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The Raptor Chronicles

Part 1: Rebirth

 

By Denim n Lace

 

 

   Disclaimer and Author Notes    Part 1: Rebirth    Part 2: The Path to Exile     Part 3: Baptism by Fire

 


 

Sunrise didn’t happen all at once. 

 

A silent stillness would settle over the darkness, as though the world was holding its breath in anticipation.  The only sounds to mar the peace were the ever-present background drone of a city that never truly rested, and the far-away gentle lapping of the ocean against the waterfront, somewhere out in the night.

 

Slowly, midnight blue gave way to deep purple.  Deep Purple became tinged with pink where the horizon met the sky.   Pink would spread like a flower unfolding and then bleed outward into magentas, oranges and golds, as the ever-present Cascade clouds caught fire.  The spreading light would catch at the tops of the waves out in the harbor, and the resulting flashes of brilliance across the velvety darkness of the water put the night sky to shame.

 

Commander James Ellison leaned out over his balcony and breathed the faint saltiness of the morning air into himself, silently willing the peace of the scene unfolding before him to somehow reach into the dark places inside him and heal what ever it was that was broken within him.  In the nine weeks since he had returned to the loft where he lived between assignments, he had discovered that sunrise was the only time of the day that he could truly enjoy.  The rest of the day had become an exercise in tolerance for him.  Everything around him was too loud, too bright, too harsh, too invasive.  It took more control than he’d known he possessed to keep from simply giving in to the chaos and allowing himself to slip into total insanity.

 

Jim blinked suddenly and winced as he realized that at some point in his musings, sunrise had given way to morning.  The sun stabbed at his eyes and as the city of his birth awoke to the new day, the collective sound of its inhabitants rising assaulted his ears.  With a pained sigh, Jim turned away from his balcony and sought the relative peace of his loft.

 

As Jim automatically lowered the loft’s old-fashioned blinds to cut out the glare of the sun, he pondered the disaster his life had become over the last nine weeks.  James Ellison was a man used to being ‘In Control’.  ‘In control’ of his people.  ‘In control’ of the mission.  ‘In control’ of his body, his mind and his God-Damned life.  It was inconceivable to him that he could have fallen so far, so fast.  But he had, God help him.  He had.  And the worst part was that there was no end to the drop in sight.

 

On days when he felt like cutting himself some slack, he was able to acknowledge that his fall from grace had begun much earlier.  He had taken his first steps toward that particular precipice on the day he’d been called to a secret briefing by Admiral Normal Oliver.  The Admiral had laid out information regarding a small planet that orbited a sun, so far into the neutral zone that it didn’t even have a ‘real’ name.  PV32 the star charts called it.  Only one of its planets was habitable, and the local people were so primitive that its population would have been off limits to the Federation, even if the planet weren’t practically on top of Romulan space. PV32-2 was an unremarkable planet in every way but one…  By an unfortunate fluke, that little planet had been discovered to be an overwhelmingly rich source of Dilithium crystals. 

 

Because it was in the Neutral Zone, the planet was technically ‘off-limits’ to both the Federation and the Romulans.  It was unfortunate, but predictable, that the Romulans would never be able to ignore so rich a source of power when it lay so very close to their doorstep.  While the Romulans were not quite ready to face the war with the Federation that an open foray into the Neutral Zone would result in, information had been received that indicated a Romulan task force had taken the planet in preparation for beginning a covert mining operation.

 

Admiral Oliver had explained that he was being given control of a task force that were to be sent to PV32-2 to assist the natives in organizing an insurgence force against the Romulan invaders. Ellison wished that he could say that the Federation’s interest in the matter was purely altruistic.  Unfortunately he knew the truth was that the only reason Intelligence was organizing assistance for the Natives of PV32-2 was because the Federation did not want the Romulans gaining access to the raw energy that the planet contained.

 

Technically, the Federation had no more right to be present on PV32-2 than the Romulans had, and the Federation was no more eager to see the situation deteriorate into war than the Romulans were, so the Strike Force being sent in was to be kept in the strictest secrecy.  Ellison’s team was to sneak in, contact the natives, and train them in ways of disrupting the Romulans activities.  The theory was that the Romulans would give up on the planet if their only means of securing the situation was with the fire-power of a true invasion force.  Unfortunately for the Romulans, such a step would result in War, which left them pretty much where they started from.  By helping the Natives to organize their own rebellion, the Romulans would be thwarted, and the Federation would get what it wanted without having to officially lift a finger.

 

Ellison had known that the task would not be an easy one, even if he hadn’t had to keep the Prime Directive in mind.  His mission, by definition. skirted very close to the line drawn by the Prime Directive.  However, the ‘Higher Ups’ reasoned that they would be alright as long as they didn’t supply the primitive Natives with advanced weaponry.  Instead, the Strike Force was to teach them to use the weapons and materials they already had against the invaders more efficiently.  After all, a spear could destroy an enemy transport as easily as phaser fire, as long as you knew the right place to stick it.

 

So Ellison’s team had set out, knowing that they were in for hard times, but confident of success.  They had, after all, been trained to deal with almost anything that an enemy could throw at them.  They were Rangers.  The best of the best.  The strongest.  The fastest.  The smartest.  The bravest.

 

None of which did them any good when it turned out that the enemy had known that they were coming.  They hadn’t been given a chance to use any of their much-vaunted skills.  It had been over before they had even known that it was happening.

 

Ellison never did find out how that happened.  His own suspicions turned toward Oliver, but without proof there was nothing that he could do.  He had been the only survivor of his team.  There was no way of either getting reinforcements or pulling out once he was there, so Ellison had done the only thing he could.

 

He’d completed his mission.

 

He’d contacted the Natives, convinced them not to kill him (no mean feat, considering they were pretty down on strangers at that point), and proceeded to organize a rebellion.  In the eighteen months that followed, he assisted the Chopec people in joining forces against their common enemy and proved to them that the invaders were not invulnerable.  The Romulan Forces, which had until that point met with very little real resistance, suddenly found themselves under siege.  Sentries simply disappeared into the jungle.  Equipment was constantly damaged beyond repair.  Food and water supplies were tampered with.  Dwellings were destroyed.  The resistance forces were relentless and more like phantoms than solid foe.  They would materialize from the jungle, draw chaos down on the heads of the invaders, and then disappear once more, with only destruction to mark their passing.

 

Looking back on it, Ellison could see the beginnings of his madness in that seemingly unending period of conflict.  At the time he’d chalked up his ability to listen to a conversation in an enemy camp several miles away, and see the exact placement of enemy guards from the top of distant hill, to the unusually clear, thin air of the planet.  He’d written off his periods of lost time to simple exhaustion.  After all, it was damned tiring to guide a rebellion without actually leading it.  Damned tiring to have to keep his hosts from falling into the hands of the increasingly desperate Romulan forces.  Damned tiring to never be able to let his guard drop for eighteen long, hard months. 

 

When relief came, it was in the form of a Ranger retrieval mission.  Long distance surveillance images of the area had revealed the crash site of the Ranger transport that Ellison’s team had arrived in and a team had been sent to ‘get rid’ of the wreckage.  After all, it wouldn’t do to have evidence of a Federation presence in a place where it wasn’t allowed.  Ellison had thought the reports of strangers indicated a new Romulan drop site, and so had persuaded the Chopec leaders to send some men with him to roust out this new nest before it could take hold.  When Ellison had found himself confronted with a Ranger Unit, it had been a toss-up as to which of them had been more surprised by the presence of the other.

 

He supposed that the news that he had been considered dead along with the rest of his team shouldn’t have surprised him, but it did.  He’d never really allowed himself the luxury of thinking about why relief hadn’t been sent.  There had only been day to day survival.  Anything else would have distracted him from his goal, and if he’d allowed himself distractions, he would have failed.  Still, by the time he’d met the retrieval unit, the Romulans were definitely on the run, and there was nothing more that Ellison could teach the Chopec.  He judged his mission a success, reluctantly took his leave of the warriors who had been his faithful companions for over a year and a half, and had headed back to Federation space.

 

His return to Earth had seen the beginning of a seemingly endless round of debriefings.  It had been during that time that he had noticed his growing madness and had recognized it for what it was.  Sounds that he should not have been able to hear plagued him, and ordinary sounds gave him migraines.  He found himself squinting in order to deal with normal lighting.  Food tasted foul to him.  Strange scents left him light headed.  His clothing drove him insane and left him covered in rashes.

 

At first he’d thought that he’d picked up some strange virus during his time with the Chopec.  Unfortunately, all the medical tests done on him had come back clear, so Jim had been very careful not to mention his growing distress.  The absolute last thing he needed at that point was to be declared insane and locked up. There was no way that Starfleet was going to allow an unstable Ranger to just wander around, and he did not want to spend the rest of his life being studied by shrinks who wanted to write papers on his ‘abnormal post-trauma reaction’ or some other such idiocy.  He decided that his best bet was to hide the problem, take all the leave that they would allow him, and try to get it under control himself.

 

He supposed that he should be glad that his ex-wife, whom the loft had been willed to, had been terribly busy with some top-secret weapons project and hadn’t had either the time or the inclination to rid herself of his home when she’d inherited it.  In the state he was in, he doubted that he’d have been able to handle shopping for a new apartment.  The loft had been blessedly empty and reassuringly familiar when he’d let himself into it.  Just the place to get his problems under control.

 

The only problem with his plan was that things just weren’t improving.  His senses were completely out of control, and even more disconcerting to him, was the strange, aching sense of emptiness that was growing in him.  It had been a vague discomfort in the beginning, but it had steadily grown worse.  Now it had reached the stage that he was constantly aware of the gaping ‘hole’ within himself, and it was driving him to insanity all the more quickly, because he had no idea of how he was supposed to fill it.  The need for something ate at him to the point that he obsessed about it, trying to figure out what was wrong.  He was uncomfortably aware of the fact that any person that entered his presence was instantly latched onto by his out-of-control senses and desperately… well… scanned, for want of a better word.  It was as though even his subconscious was looking for that unknown something that would fill up the gap within him and allow him to regain his failing control.  The sense of disappointment he felt when his senses and some unnamed instinct within him reported back to let him know that the person he was scanning lacked the mysterious thing he was hunting for, was rapidly growing to crushing proportions.  He wasn’t sure how much longer he was going to be able to take it before he fell head-long into total insanity because of it…

 

Jim sighed and collapsed back onto the couch.  He sent up a prayer of thanks that his skin wasn’t feeling as though everything it came into contact with was flaying it off him today.  For a long moment Jim contemplated yet another day of basically hiding away from the rest of the world, then decided that as long as his sense of touch was behaving itself, he might as well grab a shower. God knew he needed it.  Yesterday his sense of touch had been off the scale, and showering hadn’t been an option, let alone shaving.  With a grimace of disgust at his own inadequacies, Ellison dragged himself upright and headed for the shower.

 

Twenty minutes later he was showered, shaved and feeling better than he had in days.  He was just leaving the bathroom, still toweling his hair dry, when he was suddenly assaulted by the stench of cigar smoke.  There was something vaguely familiar about the scent, but he couldn’t quite place where he had smelled it before.  He didn’t bother to devote too much time to trying to figure it out though.  He couldn’t afford to.  His senses were telling him that there was someone coming down the hall toward his door, and it was taking every bit of concentration he possessed to keep the sheer volume of information he was being bombarded with from overwhelming him.  Silently, he willed whoever was out in the hall to keep on walking, but his instincts were telling him that he wasn’t going to be that lucky. 

 

A moment later there was a knock at the door, and Ellison released the breath he hadn’t noticed he was holding in a sigh of resignation.  He drew a deep breath, and fixed his game face in place, ready to face the ordeal that the outside world had become. 

 

“Enter.” He called, and the door to the loft automatically slid back into the wall.  Ellison winced.  Once upon a time, the movement of the door wouldn’t have even registered on his conscious mind.  Now every squeak and movement of the computerized mechanism hammered at his ears, making him want to block them.  Just one more example of the nightmare his life had become, he thought irritably.

 

“Hey, Jim.” A deep voice rumbled and drew Ellison’s thoughts back to the present with a shock.  Outside Jim’s door stood an enormous black man, dressed in a Starfleet uniform.  The pips at the man’s throat indicated his status as Captain.  The man’s deep brown eyes were warm as he looked at Jim, and a small smile tugged at his mouth.

 

“Simon!” Jim blurted as he threw off the shock of seeing his oldest friend.  He moved forward, hand extended toward his friend.  “What the Hell are you doing here?” he demanded as he caught the Captain’s hand in a firm shake, silently thanking the fates that his skin was manageable today.  “I thought you were patrolling the area around DS 6!”

 

Even as the words came out of his mouth, Ellison felt his senses reaching out, latching on to his old friend and cataloguing everything about the man, searching desperately, for something… something… 

 

But it wasn’t there.  What ever it was that he needed, Simon Banks didn’t possess it.  The bile-like taste of disappointment rose up in Ellison, overwhelming him.  It took a moment for it to register that Simon was speaking to him, and that he had better get his attention back in the present, if he wanted to keep his friend from figuring out that there was something majorly wrong with him.

 

“…got the command to head back to Earth.  I had some time up my sleeve, so here I am.” Simon was saying.  He paused and looked at his friend critically.  “You look like shit, by the way.” He added with a snort.

 

“That’s not uncommon for a dead man. Or at least, that’s what I’m told.”  Jim couldn’t even pretend that he was joking.  It just would have taken more energy than he had right then. 

 

“Right.” Simon looked him up and down again and then walked in and made himself at home on the couch, as only an old friend could.  “You’ve been back a couple of months now Jim.  You should be looking better than this.  What’s up?”

 

‘I’m just going insane,’ Jim thought miserably as he walked to the refrigeration unit and withdrew two beers.  He walked into the living room and handed one of the bottles to his friend.  Simon took the bottle from him and simply raised his eyebrows, making it obvious that he wasn’t letting Jim off the hook that easily.  Jim grimaced and collapsed back onto the opposite couch. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me, Simon.” He sighed honestly.  “I guess I just have to work through some stuff.”

 

To his surprise, his old friend grimaced uncomfortably.  “Yeah.”  Banks sighed and then dropped his eyes to focus on the bottle in his hand.  Ellison felt his throat begin to close up in panic.  Everything about his friend suddenly screamed misery and discomfort and he was struck by the sudden certainty that someone, somewhere, had figured out what was wrong with him, and that Banks had been sent in the hopes of bringing him in quietly.  For a moment it was difficult for Ellison to control his breathing, but he savagely exerted his once vaunted control over his instinctive desire to panic.

 

He was a Ranger, goddamn it!  There might not be much left to him in the way of sanity, but he’d be damned before he allowed himself to be subjected to the ultimate humiliation of loosing control of his actions!  While Banks studied his bottle unhappily, Ellison took two deep breaths and braced himself for the inevitable.

 

“Simon,” Jim allowed the quiet force of his military persona slip into his voice, and he waited until his friend met his level gaze before continuing.  “This isn’t a social call, is it?”

 

Simon sighed and sat up a little straighter.  “No, Jim.  I’m afraid it’s not.”  Jim allowed himself a split-second of self-pity and fear before refocusing on his friend and attempting to make this unpleasant task a little easier for his friend to bear.  Simon was so inwardly focused on what he had come to say that he didn’t notice his friend waver for a moment before he continued.  “I suppose that you’ve heard that the Federation has come to an agreement with the Klingons and the Romulans in regard to the enforcement of Intergalactic Law in the Neutral Zones.”

 

Jim’s stoic mask slipped off for a moment to reveal his confusion at the seeming non sequitur. “Huh?” he muttered vaguely before pulling himself together and shrugging, “Err… I remember someone telling me when I got back that there were negotiations occurring along those lines, but I didn’t think anything would come of it.”

 

“No one did.” Simon sighed.  “I mean, let’s face it, no one wants to let a rival too close to their own back yard, if you know what I mean.  But I guess the shit that’s going on out in the zones is starting to cut into everybody’s pockets, because they actually reached agreement on what to do about it a couple of months ago.  Just about the time you got back actually.  It’s been kept pretty quiet.”

 

Jim nodded, on one level trying to recover his equilibrium, on another expressing approval at this unusual display of common sense in Inter-galactic politics.  The Neutral Zones were the strips of space, usually several star systems wide, that acted as buffer zones between ‘Super Powers’.  Unfortunately, because Inter-Galactic law had always stated that no Super Power was allowed a military presence within those areas, for fear of conflict breaking out, every type of scum the universe could come up with tended to seek shelter within it.  Piracy was rife around the Neutral Zones.  Thieves and raiders of all descriptions would venture out into ‘civilized’ space, murder, rape and pillage at will, and then scuttle back into the safety of the ‘no-go’ area, before local law enforcement could respond.  It was an insane situation, but one that had been allowed to continue unchecked for centuries…

 

“So, how are they going to do it?” Ellison asked, allowing himself to portray interest now that he was reasonably sure his friend wasn’t going to ask him to return to the Cascade medical center for further testing.

 

“Six ships were commissioned for the express purpose of patrolling the Neutral Zones.  They’re an entirely new class of ship.  Small, fast, but with one hell of a lot in the firepower department.  They’ll be equipped with state of the art sensors, but nothing long range.  They won’t be about science or exploration.  They’ll be about using every method we’ve got at our disposal to seek out law breakers and stamping out their activities.  The Klingons will be fielding two crews, the Romulans will be fielding two, and so will we.”

 

“Hmph” Ellison snorted and glanced at his beer bottle.  He was about to ask what sort of crew numbers they’d be taking, when an unpleasant thought occurred to him, and he looked up at his friend sharply.  “Wait…” Ellison eyed his friend suspiciously.  “If they’re keeping all this quiet, how the hell do you know so much about it?”

 

Simon simply sighed and looked at him, his dark-eyed gaze intense.  Ellison swore softly under his breath and practically leaped from his seat to pace.  “No, no, no, no, no Simon!” he growled, “Please tell me you haven’t accepted one of those commands!”

 

“Wish I could.” Simon replied wryly.

 

“God Damn it, Simon!” Ellison snarled, “You’re smarter than this!  Even the little bit you’ve told me practically shrieks ‘political stunt’.  You have to know that you’ll be on your own out there!  You have a son to think about, God-Damn it!”

 

“I am thinking about my son, Ellison!” Simon finally growled back, also rising o his feet.  “Daryl’s the reason I have to do this!”

 

“What?” Ellison demanded in confusion.

 

Simon sighed again and ran a hand over his short, dark hair.  “Daryl’s the reason I have to do this, Jim.” The tall captain repeated in a more controlled tone of voice, a hint of resignation coloring his words.  “Do you remember me calling you via Deep-Space link up when word got out that you were still alive?”

 

“Yeah.” Ellison nodded.

 

“Do you remember me telling you that Joan and I had finally gotten divorced?” Banks pressed on.

 

“Vaguely,” Ellison shrugged.  “I wasn’t at my best when I spoke to you.” He acknowledged with a small, self-depreciating grin.

 

“Yeah, I noticed.” Banks smiled slightly himself before continuing with his tale.  “The first thing Joan did was take a job with an Earth-based legal firm.  I tried to get a transfer closer to home so that I could still see him…” Banks trailed off miserably, but Ellison finished for him, already able to see where this was going now.

 

“…but there was nothing going.” Ellison winced in sympathy.  It was notoriously difficult for Starfleet officers to get transfers Earth-side.  You could get leave, of course, but it was even hard to get significant blocks of time with that, unless you were in a Special Forces unit.

 

“They told me that if I could get one of the ships established and lead her successfully through her first, year-long tour of duty, they’d get me a transfer Earth-side so that I could be near my son.” Simon finished grimly.

 

“So they made you an offer you couldn’t refuse, huh?” Ellison said quietly.  “You know what they say about offers like that.”

 

“I know.” Banks grimaced.  “My head was telling me to say thanks-but-no-thanks, and to run, not walk, to the nearest exit, but I have to think about my boy.”

 

“Damn.” Ellison growled, folding his arms and lowering his head.  “I hope to hell you at least got the offer in writing.”

 

“I’m desperate, Ellison, not stupid.” Banks snorted.  Ellison glanced up at his friend and allowed himself a snort of wry laughter.  For a long moment, silence stretched between the pair of them.  Finally, Jim looked up and turned to face his friend.

 

“So, what do you want from me?” Ellison demanded.

 

“They’ve given me a list of officers to select my crew from.  It’s going to be a small crew, and considering the mission statement we’ve been given, it won’t surprise you to hear that my list is comprised for the most part of complete bad-asses.”  Simon drew a deep breath and let it out slowly before continuing. “They’ve given me a list of possibles for each of the officer positions.  That didn’t surprise me.  What’s got me worried is that for each of the positions, only one of the names they’ve given me makes any sense.  I’m being manipulated into selecting a specific crew, and that makes me nervous.”

 

“Understandable.” Ellison nodded.  “How can I help?”

 

“This is the part that you’re not going to like.” Simon grimaced uncomfortably.

 

“I hate to tell you this, Simon, but none of this has thrilled me.”

 

“Yeah, well, it gets worse.” Banks looked at the ground for a moment, then determinedly looked Jim in the eye.  “With the brief we’ve been given, and the situation we’ll be going into, I’m going to need one hell of a Security Officer.  I’ve looked into the backgrounds of all of the officers Starfleet has recommended, and as with all my choices for officers, only one candidate for the Security role has the right combination of training, experience, situational knowledge and plain, old talent.” Simon drew a deep breath before continuing.  “You.”

 

Jim felt his heart begin to race. “Simon…” he began, only to be cut off.

 

“Just listen to me for a minute.” Banks’ voice took on an urgent note.  “The ship I’m being given command of is going to be patrolling the Romulan border.  With your Covert Op’s background you’d have to know more about what’s happening with the Romulans than anyone else I know.”

 

“I’ve never said anything about my missions.” Jim interrupted harshly.  “Why would you assume I’ve been sent into Romulan space?”

 

“Oh, please Jim.” Banks snorted. “Your hatred of Romulans is damned near legendary, and I know damned well that it’s not just of the academic, they’re-enemies-of-the-Federation type hatred.  A man like you doesn’t develop a hate like that without some pretty bad experiences.  And we both know you didn’t get those bad experiences through legitimate contact.” 

 

Jim grimaced and looked uncomfortably toward the ground.  Banks evidently took his silence for the confirmation that it was and continued.

 

“Jim, I need someone that I can rely on.”

 

Jim looked into his friend’s earnest face and felt the desire to panic clawing at him again.  He knew why Simon was asking him, and at any other time he would have been honored.  Unfortunately, right now, all Jim felt was fear.  He wasn’t ready, dammit!  He could barely tolerate stepping outside the damned loft!  How the hell was he supposed to handle a mission?  Jim sucked in a great lung full of air and paced toward the shuttered windows in agitation, searching within himself for some way of vocalizing his scattered thoughts.  “I know you do, Simon.” He finally forced out past a jaw that wanted to lock itself up on him, “I just don’t think I’m that person right now.”

 

“I know you’re tired, Ellison.  Hell, anyone with eyes can see that.  I know that you were missing for eighteen months.  I have no idea what happened to you in that time, but I can see that it wasn’t easy on you.  I also realize that you haven’t had long to recover, in the great scheme of things, but, dammit, I need your help Jim.  I’m being manipulated in a dozen different ways and I have no idea why.  No one else I know has the ability to come through shit smelling of roses the way you seem to.  I’ve got a feeling I’m going to need some of that pretty soon.  I’m taking this mission so I can be near my son, but I won’t be much good to him if I’m dead.”

 

“Simon…”

 

“Just shut up and listen will you?

 

“I can’t listen, damn it Banks!” Ellison snarled, aware that his anguish was beginning to show.  “I know why you came to me, but…  I’m not sure I’m that person anymore.”

 

“And that’s the other reason you need to take this offer!” Banks snarled back.  “Ellison, I don’t know what’s happened to you, but I can see that whatever it was, it was pretty damned traumatic.  This offer will get you out of the Rangers, Jim.  I know as well as you do that once Covert Op’s gets its claws into you, they own you ‘til death.  But I’m standing in front of you with an offer that will get you out of the Rangers for good.  This mission is going to be damned dangerous, so I’m being allowed to recruit out of any area,  including Intelligence. 

 

You need to take this offer Jim, because if you do, you’ll be allowed to transfer back into the regular ranks at the end of your first tour.  You need that.  You need to get out of Covert Ops.  You need to get out before you lose any more of yourself.”

 

Ellison looked at his old friend in misery.  Banks didn’t understand.  He’d already lost too much of himself.  He drew in a breath to try again, but before he could say anything, Simon held up a hand to halt him.

 

“Don’t say anything else now.” Banks ordered firmly.  “Just think about it.  You have the rest of the week to make a decision.  You’ll be able to contact me at the San Francisco Head Quarters, what ever you decide.”  Banks turned for the door, and then paused.  “I really need you on this, Jim.”

 

Ellison looked at him for a long moment, forcing his face to take on a neutral expression, but knowing that his old friend could see through him any way.  After a moment, he forced himself to nod.  He did know it, really.  He just wished that he was still the same man his friend knew to be able to offer him the help he so evidently needed.

 

Banks looked at him for a moment longer, then gave a resigned little sigh.  “Thanks for the beer.” The older man murmured, and then was gone.  Ellison barely winced at as the door mechanism assaulted his ears yet again.  The turmoil his friend had stirred up within him was drowning out everything else.

 

What good was he, if he had been so paralyzed by what was happening to him that he could not help a friend? 

 

The mission was going to be dangerous.  Wouldn’t it be better to go out quickly, protecting people, than to sit around the loft, waiting for someone to figure out what was wrong with him and to cart him away?

 

But what if he couldn’t hack it, and got someone killed? Or worse, what if he snapped completely and people died as a result?

 

His mind was racing in circles, and he was almost stunned when he suddenly found himself yanking open the doors to the balcony, and then staggering back momentarily from the sudden assault of the light.  Almost of their own volition, his feet began carrying him forward again, and he found himself leaning out over the balcony.

 

“Simon!” he called, wincing as his own voice hammered through his head.

 

Down on he street, the tall Starfleet Captain looked up toward his friend, and Jim noticed absently that even from three stories away, he could see every pore on his friend’s skin.

 

“I’m in.” he called.

 

Simon nodded, and Jim saw quiet clearly the small, pleased grin that twisted his friend’s features. They stood looking at each other.  Banks had way too much dignity to be shouting at anyone from the street, but Jim saw the Captain’s lips move, and quite clearly heard his friend say quietly, “Welcome on board, Commander.” 

 

Banks tossed him off a quick salute, and then moved off up the street.

 

Ellison staggered back into the loft and pulled the door shut carefully behind him.

 

What the hell had he just done?

 


 

Dr Serena Chang stood quietly at the back of the transporter room, watching the engineers making their final calibrations in preparation for ‘scattering her atoms’ several kilometers out into space.  She was tired and a little stressed from the last minute dash to get back to Earth in time to take up this assignment.  She was also more than a little frustrated that she hadn’t even had time to visit any family or friends while she was Earth-side.  None of these things was helping her mood, and her looming appointment with the hated Transporter was sending her spiraling toward irritation.

 

When Captain Simon Banks had contacted her with this job offer, she’d barely had time to think the whole thing through, before being whisked away to Earth on a Starship in order to take up her new assignment.  Under normal circumstances, Serena would never agreed to anything that didn’t allow her at least a few days to weigh up the pro’s and the con’s of the new job, but Banks’ offer came at a moment when she was tired, depressed, and desperate to get out of her current assignment.  At that moment, she would have agreed to anything that got her out of the Minos 3 colony where she’d been living for the past six months.  Now that she’d had time to think the matter through, she wasn’t sure she’d done the right thing.  The assignment certainly sounded exciting enough, but she’d effectively locked herself into yet another closed society, doing pretty much the same work she’d been doing on Minos 3 for another year.  And when all else was said and done, it was the work she’d been dying to get away from.

 

Serena gave herself a shake and determinedly pushed the negative thoughts from her head.  There was nothing she could do about it now.  She’d agreed to the assignment, and Banks had certainly seemed pleased to have her ‘on board’, so to speak.  She was strong.  She could do this for another year.  She knew she could.

 

“Dr Chang,” one of the technicians called to her. “We’re ready for you now.”

 

“Thanks,” she responded automatically, aware of the fact that the smile she flashed the man probably looked a little sick. ‘If only I were ready for you she thought miserably as she made her way onto the transporter platform.

 

The technician chuckled at her obvious reluctance.  “I take it that you’re not a great fan of the transporter, Doctor.”

 

“How’d you guess?” she laughed weakly, allowing her misery to show on her face.

 

“Don’t worry about a thing, Doc.” The man soothed as he began to manipulate the controls. “This’ll be over before you know it.”

 

‘That being what I’m afraid of, of course.’ Serena thought dolefully as she felt the familiar tingling spreading across her skin.

 

For a long moment the universe went dark, and when sight returned, she found herself in a much smaller room.  The slight change in the consistency of the air entering her lungs told her that she was on board a starship and breathing recycled air again.   Serena released a sigh of relief as one of the men standing behind the transporter consul stepped forward to greet her.

 

“Welcome to the Raptor, Dr Chang.” The immensely tall man with the deep, smooth voice greeted her with a smile. 

 

Serena recognized his face immediately and saluted smartly.  “Thank you, Captain Banks.”

 

A wry grin touched the man’s face as he regarded her.  “At ease, Lieutenant Commander.” He chuckled.

 

Serena allowed herself to relax and return his smile.  She knew herself to be an excellent judge of people, and her instincts were telling her that this was a good man.  The knot of tension she’d been carrying around inside of her about this assignment for the past week or so began to loosen under that realization.

 

“I’m grateful that you accepted this assignment.  We’re going to be needing your skills, Doctor.”

 

And they were.  Serena knew his words weren’t about empty flattery.  This man was about to lead a small, select group into one of the most dangerous sectors of space, in the hopes of re-establishing order.  A psychologist with a talent for profiling psychotic minds and developing criminal behavioral models was going to be invaluable for getting one step ahead of the scum they’d be facing off against.  “Thank you, Captain.” She smiled. “Actually, I’m the one who’s grateful.  Your offer got me out of Minos 3, and I was more than happy to leave that place behind.”

 

The Captain nodded, and his eyes held an understanding that could only come from experiencing that hell-hole first hand.  He gestured for her to accompany him from the transporter room and she fell quickly into step beside him.

 

“I’ll admit, Dr Chang, I was curious as to why someone of your experience and qualifications had been assigned to one of the roughest mining colonies in Federation Space.” The Captain glanced at her, and she could almost hear all the questions he wanted to ask.  She was also aware that he wouldn’t push the matter if she didn’t want to talk about it.

 

She could understand his curiosity.  Minos 3 was vile.  It was almost uninhabitable.  No one would ever bother with the place if it and it’s surrounding asteroid belts weren’t exceedingly rich with a variety of minerals.  The planets only inhabitants were Deep Space Miners, the assortment of leeches that always seemed to be looking for new ways to help the miners offload their impressive wages, and the poor, beleaguered Starfleet personnel that tried to keep the peace.  Deep space miners, as a rule, tended to be an unstable bunch. Between the miners’ tendency to constantly fall over the line from unstable to psychotic, and the absolute plethora of criminals attracted to the riches of the mines, she’d been worked off her feet from the time she’d arrived there.

 

“Actually, Captain,” Serena studied the floor as she made her confession, “I requested the assignment.”

 

Banks tossed her a look that openly questioned her sanity.  “What in God’s name possessed you to do that?” he demanded.

 

“A friend of mine was Chief Engineer on a freighter that dropped supplies off to the colony on a regular basis.  She was murdered on one of their brief stop-overs at the colony.  I requested the assignment because it was the only way I could see of bringing her killer to justice.”

 

Understanding touched the Captain’s face as she spoke, and she realized that this was one commanding officer that understood the responsibilities of friendship.  Most of the commanding officers she’d had in the past would have lectured her about the evils of allowing herself to become personally involved in her work.  His understanding further loosened that knot of doubt that had been plaguing her.

 

“Did you get him?” Banks asked quietly as he came to a stop outside a door.

 

“Her.” Serena corrected pointedly, “And, yes, I did.”

 

Banks nodded approval, then gestured toward the door.  “These are your quarters, Dr Chang.  You can set the personal access code when you get a moment.  For the time being, the code is simply your Starfleet Identification Number.”

 

Serena nodded and turned toward the key pad beside the door.  She punched in the twelve ten digit Identification Number she’d long since memorized, and the door opened with a soft hiss.

 

Serena stepped into the room and looked around.  It wasn’t very big, but the Raptor wasn’t a very big ship.  There was a bed, a wardrobe, a small vanity and mirror, and in the far wall there was a door that connected the little room to a small bathroom.  As she looked at her new home appraisingly, she decided that it would be quite adequate for her needs.  While it wasn’t big, it was brand new, and she would be able to make it quite homey when her stuff was unpacked.

 

Banks stepped forward to stand beside her.  “I’ll have your things brought here as soon as they arrive.  We’re not big enough for an Equipment Transporter, so everyone’s personal gear is having to be shuttled from Space Dock to the ship.”

 

“No problems!’ Serena smiled  “There’s no rush.”

 

“Well, if you’re happy with your quarters, I’ll get you to accompany me down to our Science Section.  Both our Chief Science officer and our Chief Medical officer arrived last night.  You’ll be working closely with both of them, so I’ll take you down and make the introductions.  Then I’ll leave you to settle in.”  Banks gestured that she should precede him out the door.

 

Serena nodded and walked back out into the corridor.  She could see a turbo-lift entrance up ahead and she moved toward it automatically, allowing her thoughts to turn to her new Captain.  This was a very busy man.  He was overseeing the launching of a new ship into a sector of space in which they could expect no assistance.  There as a million things that needed his attention, yet he was taking the time to personally greet his staff and making sure they were settled.  This was a man that knew how to develop crew moral and inspire loyalty.  He would be a good boss.  She was sure of it.

 

Now, if her Section Head was a reasonable person, she’d be able to relax again.

 

As the turbo-lift doors closed behind them, Banks instructed the computer to take them to level 2.

 

“So,” Serena said cautiously, “Who is our Chief Science Officer, anyway?”

 

“Dr Blair Sandburg.” Banks responded automatically.  “He holds a number of Doctorates.  One in Cultural Anthropology, and another in Xeno-Biology.”

 

“Really.” Serena nodded.  “That’s impressive.  And… what’s he like?” Serena kept her expression bland, trying to convince the Captain that she wasn’t really fishing for gossip on her new Section Head.  Unfortunately, Banks didn’t even look at her, and he answered her question with a one-word answer and a derisive snort.

 

“Different.”

 

‘Different?’  Serena thought worriedly as the turbo-lift came to a halt.  ‘How, different?’ She turned to voice this very question, but before she could say anything, Banks had already stepped through the opened turbo-lift doors and was moving up the corridor, forcing Serena to jog a few steps to catch up.

 

“Your work station is just through those doors,” Banks gestured to a door on the right hand side of the corridor.  “Like your quarters, it’s pretty small, but the best we could do under the circumstances.”

 

“I don’t need much space, really.” Serena commented quickly.

 

“That’s fortunate.” Banks said wryly, the barest hint of a smile evident in his voice.  “The Science officer’s work station is on the other side of the hall.  I’ll just introduce the pair of you, then I’ll have to get going.”

 

“Thanks, Captain Banks.” Serena smiled as the door opened in front of them to reveal a small, but seemingly well-stocked lab area.  Captain Banks continued forward to a door on the far side of the lab.  The door opened to allow them access and Serena stepped forward… straight into a scene from a disaster vid.

 

There was debris spread over every available surface.  Upturned cartons scattered the floor, along with old fashioned books and artifacts from dozens of cultures, only a few of which Serena recognized.  Serena was wondering whether they should call security when she heard Banks give a resigned sigh.

 

“Dr Sandburg?” he called.

 

“Umm… Hi Simon.” A rich, smooth, completely disembodied voice drifted to them from somewhere behind the office’s desk.  “I’ll be with you in just a second!”

 

“Dr Sandburg,” Banks glowered at the uncaring desk the scientist was hidden behind.  “I would prefer it if you were to call me Captain Banks, or if that’s too difficult for you, just Captain would do.”

 

“Sure, Simon.” the voice agreed absently.  “Hang on a minute, will you?  This is gonna take some effort.”  And then with a grunt of exertion, Blair Sandburg appeared over the edge of the desk, carrying a particularly heavy looking stone statue.

 

Dr Sandburg, it turned out, was a young man.  A very young man.  He was dirty from unpacking the boxes strewn out around the office and sweaty from exertion.

 

He was also a God.

 

Sandburg looked around desperately for somewhere to rest his newly liberated treasure, but, finding no place that obviously met his needs, he settled for simply dumping the offending statue on the desk with a thud that reverberated around the room.  Banks winced in sympathy with the desk.  The young doctor gave his Captain a completely unselfconscious and utterly unrepentant smile. 

 

“Now, what can I do for you?” he asked in that amazingly musical voice, and Serena had to fight down the urge to answer that question in a most unprofessional manner as she looked her new Section Head over for the first time.

 

He was a small man, and slightly built.  He had long, curly hair that shifted in color from auburn to brown as the over-head lighting caught in it.  His eyes were the deep, smoky blue of the ocean after a storm, and he had the most luscious mouth she had ever seen on a male.  His dark, perfectly formed brows were slightly upswept, and the pierced ear she could only just see, because a little of his hair was caught behind it, was slightly pointed, giving him a sort of fey, unworldly appearance.  He looked, in short, like an Earth-bound Angel. ‘I could work under him,’ Serena decided dazedly.  ‘I could SO work under him.  Was I thinking that the whole closed society thing was bad?  Because it’s not.  It’s good.  Very good.  There’s no getting way from each other in a closed society, and that’s a good thing in this case…’

 

“Doctor Sandburg, I’d like you to meet Dr Serena Chang; Psychologist and Forensics Analyst.”  Banks was saying as he gestured toward her when she finally dragged herself out of her shock.  She quickly tried to pull herself together, but the effort died a sudden and heinous death when those glorious eyes turned their warmth on her for the first time.

 

Sandburg smiled, and it brought a brilliance to his already beautiful face that put the stars to shame.  He brushed his unruly hair out of his eyes with the back of his hand, inadvertently leaving a smudge mark of dirt on his brow, and quickly wiped his hands on his trousers in order to offer one of them to her.  “Hi, Serena.” He said warmly.  “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

 

Serena looked at the vision in front of her and considered her options.  Somehow, she doubted that the Captain would look kindly on her saying ‘Howdy’ to her new boss by pouncing on him and stripping him buck-naked, so she went with the less attractive option and stepped forward to simply shake his hand.

 

As their hands met, Serena was stunned to feel a familiar tingle move up her arm, like a low-grade electric shock.  Dr Sandburg looked as startled as she felt.  They looked at each other in surprise for a moment, before they released their hands, and each of them gave the other an embarrassed smile. 

 

“My grandmother was Betazoid.” Serena explained shyly.

 

“And I’m told my father was Vulcan.” Blair responded with a small laugh.

 

“Umm... Doctors,” Captain Banks spoke up at that moment, reminding both scientists that he was still in the room. “Am I missing something?”

 

“Naw, man.” Sandburg turned his warm smile back to the captain, and Serena felt strangely bereft.  “It’s just that Serena and I are both Empaths.” He explained.

 

Banks suddenly looked like he was coming down with a headache. “Oh” he said flatly.  The momentary silence caused by his vague discomfort was suddenly broken by a shrill beep from the Captain’s communicator.  Banks automatically tapped the little device on his chest.

 

“Banks.” He snapped.

 

“Sir, we’ve just receive word from Launceston that Commander Connor is ready to beam onboard.” A disembodied and slightly tinny voice reported gravely.

 

“Understood.” Banks nodded. “I’ll be there in a moment.  Banks out.”

 

“Connor?” Serena blurted as Banks signed off.  “Not Megan Connor?”

 

“That’s right.” Banks looked at the stunned psychologist curiously.  “She’s the ship’s First Officer.  Do you know her?”

 

“Ahh, yes, you could say that.” Serena smiled and bit her lip. “Ever since the Academy, actually.  She’s been my best friend for years!” Serena gave a peel of delighted laughter. “I tried to contact her to tell her I’d taken this job, but I couldn’t seem to catch up with her.  The sneaky bi… er… person probably knew all along!” She finished, allowing her grin to become somewhat embarrassed as she acknowledged her near slip.

 

“Ah.” Banks looked slightly disconcerted. “I have to go, now and welcome her on board.  Your personal effects should arrive via shuttle in about an hour or so, Dr Chang.  I’m sure that you two will be able to find something to do with your time until then.” And with that, Captain Banks turned and swept out of the room.

 

Sandburg watched the tall man go, and then gave a soft snort of laughter.  “Poor Simon.” He chuckled, then glanced at Serena.  “I don’t think we’ll see to much of him down here in our territory,” he smiled.  “He just doesn’t know what to do with us abnormal, science geeks.”

 

‘I have some suggestions.’ Serena thought, and then clamped down on the thought.  She told herself firmly that she wasn’t going to think lustful thoughts about this Commanding Officer.  As a fellow Empath, he’d pick up on it far too easily…

 

“I… err.. don’t suppose I could get you to give me a hand here, could I?” Blair Sandburg asked hesitantly, a look coming to his face that put Serena in mind of a half-staved puppy begging to be fed. 

 

And naturally, this guy is going to make that completely impossible, now, isn’t he?

 

“Sure, Blair,” She smiled, and the young man lit up like a Christmas Tree.

 

“Ahh, you’re wonderful!”  He beamed as he ducked down to pick an artifact off the ground.  “So, Serena.  Where’d you transfer in from?”

 


 

For what felt like the billionth time in the past few weeks, Jim Ellison wondered exactly what the Hell he thought he was doing.  He had not succeeded in getting his errant senses under control, and if anything, the situation seemed to be getting worse.  Coming in to the Cascade Starfleet Base had proved to be utter torture.  His head was pounding with pain.  His eyes ached.  He could feel the rashes coming up under his uniform.  He was a God-Damned mess.

 

He should never have taken this assignment.  His mere presence was endangering people.  He should have simply called Banks and told him he’d reconsidered.  His problem was that he hadn’t wanted accept defeat.  To accept that he was not going to improve would mean that he might as well just take a phaser to himself.  Of course, coming to the base had brought him into contact with dozens of new people, and each and every one of them had been scanned by his errant senses for that elusive thing his subconscious was looking for.  His despair had grown with each failure, until the point that self destruction was looking like an attractive option.

 

He’d tried to get in touch with Simon this morning to tell him that he would be unable to fulfill his duties as Ship’s Security Chief.  Unfortunately, Banks had been very busy with all of the last minute details that required the Captain’s attention just before the launch of a new ship and Ellison had been unable to get a hold of his friend.  He was left with no option but to go to the ship and tell Banks in person.  Considering how badly he’d messed his friend around, he would have to tell Banks the truth about what had been happening to him.  Banks would have no choice but to contact Starfleet’s Medical Authorities when the reality of Ellison’s instability was revealed to him.  That was all right though.

 

Jim didn’t intend on being around to be analyzed.

 

He’d been hoping to catch a lift on a shuttle, but he’d been informed that there were no shuttles scheduled to leave for several hours.  It had taken Jim only a second to decide that he wouldn’t last if he were forced to hang around the Base for any significant period of time.  He was a practical man, (his present state of mental instability not withstanding) and he’d decided on the most expedient option.  He’d opted for the transporter.  He’d never been a fan of them, and he’d managed to avoid them since his ill-fated mission to PV32-2, but this really couldn’t wait.  He needed to get the hard part of this over with so he could focus on making sure that he never degenerated to the point that he became a danger to anyone other than himself.

 

Ellison’s reputation had preceded him yet again, and the technical crew working in the transporter room openly gave him a wide berth.  It was just well, really.  Ellison doubted that he was even up to idle conversation at that point in time.  After a few moments, one of the braver technicians called him over and he climbed onto the platform.  He nodded to let the crew know that he was ready.

 

It was ironic really.  He’d been so focused on the fact that his out-of-control senses were going to keep him from doing his job properly, and that he had to explain that fact to Simon, that he forgot to wonder what kind of an effect the transporter would have on him.

 

The familiar tingling spread across his skin, and then everything began to shut down as his molecular structure was broken up for transference.  Over the past year and a half, Jim Ellison had become accustomed to dealing with an excess of sensory information.  When this was suddenly ripped away from him, his subconscious mind panicked, and latched onto the last sensation available to him with every last part of his considerable will.

 

Jim Ellison lost himself so totally in the residual tingling of his skin that he simply didn’t notice when he solidified in the Raptor’s transporter room.

 


 

Dr Tina Baccus stared at the man laid out on the examination table from the doorway of her office.  When she’d been called twenty-five minutes before and been informed that there was something wrong with an officer that had just beamed aboard, she hadn’t been worried.  The Transporter technician had been too calm for it to be a major transporter incident.  When she had arrived and found Commander Ellison in a trance-like state, she’d been confused.  When she had not been able to rouse him from his stupor, she’d had him brought to the Med Center.

 

She’d looked at the ship’s database for the Commander’s records, but to her immense irritation, they hadn’t been loaded on yet.  Crew medical records were one of the things that had not yet been fully downloaded from the central Starfleet Database, and she couldn’t treat him properly without some idea of his medical history and allergies.

 

She’d called to have his records sent through immediately.  When she’d received them, she’d started scanning through them for some obvious cause for his current state.  What she’d found in those records had surprised her so much, she’d had to go back to the beginning and read everything properly.

 

Commander James Ellison was a walking allergic reaction.  She’d rarely seen so many different allergies in a Starfleet officer, and never before in a security officer.  Notes made by previous physicians attending him had spoken of abnormal drug reactions.  The fact that the man continued to function in a fairly normal manner despite all this was to his credit.

 

What had really set her internal alarms off had been the most recent entries into his records.  Medical records showed that he’d recently undergone intense testing, and there were notes included from a psychiatrist he’d been ordered to attend sessions with.  Everything she’d read had led her to an inescapable conclusion.

 

James Ellison had gone off the deep end.

 

With a sigh, Baccus stepped away from the doorway and allowed the examination room to be closed off.  She hit a button next to the door to lock it.  The last thing they needed was a trained Ranger, with psychotic tendencies roaming the ship at will on the off-chance he came out of his present state by himself.

 

The only thing to be done was to call the ship’s psychiatrist and have the man declared unfit for duty.  They could then ship him off to some facility back on Earth, and maybe still have time to find a new security chief before departure.  She knew that the Captain was still in conference with the ship’s first officer and didn’t want to be disturbed at present, so she couldn’t inform him yet.  He’d told her not to contact him for any reason for at least an hour and a half.  She grimaced irritably.  She’d been displeased with the limited facilities she’d been given and had contacted the Captain a few times to see what he could do to get her more, but he seemed to be looking for ways to avoid her.  She once again wondered how in hell she’d been talked into taking this assignment.

 

‘Oh well.’ She thought with a little smirk.  When Captain ‘what, you again?’ Banks wanted to know why he hadn’t been informed that his Security Chief had had a psychotic break, she’d be utterly justified in informing him that she’d only been following orders.  That would teach him not to make himself unavailable to the ship’s Medical Officer. 

 

Her course of action decided, Baccus touched the communicator at her chest.

 

“Dr Chang.” She said sharply.  A moment later a female voice responded.

 

“Yes?”

 

“Dr Chang, this is Dr Baccus.  We haven’t had a chance to be introduced yet, but I’m the chief medical officer.  I need your professional opinion about an officer that has just been brought down to medical.”

 

“Of course.” The voice responded immediately.  “I’ll be there in a moment, Doctor.”

 

“Thank you, Doctor.” Baccus responded formally.  “Dr Baccus, out.”

 

That done, Baccus wandered over to the large, plexi-glass viewing window set into the wall between her office and the examination room and stared in at her patient again.  It was always a shame, when an officer’s mind broke, as this one’s had.  She was simply grateful that she’d picked this up now, and not when they were in deep space.

 

The last thing anyone wanted was to be trapped on a small ship with an unbalanced, trained killer.

 


 

Serena Chang touched her communicator again to sign off and grimaced at the ancient tribal mask that was sitting in her lap.

 

“Ummm.” she murmured.  “Where do you want me to put this?” she asked her companion as she hunted for an obvious place to leave it.  Blair Sandburg shrugged. 

 

“Just leave it anywhere,” he advised absently as he placed the books that he had been sorting on the floor.  The pair of them were sitting on the floor amidst the chaos of Dr Sandburg’s office, surrounded on all sides by the vast plethora of artifacts he was trying to find a place for.  They’d been sorting through things for close to an hour and Serena couldn’t remember the last time she’d enjoyed herself so much.  Dr Sandburg was an interesting and entertaining companion.  The animated young man had been chatting almost non-stop since she’d joined him.  It seemed that every artifact in his possession had an interesting story attached to it, and he was an excellent storyteller.  His face conveyed a wealth of information, his hands were so eloquent that Blair could have told the stories without saying a word.  The young man practically vibrated with energy and enthusiasm, and Serena was delighted to realize that beyond being beautiful to look at, her new section head was a thoroughly likeable person.

 

“Well,” Serena sighed as she stretched her legs out in front of her carefully.  “Duty calls, I suppose.”

 

“Yep.” Sandburg agreed amicably.

 

“Of course, that just leaves me with the problem of finding my way to said duty.” Serena grimaced miserably.  “I don’t suppose you could give a girl directions to the Med Center, could you?”

 

Blair gave a snort of laughter and his eyes twinkled as he climbed to his feet.  “I’ll go one better,” he laughed as he picked his way over to her through the disaster zone that his office had become. “I’ll take you there.”

 

“Would you mind?” Serena asked hopefully as she looked up at him from her perch on the floor, “I mean, I know you’re busy with everything here.”

 

“Don’t worry about it.” Blair shrugged as he reached down to give her a hand up.  “One thing I’ve learned about a mess like this is that it’ll always be waiting for you, whenever you get back.”

 

“Good point!” Serena laughed as she reached up to grasp his offered hands.  This time she was ready for the slight frission that occurred as their mutual empathic abilities joined them, at least on a surface level.  Now that she was aware that it would happen, she could enjoy the tingling warmth that spread through her from the point of contact.  She didn’t encounter it very often and it was… nice.

 

Sandburg evidently thought so too, because his utterly unselfconscious smile of pleasure was automatic as their hands met.

 

Blair pulled Serena effortlessly to her feet, making Serena aware of the strength that her new colleague’s lithe body actually housed.  Serena was aware of her own reluctance in letting the young man’s hands go and quickly squashed her errant thoughts.

 

“Come on.” Blair grinned as he led the way to the door.  “Let’s get you to the Med Center.  You haven’t met our Medical Officer yet, and I don’t want to deny you the pleasure.”

 

“Oh?” Serena prompted as they passed out into the lab.

 

“Yeah.” Blair affirmed with a cheeky grin. “I’m sure that you’ll find it, entertaining.”

 

Serena caught the amusement in her new boss’s voice and decided that she wasn’t really sure that she was looking forward to this.

 


 

Traditionally, Starfleet Medical Officers and Science Officers tended to work hand in glove. However, from the moment Blair had met Dr Tina Baccus, he’d known that tradition was once again going to have no place in his life.  From the surprised look that she’d given him when Captain Banks had introduced them, he had no doubt that he didn’t fit her image of what a science officer should look like. 

 

He’d tried to engage her in conversation after their first meeting.  However her stilted, impatient responses to his attempts at breaking the ice had made her lack of approval abundantly clear, and what he had picked up from her empathically had sealed the matter.  They would never be friends.  Bitter experience had taught him that a person that did not want to see past the outer trimmings simply would not, no matter what he tried.  For that reason, he had left her alone and had sworn to himself to give her a wide berth whenever possible.  He had enough complications in his life without dealing with other people’s irrational prejudices.

 

As he led the way into the Medical Center, and once again felt her cool, assessing gaze settle on him, he reaffirmed his initial impression of her.  Tina Baccus was like one of those ancient, porcelain dolls that some wealthy collectors prized so very highly.  The tiny Eurasian woman was beautiful to look at, but not made to be touched.  She was aloof, and cool, and superior in her attitudes.  A dangerous way for a medical practitioner to be, in Blair’s humble opinion.

 

Dr Baccus’ eyes slid easily past Blair and settled on the woman he had been guiding.

 

“Dr Chang?” the tiny woman’s voice held it’s customary impatient quality.

 

“That’s right.” Serena smiled graciously and the two women briefly shook hands.  “What’s the problem?”

 

“’The problem’ is in the examination room.” Baccus slipped easily into her no-nonsense, working persona, and gestured toward the observation window.  Curious in spite of himself, Blair glanced through the window to see a man lying motionless on one of the beds.  Unconsciously, Blair took a step closer to the window.  His eyes weren’t the best, and without his glasses it was difficult to make out the details of the man’s appearance at this distance.  Yet in spite of this, there was something compelling about the man lying there, so helplessly.

 

“What’s happened to him?” Serena demanded as she moved automatically toward the examination room door.  Serena was obviously expecting the door to slide open at her approach, and almost couldn’t stop herself from banging into the obstacle when it didn’t. 

 

“It’s locked.” Baccus explained belatedly as Serena looked about in frustration for the problem.  Serena looked at the Baccus as though the woman had lost her mind.

 

“Why in hell is he locked in there when he obviously needs help?” Blair fought back a grin at the expression on Serena’s face.  It was quite obvious, to him at least, that Serena thought that the person in need of her professional services was most likely Baccus herself.

 

“Because I don’t think that the ‘help’ that he needs is medical.” Baccus responded irritably.

 

“What?” Serena stared at the smaller woman in confusion.  Baccus pursed her lips for a moment before walking to the viewing screen of the medical area’s computer.

 

“His name is Commander James Ellison and he’s supposed to be the ship’s security chief.” Baccus gestured for Serena to join her in from to the monitor.  It seemed as though the aloof medical doctor had forgotten he was even there temporarily, Blair reluctantly turned his back on the observation window and edged closer to the two women.  Normally he would have simply left by now, but there was something about the way the man lay so very still that was tugging at the strings of his memory.  Baccus continued without looking at him at all. “He’s been like that since he materialized on our transporter platform… nearly forty five minutes ago.  And I can’t find anything at all wrong with him”

 

“He’s been catatonic for almost three quarters of an hour with no apparent cause?” Serena demanded in disbelief.  “Is he responsive at all to direct stimuli.”

 

“Not even a little bit.  His brain activity is almost non existent too.” Baccus shook her head.  “If the transporter technicians at the Cascade base that he beamed in from hadn’t assured me that he walked onto the transporter platform under his own steam, I’d believe he was a vegetable.”

 

“That’s odd.” Serena glanced back toward the viewing window, her face perplexed.  “What do his medical records have to say?”

 

“Ah!” Baccus’ voice took on a note of triumph.  “That’s were it all gets interesting.  It seems our new Security Chief had transferred in from the Rangers.”

 

“You’re kidding!” Serena murmured.  “You don’t transfer out of the Rangers.  It just doesn’t happen.”

 

“Apparently the Captain got special permission to get him assigned.” Baccus’ voice conveyed her lack of approval over that decision.  “Anyway, this man was declared dead almost twenty months ago, only to suddenly reappear two and a half months ago.”

 

“Is it possible he was simply on a mission?” Serena asked absently as she bent to study the writing on the monitor.

 

“No.” Baccus shook her head.  “Starfleet may demand that you give them your soul as a Ranger, but they look after the people that do.  He wouldn’t have been declared dead if they’d know he was alive.  I’m guessing whatever mission he was involved with went sour and he ended up stranded someplace for about eighteen months.  Being isolated for that kind on a time span would almost definitely have some kind of detrimental effect on a person’s mind.”

 

“It’s possible, I agree, but not a certainty.” Serena argued absently.  Blair was vaguely aware that Serena was saying something else about some study into the effects of prolonged isolation, but he couldn’t make out the words over the sudden pounding of his heart.  He turned on his heel and took two great steps toward the observation window.  He squinted in at the man lying so very still in the room beyond him, trying to control his breathing.  His mind was suddenly too full of information he’d tried at one point of his life to forget.  The pages of ancient texts flashed before his mind’s eye, and they spoke of isolation and catatonic states and other things that had held him spellbound, the first time he’d seen the words.

 

It couldn’t be.

 

Not after all this time.

 

A long time ago, a small child had been dragged from one end of the galaxy to the other as a part of his mother’s never-ending quest to find inner peace.  He was regularly taken to places where he could not even form the local language with his inadequate tongue, so he’d learned to go without company.  One time, his mother had taken him to Earth, and he had believed that he might finally find a friend.  Unfortunately, he’d been so self-sufficient for so long, that other human children could not relate to him.  When even his own species had rejected him, ten year old Blair Sandburg had accepted that he would always be alone.

 

It had been at that time of ultimate loss, that Blair Sandburg had made the ultimate discovery.  When he’d realized that the other children would never accept him, he’d started going places where people would expect him to be alone.  That way, no one would know that his aloneness was not of his own choosing.  University libraries had seemed a good bet.  He liked to read, and his mother approved of learning.  It had been at a University that he’d found his first text on Sentinels.

 

The librarian had taken a liking to the unbelievably intelligent and far too serious little boy.  He’d allowed the child to look at some of old fashioned paper books the university held.  He hadn’t been allowed to let the fascinated child touch them, but most of them had been scanned to data disks.  He’d picked one at random.  It had been a monograph by an explorer named Burton.  The aged text had talked about ancient Tribal cultures, and the amazing individuals that guarded them.  The Sentinels.

 

Sentinels were charged with the protection of their people.  They were chosen because they had a genetic advantage over their peers.  Sentinels were different, and they were respected by their people for those differences.  That was impressive to a ten-year-old that was constantly told he was different, and looked down on for that fact.  But the thing that had sucked Blair in, the thing that had hooked him, had been the protective nature of the Sentinels.  They protected the members of the tribe that could not protect themselves.

 

And Blair wanted that.  He wanted someone to care about his survival.  To know that when he was afraid, someone would look after him.  He loved his mum, but she was always so caught up in her quest for something she could not even name, that he often felt that he could disappear and she wouldn’t notice that he was gone for a day or so.  He knew she would be sad if he died, but she would carry on.  He’d wanted someone who would risk life and limb to protect him.  Someone who would notice if he were not around.  Someone who would watch over him.

 

For much of his childhood, Sentinels had consumed his thoughts.  In his mind, he would be that special member of the tribe chosen to look after the sentinel.  He would live out adventures in his head in which he and his Sentinel would save their tribe, and their tribe would love them both.  In his dreams, he became something more than what he was.

 

He had hunted for references to Sentinels everywhere.  In the process he had become one hell of a researcher.  He’d entered University at a ridiculously early age, intent on finding out more about these lost Guardians.  He’d written his Master’s thesis on them.  He’d looked desperately for a living sentinel, ostensibly so that he could write his Doctoral Thesis on them.  In reality though, he’d just wanted to find one. 

 

He’d found hundreds of people that partially fit the profile, but he couldn’t find anyone that was a true Sentinel.  When he’d failed to produce a Sentinel, his Doctoral committee had rejected his proposed topic.  Sentinels were just a myth, they had said.  So Sandburg had focused on the consistencies between certain ancient tribal myths between cultures and in doing so, had written about his beloved Sentinels anyway.

 

He had continued to hunt for a Sentinel for a long time, but eventually hope had turned to despair.  There were no more Sentinels.  His dream would never be reality.  Over the years, he had finally learned how to get along with others.  He became accomplished and accepted in his own right.  His head told him that it was enough.  He had tried to leave his childhood obsession behind, but always in his heart there had been a little voice that had called his head a liar, and a child inside the adult that longed for a protector.

 

He was dragged back to himself by the sudden loud indignance in Serena’s voice.

 

“What the Hell do you mean, you haven’t told the Captain?” Serena practically shouted.  In one corner of his mind, he knew he’d better step in and calm his new colleague down.  As far as he was concerned, her indignance did her credit, but it probably wouldn’t do to have her hall off and deck Baccus.  Unfortunately, the rest of his mind was so caught up in his study of the unconscious man, that he couldn’t pull his eyes off him.

 

“The Captain doesn’t want to be disturbed,” Baccus asserted, a bit petulantly, and then become defensive.  “And what could he do anyway?  I contacted you because this man is obviously a head case.  I mean, look at these complaints he put in to his physicians, just after his ‘return from the dead.’”  Baccus was silent for a moment as she searched for the information she was after.  “Ah, here we are.” She muttered under her breath.  “He complained of the lights all blinding him.  He complained that he was being bombarded by noise constantly.  He complained that food all tasted bad to him and he was gagging on the way everyone smelled to him, for God’s sake.  They tested everything they could think of and there was nothing wrong with him.  He’s physically as healthy as a horse!”

 

Blair didn’t hear Serena’s comeback.  He was too busy trying to control his breathing.

 

Sight…

 

Sound…

 

Taste…

 

Smell…

 

It was so close.  So very close.  Just one more thing was required.  One more thing and he’d know he had a Sentinel.  Without meaning to, Blair found himself touching the glass that separated him from the man in the examination room longingly.  Just one more thing.  He had to know.

 

And he couldn’t find out from where he was.

 

He glanced over his shoulder.  Serena had just called for Captain Banks, and the big man was on his way.  That didn’t leave him with a lot of time.  He drew a deep breath to steady himself and then began moving as casually as possible toward the door.  When he had reached his destination, he reached across and disengaged the lock, keeping his movement’s as slow as he could to avoid attracting the attention of the two women arguing over what was to be done with the man beyond the door.  Blair took another deep breath, and then exploded into motion.

 

In a single, smooth movement, Blair released the door, leapt though it and turned back to face the door again.  Before the two women in the room beyond could do anything other than gasp and leap to their feet, Blair had raised his foot and driven the heel of his boot as hard into the security keypad as he could.  Sparks flew and he staggered back a step.  Through the observation window, he saw Serena leap to reopen the door.  Blair held his breath, but nothing happened.  When Serena’s anxious face reappeared in the window, Blair released the breath he'd been holding in a sigh.  They couldn’t get in.  He’d have the time to find out what he needed to know without interruption.

 

“Blair!” Serena growled at him through the intercom.  “What in hell do you think you’re doing?”

 

“Testing a hypothesis.” He murmured as he turned and walked slowly toward the man on the table.

 

As he drew alongside the unnaturally still man, his features finally came into focus for Blair.  James Ellison had dark hair and the beginnings of a receding hairline.  He was a classically handsome man, with high cheekbones, an aristocratic profile and a strong jaw.  Even now, with his features slack with unconsciousness, there was something about this man’s face that suggested stubbornness and pride.  And even lying down, Blair could see that this was a tall man, and that he was powerfully built.

 

He looked just like what Blair had always felt a Tribal Guardian should look like.

 

Blair continued to move slowly down the table until he was standing adjacent to the unconscious man’s waist.  He then took a deep breath and reached out his hand, laying it lightly on the other man’s chest.  Even through Ellison’s uniform, he could feel the warmth of life, and the almost imperceptible rise and fall of his lungs working.  Blair felt himself relax slightly.  He’d known the man was alive, he really had.  It was just that he’d been so still.

 

Now that contact had been made, Blair didn’t want to give it up.  The mere potential that the man lying under his hand was the Sentinel he had searched for, for so long, had him feeling dizzy.  Still, he needed confirmation.  The final proof that this wasn’t just another near miss.

 

Blair blinked and forced his hand to move.  He gently dragged his fingertips across the prone man’s chest and then continued down his arm.  If he was right, then on some level, James Ellison must be aware, and Blair wanted the gentle caress to sooth and reassure the man.  God knows he’d have to be confused about what was happening to him.  Finally, Blair’s fingers reached the ends of the man’s uniform sleeve.  He allowed his thumb to stroke the material covered wrist reassuringly for a moment while he gathered his courage, then bit his lip and gently, gently, peeled back the sleeve of Ellison’s uniform.

 

Blair released the breath he’d been holding in what sounded like a sob.  The skin under the material was red and irritated. 

 

“Touch.” Blair whispered, and then had to grab onto the edge of the bed as his legs went weak. A Sentinel.  He was sure of it.  James Ellison was a Sentinel.

 

Blair closed his eyes and concentrated on his breathing for a long moment.  He ruthlessly crushed the voice of the scientist within him that rejoiced in finally being given the opportunity to know, and impatiently hushed the babblings of the child within him that had finally found the Hero he had searched for with such longing.  What ever else was true, the most important thing at this point was fact that this man was still in trouble.  That bitch Baccus wanted to have Ellison institutionalized, God damn it!  And he’d read enough to know the dangers of a prolonged zone out like this to a Sentinel…

 

Blair’s stomach turned to lead at the mere thought of the risk to the Sentinel, and he had to place his hand back on the man’s chest to reassure himself that the man’s breathing was still strong.  The gentle rise and fall of the man’s chest worked its steadying magic on him again, and he forced himself to look over to the observation window again. 

 

“I know what’s wrong with him.” Blair said as steadily as he could.  “I can bring him out of this.”

 

“Are you insane?” Baccus hissed.  “That man could kill you using one finger and he wouldn’t even have to try hard!  You bring a man who is displaying signed of psychosis out of self induced catatonia and he is liable to respond violently!  He’s liable to kill you as soon as he wakes up, and there would be nothing I could do, Dammit!  I’m good, but I can’t fix dead!” 

 

Blair frowned in irritation at the rising hysteria in her voice.  “He’s not having a psychotic break, Baccus, he’s just zoned.”

 

“Do you need some help, Blair?” Serena asked calmly.  In one portion of his mind, he thanked God for the woman.  Finally, someone who was ready to see past his youth and his unorthodox appearance and acknowledge that he wouldn’t hold his current rank and position without a certain level of competence.  The rest of his mind was too caught up with the problem of how to bring the Sentinel out of this zone, to acknowledge the woman’s show of faith as he would like to have.

 

“No, Serena.” He said firmly. “Baccus is right about one thing.  He’s liable to be confused when he comes around.  I don’t want to make things any harder for him than they’re already going to be.  We need to keep sources of stimuli down to a minimum.  Just keep everybody out for me Serena, and I should be fine.”

 

“You got it.” Serena said firmly.

 

Blair nodded his thanks and then turned back to the task at hand.

 

Blair slowly circled the table, his entire attention now focused on the zoned Sentinel.  He knew that Sentinels usually zoned when they focused too heavily on one sense.  The trick was working out which sense he’d zoned on and working to distract him by increasing the stimulation to the other senses.  So which sense had snared him?

 

He’d zoned in the transporter.  There had to be something in that.  The moment of sensory deprivation that occurred when you were transported really sucked, just as a normal human.  It would have completely freaked out a man genetically programmed to take in more information through his senses.  Blair worried at his lower lip with his teeth as he tried to recall the exact sequence the senses shut down in when a person was transported.  He’d never really noticed taste or smell going, but he knew that sight and sound kind of shut off simultaneously, and that left…

 

Blair almost laughed out loud. Touch! Of course!  No wonder he hadn’t reacted to any of the usual methods of rousing a person from self induced catatonia.  All those methods involved pain stimulation, and it was his sense of touch that was shutting him down.  What was required here was a tweaking of the other senses.  He thought for a moment, then leaned down over the man so that his lips were brushing the other man’s ear.

 

“Commander Ellison.” He said quietly, feeling the light touch of skin against his lips as he moved them, and the warmth of his own breath reflected back at him.  “Commander Ellison, I know you’re in there.  You need to follow my voice, and allow it to lead you home.  It’s very important that you come back now Commander.” Blair closed his eyes and felt a small smile touch his lips.  “Our Medical Officer doesn’t believe that you’re all right.  I don’t necessarily know that she’ll even believe you’re all right when you walk out there and tell her you are.  But waking up would be a start, man.  Are you listening in there?”

 

Blair pulled back and thought for a minute.  “You must have gone down pretty deep, huh man?  You’re probably going to need more than one sense tweaked, aren’t ya?  O.K.  Let’s try smell, shall we?”  And he leaned over and breathed his scent into the other man’s face.  To his delight, the other man’s nose twitched.

 

“That’s it, man.” Blair breathed in encouragement.  “Nearly there.  Not far to go, now.  Just follow my voice now, big guy.  Follow my voice home again.”

 

Blair almost jumped out of his skin when the man lying on the table jerked suddenly.  Pale blue eyes opened and blinked rapidly in confusion.  Blair stamped firmly on the desire to crow in demented triumph as the Sentinel came back to life in front of him.  The poor man was going to be confused enough without trying to make sense of a hysterical anthrogeek.  Ellison was struggling to rise, but the zone out must have left him feeling weak, because it was obviously proving a struggle for him.  Blair responded to his distress automatically by catching at his shoulders and gently guiding him so that he was sitting upright on the edge of the examination table.

 

Blair waited patiently while the tall man shook his head to clear it, and then those clear pale eyes turned on him, and Blair realized that he was finally face to face with his dream.  Emotion boiled up within him, blocking his throat and forcing him to swallow repeatedly before he could talk.

 

“Welcome back, James.” He whispered huskily.

 

A small frown touched the larger man’s handsome face, and his head tipped slightly.  Blair felt a kind of tingling in his skin as he realized that he was being scanned by the other man’s array of senses.  Blair felt an automatic smile touch his lips in response to it.

 

He wanted to say something reassuring, but in the instant before he could, James Ellison’s pale blue eyes became suddenly feral, and Blair’s world exploded around him.

 


 

The first thing Jim became aware of was a sound.  It was warm and gentle and soothing, and it called to him.  The sound was compelling, and so he focused on it.  He became increasingly aware that the sound was a voice, and the voice was forming words. Words that he could understand if he focused hard enough.  The voice was telling him to come back, and he wanted to, but it was hard.  He was terribly tired, and it was taking far too much effort to concentrate.  Jim would have been tempted to slide back into the void that he had been summoned from if it weren’t for that voice.

 

The voice whispered something about his senses and need, and he suddenly found himself wrapped up in a warm, earthy scent that reminded him vaguely of the jungle after a rainstorm.  There were other scents blended into it that he recognized; artificial scents that would normally overpower the natural base scent.  Right at that moment though, he could filter them out as being unimportant, thereby making his sense of smell a pleasure, rather than the burden it had been since returning to Earth.

 

The scent and the voice combined were enough to allow him to finally drag himself free of the darkness.  His eyes opened, and were instantly bombarded with painful white light.  Jim’s body attempted to push itself away from the source of pain, but he became aware of the fact that there was something solid under him that would not allow him to retreat.  His eyes blinked rapidly as he tried to bring his sight into focus again.

 

Ellison had no idea of where he was, or how he had gotten there, and reacted instinctively.  He struggled to rise, to get himself into a less vulnerable position.  Gentle hands caught at his shoulders and helped him to rise.  He gave an almost inaudible sigh of relief at being upright again and gave his head a quick shake to dispel the lingering cobwebs.

 

As his eyes cleared, he realized where he was.  A medical centre.  Dammit!  Ellison cursed the growing madness that made him so vulnerable, and the lack of strength that allowed the madness to take hold.  He remembered stepping onto the transporter platform, but that was about it.  He must have had one of those ‘blackouts’ he sometimes had.  Shame and misery washed through him as he realized that hiding the problem was never going to be an option again.  The Doctors on the ship would know, and they would have to tell the appropriate authorities.  He had no idea how long he had been out of it for.  Since he was in a medical center, he was probably under surveillance, and even the option of taking himself out wouldn’t be open to him.

 

Although, on the bright side, he could now stop worrying about how he was going to tell Simon.

 

Even as these dark and cynical thoughts flashed through his head, he became aware of a warmth directly in front of him.  He glanced at the source of that heat almost absently, and was almost surprised to remember that he wasn’t the only person in the room. 

 

The man standing in front of him was young; barely more than a kid, really.  He was small and slight, and was, without question the first male he had ever laid eyes on that could be described as beautiful.  He had thick, lustrous, curly brown hair, and full, pouting lips that most women would kill for.  In spite of the obvious beauty of the young face, there was nothing at all effeminate about this youth.  He was definitely and definitively masculine. 

 

The sudden memory of a warm voice and gentle hands washed over Jim, and he realized that it was this person that had dragged him out of his blackout.  He wanted to thank the young man, but before he could, his errant senses stretched out to encompass the stranger, just as they had with every other person he had met since his return from PV32-2.  ‘Damn it!’ he thought miserably as the familiar dance began to play itself out, and he waited for the inevitable descent into despair that accompanied the move.

 

Jim found himself utterly immersed in every single sign of life this young man emitted.  The sound of his heart beat thundered in Jim’s ears, and beneath that were other sounds: The sounds of blood flowing through veins, the rushing sounds of air racing into lungs and then being forced back out, and the sudden, explosive sound of his throat working as he swallowed.  Jim became so wrapped up in the young man’s scent that the stench of the artificially sterile medical treatment room disappeared.  His eye’s focused in on the stranger, until he felt as though he were looking straight through the kid’s skin and tissue and blood until he could see the younger man’s very soul.

 

YES!!!  Something shrieked within him.  THIS IS IT!  THIS IS WHAT YOU’VE BEEN LOOKING FOR!  TAKE IT! TAKE IT NOW, BEFORE SOMEONE ELSE DOES!

 

It was like throwing a switch.  One minute James Ellison was firmly in control of himself.  A split second later, the primitive creature that had, until now, lay dormant within him, tore itself loose and snatched control for itself.  James Ellison did not know what he required, but the Sentinel within him did.  The Sentinel knew that survival was dependent on taking what was needed, so take it he would.

 

The Sentinel focused his attention on the embodiment of his need.  He had already marked what was his by sight and scent and sound.  It was time to allow his remaining senses the opportunity to map The Prize.  Once he had his hands on what he needed, he could initiate the connection.

 

A look of apprehension flickered across the face of The Prize, and the Sentinel knew that it was time to act.  Before his prey could so much as move backward slightly, the Sentinel pounced, catching The Prize by his arms.  He heard his prey yelp in fright as the Sentinel’s momentum carried them backward into edge of the second bed in the room and was aware of his quarry’s hiss of pain, but dismissed it as being of no importance to his objective.  Not when he was so close to what he needed. 

 

The Sentinel ignored the indignant voice and the struggling of the body within his hands.  Instead, he focused on the warmth of his prey.  The Sentinel could feel the movement of muscles beneath his hands, and was aware of his own dizzying need for connection, but this contact was insufficient to his needs.  As flimsy a barrier as the fabric covering his Prize was, it was sufficient to bar the connection.  The Sentinel drew back slightly to really look at the body of the one he held.  His eyes zeroed in on the tender, vulnerable flesh beneath his quarry’s chin.  Satisfaction flared through the Sentinel.  It would suffice.

 

Slowly, carefully, the Sentinel began to force his prey backward until the little one was stretched into a taunt bow, with his back across the bed.  The Sentinel gave a small grunt of satisfaction with this new position.  Stretched backward like this, The Prize would not even be able to kick at him hard.  It made his quarry’s surrender that much more inevitable. He leaned down across the slender body, allowing his weight to further subdue his prey’s struggles.  He waited patiently until The Prize allowed his head to fall back against the mattress, and then the Sentinel seized at the victory that was finally within his reach.

 

As quick as a striking snake, the Sentinel lowered his head and fastened his mouth to the point where The Prize’s chin met his throat.  He felt his prey’s sound of protest more than he heard it.  The Sentinel gently touched the captured flesh with his tongue, and almost purred at the salty tang that erupted within his mouth.  Once the taste had been imprinted on his memory, he carefully caught his prey’s skin between his teeth.  The Sentinel hoped fervently that his Prize would stop fighting now.  He wanted to subdue the little one, not damage him.

 

He felt his quarry try to shift himself backward and bit down harder in response.  He felt his prey’s whimper through his lips, just as he could feel the blood racing, just below the skin he held in his teeth.  He dropped a little more of his weight onto the body that lay trapped beneath him.  He felt the struggles grow less frenzied until all that remained was the shaky rise and fall of the chest beneath his.  He waited another moment to ensure that the surrender was for real, but a moment was all he could wait.  He needed the connection.  Needed it now.  He released his grip on one of his captive’s shoulders and placed his hand against the face of The Prize…  His Prize.  He felt the tingling as skin met skin, and then the dizzying, breath-taking rush as his prey’s power was forced open to him.  He felt himself falling into the mind of His Prize… 

 

And then the little body under his twisted sharply and he felt a stinging pain in his shoulder.  He wanted to howl in frustration as the connection was torn away from him, but he was falling again, this time physically, and he was unable to do anything to stop himself.

 


 

Blair Sandburg had been totally unprepared for the explosive force the Sentinel had suddenly become.  One minute he had been trying to reassure a confused and disoriented man, the next, that same man had quite literally erupted, powering off the bed and sending them both careening into the bed behind them with bone jarring force.

 

For one, horrible second, Blair thought that he had been wrong.  This man was no Sentinel; he really was the homicidal lunatic Baccus had taken him for.  But then, as he had struggled to free himself from the steely grasp the larger man had on his shoulders, he had looked up into the other man’s face and had realized that the focus he had seen there was not the intensity of madness, but the intensity of desperation. For a second, that realization was enough to put a stop to his struggles, as he stared up into the ice-blue eyes of his captor.

 

Ellison was staring down at him with an expression that could only be described as hunger.  Blair felt himself shudder at that look.  It was like being a mouse in the clutches of a great cat.  He could feel the big man’s hand’s flexing on his shoulders, and his expression was suddenly twisted in frustration.  Blair was hit once more by the unshakable knowledge that this man was indeed a Sentinel, and was furthermore hit with the knowledge that the Sentinel needed something from him… Something he wasn’t getting at the moment.

 

What the hell did the Sentinel need from him?  What the hell did a Sentinel need, period?  Blair felt his own face twist in frustration.  He needed time.  Time and space to figure this out.  Unfortunately, at that moment, the Sentinel’s expression became almost smug, and Blair was suddenly very aware of the fact that time and space were two things that he just wasn’t going to get.

 

Blair’s struggles began again in earnest as he felt the bigger man forcing him backward onto the examination platform.  He pushed back with all his might, but it wasn’t enough to even delay that slow, steady descent.  A moment later, Blair found himself stretched backward across the bed, with his feet barely touching the floor.  His struggles had proven utterly futile against this man, and his present position left him completely vulnerable.  He heard the Sentinel’s sound of satisfaction at his predicament, and it served to renew his efforts to free himself.

 

“Will you please, get off me, you outsized throwback, so I can work out what the problem here is?” Sandburg grunted as he tried to shift under the confining hands.  Ellison’s only response to his request was to slowly lower the weight of his body down onto his prisoner.  Blair found himself completely and utterly trapped.

 

To Blair’s surprise, he found that the confining weight of the Sentinel was not as unpleasant or as claustrophobic as he would have expected.  Instead, there was something almost… satisfying… about it.  Breathing was getting tricky though, and after a moment, he allowed his head to fall back onto the platform below him, determined to stop reacting and start thinking about this.  There was a reason that James Ellison was doing this to him, and as the last living expert on Sentinels, it was up to him to work out what that reason was.

 

Unfortunately, allowing himself to rest for a moment turned out to be a major strategic error.  No sooner had his head come to rest against the platform, than Jim Ellison’s head ducked down, and Blair felt the bigger man’s mouth close over the top of his throat, forcing his head back further.  Blair heard a rather pathetic sound of protest, and was embarrassed to realize that it had been shocked out of him.

 

The young scientist was stunned when he felt the warm, wet caress of a tongue against his throat.  He was helpless to suppress a small sound of shock as he realized that the bigger man was turning all of his senses loose on his captive.  He knew that his present position should be enough to leave him terrified.  Instead, even now, even as helpless as he was, with a man that could kill him without breaking a sweat attached to his throat, all he felt was a frustrated helplessness.  He absolutely had to get free so he could work out what the problem was.

 

Instinctively, Blair tried to pull backward as he searched for some way of freeing himself.  He barely had time to register the presence of a tray of medical equipment on the other side of the bed that he was lying across, before the man pinning him down responded to the movement.  Blair whimpered in surprised pain as the teeth that had been gently gripping his throat suddenly tightened their grip on his skin.  The message was clear.  Stop moving. 

 

Blair thought frantically about what he had seen on the tray across the bed and a plan began to come together.  If the big guy wanted him to be still, then he could do that.  Even as his plan began to form, he felt the larger man drop even more of his weight onto his smaller captive.  Blair released a groan of discomfort and then forced himself to lay still. 

 

Ellison wanted compliance?  Well, that was what he was going to get.  At least for a moment.  He needed to ask Baccus about what he had seen on that tray.  He hoped that the Sentinel was still not into the concept of listening.  He didn’t want to give his plan away to the bigger man.  He also hoped that Baccus wasn’t too far into a fit of apoplexy over this.  He just wasn’t feeling up to calming her down.  Maybe Serena could slap her for him.

 

He was deeply into his half-hysterical plans when Jim Ellison moved his right hand from Blair’s shoulder, where he had been holding the young Doctor down, and placed the hand against his captive’s face.  In that instant, Blair’s world turned upside down and the capacity to form any type of coherent thought was torn from his grasp.

 

In the instant that Blair felt the Sentinel’s fingertips against his face, he felt his own empathy awaken.  For a second, it remained the vague tingling he was accustomed to as his abilities brought his mind in contact with the thoughts and feelings of another.  And then it hit him.  Desperate hunger washed over him like a tidal wave, robbing him of the ability to tell where Ellison’s thoughts ended and his own began.  He felt a need so terrible, so intense, that it was like an emptiness clawing at his insides.  He felt the need and the hunger sinking into him like a heavy gas, filling every part of him that it came across.  And then he felt a wave of satisfaction from somewhere outside himself, as everything he was, every thought and emotion he possessed, was peeled back and lay bare to the thoughts and emotions of another.

 

For the first time, terror clawed at him.  He knew that this fear was his own.  It was deep and instinctive.  A purely animal response to finding himself utterly trapped at the mercy of a predator intent on consuming him.  It tore through his growing numbness and gave him the strength to lash out in a final bid for freedom.  Blair gave a strangled scream and twisted his torso sharply, grabbing blindly for the tray behind him.  He felt his fingers close over something cool and cylindrical.  With the last of his strength he brought it down hard into the body that was pinning him down.  He heard a hiss, and then a scream of denial that seemed to echo through every chamber of his mind.  Then the connection was gone and the large body that had been holding him down fell away from him.  The weight of that heavier body sliding down the length of this own body was enough to drag him unceremoniously to the floor, where he lay panting.

 

His head was pounding.  His arms and legs felt too weak to use.  He could hear his breath catching in near sobs as he tried to draw air back into his lungs.  When the fog that seemed to have enveloped his mind cleared, Blair realized that he sitting propped against the platform support with a motionless Jim Ellison lying across his lap.  He could hear a half-hysterical sound coming from the intercom, but he dismissed that as unimportant right at that moment.  There was too much else to deal with.

 

Blair stared blankly at the man draped across him for a moment, not quite able to comprehend how all this had happened.  It was about then that he became aware of the cool object still clutched tightly in his fist.  Blair looked down at the hypo he held, and then at the man lying across him with dawning horror.  He felt his breath begin to speed up in panic, but he couldn’t quite bring himself to touch the larger man.  Not yet.  Not with the memory of being so totally consumed lying so close to the surface.

 

“Baccus?!?” he shouted, beyond being mortified when he heard his voice rack slightly.  “Baccus!  What the hell was in that hypo?”

 

“Doctor Sandburg?” Baccus called back, her voice obviously strained,  “Are you all right?  Don’t worry, we’ve got security on it’s…”

 

BACCUS, WHAT THE HELL WAS IN THAT FUCKING HYPO!!!” Blair could hear the hysteria in his own voice as he cut the Doctor off, but he didn’t care.  He had to know.  He couldn’t have killed the man.  After all these years of looking, he couldn’t possibly killed the man because he’d become frightened. ‘Oh, Please God, don’t let me have killed him.’ he thought desperately.

 

“It was a standard sedative.” Baccus actually sounded miffed for a moment, but when she spoke again, her voice held a slightly over-done note of reassurance.  “It’s okay though, Dr Sandburg, it was an act of self defense.”

 

Blair tuned the woman out, no longer interested in what she had to say.  A sedative.  He hadn’t killed the Sentinel.  It was going to be okay.  Blair drew in several deep breaths to get himself back under control.  He then cautiously reached out and lay his hands on Ellison’s shoulders.  To his relief, there was only a faint buzzing along his palms from the contact, not the painfully abrupt total connection.  This established, the young man relaxed and concentrated on shifting the larger man off of him.

 

It took a few attempts, but he finally managed to roll the larger man away. He rested for a second more, while he studied the unconscious man’s face.  Well, he’d wanted some time and space to sort this out, and it looked like that was what he’d just been given.  Blair gave himself a small shake.  He’d better get on with the task at hand.  Baccus was undoubtedly ready to have Ellison committed and lobotomized after that little fiasco.   Sandburg dragged himself to his feet and staggered back a few steps.  For a moment, he had to concentrate on staying upright.  Once he was sure he wasn’t going to fall down again, he turned his attention to his next big problem.

 

Blair drew a deep breath and turned to face the observation window.  As expected, he could see Serena’s pale face looking back at him, and behind her was Baccus.  Even with his poor eyesight, he could tell that Baccus was looking like she’d just swallowed a hair-ball.  What he wasn’t expecting was the enormous dark shape that filled the window behind Baccus.  ‘Oh shit.’ He thought miserably.  ‘The Captain.  That’s all I need.’

 

“Doctor Sandburg, are you alright?” the Captain’s voice sounded tight with concern, and another emotion that wasn’t as easily identifiable. 

 

“I’m fine, Sir.” Blair puzzled at the Captain’s tone for a moment, then remembered that he had heard somewhere that the Captain and the Security Chief were old friends.  It had to completely suck for the man to have just witnessed an old friend having what would have appeared to be a psychotic episode.  But that just might work in Blair’s favor.  “We’re both fine Captain.” He said, looking down at the unconscious figure of the Sentinel.”

 

“We’ll have you out in a moment, Doctor.” Banks was saying, his voice tight with pain.

 

“Huh?” Blair felt like he’d missed something. “Out? No! Wait!  Don’t worry about getting me out!  I know what’s wrong here!  I can handle this!”

 

“I’m sorry Doctor, but the mark on your throat says that you can’t.” Banks sounded grim, and Blair automatically raised his hand to cover the still damp spot that the Sentinel had been worrying at with his teeth.  Blair grimaced.  He’d almost forgotten about that.  Banks was obviously worried about his safety, so he turned to support from the one person in the room he felt might actually listen to him.

 

“Serena,” he called, “I’m serious here.  I know what’s happening with Ellison. I’ve been researching this phenomenon all my life.  Ellison isn’t going to hurt me.  I know that that had to have looked scary, but I swear Serena, I swear, I wasn’t in any danger.”  He poured every bit of the conviction he felt over this out to the other empath.  In return he sensed her struggle to come to terms with what she had seen, with what she had empathically felt.  When he felt her acceptance, he wanted to cheer.  He thought frantically for a moment about how he could press his advantage, when he noticed his colleague looking worriedly toward the door.

 

“Is there a technician working on that lock?” he demanded abruptly.

 

“Yes, Doctor Sandburg, there is.” Banks said firmly.

 

“Well tell them to stop!” Blair almost snarled.  “I know what’s happening here.  I can fix this.  James Ellison is not crazy.  He just needs help.  And I am definitely the only person on this ship with the knowledge to be able to give him that help.  Right now, Ellison is confused and hurting.  You send in a pile of people he doesn’t know and you’re going to compound the problem.  You probably will send him over the edge into insanity.  Is that what you want?  Is it?  Because I am telling you that that is what you’ll get if you don’t listen to me.”  Blair lowered his head for a moment and tried to organize his thoughts.  He then looked back up and speared the Captain with the full force of his determination. “ I mean it, Captain.  A man’s life is on the line here.  I’ll take full responsibility for this.  Just back off for a while and let me work this out.”

 

He watched as the Captain turned slightly to look in Baccus’ direction.  He noticed that the medical doctor had turned her back the view screen.  The woman had turned off the intercom, he realized, and was presently trying to convince the Captain that he was as crazy as Ellison was.  Irritation flooded through him.  He didn’t need this shit.  He took two great steps over to the view screen, but before he could switch the intercom back on, he noticed that Serena had joined the fray.  If the emotions flowing from his fellow empath were anything to go on, she really was getting ready to deck their colleague. ‘You go, Serena.’ He thought encouragingly, the raised his fist to hit the plexi-glass separating him from the others hard.  He then reached over and switched the intercom back on.

 

“Come on, Captain.” He said with quiet intensity.  “You’ve got to at least let me try, here.” Blair stared imploringly at the much larger man, throwing every bit of his conviction at the man with his empathy.  Sometimes that was enough to tip someone sitting on the fence to his way of thinking.

 

And it was enough in this case too.  Blair almost collapsed in relief when he felt the Captain capitulate.  The man didn’t want to believe that his friend was crazy, and Blair was offering him an alternate answer.  It was enough to sway him into taking a chance.

 

“Alright, Sandburg.” Banks sounded tired when he finally spoke.  “Don’t take too long.”

 

“Don’t worry sir, I’ll be as quick as I can.” Blair felt the desire to bounce on the soles of his feet in his enthusiasm, but he clamped down on the urge.  There was no point in rubbing his eagerness in the Captain’s face.  He might decide that Baccus was right after all.

 

As he turned away, he heard Baccus lodge a protest, and he heard Serena suggest that Baccus should be quiet now.  He liked Serena.  He’d have to thank her for her support when all this was over.  For the time being through, all of that was of secondary importance.  The main thing at this point was the Sentinel.

 

Blair walked back to the unconscious man and knelt down beside him.  This whole thing came down to need.  Blair shuddered to remember the terrible emptiness he’d felt from his brief empathic linking with the man. ‘Is that what you feel man?’ Blair gently stroked his thumb against the bigger man’s temple.  ‘If so, I can’t really blame you for acting sorta out-there.  If I had a hole like that inside of me, then I guess I’d be pretty outa control too.’  Blair sighed and absently continued to stroke the Sentinel’s face soothingly.  If it came down to need, what could Ellison possibly need from him?

 

Sentinel’s needed so very few things.  Territory was the big one that came to mind, and there was no way the Sentinel was going to get that from Blair.  Sentinels also needed a Guide; someone to watch their back in case of zone out, but pretty much anyone could do that if they knew what to look for.  It certainly wasn’t something that would require the Sentinel to force himself into someone else’s mind.

 

That little psychic attack raised questions all by itself.  He looked entirely human, but he couldn’t be.  Human beings weren’t capable of empathic attack.  There just weren’t any full-blooded human empaths.  The oddest part of it was that Blair could usually tell when he was in the presence of a fellow empath.  He just didn’t get those vibes from Ellison though.  Maybe it was a Sentinel thing.

 

Blair froze on that thought.  A Sentinel Thing.  Maybe.  Something in that thought felt right to Blair.  He studied the face of the man on the floor beside him for several long moments.  He then drew a deep breath and tentatively stretched out his hand to stroke the smooth skin of Ellison’s forehead.  Blair frowned.  The slight tingling that marked the touch of a fellow empath was absent.  In it’s place was something else.  A sort of pulling that dragged his fingertips back to the unconscious man’s forehead.  It was almost like the pull of a magnet on iron filings.  He’d never felt anything like it.

 

Blair bit his lip as he tried to sort through his memories of ancient texts about Sentinels that he had read.  Even by the time of the earliest scientific authors on the subject, Sentinels were already a rarity.  Later authors viewed the ancient watchmen as no more than legends.  But some of those legendary stories of Sentinels had been written down.  They had read like epics and Blair had no doubt that they lost something in the translation from the languages in which the stories had originally been told, but the stories had a few constants.  They always involved the watchmen going to extraordinary lengths to protect their territory and tribe at a time of great danger, and the Sentinel was always accompanied by a Guide.  The Guides in these stories were always tribal wise men and/or spiritual leaders.  And all of the legends spoke of the bond that existed between them and their Sentinels.

 

Blair had always dismissed that aspect of the legends.  There was no evidence to support any kind of special link between Sentinel and Guide in any of the scientific studies of Sentinels.  Blair had always chalked the ‘bond’ suggested by the legends up to poetic license on the part of the original story tellers.  After all, it made for a much more interesting story.  Blair knew that much.  The stories he would make up himself about Sentinels when he was lonely or scared had always included a special ‘connection’ between himself and his imaginary Sentinel. That, of course, was merely a child’s desire to be special coming to the fore.  There was nothing to truly suggest that there had ever been a bond between ancient Sentinels and their Guides.  Anyone who understood what a Sentinel was could guide a Sentinel.  That was probably why the job of Guide always fell to the tribe’s Shaman.  As the keeper of tribal lore, they would logically be the ones with the knowledge to guide a fledgling Sentinel.

 

And yet this Sentinel had instinctively opened up Blair Sandburg’s empathic barriers.  That was not possible, unless…

 

Blair swallowed hard as a thought occurred to him.  The thought was hard to process because it went against everything he had ever theorized about Sentinels and why true Sentinels were never found amongst the human population anymore.  Unfortunately, something about the thought rang true.  If he was right, then the disappearance of Sentinels had nothing to do with the diminishing need for tribal Watchmen in the increasingly high-tech world of the 21st Century, or the destruction of the natural world that the Ancient Sentinels seemed to be so much a part of. 

 

Blair was suddenly distracted from his tumultuous thoughts by an almost electrical surge of power through his fingers.  The young scientist glanced down in surprise and found himself staring into intense, electric blue eyes.

 

“Oh shit.” Blair whispered, jerking his hand away from the man he’d been petting soothingly.  He wasn’t ready to face this yet.  He needed more time!  Blair scrambled backward to his feet and backed up awkwardly, his eyes never leaving the enormous man who was shaking his head groggily and struggling to turn over and use his hands to lever himself up.  Sandburg was vaguely aware of the commotion Ellison’s revival had set off in the Doctor’s office, but was far too intent on putting some space between himself and the rapidly reviving man.

 

“Oh my God!” he heard Baccus gasping through the intercom, “What the hell happened?  He should have been out of it for hours after a hypo full of tranq’s like that!”

 

Blair absently stored that piece of information away for future reference.  Maybe psycho drug reactions were a Sentinel thing too.

 

Blair didn’t have time to finish the thought, because Ellison was suddenly up and moving again.  Up and moving and looking decidedly pissed.  Blair took a few more hasty steps backward and then glanced at the worried faces assembled in the observation window.

 

“Don’t you open that door!” he hissed at them.  “I mean it, Goddammit!  Don’t you open it!”  He could handle this.  He knew that he could.  The sanity of this Sentinel depended on it. 

 

Sandburg continued to back away from the steadily advancing man.  Ellison still looked groggy, but he was shaking it off pretty damned fast.  Blair had to work this out now.  Unfortunately, the way that Ellison was looking at him was giving that uncomfortable thought that he’d had before a great deal of weight.  Ellison looked like a man dying of thirst who was suddenly confronted by an oasis.  Like a man who knew what he needed and was determined to get it.

 

Blair forced himself to focus.  What if it wasn’t the Sentinel abilities that had disappeared from humanities gene pool.  What if it wasn’t the Sentinels that had stopped being born, but the Guides…  What if the Sentinel in Ellison was recognizing something in him that he needed, something that simply couldn’t be found in the human population anymore.

 

Blair examined this thought and found that it rang true.  But how far was he willing to go to test his hypothesis?  And how far would he be willing to go to protect this Sentinel if he were right?

 

Blair stopped moving backward and closed his eyes.  All his life he had searched for the person stalking toward him now.  How many people got the chance to realize their childhood dreams, even in a universe as miraculous as theirs was.  Blair drew a deep breath, and centered himself.  He knew how far he’d go. 

 

As far as was necessary.

 

Blair Sandburg opened his eyes and stepped forward to meet his fate.

 


 

The Sentinel was angry.  He’d allowed himself to become overly confident, and as a result, had come far too close to losing his Prize.  He should have ensured the Prize was truly subdued before taking what he needed.  His carelessness should have lost him his chance at the connection.  And yet when he’d wakened, the Prize had still been with him.  Fate had given him a second chance.  He would not be so careless again.

 

His prey moved steadily away from him, and he forced his tired, heavy body after his retreating Prize.  He would not allow his quarry to get too far away from him.  The Prize had been staring steadily at him, his expression telling the Sentinel that the prey understood he was being hunted.  His Prize suddenly turned and shouted something at those in the nearby room.  He could hear the words, but was beyond understanding them.  The Sentinel tensed, prepared to fight anyone coming into the room for what was his.  He would not let his Prize go now. He could not.

 

The door to the room did not open though.  The Sentinel waited a moment longer to be sure, and then dismissed those watching through the window from his immediate attention again.  He remained aware of them, of their racing hearts and urgent sounding voices, but he was not even slightly interested in who they were, or what they were saying.  They were unimportant.  Only securing the Prize was important.

 

He refocused himself on the hunt, and was surprised to find that the prey was no longer retreating from him.  Instead, his quarry was watching the hunter stalking him with an intensity that made the Sentinel pause.  A look of steely determination crossed the face of the prey, and the Sentinel had the strangest sensation of the world tilting on it’s axis.  Confusion washed through him.  The rules of the hunt had suddenly changed.  In the moment of uncertainty that followed this realization, the Prize suddenly stepped forward and pointed at the ground.

 

“Kneel, Sentinel.” The Prize ordered commandingly.

 

The hunter tipped his head in confusion.  On some level he was aware that he should understand the words being spoken to him, but he was still beyond comprehending them.  Instead, he looked deep into the smoky blue eyes of his quarry, and gasped at what he saw there.  The Sentinel might have been beyond spoken communication, but he understood the message those eyes conveyed very well indeed.

 

The Prize was surrendering himself.

 

Somehow, for some reason, the Prize had determined that the Sentinel was worthy of the connection.  He would not be forced to take what he needed.  It was being offered to him freely.  A fierce joy surged through the primitive soul of the Sentinel, and he was distantly aware of the roar of triumph that echoed through his mind.  He had won.

 

The Prize remained motionless throughout the Sentinel’s epiphany.  He simply continued to point at the ground.  The Sentinel suddenly understood what the Prize wanted of him, and he folded to his knees with a speed that betrayed his eagerness.  The Prize was capitulating.  He could afford to allow the surrender to take place on his prey’s terms.

 

The prize watched him for a moment, then followed him gracefully to the ground so that that they were facing each other.  One of his Prize’s knees was resting between his own legs, and the other was resting outside his left leg.  The Sentinel could feel the warmth of his prey, and was breathing his scent, and it was the most heady experience that he had ever had. 

 

The Prize reached out and caught the Sentinel’s right hand between both of his own.  The Sentinel shivered at the buzz of awareness, of beginning connection, which shot through him.  The Prize raised the Sentinel’s captured hand and laid it again the left side of his face.  He them dropped his own right hand, but continued to hold the Sentinel’s hand against his cheek with his left hand.  The Sentinel could feel the connection stirring electrical currents up in his belly and chest and fingers and legs.  He could feel the charge within him churning restlessly, searching for a place to go.  The Prize looked at him steadily, a faint shadow flickering behind those beautiful blue-grey eyes, and then he raised his own right hand to the Sentinel’s face and grounded the charge.

 

The Sentinel felt the connection flow through him like a tidal wave.  The much needed feeling of being joined to his Prize flowed through him as the other half of his soul dropped his barriers and allowed the Sentinel to see and feel everything that he was.  The Sentinel sunk deeper and deeper into the emotions and sensations churning around him, intimately aware of the fear and determination possessing his Prize.  The deeper he sank, the harder it was to tell which emotions belonged to him, and which belonged to his Prize.  He could sense this other’s very perceptions of the world.  They were finally, finally, one.

 

The sensations were intense and he was adrift within them.  He needed more of an anchor than the hand against his face could provide.  With a desperate moan, the Sentinel reached out blindly with his left hand and latched onto the sturdy body before him.  With the strength of desperation, he reeled himself in to the rock-like security that body provided. He instinctively sought out the safe haven this man offered against the madness that had been clawing at him for so long now, and he turned his face to bury it beneath silky hair, surrounding himself in the comforting scent.  He latched onto smooth skin with his mouth, needing to anchor even his sense of taste.  Strong hands kneaded at his shoulders, urging him closer to the warmth of the other body and a soft voice whispered comfort to him.

 

The Sentinel drew in a deep, shuddering breath as a powerful wave of emotion broke over him and he felt himself surrounded by the one thing that he never dreamed that he would inspire.  Love.  He was loved.  He allowed himself to be soothed by the acceptance that love provided him with, and he felt himself surrendering to the exhaustion of a battle that had been being waged for weeks and months, and even years now.  For the first time since the dormant Sentinel had awaked within him, James Ellison knew peace and could rest.

 

He slipped into darkness, secure in the knowledge that at last there was someone to watch over him while he was vulnerable.  He was safe.

 


 

In the instant that Blair Sandburg understood what it was that the Sentinel needed from him, he also realized that he was going to have to take charge of this situation.  For a moment the people observing from the other room had distracted the Sentinel.  Everything about the big man had suddenly screamed aggression, but when it became apparent that the people watching were going to follow his instructions and stay the hell out, the Sentinel had refocused on him.  It should have been unnerving to be the focus of such single-minded determination.  Instead, Blair found himself energized by it.  By what it meant. 

 

“Kneel, Sentinel.” Blair forced out the command as he pointed at the floor.  He believed that he understood what was needed now, and while it still frightened him on some levels, he had accepted the necessity of it.  In spite of that, he was determined to have some control over the experience.  If he was going to allow another being to strip his mind bare for their own purposes, he was damned well going to be as comfortable as possible while it happened.

 

The Sentinel tipped his head slightly, and Blair could feel the confusion rolling off the man in waves.  Blair continued to look steadily at Ellison, absolutely determined not to back down at all.  He was in charge here.  He had to be.  There was no way that he was going to be able to force himself to do this if he didn’t have some sense of control.

 

He needn’t have been worried.  A gasp suddenly tore itself lose from the Sentinel, and a kind of savage joy lit his eyes.  Almost instantly, Ellison went down to his knees.  Blair had to force himself to keep his face straight at the eager, expectant look on the big man’s face.  The Sentinel understood that the Guide wasn’t going to run.  Furthermore, he was willing to give the Guide control if that was what he wanted.  Blair’s relief was palpable.  He hesitated for a long moment while he centered himself in preparation for what was to come, and then carefully lowered himself to the floor as close to the Sentinel as he could get.

 

The Connection made it’s presence felt in the instant that Blair took the Sentinel’s hand.  He could feel the need, the longing, churning away inside the big man as he raised the Sentinel’s hand to rest against his face.  Blair continued to cradle the large hand that cupped his cheek and jaw in his own left hand and then slowly, deliberately, forced his right hand out to rest against the cheek of his Sentinel.

 

The emotions of the man in front of him crashed into Blair like a train.  As with the last time, Blair felt himself drowning in the sensations; lost in someone else’s emotions.  Once again, the need and the emptiness hit him like a physical blow, but this time, Blair understood them.  He knew what the Sentinel needed now, and in spite of his fear, he gave it unreservedly.

 

This time, he held himself steady as the layers of his mind were peeled back.  It hurt.  There was no way for it not to hurt.  Blair became aware of the low, whimpering noises he was making and he forced himself to silence.  A great hand suddenly lashed out and caught at the front of his uniform.  The huge body kneeling before him suddenly seemed to collapse in on itself, and even amidst his pain, Blair instinctively caught at it as it fell.  He found himself caught in a fierce embrace and was distantly aware of a hot breath against his ear and a wet mouth against his neck.  Most of his attention though was caught up in the emotions and thoughts that were now being laid open to him.

 

Loneliness and desperation and such terrible, terrible exhaustion clawed at him.  He felt the big man’s fear and pain and reacted instinctively.  He gathered the body in his arms closer and sought to sooth the troubled soul that had risked laying itself bare to him.

 

“It’s alright.” he whispered.  “I’m here now.  You’re safe.  I won’t let you fall.  I’ve got you.”

 

And he meant it.  Nothing would happen to this man.  He wouldn’t allow it.  He’d die first.  This man was suddenly no longer a stranger to Blair Sandburg.  He recognized James Ellison now, and was astonished that it had taken him so long.  This man was the other half of his soul.  He marveled that he could have functioned for so long without this missing piece of himself.  He knew that he would never be able to do so again. 

 

Jim Ellison drew in a breath that was almost a sob, and then relaxed profoundly within his arms.  Even though his head was still spinning from the mind meld he had just undergone, Blair continued to whisper words of acceptance and comfort to the man he held.

 

Later, Blair and Jim would have to go out and try to explain what had happened between them.  Later, the two of them would have to talk about what all of this meant.  Later, Blair would have to face the consequences of his actions.  But for now, he was content to simply hold his dream-made-flesh and protect him so that the Sentinel could finally rest.

 


 

A long time ago, a young and rather idealistic girl had ignored her gut instincts and decided, very rationally, that joining Starfleet Intelligence might be a good idea.  In the years that had followed, Megan Connor had learned that ignoring your gut instincts in favor of rationalism was a very bad idea indeed.  Nothing good ever came of it.  Ever.

 

Take the drama that she had just watched unfold in the Medical Suite, for instance.  Rationally speaking, it would be very easy to write off what she had just witnessed as one mentally unstable man attacking another mentally unstable man.  After all, jumping a total stranger to gnaw on his neck was never a strong indicator of mental competence.  Neither was demanding to remain locked in a room with a total stranger who had shown an unhealthy appetite for your neck.  Rationally speaking, she’d have to agree with the rather agitated Medical Officer’s assertion that both men needed to be removed from the ship to undergo a thorough psychiatric examination as soon as possible.  The last thing a ship that was heading into the Romulan Neutral Zone needed was mentally disturbed crew members.

 

She wasn’t going to agree with the Doctor though.  Because Megan Connor’s gut was telling her that whatever had happened in that little room had absolutely nothing to do with mental instability.  Her gut was telling her that something pretty damned important had just happened.  Right now she had no concrete data to justify what her gut was telling her, but she was still going to go with it.  Because ignoring your gut instincts in favor of rationalism was a very bad idea indeed.  Nothing good ever came of it.  Ever.

 

The silence that had enveloped the Medical Center as the two men in the examination room had carried out their strange dance remained absolute. It was time, Megan decided, to break the thrall that gripped the room.  She didn’t really know what had just happened, but she did know that the two men beyond the glass were going to need all the help they could get to remain on the outside of a mental institution.  She’d better get her ass into gear and do something.

 

“Well,” she said as lightly as she could manage.  “That was different.”

 

“Oh, God.” Serena Chang breathed from next to Megan, and her voice sounded strangely strangled. Megan glanced at her oldest friend sharply.  It had been a little over a year since they had seen each other face to face, and Megan knew that Serena’s last assignment had been hard on her, but Serena still managed to look far too pale to Megan’s discerning eye’s. 

 

Megan reached forward and took a good hold of her friend’s elbow.  She was instantly aware of the warmth that always came from making contact with her empathic friend.  “Hey Serena,” She said quietly, “You O.K.?”

 

Serena’s eyes were dazed as she stared up at her taller friend.  The look of total confusion on the profiler’s face suggested that she had not been able to even decipher the question.  Megan gave her old friend a discreet shake to help her throw off the shock that was holding her immobile.

 

“God.” Serena muttered as she blinked rapidly, obviously trying to pull the room back into focus. “God.”

 

“Dr Chang?” Captain Banks’ voice was deeply concerned, and hinted at his own touch of shock.

 

“I’m,” Serena trailed off for a moment, but then rapidly pulled herself back together.  “I’m alright.  It just,  Ummm.  That was really, intense.”  Serena’s face reflected her awareness of the fact that her response was more than a little lame.

 

“Intense how, Doctor?” Banks demanded.  Megan hid a grimace at the look on Banks’ face.  The Captain was not happy with this rather odd turn of events.

 

“I really don’t know what I can tell you, Captain.” Serena sighed, raising a hand to rub at the side of her head.  “All I can really say is that, empathically speaking, on a scale of 1 to 10 of emotionally charged events, what just happened in that room was a 25.”

 

“And exactly what did happen in that room?” Banks demanded, glaring around at his staff rather fiercely.  Megan could understand his reaction.  She’d used her own sources in Intelligence to check out a few of the officers that were going to be working with her, and she was well aware of the friendship that existed between Banks and Ellison.  If a friend of hers had just gone through whatever it was that Ellison had just gone through, she’d probably be feeling a little hostile herself.

 

“I don’t know!” Serena growled in frustration.  “I just touched on the edges of it, and that was enough for me,” Serena trailed off for a moment, shaking her head again dazedly. “God!  I was only sensing the emotional backwash and it was overwhelming!  How did they stand it?”

 

“I suggest, Captain that we get in there and set about determining what kind of damage they’ve done to themselves.” Baccus said rather testily, motioning for the rather stunned looking technician who was standing in the corner, wondering where exactly he’d made that wrong turn into the twilight zone.

 

“NO!” Serena said sharply, dragging everyone’s attention back to her.  Serena blushed a little under the sudden scrutiny she had invited and cleared her throat a little in embarrassment.  When she spoke again, her voice was once again calm and controlled.  “Look, I can’t really explain what it was that I felt happen in there, but I just, I just get the feeling that we should leave them alone for a little while.

 

Baccus looked at Serena as though the profiler was out of her mind.  “We can’t just leave them in there indefinitely!  That would be unspeakably irresponsible, considering that we don’t know what kind of shape they’re both in.  We’re also not equipped to deal with anyone as obviously troubled  as these two evidently are.  They need to be shipped back to Earth for,”

 

“You have no idea what you’re talking about Baccus!” Serena interrupted hotly.  “They aren’t crazy.”

 

“Unlike YOU.” Baccus snarled back.

 

“What kind of a Doctor,” Serena began to return the attack when Captain Banks decided to put a stop to their little cat fight before it could really get wound up.

 

“ENOUGH!” he bellowed suddenly, and the silence that was left in the wake of his shout was almost as profound as the one that had accompanied whatever it was that had happened in the exam room.  Banks glared at the two women until he was satisfied that neither of them were going to start in on the other again.  “Alright.” Banks nodded in apparent satisfaction.  “Now that I have your attention, this is what we’re going to do.  Commander Connor and I still have important business to attend to.  This ship needs to be ready to go in a very short amount of time, and we have to ensure that it is.  We will leave Ellison and Sandburg as they are,”

 

“What?” Baccus’ indignant squeak drew a dark look from the Captain, who then continued as though he had never been interrupted.

 

“We will leave Ellison and Sandburg as they are for the time being.  If they haven’t shown signs of being ready to emerge in two hours, we’ll reassess the situation.” Banks said firmly.

 

“Captain, my oath as a Doctor prohibits me from…” Baccus began haughtily, only to be cut off by Serena’s vaguely venomous voice.

 

“Doctor Baccus, if you’d care to consult the monitoring equipment in the exam room, the vital signs of those two men are well within normal limits.” Megan smirked a little at the smug satisfaction in her friend’s tone.  Serena was enjoying this. “There are no grounds for you to pull medical rank.”

 

Baccus glared at the other woman for a moment.  “I can’t just leave them in there!” she hissed.

 

“Why not?” Megan asked reasonably.

 

Baccus was almost seething with frustration.  “Christ!” she hissed.  “I have to get ready for departure too you know!  I still have a million things to be doing and the last thing I need is to be trying to do them with those two head cases in here!”

 

“So do things that don’t involve going in to the exam room.” Megan shrugged.  “And is ‘head cases’ a technical term?”

 

Baccus’ scream of frustration was carefully muted.  She stood with her arms folded tightly across her chest for a moment, obviously fighting to regain her composure.  After a long minute, she raised her head to glare at the Captain.  “What am I supposed to tell the Command Center?” she demanded.

 

“At this point,” Banks said evenly, “absolutely nothing.”

 

Nothing?” Baccus practically shrieked.  “You can’t seriously tell me that you intend to try to sweep this under the carpet!”

 

“Not at all, Doctor, “ Banks responded smoothly, “but as none of you can tell me exactly what just happened here, I’m simply going to wait until I have something concrete to report.”  Banks then fixed his gaze on the doctor, and although his cool, professional expression didn’t alter in the slightest, there was suddenly an unholy light in his eyes that made his face seem suddenly so much more intense.  “And so are you, Doctor.  That’s an order.”

 

Baccus stared up at the suddenly imposing figure of the Captain for a long moment, her expression bordering on open rebellion.  “I want it put on the record that I am opposed to your choice of action.” She said sullenly after a moment.

 

“By all means, Doctor.” Banks nodded in understanding.  “Now, if you’ll all excuse us, Commander Connor and I have things that require our attention.  Doctor Baccus, Doctor Chang, I’ll see you both here in two hours.  If they show signs of being ready to come out before that, contact me immediately.”

 

“Very good, Captain.” Serena nodded.

 

“Aye, sir.” Baccus grumbled.

 

Banks nodded and then glanced toward Megan.  “Commander?”

 

“Uhh, yes sir.” She nodded as he turned and walked out of the medical center with only the briefest glance toward the observation window to betray his concern for his friend.  Megan moved to follow him, but paused again beside Serena.

 

“I take it that you’re going to hang around for a bit?” Megan grinned at her friend while utterly ignoring the quietly seething Baccus.

 

“Yeah.” Serena drawled.  “I’ll just hang about.  Make sure nothing happens to anyone.”

 

“Fair enough.” Megan nodded, then reached up and patted her old friend’s face affectionately.  For the first time in over a year, Megan and Serena really looked at each other as friends, and a smile broke out over both their faces.

 

“It’s good to see you, Meg.” Serena grinned.

 

“You too, Serena.” Megan nodded, then glanced slyly at Baccus.  “I’ll catch up with you soon.  If you need anything down here, just call.  And don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”

 

Serena snorted in amusement.  “Well, that leaves me with a wide open field of options, doesn’t it?”

 

Megan nodded cheekily, and with a final clap on her friend’s shoulder, she jogged off after her new Captain.

 

As Megan rapidly caught up to her tall Commanding Officer, she allowed herself a small grin.  She was suddenly very glad that her gut had told her that accepting this assignment was a good idea.  Rationally speaking, taking this assignment was a bad idea.  Policing the Romulan Neutral Zone was like writing out your own death sentence.  Ah well.  She might end up dead as a result of being on this ship, but at least the time she had left was going to be interesting.

 


 

Jim was warm and well rested and comfortable.  He was aware of the fact that he was still half asleep, but he resisted the urge to throw off dreams for the waking world for as long as possible.  Truth be told, he didn’t really want to wake up.  In dreams he could have comforting arms wrapped protectively around him and respite from the madness that had plagued him for so very long.  All the waking world had to offer him was confusion and pain.  He liked it far too well exactly where he was to go actively in search of the inevitable suffering that consciousness would bring.

 

After a little while though, Jim became aware of the fact that his thoughts were just a little too focused for him to be anywhere near sleep really, and yet the comforting warmth of his dream remained.  That was odd.  Odd enough, in fact, that it nudged him into finally opening his eyes to find out exactly what was going on.

 

As Jim’s eyes blinked open and the world came into focus once more, he found himself utterly confused by the images that assaulted his sleep-muddled brain.  He frowned and had to blink several times to force the images to make any sense.  Unfortunately, when his poor beleaguered brain finally kicked into gear, the realization of where he was sent a wave of embarrassment washing through him.

 

He was lying on the floor with his head resting against someone’s chest.

 

Jim felt heat suffuse his face in the wake of his realization.  ‘Ah, shit.’ He thought miserably. ‘Just when I thought I couldn’t sink any lower.’

 

Jim could feel the desire to engage in a bout of self pity gathering within him, however, before it could gain too much momentum, he suddenly noticed something else that washed all thoughts of self pity away.

 

He wasn’t in any pain.

 

Jim concentrated for a moment, and was stunned to realize that he felt, almost, normal.  The light wasn’t stabbing at his eyes.  He wasn’t feeling nauseous and overwhelmed by any scents.  Even his uniform almost felt tolerable!  The only thing that he could sense that was out of the ordinary at all was the low, throbbing sound that tugged at the edges of his hearing.  Even the sound lacked the painful overtones that most noises had brought with them these days.  Instead, there was something soothing in the noise.  Something that made him feel safe.

 

Oh God.  It had been so long, so damned long, since he had felt this close to good.  He simply lay where he was, unmoving for a few minutes, forgetting embarrassment, and allowing the freedom from pain to wash over him along with that soft, rhythmic thumping.  For a moment, Jim felt that he would be content to lay where he was forever if it meant that this delicious feeling of normalcy would stay.  Unfortunately, passiveness simply wasn’t in Jim Ellison’s nature, and it wasn’t long before the desire to understand what was happening reared it’s ugly head.  Jim’s instincts told him that the soft sound washing through him was at the root of his reprieve, so he decided that he had better work out what was making the noise.  He sighed deeply, them raised his head from its comfortable resting place.

 

Ellison was immediately caught in the regard of a pair of smoky-blue eyes as he found himself face to face with a vaguely familiar looking young man.

 

“Hey!” the young man said quietly as his eyes lit up with pleasure.  “Look who woke up!”

 

Jim was surprised to feel an automatic tugging at his lips as the young man’s smile drew a hesitant answering smile from himself.  For a moment Jim was confused.  He felt that he should know this young man from somewhere.  Jim searched desperately through his recent memories until he reached the vague, oddly distant moments following his recent bout of lost time.  Jim remembered this young man then.  He had been beside him when he’d returned to himself in the medical center.  He remembered sitting up, and that horrible feeling settling over him, and then…

 

The memories that assaulted him then were horrible.  It was as though he had been standing outside himself and watching his actions, completely unable to effect his own behavior.  He remembered hunger and need and the overwhelming desire to possess; to hold; to taste.

 

Jim dragged himself instantly to his feet and practically hurled himself at the other side of the room, panic clawing at his throat and chest.  He heard the young man’s stunned yelp as the bigger man tore himself away, but he couldn’t afford to focus on it.  He had to put distance between the two of them.  Quickly.

 

Unfortunately, no sooner had he hit the opposite wall of the infirmary, than the world exploded around him once more.  The artificial lights burned his eyes.  His stomach roiled at the stench of the chemicals that always seemed to be so much a part of med centers.  His skin suddenly burned and itched again, and worst of all, he lost the soothing beat he had been clinging to since awakening.  It was suddenly drowned in the cacophony of voices and mechanical hummings and clickings and footsteps and rustlings and bangings.  His head exploded into agony and he felt his legs give way.  He was vaguely aware of the fact that he was sliding to the ground, but he was powerless to stop it.

 

And then the gentle thumping was back.  Gentle hands touched his face and his chest, instantly soothing his sore body.  He felt an odd rushing sensation, as though he had momentarily stepped outside his own body, and then everything fell back into place.  For a long moment, all he could do was huddle against the wall and soak up the sudden peace.  After a moment, he became aware once more of a frightened voice speaking frantically to him.  He opened his eyes and found himself once again practically nose to nose with his strange young man.

 

“Oh man!” the youth gasped quietly as Ellison opened his eyes.  There was fear and unhappiness in the young man’s eyes, and Ellison felt his breath catch in his throat as he realized that those feeling were for him, not because of him.

 

“Are you crazy kid?” Ellison demanded from between clenched teeth.  “Get out of here!  Now!”

 

For an instant the young man reared back, confusion and hurt blossoming in his far-too-expressive eyes.  Jim was instantly aware of both the strangely desolate feeling the loss of the young man’s touch left him with, and the guilt he felt at being the cause of the boy’s pain.  He steeled himself against both feelings though.  He had to protect the kid while he was still able to do so. 

 

Suddenly understanding broke out across the young man’s face and he was once again leaning in to rest his hands comfortingly against the older man’s shoulders.  “Awww, no, man.  It’s O.K.  Honestly.  It’s alright.”

 

“It’s NOT fucking alright!” Ellison hissed as he tried desperately to push himself further into the wall and away from those gentle, soothing hands.  “I fucking well attacked you, kid!  Jesus!  Don’t you have any self-preservational instincts at all?  Get out!  Now!  While I’m still coherent enough to let you go!”

 

“No!” the young man denied stridently. “It is O.K.!  You didn’t attack me.” the kid trailed off under Ellison’s disbelieving stare, “Well,” he amended grudgingly, “you did, but you didn’t hurt me, and it was, like, totally understandable under the circumstances!”

 

Understandable???” Ellison practically swallowed his own tongue at that. “Understandable to who?  You?  If you understand what the fuck I did to you kid, I wish you’d explain it to me, cause I sure as hell don’t!”

 

“It was instinct, James.” The young man said quietly, and somehow the fact that this kid knew his name was less remarkable than the calm certainty that he saw shining in the kid’s eyes.

 

“Instinct?” Ellison heard himself whisper huskily, his tense body relaxing ever so slightly under the calm assurance he saw in this remarkable young man’s face.

 

“Yeah, man, instinct.” The kid nodded, his eyes never leaving Ellison’s.  Jim became vaguely aware of the gentle strokings of the young man’s thumbs down his neck and across his shoulders.  On some level he was even amazed at his own passiveness in the face of such intimate touches by a complete stranger.  If any other man had attempted to touch him like this, they’d be pulling back bloodied stumps instead of limbs.  But when this young man touched him, he felt, soothed, reassured, gentled even.  The young man’s eyes bored into his own as he continued speaking.  “On some level, man, you must have known what it was that you required to get your gifts under control.”  The young man shook his head.  “It’s no wonder that you reacted like you did.  I was obviously the first person you’d encountered since your gifts came on line that had what you needed.”

 

The young man’s words touched something inside him that had been causing him pain for so, so long.  The emptiness.  The longing.  The need.  Ellison’s eyes lost focus for a moment as he deliberately touched the emptiness within him that had been eating at him for so long.

 

Except, this time when he touched on the ‘hole’ that had existed in his heart and mind, he found that there wasn’t a hole there at all.  The emptiness had been filled.  Now, when he touched that ‘place’, he was suddenly suffused in warmth and peace and – most surprisingly of all – love.  The tingling warmth that welled up within him so unexpectedly shocked a gasp out of him.  The young man in front of him gasped as well, and his head suddenly lowered.  Instinctively, Ellison placed his hand under the young man’s chin and forced his head up so that they were looking into each other’s eyes once more.  To his horror, the first thing he saw was that the young man’s eyes were bright with unshed tears.  He would have snatched his hand back away from the kid’s face if it hadn’t been for the delighted smile that suddenly touched the kid’s full lips.

 

“There.” the youth whispered huskily.  “That wasn’t so bad, now, was it?”

 

Ellison stared at the kid blankly for a minute, and then understanding finally hit him.  “You?” he whispered in shock.  “You filled the hole?  You made the pain go away?”

 

The young man’s smile got impossibly wider and he nodded against the hand holding his chin up.  A single tear escaped the youth’s brimming eyes and Ellison automatically caught it against his thumb.  The somewhat hysterical thought that this boy’s tears were somehow washing his soul clean flitted across his mind, but he dismissed it in favor of more pressing thoughts.  He gently forced the young man’s head back further until he could clearly see the bite mark under the boy’s chin. 

 

Ellison raised his other hand and gently stroked his fingers over the mark.  He was stunned by how easily he could feel the heat of bruising from the mark.  Guilt flowed through him as he allowed the youth to lower his head once more so that they could look into each other’s eyes again.

 

“Did I hurt you?” he demanded softly.  To his surprise, the kid’s joyous smile morphed into an extremely cheeky grin.

 

“Naw, man, you didn’t hurt me!” The boy laughed softly.  “It’s not like I haven’t had hickey’s before or anything.  In fact, anyone who knows me won’t even look twice at this little thing!” The kid waggled his eyebrows at Ellison mischievously, startling a small snort of laughter out of the older man.

 

“I’m still sorry, Chief.”  Ellison apologized sincerely.  The kid frowned slightly.

 

“Chief?” he asked, a slightly nonplussed look touching his young face.

 

“Sure.” Ellison shrugged slightly.  “I’ve got to call you something.”

 

“Oh!” the kid gaped slightly and then to Ellison’s amusement, blushed deeply.  “Ummm, sorry about that.” He smiled sheepishly, his expression becoming suddenly shy.  “I kinda feel like we already know each other, you know?”

 

Surprisingly, Ellison did know.  Even more surprising to him was the fierce surge of protectiveness that washed through him at the shy, uncertain expression on the kid’s face.  The young man drew away from him then and solemnly held out his hand.

 

“Hello.” He smiled at Ellison gently.  “I’m Blair Sandburg.”

 

Ellison enfolded the smaller hand in his own.  “Jim Ellison.” He responded quietly.

 

“It’s, errr, nice to meet you properly, Jim.” The kid smiled at him with that sweet shyness again, and Ellison was startled by the automatic desire to shield this kid from the rest of the world that the smile engendered in him.

 

“Same here, Chief.”  Ellison smiled.

 

As he sat there, holding onto the kid’s hand, Jim was suddenly very aware of the warm trickle of energy that was ebbing backward and forward between the two of them.  From the almost ridiculously pleased look on Sandburg’s face, the kid was feeling it too.  He was about to ask if the kid knew exactly what it was that had happened between them, when he felt something else that caught his attention. 

 

It was vague, whatever it was.  Ellison focused on what it was that had pulled his mind away from the questions he had wanted to ask Sandburg.  It took a moment, but the niggling feeling suddenly became clear to him.  It was the hand he was holding.  He could feel a barely-there throbbing that matched the soft beat he’d been listening to since he’d woken up.  It seemed to be coming from beneath the kid’s skin.  Ellison frowned in confusion for a moment, before a sudden intuitive leap informed him of what that soft throbbing was.

 

It was the blood pumping beneath the boy’s skin.

 

He was listening to Blair Sandburg’s heartbeat.

 

What an amazing thing.

 

Ellison looked up in stunned surprise.  “Who are you?” he whispered in amazement.  “How have you done this?”

 

Sandburg blinked at the raw tone of the question, but then relaxed into a wry smile.  “I didn’t.” he asserted softly.  “We did.  And as for how and what’s happening, I’ll be happy to explain.  Just as soon as we get out of here, man.  We are in a lot of trouble right now, and it’s going to take some seriously fast talking to keep us out of either a psychiatric hospital or out of the hands of Starfleet’s Science Division.”  The kid sighed and sat back a bit.  “I am, like, sooo not wanting to end up as someone else’s guinea pig.”

 

Ellison felt a surge of almost savage protectiveness wash over him at the younger man’s words, and he leaned forward to grab at the kid’s wrist again.

 

“You won’t.” he growled softly.  Sandburg looked startled at his savage tone for a moment, but the Ellison felt a gentle surge along the unseen connection he shared with the younger man, and the kid’s eyes filled with tears again.

 

“Oh.” Sandburg said in a very small voice.  “Oh man.”  Suddenly the kid pulled back and dragged his sleeve almost brutally across his face. “God.” The boy looked at him wryly and then offered up another of those shy smiles.  “You know man, I’ve been looking for you for most of my life.”   His smile slipped away then and he held the older man’s gaze as his voice dropped back to a whisper.  “I think that it’s going to prove worth the wait.”

 

Ellison looked into Blair’s earnest blue eyes, and wanted to say that he’d been looking for the younger man too, and that he just hadn’t known who it was he was searching for until now.  Unfortunately, he couldn’t think of a way to say it that it wouldn’t come out sounding lame, so instead he touched the kid’s cheek gently and then climbed to his feet.

 

“So,” he said clearing his throat.  “What kind of trouble are we in?”

 

“Well, the ships Medical Officer wants us both shipped to a loony bin, A.S.A.P.” Blair paused as he climbed to his feet and stretched.  “Unfortunately, the only way that I can see of derailing that little plan is to explain what just happened to us to the Captain, and that’s liable to get us a one way ticket into Starfleet’s science labs.”  Sandburg shrugged.  “It’s kinda your classic ‘no win’ scenario, really.”

 

“Let me worry about the Captain.” Ellison responded reassuringly.  “Simon’s an old friend, and a good man.  He’ll do the right thing when you explain what happened to us.” Jim broke off with a grimace.  “And you can do that just as soon as you get through explaining the whole thing to me.”

 

“Ummm,” Blair murmured unhappily, “I don’t think he’s going to want to wait that long for the explanation, man.”

 

Something in the kid’s tone alerted Ellison to the fact that something was up.  He whipped around toward the observation window and found himself looking at Simon Banks’ stern face.  Jim exchanged a quick glance with Blair, glanced at the smashed door controls, and then pulled himself up straight.

 

“Hi, Simon.” He drawled.  “You wanna do something about getting that door open?  I’d like to be able to formally report for duty.”

 


 

Captain Simon Banks watched his Chief Medical Officer stalk out the medical center doors and wondered if he should have asked her for something to help the pounding headache that he seemed to have acquired before she left.  The tall man grimaced at the thought of the small doctor’s fury at being thrown out of her own Medical Center, and decided that it was probably a good thing that he hadn’t asked for anything.  Dr Baccus wasn’t feeling too benevolent toward him right now.

 

He had to acknowledge that she had a good reason to be angry.  When he had returned to the med center and found Jim Ellison and Blair Sandburg both conscious and apparently rational, he had allowed his temper to get the best of him.  He acknowledged that his anger at the pair was mostly a reaction to the fear they had brought down on him when he had first been summoned to the medical suites and had arrived to find one of his oldest friends gnawing on his young science officer’s neck.  He had already had a difficult day after several weeks of difficult days.  He was worried about taking a new class of ship into one of the most dangerous regions of space without sufficient time to work out any system’s glitches that might occur.  He was worried about the political agenda behind this mission.  He was worried that the Admiralty’s desire to demonstrate the speed and efficiency of the Federation to it’s two most dangerous opponents was cutting their preparation time too thin, and he was worried that they wouldn’t be truly ready on time.  He was worried about all the things that could go wrong with a mission such as theirs and he was worried about his responsibility to his crew.  And when you threw in his constant levels of worry for the son he could not see right now and all of the low-level worries that made up an ordinary life, Simon’s stress levels had already been through the roof before Dr Chang had summoned him.  When he’d walked in on the assault on Dr Sandburg, the bottom had fallen out of one of the cornerstones of his life.

 

Jim Ellison as Security Chief was one of the few variables he hadn’t been worrying about until that minute.  He had thought for sure that Ellison had indeed been pushed over the edge.  And when Dr Sandburg had turned around and defended the man that had attacked him, Banks had thought that Ellison had managed to pull Sandburg over the edge with him. 

 

The scene he had watched play out in the minutes after Ellison’s return to consciousness had left him feeling decidedly… unbalanced, for want of a better word.  In spite of Dr Chang’s assertions that she felt that ‘insanity’ was not the cause of the strange scene he had witnessed, he had been deeply worried that he was going to have to have his old friend institutionalized.  When he’d returned to the Med Center and a decidedly normal looking Jim Ellison had cracked a joke about getting the door open so that he could report for duty, Banks’ temper got the best of him.

 

He had told Commander Ellison and Dr Sandburg that there was no way in hell he was letting either of them out of their temporary incarceration until they had explained exactly what had just happened, to his satisfaction.  He’d told them that they had better make it good, or he was going to take Dr Baccus up on her suggestion to have them both sectioned.

 

Banks sighed as he recalled the utterly emotionless mask that had fallen over his old friend’s face at his words.  He’d known the Commander long enough to recognize the patented Ellison Freeze-Out when he saw it.  Even worse, Baccus had taken his angry venting as a sign that the Captain was coming around to seeing things her way.  She’d been all ready to call Starfleet Central to come and collect them, which had, in turn, almost led to physical violence between the small medical doctor and the psychiatrist.  Dr Chang had been deeply unimpressed and had expressed her disapproval rather pointedly.  He’d had to intervene and send Dr Chang about her business.  Dr Chang had not been happy when she had left.

 

Baccus had looked rather smug until he had pointed out that he wanted to speak to the two men privately before anyone was contacted.  Baccus hadn’t taken the news that she was being kicked out of her own Medical Center well at all.  Unfortunately for her, the two men in the exam room were conscious, coherent, and their life signs were well within the acceptable limits.  She had no grounds to pull medical rank without Dr Chang’s support in her assertions that the men were mentally unstable.  The tiny doctor had once again asked that her unhappiness with the situation be officially noted, and had then stalked out angrily.

 

Banks sighed again and massaged his temples.  He knew that he was going to have to have a chat with both Dr’s Baccus and Chang about their behavior, but right now he didn’t want to think about that.  Right now, that felt a little too much like hypocrisy.  After all, he was the one that had side stepped informing the brass about this little incident, because one of the effected parties was one of his closest friends.  Banks shook his head miserably, and then walked over to the observation window.

 

To Banks’ surprise, the two men were standing in almost the exact same position that they had been in when he had gone to referee the battle between Baccus and Chang.  The two of them were leaning against one of the beds in to room and they were pressed against each other, joined at the shoulder, hip and thigh.  Ellison had his head lowered and cocked slightly to one side, and the larger man’s right hand was loosely circled around Dr Sandburg’s left wrist.  The young doctor was still looking earnestly up at the taller man, and Banks could see that the young man’s lips were still moving rapidly.  Banks realized that Sandburg was speaking so quietly that the Exam Room’s sensors were not able to pick up what the young man was saying. Simon frowned at that, and wondered how the kid was expecting Ellison to hear what he was saying.

 

Banks wandered over to the door that joined the two rooms.  He’d had the technicians make the door operable from the doctor’s office side.  He’d get the technicians back in later to repair the damage Dr Sandburg had wrought in his attempts to ‘protect’ Jim Ellison, a man more than capable of killing the young doctor with one hand tied behind his back.  Simon Banks mentally added Blair Sandburg’s name to the list of people he had to have a private chat with at some point.

 

Ellison’s head snapped up as the door to the doctor’s office slid open.  Banks was taken aback by the sudden feral light that gleamed in Ellison’s ice blue eyes, and by the way the ex-ranger surged forward to shelter a complete stranger from the eyes of a friend he had known for years.  However, before Banks could do more than blink at the sudden change in his Security Chief’s demeanor, Blair Sandburg’s hand caught at Ellison’s arm and Ellison’s head turned back toward the scientist. Banks had no idea what Sandburg either did or said, but Ellison suddenly relaxed.  When the Commander looked back toward his Captain, Banks was relieved to see the man he recognized as his friend, looking back at him.

 

“Hey, Simon.” Ellison drawled.  “Aren’t you afraid that it’s a little unsafe to be hangin’ out in here with the ‘head cases’?”

 

“Oh, can the attitude, Ellison.” Banks snorted as he walked over to them.  “I’m havin’ a crappy day as is.  I don’t need none of your shit.”

 

Ellison shrugged, but Banks had known the man long enough to recognize the signs of remorse in his Security Chief’s expression.

 

“Alright.” Banks said quietly as he came to a stop in front of the two men.  “I have a Medical Officer that wants you two committed.  I have a shrink that argues that such a course of action would be extreme, but I have to consider the fact that the mission we are about to embark on will take us into both deep space and hostile territory for a significant period of time.  I can’t afford to have officers who are liable to snap under the pressure on board.  Now, unless you want a transfer off this ship, I suggest that you two convince me that I’m not going to be seeing a repeat of the shit I saw several hours ago, any time soon.”

 

“You won’t, Captain.” Sandburg said firmly as he stepped out from behind Ellison’s imposing form.  “Jim’s not crazy.  Neither am I.  What happened here was definitely a one off.  You have my word on that.”

 

“Sandburg,” Banks growled as he folded his arms impatiently, “As much as I wish it could be, your word isn’t going to cut it in this case.  I need to know what just happened gentlemen.” Banks turned his eyes on his old friend and stared at the other man hard. “Jim, I need to know why you attacked Sandburg like that.  What’s to stop you doing it to someone else?”

 

Jim Ellison’s jaw clenched tight at the question, and he stared determinedly at a spot on the wall just over Banks’ shoulder.  “I’m sorry Captain,” Ellison said quietly, “but I can’t explain something to you that I don’t understand myself.”

 

Banks stared sadly at his grim-faced friend, wishing the ex-Ranger had given him something that he could work with.  “I’m sorry, Jim, but that’s not good enough.”

 

“NO!” Sandburg almost shouted at the top of his voice, a slightly wild look in his eyes, “No, Captain!  He may not be able to explain it to you, but I can.  Just hear me out, please!”

 

Banks looked at his science officer, and was stunned when Ellison turned toward the younger man as well. 

 

“Easy, Chief,” the tall Security Chief almost crooned.  “Calm down.  Simon’ll listen to you.  He’s one of the good guy’s, kid.  He’s not going to do anything bad to us.”

 

Banks blinked.  Jim had always been a damned good friend.  Reliable.  The kind of guy you wanted at your back if the shit hit the fan.  But not even he had ever been able to call his old friend a warm person.  Jim Ellison was like a human Iceberg.  So much so, that when the Ranger had become married some time ago, no one had wondered whether the marriage would last.  The only speculation about the marriage was how long it would take before the divorce.  Yet here was Jim Ellison, gently touching this hyperactive youth’s shoulder and speaking to him with a gentle warmth that Banks hadn’t believed him capable of.  What the hell was happening here? 

 

Banks cleared his throat, oddly touched by the warmth in Ellison’s eyes as he looked at the young scientist. “Alright, Sandburg.  If you think that you can explain all of this to me, then I’m listening.”

 

“Okay.  Right.” Blair Sandburg glanced from Simon, to Jim, and then back to Simon again, licking his lips nervously.  “Here goes.  Ahhh. Jim Ellison is a Sentinel.  What happened here was unavoidable.  Ellison was simply reacting instinctively to a threat to his life.” 

 

Banks stared at the young man, who was, in turn, staring anxiously back at him.  “Sentinel?” Banks heard himself asking.  “What the hell is a Sentinel?  And what exactly do you mean that he was reacting to a threat to his life?  Who the hell was threatening him?  And I’m warning you now Sandburg, if you try to say that it was you, I’m going to laugh in your face.”

 

“No, of course I wasn’t threatening him!” Sandburg snorted indignantly. “Ellison’s life was in danger, but it wasn’t a person threatening him.  He was in the middle of a medical crisis.  He instinctively dealt with it in the best way that he could.”

 

“Sandburg, there was nothing medically wrong with Ellison.  Dr Baccus might be difficult to deal with, but I have it on very good authority that she is indeed good at her job.” Banks snorted.

 

“Captain Banks,” Sandburg’s voice took on the snap of impatience, “I have no doubt that Dr Baccus is good at her job, but in this particular case, she didn’t know what she was looking for.”

 

“But I suppose that you did?” Banks allowed his skepticism to color his voice.

 

“Yes, Captain, as a matter of fact I did.” Sandburg responded hotly, but then suddenly shut his eyes and drew a deep breath.  “Okay, this isn’t getting us anywhere,” he sighed, “I’ll start at the beginning Captain.  I’ll explain it all.  You may not believe me, but you will understand.”

 

“Alright.” Banks agreed quietly, “You do that.”

 

Sandburg nodded, then looked anxiously up at Ellison.  “Okay.  My first Doctorate was in Anthropology.  Unfortunately, the thesis I ended up writing wasn’t the thesis that I wanted to write.  I had wanted to write about Sentinels, but as I couldn’t produce a live Sentinel to test, I had to settle on something else.”

 

“What’s a Sentinel, Chief?” Ellison asked quietly, and for the first time, Banks realized that Ellison truly was as much in the dark about what had happened as he himself was.

 

“Once upon a time on Earth, in all tribal cultures, every village had a Sentinel.  A Sentinel was responsible for the protection of the village…”

 

“You mean like a scout?” Ellison asked.

 

“Sorta, but not exactly.” Sandburg grimaced slightly as he schooled his thoughts.  “A tribe’s Sentinel could protect the village from attacks from other tribes, but they could also track the passage of game, predict weather changes and anticipate natural disasters.  A Sentinel was chosen because of a special genetic advantage.  Sentinels had what can best be described as hyperactive senses.  They had the capacity to develop their sensory awareness far beyond that of other humans.”

 

Ellison’s reaction to Sandburg’s statement was immediate.  The blood drained from his face and he swayed slightly.  Sandburg broke off his oration to turn swiftly to the distressed Security Chief.  Banks was again surprised by the pair.  There was something almost protective in the way that Sandburg supported the larger, older man.  The two men stared at each other intensely for a moment, and Banks had the sudden, uncomfortable feeling that the pair were somehow communicating with each other without saying a word.  After a moment, Ellison was looking a little steadier, although Sandburg continued to watch him anxiously.

 

“What do you mean that they can develop their senses beyond other people?” Banks demanded, to draw Sandburg back to the topic at hand.  Banks had the feeling that if he allowed Sandburg to focus for too long on Ellison, he’d get no further with the explanation.

 

“Hmmm?” Blair queried distracted as he reluctantly drew his attention away from Ellison.  The young scientist flushed slightly at Banks’ raised eyebrow. “Oh, Yeah.  Ahhh,” Sandburg thought for a moment, then continued.  “Imagine you could spot game from miles away, or hear approaching enemy as soon as they entered your territory, no matter how quiet they tried to be.  Your tribe would have one hell of an advantage man, wouldn’t you say?”

 

Banks stared at Sandburg in disbelief.  “And you’re saying that Ellison is one of these Sentinels.”

 

“Yes, I am.” Sandburg looked back at him evenly.

 

Banks stared into the young scientist’s eyes and found nothing but conviction.  The kid believed what he was saying, of that Banks had no doubt.  Unfortunately, Banks just couldn’t buy it.  He shook his head in disbelief.

 

“Sorry, kid.” Banks said quietly, “but I’ve known Ellison for years.  He’s a damn good officer, but I haven’t seen any evidence of ‘hyperactive senses’.”

 

“Well you wouldn’t have.” Sandburg snorted.  “I said that the enhanced senses had to be ‘developed’.  Most of the research I’ve seen on Sentinels, even though, for the most part, it’s like, hundreds of years old, indicated that many of these tribal cultures would send young boys off to live in isolation from the tribe as one of the initiation rites into adulthood.  It was harsh, but you had to prove that you could support yourself before being allowed to take your place in the tribe.  Most researchers believed that the children with the capacity to develop enhanced senses would have manifested them at this time.  I understand that Commander Ellison went through a period of isolation not too long ago, right?”

 

Banks looked quickly at Ellison.  Those eighteen months that he had been considered dead.

 

God, could it be true?

 

“I’ve never heard of this before.” Banks said numbly. “I should have heard of this if it happened, even occasionally.”

 

Sandburg grimaced.  “Yeah, well.  It isn’t supposed to happen anymore.  There hasn’t been a documented Sentinel in the human race since the early nineteen hundreds.  Most people just assumed that that particular genetic trait had ‘died out’, so to speak.”

 

“So, what you’re saying,” Ellison said slowly, his eyes never leaving the ground and his jaw muscles clenching in anger, “is that I’m some sort of caveman that’s supposed to be extinct.”

 

“NO!” Sandburg growled angrily, rounding on the taller man and stepping so far into his personal space that they were standing chest to chest.  Ellison had no choice but to look at the kid.  Banks held his breath, prepared to step in to protect the smaller man.  An angry Jim Ellison was not a force to be trifled with.  To Simon’s immense surprise, the young scientist raised his free hand and caressed Ellison’s face, and the bigger man allowed it!  “NOT a caveman, and DEFINITELY not extinct.  The bearer of a unique human potential that has been absent from our race for far too long.”  Sandburg’s eyes bored into Ellison’s with an intensity that practically dared the larger man to say anything negative about himself.  “It’s not bad to be different, Jim.” Sandburg continued softly.  “You’re special.”

 

Ellison snorted and looked away.  Simon couldn’t believe it.  If anyone else had ever touched Jim Ellison like that, the hard-assed Ranger would have responded by tearing the offending limb off.  With this kid he was not only allowing it, he was allowing himself to be soothed by it!”

 

“None of this is explaining to me why he ended up in sickbay, or why he felt the need to attack you.” Banks pointed out gruffly.

 

“Yeah, well, as to why he ended up in sickbay, that’s easy.  He zoned.”

 

“Zoned?” Banks and Ellison demanded in unison.

 

“Umm, yeah,” Sandburg nodded and carefully backed slightly out of Ellison’s personal space.  “It’s, like, the major draw-back to being a sentinel.” The young man shrugged.  “A person taking in that much information through their senses is bound to get lost amongst it all occasionally.  Sometimes a Sentinel can get so focused on the information that they’re taking in that they seem to ‘shut down’.  They go into a fugue state.  Jim zoned on the transporter.  That’s how he ended up in here.”

 

“Great!” Ellison growled, his jaw clenching again. “So what’s the good of these so called enhancements, if all they do is reduce me to a vegetable?”  Banks remained silent, but he was interested to note that despite his lifelong tendency to prowl like a caged cat when he was agitated, in this instance Ellison showed no inclination toward pacing.  At no point did he let go of Sandburg’s captured wrist, and at no point did Sandburg even attempt to get free.

 

“Jim, it does not reduce you to a vegetable!” Sandburg asserted irritably.  “I can teach you not to zone.  It’s all a matter of control, and I can help you to gain that, alright?”  Sandburg stared expectantly up into Ellison’s face until the larger man reluctantly nodded. 

 

“That doesn’t tell me why he attacked you.” Banks said quietly, and he noted the shame-faced flush that touched Ellison’s face at his words.  Sandburg glared at Banks, and then stepped closer to the big Security Officer again.

 

“It’s alright, Jim.  You didn’t attack me, and you didn’t hurt me.  It’s okay.  Honest.” Sandburg focused his attention on Ellison for a moment, then glanced back at Banks.  “I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t use the word ‘attack’ anymore, Simon.” The young man said frostily.

 

Banks blinked in surprise.  “Give me a better word then.” He requested sarcastically.

 

“Alright, I will.” Sandburg asserted.  “You see, the problem was that the information I had was all so old, and all of it second hand.  No one that ever wrote about the phenomenon was actually a Sentinel themselves.  All of the scientists that studied the phenomena, and you really do have to remember that this was way back in the dark ages as far as science goes, all just kind of assumed that the partner all Sentinels seemed to have was there to assist the Sentinel in avoiding zone outs.  No one thought that the Sentinel’s partner, or Guide as they were often called, had any significant part to play.  It seems that their assumptions in that area were all wrong.” Sandburg glanced nervously over at Ellison then, and Ellison responded by drawing the smaller man closer to him.

 

“What do you mean, Sandburg?” Banks demanded suspiciously, his eyes darting between the two men.

 

“Well, everyone just assumed that the Sentinels disappeared because the breakdown in tribal culture meant that Sentinels were no longer required, or that the necessary period of isolation required to develop the enhanced senses was no longer possible with the onset of globalization, or that pollution had caused the disappearance, because Sentinels were so sensitive to it.  No one thought that the disappearance of the Sentinels might have been preceded by the disappearance of the Guides.” Sandburg gnawed on his lip for a moment, before plunging on. “It seems that Sentinels need to be empathically bonded to another person to survive.”

 

“What?” Banks erupted, causing Sandburg to flinch back from him, and Ellison to draw the younger man back slightly.  Banks stared at the two of them.  Ellison was practically shielding Sandburg from him with his body, and was actually growling deep in his throat.  Sandburg was petting at the larger man’s arms reassuringly. 

 

“Hey!  Chill out Jim!” Sandburg muttered as he stroked the larger man’s arm reassuringly.  “He’s not going to hurt me.  We just kinda surprised him.”

 

“Why?” Banks demanded as Ellison began to calm down.  “Why does he need to be bonded?”

 

“Ummm, it’s interesting, actually.” Sandburg said in a rather subdued voice.  “I mean, it’s really logical, now that I think about it.  It was only the fact that there had been no real indication that true empathy had ever existed on Earth that kept me from considering the possibility of it.  Turns out, Sentinels need to be empathically bonded, because without that connection, they can’t create a baseline for their senses.”

 

“Excuse me?” Banks looked at the young scientist for clarification.

 

“Look at it this way.” Sandburg snorted as he attempted to edge his way out from behind Ellison.  “There’s a reason that most people’s senses only take in a limited amount of information.  I mean, imagine yourself at the San Francisco Space Port.  You don’t go to that place without getting a headache.  There’s simply too much for the mind to process.  Now, imagine that multiplied to the point that you aren’t just assaulted by the sights and sounds and smells of the promenade, but also by the sounds of the multitudes of conversations on the actual shuttles, the scents of the shuttles and the crew out on the tarmac, the capacity to watch the departing shuttles all the way out of the atmosphere.  You’d go crazy dealing with the sheer volume of the information you’d need to handle.  It seems that Bonding to an Empath allows the Sentinel to set a base point.  The access he has to my mind allows him to determine what an ordinary person can see and hear and smell and taste and feel.  The Sentinel can then set their own internal controls to only take in that much information.  The Sentinel can take in more or less information as required once they set a base line for themselves.  Without that baseline, the Sentinel continues to take in more and more data.”  Blair trailed off for a moment, and his eyes took on a distant, haunted quality.  “The Sentinel would eventually go mad and die.”

 

“Jim?” Banks looked at his old friend for some sort of acknowledgement that the fairy tale this kid was spinning was actually true.

 

“I tried to tell you that day that you came to the loft.” Ellison said quietly.  “It had been getting worse ever since I got back to Earth.  I didn’t know what was happening.  I kept hoping that I could get it under control on my own.  But…”  Ellison trailed off for a moment, and then looked him grimly in the eye.  “I came to this ship to tell you that I was unable to perform my duties Simon.  I was going to resign.”

 

“That’s why Jim reacted the way he did to me.” Sandburg confirmed.  “I was the first empath he’d run into since returning to Earth.  It’s not surprising really.  I mean, where was he going to run into an empath?  There isn’t any full-blooded human ones left, so the chances of running into one on Earth were astronomically low.  The real miracle in this situation was that Jim was able to cope as long as he did.  I mean, most unbonded Sentinels would have either had a terminal zone out, or would have lost the plot entirely.  Jim somehow sensed that I had what he needed.  His survival instincts kicked in, that was all.”

 

“Alright.” Bank sighed, rubbing at his aching temples.  “So Jim’s set his ‘baseline’ now.  That’s it?  He’ll be alright?”

 

“Uhh, it doesn’t actually work like that Simon.” Sandburg said apologetically, “Jim’s only newly bonded.  It seems that setting the baseline takes some practice.”

 

Simon stared down at the loose grip that Ellison had maintained on Sandburg’s wrist throughout the entire conversation.  “Oh.”

 

“It won’t take long to get the hang of it,” Sandburg jumped to sooth both men.  “A little practice, and I can’t see any reason that we can’t act totally independently of each other, up to a point, anyway.”

 

“What do you mean, up to a point?” Banks demanded.

 

“Well, judging by the difficulty Jim has had with setting the baseline so far, I’m guessing that he’s going to have to ground himself through me, at least occasionally, for the rest of his life.” Blair glances at his feet and sighed.  “And I’m going have to ground myself on him pretty regularly for just as long.”

 

“What do you mean by that?” Ellison glanced down at the young man next to him sharply.

 

“Nothing, really,” Sandburg actually blushed as he visibly hunted for the least incendiary  means of explaining himself, “It’s just that, you’ll need unlimited access to my empathic abilities, and, well, you just can’t do that without knocking a real hole in your personal barriers.  That doesn’t work though, ‘cause without shielding, I’d go nuts from the constant exposure to everyone else’s emotions.  So the only answer to the problem that I could see was to let you in totally;  to make you an extension of me.  I mean, it gives you unlimited access to me, but if I can’t touch base with your mind and emotions at least occasionally, I’ll end up going seriously schizophrenic.”

 

“And you did this to yourself on purpose?” Ellison demanded icily, effectively cutting off Sandburg’s nervous babbling.  Sandburg glanced up at the bigger man and then looked back down at his feet without saying a word.  The Security Chief clenched his overworked jaw muscle again, and then sighed.  “We’ll talk about this later, Sandburg.” Ellison said quietly.

 

 “I don’t think that today could get any worse.” Banks asserted to no one in particular as he tried to massage the back of his overly tight neck.  “Alright you two.  I’ll contact Central and get you two taken someplace where you can…

 

“NO!”  Sandburg suddenly shouted, causing Ellison to wince visibly.  The young scientist touched the older man’s arm in silent apology before turning frantic eyes on Banks.  “You CAN’T tell Central!  They’ll want to study him!  They’ll take us away and no one will ever hear from us again!  We’ll spend the rest of our life trapped in a lab some place being cloned!”

 

“Sandburg, don’t you think that you’re being a little melodramatic?” Banks growled.

 

“Actually, Sir, he’s probably understating the case,” Ellison snorted.

 

“Please, Simon!” Blair practically begged, “Jim’s your friend!  You CAN’T do this to him!”

 

“What do you want me to do?” Banks demanded.  “I can’t have a security Chief that can’t do the job.”

 

“He CAN though!” Sandburg asserted desperately.  “He can do a better job than ANYONE in that role.  I mean, he’s a human CRIME LAB, for God’s sake!  He’ll know there’s trouble before anyone else possibly could.  He won’t need any damned tricorder to follow a trail or to tell if someone’s lying or not.  He was MADE to be a tribal protector, and what the hell do you think that a Security Chief is, if it isn’t EXACTLY that, man!”

 

Banks stared at the frantic young man for a long minute.

 

“I can’t just keep this information to myself, you know.” Banks growled in frustration.

 

“I know that, sir.” Sandburg agreed, “all I’m asking is that you delay giving your report for a little while.  Just until we get into Romulan Space.  I seriously doubt that they’ll recall us from all the way out there, even if Jim is a Sentinel.”  Sandburg drew a deep breath and then looked steadily into the Captain’s eyes.  “All I’m asking is that you hold off telling anyone about what I’ve told you until you make your first progress report.  Tell Central that I lied, then only told the truth when we were well out of Earth Space.  Tell them anything you want, Captain.  Just don’t let them get their hands on Jim. Please, Sir.”

 

Banks looked into the scientist’s youthful, pleading face, then turned away uncomfortably.  Banks stared at the wall for a minute, then turned searching eyes on Ellison.

 

“Is he right, Jim?  Can you do this?” Banks demanded of his old friend.  Ellison stared back at him, obviously torn and lost for a long moment.

 

And then Sandburg punched the Security officer in the arm and raised his eyebrows in expectation.  “Errr, yeah, Simon.” Ellison replied as he rubbed his arm and glanced wryly down at the young empath beside him.  “I can do it.”

 

Banks drew a deep breath and stared at his old friend hard.  There was still no one that he trusted more to do this job than Jim.  “Oh, Christ.” Banks sighed in defeat.  “You’d better be right about this; the pair of you.” Banks growled as he gave his old friend a pointed glare.  “I’m trusting you both with a lot of lives here.”

 

“Thank you Simon!” Sandburg’s whole body slumped against the Security Chief in relief.  “Thank you, thank you, thank you.  Now, how do we break the news to Baccus that she doesn’t get to throw us into a padded cell?”

 

“You let me worry about Baccus.” Banks sighed tiredly.  “You two just worry about getting yourselves up to speed as fast as possible.  We’re going to be hitting the ground running, so to speak, as soon as we leave Federation space.  I’m going to need both of you operating at your best by then.”

 

“My quarters will have to be moved.” Sandburg asserted suddenly.  “I’ll need to be as close to Ellison as possible.  We’re going to need pretty much unlimited access to each other when we’re not on duty so that we can get this sorted out.”

 

“Christ, Sandburg!” Banks growled in frustration with the demanding young scientist.

 

“It’s okay, Simon.” Ellison sighed.  “You know as well as I do that my quarters will have a connecting room.  The Security Officer needs to be housed as close to the Security center as possible.  Because this is a deep space vehicle, it’ll have a connecting room, in case the Chief is married.  As I don’t have a domestic partner, no one’s nose will be put out of joint if he takes the connecting room.”

 

“All right.” Banks agreed with a thoughtful nod.  “But you two had better not let me down.  Your quarters are on deck C Ellison.  I’ll organize to have Sandburg’s room allocation changed to the one adjoining yours.  You have one week until this ship launches.  I suggest that you both use the time between now and then wisely.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a ship to get ready for launch.  Good day, gentlemen.”

 

And with that, Simon Banks turned on his heel and stalked out of the Med. Center, trying very hard not to think about how this particular decision might blow up in his face…

 

 

End of Part 1…