and Blair were positioned at the top of an outcrop of rocks, whose existence could only be explained by a small army of geologists, several diagrams, and a bottle of aspirin.

Jim and Blair were to stay hidden until the gunmen were in custody and secure. That way, if something went wrong, Ellison could still intercede with the assault rifle or get himself and the civilian to safety. Agent Cameron had made it perfectly clear that if it looked like the suspects were going to get away, Jim was to shoot to kill. Under no circumstances was he to give them the opportunity to kidnap him again.

The sentinel surveyed the area one last time to ensure that everyone was ready and in position. He then stretched out his senses to check that the suspects were still headed in the desired direction. Everything was ready and all they had to do now was to wait.

“Have you given any more thought about what you’re going to do about your dissertation topic?” Ellison quietly asked the man sitting next to him.

Blair looked at the sentinel, a bit surprised by the question. After a moment to gather his thoughts, he answered “Yeah, I’m just going to have to change my topic. There is no way the SAD is going to let me do any kind of research involving a sentinel. I’m going to go to that retreat with my mom and hopefully I’ll get inspired with a new idea. Today was probably just the universe’s way of pointing me in the right direction.”

“What if you were able to do your research? Would you still want to go to the retreat with your mom?” Jim asked as he gave the borrowed rifle another check.

“Right, like that’s going to happen,” Blair retorted back with a sarcastic laugh.

“Well, I do know some people. It wouldn’t take much for me to pull a few strings and you’d get to write your dissertation,” was the sentinel’s mischievous response.

“You can do that?” the grad student asked, sincerely shocked that the detective could and would do such a thing.

This earned a laugh from Ellison, “I am a sentinel, you know. If, by some miracle, I actually find a research project that I would like to play guinea pig for, all I have to do is tell Frick and Frack that I’m doing it. The only reason why proposals have to go through the SAD is to keep researchers from harassing us to the point that we want to shoot them, and to keep track of what research is being done. Besides, as my guide, it’s not like they could tell you ‘no’, now is it?”

“If I really were your guide,” Blair answered with a shrug. “I know you just told those guys that to keep them from killing me, and I really appreciate it. But I have no delusions that you really meant it. I’m not going to try and hold you to it or anything. It’s not like I even could be your guide, after all.”

“Why not?” Jim asked, a bit worried, as he glanced back and forth from the trail to his companion.

“Doesn’t your guide need to be a cop or something?” Blair asked in return, studying some small pebbles that had gotten stuck in a crack.

“No, my guide just needs to be someone who I can trust to help me keep my senses in line, to bring me out of a zone or sensory spike,” Jim explained. “You’ve already proven you can do that. You brought me out of that zone out at The Point, you stood up to what’s his name on the boat, you’ve made it through all of this without panicking or freaking out. Don’t even get me started on that dial idea of yours and how you helped me with my headache. That was amazing.”

Blair looked up at the detective, but didn’t say anything.

“Do you want to be my guide or not?” the sentinel finally asked, breaking the silence.

Before Blair could answer, the sentinel’s attention was drawn back to the trail where the suspects were supposed to appear. “Looks like it’s show time,” was all the sentinel said as he positioned his weapon so that it would be ready if needed, but not visible to anybody in the target area.

Blair quietly moved to kneel next to his friend. He placed a reassuring hand on his back and whispered, “You didn’t ask me to be your guide just to piss off Agent Taylor did you?”

“Nope, it doesn’t work that way. That’s just icing on the cake,” Jim responded, never taking his eyes off the trail below.

“Then I would hate to deprive you of your icing,” Blair stated just as the two gunmen came around a curve in the trail and into the target area for the ambush.

“Are you sure we’re going in the right direction?” Marcus whispered to his fellow gunman as they walked past a small cluster of trees.

The leader stopped and turned to face Marcus with a glare so intense it silenced the larger boat pilot. “Have you forgotten that Ellison is a sentinel? He can hear the slightest whisper,” the talkative gunman growled as silently as possible.

Marcus just stood frozen in place, waiting for his leader’s next words.

Instead of continuing with his aggressive lecture, the nameless gunman turned away with a thoughtful look on his face. “In fact, he can probably just hear us walking. I’m starting to think that we should regroup and come up with another plan to accomplish our mission.”

“And just what would that mission be?” Agent Cameron asked as he stepped out from behind a cluster of bushes and trees, his service weapon already aimed at the two suspects.

Both gunmen whirled around to face the source of the voice.

Before either man could bring their weapon to point at the SAD agent, Taylor appeared on the other side of the gunmen with his handgun already covering the kidnappers. “I wouldn’t even think about it,” he stated. “Even if you got past us, Ellison is still out there and after the morning he’s had, he is one very grumpy and very pissed off sentinel. You know what they say, you can run, but you can’t hide, from a sentinel.”

Time seemed to stand still as the gunmen pondered their options. Marcus was obviously watching the leader, waiting to see whether he’d give up or fight. The leader was calculating if he and Marcus could take the two federal agents before either one of them was shot and killed.

The math was made simpler when Captain Banks stepped into view, pointing his own weapon at the suspects.

“I’m not worried about Ellison, but you should be,” the leader stated calmly as he placed his gun on the ground and then raised his hands. “We’ve already handed him over to some friends of ours and left his new guide unconscious somewhere up the trail. You can arrest us, but, thanks to your joke of a justice system, we’ll be back on the streets in a couple of hours. By that time, Ellison will be well on his way to destinations unknown and his guide will be dead.”

“You’re bluffing,” Cameron responded accusingly. His gun never wavered as he kept the suspects covered while Taylor began to collect their weapons.

“Believe what you want, it’s no sweat off my back if you’re the first ones to lose a sentinel on your watch,” the leader continued to try and talk his way out of the current situation. “In fact, if you’re nice and let us go, I might be persuaded to tell you which way they went. If you hurry, you can catch up to them and still rescue your precious sentinel. Or would you rather rescue his guide?”

Agent Taylor focused on searching Marcus for more weapons and quickly secured his hands behind his back.

Agent Cameron shared a confused look with the local officer. “Banks, what’s this about Ellison having a guide?”

Sensing the confusion and misunderstanding its significance, the leader of the gunmen continued, “You should have seen the look on Ellison’s face when I dropped his new guide. That kid had a glass jaw. It’s up to you. You can either try to intercept Ellison or we can show you where we left the kid before the animals get him.”

“He didn’t have one this morning when he left the station,” Banks stated.

“Don’t even try to tell me that Ellison lied about having a guide,” the leader said, not willing to admit defeat yet.

Banks smirked and explained, “Don’t feel bad. He lies to me, too. The difference is that I don’t fall for it.”

“Would you rather have an arrest or a sentinel?” the talkative leader asked as Agent Taylor secured the handcuffs around his wrists.

“How about both?”

Everyone turned towards the voice of Detective Ellison as he and Blair Sandburg stepped out from a cluster of trees and joined the others.

“It seems like I’m not the only one who isn’t entirely truthful around here,” the sentinel continued as he added his assault rifle to the arsenal pointing at the two suspects.

Agent Taylor double checked the restraints on both kidnappers before addressing the group, “It looks like we’re all packed up here. Ellison, how about you lead the way to the command center that the police department has setup?”

“It would be my pleasure,” Jim answered. He shouldered his weapon and gestured to the grad student to take the lead, “After you, Chief.”

Blair just smiled and mirrored the gesture back to Jim, “Oh, no, after you. Trust me; you don’t want to rely on my sense of direction.”

Soon, the group was hiking through the woods again. Ellison and Sandburg in the lead with Agent Cameron following close behind. Next, came the two gunmen. Bringing up the rear were Captain Banks and Agent Taylor, now utilizing the assault rifles of the two gunmen to keep them in line.

Once he was certain that the other two men had the two suspects under control, Agent Cameron caught up with Detective Ellison. “Hey, Jim, now that you can’t get away, I have something I want to chat with you about.”

Jim kept walking as he rolled his eyes and sighed, “Can’t it wait, Cameron?”

The Sentinel Affairs agent ignored Ellison’s reaction and continued, “Dr. Grubner is flying in from Chicago tomorrow. He really needs to be able to observe a sentinel as he goes through the process of selecting a new guide in order to get evidence for his theory. He just wants to shadow you for a couple of days, that’s all.”

“Not going to happen,” the sentinel answered, trying to hide a smile.

“Jim, this is really important,” Cameron continued, undaunted. “The opportunity to observe how a sentinel selects a guide doesn’t happen every day. If we are ever going to understand not just the selection process, but the whole relationship between a sentinel and guide, we need to be able to study this stuff.”

Ellison didn’t even look at the SAD agent as he answered, “No.”

Agent Cameron was determined to get the stubborn sentinel to see reason. He hurried ahead of the larger man and stopped in the middle of the path, bringing the whole group to a halt. “I can’t believe this. All this guy wants to do is observe you for a couple of days. There are no tests or drugs involved and you won’t even take a second to consider the possibility of working with him?”

The SAD agent looked the sentinel directly in the eyes and commanded, “Give me one reason, one good reason, why you won’t let Dr. Grubner observe you as you pick a new guide.”

Jim looked down at the shorter man blocking the path and calmly answered, “Because, I’ve already got one.”

“That’s no excu…” Cameron started to argue, but stopped mid-rant as the meaning of the sentinel’s words registered.

The SAD agent offered no resistance as Jim placed a hand on Blair’s shoulder and guided him around the stunned Fed. They continued along the path to meet up with the Search and Rescue and police personnel that were hurrying to do what they could to wrap up the events of the day.

After a few moments of stunned silence, Agent Cameron turned to catch up to the sentinel, “What do you mean, you’ve already got one? Banks said you didn’t have one this morning and according to Dr. Grubner, it takes weeks or months for a sentinel to form enough of a connection with someone to imprint on them.”

“Well, Dr. Grubner is wrong. See, I did help him with his research after all,” Jim countered then stepped aside to allow several uniformed officers to pass by on their way to take the suspects into custody.

Once the officers had passed, Cameron stepped forward and into the detective’s personal space. “That’s not what I meant and you know it and don’t change the subject. What do you mean you’ve already got a guide and when were you going to tell me?”

Ellison just laughed as he resumed his progress along the increasingly crowded hiking trail, “What do you mean, ‘what do I mean’? What do you think I mean when I say I already have a new guide?”

“Is this guy for real, Jim? I would think that your statement was pretty self explanatory,” Blair added as he walked with the sentinel towards a cluster of Search and Rescue personnel.

Agent Cameron waited for the uniformed officers to walk past with the kidnappers in tow then turned to his partner and Captain Banks.

“Don’t look at me,” Banks exclaimed, holding up his hands in surrender.

Agent Taylor just shrugged his shoulders.

Banks and Taylor handed their borrowed assault rifles to another uniformed officer, then the three men joined Ellison and Sandburg in the area that had been designated for first aid.

Agent Cameron stood silently for a few moments, trying to collect his thoughts and figure out the best strategy for getting the stubborn sentinel to cooperate. “Let me get this straight. This morning, when you left the station, you didn’t have a guide. But now, you do. From the conversation that Captain Banks had with Mr. Sandburg over the phone, I’m going to surmise that you didn’t have a guide when you zoned at The Point, either.”

Before the SAD agent could continue with his line of reasoning, Captain Banks groaned softly and reached up to rub the bridge of his nose. “Oh, no, Jim, please tell me that you didn’t imprint on the civilian college student.”

“I wasn’t exaggerating earlier when I said that if it wasn’t for Sandburg you wouldn’t have a clue where I was.” Jim winced as one of the medics cleaned a cut on his arm, then continued, “He kept his cool and helped me with my senses. I don’t know exactly when I imprinted on him, but I did. End of story.”

When Banks stepped forward to continue the argument, Agent Cameron gently grabbed his arm and shook his head. “It’s Jim’s right to chose who he wants as his guide and as long as Mr. Sandburg has agreed, there’s nothing we can do about it.”

“Come on, Chief. Let’s find someone to give us a ride. I don’t know about you, but I’m starving,” Jim said with a smugly satisfied tone as he headed towards a group of officers who were preparing to leave.

“I’d better catch up to them,” Captain Banks grumbled as he started to follow his friend. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say Ellison picked Sandburg just to make my life more difficult.”

Agents Taylor and Cameron just stood quietly watching the various people packing up their equipment. They had both spent enough time around sentinels to wait for them to get well out of hearing distance before trying to have a private conversation.

“You don’t seem to be too upset about Ellison’s choice in guides,” Taylor commented.

“I actually think it’s kind of poetic, don’t you?” was Cameron’s cryptic response.

The tall SAD agent made a face at his shorter companion and questioned, “Poetic?”

Agent Cameron smiled as he explained, “Ellison is probably one of the most stubborn sentinels when it comes to getting him to participate in research. He has just chosen a researcher as his new guide.”

Pausing for dramatic effect, Cameron gave his partner a few moments to contemplate what he’d just said. Then allowing his smile to grow even bigger, he said, “His whole life has just become one big continuous research project.”

“And you wonder why people don’t like you,” Taylor responded.

“Mwahahahahahaaaa,” Cameron laughed maniacally as the two men started walking towards an unsuspecting officer, intending to acquire a ride back to the station.